Fusions in the Void, Part 13. East and West: Children Of a Different Culture

In the most challenging moments of our lives, when that void is at its most vast point…

When we’ve leapt from the one side of the cliff, willing ourselves across the chasm and find ourselves suspended between, hanging for a moment like Wile E. Coyote, recognizing that no amount of Acme Rocket Fuel will get us across …

When we try to connect with a culture that isn’t our own and our fingers stretch out to find some sort of purchase, not even a grip or handhold, but even something to touch…

And we don’t feel anything, we don’t feel ourselves connecting with anything, the void is deepest between ourselves and even those we’ve always known, the people who have loved us as best they know how

Yet there is a gap between East and West …

We become the bridge across the gorge. We become the one to whom others can connect.

A third-culture child never does truly reach the other side, because at some point in their youth, there was a Void, and God created something out of nothing there. God said, let there be West and let there be East and somehow in flight between the two we never quite left and never quite arrived. Instead, in that void, God did something new. God fused East and West in us, and made children of a different culture.

I perhaps a bit vainly say that this third culture is really the culture that most mirrors Heaven. If we believe that Jesus was both God and man, 100% each, somehow a 200% being, which I cannot really explain, then we have to believe that somehow Jesus also made a perfect bridge. So those of us who are in that painful, vacuous spot and see nothing, feel nothing at our fingertips, are being invited to connect in the same way. Cultures are not static. So when you are part of the formation of a new culture, you’re on the dynamic cutting edge of culture itself.

When God makes something out of nothing, it’s significant. God makes things every day. New Chinese babies, new Brazilian babies, New Palestinian and Israeli babies. New American babies. New babies with fine, soft skin of every race, of every creature. New butterflies, new rainbows, new sunsets, new unicorns.

Well, not the unicorns, but if God did, then he’d be making something out of nothing, and that’s what’s extra special about being in the void itself: you get to see what God will make in a vacuum. The point is that when God fuses something like East and West to create something Central, God has done something new in the void.

Fusions in the Void, Part 12. Summer and Winter: A new spring

Fitting that this blog is set to release on December 1. I know that winter officially begins later, but December 1 is that day you wake up and say, “Well, I can’t fool myself any longer into thinking it’s fall.” I love autumn, I never really want it to go away. I don’t particularly like winter:

get out your shovel and dig
get out your shovel and dig…

There are days I don’t like summer, either. Our house doesn’t have air conditioning, but by controlling when the windows are open or shut we can keep it fairly cool, around 72 degrees, except for on the really hot and humid days we suffer one or two weeks of every August. Then, I sit in my office with drops of perspiration rolling down my back and wish for October to come again.

Natural cycles are like this. Even in the desert the rain comes, just enough to sustain cacti or lizards. Then, times and places change, nothing’s ever static. There are places in the world where drought is this unexpected thing. Australia and California are prime examples of places that were breadbaskets but are struggling for water.

In the Void, nothing seems to be happening. It’s emotionally and spiritually dry like summer, or dead and cold like winter, never quite what you wish it was. That’s the definition of being in the void, or in a valley experience. The imagery is palpable when you feel this way; you can’t function even in what you know you can do well because your locks are frozen, the air hurts your lungs (And Christians sing “this is the air I breathe/ your holy presence, living in me”). But what if it’s painful to inhale anything? What if you feel like you’re sweating?

In the void, God is fusing summer and winter to create a new spring. Even though fall is what I like best– fall seems like a less rainy springtime– we all hunger for spring. New growth, new life. Looking back at the beginning of this series, we talked about that passage in Genesis 1:2 where the spirit of God is hovering over the waters. The Spirit is calculating the perfect blend for us: a sun just far enough away that in winter we have a tolerable temperature, but in summer as well. On average, the temperature of springtime, we have a perfect blend of hot and cold, summer and winter, that gives us the spring time needed for new growth.

When it’s hot, or cold, in a spiritual or emotional way, it’s our invitation to remember that spring is delicately balanced as the world tilts so that things will grow. Hang on to that reminder. Summer, you can sweat it out. Winter can’t last forever. Spring will come again, because God knows how to Fuse stuff in the Void of your life.

