When we call out to God, he answers us. In the midst of our pain, in the midst of our confusion, he is always there. The hard part is asking to see. Asking to hear, asking to be a part of our renewal. Seeing that we need renewal. I recently had an experience of seeing more of myself. I had drastically overspent and was intoxicated with my shopping experience to the point that I couldn't see my double vision.
When I was in Hawai'i I saw more of my nakedness, not from being nude on a beach (or wearing a swimsuit for the first time in ages). No, this was due to prayers I expressed: Lord, give me eyes to see and hears to ear. I then continued, "Free me from the feeling of wanting." So often I believe those who pray are looking for an "answer" that will feel comforting, soothing, and in-line with their own desires and not truly open to a new way. Yet, I believe some of the best, truest conversations with God result in painful relinquishment of our wants and from our compulsions, and because of that, we experience a new kind of delectable nurturing. This is a story about my courage and what I feel is an ironic answer to my prayers.
There was a morning during the wedding festivities that was free and so I decided to take that time for myself. It was wonderful. I found a Whole Foods and picked up some fruit; I had been craving a Fuji apple. I also desired to peruse some shops while in this neighboring town of Honolulu, and because I had the time and found myself right in an outdoor shopping complex attached to the market, I chose to go ahead and jaunt over to the boutiques that caught my eye.
I meandered through one swimsuit shop and didn't feel quite right about buying anything since I did not really need anything. Also, the Gent and I have committed to having just the essentials for now, so I moved on to the next store. Immediately after seeing the clothes through the glass doors, I felt a lull, a pull inward. More than a curiosity and I found myself through the doorway.
My fingers graced the soft, jersey fabrics that felt cool to the touch and then picked up the hangers and slopped the shirts over my arm. I went around the whole store in conversation: yes you may take these, thank you. Everything was soft, in my favorite color palette, and in my preferred palate: loose, springy, soft, and light-weight, grays, beiges, and cool tones.
When I went into the dressing room, my delight was getting the best of me. I heard myself reply to the store attendant, "Everything is marvelous!! I'm loving everything that I try on!" For a split-second, I had an out-of-body experience and could hear that I seemed a little "intoxicated." Back inside though, I couldn't feel that "drunkeness." Everything just seemed lush and perfect. Heavenly.
I rationalized that I needed those clothes. There were strong facts and desires pinging me and expressing that they were really essential. (I also allowed for some knowing splurges.) The first reason came running: I dislike shopping and here are all the perfect clothes I could ever imagine. Another was: Gotta strike while the iron is hot even though it does fall outside my allotted amount for a clothing budget. Sometimes, the stars align differently than we plan, and we gotta just go with it. Additionally, I hadn't bought clothes in a while and if I were to stack up all of my shirts, they would measure about an inch high. My two pairs of jeans and my two pairs of shoes still wouldn't grow the pile higher than six-inch stillettos. My two yoga pants might, but because I was also sick of wearing them daily, I rationalized all the more that I needed the leggings, pants, and jeans I was trying on.
I began to look at the price tags as the clothes mounted up on the "keep pile" and rested on the little circular chair in the dressing room. A slight sinking feeling started to move downward in my heart: I needed to share with the Gent about my find, stash, and hopes. After tallying up a rough figure with tax, I was tempted to just share the figure before tax as it would be cheaper, of course...and a little nicer sounding.
Around this time, my store-clerk friend had introduced me to the store manager who asked if I wanted water, realizing I had spent the better part of the morning there. Then, as if she had remembered there was a different bottle in the back, she piped up, "Actually, how about champagne??"
The Gent's response was a little full of surprise on one hand, but on the other, delighted I had found "my store." He trusted me to make the right decisions, knowing I don't shop often and refrain from large purchases.
