The music of God, part two
(To read The Music of God (Part One), click here — http://ipinionsyndicate.com/the-music-of-god-part-one/)
Here’s a curious thing: The English words “miracle” and “mirror” come from the same Latin root – mirari, which means “to wonder at.” It is meant to convey a sense of awe and amazement. Funny. I read this in a fantasy novel a thousand years ago (okay, maybe not a thousand. Maybe it was closer to 35 or 40. But you know, as big as “a thousand” sounds, I gotta tell you – at the age of old-plus-two, “35 or 40 years ago” sounds positively ancient). It was Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn.
In it, Schmendrick the Magician (and how could you not absolutely adore a magician named Schmendrick?) tells another character (a Unicorn masked as a human woman, who is searching desperately – and then less desperately as time stretches out for far too long (though maybe it was just long enough) – for others of her kind) (Unicorns, that is, not humans, or even unicorns masked as humans). Oh, yes, where was I?
Anyway, the now-human unicorn, writing a letter to the King or some other power-that-was, in order to make a miraculous request asks the Magician how to spell “miracle,” (because she was looking for one right about then) and Schmendrick replies (I paraphrase) “Miracle is spelled with two Rs, since it comes from the same root as “mirror.” Schmendrick then proceeds to blithely muck up his magic and spells for almost the rest of the book, until the very end, when he stops trying to do it right quite so hard, and just hopes that it will all work out in the end.
Spoiler alert – it does. Sort of. I guess hoping is a kind of wild magic all its own.
I remember, all those long and dusty years ago, because it really is a marvelous and poignant story, thinking “Wow. I love that! What an awesome thought, totally fraught with meaning. I have no idea what the meaning is, but I am absolutely certain that it’s huge.” (Again, I paraphrase)As with Schmendrick, I then proceeded to blithely muck up my life something fierce, until the very end. Well, not the end of my life, but certainly, for years and years and countless years of pain and pity and fear, of brokenness and isolation and silence – until the very bitter edges of that life. I was a mess, and my life was worse.
And then I got sober.
I seem to use that plot device more often than not. I say that, somewhat tongue in cheek, but really, it was a death-defying moment, getting sober. It was a watershed, a parting of the seas of my addiction to More, my almost lifelong love affair with self destruction. It was an instantaneous and painfully attenuated moment – from one second to the next, in the blink of an eye, the beat of my heart. On one side, the certainty of death and madness. On the other, a path. A chance. Freedom.
Hope (that is a wild magic all its own, even for me).
I do not know how I survived those early days (months) (okay, years). Being a drunk was easy by comparison. I was infinitely (intimately) more comfortable with my well-lubricated life. I craved separation – anything to put some distance between me and my tormentors. So what if the tormentors were me? I blamed you for my isolation, anyway. And I blamed God for my pain.
Suddenly, life went from slippery and slick to raw and naked and much more present than I ever imagined or wanted. I swear, there were days (hours) (minutes) that I felt as if I were caught in a steel, sharp-toothed trap, and if I could have gnawed away some phantom limb to escape it, I would have.
Suddenly, I went from having no people in my life to having too many, all of them shiny, happy, cheerful people who liked to hug and laugh and speak in platitudes until I wanted to scream. But I couldn’t get enough of them. I craved their company and dreaded the idea of going home, to my apartment filled with its ghosts and its silence.
Suddenly, I went from no God (or at least a distantly absent One) to a very present God. I knew, without a doubt, that I had a God in my life, and I knew, without a doubt, that my God was God’s evil twin brother, out to screw with me, trip me up and make me sweat.
Maimonides argued that God could only be defined in the negative. To do otherwise would limit the might and power and limitlessness of God. I learned, slowly – and not without my own pain and drama – I learned to define God in hindsight.
I learned to find God behind me, in my past. I called these “the God Moments.” You might call them coincidences or random chance. Happenstance, perhaps, if you were trying to impress. I’m okay with any of that. I am not particular in what name you or I may use to call God. Much more important for me, in my infinitely grateful hindsight, is that I call out – in anger (and, oh, I was filled with anger, there at the end, and for the long stretch of my beginning) or joy, pain or doubt or sorrow or wonder. Anything and everything.
And I did. I learned, in fits and starts, I learned to call. To trust.
But there was still no music in it (certainly none that I could hear, and certainly none that I would let you hear). For all that I was learning to find God again, I would do it without the one way that ever made sense, that ever worked, that ever connected me to whatever name for God you may want to use.
I would not sing.
When I get very quiet, when I get very honest, I will grudgingly admit that I was afraid to sing. Afraid of my voice and what it would sound like after years and years of disuse (not to mention the years and years of abuse). Afraid that even when I sang again, if I ever did, I would no longer be able to find God, no longer be able to dance that holy path up and out, in joy and reverence and gravity. I was terrified that I would be trapped in my silence forever.
God, but it was noisy in my head without any music – noisy and jangly and dissonant. Fear is like that – sharp-edged and soulless, a chaos of silence.
And then, somewhere in there, somewhere in all that silence and fear, I took my son to Sunday school for the first time. He was six. I hadn’t set foot in a synagogue in years. I hadn’t had a formal conversation with God in just shy of forever – so long that I wouldn’t have known what to say if I felt the need (desire) (want) to say anything at all.
But Nate was six, and it was time. I knew no one, picked the synagogue out of a hat (or the pixelated internet version of a hat) and walked him into a brick-and-mortar building at the end of a long and lonely road. I walked into this structure and heard the strum of an A-minor chord being played, and I was freed.
Just like that. Freed. If not instantaneously, pretty close to it. I stood in that brick-and-mortar building and suddenly it was a holy place. That one chord, that melancholy, joyous, yearning chord found me, found my silence, and unlocked the chains I had so carefully set in place to bind me to my fear.
The music of my soul, the song of my heart – yearning. It is neither want nor need, though they are certainly present in it. That song is more a reaching up, a reaching out – in hope, in joy, in despair and desolation. It is a flame that flickers and leaps upward, dancing and guttering and glowing through it all. It’s an A-minor, sweet and knowing and raw. It’s a question, a prayer, a fluid and graceful arc that moves in you and through you. It’s the heart’s cry in the darkness “Where are You?” and the breathless hope of God’s answer “Hineini — here I am.”
Hope is its own wild magic, its own sacred benediction.
With that one chord, I found my voice again, left the silence behind. It was the voice of my desire, and in it, I found blessing and grace. In it, I found miracle and mirror both, wonder and awe and hope. And when I opened up again, finally, when I lifted my voice in song again, when I finally believed that my hope was stronger than my fear, I found my song, and myself again.
And in that song, there was God.