How do we live in the world

(Upon rereading this, I believe the title may be a little misleading. I don’t have “5 easy steps to for living in this world.” If only I did. In fact this post is entirely about me. Whether that’s self-centered or self-reflective is for you to decide. What I found in all the perspective changing books I’ve read recently – more on that later in the post- is that I mostly enjoy descriptive instead of prescriptive books. By that I mean, I would rather read about someone else’s experience and see myself in it as well than have someone tell me what to do or who to be. So you be you, with all my blessing. This is who I will be. Perhaps you will see yourself in it as well.)

Earlier this week, God or the universe, or the benevolent life force or however it is that you relate to the workings of this world (Goodness knows I’m still working it out) showered me with gifts.

Everywhere I turned were messages and promises which spoke directly to me. Not only did nature and media speak to me, but a young gentleman who used to be our neighbor dropped by to tell us about good things which are happening in his life after much struggle. I had a conversation with a gentle hearted friend whom I have missed lately. Finally, I received the kindest, most delightful, silly text. A friend from work sent me this: “I realize that days I don’t see you are slightly darker.”

It’s been a struggle these last few years to find my place and my voice, even more so these last six months having been displaced and unvoiced, rather violently, from a community I wanted to trust, but I don’t think I ever really did. Fortunately when the bottom fell out, grace swept in and put something completely new and unexpected in place, a place for me to stand rather than plummet to the depths and disappear.

But even further back than these personal events, the world at large, culture wars, racial and gender and social injustices all force me to question and wrestle and struggle. How do I want to live in this dangerously restless world? These angry and divided times? Honestly, I fall and fail quite often. Bitterness whispers in my ear daily about how right I am, how wrong everyone else is, how obviously I deserve more, better, different than what I already have. Sometimes I give in and speak these whispers aloud.

But I don’t want to believe that message. Those words are the path to loneliness and isolation. They are words my ego wants to hear, but it’s not words that will love or heal my soul, let alone anyone or anything else in the world. I’m turning down voices, especially my own, when they seek to divide and tear down. Us/ them, hero/villain messages aren’t helpful. They won’t restore the broken people, places and relationships of this world to wholeness.

It’s paradoxical, really. Self-preservation tells me to pull in, protect, build walls, be safe. But self-love tells me to open wide, to release, to be soft, and vulnerable and definitely place myself on the side of universal human dignity. I’ve spent a fair amount of time ranting about an actual wall, and the people who accept and live by that ideology, which makes it pretty ridiculous that I would choose the same tool to protect myself, literally or metaphorically.

So, how do I want to live in the world? How do I protect myself and yet fully engage? I’m not certain it’s possible. I’m beginning to realize that I may have good boundaries, but not everyone I encounter will respect those boundaries. Openness invites injury; there isn’t a way around it. But I’ve finally figured out it’s better to be myself, complicated, contradictory and definitely rebellious against labels and boxes (guys, I didn’t tell people I work with that my husband was a pastor for weeks so that I could establish my own personality outside the most convenient definition, which definitely does not fit me.) For some I’m an acquired taste, and for some I won’t ever please the palate and I just can’t worry about that anymore. I will be hurt, insulted, cast out. And I will survive.

I will thrive, anyway.

I believe certain things about the universe that it’s making me soul sick to deny:

“Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

I believe in love, in justice, in mercy, in openness, in generosity – of spirit and pocket, in hope, in goodness. I have to. I must see the spark of the divine goodness first within me, then within the eyes of every other person I meet or my soul shrivels and becomes brittle, rank with cynicism.

Over the past year I’ve read and talked to and mostly listened a great deal to the voices of various ethnic, sexual, gender and religious orientations who are different from my  personal experience. I’ve found what my soul already knew, we are more alike than we are different. It is not our ethnic/sexual/gender/religious orientations which separate us, but the way in which we choose to relate to the world around us which creates the deepest divide.

Those who embrace diversity, beauty, and joy are closely related with any other person open to the wide ranging presence of the Divine, despite the labels we use to sort individuals. Those who see themselves as somehow tribally exclusive, even superior, are much like any other private ideological enclave, and incredibly disparate from more inclusive thinkers. It is our ideologies which divide us far more than any biologies or geographies.

And even then, there is the commonality of humankind, the foundation of clay, or primordial stardust which is our genesis, that binds us together. As a walking, moving, living, eating, procreating, loving, fighting, creative, destructive species, we are clothed in a holiness, which I choose to acknowledge and embrace.

This is, of course, much easier to say to about the nebulous global “enemies” than say, a person who actively searches out ways to destroy my character and acts on those impulses. I can embrace the divine within wall-builders and terrorists more easily than the intimate acquaintance. Ideology is easy until it’s personal.

And so the work continues.

I love Brene Brown’s recipe for living: “Strong Back, Soft Front, Wild Heart.” I am challenged by every element of this, but I’m trying. Trying to learn healthy boundaries and to love myself exactly where I am and who I am, while also realizing I am deeply flawed and often difficult. Trying to embrace a world that may hate, hurt and reject me, and continue to embrace it when it does. Trying to let my heart be its true self, regardless of labels and expectations, believing I can trust where it leads me because all of us are above and before all things, created as good and loved beings.

This is how I live in the world, imperfectly, with great difficulty, with gentle softness, and with immense, overwhelming love.

Author: Dana Portwood

I'm a writer, reader, library lover, grower of feminists, leaver of church but friend of Jesus. Inclusive minded, married to my best friend. Sometimes afraid of my own voice, but using it anyway.