My family didn’t really discuss religion when I was a child. I was baptized Presbyterian, and when I was a tweeny we went to a nice church, but our attendance there had more to do with community than faith. The church had a wonderful youth group–I’m still friends with several people I met there. That lack of familial theological discussion left me free to figure out my own beliefs in my own time and space. And for that I am incredibly grateful.
Today, I’m thinking about my first glimmer of Deity. Specifically being aware of that higher power, and perceiving something of its nature.
When I was 13, one of my close friends at school and church passed away from leukemia. It was my first ‘big’ death, my first encounter with the incomprehensible finality our bodies are subject to. I remember the shock, and the inner silence that for me accompanies grief. I’m a chatty creature–even if my voice is silent, chances are my mind is still blathering on about something. But when I grieve, everything gets very quiet inside. I feel a slow, dull ache in my chest, and a hush that mutes the rest of the world. It’s as though that pain is able to somehow turn down the volume on reality. As though my heart doesn’t so much speak as silence. And in the stillness, I feel. And I grieve.
Shortly after my friend’s passing, I was sitting in math class, looking out the window. That silence had taken up residence again, and I was having trouble getting my mind to lock onto anything but the pain inside me. My gaze was drawn to a sapling outside the window. It was early in the day, and the sunlight was tracing patterns on the bark. The sky was a perfect, crisp winter blue behind the brownish-gray of the branches.
As I sat and stared out the window, I wondered how something could look as beautiful and perfect as that tree while I was in so much pain. The sudden perception of that dichotomy seemed to open a window inside me. The concept expanded in my mind to more than a sapling and my own grief. It came to me as a single force–an all-encompassing Power that was at once creator/destroyer, growth/entropy, joy/pain. And two specific words echoed within me: the phrase that I have used ever since in my private thoughts about Deity – the Terrible Beauty. For me, Deity is not a set of polarities that pull on us. It is One that surrounds and permeates us.
Again, today, my soul aches with fresh bruises. My thoughts have gone quiet, and I lose track of time, sitting in silence. Outside, the colorful sunlit riot of Spring is in full force. The trees are newly clothed in flowers and fresh, delicate leaves. Tulips and daffodils turn their bright faces to the sunlight; birdsong is everywhere. Here, on this interconnected web, friends offer up love, comfort and solace. And that outpouring of compassion is as beautiful to me as sunlight on branches.
And within me, I feel that dichotomy again. Pain and love. Sorrow and gratitude. Life and death.
The Terrible Beauty, in all its horror and magnificence, shines in my inner silence. I feel it within me, see it everywhere. And though I grieve to feel such pain, I rejoice in the beauty that comes with it.
For me, the balance is worth it, and inspires reverence for the joys as well as the sorrows. And for that, most of all, I am grateful.