Get your life back
When I wake gently after a good night’s sleep, there is something about that quiet, in-between space that feels especially holy. If I’ve been dreaming, I often try to remember the particulars of my dream, wondering what God, angels, and the spirit world might be trying to tell me through the unconscious. Sometimes I’ll gradually start to become aware of sounds that usually go unnoticed – my own breathing, the rustling of wind in the trees, birds singing. It is a dreamy, open space in which I am gradually moving from a place of deep surrender and vulnerability, a place where I have not had any control whatsoever.
I feel more spiritually pliable and reachable in this liminal space. There is a peacefulness about this time that must be what some people mean by the peace of God; and there is an enveloping quality of restfulness that must be what Jesus promised when he said, “Come to me, all you who are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
I don’t have the words for this space, but it feels sacred and necessary, vital somehow for my wholeness and well-being. For a brief time in this safe and quiet space, awareness is enveloped more by an unnamable and expansive goodness than by the many worries and concerns that will gradually begin to occupy my consciousness. Again, one of Jesus’ central teachings comes to mind, “Do not worry about your life.”
Advent is a season when many of us are turning our attention to the reality of this liminal, numinous space and the possibility of trusting in it more than we typically do. “Deep calls to deep,” as the Psalmist says, the depths of God calling to the depths of our souls. I’ve always loved this season, with its countercultural pull. I sense its truth and reliability, and this year Advent feels more compelling than ever.
These thoughts about the healing and saving place of stillness and vulnerability to the Divine occurred to me after I read a short article by Peter Marty, the editor of The Christian Century. Marty essentially said that things started falling apart for him when he began using his smartphone as his morning alarm clock. Now, instead of beginning his day with prayer, or paying attention to the chipmunk chirping at his window, or quietly talking with his wife…nowadays when he wakes, Peter Marty checks the news on his phone. “Like a billion other people,” Marty writes, “I am consumed by the news.” At times, I am one of those billion others. I think I am consuming the news, but in truth the news is consuming me.
Marty then quotes the philosopher and author, Alain de Botton, who says that in contemporary culture, “news has largely replaced religion as ‘our central source of guidance and our touchstone of authority.’ The news – not scripture, tradition, or inspired ritual – informs how we handle suffering and make moral choices. A desire to know what’s going on all hours of the day and night actually makes us more shallow than we may want to admit.”
Peter Marty concludes his timely and poignant article this way – “Our brains tell us: ‘You cannot afford to miss any news, lest you fall behind.’ My faith tells me: ‘You can afford to miss all kinds of news, Peter, especially if you want your life back.’”
I’ve noticed something similar in my own life and in the lives of people around me. How quickly restlessness and anxiety seem to be replacing stillness and trust. Our souls seem to be going into hiding. Spiritually, we are becoming less reachable. And the key to a good night’s sleep is sometimes Ambien or Ativan, so that a morning stupor replaces our morning sentience.
But the place of calm is still there. Beneath the disturbing turbulence of our culture, the deeper, still water is waiting. The reality of the spirit world is not in jeopardy; it’s simply not getting noticed. The enveloping love of God and the comforting, guiding light of our own souls are abiding truths just waiting for us to rediscover them.
If we want our lives back, we might need to evaluate “our central source of guidance and our touchstone of authority.” And perhaps a good place to begin, as Frederick Buechner once said, is to “listen to your life.” The promise of Advent is that God is still speaking there, still calling to us in that place of deep quiet and stillness, the place where we are vulnerable and trusting at the same time. Advent this year might be calling many of us to the wisdom of Psalm 46, “Be still, and know.” It couldn’t come at a better time for me; I’m ready to get my life back.