Tuesday, June 21, 2005

When Asked the Impossible

The Gift

Just when you seem to yourself
nothing but a flimsy web
of questions, you are given
the questions of others to hold
in the emptiness of your hands,
songbird eggs that can still hatch
if you keep them warm,
butterflies opening and closing themselves
in your cupped palms, trusting you not to injure
their scintillant fur, their dust.
You are given the questions of others
as if they were answers
to all you ask. Yes, perhaps
this gift is your answer.

---Denise Levertov
from Sands of the Well

I find myself often in positions of more responsibility than I am able to meet. Marriage comes to mind. Motherhood also. Everyday I wake up with the knowledge that I am totally incompetent to adequately execute the barest sliver of what my life situation requres of me. For a perfectionist this is not happy information. Some people cry themselves to sleep. I can remember a time when I cried to find myself awake and in the world of the living, overwhelmed to be yet again doomed to push my personal boulder up a slope too steep.

I love Levertov's poem. It loosens something inside, gives space, gives permission to breathe again. It's a reminder that the most important parts of life--the parts that involve relationships with other people--require not that we have and hand out all the answers to others' questions, but that we allow others to ask their questions and then to seek for themselves, that we stand as witness and encouragement for the searchings of our family, our friends and mentees. It's a reminder that, quite frankly, we need fairly often to keep from closing our well-meaning handfulls of pat answers around fragile wings and crushing them. It's fear, I think, that clenches our fists so tightly, fear of not knowing answers ourselves, or of not trusting the answers we claim to know. I want the grace to live in ignorance in willingness without willfulness.

Open hands, Cindy. Open hands.


alaiyo said...

LuCindy, Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Taking off in a somewhat different direction inspired by a non-discussion I have recently been observing:

I am so weary of the way many people demand complete and immediate acquiescence to their answers as evidence that one is righteous or spiritual or even Christian at all. Now, I would agree that someone who says Christ is not God and is lying in a grave in Israel is probably not a Christian. :) But someone who disagrees with me as to Christ's expectations in some aspect of daily life -- can't we just be at different places on the journey? And maybe it's not that clear-cut who's farther along it, either, if anyone.

It's interesting that the more things I become sure of -- and I believe there are things we can be sure of -- the more things I realize I am NOT sure of and CAN'T be sure of. So if others are not sure of those things I am sure of -- why can't I let them work it through without condemnation or impatience.

Oh, to learn genuine humility. To rest in the idea that others see things differently and yet are just as "good" as I am -- or I am just as "good" as they. To accept that questions are okay and differing answers and no answers at all and even more questions instead of answers are all okay too.

I think you are right that it is, at least often, fear that makes us so quick to speak, demand, insist on THE answer and that others accept it. But if we are sure, we cannot enforce that certainty on someone else by demanding it, we can only live it before them. And if we are not sure, then we need to learn to live with lack of certainty and let others do so as well. That lack of certainty is often the crucible of growth. But, yes, when we close our hands we close off the possibility for growth.

Thank you so much for this lovely meditation. I've taken off in a somewhat different direction from your purpose, I think, but that's what the best writing encourages, yes? So, so helpful this morning and what I needed more than I can say.

Blessings on you!

Kristin said...

Really wonderful reflection. This is my first time here, and I'll definitely be coming back. Thanks for this.

Megan said...

i can see now that God has been prying my own hands s-l-o-w-l-y open. Good thing his fingers are so gentle when mine aren't.

Cindy said...

Beth--You wrote, "...maybe it's not that clear-cut who's farther along it, either, if anyone." I often think about this and/or remind myself of this when I'm tempted to compare. You put it much more succinctly than my jumbled internal mutterings, though. And, of course, I don't mind at all if you take whatever I write and move in a different direction. It just widens my horizons when you tell me where it took you. :)

Kristin--I'm honored by your visit and comment and will be very happy for you to pop back in as often as you like.

Megan--His gentleness is what makes it possible for me to live with Him at all, sometimes. As a matter of fact, if I had more of that gentleness, it would be easier to live with myself! Thanks for coming by.