The more I spend time by myself, the more I want to spend time by myself.
I am suddenly aware of my physical existence. A fuzziness in my ears from listening intently all day, and a tickle on the arch of my right foot as I stretch it out on the ground in front of me. A mild cough that hasn’t gone away from that particularly bad cold a month ago. The sound outside of campus police patrolling the apartment complex after our drunken neighbors broke the wall last night. My reflection in the mirror to my left, and the taste of strong peppermint tea, cooling my mouth.
My thoughts are scattered tonight, but they’ve been scattered for a long time. My brain is on paper these days. There’s no room in my head to remember little details like, when is that term paper due? and, when is the exam again? I’ve been noticing a mental fog for the last while, when thinking feels like pushing play dough through a very, very small hole.
There’s something pleasant about just sitting here, drinking peppermint tea and doing nothing. There’s no music playing, and the silence is so sweet. You learn to appreciate silence when you’re a music major. I would say that the stillness is like music to my ears, but I don’t have to analysis tone sets and phrase structures when it is silent. At least not this silence. There’s something about concert halls and picture frames that have a way of creating expectations. Silence in a bedroom is bliss: silence in Walt Disney Hall is 4’33” by John Cage. Frames are magic. Frames contextualize happenstance, turning a nothing into a something, and a something into a Some Thing. Suddenly, where there was once something unremarkable, there is something that has been remarked. All because of a frame.
Framing this time of sitting as a Torrey project turns it into Some Thing, and every person who walks by enters into the performance, unknowingly.
Performative Nothing. I like the ring that phrase has to it.
I have not been particularly good about blogging recently. I hesitate to check the actual statistics, but I think I’ve averaged about a post a year for the last two. In large part, this is because life has been happening and I haven’t had the time for introspection and private writing, but also because the speed with which my life has been changing has left me a little out of breath.
The scarcity of posts is going to change, at least for the next two months. This is not because my life has slowed down enough for me to catch up: on the contrary, I am facing an uphill battle just to graduate this semester. Long story. I’ll tell you about it some other time.
No, the reason I’m going to be writing more is because I have set myself something of a personal challenge for the final Torrey project of my career. Over the last four years, I’ve read an awfully large number of books, many of which (I’m looking at you Traherne, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky) dealing with the ties between enjoyment of and engagement with the world and the health of the soul. Being the most awkward combination of a type-A personality and a hopeless romantic at heart, I have adored these books and the thoughts they have inspired while also realizing that such a connection to the created order is entirely outside of my grasp.
You see, I am bad at doing Nothing well. Incidentally, I just realized that this ties into recent studies I’ve run across that link boredom with increased creativity levels. I just realized my project may have even more ramifications than I initially thought. But back to that statement. I am bad at doing Nothing well. I really hope you read that as it is intended and not as some sort of braggadociousness on my part. As my boyfriend is fond of pointing out, I have a hard time making space in my life during which nothing occurs. Every semester, I think to myself “Self, you have learned your lesson. No more overloading for you!” to which my Self says, “Indeed, but for my own good I must add 35 additional activities beyond the requirements for graduation to my plate.”
It’s a vicious cycle.
So for this semester’s Torrey project, inspired by great writers of the Western tradition, I am attempting to engage in five hours of Nothing per week. There’s obviously some structure involved in this great attempt, but a large amount of it comes from writing reflections on those periods of re-engagement with the world. I have a feeling that some of them may even be fit to publish.
Consider this a warning: there may actually be more than one post published in 2017.
I’ve reached a point in my life where the only thing I am certain of is that I have doubt. I doubt what I think, I doubt what I feel, I doubt what I say and do. I doubt my faith, I doubt my lack of faith.
I think, therefore I doubt. I doubt, therefore I think.
The clamor of my surroundings has moved from the external world into my internal one. Focusing is hard: when I start to move my attention to one area, another comes into focus: like seeing through broken glasses, discreet ideas keep fracturing and turning into new ones, brought in and out of focus by the smallest of shifts.
I am writing a symphony. Every day, I sit down at my computer and tear my ribcage apart. I then reach inside the gaping opening and dig until I find my heart, and then I pull it out, and squeeze every drop of blood out of my heart onto the digital paper, until my heart is dry and the page is wet. I replace my heart, and let it fill again with more blood as I attempt to arrange what is already spent into a meaningful sacrifice. And when I am done squeezing and arranging, and squeezing some more, I gently push my ribs back together and sew myself up until tomorrow. I am weary; I am poured out; I have become numbers inside a machine.
It’s an act of devotion, I think. To whom or what, I couldn’t say. My suspicion is that I am offering some devotion to humanity. Or maybe it’s a requiem, a mass for the dead. Forgive us, for we know what we do.
There’s a colorlessness that defies understanding, hidden in the deepest parts of the ocean. A whale that refutes all that we’ve ever known and believed. An apotheosis on open water, awaiting those intrepid enough to forsake the safety of land.
It’s calling me.
