First off I woke up wide awake midnight. I’m not sure why. So I prayed a little, read a little, and fell back asleep.
Then I woke up at 2:30 — wide awake. I didn’t know it was 2:30 until I decided it was near enough to dawn to go downstairs and, at least in part, begin the day. Two thirty is not the time to begin a day, unless one is getting paid for some overnight shift.
I am not being paid thusly.
But I was awake. I of course gave up thinking of beginning my day and went back to bed, though not asleep, finding my prayers turning in usual directions, and letting my thoughts wander down random trails, cleaning out the clutter. It’s funny what comes to mind when one is wide awake at two thirty, and how many things seem to be mentally settled at that hour, even if by the next morning one doesn’t really remember the specific topics that were supposedly settled.
I turned the light out, which apparently was a sign.
A coyote started howling, surprisingly close to my window. Then the whole pack joined in, yelping and howling.
On a still night when one is wide awake, finding peace and solace in prayer, the yelps of a nearby coyote pack have a mystical quality. I’m not exactly sure of the nature of this quality… except that it’s mystical, and does hearten one’s continued prayers.
They say “we are what we read”. I’m not sure if they do say that, but it seems like something they would say. “We are what we eat” is definitely something they say, and what we read is our intellectual food. Even for those who don’t read. They may not ingest it directly, but they do let the words of those who do end up reading fill their souls. The words are pasteurized, some of the nutrients are removed, to be sure. The end result is the same. Sometimes what we ‘read’ is culture, or some other non-verbal cue. It shapes who we are, and shapes our goals, values, expectations, and yearnings.
My problem, of course, is that I’ve read all the wrong things. I didn’t realize that then… and now it’s likely too late.
In my searching for some measure of soul satisfaction over the years I’ve followed a curious trail of discovery, which is all the more curious for someone of my theological leanings.
But it has shaped my perspective so much that to exist another way is seemingly impossible. I revel in it still and yet because the influences are so foreign I realize I am foreign now to many people. I live in a different culture of sorts, not better by any means, just different.
It started when I was a junior in college facing a dark time in my soul and being told by pastors it was because I was caught in sin. What sin they didn’t know, and while I certainly was far from perfect this didn’t strike me as credible, but no one else had any wisdom.
A professor assigned some readings by John Wesley. I took this path and have followed the trails ever since. John Wesley led to reading other spiritual influences, beginning with his contemporaries, then the medieval spirituals, and finding the most resonance in John Cassian. For most people that is a trail not even on their map.
Cassian has developed into reading those who founded and continued his tradition, including the desert fathers and later Orthodox monastics. Now I’m reading through the Philokalia finding as much delight and insight as most folks get from reading Eldridge.
Again, not better… just different. Finding one’s reality in popular book club texts tends, however, to solidify community a lot better than finding one’s reality in book club texts of millenium old communities.
So, I read all the wrong books, and thus have a reality which is virtually indecipherable to those who don’t track along with the Spirit’s work in my life.
I press on in this direction, however, because I trust the words I do read as pointing towards depths virtually unknown in the communities of which I have been a part. I press on because as one friend trying to grasp ahold of my reality recently said, “one can see the Spirit in the fruit”.
“Am I on the right path?” I asked. She paused, then said, “yes.” She also said other things which is curious of course, as I have come to expect my reality not to intersect with most people anymore. She, of course, has a life entirely different from my own in just about every respect. It is the Spirit who gives sight, and for those pursuing the same Spirit, different contexts are not necessarily different paths.
I read all the wrong books, of course, but really they are all the right books because they are pointing me to myself, and in finding that I will find the fullness of the Spirit who has called and filled me. “Be who you are,” is one way of simplying Paul’s Colossian admonitions. So, I’m following that trail, and seeing that as I progress I find wholeness and peace and humility which has reshaped my interactions with this world.
I note this because there is both joy and sorrow in having read all the wrong books. There is joy in the process of becoming… there is sorrow in that having a reshaped reality means I am less able at this point to interact with those pursuing different plots. I have my story to write, and it is a different genre.
In the past this worried me as I saw the distance. I sought to bridge the increasing gaps, and keep a foot on each cliff, with the widening chasm testing my flexibility. It came time to choose, however, so I did, and I stand on one side now, looking out, still within talking distance but not within sharing distance to most.
Then I realized that I’m not alone on this side. There are others. And as I find these others I will find people of resonating faith, and in joining with them I will taste of the beauty of heaven itself.
On this side of the canyon all the wrong books are all the right books, and in my solitary pursuits I will find a bountiful community.
This has not yet occured… but I’m still settling in on my chosen side, resting my overstreched legs, and just beginning to recognize the presence of others.
Should be an interesting trail from now on. Still uphill… but with beautiful flowers lining the path.