Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Words That Move Me - Gift from the Sea - Part 2

(Click Here for Part 1)

Glimpse of an Image

In that moment of prayer I felt love flow into me. In hindsight, I see it was a pivotal moment in understanding my relationship, as a woman, to the divine.  It certainly wasn't the first prayer, though. I'd spent over two years pondering, writing, and discussing with husband, parent, and mentors. I had prayerfully read through just about every book in my scriptural cannon - many times taking a week to write, ponder, and apply each scripture that felt like it called to me. I listened whenever I drove to a talk from modern Prophets and Apostles. Eventually, I picked two apostles and listened to their talks from their first to the most recent. I was given and found articles in an online journal that explored things from angles that were important and new (<------ links to three of those articles).  

Those were all shells I found when "ebb tides [revealed] another life below the level which [I did] usually reach." With the ebb tide in that moment of prayer, though, it wasn't words that helped me, it was an image.

It was an image that I felt, but didn't see. First (and yet all at once) there was an organized and peaceful city, filled with busy men and women, equal, but different, completing each other. The city was surrounded by a forest with mountains, rivers, and lakes that beckoned the men and women to journey "further up and further in." The forest was surrounded by a wall. Beyond the wall stretched an eternal land that never seemed to end.

'All you need... is in you right now. Your job is to take those crude elements within you and refine them.'... In other words, the Lord is saying 'Take the reins. Take charge under the direction of my Spirit. Don't wait for someone to tell you everything to do.' ... You prevail over people, things, and situations by your faith. 
         ~ Gene R. Cook, Living by the Power of Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1991), 89-92

In the city there was work and peace between the women and men who were equal, different, and complete. In the forest, it was an individual journey with mountains and hills to climb. With each summit scaled, you could see over the wall to the land beyond. It was breathtaking, each glimpse of that land. So beautiful it filled you with hope and love. It beckoned you onward. 

I advise all to go on to perfection, and to search deeper and deeper into the mysteries of Godliness... I am going on in my progress for eternal life... Oh! I beseech you to go forward, go forward and make your calling and your election sure. 
     ~Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 364, 366.

Then, I inserted myself into the image. I was in the city. I journeyed into the forest. With each hill or mountain I climbed, I felt that pull of the eternal land beyond. The farther I went, though, the more I saw something missing both on the wall and on the other side. Women. Only men climbed the wall and looked out to the land beyond. I knew it was for a reason, but my experience in the city taught me that women were needed to complete men and vice versa. So where were the women? We must have some role or function at the wall or beyond it? Why was it hidden? What was I to learn from that? When I reached the wall, that feeling of despair and abandonment set in. I was too close to the wall to see the land beyond, to feel its warmth, see its beauty, or remember its nearness. I turned back, but now the wall followed me, always in memory before my eyes. It made the city look different, the forest look different. The wall was in my eyes. I couldn't be free of it. 
"For the Lord shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places" 
      ~ Isaiah 51:3
Strangely, this image was a comfort, even though it seemed to cut off before giving me any resolution. The next morning, I put on my walking shoes. I felt renewed energy, the darkness lifting, and I wanted to be out in nature and walk. My sister, pregnant, but alert for so early in the morning, asked to join me. We set off on what became more of a spiritual journey for me than physical. I told her of the image and of all the thoughts that we'd discussed before, but this time, it was different.  The tide was turning, it was time for the water to begin returning. As we talked, the image and my sister worked as tools of precision, untangling, ironing, smoothing, and nourishing. When we returned to my brother's home, I felt more whole than I had in a long time. The wall didn't come down. I just stopped demanding that it come down. Like my sister said, "So there's a wall. Okay. Now what?" Nothing will be accomplished by remaining in my current course. Climb more mountains, serve and love more in the city. So I did. I finally could. I left the wall. And it left my eyes. 

... and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord    
      ~ Isaiah 51:3

I found that there is this feeling in those dark times before the tide comes in. When all is dark, there is still a way to find the direction to travel and "draw near unto [Christ]." For me, it is a feeling that you can be pulled forward - that there is future progress down that path where the other paths feel they reach an end. Often, the first steps in that direction seem wrong to our mind (in contrast to the peace in our heart). The natural tendency we have is to want to label our actions - and we use the culture we've grown up in to determine those labels. But God has labels we have no knowledge of. He has purposes we can't comprehend and He can see where the path leads. We just have to trust that the feeling of Eternity, of progress, and of hope that beckons us in that direction means we should go in that direction. We should not stand still anymore. 

