Today’s Word from Sheila Weidendorf…
If you’ve read any of my missives about Old Tyme music—which I dearly love—you know that I’m NOT a big fan of what I have called “Pie in the Sky” Theology. It’s a kind of “It’s okay if we suffer now because we will be rewarded in heaven” theology. It’s a kind of “just rewards” theology that frankly makes me uncomfortable, the same way notions of a “just war” are troublesome (That I’ll leave for some other time and place!).
At the same time, “just rewards” are, indeed, a totally understandable concept. We try to live well, treat others well, make our contributions in this life, pay our taxes (Give unto Caesar, after all!), donate our time and money to good causes as we are able, raise our children with love and healthy values… why not hope that all this will come to some fitting and good end—maybe in this life and, if not, with our Father in Heaven in that mansion of many rooms reserved for the faithful?
I can’t argue with this reasoning. Did not Jesus himself say that there was a kingdom awaiting him someday, somewhere and not in this world? And did he not promise his followers the keys to that kingdom as due and fitting reward for devotion and faith? Even sidestepping the life of the spirit for a moment—a simple understanding of the laws of cause and effect tell us that if we properly combine the ingredients for a cake and bake them with due diligence, we will end up with… a cake!! How much more so then so do we expect a life well and “properly” lived to result in suitable personal and spiritual rewards? And truly, when we are suffering isn’t it almost essential to maintain hope and faith that the suffering will pass and all will be well, if not now then someday? And do we not call on God in our times of trial and seek to be delivered from it?
In all honesty, during the last few months of my life I found myself more stressed (now past tense!!) than I can remember being in years. My immune system was misbehaving and causing me to have crazy allergic reactions to just about anything and everything, culminating in a bad case of disseminated shingles this spring. For several months I knew I’d be having to move my daughter and I to a new home but NOTHING was showing up. I had literally no idea what would be our earthly fate and I was rather a wreck, both physically and emotionally.
It was quite an interesting experience witnessing this unfold within myself. I like to think that I am a woman of resource, in both the inner and outer life-scapes. The spiritual path is really the only path for me—and for as long as I can remember. Too, I have experienced great hardship and loss and trauma and even violence in my life, yet always come to know that, in the heart of everything under the sun one can discover the rich blessings of God among, between, and within us— even IN the trauma and not just beside or in spite of it.
So here I was, not even breathing some days, fearing I was hugely failing my daughter by not being able to say for too long, “HERE is where we will be living!” And it was all baffling me— First the lack of any detectable motion in the ether to suggest all would be well in time for our move-out date. Second, my body succumbing to the effects of the stress and third— my own succumbing to fear. Didn’t I know better than that how this marvelous, mysterious, wonderful God-given Universe works? How curious, then, to watch myself fall into the hopeless quicksand that is doubt and psychological self-immolation.
In a way, such succumbing to such fear and doubt— whether of self or God— is a kind of narcissism, much in the same way that a “I’ve been good so God will reward me” can be a kind of spiritual narcissism. There is almost nothing on Earth that we can control, after all. Life WILL have its ups AND its downs. People we love will leave us, hurt us, or betray us and not because we “deserve” it. We will also be blessed with great fortunes and accolades—and not necessarily because we “deserve” it. Some people will love us, others will hate us— and that will usually have more to do with them than us!
In fact, all we can control is ourselves, and even that might be a misnomer. All we can really master, perhaps, is ourselves. We can witness our emotions, our thoughts, our deeds. When we fall short, we can notice without judgement and try again to be more cogent the next time. When we find ourselves in fear or doubt, we can notice that and try to breathe more deeply, not faulting ourselves for our humanness, and just allow the time and space to be doubting and fearful until we are able to get to the other side and remember who we really are as children of God.
Because isn’t that just it? We are children of God, beloved of the Creator. Everything we can possibly experience is part and parcel of this earthly existence and is better felt, witnessed, mastered rather than indulged or judged. Even the “good” stuff! If I have made an offering of any sort and it is appreciated, then Great! But that really doesn’t mean anything—it doesn’t make me uniquely wonderful any more than experiencing doubt makes me uniquely un-wonderful!
As always, I come back to the notion of surrender, which is perhaps the most important tool in the spiritual toolbox for me, along with witnessing. There’s something to be said for surrendering to one’s own experience— if you doubt, doubt fully! Let yourself explore the doubt until you find its outer limit. And notice the process, remembering that the one in us who can witness the doubt— or the fear, or the judgement or the whatever— the one who can say, “I am doubting,” cannot be the one experiencing the doubt. Ponder that for a moment! The one trapped in the doubt is too busy doubting to be able to label the experience. So, who is the one in us who CAN see both the forest and the trees? That one is NOT trapped in the quicksand. And that one— the Holy Witness within— IS the evidence of God in us and is NOT affected by the ups and downs, the expanses and the contractions.
I think that it is in holy surrender that we experience fully the sweetness of life, of love, of God. It can be said that it is our resistance to what IS that causes our discomforts. We don’t WANT to be afraid of not having a place to live so we (I!) fight that feeling. And the energy of such inner resistance is always a kind of contraction. How then to allow the expanse of God to enter into our awareness if we are in complete and utter contraction?
That is why we must become, for example, conscious of our breathing. The kind of physical contraction that happens in stress causes us to hold the body in tension, to breathe only in the shallows, thus restricting flow in ways great and small. In the simple act of acceptance— of surrender— to the current fact of whatever is causing distress and then breathing, breathing, breathing deep all that exists beyond the temporary contraction allows our awareness to shift from current distress to the expansion that is our true calling, that is of that Holy Witness within, that is of God and that is our birthright.
One could also say that such Surrender is really just an acknowledgement of Grace. And what sweetness awaits when we allow Grace to enter into all the spaces of our lives, including the dark places we hide within.
Today’s music is one of my piano meditations— improvisations that I do whenever the mood strikes. (My personal YouTube channel is reserved for these extemporaneous musical meditations.) I called this one, “What Sweetness Awaits.” Please enjoy!