Monday, February 25, 2008

02/24/08, Sermon

There is the life that is ours to live, and there is the life we want to live, and there is the life that we have to live—the life that is forced on us by the context and circumstances of our life. We have to work within this matrix to live the life that we actually live. All of our stories are lived out in this framework. Here is one that is like every one:

Wallace Boggs wanted to fly. He wanted to fly more than anything in all the world. But there was one slight problem with his being able to realize his dream. Wallace Boggs was a 217‑pound pig. Now, you might think it is ridiculous for a 217‑pound pig to want to fly, and, perhaps, it is. But Wallace Boggs didn’t think so. And he thought about it a lot. In fact, that’s all he ever thought about.

He would lie on his bristly back in the mud and watch the Red Birds and the Robins flitting about, diving and soaring, and he would think about how wonderful it would be to dive and soar along with them. “One day I’m going to fly like that,” he would say. His brothers and sisters would pause in their rooting and grunting long enough to snicker and snort. “That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard,” they would say. “Pigs can’t fly, Wallace,” they would say. “Isn’t he a riot?”, they would say. And they would laugh among themselves as they turned back to their rooting and grunting. Their laughter hurt, of course, but it didn’t change Wallace’s mind in the matter. In fact, it made him more determined than ever.

“Just wait,” he would think to himself. “Just wait. I’ll show them all! They’ll stop their laughing when I sail over their heads and climb up, up, up, into the clouds and do circles in the sky!” And he would smile as he imagined the surprise on their faces when they saw him swooping in loops and zooming by.

One day, as Wallace lay wondering how the birds did it, he watched a Sparrow perched on an over‑turned water trough in the barnyard. The bird pushed off the trough, spread its wings, and glided through the air. “That’s it!”, squealed Wallace, scrambling to this feet. “Why didn’t I notice it before? All you have to do is jump off something into the air!” With that, Wallace ran to the upside‑down water trough and climbed up. “Watch me, everybody!”, he shouted. “I’m about to fly!” And, as all the animals in the barnyard looked up from what they were doing, Wallace sprang into the air and landed with a loud “Splat!” into the mud.

The barnyard erupted in laughter. The animals rolled and hooted and gasped for breath. So did Wallace, gasp for breath, that is. He was ashamed and shocked at his failure, but he didn’t lose heart, or give up. Again he climbed onto the trough; again he leaped into the air; again he “splat landed” into the mud; and again the animals roared with laughter. Wallace spent the rest of the day climbing and jumping and splatting. The other animals soon tired of the show and went back to their own affairs. But Wallace kept at it—with no success at all. That evening he wobbled on weary legs back to his wallow and collapsed in an exhausted heap.

The next morning he was at it again. Only this time he climbed up onto the wooden rail fence that encircled the barnyard. “It’s only a matter of getting high enough for the air to catch me,” he reasoned. And he jumped out for the air to catch him. The mud caught him instead.
Back up on the fence he went. Back into the air he went. Back into the mud he went. The cycle was repeated all day long. And the animals began to look at one another with concern etched on their faces. This wasn’t funny any longer. The next day it was even worse.

“Hey! Wallace is on the tractor shed!” Louise Wiggins, one of the chickens, called out to the other animals. They all flocked, herded, and packed to the shed. “Wallace, what are you doing up there?”, one of his brothers asked. “Wallace, please come down,” on of his sisters begged. “Wallace, get back here on the ground this instant,” his mother demanded. “Leave me alone!”, Wallace shouted. “And get ready for the show of the century! I am about to FLY!” With that, Wallace launched himself from the roof of the tractor shed (as gracefully as a pig can manage such things) and landed with a loud THUD in the middle of the mud.

“Uuuuuhhhhh!”, said Wallace. “Are you all right?”, shouted the animals, gathering around him. “Are you hurt, Wallace?” “Yes, I’m all right,” said Wallace struggling to his feet. “And, no, I’m not hurt. It’s just a matter of getting high enough, that’s all.” “You get any higher, boy, and you’ll be flying with the angels,” said his father. “Now you cut this foolishness out and get back to the wallow where you belong.”

“Not me,” said Wallace, “I’m going to fly.” “Be reasonable, Wallace,” said his brothers and sisters. “Pigs don’t fly. Pigs can’t fly. Pigs just aren’t built for flying.” But Wallace would not be reasonable. “I’m going to fly,” he said.

