How can it be? (Lost in the cosmos)
“I will be glad and rejoice in your love,
For you saw my affliction
And knew the anguish of my soul.
You have not handed me over to the enemy
But have set my feet in a spacious place.”
I’ve been frustrated in my efforts to share the Gospel lately. My most passionate words seem to be filtered through the lens of what people want to see, the entrenched judgments they made long ago. As the Father has carried me to mountaintop heights where I truly tasted and finally fully believed that His love is better than life, heights where I realized yes, yes: I would die before I would deny the absolutely transcendent, ineffable, prismatic beauty of Jesus Christ and the infinite font of joy that is His love, and I was left stuttering and weeping, on my knees, stultified by the sheer deluge of it all, I’ve felt fortified by Paul’s words: Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold (2 Cor 3:12). Yet my most earnest, impassioned appeals seem to have fallen on unhearing ears lately (at least apparently, at least for now). Although I know there may be a harvest in time, and with prayer, enthusiasm has sometimes yielded to frustration: You don’t hear what I’m saying! Why can’t you see this?! It’s right in front of you! I want to cry. Why are you so blind?!
And I remember my own desperate blindness before I knew the pure beauty of Jesus Christ.
I remember distinctly the moment I finally believed there was a reality beyond this world, when my stony empiricism, vanity and selfishness was cracked wide open and I was left dumbfounded, newborn, knowing something monumental beyond monumental had occurred but utterly unable to grasp it. “There’s so much more than I ever thought there was,” I repeated again and again, through a veil of snot and tears. I’m not proud to say drugs were involved… but He will truly travel anywhere to reach us, and my insular, self-obsessed, compressed world would never be the same. Truly, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but only the beginning, and only if we submit. I didn’t. Or perhaps I pretended to. Like Israel, I remained hard-hearted and quickly turned to other gods and began to cobble together a cosmology of my own authoring that professed belief in God yet was really only a smorgasbord of new age and yogic philosophies, and which kept me in control. I still believed The Bible was regressive claptrap. I was on to the good stuff, the deep stuff, the high and mystical stuff.
As much as God’s presence had been real to me in that earlier epiphanic moment - a presence at once fearful, thundering and chastening but also tender and somehow more familiar than anything of this world - God became a reality to be accessed and manipulated, whether through yoga, meditation, or drugs, rather than a gloriously relational and real and infinitely holy yet astoundingly merciful and loving Lord of all creation. I demanded heaven yet refused the Gate, and unsurprisingly it wasn’t long before I found myself in hell.
I remember one night after I’d dropped acid by myself in my apartment. I was in my early twenties, and convinced I was plumbing the depths of innerspace, or the endocosmos, as I liked to put it. Certain I was spelunking in the outer caverns of Paradise, drawing closer and closer to God, I watched molecules dance before my eyes, beautiful glittering prismatic geometries blooming and receding, overlaying one another in a gluttonous visual feast. But I was losing my mind. It was like I’d sieved myself through a honeycomb and now the disparate pieces were drifting out on a sea of chaos, the waves carrying them farther and farther apart from one another. There was no anchor, and, in my personal cosmology, there was no one to help.
I remember what happened next so clearly to this day. As I sat there on my couch, looking out my window, idly watching the transformed street below, in which swam a million rainbow lattices, the softest, gentlest, most compassionate voice resounded through my mind.
You don’t have to keep doing this to yourself, you know, it said. God said. It could have been no one else. I was convinced I was on the right path, even as a thousand demons settled into their new home within me, whispering silibant lies at opportune times.
I began weeping. No one had ever spoken to me so kindly. I realized how desperate, how thirsty I was for a kind word, for living water. But the demon was in deep. The drugs went by the wayside as I met Steven and we had our beautiful children, but still I clung to lies and arrogance. I was devout, almost obsessive, about practicing yoga. It was nearly catastrophic for me if I had to miss a class. And a while ago I read Arrow’s birth story and cringed at the pretentious, ridiculously solemn blather about chakras and the Hindu goddess Kali I had included in the narrative. Not long after her birth, we’d traveled to Topanga Canyon for an art show. I was elated - I’d always revered Topanga as a mythical epicenter of hippiedom, and it didn’t disappoint. Roadside crystal shops abounded. Mandalas decorated the sides of houses and a city festival promised all the green juice and new age healing modalities one could imagine. You couldn’t swing a cat without hitting a certified Reiki healer. And yet during our whole trip I felt a fundamental unease, which would often mount into near-panic attacks. What was wrong with me? I wondered. I’d finally arrived!
