“There’s no use trying,” said Alice, “One can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age I always did it for half an hour a day. Why sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
– Lewis Carroll
The combination of winter, holidays and the state of the world can be more than enough to overwhelm. There is a pervading sense of the impossibility of doing anything that will make a difference. And then, out of nowhere it seems, there arises an unexpected turn... in world events, in the painting you are struggling with, in a sister that is healed. It is as if spontaneity and effort are partners after all.
A childlike curiosity is my ally in imagining impossible things, so I return to Alice, and her lesson from the Queen in acting as if... For winter is the time to plant seeds that will grow, as if they will bloom. All seeds: plants, trees, children, ideas, dreams and wishes– require this time of waiting–being hidden in darkness, in the womb, in the earth. In this way too, all losses can be planted and cared for as seeds or songs or prayers. This is the season of the darkest night, and we may as well inhabit it with our deepest longing.
There is wisdom in the children's stories– believing something that seems impossible need not be only a child-like fancy or an untethered whim. There is evidence supporting the idea that how we shape our view of ourselves, or a situation, or person, or even what is possible– can alter the experience of what happens. The stories we tell ourselves and the very words we use are alchemical tools. This kind of thinking, tethered to dedication and work, has brought me here.
We have the ability and the imagination to create, to make ourselves and the world bigger. John Lewis, the famous civil rights leader who was beaten and arrested, imagined, in spite of all the evidence, a beloved community. He is now a U. S. Representative. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. He said this of his time working for civil rights in the early 1960's:
I wanted to believe, and I did believe, that things would get better. Later I discovered that you have to have this sense of faith that what you are moving toward is already done. It's already happened. *
He said this with his feet on the ground, when the right for black people to vote must have seemed, at times, unattainable. There is an echo from T. S. Eliot's Burnt Norton:
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
We often give up on an idea or a prayer because it hasn't happened in a certain amount of time– and toss it out as another failure or loss. This kind of thinking prevents the ability to see unexpected turns and offerings.
I believe it was the Hopis who said that their understanding of change has nothing to do with measuring or judging the amount of time it takes for change to occur. Rather, it is knowing that existence includes both what is manifest, and all that is unmanifest. Your faith, which becomes stronger with experience, is to act as if what is unmanifest in your heart will take shape in its own time, and in its own way.
This morning we will end with T. S. Eliot, who concludes his long poem in The Four Quartets:
And all shall be well and
all manner of thing shall be well.
My warmest wishes to all of you, dear readers, in this season of darkness. Do you have any winter stories? I'd love to hear from you.
* This passage comes from my reading this week of Krista Tippett's Becoming Wise: