You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Mary Oliver, ‘Wild Geese’
Three months ago I called this. It would be a season of soft grace.
The wildness of grace I have known. Yes, but it would not be that. Now it would be softness and warmth.
I have struggled with that, in truth. Got so used to living on that edge of a grace which destroys, which burns, which crushes. So accustomed that my life has shuddered as it has slowed down, as pressure has been released.
I have slept like I used to in the City days. Long binges. Days off when I can’t work out what to get up for. When I have read three, maybe four fiction books each weekend. For weeks on end, because I can. And because I can’t seem to do much else. I have spent winter evening after winter evening coming home from work late, eating and then sitting, too exhausted to do anything. Great frustrations have hovered in the clash of longing to fit and the smallness of the box on offer. Illness has threatened all winter. And the weariness. Did I mention that? The bone-deep weariness.
Weeks slip by and already it is four months since the beginning of this new season. I named it one night to the man beside me, that thing we both feel. Numbness. That’s the word. A complete absence of anything. A not-caring, almost. No longer strength to believe for it to be different, for it to be worth the effort.
And yet we are at peace with it. This thing is what it is and it too shall pass. And we do not have to be good. We do not have to walk on our knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
Yet how often do we fall to the ground, shuffle forward on our knees? Perhaps you, too, have tried harder to be good though your very being screams its need for soft kindness. Are you going a hundred miles through the desert repenting, unable to receive the warmth of grace?
I met him there yesterday, the Giver of soft grace. In the summerhouse we sat, and I let him show me what I needed to see. How heart is processing that long season of pain and struggle and perseverance. How I cannot do what I did to get through without now letting him do what he must. And that it does not matter that others do not understand. It does not matter that the high-functioning part wants to kick the emotional part up a gear, to get on, get over, get through.
Instead, I only have to let the soft animal of my body love what it loves.
This too is true spirituality.
The soft animal of my body sleeps and reads, drinks coffees alone, spends weekends in non-activity, withdraws from people. And if it doesn’t want to do the things it always did, refuses to be and do what they expect, then this too is well.
And in that summerhouse this One I love, my Giver of soft grace, showed me how well Emotion has been processing the pain. She needs no help to do that work of healing, wants only that Function does not now berate her into doing and being something she can’t yet be.
He showed me this, that I might better understand that I do not have to be good. I do not have to walk on my knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. Instead, I only have to let the soft animal of my body love what it loves.
Function’s white-flag surrender to that summerhouse Lord, a falling into the softness of grace. Yes, this too is true spirituality.