A couple of months ago I had the privilege of attending the Collegeville Institute alongside a dozen other spiritual writers. Over the next couple of months you’ll meet some of these writers, either through books they’ve written or through a series of essays about faith entitled, “Where Art Thou?” Today, I can’t wait to introduce you to Jane Dawson, a Canadian writers whose essays hold a beautiful blend of the sacred and the profane. Enjoy!
“In every era, God calls to every one” claims a Hasidic rabbi described in Martin Buber’s The Way of Man, posing questions something like this: ‘Where are you in your world? How far have you gotten? How are you making out in evading the hideouts, facing the Voice, following the way?’ The hearer of these questions, a military officer charged with holding the rabbi in prison, cries “bravo” when he hears them. But his heart trembles just the same.
Mine too. Even though, as Buber goes on to say, “everything now depends” on whether we face such questions truthfully in those bracing moments they penetrate our trembling, fearful hearts.
I did not grow up in a secular family where “God” or “faith” or “Jesus” were good words. Indeed they were bad words, taboo words, words that would suck all the air out of the room if you spoke them out loud – even worse than shit or fuck. At least the swear words had the ballast of carnality behind them. They were of the real world, the real body, the real flesh, the real earth. They felt good to say, the hard slap of single vowel and final consonant hurled into the air like the defiant “no” of a two-year old. Here I am. Don’t mess with me.
But the “God” words – what were they? Figments. Fictions. Filaments. Insubstantial as mist. Where was the “there” to which they pointed? What earthly form did they take?
Church? Don’t make me laugh. An escape hatch for the feeble minded if ever there was one, was what I thought then, peddling fairy tales about love and salvation as if they were some kind of inoculation against the perduring facts of human cruelty and cosmic indifference. As if reciting the words of doctrine and belief somehow made them true. Against so much evidence to the contrary.So, for a long time, I could not say the words: “God.” “Faith.” “I believe.” My mouth could not shape them. My lips and tongue would baulk, recoil, wanting to pull back rather than round forward as if in resistance to a forced confession that might betray every value I stood for, every fibre, cell and bone. Don’t make me. I won’t. I can’t.
Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ Λόγος. In the beginning was the Word
καὶ ὁ Λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν Θεόν, and the word was with God
καὶ Θεὸς ἦνὁ Λόγος. And the word was God.
Despite my recalcitrant mouth, these words claim me. They want to be said, whether I want to say them or not. Somehow, it’s easier to say them in an ancient language that I only partly – in fact even barely – understand. It’s not because saying them in Greek is more “pure” or closer to the original. It’s that very space outsideof understanding where the saying, and the meaning, becomes possible. It’s not about understanding. It’s about letting myself be claimed.
Still no easy task. “Costing not less than everything,” as TS Eliot says. Let me count the ways I don’t want to pay it. Let me count that ways I can’t not.
Jane Dawson is a writer, educator and spiritual director in Victoria, BC, Canada. She is inspired by writers who make her think twice and loves talking with people about the depths of what’s real. And now, Cara here again: I’m so excited for this series …and so grateful to Jane for sharing her thoughts with us today. Leave a comment for her below – meanwhile, be on the lookout for more “Where Art Thou?” essays in the coming months!
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