I've spent a lot of time walking recently. Sure, I could illustrate my good choice by diagrams of trans-fats burned per 100 meters or calculate the reduction in my carbon footprint. Perhaps I've wanted to boycott the Tube for unfair wages in support of the recent strikes. But, in reality, my monthly pass expired the day that I left for a short European escapade, so I've been trying to save money.
Regardless of the reason, I have been walking around quite a bit. It's interesting, this walking thing. I feel primal, even a little engaged with nature, if you could call skyscrapers nature. Stepping off of the train - minding the gap, of course - and into the jungles of Shoreditch has given me a new perspective on the area, which has been pleasant for sure.
It's also provided time for me to think, about how I just finished a two month internship in London, and it left as soon as it came in, which certainly sounds like a platitude but is undoubtably true. As short as it was, though, I've had so many things happen in me that aren't necessarily describable. How could I possibly express how it feels to be in what is probably the best city in the world, working with some of the most incredible people that I've met doing something that I feel deeply passionate about? Perhaps the word is joy, although I would define it as a deep satisfaction, brought on by a deeper sense of intimate knowing, of God, myself and the people around me.
A week or so before my internship ended, I decided to make a trip down to Seaford, to visit the Seven Sister's Cliffs there on the English Channel. I think that I'd seen similar cliffs in Now Is Good last year, and had written down that if I were ever in England I would try and go there. After a train ride, maybe a nap or two and quite a bit of hiking, I came up onto a great hill covered with fresh, green grass that had been recently sheep-eaten, covering the horizon on the other side before dipping down a bit to the side. I came over the crest, and I sat down, and just looked at it.
Great, stark white cliffs towering defiantly against the sea, growing up from a jet black beach that was being beaten against by light blue waves, crested by white foam. Sea gulls dove up and down the pale walls, disappearing in that great expanse of color and reappearing against the horizon, touched by a brilliantly yellow sun that shown on the water beyond the shore.
On the edge of nothing
one decision away
from the end of decisions
So deep a trust,
as deep as late sight
down blank sheets of white,
empty and ancient
towards the adventures
in blue seas,
till you reach the edge
Life, beyond small senses
a knowing not shared
by language and account
But shared by love
Is this enigma
found in the denouement
of dying content?
It begins again
on a journey walked by many
known by few
Nothing compared to sitting up there, being whipped around by cold winds while I sat on the edge of those cliffs. It was terrifyingly beautiful, being a foot away from dying, and I don't think that I've ever felt a similar feeling. Truly, I found God in that place.
Sitting there, I entered into this place of quiet rest and contemplation about what's happened so far. The first time I heard of it was when a mentor told me about 'sitting by the fire, alone with God.' Everybody has a different place like that, certainly. For some, it's a chair at home or the minute or two of going through a car wash. For others, it's a place that appears and reappears unexpectedly, perhaps even contingent upon any myriad of different combinations of circumstances. Moses and Thoreau came to places like that both through trees, although Thoreau found peace by chopping it down and Moses found it on fire.
As those times of quiet peace sometimes come from a ticket to Seaford, they more often come through pain, or anything that which is difficultly different than the reality we have already perceived.
Either by a burning bush, a car ride, cliffs, a walk in the park, losing a job or a person, the avenues by which our reality are shaken take us beneath the surface of perception, into some place deeper than we've gone before. Tom Hanks' character in Cast Away took years on an island, sitting half naked alone with a bloody volleyball to find the true meaning of solitude and quietness, and of companionship. The father in Force Majeur took a few days of being accused of abandoning his family before he broke down in the living room, admitting that he couldn't hold it together on his own anymore, and that he needed his family. And, of course, Andrew Neiman in Whiplash took getting into a car crash, being expelled from school and being humiliated in front of an entire audience to take the stage for his denouement.
Going into this sort of place means that you have to come out. I've always been struck by the play 1984 based off of George Orwell's novel. The play's main character fights against a pre-ordained synthetic version of reality, encountering glimpses of the real world occasionally but eventually being assumedly subverted into the Utopian mindlessness that Orwell almost satirized.
Coming back out is akin to a miner, going down into unexplored caverns of beauty and knowledge, coming back out with jewels for the world that go on display through art and expression. It's in the vehicle of beauty, perhaps abstract at times but still a sort of Turing's Computer to the Enigma of some of life's mysteries.
A friend of mine asked me a little while ago what I'd learned the most about during my internship. I told him I had more perspective. I see now that Americans aren't the only people in the world (what?), that possibility is contingent upon what is perceived as possible, that we are so interconnected, even dependent upon each other for our own individual and communal progression and that God is so much bigger than I imagined him to be before. Tim Keller once spoke about a time in Isaiah's life when he went to worship, and to his surprise, God showed up. The ground shook and Isaiah was changed, certainly having a different perspective after an experience like that one. Tim said that in that moment, God changed from a concept to a reality for him. It is so refreshing to not be able to change God, as he is independently existing but so intimately in my life, changing me instead.
I've also learned that knowing and perspective in its purest form is when it comes without the excess. In other words, perspective in its clearest form is the most informing and driving. One can certainly see something seemingly precious through foggy glasses, as it were, but how much more precious is it when seen in full detail? I'm still convinced that the Danes are some of the happiest (satisfied) people on Earth because they've almost perfected minimalism. As Walt Whitman said once, "Simplicity is the glory of expression."
A sense of certainty in perspective does great, marvelous things. We were sitting down for Monday morning prayer this week at Kahaila and Paul marveled that the apostles Andrew and Peter, when Jesus told them to follow him, dropped their nets immediately and climbed out of their boat, going on a journey they could have never begun to expect. Why would somebody do something like that? Perhaps because as they were looking at that man standing on the shore, they saw the Light of the World. In the same way that Jesus took the blindness out of the poor man's eyes, the apostles were given perspective into something greater than what they knew to be on the surface.
Possibility abounds where perspective widens. Please don't brand me as a motivational speaker, because I'm far to cynical for that, but I've learned that there is more potential than we lend ourselves when it comes to grading the impact and experience we can have in this life. Working at Kahaila, we had a concentration on helping vulnerable women. We didn't do that so that we'd get customers because we were a charity, or so that we'd feel good inside after a good day's work with that, but because it alludes to something bigger and more eternal than what we see here, today. That happens through people and lives changed, and by not only ourselves but equipping others to step into their own potential. Tim Keller convinced me in The Prodigal God that the reason for service and the building up of others is to communicate a promise for a home, a person and a connection that is the ultimate hope, but isn't here yet.
We see the home when we enter into that place of deep knowing, rest and satisfaction. Glimpses, flashes to remind us that this is temporary, a vehicle to show perspective. At the beginning of Interstellar, the crew traveling through space see a figure transcending from the fifth dimension, reaching in through the window. Anne Hathaway's character takes its hand, encountering a future there that all of humanity would later enjoy, at the end of the film. That comes after Matthew McConaughey's character travels through deep space, goes into a black hole, the ultimate expression of our unknown and dark mystery, to find our race's salvation, rescuing us from ruin and delivering us into the final scene.
Watching the McConaissance has been great, but spectating in God's great play of love is so much greater. A mentor of mine once said that we do what we do here so that God's glory would be displayed, to the whole universe, as a resounding song of hope. And that's where we are, for now; here is brilliant, though. Be released into what God has for you, knowing that "the journey will take the whole long day," but we will all eventually be in that great City on a Hill, sitting on the edge of those great white cliffs.