Thoroughly Alive

We must hunger after the beautiful and the good...


Counsels of dusk

I had a decision to make. One of those choices that seemed to pit me against myself, and then the both of us against God. A dilemma that split my soul into numerous bits and set all of them fighting each other. On the rare occasion this sort of thing confronts me, I often creep away to some quiet place where I can pray away all my confusion. There's an old castle-styled historic place nearby, and I hied me there for a night and a day. I spent my first afternoon in dutiful thought; weighing this option against that verse against that friend's opinion, against the yen of my own heart. By sundown, my head was a bee's nest of voices. I stumbled out of my castle room in search of a walk, intent only on getting away from the small spaces of my head and even the indoors.

Cold air can be a sort of salvation. It can smack your face with this sweet, reviving touch that regenerates you from the slow suffocation of your own tunneling thoughts. Out in the sharp-edged dusk, as shadows made dark outlines of rock and tree, I felt the contours of my thought expand to the pearled blue of sky, the sudden precipices of cliff as I walked a short way up a canyon. Everything in me widened and breathed.

Crisp, with the glitter of a day's melting on its skin, the snow was pure as child's sleeping face. The mountainsides jutted through it, the rich, wet red of their stone like the beating heart of the wintered earth. And the trees, giant, crooked firs, with a hundred years of abiding green woven over their arms. It was at just such a tree that I stopped, craning my neck to meet the height of its quiet face, standing near the curve of its changeless arms, its motherly shadows. I watched the sky deepen, brood about it. In its shelter, my mind clarified by cold, my questions came slower, the voices in my head slowed and spoke clearly. I asked God what in creation I was supposed to do.


It was clear as any word in my soul I have heard in my whole life. There was even a tinge of exasperation in it, as if this were probably the one thing I had never thought of doing. As dark snaked through the canyon and I turned homeward, I crunched through the snow, turning this word over in my mind. Rest from what? I asked. From the strife of your own wisdom. From the push to define a plan and act on it when no plan has been whispered into you from God. From the desire to have your whole life in a known, gridded outline. From the push to prove your worth, to be outwardly successful (and inwardly bankrupt), to look on top of things. From the frenzy to have a plan, instead of letting God tell a slow, rich story through your days.

When I reached the castle, I stopped on the terrace. Night came and stood on one side of me, cold on the other, their touch gentle, propping up my heart as I let stillness drive away my worry. I waited there, for some sense of conclusion in my heart. There was no tidy answer to my dilemma. No, succinct word to shut up each clattering voice in my head. There was though, a reshaping of the spaces inside of me, a widening of my thought so that the voices faded away and a restfulness came to the inner rooms of my heart.