Sunday morning I had coffee with a friend who asked me how I was doing. I responded to her that I didn’t really know. I said that I was aware there was some kind of movement in my depths but that I didn’t have language or images to put with that movement. What I didn’t know until I said it out loud was that I don’t feel anxious about not knowing what changes are occurring within me. On the contrary, it feels right not to know, as if the state of not knowing is, in this moment, the freest and most honest place from which to speak and live.
During our long retreat several us in the monastic community began gathering for 50 minutes of centering prayer before vespers. I’ve practiced centering prayer for nearly 10 years, but never for 50 minutes at the time and never consistently in a group. The experience has been powerful. Physical and mental twitches still vie for attention. But I’m aware as never before that while my mind is engaged in thinking and letting go of thought, the Spirit is hovering over the waters of my soul. I suppose it’s no coincidence that as my practice of centering prayer is deepening, so is my comfort with the mystery of not knowing.
In fact, it’s not only that my comfort with not knowing is growing. Rather, I’m reveling in the darkness, the void, and the mystery. It feels spacious and gentle. As anyone who has seen my resume can attest, I have spent my entire life achieving, articulating, and striving. I have come to a point where that kind of grasping effort feels utterly exhausting. In that exhaustion, I can also see how violent the effort toward understanding, articulation, and achievement can be.
Particularly at this time of intense anxiety in our society, when the fear of what is happening in our political and national life is so present to so many of us, I feel a bit out of sync with the rest of the culture. I’m not unaware of the dangers of nationalism or the lessons of history, nor am I unconcerned at the vitriol and the violent rhetoric we hear more of each day. But I don’t think that living from fear will help us any. If we are to respond to violence with non-violence, we first have to move into a place of non-violent relationship with ourselves. I don’t quite know how that happens. But I do believe that that kind of relationship rests, first and foremost, on a reverent not-knowing, at least not-fully-knowing who we are and what God is up to within us.
Now more than ever we need to learn the spacious, non-violent acceptance of the mystery of who we are. Only when we hold ourselves and our experiences lightly can we allow God to bring something new to birth within us, in God’s own time and in God’s own way. Such holding, though, requires trust that even when we cannot see or feel it, God is at work. So, I suppose, the first step to non-violent relationship, then, is to ask ourselves how much we really do trust that God is God.
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