I sincerely apologize for my long overdue reveal of the Number 1 book on my list to date. Sometimes, despite my best intentions, I get sidetracked from this “job” in Blogville, that I enjoy so much. For me, the past two weeks have been full of other volunteer duties, as well as the traditional duties that fall under that grandest of job descriptions commonly referred to as “mom.” While I regret none of the time spent on my other projects and activities, I do regret that the trade-off ended up being time spent away from this blog and YOU.
With that, please know that it is with great pleasure that I pick up today where I last left off–with the one book that I’ve most recently read that has shaped my mystic mind! This particular book is one that I stumbled upon in my parish library last spring. In it, I was introduced to the desert fathers of the early church. This introduction into the desert fathers is largely responsible for the progression of this blog. With the simplest of lifestyles, these desert fathers (and, as I discovered in other books… desert mothers!) seem to have developed a deep, deep wisdom from spending time alone (with God) in the desert. It is amazing to me how, like the wisdom of so many holy men and women, the truths of what they learned still have relevance in the 21st Century.
While I’ve read several books on the desert fathers and mothers since last spring, the first book that introduced me to them is the one that I will never forget, as it is the book responsible for opening the door for me into their way of life:
1. Heaven Begins Within You by Anselm Gruen
Without question, for me, it was the title that first intrigued me. The idea that heaven–that often thought of far-off place where we hope to reside upon our earthly death–begins within me, was so intriguing a thought, I simply had to read on.
Like all the great mysteries of life, I often find it difficult–even forget completely sometimes–what I’ve learned about “heaven” from reading this book. That being said, I do have a much better awareness of “heaven” in my life, when I experience it. It comes as a surprise to me, both in the ways in which God brings tastes of heaven to me here and now, and in my own willingness to see it. And perhaps that is what this book has opened me to the most, the idea that our relationship with God is really about two distinct relationships that depend on each other: 1. our relationship with “God” –that vast and endless being we can neither see, nor properly define– and 2. our relationship with “self,” which is really no less vast nor easily defined.
This book draws that picture quite clearly from the get-go when it brings up the words of Evagrius, a desert father and early church monastic, who boldly states from the first pages, “If you want to know God, learn to know yourself first!” Since first reading these words last Spring, I’ve continued to scratch away at these two relationships. The two relationships that the mystic Frances of Assisi stated simply as two prayerful questions, “Who are you, God? And who am I?”
I find it simultaneously embarrassing and comforting to tell you that most of what I’m left with by asking these questions about God and self is really…more questions! But, the comforting part is that each of those questions call me deeper and deeper into their respective relationships with self and God. And that leads me to the only “answer” I can seem to find: that in both of these relationships we are required to accept an unfathomable expanse of uncertainty. By this, I don’t mean the hand-wringing, gut-wrenching uncertainty that accompanies us when we are in a state of doubt. I mean the uncertainty that we knew as children, when we were free to wonder, and ponder, and hold in awe the possibility of what is yet to come.
And that is where I am now: comforted by the realization that as I approach the BIG 4-0, I have been released from the bonds of needing to know everything. Worries, while still present, are more quickly eased. Doubt, which still tempts me, is more readily extinguished. And fear, which still grips me from time to time, is eased with the balm of that which I know for sure: I always have a choice.
I can choose to become consumed with worry about the things I desperately want to control, but can’t, or I can choose to accept worry as a natural reaction of my all-consuming self and then–just as freely–choose to let it go.
I can choose to be swallowed up by doubts, or I can choose to accept doubt as a natural stepping stone in the process of faith, by remembering that doubt’s opposite–certainty– has no part of faith either. Because that which we already know, has no need for us to “believe.”
I can choose to become gripped with fear about everything from getting my Christmas cards out on time to my own untimely death, or I can choose to accept that fear is a side effect of my fallen human state and that while understandable, is hardly effective in helping me deal with the Divine Reality that IS.
And there it is.
Those last three paragraphs that I just typed right there.
Did you see it? Did you feel it?
As best I can describe, it is in those moments of awareness in my own ability to choose (free will) that I see how God is both in control, and has given me control. It is how God is both present in all that I do, but not micro-managing me. It is how I grow in both self-knowledge and in Divine Wisdom.
For that reason, I urge you to continue your own journey. The journey within you, and the journey into the Divine. The journey into your Truest Self, and the journey into the Ultimate Being.
And while I confess that I forget it much of the time, through those journeys I’ve experienced the surprising realization every once in a while– like the shock of static received from innocently dragging my stockinged feet across a carpet–that in probing these two relationships, I am really not on two journeys at all, but One Great Journey.
Along the way, there have been moments when I’ve experienced the Absolute Truth where my Deepest Self and the Divine Being that I call God intersect. When that happens, it is like an ancient gong has sounded the eternal cry: “the truth [has] set you free.” (John 8:32)
And I don’t know about you, but I can think of no better word to describe that experience than “heaven.”