Fusions in the Void #14

If you’re new to my blog, this one is the penultimate blog in a series which wraps up next Tuesday. Or maybe I will throw down a wrap up blog after that. Anyway, you can find the previous ones in the archives.

In the Void, also known as isolation, a desert or valley season, or dark night of the soul, God fuses things together while we’re in a time that feels like we can’t see an inch beyond our nose or get anything accomplished. My goal in the series is to hold out hope to those who feel lost in a confusing mess, whose life doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, who can’t figure out why they’re here, or just can’t seem to connect with God.

Fusion #14 is Man and Woman: Love for the garden. I wrote that phrase down ten years ago. Today my task is to figure out what the heck I meant back then, ’cause I don’t really remember.

The most core feature of our identity is our gender. When you were born, nobody said “It’s a baby!” Instead, they proclaimed your gender. “It’s a girl!” Megan and I deliberately did not get an ultrasound done during any of our pregnancies. We felt that one of the greatest surprises in life was the gender of a newborn. There wasn’t really cause to spend the money on an ultrasound, and we never had insurance that paid for it. But beyond that, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have wanted one anyway. Three boys and one girl later, all healthy, and five years later I’m still glad we kept this surprise for the day of birth.

Now without getting too deeply into issues of transgender or sexual preference, on which I am not an expert, I think it’s important to note that God’s very self transcends gender. God’s love extends to all people, no matter their identity or preference. So, from here on out, when I’m talking about man and woman, I really want to consider that as inclusive as the universe is vast. In God’s transcendent sexuality, God still gave us two primary genders as broad categories. The animal kingdom and plants, too, give us other reproductive models which are also glimpses into God’s gender. The Bible says that God made humanity in God’s image, but it does NOT say that plants or animals are completely unrepresentative of God’s image. God’s stamp is really on everything. In other words, I do not think the image of God rests exclusively on the genders and subsequent potential reproductive abilities of those genders as seen in a majority of humans.

I started the series by talking about Genesis 1:2, where the earth is formless and void, and the Spirit of God hovers over the water. This is pre-gender. Genesis 1:27 is the first time God is referred to with a pronoun (at least in English, I’m not a Hebrew scholar) “God created [Adam (a Hebrew collective word for “him”)] in his own image, in the image of God he created [Adam]; male and female he created them.” Sorry, at this point I’m confused about God’s gender. All I can say from this passage is that God transcends gender and humanity reflects God’s image.

Today a guy dropped by the house and I got to ask, “How’s the baby? Two months old now, right?” Seven weeks. “Uh, it’s a boy, right?” I said. I couldn’t remember his name, either, and the father reminded me, admitting he couldn’t remember all his own cousins’ kid’s names. I commented that it takes a while until they develop their personality and we begin to associate their name with who they are.

In the Void we cry out over and over again: “Who Am I? Who Are You?”

If we are in a place where we really question ourselves, our deepest identity, we may even wonder, “Am I a Man?” (Or am I a Muppet?) Seriously, after you read the rest of this blog, go watch that video. It’s awesome.

Our identity and personality is hog-tied into gender, but God doesn’t seem as concerned about that. God is happy. He blesses the people and gives them a garden. He doesn’t say “Now, guys, over here, and girls over in that line; guys on the green beans and ladies, you have the artichokes project.” He just points to the garden and says to be fruitful and multiply.

I want to comment at this point that if you’re really struggling with gender issues and not sure where you land, I don’t want to make light of that. It occurs to me as I write that perhaps the thing to do (this might be completely wrong, but seems like something Wendell Berry would say) whether your identity issues have to do with gender or anything else, maybe just go work in a garden for a couple years. Prune some fruit trees, weed a patch of asparagus (maybe pull up the asparagus while you’re at it), plant some carrots or pick some kale. Whether this will help you discover who you are or not, I don’t know, but I think God would be fine with it. There’s something carnal about working with plants and animals that appeals to our sense of identity as humans even before we concern ourselves with gender. This could be a horrible idea and I really don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m happy to be told that I have no idea what it’s like to grapple with gender questions. But I kind of like it, this idea of working in a garden, for people who are working at any sort of root identity issue.

So the point of the series is that while we’re in the Void, God is fusing something for later. We’re in a space that feels isolated, may even feel like we’re sort of floating, with nothing to ground our feet, and God is fusing male and female (at least in Godself) so that the garden can be tended. You could take this as an analogy to your inner spiritual garden, or to your marriage, children and family.

Ultimately, God is fusing gender in the Void, so that Adam (humanity) can be productive. It’s sort of weird, because in the creation story God seems to be separating the two basic aspects of God’s own gender-based nature, but I think there’s still a fusion happening there, not a separation. The fusion is a two-part productivity process. Basic chemistry. Diet Coke + Mentos = explosion. And I’m not saying women are for making babies, let me be clear about that. I’m saying men and women must work together to take care of the world, even on days when it seems like nothing’s growing at all. If we can find ways to begin to do that, we may find that other issues settle themselves in our hearts as we walk through that valley season into a place of productivity after the dry season.

I’m pretty sure there’s a lot of ways to take this idea, and probably a lot of ways you could put words in my mouth that aren’t accurate, so remember this: in the Void, I hold out hope to my friends. That’s it. That’s all this is about. Find hope in God that God knows what she is doing when she incubates a plan for your life, God knows what he is doing when he plants a seed of an idea in your mind, God knows how to harvest what you’re carrying in your heart; God can fuse that. Your gender is both very beautiful to God, yet irrelevant in some paradoxical way I’m not even  going to try to explain, so long as you work the garden.

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.