Chicago comes back to me sometimes. Not the city, just Chicago: it’s the driving and the beginning of communion; It’s the open chord: damn, simple pounding chords and i could be crying; it’s the calm found alone in my bed after a long day; it’s that Sunday morning, I felt God say: “listen, i will speak today” and Sunday was a lot of avocado toasts, missed tickets, unfrozen bananas, and “Danielle, why are you putting the acai bowl in THAT? where did you put the ticket? Where are the tips?”
For my 15 minute break, the guard let me into the staves chapel and I prayed
but forgot to listen.
(for a worthwhile and quick description of the above installation, see here)
Written on 14 Nov 15, at the Monastery:
I came for answers and feared God wouldn’t meet me. What I found was silence…
I have felt small and unknown, but also vast and free…but really, we are always small and unknown… But there is vastness in smallness and freedom in being unknowable. I’m not saying it makes it easier when you wake up on a Saturday and become suddenly aware of your subversive searches for intimacy wrecking havoc on your solitude.
but then you are under a cross on a hill. You are small and vast, unknowable and free. A child of God with all the physical and spiritual needs of every human. You and I have our memories that haunt us. We have our illusions and our moments of vision which we are so often unable to decipher from one another. You and I have our traumas, our baggage, our unmet needs, our days where we cannot figure out what is wrong with us; We have our glorious moments of magnanimity and our knowing moments of destruction; We have our neuroses and our judgments, our pride, our shame, our addictions. You and I lie to ourselves: We think we are both better and worse than we are. We waste so much time hating ourselves or others or both.
Yet we have an impulse for light and many cracks through which it may shine.
There is no more need for words.
Here, there is silence–the only war that begets peace
I imagined the phrase “tactile epistemology” while listening to Krista Tippett and Ann Hamilton and making pie crust. I am by no means the first to come up with this phrase or this idea (see Feminist Theory, see Laura U. Marks, see Barbara Brown Taylor, etc.), but the idea of tactile epistemology and of semiotics have become overwhelmingly relevant to my life of faith and of study.
Semiotics refers to the study of meaning making–the idea there is the signified (the actual “thing” we try to communicate which will always surpass words) and the signifier (the word or phrase used to represent that “thing”) . [Congrats, you just took part in lit theory 101.] I don’t have a particularly deep understanding of semiotics, but it seems endlessly relevant to art and to belief and to love.
I have become obsessed with embodied knowledge. While my obsession with words has not waned, I find truth articulated strongly in making pie crusts, in walking, in dancing. There is a pre-signifier space when tiptoes are on warped wood floors and window light rests on hands kneading dough. There is a trans-signifier space when someone smiles at you and you feel it in your gut.
Lately, I have been sensed a heaviness when attempting to articulate that which can only be known in sharing laughter or in holding a hand or in digging in the dirt. My writing has (ironically, perhaps) been about these moments. I think, however, that certain forms of writing transcend the world of signifiers and enter into realms of mimesis so that words begin to accomplish what music and painting and sculpture accomplishes. That is the moment that words become art.
Experiences that surpass words and the compulsion to try and contain them within words will always bring me life. This semiotic, tactile knowledge leads me to love sacraments–or at least the idea of sacraments. The visceral experience of God can and does exceed all words and dogma and God is present in the most basically ordinary of all human experiences.
There’s a strong irony to this post that makes this topic in a way, self evident. My language here has been convoluted and perhaps annoying. I’d like to think it’s because there is little to say about that which cannot be said.
When I was at the monastery, I wrote for two hours. I climbed up a hill and sat below a cross and started writing without the intent of being there long. The things I wrote stretched from the topics of laughter to death, from gender and sexuality to being a child. I wrote in my “golden notebook,” called that only because it is literally golden. It was a healing time and the great silence of the monastery pulsed with life–inviting me into solitude and into rawness. I felt safe cross-legged and below the cross. We must find these spaces where we feel safe and free to be raw. We must guard these spaces.
I’ve felt violated lately. I’ve felt like strangers try to push into my solitude under a guise of friendliness or politeness. I’ve felt harsh and rude because my efforts to guard my solitude seem thwarted by the fact that I am a woman. Perhaps that’s part of it, perhaps it isn’t. Perhaps I never adjusted to the Southern culture. But I remember moving to London and wanting to feel seen amongst the millions of averted eyes, eyes that saw other humans as mere blocks of space because there were too many of us crammed in there to accept the fact that we were all actually real.
I find that I want to be seen and unseen in the same moment. I want to remain anonymous and absorbing, but to also feel known and loved.
In the Chapel from the golden notebook:
every noise we make here echoes as if to remind us that when we return to the world, our smallest actions will have echoes unheard in the business of our lives. We need not always hear them, but we must know that they are there.
maybe it once was. maybe it never was. but i want it to be.
There’s sense of completion to the things I post, a sense of finality and of pretty bows. There are answers here. Not to say the things I write aren’t genuine. There are moments of clarity rather than illusion, of solitude without loneliness, of silence that pulses with life rather than fear. But my guess is that you and I spend most of our time in the threshold. We are here, in the strange space between peace and fear, loneliness and love, communion with God and waking unsettled and unsure if anyone would miss us if we left. We exist in precarious thresholds and it is in these thresholds that I begin to write compulsively.
There are many things I write that I don’t post and won’t post. We all have things we don’t / shouldn’t share. Even more than that, we have thing we cannot share because although we write about them we cannot understand them ourselves.
But I’ve become afraid of writing in liminal spaces, which is where we learn what it is to be human.
Liminal means “occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary” and it’s from the latin word “līmen” which means threshold. In anthropology, liminality is “the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete.” I also think of it as that moment in a song where you feel alive and connected to what’s happening in the music, but even in that moment, you’re aware that it nearly gone.
And that’s where we are. Or at least where I am. And I want to write into that space and invite us to exist here in the threshold together–here where we do not need answers and we do not need our shit together because do we ever completely have both of those things?
Having said all this to what feels like a nonexistent audience that (if it does exist) perhaps reads the first two paragraphs of what I write, I want to also say I am going to try and be more raw here. I won’t shy away from giving “answers” but i don’t want to focus on them because this is not meant to be the space for that.
Be gentle with me.
I’ve been doing a poor job of being gentle to those around me, sometimes it is easier to be harsh because it gives us a sense of vindication.
Be gentle with each other. We are all fragile and in need of love.
So let’s learn to be gentle here in the liminal spaces of our lives, we are being transformed and we must be present in that.
“The journey from the head to hand is perilous and lined with bodies. It is the road on which nearly everyone who wants to write — and many of the people who do write — get lost… Only a few of us are going to be willing to break our own hearts by trading in the living beauty of imagination for the stark disappointment of words.
I never learned how to take the beautiful thing in my imagination and put it on paper without feeling I killed it along the way. I did, however, learn how to weather the death, and I learned how to forgive myself for it.”
What’s funny about cheesecake is that it’s not that good for you. Ok maybe that’s not funny. Maybe that’s one of the greatest evils of our day: how could something so fantastic be so bad for you? To be honest, cheesecake is a rare ritual in my life, but one I honor so deeply that I use it more often as a verb than a noun. (eg: I cheesecake after my hardest final every year which ends up usually being over at 10am but i have no problem with cheesecaking that early and if you do you should just leave now.)
The point is, every morning (or most mornings) I say the Lord’s prayer and somewhere in there I ask for daily bread. Sometimes I focus on that request because there were several years where I confused asking God for anything with the prosperity gospel. Sometimes asking God for things is still hard for me and so i’d rather just ask in largely symbolic terms like: “Daily Bread.”