January 24, 2008

Enter the Impossible

The following piece was my response to a writing exercise that asked, "What would you say if someone asked you for counsel because you seemed to be a good mind reader?"

You ask for counsel. I’m reluctant. You ask that I understand you. I'm not sure. You say I can always read your mind. I shake my head.

Really? Do you really think I can do all that? I know, I sometimes finish your sentences, even predict what you will say next, but can I understand you? Can I read your mind? I don’t think so.

I scarcely know my own. It is the most inaccessible of places. When I try to explore its caverns and depths, the first things I stumble over are little ridges on the surface, like pebbles around the entrance to a cave, pebbles like the day’s events, people walking by, mundane plans for the evening and the next morning, or next week. Some of these tiny stones roll in like an intruder dropped them on my path—a brief recognition of the sound of cars on the highway or a cool breeze on the nape of my neck. I might read that, but who cares about these pebbles?

As I make my way down my own cavern, I find a layer of choices and emotions. These are more about me, less about pebbles, yet are still motivated by various outside forces. I feel things as I think about and my own happenings and events in the lives of others. Emotions from all sources lurk at this layer, those from outside stimuli and some from my own inside longings that I don’t always understand.

I try to get past that layer about choices and decisions but cannot. Today I read Joshua 24 where Joshua challenged God’s people to “choose this day” whom they would serve. Most of the time I choose to serve me, very unconsciously and without analysis. I’m hungry so I serve my tummy. I’m tired so I eat some chocolate. More pebbles.

Go deeper. I find a few memories of times that I serve God without thinking, like the evening I challenged a certain foulmouthed fan at a soccer game. It was most natural to get off my seat, stride to where he sat smugly in his lawn chair, and tell him that his language was not appropriate. “There are little girls right beside you, for goodness sake, for God’s sake. Move, or zipper it.” He did. Wow. God blesses obedience.

Then there are times when I am aware that I can serve me—or God, and I must choose. At church the teaching staffs were called up front to describe upcoming Family Bible school classes. I teach the ladies class. Then, one very young woman also offered a ladies class in beginner Greek. I had a choice to make. I could scoff her age, her topic, her capabilities, but that would be serving me. Or I could drop my foolish pride and accept that God uses whatever and whomever He wishes. That choice would serve God.

This was one of those thinking choices. I knew it and I knew what God wanted. I also knew that serving me rapidly loses its charm, particularly in contrast to the peace brought to my heart when I serve God.

Go deeper. What about emotions? I believe that they are part of my mind, that they don’t come from the heart, even though I often talk as if they do. Nevertheless, emotions certainly affect my heart, even my whole body. When my mind dwells on things fearful, my heart beats rapidly as my body becomes tense in preparation to fight or flee. When my mind is filled with outrage because someone has violated my rights, or the principles and people that I consider important, my body reacts the same way. Only my mind knows the difference between these two emotions. The heart and my body are its servants.

I conclude that my mind has great power to govern the rest of me, but do I actually know what it is doing? Do I really understand how it affects my actions or feelings? I’m more introspective than many people, yet have little grasp of the link between mind and emotions, mind and choices, mind and body.

Mind, I know, is not merely the arena for intellect. How smart I am or how much I know is housed in the mind, but how do I know how to retrieve it? How can I explain the thoughts that appear seemingly at random, without any effort or choice? Or the dreams that I have, some so funny that I wake myself laughing?

If I could go deeper than choices, emotions, or intelligent thought, what would I find? God says my spirit is in there somewhere. Is that in the mind? Or is it something else? I know it’s the part of me that connects with God, but that connection is often totally outside conscious volition. He makes it. He invades me, fills me with thoughts of Him, and those thoughts transcend choices and emotions—except one. When I connect with Him there is that peace that passes understanding. Yet even then, I’m not sure peace is an emotion or simply a knowing and a state of being.

My mind is also the place where I know guilt, or is it knowing? It is not the same as knowing two plus two equals four, or knowing the taste of cheese, or knowing that the sky looks blue. How is it that I know when I do wrong, yet it is not a taught knowing? Another mystery. Truly I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

My spirit, He says, is the place where I can believe those things I cannot see or know. This is profound. Can I comprehend this? I only know that (at the best of times) my mind hears what God is saying, but believing it never seems like a choice. When you know something is true, you just know it is true. There is no choice to be made, except perhaps to resist or deny it, which seems to me quite foolish.

I don’t know my own mind. I try to get in there, but find it inaccessible, not totally open even to me. So how could you expect me to get into your mind, to know your thoughts, to completely understand you? Don’t ask me to do it. This is folly.

The best we can do is share with one another, perhaps the few things we know about ourselves. In the process we might discover that we are of one mind, at least on some things. Our oneness might be centered on the complexity of where thoughts come from, or on something far more simple—such as the fact that we both like the taste of peanut butter.

© 2008, Elsie Montgomery

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating, very interesting. :) I particularly like the ending.


Thank you for taking the time to join in the conversation. Our writers appreciate receiving your feedback on posts you have found helpful or meaningful in some way.