WheelchairPhoto by maxelmann / Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0

Housebound, mostly bedridden and in my nineteenth year of an incurable illness, my condition is a difficult one. I’m in a great deal of pain. My contorted body radically restricts all aspects of my mobility. I type these words kneeling on a chair outfitted with pressure sore pads, the only position from which I can use a computer.

People sometimes ask what keeps me going. Long before losing my health, there was the spontaneous mystical experience that awakened me from my youthful despair. It seems to me that the rest of my life has been a matter of learning how to receive what was implicit to that experience.

One of those teachings is often called “nonattachment.” That word, however, can be misleading. Whether nonattachment to our smaller selves comes to us more by way of joy or pain, it’s an entirely positive matter: as we die to the lesser, we live to the greater.

It’s hard to put this process into words, and of course the details are different for different people. But I’ve tried.

Whenever I refer to “the One” I mean the greatest context for our lives including and beyond our ability to comprehend — the ultimate story that holds all our stories. You will want to understand the One as referencing God or being itself according to your views.

The core element in my own thinking about spirituality is that faith is an articulation of love that does not depend on religious or spiritual beliefs of any kind. Faith is existential and one on One: deep down, each of us already experiences an unmediated and absolute faith in relation to being or reality itself. In my writing, I refer to becoming aware of our faith-full love and taking direction from it for our lives as learning to speak the Word in our own names.

Two pathsWhen I speak of the path of joy, I don’t mean a life that features especially exciting or happy events. Great joy means paying attention to the joy that your love can readily find in life. In family and friends. Work. Play and relaxation. The “little” things that include what it feels like to have a clean body, adequate shelter, and enough food.

The natural world is especially helpful for nurturing our love’s joy in relation to the whole and only One. Sights and sounds like the broad sky, the wind’s sweep, and the outreach of branching trees expand the soul.

To notice your joys instead of minimizing or discounting them is to become joyous. Notice joy, nourish joy, consciously take advantage of your opportunities to experience joy. Joy known over a long period of time takes you beyond yourself, deepening and expanding your mind beyond the boundaries of your disconnections.

Then you notice how very much about the world there is to love, and this becomes the space that you inhabit. Over time, the normal reading on the scope of your love’s desire for the well-being of others enlarges to include beloved individuals in totalities of concern: your community, nation, species, planet, and even, to borrow from Paul, the only One in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).

You could say that home, as a sense of self, is where the heart is. The more you care about something, the more that you identify with it. When you discover that you ultimately care about the greatest context for all our lives, then the power of this larger and more inclusive caring exceeds that of your caring for your separate self. You come to identify more with the One than with yourself alone. (Notice that you do not identify the One with yourself, but yourself with the One.)

You’re likely to outlive some of your greatest joys. Don’t let that be the only period in your life when you become highly aware of them. Notice joy now and it will help you become a person of peace, integrity, and strength when there is less joy in your life.

Crow’s Word
His note, dawn’s foil —
One blow to fill her pale blue bell with sound,
One impulse to deliver; that serves to sever bonds
Of all things that entangle, sully, soil.

This is the Word that blasts the sap,
The sound of force
That lifts the arms of trees;
That fashions-forth the branches from within
To raise this world of darkwood iron all around;
This the rising sound
Of the very juice by which the ground toils,
Becomes each massive trunk and slender tendril coil
Upright, upreared, at prayer.

Bright above, the morning sky awakens,
She blues and beckons like a mother’s eye toward which
The sun climbs, wings beat a path, while feet
With new-found ease
Like light along the spangled grass self-hurl,
Fast follow down that one windfall trail
Being blazed toward Canaan by what lives.

Let this day go gray, grow disenchanted:
I know the crow.

There is depth and even mystery to your love’s joys. They carry a significance that seems to point not so much beyond themselves but down deeper into themselves, further down than you can peer. You end up recalling the joyous times and events of your life in a certain way that hints of how you are more than yourself alone.

It’s less like remembering something that happened to you than like remembering something that happened. It’s like recalling some wonderful event that you happened to witness. You feel a sense of appreciation and privilege at having been there.

Finally, you recall the joys of your love not primarily with the satisfaction of your having experienced them, but with a real joy in their having happened at all. Our love’s encounters with the world seem to have a rightness and significance that’s more than the memories they leave behind in us.

You can lose everything. Health, mobility, freedom, and independence. House and home. Family and friends. Suddenly or gradually, through accident or disease, crime or warfare, you can find your quality of life and your further opportunities in life terribly reduced. If you live long enough, simple aging will do it.