(this series began October 3– see the archives in the left-hand toolbar to work your way back to the beginning.)

Fusions in the Void, Number 11. Music and Silence.

If you could fuse music and silence, what would it sound like?

The quietest place on earth is a studio at Orfield Laboratories in Minnesota, with a negative decibel reading. It would actually drive you crazy: nobody’s been able to stay inside it longer than 45 minutes. Most people duck out in just a few seconds. You think you want peace and quiet? You really want peace.

In contrast, one of the noisiest places on earth is CenturyLink field in Seattle on a day when Seattle’s beloved home team, the Seahawks, plays football there. It’s so loud the crowd is thought of as a twelfth man, essentially their job is disruption of the opponent’s offensive plays. And it works.

In the Void, the dark night of the soul of our lives, there comes a restlessness. In the Old Testament, King Saul enjoyed hearing a young shepherd named David play his harp. It eased Saul’s troubled spirit (but not so much after he realized David was turning into a rival). On the other hand, Elijah went through a variety of very loud storms (fire, earthquake, wind) and finally in the stillness heard the small voice of God.

If God’s voice is still and small, but God’s words can rock your world so deeply, as though you were in a mosh pit, then there’s some sort of fusion only God can do. It’s a fusion between music and silence. Something spiritually resonant. That’s what you’re looking for when you say you want some peace and quiet, but it’s also what you want when you say you want to listen to some “old time rock and roll, the kind of music that soothes the soul.”

In that void of Genesis before time, God fused all kinds of things as God’s spirit hovered over the water. Now, when your life is dry like desert, you may feel that you’re in the quietest room in the world, about to go crazy, or in the loudest stadium, unable to block out the sound, but somewhere, somehow in the void God fuses music and silence to create a resonating peace. You may feel more like Saul or more like Elijah (neither of them were having their happiest days) but your results are driven by what you’re listening to.

Now, I’m not saying don’t listen to dark, depressing music. And I’m not saying you now have to go find a quiet spot. I’m not entirely sure what I think any random person ought to do. All I’m suggesting is that you may want to be aware that God can create a fusion while you’re in the void. I cannot say how you will or might find it. (You would come up with your own ideas if I was coaching you). All I know is that it is there. It is hearable — or perhaps I should say, it is experience-able, because it is half-silent. You might well hear it while listening to music. You might well hear it practicing and embracing times of silence. If you’re used to doing one, try the other, and look for it. A still small voice, a fusion between music and silence which brings resonating peace.

Fusions in the Void, Number 10. Hot and Cold: The Eye of a Storm

Tornadoes suck. (Why not start with a bad pun?)

Cyclones, eddies, hurricanes, tempests, tornadoes, twisters, typhoons, vortices, and whirlwinds: In the middle there’s a void. A vacuum.

When they begin in the air, it’s with a clash of hot and cold systems. The cold shoves itself under the hot; the hot leapfrogs over the cold. Their push-of-war creates a rush, a cycle, a spin like a washing machine, spinning to the point that centrivical force takes over. High winds. Destruction in its wake.

And yet, in the center that void. That calm in the eye. In this case the void is a place where calm reigns in the midst of hot and cold. Hot and cold fuse not in the void but around it. It is said that one of the most frightening moments in a hurricane is the eye. Everything gets calm– too calm. Eerily calm.

What’s good in this? Where is the hope I’ve talked about so many times? First of all, in the eye, you’re midway through. If you’ve identified yourself in a Void Season (dark night of the soul or valley experience) then you’re already half done.

Jesus said that we should either be hot or cold, that if we’re lukewarm he’d spit us out. It’s true whether we’re talking about a cold  drink of water or hot tea, either way we sort of want our beverages to refresh us by either cooling us off or warming us up. The void arises when hot and cold attempt to mix. You can’t slam them together and have lukewarm air without a fight, without something getting knocked about. Eventually the environment in a single place is going to get a shift. You will have a change as the storm moves through. If it was humid and hot, now it will be drier and cooler, or vice versa. Things won’t stay the same. Whatever life was like, when the storm passes, it will be different. There’s no avoiding it. In the Void experiences in life, we have this moment were everything is still. We don’t face choices — not yet. We will come out the other side of the storm with decisions to make, and those decisions will be made well if we embrace who we’re becoming while we’re in the middle. Or, at least, embrace that we’re becoming something new.

