Desert Ledge

Desert Ledge

I’m here teetering again as I have so often been, on the very edge of falling or flying.

Each time I fall.

Each time I grasp and clutch and climb again to the edge of falling or flying. The struggle back up each time in itself can be said to be inspiring, but it’s not liberation, not the trust I long to live in. It’s not “life more abundantly”. The climb back up each time is certainly grace, but not necessarily growth. To finally maintain my gaze aligned with my center position of God’s gaze and to fly, even a few yards, even to the next ledge, this is the growth of faith I long for. This is the necessary and completely illogical trust in God’s goodness, the complete abandonment of myself to total dependence on grace, goodness, and guidance. This is the beginning of life more abundantly, not my life my way more abundantly, but Life in faithful, trusting relationship more abundantly. I have a hunch that in our illusion of possessing life, we diminish life and we fall. It must be that only in learning to share, to be part of abundant life, not have abundant life, that we might catch the current.

It’s a harsh bit of self-knowledge, the realization that I act so rarely out of trust and love that it’s memorable when I do. I find that I need God and need God desperately, not only because of a theory of “original sin”, but because I simply do not know how to love fully, if at all. I’m not sure that sin and not knowing how to love aren’t close to the same thing. I’d say there’s a clear correlation. What I know is that every time I haven’t acted from love, when I haven’t acted from knowing that I’m loved, that I’ve created a promising environment, created the perfect circumstance for missing the mark. It’s pretty much guaranteed. Far too consistently I find myself living in the B.C., that is “before Christ” in my own personal timeline, still living like an orphan long after adoption. All of our seeking and brokenness, all of our healing and hope is so that we might, even incrementally, live in the resurrection, in it’s life, in risen-ness, in it’s promise and purpose, and through an evolution of the heart – sometimes called salvation – stop living in the past, in the B.C. Yes, God was there then, but He’s not there now. God is ever present. The “I Am” is always here now, yes, empowered to act upon and redeem both, the past and the future, but always from the vantage point of the present. If we can just allow the pruning of what is dead and the dropping away of what is by now cumbersome, our skill at burrowing might be left behind as a sturdy trust and tender wings emerge. We might finally begin to “use the past as a reference point rather than a residence”. Even while we’re in the desert we might stop remembering Egypt in fondness or fear long enough to forward our mail to Canaan, to that promised place of the milk of loving acceptance and the honey of loving community.

My own backward glancing fondness for Egypt, for the reassuring internment of the empire of retribution, the domination of withholding, and the suffering of scarcity but guaranteed crumbs, fuels my hearts’ fear of all of these; my heart that still somewhere in a creviced memory of belonging believes in the promise of freedom, in the hope of reconciliation. Now, here again, in the desert moment between falling and flying, between turning back and pressing on, I see that I’m not impeded by what held me down so much as by what I try to hold down. My obstacles are more often the misdirection of my own sight. I am blocked and burdened by trepidation born of too many years being a captive of fear, a refugee of exclusion. This is a cup of confession that I’d much rather pass on, but I can’t afford to forgo it’s potential healing anymore. Refusing treatment is to accept this as terminal. My soul is as sick as it can be. In my rush to be jailer instead of jailed, the place where I house my prisoners of offense stinks of fetid resentment and overcrowding. All of my prayers for help, all of the Master’s words of admonition and promise, all of my earnest and incessant reading about forgiveness (while still clutching the cell block keys) has left me prayerful, well read, and still resentful; still prepared to be offended, still ready to be judge, jury, jailer, and slave driver; most often offering punishment rather than pardon. Finally it becomes apparent that we cannot travel the path of freedom or walk in the abundant life of the Spirit while leading a chain gang of those that we hold in the bondage of unforgiveness. Weary enough, sick and tired enough, we begin to see that the struggle is to stop holding our fellow humans’ humanity against them if there is to be any hope of us knowing the free will offering of God’s love. Finally, if warily, we take the shackles off God too and allow Him to move to the front of the line and we fall in step behind, bound now through loving surrender, rather than steel-toed, jack-booted condemnation.

But even when our necks are released from under the heel of external oppression and we trudge forward, too often the damaging soul impression and our history of scrap survival darkens our promised hopeful exodus. When we are certain, buried somewhere deep inside, that “the other shoe” is always about to drop, then even the brightest rays of sunlight are filtered through ominous clouds whose underbellies are tense and swung low with tattered high-top trainers, golf cleats, heavy-soled work boots, and countless, inevitable other shoes of impending disaster, despair, and abandonment. This is how I came to spend most of a lifetime never really exhaling completely, never really able to unpack much more than a toothbrush and a weathered copy of “Leaves of Grass”. This is how I’ve spent nearly a lifetime moving from one shelter to the next: from crawlspaces and bedroom closets to an orphanage, from a decaying YMCA to loitering in the two a.m. darkened backstreet doorways desperately willing to exchange a little perfunctory sex for the shelter of a man’s touch and maybe a pack of cigarettes. Girlfriends and boyfriends, friends and lovers, faithful dogs, a healing horse, and God in all Her many splendid and downright grimy forms have given me shelter; panting, emergency, temporary shelter. Some shelter roofs were thatched, some tin, but none of them ever sturdy enough to withstand the storms of my dark history-hued expectations. When we’re sure the other shoe is gonna drop, then God is a maniacal cobbler with a strong pitching arm. We’re His target and His aim is sure and mean. When we’re sure the other shoe is gonna drop, it always does, but so does sufficient grace again.

With each moment of startling grace, with every unexpected welcome, with each exoneration and pardon of ourselves and each other we slowly learn to expect the manna of provision, the faithfulness of love; rather than the pummeling of the next dropping shoe. Slowly we realize in our running and in our looking back that the chariots of doubt and dread and any Pharaohs of fear have vanished out of sight behind us and are now only echos in our head, only shadows in our vision, not on our path. Finally we see that our freedom now and our greater freedom ahead is contingent on our freeing those that have bound us, and ourselves, from the double yoke of retribution, the double-shackled chain of unforgiveness.

And yes, we measure the risk still, we balance ourselves precariously, teetering here on the edge, as I do again.

And we often still fall.

But whether we’re face down spitting sand or climbing back up to the ledge again, whether in our fleeting moments of airborne elation or in times of forgetful desperation, we are more aware of a constant light; a light that we reflect back by design; the light that we recognize as the flashpoint of knowing ourselves to always and ever to be in the center of God’s loving gaze. In this searing, molten love our belonging and peace are assured, all pardons are granted, and in our trembling gratitude we give unfettered, shameless witness to Wendell Berry’s words that “even falling raises, in praise of light.”

– PreetamDas Kirtana

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