The Valley of Love and Delight

(This post is a response to a recent entry over at my sister blog, Life Is Cosmic.)

I can relate very strongly to the overwhelming feeling of living in a “prolonged state of uncertainty.” I won’t bore you with my personal sources of uncertainty. But the longer I live, the more I think that this is normal for everyone, all the time—and it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Remember the first day of Algebra? The thought of defining Unknowns seemed so foreign, so challenging and stressful at the time, but we mastered it.  Just as soon as that got easy, we moved onto geometry.  Calculus followed so quickly, we never got to appreciate what we learned in geometry.  Now that we’re grown-up-ladies, there’s no teacher, no clearly defined problem, no right or wrong answers. We are constantly acquiring and applying new knowledge, skills, and perspectives at such a rate that we barely take note of it. Because of that, it feels like everything is a blur whizzing before our eyes, there’s no way to re-focus, to re-asses what we’ve learned.  So it feels like we’re not learning anything, like we’re lost in a world of uncertainty.

But, unlike Algebra I, and unlike the Rob Thomas song, as grown-up-ladies, our goal is no longer to isolate and define x and y. Our goal is not to “figure all this out” or “put an end to … doubt.” Instead of black and white, there are infinite shades of gray. Rather than a simple system of two equations with two unknowns, our lives are complex systems of differential equations containing thousands of unknowns. Our goal is to live with uncertainty, not to eliminate it.  The system of equations is no longer a way to define unknowns, but a way to express complex relationships in multiple dimensions.  When we have to, we make reasonable assumptions about those unknowns as they relate to our own priorities.  But our priorities are the relationships, the trends, and the truths expressed by the equations.  Not the unknowns themselves.

No, I’m not communicating my thoughts very clearly. I think BabyGirl says it better:

“BabyGirl twirled in circles like a ballerina.  Except she doesn’t know the trick of keeping your head pointed at a fixed object like ballerinas do, so she gets dizzy very quickly and falls over in a heap.”

She was trying to remind us of the old Shaker hymn,

“‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be;
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained, to bow and bend we shan’t be ashamed.
To turn, turn, will be our delight,
‘Till by turning, turning, we come ’round right.”

Now, when I’m feeling particularly down on myself about being jobless, friendless, and childless, I think very sad, dark thoughts about “the place just right.” I worry I’ll never find that place. But I try to remember what a teacher once told me: “God’s will isn’t always a place, or even a path, it’s a way of living,” a way of prioritizing, of defining boundaries and goals. We can be doing God’s will when we’re in the place just right, we can be doing God’s will as we spin and turn in search of that place, we can be doing God’s will even when we fall down in a heap.

That “trick of keeping your [eyes focused on] a fixed object” that ballerinas do is called Spotting.  Spotting keeps you from getting dizzy by limiting the amount of visual information that bombards your brain.  Rather than taking in a blurred haze of everything surrounding you and expending energy trying to isolate and define those unknowns, your brain can focus on one thing. Choosing the place for the Spot depends on the dancer’s goal.  It can be the audience, a corner light, or (if you’re executing many turns in a moving pattern) the location of the Spot can change from one turn to the next. In that sense, the Spot defines the boundary of each turn, allows you to re-focus and re-prioritize, and figure out where in the world you are.

Spotting is like doing God’s will. Each person’s Spot depends on their goals, their own unique blend of priorities like faith, family, career, etc. Our Spot is an unmoving source of stability, the thing we rely on to re-focus, re-asses, and figure out where in the world we are when everything seems like a blur of unknowns. The act of Spotting allows us to eliminate the superfluous aspects of our surroundings that threaten to overwhelm and dizzify us. But it just prevents falling from dizziness, it doesn’t prevent falling altogether.  And falling from dizziness isn’t always a bad thing.  If (and when!) we lose focus on our Spot and the world becomes a terrifying blur of uncertainty, falling is the quickest way to make the room stop spinning. Sometimes we get lucky and fall into our place just right without meaning to. And if we don’t, as long as we know where our Spot is, it’s easy to get back up, face it, and try again.

Even if she did it by falling in a heap, BabyGirl was trying to tell you that she came ’round into her place just right.  She’s in the Valley of Love and Delight because she has you and the Professor.  She has smart, caring parents who love her, and who allow her—and each other—to bow and bend, to turn and fall and get back up, without being ashamed.  You’re doing God’s will not only by “spotting” as you perform your own turns, but also by being each other’s “spot,” by providing each other with a physical, emotional, and spiritual source of certainty.

It’s funny to me to hear you wish that you’ll “be better off somehow, someday.” (I know, the grass is always greener…) From my point of view, you couldn’t be any better off, because you are active, integral members of a community of friends and families that love, support, and value each other. To me, that’s the definition of the Valley of Love and Delight. But I do also have a taste of what it’s like to lack the opportunity to fully invest one’s own skills and passions. I do know the awful, awful feeling of living with constant, prolonged uncertainty. And the only source of comfort I’ve come up with is Spotting. I don’t believe it’s probable to come ’round right without turning, and turning…and turning. And while we’re turning, it feels like the blur of uncertainty will never end.  And even though you have plenty of people closer-by who can provide more tangible, immediate support, I’ll always be honored to be part of your Spot, someone you can turn to for stability in an unstable world.


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