Tuesday, December 30, 2008

12/30/08--The Structure of Spiritual Reality, Part III

62) What are we trying to make happen? What can happen? What needs to happen? What is happening? How can we assist what is happening in the direction of what needs to happen?

63) In any situation, 10,000 futures are possible. How we live reduces the likelihood of some possibilities and increases the likelihood of others.

64) One things doing is another things undoing. One things ordered grace is another things traumatic disruption. Dinner for the lion is not something the antelope would bless.

65) Live without worrying about succeeding or failing, gaining or losing. Let come what’s coming and let go what’s going. Enjoy what is to be enjoyed. Grieve what is to be grieved. Do what needs to be done. Come to terms with how things are. Let your life be your life. Your options your options. Your choices your choices. Your futures your futures.

66) Cleverness knows how to manipulate means to achieve its ends. Simplicity observes what is happening, perceives what is trying to happen, and assists what needs to happen. Offering the right help in the right way at the right time is the essence of wisdom. You can’t be wiser than that.

67) Cleverness does this so that will happen. Simplicity does this so this will happen, because this needs to happen, whether that happens or not.

68) What is done is what can be done, which is not the same as what has always been done. It takes the vision of a sage to see what can be done in any situation in order to do the work of redemption and transformation and bring the new into existence out of the old.

69) In remaining below, the sage receives what the situation has to offer and brings for the baby struggling to be born.

70) In any moment, the sage simply offers what the moment needs out of what she, what he, has to give.

71) The sage does not calculate, strategize, manipulate, control. The sage observes what is happening, asks what needs to happen, and how she, how he, might assist what needs to happen. You wouldn’t want a sage running your business, or hire one as a CEO.

72) We have to know what we are trying to do and whether it can actually be done, and whether it really needs to be done.

73) Of what does life consist? Where is life to be found? What brings us to life, makes us alive? What do we need in order to be alive? What’s with all this other stuff in our lives?

74) Some things are clearly better than others. Every living thing prefers one thing over another. The lion’s life is the antelope’s death. There is no happy state in which everyone has exactly what is needed at no one’s expense. But, compassion keeps things reasonably tolerable much of the time.

75) Compassion lets things be, and lets things become what they might be, and says, “No!” to what should not be.

76) To see what needs to be done and to do it. To be right about what is important to serve it. That’s all there is to it. Anything else is just talk.

77) Fighting is forcing. The resistance can come from without or from within. Don’t let your principles keep you from doing what is important, what needs to be done!

78) We want more than we can have, more than we have any business having, and cannot adjust ourselves to living within the limits of our lives, within what our situation in life allows. “Our reach must exceed our grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” “You’ll never keep them on the farm once they’ve seen gay Paree!”

79) The meaning of life is to be alive in the time and place of our living. What does it mean to be alive in the time and place of our living? Answer that question correctly and you have it made.

80) What is our life asking of us? What does the moment require? At times, our life is at odds with the moment. The flow is not always smooth. Disruption and chaos are also part of how things are. We take it all into account, and do what needs to be done. Are we right about what needs to be done? Time will tell. We may be wrong. Maybe something else needs to be done. We may blow it. Life is like that. We can blow it.

81) Sometimes, we are punished for doing it the way we do it. Sometimes, there is a price to be paid for doing it our way. And a price to be paid for not doing it our way. Whose way is going to be the way for us? Whose way is going to be the way we do it? Who is going to live our life? If not us, who?

82) Trusting the inner knowing and letting things have their own mind is the essential act of faith. If you are going to believe in anything, believe in the power of things to become what they need to be, particularly when assisted by those who do nothing to force their will on the way things are, but constantly look for what needs to happen and help it come forth in the right kind of way.

83) What is to be gained by being favored? What is to be lost by being not-favored?

84) People are not afraid of dying either because life has no value and they do not care if they live or die, or because they know what is truly important and are willing to sacrifice their lives in the service of that good.

85) You have to carve wood the way you carve wood, not the way someone else carves would. We have to live our lives the way we would live our lives, not the way we think our lives ought to be lived—not the way we think someone else would live our lives, or have us live them. We see the photo WE see, not the photo someone else sees.

86) With nothing to live for, there is no reason to live. Therefore, finding value in life is the foundation of life. The spiritual quest is the search for what is important, for what counts, matters, makes a difference in our lives, if no one else’s.

87) How much can we put up with and still be us? Where do we draw the line? I don’t know how much time you think you have left to live, but how much of it are you willing to spend being not-you, doing what is not-you, associating with those who are not your kind of people? Where and how and how often are you drawing lines, saying “No,” giving yourself to the things that have your name on them?

88) We have to know when who we are is running afoul of who we must (pretend to) be. We have to play parts, assume roles, do what must be done, AND we have to be true to ourselves. We have to be who we are. We have to know when something is a role, a part, and not-us, and we have to compensate ourselves for all of our not-me roles by stepping out of the part as often as possible and giving ourselves to the things that are us all the way.

89) Who knows why? Why this and not that? It doesn’t matter why. We have to step into the What and deal with the way things are regardless of why they are that way, or of why we have to deal with it, or of why we have to live with all that we have to live with, or of why this and not that… What is required, here and now? What is being asked of us? What needs to be done? What next? What now? It is enough that we answer these questions without being lost in the questions that cannot be answered. Choosing the right questions to answer is the path of wisdom and life even before we answer them.

90) Creating intentional communities of practice—where we practice “the things that make for peace,” the things that enable us to have what it takes to do what needs to be done, the things that enable us to live the life that is ours to live within the context and circumstances of our lives—is the work of the church. The work of the church is creating the atmosphere, the environment, the space, the place, in which the real work of the church—being alive in the time and place of our living—might be done.

91) We begin the process of bringing ourselves to life by finding the things that bring us to life. Where are we most alive? How often do we do the things that bring us to life? What prevents us from doing those things more often? How do we experience the difference between death and life? What are the inhibitions, the blocks, to life? In what ways do we resist being alive—doing the things that bring us to life? Where do our pleasures lie? How often do we engage in the things that please us? How conscious are we of being pleased when we are being pleased? How often do we deliberately give ourselves the gift of life, the pleasure of being alive?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

12/21/08--Life is the teacher, living is the lesson.

We don’t understand things by having them explained to us. Understand? We don’t see things by having them pointed out to us. See? We don’t hear things by having someone tell us things. Hear that? We live our way into getting all that can be gotten. There are no shortcuts to being alive. It takes as long as it takes for each one of us. And not one of us can get another of us there before the time of our arrival. And the time of our arrival is the time it takes us to process our experience in order to see, hear, and understand that experience. The closest we can come to something like a shortcut to understanding is offered by those who help us think through what we are experi-encing by asking questions for reflection and clarification along the way. But, even so, seeing, hearing and under-standing is our own work, and no one can do it for us. Maybe we get it, and maybe we don’t.

The trick is to not worry about it, to not try to “get” more than we “get” at any point in our lives—not to dwell on what we get and don’t get, on how much we get and how much is left to get. All of it is left to get. What ever we think we get, we’ll have to get it again, and again. Get it?
Where we are is just where we are. And, what we see, hear, and understand at that point is what we see, here, and understand at that point. We need slack. We need, “Yes!” We need to know that we are just fine exactly as we are. It all begins with being where we are, who we are, why we are, what we are, how we are, when we are. If we can sit with that, and relax, we can move beyond that into who else we are. But, we can’t get to who else we are by being commanded to go there. The rule is no pushing, no forcing, just being as awake, as aware, as we are.

We need an atmosphere in which we can be as awake and as aware as we are and find our way to our-selves, in which we can be who we are and become who else we are capable of being, who else we are built to be. The call is to ourselves and beyond ourselves, into all we might become. And we need a place in which we can hear, and heed, the call to be who we are and who else we are. We need a place in which to find our way to ourselves and the life that is always working to be born in us, and through us into the world.