I've also learned there are many things that can distract us in this life and many things and people we can draw near unto. I've learned I want to choose to draw near unto my Savior.  He's my advocate with the Father in this life. He is the way.  I'm coming to know him - and I don't ever want to stop. He's more than any words I can use. His love is more beautiful and comforting and nourishing than I can explain. So I choose Him. Even when I can't see Him or feel Him. I choose Him. 

I believe now that day with the image and the walk with my sister was only a preparation for the following week when I would experience a great loss. I could not have survived it spiritually, had I been in the place of darkness I was before that breakthrough. In that loss, the Lord found a way to perform one of His greatest moments of healing. 
When the heart is flooded with love, there is no room in it for fear, for doubt, for hesitation. And it is this lack of fear that makes for the dance. When each partner loves so completely that he has forgotten to ask himself whether or not he is loved in return; when he only knows that he loves and is moving to its music - then, and then only, are two people able to dance perfectly in tune to the same rhythm. 
       ~Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea, 97-98.

I felt enveloped in love. I felt a knowledge distill upon me that all the efforts to create as a woman, had been recognized, validated, and accepted by the Lord. I felt healed from the results of past mistakes to close the door to that creation. I felt whole - no more holes. He was filling them. 

... joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody.    
         ~ Isaiah 51:3

I have felt it important to share these glimpses of my recent experience. I have felt the need to witness that we have a Father in Heaven. That he loves his children and that we are his children, sons and daughters. I witness that we have a Savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  I witness their power and love is real and that the way to feel of that love and power working in your life is to choose them. To draw near to them. To yield to their tuning and tutoring. And to find gratitude IN the journey.

The rest I have learned with a sure knowledge will be revealed on the ebb tides of life when we are ready. So get ready, or it will never come to you. Don't stand still. Face it. Not with signs and picketing for what we want to find on that sea-bed, but alone on the beach of our souls as individuals with study, prayer, pondering, the making and keeping of covenants, and always taking upon us the yoke of Christ. Then the Source of Light and Truth will reveal to us little by little each "shell" we need as He changes us little by little. 

I know now why it is a yoke - because it is work - this business of "growing into the sort of [eternal being] He wants [us] to be." 

Perhaps this is the most important thing for me to take back from beach-living: simply the memory that each cycle of the tide is valid; each cycle of the wave is valid; each cycle of a relationship is valid. And my shells? I can sweep them all into my pocket. They are only there to remind me that the sea recedes and returns eternally.  
    ~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea, 102.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Words That Move Me - Gift from the Sea - Part 1

Backward glimpse

Gift from the Sea

I'm young, those who know me might say. I was married at the age of eighteen, had my first child at twenty, my last (is it the last?) at twenty-six. I'm now thirty-two. But last week it happened - a single white hair. I showed my brother, visiting from New York. He examined it and... plucked it out! I mourned the loss. Why did I... it's strange, but that white hair was a treasure to me. It felt symbolic of the progress of recent months; a trophy that I dared to hope was symbolic of earning at least a hair of wisdom after recent life experiences.

    The signs that presage growth, so similar, it seems to me, to those in early adolescence: discontent, restlessness, doubt, despair, longing, are interpreted falsely as signs of decay. In youth one does not as often misinterpret the signs; one accepts them, quite rightly, as growing pains. One takes them seriously, listens to them, follows where they lead. One is afraid. Naturally. Who is not afraid of pure space - that breathtaking empty space of an open door? But despite fear, one goes through to the room beyond.

    But in middle age, because of the false assumption that it is a period of decline, one interprets these life-signs, paradoxically, as signs of approaching death. Instead of facing them, one runs away; one escapes - into depressions, nervous breakdowns... or frantic, thoughtless, fruitless overwork. Anything, rather than face them. Anything, rather than stand still and learn from them. One tries to cure the signs of growth, to exorcise them, as if they were devils, when really they might be angels of annunciation. 

     Angels of annunciation of what? Of a new stage of living when... One might be free for growth of mind, heart and talent; free at last for spiritual growth.

           ~Anne Morrow Lindbergh, "Gift from the Sea," p.79-80

Whether the white hair signaled middle age or not doesn't matter I guess, the "signs that presage growth" are the same old or young, according to Lindbergh's life experience. We can be always growing. I wrote in the margin of this book when I read it at the beginning of the year, something I find a bit ironic now,

 "We progress if we don't ignore those moments when the Tuning Fork sounds and we feel its dissonance with our soul's pitch. If we do not walk away from the quick vibrations, those discomforting, soul-shocking waves, but rather, draw closer to the Tuning Fork, yield and align. That is growth - unity with Truth."

