tuning in to static

Maybe a psychologist would yawn at this – I’m sure I’ve heard it preached a thousand times – but I’d fogotten it lately:
One of the primary tasks of adulthood is deciding which voices get to stay in your head.

I’ve done a lot of exhausting, exhilarating work on this in the past, confronting those ghosts squatting in my home, inviting their nasty friends to parties at 2 A.M. Of course I’d let them stay because they knew how to skulk around the edges of my vision, and because they were terribly, terribly frightening. But when you screw your courage to the sticking-place and put on your boots and go up to the attic to confront them in hand-to-hand combat – they might still say horribly painful things but, looking at them directly, you see they have no bones. The voices that have claimed authority over you are glorified puddles of sound and memory. One by one you look at the middle school bullies, the coaches with their own sad pasts, the grotesque cartoons pretending to be your parents at their worst; you calmly inform them that their presence will no longer be tolerated and, eventually, you watch them dribble away through the floorboards.

Then you forget how hard it is when the voices do have bones.

I’ve done some academic work on virtue ethics, which says that the things we do and the groups we join shape us fundamentally as human beings. There’s all kinds of research about this, theorizing and scientific studies alike, all these people thinking about what this basic truth means to us, and especially what it means for education; but what I wish someone had taken the time to distill down for me back when I was eighteen and worried about school is this. The voices you listen to day in and day out will always, always take up residence in your head.

Thwpid-img_20150717_110802275.jpge voices I’ve read in books and sat under in lectures for the past two years have been different from the voices that used to talk to me about God. I wanted to hear from a new set of people, and I’m glad that I did. I’m grateful for their presence with me, the ways that they have expanded my view of the world and posed questions about God I hadn’t thought to ask before.

Yet they didn’t often draw me towards the God who captivated my heart and mind in earlier years. They didn’t often nurture the mystic in me, the pray-er who was born in a barely-remembered year when a Sunday School teacher said Jesus came to have a relationship with you. That naive wonderer wasn’t really invited to the conversation. My teachers said, “worship brings us closer together as a community,” which is true, but they didn’t say worship delights the heart of God because God is eager to be delighted. They said, “God is on the side of the poor and oppressed,” which is true, but they didn’t often say God is with all those who hurt. They said, The Creator loves all creatures, but they didn’t bother with the truism we all need to hear every, every day – Jesus loves you.

It wasn’t exactly these academics’ job to take responsibility for my spirituality. It’s just that I didn’t have much time or space for any other voices amidst the joy and intrigue, pain, confusion, and discomfort of studying mysteries, wrestling with tradition, confronting injustice every day. Theory, vocabulary, confusion, accusation, discord, and doubt took up residence in my mind and battled daily with testimony, hope, trust, humility, simplicity.

When the words of my pastor stopped sounding like Jesus cares about you and I started to hear God cares about your unruly beliefs and behavior messing up His system – I was incredibly distressed for a while; my last trusted voice was gone. Too weary to keep up the arguments, I quit going to church when I graduated from my program. I committed to the newfound silence.

Utter, blessed silence.

Just two jobs, a boyfriend, summer fun with friends – life as an American twentysomething. Not too much to make sense of. To be honest, for the first half of this summer my life has been as close as it’s ever been to those of the unconcerned-oblivious “religious ‘nones'” people keep worrying about. If you want to talk to me, I said to God, you’re just going to have to do it. Not in a “you big jerk” kind of way, just finally throwing up my hands. It’s not that I wanted to be all agnostic and lazy; I just didn’t know another way to heal, to trust a single voice competing for my allegiance.

I’m finding out that this is an OK thing to do. You have permission to just wait it out with God.

Life with God is a curious dance, a back-and-forth between pursuing God and just waiting to be found. Being called to put some effort into something, and letting go of the things you do under your own power. Analyzing, thinking, considering and formulating with the good brain God gave you – and listening, calmly, into mystery.

My heart has its own insistent little voice with a high-school-principal sort of question: What is the meaning of all this?! And now that I have finally found myself too weary to keep chasing down rabbit trails, I am making peace with my own helplessness to summon answers. I wouldn’t say that God has spoken to me audibly quite yet; it is more that, the less I fear the silence, the less empty it becomes.

I was just getting habituated to my lackadaisical heathen existence, starting to forget what exactly had ever been so important about this church thing, wondering if God was about to drop some crisis into my life so that I would care more – and then came a nudge, do this in remembrance of me. And up I went on Sunday to the church down the street I’ve never visited. There is the voice of the reader, deep and wide, scripture tumbling glory and grace over and over as if they are the same thing. The lackluster preaching while I study the stained-glass windows. And these gifts: The body of Christ, broken for you. The blood of Christ, your cup of salvation. This voice, this food, I do not struggle to analyze; this food I believe utterly.

Finally the voice of the organ breaks loose from hymns for the postlude, alternately twinkling and roaring majors and minors: It is true! Life is a dramatic and weighty thing. We all struggle to survive, and all break through to show ourselves glorious from time to time. Those battles below the surface are real battles, but you will win if you can only keep fighting; keep waiting; keep believing that the Lord will fight for you. You need only to be still. This warm day means everything, everything, and that is all there is to know. 

I walk home, alone, in companionable silence.

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1 Comment

  1. Lyndsey, to quote a person from the time you were in undergrad,

    God loves you, God has forgiven you,
    God is not mad at you,
    And He will never leave you nor forsake you.

    Much love to you.


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