Accepting the Risk of Contentment

Wedding skyI am trying to decide whether there is tragedy in the discovery that contentment breeds silence. Granted, as the pieces of my life seem poised to draw together into a shining collective marked by peace and possibility, I feel largely protected from tragedy. The bits of me tinged with superstition and fear wonder when I will be cursed for such blithe naivety, such hubris, but in reality, I just feel incredibly fortunate to be walking through life with eyes opened wide enough to realize when I am moving through a blessed stretch of my journey. Caroline Myss was the first person I ever heard to use the phrase “field of grace”; I think I know what it is to have my star enter such a space.

We didn’t win the lottery. I didn’t lay a spread of tarot cards that predicted nothing but prosperity. My husband didn’t tell me I could forget about the money and quit my day job. I was not told that life would become any simpler or less full of questions.

After months of scurrying after fate, dreaming that the Divine would set my future ablaze next (sort of like really, really, really hoping you would get picked for the kickball team), it just seems that I have found an end to all of the franticness that has marked so much of my life. It seems time that I learn the difference between stagnation and stability, between laziness and contentment.

James Martin, SJ paraphrases Mother Teresa’s pronouncement that “you should find her own Calcutta” with the familiar “bloom where you are planted.” He suggests that you “discover sanctity in your own life.” We have decided to embrace that idea, but only after a roundabout interrogation of what seemed like every option, not (I hope) because we fear challenging the status quo or because it seemed easy to adopt a nice little line from a supportive priest. Suddenly, living in this beautiful valley full of progressive thinkers and going to work every day in a place that sets galaxies of information at my fingertips seems like the fruit of a sweetly conspiring universe rather than the consequences of a few unrelated accidents.

When the tide turns, as it invariably will, and we seem to be taking less advantage of this time of comfort (declared now to be a couple of years marked by conscious growth in a familiar world), I may blush at this sweet faced optimism. Perhaps the fear that I will sound foolish to the eventual jaded self that will read these words with derision keeps us from wanting to express hope and happiness. Somehow drowning in confusion and complaint is easier; there are so many more dramatic ways to describe misery than pain (isn’t that why modern fiction robs us of happy endings so often these days?). Or perhaps the truth of contentment is to be found in the stillness it begets, the ability to cease the need transmit an emote and simply be.

A Longing Deeper than Tradition’s Divide

One night a man was crying,
Allah! Allah!
His lips grew sweet with the praising,
until a cynic said,
“So I have heard you calling out, but have you ever
gotten any response?

The man had no answer to that.
He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.

He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,
in a thick, green foliage.
“Why do you stop praising?”
“Because I never hear anything back.”
“This longing you express is the return message.”

The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.

Your pure sadness
that wants help
is the secret cup.

Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.

There are love dogs
no one knows the names of.

Give your life
to be one of them.

-Rumi (trans. Coleman Barks)

Rumi’s love dogs howled to me while I read an article by James Martin about Mother Teresa‘s decades long crisis of faith during which she admitted “my soul is just like [an] ice block.” I understand just enough of this unearthly longing to know that I have never been able to approach the divine so honestly and fully as to risk such unbridled need.

This poem, like so much of Rumi, thrills and terrifies me as I wonder at the exquisite madness of giving oneself completely to God. I think of all of the comfort and routine that I have allowed to define me and cherish the trappings of this life even as part of me recognizes them as so many illusions and poorly designed stage props. When Rumi’s words have bent my brain into fits of beautiful distraction, spinning between exhilaration and despair, I return to another line “he who knows himself knows his Lord.” I know that this is one of the hadith of the Prophet Muhammed and that I cannot really understand the inherent resonance of those words, but they give me great solace. Of course, one can read the phrase to mean that Teresa’s dark night was instigated by a sense of separation from her true self, and that is cold comfort to be sure. Likening it to my own experience, however, I feel like I am stepping into an eternity full of promise when I can believe that some trace of God dwells within and that journeying into myself, and thus into the sacred, is always possible.