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Children And Their Wonder

April 2013 - Rangoon, Burma - Outside The Strand Hotel.


This is almost three days late, and surely a dollar short, but we do what we can do...

For one thing, I am glad to know what a spirituality of creation is. I was afraid I was going to have to go out and hug a tree or something. I have hugged trees, so I guess I am a tree-hugger. But I can't hug just any tree, only those I genuinely love. But wonder, renewal, beauty, joy... I can do that.

I do that quite a lot, actually. It does amaze me each morning that I have been brought in safety to the new day AGAIN. It is amazing enough to me that I can lay down, loose consciousness, and then reawaken refreshed even one time, but to do it every twenty-four hours (more or less) really is remarkable. I mean, where do we go when we sleep? What brings us back? We begin each day with this miracle, so I don't think it's any wonder that we continue with a sense of appreciation and awe throughout the rest of the day.

But, here's the thing for me, I am all about the wonder and awe, and I give thanks and praise to God, and I feel so blessed because I've lived longer and better than I ever thought I would, and those thoughts and feelings are very clear here in my house where I sleep, and pray, chant, and read. They are even clear to me as I leave home and greet the little birds, and closer to work where I see brother dog and sister dog. My heart is so light and giggly by the time I get to the 108 Shoppe to buy a soda that the clerks have dubbed me the Happy American. Sometimes they even ask, "Why you so happy?" And, really, I have come to believe that being happy is probably the most effective Christian witness I've ever done. Everybody wants a piece of whatever you've got.

But at some point during the day I notice that I am not really that happy anymore. I feel tired and generally just aghast at the world. It's so noisy and demanding. Culturally and socially, I am constantly lost and screwing up. And, whatever else I might be, I am not joyful, renewed, or appreciative of any damn beauty. Know what I mean? This was especially acute yesterday. I woke up with my usual rose-colored glasses on, but as soon as I got to the airport I noticed that... well, never mind all that, suffice it to say that I became grumpy right away. And I asked myself and sort-of generally directed it to God as well, "What's up with that?" Just a couple hours ago I was in awe over the sound of raindrops on my umbrella, but now I feel like an ogre-bitch. How is such a wild swing even possible?

And that brings us to the two things that I disagree with in Sister Dorothee's writing.

1. I don't think feelings matter that much, and

2. We were not "born for joy." I wasn't anyway.

Let's take the first one first.  Soelle says that only the broken person has been socialized in a culture that prevents people from loving creation and experiencing it in wonder and awe. But, I think we are all broken, and we are all products of that culture. It's no good dividing us up into the broken and the unbroken. If my brother is broken, then I'm broken too. We're not all so separate as to be easily divided.

When I look at the world I see that it really does suck. This is a very bad world: it is limiting, violent, and hard. There are only three dimensions, we all live in prison of time, survival is hard, there are ghosts of violence around every corner, and the smell of death just down the street -- sometimes I hate this world. It is most certainly not conducive to joy.  I would say that joy is one of our best defenses and weapons against this place. I would say that joy is a tool, not a reason for being.

The reason I was born is to help get this place ready for the Kingdom Of God. And I've frankly got quite a lot of work to do because... just look at this place. Bur mere brokenness will not hold me back. Joy is a gift, a shield, a sharp and swift sword. I'm all for it. I won't leave my house without it. But it's not the reason I am here. It is a tool I use.

And the other thing I disagree about is the emphasis on feelings and words. Oh, sure, I was irritated yesterday morning at the airport when my joy seemed to vanish and the grumpy seemed to come. But those feelings are just feelings. The brave little birds fluttering in the rain did not go away, the juicy droplets did not stop their melodic pounding. None of that went away. There was still a magnificent sunrise, even though I barely noticed it. So I really don't put a lot of stock in feelings.

From time to time someone will lament to me that they are going through a dry spell. "I just don't feel close to God," they will say. Or, "I don't feel like God is listening to me..." The thing is that those are just feelings. If you don't feel close to God, that doesn't mean that you aren't. If you don't think God is listening, it doesn't mean she's not. It just means that something in your perceiving isn't perceiving it that way. Don't pay so much attention to how you feel about it. Good feelings feel good, bad feelings feel bad.  Generally, though, they're just feelings.

When we chant the Shma we sing the first part heartily and loudly. "BARUCH ATA ADONAI, ELO..." like that. We sing it like we really feel it. But the second part is almost a whisper "baru shem kvod malkutho, lay o'lam..." like that. Very softly.  And this reminds us that sometimes we can hear God, and sometimes we can't. But God is always singing to us. -- Sometimes we appreciate the beauty of the world, the noble dog, the scampering gecko, and sometimes we don't appreciate it so much. But the dog is still noble and the gecko still scampers. God is still singing.

In a related vein, it seems to me that this chapter places too much importance on language. It begins with an assertion by Soelle that she is looking for a new language. But, I gotta say, I am not clear on what was wrong with the old one. We have a saying down in Texas, that's where I'm from, we say, "If it 'aint broke, don't fix it." (Of course what we MEAN is, "If it's not broken, don't repair it." But, I digress.) I am fine with the language I've got. Sometimes another language might have a word I like but when I try to teach my friends about such things it just irritates them so I am not sure how useful that is either.

If there is one thing I've learned from living in places where I don't know the language it's that words really aren't that important. People like to say "words matter..." and it's usually someone who is way to prissy for their own good who is saying it. The truth is that unless you are entering into a contract or other legal agreement, they do not. Meaning matters. Words come and go. In their native language, most people say exactly what they mean anyway. I used to know a woman who would say something hurtful and then she'd say, "Oh, no, I didn't mean that, that didn't come out right... let me say it again," She was so earnest and appeared to really be struggling with finding just the right word.  And then the person she said it to would want to help her, and even feel sorry for her. But the truth is that she had said exactly what she meant the first time. I observed this many times and I called her on it once. She admitted to me that she did it because, "It's so hard for a priest to say some things." Of course, not everything needs to be said.

Again Soelle says, "We rush to discover a language" to talk about the object of our love. "We have to articulate it," she says. And to that I say, "No, actually, we do not." We may, but we do not have to. When I was in my "articulate it" phase it was because articulating was the only way I had of understanding, and understanding was the only way I had of being. Oh, how limiting that was! We most certainly do not "have" to articulate anything, and most things that are worth being -- joy, love, light -- are things that aren't really understandable or articulatable anyway. (I know some people who think they understand them, and God knows I am not going to do anything to try and dissuade them from that opinion, but... I'm kind of like "whatever, dude" on that.)

Articulating is a poor person's spirituality. Becoming and being are where the gold is. Just be the joy, be the love. That is how you change the world. That's how we get it ready for the Kingdom of God. Understanding it is really laughably insufficient.

So, for me, as I prepare to leave this little bubble of that is my flat and enter into a world where I really don't understand the rules or mores, I want to remember that I am a child of God, I am loved by God, I am close to her, and she is still singing to me, even when all I can hear is traffic and all I feel is disoriented and stupid. Because I am loved by God I can be love. And because God is joyful, and God is in me, I can be joy too. And none of that is dependent on how I feel, what I understand, or how I articulate it. It's my job. THAT's why I'm here. I say NO to this world and it's insanity. The way I do that is by being its opposite. When I sing, or if I even dance, the evil forces of this universe tremble. When I become joy to the extent that it makes others think I'm up to something, the very foundations of evil quake. Understanding, articulating, even working real hard... none of that is as effective as just singing.

I have only read this twice so after I do the more thoughtful final reading I may change my mind entirely.

As usual, your mileage may vary.

Oh, God... am I blogging again?