I don’t buy the Principle of Non-Interference. Lao Tsu can let things go their natural course if he wants to, but the Crab Grass and the Johnson Grass are going to take over the cotton, and the Cut Worms are going to destroy the tomato patch, and if you don’t build a reservoir or two (or three, or four), you’re going to be in trouble when it stops raining. The natural course would involve not shaving, not bathing, not cutting your hair or brushing your teeth and never taking the dog to the vet or the kids to the doctor. You wouldn’t ice down a sprain, or heat water for tea. You wouldn’t off-set astigmatism with reading glasses, or have laser surgery to remove cataracts. You and Lao Tsu can let things take their natural course, but I’m against it, and am going to do what I can to make things as good as they can be for as long as possible.
The trouble with that, though, is this: We don’t know where to stop with the improvements. We can make the best better. Paradise wasn’t good enough for Adam and Eve. “Here, sweetie, a bite of this will make it even better!” We’ve been rearranging the world to suit ourselves ever since.
We’re never satisfied for long. It’s what we are proudest of about us. “Progress,” we call it. We moved from the caves to the high rises in only a hand full of years, geologically speaking. “Look what we’ve done!”, we say, as though we’ve done something.
The Aborigines who wander through the outback with their families, with nothing to show for their journeying, appear to be happier with their lives and better adjusted to their world than we are. Not that they know what they have and remain immune to the allure of the lights and the thrill of fine plastic. Our culture is deceptively attractive. You can’t keep them on the farm once they’ve seen gay Paree.
But gay Paree is a lie. An illusion. There is a hole in the soul of all of us in the land of lights and plastic. A hole that cannot be filled with development, alteration, improvement, transformation of the world in which we live. Because we only know what it takes to live in that world. We do not know what it takes to be, you know what’s coming, alive.
Easier living does not equate to being alive. What is better does not have any correlation with what is good. Lights and plastic serve the eyes, but what serves the heart? What does it take to be alive, to live well, to be at-one with heart and soul? These are the questions the church exists to answer.
The church is the mid-wife of the soul. The church is the only reliable guide to the heart of life. The church knows the secret. The church knows what it takes. The church understands. The church is our hedge against the complete loss of soul in the world of lights and plastic. The church’s place in our lives is to align our living with what brings us to life and makes us alive. The church connects us with heart and soul, awakens our spirit, nurtures and nourishes us into the wonder and joy of being fully alive.
It does that by asking us questions that deepen our awareness and enlarge our perspective. Questions like, “When you buy something, is it a prop or a tool? How does it help you do what you came to do? To do what you do best? To do what you enjoy doing most?”
“Where do you spend your time? Where do you spend your money? Where do you wish you could spend your time and money? What’s keeping you from doing that?”
“What percentage of your bills goes for the cost of living and what percentage goes for the cost of being alive? Do you understand the difference between living and being alive? How much time and money do you devote exclusively to being alive in a day, week, month?”
“What are you living for? What exactly does it take to do what you are living for? How much more do you have than you need? What do you need that you don’t have? What is forcing you to have what you don’t need and keeping you from having what you do need? What is standing between you and being alive?”
The things standing between us and being alive may be external things, or internal things, or a combination of both. We become aware of them by taking a reading of our “vital signs.” We are familiar with vital signs on a strictly physical level, blood pressure, pulse rate, temperature, respiration rate, mobility, consciousness. But, they exist on a spiritual/emotional level as well: Enthusiasm, passion, zest, sense of humor, laughter, alertness, “presence,” capacity for investment in—and engagement with—the moment of living, joy of life. Vital signs are absolutely 100% trustworthy predictors of the depth and quality of heart and soul.
If our vital signs are non-existent, if we are listless, depressed, unmotivated, detached, remote, unavailable, disinterested, uncaring and unresponsive, we have to begin the search for what is standing between us and being alive, for what is preventing us from doing the things that bring us to life, and are life.
The church is the path to life in the world. It exists to serve life, enable life, nurture and nourish life. The church is an oasis in the desert, a light in the darkness of lights and plastic, a way-station in the wilderness, a “well-spring of living water,” a table offering the bread of life and the cup of renewal, the source of resurrection and new life.
Or not. We know it isn’t so. We are here because of the failure of the church to be the church in our lives and in the world. We know that the church has opted out of its calling, that it has become an extension of the society, of the culture, of the civilization—a conduit and expression of the very things it is here to challenge and transform. We know that the church is as “lite” and as plastic as it gets (“Too shallow to splash,” as they say in the deep south). Which makes it our task to save the church and the world. We do that by waking both the church and the world up to the importance of being alive, here and now, in the time left for living. We do that by being awake and alive ourselves.
The terms are interchangeable. We can’t be awake without being alive, or alive without being awake. And, we can’t be awake and alive without bearing the pain of existence. It hurts to see, and hear, and understand! Eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that understands will break your heart! It is an agony to look into the heart of things and know how empty things are! We live in a wasteland of lights and plastic, and distract ourselves from the truth of our own emptiness with newer models and brighter colors of nothing.
But, it is better to be mesmerized by the sweet promise of happiness being only one more major purchase away—it is better to be hypnotized by the kaleidoscopic combination of lights and plastic—than to face the reality of nothing at the center and know the truth of emptiness at the core. The bad news is that’s where life begins. In the wilderness is the way of life.
This is foundational to the Christian take on how things work: The right kind of death leads to resurrection and new life. In dying the right kind of death, we are born again into abundant life. In opening ourselves to the emptiness of our lives and bearing the pain, the cross, of piercing the illusion of what life is all about, we take up the way of life and know the true joy of being alive. It is paradoxical, and contradicts all that we presume to be good and true, and is very much in-keeping with Lao Tsu’s advice to let nature take its course.
Letting nature take its course is to embrace the lovely lie, crash into the wall of reality, wake up to the emptiness of all we thought was life, die to the illusion of being able to save ourselves from the pain of existence with our attachments and possessions, bear the pain all the way to the heart of the matter, and discover, at the core, the wonder of who we are and what is ours to do.
The natural course is to wake up to the emptiness of all that promises fulfillment and ecstasy. The natural course is to know that being with our lives as they are, doing what is ours to do while not neglecting what needs to be done, is essential goodness, incapable of being improved by the addition of lights and plastic.