What has happened to our ability to dwell in unknowing, to live inside a question and coexist with the tensions of uncertainty? Where is our willingness to incubate pain and let it birth something new? What has happened to patient unfolding, to endurance? These things are what form the ground of waiting. And if you look carefully, you’ll see that they’re also the seedbed of creativity and growth—what allows us to do the daring and to break through to newness. . . .
Creativity flourishes not in certainty but in questions. Growth germinates not in tent dwelling but in upheaval. Yet the seduction is always security rather than venturing, instant knowing rather than deliberate waiting.
~ Sue Monk Kidd
I have been pondering faith lately. Not faith in the sense of religion or dogma, but faith in the sense of sitting with the unknown, with the secret, with mystery (or, perhaps, Mystery). The quote I started with popped up recently, the way things do when you’re paying attention to something in particular and it arises everywhere. I do have faith in that. It occurs too often not to.
I looked up the etymology of the word “dwell” after reading the quote from Sue Monk Kidd. It did not originally mean what I thought it did. As with many words, it’s had an interesting evolution. The current usage of the word is to live or be in a certain place. We also tend to think of it as spending time on/with something (to dwell on a quote or a passage in a book). Oddly (to me), the second meaning has negative connotations (to dwell on things that are the source of unhappiness or anxiety, such as events in the past).
Old English dwellan “to lead into error, deceive, mislead,” related to dwelian “to be led into error, go wrong in belief or judgment,” from Proto-Germanic *dwaljana “to delay, hesitate,” *dwelana “go astray” (source also of Old Norse dvelja “to retard, delay,” Danish dvæle “to linger, dwell,” Swedish dväljas “to dwell, reside;” Middle Dutch dwellen “to stun, perplex;” Old High German twellen “to hinder, delay”) from PIE *dhwel-, extended form of root *dheu- (1) “dust, cloud, vapor, smoke” (also forming words with the related notions of “defective perception or wits”).
The apparent sense evolution in Middle English was through “to procrastinate, delay, be tardy in coming” (late 12c.), to “linger, remain, stay, sojourn,” to “make a home, abide as a permanent resident” (mid-14c.). From late 14c. as “remain (in a certain condition or status),” as in phrase dwell upon “keep the attention fixed on.” Related: Dwelled; dwelt; dwells.
It had a noun form in Old English, gedweola “error, heresy, madness.” Also compare Middle English dwale “deception, trickery,” from Old English dwala or from a Scandinavian cognate (such as Danish dvale “trance, stupor, stupefaction”); dwale survived into late Middle English as “a sleeping potion, narcotic drink, deadly nightshade.”
~ From the Online Etymology Dictionary
Isn’t that fascinating how the word evolved? Moving from “to lead into error, deceive, mislead” to “linger, remain, stay, sojourn.” Sojourn is another interesting word that did not mean what I thought it meant (this is my error). The root, journ comes from the Proto-Indo-European dyeu, “to shine” or, in derivatives “sky, heaven, god.”
I mistakenly thought sojourn meant a pilgrimage or journey of some sort. Typing that out, I can see why I made that mistake. What it means, of course, is a temporary stay or visit.
The pandemic — the need to isolate or stay at home — has been a form of dwelling and indwelling (“to dwell in,” “to remain in,” “act of residing”). A sojourn and a journey, perhaps. It has also given us a kind of long winter hibernation, a chance to go inside, be inside, and find out what is dwelling within. It has given us the opportunity to ask questions, to learn patience, to find out what is truly important, to think about what is worthwhile (or worth your while). (And while, by the way, once had the connotation of being “a period of rest.”)
What has all this to do with pondering on the subject of faith? I’ve wandered so far off my original path of thought that I’m lost in the forest of words at the moment. Ah, right. Here we are:
And faith is neither the submission of the reason, nor is it the acceptance, simply and absolutely upon testimony, of what reason cannot reach. Faith is: the being able to cleave to a power of goodness appealing to our higher and real self, not to our lower and apparent self.
~ Matthew Arnold, “Literature & Dogma,” 1873
I find myself spiraling around the word faith and what it means to me. Where is my faith placed? Where does it dwell? I keep thinking of faith as a process, a movement from what we see as the ordinary/everyday/mundane to seeing it as the extraordinary/miraculous/magical.
Faith dwells in the heart, I think. And in the body-mind. Certainly in our thoughts, and maybe in our words and deeds, as well. Sometimes I think these abstract ideas, feelings, and playing with words, resides in the cells themselves, having infused or permeated us during the time we spend with them.
I’ll leave you with a poem that I have been sitting with today.
Let This Darkness Be a Bell Tower
Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,
what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.
In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.
And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.
Rainer Maria Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29
Thank you for visiting with me today. Sunset, scheduled for 5:37 PM, is going to be hidden behind the clouds today. There is snow in the forecast tonight. The weather folks are saying we might get two to four inches. I’ll meet you out in the snow tomorrow. We can throw snowballs or build a snow-person or, if there’s enough snow, break out the cross-country skis.
Please be safe, be well, and be kind. ♥
A few of the 10,000 reasons to be happy: 1.726) Finding hints of gold within the questions. 1,727) Freshly baked bread and the scent of it infusing the air in the house. 1,728) Learning to sit in the liminal, and the practices that help me do that. 1,729) M, always and forever. 1,730) The magic of the ordinary.