Years ago on a rainy backpack trip in the Smokey Mountains, my friend Jana and I read C.S. Lewis's interplanetary tale, Perelandra (1) to each other. Dr. Ransom, a philologist (one who studies language use) is abducted for these skills, and once capable of such, engages in dialog with The Lady, a mysterious elusive sort of queenly being. In a key conversation they speak of her choice to turn with joy to every thing she encounters, even when it was not what she hoped for, not what she had gone looking for. Ransom opens her eyes to realizing she had choice in the matter, that rather than being carried along, she walked, and so could choose to lean into what was given or to linger and pine for what she had wanted instead.
Jana and I referred to that often as we crinkled loudly along the trail in our rain gear, halting longer than planned at sheltering spots along the way. We didn't get to see the glory of these mountains because we walked our days in a gray wet fog.
I wanted to lean in, to say yes to this disappointing weather, and mostly I did, we did. We journeyed through clouds, after all, in a dense, oxygen-rich, life abundant deciduous forest. I noted the beauty of wafting wetness--fog-on-the-move--of snails and various trails of living things walking alongside and before us. Our invitation was to cover less ground and attend more closely to the ground covered. To ponder words of an Oxford (and Cambridge) professor in spacious conversation.
Earlier this month my daughter Rae and I backpacked along the Lewis River Trail in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. We too, encountered rain when we hoped for sunshine, and Lewis's passage and that Smokey Mountain trip came to mind. So we talked about choosing joy, choosing to lean into the good in front of us. We affirmed the Good balanced the bad, even if the bad was all the news ever covered. Elsewise, surely the world would cease to exist. In fact, we decided given that we see as much flourishing as we do, the Good must out-balance the bad significantly. So we leaned into the good.
For example, we had the Bolt Camp shelter to ourselves. (We seemingly had the Lewis River Trail to ourselves). We placed our tent under the canopy of a big maple nestled next to a giant cedar, which kept us dry. We hung the hammock and laid out our kitchen in the shelter, and Rae (with her outdoor experience as a guide for Sagewalk) coaxed dampish moss, leaves, and twigs into a warming fire each evening. We day hiked without packs and climbed over root wreckage onto the trunk of a tree that had fallen far into the river. We sat in the river, as it were, enjoying a glass of wine and relishing the sun on our backs as it broke through the clouds.
What gifts, I wonder, do we miss because we refuse to accept the waves into which we are cast, even those we would (as Ransom notes) cut off our arms and legs to prevent from happening. What comes from embracing the very thing I most want to avoid happening, when it happens?
I say I believe that God is over all, through all, and in all things.(2) What might come from leaning in, from looking closely at where God is over, and through, and in the things I receive, rather than turning away and pining for what I wanted instead?
Of course backpack weather is an incredibly trivial example. I don't know what this means when what I want is peace for all people in the Middle East. I don't know what it means when I long for all people to have food and shelter, freedom from oppression and the opportunity to make meaning in what they do with their days. I want Earth and all its creatures and oceans and forests to flourish. Surely God wants these things, too. So I wonder what C.S. Lewis meant by it all, perhaps especially given that he wrote these words in the early years of WWII, when his own homeland was under attack?
The Lady said she would plunge wholeheartedly into whatever wave the King sent her, even with waves so swift and great that her capacity to meet them was too little. She remarked with confidence, "how could there by anything I did not want?"
Ransom found her blind trust in such a One repulsive.
All is well, Julian of Norwich says, and I repeat it often enough. All will be well, all manner of things shall be well, and on account of that, all is already well. Yes. Yes. I can say these words, but I do not always know how to walk them out. I know this does not mean we become passive in our acceptance of an Earth groaning in travail, of nations wreaking havoc on peoples and lands. We do not turn away from suffering, and neither does God. Not ever.
Something of the Lady's challenging words call to me. I wonder if, as we individually and collectively engage work of restoration, justice, and healing, we might do so from a place of joy, acknowledging that this too offers a gift in some mysterious awful-and-good way (could it be both?). At the very least it calls me to pay attention when Sustaining Love and Living Life invites (or thrusts) me into unwanted waters, knowing right beside me is the One who is over all, through all, and in all.
(1) Perelandra, C.S. Lewis (1943), pg. 67-71.
(2) Apostle Paul affirms the same in multiple passages. See Eph. 4:6 for one.