Monday, May 15, 2017

Moving Over the Abyss: A Monday Morning Benediction

Image by FloridaMemory on flickr
Recently a friend of mine relayed a game that he sometimes plays with young nieces and nephews: Holding them up high - sometimes over a pool or the ground or the churning waves of the ocean as they squeal with an inextricable mixture of terror and delight, and assuring them , “I’ve got you, I’ve got you!” Its the fun of swinging a child into the air by her hands. 

“Again,” she will cry, if she is young enough to still be unafraid, “Again, again!”

What an apt metaphor for the terror/ delight of being. Which, in my experience, tends to be more habitually acute (the terror part, that is) at the start of a given week than at any other time.  After a certain age, how quickly we come to focus on the abyss below us as we flail in complete uncertainty, while completely forgetting the hands that hold us. 

My customary habits for reacting to this fear include paralyzing terror and complete panic. I don’t suppose this makes me too different from many, although I am sure there are better ways. So this Monday, at the first onset of wishing to bury my head desperately into the sand as I notice the alarm has gone off and I have sweat through my sheets again with another round of nightmares, my intention is this: To lean into change and not away, letting go of fear of being held over the abyss, to focus on the hands holding and not the vast space below. Perhaps even to find some way to delight in the thrilling insecurity of it all - for if I were not so desperate, would my eyes and heart ever be as open as now? 

A very young child does this naturally, upon being tossed into the air, knowing she will be caught again, by the same hands that released her so she could better feel the thrill of a weightless rise and rapid descent that pulses at the center of everything. This is the prayer: to embrace the pain of these innumerable faults and weaknesses in an imperfect heart, and understand these in concert and not separate from the injuries of the world, yet continue to believe in an endless river of beginnings, and in the constancy of growth everywhere. Entropy accelerates, yes - but with it, restoration of order, replacement of dead cells, the birth of new stars, the re-alignment of broken bones, and the continued beating of broken hearts. Sometimes all that can be done is to give oneself over to this endless movement, especially when the path is obscured. Members of AA call this “one day at a time,” marathoners call it the art of putting one foot in front of the other. Harriet Tubman, hero of the Underground Railroad, is known to have said over and over that the path to liberation, to rest, to freedom, to Grace, was simply this: “Keep moving.” 

Okay, then. Here we go: left, right left.

It is now mid-afternoon and I am glad to report that the strategy is not only effective, but rewarding. Even at an extremely slow pace, no fewer than three angels are counted: by angel I mean jaw-dropping manifestations of undeserved generosity and awesome beauty - which generally result in the surprise of tears, laughter, or a wave of relief - and as often as not, all of these at once.  In their presence, even my most cynical demons are reduced to cowering in the corner.  I wonder what tomorrow will bring? The only way to know is to walk into it, however slowly and broken and afraid.


  1. I am moved to tears .. how beautifully you weave spiritual truths with our fragile humanity.