Earlier today, someone asked me about how my word for the year was manifesting, and she suggested it might mean more than just me-pushing-working-toward-a-goal. As I considered that, I realized I’ve been assuming “push” means me acting; but maybe something else, someone else is pushing me, too — toward a dream, or a deeper faith, or something meaningful, good and important. That was an initially thrilling thought, a mix of pleasant ideas like God and Muse and calling and destiny, tra-la. But the thought quickly soured and scared me, triggering age-old questions about free will and lifelong rage against the idea of irresistible grace. As quickly as I was intrigued by the thought of being pushed, I became angry at the thought of being controlled, and I felt betrayed by my chosen word, which is almost as strange a thing to say as it is to feel… I tend to post things at their end, when I have found a polished answer; but today I am posting from the middle, with its darkness and its weight. Here is my unstructured, uncensored doubt.
These two months, I’ve thought I am the one pushing — digging in my heels and thrusting all my willpower against the unmovable object that is my perceived incompetence, heaving all my hope against my doubts.
Here is a new hope and doubt, where I expected neither: What if I am (also) being pushed against? What if the Divine, the Muse, a dream is sneaking up and throwing itself against me, pushing me toward the ideas I love dearest & fear most?
[Don’t I want pure freedom, though? Don’t I bash determinism, bloody fisted as I jab and punch at fate? I care not to control other people, but I hold control of my own independence, my own will, my own self — hold it close as a knife-point at the throat, threatening to cut true and deep if gods or men dare tamper.]
I remember the Calvinist God. I can still hear His alleged irresistible call [for me, for a few]. Isn’t that absurd? He does not coerce, they said, He does not force. You cannot force grace! But if I cannot say no, neither can I consent.
I remember the Elect, Borg collective that they are. But I am man, not machine, I insist. I am free! I am free, in this body, this mind!
I insist this, too, between punches: If I go to God, it is by choice. It is not by bullying or programming. Who, given the chance to be adventurer and convert or automaton and captive, embraces the latter? What theology could convince them?
God maybe laid out the landscape, God maybe drew up the map, but me, I’m my own compass, and I choose my steps. Don’t I? Do I? Have I ever?
I wonder if I am broken. Shouldn’t I find comfort in the Lord leading the way, as the flowery bookmarks and magnets assure me He does? But if the footsteps are not mine, how can I not resent the movement? I would rather be immobile than prance on puppet strings. I would rather remain lost than try to escape a maze.
I wonder if I am fallen. Shouldn’t I trust in Someone guiding my path? [I do, sometimes, I don’t, sometimes.] [The Book says it is so.]
Doesn’t a scientist push the starved rat ever forward? And should the rat praise him for it?
Does it make it any better to be pushed toward something good?
Ask yourself, am I a rat chasing cheese? Ask yourself, can I see the great design from the vantage of this cage?
Would you choose this, rat? Would you choose this ordered lab led by a sovereign director when its very order renders you without any choice at all?
King over rats. Lord of the laboratory. That’s not glory, is it? That’s not made-in-his-image?
Push on, little rodent. Scurry ever forward, strain against the panes, pray at every dead end. Turn around now, ratty. Push forward once more. Do you feel him watching? Does he delight in you? Is this the god you follow? Is this our great creator? I cannot capitalize such religion, such.
Resistance is futile, they said. They, all of them. Not just the theologians of a certain strain, but the neuroscientists, too, and the sociologists. Philosophers and armchair philosophers, realists and cynics. And they may be right. My God, they may be right. We may be rats, or something like.
I unclench my bloody fists, but the fight is somewhere buried here in me still. The trust is, too. [Sometimes, I do, sometimes, I don’t.]
Does it make any difference to be pushed toward something good? There must be some balance between Mechanic and Muse, Scientist and Providence. There must, there should be. And that’s it, isn’t it? It’s not my nature that scares me, the question of free will, so much; it’s the nature of the Designer, the Source, the Force who pushes us this way and that.
[Maybe this year means, in part, learning to accept the rough-gentle, must-maybe push of the Divine.]
I have dug in my heels, but I cannot punch or push or prance forever. Tell me, can there be freedom in a maze? And can its Maker be good?