Reflections by Jerry Webber

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Waiting for Things to Finally Come Clear

Sometimes I hear from people who are exposed to some idea or teaching that stands a little outside their personal believe system. In fact, often I am the "messenger" who offers an alternative viewpoint or another way of seeing something. It never ceases to surprise me that people so quickly and easily characterize something as "untrue" simply because they don't understand it or because it is outside the realm of their own life-experience.

I know . . . after so many years I should stop being surprised, yet for some reason I am. I really want to believe that as a human family we are not so narrow as to define issue and matters by "my experience" or by "my stance" . . . but I do it, you do it, we all do it.

Maybe it's just a result of our humanity, our fundamental tendency to interpret all of life from our own point of view and from the place where we sit at the center of the universe. This self-referenced stance seems hard-wired within us. We humans have a persistent capacity to whittle truth down to bite-sized portions . . . as bite-sized as our personal experience, outlook and belief systems.

In fact, I find it rather remarkable when someone is big enough to admit to the huge field of truth that lies outside their current situation. It is a significant mark of maturity to be able to say, "Yes, this is my truth . . . but it is not the full extent of truth. There are things I have yet to experience and things I have yet to understand."

The Cloud of Unknowing is a spiritual classic, a fourteenth century anonymous writing about prayer and the contemplative life. It is a classic because its insights into the spiritual journey are timeless, and especially helpful for those who are open to contemplative prayer and practice.

I've read the book (it's fairly short) several times. The first time through many years ago, I had no idea what the author was saying. Each time through, I understand more layers of meaning.

The writer of The Cloud knows he is dealing with difficult material, writing about things for which there really is little point of reference. These are mystical things, spiritual realities that don't lend themselves easily to discussion and analysis. So at one point, midway through the book, the author writes this:

"If what I am saying is correct, but does not make any sense to you, then let my instruction rest until God opens your understanding." (The Cloud of Unknowing, modernized by Bernard Bangley, p. 44)

This counsel is so very important! You read along . . . read along . . . read along some more . . . and sense that what you are reading is significant, that it is important to get it . . . but you have no idea what it means.

That happens to me a lot. I read something. I sense that it is true and probably important enough that I need to internalize it. I need it in my life. But I have no idea what the it is. It's out of reach, over my head, and beyond my grasp.

I used to get frustrated and angry about it, impatient with myself. I would fight my lack of understanding.

Now I just set it aside and say, "When the time comes, I'll understand. I'll experience. God, help me to stay open so that when the time comes, I won't miss it."

Sometimes it's days later, or maybe weeks -- more often its years later -- I'll come across the same material again, and this time I see. I get it. It makes sense.

The counsel of The Cloud parallels the ancient Oriental wisdom that says, "When the student is ready, the teacher will come." In my experience, often the teacher has been there all along, but as the pupil I have not been ready to hear or learn from the teacher.

So back to the beginning paragraphs . . . if I can admit that I'm not ready to receive everything right now, that there is some truth or teaching or experience that I'm incapable of receiving, then I can also admit to the large body of truth and goodness that is outside my current experience.

For instance, what if I were able to say, "This may be truth . . . but it just doesn't connect with me right now." So rather than dismiss it by dualistically dividing things into "true" or "false" -- which is likely conditioned by where I stand at this particular moment -- what if I stay open to and admit to a wider field of truth than my current understanding and experience? Something may be true or helpful for me, but it may also come at a time when I'm not ready to receive it.

Just because I'm not ready to receive some idea or concept or framework for life does not make it untrue or invalid. It simply means I'm not ready for it yet.

So maybe the division is not "true" or "false."

Maybe it's more like:
truth I have experienced
truth I am experiencing
truth I have yet to experience

As always, the main stance for this attitude is openness. I want to stay open to whatever comes and whatever is revealed. I want to be receptive to however God may open my understanding to something that at one time was closed to me.

This seems like a pretty important life-stance to me. The author of The Cloud offered that one little throw-away line, but it speaks to a life-stance that really is larger and more all-encompassing for the spiritual life. It speaks to a posture for moving into life with graciousness, for taking in what we are able to take in, then staying open to whatever God brings in the days ahead.

Do these things resonate within you as truth? Or do they sound like a lot of hogwash?

"If what I am saying is correct, but does not make any sense to you, then let my instruction rest until God opens your understanding."

1 comment:

Debra said...

As the "messenger", have you ever felt that you were being shot at? (You know, the expression-- don't shoot the messenger...)

Waiting... living into the waiting....
Unknowing... living into the unknowing....

Taking it step by step, as it unfolds, as I unfold. I'd say these things that you've written resonate within me as truth.

I've not yet read "The Cloud". Maybe it's time.

I am appreciative for the messenger.