It is Monday again somehow. I spent part of last week and half the weekend at a large academic conference, and I was presenting this time, so it has consumed a good bit of effort from the past few weeks to be ready for that. It feels good to have it checked off my list. Yesterday I crammed all the usual prep for the work week into the few free hours I had. Today is Jude’s ninth birthday, so I baked a coffee cake to greet him when he wakes up, and we will do what we always do and sit at our breakfast table and sing happy birthday to greet another year.
Right now, as I type this, the house is quiet and it is still dark outside. Coffee on my left and the dog sleeping in front of me with only the glow of my favorite lamp and the screen in front of me. I always wake up an hour before the rest of the house. The only time of my day where I can feel the space around me and in front of me and slow my pace enough to settle in. This is my favorite hour.
Where to even begin with this? Saturday I finished up the conference just in time to catch Rob Bell’s Atlanta stop on his Holy Shift tour. Pete Rollins was the opener, and I also grabbed a ticket for the Q&A session an hour before the show started. My brain was so fried from 3 days of academic jargon that I was a little worried I wouldn’t be able to rally for hours of talk on God and humanity and philosophy, but they both grabbed me with their material, and it was the best night I’ve had in such a long, long time. As always, what I needed to hear found me at exactly when I needed to hear it.
As Pete Rollins opened, he spoke a bit about that space between what we are and what we want to be – the ways that it can motivate and it can also create pain. The story of Adam and Eve shows us this. As does psychology (what is out of reach is always what you crave) and Greek myths, too. But Rollins rolled on with that Oscar Wilde quote, “There are two tragedies in life: one is not getting what you want and the other is getting it.” And he spoke about how we always think that next thing is what will make us happy, but in reality it never does. I think I forget this – that the secret to life actually lies in the longing, the desiring. Until you lock into that space of longing for something just outside of your reach, you can absorb a kind of inertia. (Something Rob Bell has coined as death by wallpaper and flooring on an earlier talk. A slow, steady death I see all around me in this chapter of my life. People who are asleep at the wheel all day long.)
I think the image Rollins left with us that won’t leave me alone is the idea that we are all haunted houses full of ghosts rumbling somewhere just beneath what we can access in our daily lives. He asserts that only when we are dreaming can we access this real space and we have to, in a sense, go to sleep when we wake up to begin our days so that we can get on with the usual business of life and distract ourselves from all these existential questions. As someone who swears that my dreams speak to me sometimes (especially lately), I feel this so closely.
The whole intention of this tour is to explore the word holy with both its ancient context and its modern use, and Rob Bell came out after Rollins to do just that. (Here we are in 2018, and someone can come to an empty stage, one microphone, one chair, and no screen, and talk for nearly two hours about the word holy. Amazing.)
He used the story of Isaiah who claims he had a vision of the throne of God as angels circled saying Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh which is Hebrew for holy, and he jumped forward to what exactly does that word mean anyway, and how can we harness that in 2018.
I cannot condense two hours into a few paragraphs, but essentially what I came to hear and to hold a little closer to my own experience is this — Some things cannot be explained. And what is holy never makes sense in our immediate lives. When something makes me feel big (motherhood) or small (staring up at the night sky) or when something is just too weird as he so simply called it (the million instances in my life where things just cannot be rationally explained) … all of these things show me that there is just this space where I stand sometimes that I need to hold a little more loosely. I need to perhaps stop trying to connect the dots and just let it be and know that this is something different than the rational, something sacred and set apart only for me and my particular path.
I thought I was there already, but this past month has shown me that I am not. I could hold it all a little more loosely than I do. I could trust a little more.
In one of my favorite of Bell’s talks that I have downloaded and listened to repeatedly, he says, “When we suffer, often our first instinct, our first impulse, is we want answers and we want them now. And that longing and desire is driven by if I just had a black and white, clear cut explanation as to why it would perhaps fix this pain that I am holding that I don’t quite know what to do with. But in my experience, I don’t know if explanations and answers are ultimately what help us heal. Why did that particular cell mutate that way? Why did that car hit that patch of ice? Why did that person’s heart become hard in that way? Would a clear explanation of that really help a person begin the long, slow road of putting one foot in front of the other and begin to heal and imagine a new tomorrow? …. There is an absolute universal truth I know for sure and it is this. When we suffer, this too will shape us.”
Two weeks ago, when my kids had been at dad’s for the weekend, they rolled in at 5pm, and we sat down in the little playroom to the right of the front door. Jude was babbling about something; I don’t remember what. Norah was trying to interrupt him to say something as well, and she laid down on top of me on the floor so that her head was on my chest, and I was just lying there on the floor looking up at Jude sitting there next to me talking and talking. He laughed at something; I don’t remember what it was, and it didn’t matter. And I don’t know what it was about that particular second. Maybe that I’d had a hard weekend battling my own never-ending need for answers and demons of self-doubt. Or maybe just that the house was full of smiles and noise again, and there was fall afternoon sunlight spilling through the front window.
But whatever the reason, I know that one full sentence ran through my brain unbidden. Maybe I am building something different than I knew I was. Unexpected words that come from someplace else are another way that the holy shows up for me.
I don’t even know entirely what that means yet and where to put it. But I think it is connected to all of what I heard on Saturday night. There is no end game where I stand. This is not some stepping stone to a perfect plateau that I can see stretched in front of me. This is now and here, and that is all I can see. Instead of connecting the dots, I’m going to hold it all a little more loosely. Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh. Maybe I am building something different than I knew I was.