I was not born with the gift of waking up. During the night, sleep clots in my veins while my eyelids turn into miniature lead aprons, and while I might be able to force uprightness on myself the next morning, I can guarantee neither alertness nor attractiveness. (Ask Dan sometime how he feels about The Walking Dead as a reality show.) However, as much as I may rage, rage against the dawning of the light, my best days are always the ones that start an hour or two before I absolutely have to be up.
I call that hour or two my Spiritual Recharge Time (SRT) for lack of a better term. I grew up calling it Quiet Time, but that now reeks of obligation and guilt to me—falling asleep over Bible pages I was too tired to make any sense of, Psalms about morning prayer wagging their fingers at me, preacherly voices admonishing, “You don’t love sleep more than you love God, do you?” Give me a break.
I do sometimes read The Message for SRT, but I might read something else or journal or listen to music while the first cappuccino of the day warms my brain back to life. I have to figure out on a trial-and-error basis which practice will work for me on any given morning, and that’s not always easy. One morning, perusing the Bible will make my mind glow; the next morning, it will make me feel like stabbing something. Same with music and journaling and reading. I wake up (which in my case is always a euphemism, but still) with expectations of connecting with God, but sometimes trying to find the right spiritual practice feels like combing through a wardrobe of ill-fitting clothes. The frustration of this can leave me further from God and closer to zombiehood than I was upon “waking.”
I recently found a solution to this nothing-fits scenario though: TED Talks. It’s not that I’m just now discovering these “ideas worth spreading;” they’ve been on my radar since Liz Gilbert’s brilliant talk on genius in 2009. However, I never thought of them as spiritually relevant until one morning a couple of months ago when I gave up on SRT in frustration, opened my computer, and landed on Louie Schwartzberg’s presentation about nature, beauty, and gratitude:
“When people see my images, a lot of times they’ll say, ‘Oh my God.’ Have you ever wondered what that meant? The ‘Oh’ means it caught your attention, makes you present, makes you mindful. The ‘my’ means it connects with something deep inside your soul. It creates a gateway for your inner voice to rise up and be heard. And ‘God’? God is that personal journey we all want to be on, to be inspired, to feel like we’re connected to a universe that celebrates life.”
I felt it. Watching his stunning time-lapse photography filled me with the Oh my God that had been so absent from my other meditative attempts that morning. It rescued me from the confines of my own small mind and replaced my frustration with wonder. Wonder. That was the missing piece, the perspective I hadn’t had the strength to conjure for myself.
The talk finished, and I clicked to another one. I watched Paul Nicklen befriend a dangerous leopard seal, Sue Austin go deep-sea diving in a wheelchair, Amy Cuddy prove that we can change our internal chemistry with body language, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie discuss the power of our stories. Their innovations and perspectives helped me sense the scope of the universe a little more clearly. It felt like tapping into an existential undercurrent, one powered by creativity and open-mindedness and awe… and what was that undercurrent if not God?
Watching TED Talks has become my go-to spiritual practice when none of the conventional ones seems to fit, and I’m sharing this because I know I’m not the only who struggles to connect with God. Religious institutions have worked a number on many of us. The Bible has been used so often to manipulate and oppress that its words wound rather than heal some of us. Faith traditions straight-laced with rules and shoulds and penalties have convinced some of us that they control access to God, and why even bother trying when it’s all so hard and heavy, when all our attempts at devotion seem to turn our souls industrial grey?
This is why: Because God is bigger than the walls put up to safeguard religion. This I believe with all my heart. If we’re not finding God within other people’s traditions, that’s okay. In fact, there’s an expansive kind of joy in brushing up against the divine where you least expected to find it—in the zombie hour following dawn, for example, when all the usual spiritual channels have failed and all that’s left is the entire wonder-full universe.