Loneliness and desolationGreat pain and difficulty, especially when it’s permanent, can drive you over the edge, or nearly — and drive you instead to identify less with your disconnected self and more completely with the One. Either you find a deeper basis for life once you lose life as you knew it or you complete your destruction with your own anguish.

Of course, it takes time. Anyone faced with such a situation goes through anxiety, outrage, and grief. But if it goes on long enough, then instead of self destructing you can find yourself at or pretty near the end of complaining.

Under great and sustained adversity, and with enough restrictions on your capacity to enjoy life that can’t be removed, you reach a point where you no longer have the luxury of adding to your burden. You find that you genuinely no longer feel like complaining and begin to engage in your struggle and responsibilities without the anguish and agitation that you once experienced. Even if your struggle is physically painful, exhausting and mentally demanding, the process becomes simple and in a way, easy.

One with One, there is a lack of inner contradiction that imparts an effortlessness even to struggle. When you draw back to take your stand inside the wider circle, there is no frustration or discouragement, just the doing of what you can while you can because you can. You are equally ready to live or die not because you imagine a future heavenly reward but because you have already lived and died into your integrity with the One.

Carolina All the Time
Strings untangling their notes
Tentative then growing sure
When just before the intro ends
A lifting bend intones the way ahead
Curving like a road in me. And in my mind
Somehow I know that Carolina’s
Where I’m going all the time.

In my mind I’m going to Carolina
Once upon a time seemed only
Time to time. But now I find a way
Inside of me, ahead of me, behind,
The only road I’ve ever known in me
Right now with me;
It’s been there all the time.

Geese in flight and dogs that bite
Sometimes it seemed so easy and so right
At other times much worse
Than anything I ever had in sight.
The deep of dark turned steeper than the rise of light
The road so rough
It really seemed to me I’d had enough

Until at every turn I came to hear the strings
Untangling their branching notes
To play a winding song in me I would have said
I knew by heart except the melody
Knew me. It was a song
Of going to Carolina all along,
An undercurrent with a sweet and lustrous sheen –

Like brownstream snowmelt swiftly through the park
Or moonbeams crossing highbeams
Driving down a highway through the dark.
You can call it destiny or chance or fate
But you don’t start early and you can’t leave late
When something tuneful tells you that you bear no weight
And Carolina carries you along

If you solve the problem of living, the problem of dying takes care of itself. The love you seem to own is owned from the center by a wider sphere of ownership. You don’t own the love that is yours only to own up to. Underneath it all, your personhood is stark and simple and beautiful. It takes up where the night sky leaves off. You are awesomeness knowing itself from the inside.

Photo of the two paths above by Javier Kohen / Flickr, cc by-sa 2.0
Photo of the empty chair by StudioTempura / Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0

Paul Maurice MartinPaul Martin is a writer of poetry and prose who has a master’s degrees in religious studies and counseling from the University of Chicago Divinity School and the University of New Hampshire. This essay is adapted from Hope Without Belief, an unpublished book manuscript. Contact him to learn more.

Share Your Reflection



Thank you. I needed and muchly enjoyed reading this, this morning. Beautifully written- well taken, I have come away with "rise up" in my thoughts. Again, thanks.

I can't stop reading this...reading and re-reading...

I found your words to be very true in the context and course of my own experiences: noticing, allowing and relaxing into simplicity. Your essay shed light for me. That it comes down to the simplest Oneness - so simple it is everything and nothing - one with One. Thank you for this.

Absolutely beautifully written. Thank you so much.

Such beauty and wisdom~ Your words describe the peace within that many of us are working toward, and that all of humanity should strive for. It is true life, true light beyond form. Thank you so much for sharing~ only peace, only love~

Wow! Absolutely beautiful! Thank you!!

Imagine if we could live fearlessly, if the awareness were collective, if we attained that certainty of being One With One, and contemplate life as joy and faith as an articulation of love... here's a roadmap for the evolution of humanity provided by a deeply visionary soul afflicted with pain, but gifted with honesty, sensitivity and eyes that pierce into the truth... sublime peek into a beautiful soul. Thanks for publishing his words.

Yes, if the awareness were collective – it seems to me that needs to happen for our species to survive and flourish over the long term.

Thank you! This is stunning in its simplicity of understanding, we are just this, we are one with One.

