Lucky for me, I have gills.
For the first time in my life, I think, I squared terror in the eye and did not back down. Though I’m sure, now, that it was buffered or tempered by something. I do not think that I could stand to see terror in its raw and unfinished form. I think some people, who are well advanced in the spiritual path, can. But this I know: it was not tempered by action, which is a typical and preferred course: Fear leading to action-despite-fear. Generally, I do not even do that. Most often I temper it through retreat, by fleeing to some mindless or meaningless activity whose only purpose (a modicum of meaning I suppose) is to delay the terror. I can be largely successful at this for long stretches. But this time I let it seize me, and did not stop it from seizing me. Then the thought popped into my head – “this is abject terror, and I can smell in it the stench of bottomless hopelessness.” The term ‘abject terror’ did actually pop into my head as those words, but the stench was simply the dreadful awareness of it which I can only name now, well after the fact. In those instances, I was deeply frightened because it seemed that it was a bottomless pit that I was headed towards. And then another feeling came up which was not at all strong, but it was sufficient; in fact, it was a feeling I would say, of sufficiency, if sufficiency can be a feeling. Then I realized that the abject terror had lost the nature of a threat, and this was a great relief.
Most often I fight between two opposing forces – clamping down, while I desire to be opened up. When it does finally open, it is with great cataclysm in my soul; exhilaration. So I bounce back and forth between prolonged consternation and sudden exhilaration. This was much more of a diffusive calm. It seemed as though I had seen the terror through to its completion, in a small sort of way, and so was delivered from it.
Interestingly, both sets of feelings – that of abject terror/careening into hopelessness, and that of sufficiency – I would characterize as floating. But whereas the first was more a matter of being set adrift like an unmoored boat with no sail, the other was more a matter of being borne up as on an updraft.
Deliverance can take many forms. I think about recovery from addiction, how there is a pro-longed (sometimes very long) period of relapse, guilt, and coming-to-terms, which is filled with a sense of joy. The strength of joy can keep you going for a long time. But it is not sufficient. I think it is possible to become actually addicted to the joy, which seems to make up for all the times of self-destruction. But this is no life. Another deliverance does not quite have the same quality. I can only think of it in an image: it is like daily weeding the garden, rather than every few years doing a major tilling and overhaul, or breaking out the poison (the nuclear option) every year to kill everything.
And I can not resist a theological observation. Many forms of Christianity teach only the grand, sudden deliverance, which is expected to be once-and-for-all. It isn’t, and people are sorely disappointed. They maybe crave an experience of deliverance, or perhaps even feel guilty if they don’t feel saved. Other forms of Christianity teach its adherents to “work out their salvation.” That is, salvation is not something that happens to you once upon a time, but occurs in the daily habit of turning.
It’s fall. I was thinking today about the few times that I’ve be stoned without use of drugs or alcohol, or any the substances that we usually rely on to blur the line between subject and object. They are, for me, moments that are characterized by other-worldliness and arrested time. I wrote about one occasion here. The other was in the fall. It was my first year of seminary. Read the rest of this entry »