The Gift of Uncertainty

Click for audio: The Gift of Uncertainty

People wish to be settled; only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them.   – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’ve always resonated with these words of Emerson because, for me, they stir something that rings true at the soul level. I speak often of the universal desire for freedom shared by all expressions of life, including us. Freedom from some level of bondage is frequently on our mind, probably because our “wish to be settled” so often leads us into feelings of being trapped in life’s conditions. The English political and military leader, Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658) went so far as to say, “A man never rises so high as when he knows not whither he is going.”

In my book, A Practical Guide to Meditation and Prayer, I share an interpretation of the Cain and Abel story (Genesis 4), which beautifully addresses this dynamic. Cain, you may recall, was a tiller of the soil, a farmer. Abel, his brother, was a shepherd. The farmer settles into a single plot of land while the shepherd leads a nomadic life. We might think of Cain as that part of us that wishes to be settled, and Abel is that part that requires freedom. The day comes when both brothers bring offerings to the Lord, Cain, his first fruits of the land, Abel, the firstlings of his flock. The Lord rejects Cain’s gift but accepts Abel’s.

Taking the story literally, this rejection of Cain’s offering is confusing. From a spiritual point of view, however, we see that the Lord, the law of life and expansion, favors the shepherd mindset that seeks no boundaries, that is not settled into a view of life surrounded by the fences of preconception. Cain’s slaying Abel represents our own attempts to address our desire for freedom by settling into the attainment of some external acquisition (a fenced plot). That this is not possible is depicted in the Lord banishing Cain to the land of Nod, which in Hebrew means, “wandering.” Cain himself is uprooted from his life as a “settled” farmer and forced to become a nomad. In other words, we cannot suppress our inherent desire for freedom because freedom is our natural, spiritual state.

If you are going through a season of uncertainty, know that you are in a position to re-evaluate the mental and emotional boundaries you have placed around yourself. Think of your situation as the gift of uncertainty, a soul-searching opportunity to observe patterns of thought and choice making that serve to confine rather than free you to live the life of your preference.


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