Widening

Several nights ago I was leafing through some old journals in preparation for a talk I’ll be giving in a few weeks. I am amazed by the sheer number of pages filled with my scrawl. As I read through random entries in book after book after book, I felt myself going back to those times. I saw the scenes replaying in my mind, felt the emotions, heard the voice of the Lord speaking over me during my many struggles. I was also a little embarrassed by the amount of angst splayed all over the pages (and by the raw details of some of my poorer decisions). I’ve experienced my share of dark times over the past 33 years, and many of those moments are graphically recorded between beautiful leather covers.

2007 and 2008 were among the darkest of those years, and somewhere in that time I stopped putting pen to paper. There were so many tears, so many moments I never wanted to remember in detail, and so much pain that I thought it all would swallow me alive. I moved past the point of processing or finding meaning in any of it, and my sole focus became surviving the season. I stopped working through every thought and emotion and tried to just get through them. But in rereading the other night I realized that it’s also been a very, very long time since I’ve heard the Holy Spirit speak to me the way I used to. I have made a habit of bearing through painful times rather than letting the pain do its work, of ignoring the voices that clamor in my head rather than sorting through them to find the sound of Truth.

I’ve also been feeling overwhelmed with the amount of input coming at me lately. I tend to care about a lot of things deeply and can become passionate about just about anything given the right frame of mind, so I often have to use a strong filter when it comes to what I read/listen to/etc. Over the past few months, though, it seems like every single thing I read or hear or watch is striking a deep chord somewhere in my psyche. Whether it’s the oppression of women, the emasculation of men, the pain caused by the Church’s lack of love toward “outsiders,” the brokenness of human sexuality on a thousand fronts, or the breathtaking violence all around us, I’ve been overwhelmed and broken down by all the sound, all the noise.

I was praying about this the other day, what to do with all the noise, and saw my soul as a funnel with an incredibly wide cup and a disproportionately narrow neck. I have an immense capacity for taking information in. But if I don’t do the work of processing that information, meditating and praying through what matters, processing my own responses, then the cup quickly begins to overflow. Even if I filter everything but the most important voices in my world, there is too much coming in to be meaningful if I’m not able to swallow it down into myself.

Part of me wishes I could just put more effort into limiting input. Maybe I could retreat further and further into a cave, reading less, meeting less, listening less. Facing the voices, and all their accompanying implications, is a scary prospect for a girl who’s become an expert at repression. But it seems you can’t pick and choose the voices to repress; in losing the voices of hurt and doubt and confusion I also lost the voice of God, the voice of self. And that doesn’t seem like much of a solution. The real option, the infinitely harder option, is to widen the neck, to take the time and waste the tears to wade through all the muck and beauty to the other side. Because there, on the distant shore of meaning and truth, lies the elusive treasure. Peace and significance and the presence of the Lord. It’s when I find those things more beautiful than the noise is scary that I can summon the strength to widen the neck.

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