If you don’t embrace the idea that you’re changing after the store is over, that a shift is coming, you’re liable to pick up your folding chair and try to take it along with you wherever the eye of the storm moves. In other words, you stay in the place of limbo longer, rather than accepting the idea that you’ve got to get through another half of this storm before you can proceed. Once the storm passes, you’ll take stock of your surroundings. Perhaps some things will be left untouched. Other things will be knocked down, some of them unrecognizable. It’s a chance to start fresh. I’m not saying it’s not scary. I know it’s terrifying! But the only way to find out what the landscape looks like and how that’s going to change your life is to move through the second half.

The Void can last a long time. Sometimes people prolong it by trying to stay in the middle of the Eye. Counter-intuitive as it may sound, it’s really quite comfortable in spite of its emptiness and eeriness. At least, in the Eye, we don’t have to face the future too much.

What’s God doing in the Void, in the Eye? He’s fusing hot and cold. Because eventually they will mix together. Not so that you can be lukewarm, but the storm doesn’t last. Storms play out. The hot and cold mixed, things settle down. God’s fusing things we can’t see while we sit in the middle of a crazy wind and listen.

In fact, God is in the Void with us, as Elijah discovered:

“Go forth and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12After the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. 13When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:12)

Elijah then catalogs his feats. And God ignores them. All the instructions Elijah gets from God at this point involve sweeping reform. He’s instructed to crown two new kings and his successor is selected. What was God doing in the middle of all that storm? He was shuffling the deck. And He didn’t particularly care what Elijah’s track record was. It was time for something new.

We expect that in the Void God is out there throwing earthquakes around, when really he’s sitting right inside it watching to see whom we’re becoming. And He’s shuffling the deck. Be ready to have your track record ignored. It’s not because we serve an unloving God, it’s just that change is inevitable after the Void. Embrace that. A new day is coming.

Fusions in the Void, Part 9. Iron Hand and Carbon Heart: Steeled Resolve

He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.

— Louis Nizer, 1948 (often misattributed to St. Francis of Assisi) 

The longer title here is “Iron Hand and Carbon Heart: A Steeled Resolve”

Steel is made of iron and carbon (and small amounts of other elements). Adding chromium-oxide gets you stainless steel.

The Iron Age began around 1200 B.C. in Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) and steel came along roughly eight hundred years later in China. Iron is convertible to steel and becomes strong because of its excess of ductility –meaning it has properties which allow it to be stretched into wire. In other words, if you take a cylinder of iron and pull from either end, it will stretch a bit before it breaks. You can add carbon without losing structural integrity, and it makes the entire thing harder.

So what do I mean by the phrase “iron hand and carbon heart”? First of all, I’m not talking about the old cliche ruling with an iron fist. The work we do has to have a certain strength. The control we exert via our hands includes a measure of strength, but also skill, dexterity, flexibility and malleability. When we close our hand up into a fist, we become unreceptive to other influences. We think we’re getting harder, but really we’re getting weaker. More breakable. Cooler heads will prevail: the goal in keeping our heads cool is that we must remember that our hands really do have an excess of ductility. Something really could be added to what we do. Effort alone won’t get us where we hope to go, and we have to keep our hand open and extended to take hold of it.

Who would think you could add something as organic as carbon to make iron harder? It must have been discovered by accident! But this is our heart. This is the human component. Empathy and passion, things of the heart, things of carbon, must be added to our strength, skill, dexterity, etc., if we are to work as artists at whatever we do. This is no accident, but it’s also no easy task.

