Sometimes I find everything and nothing in the same place.
As I sit on the porch of my coffee shop, on a cool and overcast morning, sipping a pistachio latte earned by ten coffees, I’m thinking about how I sort of fit the stereotype of the “Reformed” “Calvinist” Guy. I have tattoos and a beard (sort of), wear skinny jeans and big glasses, read Puritans and watch R-rated films, use strong language and brew stronger coffee, and of course I drink (yes often craft beer) and smoke (yes usually a tobacco pipe). I’m not really an RCG though, because, for one, I’m lowkey Arminian, and two, I don’t think anyone wants to date a real RCG.
This is where I curtail discussion of Calvinism vs. Arminianism. You’re welcome.
And so here I sit, watching the cars go by and listening to the shop’s very nice playlist and greeting the friendly baristas and reassuring myself I’m not an RCG, and I’m thinking about how overwhelmed I’ve been by the kind words I’ve received from so many people since my post about the beauty of walking around received a second life when a local artist painted his interpretation of a picture I took for that piece. And as I think on these things, I’ve decided to undertake writing something similar. Which, of course, is not about walking, but about sitting. Because I really like walking. And I really like sitting.
Sitting. Like I do so often. But do better some times than others.
I am sitting – or was sitting – on the patio in the back yard of the house I grew up in, doing those very RCG activites of drinking a craft beer and smoking pipe tobacco. Alone in the evening, the house empty besides my parent’s yappy dogs, who are – mercifully – being quiet. The air is warm and still, birds continue singing but it’s late enough that crickets are too. It’s an evening for cool sips of ale and the languid unfurling of smoke. It’s an evening to let the mud settle and see myself in the clear water, to find that water reflecting whatever passes overhead, untroubled by anything I brought with me to the edge.
I’m in the balance – the balance between a long journey and a new beginning, between anxiety and apathy, between mastery and monotony. This space is unstable, and the deck pitches and sways as I lash the helm into the teeth of a nor’easter and rush to let down more sail, only to find I’ve entered the doldrums. Still, balance is what I need. I need to see it, to feel it, to find it no matter where I am. But some places make it easier to perceive this delicate energy which courses through the universe. Places like the patio in the back yard. And, so sitting here, in the midst of flitting birds and racing rabbits and climbing squirrels and sacred trees and open sky and sleeping dogs, I pursue balance sitting still.
Breathe in. Flame. Heat.
This is Yin.
Breathe out. Spirit. Smoke.
This is Yang.
I’m tired. More and more, these days, I reach the end of the day emptied of the energy which used to course through me like electricity. Living can be really heavy. The obstacle is the path, which is reassuring but also exhausting. I will eat something soon to feel restored, but not just yet. There is a space for wisdom as well as weakness in an empty stomach.
Sometimes when I sit in prayer, my thoughts suddenly veer off or crash through some soundproof barrier which threatens to drown out a holy conversation. Some force within or without acts to block this connection, the opening of chakras and Trinitarian communion. I feel this same threat of haste, this same incursion of worry, when I sit on the patio. Sitting can be hard work. It’s hard to sit with proper posture to save the back and neck and hips, harder still to sit and resist the temptation to be somewhere else, racing after tomorrow’s possibilities, backtracking to today’s failures, or shooting up a rechargeable mobile drug. I’m in an unhurried space, where the birds and beasts and the sky and trees move in a delicate balance. Even beyond this sanctuary, the cars roaring across the distant highway bridge and the hum of an evening lawnmower and the percussive bark of a neighbor dog fit into the greater mosaic, and when I reach out I can see the thousands of people so nearby coming and going melt into the flowing stream which goes on and on. Of course, some of these animals are endangered, some of these cars will crash, some of these people weep, and yet the chaos is still knit together with some unspoken order.
But even as this balance plays out around me, even as I can feel myself grow into it, something – something – threatens to shatter me.
Is this why we can’t sit still? Is this the impetus for distraction, for altered states, for virtual spaces? Is this why we can grow bored of the sacred and blind to the spiritual? Is this why we clock in and clock out for the sake of profit margins and call it freedom? Is falling the only alternative to climbing?
It’s a something that could be anything. I might reassure myself of a hundred different things, and then something so small and insignificant lodges itself and festers. It threatens to upset the balance, to chase me into flight, to make me hurry to some false promise of safety. Telling me to walk faster, even though the rain is everywhere.
I strike a match.
Spark. Flame. Heat. Life unbounded.
This is Yin.
This is Yang.
Deep breath. Sigh. Sip. Swallow. Blink. Blink. Eyes closed. Eyes open.
And then I see it. Passing from over my left shoulder across the patio and away. A monarch butterfly. Floating and gliding, everywhere and nowhere at once, a living canvas, an orange ocean with black and white flickered songs. And it takes my breath away. My eyes glow and the knot in my chest is undone and the river runs clear. The monarch alights on the limb of a lilac for a moment, a moment that might as well last a lifetime, and then embraces the air once more and is gone.
It is gone, but the moment remains. And moments like this extend forever because they are nowhere in the course of time. Time is no longer of the essence, it’s free of commodification and divested of its authority. And creation speaks in this language not so concerned with reaching punctuation.
This evening eventually ends. I did eat a dinner. And, actually, the peace did not last. The dogs started barking again. I remembered the things I had to be stressed about. I began to strive after wind and grew fearful of the lion in the street. Such is the struggle for balance, the imperative to continue to preach to oneself. The temptation is to meet this failure with a redoubled effort, to chase after some antidote, to close my eyes tighter when I pray, to insist on artificial solitude, to grasp at some sort of salve. True, sometimes the answer is to live, to live with all our might, to run in such a way that we might win, but this is, again, the balance. To know how to fight and how to surrender, to run and to rest, to speak and to listen.
God moves through the unexpected and unlikely, through mind-blowing coincidences and against-all-odds moments of shock and awe, but for as much as we might feel God speak in the gusts of a sea-change, I believe God speaks to us still more in the gentle breeze in the leaves and the hum of a bumblebee in overgrown Russian sage. God was not in the strong wind which broke rocks, or the earthquake and fire which followed, but rather in the still small voice which reached Elijah outside the cave on Mount Horeb.
My life is changing again. It does that every few months these days. And as I worry about food, drink, and clothing, I have to continue to go down to the water to sit and be still and consider the lilies and the ravens. I must take action through inaction and find wisdom in not knowing.
When I wrote about walking, I was talking about walking, and I was also talking about awareness. I was writing about me and my world and my own personal pain, and I was talking about you, too. I’m doing the same thing now. You should literally sit and listen and be meditative, but this is about more than how to spend your evenings. I’m working through my own anxiety and uncertainty, but I hope it makes you look inward, too.
And then maybe someday we will sit together in the flooded ruins of Isengard and share smoke and stories in the stillness of the evening. Sometimes the sacred is found in silence and whispers; it’s found in the voice of companionship, too.
Until then –
Forth now, and fear no darkness.
Soli Deo Gloria
1 It’s a damn good latte. 10/10 would recommend.
2 Arminian, like the Dutch theologian, not Armenian, like the Kardashians.
3 That last part is straight from a Zach Winters song called “Monarch.” I will reference him again later when I write about going down to the water to sit and be still.
4 Leftover rice and ham and it was one of the best-tasting meals I have eaten in my entire life. This is part of the wisdom in drinking and smoking (in moderation) on an empty stomach. Don’t say you don’t learn anything reading this blog.
5 I’m not still sitting on the porch at my coffee shop, if you were wondering. That was days ago. I can’t spit these things one take like Jay-Z and Mozart.