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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Ringing Of The Bell

This post is about faith. I don't think I write well at all about it, so let me first link to some who do. And if you don't want to read this, then go here and please speak up for our military men and women.

The tale of a skydive gone wrong and a man who realized on the way down that it was going to end well regardless.

Sigmund, Carl and Alfred write in compassion about Kobayashi Maru's brother. Another post touches on why God must be taken on his own terms:
Rarely do we see an individual that says, 'I am weak. My religion is too demanding on me. It is not the fault of my religion. It is my weakness that keeps me from the demands of my faith.' As an aside, we suspect God would take great pleasure in that person's honesty. Sometimes, it is the struggle that God measures most carefully and gently, not the results.
Kobayashi Maru writes about learning the news of his only brother's very poor chances of seeing another Christmas, and a story of God reaching out to man. Don't miss this one.

Charmaine Yoest writes about faith and how hard it is to explain.
...I started trying to formulate an answer that could adequately convey my own experience of how truly, and personally, real God makes Himself when you do trust Him. . . but the problem is that you really can't fully express it. The answer only makes sense this side of the Leap of Faith.

I know God exists because He makes Himself real to me. And that is profoundly humbling. I believe God speaks to each individual person in a way that makes sense particularly and uniquely to them.

My interviewer finally walked away, probably as much of a skeptic as he was when we began, convinced that he can define truth for himself. Without bowing to the Truth.
Who Tends The Fires writes about finding faith:
Everywhere I looked I saw nothing but greed and political motivation, and lamentably few positive stories of charity or compassion.

And for many years, I thought this was the natural condition of the followers of Christ. And sadly, there are many groups--and even more people--who have come to believe that accepting Christ is just a free Get Out Of Perdition card, a platinum invitation to Heaven that doesn't obligate them to actually better themselves in any way so long as they occasionally mouth the Scriptures at Church and drop their spare change in the collection plate.

It wasn't until September 11th that I started re-evaluating my feelings towards God. And as the feelings of resentment and hostility faded away, I realized that for all those years, I'd blinded myself to the real stories. One small town was no model for what has spread world-wide and has saved so many. Beneath the flash and the glitter of modern Christianity lay a message of quiet hope and dignity.
True Grit writes about false piety:
Real dialogue is hard work. It will stretch you it will slap you and it will pull the rug right out from under your feet at times. You will have to pray, to look up the references, to rethink the logic. You will have to bend down on a knee and apologize at times. Not for the fainthearted, and yet we are all called to it in some form: be ready to give an answer for the hope within you.

Not just ready made answers, but readiness of heart and mind to give the time, and make the concessions of ego. Jesus did that constantly.
I will explain faith this way. Faith is not an answer, but it changes the nature of your questions. An answer would stop your growth, but the new questions fuel your growth. Faith turns your focus away from your own pain, frustration, worries, limitations and fears. Faith turns you toward the wider world, where you have the chance to experience the joy that reverberates through each day in our world like the ringing of a great bell.

Adult humans don't become hysterical about a papercut, and that is because we perceive the damage and the pain of such a piddling injury as insignificant. Those with faith sometimes find themselves in "the peace of God that passeth understanding", because the ringing of the bell connects them to our entire world and our entire existence. They find the strength to endure the sudden death of a loved husband by taking comfort in something happening in another continent.

I first heard the ringing of the bell in my early 20's. In my teens I became infected with an organism that causes neurological disease. It wasn't diagnosed until I was almost 30, so it had a lot of time to do damage. By my early twenties I had realized some of what I was facing. It's a terrible thing to become so ill so young, because at a time when the world should be opening up it starts closing down. You are out of phase with almost everything.

I suppose it was worse because I had no diagnosis, although I'm not sure I could have borne the loss of hope at that time. But I was already seeing the physical and mental signs. Imagine a headache that lasts for years, imagine feeling your hands and feet start to go numb, shutting your eyes and finding your shoulder floating near the ceiling and your left leg in the middle of your abdomen, seizures, loss of memory, confusion, an exhaustion so extreme that you feel like you can't breathe. Vision disturbances. Hearing disturbances. My hands and feet felt as if they burned. Sores started forming in my mouth, throat and nose as the primary infection slowly wore down my body's immune system. My white blood cell count was lower than normal, rather than elevated as it should have been. At 21 my body was already wearing out after having fought as hard as it could fight. The doctors had no answers. Several of them suggested that I see a psychiatrist. They asked about drug use and AIDS. I was a virgin and had never done drugs.

So I grieved and I worried and I felt desperate. By the time I was 22 I began to concentrate on trying to isolate the damage to other people who loved me, and that meant isolating myself from them. This was very hard but necessary. One day as I lay on the couch in my apartment I fell into complete despair over the pain that I knew my family must feel. I was horrified at the idea that nothing I could do would prevent that. I was appalled by the idea of how much trauma my life was inflicting upon people I loved so much and respected so much. I had reached the point at which I had mostly worn out my sorrow for myself and all that was left was sorrow at what I was doing to others.

