Yes, I did it. I was in such a rush to get out the door for an appointment that I put on two shoes that did not match. About a block away from my destination I realized what I had done…too late to turn back. We all had a good laugh when I arrived. [Yes, prepare the meds and set up my psych exam.}
Sometimes, however, a mismatch is exactly what is needed. In many spiritual circles, we only dance with sweet qualities: love, peace and joy. God (the LIfe Source), however, is varied and diverse, encompassing a full range of energies.
In Muslim and Sufi communities, a list of 99 names for the divine provides endless opportunities for reflection. In the Sufi tradition, these names are divided into two categories: Jamal and Jalal. Jamal are names which relate to beauty, that is, they have a feminine sense of warmth and loveliness. These qualities include compassion, mercy, forgiveness and love. Jalal refers to those qualities related to majesty, which have more of a masculine feel. These qualities include power, independence, advocacy, and justice.
In the midst of these 99 divine qualities are some that are mystifying and off putting: “The Restrainer”, “The Humiliator”, “The Reckoner”, and “The Distressor”. We could chock these strange divine names up to the influence of patriarchal waters that have washed over our great religions. That’s too easy. Part of the purpose of such a list is to normalize our human experience by finding in the divine every aspect of the psyche.
These qualities, especially the ones that repel us, are worthy of contemplation and cultivation in order to be well-balanced human beings. For what is the purpose of reflecting on the divine if not to become more divine-like ourselves? Each of us at times needs more restraint or humility. There are moments when we need to call up that divine anger when someone’s harmful behavior requires a reckoning. Even distress has its place. An old adage says that Jesus came to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”. Causing distress for the privileged is the first step toward justice and equality. For every beautiful/lovely shoe, there is by necessity a corresponding, seemingly mismatched shoe of majesty/justice.
The key, of course, is to know which quality, which shoe, is appropriate in each moment. If we only step with one foot, we don’t move much. [Case in point…Washington, D.C….For most of his two terms, President Obama has focused on the qualities of gathering/relenting. Republicans have displayed firmness. To make progress, each needs to try on the quality displayed by the other.]
So how do we discern which quality is appropriate for the moment? Which do we overemphasize or underemphasize? Which quality does the divine yearn for us to put on? More and more I’m relying on my body to tell me. When my feet, my stomach and my jaw feel open, free, loose and buzzing with energy, then I sense that I’m embodying the appropriate choice for the moment: whether that be the bliss of compassion or the clarity of anger. When I feel constricted, devoid of life, or about to burst with frustration, that’s a cue that a different quality is necessary.
Where is Aliveness in this moment? Step, walk, run after it! Whether or not your shoes match makes no difference. It may well be the mismatched pair that brings you closest to the divine and sets you on the truer path you’ve longed for all these years of forced marching.