Deep But Not Drowning
an affirmation for inward adventures
A few announcements:
I am taking a little social media sabbatical. I haven’t quite decided when I will return, but I am crafting more space to focus on this full-time student life. I’ll still be writing here since I still love it.
I also want to welcome new subscribers! There was a recent boom in the last two weeks and I want to wish you a special gentle landing if you are new here.
This week, I tried adding a reading of the entire post, along with my additional quotes to meditate on…let me know if you like it! (I did no fancy editing).
Now back to the post:
“Deep within us all, there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking Voice, to which we may continuously return. Eternity is at our hearts, pressing upon our time-torn lives, warming us with intimations of an astounding destiny, calling us home unto itself.”
—Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion
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God is this close
One of my earliest experiences of the “inner life” began with the inside of my eyelids.
I was maybe four years old then. I would close them as hard as I could and study the colors that moved around and thought I was experiencing some part of eternity. I had only one conclusion then, that God was there, in the portal that opened when my eyes were closed and I wondered if my parents knew about it.
Did they know God was this close? I remember telling my dad about my experience, I don’t remember much of his reaction, but I remember the intensity of my insistence. That experience of awe disappeared as I grew and I understood that I was merely observing the inside of my eyelids. I kept this story to myself until now, since I know I do not wonder alone anymore: There was indeed something eternal unveiling itself to me when my eyes were closed.
The tragedy is that as we distance ourselves from the delight of our youth, we become increasingly prone to disillusionment. Wonder and beauty are not precise cures for disillusionment, but they certainly can stave off the despair of it. To reclaim the awe of our child-selves, to allow ourselves to be taken by the beauty of a thing, allows goodness to take up the space it’s often denied in our interior worlds.
—Cole Arthur Riley, This Here Flesh
Deep But Not Drowning
“Deep” has been a word that felt like a blessing and a curse. When I used to hear people call me deep, it meant both that they were in awe of something I said, and often equally unsettled by me. Deep meant distance. One of my first affirmations was that I could be “deep but not drowning” (I even wrote a song about it).
Studying is often a space that calls you into the deep, and often I am the one who must create distance and space to go there. Sometimes studying means finding myself drowning in the words or concepts, seeking a way to rise up and float.
I know a deep that isn’t drowning when I remember those who will listen to the stories I tell somewhere between my eyelids and eternity. I can be deep but not drowning.
We Wear the Mask We wear the mask that grins and lies, It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,— This debt we pay to human guile; With torn and bleeding hearts we smile, And mouth with myriad subtleties. Why should the world be over-wise, In counting all our tears and sighs? Nay, let them only see us, while We wear the mask. We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries To thee from tortured souls arise. We sing, but oh the clay is vile Beneath our feet, and long the mile; But let the world dream otherwise, We wear the mask! —Paul Laurence Dunbar
The Black Interior
My studies of inner life continue now with more conversation partners than I could’ve ever hoped for. In a session with my spiritual director recently, I talked about reclaiming the imagined worlds that kept me company as a child. I developed the capacity to go deep when the world outside me was crumbling and I adventured.
My studies of inner life, the Black interior, began for me when the world was crumbling again in 2020. It began to fall apart for me long before the pandemic hit, as I confronted racism as a subject in all of my seminary classes.
I wondered what kind of inner life I would need to cultivate to be authentically myself beyond the white gaze, white supremacy, and white-centering justice work that seemed totalizing in the world.
The words of Kevin Quashie came to me as good news, along with his invitation to “imagine a Black world.”1 He says, "Anti-Blackness may be total in the world, but it is not total in the Black world." Within the Black world, we can make space for being, thinking, dreaming, seeing, and hoping...through layers and layers of humanity that have room to wonder.
“How do we understand ‘reality’ when official narratives deny what our bodies know?”
—Elizabeth Alexander, The Black Interior
Sometimes I feel like I am just trying to say the same thing in a thousand different ways. But it is really more like every new affirmation of wonder, the inner life, the Black interior, etc, is another child-like insistence.
When I think back, I was sad I could not show my inner world to anyone else. I could not show my father what I saw when I closed my eyes. I have learned, even in inviting others to explore their own inner sanctuaries, there is hesitation and fear for many.
I could quote the entire chapter on “Wonder” from Cole Arthur Riley’s This Here Flesh, but I highlighted this sentence boldly: “Wonder includes the capacity to be in awe of humanity, even your own.”
This is not an invitation to check out and forget about the life around you, but to cultivate an inner life. A capacity for wonder that brings you into the deep, where you can find deep thought and deep love.
Perhaps you’ll find as I have found that the eternity that reveals itself to you is worth embracing. Perhaps it might reveal the eternity in others worth protecting.
If you are still afraid you can borrow my affirmation: you can be deep but not drowning.
If you’ve ever had an encounter with wonder and mystery as a child, describe it in the comments. How have you kept it close?
Have you read This Here Flesh yet? Go read that if you haven’t. For today, I will include as mediation, a reading of my favorite quotes from the chapter on “Wonder.”
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