On Faith: Hitting the Light

Last week, I attended a retreat – “Courage to Lead for Young Leaders and Activists” – with Parker Palmer and his organization, “Center for Courage and Renewal.” I feel this desire — and something of a pressure — to write about it. People keep asking me, “how was your trip?,” “how was the retreat?,” “what were your biggest take-aways?,” “what did you learn?”

And really, I can’t tell them. I can’t tell you. The experience was transformational in ways that I can barely understand, and I’m still working to uncover all of what this means for me. It feels deep and profound, and I feel it necessary to keep it close to my heart. There’s a relief that comes when I allow myself to not share this experience in ways I am not yet ready.

Several months ago, I wrote a poem that has been surfacing for me again.

“…just-right words are hard to find,
hard to use, hard to believe in;
naming our lives is not as easy as labeling
lights, and shirts, and
sometimes, I fall away to
solitude and quiet
un-naming of myself and my place, but wonder:
how do I name this worth?
this reclamation?
this embodying?
How do I name this way
I live my world?”

I am thinking about the ways we show up to our lives, and I am thinking about the choices we make as we show up in our lives. I am wondering about the ways we reflect our true selves in our lives, and I am curious about my Self in my life. I am wondering about the continuum of my inner and outer life, and I’m wondering how I can live my life such that this continuum is fluid and seamless – so that my choices become “more life-giving than death dealing,” as Parker Palmer said during our retreat.

That question, though, of naming our lives – of naming my life – is one that keeps coming to the surface in a profound way. “How do I name this worth? This reclamation? This embodying?” I ask. “How do I name this way I live my world?

In the poem, I answer,

I say:
here is my heart.
I named it Myself.
It is power.
It is existing beyond, it is
a word after
a word after
a word, it is naming:
here. I am here,
holding my world in my hand.
Let me show you the color, the shape
the weight of it.
How heavy it can be.
Stay with me so I can
open my fingers.
Let me show you how beautiful it is
when it hits the light.

I am so aware – more than ever these days, perhaps, of what Palmer calls the “tragic gap”: that is, the space between reality and what we know is possible. The fact that we can’t close this gap is part of the difficulty of the human condition: we are both hard-wired to resolve tensions and unable to resolve this breach.

And this is, perhaps, what I was trying to say in my poem. This life is both heavy and hard to hold and tremendously beautiful when it hits the light. How do I find a way to live that world? In the face of this truth, how do I name and live worth, reclamation, embodying? How does one find the courage to live within the tragic gap, with all its tension and heartbreak?

I am thinking about the word faith. This word is one that has always left me a little bewildered: what does it mean, really? How do I use it? I feel comfortable describing myself as a “person of faith,” and comfortable describing Unitarian Universalism as my “chosen faith” – but other than that, the word “faith” is surprisingly absent from most of my writing, aside from this, written in December:

“I am standing
under the dripping

faucet of faith, waiting for
no one: I am my own

Godot. And aren’t I
dangerous? Aren’t I a woman to be

feared as I dare
revelations of my own

And this — this is true. I am dangerous and wild and a woman to be feared as I wait for no one, daring revelations beyond worthiness towards imagining futures brighter than my own heart’s shinings.

And it is also true that I am listening and moving in ways I have not moved before. It is true that I am opening to a new way, and as I do this,  the way is opening before me. I am discovering the courage and boldfaced audacity to live, broken-hearted and wholly open as myself in the tragic gap without fear.

It is true that I have no word for this heart-opening, this breaking open, this co-creation of something beautiful and vast and loud in my heart. It is shrouded in mystery I do not understand. And yet I move forward – held, and not falling.

As I move forward, nervous, yet not fearful; hesitant, yet enlivened and emboldened; I know I am held and can move forward in love, vulnerability, and authenticity.

This, I believe, is faith.


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