I wrote this in two chunks, one in February, and the other in June, and then rediscovered it today. I thought it summed up 2012 pretty well. It is very long for a blog post, I’m almost sorry about that!
They say that sometimes there is a moment between when the dice is cast and when it lands. At least, it was quoted on the West Wing so I assume it’s true.
They say that there are moment when if missed the chance is gone for good (for more on this one see the Romans, the empire not the book of the Bible, Carpe Diem and all that). Moments that last but an instant but whose impact lasts a lifetime.
Maybe there are such pivotal moments. Times when a decision is made at a fork in the road. The choice to turn back or plough on ahead. Maybe these moments matter more than I think. But perhaps each individual moment only matters as part of the movement it lies within. Rather than a beautiful note sounded on its own, the whole symphony within which so much more makes sense.
Movements matter more than moments. Because moments are just an instant. They come and go, they can be good or bad, or somewhere in between. They can stand on their own, they can be disconnected from reality. It can be a good time or a bad time, it can be the best of times. But movements are reality, the heights and the depths, and the life that strings them altogether.
Take the bride and groom standing at the alter on their wedding day. It is a day of joy and celebration, a day into which so much planning and preparation has gone. But it is only the end of the beginning – marriage is about much more than a day of flowers and dresses and table plans and speeches.
For the single person much thought and attention goes into deciding who you like, trying to decipher whether they like you as well, and plucking up the courage to ask them out. The infatuation that so often forces you past your own hesitancy to seek something greater. It is just the beginning.
Moments seem vital in their own time. It feels as though destinies will stand or fall on a pinhead. When you turn and see that a chance has passed, a girl you like is attached to another, the role you seek already taken, the deadline for a job application past.
I’ve never quite got all the fascination with New Year’s Eve and the desire to have a night that will trump all others. Likewise the focus on days obscures our need to celebrate and enjoy things all year round. Too often birthdays, Valentine’s day, anniversaries and all the other days designed in a greeting card marketing department are just there to encourage us to part with our cash. Because if something is worth celebrating it is worth taking the time and effort to do so all year round and not just when the display stands tell us it is time to do so.
The same can be true of our spiritual life. We look for the excitement and ecstasy of a moment that will lift us out of the drudgery of our daily life. We think that if only we can see something of God alive in our lives then everything else will be fine.
And sometimes that is what happens. Sometimes we have an experience of God that profoundly changes us. We see God in his glory and majesty and that causes us to worship. We see him work wonders in our lives and those around us and we are reminded of his power. We see how far short we fall of his perfect way and it forces us to our knees.
Yet too often these moments pass. Too often we forget the enthusiasm we once had. We doubt that the God we saw heal can do it again. And we live our lives with faces set against God, the God we claim to love but so often offend.
Because we are weak, and we are frail, and we forget. Because although God is great, we are not.
Because the moments that we long for are the products of God and not God himself. If all we want are signs and wonders then what is the God that we are worshipping? When we pray so desperately for a moment, even for a specific thing, there is a risk we end up wanting that thing more than we want God. Whether it is a job or a wife or healing, all good things in themselves, they can run the risk of becoming idols.
Moments are not wrong, often they can be very good. I want to turn and be overawed as my bride walks down the aisle. I want to experience God in my life in a tangible way. But I cannot just want these things alone.
There is a movement of relationship in both these scenarios that takes time and effort. It means me working hard to love another, and it means me falling on my knees in worship of the Other. It means that there are times of triumph and times of tears, of easy joy and painful resolution. Of love and forgiveness, of sorrow and joy.
Because what effort would it take to worship a series of moments that answer to my whim?
Moments are not just the highlights of life, they can also be times of intense disappointment and tragedy. Of times when our heart aches and our soul cries. And these moments never seem so fleeting as the passing joy we wish would linger longer to soothe our spirits and calm the turbulence of our mind. Too often the moments of sadness follow each other in a haunting litany of escalating sorrow that build to a crescendo that overwhelms. Too often it is in these moment that we most recognise the movement we are a part of. And it’s not a movement that seems to rise and fall, it’s not a cyclical process that we take in our stride but a path that becomes gilded by our frail emotions. All the time it offers some false comfort in the familiarity of our stride, mixed together with fear of what we know lies ahead.
Life is not just a set of staccato moments that we string together, hoping that one fuelled by sadness will be followed by another sown in joy. And this means maybe we don’t look for that experience that will exhilarate, or a single time with God that will change us forever. Perhaps it is instead as Eugene Peterson titles his book, a long obedience in the same direction. About knowing the bigger picture surrounding each moment, which whether great or dreadful or simply mundane is just one part. Where we see the cost of the climb, and the boredom of the valley as part of the same life and same movement as the instant we pull ourselves over the final crag and stand and pause atop the mountain as we gaze awestruck at the world around.