I cried silently against God, "Why, why? Why was I ever born to cause such misery? This is cruel, this is horrible - this is evil, destructive!" I got an answer. I can't properly describe the answer. It was not in words and not in a picture and not in music. I can't even say that it happened as we understand things happening, because it did not seem to occur in time.

It was as if someone picked me up and threw me through a barrier outside of time. Time ran right along for the whining fool on the couch, except that there was this anomaly in the middle of the whining (and the shock terminated the whining for good, although the fool is still hanging around). On the other side of the barrier off to the right there was someone I did not see who said (not in words) "Perceive, is it not wonderful?" and I perceived, and it was wonderful.

It was much better than wonderful. I felt the delight and joy and triumph of That Which Is as I looked. Triumphant, delighted joy is what God feels as he looks at each one of you, at what he has created. I think I was invited to perceive creation.

Surely I was outside time; what I perceived was both a progression of events and the end of them and everything in between. The best way to describe it is as patterns of light which had meaning. I could look at each tiny bit of light and see how it connected up to everything else. I could perceive when all was darkness and the patterns of light moving and growing and expanding and becoming. I could also see the end of creation, when almost everything would be/had been filled up with light. It was unbelievably complex and beautiful. Nothing sapient could experience the smallest touch of that and not feel delighted joy.

I could see choice. Do you understand that? You could see how one active (sapient/human) being's choice knocked out a bit of light that could be and another active being's reconnected that light, you could see the choices of beings blocking the light. You could also see choices of beings creating channels that moved, shifted and twisted or would twist back to fill darkness and connect back up with marooned light that would have died out on its own. Everything was happening at the same time, even though cause and effect were present. There was information in this. Incredible amounts of information-filled wonder and delight.

Time, to humans, is an absolute barrier. In reality, it isn't. It is a dimension and what just happened and what will happen next are like two sides of room. You can go stand on either side of the room, or stand in the middle of it and see it all. The moment that is gone to you is still present in reality and even though you can't cross the line from now to the future, the future is still existent right now in That Which Is. There are also far more than four dimensions in reality. Things are connected in indescribable ways. There is, or has been, or will be (which means from God's point of view that there is) life throughout the universe. We are not the sum of God's creation. We will be allowed if we so choose to blow up our entire planet and exterminate all life on it, but this will not change creation's fruits. If we do, other life will bend back and fill up the absence of that future so that all will be as it is meant to be.

I perceived both freedom in the acts of the created beings and the impossibility of defying God. You can choose to utterly wall off what could be of your life, but very few of us will ever do that. What God intends has, from God's point of view, already been accomplished and is also coming into being, and there is no doubt that it will be as God intended. The only real choice for a human being, from God's perspective, is whether to participate in creation, and if you choose not to, some other will be born to take your place or someone else will choose to double back and pick up your burden.

We are told to forgive all injuries because many of the barriers to participation in this joyous quiet explosion of meaning and existence are created through stupidity and lack of knowledge. When we forgive all injury to ourself we eradicate these barriers. When we ask that another's stupidity be forgiven and forgive it with a fixed and unalterable intent (make a moral determination), this reverberates through time and literally creates another channel through which the rescuing light can flow. You have the power to participate in the act of creation and forgiving is one of the most powerful acts you can ever commit.

Another powerful act is simply the struggle not to commit evil, not to destroy, not to act hastily and not to do reckless damage. Your finest and most creative hours may well have been spent simply fighting yourself to a draw. That day when you had a headache and you were angry with everyone and everybody, that day that you spent struggling not to lash out at people, that day when you went to bed feeling like a miserable failure because the only thing you accomplished was simply not to do something wrong - that day rings throughout creation. That was the day you freed the creative power of many others because you didn't erect bars to light that others would have had to spend their power in deconstructing.

You don't know your own power because you are trapped for the time being in a stretched-out, tenuous subset of what is. This is for your protection to give you time to learn. It is a playpen of sorts, with all the spaces and gaps constructed so as to limit the scope of your harmful acts or intentions while you are learning. There are gaps between the bars so that you can remember that you are part of a wider and more meaningful world. You are given a few toys that you can't destroy. If you want to get out of the playpen you can, but the only way you can get out is to actually accept that you are in a playpen and that the world outside is real. The people are real and all the enchanting things you see out there are real. You also have to accept your responsibility not to kick the people's shins and try to break the enchanting things.

