When Running Gets Me Nowhere

I had this moment tonight where I looked around and thought, “I have no friends here. These are my sister’s friends, not mine.” I don’t *think* this is true…but it feels as if my heart sometimes believes it.

Rachel still feels like everyone’s first choice. She is affectionate and encouraging. She is comfortable with herself and puts others at ease. Meanwhile, I feel like I’m giving everything I have just trying to be present. I want AUTHENTIC connection with others but I don’t seem to be very good at it, and working on that makes me feel even more awkward and difficult. I become inarticulate and clumsy. The leap of the heart that even friendship seems to require doesn’t just feel distant – it sometimes feels impossible.

All I want to do is leave. I want to run away from everything. I didn’t used to be like this., but I lost my resiliency in my developmental years. My relationships, from family to friends to boyfriends, seemed to emphasize just how unacceptable I was, as is. I wasn’t meeting the conditions required to be loved.

I started putting distance between others before they could choose to distance themselves from me. This became a habit of my heart, which whispered to not get too attached because nobody would stay, which then became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Not enough? Too much? The common denominator was me. And so to protect the little pieces of my heart that I had left, I would further entrench myself in habits of flight, rejection, withdraw and distance.

I know my problem isn’t being in the shadow of my sister, or standing in comparison to the billions of amazing women out there. My problem isn’t my roommate or my parents or my ex’s or my dog. The problem isn’t men, or culture. The problem is me.

That’s why running won’t help. That is why I have to stay and stand there and be more awkward than not. I must slowly build new habits of sitting in the uncomfortable, of risking rather than rejecting. To notice when I push people away and instead, to draw them closer.

This is not easy work, but it is powerful. I make dozens of choices each day over these past months to do the uncomfortable and it’s slowly changing me. I’m hundreds of small choices in, and know that in the process, new habits are being formed. I am doing it imperfectly. I’m going to take some losses, make some mistakes and probably continue to embarrass myself more than I would like. But years of running hasn’t gotten me anywhere. So it’s time to try staying where I am.

Being Beings and Discovering Mystery

John Shea’s essay, “Exceeding Darkness and Undeserved Light,” outline four different environments that we all share, best understood as “the basic contours of our existence.” (Shea 2) The environments are made up of the self, loved ones, society and institutions, and universe. Our experience as humans may appear to be summed up by our interactions with these four, but there is a fifth environment which encompasses these: Mystery. Our basic experience can be understood in having two points: ourselves and the environment we encounter (for instance, I (1) eat bread (2)).  When this interaction reveals a dimension of Mystery, we experience sacramental awareness (the addition of the third point). In the instance of eating bread, I might understand it to be not only bread but my personal participation in the account of Christ who gave his followers bread and told them it was his body, broken for them.

There are five primary ways Shea outlines as a means of becoming aware of the ultimate dimension of our experience as humans. First is contingency, “what Kazantzakis calls the luminous interval between two darknesses.” (Shea 13) Sometimes it looks like the gift of living fully and joyfully in the moment, amazed by the very experience of it all. At other times, it can be a reminder of how very fragile and finite out lives on this planet are. The second path is dialogue and communion. Through dialogue people discover who they are and in communion they discover a love and acceptance gifted to them by their community. The third path is collapse. “When order crumbles, Mystery rises.” (Shea 16) This is the falling apart of the beliefs or knowledge we clung to and our reaction to that loss. “A fourth path to Mystery leads through a deepened sense of the ambiguity of our moral activity.” (Shea) While we strive for moral ideals, we most often find ourselves falling substantially short.  Last is disenchantment. Well known throughout history, it refers to an awakening which ultimately calls us into a maturing religious consciousness.

When we read Pigeon Feathers, by John Updike, we see a boys journey to sacramental awareness. The main character, David, experiences these environments in such a way that he becomes disenchanted, one of the five paths mentioned by Shea. David has an encounter with Reverend Dobson over heaven when he didn’t answer David satisfactorily.  “His indignation at being betrayed, at seeing Christianity betrayed, had hardened him. The straight dirt road reflected his hardness.” (Updike 36) He searched and searched for truth, but he was lost in the darkness that can fall when one realizes there is a question but no answer. He saw his classmates and their ill-fated path towards imminent death and eventually lost his desire to read altogether. Although concerned, his parents resolved to give him a gun for his fifteenth birthday. We can see the “universe environment” and it’s influence on David as he practiced shooting, which put fear into his dog who he would sometimes comfort. “Giving this comfort to a degree returned comfort to him.” (Updike 43) Ultimately, David is asked to use his new skills to clear out the pigeons in the barn. Although he didn’t have a desire to, he did as he was asked. As he killed more and more pigeons, he enjoyed it more, feeling the power he held with his gun and his ability to predict the pigeons path. Yet it was when he went to bury them that Mystery entered into his world: “He had never seen a bird this close before. The feathers were more wonderful than dog’s hair… a pattern that flowed without error across the bird’s body. He lost himself in the geometrical tides…And across the surface of the infinitely adjusted yet somehow effortless mechanics of the feathers….no two alike… designs executed, it seemed, in a controlled rapture, with a joy that hung level in the air above and behind him.” (Updike 50) He was startled by the intention behind them and the fact that they were treated like pests. In this encounter, he rediscovered his God, “….that the God who had lavished such craft upon these worthless birds would not destroy His whole Creation by refusing to let David live forever.” (Updike 50)

References

Shea, John. “Exceeding Darkness and Undeserved Light.” Stories of God. Liguori, Missouri: Liguori Publications, 2006.

Updike, John. “Pigeon Feathers.” Olinger Stories. New York: Vintage Books, 1964. Short Story.