A stream follows its path, but we are “worried and distracted (diverted, blocked, overwhelmed, dismayed, held back, stopped cold) by many things.” Or, so it seems. Streams are too. Streams have to keep coming back to the task at hand just as we do. It's all a part of the path. Nothing is wasted in the experience of life. This doesn't mean everything is necessary. Everything certainly isn't good. But, it is all a part of the production of our lives. Our chal-lenge is to fold it all into the experience of us, and we need help with that effort. We cannot do it alone. Perspective is the work of many eyes. Saving perspective is the work of many healthy, healing, loving, eyes. We come together with the right kind of people to find the way in and around, over and through the things in our path. But, the way is there and is to be found by eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that understand.

Our difficulties stem from the problems we make of our difficulties. From willing what cannot be willed. The trick is to “roll with the punches” and “go with the flow,” and understand what “the flow” is and exactly how to “go” with it. The ideal is the relationship between the stream and the stream bed. The stream makes the stream bed, the stream bed restricts, limits, contains the stream. Who is in charge? Who is in control? Who is Boss? Stream or stream bed? The questions are senseless. The stream and the stream bed are one thing. They are not opposi-tional, adversarial. We and our lives are one thing. The sooner we understand that and live in oneness with our lives—as the stream lives in oneness with the stream bed—the better things are for everyone, for all “sentient be-ings” everywhere.

We live in oneness with our lives by opening ourselves to the reality of things as they are and deciding what we are going to do with it, about it. How are we going to deal with it? How are we going to be in relationship with it? Given the givens of our lives, what does it take to be alive? What does it mean to be alive? How do we know? What is life for us, what is death? We have to know these things. This is essential knowing. How do we find our way through death to life? How do we bring ourselves to life in the time left for living? How much time do we think we have to spend on things that are not life for us?

There is the work of life and there is the work that enables the work of life, the work that pays the bills we incur in doing the work of life. Occasionally the two are the same, but not often. What is the work of life for us, and what do we need to help us with that work? What are the tools that enable the work of life? What assists, what in-hibits, what enables, what prevents that work? What is it that we do in bringing life forth? What are we doing when we come to life? How much of that can we do as we are doing the work that pays the bills?

The focus is on living the life that brings us to life. Life is the guide. Yet, it is also the pain and the agony. We pay a price to be alive. It is easier to take the course of least resistance, to leave the way, step aside from the path and say, “Talk to us no more of the Holy One of Israel”—that is, of the life that is our life to live.

Israel wanted to be like the nations, you know. And, as was the story in the Garden of Eden, forsook, the life that was its life to live in favor of the life it had it mind for itself. That’s exactly the temptation Jesus rejected time after time. “Not my will, but Thine be done!” Whose will? How do we understand the “Thine” here? “Thy will be done.” We hear it all the time. Who is the “Thy” here? How do we think of the “Thy”? How do we conceptualize the “Thy”?

We’ve always thought of the “Thy” as God, the Creator and Sustainer of all that is. The Man Upstairs. How different would it be if we thought instead of the “thy” as the life that is trying to live itself through us? The life that is calling itself forth in us? “Thy will, not mine, be done,” then means that we place ourselves in the service of our life, and live to see, and hear, and understand what implications that has for us and the way we live.

Our life calls itself forth. I wanted a typewriter when I was in the 10th grade, which is when I learned to type. My life isn’t writing best sellers. Or even moderate sellers. My life is writing, forming art with words. And writing is an aspect, an extension, of seeing, hearing, understanding. My life is seeing, hearing, understanding—asking, seeking, knocking—wondering, probing, inquiring… And fooling around.

Fooling around brings things to light, to life, in a way that serious pursuit could never do. When we fool around, we aren’t doing anything in particular and are open to everything in general, and our life is leading us to the next discovery, the next realization, without itself having a blueprint that it is following. It doesn’t say, “Okay, he got that, now in order for him to get the next step in sequence, we’re going to have to get him to …” The steps aren’t in sequence. The next step isn’t the next step on the list of steps. It’s just the next step, the next thing to come along. Arbitrarily. Randomly. Capriciously. Reach in a hat and pull out a blue marble. That’s the next marble. But it becomes meaningful when we fold it into the life we have lived up to that point, and we incorporate it in the series of steps that lead us to us. But no one is leading, no one is following, Our life is just calling itself forth.

The moral here is: Listen to your life and follow where it leads, go where it takes you, no matter what. All our lives will not have the same outcome. Yoda was a highly advanced spiritual being at one with the Force and he lived in a hole in the ground. Luke Skywalker was a highly advanced spiritual being at one with the Force and he lived in a royal palace. We don’t know how it will turn out for us, but our eyes can’t be on the outcome. Where we live, hole or palace, cannot be important to us. What is important is that we follow our lives as they lead us along. We listen, we discern, we follow, and we stay out of the way, we cooperate, we buy a typewriter. But not to be a famous writer. Just to write.

Our dreams for our lives get in the way of our lives. Yet, they can also be the way our life gets our attention and calls us forward. No one goes seeking a nightmare, or lives in the service of the Desolating Sacrilege. Our dream can be our life’s dream for us, not our dream for our life. When the two are the same, it is beautiful. May we always dream of knowing what is important, what needs to be done, and doing it.

Our lives will probably not be what we wish they were. Will not be what we have in mind. And, they will be fulfilling, completing, satisfying. And, they will ask hard things of us. We will wish they were more fun, easier, more enjoyable. But, we would not be able to walk away from them without paying with our zest, vitality, joy, exuber-ance, enthusiasm, spirit. We cannot part with our lives and feel anything like being alive, no matter how much of the high life we are living, no matter how often we say, “Ain’t this the life though, Flo?”

Once we realize that things are not right with us as they are, we take up the search for life, of coming to life in our lives. How do we shift over into life? How is that handled on stage and in the movies, in novels, in biogra-phies? In interviews of artists, writers, and poets and people who “find themselves” in later (or earlier) life? What is that process? What is involved in the movement of life among the living? How would we research the question, “What does it mean to ‘be alive’?” Do it. Research the question. Become an expert. And apply what you learn to the living of your life.

Who are the most alive people you know? Interview them. Ask them if they are consciously, intentionally, alive or naturally, accidentally, so. Ask them if there was a time in their life when they “woke up,” or were awak-ened by the circumstances of their lives, and began to live deliberately, with awareness. Ask them what they would recommend to people who wanted to come alive in their lives. Ask them all the pertinent questions you can think of. Tell them you will call them up if you think of something else to ask. Invite them to call you up if they think of something else to say. We are learning to align ourselves with our lives, with the lives that are waiting to be born in us, to come to life in us, and bless the world. The blessing is the world’s. Not ours. Our lives are out gift to the world. And we are here to see that the gift is delivered.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

12/14/08, Metaphor is everywhere.

The Christian Life is not a better life than the Jewish Life, or the Buddhist Life, or the Atheistic Life, or the Human Life, or any Life lived open to and aware of the moment of its living and of what is being asked of us, offered to us, by the moment. Christian eyes don’t see any better than any other eyes. Christian ears don’t hear any better than any other ears. Christian hearts don’t understand better than any other hearts. Christianity is a perspective, not an advantage. And, like all perspectives, it is continuing to be enlarged and expanded, deepened, transformed.

The Christ is the Anointed One who comes to announce the time of our visitation, to proclaim the good news that the kingdom of God is at hand. Well. Look around. Here it is. Do you see it? Are you participating in its coming into the world through the quality of your interaction with the world in the moment of your living? Are you transforming the moment by how you see the moment, how you live in the moment? If so, then you are the Christ, receiving the grace of the moment, gracing the moment and passing it on. The Jew who does that is also the Christ. And the Buddhist. And the Atheist. And the Human. We are all the Christ without doctrines to divide us, but with eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand to unite us, connect us, grace us, and make us all one. We are made one by the metaphors which wake us up and bring us to life in the time of our living.

