Intrepid reader and friend, “Eagle-Eye” Carol asked a great question: “But if the future does not exist, why do we plodding humans continue to make plans for it? Is that what faith is?” Give me a few minutes and I’ll get around to the answer. I promise.
But, first, I want to talk about how much I hate long car rides. I absolutely hate them. I make a eight-hour car ride to the Hoosierlands a few times a year to see my family. I’ve made this trip with friends before, but usually, it’s just me. Just me, my burgeoning road rage, some kind of ridiculous talk radio and those devilishly delicious potato chips that burn your lips when you eat too many of them. You know what I’m talking about.
Well, y’all know that when you’re on a long journey, it’s best not to think about how much farther you have. Yup, all those Chinese proverbs about a thousand steps are correct. If, by the time I reach — say — Corbin, KY, I ruminate on how I still have five plus hours to go (including the infamous Louisville I-64W/I-65N interchange), I’m liable to park the car because it’s so overwhelming: I mean, five hours. That’s like, what, two acts of a Wagnerian Opera? If I think about it too much, I get the urge to pull over and take a nap.
I find it just as bad — if not worse — to think about how far I’ve come. This is goes against all those pseudo-spiritual cliches, right? We’ve all been reminded from various pulpits that you should thank God for how far you’ve come. David had to be reminded of killing the lion and the bear before he could face Goliath. Most of the Psalms (minus the depressing ones) are all about what God did back for our fathers, so it must follow that he will do the same for us. If God brought you to it, he’ll bring you through it and all that crap.
This has never really been helpful for me. Whenever I think about how far I’ve come, I either get annoyed that it took me so long or depressed that I still have that far to go. Some of you would sit in Corbin, KY and think: “Yay! We’ve got three hours down!” I think to myself, “I’d gotten here quicker if it weren’t for that slow semi-trailer!”
Really, I’m like those whiny children of Israel in the desert who complained every other day: “Yeah, okay, Moses, that’s really awesome about the manna and all, but where’s my damn quail?” Three hours down means five hours to go: “Ok, God, you brought me to Corbin but can you bring me through Louisville?” I start praying for a miracle of bilocation, or for someone to invent a teleportation device that very moment. Thinking about how far I’ve come just makes me anxious.
What works for me is not being aware of time. So, I try not to even think about how far I’ve come or how far I have to go. It’s easier in my car because the clock radio flashes, “12:00” since I changed the battery a year or two ago. I haven’t cared to reset it. I just focus on the road around me, not on time. (I do this trick whenever I’m practicing piano or I’m on the elliptical: I just set a timer and go till it beeps. I do the same thing when I write.) Time makes me very anxious, so I don’t focus on it.
In fact, I like be so unaware of time, that I prefer to make the eight-hour journey in the middle of the night. My trail is lost in darkness and darkness leads my journey, just beyond the headlights. The soft artificial light of the speedometer and the radio is all I’ve got. Nobody is on the road. If anyone is in the car, they’re probably asleep. All I’ve got is the road and silence. It’s really quite peaceful.
I think the same holds true of the spiritual life. The less aware I am of time, the better, and the less aware of goals, the better — especially my preferred intangible, existential goals. I try not to think about anything but now: the task in front of me. Mystics, from St. Benedict to Jean Pierre de Cassade, wrote about focusing on the present moment like this.
I can’t imagine that I’m hugging my mother or talking with my brothers when I’m still in Corbin, KY. I can’t pretend like I’m in my hometown. I can’t even talk like I’m there. I’ve got to focus on the road. The future of me getting home doesn’t exist — what exists is the interstate! What exists are the green signs whizzing by! The future (the end of my journey) will come soon enough. But I’ve got to keep driving without a preoccupied thought. I have to stay focused on the now.
When I wrote that I am like the Pruitt-Igoe complex or like the children of Harmonie what I meant is that I’ve been pretending that I’m already home, but I’m still in Corbin, KY. I thought I was farther down the road than I thought. When I realized this, it was an emperor’s new clothes moment. It was humiliating. It was absurd. It was crushing. There I was, set up with dreams and goals, acting as if I was already fifteen years in the future, yet — damn it! — my car is still in Corbin. I’ve still got hours to go.
Faith is being aware of the Presence of God now. All I’ve got right now is now. Faith is not pretending like I’m there at the goal. Faith is pressing on because I’m not, without thought of it. So, faith doesn’t make a damn bit of sense. In fact, it shouldn’t make sense. Because when Jesus gets involved in your life, shit’s gonna get fucked up. Shit’s gonna get overturned, burned up and broken. The shit you thought was real suddenly turns out to be nothing but dust — the ghostly projections of an ego long obsessed with itself. The Mystics all attest to this. I’ve still got hours to go; I can’t act like I don’t. Faith is not pretending.
At some point, I’ve awoken in faith to see that I’m not even in my car on a journey to Indiana. Faith has made me realize that I don’t even have a car — I was just imagining that I did. Faith is realizing that I’m naked, shoe-less and have a bad-hip. Faith is opening my eyes to see that I am only a few steps away from my Tennessee home. In spite of this, faith is putting one rickety, unsure step in front of another (and trying not to cringe in pain from my bad hip and cuts on my shoeless, bloodied feet). Time is just another dusty mirage. The future is just a temptation. Walking, however slowly, — however painfully! — is the task before me. I must walk. I must live. I walk in ignorance of the past. I walk oblivious of the future. I walk into the long night of faith without regard for time.
Though, what are all these words, but whispering to the wind? A pouring of nothing into nothingness? What the fuck do I know? I’m only twenty-six, after all. I know nothing. I know nothing. I know nothing but lies. I know nothing but the nothing masquerading as truth. I know nothing but the unreality of the undiminished desire for unity, for transcendence. For the no nothing reaching up into the unintelligible, unimaginable Yes of all time. I know the suffering of reaching.
I want to walk as a child of the light. I want to follow Jesus.