Thank you. I see a lot of joy, but sometimes forget to acknowledge it to myself. Beautiful reminder this is. :-)

Beautiful, touching, transformative. Thanks for sharing your journey. You have more courage in living one day than most of us exhibit in our entire lives. Peace and blessings. Keeping fighting the good fight, "unattached."

I've been forced by circumstances to dig deep, but I do think we all have more strength than we usually know.

It has been a joy to share in your words. You have touched what I know and bring more power to my heart. Thank you.

I appreciate your kind and insightful comments. With limited computer time it takes me a while to come up to speed. In the days ahead and hopefully later today I’ll reply to as many individual comments as I can.

I like your poetry very much. Thanks for this.

Wonderful to see your insights and poetry here.

Thank you. This is exactly right for me to come upon at this moment

What a wonderful work on the journey we all take and how we can choose joy! Keep writing! You have a talent/gift for it!

Beautiful Paul. Thank you sharing this (and yourself) will the world. May God bless you.

To be a little provocative: “I and the Father are one.” When Jesus speaks along these lines, do you tend to think he’s referring to a self-transcendent identity that he alone has with God or one to which, so to speak, many are called but few so choose?

I always loved the greeting Namaste?...I am addressing the divinity in you....so yes in answer to your query,.. it has already happened. we just have to wake up to it

If you liked Paul's words, you should read his softcover book Original Faith. It has some marvelous insights I have found nowhere else in quite that form.

David, I appreciate it. We took that early book offline several years ago and it’s no longer available.

Your essay has been a blessing to read on the eve of Holy Week. I appreciate your encouragement to "notice your joys instead of minimizing them or discounting them." I needed to hear your reminders about..... Noticing joy....nourishing joy....taking advantage of experiencing joy.....
I also appreciate the insight of your poems. I know I will have a smile the next time I hear the cawing of crows on my street. I will say to myself "I know the crow" and I will be aware of speaking my Word and articulating my love. In "Carolina All the Time" - I liked your phrase "the melody knew me."
Humility and hope are intertwined in your essay. Thank you!

Beautifully written Paul,

Beautifully written...I needed to be reminded of the joy that is everywhere. Thank you for sharing.

Yes! The Path Of Joy.........

Thank you. I will think of you when I hear the morning crows.

Yes, yes, and Amen.

Thank you. Reading this is a perfect moment in time for me.

Thank you so much for your insight. Where can I find more of your writing? What of this unpublished book?

Cassandra, I appreciate your interest but it looks like my work has to go unpublished. I’ve written three manuscripts and have nearly completed a fourth. However, years ago I learned that with no marketing platform – some name recognition and the ability to promote your own work – publishers and agents have no interest, at least with regard to general interest nonfiction. This remained the case even after a bestselling author in my field wrote a foreword for two of my manuscripts.

If I’d been Martin Luther instead of Paul Martin and had a church door for thesis-nailing, then instead of “Justification by faith” mine would read, “Faith needs no justification.” My central thesis is that faith and a life of meaning are matters of direct experience and consciousness that require no doctrinal support or validation. I do feel that this idea and how I’ve articulated it might have merited a place in a wider public discourse.

I appreciate that setting at your computer is not the simple event that many of us take for granted, so I am even more grateful for your response. I can't believe that I am in such a minority of people eager to read more of your insight and experence. I have asked many friends to read what you have written here, with much the same response as I.

Your gift to me is your legacy of profound thoughts and words. Thank you, Paul Martin. I am glad we met once traveling through this space. Carolina sounds like a beautiful place. If there's space for more, I'll wave to you back there.

Wow...notice joy..so many wonderful things about this piece. Definitely provides the reader with so much to walk away with and so inspiring! Thank you!

You have put into words my faith experience and hope. I encourage you to continue seeking a publisher!

A lovely gift--finding your words and insights on this thunderstormy afternoon in southern Indiana. I send my thanks and my admiration to you.

Paul, I am a late comer to your beautiful words. I will be sharing them and as previous readers noted, I will be returning and re-reading them. It seems incomprehensible and I deeply regret that your amazing words have not been published. Thank you for sharing your gifted prose and poetry with us.

To Susan and other recent commentators: I much appreciate the continuing interest in my post. Recently there has been some renewed hope for the possibility of publication of my work, again thanks to other authors in my field.

Your comments and emails deepen my sense that the things I’ve written about are worth articulating in a form where they could be heard more fully and widely. Thank you.

Beautifully and brilliantly conveyed!