Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Virtual Lives

In cleaning out some old files on my computer, I ran across this journal entry from five years ago (Feb. 2004). It stunned me. I remember very clearly what prompted the insights and thoughts at the time. Yet it spoke to me on another level now. See what you think:
Dr. Dewey [professor of New Testament] commented: “God is not in any book but in the Reality of our lives. Trouble is we tend to lead virtual lives. Wouldn't know Reality if it knocked... yet when it does, well, it does. When the baby decides to come, when the water breaks, when the contractions start, you have to face Reality and go with the waves... The stories [in the Bible] are told to help people identify the waves in their lives... the beauty and the horror...”

Last night I had such an "Aha" about what it means to lead a virtual life. I kept playing over and over again in my head: what does he mean we wouldn’t know Reality if it knocked? And then the realizations of my own virtual existence poured in.

How many times have I felt someone else’s feelings instead of my own when relating to that person? I find myself out of touch with what I want, need or think and totally adjust who I am to what that person says, does or is. How often have I pretended that a viewpoint made sense when underneath was a horror or shock that I knew wouldn’t be acceptable?

I’ve lived in a world of faith that put more emphasis on the invisible that I can’t know or touch or see than on what I can know, touch and see. I’ve invalidated what I know to fit with what I’m told I ought to think.

I’ve not trusted my experiences – I’ve allowed other people to tell me what is right or wrong. I let people tell me what was right in my sex life. I let people tell me that my reasons for a move [to Ohio from CA] wouldn’t be good enough – I must let God have his way. I was told that my ideas about a career were inferior to God’s ideas of a career for me. And ironically, those who play the virtual reality game well figure out ways to get both – getting what they want in the guise of God’s giving it to them. This is my particular world of the virtual. There must be others that aren’t bound in religion. [And yes, those are the ones I'm getting know now.]

Am I saying that I am the final word on my life, my authority comes from within? Scary thought! A hundred voices immediately jump in front of me to warn me of the danger of being autonomous.

Yet I might be. And it is such a deeply ingrained wrong way to think (being responsible for self) that I'm almost nervous to write it out. But the truth is that we all submit to authority – only most of the time we pick an illusion – as though we can submit to something outside of self – something we deem bigger and more real than our own authority, even though our personal sense of right and wrong guides even that choice. To own our responsibility, as Bonhoeffer suggests, is too big for most of us. We have been trained not to trust self and we willingly turn over our consciences, our guilt, our aspirations to the stewardship of others pretending that we are not choosing, are not in control, are not risking being bad or making bad decisions.

Who gets control?

Pop stars
Fear of Rejection

Reality: what is it? It’s the bottom rung on the ladder of experience and thought. What is the stuff that gets in the way? What do we heap up on top of it (like drugs to dull the pain of the contractions) to avoid living it and being responsible to it?

I love the idea of birth: the water breaking, the baby coming and going with the waves. Oh my God! I know that feeling totally. The baby is coming – I can’t stop it. I’ve lived this experience five times without drugs, without intervention. It was the most miraculous experience I’ve ever had. To let go of control and to completely yield to the process, to recognize that I could only cooperate or inhibit but that it would happen no matter what. My births were the most “in the moment” experiences of my life and the result was sheer exhilaration, power and joy!

What baby is on its way in my life right now? The profound disillusionment with literal faith is what is at work in me [Feb. 2004]. It’s shattering the old attachments and interpretations and ways of thinking… about everything.

Biblical literalism is such a scary place. The worldview that literalism represents has invaded every aspect of how I live and think. It has a strong hold on my thinking. I have a fog settle in any time I move out of it too far. And it is subtle. I thought I had let it go by letting the Bible be fallible and errant. But no! I then want to literally affirm the metaphorical truths in the same way I held to the literal history or geography.

I work hard to do things “right” so that I can control the outcomes. If I parent correctly, if I homeschool conscientiously, my children will not do drugs, they will love me, they will have friends and go on to college. I expect my obedience to the demands of these “promises” to pay off literally. No mystery. No chance to fail.

But what if Reality woke me up? What if there is more there than what I do? How will I respond? Will I suddenly wake up from my virtual existence and realize that there is something else more real?

And isn’t that what happens so often? My parents are “happily married” for 17 years and then Wham! Reality intrudes and my mom discovers my father in bed with another woman. What illusion were they living before? What virtual life had they tricked themselves into believing?

We pile up debt and believe we own things. We promise ourselves that next year will be better and then miss what’s happening today. What is today teaching me?

I find myself consulting experts and trusting someone else’s word over my own. I don’t want to follow my thoughts - I want someone to tell me how it is. But the baby is coming. I will be born. The “I” I’m supposed to fear, call sinful, distrust… that me is the baby this time. Can I trust that Reality is my greatest teacher, that I can find my way through life with as much honesty as I can muster? Direct access to reality! What a concept.

