Suddenly I realize I am lost in the woods. I have followed one of those disappearing paths The ones that seem, perhaps, to be the way And, yet, lead only into a bramble. I stand there, looking one way and another. The fear begins to prickle at my neck And I know that I am lost Unable to find my way home My panic casts around for guidance I wonder if I can orient myself by finding the sun, By marking a shadow, By listening for the stream. I imagine that I can think the lostness away That I can retrace my steps Or just expand the field of my vision Far enough to find my place. But none of this works. Indeed, it threatens to deepen my panic And lead me further astray. I am helpless … I cannot save myself. I sit down upon a nearby boulder And my soul collapses within me I put my head in my hands and weep. This, this, is the lonely, helpless truth. I must wait And hope For rescue. The stone beneath me is cold. The sky is threatening dark. My heart is screaming so loudly within me That I almost mistake your voice for my own. And yet, my panic is a scream And your assurance is a whisper. It rises from somewhere deep within. Not from within me, but from within reality itself. I try to quiet myself To move myself aside, if that is possible, When it is me that must do the moving. How can I use my power to relinquish that very power? It is an ongoing mystery, This process of un-doing. This gritting of my teeth In order to let go. It is as if the deepest part of me Is not me at all, but part of something larger. As if, in the center of my very essence, There is a subterranean tunnel to the ALL. Can that be? Are you deep within the ALL? Within us all? Me, too? [image by jane cornwell per cc 2.0 from Flickr. The quotation is from Dante's Inferno ]
AAAAugh! I am fighting desperately to dig myself out of the heaps of responsibility and dread and guilt which I feel. Too much, too much and no relief. All the burdens I pushed away yesterday, to make it through that journey, come tumbling down around me, today.
I am trapped in an aisle of the warehouse, buried on all sides by parcel, books and papers. There is no order to my life and, more than that, no hope. I juggle tasks like people juggle their checkbook when they don’t have enough to pay all the bills, selecting in turn which project to neglect, so that all are behind, dragged along with strings of apologies and regret.
In fact, as I extract myself from the pile and make way down the aisle, they follow me, tied to me with ropes and strings, thumping and bumping along. I pick up one or two to carry as they get stuck in crevices and up against the shelves, but I cannot carry them all. I am haunted by their presence, oppressed by their weight. I use all my effort and it is not nearly enough.
I have tried resolve. I have tried list making and inventory taking, but I cannot find relief. My deep and hidden fear is that in the midst of my confusion I will neglect those things that really do matter and fill my arms with the bundles of irrelevant effort that someone else has decided would be good.
My eyes fill with tears and my chest aches with grief and disappointment in myself. I am only a whisper of what I need to be. I am only fading ink upon a page, a thread and not a cable. I have no strength to do what I must do. I am leaning against the tall metal shelving of the warehouse, crying listless tears, with not even enough energy to cry aloud. I feel no desperate rush of strength and fury, for that, too, has been spent.
I crumble to the floor into a heap of dust, no substance left.
A wise Narnian dwarf comes down the aisle. He has a broom and dustpan in his hand and begins to sweep my rubble into a pile. He scoops it up, and singing to himself takes it off to the trash. “Wait!” I cry, “Don’t you see me here? Don’t you know that this is all that is left of what am trying to do, what I am trying to be? Don’t throw away the ashes of my effort so lightly.”
“They are trash,” He says. “You have declared them so.”
“But they are all I have.”
“And so you have nothing.”
“Don’t confirm my fears in this way,” I beg. “Don’t relegate me to nothingness.”
“It is not my doing, but yours. You created the heap of ashes, you pronounced yourself worthless. I am only responding to our words.”
“But is it true?” I whisper “Is it true, what I feel? Is there no hope? I do not wish to be useless.”
