Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Stack of Stones

All it takes is taking it. All we have to do is take it, and go on taking it, for as long as it takes. Do we have what it takes to take it, is the question. Where do we find what we need to take it, is the other question. What helps us take it, is the other question. Here's what I think. It gets us back to the Inukshuk and to the Inunnguaq.

An Inukshuk is a stack of stones, or carin, placed by the peoples of the Artic for those who came after them. An Inunnguaq is an Inukshuk in the form of a human being. Here's one I created from stones taken from the Robson River in British Columbia:

An Inukshuk or Inunnguaq was placed in the Tundra as a landmark and a reminder. The placement of the stones could point the way to food, shelter, or water, and provided comfort along a frozen and forbidding way. The stack of stones was a connection with those who had gone before. It stood as a reminder, and as a metaphor, as a representative of the fact that we were not as alone as we thought we were. Someone had been here before, had been where we are before, and left this as a representative of them to us, as a way of saying, "Come on. Don't give up. This way. I'm with you."

The stack of stones connected us with an actual, tangible, real human being who put the stones together, but, more than that, with whatever it is within each of us that finds what it takes to do what it takes, even in frozen, hostile, forbidding places, where there seems to be nothing in the way of resources and comfort to keep us going. The stone stack connects us with ourselves, with whatever is deep and resourceful and courageous about us.

And, more than that, the stone stack connects us with whatever is beyond us that is here with us in every time and place to resource us, encourage us, and keep us going. This is what I call "Transcendent Reality," it is the Underlying Reality, which forms the ground of our being/doing/living. In the Tundra, we are not alone. In the Tundra, there is That Which Is With Us to comfort, console, encourage, and point the way to those who know how to listen, how to wait, how to open themselves to the presence of that which is present with them. Who know how to trust themselves to that which the stones represent, to the Truth that is more than words can say. I call this attitude of openness to that which is with us "a prayerful countenance."

When Paul said, "I can do all things in him who strengthens me," he's talking about doing all things in "that which" strengthens us all. We do the "him" or the "that which" a disservice when we reduce it to the God of Christian theology. The experience of the "that which" is for all people, belongs to all people, is truly “of the people,” beyond doctrine, or belief, or theology or ideology. It is the foundational principle of existence. In the Tundra, we know we are not alone, and it has nothing to do with doctrine or theology. "Transcendent Reality" is the Underlying Reality, the Tao, that undergirds all things. We don't have to understand it to trust ourselves to it.

We cannot map it, predict it, say what it is, reduce it to a formula, or a plan. We can only trust it, trust ourselves to it. The stack of stones is all we have to go on. Someone was here before us. Someone made it through this place with nothing more than we have. Something helped someone. Something will help us. We have to trust that it is so.

The ultimate test of faith is not whether we believe in God but whether we will trust ourselves to life and risk being alive. Will we step boldly into our fear every day and refuse to die before we are dead? Will we trust that we will have what it takes and find what we need to "get up and do what needs to be done" the way it ought to be done—and go one doing it, no matter what, every day for the rest of our lives?

Faith is trusting ourselves to life, to the experience of life in its rawness, in its realness, in its full fury and its unrelenting drip, drip, drip. Faith is trusting ourselves to life knowing that we will have what it takes to deal appropriately with whatever comes our way. But, we are afraid we won’t have what it takes, and our fear keeps us from being alive.

Carl Jung says, “Only boldness can deliver us from fear.” We cannot reason our way out of fear, into the goodness of being alive. If reason could do it, I would say something like this to you: “Look,” I would say, “we are here, now. We cannot deny that we have made it this far, to this day, this hour. Nor can we deny that we came through hell more than a time or two in getting here. We have faced more than we ever imagined we could face, and dealt with what would have surely kept us forever in the womb had we known it was waiting on us, laughing. And, we came through it all, wounded and limping, perhaps, but recognizable and more or less in one piece and here we are, as living testimonies of what we are capable of—of what we can do—because we have done it.”

That’s what I would say, but you could as easily say as way of rejoinder, “Yes, but. We are afraid the worst is yet to come. We are afraid we will not have what it takes to survive the next round, or the one after that. We are afraid we cannot keep on coming up with what it takes to face what still waits on us, laughing.”

So, you see, I cannot reason you out of fear into courage. I cannot talk you into living bravely. You have to make up your own mind in the matter, and gather your resolve, and step boldly into your fear every day for the rest of your life. But I will say to you, in order to remind you of the essential nature of that work, our only protection is found in knowing/trusting that we will have what we need to deal with what comes our way and do with it what needs to be done. And it is important that we know this and live as though it is so, because it is so, but we have to believe it and act on it, for it to become a hard and fast reality in our lives. But this is the foundation: Living courageously and stepping boldly into our fear. Everything depends upon it, and flows from it. Even the fear of death pales and retreats before those who will not die before they are dead.

The stack of stones called Inukshuk and Inunnguaq calls us to trust ourselves to our lives and connects us with all the people who have experienced the full emptiness of the Tundra—with everyone who has dealt with idiots and narrow-minded-ness and injustice and smallness-of-heart-and-soul-and-being and the awful un-ending-ness of one damned thing after another. And they left these stones behind to encourage us, and remind us that we are not alone. They took it. We can take it. We can give our best to the work of our lives in spite of an apparent, or even obvious, lack of impact. And we can leave a stack of stones for those who come after us. It's all we need, really. A stack of stones. To remind us of all that is true out there in the Tundra, beyond words, beyond reason, beyond explanation and understanding.

And, there is one other thing. The stones are not glued together. There is no steel rod running through their centers to bind them tightly erect and keep them in place. The wind blows across the tundra. The ice forms, and melts, and forms again. The rocks shift. And fall. And other people come along. And other hands stack them again, differently.

As with them, so with us. We are always being torn apart by the forces of life, and being helped to gather ourselves back together by those who extend caring hands. We are capable of an infinite number of reconfigurations. The wind always blows on the tundra. The ice always forms, and melts, and forms. The rocks fall and are restacked. Our lives fall apart, and we are helped to get them back together, and live on, shaped by our circumstances without losing our original essence, reconfigured, yet still the same. Laughing back at what laughs at us, knowing we are not alone, and that no matter what, we will have what it takes to do what needs to be done in the tundra and all other places all our lives long. Amen! May it be so!

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