At the check-out, and sipping my bubbly, I decided to throw in a couple of superfluous items that I had tried on including jeans and a shirt I wasn't really intending to purchase. I learned that I had two weeks to return all the items, so why not? I wanted to move on with my day and have some space to sit with everything. Besides, the afternoon wedding festivities were starting and I wanted to attend. I would plan on returning anything that came to mind later on. When the clerk added up the figures on the price tags (with a pile about a foot and a half high), she turned around and looked at me, pointing to the figure. I let the Gent know the final amount because it was more that the first one I let him know about and then said a quick prayer. Because I wasn't struck by a lightening bolt and because I gave only about a second to listen, I continued to move on, though with a new sense of trepidation. I felt like I was on a high dive, about to jump and fall, and about to lose my stomach.
Perhaps I was feeling an inherent time ticking away as I waited for the Gent to respond with his thoughts, perhaps I didn't feel anything from God, perhaps I knew this was my decision, and I felt completely capable of making the right choice; for whatever the reason, I felt it was perfectly fine to make that transaction possible. To jump and fall. It seemed completely fine and even right.
When I returned to the home I was staying at, I hoped no one was going to be around because I felt a little bit of shame somehow. In my room, I sorted my new clothes. Everything seemed like a worthwhile purchase. Over the past four or five years, I've slowly said goodbye to good articles of clothing that have simply worn out with time, and I have consciously chosen not to replace them. Sure, I have gotten the occasional jean here or a new pair of yoga pants there, but other than that, no big shopping sprees have occurred because I - because we - have been choosing to put our resources elsewhere.
The first day after the purchase, and with prayer, nothing seemed to noticeably change. I was still stoked about the two bags of clothes. I was surprised that there was no buyer's remorse, underscoring in my mind the decision was right. Then, I thought that maybe it could be beneficial to go through them juuuusssst to see if there was anything I wanted to return. So I did. There was nothing. However, I continued to pray, asking that God would free me from a sense of want, if that was there. I was open.
Meanwhile, driving through the volcanic mountains with its green, luscious sides, I couldn't help but feel the ancient energy and spirit excuding out from it, almost like a pulse. For the first time in my life, I could understand - not from a cognitive perspective but from an experiential, embodied one - why tribal people could worship, say, a mountain. There was old and mysterious energy around it, and I could feel it as I drove through the passes between the valleys. I was staying in Honolulu and spending my time on the Windward side of the island. Because I was a bit blown away by the beauty and feeling the oldness of something, I shared my sentiments with some locals. They affirmed what I felt and gave me a word for it. I was feeling the "aina." They were also a bit surprised that I picked up on it given that I had just arrived; one in particular told me that "aina" meant the land and that I was feeling the laaaannnnd. To me, I was just noticing what I was sensing. Strangely, the times that I made the drive through the relatively narrow passageway, all I wanted to do was to make a little lean-to, be near this certain mountain and live there for the rest of my life. It felt cozy, nurturing, and like a good IV in my arm, feeding me nutrients. It was strange, I admit. However, I was left with an understanding as to why tribal people could worship anything: a blade of grass, water, a mountain.
Of course, it also broadened my perspective in a different way. For the first time, I also got - what felt like a very small glimpse of - the Ancient of Days. It felt like a smell, as if the Known Mystery had a scent as well as a texture of Time. I have experienced God as Creator, Abba, Love, Wholeness, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Suffering Servant, and the Risen Lord, but never Ancient of Days until on the island. (And if for some reason, that sounds a little confusing or bizarre, here's another way of putting all of it: just like people have different names and titles so too does this God that I know. For example, the person "Jane" may also be known as "mom," "ma", "J", "beloved," not to mention described as a "mother," "wife," "daughter," "friend," "lover," and other names or descriptions. These are just a handful of ways one person may be known to a particular group of people (i.e. a husband, family, friends, community) in a particular space and time. One quick caveat, this does not mean that all powers and entities, spiritualities and principalities are the same just simply with different names. For example, Jane is not Jessica.)
