Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Learning to Whistle


Ingrid called me the other night to tell me she could whistle.  I call her every night to chat for a minute, see how homework is going, and to tell her goodnight.

But this evening she called me.  She has been trying to whistle for months, since last summer.  She kept asking, “Poppy, how do you do it?  I just don’t understand.”  I would try and tell her the mechanics of it and whistle for her and she would follow all of that and still nothing worked.  I told her to just keep practicing, that it would just take time.  “One day,” I said, “it will happen and you won’t even know how or why.”

And so it did.  She whistled into the phone that night and it was the sweetest little sound.  She whistled some tunes and giggled with delight each time afterwards.  “See?” she said!  “Yes, sweetheart, you’ve got it now,” I said.

There are so many things in life that are like that.  You just have to work at them and keep practicing them before you get it right.  They are things that take time before we make any headway with them. Sometimes they take years.  Sometimes forever.

I am, after all of these years, still trying to figure some things out. 

Relationships and love are certainly on that list for me.  Learning to share life with others is a part of normal human development.  But a one on one relationship, whether you are married or living with a life partner, is not easy, and getting it right is hard work for most of us.  Like Ingrid, I have often asked, “How do you do it?  I just don’t understand.”

The secret, if there is one, seems to me to be genuine openness with one another.  You have to want to communicate and share things.  Tough things.  And loving things.  Differences and likes.  Trust is crucial, and honesty.  Pretending, fear of being real, holding things in, failing to actually listen to one another—these things ruin intimacy and make a solid connection almost impossible.

Love between two people, I think, at its deepest, is a spiritual act.  It comes from our souls and is offered as a gift of sharing our self with someone our heart tells us is a person our love won’t be wasted on.  We all like to think that when we get married or decide to live with someone that we are so full of a generous love that nothing will defeat it.  But the truth is, at the beginning of these relationships, our love is barely large enough to get us through the next months.

And that’s what the journey together is meant to do.  Marriage or any committed relationship is an opportunity for two people to grow a love that will amaze one another with its ability to care, and nurture; to learn and explore and enjoy one another; and to treasure one another’s uniqueness, independence, interests, and personalities.  It is a chance to finally realize that love is not so much about how you feel but about what you do.  The good feelings often come after that.

It all sounds so reasonable.  But of course those of us who have been there or are there now know how difficult all of this actually turns out to be.  I’m still working on being a person capable of these things.  And like whistling I think it sort of just happens after a long time of trying.

Faith or having some kind of spiritual or mystical life seems to be a part of this ongoing learning and experimenting and strenuous work as well.  Just like Ingrid’s attempts to whistle.

There is a line in Shirley du Boulay’s biography of Benedictine monk, Bede Griffiths, where she writes, “Throughout his life, Griffiths was caught between the antinomies (contradictions) of reason and faith, intellect and experience, mind and heart.”

These opposites, and this always being caught between these things, have been my spiritual journey most of my adult life.  The path to God has never been clearly seen by me.  I am convinced for most of us the spiritual life is a murky business, filled with small fleeting glimpses of the divine.   

I have at times envied those who speak of so much assurance about God and their certainty of all things spiritual.  But, if I’m honest, I also sometimes doubt all of that confidence they share.  For me, God is far too big of an idea or concept or force for me or anyone to explain or fully understand.

Believing has to be more than just accepting and reciting Bible verses and the usual religious phrases.  Surely our beliefs must be things that stir the heart and inform the soul, ideas that embrace thinking, willing, feeling and acting.

I have always wanted to have an understanding faith grounded in practical living, good reason; something open-ended and always expanding in meaning.

The ancient mystics used to say, “As long as you have a soul it should be seeking.”  That feels right to me.

Love.  Relationships. Faith.  Living.  It’s all a lot like whistling. 

© 2013 Timothy Moody

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