The Promised Land, the Kingdom of God, the New Jerusalem, Heaven in all its glory, and the Holy Grail are all the same thing: the idea of life as it ought to be. Life as it is is clearly NOT how it ought to be, and so we seek the Elysian Fields, Nirvana, Paradise. But wait! We had Paradise, remember? The Garden of Eden. It wasn’t so hot, remember? We figured a way to make it better, to improve on Paradise. Or, so the story goes. It’s a great story. Nails us to the wall. Isn’t that how it is with us, though? So much for Paradise. You can’t give us anything we can’t wish were different.

How long was it before the Promised Land fell apart, disintegrated in the hands of the people? The Kingdom of God never got off the ground. Of course, it did get off the ground by being placed by Jesus in the realm of the metaphorical, figurative, symbolic, and allegorical (“My kingdom is not of this world,” “The kingdom of God is in the midst of you”), which is exactly where it belongs. It and the Promised Land, and the New Jerusalem, and Heaven in all its glory. It’s all right there with the Holy Grail. Metaphor all the way.

The metaphor pulls us forward, away from all that is familiar, comfortable and routine and safe, into the wilderness (another metaphor—they are everywhere), into the unknown. The prophet knows, and calls us to be open to “The voice of one crying, “In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord!” The wilderness is always the place where God is found, and the place where God sends us. In our search for the Promised Land, the Kingdom of God, the New Jerusalem, and the Holy Grail, we are, as Abraham was, propelled away from “our father’s house” into the trackless void.

What we seek is found outside the camp. Outside the gate. Outside the box. The Promised Land is out there. Beyond the borders. We are always on the way to the Land of Promise, never arriving. The Kingdom of God is always coming, always breaking into our lives, always breeching the barriers we erect against it, opening our eyes (and ears, and hearts) with its glimpse of grace, mercy and peace (like the Holy Grail with its vision of how life could be) and then it’s gone, and we are left to wonder what response to make, here, inside the box, inside the gate, inside the camp. And the response is obvious. “Go from your father’s house!” and take up the trail of the spirit which is like the wind, blowing where it will. But, we hold back, afraid of the possibilities, as well we should be.

And, yet, the call is to step, trusting, if afraid, into that dark night. The call is to take a chance on life, and on God. We have to trust ourselves to life and see where it takes us. Our expectations of the life we have in mind for ourselves—our hopes and our dreams—keep us from participating in the realization of the dream of God for us. We have to step into the wilderness and see what happens.

Ah, but, that is the hardest thing—to not-know what we are doing, where we are going, to live without a map and a time-table. But, growing up (And, I can’t think of a better term for the spiritual quest. It’s all about our maturity, our coming of age, our developing discernment, our seeing, hearing and understanding, finally, what it is all about, what is being asked of us, what is important, what needs to happen, and what we have to offer to the situation “as it arises” in the moment of our living)—growing up means going away. It means leaving our father’s house, and striking out, on our own through the deserted wastelands. If we don’t go away physically, as in moving across the country, we have to go away emotionally, as in having our own life, separate from the life everyone thinks we ought to have. Separation is the prerequisite for a life of our own. We spend our lives learning that we can be separate without falling apart, learning that we really can’t be together until we can be separate.

Enmeshment means we don’t have a life of our own. It means our life is intertwined with other lives, with our mother’s life, for instance, or our daughter’s. Our father’s life or our son’s. You get the idea. We don’t know where we stop and they start. It’s all one big, not so happy, life. We wander around clutching each other in a large co-dependent huddle, lost in the fear of ever having to be who we are, hoping we never have to have a thought of our own.

What would “our own life” be? We cannot figure it out by thinking about it. We have to live to find our way to our own life, and live it—the life that is our life to live—within the context and circumstances of our lives. To what extent are we living our life, the life with our name on it? To what extent are the things we find ourselves doing the things would do if we were in charge of our lives? If we aren’t in charge of our lives, who is?

It all hangs by such a thin thread. The future turns on a dime. On less than a dime. On nothing at all. In trying to find our lives, we lose them. We force our way at the wrong time. We give way at the wrong time. It is such a fine balance. We make pivotal decisions without paying attention, without knowing what we are doing, without a second thought, or a first one. We say, “No,” or “Yes,” without thinking, and life as it could have been never has a chance. If we had only known the time of our visitation and the choices we had to choose from!

Of course, the opposite is true as well. Life has a chance as easily, as off-handedly, as absent-mindedly, as it is nipped in the bud. We make a choice lightly, say, “Yes,” or “No,” on a whim, and everything opens up before us, and we find ourselves on THE way, without knowing how we got there or why we should be so lucky. We can think too hard, ponder too much, about the ought-to-be-ness of things. At times we just have to trust our luck and take our chances. “He who hesitates is lost,” you know. And, other times, we have to listen carefully and know what is being asked of us. “Look before you leap,” you know.

But who can be so smart? Who can know the things that make for peace, and for life? Who can be so finely tuned to what is being asked of us that we know how to respond, how to offer what is needed, what to do? We live at the mercy of “time and chance,” and take our chances all the time, whether we know it or not. And yet, there is the possibility of “the third eye,” the eye that sees, the ear that hears, the heart that understands—the possibility of perceptivity beyond the range of “reasonable and normal.” We can know without knowing how we know. We can intuit the moments upon which the future hangs. It takes being attentive, awake, aware on a level and to a degree that is not ours to command. It takes not missing anything, particularly the obvious. And it takes time to develop the knack of knowing what can and what cannot be known. It takes time to grow up, to see, and hear, and understand. We have to take the time, and we have to know what we are about, and what is going on.

It all hangs by a thread and turns on a dime. So I recommend not worrying about it. Jesus and the Buddha had something similar to say. Regretting not having done better keeps us from doing better in the time spent regretting not having done better, which gives us something else to regret, and snowballs to oblivion. We did what we could with the information available to us and here we are. Now what? Given where we have been and how we got here, and what we have to work with here and now, what's the next step? Where we are going is more important than where we have been, so we have to shake it off and think about where we go from here, now.

Begin where you are. Start with what you have. Living differently, I mean. Living. How would the Messiah live? Live that way. Don’t wait for the Messiah to come winging in on clouds of glory to institute The Way for all humankind. Do the next thing the way the Messiah would do it, here, now. Don’t wait for social transformation. Don’t even wait for your own personal transformation. Don’t wait for someone to make it easy for you by telling you what to do, as though they know. Just take the next step the way the Messiah would take it. And, if you don’t have any idea as to what that would be, make up something Messiah-like, and go with it. Your best guess will do.

And, if you can’t even begin to guess, no problem. Just do it the way you would do it. Find what you take to be your own life, and live it. How would YOU live? What would YOU do, given a choice? What kind of Messiah would YOU be, doing it like YOU think it ought to be done? Would you indulge yourself and grow fat on the pleasures of life? Live excessively? Without a care in the world? Make messes for someone else to clean up? Drive fast? Eat sweets? Refuse to exercise? Lie around? Belch and ring for the valet? Fine. Just do the next thing the way YOU think it ought to be done, and change it as needed. Never mind the Messiah. Start with you and your way. You are close enough to the Messiah to do. Take a chance on life, on yourself, on God. Everything waits, hoping you will.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

12/07/08 -- We're on our own, and we are not alone

Churches want to grow by increasing the number of people who think like the people in churches think, not by changing the way the people in churches think. Churches think of growth and growing in terms of numbers, not in terms of shifting perspective, deepening understanding, broadening horizons, enlarging hearts, or thinking differently. How differently can the people think and still be "the church"? That depends on how they think about being "the church." See?

How we think about something has to change if we are to grow on the level where growth-as-transformation occurs. We think “outside the box” by getting outside the box. By asking scandalous questions, by saying outrageous things, by being heretical, and by changing our own minds about the things we think there, outside the box.

