Playing Hide and Seek

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When I was a child one of our favorite games to play was “Hide and Seek.”  I remember the rush of looking for a hiding place, the thrill of having people trying to find me while I hunkered down somewhere, wanting to be so cleverly hidden that I would “win” the game when they failed to find me. But I also wanted to be found in the end. The game would become bad if the seekers gave up, stopped calling and left me there, forgotten and lonely in my hiddenness.

I think it’s not uncommon for many of us to play this “game” unconsciously in adulthood. We get caught up in the tension between, on the one hand, wanting to be found, to be known, to be discovered and drawn out of our isolation, and on the other hand fearing to be too well known, exposed and vulnerable. So we draw boundaries around ourselves and remain hidden behind them. We want people to know us and our unique human story, but we don’t want them to know too much. We’d rather hide the parts of ourselves that we don’t like and can’t accept, the parts of our story that make us feel ashamed or vulnerable.

I know that this is one of my inner conflicts. I’ve played hide and seek my whole life. I’ve lived behind a wall, wanting someone to want to know me, yet feeling fiercely protective of my privacy. The thing I hate most is when people come crashing through my personal boundaries demanding to know more than I want to give. That alone can kill a relationship for me. Yet I have sometimes wanted someone to “crash the gates.” It’s a tug of war I’ve never been able to resolve. At least not fully, not yet.

Being a preacher, and now a writer, has brought this inner tug of war to the table because whatever I write (whether a blog, fiction, sermons, or even a prayer), I inevitably expose myself at some level. In my sermons I always felt like the words I ended up speaking were preaching to me as much as to the congregation. In my blog posts things that have rolled around inside me get clarified in a way I can’t miss.  Even in the stories I write some of my own experiences and feelings color what ends up on the page.

That’s why writing has sometimes been a challenge. It isn’t that I can’t find the words. Words just pour out of me. But they also reveal so much. The only words worth writing are those that express something true, truly believed, and truly felt. Anything less is inauthentic and produces a sense of disquiet in me; I can’t let them stand uncorrected. But once spoken or published, my truth is out there for others to react to, and that’s all a bit scary. Nevertheless, here I am, gradually giving myself away through my words.

So how does one overcome such ingrained, passionate attachment to self-protection? I believe it’s when we finally are able (i.e., free enough) to reach out beyond our fears to claim a full, honest life over a crippled one. I’m still working on it.

Slip Slidin’ Away

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As I sat down to write this, not sure what needed to be said, these are the words that came to my mind.  “Slip slidin’ away.” You may remember them from the once-famous Paul Simon song (of Simon and Garfunkel fame).  I didn’t realize, until the song came to mind and clarified it for me, what I’ve been struggling with lately.  It’s the sense that I’m losing hold of the things I’ve been reaching for.

Simon sings of a man’s fear that in his passion for attachment to a woman he loves he will lose his sense of his own life. He sings of life not working out the way one wants, hopes, or dreams that it will. He sings of a man who longs to explain himself to his son but who walks away leaving it all unsaid instead. Then at the end he sings this:

“God only knows, God makes his plan
The information’s unavailable to the mortal man. 
We’re working our jobs, collect our pay, 
Believe we’re gliding down the highway, 
When in fact we’re slip slidin’ away.” 

(Slip Slidin’ Away lyrics ©Songwriters: Paul Simon Universal Music Publishing Group)

Opportunities lost, hopes unrealized, a fear of losing (abandoning?) our chance to do what was needed to reach our desires. Losing time, freedom, a sense of one’s self, a chance to deepen a relationship, or the chance to grow the meaningful life that we didn’t realize we wanted.  So much of our lives we think we have an endless amount of time to work it all out, and then the nearer we get to “our destination” we discover that we’ve been moving in the wrong direction. Like a car on a snowy hill trying to get to the top, we find ourselves sliding away instead, and we can’t stop the slide.

I’ve not lived the life I hoped for. I have lived my life as well as I could, given who I was and what I was given. I’ve lived a greatly blessed life, given a goodly share of talents and opportunities, and I’m grateful for it all.  But… now I feel that I may not have enough time left, enough health, enough chances, to accomplish the desires I buried for so long while pursuing the path that I took.  So I find myself tempted to give up, to let go of the hopes and forgo the efforts required to achieve them, to just let myself slip and slide away.  Procrastination is one of the symptoms of that.  Self-indulgent, unproductive leisure is another. Giving in to aches and pains of the body or just to sloth of the spirit is another.

I’ll never know what prompted Paul Simon to write the lyrics to his song, but they’ve given me a fresh incentive to try again. With or without hope of success in getting exactly where I wanted to go, it’s worth the effort.  Sometimes on a snowy hill I’ve been able to stop my car from sliding and by praying, shifting into 2nd gear, challenging the engine, and refusing to give up, eventually the tires took hold and I’ve actually gotten to the top.

Only God knows how my life will end up, whether I’ll ever get my book written or indeed anything published, but one thing is certain: unless I am determined to keep on going I’ll never get there. So I fight against the slide-away and I live in hope.  I wish the same for you. Peace to you in this season of renewal and endless possibilities.

The Desire to Share

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When I lived in Kansas I often visited Northern New Mexico. There in the Chama River Canyon, which cuts deep into the high mountains northwest of Santa Fe, is a rugged and beautiful landscape. Cliffs rise from the canyon floor until they shine in the sun, their sheer sides lined with striations of pink, rose, brown and tan, revealing the ages of the earth and its upheavals. Scattered in these cliffs are crevices and caves, and sometimes if you climb up to the top of one then descend down its face, you can find a cave that’s reasonably accessible to explore.

My friend, on a day of hiking, found such a cave and spent the long afternoon there listening to the sounds echoing up from the canyon below: the wild horses running, coyotes calling across the canyon, the voices of monks at prayer singing chants in the chapel below, singing birds and whispering trees, and water running fast in the river far below. A symphony of great beauty.  When he came back he told me about it and tried to show me where it was, so I could go there.

He was alight with the joy of his day, filled with the wonder of it, and he wanted to share it with me. We both stared at the face of the cliff wall as he tried to direct my eyes to the place where the cave lies hidden in plain sight. He kept describing it and pointing to it, saying, “There, see, just under where that scrub pine is growing, not far from where that footpath ends above it – can you see it?” and I’d say, no, I couldn’t; and he’d try again. “There,” he’d say, “you can barely make it out, it’s just a line in the rocks, very faint; can you see it now?” And, of course, I still couldn’t see what he so much wanted me to see and appreciate. We went on like that for a while, him wanting so much for me to see what he was trying to show me, and I completely unable to make it out amid the shadows and lines etched on the rough cliff wall.

I’ve thought about that experience often over the years. There’s a powerful poignancy in the memory because it mirrors a deep longing that I believe many of us have: to share our experience with someone else, to share the beauty we find in the world. Poignant because that longing too often meets a sad inability in those of us asked to receive the gift to recognize and embrace what is offered.  We miss the chance to experience communion.