“I’ve got an idea,” said Mildred Pinkins, a jersey cow. “Why don’t we sneak you aboard Farmer Morgan’s crop duster? That way you could fly just like a bird.” “That’s not flying,” said Wallace. “That’s riding in an airplane. Anyone can ride in an airplane. I am going to fly!” “Don’t be pig‑headed,” said his mother. “PIGS DON’T FLY!” “I’m going to be the first,” said Wallace. “You’re going to kill yourself, or one of us,” said the animals. “What would happen if you landed on us? How would we survive that?” “I won’t land on you,” said Wallace, “but I am going to fly.”

“We can’t let you keep this up any longer, Wallace,” said his father. “This has gone far enough. It has to stop.” With that, all the animals crowded around Wallace, forcing him toward the barn. “Hey, what are you doing?”, said Wallace. “Leave me alone! Stop pushing!” “We are only doing what we think is best for you, Wallace,” said his mother. “We have your best interest at heart. We wouldn’t do this if it weren’t for your own good.” And they pushed, and shoved, and pulled, and poked until they had locked Wallace securely behind the heavy doors of the barn. “Let me out of here!”, squealed Wallace. “Not until you get that flying foolishness out of your system!” said his oldest brother. And they kept Wallace locked in the barn for a long time. When they decided that he had been there long enough for the flying fever to have passed, they called out through the doors: “Wallace, we’ll let you out if you promise not to try to fly ever again.”

“Okay,” said Wallace. “I promise.” The animals looked at each other with relief in their eyes and opened the doors to the barn. No sooner had they removed the latch than Wallace bolted past them, sending several chickens, two goats, and a new colt sprawling. “I promise not to try to fly until I get to the Jumping Tree!” yelled Wallace as he ran through the animals.

“Wallace! Come back here!” his parents called. But Wallace wasn’t going back. Wallace was going to the Jumping Tree as fast as he could go. His time in the barn had been spent examining his theory of flying, and Wallace had made a few adjustments in his technique. “Legs out, chin up, stomach in... If I do that and jump from a great enough height, I’m bound to fly,” he reasoned. Now, he was running toward the highest thing on the farm.

The Jumping Tree was a big willow that leaned out over the farm pond. Farmer Morgan’s children spent their summer afternoons climbing up into the tree and jumping from it into the water. Now Wallace was going to use it to jump into the air. And he did. He climbed as high up into the tree as a pig could go and jumped into the air. And landed in the water. The splash knocked turtles off logs, and fish onto the bank, and the air right out of Wallace. He floated sputtering and gasping to the top of the water, and clamored out of the pond just as the first group of animals arrived from the barnyard.

“There he is!”, they shouted. “Get him! Get him! Don’t let him get away!” But Wallace had caught his breath and had one more destination in mind. He headed for Indian Ridge. Indian Ridge was the highest piece of ground in five counties. It overlooked the farm and the surrounding countryside. At one place on the ridge there was a cliff which dropped straight down for five hundred feet. “Surely, that will be high enough,” thought Wallace.

“Oh, he’s going to the Ridge!”, shouted his mother when she saw Wallace leaving the pond. “Stop him! Somebody stop him!” But there was no stopping Wallace. He had a head start and a mission, and he out ran all of them to the place where he would fly, or else. He walked to the edge of the cliff and looked down at the jagged rocks below. “Well, this is it,” he said. “Now it’s either fly or die—and if I can’t fly, I’d just as soon be dead.”

“No! Wallace, No!”, shouted the animals as they climbed up the path toward him. “Don’t do it! Please, don’t do it!” But Wallace backed up for a running start and took a deep breath. Buster Grimes, Farmer Morgan’s golden lab, and the fastest animal on the farm, huffed up and placed himself between Wallace and the edge of the cliff. “Let’s talk about this, Wallace,” he wheezed. “Get out of my way or go with me,” said Wallace, digging in for a running start.

“Sounds to me like you ought to do what he says,” said a voice from behind Wallace. “What’s that?”, said Buster. “I think you ought to get out of the way and let him get it over with,” came the answer. “Who are you?”, said Buster. Wallace turned to see who was behind him and stared into the face of the most beautiful sow he had ever seen.

