This post is going to be more introspective than any I’ve posted before. It captures a very significant chapter in my search to understand spirituality in the 21st century. I hope the reader will indulge me in this.
Every now and then I find myself suddenly awake at what some would call “this ungodly hour.” Just three or four hours previously I’d put my head to the pillow with really not a care on my mind and, as per usual, within five minutes I’m out like a light. And then, just as suddenly, after a few hours of good solid sleep, the light in my head just turns on again. And I sit there. Waiting for sleep to find me.
Half an hour later, I’m still waiting.
So I make myself a coffee and sit outside in the backyard, staring up at a cloudless sky full of stars, and wait for the Divine. This wouldn’t be the first time. I actually cherish these moments when the distractions of 21st century life are completely set aside and absent. It’s just me and my thoughts.
Having spent decades in a variety of Christian traditions, I start to wonder whether it’s even possible to encounter the Divine. And I call out.
Nothing answers me.
Well, actually, there are lots of other sights and sounds, but no voices from heaven or blinding flashes of light.
The air is full of the sound of crickets. A dog barks far off in the distance. A very faint drone comes from a highway a couple miles away (or maybe it’s the quarry right beside it?). A solitary bird suddenly calls out in the darkness.
“But the Lord was not in those sounds.”
A breeze picks up, brushes past my face, stirs up the leaves in the trees around me. Makes me bundle the blanket around me a little more tightly.
“But the Lord was not in that breeze.”
The stars are amazing. I watch a couple planes go by a couple miles above my head, their lights flashing, and it occurs to me that a few hundred people are gliding past oblivious to this one pair of searching eyes staring up at them. A meteor falls toward the west.
“But the Lord was not in any of those lights.”
It’s now 4:30. I’ve been here on this lounge chair for over an hour. No TV. No computer. No book. Just me and my wishes and expectations. And like Elijah, sitting in his cave, trying to find God in a “great and powerful wind that tore the mountains apart,” followed by an earthquake, and then a fire, I too have come up encounter-less.
At least Elijah eventually heard a “gentle whisper.” Perhaps it’s a good thing I didn’t, because the gentle whisper gave him instructions about putting a whole lot of people to death by the sword.
I make myself a hot chocolate and grab a sweater … it seems a cold-front has been moving in, which explains the completely cloud-free, starry night and the breeze picking up … and return to the lounge chair in my back yard, which has now become a pew in my imagined cathedral. This time I brought my laptop to capture my thoughts over the past hour or two. Try to make sense of it all.
No one can accuse me of not “waiting upon the Lord.” I’ve done this more than once, and each time I’ve come to the firm conclusion that, if I’m going to encounter God, it won’t be anything like meeting my neighbor at the fence by our property line, or an old friend passing by on the street and striking up a casual conversation.
But at the same time, I can’t conclude that there’s nothing out there. There are some things that I just can’t attribute to a great cosmic accident.
Like life itself. Those crickets are still filling the air, reminding me of a trip I made a couple decades ago around this time of year when I noticed the very same sound as I left my house and then again when I landed a few hours later in Helsinki Finland. Then, and now, I imagined that constant, high-pitched vibrato in the background across all of Canada and Europe … the whole northern hemisphere of the planet reverberating with the sound of millions of crickets. Maybe that’s the “gentle whisper” I’d been waiting for.
And love. I recall the backyard party we attended the night before, and anticipate the family coming to our house later today, and I’m thankful for love and good relationships. Sharing food and stories and memories together.
And that constant nudge that tells me we’re not alone. The unshakeable conviction that there’s more to life than just living. I do believe we have purpose and meaning. We just need to find those for ourselves.
These are increasingly becoming the feelings of my spirituality. They’re replacing other feelings that used to define my religious life. They no longer include feelings of guilt, or self-condemnation, or lists of things I need to do (or not do) to earn God’s approval. I now find it harder to be judgemental of other faiths, even non-faiths, or to be so confident of all the masses of other people going to hell. Perhaps the earthquake, and great wind, and fire have removed those feelings from me.
It’s almost six o’clock now, and the birds are starting to announce the start of another day. The dawn chorus. It’s too bad that most people have never been awake to hear such a beautiful sound. A flock of geese go by honking and cackling, doing their best to wake up all the other lazy snoozers who are wasting precious time. The mockingbird practicing his various sound effects and impressions of other birds.
Appropriately enough, this new day is a Sunday. “The Lord’s Day.”
Perhaps I have met with God.
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