The Matchbook Diaries


Salty cocktails

People are differing cocktails of fire and ice.  You meet both ends of that spectrum.  My best friends tend to be in the ice category.  They would tell you without hesitation I’m all fire.  At the core of every version of faith you find the same balance, fire and ice. Buddha, Mohammed, Moses, Jesus – fire and ice.

It takes fire to get to ice.  I never have trouble with the fire piece.  But many do.  Many hang onto control, cling to it as if life depended upon it.  People insist upon there being seamlessness, order, manners.   Their lives have all the personality of a strip mall, all the beauty of a big box store.  They grow old, angry, lonely, and bored.  But they have neat houses.  They pay bills.  They love nothing.  They connect intimately with nothing.  They don’t know themselves, so they don’t know anyone else either.

Human redemption, no matter what road you take to get there, isn’t pretty.  Redemption’s not polite, it’s not easy, it’s not predictable.  The pathway to true liberty veers wildly, it careens, it’s sloppy, embarrassing, and weird.  You launch yourself into some direction dictated by your own heart and you have not one fucking clue how to get to where you think you’re going.  God’s delighted.  God’s right there at your elbow, breathless, watching, empowering, stepping in when you are not looking.

Control.  That’s the problem – we think we need it.  Choice.  That’s the solution.  We can’t control ourselves and we certainly cannot control others, and, worse, as the Chinese know so very well, we cannot control the universe.  One holy story says, “You cannot change the color of one hair on your own head.”  We haven’t the power to do even that small thing.  Yet there is this insatiable desire to do something, to grab hold of something that will alleviate the terrorizing vacancy, to obfuscate the helplessness, to reply to your heart’s stubborn insistence that you mean something, that your life matters.  You want things.  How do you get to them? Not through self control.  Not via moral perfection.

God isn’t interested in control.  One moment of reflection on the nature of God will tell even the initiate that it isn’t in the nature of God to seek minions.  All God has is minions.  Yawn.  If you’re God, how do you liven things up?  You let go.  In an ecstatic spiritual orgasm you release your own nature into something other, something not you.  Of course that’s what God would do.  Of course.  If all you know is everything, what’s the one thing you don’t know?  You don’t know what it means to not be you.  You don’t know that.  Did God anticipate the consequence of free will?  Of course.  It would have been child’s play to predict abomination, to foresee the long term consequences of free will.  Yet God deemed it worth it.  God gambles.

So, despite foreseeing the atrocities of human history, God gave us our own will.  Along with that gift beyond price we inherit the problem – the temptation of self-control, the solution of choice.  Some people are adept in certain areas – going to work, exercise, manners, honesty – but no one gets it all right all the time.  Discipline is not the answer.

The goal is not to get it right; there is no right.  There is only what is real.  God isn’t interested in perfection.  Yawn, again.  God knows only perfection.  How do you flavor that?  You have to salt it, don’t you?  And what is the seasoning that differentiates one perfection from another?  Free will, saltiness, choice.  What do your choices do?  They flavor you, your choices are who you are, your decisions make you, you do not make decisions, as Jose Saramago says.

The goal is to go all the way into what you are.  Shift your focus.  Stop trying.  Stop censoring.  Stop making plans and resolving and creating rules and charts.  Sit still.  Listen to your own heart.  The heat in you, the drive, it all comes from the organ that gives you a spiritual orgasm  –  your heart.  Follow it without discretion, without thrift, without regard for comfort, without contemplating social, fiscal, or emotional consequences. This choice is not recklessly self-destructive.  It’s recklessly self-constructive.

Then, following choice after choice, you will inevitably find yourself in agony on a precipice, the one you triggered to by giving into the fire.  You’ll bang up against something too hard, something you can’t do.  That’s when the need for ice kicks in.  In the flailing moment, what do you choose?  Do you choose hate and fear?  Do you decide that God is evil and the world sucks and you’re quitting?  Do you choose lies, tell yourself you’re still trying, pretend to be confused, tell yourself it’s really not your fault and maybe it wasn’t all that important anyway?  Do you choose comfort, and find people who will excuse and coddle you and tell you that nothing should be that hard?  Do you choose numbness, and eat, drink, spend, sleep?

Or do you find it in yourself to get the fuck up off the mat, wipe the blood pouring out of your nose on your own sleeve, and do it again?  When it hurts.  When it’s not fun anymore.  When it’s hopeless and stupid.  When it’s not just hard, it’s impossible.  When it’s public and ugly.  When it’s too much and you’ve had enough.  When you know it’s useless and no one else has any respect for what you’re doing, or worse, you’re of so little importance that they are indifferent.

All fire is a child.  All ice is a demon.  The fire takes you beyond reason, beyond the cool calculation of your brain.  The fire is your heart.  But then you’ll get truly weary.  Then you need your head to say, “Yes, this feels like it’s over, but you know it isn’t, so keep going even though it’s not making sense anymore.”  That’s what the brain is for, for overriding your exhaustion with reason when needed.  That’s the moment to use it – you’ll never, ever think yourself into taking huge risks.  But at the center of any risk taking event there comes a time when the raw passion for it runs low.  That’s when you resort to your brain.  Ice is the core of the fire.  The ice kicks in, the ice is your unflinching insistence that God lives, that truth matters, that you matter, that there are consequences, that there is no later, that there is no compromise.  The ice makes you go on, blind, spent, crippled.  That’s what the human will is for.  People misuse their will.  Human will is not so we can button ourselves up so tightly in morality that we suffocate.  It’s not meant to kick and batter us into submission.  Human will is for that bitter moment when what you want is a million miles away and you’re bankrupt and you take another step anyway.  Then, using fire and finally ice, you will know mercy and miracles.

How do you get to the ice?  Start with the fire and the ice will become necessary and apparent.  Then you’ll know what your brain is really for, you’ll understand what that hard core is meant to do for you, your will is there not so you control your behavior or the behaviors of others, but your free will exists so that you can choose to go again, to get up one more time and ten more times…  The other side of that equation is a creation of exquisite glory, a personality so ripe and full and rich and overflowing that it’s impossible not to feel joy in the presence of that person.  The other side of that equation is tolerance and humility and mercy because you know, now.  You know.  So you’re not a judge anymore.  You will get there, to the real you.  You’ll own you.  You’ll love you, you’ll know you, and then you get to know and love others.