This awe-full rowing toward God

There is in my head these days a sound, almost metallic though not harsh but smooth, like the sound a singing bowl makes when caressed in the right way or like the sound yin-yang’s opposites make in their endless, whirling dance.

The paradox is, I am perfect, complete in each moment of my condition and journey in life, in each beat in the rhythmic cycle of growth. This moment with everything it contains is enough, and it is home. As Hermann Hesse wrote, “The world is not imperfect or slowly evolving along a path to perfection. No, it is perfect in every moment, every sin already carries grace in it.” So it is with me.

And every perfect moment exists in a context of flow, a continuity of events and stages. The only place I can be is this present moment, and this present moment occurs in a progression toward something, the beginning and direction and end of which I cannot discern, much less control. As the Teacher wrote, God “has put a sense of past and future into [our] minds, yet [we] cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Eccles. 3:11).

The wag may have been right who said he had seen the future and it’s like the present, only longer, but I suspect it will be different in one important way. It will be like the present, but we will know how everything holds together as a whole, with all present, perfect opposites seen in their intrinsic, indivisible relationships. Anne Sexton captured it in her poem “Rowing” (The Awful Rowing Toward God [Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1975], 1-2):

. . . I grew, and grew,
and God was there like an island I had not rowed to,
still ignorant of Him . . .
but I am rowing, I am rowing,
though the wind pushes me back
and I know that that island will not be perfect,
it will have the flaws of life,
the absurdities of the dinner table,
but there will be a door
and I will open it
and I will get rid of the rat inside of me,
the gnawing pestilential rat.
God will take it with his two hands
and embrace it.

When I grow still, when I leave behind all of my agenda and the tyrannical technology of constant contact with others and listen to my life with the ear of my heart, I begin to sense that there’s something if not yet winsome then at least essential about every aspect of my self and my experience, that the dark aspects of life – challenges, failures, betrayals, distresses, misfortunes, griefs – are in fact thin places where I may see more clearly (if ever so slightly) the island-God toward which I row, the Great Mystery that draws me to itself and governs every aspect of my journey there.

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