In the Void we experience this pain as though we were being stretched into a wire. Twisted, spun out, narrowed. What’s happening in our hearts here is that we’re finding out what we’re really made of. I read a secular coach’s blog once in which he asked the question regarding finding purpose in life: “What sort of sh*t sandwich are you willing to eat?” In the Void, you’re finding that out. You’re finding out just how far you can stretch, and you’re also mixing in your carbon. The minute you can’t take it anymore, you quit, you break. But if you can take it, and mix the carbon of your heart in with the skills you’ve learned, then you’re right on top of this fusion. The iron of your hand and the carbon of your heart. They come together in the Void to leave you with a steeled resolve. When you emerge from the void, you’re (mostly) impervious to the ill effects of success. Instant success means you didn’t get the fusion, you didn’t get steel. People who have instant success don’t have an appreciation for it, and they don’t maintain their stainless resolve to continue doing excellent work the way someone who has a steeled resolve will do. They know that the success isn’t about them, it’s about what happened in the Void. It’s about a fusion they fought for.

Paper beats rock, and steel beats iron.

Fusions in the Void, Part 8. Spirit and Body: A True Being

The ancient Greeks liked to separate the body and soul. It’s a nice idea: holiness is for the spirit, while the body is designed for pleasure.

But the dividends of a lifestyle geared for pleasing the body as a separate entity from the spirit are lackluster at best. That’s an interesting word, lackluster, meaning without a shine or polish. Life, for those who throw everything into bodily pleasure, ends up being dull. You can see it in addicts’ hair and eyes, their skin tone. Dullness. So, right, we all know what it is to be a little bit addicted at least. Maybe a video game had your attention to the detriment of your grades, or booze had a hold on you. I’ve been there too, and it’s not fun or easy to break out of.

When we become reactionaries at a fundamental level to this, we end up denying ourselves any pleasures at all. Various religious societies have encouraged people not to have sex, even when married, unless they are intentionally procreating. They have encouraged people never to drink a drop, or to not enjoy a sporting event, or whatever it may be. Perhaps you’ve been there too, a place where the pursuit of holiness has made you a complete puritan. I submit that the same thing happens. Our life takes on a lackluster quality, we eat beans because some people in the world are poor, we never dance because it might awaken something within our hearts, we eschew anything which might lead to lust or covetousness or what have you. And we grow dull.

In the Void, God’s Spirit hovered over the waters, making fusions of Godself, perfect spirit, with the mud, the earth, forming heavenly bodies in both the literal sense as well as the figurative (pick-up-line) sense. If I said you had a beautiful body, would you hold it against me? But there’s a reason we call bodies “heavenly” in this sense too. They reflect the goodness of the Truest Being.

I promoted fasting in my last blog on Fire and rain — purity. Today I promote also a step towards the sensual. Even in the depression and sadness of a void, or desert time in our lives, when we hurt spiritually and psychologically and hope and hunger for righteousness, we can get a lot out of a healthy, balanced enjoyment of physical pleasures. Jesus came out of the desert, where he’d been fasting, and performed his first miracle: he turned water into wine (how’s that for some fusion)! Even then, he said it wasn’t his time yet – he was still in many ways coming out of that desert experience, but he made time and gave energy to a party. So. Make love with your spouse. Find some good wine and cheese and share it with someone. Run until you break through the pain and find that “second wind” or runner’s high. Find a part of life that’s pleasing to your body and watch how it fuses with your spirit. It doesn’t mean the Void is over. I’m not suggesting wallowing in an addiction, and I certainly don’t think that doing these things will pull you “out of a funk” but sometimes we get so down in our spiritual quest that we forget to do something that just feels good. Let God fuse something within us; our bodies with our spirit, as we, too, become truer beings.

Previous sections of this series were published on these dates: #7 Fire and Rain on Oct 27, #6 Stone and Water on Oct 20, #5 Sword and Flesh on Oct 17, #4 Distance and Closeness on Oct 13, #3 Resting and Motion on Oct 10, #2 God and Darkness on Oct 6, #1 Fusions in the Void on Oct 3. See October archives on adamgfleming.com.

Fusions in the Void, Number 7. Fire and Rain: Purity

There are several ways to detoxify the physical body, and perhaps they serve either as a metaphor or even quite literally also for other ways of looking at the body, such as the spiritual, emotional or psychological body.