Dorothy Sayers says:

“And to every man and woman to whom integrity of mind meant more than material gain, defenders in the central keep of man’s soul, personal differences forgotten in the face of a common foe, to be true to one’s calling whatever follies one might commit in one’s emotional life, that was the way to spiritual peace.”

“There are a number of people who are disconnnected between what you do feel and what you ought to feel. It is fatal to pay the smallest attention to them.

“Yes, said Harriet. “And I am one of them. I disconcert myself very much. I never know what I do feel.”

“Oh I don’t think that matters, providing one doesn’t try to persuade oneself into appropriate feelings.”

Virtual living: persuading oneself into appropriate feelings.

And isn’t that the nature of not knowing Reality?

We have to learn the language game of the group we join and then reinterpret our experience of life in light of the new “proffered” reality. We aren’t free, we can’t speak, we don’t share. We conform, adhere, play by the new rules and find safety and protection from a direct experience of Reality.

This must be what E. M. Forster is about. He constantly challenges people to have their own opinions, to face their hypocrisy in the face of truth and beauty. Is it better to love a painting because someone famous paints it or because it speaks to you – you, the one for whom it was painted – the viewer, not the student or priest or tourist.

Oh my! It’s coming to me now. I know I may have a piece of it.

The truly free thinker, or free mind is the one that can stay open to self and not give in to the pressures of the group. On the other hand, we need each other to help us see reality. We need others to help us not be bound by our group think tendencies. But what are friends for? They aren’t supposed to exclaim loudly “How can you think that?” They are supposed to be the midwives of a birth. They don’t know ahead of time what the baby will be. If they do, they aren’t midwives any more. They are the ones who will rob you of the truth once it’s born. They will tell you what baby you should have had.

But real friends will marvel with you and help you see Reality as it unfolds in your life.

That’s it.
Hmmm. So many thoughts. I'll leave those for another day. What is your version of virtual living? How has Reality awakened you?


Kansas Bob said...

I liked this thought Julie:

"I’ve invalidated what I know to fit with what I’m told I ought to think."

I think that "knowing" is something we experience when we live from our heart.. "thinking" is something we do when we are not in touch with our heart.

Thinking is good when dealing with outer reality but no match for knowing when dealing with our inner realities.

Searching For My Willoughby said...

Some excellent points. This is very much where I am right now. The biggest leap of faith I ever took was when I started 'trying' to listen to my own voice/authority. Sometimes I still long for someone to just tell me what is, but then I almost immediately reject it. So I've been playing a virtual reality game? The analogy really seems to fit. I'm hopeful that someday I'll be able to embrace what 'I know' whether those around me support me or not. Reading your blog gives me hope that I'll survive this middle age faith crisis.

Heidi Renee said...

I am reading Bernard of Clairveaux and he talks about the 4 stages of love - “What are the four degrees of love? First, we love ourselves for our own sake; since we are unspiritual and of the flesh we cannot have an interest in anything that does not relate to ourselves. When we begin to see that we cannot subsist by ourselves, we begin to seek God for our own sakes. This is the second degree of love; we love God, but only for our own interests. But if we begin to worship and come to God again and again by meditating, by reading, by prayer, and by obedience, little by little God becomes known to us through experience. We enter into a sweet familiarity with God, and by tasting how sweet the Lord is we pass into the third degree of love so that now we love God, not for our own sake, but for himself. It should be noted that in this third degree we will stand still for a very long time… I am not certain that the fourth degree of love in which we love ourselves only for the sake of God may be perfectly attained in this life. But, when it does happen, we will experience the joy of the Lord and be forgetful of ourselves in a wonderful way…” (40)

what if we began to actually teach this and live this out - what if God really wants us to love ourselves for his sake? It's beginning to change everything for me.

julieunplugged said...

I remember reading Bernard's work in grad school and even wrote a paper on the four loves. Thanks for reminding me of that. I would love to meditate on what each of those phases/stages me to me at this juncture. Have you read Julian of Norwich too? Her writings had an impact on me as well.

Thanks for contributing a rich text.

julieunplugged said...

Searching, midlife is such a thorny time! I like how K-Bob talks about listening to the heart. When he used to first bring that up, I couldn't quite grasp it (mostly because it sounded - sorry Bob - trite to me). But over time, through his repetition and my own journey, I can see the wisdom of it. Heart - depths of experience, self-knowledge and trust. Not easy to get there with the cacophony of voices that clamor for attention in our heads.

Kansas Bob said...

The head is great for theology, math and science but so inadequate for the essentials of living and of life.

Sometimes I think that all I really have to give is my heart. When someone is in great pain all I can really do is feel with them.. when others struggle all I can do is encourage them.. when they cry all I can do is cry with them.

The older I get the more I realize that life is all about love and loving.. not that I know much about those things :)