No one has the corner on “right thinking.” No one knows how we should think, how we are supposed to think, what we can and cannot think. But, we can’t think this way and be the church. Churches can’t change the way they think because one of the things they think is that the way they think is the only way to think. Churches clutch their doctrines and catechisms proclaiming, “This isn’t how we see things—this is how things ARE!” No one who thinks that way can be talked into thinking differently.

We change the way the church thinks by changing the way we think, and letting that be that. Insofar as we are the church, we are changing the way the church thinks as we change the way we think. Even if we could change the way THE church thinks, by the time the process was complete, we would have changed the way we thought when the process started, and would have to start all over to get THE church caught up. We can only think the way we think and let the outcome be the outcome.

Changing the way we think changes the way we live (and, of course, vice versa), changes the way we assess what is important, the way we determine what to do, and transforms our lives. We can’t do that kind of thing in a willy-nilly sort of way, just because it’s Tuesday morning and someone thinks we should. Before we can change the way we think, the way we think has to come up against it. Against what, you ask. The end of the line. We have to be dangling at the end of the rope before we can change our mind about what’s important. And, even then, we resist. Better to die, we say, than to change the way we think.

Changing the way we think is like dying. And, not changing the way we think is like dying. To die or not to die is not the question. What form will our dying take is the question. There is the death that leads to death and the death that leads to life. How would you like to die is the question, and the church, which likes to avoid questions, doesn’t know it is answering the question by refusing to answer the question.

It’s like this: The things I have to say can only be heard by those who can hear them. I don’t say them to be heard. I say them because they are the things I have to say. I have to say them. They are not mine to say or not say. I don’t have them and can say them or not. I must say them. I am compelled to say them. I HAVE TO say them. Whether anyone hears them or not. Even if when they hear them they respond with, “Why don’t you go fly a kite?”

This isn’t to say I just blurt things out without filtering them through silence, conversation, and reflection. It takes a while to know what I have to say and to say it and to gauge whether it was, or is, worth saying. And all of that is part of the experience of participation in the right kind of community. But, the point here is the saying is not conditional upon the hearing. If we only said what could be heard, we would say only the things that have always been said, which is what keeps the church in business.

The thing about hearing, seeing, and understanding is that once you begin to get it, you can’t give it away. You have to live with having it and being unable to do anything with it beyond implementing it in your own life. You get it, you live it. That’s that. The benefit, such as it is, is living well, living with integrity and authenticity. There is no advantage to you or to anyone else to your living well. You just live well, with integrity and authenticity. And the whole world is blessed, you included, but in a way that it doesn’t know it’s blessed. You, of course, recognize that you are blessed, because you get it, and getting it means that you get not being able to do anything with it, except live well, and you know what a blessing and a joy living well is for itself alone. It’s like flying a kite. You don’t fly a kite to accomplish anything thereby. You fly a kite to fly a kite. Not to do anything with it. So, you are already flying a kite when they tell you to go fly a kite.

This is the crucial point where the matter of changing the way we think is concerned. I can't give you anything. You can't give me anything. We can't give anyone else anything. What do we pay a preacher (teacher, guru, advisor, spiritual director, guide) for? They are paid to say "I can't give you anything.” Not giving you anything means giving you everything you need, like their trust in your ability to find your way, their confidence that you have what you need, their reassuring, caring, presence when it seems impossibly difficult, their questions for clarification and understanding, and an environment in which you can sound out your ideas about the way for you, and gain greater clarity than you could ever achieve on your own, and know that while you are on your own, you are not alone. This is the stuff life is made of.

We are on our own, but we are not alone. We are not alone in the work of being alive. Being alive has nothing to do with the realization of our dreams and desires, with our goals and ambition. It has to do only with being alive in the moment we are living and living their with integrity and authenticity. Waking up, enlightenment, realization, satori, and the like are not about getting, having, owning, possessing, acquiring, amassing, avoiding. They are not about pleasure and prosperity and wealth and power and control. They are not about fortune and glory. They are about being alive, here and now, genuinely being ourselves in the time and place, context and circumstances of our living.

The path we hear so much about is not a way from here to there but a way from here to here. We don't GO anywhere. We don't go ANYWHERE. We just wake up to where we are. See it for what it is. Understand how things are and what is being asked of us, and let it be as it is, how it is, where it is, when it is, why it is, because it is, with equanimity, peace, and acceptance, and do what needs to be done there as only we can do it. That's where the path leads. To doing what needs to be done, offering what we have to give as only we can give it, and doing it with the right spirit, in the right frame of mind. This is Christ-like-ness. Buddha-hood. The way of the True Human Being. Zen living. Life in the fullest, deepest, richest sense of the word.

We are on our own, and we are not alone. The assistance we get is assistance with bringing life to life, with bringing ourselves to life. It has nothing to do with our dreams and desires, unless our dreams and desires are about coming to life, being alive wherever and whenever and however we are. Joseph Campbell says, “We know when we are on the beam and when we are off of it.” There is That Which Knows. We are not alone, but listening, know something of what That Which Knows knows. It isn’t what we have in mind.

What we get from God is not what we want. We want “fortune and glory kid, fortune and glory.” We get life (“as a prize of war”). We get to be alive in the time and place of our living. We want a different time and place, a better time and place. Who can be alive in this old time and place? How come other people get the good times and places? How come we get stuck with these old times and places and this old God? Oh, for a God that is God the way we want God to be! “Won’t you rend the heavens and come down!” “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

We throw God away in the search for God the way we want God to be. We run past the treasure in search of the treasure. We throw life away in the effort to have life as we want life to be. We spend our time coming up with explanations for life being the way it is (sin, you know). We spend our time devising formulas for making life into the way we want life to be (mortification, repentance, penitence, obedience and faithfulness, you know). We spend our time not-living and then we die. We have to take a chance on life.

Faith has no content. It is attitude, orientation, perspective—an orientation toward life. Faith is about trusting ourselves to our lives. We are on our own AND we are not alone! The heart, the ground, of life is cognition, awareness, knowing, comprehending, getting it and being okay with it, and responding to it out of what it is asking of us with what we have to offer. What is “it”? “It” is That Which Knows. It is the unnamable drift, or urge, or inclination toward “the good,” toward “what needs to happen now,” toward whatever is being asked for in “the situation as it arises.” What are we trying to do with the situation, achieve in it, accomplish in it? Where does that desire come from? That’s “it”! That’s what in charge of our lives, directing us to life, bringing life to life within us and in the moment of our living.

The formula for successful living is simple: Be aware of the situation and what is being asked of us, and offer to it what we have to give. To do this, we have to take up the practice, work the program. The terms are interchangeable. The practice, the program, is developing eyes that see, ears that hear and a heart that understands. The program, the practice, involves looking, listening, inquiring, asking, seeking knocking, paying attention, being awake, aware, alive. The practice, the program is being curious, heretical, experimenting, exploring, investigating, relishing the freedom to fail, to look stupid, to not know. But, this is not a practice to take up alone.

We are on our own, you know, but we are not alone, and we must not be any more alone than we have to be. The practice, the program, is taken up, conducted, within the company of those who themselves are taking up the practice, working the program. We call this “the community of faith” because it is a community of those who trust themselves to their lives. It is a community of those who know we cannot trust ourselves to find the way alone because, while we are capable of self-direction (following the urge to the good), we are also capable of self-deception (thinking the urge we are following is to the good). We all know by this point in our lives that shooting ourselves in the foot is what we do best. No, telling ourselves what we want to hear is what we do best. No, fooling ourselves is what we do best. No, wanting what we have no business having is what we do best. You don’t want to leave it up to us to know which of the inner voices to follow.

The church is a part of the conversation and the atmosphere in which the conversation takes place. We talk over our sense of the next step with those who are the church, the community of faith, with us, and together we find the way. Together we help one another in the work of clarification, which reduces the risk of being wrong about the next step, but does not eliminate it. “All synods and councils,” you know, “may err, and many (Nay! All!) have erred.” We can always be wrong about what we think is right. And, so, the constant need to see, and hear, and understand, and change the way we think! Amen! May it be so!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

11/30/08 Ride the Bull!