“Much of what you feel is true,” He says. He has set the pile of ashes and rubble back on the floor and sits crosslegged before it, speaking to it, to me, in earnestness. “But you have not seen all the truth. You must look beyond your narrow vision. All you have used to judge yourself are measures which you cannot meet. You, yourself, have set the measuring sticks and you have marked them far beyond what you can do. There is no way to win when you have set the goals at such a distance.”
“What can I do?” I grieve. “What now for me?”
“You must look to other truths. The measure of yourself is not the vessel, but its contents. You have stretched your wineskin so tight that it has torn, trying to gather up all you see into yourself. Now you spill yourself upon the floor. Let go, let go, the whole world is not your charge.”
“Help me to let go. Help me to find the wisdom to release what is not mine to hold.”
“If anyone needs wisdom, let them ask. He promises to answer. But you must be willing to listen. He has not promised to rescue all your little projects. Yet you are still looking to them, hoping to find ways to create time — that is beyond you. Give it up.”
I shift within my pile of dust and sigh. “Okay, I let go my tight grip upon this rubble. I ask for wisdom.”
The Dwarf jumps to his feet, grabs the dustpan, scoops me up and strides away. I stifle a protest, swallow down my fearful grief and prepare to meet humiliation.
But he stops on the way to the trash heap beside a large drum with a wire mesh cover. He pours the ashes of myself upon that cover. Then he shakes the drum and flakes of me fall through the wire to the refuse heap below. The charred remains of good ideas and grand schemes tumble through the grid. Secret plans of my own glory, ones that I have even refused to acknowledge, fall through as well. Noble aspirations, they go too. But when he is finished shaking, there is something of me remaining on the top of the sieve. A handful of gems, dusty, but true. He reaches out and gathers them up and wraps them in a velvet cloth that he has pulled from inside his waistcoat.
“What is there?” I ask. “Can you name the gems?”
“Oh yes,” he says, “I can name them all.” The voice is no longer that of the dwarf, but the voice of the Holy One. “I know these gems, for I have been mining them, crafting them within you. They include your love for me and, greater still, my love for you. You can see the red drop of my own blood with this diamond, here. Your relationship with Tim is here, and with your children. Your family and your friends are among your gems, the treasures of your soul. And they will remain regardless of the outcomes of your projects, large or small. They have true and lasting value.”
“I know and love those gems. I have been richly blessed.” But I cannot keep the next question from rising to my lips. “What of my work? Is it all to be trashed? Is it all dust and rubble?”
“It is not meant to stand on its own. Without other supports it crumbles into useless refuse. Built upon relationships, it can provide expression for the truth. Seek not the form, but the substance.”
“Your sayings are hard,” I reply. “I do not know how to live them. I do not know, when I turn from my meditation, how to pick up my day with discernment. I cannot see the difference between rubbish and treasure. Help me to pull your reality into my working day today, so that I can see, with your wisdom, the choices I should make.”
Suddenly we are beside the well of joy. He reaches to the well and brushes it surface with his hand, he dips out a palm-full of its water. With his other hand, he touches a finger into his palm and a single drop of water, he places on each of my eyes. “May the light of your body bring light to our soul. May My very Spirit, which grows within you, answer that light with light of its own, until you truly see.”
This blessing he pronounces over me and then is gone.
I’m not sure that my vision is fully altered yet. But today I vow to look at what I do with eyes that are being renewed. “Help me, Lord to see.”
He whispers, “You shall see.”
“I COMMAND YOUR DAY,” he growls, that gray wolf of late assignments and neglected duties. “I will eat your life, will consume your energy, will wear you out for no gain.” He relishes his role. “I don’t even care if you succeed in your tasks. It’s your soul, your spirit I am after. I can throw you crumbs of accomplishment and you will eat them eagerly and still you will starve.”
I am beaten. I slump against a fallen log and sit with hollow resignation, waiting for his teeth to tear my heart. I can fight no longer. I have nothing left to throw up in my defense. He circles the tree, my form, with gritty pleasure. He licks his chops and chomps his teeth in anticipation. I wait.
