Need to Know
Rev. Linda Martella-Whitsett
“Beginnings are elusive things. Just when you think you have hold of one, you look back and see another, earlier beginning, and an earlier one before that. Even if you start with ‘Chapter One: I Am Born,’ you still have the problem of antecedents, of cause and effect. Why is young David fatherless? Because, Dickens tells us, his father died of a delicate constitution. Yes, but where did this mortal delicacy come from? Dickens doesn’t say, so we’re left to speculate. A congenital defect, perhaps, inherited from his mother, whose own mother had married beneath her to spite her cruel father, who’d been beaten as a child by a nursemaid who was forced into service when her faithless husband abandoned her for a woman he chanced to meet when his carriage wheel broke in front of the milliner’s where she’d gone to have her hat trimmed. If we begin there, young David is fatherless because his great-great-grandfather’s nursemaid’s husband’s future mistress’s hat needed adornment.”
Hillary Jordan, Mudbound
We make stuff up! Our complex computer-processors called “brains” are designed to connect ideas, insert meaning, and reach conclusions. Our brains carry out these functions seamlessly, clandestinely, repeatedly. Our brains are so good at fulfilling these functions that their connections, meanings, and conclusions seem perfectly reasonable to us. Our questions “Why did this happen?” or “Where did it begin?” lead us to answers that may or may not have any basis in fact.
If you want to have some fun experimenting with the unreasonableness of “reason,” you can look no further than to your relationships with family and close friends. I, for example, enjoy times my siblings and I tell stories from our childhood. Although we were raised in the same home, with the same parents, attending the same schools, and plenty of other “same” circumstances, you would hardly know it for our very different experiences. Without divulging the particulars, I imagine you can relate. Recall a time when you had a falling out with another person, and you learned they had taken offense to something you said, or did, which was completely unrelated to them. Or they felt sure they had heard a tone in your voice, or connected your encounter with the unfriendly neighbor they had spoken to earlier, or… can you see the brain cells firing in their hurry to connect and conclude?
So as not to indict someone else, can we recall times we reached conclusions that were off base? Some conclusions, some meanings, are benign, and others are mean-spirited or spiritually abusive. When we blame our present circumstances on poor parenting, we remain unforgiving and powerless. When we tell ourselves that we created our illness because of some poor thought or deed, we are engaging in metaphysical self-abuse.
Our brain’s incessant activity of connecting ideas, making meaning, and reaching conclusions supports our need to “know.” We like a clear path from beginning to ending but spiritual practice takes us deeper than starts and finishes. Spiritual practice: prayer, meditation, sacred singing, writing, among other contemplative regimens, untether us from the linear, logical, left-brained paths of certainty. We find ourselves suspended in spaciousness wherein everything is connected; meanings shift and play; and conclusions are too-tidy for the reality of our GODness.