As a family, we’d been dabbling hesitantly with attending a Christian church in that season - Steven more than me, but I’d begrudgingly followed his lead. During the Topanga trip he suggested that we attend a Sunday morning service at the only Christian church in Topanga. I reluctantly agreed, but was embarrassed about it as we informed our hosts of our plans. At the church we met a tiny ragtag congregation of about ten people, most of them over 50. The pastor and his wife were stunning paragons of blond SoCal beauty, and suddenly I was overcome with shame and fear and panic that was totally incommensurate with my surroundings. What is wrong with me? I asked again, as my nervousness erupted into a full-blown panic attack. Now I know: demons don’t like to be in church, and everything in me was compelling me to run out the door as fast as I could.
But I knew I couldn’t. I excused myself to the nursing room with Arrow where I wept profusely as the service went on. I was so terrified and lost, but I didn’t know I could cry out to God. I don’t know that I believed there was really anyone there.
Somehow, I got myself together, and after the service Steven and I chatted with the pastor for awhile. He was from Santa Monica, but was traveling up to Topanga every Sunday as a kind of interim pastor to try and help the church grow, he said. I tried to nod politely and follow the conversation, but I was still desperate to just get out of there, and my mind drifted away.
When it returned, the pastor was discussing Topanga and how it was a hotbed of new age beliefs, and he said “I’ve had so many people come to me for help and they’re just tormented. They’re just tormented,” he repeated. “But they can’t accept Jesus Christ.”
That’s me! I screamed inside my head. THAT’S ME! YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT ME! HELP ME! I nearly cried in desperation. But though my heart was crying out I kept silent and nodded in faux sympathy.
I could write so much more about my long journey to Christ - made long and arduous only by my own resistance and pride - but those were pivotal moments, brought to mind when Steven asked me the other night what I would say if someone asked me why I believed in Jesus Christ. Because I tried nearly every other conceivable path and they all led to death, I said. Because only in Christ have I found the fulfillment of all my heart’s yearnings. And I was able to offer this analogy to respond to those who say there is truth in his teachings, but one needn’t give their life to Him or declare Him their Lord and Savior:
It’s like an extract of orange flavor versus an orange. The extract holds a residue of the flavor, but none of the body of the orange - the texture of the rind, the way the fruit breaks apart, the juice contained in tiny ovoid chambers, the way the oil scents your fingers for hours after you’ve consumed it. The extract contains what can not even necessarily be reasonably termed a part of the whole; it just contains a shallow, hollow echo of some distant memory “orange”, bitter on the tongue, which has nearly lost all meaning instead of the glorious multisensory experience that is holding and peeling and eating an orange. The branch is off the vine.
In many ways, I believe the indiscriminate, confused Brahmanic pastiche that is the new age / yogic world of thought is the ideal “spirituality” for a postmodern West, as it was for my postmodern, cynical mind. It requires no real commitment or sacrifice, and is committed to a kind of false humility / gullibility that is offended by truth claims yet is open to nearly any idea (dolphins are hyperintelligent, highly evolved beings from outer space? Sure! Jesus Christ? Oh hell, no!). It purports to exalt an ultimate goal of evolution and love, yet is muddied by a million differing ideas on how this is to be achieved.
Jesus Christ offers us One Way: Him. It’s so beautiful and simple yet neither naive or flat, as I had scoffed in my new age days. Instead, following Him is full of infinite complexity of ever greater heights and adventures. The new age, on the other hand, is labyrinthine and complicated, with a thousand gates that lead nowhere.
There’s a difference between complexity and complicatedness, to my mind. Complexity is patterned, ordered; like the unfolding of a fractal. There is a Creator behind it, a good God who holds it all. Complicatedness has no creator, but is manipulated into being by Satan; it is our sin, our turning away from God, our distortion of things, our pride. We think we know the way, can forge it on our own, but then we pull desperately on a thousand tangled strings which turn up empty in our hands, leading nowhere and untethered to anything. New age folks love to substitute “The Universe” for God, crafting an idol that is vast and impersonal, yet strangely capable of granting wishes and telling you things. It gets weird. What a profound relief to realize I wasn’t alone in the world with only this vague, unfeeling “Universe”, but held and loved and redeemed by a God with a deep investment in me individually. Yes, God’s love is oceanic and fearfully vast - yet it is also highly, almost absurdly particular and personal.
But the god of this age blinded my mind. I saw Christianity as an absurd regression, a crutch, antiquated and unsophisticated. I, on the other hand, was plumbing the depths and heights and hidden places of the universe. I was a mystic, a cosmonaut, one of the courageous, in my mind. Thinking of the mask of arrogance I wore then makes me weep now, because the truth is that I was absolutely lost, terrified and alone, assailed on every side. What a merciful God we serve. He is patience is truly beyond our comprehension, as he wants no one to perish but everyone to come to repentance.
How can it be?! How can this lavish love exist, so full and sumptuous and warm and radiant and astounding, this love which hangs itself on a cross and endures that which cannot be endured for someone who spit in His face?! How can it be? And yet it is. I promise it is. It is better, sweeter, fuller than you can ever imagine yet feels like home. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. I pray that you will believe me and believe the one He sent. Come home.