written in September 2014; final edits and the ‘publish’ button pressed today.
No despair of ours can alter the reality of things, or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there… We are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance. – Thomas Merton
I came across this quote while reading Gregory Boyle’s book, Tattoos on the Heart. If you asked me to summarize, I’d tell you that it’s about true compassion, the kind that is built on the deep camaraderie of souls rather than a distant condescending pity. It has torn little holes in my heart.
This quote in particular tore a hole in a very specific place. It tears right through my tendency to sit… and wallow.
I’m learning to recognize this: I feel things deeply, and often. A word, a phrase, a song or a pattern on a shirt may get tossed between the hemispheres of my mind for days. I may be brought to tears by a fictional character or write whole sonnets based on the way light comes through leaves.
This is something I enjoy about myself, as quirky and dramatic as it is. I hope I am always in danger of sunsets and stars tearing little aching rifts in my heart. I hope I am always connecting the everyday with philosophical musings about purpose and meaning and longing and hope.
But, it also means that I’m a terrific wallower.
I can wallow in the hurt and nurse the angst to the point that the cloud of introspection blocks my view from the lighthearted moments. I carry the shadow with me, and it tinges my heart with sadness, even in good and normal moments.
This quote doesn’t dismiss hurt. It doesn’t claim that there is nothing broken about the world, nothing to grieve over. There still is. But it is a reminder that there is a joy that is bigger than any sadness, a victory that is bigger than any defeat. There is a song that continues on despite the darkness, a whispered hope that one day will be fulfilled in reality.
It is the song of sweet, sweet love; a love that died and conquered to be with it’s beloved. If I am loved by Christ, by the Lord God himself.. if I cling to His work on the cross and in the grave.. it means that my greatest enemy has been destroyed. My greatest threat has been eradicated. I started with my heart estranged from the Person in whom it was meant to thrive, in danger of it remaining so forever. We all start there, and we all have felt the ache that sits underneath every moment as a result. But there was an intervention, and it was a scandalous substitution: His life for mine, His payment for my debt. And it opened the door to a sure hope that one day, one day soon, the cosmic dance that Merton mentions will not be hindered by tears or pain or sorrow.
To me, to my wallowing-prone heart, this quote is also a call to (basically) get over myself.
As the character Samuel Hamilton in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden says.. “Do you take pride in your hurt? Does it make you seem large and tragic? …Well, think about it. Maybe you’re playing a part on a great stage with only yourself as audience…. Some people think it’s an insult to the glory of their sickness to get well…”
At some point, wallowing must end. It is not dismissive to your pain, to accept healing. It does not make light of your heavy moments, to dance again. It simply means that there is more on the horizon, that there are wide and spacious places He wants to bring you into. Wallowing must end, because the facts are too wonderful to allow for prolonged self-pity.
And these facts? How wonderful that all my mountains of feelings do not have the power to alter them. They remain: the fact that I am loved, that I am cared for by a God who desires good things for me, that there is more to life than my own selfish concerns, more to my existence than I can destroy by my failures. To live as though these facts have been overcome by my feelings is, at the best, untrue – at the most honest, arrogant.
I can wallow as much as I want, but in the end, I am like a little child who ruins their own birthday because they chose to throw a temper tantrum and now stubbornly refuse to leave their room, while people who love them go on celebrating in their absence. I am like the child who is so upset that her father told her “no” in the grocery store that she cannot enjoy the ice cream outing he had planned for them afterwards. I am like the child who suddenly finds that their own unhappiness does not stop the world from turning.
God is doing beautiful things, whether I am pouting in the corner or jumping in with both feet. Jesus is much and is doing much that is worth celebrating, whether I choose to celebrate it or not.
In this sense, I have full control over how I choose to experience life. Pouting does not stop the beautiful things from happening. It just stops my own enjoyment of those things.
- Worry does not stop God from caring for me; it just stops me from fully enjoying the peace that being His offers.
- Fear does not take away God’s control; it just stops me from having joy and rest in the midst of uncertainty, or in the face of my own lack of control/knowledge.
- Bitterness does not change God’s desires for me; it just stops me from trusting His way and being excited about the path He has chosen (even when it’s not the one I chose).
How great that our feelings do not change God, because our feelings… they be crazy. At least mine often are.
So, there is a time to mourn, a time to weep, a time to let solemnity rest heavy on our minds. But we are not meant to stay there forever, nor does it do anyone any good. It is good to sit and mourn for a season, but then we must refuse to stay there: to choose to stand and rise again in trust.
Wallowing is not God’s heart for you, nor for me. Let us put down the things we have nursed, the hurts that we have perseverated upon so long that they have become imprinted on our very identity and self-perception. Let us grieve, cry out to the Lord, seek honesty in community, and then remember the great dance that wants to include us again. Let’s get back to the party.