Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Two Worlds

Sometimes it feels like I am living in two different worlds. Actually, much of the time, it feels like I am living in two different worlds. Though they mostly remain separate, these worlds can dance around each other, run parallel, and even be tangled. However, even though they are so close, one can almost make me forget the other is even there. And when I am aware of both, it seems difficult or at times impossible for me to make them join. They can both be felt in the middle of the same conversation, in family function or dysfunction, between friends or enemies, in good times and bad.

It also isn't just me. I hear everyone I know describe these worlds as they describe their lives. The first of these worlds is made of frustrations about unmet deadlines, downed web sites, too much distance (geographical or otherwise) from those we love, and inabilities to say what we really feel. There are obstacles and opportunities in this world, but they can be hard to differentiate. Filling this world are anxieties over appearances, worries about what might be, and feelings of insecurity and shame. This world is at times controlled by or caused by accidents, addictions, and abuse. Sometimes it festers with misunderstandings, diversions, complacency, boredom, to-do lists, financial statements, family conflict and fear, lots and lots of fear. The fact that we can see at least some of these things in the lives of every person we know, and in many of those we don't know, makes it easy to forget that the other world exists.

But the other world does exist. I experience it. We experience it, though less frequently than we would like. This other world is one of honesty, joy, hope, happiness, and forgiveness. It also is the home of truth, justice, love, compassion and grace. It can be touched in social gatherings, small group discussions, dates with my wife, and in counseling sessions. I can see it smack dab in the middle of the other world in an act of hope and compassion in the midst of tragedy and loss. It is the place of peace in the world and peace in each of us. It is the world where life itself and the way it is lived take on significance. We are reminded of it occasionally by a good movie, or an inspiring book. Music can awaken glimpses of it in me at almost any time. It can occupy the same house, office, and relationship that the other world does. It can be at the same time so close and so difficult to grasp. It can simultaneously inspire, challenge, and comfort. It feels like home but at times its ways are so foreign I can't recognize it.

There are some magical moments when those two worlds become one. Sometimes they seem to slowly unite through a conversation with a fearful patient, an unexpected lunch with a friend, or an afternoon of fun with the boys. At other times the two worlds collide violently, as in the tearful, forgiving embrace of Holly after an argument that was too long and too bitter. It can break into the first world in the text message or phone call from a friend that becomes the voice of encouragement and love replacing the one of insecurity and shame. It is the outstretched hand of another human that we grasp when we feel as if the other world is pulling us down. At times, it is the simple presence of a coworker, colleague, spouse or friend in the midst of the other world that tethers me to this one and reminds me that I (and we) are never really alone, in either world.

Unfortunately, I need constant, frequent reminders of this second world. Fortunately, there seems to be a limitless supply of these reminders. It continues to show up in people and ways that amaze me. I wonder if spiritual disciplines have been discovered and shared for thousands of years, because they are ways people have found to remind themselves of this other world. Any activity or relationship that reminds me of this second world, now seems to me to be a spiritual discipline. I have long realized that running, music, and the company of certain people had special importance to me. These things, in various ways, keep me in touch with this other world.

My efforts to unite these two worlds are rarely tied to their connection. In fact, it sometimes seems that the harder I try, the farther apart these worlds become. Frustration, criticism, and guilt are frequently the result. Evidently, "the end" doesn't justify "the means", and equally important, "the means" justify "the end" only if "the means" are the correct means. A dear friend (spiritual guide, counselor) has helped me realize that when those two worlds seem to meet (and even when they don't) I am being "carried". It is a term I don't understand, but a reality that is becoming more difficult to deny.

When I trust that I am being carried, the two worlds seem to move toward each other. When they get close, it frequently makes me try to force the first into the second or vice versa. I realize that my power is at times as limited as my perspective. Finally, I am left with the obvious realization that it isn't up to me to complete the joining of these worlds. If I am being carried, maybe I am being being carried to some place or to someday when the merger of these worlds will be complete. I am beginning to believe that this is in some way what we are asking when we say, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

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