We can only see as much as we are able to see—as we are able to bear—in any moment. It all depends upon what we bring to the table. Joseph Campbell says, “Either you can take it, or you can’t.” Col. Nathan P. Jessup, in A Few Good Men, says, “You can’t handle the truth!” There you are. We can only see as much of the truth as we can as we can “handle,” as we can “take,” If we are going to see more than we see, we are going to have to enlarge our capacity to bear what we are seeing.
The spiritual task is to increase our ability to “handle,” to “take,” the truth. The spiritual task is to “bear the pain” of the truth of our lives, and of life itself. We will never be able to see things as they are until we can make our peace with things as they are. Jim’s Fail Proof Formula for making our peace with our lives is simple: “This is the way it is, and this is what I can do about it, and that’s that.” For some reason, we don’t seem to be able to do it. The one thing that remains true about us, across the ages, as individuals and as a species, is that we cannot look our lives in the eye without blinking. Really, without looking quickly away. Really, without running away. And hiding out, in any of the escapes and addictions that happen to be at hand.
We cannot deal with the disparity between how things are and how we wish they were—between the world we can imagine and the world we live in. We cannot face the truth of the life we wake up to every day. “Here it is again,” the world seems to say. “Can you take it today, and tomorrow, and the day after that? Can you take it and go on taking it? Can you take it, and take it, and take it?” And, the answer through the centuries, through the ages, over the long expanse of time that the question has been asked, has always been, “Not by ourselves we can’t!” Not alone, we can’t. Not cut off from, detached from, excluded from, isolated from the right kind of company.
We can’t take it, we cannot handle the truth, alone. We make it together in this world, or not at all. On our own, we are at the mercy of the cold winds of hopelessness, and helplessness, and fear, howling up from the depths of the Void. But, together, we serve as buffers for one another, protecting each other by the warmth of caring presence from the spirit-crushing pressure of despair and desolation. It only takes two or three of the right kind of people to comprise the right kind of company, to mediate the presence of God, to enable us to take it, and keep us going. But, it takes two or three. We are not built to live well alone.
The spiritual journey is not a solitary enterprise. We cannot undertake it alone. We hold one another up. We encourage one another. We exist for one another as reminders of more than meets the eye, and, of more than words can say. It is easy for us to wake up each morning and slip over into weariness and despondency. It is easy for us to succumb to the deadly quartet: “So what? Who cares? Why try? What difference does it make?” On our own, we do not have what it takes to, in Paul’s words, “Fight the good fight, keep the faith, finish the agonae.” Or, to “run with perseverance the agonae that is set before us.” This life is the agony, the agonae, that weighs heavily upon us. It takes us all to have a chance.
Here’s the deal, as truthfully spoken as it has ever been laid out before you: We nurture, and nourish, the spirit of the other. We keep the spark of life alive in the eyes of one another. We bring hope and heart to life. All of you feel better in the company of the right kind of people. All of you live better in the company of the right kind of people. If you are going to give me anything, give me the right kind of company! And, don’t give me anything you wouldn’t give yourselves!
It is our work together to create a place together that is a good place to be. It is our work to be good company. It is our work to master the art of right relationship, and to offer to each other the kind of communal spirit that regenerates spirits, and restores souls, and resurrects life, and transforms the world—by reminding each other of, and living together as evidence of, the “more than meets the eye”—by living in the midst of what is true as those who know, and exhibit, what is also true. It is our work to care for one another. In so doing, we off-set the impact of the uncaring, impersonal, nature of the universe, and bring something new to life in the world, and in each other. The “something new” is the very essence of life, the heart of life itself.
Human beings have always speculated about the existence of life beyond life, a spirit world beyond this world of normal, apparent reality. Eternal life. Abundant life. Life everlasting. We have, as a species, yearned for a world where we can be fully, completely, wholly alive without the limitations and restrictions of this “vale of tears.” We live in a world where living takes the life right out of us. We all understand the difference between going through the motions of life and being fully, vibrantly, joyfully alive. Because this world seems to be more about death than life, we look to the world beyond death as the place of life, and light, and peace. The “new thing” is the work to create enclaves of that world in the midst of this world. We carry out that work by caring about one another.
In this world, we are taught to care about the wrong things. That’s what this world will do to you. This world will tell you the wrong things are important. Like money, for instance. But, not just money, lots of it. Wealth! Prosperity! This world would have us believe that wealth and prosperity are essential, that life depends on them, that we cannot “really live” until we have “taken care of business,” and become wealthy, and prosperous.
Wealth is a problem. We don’t need people to be less poor so much as we need people to be less wealthy. But, try selling that idea. Nobody’s buying that. Everybody will tell you the way out of poverty is into wealth. Everybody thinks wealth is the answer to poverty. But, money is the barrier. Less money means fewer barriers. It means more connection. More community. Fewer walls. More caring. Less poverty. But, it is a strategy that will never be tried. The world has done a good job of convincing us that wealth is important. That’s what the world does. It destroys our perspective and undermines our ability to know the good when we see it. In this world, we care about the wrong things.
The hope of the world are eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that understand. But, don’t think that the world will rush to be saved. Right seeing, right hearing, and right understanding are threats to the world’s very being. It will kill those who threaten its life, even though it is only an artificial, life-less, existence it calls “life.” The world will not die in order to live. It will kill to keep from dying.
Do you begin to understand the nature of the cross? And the Communion Table? Do you see what these things represent for us, who dare to talk about seeing, hearing, and understanding? These babies are ever-present reminders of what we are up against, of the price we will pay for being alive. But, don’t take my word for it. Just begin to live together in ways that bring life to life in the world. In order to live, we die; in dying we live. That realization is Christianity’s fundamental gift to the world. It means our work is cut out for us.
Our work is the work of bringing life to life in the world. We do that by bringing life to life in our own lives and in the lives of one another. We cannot do it alone, remember. It takes us all.
The work of bringing life to life is carried out on three fronts. The first has to do with coming to terms with how things are. “This is the way it is, this is what can be done about it, and that’s that.” We have to make our peace with “the facts of life,” with our lot in life, with who we are and how it is with us. The second has to do with the world’s approach to solving the problem of the way things are, which is, basically, denial, escape, and addiction, on the one hand, and despair on the other. In the world, if you aren’t depressed you’re in denial.
The third front is the boundary between the first two. We live between the way things are and the world’s response to the way things are, as those who have more to say about both. Eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that understand perceive more to life and living than meets the eye. We know very clearly how things are and how things also are. We live between what happens in the world and how the world responds to what happens there, and we bring something new to life.
We bring life to life. We bring compassion and hope to life. We care about one another. We live beautiful lives in the midst of the worst that life can do. We create the Promised Land on the boundary between the world and the way the world responds to the world. We build there the New Jerusalem, the Kingdom of God. We live there as those who look life in the eye, without flinching, but seeing past “the facts of life,” to “more than meets the eye,” and living lovingly, compassionately, in light of that vision, so that all might see, and be glad.
Our work is the work of resurrection, and restoration, and new life. Our work is to be alive in the moment of our living. Our work is to care about one another in ways that break through the desolation of isolation, and offer each other the wonder of the right kind of company, and save the world. Of course, the world doesn’t want to be saved, but that’s another sermon.