I wake in the middle of the night. I can’t find my slippers in the dark. I walk barefoot to the bathroom feeling the cold floor against the bottoms of my feet and challenge myself, still half asleep, to imagine the people in Ukraine sleeping in cold subway stations. With their children. With their pets. I let myself zoom in. Look more deeply. Picture them in ways I haven’t been allowing myself to yet.
In the bathroom, at 2:45 in the morning, I’m now wondering: Do they have blankets? What does the cold, hard concrete feel like against their traumatized bodies after this many days of sheltering there? Are they using the bags they had to quickly pack and take with them as pillows? What did they pack?
When I had to leave my house suddenly, in the midst of a divorce gone awry, I packed all wrong. It’s hard to pack for the unimaginable because you can’t imagine it. I didn’t know I’d never go back to my house again. I didn’t know the capacity of life to snatch the pen from your hand, mid-sentence, and completely change your story.
But wait: is that a passive statement?
Was it “life” who changed my story? Or was that scene, of abruptly leaving one morning in February, written into my script from the beginning?
Pastor Jakes says: God is in the trouble with you. I love this idea but it also feels like a big bite that's hard to chew. I was raised mostly atheist. But my peripheral understanding of God was one of almighty omnipotence. Meaning: I understood God as the Lieutenant, not the Soldier. The God of my childhood lives up above (not "in") the trenches of our lives, watching it all unfold, prioritizing prayers, like an overworked office manager with an endless stack of papers on his desk. He simply won’t be able to get to everything, sorry. The God of my childhood was a tough love, tough luck kind of God. Aloof and powerful and arbitrary, the way my parents were.
“But why?” was the mantra of my sister and I throughout our youngest years.
“Because I said so,” was my mother’s perpetual, deeply unsatisfying reply.
When we seek to reconcile contradictions like these - (is God “in” or “above”? Is God passively watching or actively guiding?) - what we’re really asking, I think, is: Are we alone here? Or is something bigger always with us?
Wayne Dyer used to say that the most important decision you will make in your life is whether or not you believe in a benevolent universe. The word ‘benevolent’ comes from the Latin: bene = well + velle = wish. Do we live in a universe that is 'wishing well' for us? That’s rooting for us? Loving us? Even as it refuses to intervene on our behalf and move the pieces around on the board to our benefit?
“No one is coming to save you!”
How many times have I heard this from well-meaning coaches or motivational speakers and shuddered? I know these words are meant to inspire us to take responsibility for ourselves, but they’re traumatizing for many of us. We already live with the constant, steady hunch that no one is with us, we have to do it all alone, unwitnessed. We already fear that nothing we accomplish or fall short of actually matters.
The pain of feeling alone inside of our lives is exquisite. It’s the same pain as the one I grew up with, relating to God as an indifferent parent who was too busy to connect with me. But loneliness is a perception, not an ultimate truth. There are many people who feel alone right now who are not actually alone. If the call is coming through, but your phone is turned off and tucked away in a drawer in the next room, it doesn’t matter what is trying to be conveyed or how it might radically, positively change your life. If you can’t hear the call, you won’t answer the call.
We need to turn our phones on now and stand where the signal is strong. We need to get clear about what we believe because we are in a global crisis and that's when our belief systems count the most.
Is the universe benevolent? Always course correcting back toward unity, kindness and peace? Always rooting for us, even when we are lost in our despair and can’t hear the call ringing out?
What is provable matters less than what we believe.
What is God/Source/Higher Power to you right now? Where is this presence in your current reality? Does God lie with us on the cold, hard ground inside the subway station, in the midst of a war that should not be happening?
Does God follow us, barefoot, into the bathroom in the middle of the night and unravel these questions in our heads? Questions with no easy answers? Questions we are meant to reckon with, all the same?
I don’t believe we’re alone. Because loneliness is the same thing as separateness. And the delusion of separateness is the very misunderstanding we’re here to learn and set right for our species. Separateness is at the root of every war. Every crime. Every act of darkness and depravity.
We are undeniably connected. That’s why this is so hard right now. A part of me returns to bed but does not drop fully back into sleep. A part of me is awake with the other sentient beings all over the world who are also awake. Unable to rest. Seeking their freedom. Seeking some proof that there is a method to the madness. That even in the face of senseless death, destruction and suffering, the soil is being tilled and a better way of living in peace and tolerance is assembling itself. Taking root in the wreckage.
These are just words, yes. And yet they feel urgent and alive as they flow through me. And prayers are built of words and feelings, too. And all of this, I believe, matters somehow.
May peace prevail on earth,