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.

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