If we throw it all out, what’s left? That seems to be the concern. If we take a “non-theistic” approach to the understanding of God, and say there is no omnipotent, invincible, almighty, omniscient, ever-present Power “out there,” no “man upstairs,” who has to be appeased by the sacrificial death of Jesus, and who, if we believe in Jesus, answers prayer and rescues us from tight spots, then where does that leave us? With no more than each other to count on for the right kind of help along the way? If we throw out the doctrines, and the dogmas, and the creeds, and the catechisms, what are we going to offer as replacements? The Existential Courage To Be?
Five things come to mind: 1) There is no value in doctrines, dogmas, creeds and catechisms whose only response to inquiry and examination is “The Bible says so!” or “You have to take it on faith!”. 2) If we throw it all out, we are no worse off than we have always been. 3) There is more to life, to living, to being alive, than meets the eye. 4) Help is available and comes from the strangest places in the strangest ways. 5) There is nothing like living fifteen minutes with our eyes open to know the previous four points are valid.
Eyes open! How’s that for a viable alternative to the doctrines, dogmas, creeds, and catechisms (whose only foundation is “The Bible says so,” and “You have to take it on faith”)? Wake up! Pay attention! Be aware! That’s far enough from what the church has typically said to be radically new. Throw it all out and wake up! How’s that for “what’s left”?
So, what’s waking up going to do for us? Will it save us from the fires of hell and give us our heart’s desire (that land flowing with milk and honey, you know)? It will definitely deliver us from the fires of hell. And, it has more going for it than our heart’s desire (If the Chosen People had known what they were doing, they would have held out for a land flowing with oil and natural gas). Waking up is it.
Awake, we have everything we need to deal with, manage, make the most of life in the moment of our living. And, awake, we are aware of, and tuned into, the more than meets the eye that is a part of every moment. And, we are alert to the help that comes out of nowhere to startle, surprise, amaze and sustain. And, we know better than to make up stories that explain the more than meets the eye and the “very present help in time of trouble.” We can embrace the realities without perpetuating the fiction.
One of the things we have to wake up to is understanding, learning, knowing, being sensitive to the difference between willfulness and willingness. We can live willing a particular outcome to the moment, and we can live as willing participants in the moment. Two very different ways to think about the word “willing.”
We can live from the standpoint of wanting, willing, desiring life to be something other than what it is, and we can live from the standpoint of willing participation in life as it is, as it comes to us. The critical point is about motive, and modus operandi, and intention, and agenda, and purpose, and what we spend our time thinking about, serving, and trying to arrange.
Who are we? What are we about? Our answers to these questions set us up for the rest of our lives. How we answer them determines the direction and flow of our lives. But, it isn’t as though we answer them once and for all. We are constantly answering them. In each moment comes the choice between willfulness and willingness. In each moment comes the decision about who we are and what we are about. Over time, the moments add up, and our life takes on a particular flavor, a certain cant, character, style, and we find that we have formed a life with our living, one moment at a time. All of which is clear to those who are awake.
The questions, Who are we? What are we about?, are about motive, purpose, direction, intention, and the like. We live toward something and away from something else. We do not abandon desire. We cannot live without wanting. We will to live toward one thing and away from another. Wanting, desiring, willing are very much a part of our lives, whether our foundation is willfulness or willingness.
The difference between willfulness and willingness is critical. It is the difference between a tool and a prop. It is the difference between forcing and assisting. The stream finds its own path to the ocean. Forcing nothing, it finds the way.
You could say the stream desires the ocean. And, you could say the ocean desires the stream. And, you could say we are streams looking for the ocean. And, you could say we are the ocean looking for the stream.
So, it isn’t a matter of not wanting, not desiring, not willing, but a matter of willing participation in the moment with a certain hope, a certain dream, for the moment in mind. The hope and the dream are grounded in our “stream-ness,” in our “ocean-ness,” in the developing awareness of who we are and what we are about.
It takes a lot of living to be able to see. To wake up. To be alive. And, we are always forgetting, closing our eyes, going back to sleep. There is no steady state called “Awake,” or “Enlightened,” or “Aware.” In each moment, we are more-or-less awake, more-or-less enlightened, more-or-less aware. The more awake, enlightened, aware we are, the more in touch we are with the more than meets the eye that is present in each moment; the more alert we are to the help that comes from nowhere to sustain and enable, delight and amaze.