“I’m Denise Riggins,” she said. “I’ve been hearing about a pig who thought he could fly, and, since I’ve never seen anyone that stupid, I decided I would come over and have a look. You don’t look stupid,” she said to Wallace, “in fact, you’re kind of cute.” “I’m not stupid!”, said Wallace. “And I’m going to fly.”

“That’s stupid,” said Denise. “Pigs don’t fly. Pigs wallow in the mud, and take long naps in the sun. They eat corn‑on‑the‑cob, and root in the dirt. But they don’t fly. However, I’m sure you’ve heard all this before, so maybe you should just jump and get it out of your system.” Wallace didn’t know what to say. He was suddenly very confused. He wanted to fly, but he also felt like he was falling in love, and thought that being with Denise just might be better than flying.

“Birds fly,” he stammered. “When birds fly it’s beautiful.” “You’re right,” said Denise. “Birds are beautiful when they are doing what birds are built to do. And pigs are beautiful when they are doing what pigs are built to do. But pigs are stupid when they try to do what they have no business doing at all.” “But I wanted to be a special pig,” said Wallace. “I wanted to do what no other pig had ever done.”

“Well,” said Denise, “you can do that without making a fool of yourself just by being who you are. After all, honey, there’s only one of you in the whole world.” And she winked at Wallace. “But I wanted to fly,” he said.

“Sorry, Sweetie,” she said. “You can’t fly. And if you try to fly, you’ll never do any of the things you can do, and you’ll miss out on more than you can imagine.” “Like what?”, said Wallace. “If you jump off that ledge, Handsome, you’ll never know,” said Denise, walking past him on her way down the Ridge.

Monday, February 18, 2008

02/17/08, Sermon

You are you. I am me. You are who you are. I am who I am. The problem is that you don’t want to be who you are, and I don’t want to be who I am. We want to be thinner, and taller (or shorter), and richer, and better looking. We want different parents and different points of origin. I’m, frankly, tired of wishing I had different parents, so I put myself up for adoption last week. My plan is to keep doing that until I find the parents that are right for me.

We don’t want to be who we are, where we are, what we are, how we are, why we are. We want to be someone else instead. Teachers want to be singers, singers want to be movie stars, movie stars want to authors, authors want to be lecturers, lecturers want to be gurus, gurus want to run pubs… There is no end to it. No one wants to be who they are. But, here’s the deal. You ARE who you are! I AM who I am. Trying to be who we are not is the essence of sin, using the old terminology.

Sin is exactly not wanting this, but wanting that instead, until we get it. Then that becomes this, and we no longer want it, but want something else instead. The spiritual path, journey, trek, task, and all the spiritual practices and disciplines are about the return to the self that we are. The search for the Holy Grail is about the search for the life that is our life to live. “What I do is me,” says Gerard Manly Hopkins, “for that I came.” Bingo. That’s what needs to be done.

But, it is not easy. There is a reason things are the way they are, you know. There is a reason for everything, you know. And, the reason is that it’s easier that way. We have to give up our dreams for ourselves to be the self that we are. We have such beautiful dreams, it’s hard to let them go. And so, one of the themes of the spiritual path, journey, trek, task is Death and Resurrection.

All of the old Biblical themes fit right into the search for the self, the search for the life that is our life to live. Bondage and Freedom. Sin and Salvation. Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. Guilt and Redemption. Repentance and Deliverance. On the spiritual level, the truth is always true. And, there is always hell to pay.

Hell comes about when we try to have “all this and heaven, too.” Trying to have it all is hell, and choosing to not have it all is hell, and we have to pass through hell to get to heaven. The angel with the flaming sword stands guarding the gate to Paradise. All the heroes and knights encounter monsters and demons and great tests of spirit. Dying is easy, living is hard. We don’t just wake up one day and say, “Starting to day, I am going to be who I am.”

I know this is not what you want to hear. I’m sorry to be the one who tells you, but, I’ve looked around. Made inquiries. Done the research. There is no one else. Everyone else is in the Joel Osteen camp. Joel Osteen is every mother’s ideal child. Joel Osteen is who you become by listening to your mother. He is what happens to you if you follow her advice, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” But, the truth is it is not a light trip to the light.
Now, I fully understand that I’m not supposed to say things like that to you. I’m supposed to tell you good news. You feel bad enough everywhere else in your life. You come here to be uplifted, relieved, revived. You come here to lay your burden down. This is supposed to be the place where you hear about the bright sides and the silver linings.