My heart faintly whispers a plea, helpless and with no faith to send it upward, it hangs upon my lips and drops to the ground. I am defeated.
“But I am not.” An angel has seated herself beside me on the fallen log. She removes her cloak and wraps it round my shoulders. It is warm and smells of adventure. It wraps my soul. Then she stands and plants her staff in the ground. She draws a circle in the dirt, surrounding me, surrounding the log, surrounding herself. “This place is claimed as holy,” she proclaims.
The wolf is pacing now, angry, suspicious and with glaring eye. He charges at the circle, but at the last moment diverts his steps. He growls and throws his anger at the circle, at the two of us within it. He rails against the barrier and gnashes his teeth. “Why do come you to rescue this pitiful soul?” he demands of the angel. “Why waste your effort on one who has nothing to give, not even a whimper of resistance. This one is of no value to you. Leave her and let me finish my feast, it is no loss to you.”
“If she is insignificant, why do you want her so?” The angel asks.
“I gain pleasure in defeat… she is giving me what I desire.” The wolf replies.
“You want to extend your kingdom beyond its current boundaries, but she belongs to another kingdom, exists within another’s realm. You cannot claim her soul. You see, it is you that have been defeated already. Eating at her only feeds your fantasy that you can regain what you have already lost.” The angel is calm and measured in her reply, but it is clear that she is on her guard. Confrontation with a wolf is not to be taken lightly.
“Fool, fool!” The wolf shrieks and paces. “You think your words can put me off, you think that you have strength against me when it is obvious that I have the power of this world. You cannot resist me.”
He cannot contain himself in his anger. But instead of charging the circle, as it seemed to me that he would do, he turns and charges off into the woods.
When we are alone, the angel turns to me and helps me to my feet. Her cloak is still wrapped around my shoulders. She grasps my shoulders in her hands and gazes into my eyes. “Do not give in to despair. The great wolf’s only power is deceit. Do not give in.” Her voice both pleads and commands. “Take this cloak, this staff and claim your ground as holy. Do not let him enter.”
As the angel turns to go, she slips a leather belt from her waist and hands me a pouch that was hanging from it. “Do not forget to eat.” She says, quietly. “Feed your soul on truth, on the words of hope, on relationship.” Then she is gone.
I sit upon the log, wrap the cloak around me and open the pouch. I eat the manna with a grateful heart. Around my heart I draw a circle with the staff. “I claim this as holy ground,” I whisper and hold the staff tightly in my hands.
My heart whispers a prayer of its own, “Save me from the wolf’s breath.”
The wind answers. “I will save.”
My mind is pretty muddy lately
I wander in circles and find myself nowhere
Where did I put that bit of wisdom that I thought I held?
I need eyes that see – that clear the fog around me and pierce through to hope.
And yet, I have no secret in my heart to take me there.
I am bereft.
Is this where it ends?
Or where it begins?
It seems my impotent soul must make a choice –
The only power left to me –
The power to give up
Or the power to let go.
It seems the same choice, but it is not.
One leads to despair,
The other plants a seed for hope.
One leads only to ashes,
The other looks for a phoenix from the fire.
The idea of giving up
Sits on the edge of my awareness and grins it’s cruel grin,
Telling me that I might as well accept the truth of futility.
Why struggle anymore against the inevitable?
Why sacrifice if it leads to naught?
Better to hunker down and protect, as best I can,
What is still within my grasp.
It is the easy choice – requiring only the merest nod of agreement –
And the abdication of my faith.
But there is a false bluster in that specter’s grin.
It is not so confident as it seems.
It’s eyes are never smiling.
The upturned lips are really a scowl –
A mask it wears to fool the world,
Hoping to convince itself, as well.
If I am to die – and we all do –
Then I would rather die an open soul, held in relationship.
Than one curled tight around fear and despair.
And so, I release my small nothing into your grace.
And decide against despair.
I turn away from the hard, empty scowl of discouragement.
And seek the warm smile of friendship and of hope.
It is the best that I can do, today.