I keep a book of quotations. It looks exactly like any other journal, but it’s for a different kind of journaling. Journaling with the words of other writers, if you will. Here I scribble down quotations from all kinds of books: poetry, theology, memoir, literary theory, fiction, you name it. I write down anything I want to remember.
Sometimes I use these quotations later, in my own writing or maybe just in conversation. But, it isn’t really about utility. It’s about beauty. Language can be so beautiful it stuns. However, I am generally reading so much, so quickly that I need a way to hold on to those beautiful bits that I just can’t bear to let wash down the stream of words, words, words.
Over the weekend, I added a new quotation to my book. It comes from the spiritual memoir Take This Bread by Sara Miles. Writing about her conversion as a “process” rather than a “moment,” she says that she struggled with belief: “It was tempting to rely on a formula – ‘accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and savior,’ for example – that became itself a form of idolatry and kept you from experiencing God in your flesh, in the complicated flesh of others. It was tempting to proclaim yourself ‘saved’ and go back to sleep.”
I’ve placed these words near a quotation from Annie Dillard. In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, she writes: “We wake, if we ever wake at all, to mystery.”
I cannot say comprehensively what it looks like to be a follower of Jesus who is fully awake. I do think that it has more to do with the mysteries of relationship than the certainties of formula. By mystery, I do not mean, doubt. Or, not exactly. I mean something closer to a journey of discovery that will never be finished on this side of life.
Over the years, my views on so many things have evolved. Actually, “evolved” might be putting it too delicately. In many cases, I have simply changed my mind. I’ve changed my mind about everything from politics and theology to whether or not I like blue cheese (turns out, I do). I’ve also decided that the number of questions I cannot answer far outweighs those that I can.
To be wide-eyed awake is to know that this life is not about having the right answer for everyone else’s wrong. Fully awake, I am aware of all that defies explanation. Bread and wine that is body and blood. My own self being made new. A divine love saying, rightly, that I have nothing to fear even while the earth is quaking.
Embracing mystery, I know that only the living Word is capacious enough to hold (in fact, to be) Truth. In humility, I accept that the little boxes in which I hold my little answers are only first steps toward a Maker who is more loving and more good than I ever dreamed. Unlike The Wizard of Oz, it is the waking life that is colorful, beautiful, and strange. Only the dream is black and white.