I’m a muller and a ponderer, a ruminator and a thinker. Not long ago, one of my daughters told me that I think about things more than anyone she knows. She also said I “think weird,” which was a free reflection bonus for me, kind of like the prizes you get with your happy meal at McDonald’s. I knew these facts about myself already, but it’s nice to know that someone who knows me well knows it, too. It’s good to know who you are and to be able to consistently show yourself to others, too. As The Librarian wrote in a recent comment, we are our own gifts. And as I replied to him, one has to use the gift.
So I’ve been mulling. I get quiet when I mull, and I don’t want to write what I’m mulling about. But when I get quiet and don’t write anything—not even in my journal—then days and days pass and I begin to fear that the blank page is my blank life. It’s like sitting on the beach and watching the fog roll in, and then being in the fog on an empty beach, with the ocean stretching in front of you (you can hear it), but you can’t really see much. Everything clammy. You’re shivering. Yet the combination of blindness with muffled breaking waves is spellbinding. So you sit and shiver.
If I could shiver in my mind on that beach, that’s what I’d be doing. I see things, and seeing them gives me pause. I see them, but poof! then they vanish. I almost wrote, “then they vantage,” a nice peek at the sleep (there, I did it again… and I’m going to leave it, for I meant to write “slip”—see how that works?) … a nice peek at the slip of my unconscious.
Then they vantage; a nice peek at the sleep of my unconscious.
Yes, a peek at the sleep of one’s own unconscious is a good thing. One gets surprises.
One thing I see is that if I don’t write about something when I am feeling and thinking strongly about it, I may lose the impetus to write about it at all. I’ve read about this in several books about writing. Authors say to respect inspiration, for it’s creative and it’s time to write about it when it’s time. But I confuse intention with purpose and fail to factor in everyday life with its demands; and also the persistence of unconsciousness and fish that don’t want to be fished out of the deep. So I’ll sit and ponder, caught up in my own blindness and the sound of muffled, breaking waves. And I am spellbound.
Something has happened to me lately. It feels like what happens when you know something that nobody else knows, something delicious and wonderful, but also something frightening because of its aim to change your life forever—like suspecting you’re pregnant, or like being on the verge of buying or building a new home, or maybe like winning a trip or some lottery money, or getting an inheritance but not being quite sure that it’s really going to go through.
My perception of this change in my life reminds me of a beautiful passage in the Bible that talks about being brought forth into a “broad place” after being in a place of terrible restriction and deprivation. In the second book of Samuel, in the Old Testament, there’s an account of King David’s song to the Lord on the day he was delivered from the hands of all his enemies, including King Saul. David wrote:
For the waves of death encompassed me; The torrents of destruction overwhelmed me; The cords of Sheol surrounded me; The snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called upon the LORD,Yes, I cried to my God; And from His temple He heard my voice, And my cry for help came into His ears.
He sent from on high, He took me; He drew me out of many waters. He delivered me from my strong enemy, From those who hated me, for they were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my calamity, But the LORD was my support. He also brought me forth into a broad place; He rescued me, because He delighted in me. (2 Sam 22:5-7, 17-18 NAS)
I see many things in this passage that speak to me: fear of death, big waves and torrents that threaten to destroy; Sheol, a place of suffering and purging; traps and enemies, no peace and no rest. Calamity. I see,too, that people are always people: they confront when support is needed. They lecture or judge, or roll their eyes with impatient disgust. But the LORD was my support. This is true.
When I meet people who are atheists (as I once was), I always guess that they had confrontational rather than supportive parents, parents who inflicted the god wound which is not yet healed in that person. So far, I have never been wrong. I have never been wrong. Well-loved people know that God (by whatever name they know the Divine) is good and supportive, loving and a place of refuge, a deliverer and an eternal Lover. Like that childhood prayer before dinner, “God is great, and God is good; let us thank Him for our food.” They grow up with that and they’ve lived it, and they don’t need to hate, fear, disprove, or disbelieve in God. He is a place of refuge.
I do believe this is what’s happened to me. The wool was pulled over my eyes and I sat for a long time, in wool, in fog. I believed what people told me about themselves and about how they felt about me, even when faced with evidence to the contrary. I believed because I wanted to believe, because disbelieving would mean I would have to act in my own interest, and also that I was surrounded many times by people who were confronters when supporters were needed. People who would see a person in distress and do nothing to help, offer no love. This is like parents or teachers who tell you to figure it out for yourself, when you’re only a child.
My daughters have a band teacher like that now. They’re learning to play the flute, and have a band test today. One of the items on the test has something to do with a symphonic B, maybe a concert scale; we’re not sure. We’re not sure what was wanted, because a girl in the band raised her hand in class and asked the teacher, “What’s a symphonic B?” And the teacher replied, “You should know this by now! If you don’t know, I’m not going to tell you! You’ve been in music since Pre-K!” After witnessing this, neither of my daughters wanted to ask, either. They will miss the question on their test, because I don’t know what the teacher wanted, either. And I told my girls that their band teacher isn’t teaching with her gift, she is badgering and belittling children and that I’m sorry they have a teacher like that. I sat down with them and showed them how to practice what we did understand, and they were happy and energized afterward, and practicing their flutes this morning before school. I gave them the support they needed, because I love them, and because they are worthy of love.
This teacher was confrontational when what was needed was support. People are like that. You. Me. Them. All of us. One reason why I know more and more strongly the presence of God in my life is this very thing: humans are rotten. We are rotten and the idea of sin—of how we miss the mark all the time—and of the glory and holiness of God are just right. It’s impossible to live in the world, to raise children in it, and to fail to see the evil in human beings, unless one is unconscious. The longer you live, the more you’ll see it. And yet you’ll also see unbelievable good and generosity in the world, and you’ll know that goodness and love are possible. Eventually, after living and observing for awhile (if you yourself are awake and aware) you come to understand that very few people are awake, alive, and conscious in their minds and spirits. Abraham Maslow estimated that only one or two percent of the human population alive at any given time could even possibly be self-actualized. Carl Jung believed the percentages of the self-actualized to be about the same. And Jesus said that the way to life is very narrow, and few, very very few, were on that right path.
But we know it’s there, beyond the fog. And we long for it.
So, like good mulled wine or cider, I have my spices and have had the heat of suffering over many years, and I’ve mulled within myself for a long time, and that mulling has brought forth something sweet and heady, strong and delicious and wonderful. Also something breathtaking, confounding, and shocking. It has me teetering on the edge of something I can’t yet see or perceive, because there’s still a fog, too. But behind that fog, I hear the steady, rhythmic pounding of the deep, strong, eternal sea.