It’s like teaching yourself to swim. Or, ride a bicycle. There is no instruction manual, and if there were, it wouldn’t help. You just get in the water and see what happens. Over time, with persistence, you’ll figure it out. As you mingle with other swimmers, you pick up pointers, improve, learn to dive. Wow. Look at you go. It’s like that.
The Way of God is like that. Being the church is like that. Christianity is like that. You don’t get to be a Christian by reading the manual and believing you are a Christian. You get to be a Christian by getting in the water and seeing what happens. The path, as the Zen masters say, begins under our feet. The Way of God unfolds before us in the moment of our living. There is nothing to think. Nothing to know. We feel our way forward toward the good, toward the compassionate, toward the best we can imagine. We bring our best to bear on each moment. That’s all there is to it.
Over time, our best gets better and the cumulative impact of each moment adds up, and the world is transformed. Well, maybe not the WORLD, but, you know, lives are changed. People and circumstances are healed by our presence. Magic happens. Often, without our being aware of it, ever knowing it. “Lord, when did we see you sick and minister unto you, or in prison and visit you?” Don’t underestimate the power of a life bent unconsciously, but with full awareness, toward the good over time.
The awareness has to do with the intention to the good. The unconsciousness has to do with accounting practices, with measuring success and keeping track of outcomes. We are conscious of bringing our best to bear on the moment. We are unconscious of the impact and implications of our efforts, because the next moment is already upon us, and a different good is called for there.
And, what does sin have to do with it? Absolutely nothing. Sin is what enrages God and sets God against us. We had to figure out why things weren’t working out so well back in the long ago and far away. And we figured it must be something we had done, because God wouldn’t be out to get us for no reason. So, we cooked up sin. If bad things happened to us it was because God was punishing us because we had sinned. Avoiding sin was our way of controlling God, and insuring that good things came our way. Sin is sinful because it’s all about manipulation and control. Getting what we want. Having our way. The whole point of living sinlessly is to acquire the things we sin to get. Surely, you can see, even if your name isn’t Shirley, even if you are dead, the stupidity of the entire edifice!
Let’s start with the idea that we cannot enrage God or set God against us, and that the things that come our way are just the things that come our way. They are not sent from God with a message about repent or else attached. Sinless purity is no hedge against the encroaching terrors. The game is not to get what we want by giving God what God wants. The game is Here Is The Moment—Do Your Best With It. Don’t let anyone tell you that isn’t the game, or that there is some other game instead. That’s the game. It’s the only game. Here Is The Moment—Do Your Best With It.
Ah, but why should we? Right? What’s in it for us? Right? Motivation. Motive. Incentive. Provocation. Inspiration. Encouragement. Enticement. We cannot just do the good, can we? We have to have a reason, don’t we? Else we will just recline on our couches and call for more beer. What’s the good of doing the good? And, why should we bust our can in the service of the good when everybody else is slacking off and lying about?
It’s like learning to swim. Or, ride a bicycle. You can’t do it before its time. Forcing people to do the good—bribing them, threatening them, compelling them, shaming them, slamming them, commanding them—is not going to get the good done. Giving people reasons to do the good isn’t going to get the good done. If you need a reason to bring your best to bear upon the moment of your living, it won’t be your best, in the first place, and, in the second, you won’t have the heart to sustain it over time in the face of resistance and opposition and the complete absence of results. If you need a reason to go swimming, you aren’t ready for the water.
Where do you get eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that understand? Where does readiness reside? Who can give us what we are not interested in having? Who can tell us what we cannot hear? We cannot use the answers to questions we aren’t asking. Where do the questions come from? Live on, live on.
Whose good is served b y the good we serve? How good is the good that only serves our good?