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Archive for September, 2011

Delicate Dance

A friend of mine is a healer, the real kind that does it for free and for love.  She’s just a nice, ordinary middle-aged lady who has offered herself as a vehicle for God’s grace.

Recently my friend laid hands on someone who was in a profound depression, unresponsive to treatment, waking with fear and dread each day.  As she prayed for this man—first for his soul, then for his mind and heart—his depression left.   Vanished.  Vamoosed.  Poof.  Here one day, gone the next.

But what this healing left—in her—was the profound conviction that this man had better get his butt in gear; he had to get into relationship with God, whatever that meant for him.  So she told him that.

Two things struck me about this experience.  First was the fact that the healing was not occasioned by anything except this man’s willingness to let her pray for him, and her willingness to hold him in love.  But afterwards—not as payment, not as tit for tat, but simply as a matter of information—came the sense that he needed to do his work to get close to the Big Holy, now.

I was reminded, as my friend told me about this, of a line in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous (my other bible): We have a daily reprieve [from alcoholism] based on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.  In both of these situations, the initial healing brings with it a curious mix of invitation and responsibility.  If I want to remain a recovering person, I need to maintain my spiritual health.  If my friend’s friend wants to remain free of depression, he needs to establish some kind of connection with God-as-he-understands-God.

There’s a subtle balance here, a dance, that’s often confused with the world of moral accounting: in that mental frame of debt and reward, relationships are all about what’s owed.  But rather than obligations, bills, and accounts in arrears, a relationship with God is about gift and heartfelt response, grace and natural consequence.  It’s a tricky thing, talking about what we are supposed to do and what we are supposed to let God be entirely in charge of, trying to sort out when we’re supposed to work like hell and when we’re supposed to let go.  It’s easy to stumble or turn in the wrong direction.

Let me start with the bit about working like hell.  Doing our work is not earning something or paying someone back; nor is it begging for what we need.  What we need is already present; it is already given to us.  That’s what it is to be a beloved child of God.  (Just like every other person.  I’d actually argue that the entire physical world partakes of God, but that’s another piece of writing.)

Anyway, the purpose of the work is to help me recognize the gift I’ve already been given.  Work is necessary because I’m so amazingly human: I lose my temper, I eat too much, I grasp after approval, I judge others, I hate bug bites, and I alternate between being bored silly and horrified by myself when I meditate.  All these things get in the way of seeing myself as the blazingly beloved being that I am and living out of that knowledge.  So my work is directed at seeing both past and into all this mess.  Hence prayer and meditation, neither of which are about asking God to do magic.  (Not only does that approach abdicate my human capacity to exert my will, it doesn’t work.)  For this human, the work is finding the willingness and strength to keep my mouth shut, put my fork down, step back from begging for love, stop the judgment stories, accept the mosquitoes, welcome the boredom and the fear. This is the grunt work of spirituality, and it’s necessary, because we’ve got to be willing to clear out all those preconceived notions in order to see what exists alongside the difficulty and drama—namely, grace, joy, and enough love for all.

In the same way, allowing is necessary because otherwise I might think that it’s simply my effort—that work—that brings all that good stuff about.   This is, of course, the great myth of individualism—that it’s all about me, and that everything I have is the result of my doing: If I play this situation right, if I do that behaviour often enough, if I say the correct thing here, then I’ll get what I want.  But a real relationship with God has to be about surrender as well as commitment.

What I’m trying to say is that our liaison with the Great Holy is not balanced; it’s not a matter of moral accounting.  We can’t say I’ll do this so God will do that, or God gave me this so I’d better do that.   Nor is this relationship totally unbalanced: I don’t get to loll around in the hammock with a frosty drink and wait for enlightenment.  The Divine love affair is a radically imbalanced set of movements, related but unequal; a waltz between doing and permitting, a tango between performing concrete tasks and allowing the Holy to stream through unimpeded.  It shimmies and shimmers in the spaces surrounding generosity, gratitude, sweat and letting go. To love God is to learn how to follow.

My experience is that some of us get so broken that we become willing to let go and allow ourselves to be completely led by the Divine—healed, you could say.  Like many others, alcoholism was my place of utter letting go; for my friend’s friend, it was depression.  The problem is that once we’ve been opened, once we’ve begun that delicate dance, we can’t ever go back.   Even if we stop our ears against the music, we know the dance is going on and we’re invited.

Better then, or at least happier, if we let grace lead us to work: let gift lead us to responsive joy.  I practice my steps so that I can tango when the time comes.  I remind myself I’m not trying to repay some One or to earn more goodies.  I just want to be ready to be swept away whenever it’s my turn on the floor. I learn the steps so I can relax into the arms of my Beloved and let the music of the spheres carry us away.