4. Prayer on retreat, July 2014
Here I am again, looking for something exciting on the iPhone, doing everything I can to avoid prayer. It is addiction: anything to stop me coming home to myself, and the work of coming home to You. What am I doing? I am looking for the experience so intensely satisfying that I will be consumed and consummated and complete.
Bit by bit I settle. ‘My mind becomes calm, my body relaxed.’
I feel bored, stuck. I don’t know what I want. I must stick with opening my heart to You: “Lift up your heart to the Lord…”
And I am tired: I just jerked in a moment’s sleep.
Enticing distractions that hold out the hope excitement are avoidance of the devastating simplicity of being alive and breathing in this moment… and of my inadequacy, my creatureliness, my lack of ultimate substance.
In the end, all that matters is to relax, to come home, to let my heart open.
There is a kind of emptiness that confronts you with your insubstantiality.
And then I run away. Just like I am doing now. Because, maybe, life does not matter. It has no lasting value.
Eschewing all manufactured excitement – music, fiction, games, surfing, empire building, and other immortality projects – I am left with emptiness, sitting outside, reading Evening Prayer. As one who is empty, who is without lasting substance, I give myself to You. I can let You hold me in this.
My shoulders relax and the pain in them decreases.
I have no idea what life is about. Indeed, I tend to think that it is not ‘about’ anything. It just is. And so, the idea that my life might have meaning and purpose and vocation seems… what…? narcissistic? What I think is that I am a brief confluence of conditions that sooner or later will expire.
I am a creature. As such I do not have any fundamental solidity. Is this what Pema Chödrön means by basic groundlessness? I am a bubble: beautiful, fascinating, and fleeting. When I burst, all of my constituents remain, but no longer as me. What about my ‘spirit’? My instinct, my gut, says that the essence of me is forever in God, because everything is in God. Perhaps when I die the separateness ends.
A bad analogy: God is the mother ship that sends out specially-made probes to gather data on strange new worlds. Each probe has its identity for the duration of its mission. When it returns to the mother ship it is simply part of the whole again, with no identity separate from the mother ship.
In some ways I yearn for this return, to be part of the mother ship, to be an inseparable part of God. I yearn for this now, more than anything. But if this, then so much else in my life is a mistake. I am trying to stake a claim, to be important, to have recognition, to have a place here: all of which will pass away.
I want to live in reality, in truth, knowing that I am a finite being, evanescent, that any moment might be my last, and to be aware of what really matters and to live that.
I want to get down to this fundamental reality, to dispel all the stories people say life is about, and live the truth.
It is a relief to admit this. It is what I have wanted all my life.
You will die and you can’t take it with you. The truth is that so much of what you do is pointless and a waste of time built on a false understanding of life. And all the time you pass on to your children the same deluded ideas. So much energy is spent on what does not satisfy, on what does not last, of what is not of the essence.
I don’t want to live like this. I don’t want to spend all my time doing things that have no lasting value.
It comes back to something I have said time and again: you cannot know what life is about, what its purpose is; all you can know is when life feels purposeful, when you feel consolation, alive, and follow this.
Well, Jesus, I have got to the end of the hour and I have not really focused just on You. I hope that’s ok.
I want to go deeper, to sit before You as this body and learn from You.
This is enough: to experience being fully alive, in this body. This is happiness.