Little Kay was quite blue with cold – nearly black, in fact – but he did not notice it, for she [the Snow Queen] had kissed his shivering away, and his heart was nothing but a lump of ice. He spent his time dragging sharp, flat pieces of ice about, arranging them in all sorts of ways, trying to make something out of them – it was rather like the kind of thing we sometimes do with small flat pieces of wood when we try to make patterns from them – a Chinese puzzle they call it. Kay made patterns in the same way, most elaborate ones, a sort of intellectual ice-puzzle. In his own eyes the patterns were quite remarkable and of the utmost importance, that was what the grain of glass that was stuck in his eye did for him! He would lay out his patterns to form written words, but could never hit upon the way to lay out the word he wanted, the word ‘eternity’. The Snow Queen had said ‘If you can work out that pattern for me, you shall be your own master, and I will present you with the whole world – and a new pair of skates.’ But he could not do it.
‘The Snow Queen’, Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tales (trans L.W.Kingsland)
When was the last time I heard eternity whispering to me? So often what I hear whispered in my ear are ‘the oughts, buts, musts and shoulds’ of life, which arise out of the lethal inner triumverate of my Critic, my Judge and my Commentator. Listening to those inner voices convinces me that I am ‘broken’, because I do not conform to the inherited values, or social norms, which tell what is the standard of ‘perfect’ that God wishes me to be. Listening to these ideas of what is ‘perfect’ leads me to attempt to fix my brokenness my willpower alone. A strategy that is bound to fail – as it has done, time and again without number – and yet I still keep trying to do it.
The only way to counter that perfectionism which leads me into such self-destructive, self-sabotaging patterns, is to listen to the word ‘eternal’ and to live in the middle of the eternal contradiction. Eternal life, including the ‘then’ of life after death, is all about being present to my now, so that I may encounter my God here.
Unlike seeing, where one can look away, one cannot ‘hear away’ but must listen … Hearing implies already belonging together in such a manner that one is claimed by what is being said. Hearing involves intimacies too frequently forgotten.
(Hans Georg Gadamer, cited in Spirituality of Imperfection, Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham (69-70))
I can ‘live this day’ only if I understand
it as part of my whole story
Being present in my now, as it is, not as I think it ought to be, is the very opposite of what the perfectionist wants, which is to live in everything all at once. The perfectionist has no patience with small steps, with only seeing part of the pattern at a time. Yet, if I am to be present to encounter God in my now, I must bring all of me, including all the bits I don’t want God to see, the parts about which I don’t want to hear God’s opinion. As Kurtz and Ketcham note, spirituality is a reality that must touch all of one’s life or it touches none of one’s life. The wholeness of ‘”this day” has meaning only insofar as it unites my past with my future. I can “live this day” only if I understand it as part of my whole story – the part that I can live this day, “now”.’ (Spirituality of Imperfection (153))
Part of seeingdarkly is hearing ‘darkly: a full-sensory receiving of what is given in this now.
Another part of seeingdarkly is knowing ‘darkly’, which involves accepting ‘darkly’: accepting that where the whole of God is, is in this now, is in me. God is in this moment, with me, in this here, in this now: Whole.
The Whole holies me until I am hale.
This intimate indwelling is the miracle of the Incarnation we celebrate at Christmas.
“How does a person seek union with God?” the seeker asked.
“The harder you seek,” the teacher said, “the more distance you create between God and you.”
“So what does one do about the distance?”
“Understand that it isn’t there,” the teacher said.
“Does that mean God and I are one?” the seeker said.
“Not one. Not two.”
“How is that possible?” the seeker said.
“The sun and its light, the ocean and the wave, the singer and the song. Not one. Not two.”
(cited in The Rule of Benedict, Joan Chittister (81))
eternity whispering. Canon 7D. f5.6. 1/160. ISO 500.