Maybe it's the odd shifts in the weather, from Indian summer to cool mizzle and back again, but we seem to have got hung up somewhere on the ordinary, straightforward transition from late summer to true fall. Sometimes when I glance out my window I see the one and sometimes the other. It feels as though time has stopped in its paces, leaving us hung up. We should be doing the standard Thanksgiving-time procession: the glory of the leaves turning, the confident blue blare of an October sky. Instead, we seem to be stranded between a summer that's very clearly over and a fall that seems to be stalled somewhere the other side of Timmins. Dammit, this is a Mud Season sort of feeling, and we're not supposed to do Mud Season until we're finished Leaf Season. My tidy soul (well, something around here has to be tidy!) takes deep umbrage. I don't like this being-on-hold feeling. Who does?

Which is a fairly silly way to feel about a seasonal shift--until I gave it some thought and realized that this feeling is something I've run into repeatedly: the sense of being stuck, unable to move forward or back. I remember, trying to get up after surgery and finding myself halfway out of my hospital bed, incapable of getting up or going back or reaching the bell for the nurse. I remember going out for a walk in the country at night, foolishly flashlightless, and finding myself stranded when clouds covered the moon and the scene turned dark as the inside of your pocket. Standing their dithering, incapable of motion, is a peculiarly unpleasant state of affairs: even when it's not caused by anxiety, it feels too much like anxiety to be comfortable.

Sometimes--hard as it is--we may find ourselves God-called just to stand there and wait. We may know what it is we want and be told "Be patient; not yet," with no notion of how the desired end is going to show up. Or we may not even know what it is we need; it's just that sense of restlessness, an emptiness that nothing seems to fill, an itch that nothing seems to scratch. It's hard enough living with this sense-of-things when you actually believe in God. I have no idea how people survive it when they don't.

The fact is, for most of us if not all, life sometimes looks like a grim, unchanging straight-line road ahead, without any possibility of grace or joy or desires fulfilled. Sometimes this state of affairs crosses the line into real depression and needs appropriate treatment. But much of the time, it's just the way things seem to be, one of those things a person has to live with for a while, the spiritual equivalent of sciatica--not disabling, not something that requires special treatment or even a lot of sympathy, just a pain in the butt.

This is when we really do understand that belief is not quite the same thing as faith. I can believe in God's loving provision for me, in that I assent intellectually to the notion that God really is looking after me. This belief is based in my own definition of God; however inadequate that definition is, it does very definitely include the notions that (a) God is loving and (b) God is active in my life.

But faith is a gut matter, not a head business. For me, as perhaps for many people, the battle isn't between belief and disbelief, but between faith and anxiety. For faith is the willingness to take God on trust, really deep trust; and for many of us, life has taught us once too often that trust is a highly problematic affair. Trust God? How can I? Where was God back in the bad times? Why should I believe that life's going to be any different, now that I've taken up this God-business?

Whenever I think of the belief/faith business, I remember the scene in the last Indiana Jones movie in which Indy, trying to get the Grail to heal his dying father, has to step out into what looks like a deep stony void. He knows that there will be something there; thus far, the directions he's been given have got him through one hazard after another. But he can't see anything but empty air before him. He closes his eyes, in trust and desperation, and takes that step--and finds firm ground beneath his feet.

That's faith: the willingness to trust that the Ground of our Being really is there, really will bear us up, really will lead us out of our temporary wildernesses. We can't see how or when this will happen, but that's because our imaginations are so limited, next to God's. That failure is the world's harsh mark on our battered hides, not God's touch at all.

In fact, if we stop trying to peer ahead into a future that does not exist (it doesn't, after all!) and instead look back over our lives, it's easy to see all sorts of God-touches, everyday miracles, blessings small and great, instances of preservation, patterns of love and healing, if we're willing to look for them instead of concentrating on our own hurts and wrongs. And if we're willing to be honest, we'll see that the bad times weren't God-caused at all. Most of this world's hurt comes from biology, physics, and good old human nature, especially the last. Maybe we worshiped the wrong godlets. Maybe we failed to love others as ourselves or ourselves as others. But none of that was God's doing. God, having given us free will and insisting on playing by God's own rules, does an awful lot of suffering for us.

God is never far away, never cool or indifferent; God wraps around us like the air, forever loving, forever wanting us, but not controlling or managing us, because that would be selfishness and God doesn't do selfishness. God is indeed about our paths and our ways, wanting only that we be attentive to his will for us--because his will is for our growth and healing, always. And if we can't figure out how that's going to happen, maybe we should just concede that we're not as smart as we think we are and let God get on with God's business. Works better than worrying, anyway.

For if I look back with any honesty, all I can really find in my life is blessing. Sometimes I've turned away from that goodness; other times I've been willing simply to accept it humbly, knowing I've done nothing to deserve it. Everything I have to value in my life is God's gift, something I could never have asked or imagined. And all I can do in response is whisper "thanks".

I see that my northeastern tree is showing some colour--which means, of course, that it's also about to dump an enormous amount of dead leaves on the lawn, but that's what this season is for, no? Monday's supposed to be sunny. And in the meantime, I've got to get that turkey ready and bake a couple of pumpkin pies....

Canadian Thanksgiving 2000
Here ends the fifth series of Sabbath Blessings

Copyright © 2000 Molly Wolf. Originally published Sat, 07 Oct 2000
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