Relaxation

10 10 2011

The incomparable James Alison spoke to our class this past Monday. His message of kindness, wit, and valiant courage was insatiably consumed by my raw and weeping heart. According to him, faith is a “stable disposition placed in you by someone else” as “someone does something for you that enables you to relax enough to do something else,” and in that doing, “the clearly impossible becomes not just possible, but normal.”

For Alison, Jesus is the ultimate daredevil; the one human who was bold enough to do the impossible and enter death, not as its slave but as its triumphant Lord. When embraced, his example should lead to a profound sense of relaxation within us as the impossible–confronting the death* both within us and out in the wider world–is made absolutely unremarkable. In faith we have the power to take death for granted in the same automatic way as we do our impossible ability to walk. If you see someone who can walk, Alison said, you can know without a shadow of a doubt that at some point someone cared for them, however imperfectly; cared enough to teach them step by painful step to lift themselves up from the ground; cared enough to nurture them into freedom from impossibility.

I have a particular story to tell about how I have been nurtured thusly, but I’m finding it infernally difficult to pinpoint a beginning. This story is about my first unguarded tears since July 5, which were drawn forth by the presence of my practicum facilitator. But my tears on Tuesday make no sense without the context of my friend’s tears of desperate longing from the previous morning, or the dream of four days earlier in which I was entrusted with the impossible task of restoring the mad King’s sanity, or the day I was forcefully confronted with the depravity lurking in the heart of my family, or the year I spent frantically courting my sorrow, or the twenty-two years I poured into expunging from my conscious thoughts any awareness that my life was not exactly what it seemed on the most superficial level and the concomitant need to appear to be the master of my own inner world at all times, to stuff down any pesky emotion that might rise up and disturb my equilibrium.

One of the strangest myths I ever used to describe my experience of my Self imagined the core of my being as a little boy skipping down the road, carefree and confident and safe. At the time of this first telling I was explaining why I was such a loquacious storyteller when face to face with one other person and so, so, so quiet in groups. My interrogator postulated I was scared of all the strange people, but fear–though it defined my stance toward everyone–was something I could never confess to experiencing. So I imagined myself skipping, imagined it so vividly that I professed it as my Truth even in the turmoil of my neurotically anxious mind. Anything less whimsical than skipping–my sorrow, fear, anger, lust, humanity–was demanded to never penetrate deeper than the surface of my skin, to wash off without ever touching the core of my “I.”

It was patently ridiculous, a recipe for disaster.

I still live out of that myth more than I would care to admit.

So, when I came to Tuesday to speak about Monday, I used phrases like “overwhelming emotion,” “out of control,” “whole body tensed and quivering,” and “if those cookies hadn’t been waiting for me I would have completely lost it!” What I was telling my PF, and what she heard so well, is that it is impossible for me to be seen as other than in control. I’ve been radically redefining what “in control” means to me, shaping it to include such  formerly verboten things as tears in public and speaking silliness with strangers, but the new must always come on my own terms. It is not allowed to sweep me away unbidden. When it seems to be threatening to do so, decades of practice in running for the hills in order to blow off just enough steam to survive immediately kicks in. I flee into solitude.

Only, for the last year I have Known that continuing to “deal” with things on my own (read: repress, avoid, deny) will destroy me. Call it intuition, a hunch. I would even go so far as to say that God Herself told me so, making a covenant with me that my tears, my healing, would never come to me in the absence of another’s face. I love this promise, and I despise it; I hate the death it calls me into. I have two decades’ worth of repressed emotions clamoring for my attention, and they are so much vaster than any ability I might wish I had to pretty them up, control their expression, choose at what intensity I will lay them before your feet. When I return voice to them they will scream their existence from the mountaintops. I am, frankly, terrified of what they will say.

And this is where I come full circle and join back up with Alison’s faith: living in the courage to burn with all of my passion, rather than just flashing little glimpses here and there when I feel you can handle it, is my impossibility. I simply do not have those muscles to support myself. Tuesday, Heather sat with me for an hour in gentleness and acceptance and strength as I flirted with my emotions, leaning progressively closer but always pulling away the moment they showed signs of wanting to press their lips to mine in turn. She held me upright when I wanted to do nothing but crawl, was always right there when I fell again, again, again. And then she said,

“My hope for you is that someone will make a place for you at their table where you may feast.”

and I replied,

“Me too. I am so tired of having to make it all myself.”

Those simple words, spoken from the very bottom of my heart, brought with them a flood of tears. Sobs wracked my body. And a tightness, a clenching, a walling off of myself from myself was loosened, broken down. The impossible happened, and I relaxed. And I could never have done it alone.

love & snugglies

 

*for any readers not already primed by Dan Allender to think in terms of entering death (or those who are and want to see something of a different take on the matter), let me point you here and here

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