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Relativity, friction and swimming in the middle

This blog is part of a little series, the first from the perspective of recovery (when things fall apart), the other extreme vantage point of chasing utopia (when Disney meets intention). This blog is the third instalment which is me simply trying to work out the middle ground of the day-to-day.

I am an optimist, extrovert and hopeful fella, more given to pie-in-the-sky. Lee, my wife, is an introvert, cautious and sceptical, more of a “yea fine, but what does that mean actually” type of realist. We go for long walks together to chat and pray. Lee is very pithy and succinct; I waft and wax lyrically. I go on about the deep hidden sweetness of the Deity throned on a glassy sea, Lee gets to some random kid in her class with spots and learning issues.

When we talked through the last few two blogs, Lee just gave me that look that basically says “what are you on about?”. This ended up in a long joint conversation about friction. This blog is about friction, relativity, and the tension in the middle.

Our relationship with the Devine is an integrate flowing, where in a call-and-answer the Divine flows first into us, vivifying our flesh, animating our soul and loving our spiritual heart with healing, forgiveness and beauty. We then respond by paying attention. We take notice. We absorb. We delight. We learn to love. As we now participate-share in this life endowment, we start to glow out a yeasty substance that is highly contagious to those we relate with primarily and even some that we merely encounter.

These little drops splash on to others from our posture, mouths, shyly revealed intensions and our works. The more attention we pay nurturing attention, the more the droplets build an internal pressure that wants to get out. God’s divinity as the antithesis of caged scarcity. God’s divinity is the most abundant substance in the universe, simply boundless.

We then find ourselves in many events and circumstances that prick, probe, tear and break us, wanting to crack ever-wider pathways outwards. The more we attend and participate, the more the pressure builds internally, the more we pursue and engage life among thorns the more we leak. Eventually, we hope to leak a trickle, a stream, a river and then an artesian well. It is endless and the potential infinite, we are destined to become the leakiest vessel ever pottered. The thrill of the pain and bliss is essential the Christlike experience.

If a lot of us start to leak out the yeasty light substance, then the earth under our feet responds by yielding its bounty, and a new reality emerges, a heavenliness that orders things to a different tune and rhythm. Over time, more people are infected, more people get better at leaking and a new order, a heavenly kingdom emerges. (I imagine the Springbok radio voice of Graham Gresham calling me to “reach for the stars”.

Now imagine the sounds of brakes squealing! At this point imagine the voice of my wife saying “wake up and get back down to your planet”. And the other bit of David Gresham floods in “keep your feet on the ground”.

Reality is not grandiosity gone flighty. It is not the sugary doctrine of the prosperity lot. It is not the spiritual instant gratification of I want it and I want it all.

Reality is amazingly granular, requires moral effort and requires it for a long-long time. Reality is not frictionless; we are not ‘greased for peace’. The gravity we encounter makes us heavy, makes our leaps modest.

Imagine swimming long-distance breaststroke in a river. At certain points, the river dams up and hardly flows. Your swimming is as expected. You can maintain a steady stride, focus on our breathing and paddle along at a steady pace while watching the gentle forward momentum against the static trees on both sides of the riverbanks. You are aware of the resistance of the water. You posture yourself to glide like a fish. The friction is there and if you stop stroking and kicking, you will stop. Things are as they should be, all is fine. Effort equals reward.

Then the river starts to flow in the same direction as your swimming effort. You are floating on a boon of the current. Relative to the shore, you are now doing great. The current compensates for the water friction. Even if you stop paddling and kicking, the embankment floats by at the same steady speed. Swimming now makes more gain than effort. But you decide to put exactly the same effort in, and the progress feels so good!

The current and speed of the river steps up. Now you are rocketing ahead. This is fun. This is great. Fabulous reward for all your effort results. Friction is not even a remote thought. The same effort you put in makes the embankment rush by, miles are made.

Then the river gets torrential. You are starting to panic. All your effort is to keep your head above the water. It is exhilarating, it is scary, you may drown.

You decide to turn around and swim back.

Once turned around all the effort seems so opposed by the flooding currents. Friction has, seemingly, multiplied exponentially. The embankment shows that you are going backwards. You swim even harder. Still floating backwards. You give it your all. You panic. You think it is all your fault. You should have practiced harder. Maybe you swim wrong, bad style and method. All your effort and embankment stay exactly in the same position. Sticks, leaves and other flotsam rush past you. Relative to these floaters, you seem to go forward at a great pace, but you are hardly moving forward relative to the embankment. You are confused, the signals contradict.

Slowly you edge your way along, the opposing current still resists your efforts, but you are now inching forward. It seems so unsatisfactory. You bemoan the unfairness of the effort with so little returns. We weary of the effort. It is all disheartening.

Eventually, back at the quiet water things seem to be as can be expected, the effort equals expected progress.

We give ourselves to the divine life of God. Friction and external momentum rob the anticipated progress. Some of us feel like over the years we have gotten worse off with God than when we first started. It is grim compensation, but imagine how far over the waterfall you would have be catapulted had you not kept going against the current? Imagine just how much more things would have fallen apart had you not pleaded for your life and those around you. Or, just how many people would today be in much deeper trouble, had you not allowed them to swim in your slipstream?

The emergent kingdom utopia is happening. Even if we feel that all our effort is finger in the dyke stuff. Barely battling to steady the rush backwards or maintain the current position. Some of us need to sit – and not be moved. Some of us need to make a stand and become an anchor. Some of us will walk forward, blazing new trails. Other will run and make up ground ahead. Each called to their own. Each with our own season of swimming with the current, battling the current and ambling along.

The kingdom is emerging. It is so written. It is happening.

No matter how we read the embankment, it is hardly just about us. This kingdom started in infinity backwards and will steadily emerge for eternity forward. We live our lives in a certain moment, a second, a fraction. We cannot see the helicopter shot, nor do we see the ones sprinting ahead when we are barely keeping it together.

We should not feel proud if the current is doing all to make our work look glorious, nor should be despair when our efforts barely register.

What we do is to decide to swim. Determine the effort we can maintain. Get into a rhythm. Focus on our breathing and enjoy the scenery. Progress is relative and full of friction. Therefore, the daily, simple, quiet getting on with it is actually the right thing to do. Less dramatic, less grandiose, more ordinary, very sustainable, perfectly containable within the easily bruised and overexcitable ego-bandwidth allotted to us.

This is living in the middle, neither a life of recovery, nor a rush to utopia. A steady tension of learning to suffice and live mindfully present with love and gratefulness.

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Stephan Vosloo
Stephan Vosloo
Sep 10, 2021

What shall I say? Absolutely brilliant metaphor. Yes yes yes.

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