We stand before the door. Sometimes. Sometimes we don’t even know there is a door. Sometimes, we walk among a hundred doors, a thousand, each claiming to be The Door. How do we know? We’ve been fooled before. We need a guide. Of course, they rush to assist us. A hundred voices call out, a thousand clamor to be the one who shows The Way. Who shall we trust? We’ve been fooled before.
At any point in our life there is the rest of our life to consider. How shall we live the rest of our lives in order to squeeze the most living out of it, to cram the most living into it? How shall we live so as to be alive—fully, vibrantly, joyfully alive—in the time left for living?
And, don’t think the question is only about cotton candy and blow-pops. Being alive is not about you and all the sugar you can eat, or all the money you can spend, or all the experiences you can accumulate. Acquisition—whether in the form of money, property, or experiences—is just one of the doors claiming to be The Door. You’ve been fooled before. Yet, the question is the only question: How shall we live so as to be alive in the time left for living? What does it mean “to be alive”?
Just as the fish is most alive in the ocean, we are most alive in God. The fish is one with the ocean. Ocean and fish are not separate entities. They are one reality in separate forms. You can see this more clearly if I say the ocean and the ice berg are one thing. You can see the ocean being the ice berg because, well, the ocean IS the ice berg, and the ice berg IS the ocean. If you practice, you can see the fish in the same way as you see the ice berg.
The ocean becomes the ice berg. The ice berg becomes the ocean. In the same way, the ocean becomes the fish. The fish becomes the ocean. If this is a difficult step for you to take, it’s going to be really hard when we get to God. So, we might need to sit for a while with fish and ocean. Out of the ocean comes the fish, into the ocean goes the fish. In between the coming and the going there is not so much ocean and fish but oceanfish. We are so used to separating things out into different categories—kingdom, phylum, class, order, you know—that we go blank when we try to reverse the process and blur the boundaries that give us our world, our reality.
We argue for separate-ness. NO! We shout. The fish is NOT the ocean! We won’t have it. We can’t see it. We refuse to look. Look. The rest of this sermon depends on you humoring me here. Just pretend the fish is the ocean, and the ocean is the fish. And hang on to your seats.
The fish is most alive in the ocean because the ocean and the fish are one. If you take the fish out of the ocean, throw it on the beach, say, or into the frying pan, the fish dies. It’s comforting to think that the spirit of the fish returns to the sea, while the body of the fish provides you with the nutrients required for your life, making you, in a way, one with the ocean, but we won’t go there. Let’s just stay with the fish dying when taken from the ocean. And, let’s say, as with the fish, so with me and you.
Just as there is ocean, and there is not-ocean, as in the frying pan, so there is God and there is not-God, or, perhaps, not-yet-God. Just as the fish is one with the ocean when the fish is in the ocean—and even when the fish is out of the ocean the fish is one with the ocean, but will die if not returned quickly to the ocean—so we are one with God when we are in the right kind of company. The right kind of company is God. The wrong kind of company (and no company at all is the wrong kind of company) is not-God (Here, though, you have to remember the distinction between isolation and solitude. No company at all, at least for a while, can be God. Don’t you find this to be very interesting? You aren’t asleep, are you?).
We can’t be alive by ourselves. It takes relationship with the right people to really live. It takes the right kind of company. The right kind of company brings us to life. Brings God to life. Unites us with God, and neighbor, and self. Wow. Relationships. Community. God.
But, of course, you might know, there is a catch. The catch is that we can’t have relationships, community, without sacrificing ourselves for the sake of the relationship. We pay a price to be alive. In living we die, in dying we live. I’m talking spiritual life and spiritual death here. Relationship does not exist on our terms. Relationship asks hard things of us. Being alive is not the easiest thing we ever did. Being alive is like dying.
The agony involved in choosing The Door does not go away when we open The Door. The agony, you might say, is the path of life. It is the agony of being alive. Which means it is much more difficult to be alive than to be 98.6 and breathing. It is much more difficult for us to be in God than for the fish to be in the ocean. Yet, for us to not be in God would be like the fish deliberately beaching itself, and thinking in the few minutes before it’s actual, physical death, “Ah, this is the life!”
We can certainly live without being alive—without being in God. There once were opium dens where people gathered who didn’t have what it took to be alive. They were like fish beaching themselves in order to live out their days in blissful highs. If that’s what you want, a similar door can be found today. Open it. Step through. You’ll be wasting your life. You will be voiding your opportunity to be alive. It happens all the time.
Joseph Campbell says, “Either you can take it or you can’t.” No point in me trying to give you life when you aren’t interested in living. “It hurts too much! It costs too much! It’s too hard!” No one can give us what we don’t want.
“If you want to be my disciple,” says Jesus, “you have to pick up your cross, daily, and follow me.” Life comes with strings attached. Are we going to live, or not? We don’t have to open The Door. The rest of our lives will consist of something whether we open it or not. We will live until we die, alive or not, awake or not, enlightened or not. We can even call it Life. People do it all the time. No problem. People fool themselves all the time. Pretending is what we do best. Why not?
If I have to sell you on the idea of opening The Door and stepping through, it’s no use. If you have lived all these years without seeing the importance of living the rest of your life in the service of life, and living, and being alive, there is nothing I can say to change your mind. Just know that there is a door, and if you ever decide to open it, it is always there, waiting.
This place is about that door. This place is about living the rest of our lives in the service of life, and living, and being alive. What does that mean, actually, really? This place is about exploring that question. Imagining a life that is connected at the level of the heart with LIFE. Playing with the possibilities. Playing. That word again. Opening the door is about playing.
Now, here we have an interesting arrangements of opposites, don’t you think? If you’ve been listening, you have heard me say, “In living we die, in dying we live,” and you have heard me say “Being alive is about playing,” or words to that effect. Well, which is it? Do we play, or do we die? Of course, the answer is “Yes.” Don’t think for a moment that playing will not ask hard things of you.
Do you know how hard it is to play? Why has it been so long since you played? Life gets in the way, doesn’t it? Life gets in the way of living. Living can take the life right out of you. Who can even think about playing in this world, in this life? See? Told you. Playing is hard. Playing is hard because we take life so seriously. But, playfulness is an essential quality in creating and maintaining the right kind of relationships. Good company is playful. And, good, playful, company is exactly what we need to open the door to the rest of our life, and step through, into the wonder of being fully, vibrantly, joyfully alive. Amen! May it be so! May it be so!