When God Directs Your Lousy Film
Well, for one thing, we are not only starring in our own movie, but usually costarring in at least one other film. And we are supporting actors in a few additional films, and extras in countless others. Every day we have walk-ons and cameos, and it is even possible for the outcome of another person's whole film to turn on our little cameo. (I am reminded of my own GagDad, who, in every cameo, tried to give the other person a chuckle.)
I have evaluated patients who swear this is true of me, although I generally have no way of confirming it, since I don't see them again (occasionally one has written me a letter confirming the ongoing transformation that began that day). At any rate, I can't tell you how many times a patient has said that the evaluation was a life-changing experience -- even (if they are religious) that providence must have been behind it. (I'm not referring to ongoing psychotherapy, in which the change is much more understandable.)
My response is always the same: that there is an old rabbinical saying to the effect that God spends most of his time arranging meetings and marriages. Once one is sensitive to this idea, one looks at the bit players who enter one's film in an entirely different way, for each one could be a vertical emissary bearing a critical message!
If you think about it, I'm sure you can remember "chance meetings" on which your life turned on a dime. When this happens, it is always because the person was central in allowing you to find and express a part of yourself -- or perhaps your Self, period. As I have mentioned before, one of the primary tasks of good parenting is to do this for your child -- not to try to make him into some preconceived image, but to help him articulate and develop his true self, whatever it happens to be.
The psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas refers to it as finding one's "idiom," or one's unique language for expressing oneself. The bottom line is that we generally must first discover our "inside" on the "outside." At first it may seem as if it is entirely external, but as we grow and assimilate it, we realize that it was actually an externalized aspect of our deepest interior.
Indeed, some readers will undoubtedly have had this experience with the blog. At first it's just a nebulous but nevertheless vivid experience. Let's call it (?!), since its precise nature will vary from individual to individual. It can range from, say, feeling as if someone else is, for the first time, putting one's most intimate but unarticulated thoughts into words, to wanting to throw up, as was the case with Mrs. G. when she first met me in 1983.
Indeed, I can relate to the latter reaction, because this is exactly how I felt about Dennis Prager when I first began listening to him on the radio. At first we agreed on nothing. Not only that, but he really made me angry, which was an indication that something else was going on, since I couldn't stop listening.
Today, probably two decades later, we agree at least 95% of the time, not because he is an external influence, but simply because we are coming from the same "interior place," so to speak -- a place to which he introduced me. In fact, I would say that no one has had a bigger influence on me exoterically. Esoterically it's a different martyr, but the process is identical, i.e., stumbling upon people who were able to articulate my deepest self, and without whom I would never have been able to do so, e.g., Unknown Friend, Schuon, etc.
In this regard, these externalized influences function very much like midwives who assist you in the birth of yourself. The analogy is quite literal, and the metaphor of pregnancy quite apt. At first you might be spiritually barren, or indiscriminately promiscuous, or not interested in having children. Then you unexpectedly become pregnant when a Good Seed randomly falls into your soil. The embryo, at first exceedingly tiny and fragile, slowly grows inside of you. And even after it's born, it will require a lot of extra-youterine care before it can truly stand up on its own and find for itsoph.
Obviously the idiomatic language of the true Self is not limited to the written word. I'm thinking of, for example, Timothy Ware (the future Kallistos Ware), who wandered into an Orthodox church in his late teens, and in a flash, had a deep experience of being "home." Let's see if I can find it.... It's in The Inner Kingdom, an excellent book, by the way.
This is perfect: the title of the chapter is Strange Yet Familiar: My Journey to the Orthodox Church. On the one hand, the journey is "familiar," for what could be more familiar than oneself? And yet, the journey is surpassingly strange, because it touches on providential forces that seem to be behind the outwardly "random" event -- as if one's movie has been temporarily hijacked by God, so to speak.
Ware has a quote at the top of the chapter from a hymn that is sung on Christmas eve: Heaven and earth are united today, which goes directly to the idea of our little movie being aligned with the celestial drama, at least for a moment, the moment of "divine birth" (or, in Eckhart's language, the eternal birth of the Word in the ground of the soul; for this Word, when deployed in time, is very much active, not static, therefore, more like a movie than a photograph).
I'll just quote from the story, and italicize some passages that particularly convey what I'm trying to say: "I can remember exactly when my personal journey to Orthodoxy began. It happened quite unexpectedly one Saturday afternoon in the summer of 1952..." He happened to pass a dilapidated old Gothic church that he had never before noticed, and decided to wander in.
His initial impression was of darkness and emptiness. But as his eyes adjusted to the dark, he noticed the icons illuminated by flickering candles, a choir singing out of view, and a few other things.
"My initial impression of an absence was now replaced, with a sudden rush, by an overwhelming sense of presence. I felt that the church, so far from being empty, was full -- full of countless unseen worshipers, surrounding me on every side. Intuitively I realized that we, the visible congregation, were part of a much larger whole, and that as we prayed we were being taken up into an action far greater than ourselves, into an undivided, all-embracing celebration that united time and eternity, things below with things above."
Like I said, (?!).
Then, after leaving the church, "I was struck by two things. First, I found that I had no idea how long I had been inside. It might have been only twenty minutes, it might have been two hours; I could not say. I had been existing on a level at which clock-time was unimportant."
He also noticed the external world and sounds of the street, which "engulfed me all at once like a huge wave.... I had been in another world where time and traffic had no meaning; a world that was more real -- I would almost say more solid -- than that of twentieth century London to which I now abruptly returned." (Notice how the ?! is now transposed, so that it is the profane, secular world that shocks, not the spiritual world.)
Despite the fact that this had been a Russian Orthodox church and that he had understood not a word of the service, "as I left the church, I said to myself with a clear sense of conviction: This is where I belong; I have come home."
And here is the money quote, a good place to leave off for today: "Sometimes it happens -- is it not curious? -- that, before we have learnt anything in detail about a person, place or subject, we know with certainty: This is the person I shall love, this is the place where I need to go, this is the subject that, above all others, I must spend my life exploring."