Monday, January 28, 2013

Don't you dare pull my strings: A rant about destiny

Expectant puppets. Photo by msoe, flickr

"It's time I share the news," my fellow choir member said during practice a couple weeks ago. "I'm taking a new job ... and I'm moving to the Midwest."

We all started oohing and aahing and crowding around her, asking what she'd be doing, inquiring if she knew anyone out there, probing about how the pending change was affecting her. She explained it was the right career step for her and that she'd prayed deeply about it.

"I'm just along for the ride!" she said. "God's pulling all the strings."

Everyone nodded in total agreement. Except me, who looked at her as if she'd suggested she was going to move her belongings across state lines via unicycle.

God's pulling all the strings. Her phrase has been driving me bonkers for two solid weeks. Why? Because it smacks of predestination -- the doctrine that God, because He knows everything and is always right, has "appointed and ordained" everything that's ever happened and will happen for the rest of time, and thus by extension knows who's reaching salvation and who's not.

Then I start down the path of thinking about free will -- the doctrine that God created us as rational creatures who "initiate and control" (read: choose) our own actions and are responsible for those decisions and their consequences, in the supreme hope that we'd seek Him (read: good) above all else.

And then there's a mind-bending middle ground where God knows what we're going to choose but leaves us free to choose it anyway. (Aggravatingly circular example here.)

[Here, incidentally, is where I throw up my hands and screech, why the hell are any of us presuming to know what God does or doesn't know? Is He sitting on a fluffy cloud right now chuckling about how I was predestined to write a post about predestination? Doesn't he have much, MUCH bigger fish to fry? Like, I don't know, war?]

But back to my fellow singer for a moment. She was already considering the new job. She was actively reflecting on what her best next step might be. She was taking into account her dreams, her interests, and her potential calling. So to say only that "God's pulling all the strings" ... doesn't that write off the intense effort, thought, and discernment she put into this decision too?

Discernment. For me, that's the lynch pin in this armchair-theology cluster of a post. No matter what the "truth" is, no matter which doctrine will prove correct when we arrive at the pearly gates, she made a conscious, heartfelt effort to seek out God and ask how she might best serve the world. That's faith right there, because she could have hated hearing the answer. But she asked anyway, and I think she deserves credit for that because it is really. damn. HARD.

At the end of the day, I believe what God wants from us the most is just to say hi, check in, and ask. What we do from there is up to us. We can accept or reject, adjust or rebel. But the common thread is action, because faith -- a dynamic, sincere, responsible faith -- requires us to participate in our own destiny.

Prayer #239: Destiny's Child

If the Calvinists are to be believed, then we are all riding along in one big Driver's Ed vehicle where we think we have control of the car, but really the instructor can hit the breaks from the passenger side at any point.

It's not that I can't do this alone. (Though let's be honest -- I probably can't.) It's more that I shouldn't do it alone. So I won't. Because even if You do know where I'm ending up, I still have no clue what's coming, so we might as well put the high beams on together.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Water the damn seeds: A reminder about potential

Photo by splityarn
"There’s a darkness upon me that’s flooded in light
In the fine print they tell me what’s wrong and what’s right
And it comes in black and it comes in white
And I’m frightened by those that don’t see it

When nothing is owed or deserved or expected
And your life doesn’t change by the man that’s elected
If you’re loved by someone, you’re never rejected
Decide what to be and go be it

There was a dream and one day I could see it
Like a bird in a cage I broke in and demanded that somebody free it
And there was a kid with a head full of doubt
So I’ll scream til I die and the last of those bad thoughts are finally out ..."

-- The Avett Brothers, "Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise"

One benefit of taking Latin throughout high school is that I now know the linguistic roots for many random SAT vocab words. For example:
  • Insula means island, which leads to insular.
  • Mel (mellis) means honey, which is how we arrived at the "smooth, rich flow" of mellifluous.
  • Potens means power -- and with power comes a great amount of words, including onmipotent, impotent, and potential.

Potens in particular kept floating up the other day as I spent three hours hunched over my keyboard devoting full attention and angst to researching POTENTIAL publishers for my POTENTIAL stories as a necessary precursor to my POTENTIAL rise to fame and eternal literary glory.

"Must have an agent."
"Must be a published author."
"Must have clips from other national magazines."

Catch-22s, I groused. What plebeian dreamer could hope to scale these walls? What blood money or promise of first-born children could I deliver to launch my still-potential career?

Then I remembered: Actually submitting the stories would be a good start.

So here I am. All potential; nothing realized. All capable of developing; nothing developed. All poised to exist; nothing there.

On one hand, it's heady to have only daydreams. Reality can't poke a hole in my airy castle. No one can contradict my vision. But on the other hand, I shirk accountability. Reality never has a chance to exceed my wildest dreams, and people can't appreciate what I've created.

So it's all potential. All capable. All poised. All within my power (eh? see what I did there?) to realize. And therein lies the reminder and the gauntlet ...

