I have strong preferences about a great many things, but I’m able to set most of them aside for the sake of what is being asked of me by the moment, out of consideration for those who share the moment with me, in deference to their interests, and preferences, and desires. That’s what makes it possible to be married. And to be a parent. And a grandparent. And a minister for 35 years and counting. And, that’s what makes it possible for God to be God.
Setting self aside. Can you do it? Setting self aside for the sake of relationship with other selves. Can you do that AND be true to yourself? AND remain true to yourself? That’s the test of our capacity for spiritual development. We have to be a self in relation with other selves in order to grow spiritually. That is what spiritual growth is. That is the spiritual journey, being a self in relation with other selves.
Spirituality is not about esoteric mysteries, secret rites, true doctrine, revelatory insight into the nature of God, meditating with a sacred mantra, or being initiated in the right rules to live by. Spirituality is being a self in relationship with other selves. If you think that’s easy, take it for a drive around the block. My bet is that you won’t get it away from the curb.
How far aside do we set self before we draw a line? How can we be a self without drawing lines? How can we live in relationship and draw lines? How can we do right by ourselves AND do right by others? How much for you? How much for me? Answering these questions will take us to the heart of spirituality. Answering them properly will make all of us holy.
Answering them properly keeps us from being one-dimensional, shallow, simplistic, and forces depth and complexity upon us. The line is always moving. We cannot enter into relationship with each other and maintain hard-and-fast lines regarding anything. The toilet seat is sometimes up and sometimes down. Make a rule about the toilet seat, enforce it consistently, and the vitality of the relationship slips. Have enough toilet seat type rules in the relationship and the relationship dies outright. No relationship can exist with nothing but rules holding it together.
Watch the grandchildren step into a house where The Rules are in place. Where no one can breathe for fear of wrecking the relationship with Those Who Own The House. Notice how quickly the grandchildren begin to die. They start to die when they walk into the house. Relationship cannot be maintained by Rules For Everything. Four, maybe six, rules are all you can have and have any hope of relationship. The lines have to be wavy, moveable, flexible, here in one moment, there in the next one, and nowhere to be seen in the one after that.
Rules For Everything are there because the people who make the rules are uncomfortable drawing lines, so they make rules. And, a rule is a rule, you know, so they don’t have to worry about drawing lines. “It’s a rule,” means “I don’t want to have to think about it, or be responsible for telling you what I want you to do, or trust you to know where the limits are and draw your own line.” It means, “Let’s not do the work of relationship, which is the work of drawing lines, and let’s all have rules to live by.”
Organizations have policies because they don’t want to draw lines. They think the lines have to be drawn the same way in the same place for everyone because “that’s what’s fair.” Lines don’t pretend to be fair. Once a line has to meet the fair rule, it becomes a policy. You can’t have a policy and have a soul. Souls are about lines, moving lines, wavy lines, unfair lines. Souls are about dancing with lines that move.
Relationship cannot happen without lines, and relationship cannot happen with rigid lines. And spirituality is our relationship with ourselves, each other, and the mystery at the heart of being. How we live in that relationship, in those relationships, determines how spiritual we are. If you want to be spiritual, you have to do right by yourself, right by others, and right by the mystery at the heart of being. And, I still don’t think you can get that away from the curb.
But, that’s the work. Getting it away from the curb. Driving it around the block, all over town. Spirituality is the art of right relationship. And, each moment is a good place to practice the dance of holiness and love.
Compassion is the essence of spirituality, holiness, and right relationship. None of it happens without compassion. Compassion loves lines, and has very little to do with rules. Compassion has as much concern for the needs of the self as for the needs of the other or the needs of the mystery at the heart of being. Compassion recognizes when the self has been too long between breaks, and draws a line. Compassion dispenses attention, and grace, with proficiency and precision, and it doesn’t hesitate to call time out and take a nap, or a walk, or a weekend, or week, away. Compassion understands the nature of the line between giving and receiving, and gives to itself before it gives out.
How much for me? How much for you? How much for the mystery at the heart of being? Figure out the ratios, and you’ll be one holy person. But, turn them into a fixed formula and you’ll be just another lost soul. Trying too hard to be holy is as bad as not trying at all. So, dance with the moment of your living, without hiding behind The Rules. Live toward right relationship without having to know what that is. And let yourself enjoy how difficult it is, just getting away from the curb.
If God unfolds within us, our lives unfold into the mystery of being—IF we are not rigid in our conception of “the way it is supposed to be.” Nothing kills life quite like knowing how life is to be lived. There is something to be said for not knowing what the day holds, and for just not knowing. The less we know, the better. The more we have to know, the less flexible we can be, the less open to the moment, to the opportunity of the now. We’ll be trying to arrange the moment to flow according to our ideas for the moment, instead of listening to the moment and assisting what needs to come to life there.
Our lives unfold into the mystery of being. We are here to see what our lives have to show us. It helps not to be overly attached to our idea of how things ought to be, to our wants, preferences, interests and desires. But, we can’t be overly detached from these things either. Trying to figure it out distracts us from the dance, and we lose our way trying to find the path. What’s there to know? The old answers won’t fit the new questions. Clutching our answers, we fail to catch understanding as it drifts past. Concentrating on doing it right, we are unable to laugh at having to be right. We scowl at those laughing, snarl, snort and go back to trying to find the path, lost, within sight of home.