I’m not here—we are not here—to mess with your life. We are not here to take anything away from you or force anything on you. You are just fine as you are. And things are fine just as they are. And, you, and they, will be fine, it all will be fine.

And, we all, you included, know that isn’t true. We/things are not just fine as we are. Yet, we/they all are so too just fine as we/they are. Both those statements are true. We live on the boundary between being just fine as we are and not being just fine as we are. We start where we are, knowing that we are just fine and that the process is always about transitioning, growing, developing, perceiving, seeing, hearing, understanding more than we ever presently do. That the process is always about the journey, never the destination.

Here’s how it works. The path begins under our feet. We don’t have to go anywhere or learn anything or change ourselves in any way. Everything starts with our granting ourselves permission to be who and where and how and why and what we are. We can’t be anything until we can be who we are. And, we don’t stop there. We open ourselves to ourselves, to our circumstance, to our choices, options, and possibilities, and see what happens. But, no one is going to push you to do that, or anything. You are just fine as you are. We all are. And yet, life is not static, bound forever to be as it is.

The Biblical ideas of the Promised Land, the Kingdom of God, and the New Jerusalem pull us beyond where we are toward the life that is yet to be lived. The call is to life. Yet, life is not a steady state. Life is not Itta Bena, Mississippi in 1956. It is not the Presbyterian Church of the Covenant in 1968. Life is not something we have, own, possess, accumulate, box-up, fence in, store away, keep safe. Life is wild and rambunctious, dynamic, unfolding, emerging, spilling over, pouring out, uncontrolled and uncontrollable, carrying us who knows where, asking us to do who knows what. We can’t define life, explain life, understand life. We can only live it as it comes. Hanging on and hoping for the best.

The rule for living life as it comes is: Ride the bull. The bull, of course, is our life. Or, any aspect of our life, that which is life for us, like photography, for example. It gets hard. It pays off in ways that cannot be weighed, counted, measured, put in the bank and used to pay the bills. We wonder why we are doing it. If it’s worth it. We think about quitting. The question is, Is It Life? If it isn’t life, leave it behind and live toward the life, go to the life. If it is life, ride it out, no matter what. Ride that bull! Hang on for the duration regardless of what it throws at you. Hang on through all the spins and twists and contortions. Don’t let it dump you, and don’t even think of bailing out. If you live to be 100 it will amount to less than the 8 seconds of a rodeo bull ride on the geological clock. It’s no time at all. Hang in. Hang on. Ride it out. For the glory of having done it if for nothing else. For the life of it.

We are in it for the life of it. And life is always out there ahead of us, urging us on. And, we are always hanging back, saying “Oh, but, we had it so good in 1956! We had so much fun in 1968! We are sure that’s how life should be!” We want to tame the bull and turn him out to pasture. And, our life is out there in the Great Beyond, shouting, “Come on! Come on! You haven’t seen anything yet!” But, we think we’ve seen plenty. We think we’ve seen enough. We want to sit down and let life pass us by. We want to let the ride go on with out us.

We want to return to the time when times were easy and things were fun. We had it so good when David was king! We want someone to restore the good times, to bring the memories back to life, to give us what we had. We look for a Messiah to take us where we want to go, back to the halcyon days of lore, back to fortune and glory and the good old days that were once ours, or our ancestors, and are no more.

“Are you the one, or shall we look for another? Are you the Messiah we want you to be? Are you the one to take us where we want to go? Are you the one to give us what we want to have? Are you the one to dance to our music and march to our drum? Or, shall we look for another?” The question is met with a question: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Faith in whom, in what? Faith in the bull! Faith in the cause of life. Faith in LIFE!. Faith in the ride, in the road that is no road, in the path that is no path, in the pull—so slight it can be overlooked, ignored—of the Great Beyond. Faith in more than meets the eye, in more than words can say, in more than we will ever understand. Abraham leaves his father’s house and strikes out on a journey that has no end. The Promised Land is without political or geographical boundaries. We do not settle down with Life. We move on. Beyond the limits of civilization. Into the unexplored regions. Into the wilds. Where there be dragons, or worse. Riding the bull, with the wind in our hair, and no concern for the clock, because the ride is the thing, and has its own version of fortune and glory, delighting in the day and wondering what tomorrow will bring.

Where do we find our strength, our direction? What sustains us, guides us, moves us on? What gets us up, involved in doing what needs to be done? That’s where our faith is. We trust that we are not alone, that we are being led, pulled, pushed into life, into living, into being alive—into transitioning, growing, developing, perceiving, seeing, hearing, understanding—always the journey, never the destination. Always the ride, never the dismount. Always the trail, never the bunkhouse, never the pasture.

The killer—death—is sameness, rigidity, homeostasis—the unbending, unmoving, fear of change and the unknown. Which seems like I’m saying it is not okay to be who you are where you are when you are why you are what you are. But. I’m not saying that. I’m saying it’s just fine to be who, etc., you are.

Here comes one of the 10,000 spiritual laws: We can’t be different until we can be who we are. Or, to put it another way (which is why there are 10,000 of these things), Nothing changes until nothing has to change. Or, to put it another way (see what I mean?), In order to change our lives, we have to make our peace with our lives—we have to let things be how they are. And, of course, we could keep saying this in different ways until we got really tired of the game and went to lunch. Which is generally exactly what it takes for things to shift. When we get fed up with something, anything, something happens. When we get fed up with trying to change ourselves, or our situation in life, something changes about ourselves or our situation in life. Maybe not what we had in mind. Probably not what we had in mind. But something. Anyway. Back to the point.

The point is that we are just fine as we are, and we can’t be different until we recognize that there is really no need in anything changing. Boom! As John Madden would say, things change. But things change in their own time, in their own way. And, not as a result of our trying to make them change. So, if you want a baby, for example, to grow up do two things. No three. Stop trying to make the baby grow up. That’s the first thing. The second thing is to baby the baby. Make the baby more of a baby than the baby wants to be. Take care of its every need. Change its diapers before they need changing. Wipe it’s little nose when it isn’t runny. Hound the baby to death taking care of the baby. That’s the second thing. Here’s the third. Fail the baby in significant but non-harmful ways. Make the baby take care of you by not being capable of taking care of either you or the baby. Become dependent upon the baby.

Here’s the rule. If you want someone to become more reliable, you have to become less reliable. If you want someone to increase their functioning in relation to you, you have to decrease your functioning in relation to them. If you want them to grow up, you have to become infantile. And, when they begin to take over, you have to let them take over.

Now, this gets us back rather nicely to the fact that we are just fine as we are. And we can only change by realizing that we are just fine as we are, and getting off our backs about needing to change. We do not need to change. And we can’t change until we can allow ourselves to be exactly as we are.

The Prodigal returns and his father welcomes him home. The father indulges the Prodigal. We would say the father enables the Prodigal. The father indulged the Prodigal by sending him away with his inheritance to the Far Country. That didn’t wake him up, so the father continues to indulge the Prodigal by welcoming him home. Maybe he wakes up, and maybe he doesn’t. Do you think the father can force him to be more awake than he is? Do you think you can change someone by telling her, or him, to change? If so, my wife would like for me to come live with you a day or two.

Look. Here’s how it works: God Says Yes To Me by Kaylin Haught—you can find the poem at the following web site: http://www.loc.gov/poetry/180/126.html

Yes, yes, yes, means that over time, eventually, we wake up. We learn what works and what doesn’t work. We get it. Or not. And if we don’t, we wouldn’t have gotten it with all the angels in heaven yelling in our ears. We wake up over time. That’s the hope. In the meantime, we are just fine as we are. Or, to put it another way, Yes, Yes, Yes! 

