The low hum

On this Fourth of July I would have been traveling home from Congo. I have emerged from the sharp grief over the trip that didn’t happen but I am still stuck in a limbo of boredom and puzzlement because I have no idea what I am going to do next.

Frankly, I don’t have enough to do. I have run out of steam and momentum. I was counting on the trip to provide that, to give me a sense of next steps in the area of my life that seems to have the most purpose, some indication of direction.

Living day to day in the present isn’t working. Except for some good family times recently, I have just been escaping into eating and novel reading and TV watching and sleeping, only last night I didn’t sleep well because I haven’t gotten any exercise for a few days. I was awake with deep longing for that sense of purpose.

I admire people who know exactly what they want to do with their retirement. Some people have a hobby they’ve just been waiting to pursue. Some people are eager to travel and be tourists and experience culture. Some people are totally devoted to family and grandchildren. And then there is volunteer work. All of these are important to me, too, but I am missing a unifying sense of purpose. The cancellation of the Congo trip pulled the rug out from under the current chapter of my life that I have been constructing.

Writing is the “hobby” portion of my retirement but the kind of writing I do makes a story of my life, discerning it and creating it as I go along. Life, however, keeps taking turns that make me question the whole narrative. So now it is the political situation in Congo that seems to be barring that story from progressing. This obstacle makes me realize how much I have been counting on Congo for my sense of purpose. Sense of purpose is closely related to a sense of identity.

What is the wisdom invitation of such a time? Bear with me as I explore this. It may not make a great deal of sense and I may say some things that are simply not true in my search for truth.

Let me start by saying that I felt Jesus in church yesterday, in the music and communion and in a deep affection for my fellow community members. I was behind Janine B in the communion line and I wanted to put my hands on her shoulders but I didn’t because I don’t know her that well and I didn’t want to startle her. Janine was reporting that morning on her trip to the Mexican border to explore what immigrants go through. She has an inexplicable passion for immigrants, just as I have an inexplicable passion for Congo, which I reported on last Sunday. The church is a place that holds our inexplicable passions, listens to them, responds to them. Phyllis S and Katherine E responded to my report of last Sunday by baking goodies to sell yesterday to raise money for scholarships for our sister church.

These are little pieces of the slow, intermittent work of love in the world that is changing human consciousness. (Credit Teilhard de Chardin for that thought.) Sometimes I can almost hear that evolution happening, like the low hum of a refrigerator at night. Christ pulling the world to himself. I heard the hum in church. I heard the hum on a stroll through a wild rose–scented, frog-populated bog with our son and his wife the day before.


The stronger and more persistent the pull of evolutionary love, though, the stronger the resistance to it.

As I write I hear a neighbor’s target practice. Sharp, angry shots. I think of the bloodbaths in the Istanbul airport (through which we passed four months ago). Dakha. Orlando. And I hear in myself the hurt, angry complaint about plans that didn’t work out, the story that didn’t move in the direction I was hoping.

The ego resists. The ego says, Give me something around which I can build my identity. The ego needs a pretty specific sense of purpose.

Wisdom says, you don’t need to build your identity. It is already there and it is larger and more focused than anything you can name or even discover. If you let it, it can be a part of the low hum of evolving love.

Perhaps my lack of a sense of purpose right now is a gift that shows the provisional nature of all the purposes humans devise. The fierce purpose of the jihadist, the vengeful purpose of the gang member, the evangelical purpose of the missionary, the earth-saving purpose of the activist–these are all shadows of something, neither right nor wrong but inadequate.

This may sound like I am condoning evil, that one way of being is as good or as bad as another. That’s not it. I am trying to get beyond that duality of good and evil, to truly see. I don’t think I’m there. I am impatient to get there.

I want one sure thing, a compass needle to true north. Is it safe to say that the purpose is always love? The thing about love as purpose is that it will always require surrender, which is the opposite of human-driven purpose. Human-driven purpose sets aim on a goal and pursues it to the exclusion of other things, other people. Love is a constant, indiscriminate seeker of things and people to draw together, and it dissolves boundaries between them.

It is not a matter of adopting love as a purpose and adapting it to your own goals. Rather, you align yourself with love and let it do its work. You cock your ear to hear the low hum and you let go and join it.

Well. Enough of trying to figure anything out. My husband has loaded up the kayaks. The river is calling. Is it the low hum?


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