On Faith, Fear, Patience (and a dash of economy)

November 22, 2008:

“All things that can not be gained by our pleading can be given to us only as something unexpected, something extra: this is why I am yet again confirmed in my belief that often nothing seems to matter in life but the longest patience.”

“life’s little wisdom is to wait (but wait in the proper, pure state of mind), and the great grace that is bestowed on us in return is to survive…”

Anyone who knows me knows that I have an intense affection for Rainer Maria Rilke—where the quotes above come from. I often find myself reading his “Letters on Life” over and over again during times of uncertainty. Actually, I often read him in the bath before bed, just to ground myself, set myself solidly on some sort of mountain again. So often, it seems I float in this bubble of contemplation, which can morph into worry. Now, usually I think of this as a blessing—it’s what keep me driven, striving to learn more and more about whatever topic I am currently obsessed with or simply paying close attention to things most people don’t pay close attention to…like colors and number sequences, people’s hands or patterns in speech…the “rivers” on the page created by text, how my mind feels when I listen to Chopin, the number sequences in Chopin, how exactly to communicate this particular feeling into words, sounds, sentences and so on.

The downfall of this ability to wander around in my own created-reality is that it can swiftly turn into anxiety, worry, etc. I’ll think TOO much about something and off I go, fishing for meaning or syntax bravely in a patched up boat, tossed about by uncertain and ill-behaved waves.

Today is one of those fishing days. Actually, I think the past couple of days have been fishing days. And can you blame me? Look where our economy is (not just the U.S., but the world’s). I have never been in debt before in my life and chose this year of years to willingly walk into debt for a degree that, to most people seems a bit “useless.” I gave up a great deal of security and even a fair amount of independence and moved far away from friends and warmth for the debt and useless degree.

Yes, but Shannon, you wanted nothing more than to pursue your dream! Of course, this is true. I am blessed beyond all possible reason to be where I am and able to do what I am doing.

But to blaze forth with the word “Faith” on my chest, I’d be a liar. I don’t always have faith. It comes and goes. It’s hard to possess all of the time. I wake in the middle of the night, hit square on the head with panic, sweating into my palms and think: What am I doing? I’ll get dressed and faith will be lying on the dresser—I’ll grab it and head for the door, but I drop it somewhere along the way between coffee-pot and car. It’s especially hard when I find myself clothed in distraction, reading Times Online or various YouTube videos about the collapse of all things within the United States, knowing I should be working on a poem, working on brainstorming new work, reading that book about metals and chemical compounds (because I have that theme in a work I want to produce) etc. and Faith sort of slips out quietly from the library stacks and into the cold New York day, off to sit patiently and wait for me to go looking for it again.

Faith in the Universe, Faith in my decisions, in my ability to do hard work, in my talent, in my desire–deep, long, ancient desire– to communicate something to someone else via the written word that might one day unfold some beauty or hold up a mirror to their own inner truth, faith in all of these things. I know I have it inside of me, wandering around through synapses gaps and down the left ventricle, taking a stroll along my spine…I carry inside me. But how often I want to tear it down, chew it up, cast it out into those fishing waters, drown it in attempts to retrieve it—how often!

And how funny life is. Because the same movement and melody that bears the talent to write also hauls on its back the tendencies to call forth this darkness. My lover and my heartbreak.

So, what do I do as I woo my elusive and beautiful faith-goddess? What do I do when I get tired and the other hand turns to pull the dark curtains?

What do I do when all signs point towards struggle, possible failure?

I am tempted to say: quick! Find a lifeboat! Cling to security! (aka, get a normal profession!)

But what is sweetness of art but in the struggle to fight for it?

“It is possible to feel so very much abandoned at times. And so much depends on the tiny indulgence of things, whether we can cope at all when they suddenly don’t respond to us and move us along.” (Rilke, again)

“tiny indulgence of things” like the usual comforts and security blankets? Like the well-paying job as a Title Agent? Like my own, sweet, gorgeous, lovely, quite, personal apartment in Fort Worth? Like my wonderful friends there?

And what about when something suddenly “doesn’t respond to us and move us along”? Like what? My poetry? How sometimes it doesn’t come easy, my Faith?

Yes. But what was that deep stirring that leapt out of me and through me to do what I am doing? What of that, of the poetry and faith? Nothing touches either entity of faith and poetry within me. Even when I feel abandoned by both, it’s simply my inability to love poetry and faith and nurture them unconditionally, my short-sightedness, my impatience. How they are mountains! How they are what I wish to spend my life scaling! And of course to expect loneliness and struggle and loss of faith, like the thinning of air, but so dizzy! So dizzy spinning on feeling that much more ALIVE and true to that which I serve. Regardless of economic turmoil.

Even in times of economic bliss, of course, I’d still experience this war, this tug and pull of doubt and fear. And why not embrace doubt and fear? Are they not simply the opposite poles of that which propels me forward?

But not to embrace with the aim to smother. But to allow doubt and fear to speak, allow them to move within me, as faith moves, from left ventricle to down the spine. I think perhaps I should thank them because they are kind of like little hooks which sting and dig into the skin for a while but are what ultimately anchors me, guides me on my way to learning patience and appreciation, hauls me back when I try to run too far ahead, keeps me grounded to the very mountain which I am trying so desperately to climb.

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