This is the second part of a two-part post. Please read the first part first, here.
Rilke again, 'cause dammit, he deserves to be read twice. (translated by Stephen Mitchell)
"How we squander our hours of pain.
How we gaze beyond them into the bitter duration
to see if they have an end. Though they are really
our winter-enduring foliage. . .
place and settlement, foundation and soil and home"
(still elegy number 10)
I am surprised and amazed at how impatient people who grieve can be, for their own wholeness (myself included). I am dismayed, but not quite as surprised, at how impatient OTHER people can be with mourners, dispensing Bible verses like medical prescriptions and declaring the issue done with. "Why are you still sad? I told you to give your grief to God a month ago!"
When Bruce Lee injured his back in 1970, he spent six months in bed, reading, because if he took a short-cut or rushed his recovery process, he would have put a ceiling on his own post-recovery ability, or worse, re-injured himself. The human body needs recovery time for injuries. That's just how it works. (Bonus points: I just compared myself to Bruce Lee! I kick ass!) Seriously, though, why do I think my heart would work any other way than the rest of me? The only part of me that can change quickly is my mind, and even then, the mind often has to wait for the heart to catch up -- that's why it was so hard to break up with exgirlfriendoseyo, even when I could see that we had no future.
I finally realized it's OK to say "actually, my life is pretty shitty right now," instead of "God is teaching me patience", when my friend wrote "I think God honours honesty more than anything else we try to give him" in an e-mail. I'll buy that. Isn't that what the entire book of Job is about: finding an honest answer instead of a quick answer? Also: thanks for that, Mel.
I believe an honest doubt honours God more than a blind faith, and waiting for real meaning is more beautiful, and more consecrated, than skipping to a rote, ready-made meaning, even if the quick answer comes in the form of a bible verse. I think an afternoon volunteering at an orphanage or a soup kitchen honours God more than either of those. (And helping others can do wonders for one's own hurt.)
During the dark, disappointed, meaningless parts, I found comfort remembering that during the wait for a messiah, God made Israel the nation it needed to be, not through a series of growing successes, but through a string of spectacular failures. (Don't believe me? Go read Numbers, Judges, and Chronicles.) Ditto for Saint Peter. The word Israel does not mean "He Who Has All His Shit Together" or "He Who's Squared Things Up With God". Israel means, "He Who WRESTLES with God," and what a wonderful name for a chosen people!
So after all that grief, after avoiding those false trails, where am I now? What meaning HAVE I found? Well, my ideas about God are very different than they used to be, and I think that's a good thing. There's a lot more honesty in the mix now, and a lot more knowledge of my weaknesses.
I no longer think of faith as a helicopter, lowering a ladder from the sky, to rescue me from my griefs -- I think now that faith is more like a walking companion, someone with well-worn shoes and holes in the knees, who doesn't always know the way, and certainly doesn't have all the answers, but who'll point out a root across the path, or pick me up after I trip on it, who makes interesting observations about the trail, who'd have my back in a pinch, and who's always good company. No, he doesn't make the path shorter, but at least he makes the time pass faster, and maybe from time to time, he just happens to have an umbrella when I really need one, or a pocketknife, or a joke that helps me laugh through a windstorm. In my diary, four months before my mom died, I wrote "I want a faith like a steel cable: tough, flexible, and useful." Maybe I'm closer to that now than I was before, but I'm not out of the woods yet.
I'm beginning to think it's OK not to be out of the woods, maybe that's not a statement of despair, but a statement of hope, hope that there's still more to be learned, if I keep myself open to learning. Maybe admitting "I'm not out of the woods yet" authentically IS the best thing I can come away with, and maybe The Lesson I've Learned is that life doesn't fit in boxes, nor needs to: Things I've Figured Out quickly become Prejudices, if I decide I don't have to keep thinking about them. Maybe some honest stumbling about in the woods IS an act of worship, and by being OK with that, or even celebrating that, it might even become a celebration of the fact we need never cease our search for meaning, that every part of our life can continue being deepened and enriched, long after we stop feeling sad.
"Someday, emerging at last from the violent insight,
let me sing out jubilation and praise to assenting angels.
Let not even one of the clearly-struck hammers of my heart
fail to sound because of a slack, a doubtful,
or a broken string. . . .
How dear you will be to me then, you nights
of anguish. Why didn't I kneel more deeply to accept you."
(Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies, Tenth Elegy, Opening)