The church of our experience has existed to make us feel better about our life, our lot. Heaven has been held out to us as the place where it will be made up to us. Where sorrow and sighing will flee away and tears will be no more. Where the great reversal of fortune will take place, and the have-not’s will have for eternity all the things, and more, that they didn’t have for the thirty, or sixty, or ninety years that they lived upon the earth. “So, children, don’t even think about the misery of these days,” we were counseled. “Just concentrate on the glory that will be yours when the role is called up yonder, and your name is on the list.”

Religion’s place in our lives is to enable us to feel better, if not good, about the way things are. “Feeling good was easy, Lord, when Bobbie sang the blues, feeling good was good enough for me, good enough for me and Bobbie Magee.” Feeling good is not always easy, but it seems to be always what we seek. We want to feel good about our lives, about life, and living, and being alive. And, there is much, it seems, to feel bad about. “We get by with a little help from our friends.” Our friends, of course, are amphetamines and hallucinogens and Jack Daniels, and Bobbie Magee. We need help because it’s hard, but we need the right kind of help from the right kind of friends.

It’s hard because we stand squarely in the middle between life as it is, on the one hand, and life as we wish it were, on the other. We cannot get out of that middle no matter what we try. Here is the way it is. Here is the way we wish it were instead. There you are. That’s it, for the rest of your life. We cannot expect to feel good about life being what it is and not what we wish it were. And, we have to make our peace with that.

The task of life is coming to terms with the terms and conditions of life. The great work is putting ourselves into accord with the way things are. The spiritual task is to live, really LIVE, on the boundary between denial and despair. Seeing, knowing, understanding exactly how things are, and living as those who are fully, joyfully alive anyway, nevertheless, even so. The word for that kind of life is hope.

Hope is not optimistic, remember. Hope sees things as they are, peers straight into the red eyes of the monster called Reality, and smiles. Hope is not afraid of how it is. Hope doesn’t care what its chances are. Hope just does what is to be done, what needs to be done, what is there to do. Hope enables us to be who we are—to be true to ourselves—within the terms, and conditions, and context of our lives.

Being who we are is all there is. Living the life that is ours to live within the terms, and conditions, and context of life as it is, is it. You are you. You are who you are. What keeps you from being who you are? What keeps you from doing what is yours to do? You want to know where joy is to be found? Be who you are. Do what is yours to do. This is the essence of spirituality and life, abundant life, joyful life. But, we cannot be who we are and live any way at all. When we are being who we are, we are living in ways that are aligned with, in synch with, the integrity of our being, of our lives, of the life that is ours to live. “We know when we are on the beam and when we are off of it.” Yet, fooling ourselves is what we do best. There you are. The crux of the matter.

Who is running the show? Who is directing the action? Who is determining what we do with our lives? Who decides what constitutes the life that is our life to live? Who says who we are? We can want what we have no business having. How do we know whether we have any business having what we want? We have a mind of our own. How do we identify, surrender to, and serve the mind that is our true mind, the mind that knows who we truly are? How do we get to the place of living out of the spontaneity, out of the authenticity, of our being? Of being aligned with who we are and why we came? How do we find our way to ourselves?

The search for ourselves, for the integrity of our lives, is the search for the Holy Grail, the spiritual journey, the spiritual path, the spiritual task. We get there by asking, and answering, the Grail questions. The first Grail question is “What is the problem? What’s the matter? What’s the trouble? What ails you?” Or, to put it another way, What do you have that you don’t want? And, What do you want that you don’t have? That’s it. Get to the bottom of that and you have it made.

The problem is solved by getting what we want or by changing what we want. But, we don’t what to change what we want. We want what we want. That’s the problem. We are the problem. “We have met the enemy and the enemy is us.” We want to find the Holy Grail, and we stand in our own way, and won’t give way. Stubborn to a fault. Life on our terms or not at all! Something has to give. There is no making it easy. There is no talking you into what must be done. Either you can take it, or you can’t (the pain of surrender, that is). Either you have what it takes, or you don’t. Asking the first Grail question takes you to the heart of the matter. The problem is you. What are you going to do?

