Here’s how it works: We cooperate. We harmonize. We align. We adjust. We negotiate. We take the raw materials of our lives, such as they are, and make what we can make of them. We take the givens and do what we can with them. We wake up, see into the heart of things, and live toward what is truly important in every moment, no matter how little difference that seems to make, no matter what.
We don’t quit because it’s hopeless. Hope is not optimistic. Hope doesn’t care what it’s chances are. Hope does what it has to do “anyway, nevertheless, even so.” Hope believes in the value of what it’s doing no matter what. Hope does what is good, and goes on doing what is good, whether it does any good or not. Hope lives as life is supposed to be lived, even though life may never be lived that way on a broad scale. Hope burns brightly because hope burns brightly, and not because it hopes to get rid of the darkness. Hope doesn’t hope for anything. Hope just is. Like life itself.
Hope is life refusing to succumb to “the facts of life.” Hope is life living on, in spite of the odds, regardless of the consequences, whatever the circumstances. Hope is life doing what it does. Where there is hope, there is life; not just 98.6 and breathing life, but life in the fullest, deepest, most vibrant and vital sense of the term. Where there is life, like that, there is hope. The two cannot be separated. The two are one. We live to be alive, in the fullest, deepest, most vibrant, and vital, sense of the term. We live, faithfully, hopefully, lovingly, no matter what.
Here’s how it works: Love loves knowing exactly what it is doing, exactly what the deal is. Love loves with its eyes wide open, taking in everything, missing nothing, and loving “anyway, nevertheless, even so.” Love is beautiful that way. It’s the best thing about us. The next best things about us are faith and hope. Hope lives hopefully, lovingly, faithfully, no matter what. Hope does what it does whether it stands a chance or not, because that’s the way hope is. Same for faith. We do the faithful thing, even when we don’t stand a chance. We are true to ourselves, true to the best we can imagine, true to that which is deepest, truest and best about us, no matter what. All three of these babies are reflected in the life and death of Jesus, who went straight to the cross exhibiting the best of faith, hope, and love. Not hesitating. Not missing a beat. And, knowing exactly what the deal was. Not fooling himself a minute about the possibility of “roses, rainbows and white picket fences.”
The life we have is the life we have. The spiritual task is to live the life we have to live and not some other, bigger, finer, more fun life which we wish we had. “Here’s your life,” says the Life Giver, “See what you can do with it.” We can waste a lot of time trying to do more than can be done with it, trying to do what we wish we could do with it.
We have our aspirations and our desires. We have our dreams and our ambitions. We have our ideas of how our life ought to be. We want to be a writer, for instance, but we don’t spend any time actually writing. We’ve never written anything. We don’t even like to write. Or read, for that matter. But, we have the idea that being a writer would be quite the thing, and maybe, if we could just move to New York, where all the real writers live, we could be a writer like them. At least, we could hang out with them, and that would be almost as good as being one of them. And, we hate all the things about our lives that keep us from moving to New York, and having it made.
We miss the point. The point is the difference between a tool and a prop. The difference between striking a pose and living a life. The difference between a snappy façade and depth of soul. The point is who we show ourselves to be through the process of living our lives.
We want to be thought well of. Writers are thought well of. We want to be a writer. People in the National Honor Society are thought well of. We want to be in the National Honor Society. And we will cheat on exams to make the grades necessary to be invited to join. We hate these old lives, because these old lives cannot possibly bring us the respect and honor we so desperately seek. We live looking for props and do not understand the importance of tools.
Here’s how it works: What do we think enlightenment does for us? Do we think it will line up the stars and planets in our behalf and deliver unto us the everlasting favor of God? Or, to use the language of the church of our experience, what do we think doing God’s will does for us? Do we think it will position us for prosperity and success in this life and eternal rewards in the world to come? Rick Warren, of The Purpose Driven Life fame, thinks the purpose of our lives here and now is to prepare us for eternity by stocking up points and getting us to heaven when we die. Here’s what I think: It isn’t about getting anything. Not even heaven. Enlightenment doesn’t get us anything. Doing God’s will doesn’t get us anything. We aren’t in it for what we can get out of it. For what we have to show for it.
Here’s how it works: Laurie O’Neal loves digging in the ground, planting things, growing gardens. Clara Kelly loves weaving garments and shawls and things to wear. Melanie Bassett loves painting and drawing and teaching children and adults to paint and draw. Jim Ritchey loves writing songs and teaching others to write songs. I love to walk through scenes taking photographs. What do any of us have to show for it? Next to nothing, the culture would say. Why are you wasting your time, the culture would ask. Why don’t you move to New York, the culture would wonder, and become a writer.
You see the problem. We live in a land that strips us of ourselves, that robs us of our soul, that takes our heart away from us, and gives us an image to polish and maintain. We live in a land that makes it clear from the start that we are not good enough as we are—that tells us from the beginning who, and how, we ought to be, and what we ought to do, in order to have it made. We live in a land that hands us its idea of success and shames us for not measuring up, for coming up short, for not trying hard enough, for not making something of ourselves.
Here’s how it works: Each of us has to find for herself, for himself, the balance point between making a living and having a life. We cannot be seduced by the cultural proposition that success and happiness are only the next major purchase, only the next acquisition, only the next achievement, only the next accomplishment, away. We have to understand what enlightenment does for us—it gives us ourselves. It reconnects us with ourselves. It introduces us to ourselves. It invites, and enables, us to be who we are—to be true to ourselves—within the context and circumstances and conditions of our lives.
Claude AnShin Thomas said, when he was with us a week or so ago, “Nothing is more important that participation in a community of like-minded open-minded people without a need to indoctrinate, or inculcate, or convert the world to their way of thinking.” That kind of community grants us the freedom to find our own way. What is enlightenment but finding our own way—finding the way that is truly our way? What is enlightenment but waking up to who we are? What is enlightenment but living as who we are, where we are, when we are, how we are, why we are, what we are? What does enlightenment do for us beyond connecting us with our own hearts, and selves, and souls, and psyches? What does enlightenment do for us beyond enabling us to live lives aligned with who we are? What is there beyond living as fully integrated selves in the world?
Here’s how it works: In the Star Wars epic, Yoda is a high advanced spiritual being who lives in a hole in the ground. What do you need to be who you are? What is the difference between a prop and a tool? Or, to come at it another way, writing makes a writer, not living in New York, not even being published. What keeps you from writing? What do you need in order to write?
Here’s how it works: “What I do is me,” says Gerard Manly Hopkins, “for that I came.” What is the context, what are the circumstances and conditions of our lives that prevent us from being who we are? That are toxic to ourselves, poisonous to our souls, destructive to our spirits, lethal to our hearts, death to our lives?
To integrate our lives, we have to slow down and be mindfully aware of the moment, of the pulls and conflicts, the inclinations and resistances at work upon us and within us in the moment. We have to bear the pain of the moment, seeing, hearing, and understanding what is going on in the moment. And decide what we will do in light of our best guess regarding what is truly important.
What will we do? How shall we live? What do we hope to achieve with our actions? Who, and how, are we? What do we need to be who, and how, we are? What assists us? Inhibits us? What keeps us from living a life aligned with our best guess regarding what is truly important?
If we are trying to see, hear, and understand, we will live differently than if we are trying to get something, or keep something from happening. Seeing and hearing and understanding is different from having, possessing, acquiring, owning, keeping, maintaining and amassing. What are the tools of perception? What do we need, to know? How must we live in order to see, hear, and understand? We change the nature of the game when what we want from playing is to see, hear, and understand—and to live as those who do.