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When Are We?

We – each of us – hold in our hearts the Questions of Time. The deep queries of our souls. Questions of what truly matters. Questions of existence. The “why am I here?” question. What is this energy we call Life and why did it come to be? The “what is the meaning in all of this?” question. The “who am I?” question that leads into the heart. What, exactly, is the lesson I am to learn in each experience of life? When am I?

Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How? My teachers introduced me to these, the questions a good investigator asks. Seeking facts – or truth – these probe the evidence to find answers. If we ask well and listen fully, we can also find the Real that is deep down, beyond answers.

I find the most amazing wisdom in books that are ostensibly written for children. “When? Charles Wallace wondered. “When are we?” In Madeleine L’Engle’s charming novels of The Time Quintet the hero of A Swiftly Tilting Planet is Charles Wallace Murry. He is the youngest brother of Meg, heroine of L’Engle’s better known earlier book, A Wrinkle in Time. To find sources of discord sown ages before, Charles Wallace travels in time to save their world from war. A unicorn brings him to a sequence of long past eras and the question was never "where are we?" because they stayed in the same geographic place, but "when are we?"

There are no unimportant questions, but some questions may simply give us answers not essential to the real issue. Finding the right question to ask is an art that leads deeper.

When I worked in Financial Aid, first at a small college and then at a major university, one of my biggest my challenges was to get to the question a family was trying to ask. The application process was so unwieldy, so ridiculously complex, that many (if not most) were justifiably confused. They would ask a question and my job was to answer not only what they asked, but what I knew they really needed to know. They knew so little about the forms, the process, and potential results that often their questions often would just skim the surface.

Ah…how like me. My questions to Spirit, Source, God must seem so surface, so superficial because I understand the process of life only dimly.

And what if ~ just what if ~ there really is no answer at all. “Meaningless. Utterly meaningless, says the Teacher” in the book Christians call Ecclesiastes and in Hebrew is Quoheleth (Koheleth). Attributed by some (and now generally contested by scholars) to be the Biblical King Solomon, this book has a powerful existential message no matter who its poet-author may be.

I’m told the Hebrew word that is rendered “vanity” (King James Version) or “meaningless” in other translations is really “hebel” ~ breath, vapor. Our physical breathing, our earthly words are simply vapors. Our very existence on this planet is so short. Like the mist I watched from my back porch one recent morning. First it settled, then intensified, hovering over the grass and winding a delicate path through the forest. Then…poof! It was gone as the warmth of the rising sun burned it away.

I love that experts actually disagree about the meaning of this small book. Like a Koan, Ecclesiastes is a puzzle: is it optimistic or pessimistic? coherent or incoherent? insightful or confusing?[1] To which I say – yes! In the duality of the book is the paradox of life itself with all of its messy, mixed messages.

As I learn simply to be in the chaos I learn to truly live. Once I allow all of life’s caprices to flow through me the pain doesn't stick ~ or at least not for as long. When I relax the dizzy speed of living, I see patterns that I believe come from the Eternal Spirit Source: Love, Joy, Peace. Love that traces through the sorrows and harshness. Joy that rises with each moon and ascends with each morning sun. Peace that can be found when we stop to breathe life in gently. I want to follow the wise unicorn who says to Charles Wallace “make haste slowly.” Or as Dallas Willard, another favored author says it: “Ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life,” I cannot always eliminate busyness, but I can eliminate hurry.

One of my favorite stories is in Anam Cara – A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O’Donohue. A man was exploring the wilds of Africa and pushed himself and his guides at a relentless pace to meet a deadline. Finally, the African natives simply sat and refused to go further – and refused to tell him why. At last one disclosed, “We have moved too quickly to reach here; now we need to wait to give our spirits a chance to catch up with us.”

The enforced quiet of 2020 confirmed, to my mind, what scientists have been saying for decades – it IS humanity that is wrecking much of the havoc on the environment. No – I do not believe Mother Nature is being vengeful in a metaphoric or anthropomorphic sense. But I do believe Earth is alive in a very real way. Mother Earth responds to our actions or inactions. During the lockdown weeks of the pandemic, waters were clearing, animals were returning to habitats, and air was becoming fresh again. I may not trust all of the news that is fed to us, but I personally know one of the engineers who did air quality studies in China for the Olympics. China shut down industry for a significant period of time because of this scientific group’s recommendations and the Beijing Olympics were held with clear skies. I have seen the computer models that charted air quality before and after industry closings: Our impact is real. “There’s a rumor that we are all One,”[2] you know.

I see humanity again in a frenzy of activity even as our world literally melts before us and storms of violent magnitude overwhelm our lands and our resources. We all need a chance for our spirits to catch up, for Earth to heal. She has proved that she is good at healing – and quickly - if only we will slow and allow her to do so.

When is the Time question of the continuum. When do I want to change? When can I make a difference? When am I? When are you? When...?

So, I pause in the everlasting, ambiguous When, seeking to balance the questions of life, to help Earth Mother heal, and to slow enough to find my Center, my Real ~ the Yin and Yang of Light and Dark.

[1] Paraphrased from Peter Enns in The Idea of Biblical Interpretation: Essays in Honor of James L. Kugel [2] Daniel George Mahr Mack

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