Here is your life’s task, the meaning of life, the whole point, what it’s all about: Be who you are, without denying who you also are, while assisting, enhancing, everyone else’s ability to be who they are. That’s about it as far as I can see. What else could there be? Self-realization, self-determination, self-expression, while helping others to achieve the same ends. That’s it as I see it. Being who we are, within the context and circumstances of our lives. Being true to ourselves while enabling others to be true to themselves. How’re you going to beat that?
The problem is, of course, that we try to be true to ourselves at the expense of other people. We can define ourselves, most days, fairly well. But defining ourselves while “staying in touch” with one another is tricky, and doing it while “staying in touch” with those who are opposite from us in every way is out of the question. What do we have in common with them? In relationship with those who aren’t like us, it is “every person for herself, for himself.” Self-interest above all interests is our motto. It’s gotten us where we are today. But, it all begins to change with self-awareness. Awareness is the solution to all of our problems today. And tomorrow. And all the way down the road.
Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. It’s the avenue to all that is worth our time. Eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that understands are predicated upon, and flow from, awareness. There is nothing beyond being awake, aware, and alive to have, or do, or achieve, or be. All we have to do is wake up. How hard could that be?
How much can you see, before you have to stop looking? There is no pain quite like the pain of awareness. What keeps us going, once we know what we are up against and what our chances are? When we can no longer fool ourselves, or kid ourselves, or pretend that things are different than they are—what do we do then?
Then, everything hangs on our belief in the innate value of self-realization, self-determination, and self-expression within the context and circumstances of our lives. We may never have what we need. There may be no paper in the home of the poet. No paints and brushes in the life of the artist. No piano for the young Mozart, the old Beethoven. Then what? Then, we have to deal with what is ours to deal with, and find a way. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness.
We are always up against something. We always have to find a way. We always have to be who we are with the resources available to us in the time and place of our living. We cannot abandon the work of self-realization, self-determination, self-expression just because we have the gifts of Michael Jordan and basketball hasn’t been invented.
We have to be who we are, within the context and circumstances of our lives. That is the divine imperative. We have to bring to life the gift that is ours. We have to serve the genius within. It may not look like much to those who are watching, but it is our gift to give and we have to bestow it upon the world to the best of our ability.
In Batesville, Mississippi I discovered my gift of raking earth smooth and level. We bought a house there with nearly an acre of land attached, which had drainage problems and holes and depressions which made it impossible to mow. Over our six years there, I spread eight dump truck loads of top soil with a shovel, a wheelbarrow and a rake. I found God in the dirt.
When you discover your gift, there is God. Don’t know where your gift lies? Here are some questions to point you in the general direction: Where is the harmony? The peace? The pleasure? The satisfaction? What brings you joy? Where do you come alive? What do you love? Don’t discount or dismiss what is there in favor of what you think ought to be there, or of what you wish were there, or hope will be there. We are always looking past our gift, thinking it has to be something on the order of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel to count. We think if we can’t compose a Sonata in E-flat, it doesn’t count for a gift. If we aren’t being paid 8 million dollars a year to hit home runs, we are shamefully un-gifted and should not be seen in public.
Let me explain something to you fine people: Raking Dirt! My gift is Raking Dirt! So, don’t disparage your gift! How could your gift be less significant than raking dirt? So, recognize and embrace your gift. That’s the first rule. Your gift is your gift! If your gift is hitting home runs, hit home runs. If it is raking dirt, rake dirt. It is all about you and your gift. Self-realization, self-determination, self-expression. You can’t find God without finding your gift. You can’t serve God without serving your gift. If you think you are too good for your gift, you are too good for God. But, here’s the second rule: Don’t think your gift is your actual gift. It’s all metaphorical. Don’t forget that.
What do you think the Promised Land is all about? Latitude and longitude? Political boundaries? Standing armies, and sewage treatment, and garbage pickup? I guess you think the Holy Grail is about the actual vessel Jesus used to hold the wine when he served the Last Supper! You’re wearing me out. What am I to do with you people?