The movement is a mixture of our dreams and our desires, and all of that which lies outside our control. It is the effect of people around us in the way that we resent their presence or pine in their absence. It is society we live in, it is our neighbours and our friends. It is the actions of a God in Heaven who even when I am plagued with the deepest of doubts loves me more than I could know.
And they are not just our own. That’s often what I get so very wrong. It is an intricate dance of interlinking actions, sometimes coming together, other times tearing at the seam. It is the movement between two movements, responding to the effect of each, showing that life is never, despite our frequent desire, lived alone. It is always played out in company. It is always about us and not me. And when I do not realise this I strike a discordant note that separates me. But it does not leave me unaffected. As I withdraw, the movement in which I dance takes a different turn, I spiral out of control in the absence of others to temper the excesses of each twist and turn. And it affects others too. They are not the same if I am not a part of their movements.
Now that is what I struggle to believe.
It is where my doubts and weakness surface in their pathological splendour. They try and convince me that my dance is only ever my own. That no one would assent were I to take the steps across the room to ask her to join me in the next dance.
I cannot believe that others are ever affected by my absence as I am changed by theirs.
Worth. That’s what I doubt. I doubt that I have any worth, anything valuable to contribute. And what I might plausibly consider as my strengths and qualities are barely more than functional abilities which detached from me could be replicated with ease. I am not sure what I bring, what special talent or trait which without any group or person would be poorer.
I think I can live my movement on my own, without needing to condescend to compromise, or alter course to fit within the scope of another.
But then I do. I change my plans. I allow them to shift and morph according to someone else. My frenzy becomes focussed around making space for them – even if this is never an acknowledged condescension. I alone do not dictate what matters most, my inclination towards another means they force a different hue onto my priorities and desires. No longer is time alone so attractive, or even living a life of active friendships without their particular presence.
Movements are interconnected, they rise and fall, they take us on a journey with a place to work towards. They are the product of a sophisticated and complex interplay of many other separate waves of life that weave in and out of the movement we walk through.
They are lived out loud. Too often I dream of grand plans, I imagine myself in some colossal context of winning the day with my wit and wisdom. I conjure thoughts of what my life might be like.
And the next time I move on from my daytime slumber I drift with the flow. I do not act on my dreams. I do not forge reality out of my desires. Instead I leave them in their halcyon undisturbed state where they cannot disappoint.
I like temporary things. Like the cinemas that pop up for a few days in the summer and then vanish. Like the moments of attention when something significant happens. Like the early throws of infatuation when each moment spent together is the very thing that could make you complete. Like the thrill of completing something after working like crazy to meet a deadline.
Or the passion of worshipping God in an ecstatic moment. Or the almost involuntary rising to your feet when they ask who want to recommit their lives to God and serve him with all their heart.
I like those temporary things. They offer enough of a hint of an exciting future without the need to engage with the realities of making it happen.
But the next morning. Or when we arrive home. Or if the project is completed, or the girl has hooked up with someone else. The dull ache of dejection and disappointment is assuaged by the subconscious recognition that it was only ever a moment of excitement. Not anything more. Not anything that would require hard graft.
Sometimes the short term moments of excitement can set off a chain reaction. They can spark and segue into a larger movement, they can provoke you towards a long term vision. Sometimes the opening notes of a movement are framed in the the explosion of an instant clash of cymbals. When the risk that is attractive in the immediate is the very commitment to the ebbs and flows of a movement that swiftly winds out of view.
When you act in a way that is counter intuitive. When you do things that don’t really make sense, the thrill of the moment that pushes you past your inhibitions and allows them to fade. Could that be what lets you embrace something bigger which otherwise you would shy away from. Could it be what pushes you off a cliff?
It is not the heart overwhelming the head, it is the heart giving voice to your desires. It is putting steel in the spine of the thoughts that alone your wouldn’t allow yourself to entertain. It lets you imagine the way that things could be. It brings hope into darkness, joy into despair.
The power of moments to play their part in a movement. The frailty of our hearts to be moved to action at the whim of some wanted attention. The fortitude it takes to detect when we are being led a merry dance by our emotions.
The ability to say yes to what is good. And no to what is not.
And take the jump when we don’t know, learning to know consequences and not fear them.
Learning to hold our dreams and desires loose enough to let them go. But close enough not to forget.
And we watch the dance that unfolds before our eyes. We see the interaction, the complex and the confused. The intended and the accidental. We see the love and the loss. We see the hope and the fears. And we wonder. We embrace wonder like a child and we let ourselves wonder what might it be like if our dreams and fears existed in the same place?
We let ourselves run riot with dreams of faith, of the way that things could be.
We gaze in sorrow at the wretched failures we so often are.
But we know that failure is not the end.