Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The Hidden Life and Its Questions




If I were to tell you one more thing, it would be this: Do not believe that the one who seeks to comfort you lives without difficulty the simple and humble words that sometimes help you. His life contains much grief and sadness and he remains far behind you. Were it not so, he would not have found these words. – Rainer Maria Rilke

I was thinking about these words from Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet in the shower this morning as I pondered this online life of mine and the hiddenness of the life that lies behind it. Online, you see what I show you and I try to show you what edifies, but I also try to be truthful, as much as is possible without causing harm.

For example, I posted a picture on my personal fb page yesterday, a picture of my cat and dog taken after eating lunch on our front porch, surrounded by sun and sky. It was a good picture and a lucky day (mid 70s!) to be eating lunch at home. It was the best part of my day and I shared it with friends online.

But I didn’t share waking up at 5 am and being unable to get back to sleep. I didn’t share how I curled up in bed at 7 pm while the boys were out with John. My daughter came to find me, and I told her, half-joking, “Come get me in twenty minutes, I think I might have depression, or maybe it’s just PMS.”

//

I resigned from my job as Associate Pastor at a local church just over a week ago. It was not a decision I was planning and was not easily made. It’s a choice that comes at a great cost to my family and me. It’s a choice I was privileged to make.

I am grieving. I am free. I am wandering through days suddenly empty, unpacking the contents from my office at the church into my office at home. I’m grateful all over again for the shelter of this place we call home, for the animals and children to tend, for the office and work of my own.

I am grateful. I am grieving. I am wandering. I am free. All of these statements are true.

But I’ve been careful in what I share.

//

Looking through Rilke’s letters, I find another line that rings true for this time: “Do not draw conclusions too quickly from that which is happening to you. Just allow it to happen.”

I’ve been thinking about the space between a thing and its naming; how mystery and possibility dwell there. The space before naming invites a posture of curiosity, which is open and probing, rather than judgement, which is closed. When we name a thing – an experience or person – we lose access to all the other names that might have been. Labeling an experience ‘good’ we deny the bad. Naming a person ‘evil’ we sign an unspoken pact to overlook any glimmers of goodness.

Think of the way naming the humble dandelion a “weed” blinds our eyes from the glory of this roadside yellow friend. There’s one even now (in March!) in my front flower bed, but I won’t celebrate its golden head with anything near the welcome I offer to the purple crocus nodding just two feet away.

There’s a space between a thing and its naming and I’m living there these days. It’s a space of mystery and possibility. It’s a space of occasional fear and dread. For the most part, I’m trying to lean toward Gerald May’s summation in The Dark Night of the Soul: “To be immersed in mystery can be very distressing at first, but over time I have found immense relief in it. It takes the pressure off.”

Few of us are very comfortable once the pressure’s off. Sure, it’s good for a day, or maybe a leisurely week or two. But most of us want to be quickly back at it, whatever it may be, if only by naming experience, cordoning it off, somehow checking a virtual box marked “done.”

Which brings me, finally, to another piece of Rilke's advice: 

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

"Live everything," Rilke says. This is the point. 

Do you see what he does there? So often we live for the answers, as though they were the point, not the living itself.

Live everything: Live the grief. Live the freedom. Live the gratitude. Live, also, the fear, when it comes. Live it all.

Even if it never quite all makes it onto your newsfeed. 

6 comments:

  1. Thank you for these words. Lots if good gems!

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  2. Thank you for this, Kelly. I think we who write are quick, if not to judge, then to name. It's what we do: we describe, compare, reflect. I love being reminded that mystery and possibility lie in the space before naming, deciding, acting. It's where I need to be abiding just now. Wishing you every good thing in this new stage of pilgrimage.

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    1. YES, that being true about we who write. But, also, words are so very good for wandering lightly around in that unnamed place, for putting flesh and bones on curiosity's questions and insights. Thanks for being here.

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  3. I love these words and am sending love to you and yours in this moment that I will not name. :)

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    1. I'm so grateful to know you, friend. Your online presence enriches my life in many ways. Thanks for the love and sending it right back atcha.

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