In the void experience, everything’s adrift. Laws such as gravity don’t even seem to work. I’m talking about those times in life when we feel like we’re in a spiritual vacuum.

The physical body gets rid of toxins via fasting and by sweat. Either way, for the body to reset it needs to stop ingesting so that it can focus on evacuation for a time. When fire and rain fuse, you get steam. Steaming out the toxins in a sweat lodge is a great way to experience fusion in the void. Spiritually, what do fire and rain mean as a metaphor? If you’re in a void, what do you bring together to create spiritual steam, to heat it up and eliminate toxins? Exercise, fasting, all these things are known to assist not only the physical body but also nourish the spiritual body as well.

Steam. In the water, toxins are trapped and evaporate through the skin. In the void God does provide fusion. It’s not a fusion to move forward, yet. It’s a fusion designed for a purification process. You can take a proactive engagement with this particular fusion. It requires little effort. In fact, in some ways it takes more effort to eat than to fast. (Cook, sit down for a meal, wash your dishes.) In some ways it takes more energy to be unfit, to not sweat, than it does to get out and walk for an hour, or to go to a sauna. (Certainly not at first).

I am not advocating a lifestyle where you never eat and also run ten miles a day. All things in balance. Fire and rain fuses in the void for purity.

Fusions in the Void, Part 4. Distance and Closeness: Vision

Previously in the series: 1. Fusions in the Void; 2. God and Darkness: The Future; 3. Resting and Motion: Power. See archives.

Today — Distance and Closeness: Vision

Watch a bird of prey sitting still. Their head bobs now and then. They are taking a rapid sampling, triangulating the depth of field of their vision with one eye. Our eyes, both in front of our head, make an automatic triangle (two eyes plus the object make three points) with whatever we’re seeing, and that triangle is what gives us depth perception. We can tell how far away something is without bobbing our heads. Eagles have to read two points with one eye, so they bob their heads to get a reading.

Butterflies and moths do this with their olfactory nerves. Their flight patterns seem odd and irregular because they are doing the same thing that birds of prey do: taking readings from two different spots, then redirecting based on their sense of distance to the next flower or mate.

The Void is a place where distance and closeness blend into each other. We feel when we are in a spiritual and psychological space of blindness that we have no vision at all. We are, in the present moment, unable to sense either distance or closeness, but paradoxically, we are both far and near from our objectives, our goals, our dreams.

God is developing vision in something very much like a photographic darkroom. For things to come together when the lights come back on, a photograph needs darkness to develop. You may feel that you cannot see six inches in front of your face, so distance and closeness have fused to the point that life itself is imperceptible.

This same thing happens when we close both eyes to sleep. We rest, we prepare our minds for vision. We dream, in our sleep, refocusing our energies and psyche for the next day. It is in this not-seeing state, this Void where distance and closeness seem to be lost, that they actually fuse together, allowing our spirit and psyche to triangulate and find depth and direction. One day, when the Void moment (or decade) is over, we open our eyes and we see the path clearly. The Void has allowed our picture to develop, and the lines are sharp again. This is the hope the photographer has when she turns off the lights in the darkroom and begins to work. This is the hope the eagle has when he scans the ground for prey from his aerie. This is the hope that the spiritually yearning voyager has when nothing is clear, and nothing feels comfortable — the closeness pressing, the distance vacuous: This hope is that in the Void, Distance and Closeness are fusing to create Vision. Dawn will come no matter how long the night may seem, no matter what terrors the dark may hold.

Fusions in the Void, Part 3. Resting and Motion: Power

When our body makes a move that uses strength somehow, there are muscles working and muscles opposite the working ones which are at rest.

A muscle’s fibers fire in contraction to make something happen, but when they all fire and stay locked on, we get a cramp.

