Yesterday I sat watching a storm tumble in as they can do only in this region of the country -- catapulting, cranky and fast. There were spiny shards of lightning, whipping sheets of rain you could see approach from a distance of 30-40 miles, and a thunder roll that had three large dogs shaking behind my legs.
I was mesmerized. I gathered up the dogs and went inside to watch. It was not a small storm. It brought hail, the noise of nightmares, darkness and ferocity.
And I had this unbidden, strange, delicious thought: I am created. I am a creation.
It seemed more like a letter addressed to me than a self-generated idea and what it appeared to be telling me was this simple and magnificent thing: I am not my own. I no more created myself than the thunderhead before me or the mountain with which it collided.
Now, to me -- as much as to you -- that is a very strange idea. It is almost a cultural betrayal. Like everyone else, I have told myself many times that I am very much my own. I have not only told myself, I have repeatedly taught that idea to others. I was told to believe in myself, so I cultivated that belief. I was told I am my thoughts, so I have aimed to think well. I was particularly told to think well of myself and have developed what is generally considered to be a healthy sense of self esteem. I own my home. I have a career. I build friendships. I am ME. I am MINE.
But then the storm said, "Well, not exactly..."
It went on to say that I was not my own, certainly not in the way I had thought. It said I was God's. That, like the thunder, the lightning, the birds taking refuge in the trees, I was His creation and that it was all constantly unfolded, rolled into motion and kept in existence by an act of Will that was not by any means mine.
Given how I was raised, trained and educated, I would have more than expected that thought to be anathema to me. What do you mean I'm not my own??? It was an odd moment overall. But when I think back to other moments of great understanding or fragments of Grace, I think much of what has been shown to me has been odd. Some were real head tilters. I imagine they made me look like my dogs do when I start talking to them. And in some ways, those experiences weren't much different. It was as though I was hearing a language I'd never heard before except that I could understand it -- just not with my ears or my conscious mind. And this was no different. It was very strange and very big. Much bigger than my body, my mind, or anything else I considered proprietary.
Looking back I would've normally expected myself to be either a bit frightened or annoyed; it surprised me to find out that I was actually relieved. If I was created, my existence not only had meaning, it was personal.
I finally began to understand what "self-esteem" alluded to but never gave me: a sense of belonging. In that storm, a new truth was revealed; none of us -- not me, not the dogs, not the mountains or the rain -- stood solely for ourselves. All of us in unison pointed to Something Else, a Magic that was deeper than magic, a single Breath that filled the lungs of all life. And all of it inhaled, hoping for more. Self-esteem had never been enough.
Not for a moment in that reverie did I feel as though belonging to Another had stripped me of the ability to choose. The moment came with an invitation, not an ultimatum or a compulsion. I could continue to rely on myself -- or not. I felt perfectly free to choose what I did next: ignore the message, dismiss it as unscientific, laugh at it, write about it, sit with it. The possibilities presented themselves and later that evening I chose (as you can see). And as I wrote, trying to sift through the sensation (because it was quite physical) of being actively, consciously and purposefully created, I found that it made me more than I was, rather than less.
A bit of history might help you understand why this is such a great relief for me and why I chose to write to you instead of to ignore the experience.
Most of my life has been spent in fear, fighting fear or treating fear. Of what? Of everything. Of death, of life, of loving, of losing, of being well, of being sick. The why's are too numerous to go into here (maybe another essay), but suffice it to say that it was exhausting, at times incapacitating. It's been many years since then, but the body memory can be recalled with ease.
The natural result of all that fear was -- for me -- the futile attempt to control my circumstances. If I can "just" drive this way, or I can "just" get him to do it that way, or if I can "just" keep my schedule in "just" the right order, all will be well, I will be safe, I will be loved.
Needless to say -- and you all surely know this from your own experience -- it didn't work. I just spent more and more time trying to ward off an army with a toothpick. Controlling didn't bring love, never guaranteed safety (only the temporary illusion of it) and never made me well. If anything it called forth the opposite: It made me annoying, it put me in situations which I should have hastily avoided, and it weakened me so that I took sick.
As I watched the storm I began to understand that the fear had the power it did for so many years because I had felt utterly alone. Of course, I wasn't alone -- neither in the social sense, the psychological one, nor the spiritual one. But I felt alone, on my own the way a forsaken orphan does, one who mistakenly struggles against the world with the full load of survival on his way too narrow shoulders. And because of that I believed I had to manage everything. If I didn't, who would? I was convinced that it was up to me.
That is the price of separateness. I was mine. But, then, with that, so was everything else.
I'd like to share with you a wonderful idea. It comes from a book entitled "Orthodoxy" by G.K. Chesterton. In one segment, he talks about the Will that beckons us from behind every rock, breeze and berry tree, and how the perceived repetition of nature (the sun that rises again and again, the tides that rush in and out at the same time every year, the exchange of synaptic chemistry in predictable ways) is due not to a series of unimaginative scientific laws or a dull and insensate lifelessness but to a conscious vibrancy, "a rush of life."
He likens it to the way children kick their legs back and forth, back and forth, enough to drive more sedated adults to distraction, not because of an absence of vitality but because they have so much of it. He recalls also (who hasn't done this?) the way children will happily hear a story over and over and over, pulling on someone's shirt sleeve, "Read it again!" The adult may be bored to tears, but the child is enthralled every time.
Because of a child's unbridled enthusiasm for life, because they are still unfettered in spirit, everything they see bares the stamp of the Great Magician, all of living is an act of mystery, daring and surprise, every day is prefaced by the curtain being pulled up to reveal a new rabbit or an inexplicably empty box.
"It is possible that God says every morning, 'Do it again' to the sun; and every evening 'Do it again' to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. May be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy ... our Father is younger than we are."
He goes on to reveal that he has always seen life as a story, and "that if there is a story, there is a story teller."
I saw at least a bit of that story in the dark clouds and torrents of rain yesterday and finally, finally got a sense of the Great Story Teller Himself as he wet his thumb and turned the page and asked me, "Would you like to see what happens next?"
And my heart leapt and my lips said "Yes!" glad beyond words that finally I did not have to know the ending, that I could be a part of something much grander and beloved than I ever could have if I had tried to do the writing myself.