Dissonance and Discovery

Dr. James Finley offers a thought about spiritual growth and a stone falling into a well of water, a well that has endless depths. Finley invites us to imagine that the stone will sometimes land on a protrusion, a little cliff jutting out from the side of the wall of the well. There the stone might sit for a long time. But the nature of water is to erode. It washes away at all that is and makes the wall of the well, smooth. Thus, the cliff eventually collapses and the stone begins to fall again ever deeper into the water.

Finley says, “Now, imagine that you are that stone. Imagine that you are falling into God and God’s vast, infinite, unfailing love.” He makes the point that we don’t fall without interruption. We all find those those shelves, those places where we land and take a break.

We land and say something like, “I think I’ll stop right here…This is far enough…This is much better than falling and feeling so disoriented.” So, it is there we remain – for a season – comfortable and unmoving, having taken our journey as far as we wish to go. Then, the little shoal upon which we have been resting gives way. 

It could be the death of a partner or close friend that plunges us over the edge; maybe it is a poor health diagnosis, an unforeseen surgery, or an automobile accident that unsettles us; it could be a crisis of faith that dislodges us from our roost. Events overtake us, the water erodes the earth beneath our feet, the answers that we had previously trusted begin to fail, and we fall, fall, fall into the unknown. 

Finley’s example is a good model for our spiritual and emotional growth, and I’ve used it in conversations with many people who feel bewildered by their lives, lives that were once so certain and stable. Now it feels like everything is tumbling. There is no sense of up or down, fear grips the heart, and there is definitely no solid ground on which to stand. But when it comes to knowing God, standing firm isn’t the point. Falling deeper into the experience is. 

The trouble is few of us go further or deeper in our spiritual lives without being pushed, without losing something. It is usually the loss of stability, the loss of certainty, the loss of most everything we had once counted on to bring meaning and order to life. But if we are willing, “If we are interested,” to quote William Carlos Williams, “dissonance will lead to discovery,” and the disorienting plunge can become a headlong spill into the love and mystery of God.

It feels good to be settled, I know, but settling is too often a synonym for sleeping. To be awake is to struggle, to wrestle with one’s existence, and to fall – to fall deeper into the experience of God, God’s love – and the mystery of your single solitary life.