Friday, March 7, 2008

Awareness (part 2)

Several years ago, I was sitting around watching TV with my good friend Chris when his wife, Michelle, called. She was out of town visiting her parents.
"Chris," she said. "I need you to pick up my sister at the airport. She was connecting at DFW from South Bend, and her connecting flight was cancelled because of the weather. She's sitting at the airport right now. She's really frustrated and upset. Can you go get her?"
Of course, Chris is an excellent husband and brother-in-law, so we paused whatever it was that we were watching (I believe it may have been older episodes of The West Wing; none of that newer crap), got into his car and began making our way to pick up Michelle's sister Natalie (who, by the way, today is a nun in Tennessee. So, now anyone can legitimately call her "Sister Natalie"). I know Michelle didn't specifically ask me to go with Chris to the airport, but I just assumed that it was implied. I'm good for morale.
It was a late and rainy night in the metroplex and we were driving all the way from Burleson to the airport (about a 20 minute drive with no traffic). About halfway into our journey, we found ourselves behind someone who was driving erratically. He was speeding up, slowing down, and veering into multiple lanes. The two of us, having watched plenty of television in our lives to enable us to think as a law enforcement professional might, determined that this person was clearly drunk and driving (which we both hate). So, we became a perfectly equipped crime-fighting duo. We decided to follow the guy and call the police and alert them of this public safety issue. He was driving, so I dialed 911.
"Fort Worth Police. What's your emergency?" said the operator.
"I'd like to report a drunk driver who's currently on the road," I said with as much authority as I could muster.
"Where are you?"
I gave her the mile marker number and the direction that we were going. I also gave her the license number and model of the car in front of us.
"Okay," she said. "You're going to be out of Fort Worth soon, so I'm going to transfer you to the Hurst police."
She did. I had to give the new operator all of the same information. Chris was still on his tail. Because of the construction of the suburbs and city limits, we ended up being switched two more times to different departments: Bedford and then Irving.
Eventually, the operator concluded that they had enough information and that the Irving police would pick him up. Well of course, we had to see that. So, we continued to follow the perp.
At some point, he figured out that we were following him, because he slowed to a crawl and then instantly accelerated to about 90 miles an hour. Chris drove as fast as he could to try and keep up and was doing very well until we both simultaneously had a realization: Natalie was sitting at the airport.
This epiphany brought our pursuit to an abrupt halt and u-turn (thank God for Texas highways). In the midst of our playing some adult version of Cops and Robbers, we had gone well beyond the airport exit. By the time we actually found Natalie, it had been almost an hour since Michelle had called. Thankfully, she was very gracious and understanding (all the makings of a great future nun). She even laughed when we told her the story of our brief career in free-lance law enforcement.
Here's why I tell this story. When we left Chris' house, we had no intention of doing anything besides picking up Natalie and taking her back to the house. However, we were easily distracted and completely forgot why we were out on the road in the first place. I wonder how often we set out to do something yet become completely consumed with something else. I wonder how often God sets us on a path to do something and our distraction takes us miles away from God's intended purpose. Then, we complain that God didn't help us enough.
This goes along with my last post about awareness and allow God to "surprise me" in all kinds of ways. But I wonder how often God is waving his arms in one place and my mind is elsewhere. If that's the case, what am I so consumed with? It's probably nothing as noble as ridding the road of dangerous drivers. I would say that it has a lot to do with simple self-involvement. Many theologians and rabbis would say that narcissism and self-involvement are the biggest hindrance to an awareness of what God has to say to us. In his book God Was In This Place, And I Did Not Know, Lawrence Kushner says this:

“The great insight of religion is not that we can find God in everyday life; it is that finding God returns us to everyday life. Forgetting one’s self, making the self as nothing, gives us life beyond thinking and theology, beyond the incessant self-reflecting that renders us voyeurs of our own lives"(86).

The more able I am to lose my self, the more I will discover God and, paradoxically, the more like my true self I will actually become. Kushner is pointing out that so often we become so consumed with ourselves that we become spectators and commentators of our own lives rather than simply becoming aware of the source of who we are in the first place and living with that level of awareness. He's basically telling us that, to use the analogy of Chris and me, the drunk driver is me, and all I want to do is follow myself around and think about myself and comment on myself and have other people tell me things about myself when there is something bigger that I was originally meant to be pursuing. Kushner goes on:

“Living in ‘the presence of God’ does not mean that we have lost self-awareness; we are just too busy being alive to bother reflecting on ourselves. We are so focused on living that we do not have any leftover awareness to remind us that we exist. We are not aware that we are doing anything, because all our consciousness—even the part reserved for self-reflection—is busy being alive. We are so fully present, unbounded, and un-self-aware that we are not even aware we are present” (101).

The goal is not be ignorant of ourselves or in some sort of denial of who we are and what is happening with us. The goal is simply to live with an awareness of something greater. The goal, as he puts it, is to be fully present and aware that God is never absent. We are, quite simply, meant to be too busy being alive in the presence of a God who was in this place, whether or not we are aware of such a thing.

I've probably said enough about that particular book. Next time, I'll move on to something else.


*Caroline* said...

i really like this post! And that is a great story about you and Chris, I don't really think you two will ever grow out of all that kids stuff :)

laura said...

"all I want to do is follow myself around and think about myself and comment on myself and have other people tell me things about myself " --sounds like a blog.

and i think you should write a book.

mm jw said...

Grrrrrreat post!