Last summer we spent two days and a night on the beautiful Umpqua River, fishing and floating during the day and pulling up to shore in the evening. At a glassy, wide spot we anchored and fished, passing snacks and bait between boats and vying for the hotspots where the fish were biting.
Above us the rural highway wound round bends parallel to our lazy river. I looked at the cars as they passed; people had places to go, and my life was still, wide, glassy as the river. I felt fixed to the earth like a pin on the map and glad for the excuse to stare at the world—my favorite part of fishing.
As I sat in the boat, looking up at the cars, I wondered about the people. Were they heading somewhere fun? Leaving somewhere interesting? Or were they fighting—themselves and each other and the world around them? Did they see me on the river and wish for a life that made time for such things? Were they overwhelmed with life?
I’ve been in all those places.
Staring at the world can be overwhelming sometimes. Everyone is coming from someplace and going somewhere else, on the highway above the lazy river and in the store and even at church on Sunday. Everyone is carrying their whole story carefully in them. We are all a sum of everything behind us and our paths run too parallel, not really crossing, not really connecting. The fixed points between us are small and the boundaries of our little kingdoms have few bridges.
I don’t mean to say that I wish I knew everyone better, but I am curious about the inner-workings of others. You have a whole interior self that is unknown and cannot be known by anyone but God, and that self affects who you are to me, who I am to you. There is more to you than just how you intersect my space and time, but I tend to only see you in relation to me—you are the person in front of me in line or passing me in the aisle or next to me in worship.
Finding a fixed point to see the world from reminds me that my moving and doing and being are not making this world spin. It goes on and everyone goes on and every encounter with another person is the merger of two stories. Or millions of stories.
I am reading through Brother Andrew’s The Practice of the Presence of God again. He says that we can’t ask for God’s help unless we’re with Him, and to be with Him means we practice the "holy habit” of thinking of Him often, so I’m practicing. When I think of Him lately, I realize that I am with Him, and this is different than realizing He is with me — which is how I’ve typically thought about God.
When I acknowledge that He is with me I can lose a sense of wonder in the world. I am bringing God into the mundane tasks and tension, but it’s better because He’s with me. I am scared in this world but it’s ok because He is with me. I can go confidently into darkness because it’s all light to Him and He is with me.
It feels too me-centered to be right, too much my world and my agenda.
But when I am with Him, I am both fixed and moving. I am in His kingdom here on earth among His people, His image, fixed in His presence and a traveller in His world. He is the host and I am in awe of what He presents to me.
Being with God may not seem any different than God being with me. It may seem like simple rephrasing. But thinking of myself in this position puts me in His kingdom and makes everything here more sacred, more treasured, deeper and richer and worth knowing. I am allowed to discover His world, to anchor in the river and be in awe of what He's doing. To stare in wonder.
The world and everything in it is His, not mine, and when I'm tempted to freak out over circumstances, I remember that all shall be well. All manner of thing shall be well, because I am in HIs kingdom and not the other way around.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always--
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.
— from T.S. Eliot's poem "Little Gidding"