Do you ever pause to consider the context of the life you are living on any given day? I took a moment this morning to revisit the first installment of this LIVING WITH DYING story. What struck me at once was the tone of that first post. It was not a good time. I was down in the mouth---caught up in the harsh reality of an unexpected cancer diagnosis and feeling sorry for myself.
I began that post intending to see where this daunting journey, with its overtones of terminal possibilities, would take me. Now, just four posts later, I can sense a distinct change in attitude. The threat I feared at first has retreated to the background---still there, but not nearly as intimidating. Those dark thoughts have evolved from ‘Dying’ to ‘Living,’ and I find myself concentrating more on possibilities and potential, and less on the ’worst case’ trials that may still await me.
Contributing to that change of heart has been the feedback some of you readers have offered regarding these posts. I made the point earlier that trials like mine are universal. Many of you have experienced the cruel reality of cancer and other late-life tests in ways far beyond what I will ever face. Given that, what right do I have to play ‘poor me’? Instead, I need to deal with the life I have.
In any case, I am ready to move on, with a special focus on what may strike you as a new and slightly different way of looking at a life well lived.
As I mentioned at the end of the last installment, my reading has led me to a vaguely familiar place, and an expanded, more coherent explanation of what I have long tried to put into words---an understanding that rang true the first time I considered it and still does.
Before we go any further I invite your reaction to one of the author’s primary conclusions. Reduced to its simplest form it reads something like this---our deepest, most soul-felt desires are hints of a divine instinct that already dwells in our consciousness, longing to emerge, wanting to be lived out in our daily life.
In his recently published book Emergence, Derek Rydall uses as a metaphor for the process he is describing an oak tree---emerging from a tiny acorn to become a deep-rooted giant, reaching upward and outward in all its mature majesty. That seems to me a useful image, illustrating how over time the sprawling oak emerges from its modest beginning.
Still using that graphic image, the author then argues in favor of another bit of existential magic, something I found very familiar. He hypothesizes that every sort of life, whatever its form---flora or fauna---arrives on the scene with everything it needs to become what it is intended to be. Beyond that, he concludes that the human link in that life-chain, the part which includes you and me, begins as a speck of DNA-infused matter that includes a spark of divine energy, brimming with the potential to ‘Become.’
At the heart of Rydall’s logic is the belief that whether it is a forest acorn or a human embryo, with proper nurturing that divinely-inspired beginning contains everything it will require to emerge as the creation it was meant to be.
In the human example, he surmises that what we see, feel, taste, or touch, every relationship we have---everything that we experience in life---is experienced in our mind, and aided and abetted by that same divine energy. That is, what happens to us ‘out there’ is a reflection of what is in us. I must admit, his understanding of our internally directed ‘Becoming’ seems valid to me.
I hope you will bear with me for a moment as I compare Rydall’s insight to an excerpt from one of my Tanner Chronicles stories written in 2009. When I first wrote this scene I was calling the story “Maybe This Time.” It was the brief exchange I offer here that unexpectedly sent my narrative off in a very different direction, to become the book I published as “Becoming.”
“Are you sure you want to do this?” I asked, knowing that I was not sure at all. “I’m not exactly a church kind of guy, you know.”
A moment later Maria nodded her affirmation, so I took a deep breath and threw caution to the wind.
“Okay, here’s the deal,” I began. “You talk about a God who has rules for every step you take---who comes down hard on you when you break those rules.“ That had her nodding her agreement.
“But the God that makes sense to me,” I continued. “The One I can accept, gives us the freedom to be ourselves and even expects us to play a part in what It is creating.
“Let me explain if I can.” By then my unfamiliar role as spiritual advisor was growing more uncomfortable by the second. “What I think of as God gives every single thing that It creates all that it needs to become whatever it’s supposed to be.
“And once It’s done that, It sends that creation off to become that intended ‘something.’ That is true for a tree, or a flower, or an animal. They all use what they’ve been given, doing their best to become what they are meant to be. And I believe it’s that way for people too.
“That’s what I think we’re supposed to be doing here,” I added, hoping I had not lost touch with her. “We are ‘Becoming,’ and as long as we live we will never outgrow the need to continue our becoming. Along the way, part of that job is to learn what it is we’re supposed to do or be---that might be a caregiver like you, or a storyteller, or anything else. The main thing to remember is that we already have everything we need to be whatever that is.”
With that I had pretty much exhausted my God-thought repertoire.
Small wonder I found Derek Rydall’s hypothesis so compelling. He had taken an idea I had been selling for years, dressed it up and made it presentable. To be clear, he stresses that success in any ‘Becoming’ venture is never guaranteed. Life’s fragile emergence, whether a sprouting acorn, newborn child, or a November octogenarian, begins with a vessel of potential---awaiting the nurture, care, and circumstances necessary for its becoming.
Where Rydall departs from the spiritual logic most of us were taught as youngsters, is the role of an external deity in that emerging life cycle. An ‘up-there,’ ‘out-there,’ ‘behind-the-curtain’ God to whom we address our prayers and make our pleas is not part of the ‘emergence’ he describes.
If I interpret him correctly, Rydall’s vision of the Divine (a concept he readily accepts) does not include a heavenly scorekeeper who hears humanity’s prayers, then distributes them into files labeled ‘granted’ and ‘not granted.’
I admit that I appreciate the way he faces those stumbling blocks head on---moving beyond a God who makes such arbitrary choices. He addresses the age-old rationale that ‘God knows what is best for us’ by simply asking, “What kind of god has all the answers at hand, yet offers them to only some petitioners---perhaps the ones who believe the right truth or worship the right god? And what kind of god allows children to starve by the thousands, or tens of thousands? "
Instead of petitioning that external ‘Heavenly Father’ to help us find our way, Rydall turns to the divine God-spark, the soul-deep inheritance of our birth, that he suggests already resides within us. It is, he claims, that bit of God-magic---our divinely-inspired higher-self---that enables our emergence, by giving away the treasures we already possess---our love, caring, and kindness.
Rather than turning to a remote, out-of-reach God for direction, he insists that we---as spiritual beings who are living for the moment in a material world---have, with proper nurturing, the means to use our inherited gifts, the Divine within us, to fulfill our own destiny. I will confess that his logic rings true for me. Once again, I don’t expect everyone to agree.
So here I am, looking November right in the eye, trying to convince myself I ought to keep Becoming, even at my age. More to the point, how should I use the time I have, time that seems more vulnerable than ever before? And of course I am not the only one asking those questions. Every one of us is in that ‘limited time’ universe, aren’t we? I can’t speak for you. But I want to spend that time doing the right things---hopefully emerging as the person I was meant to be.
In that case, if I am to move beyond an “Ask and you shall receive” God to follow the Divine-spark I have carried in me since birth, how will I know what path to take? I have, after all, arrived at this point in search of a reason to keep going in the face of what has the feel of an existential roadblock---a cancer diagnosis.
Thankfully, I can sense my late-life seeking coming into focus---as though I am finally asking the right questions. A good thing too. For all I know I may be running out of the time. (Though hopefully I can keep going for years.) In that case, I had better get to work, harvesting my remaining potential---and exploiting the life-possibilities I have yet to live out. Before I can do that, however, I need to get a better handle on what those ‘possibilities’ might be. Obviously it is time to begin that search.