In Christian terminology, this is the point of conversion, of submission to the will of God. It is the point of handing ourselves over, of surrendering our ideas of how things ought to be, and accepting God’s will, using the old terminology, for our lives. “Thy will, not mine, be done.” The problem, of course, is, who is to say? Who is to say whether this is “God’s will” or our will that is being done? Is it our life we are living or our ideas for our life? We do, of course, we say, and that tilts the table dramatically in our favor. So, in the showdown with ourselves, we have the clear advantage. Even if we have the best of intentions, and really, truly, mean to embrace and submit to the life that is ours to live, never mind what we wish it were, fooling ourselves is what we do best. We can tell ourselves we are giving up what we want in order to live aligned with the life that is our life to live, without anything changing about the way we think about our lives or live them.

We must not push too quickly past this point of confrontation with ourselves over who is in charge and whose wants and wishes and desires are governing our choices and determining our actions. In Christian terminology, this is the place of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness. It is exactly about who is making the calls about the way life is to be lived. In the Gospels, Jesus’ opponent is Satan. Today, we can understand the Great Satan to be ourselves, our wants and wishes about how our life is to be run. And, that Satan Self is never far away. We do not distance ourselves from that self, but carry out the conversation about who is in charge and who decides how life is to be lived all the way to the grave. It has to be the right kind of conversation, carried out in the company of the right kind of people, or we wind up kidding ourselves and telling ourselves exactly what we want to hear. The search for our authentic self is a search for authentic selves who can help us along the way.

Monday, February 11, 2008

02/10/08, Sermon

There is the way things are. And, there is the way we wish things were, the way we want things to be. And, there is the way things truly need to be. We stand in the middle of all of that and, ideally, work the mixture toward what is truly important. There in the middle, this is what is important: Don’t give me your explanations! Don’t give me your theories! Don’t give me your intellectualizations! Give me your experience! Don’t tell me why (that is, what you think)! Tell me what! What is happening? What is the emotional/spiritual impact of what is happening? What do you want to happen instead? What do you think needs to happen? Talk to me about the gap between what is happening and what you want to happen and what needs to happen. Talk to me about the awfulness, the agony—the agonae—of living in that gap. Talk to me about the pain—and bear it!

Bearing that pain the way the pain should be borne is the key to managing life in the middle of the mixture. And, it is quite the art. Bearing legitimate pain appropriately is the foundation of the spiritual path, journey, task. The trick is to bear it honestly, truthfully. Not stoically, not heroically, not with a “stiff upper lip,” “just dealing with it,” “just getting throw it,” “just toughing it out”—and not nursing it, wallowing in it, allowing it to become the focal point of life, the core around which everything revolves and coalesces. Grieving what must be grieved, mourning what must be mourned, suffering what must be suffered, without perpetuating endlessly the suffering, is the art of bearing legitimate pain in appropriate ways. And that is the price of knowing what the next step needs to be.

Facing squarely the anguish of life in the middle of the mixture, in the midst of the mess, introduces us to the reality of the Mind/Body connection. Mind is knowing, awareness, on the most fundamental level. Brain is knowing intellectually, and it is also thinking about what we know on all levels. Brain is consciousness, conscious awareness. Brain is a receptor of mind, but brain is not mind. Mind is the whole thing, at least the whole living thing. Mind is from the beginning, at least from the beginning of life. Every living thing participates in mind, in cognition, in knowing. Every living thing knows, on some level, what is good for it, and what is not. We are aware, as a species, long before we are conscious of being aware. Life is mind. Mind is life. Everything that is alive, that participates in life, participates in mind, and is mind. Yet, mind only knows without knowing that it knows, or what, or how. Mind knows what it knows thanks to body.

Isn’t that interesting? That body is the pathway to mind? That knowing is visceral and physical before it is mental? WE are the Unknown Knower, or, at least, we house the rascal. And, it’s up to us to communicate with her, him, it. One of the tasks of knowing is knowing what we know. We know more than we know we know. And so, we have to listen. Eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that understands are open to a world beyond the obvious. Meditation is a method of making ourselves present with what is present with us. We “clear a space” and wait. We “seek the center” and wait. No forcing. No pushing. No pressing. Just waiting. And listening to our body.

What’s our body saying? How is it trying to get our attention? If our physical symptoms could speak, what would they say? Listen to them. Ask what they have to say, and listen! Our body is the pathway to mind, so we have to hear what our body is saying. To do that we have to practice listening on a regular basis. If you are ever going to listen to anybody, listen to your own body.
Listening to your body is the way to what needs to be done now. The only thing to know is what needs to be done now. What is the next step? What now? Now, what? But, this is a hard sell. We don’t think we can live like this. We think we have to think our way to knowing. We think we have to have a plan, the plan. We have to know what we want to happen and the steps required to make it happen. But, there is no, “If you do this, and then you do that, then that will happen.” There is only, “What needs to be done here and now? What is the next step?” There is no knowing where it will lead or what will be the result. There is only, “Now what? Now, what is the next step?”