Sunday, November 23, 2008

11/23/08--On the Path of White Rabbits

Do not think you know what the future needs to be. The future has a life of its own. It is not ours to assign a life to the future. It is ours to assist the emergence of the life that is waiting to be born in our lives, and through our lives into the future. How do we do that? We listen. We look. We understand. Eyes that see, remember. Ears that hear. A heart that understands. These are the tools that bring life to life in ourselves and in the world.

The watch words—Did somebody say “watch”? How timely!—Did somebody say “timely”? This is too weird—of scripture, remember, are “Wait” and “Watch” because we do not know the time of that which is coming, of that which is waiting to be born. We do not know what the future needs to be. Trying to make our ideas for the future be the future destroys the future that is waiting to be born. We do not know what is coming, or what needs to happen in the service of what is coming, and so we have to allow ourselves to be surprised, to be shocked and appalled.

This is the nature of magic. Magic is shocking and appalling. It is disgusting and revolting. The Messiah is crucified. How’s that for disconcertion? Dismay? Devastation? Now we’re talking magic! Magic has to destroy our dreams in order to deliver its gift, and the gift is always more than we could dream up in a thousand years of dreaming. Ah, but, no sooner is the gift delivered than we begin to dream anew. We have it all planned out in no time. Resurrection. Ascension. Return to right wrongs and reward the faithful. We wrote the script practically overnight, and missed the “the time of our visitation” again. And still don’t know “the things that make for peace.”

Magic is the reversal of our happy plans. The gift is not what we want it to be. The Messiah is never who we have in mind. The help we get is not the help we are waiting for. We don’t know what the future needs to be. Our life is not OUR life. It is not MY life to do with as I please. These are all the lessons we refuse to learn. They don’t mesh with our wishes for ourselves and our lives. We keep looking for that which is not coming and waiting for that which will never arrive. “Delta Dawn, what’s that flower you have on? Could it be a faded rose from days gone by? And did I hear you say he was meeting you here today, to take you to his mansion in the sky?” Amen! Can I have an Amen? Amen! Jesus is coming soon, you know. The end is near. Prepare to meet thy God! Amen! Amen!

Here is what is necessary in order for us Delta Dawns to become the Virgin Mary, mothers and mid-wives of the future that is waiting to come to us, and through us, into the world: Put yourself in a receptive frame of mind and see what comes. Do not try to hurry the coming. Our place is not to speed things up, but to receive what comes, to sift through what comes and let the chaff blow away with the wind. Everything that comes isn’t worth having. Our place is to know what’s what. To know the difference between what is the gift and what is the clutter. The gift comes with a kiss of energy, of power, of life. It’s a light, gentle kiss on your cheek. You can miss it if you are thinking what a waste of time this is, and how enlightenment/realization/seeing/hearing/understanding better hurry up if it wants you to have anything to do with it, or if you are looking for something too big to miss.

The kind of energy that transforms our lives and brings us to life is easily dismissed and ignored. It doesn’t have the power of thunderstorms and atomic bombs. It’s more like gravity, or the force of water through the landscape, or the ability of a gnat to irritate and disturb. Our place is to be disturbed, awakened. We choose what disturbs us, what to attend and what to overlook. Our place is to choose wisely, to know “the time of our visitation,” to recognize the White Rabbit when it flashes across our path.

The gift can be missed. We can not know “the time of our visitation,” or “the things that make for peace,” again and again. We can not look, or, looking, look for the wrong thing. The Messiah better match up to our ideas about the Messiah, you know. Those heavens better open and he—and he better be a he—better come riding down on those mighty clouds of joy decked out in those flashing beams of light with all that fanfare and all those angles fluttering around. He better not come like a white rabbit, a girly white rabbit at that, flashing by, winking, disappearing.

How do we know “it” when it comes along? The White Rabbit? The Holy Grail? How do we know when our future flirts with us, winks, and disappears? I call it an energy flux. It’s like a fresh breeze on a sultry day, or a whiff of chocolate chip cookies right out of the oven. Those kinds of experiences break into our awareness and are gone. We notice them, but we have no chance of holding onto them, sitting down with them. Yet, if we permit it, we can allow that momentary interruption to deepen our awareness generally, and see where that takes us. Awareness unleashed from bondage to the concerns of the moment transforms the moment, and frees us to live in the current of a different life. Who knows where it will lead? We have to trust ourselves to something.

We have to place ourselves in the service of our lives, of Life, and take our chances. In that respect, the old prayer takes on new meaning, and is quite applicable: “Lord have mercy! Christ have mercy! Lord have mercy!” Life, have mercy! We are quite at the mercy of that which is better equipped to do without us than we are to do without it. Taking our chances with Life is our only hope, and it destroys our hopes and dreams for our lives. In order to have Life, in order to be alive, we have to hand over our idea of what our life is to be. Make sure you understand that. That’s the price we pay to knock on heaven’s door.

But, on the other hand, what exactly do we have to lose? What keeps us locked in place? Seeing, thinking, doing, being as we have always seen, and thought, and done, and been? What are we afraid of? Our life is out of sight over the hill, and we are thinking there might be some terror over the hill, and stay in place, to the delight of the terror we call our life. We don’t gain a thing by not following our life, by not knocking on heaven’s door. We are just afraid of what we might lose, and we don’t have anything to lose. That’s the irony of our situation.

The life we wish we could live is always distracting us from the life that is available to be lived. We are always dismissing the life that is waiting for us to live it in favor of the life of our fantasies and desires. We look past the treasure dreaming of the treasure. Most of what passes for “waiting for the White Rabbit” and “searching for the Holy Grail” is pretending to wait and search. We are “waiting.” We are “searching,” with quotation marks around the words, meaning we are not really waiting, not really searching. We are hoping that Life will come along, all right, so we are waiting and searching to that extent at least, but we are waiting and searching with strings attached. We want Life to fit neatly into our life, in a seamless, invisible, kind of way. We want to be alive on our terms. We don’t want Life to inconvenience us, to make demands on us, to require us to live differently. We just want to be alive, doing what we have always done, without having to go to any trouble or change any plans. We just want to feel better about living the way we are living.

We wait for a while for the White Rabbit to appear, see nothing, decide nothing is happening or is going to happen, and move on. We see nothing because we are looking for a white rabbit. The White Rabbit comes in all forms, and is quite unrecognizable in most of them. We have to trust ourselves to the strangest things. That’s the first thing. The second is that when we decide nothing is happening, what that means is that nothing that we want to happen is happening. The White Rabbit has no necessary connection with what we want to happen. That’s the second thing.

We may call it “waiting for the White Rabbit,” but we really mean, “waiting for what we want.” We have our ideas, or plans, our schemes, our agendas. We wait for life to serve us, for the White Rabbit to come along in servant’s clothes, with a silver tray, and peeled grapes on a satin pillow. We know what we want. Nothing less will do. And, with that condition in place, we may as well move on, because we don’t have what it takes to be on the trail of the White Rabbit.

Here’s the deal about white rabbits. They are like photographs (everything is, you know). We never know where the next photograph will be found or when one will come along, AND we have to put ourselves in the path of photographs, and wait, watching, for their eventual arrival. We have to go in search of photographs. We have to track them, stalk them, pull them forth from their hiding places, dig them up, nose them out, dog them relentlessly until they raise the white flag and come out with their hands in the air. And, if there be contradiction tucked away in this little paragraph, well have a healthy helping and enjoy the meal. That’s what it tastes like, being a photographer, being alive, in the company of white rabbits.

One of the best ways I know of putting ourselves in the path of white rabbits is by engaging regularly in the right kind of conversation. The right kind of conversation is governed by three rules. No agenda. No frivolity. Nothing but heart. No agenda means we don’t structure the conversation to achieve a particular outcome. We don’t come together to talk about a certain topic. Conversation is conversation. It is not lecture or discussion. No frivolity means we avoid news, weather, and sports. Rants about what we think about the economy and what should be done to solve the world’s problems are not the right kind of conversation. Nothing but heart means we talk about the heart of the matter. What is happening in our lives and how we are dealing with it? Where we are encountering resistance and depletion and where we are finding assistance, encouragement and replenishment? The future unveils itself and white rabbits appear when we simply say how it is with us to those who can hear us with compassion and help us clarify what is important and what we can do to bring it forth in our lives.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sermon/Dharma Talk, 11/16/2008

The Messiah is never the Messiah we are looking for. The help we get is not the help we have in mind. The White Rabbit is anything but the path to the future of our dreams. Nothing gets in the way of our living like the expectations we have for our life.

