My fraternal grandmother — a woman from Naples from whom I inherited the round shape but not, thankfully, the mustache –was, I am told, a “healer” to whom neighbors would come for hand-on release of headaches and fevers, and also an interpreter of dreams. I never knew her, but my mother occasionally shared her dream-interpreting standards: If you dream of death, there will be a birth, and vice versa. If you dream of dirty water, you will come into money. I can’t remember what dreaming of poop was about, but this seemed to be something my mother was often focused on.
There is a recurring dream I have, and I have just awoken from it again.
I am young enough to still be in school, and in fact am a student in some sort of grey-skirt-uniformed girl’s academy, at which I am performing poorly; there is a pre-postulant formation going on that attracts me but I am not sure I will, like Haley Mills in The Trouble With Angels, be sticking around for the novitiate.
It is a a time of culmination — important tests are about to begin and studying is the order of the day. On our campus there are dormitories of goofy, geeky boys who are applying themselves studiously and seriously, like upperclassmen at Regis High School in New York. They are either breaking into acne from the strain or exuding so much confidence that they’re begging to be smacked. There is also another dormitory of what might be described as “wayward” girls, although it is clear to me that they’re simply down on their luck and doing the best they can from less-than-optimum origins.
There is music — all kinds of music being discussed and haggled over by all of these students who, oddly, are all now together in the same study hall. Some study best with no music, some need it to focus and this is a question everyone wants settled. The clocks are ticking; the tests are going to begin soon.
Into all of this, I enter with what appears to be thousands of crazy balls. You know the balls I mean. They are small, cheap, often they appear to be beige, with a multi-colored veining that gives them appearance of grizzly bloodshot eyes, and they bounce madly, veering off in unpredictable, counter-intuitive ways. To chase them is an exercise in futility and humility as they leave you waggling after them with bent knees and hunched shoulders and they only seem to shoot about more haphazardly, in response to your own ungainly movement.
And that is what happens when I release the balls. My grey-skirted classmates, all smarter and prettier than I, become as hapless as me as they giggle and try to gather these madly skittering balls. The boys are chasing the balls, too and even the most graceful and athletic of them is left humbled by the senseless, random kinetic action they are moving through and trying to control. The “wayward” girls, too, are in the mix, crouching and giving hopeless chase. The crazyballs are a great, un-catchable, ego-defeating equalizer.
In the midst of the chase there are no prom kings or queens, and no “trailer trash,” no geeks and no charity cases. There are just people in a process of learning lessons that vary in value, diverted by an energetic convergence they cannot prevent or dominate. Their efforts are fruitless, but they are enjoying the chase, because in the end, it seems to mean nothing. It’s just a diversion.
Except, of course, the tests are looming, and the clocks are ticking, and now they have become unfocused, and exhausted. But also measurably less tense.
Freud claimed that we are everything in our dreams, and in that case, I would be the clock, I would be the balls, I would be the students, I would be the grey skirts, the zits, the music, the bounce, the lessening of tension.
But I think the dream is about grace. I think the school and the students are simply all of us, in our foibles and fantasies; who we are, who we would like to be. I think the balls, which are such levelers are the life-events (including our mistakes, bad decisions and genuine sins and those random things that just seem to happen with a dreadful sense of inevitability and from which no one goes through life escaping) over which we would like to think we have some control.
The chase is the insertion of our own intentions and our egos, which we think can change random trajectories, or focus energies that are completely separate and apart from our own, but actually add to the chaos.
The balls and all of their distracting energy, though, are actually agents of grace. We know that instinctively, which is why we go after them, but since we don’t really understand that it is grace we are seeking, we fumble badly at it. We keep thinking we can get the better of grace, if only our will is strong enough, our strategies are clever enough.
But grace — which is pure gift, often thrown our way in surprising disguises, and skittering about us in all directions — is not something we can control by our own wiles. In fact, everything about grace and its workings is counter-intuitive to the drive of our egos and the wonder of human imaginings.
I awoke from the dream tonight realizing that the only way to control, attract and collect the crazy balls of grace — which, presumably, is the point of giving chase — is to exist quietly in the midst of its workings.
If you keep stirring, your own energy repels it to some extent, but to sit or kneel at the center of the seeming chaos is to invite the movement of grace toward you, absorbing the energy of each bounce that comes your way, and then collecting it around you.
In quiescence, you become the quieting center of collection; the gatherer of grace.
In the beginning, all was empty and void? Well, but there was water; God’s spirit moved upon the water — which is so often, the vehicle of sacramental grace.
Even the void, the emptiness, had to come from something that was not empty; so did the water. Nothing does not come from nothing; it exists only in opposition or separateness, from something.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.
I’ve been studying these lines, this week, wondering about how all things came to be through him.
And without him, nothing…came to be.
There cannot be nothingness unless there is a something that exists first, from which there is separation, into the void. With God, there is everything. He is the deepest ground of our being, the atomic life without which our materials crumble to dust.
Without God, there is nothing. And we can choose that. It’s a real choice.
With God there is life; he is the author and sustainer; “all life, all goodness comes from you.” Without God there is — not death; he is there with us, in the shades, inviting us toward him — just nothing. In the way that a full womb holds promise, and future, and the advent of new love established in the world, while a scraped and vacuumed-out one holds . . .nothing.
In the first chapter of Luke, when Joseph is addressed by the angel about Mary, he is told, “nothing is impossible, with God.”
We read that as “nothing is impossible, with God.”
But I always wonder if Gabriel was saying “nothing is impossible, with God.”
Because with God there is fullness of creation, of life, of possibilities, of grace.
The void is only possible without him.
And one way in which we can get to the place where we believe we can step away from the fullness of all- life-all-creation with impunity, is to run off distractedly, chasing down grace-in-disguise with heavy steps, greedy intentions and too much faith in our own determined cleverness.
To be still in the center — be still and know that I am God — draws grace, life, gravity to one’s own center.
Give up the chase for grace, and just let it come.