It’s from the bottom up and inside out that the right things happen, not from the top down and outside in. We have to be aware of the organic nature of what needs to happen. We cannot anticipate that with years of careful planning, and impose it by decree upon the world. Forget the “if then therefore” scenarios, the contingency plans, the goals, and the strategy, and the tactics for achieving the goals. Simply listen to the situation. The answer will arise from the situation. The situation will show you what needs to happen. We dance with our lives.
What needs to happen in a situation will lie dormant until the conditions are right for its happening. It will wait until what is necessary to assist its happening appears, and then, the miracle. We are but assistants in the unfolding of our lives, here to help what needs to happen into being. Our calling is helping what needs to be helped with the help we have to offer. What needs to be done? What needs to happen? What needs to be different? How do we know: Watch, Look, Listen!

Of course, we get into situations all the time in which nothing can be done. When we miss doing what needs to be done, the karmatic law kicks in, and things spin in a chaotic, one might say, Faulkneresque, tangle of madness and pathos. But even there, redemption is possible, salvation is at hand. Far from stability, order is found, by listening for what needs to happen in the madness and pathos of existence. Nothing could be done in the madness and pathos of prisoner of war camps, yet, Victor Frankl is a witness to the power of sharing bread and blankets with those whose need is greater than our own.

What needs to happen here and now? Now, what? This question is always the primary question. We just do the next thing, the thing that needs to be done now, and see where it takes us. But, our idea of what needs to be done now will be influenced by ten thousand things, many of which have to do with our tastes, and interests, and values, and desires. Alcoholics are sure that the next thing is another beer. We can also experience a significant amount of conflict in the matter, thinking that dessert needs to be done next, and that weight gain doesn’t need to be done next. We are guided to the thing that needs to be done now by our notion of how things need to be, but that is influenced strongly by how we want things to be. We can want what we want with such vigor and passion that it can seem surely to be the next thing. Yet, the thing that truly needs doing can also trump our best interest and deepest desires, and lead us down paths we would never consider taking. There is no strategy for knowing what to do or having it made. So, how do we know what the next thing truly is?

After the fact. Sorry. Fooling ourselves is what we do best, you know. Shooting ourselves in the foot is what we do best, you know. Talking ourselves into doing what we always wanted to do is what we do best, you know. So, whether what we think is truly the next thing is, actually, truly the next thing only becomes apparent with time. I should have bought the camera. I shouldn’t have bought the Toyota.

But, we can know that we may be wrong about what we know. The cultural bias is to live with our best interest at heart. Trading up requires us to think about where we are better off, and what we are giving up in exchange for what we are getting, and what is to our advantage. But, what do we truly need to live the life that is ours to live? This is not a question that we are ever invited to ask. What do we want? That’s the question that drives the economy. Abundance can be as detrimental as destitution. Whom does the grail serve? Those who serve the grail! What does it mean to serve the grail? What must we do to serve the grail? What is the grail that must be served? What is the life that must be lived? We have to be quiet and listen to have a chance at answering these questions.

The attitude of mind that leads to the life that is ours to live is reflected in a new understanding of the Communion Table. Think of the life that is your life to live as the call of God, or God’s will for your life. We can’t do just anything and be in synch, be aligned, with the integrity of our life. We cannot live any old way and live th4 life that is ours to live. You are you! You are who you are! What does that mean, really? How does that translate into the decisions and actions that constitute your life? How does who you are interfere with your plans, and wishes, and dreams, and desires for yourself? How do we break faith with ourselves? In what ways do we transgress—fail to honor—the “law of God,” we might say, engraved in our hearts and souls?
In order to “repent,” I’m using the old terminology, and “be saved”—salvation actually means restoration, when we are saved, we are restored to ends worthy of us, to who we actually are!—in order to “repent” and “be saved,” we have to align ourselves with the integrity of our lives, and live the life that is ours to live. And that is where “the table of the Lord,” using the old terminology, comes into play.

