This is me talking about God.

Story time:
I used to be a teacher at the MTC.
That stands for Missionary Training Center.

I often asked the new missionaries,
“What do you need to feel in order to experience conversion?”
I wasn’t looking for any one answer in particular, just trying to get them thinking.

I often heard things like:
“Feel that God loves you.”
“Feel a desire to believe”
“Feel that He is listening.”

Once, from a brand new sister missionary in the back corner, I heard this:
“You need to feel uncomfortable.”

She explained that conversion requires a change of heart.
Some sort of self-renovation.
You cannot change or progress without leaving your comfort zone.
And so, she concluded, you need to feel uncomfortable.

I believe she was right.

Let’s talk about this.
Maybe the word conversion is strange and foreign to you.
You could call it inspiration or enlightenment or something more ambiguous if you like.
For me, that move can sometimes be deceiving.

Watch:
God >> Divine Being >> Higher Power >> Vibrations of Light >> Force of the Universe.
With each move, your subject becomes more broad.
You are covering a larger scope of ideas with just one word. This type of language is good if you’re speaking to a bunch of people from diverse backgrounds. It helps us unite and relate to a large spectrum of ideas. Yoga teachers are masters at this. But here’s the deal: in embracing that ambiguity, in trying to include every possible belief that others have, you may pass over the opportunity to clearly define what your belief is.

And so, I believe the safety of ambiguity also comes with a loss of clarity, relevance, and intimacy.
Who is God to you?
I think it can be simpler than a vast, vague sphere of ideas.
I think God is a man we can know, rather than a force that comes and goes in mysterious waves but is never quite as personal as a friend. I can be uncomfortable to try and communicate with someone you don’t know. But that is not the type of uncomfortable I’m talking about here. What I’m saying is that while the conversion experience must at some point feel uncomfortable, our relationship with God as a being, as a Father, does not have to be. It can be simple. And clear. And awesome.

Kind of like this:
There was a time when I really wanted to learn how to play the guitar. My good friend Jared offered to help. He was kind. He didn’t mind that my musical background consisted solely of jammin to the radio, he was just pumped to teach me–so I decided to try it. Still, it was uncomfortable for me. Holding the guitar, finding the chords, staying in rhythm–all of that was weird. It was a position I’d never been in before and most of the time I felt pretty embarrassed. Jared was patient. Sometimes he would explain things in a way that didn’t make sense to me, but I trusted him. I knew he was listening and that he cared about me, but learning to play like him was hard. It required much more. Same thing with God.

If you want to know Him,
You must be ready to go where you have never gone,
Learn new things. Embrace awkward positions.
Leave your comforts behind.

This means you will feel uncomfortable at times.
Not so much in your relationship with God,
but in the experience of becoming like Him.

I could leave you with a beautiful ending about how I stuck with guitar until I mastered it and was no longer uncomfortable. But that wouldn’t be true. I gave up on the guitar pretty fast. I just didn’t know if I was capable of the results I wanted. And if I was, would it be worth all the time I spent feeling uncomfortable? I wasn’t sure. So I stopped trying, and went back to the way I was. Now I listen to music like I always have, appreciating it from a distance without being involved. I think this is how I am with God sometimes too. Distant. Complacent.  But not happy. Not anywhere close to the potential he created me for. I keep having to remind myself to seek that potential–leave the zone of comfort.

So here’s the ending: I think that process is normal.
That is how you find out the details of who He is and how He works with you.
That is how God goes from someone you hear about, to someone you know.
That is how you move from an ambiguous notion, toward a firsthand, personal clarity.
It is also, I believe, the point of life.
We can do this.

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Someone Must Be Stretched Out…

Update: Our stuff is in Texas. The lease is signed. Now we’re here in Reston, VA with Emily and Barry for the rest of the summer. Ken has an internship with the Navy in DC, and I’m hanging out with Emily and little Colin, searching like mad for jobs in Austin.

My first full day here, I asked Emily about the little path that runs next to their place. She told me it goes all the way to the capital. That’s right, she meant DC, the District of Columbia, the capital of AMERICA. Of course my very next question was “Can you ride a bike on it?” You can, which means I have not ceased to dream of it since. A few days later we borrowed one of Uncle Jeff’s sweet old bikes, which is surely from the early 90’s and very purple, along with a white helmet–complete with rainbow squiggle across the side. So vintage. He helped me pump-up the tires and adjust the seat and today: I was out that door and on the path.

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This isn’t your typical city path: each tree planted neatly in a row, supported by a mechanically timed sprinkler system. No way. This place is wild. These trees and vines have been tangling and growing and reaching for sunlight since long before I was born. They are vivid in the thick Virginia air, and they are not alone. There are butterflies, bees, red robins and all sorts of other things I heard but didn’t see. In other words, nothing here is depending on human life or machine to water and sustain it. It’s nice to know that this was home to them before it was to me. It exists all on it’s own. This is another world. Even the breeze is alive with some humid language that seems to tell me I am only a piece in its history. As I raced down the first big hill, I stood up tall on my pedals and let the rush of air explain that to me.

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It reminded me of a poem called “The End and The Beginning,” which describes how every war zone eventually becomes a tranquil place again. I was the person in the very last stanza, who comes to look at the clouds, separate and ignorant from all that happened on that very ground before.

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This path was built over civil war ground.
America divided in half, and fought against itself here.

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If you’re more into learning from Signs written in English than Rushes of air speaking in humid tree language, then good news for you: they have signs and cites along the way to explain history to you. That’s how I learned that this path is called the Old Dominion Trail. It used to be railroad tracks. It used to be stuff underfoot of Army Generals like Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker, who passed through here exactly 150 years (and 2 days) ago on his way to Gettysburg. Turns out he had to resign the next day because of an ongoing feud with Army headquarters, so watch out, Fighting Joe was a pretty feisty guy.

Herman Melville, author of “Moby Dick,” once went through here on foot as well. While I ride along humming to myself, a free woman in the middle of the day, he passed through at night, warily searching out the infamous, most hated Confederate in the North, Lieutenant Colonel Mosby. Afterwards, he wrote “The Scout Toward Aldie,” which describes these very  trees in the night as “a globe of leaves,” and “moon-tinged—with crook’d boughs.”

So even though I know this path will become a home to me here, it also belongs to another time. To other people. To older moons. And I love that really, it can never be all mine.

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The End and the Beginning
Written by Wislawa Szymborska
(translated from the Polish by Joanna Trzeciak)