It’s over for now. When I look back on the previous blog, my reluctant approach and actual fear of arranging rideshares for a retreat seem so trivial. Now, the riders and drivers are matched. I worked on this task for almost a month. In the past few days, people I love have faced much greater and life-changing circumstances and choices that make what I’ve been concerned about seem even more inconsequential.
When I was a teenager, I had the 5-year question. Faced with a challenge, a decision, or an embarrassment my internal response would ask, “Will this matter to me in 5 years?” As a 16 year old whose parents seemed to have deserted me, the question gave me a sense of rationality and control. Now, almost 50 years later, I wonder …
I don’t have words to explain what I wonder. “It” skirts between what some call synchronicity, or maybe the will of God, or what is meant to be—but none of those are exactly it. My ever-evolving question is what do I do and what does God do in my life? What I am certain about is that it isn’t that simple. The unexpected is never quite explainable. However, what can I take from these patterns of my life?
In the rideshare task, the most recent “matches” were made in thin air. Two riders, who had not responded to my initial email, suddenly, turned up needing rides. Both were coming via the airport; one of them landing on Tuesday, a few hours before the retreat, which was being held at a remote Education Center that was a two-hour drive away. The other was coming on Monday and would also like a ride back to the airport after the retreat was over on the following Sunday.
Miraculously-or not, I received an email from my friend Liz, that Sarah Smith was a possible new driver, not on my list. Sarah was away for the weekend so I had to wait several days to make contact with her. She had a small car, she said, so needed agile riders and, oh, could they be around the part of town where she lives? Miraculously-or not, Sarah was 15 minutes from the airport and the second rider was staying near the airport and an agile young mother. Yes, what seemed at least improbable was serendipitously and graciously arranged.
Another congruent choice I made last week was to listen to an audio of one of Thomas Merton’s lectures to novices at Gethsemane from the mid-1960s that appeared on my youtube stream on our television, instead of watching yet another poor quality video retake of House Hunters. The audio begins with an everyday issue: how to take care to minimize bath towel usage each week. What evolves from that quotidian beginning, left me examining how circumstances unfold. And, yes, choices we make have a way of bringing rivers of thought and practice together.
In a dialogue of sorts with the young men entering the monastery, who seemingly have a corner on the “will of God,” Merton’s insights are liberating. I transcribed a portion of the lecture that gives insight to the unfolding of my life wondering. I have taken some liberties with names (Linda for Alfie) and condensed Merton’s argument.
What is God’s will? We asked that question wrong, we ask as pagans not Christians. When we are asking what is God’s will, we are asking what is my fate? …In other words, we assume that God’s will is predetermined, see, that God has sat up there in heaven, in a secret office and he reached in the filing cabinet and he pulled out the files and looks in [Linda].
“Elijah and Michael,come over here, what’s the plan for Linda?”
They get together and there is this secret plan, see, and Linda, who doesn’t even exist yet, is born, and she comes into life and reaches the age of reason and says, “I’ve got to find out the plan.” …When it comes to contingent affairs, where there is a matter of choice, what is God’s will? …
Merton says that what happens in our lives (my wondering question) is a matter of the freedom that God has given us and that the “will of God” in the life of a Christian is the work of both God and the person together. Merton calls the intersection of these two freedoms an invitation on the part of God. Whether it involves vocation or anything in life,
…you are not supposed to guess and you are not supposed to figure out, it is something you worked out by free response. And what are the indications for the invitation? You have to take them in their existential facts, they are there or they aren’t. In other words, what happens is there are concrete facts or reality that you run up against in life and these things are manifestations of what God has planned or the manifestations of his whole idea which isn’t a plan ahead of time so much either.
…God, from a certain point of view, has no plan in the sense of a plan beforehand because there is no before and after with God, he works it out as he goes along. It is all one with him; there is no past, present, and future. We think in terms of having a plan and working it out because that is the human way of looking at it.
A wise human being usually thinks before he acts and there is nothing wrong with that, see. I’m not saying you are not supposed to think. This question of an inexorable will completely determined beforehand which we have to meet up to is the idea not of God’s will but of fate. God’s will is free and our will is free. And God is inscrutable in so far as he is free because nobody knows; you don’t even know how your brother is going to act with his freedom. So you don’t know of course how God is going to act either with his freedom, what do you do about that?
Do you have to know beforehand what God is going to do with his freedom? Where do you fit that in, I mean supposing he decides to blast you with a thunderbolt or something if he wants to, what about it?
Faith, hope, and love, this is where theological virtues come in, there you put the thing on a completely different plane, you see… When you are dealing with persons you are dealing with what is free. So when it comes to faith, hope, and love you accept God as one who loves you freely and you trust his love and you trust that his freedom is going to be the freedom of one who loves. And you trust love and it is a totally different dimension. You don’t ask love to guarantee its plans for the next 500 years. Love is love and you let it be love, that’s all.
The circumstances of my life, then, are all matters of life and death, really. If God sees no past, present, and future, all life is conflated into this very moment. I’m learning in this seemingly small stakes rideshare arranging to let go—to practice not figuring it all out and to give space for lots of ways of “working out” that I don’t have control over, that I don’t know, that I cannot predict or even imagine. I’m practicing spaciousness—to be less bounded by time, and response, and even what is or not my responsibility.
Whether it is God’s choice, my choice, someone else’s choice, or the aligning of freedoms of choices, I don’t know. But I do know that I can trust that whatever it is, what some call the mystery, does evolve with or without my concerted effort. It is about letting go of the boundaries, like time, or whatever else occupies my attention in a state of brace—that keeps me looking and longing instead of living into.
That’s what I’m learning from the mundane to the miraculous, to lean into love, the miracle of a new day, a moment of wonder, even awe. Whether for 5 minutes, 5 years, or 5 centuries, to let it be. And, I’m sure it’s not over.