For Coffee Hour this Sunday I would like to sit again alongside some words from Howard Thurman:
“To accept all experience as raw material out of which the human spirit distills meanings and values is a part of the meaning of maturity.” This comes from, “The Binding Ties,” the introductory text to the second section of Meditations of the Heart.
I am struck by how pointedly this text breaks with scriptural expectations — specifically, “the element… that is outside of an orderly pattern of reaping and sowing,” which seems to point directly to the famous passage from Ecclesiastes. And what this does for me is remind me of the notion of a “wild God” — or, I suppose I wouldn’t even use this language. A mystery beyond naming. Which at times can be terrifying.
I had an experience recently that seemed to strip away any sense of fatedness, order, sequence or consequence — what I was left with was pure contingency. I was suddenly acutely aware that if a fraction of tiny events had happened in a slightly different way, my present reality would be dramatically different. And yet, they happened the way they happened. And I couldn’t explain why. At times when I have reflected on this idea, I have felt extremely lucky or blessed, but in this particularly moment, I was only aware of how easily what I had could be taken away. I have felt this intensely, understandably, faced with deaths of loved ones. That makes sense. But this wasn’t like that. It was something so small, a doubt, a shadow, in a conversation. And somehow its ordinariness made the sense of randomness of life feel all the more pronounced, constant, present in all corners of the universe, including those places that felt well-lit with love. It wasn’t pleasant. And suddenly I remembered a conversation I had once with the poet Christian Wiman, when I asked him, “What do you mean when you say Christ?” and he answered with something I found inscrutable at the time (but I was too embarrassed to ask him to explain): “Christ is contingency.” I never forgot that exact phrase. What the hell did he mean, “Christ is contingency?” Then in the last couple of years, reading Octavia Butler’s Parables, I had the impression that Butler’s “God is change” had the same inscrutable and exposing truth.
God is Power—
This is the only understanding of God that I had as a child. But I would not have thought “Indifferent,” and I would have added, “Implacable.” Is there room for love in contingency, or power?
The lectionary. If anyone is interested 🙂 I think I am most interested in the reading from Mark, where Jesus performs all these miracles and then withdraws. Something so human in the withdrawal. After all that divinity of miracles.
The Jitsi link for Coffee Hour. The password is HowardThurman. 1-2pm Irish time.