Here’s the deal. A potter plops a glob of clay down on the wheel, and takes a seat with an idea of a pot in mind. As she puts her hands on the clay and the wheel begins to turn, something happens. The clay resists her efforts to force it into what she wants it to be. The clay has a mind of its own. A life of its own. The potter has to listen to the clay, has to see where the clay wants to go, has to know what the clay wants to be, has to allow the clay to lead her to an outcome that might be quite different from what she has in mind. A pitcher, not a pot. A plate, not a bowl. A set of contemporary goblets, not a traditional run of mugs.

Our life is a pile of clay on a wheel. It is not ours to make of it what we will. We do not stand before our future and decide what it will be. We listen and follow the lead of that which we cannot name. Who is directing the action? Who is producing the pitcher, the plate, the goblet? Whose idea is this life that we are living? We didn’t get here by thinking our way here, or by carefully placing our feet in the black footprints laid out by Those Who Know Best.

Our life led us here. Our life will lead us into our future. Our place is to be alive in the time of our living, to be attuned to what our life is presenting to us, asking of us, as a potter is attuned to the clay. We join our life, as a potter joins the clay, in producing an outcome—a LIFE—that is more than we could ask, or think, or imagine, more than we could design and implement, on our own. The Lesson here is that we are not alone! We are no more alone than the potter is alone in the production of pots. But, we have to open ourselves to that which is present with us if we hope to bring ourselves into alignment with who we are, with that which is striving to be born in us and through us into the world.

We are mid-wives of our own lives. We bring ourselves, our lives, forth. It’s the birth process. We are mothers of who we are. Who we are emerges through our interaction with our environment, with the nature and circumstances of our lives. This is our work. Bringing ourselves forth into the world, into our lives. Our work is to be who we are.

Ah but, how’s this for a complication? There is who we are. And there is who we wish we were. And there is who other people think we ought to be. And there is who our circumstances require us to be. And we stand before all that and want to run. How can we integrate these fragmented selves? How can we restore ourselves to wholeness? How can we make peace within, and between ourselves and our environment? This is the spiritual task. It is the search for the Holy Grail.

The work of squaring things up is the work of soul, the work of spiritual development, the spiritual journey, task, quest. It requires us to live on the boundary between yin and yang, between how things are and how things also are, and to make our peace with the opposing forces pulling us in different directions. It is peace that we seek, harmony of being, and we achieve it by recognizing the validity of contrary voices and giving them their place in our lives. This is true, and that is also true. In living the contradictions we become whole.

The work of wholeness is the work of integrating our opposite sides, our opposite selves. We do that by granting all sides/selves their right to their own voice, perspective, agenda, but requiring them to talk to each other through us, and ultimately trusting us to make a decision about what is to be done after listening carefully to the desires of every inclination.

It’s harmony of being all the way. We have to harmonize ourselves with ourselves and with our environment, square who we are and how we wish things were up with the world. We cannot live in a state of dissonance, of dissociation, of disconnection with ourselves or with the world. We cannot deny how things are with us, or with the world, and get by with it. Living in harmonious accord with ourselves and with the world is IT. There is nothing beyond that to get, or have, or be. The work is harmonizing our lives, living at-one with ourselves and our environment, being true to ourselves within the nature and circumstances of our lives. This is the work that kills us and restores us to life. It is Grail work. The spiritual journey, task, quest. We live to be at-one with ourselves in the life we are living. We come to life and are alive when we are at-one with ourselves in the life we are living, in a way that nothing else (a new house, car, partner, etc) can duplicate or surpass. Harmony of being/living is the essence of life. True human beings are those who harmonize being with living. They are who they are and their lives reflect that, exhibit that, make it plain for all to see, and they are a blessing in the lives of all who come their way, just by being who they are in the lives they are living.

We do not live well, we do not live as those who are alive in the time of our living, accidentally. Coming alive does not “just happen” any more than a potter “just happens” to produce a chalice or a jug. We come to life by intending to be alive, by taking up the work of being alive, by engaging in the practice of being alive.

The practice is being present. We practice presence. We practice “being here, now.” We practice seeing, hearing, and understanding. Seeing what we see, what we look at. Hearing what we hear, what we listen to. Understanding where we are and what is going on around us. Knowing what is happening and what is being asked of us and what is needed “in the situation as it arises.” That’s the practice. The only practice. Get that down and you are exactly where you are going to be when you get to wherever it is that you think you are going.

Are you beginning to see what we are about here? Being alive. That’s what we are about. Bringing ourselves to life by engaging the contradictions of who we are and who we also are and what our life allows and what it disallows. By working to achieve the harmony of being who we are within the context and circumstances of our life. By developing eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that understands. By living to exhibit and express who we are within the context and circumstances of our life. By being true to ourselves in caring relationship with other selves. By seeing what we see, hearing what we hear, knowing what we know, tasting what we taste, smelling what we smell, sensing what we sense, feeling what we feel, touching what we touch, liking what we like, etc. and saying how it is with us and what our experience of life is in caring relationship with one another… As Linda Cohn might say, “Are you picking up what I’m laying down here?”

We have to know what is important and what is also important, and live in the tension between the competing claims on our time and attention. The One Thing Only focus, is not about one thing. It is about all things, everything. We can only do one thing, focus on one thing, attend one thing at a time. To talk on the phone and watch TV and scramble an egg and change the baby at the same time is to not do any of those things well. We do only one thing at a time even though all the things might be going on at once. Multi-tasking leads to car wrecks and heart attacks, and those who pride themselves on doing it are no fun to be around.

The point is to be focused on and attentive to the One Thing that requires our focus and attention at any point in our lives, and to not be ruled by that thing through all the other moments as though it and it alone is worthy of our complete devotion and allegiance forever. With me, photography is not the only important thing. Other things become central in their own time, and photography has to be set aside, has to move over and make room on the table for that which is also important. I can’t walk through life with a camera stuck to my face. We have to live in light of what is important and what is also important, and bear the pain of choosing what must be done now.

This is quite a different approach from living focused on the black footprints. Following the black footprints asks nothing of us, yet, it takes everything from us. The surest way to kill an organization, or a relationship, or ourselves is to live strictly by the rules. Pull out the manual of operation. Follow the prescribed procedures in making every choice. Do what the instructions say to do the way they say to do it without fail or exception. Death by careful compliance. Live your life stepping in the black footprints, thinking what you are supposed to think, believing what you are supposed to believe, doing what you are supposed to do. You’ll be dead by the end of the week. You may be breathing, but, you’ll be dead. But, you will be very safe and pain free, free of the anguish of deciding how to live your life.

The cross that Jesus talks about is not the cross of death but of life. It is the cross of dying the death that life calls us to die. The death of opening ourselves to the experience of life, of not knowing what to do with the clay on the wheel, of being afraid, of wanting desperately to follow the black footprints so as to avoid having to choose. “Who do you say that I am?”, asks Jesus. “Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right?”, asks Jesus (Luke 12:57). Why don’t you listen to the clay and see what happens?

Listening to the clay, to our lives, to the life that is trying to be born in us and through us into the world requires us to believe that there is more at work here than our conscious, thinking, rational, logical selves. Requires us to believe that we are not alone. Requires us to believe that there is more to us than meets the eye. If we are going to live, we are going to have to take a chance on life, and die the death that life calls us to die, and bet everything on the possibility of life after death, here and now, on this side of the grave.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

11/09/08, Sermon/Dharma Talk

Obama hadn’t been President-elect fifteen minutes before the hue and cry about “Can he deliver?” was raised. The question, of course, is more accurately phrased: “Can he deliver us?” Can he save us? It’s the question of John the Baptist to Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” We are always looking for someone to save us. To turn things around for us. To usher in the Golden Age and give us what we want. Can Obama do it? How long before we give up on him and pin our hopes on another? Here’s the truth for you that is as true as anything has ever been, or will be true: The Messiah is never the Messiah, and the help we get is not the help we have in mind.

