After my second combination lock was jimmied open in the locker room of the local Y where I work out, I got myself a tamper-proof brass padlock that opened with a key. The only trouble was I had no pockets in my gym shorts to hold the key while I exercised. For a while I was able to secure the key with a thick rubber band I looped around my wrist. Then the rubber band broke. I realized I needed a strong elastic cord. But where to find one? I had no clue. In the meantime, I knotted the rubber band and continued using it. A few days later I pulled into a gas station on a trip out of state. As I was filling up, I noticed something on the ground and reached down to get it. It was a looped elastic cord, just big enough to fit comfortably around my wrist. Nothing fancy, mind you, but exactly what I needed.
There are various ways to view this little episode. The first is to give it no thought at all. Surely it was a coincidence that I happened to find an elastic cord lying on the ground just when I needed one. These things happen all the time and are more often than not offset by occasions when I can’t find an item belonging to me that has mysteriously disappeared just when I need it.
But then I thought of a saying by the Sufi poet Rumi: “What you seek is seeking you.” New Age types have glommed onto this statement in support of the so-called Law of Attraction, the belief that “like attracts like” as positive or negative thinking is manifested in the circumstances of one’s life. Thus, I had unknowingly planted a seed in my mind with the thought that a strong elastic cord was exactly what I needed. And, lo and behold, there was one waiting for me when I pulled into the gas station a few days later.
I assume Rumi had loftier things in mind than elastic cords when he made his statement that what you seek is seeking you. For many spiritual seekers, their journey begins only after they have first caught a glimpse of something larger than themselves. Sooner or later it may occur to them that there was nothing accidental in this. The question then becomes, who is seeking whom?
“Draw near to God and he will draw near to you,” wrote the Apostle James. There is a kind of symmetry in this that bears closer scrutiny. Imagine glimpsing yourself for the first time in a mirror if you have never previously seen your own reflection or image. It might take a while before you realize the two of you are really the same person. Something similar happens when we first catch sight of God. What may strike us most about God initially is his otherness, but this is an illusion. If God were truly other than ourselves, we would not recognize him for who he is. We are made in his image, after all. We are able to recognize him because we can connect with the divine essence in ourselves. We may have a sense that in drawing near to God he is drawing near to us; however, in reality there are not two of us but one. It is God seeking himself.
As for the elastic cord I found at the gas station on my way out of town, I stuffed it into a pocket and then promptly mislaid it. My wife and I were staying at a hotel outside of Washington, DC. I figured the cord was bound to turn up, since I knew I had it when we checked into the room. I searched the suitcase, the floor, the bathroom; went through all my pockets, even the wastebaskets. The cord had disappeared. So much for the law of attraction, I thought. We checked out the next morning, and I waited by the curb for our car to be brought around. Then I looked down and noticed something lying on the ground. It was another elastic cord.