What is “the word of the Lord,” using the old terminology (an updated phrase might be “the realization of who we are and what we are to be about”), that is always interfering with the life we have in mind? We have our sights set on what, exactly? What is it that we don’t do, that we leave undone, that we hold in contempt and throw in the burning barrel, in deference to the life we dream of living? What is the wish for ourselves that directs our living away from what is truly important? What is the desire that depletes our life? It is what we have in mind for ourselves that we have to “repent of,” that is, “turn away from,” in order to embrace the life that is ours to live.

We have to empty ourselves of our ideas of how things ought to be in order to be open to how things truly need to be. We have to start with nothing. If we cannot come empty to the table, we cannot be fed. The work of the spiritual journey is emptying ourselves of all that will not satisfy so that we might be fulfilled and made whole. So, the table represents, symbolizes, the fulfillment, the wholeness, that is available to us as we empty ourselves of our ideas of what our life ought to be, and are receptive and open to the life that is ours to live. Keep in mind that this might have nothing whatsoever to do with what we do for a living. How we earn our money has no necessary connection with the life that is ours to live, with what we must do to be alive, and whole, and well.

There is another way the table metaphor comes to life. What are the barriers to satisfaction? Anything is possible with everything on the table. What are you willing to put on the table? What are you unwilling to put on the table? What are the assumptions that you consider sacrosanct? The expectations you regard as holy and beyond examination? Put them on the table. What is your sense of how things ought to be? What is your sense of how things are? How close the “Is” and the “Ought To Be”? How much difference is there between the way you see things and the way things are? Put it all on the table. And step back, ready to receive the life the table has to offer. Your life. The life that is your life to live. Received in full “at the table of the Lord”—at the table with your name on it. At the table of your life.

Monday, February 04, 2008

02/03/08, Sermon

There are transitions and reconfigurations without end. We never get it right for long. You’d think we might understand that by now, and be used to it. But, not. We yearn for long, really endless, stretches of peace without disruption. We don’t want to get out of our routine. We like things like we like them, and don’t want anything changing, and what we really need is help with the transitions.

“Here’s what’s happening. Here’s what I wish were happening instead. Here’s what I’m doing about it. Here’s how it’s working. Here’s how I’m having to change in response. And, here’s how I feel about it all.” This is called processing the impact of transitions, which is really processing the impact of life. We need people who can help us with this process, who can serve as reliable witnesses without offering short-cuts, or solutions, and without dismissing our anguish or discounting our ordeal.

Of course, we wouldn’t need them if we didn’t want things to be different than they are. If we didn’t have to have what we like, what we want, what we desire, we would have no problems with transitions and reconfigurations. We would have no problem with life. Ah, but, take away our likes, and wants, and desires, and we would be without direction or motivation and have no way of organizing our lives! Our lives are based upon, and build around, what we like, want and desire. We know of no other way to live. Getting our way is our way through the world. And so, we have to process the impact of our transitions and reconfigurations. To do that we need reliable witnesses. We need the right kind of company. That’s why these people can’t be your best friends. Your best friends are not the right kind of company.

I’m going to flash back to three or four weeks ago. I said then that this place cannot be your life—that you have to have a life of your own, a life that is a source of life for you apart from this place. This place has to be an aid, an assist, a help for you in living your life, but it cannot be your life. If you don’t have a life, this place will not—cannot—be good for you.

The work of soul, the spiritual journey, the spiritual quest is never anything more than finding and living your life, the life that is yours to live, the life that brings you to life, and infuses you with life, and makes you alive, The search for the Holy Grail is the search for life, your life. No one can give you that, can give you your life, the life that is yours to live. That is yours to work out for yourself. That is the hero’s journey, which isn’t complete until you return to the homeland and restore life to the people, basically by telling them they have to work it out for themselves.

Jesus came, remember, that we might have life and have it abundantly. We have been conditioned to think that he was talking about saving us by dying in our place on the cross and then getting us to heaven when we die. We think that heaven is the place of abundant life. Eternal life, we call it. We are so sure that’s how it is—because that’s how we have been told that it is for so long by so many people—that we don’t want to think about it. We don’t want to consider other possibilities. And, our lives are organized around what we want and don’t want.
We have to be at a crisis point in our lives before we can recognize that what we want isn’t the most important thing. Until then, we think that someone is crazy if they say what we want isn’t the most important thing. So, we have to hit the wall, either by not getting what we want, or by getting what we want. Either way, we wake up to the fact that what we want is not the most important thing. What we want has nothing to do with what needs to happen.

