A trackless place…

I have been in a trackless place, recently. Things I thought I knew had become clouded over, old wounds long healed reopened. A mist had rolled in, and instead of hiding the known ways it had wiped them out, long-trodden paths scoured back to loose sand and the entropy of marram…

As I sat in meeting on Sunday morning, wondering how I could have so lost my way, a Friend rose and gave these words as ministry – just these words, without commentary:

All our steps are ordered by the Lord;
how then can we understand our own ways?

(Proverbs 20.24)

The verse struck me like a lightning bolt, as no Scripture had for a long time. It was as though the Friend, or really, through him, God, had spoken directly to me, directly to the confusion and self-doubt, the mirrored memories of pain, the emptiness where not even longing was.

Since then this little isolated verse has grown friends, words in the hollowness where my heart still beat:

These are indeed but the outskirts of his ways;
and how small a whisper do we hear of him!
But the thunder of his power who can understand?’

(Job 26.14)

How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
I come to the end—I am still with you.

(Psalm 139.17-18)

I wrote a few years ago that,

For myself, I have found I cannot find God by looking, or thinking, much as my whole life may seem to have been spent in a search for – or being distracted from a search for – what is true and is the source of all that is. What God is is unknowable. Anything I might say or think about God is partial, incomplete and misleading. God is not to be contained in our understanding, not constrained by time, space or any other dimension. The only way I can know God is by not knowing.

Faith is not so much a way of knowing as it is a way of being known. God is so far beyond the reach of our frail and temporary minds that all we can do is keep silence, and wait. Only in that relinquishment of knowing can we hear God, for much as we cannot seek him out, he will find us, and in that finding will come our own real and lived experience, the presence and Light which is within and beyond us, as it is within and beyond all things. In himself God is No Thing, for what he is is without limit or beginning, and is not dependent; yet within him all things live, and move, and have their being – are loved even, and held in love beyond time and distance.

I think my hope lies in my own littleness. I am so small, so transient and partial, against the scattered glory of the night sky…

O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth! …

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them? (Psalm 8 1,3-4)

[Forgive the pronouns in this post, by the way – without fooling around inventing made-up words, I can only use pronouns that are gendered, or else wilfully ungendered, and it is hard to speak of an it who loves. God is not a person like you or me: not that he is less than a person, but that he is infinitely more.]

15 thoughts on “A trackless place…

  1. Caedmon

    So moving and strangely encouraging (in the coeur/heart sense) that you open up in this way, Mike, thank you. I don’t know if it ties in, but for me it does, with this poem I’ve recently written on the 3 year anniversary of a terrible pain and breaking open in the Hafez sense:
    Solace At Solstice
    Understanding comes in waves,
    inhale hiss and soft release.
    3 years to the day, of blaze,
    and ways to see and feel and be.
    The world, my life, are charred
    and turning on their axis.
    But my heliotropic heart,
    twisting from the glitter gaze
    of Narcissus and pride,
    turns once more
    to the Great Light.

    Reply
  2. treegestalt

    We can know, and do know, because God wants to be known.

    This is not knowledge like our usual knowledge, that we could pop into a jar & mount in an album, to be looked at from time to time.

    Okay, it even gets distorted by the ideas and experiences we’ve been given to shape it with. It’s not harmed by being incomplete & somewhat mistaken. We have the Subject Himself available to refine it, as needed, when it ripens into a larger map of God.

    Daily bread suffices; we don’t need to eat the bakery.

    Reply
    1. Mike Farley Post author

      And, I think, God’s way of being known is in his knowing us – “O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away…” (Ps. 139) That’s why erotic imagery – though it doesn’t appeal to me in this context – is so popular with people like John of the Cross, I think.

      Reply
  3. Hilary

    Made me think of my fave poem

    Prayer is like watching for the
    Kingfisher. All you can do is
    Be there where he is like to appear, and
    Wait.
    Often nothing much happens;
    There is space, silence and
    Expectancy.
    No visible signs, only the
    Knowledge that he’s been there
    And may come again.
    Seeing or not seeing cease to matter,
    You have been prepared
    But when you’ve almost stopped
    Expecting it, a flash of brightness
    Gives encouragement.

    Reply
  4. ginnywall

    Hi Mike. My dear friends who identify as non-binary or gender fluid generally seem to prefer the pronoun ‘they’ so I have got used to this as a way of referring to one person, who is in some way hard to pin down in one aspect of their dear self. So I have found it increasingly natural to speak of God as ‘They’. 😉

    Reply
    1. Mike Farley Post author

      Yes, I entirely appreciate non-binary fFriends’ need for different pronouns (including ‘new’ ones like aer, aers, aerself) but it hadn’t occurred to me to use ‘they’ for God. Makes sense, especially if you think of the Trinity 😉

      Reply
  5. kerstiw

    Mike, that’s beautiful. A real bread-of-life / living-water entry. It also reminds me that the insistent single phrase that I felt wanted saying but didn’t know what more to say with it in meeting two weeks ago could have been ministry on its own, and another time I should allow it through – that’s important guidance. I’d like to share this post with my meeting. Love the popping up again of your heart in a post – it’s like a little person coming out to say hello. Embodied religion… There is much else to engage with in your post, most perhaps the experience of being known rather than knowing – I’ll come back to it later/another time if I can. Love for now

    Reply
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