Being near this mountain and the land - this aina - helped me to wonder about the ancient days of God and feel the ancientness of God for the first time. In my evangelical tradition growing up, I knew God as a friend, modern and here, not concerned with the past. He was Present and walking with me. During my formal theological studies, I encountered a deeply personal God who I found in history and who helped me to see my own story more as well as the chapter in the Story (history) in which I live in. He began to wake me up and connect me to the Present. In my recent monastic days, I've encountered Jesus as Breath - Ruache - and have experienced this gentle, healing Breath inside me, sometimes being my very own Oxygen and Living Water. This Presence is Gentleness, Love, and Compassion. Wholly Other and One. Here in Honolulu, I was able to experience inside my body - in my cells - the wondering of God's mysterious and primeval presence. The Ancient of Days.
On the second day after my purchase, I decided to go through my two bags again. I had communicated with the Gent and heard his feelings. They were communicative and honest, yet open and trusting. I wanted to make sure I wasn't abusing any of these, so I dug through my things to see if I could create a new pile of Returns. After all, I certainly did not want this event to surface again in twenty years. He was trusting me, and I wanted to make sure I was as wide-eyed as I could be about this. I first tried on all the clothes again. Even though my guest room only had a small mirror, I was fine with it because I certainly did not want to trek all the way to the bathroom everytime I switched clothes. I would be seen and feel a little embarrassed about my purchase. I was able to filter out some Returns simply because I put on a microscope of pickiness. But in addition to my two mounds of clothes - the Returns and the Keeps - there was a growing third: a collection of queestions. How did I become such a person that I even had the opportunity to be so discriminating with clothes? Was having particular affinities and interests wrong? Was appreciating good crafts(wo)manship bad? I continued to pray that I could see myself and anything that wasn't whole and healthy - these questions were not new to me but that day arose out from my sorting and reflecting.
On the third day after my purchase, I woke up and was excited to head to the beach. I would be in that neighboring town where I bought the clothes (or near it for the day) and thought it was best to Get This Over With. And just to double check everything, I went through the mounds again. I began to see what a luxury all of this was, and that if, I'm honest, couldn't actually afford. The Gent and I had chosen to spend our money elsewhere, and it certainly did not include this. While I began to see that none of the purchases were bad, and that the reasons were real and great - even honest and valid - the bottom line was that I couldn't afford them AND that my actions violated the very agreement we had made. After digging through the piles, that was the nugget. Right around then, I received a text from him saying he was thinking of me.
All of a sudden, I began to see more clearly. I was horrified at my purchase - the purchase so high that the clerk just pointed to it when other shoppers were around. I then felt this burning sensation. The clothes were lighting me on fire. Burning a hole in me. All of it, all of it, needed to go. Grateful I had two weeks to return them, I scooped up the clothes, stuffed them into one bag, and headed to my car.
Once on my drive, I listened to a song the Gent had sent me the night before. It was a new song he had written while I was away. I played the song. It was just gorgeous and somehow real. It called me into a place where I could see my falling and where it no longer felt exciting but stark, empty, and functioning. I began to cry. The song ended, and I played it again. I was beginning the pass through the mystical mountains. I wept. The words were suspended in ethereal, melodic tones and felt as though they were vines hanging from a tree, lifting me out from the swamps. I was feeling more alive, more of my existence, and cleansed with every tear shed. This reality was from the inside of me. I felt purified like the song was The Song leaving me while removing things out of me. The only way I can describe it is that I saw my choice, I saw the full perspective, and I wanted to change it all after seeing the vista. One step led to another and soon I was on my way. Somewhere I had veered, and I hadn't quite known where. But now I saw. I had ignored reality and our commitment. Coming out on the other side of the tunnel from the defile, I didn't feel as connected to the volcanic land as I had before. In some strange way, I couldn't actually feel its presence. I was feeling the Living Water inside me and around me instead.