In my school’s chapel program on Friday, I got to see two of my friends lead worship for a gym full of regular students and visiting guests attending a racial reconciliation conference. It was a beautiful worship service, helped by the fact that these two friends of mine are music majors, gifted with trained voices almost as beautiful as their souls. As I was sitting there, thinking about how lovely these two friends are, I had a thought that I feel like sharing.
My mom has always encouraged me to become friends and emulate a certain type of woman. They tend to be extroverted, bubbly, carefree, with the sort of faith that comes easily and freely. From all external appearances, they have very blessed faith lives, with any crises of faith being minor or hidden away. They don’t swear, they listen to Christian radio, and they display all the other virtues of good, American, evangelical women. To put it simply, they are very much unlike me.
I struggle with my faith. It’s so far beyond messy, my extensive vocabulary fails to find an acceptable substitute. My faith is not the praise and victory of the Summer Christian; it’s much closer to the anguish, doubt, and pain of the Winter Christian, though I have briefly assumed to mien of a Summer Christian when social pressures exceeded my stubbornness (see particularly my time in YWAM). Even having experienced those things that Summer Christians emphasize (the activity of God in the world, the providence, divine intervention, and healing), my heart continually leads me to a posture of winter worship.
My faith could be best characterized by a series of upheavals, and I know my family sometimes worries about me because it doesn’t match the example of those role models I have been pointed toward. The truth is that I struggle with reconciling my faith and my life experience because I deeply, deeply care that what I believe to be true accurately and adequately explains my experience of a deeply broken, deeply messed up world. If I did not care about the truth, I would not struggle: instead, I’d end up tossing my faith to the wind as an irrelevant moral system incapable of addressing the problems of the world.
It’s been a major source of mental anguish and emotional turmoil that I could never even begin to approach that standard of the Summer Christian- I have been measured and found wanting. This feeling of inadequacy has prevented me from entering into relationship with those godly women, and while I’m working on leaning into that discomfort, I find that there is some fundamental gap in experience that often interposes itself when I find someone who has not been touched by winter.
So as I was sitting on the wooden bleachers, watching my two lovely, Summer Christian friends (who, as an aside, are engaged and are ridiculously amazing for each other), I was suddenly struck by a thought. It’s okay that my faith may never see Midsummer. If the seasons of my faith go from September to April, it is still as valid as those whose faith lives from May to August.
I don’t have some grand conclusion to the thought, just a little more peace.
If I knew
I was a butterfly
I would still question my lucidity.
What a sick joke it is
To be a
Losing its wings.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to have a simple faith. I know this is fairly ironic, considering that I’m currently attending a program designed to make me theologically precise and articulate. But really, the more I read about theology, the more I’m convinced I should be living out a simple faith.
What do I mean by simple faith? I mean one that is dominated by one commitment, to love as strongly and deeply as you can. In a world where Christians are increasingly gaining reputations for hypocrisy, judgementalism, and a whole host of other negative adjectives, every once in a while you hear something truly heartening. For example, the young Christian lesbian who came out to her very conservative parents who, while disagreeing, welcomed her and her girlfriend into their home. This friend of mine recounted to me that one day, her deeply conservative father looked at her and said that since sin is a thing characterized by bad or damaging fruits, and since her relationship seemed to be building her faith and building her character, he would stop preaching her sin to her when she came home. Her mom and dad decided to let the judgment be between her and God, and to continue loving her in all ways.
That, to me, exemplifies the heart of simple faith. When it comes down to it, my biggest aspiration is to know on my death bed that I have loved as violently as I can. I’m not so great at that right now. I’m judgmental and grouchy and really not all that interested in being kind to strangers. Every once in a while, I get a pang of conscience that I should look at someone and really see them, but those moments are few and far between. But I aspire to be someone better.
I think theology is important. I think it informs the kind of life you lead, because it informs your understanding of the way the world works. But at the end of the day, I would prefer to put aside the intellectually based faith I so often fall into when studying theology, and instead take up a faith that is lived daily, simply, and without ostentation.
Simplicity is, after all, a Christian virtue. But we so often interpret that as a call away from physical goods and to a life of austerity. What if that external simplicity is just a physical posture to represent the way our souls work? What if the call of simplicity is also a call to simple love, to acts of service, to a faith that informs not just the way you worship but also the way you ultimately make day-by-day decisions?
When I talk about this thought with some of my friends here at school, they frequently remind me of the adulteress whom Christ forgives, and then tells to “go and sin no more.” Isn’t it the Christian’s duty to love and to convict as well? Aren’t we to speak the truth with love into lives clearly in need of salvation? I think those are valid points, but I also think that Christ’s example should be looked at with the clear understanding that He is a unique happening in history. Christ was, well, Christ. God-Incarnate. Human and divine. And I have this feeling that Christ actually knew how to balance and convey both truth and love in His words, an area that I myself am sorely lacking in. I can’t do things perfectly. I can’t even do them half-well. So if I’m going to make an error, I would prefer to err on the side of too much love. If you speak with the tongues of men and angels, but have no love in conveying your message, then of what use are you to the good news?
I’m not sure I’ve articulated much of anything here. I want to be the sort of person who can say truthfully that the love of God compels me to love.