In the Void, motion and rest are fusing to create power. There’s a tension which happens in our spiritual and psychological “muscle memory” and it’s that tension we feel before the gun goes off in a footrace. Perhaps we are about to take off on a dead sprint, or perhaps we’re preparing to run a marathon. Either way, anyone who has ever run a race knows the jittery butterfly feeling in the pit of your stomach, the eagerness to begin, the power welling up within, the sensation that any amount of speed will be possible. During the Void we sometimes feel powerless because we aren’t yet active, we’re being held back. Sometimes, we feel like a racehorse who is being shoved into the gate: we don’t like the confinement that comes with the moments of preparation. We’d like to just run without waiting for the starter to open those gates. Each muscle, however, must find a moment of rest, a moment when we store up energy for the thrust of that first step.

In the Void, when we feel psychologically and spiritually depressed due to a lack of motion, what’s really happening is a fusion between the resting moment and the tensing of the muscles (spiritual and psychological muscles) which are preparing to jump forward. The fusion that happens here stores up power.

Another way to think of it is the way a jet engine revs before the pilot releases the brakes, right before takeoff. You can feel it in your seat way back in economy. The entire aircraft tenses. The jets begin to build but the brakes keep you from leaping down the runway prematurely. Only when the jets have warmed up, sped up to the place where the power is enough to launch the aircraft into the air will the pilot release the brake and allow the craft to sprint down the runway. There is a little Void in that moment, a void where power is built, where resting and motion collide to create power.

Then: POW! Off you go. When we’re in the Void our desire is to move, but God is saying “not quite yet” holding the breaks, and so, like a thoroughbred who prefers not to be confined, we buck and back off from the gates, only delaying the start we are eager for!

The Void is uncomfortable in this way, (and it can last for several years) but something is happening here, fusing. It can be an exhilarating moment as well. Hold steady, let the muscles relax even as they tense: somewhere in this paradox, in this fusion, your moment will arrive. Hope for your best race yet. Hope for a beautiful flight.

Fusions in the Void Part 2, God and Darkness: The Future

This is the second in a series of essays on Fusions in the Void.

Time stands still in the Void. Everything that may have been is not yet. Everything that could be isn’t beginning yet. Living in the Void is like an attack of living in the present. Yes, we hear from wise sages about how living in the present is this glorious thing, but right now it sucks. It’s not what we want, though we know we should want it, and so it becomes an ever-present reminder in and of itself of how disconnected we are to both our own past (which is supposed to be forming us into something, even the bad parts of our past) and disconnected also to our future, all sorts of dreams on hold while we sit, our vision set up on a shelf like a can of sardines which nobody wants to open for fear that it will stink. Even ourselves (pretend that you love sardines for the sake of this argument) even we do not want to open what we, perhaps uniquely and alone, may really want. We can’t get it because we can’t live in the present, because even though we want to, we don’t want to. It stinks, all of it, like a primordial pool of fertilizer.

God-self is fusing with the darkness itself in the Void. God has decided, after many aeons of not-past, not-present which contained not-future, to draw a line in the sand, that everything before will now be thought of as “past” and everything to come will be considered “future” and yet God’s Spirit is hovering over the waters … in the moment. Stirring, perhaps, a pot of gruel or a pot of pourri (what the heck is pot-pourri?) or a pot of something. The first thing God creates is time, and God does this by being in the moment with the Darkness. God encounters Darkness in the void and in that very act God creates The Future. “In the Beginning” it says, “God created the heavens and the earth.” But by the very words “In the Beginning” we can see that the first creation is time itself. Followed closely by heavens, earth, and water.

What is the first thing God and the Void are coming together in creative, motion-based fusion to create? Your future. You could be in a deep depression, you could be in such a Void you can see nothing. But time is literally on your side because by its very nature it includes not only a past or present. “But my future looks so bleak!” Right. That’s because in the Void you cannot see anything. At all. Everything has come to a halt. Mystically, in the Void, even the future itself seems not yet to exist. It is only an idea that God has not yet had. Sure. That’s what it seems. I get that. But the future is really the first creation of all, and it comes with a side of hope; hope that there may be ice cream for dessert. The past, too, may seem not to be leading anywhere good. All your momentum headed in the wrong direction. The present just Void, dark, the future, if it’s a continuation of what has been, worthless. But this is not so. God fuses with the Darkness to create future. Hope that it will be worth seeing. The future is the sun rising in the east, again.

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