When I arrived at my destination, I parked. I popped open the trunk and lifted out the bag. It was heavy. Walking on the imprinted cobblestone parking lot, I had a moment where symbolism and reality - as if they were two circles - overlapped into one concentric one. The burning was hotter as the bag got heavier. It weighed about 50 lbs, and I swore the paper around the little nylon string handles was going to rip. What was I going to say once in the store? I thought of a couple of things and then I saw those doors and before I knew it, I was inside.
I heard myself say to the first person I could see (which happened to be the store clerk who had helped me), "I love your store. I need to return everything." I couldn't wait to be free from the weight in my hand and more so from the weight in my heart. I had come through this process. I saw my way. I was on the other side. I was making a new decision and living out of courage and boldness somewhere inside. All the tags accompanied the clothing, the receipt was in the bag. The store clerk's eyes bugged when she heard my request and she said quickly, "I'll get my manager!" as she swiveled around to find her.
I went around the counter where I had been before and simply restated my words to the store manager. "I love your store. I need to return everything." Holding the bag, I was expecting to hear a friendly response and the welcoming of my return. When I heard, "We actually don't do returns. We do exchanges - we could definitely exchange something if there was an item you didn't like," my heart dropped. It was falling and this time I knew I had about a minute before I would turn into a puddle.
The genuinely kind manager continued on. I interrupted and clarified that I was told the store did returns up to two weeks and perhaps there was a miscommunication. But in that moment of uttering the words, I knew all of this was futile. Regardless of what I remember and was told, what I thought and perhaps possibly assumed, the error was in my original act, not in this miscommunication between two people.
As I exited, my pace got faster returning to the car. Tears erupted out of my tear ducts. I felt so solidly locked into my decision I had made before. So finite; so enclosed that I could feel the walls of my jail. I chose to fall in excitement and believed it was at best, worth it, and at worst, temporary. There was no way to get out of that decision. In my hot car, I wept. I felt so aware, so awake and so remorseful of my act of way overspending. I was in my own distorted reality as I had sipped champagne in the dressing room surrounded by all the most amazing things. In this sauna I was in, I confessed and acknowledged my choices to this Ancient of Days. I apologized and asked for forgiveness. In the midst of my hot tears in my hot environment, all I could think about was calling the Gent. I wanted to share this kind of thing face-to-face and right then. Two things that couldn't be reality since the ocean separated us, but I could call. I could hear his voice, and he could hear mine.
After sending a quick text to see if he was available, I went ahead and just called thinking that I would leave a message. I needed to share now. He answered and knew something was immediately unwell. I couldn't quite find my words, much less deliver them in a stable fashion. They were fidgety, wobbly, and remorseful with each inhale and exhale. The thing I remember from the call above all else were his words, "I have so much forgiveness. In fact, forgiving you doesn't take any of the forgiveness out from my well!"
. . .
On my last day in Hawai'i, I was coming home from the beach and figuring out which way to go back home: the scenic route on H3 or through the lush mountain pass. I noticed some fear and hesitation in my spirit at the thought of driving through the ancient, sharp hills and valley. Then I wondered why. Could there have been some "enchanted connection"? No... My actions were mine. I owned them and moved through them. I still had the clothes, the Gent and I would work through the financial choice and figure things out. The climate of the situation had changed dramatically. There was sun and shine, lightness and fullness. Why was I fearful to make that drive through the mystical mountain range? I decided there was no fear in Love and that I didn't need to live out of that orientation.
I put on the song the Gent had written with the windows all the way down and sang from the belly of my soul. I made the climb and came face-to-face with that volcanic mound I once found so nurturing. I then talked to it. I wasn't afraid. I shared how its Creator loved it too, how it had beauty, and it was under the God of Love like everything else. Right then, I felt a weird, spiritual, chiropractic adjustment, as odd as that sounds. I went on my way, one step in front of another, but this time in Light with a bizarre wondering if land could fall too.