Sometimes we are astonished when we learn that although we did not actually ‘do’ anything for a certain individual, our simply being present or showing up allowed something to shift in his or her inner landscape that made space for deeper healing. Sometimes we discover that in simply being present to another’s pain we experience the Divine in them that awakens the Divine in ourselves.
K. Killian Noe, Descent into Love
It’s an odd thing, this sense we have of not ever doing enough, of not achieving things, when truly it is not we who do anything. Things may be done through us in prayer, of course, but it is not we who do the doing.
(The need to feel we have achieved something may be part of the attraction of violence: when we have knocked someone down, or bombed a city, we feel that there is no doubt that something has been done, and that we did it. There is a certain satisfaction to be found in this.)
I am continually living within this tension: I know that I am called to the contemplative life – which is after all in a way nothing else than being present to, or showing up in love for, God, as for the world in its pain and its becoming – and yet I am constantly changing, being changed, involved in the unfolding that is my life, and of which my death will be part.
Esther de Waal wrote:
Stability calls me to stand still, to stand firmly planted not on any plot of ground but within myself, not running away from who I am… Yet I am presented with the necessity of living open to continual conversion, ready to grow and change and move on. On the one hand I find that I must stay still; on the other, that I need continually to change. As I try actually to live in this way I find that here I encounter a fundamental tension that I know I can never expect to escape or evade, but one which answers a deep need in me, so that simultaneously I stand firm and yet also I move on.
Doing. There is so much of it, and we are taught as soon as we can stand that we need to be doing, and that we need to take responsibility for our deeds. And yet…
David Dellinger, writing of his time in solitary confinement:
I was in the Hole for the first time, no light, no bed, shivering in the midst of summer in a cell that was damper and darker than the Swiss dungeon I had visited a couple of years earlier. ‘You won’t come out,’ they had said, ‘until you agree to obey orders, all orders.’ For no reason I can explain, I began to discover how little it mattered where you are or what anyone does to you. I was sure that what I had done to get there was right and somehow the longer I was there the better I felt. I felt warm inside and filled all over with love for everyone, everyone I knew and everyone I didn’t know, for plants, for fish, animals, even bankers, generals, prison guards and lying politicians—everything and everyone. Why did I feel so good? Was it God? Or approaching death? Or just the way life is supposed to be if we weren’t so busy trying to make it something else?
All that we do is part of that unfolding of our life, our “one wild and precious life” as Mary Oliver put it, and we do not unfold that. We do not bear ourselves – and our mothers would probably tell us that birth occurs, it is not done – and we cannot choose our length of days. But we can be present to all that happens to us, truly open to this paradox of presence – that all our searching and our pilgrimage lead only to home:
If you would know God and worship and serve God as you should do, you must come to the means he has ordained and given for that purpose. Some seek it in books, some in learned men, but what they look for is in themselves, yet they overlook it. The voice is too still, the Seed too small and the Light shineth in darkness. They are abroad and so cannot divide the spoil; but the woman that lost her silver found it at home after she had lighted her candle and swept her house. Do you so too and you shall find what Pilate wanted to know, viz., Truth. The Light of Christ within, who is the Light of the world and so a light to you that tells you the truth of your condition, leads all that take heed unto it out of darkness into God’s marvellous light; for light grows upon the obedient. It is sown for the righteous and their way is a shining light that shines forth more and more to the perfect day.
William Penn, 1694 – Qfp 26.44