If you choose to sit for your entire lifetime in your playpen screaming in frustration because you want those beautiful things handed through the bars to you nothing will happen. They can't fit in there with you - they are too big, they have too much scope, they have too much meaning. You must come out to get them, or scream until some kind adult comes by and picks you up to comfort you. But in the end the kind adult will put you back in there, because it is simply too dangerous to you to let you wander and frankly, you are also a temperamental little brat who has the instinct to destroy everything you touch. No one's going to let you play with the train set or Grandma's good china. If you want out you must get out yourself and you can only do that by learning your proper limits. No one's coercing you either way.

If you don't want out, death comes along and rescues you from your imprisonment. For some death is the transition from some light to great light, but for others it is the end of our self will and therefore our active building of barriers to light. After that the adults tunnel back through darkness and offer you another chance (or many chances) to play in the wider world. Very few of us will truly be lost to creation because those who escaped into meaning will get the chance to rescue the rest of us. Let's try not to make it too difficult.

So now for Kobayashi Maru's brother, I will go back to my couch and pray. I will pray for the light to rescue him with the knowledge that the rescue may not come in the form I desire. People in playpens and on couches don't have a whole lot of perspective. I will pray for him to feel the warm embrace that Daniel Levi Cave felt as he fell 3,500 feet down to earth so that he and his family can know that "either way, this is going to turn out good." I will pray that he feels the ringing of the bell shudder through his bones and that life burns so brightly in him that he is restored to health, but I will also pray in the full confidence that God has provided what is truly necessary and that Kobayashi Maru's brother will not ever be truly lost to us.

I will pray that the fire that grows things (that reverses entropy, that creates) comes back through the barrier and takes root in everyone that is suffering and everyone that has suffered and everyone that will suffer. Because I am still the fool on the couch I know what suffering is, but because of the answer to the fool's question I know that our suffering is not in fact a real thing. It is a momentary illusion which I regret, a paper cut that we will not even be able to perceive once we have made it out of the playpen. But for here and now, our suffering is temporarily real to us, and only listening to the ringing of the great bell will ease us in our confusion and enable us to feel joy in proportion to our losses.

Thank you.
good post MOM
Wow, I was totally enthralled by your writing. Once again I know why I visit your site. What a wonderful gift to have "seen" and to tell all of us about it.
Mover Mike
Powerfully spoken, beautifully written and inspiring.
Wow. One of the best testimonies to faith that I think I have ever read. Thank you for sharing this.
This is one of your best posts, and I've really liked ALL your posts. This one was the best.

Thank you.
As someone who is examining my own faith, I find this totally inspiring. I want to thank you and encourage you to keep it up.

Kevin - that's good, because I had already picked out your post on Ephesians and anger to use for another....

And way to go, man. You are one tough human being. Thank you for everything that you do.
For the rest of you, I'm honored by your comments but I want to point out that I am not responsible for this.

Carl is very accurate in writing about experiencing "a sudden clarity and understanding ... beyond prior limits to my logic and knowledge; yet the message is logical and knowable."

It is logical and knowable but it is one we don't reach by our own efforts.
What you have written reminds me quite a lot of the writings of St. Therese Couderc - and what she saw one day at prayer:

"I saw written as in letters of gold this word Goodness, which I repeated for a long while with an indescribable sweetness. I saw it, I say, written on all creatures, animate and inanimate, rational or not, all bore this name of goodness. I saw it even on the chair I was using as a kneeler. I understood then that all that these creatures have of good and all the services and helps that we receive from each of them is a blessing that we owe to the goodness of our God, who has communicated to them something of his infinite goodness, so that we may meet it in every thing and everywhere."

You might like her writings. :-)
Thanks for that, MOM. I've always admired your ability to write, and now I admire you for a lot more.
Anchoress, since then I have read the writings of many religious people (not all of them Christian, btw) and recognized what I was asked to perceive in their writings. That is one reason why I am reluctant to write about faith.

It seems to me that the same message has been ringing through the world and recorded quite faithfully by so many. But we choose not to hear it, I suppose. And I am afraid that I will write something wrong and blur what should be an absolutely distinct message.
Tom - I don't think there is anything to admire in me. I hope that what you admire in this is the ringing of the bell.

The reason I was asked to look and see was that I had come to a dead end. From a human perspective, I was in a logical and ethical trap. So I was given another chance to live my life as a productive one.

So this is a story of my complete failure and a rescue, and the rescue was only intended to get me back to the point where I could pick up the burdens of a human life without irrational grief. In other words, I was plunked back down to go ahead and live a life like yours or anyone else's who has commented here.
Stunning. Absolutely stunning. You are blessed to be the conduit for this beautiful revelation. Thanks for sharing. And thanks also for the prayers for my brother and the link to his/our evolving story. Your story gives great comfort not just that there is something larger, but that it is as inredible as any of the prophets have made it out to be.
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