That was mostly theory when I wrote it. Or maybe a nugget of inspiration born from the experience of small dissonant moments I'd known to that point in time. But it wasn't long before I came to a place where the vibrations became truly discomforting, soul-shocking waves. And, I found a certain dance occurred in those vibrations. In and out, I'd join hands with God only to let go and move backward - shocked by sudden pains, tired from the effort to stay in the dance with so much dissonance present. Most of the time, I did not dance well:

"One cannot dance well unless one is completely in time with the music, not leaning back to the last step or pressing forward to the next one, but poised directly on the present step as it comes. Perfect poise on the beat is what gives good dancing its sense of ease, of timelessness, of the eternal."

       ~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh, "Gift from the Sea," p.97

All things that once gave me comfort, direction, peace, inspiration - were taken away. They weren't gone - I just now had a filter I couldn't remove that changed them, morphed them. I kept looking beyond to the eternal and could not see myself there - there was no female to model, no feminine divine to embrace. All comforts seemed of male origin. I no longer saw them as neutral or adaptable to myself. Everywhere I looked, there were holes, emptiness and the feeling of a kind of abandonment.

My dear Wormwood,

   So you 'have great hopes that the patient's religious phase is dying away', have you? I always thought the Training College had gone to pieces since they put old Subgob at the head of it, and now I am sure. Has no one ever told you about the law of Undulation?

   Humans are amphibians-- half spirit and half animal. (The Enemy's determination to produce such a revolting hybrid was one of the things that determined Our Father to withdraw his support from Him.) As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for as to be in time means to change. Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation-- the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks. If you had watched your patient carefully you would have seen this undulation in every department of his life-- his interest in his work, his affection for his friends, his physical appetites, all go up and down. As long as he lives on earth periods of emotional and bodily richness and liveliness will alternate with periods of numbness and poverty. The dryness and dullness through which your patient is now going are not, as you fondly suppose, your workmanship; they are merely a natural phenomenon which will do us no good unless you make a good use of it.

   To decide what the best use of it is, you must ask what use the Enemy wants to make of it, and then do the opposite. Now it may surprise you to learn that in His efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favorites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else. The reason is this. To us a human is primarily food; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense. But the obedience which the Enemy demands of men is quite a different thing. One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself-- creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because he has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His. We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below has drawn all other beings into himself: the Enemy wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.

   And that is where the troughs come in. You must have often wondered why the Enemy does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to override a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve. He is prepared to do a little overriding at the beginning. He will set them off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation. Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs-- to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best... Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.
                       ~ C.S. Lewis, "The Screwtape Letters," Chapter 8 

This passage I remember today, would have given comfort and direction about a month ago, but it did not come to mind then. Instead, I lay in bed, silent tears running down my cheeks as I felt the now familiar feeling of the ebb-tide of my life, that feeling of being forsaken. I decided, if all things that once provided comfort now only increased those dark feelings and the longing and the pain, then I would let them go for now. I would not let them become a tool of the enemy (don't mistake this for "the Enemy" mentioned by Lewis which is actually God in his flipped story from two evil spirit's perspective :-). 

Instead of the pain of loss I felt when pursuing those old comforts, I would cling to the only thing left. Prayer. And so I prayed. I expressed my gratitude for the many tender mercies, divine signatures and miracles of the past years; the moments I could not deny that I was loved by a divine being, that I was being cared for, guided and watched over. I stopped demanding to understand why there were holes, or when they would be filled, or what my role in filling them was, and just desired to feel His love in that moment. And I would use prayer to get by one moment at a time, until in His time, the tide would flow in again.

    We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return. We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity - in freedom, in the sense that the dancers are free, barely touching as they pass, but partners in the same pattern. The only real security is not in owning or possessing, not in demanding or expecting, not in hoping, even. Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what it was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now... One must accept the security of the winged life, of ebb and flow, of intermittency. 

    Intermittency - an impossible lesson for human beings to learn. How can one learn to live through the ebb-tides of one's existence? How can one learn to take the trough of the wave? It is easier to understand here on the beach, where the breathlessly still ebb tides reveal another life below the level which mortals usually reach."

    ~Anne Morrow Lindbergh p.100-101

There, on that beach of my life, the ebb-tide began to reveal some precious shells I never would have discovered had the water not ebbed out as it did. 

But this is a glimpse, not a complete history. It is a small wave of thought. The next glimpse is perhaps best if it comes with the next wave...

(Click Here for Part 2)