Monday, February 01, 2010
On The Subject of Providence
A good friend of mine and I have an ongoing debate. I believe in the concept of Divine Providence and she resolutely sides with the notion of Synchronicity. To be sure, I understand her reluctance to believe that a higher power sets the course for us and we must follow it to the end whether we wish it or not. Compound this with a thousands wars, repressive movements, and delusional false prophets who asserted then and still maintain firmly and unwaveringly that God wills whatever they are doing, then one can see how many would register strong reservations about the whole idea. I can only counter that though I believe, the guidance I am given is followed faithfully, but not blindly. Still, that is a facet of Providence which I aim to push past in this post and in so doing explore the question of whether God grants us insight and puts in our path instructive means of enhancing our lives---and in so doing increasing our devotion to Him. Those who disagree certainly have the right to express their reservation, but this is what I believe.
There have been numerous instances in my own life that appear upon their face to have been divinely inspired. Most recently, I have consulted my Bible for inspiration and while opening it, almost miraculously, the pages fall open to perhaps the most pertinent and helpful passage I could have ever hoped to find on my own. From time to time, I find a news story embedded in the daily coverage of the day that relates perfectly to some issue I've been pondering for a few days. My friend would call this interesting coincidence or evidence that fervent belief in anything produces an expected and wished for result. I, however, possess a certainty that this is not something so easily discernible. Words fall well short of the mark even beginning to try to explain the feeling I receive that what I have noted was deliberately set out for me. I chalk it up to faith and mystery while appreciate the gift as it is without feeling the compulsion to make an appeal to reason.
Though I am tempted to believe that God placed these ideas before me purely for my own use I also know that one should never discount the notion of simultaneous revelation. The structure and form of the internet, for example, with its way of giving voice and providing the same relatively identical content to millions of people of common interest at one instant often reveals not the ways in which we are different, but rather the ways in which we are similar. Perhaps I need to modify my understanding of the ways God inserts signposts and instruction into my life. We have a tendency to see all things through selfish eyes, including our conception or lack of conception of the ways of the Almighty. Some Christians talk about Jesus as a personal savior and while I understand the immediacy of that construction of language, I notably avoid it, seeking to remind myself that Jesus, much like spiritual guidance, is for all, not just for me. Though religious faith and spirituality of any sort is by its nature a deeply personal matter, I know all too well the problems created when people are covetous of anything they hold of great value, for whatever end.
The parallel I draw in this regard is that of unprogrammed Quaker worship. When Friends feel the Inner Light within them and with it the compulsion to stand, open one's mouths, and give voice to that which has moved them, everyone tries to keep in mind that vocal ministry ought not be only for an individual's own sake, but for the sake of all who are in attendance. Sometimes messages arrive that are not fully formed or are purely designed for one person alone; though they are certainly valid and granted to us from God, those sort of revelations ought not be vocalized in meeting. When I speak or sing, what God compels me to say influences everyone in the room differently. My general intent may be more or less understood by all, but particular passages or word choices frequently have a very specific resonance to each and every person listening in silence. If I open my mouth and begin talking, I have no way of knowing precisely how my words will be received. After finishing my message and returning to my seat, I often contemplate the message as a whole and formulate a rough guess as to what others received from it. Sometimes I am more or less correct, but very often I am proven completely wrong. The next person to speak layers his or her own message onto the basis of what I said, but what moved them is a matter of personal choice.
On Kos or a Kos-based platform, sometimes the diaries I write are received warmly with a tremendous amount of positive feedback. Sometimes they fall upon deaf ears altogether. Sometimes the response is openly hostile and heavily critical. I never know really what to expect. Subsequent diaries influenced by mine often head in one of a million different directions. One precise thought I've written might inspire someone to write a much longer piece on a secondary point my post only grazed across on its way to its own conclusion. This is the nature of human discourse, I recognize, and with it the balance between the subjective and the objective.
One of the complexities of language and words is that while they are concrete means of conveying personal intent, their formulation and construction into sentences and ideas are deeply personal and individual. Language is a means of making abstract thoughts universally comprehensible, granting people the ability to communicate with each other. But there are limitations to any system of symbols and often individual interpretation supersedes group meaning. Anyone who has ever read and analyzed a particularly dense work of poetry knows this well. God might lay a particularly helpful idea, story, or intuition at my feet, but for all I know, He might recognize innately that the very same information is equally helpful to someone else, perhaps in a completely different way. He might assist someone to write a column on the internet, a column that moves me deeply, but it would be quite egocentric of me to believe that those particular words, sentences, and paragraphs are for my benefit alone.
I recognize that the skeptics will always have the means and the willingness to reduce all of this merely to superstition and illogical belief in unseen, unproven forces or to pat, succinct explanations based on their conception of common sense. Even so, I make no apology for what keeps me motivated and frequently energized and with it a desire to live a life for God and not for myself. The world of extreme rationality has always seemed a cold one to me, and I, lover of romance, can not set aside that which has always seemed right, just, and fair. The words I write today may have had their nexus out of a desire to appease the nagging compulsion that dwells within any writer to put down thoughts, but there are times midway through that God grants me particular eloquence or turns of phrase I could have never accomplished myself. I always seek to give credit where credit is due and with it hope and prayer that those who read it might find some comfort and some usefulness. For all I know, God may be instructing you, too.