The reminder: Potential means already having within you the seeds for success.

The gauntlet: Water the damn seeds.

Prayer #238: Go Be It

Do not gather dust on a neglected shelf, or hang unseen in a shadowy hallway, or shrivel up for want of water, simply because you forgot to make good on what I gave you.

If conditions aren't right, make them right. If you can't make them right, ignore them. I formed you intending motion, and motion I will have, before your potentiality rots from lack of exercise.

Be a fact. Be actual. Be real in the fullest sense -- the real I want you to be.


Monday, January 14, 2013

The scared person's guide to bravery

"You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don't try." -- Beverly Sills

London, England. Photo by jose.jhg

What, exactly, is bravery? (See also courage and vulnerability.)

It's often painted in militaristic terms -- rooftop proclamations, flags planted in triumph, bellowing brute force. But braver still is a handshake -- an overture to peace.

To be brave is to defy self-preservation. It dares the uncomfortable and invites the pain. Bravery accepts what must be done and does it when no one else is looking (or bothering).

Bravery is the pit in your stomach before the plunge and the release you feel after the thud. Bravery is appreciating the stakes. It finds glory in the attempt, not in the victory.

And who's to say what victory is, anyway? Maybe in this moment, being brave is victory enough. If so, acknowledge it. Bravery doesn't laugh or gloat, but it does permit itself a sigh and a pat on a back occasionally.

Bravery is getting going. Bravery is stopping. Bravery is trying at all. It's knowing you did what you thought was right, even when "right" is murky.

"Brave" is perceived. Bravery is demonstrated.

Bravery starts hard conversations.

It signs its letters.

It makes eye contact.

It requires much and often returns less. But still, I ask to be brave, because bravery is the only way any real work gets done.

Prayer #237: Bull's-Eye

Bravery is not shooting the arrow. Bravery is being the target.

Put me square in the bull's-eye from this moment on, red and blaring, to beckon the challenge.


Sunday, January 06, 2013

Can you love something into existence?

No really. Think about it. Can you?

Stencil in San Francisco. Photo by Franco Folini, flickr

Here's how I arrived at this particular mind knot. Yesterday, I was sitting in the congregation at my friends' wedding. C and J are a lovely couple -- fun, generous, and surrounded by a great community of friends and family. The deacon (a relative of the groom) gave the sermon, and at one point he said: "Your love has always been here. It has been here since God first loved you into existence."

God loved you into existence. I'd never heard that phrase before (which, if fast Internet research is to be trusted, means I haven't been paying attention for my nearly-30 years in the Catholic Church, but we're letting that go for now). So when I heard it from the pulpit, I had this immediate and highly sacrilegious train of thought:
  1. I remembered when I was five and asked my parents where babies come from. They answered, "When two people love each other very much, their love comes together and makes a baby." So for the next 3 or 4 years, my conception of conception was that love rays shoot out of a couple's chests, collide in between, and form an infant floating in space.
  2. I pictured God sitting alone in a dark universe, tapping a finger on a nearby plane of existence, thinking "Hmm, what to do, what to do ... I know! I'll love something into existence!", and then clenching everything from jaw to ass cheeks to squeeze out our feeble human race in a great big pile of love.
  3. I wondered: Can I love something into existence, too?
And then I had this train of thought in response:
  1. Though I now know where babies really come from, I don't think my original perception was that far off.
  2. Did I really just picture a Divine Creator pooping out love?
  3. Technically, babies are "loved into existence" with very human acts, sometimes involving tequila. So yes, I could technically do it.
But that wasn't really my question. I wasn't talking about creating people (though if I'm ever pregnant, I might use this theology as a basis for an epic power trip). And I wasn't talking about the call to love others, because I did pay enough attention over 30 years to pick up on that. I was asking it in a more holistic way: Can I love something, anything, so deeply and so sincerely, that I give it a life beyond its abstraction?

For example: Can I love a goal into achievement? Can I love inspiration into art? Can I love a relationship into friendship or romance? Can I love the very act of loving, so much that I give love legs to walk upright and speak without thinking and go where it pleases?

And then my head exploded.

So I'm giving you the headache instead. Can focusing on love itself, rather than the objects of it, become a self-fulfilling mission? And does it protect us from playing God, and instead help us play human in all its cracked, reflective, and occasionally brilliant glory?

That's it. Off you go. Let me know what you think.

Prayer #236: Cuppa Love

"Love one another as God has loved you."

Golden in its simplicity. Direct in its order. Impossible much of the time.

But what if I sit down at a diner counter instead and see love before me as a steaming cup of coffee, waiting for me to wrap my hands around it, cradle it, sip it? What if I pass the cup? Fill another one? Make a fresh pot and invite others to sit around me?

Then we'll all line the diner counter, each with a cup before us, warm and energized -- not thinking about the menu, not thinking about the check, just savoring what's before us and within us.

Love in such a form is addictive. Hook me now. Hook me always.