St. Aidan’s Day
I seem to have come through a crisis moment with my health. I went to the doctor with one concern, and, after running a quick test, he became concerned that I might have various forms of cancer. I underwent more tests, all which came back clear. No cancer.
Still, for nearly a month, I was left looking down the long, dark road of my future. What if I were going to die much sooner than I had anticipated? It was an intense month. I felt all the feelings: anxiety, fear, anger, grief, peace, acceptance, surrender, trust, joy. I began to have the sense that God was setting my life on fire. The whole world, my friends and family, and I myself seemed lit from within, radiant.
And then, mercifully, the test results came back clear, and the moment of crisis passed. Now, I find I have to face into the possibility of a long life, which is a different kind of challenge from facing into the possibility of a short one.
In discussing this situation with a spiritual friend, I was gradually able to articulate some of the various contours of this complexity. In a real way, I was prepared to die. I felt that, if the die were cast, I could offer up my life to God with gratitude for the love I had learned to give and accept. I had no real regrets, and I was aware of the blessing of being able to say that. At the very same time, although that trust enabled me to hold the fear of death in a different way, terror remained. Acceptance, it turns out, doesn’t mean the muck of life somehow turns to gold. It just means that the muck isn’t the only thing there. I can’t recall a period of greater anxiety in my life.
Faced with the possibility of a long life, I keep asking myself, “What happens to the fire?” Fire consumes, and one cannot stay lit forever. I’m not an angel; I’m a person. And I have to live my life like a human being, which means live in the messiness and imperfections and incompleteness of this hungry state. How did Lazarus feel when they unbound him? How did the tomb change the rest of his life? I wonder.
This same friend told me that, were he faced with a more immediate death, he thinks he would wonder what difference he had made in the world. That wasn’t my question. I kept wondering how well I had learned to love, how much I had disclosed of myself to the people who mean the most to me, how often I had stopped to listen.
In the midst of this month, another friend sent me a video called Godspeed. It’s an excellent and thoughtful inquiry into the speed with which we so often live in the modern world. The climax of the film (spoiler alert) comes when N.T. Wright posits that God moves at 3-5 mph and that our difficulty is that we never allow God to catch up with us.
Despite living in a monastery, despite spending most of my time engaged in prayer and creative work, I have begun to feel that I am living my life at much too great a speed. Yes, there’s plenty to get done. But the truth is that I could have much more space in my days than I allow for. What am I afraid of, if I slow down? What, concretely does slowing down look like? Again, I wonder.
Arising from these various queries, I am able to name a craving for depth. I feel sometimes as if I’m gliding along the surface. I want to drop anchor. That may sound strange from one who has vowed stability, and yet, it’s how I feel. I voiced that desire yesterday, and I’m writing it down here, so now it’s out there in the world and has power over me.
Last night I dreamt that I was moving into a kind of dormitory deep in a swimming pool. Part of the pool was filled with air, but the main part of the living area was underwater. I was afraid to go into that part because I’m not a strong swimmer, and I didn’t know if I would be able to breathe, and the water was very cold. That seems a fitting dream for this moment of my life: just outside the depth I crave, my own trepidation the only barrier to entering that depth, the door wide open.
One thing I have discerned is that, for the time being, I need to take a break from writing this blog regularly. It’s not that my writing isn’t an integral part of this process of moving into depth. It is. But I need to write without an audience for a bit. Part of the craving for depth is a craving to bring my inner and outer lives into more harmony. In this particular moment, I believe that requires a kind of solitude I’m not allowing myself.
It has been a privilege to write these meditations for the last year and a bit. I’m fully confident that I will return them, likely in a few months’ time. I thank you for reading and commenting. I also encourage you to remain subscribed so that, when I do resume this public face of my writing, you’ll be the first to know.