In the aftermath of being slammed, we can go right on doing what is important, as though nothing happened, because nothing happened. A tree falls into the stream and the stream flows right on, as though nothing happened, because nothing happened.

When we are aligned with the integrity of our own life, when we are living the life that is ours to live, nothing can take that from us. Then we are simply doing what needs to be done, the way we are capable of doing it, in the moment of our living, with the materials available then and there, out of the spontaneity of life living life, of life living us, and what needs to happen, happens. There, it isn’t a matter of wanting or not wanting, but of simply perceiving what truly needs to happen, and doing it—of knowing what is truly important, and doing it—in response to the situation that arises in the moment of our living.

Ah, but! Who can live like that for long? We can’t read the book to our child in the moment that needs to happen because we have to go to work to earn the money to buy the book for our child. We have to postpone our attention to what is truly important in deference to what is also truly important. What needs to be done has to be set aside in light of what also, what else, needs to be done. Our life, the life that is ours to live, has to be lived within the context and circumstances of life in the world. We cannot simply “eat when hungry, rest when tired.” We have to plan ahead so that there is something to eat when we are hungry, some place to rest when we are tired.

Life for us is more complicated than life for a stream. We are not a stream. When a tree falls on our house, or on our car, or on the road in front of our car, we have to stop what we are doing and take care of the tree. And, yet, we need the freedom to respond spontaneously to the moment of our living out of our sense of what needs to happen here and now, never mind the implications for then and there. We live on the boundary between the yin of spontaneity and the yang of responsibility, between the must and the ought.

When to do what? We make the call! We decide! We work it out! We live like a stream when that is appropriate, and we live like logical adults when that is appropriate, and we strive to live in the center of what is appropriate without striving, trying, making an effort, or even thinking about it.
The life that is ours to live unfolds and blooms precisely in the midst of the life that is being lived. We find the grail, not by looking for it, but by being ready when it appears. We spot the white rabbit, not by hunting for it with guns and hounds, but by being alert to it dancing on the outskirts of our peripheral vision. That’s why this place cannot be our life. This place is not our life. It isn’t even my life, and I make my living being here.

Our life is in addition to our duties and obligations and responsibilities. The stuff that we have to do isn’t what we really HAVE to do. What is that? We probably don’t know. We don’t think about it. And, when we do, we think the wrong things about it.

When we think about what we have to do, we think in terms of achievement, and accomplishment, and success. We think in terms of “making a difference,” whatever that means, and having something to show for our time and effort. What we HAVE to do has nothing to do with any of this. I HAVE to walk through scenes looking for photographs. Even if I didn’t have a camera, I would have to walk through scenes, looking for photographs. Someone else HAS to listen to music. Someone else HAS to work crossword puzzles. Nothing comes of any of it. Nothing, remember, is at the heart of life. We can’t live until we can live for nothing.

That’s why these people can’t be your best friends. These people have to be your sounding board. They are here to help you process your life, your experience with life, without protecting you from the struggle of coming to terms with the terms. Look at it this way: We hang out with people who do not challenge us in the least, and with whom we have “a lot in common.” They think like we do, believe like we do, have about as much money as we do, vote like we do, and spend their time doing things we like to do. When we get a divorce, all of our best friends are divorced. When we get drunk, our best friends are getting drunk with us. And, they are incapable of hearing us talk about things they don’t want to hear or cannot understand. They are our best friends. How healthy is that?

And, not to belabor the point, but, when we fall in love, we fall in love with our “soul mate.” We fall in love with someone who sees the world like we do, and we are as one, until we wake up one day wondering how we could have been so wrong. The point is that we look for oneness, for identification, for belonging, for merger. But what we need are people who can keep us on track, who can help us find the life that is ours to live and live it no matter how difficult and trying that may be. And, it will be difficult and trying. And best friends, and true loves, aren’t much help in the work of holding our feet to the fire and doing what needs to be done.

We have to process our lives and the impact living has on us, on our spirit, psyche, soul, self. We have to articulate the experience of life. We have to say what the problem is, specify what ails us, walk around it, examine it, explore it, experience it in order to transform it, integrate it, assimilate it and be whole, and well, and alive. We have to live consciously, with awareness, if we are to be alive in the life we are living.