The question about Obama—Can he do it? Is he the one? Will he lead us to the Promised Land?—allows us to neatly skirt the larger question about ourselves: How differently are we willing to live our lives? What are we going to change about the way we live? Nails us, doesn’t it? We are the ones, remember, who want to reduce our dependency on foreign oil AND drive as frequently and as far and as fast as we want to. We are the ones who want to eat as much of whatever we want without gaining weight. We want to exercise when we want to for as long as we want to and let that be enough. We want to live however we like without incurring any consequences we don’t like. We want Obama to give us what we want and we don’t want to change the way we are living.

I wish I had better news but… Things aren’t going to be different until we change the way we are living. Here’s another shot of truth for you: For things to be better, they have to be worse. The change that is necessary for things to be different in the way they need to be different is the shift in perspective from the material to the spiritual. Life is lived on two levels, the physical/biological level and the spiritual/psychic (from psyche, soul) level. The physical serves the spiritual. That is the right order of things. When we reverse it, and try to use spiritual techniques (prayer, for instance) to serve our physical aspirations and interests (winning football games, for instance, or being awash in prosperity—Bad Religion always uses the spiritual in the service of the physical), we confuse ends and means and corrupt the world. We produce the wasteland in which nothing can live.

The physical serves the spiritual by being the realm in which the spiritual aspect of existence is embodied, incarnated, exhibited, expressed. The physical world is the canvass, you might say, of the spiritual world. The spiritual world is brought forth in and through the physical world. The abstract becomes concrete, actual, tangible, visible, definite, particular in space and time. As we bring spiritual reality to life through the way we live in the physical world, we come to life ourselves, and are alive in a way we could never be just living on the physical plane alone.

But, we are always thinking the physical plane is the only plane. To Really Live is to be loaded down with material stuff. The forbidden fruit is a metaphor for our seeking satisfaction in things that delight the eye and titillate the senses. “Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory,” is another way of saying, “Here, honey, have a bite. It’s all you’ll ever need.” When Jesus comes talking about “living water,” we think in physical terms, and don’t understand thirst as a spiritual reality. From the Garden of Eden on, we have tried to satisfy spiritual hunger and thirst with physical food and drink (and silver mirrors and Mardi Gras beads). And, it has not worked, nor can it work, because we don’t know what we are dying for.

Barack Obama cannot provide us with what we crave. To get that, we have to change the way we are living. We have to change what we want. But it has to be the right kind of change. It has to be the kind of change that is occasioned by, the result of, a shift in perspective. It has to be an awareness of what constitutes the nature and ground of life that is true life, abundant life—the kind of life that Jesus lived, and all those with spiritual insight live, to serve. We have to become those who live consciously, intentionally, deliberately toward life, living, being alive, and we have to create an environment which is conducive to life in the deepest, best, truest sense of the word.

This “true life” is realized and expressed by those we have come to call “true human beings.” This is what we are dying for. This is the center of all of our searching, longing. There is something pleasing about photographs and other works of art that please us, about scenes that ground us, center us, focus us, bring us into the perfection of the moment, and elicit a "Yes!" to all of life. And, we have no idea what it is. What is pleasing about what pleases us? Why that and not something else instead? Why do "reasonable facsimiles" never quite do? We don't know. But we live our lives looking for, searching out, seeking to find, the real thing. The genuine article. IT. Whether we know it or not, we live to find and be The True Human Being.

We do not carry out this search in isolation, independent and self-reliant. We become true human beings in right relationship with each other. We bring out the best in one another, and enable the realization of that which we all seek, true life, abundant life, everlasting life—everlasting in the sense that once we are really alive, it lasts forever, and nothing can take it from us.

So, the importance of coming together to create a gathering place where we gather our fragmented selves into the whole that we are. This is where we do the work of integrity, of aligning ourselves with "that which is deepest, best, and truest about us." Where we come together for the work of being who we are in the world. The world, you know the one I'm talking about, is a place of fragmentation, disintegration. We need gathering places to do the work of integration so that we might step back into the world as those who know who we are and what we are about. We gather ourselves in order to remember "the face that was ours before we were born" and live the life that is ours to live.

What's to do? What's to be done? What needs our attention? What needs us to do it? We believe we will do what today? How do we know? How do we decide? What directs our action, leads us to act? Once our basic biological needs are met, then what do we do with our lives? Where do we go for the answer to THAT question? We answer that question with the right combination of solitude and community. Naps and walk-abouts and the right kind of conversation over time help us clarify who we are and what we are about. We work it out together over time.

The fundamental, foundational, truth is that we need help with our lives. We do not, cannot, live well alone, cut off, isolated. We are on our own, AND we need one another. The difference between solitude and exclusion, or isolation, is the difference between life and death. Ah, but. As Shel Silverstein so aptly put it, “Some kind of help is the kind of help that help is all about—and some kind of help is the kind of help we all could do without.” We spend our lives looking for the right kind of help. It shouldn’t be so hard to find.

The right kind of help falls out easily into two categories, physical and spiritual. We need an environment that is physically and spiritually safe. In order to be imaginative, creative, alive, we have to be safe. We can't be imaginative with things like our survival, physical or emotional, on our mind. We can't be thinking about where our next meal is coming from or how we are going to pay the bills and whether we will have the grades to get in, or stay in, grad school, or if the headaches mean anything... We have to be in an "imaginative space" to be imaginative, and that is primarily a safe place. We can't be embroiled in the ten thousand things. The "imaginative space" grounds us, centers us, restores us, and opens the way to life, and it is the gift of the right kind of community.

In order to be fully alive, we need an environment in which our basic needs for food, clothing and shelter can be met. And, we need an environment which enables the development of eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that understands. We need an environment which is conducive to life, living, and being alive. It is not enough to be 98.6 and breathing, to be up-right and intact, to be able to sit up and take nourishment.  LIFE requires more, asks more of us, than that.

As we move into the consideration of what constitutes LIFE, we might say “abundant life,” being fully, wholly, completely alive, we move into the arena of the spiritual. The difference between the spiritual and the physical is the difference between a house and a home. You can decorate a house with all the beautiful accoutrements the best interior designers can recommend, but things on the walls, ceilings, and floors do not make a home. We try to make a life by loading it up with things on the walls, ceilings, and floors, but we cannot produce LIFE in that way. LIFE has a different orientation, foundation, basis and direction. And that “differentness” is what constitutes spirituality.

The spiritual journey is the search for the conditions that are required for LIFE, and the central component of those conditions is a community that helps us form the perspective necessary for life, living and being alive. This is the perspective that flows from and leads to eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that understands.

When we see, hear, and understand, we see, hear, and understand what is important. We know what is being asked of us in “the situation as it arises,” and we know what must be done. Right seeing, right hearing, right understanding lead to right thinking, right being, right doing, which all together are the components of right living which is the essence of LIFE. And, all of that is a spiritual process which cannot be even approximated through a strictly material, or physical, approach to life. We can build a house with that approach, but we cannot make it a home.

The work is to be, not to have or to do. Of course, being is evidenced in doing. What we do and how we do it incarnate and exhibit who we are. This is the physical serving the spiritual. The work is to do the things which incarnate and exhibit who we are, to align our life with the center of our being—and to be at-one with the “ought-to-be-ness” of things there at the center. And we grow in our awareness of who we are “at the center,” we begin to recollect “the face that was ours before we were born,” as we engage in clarifying conversations with those who know how to talk with us about the things that truly matter—the things that lead to life, living and being alive.