Take a deep breath and think of all you know about the Bible and let me ask you this one: When, throughout all the Bible, was God present and known in the lives of the people? Let me just cut to the chase. It was only when the people were wrestling themselves into alignment with, and living out the expression of, their gift, their genius, their calling. God is never known to, or by, anyone for the simple joy of paling around with God. We lost this bit of insight with the invention of doctrine, which became a substitute for God. Once thinking about God became confused with knowing God, we just sat around talking about God, thinking we were doing something. If you want to know God, you have to walk away from the sermons and the Sunday school discussions, and the Bible studies, and take up your life. The realness of God is simultaneous with, and contingent upon, self-realization, self-determination, and self-expression. God, gentle people, is in the dirt!
But—and here it gets tricky—the literal is always disappearing into the metaphorical. The Promised Land, the Holy Grail, Dirt were all literal, actual, tangible, concrete, physical realities at one point, but their literal and physical truth is nothing compared to their metaphorical and spiritual truth. There is more to your gift, your genius, your calling—there is more to you—than meets the eye. Much more. The depth of you, you might say, is the boundless joy of God. The physical expression of your gift, of you, is just the doorway to the depth and breadth of you. Heraclitus said, “You would not find the boundaries of the soul, even by traveling along every path, so deep a measure does it have.” He is talking about you and me. Our depth is as boundless and God’s.
We wake up to ourselves in the dirt, but it isn’t about the dirt, or the rake, or the wheelbarrow, or the shovel. Those babies are just the mechanism by which you discover you, through which you stumble into your gift, your genius, your calling, you. And, remember that your gift is not yours, but the gift you are to the world. And, don’t think your gift is actually working with dirt, smoothing dirt, raking dirt! Not any more than your gift is the actual, physical, geographical and political boundaries of the Promised Land!
Think about the Bible once more, and take yourselves back to the early days of the realization of the Land of Promise, and the failure of the people to understand that it really wasn’t about the land. The prophet knew, but was unable to convince the people, that their gift, their genius, their calling had nothing to do with having a king. Ah, but, the people were on a literal track, and could not be dissuaded. And the king (that would be David) knew that the truth of God had nothing to do with the construction of a temple. Ah, but, all the other lands had capital cities and capital temples, central places of commerce and worship. That must be how it is done. And so, the concretizing began.
The literalization of religion is the death of religion. God is in the dirt, but God is not the dirt. The dirt has nothing to do with God. How’s that for double talk? Well. Here’s the deal. The straightest talk is crooked. Bent. Gnarled and knotted. Nonsense. I wouldn’t lie to you about this. Here’s the deal: You have to dive into the darkness and hope you pop out on the other side. You can’t figure it out first. You have to live your way to the answers which just open the way to more questions. There are no answers in the sense of an explanation that ties everything off and wraps everything up and leaves nothing more to be known. So, when you pop out on the other side, you pop out in mystery and wonder, awe and laughter, and giggle a lot for no apparent reason. In the darkness, however, there is a lot of groping around in frustration, fear, anxiety and anger. It takes a while to understand that answers don’t save us, and information is useless. By the time you understand what the information means, you don’t need it. So, there is no point in my saying anything more, or in you listening to it. You either know it already, or you can’t use it. One of the 10,000 spiritual laws is “You have to know what I mean before you can understand what I’m saying.” That’s one of the things you’ll giggle about when you pop up on the other side.
Here’s some more of the deal (he said, still talking, to those who are still listening, in spite of what he just said and they heard): We wake up to God in the dirt, but we move on, we move on. When we arrive at the Promised Land, we may put down roots and set up shop, but we keep moving. We don’t need kings, and temples, and standing armies and nuclear warheads, because what we have cannot be kept safe, or taken from us.
What we have is who we are. What do we need to be who we are? Upon what does our who-we-are-ness depend? I smooth dirt! YOU CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME!!! No one can. I cannot lose it, or keep it safe. It is who I am. It is what I do. I can do it anywhere, any time. I can do it without rakes, and wheelbarrows, and shovels. I can do it, get this, pay attention now, this is crucial, it is the heart of the whole entire thing, I can do it WITHOUT DIRT!