The way things are is continually clashing with the way things also are. The way the world works is in constant conflict with the way the world also works. It's like this: “You can't fight City Hall!” That's the way the world works. The way the world also works is this: “Things were just fine in these parts, Lady, until you showed up.” You can't fight City Hall, AND the Renaissance Woman, the tall, handsome, stranger, is always riding into town., “City Hall” (and the way things have always been done in those parts) are soon in shambles, and nothing is ever the same again.
Either way, there is a price to be paid. This is how things work. We pay a price. We pay a price to change things and we pay a price to keep things as they are. The Renaissance Woman, the tall, handsome stranger pay a price. City Hall pays a price. We all pay a price. What price are we going to pay is the question. It is the only question. Everything flows from our answer to that question. Or we going to pay the price required to change things, or the price required to keep things as they are?
Another way of phrasing the question is to ask, “What are we willing to put on the table?” Jesus said, “If you want to be my disciple, you have to sell everything you have, give the money to the poor, then come, follow me.” He also said, “If you want to be my disciple, you have to pick up your cross daily, and follow me.” It is interesting to note, I think, that he didn't say anything about believing in him, or believing the doctrines of the church, or professing the proper statements of faith. “If you want to be my disciple,” he is saying, “you have to live in certain ways. You have to pay the price.”
What price is that, exactly? Everything. Everything goes on the table. With everything on the table, anything is possible. Everything is always on the line. Or, to put it another way, after Paul in 1st Corinthians, “Love has good manners and does not pursue its own advantage.” If we live like that, we follow Jesus, take our place in the long line of Renaissance Women and tall, handsome strangers, and change the world. And pay a price. And, if we don't live like that, we pay a price.
Socrates and Jesus paid a price for speaking the truth about City Hall to anyone who would listen, even to City Hall. They were told, in a manner of speaking, “If that's the way you are going to be, you're going to have to die!” Lao Tzu and the movie cowboy Shane were told, in a manner of speaking, “If that's the way you're going to be, you are going to have to leave.” When the way things are clashes with the way things also are, everybody pays a price. The price Socrates and Jesus paid is more obvious than the price their oppressors paid, but oppression has, you might say, its own reward, and the oppressors have paid that price throughout history by forcing the collapse of their own rule through the ruthless cold-hearted-ness of the way they ruled.
Now, the way around the extreme price of win/lose is the more moderate price of conversation. We talk with one another, around the table with everything on it. We talk from the heart about what is important to us, and listen as the other speaks, as the Enemy declares what is important for him, for her. Love your enemies. We have met the enemy and he is us. This is the thing. City Hall lives within our own hearts. The Renaissance Woman, the tall, handsome stranger? Yep. They live within us as well. The struggle is an inner fight for how things ought to be with us!
We pay a price to live the way we are living, or failing to live. That being the case, it would make sense to live the way we live with conscious, willful, intention. And that, gentle people, is the thrust of the work of any religious leader worth her, worth his, salt. Live the life that is yours to live. No matter what. Regardless of the price. In spite of the cost. This is our one shot at glory, at being the person we are built to be. Don't blow it. That's the message of religious leader worth her, worth his salt.
Pay the price to be who you are. Here's how it works. There is the way you are, and there is the way the world is. There is the way things work, and there is the way you work. “You can't fight City hall,” and the tall, handsome stranger, or the Renaissance Woman, is always riding into town. What is the way you work? What is the way you are? Who are you? Answering those questions is the Spiritual Journey, Spiritual Task, Spiritual Quest, Spiritual Path. Our work is to know what our work is, and do it, no matter what. In so doing, we right the world.
In doing the work of knowing what our work is, and doing it, we have to understand that we find our own way. We work it our for ourselves. No one can tell us anything of importance. But, of course, that is not going to stop me from telling you some things of importance. The first thing is about tools for the work of knowing what our work is and doing it (of knowing who we are). Three things are crucial: Awareness, Silence, and Engagement with Life.
As we engage life, we have to be aware of what that stirs up within us, for better or worse. What happens as we live the life we are living? What are we conscious of? What is calling us? Where do we meet resistance? What are we resisting? What is opening up? What is being asked of us? How else might we live? In the silence, we don't think about any of these things. We let the yeast work its own magic in the dough, and we get out of the way. Trusting that we will, as our awareness deepens, find the way to assisting what is coming to life in us and through us in the world.
The second thing of importance is that we are always more or less who we are. It isn't some big secret deal that we are looking for. It isn't some completely need identity that we are in search of. We already are who we are. It's just that we aren't as well-integrated, as in-tune, as in-sync, with ourselves as we might be. We are at odds with ourselves. At war within. We wish we were different in ten thousand ways. We don't like our hair, or our nose, or our waist size, or, well, the list is pretty much endless, the things we don't like about ourselves. So, you might say that the only thing standing between us and ourselves is ourselves! We don't want to be who we are! We want to be some other, bigger, finer, better self in stead!
There you are. We don't want the life we are living, and we don't want the I who is living it. We want deliverance. Escape. Freedom. And we settle for distraction, diversion, denial. That is as clear a description of the human predicament as you are ever going to get from me. What are we going to do about it? Ain't but two things: Wake up! Grow up! If you don't like those two things, I have two more for you: Get over it! Get with it!
Look, it's like this: We only have the life we are living. This is it. If we are going to make the most of it, we have to do it with what we have to work with. What do you think “making the most of it” means? It means knowing what our work is and doing it. Knowing what is ours to do and doing it. Knowing what needs to be done and doing it, to the extent that we are able, with the gifts, with the genius, that we bring to the table. It means bringing who we are to life in our lives.
This is our work: Bringing who we are to life in our lives. Bringing forth the life that is ours to live in our lives. And, we have been doing that in fits and starts all our lives long. Think of the times in your life that you have been proudest of yourself, times when you absolutely shined, times when you were beautifully, wonderfully, perfectly YOU. There you are. That's you. What have you most enjoyed about your life? What have you loved the most? There you are! That's you! Or, of what have you been most ashamed? What do you wish you had done instead? There you are! That's you! Be who you are! Do it more often. How do you do it more often? Get out of your way. How do you get in your way? That's the question. How DO you get in your way?
You could bring the three tools into play here. Awareness, Silence, and Engagement with Life are circular. They support one another. Engagement with Life gives us something to be Aware of in Silence which is then applied in our Engagement with Life. Our spiritual practice is our life, see? We practice living the life that is ours to live by being who we are in the life we are living. We don't have to go to the High Himalayas, or wear a hair shirt, or, what is the Mary Oliver poem about wild geese, crawl on our knees for a hundred miles through the desert and do ten thousand prostrations? We only have to let “the soft animal of our body love what it loves.” That's our spiritual practice.
What's so hard about that? We want more out of life than that. Remember the story of the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve traded Paradise for the Land of their Dreams. We've been doing it ever since. Standing in our own way is what we do best. How DO we get in our way? How do we condemn the soft animal of our body for loving what it loves? For not loving what we want it to love instead? We have met the Enemy, you know, and it is us.
But, there is Awareness, Silence, and Engagement with Life. There is the spiritual practice of living our life as only we can live it. There is the work of coming to terms with the life we are living, with the choices, and options, and possibilities we have, and letting that be that because it is, and finding ways of living the life that is ours to live within the context and circumstances of our lives as they are.
And, that gets us to the third thing of importance. Each other. We help each other. Conversation, remember? The right kind of conversation with the right kind of people is all we need to do what is ours to do, all we need to do what needs to be done. We find our own way. We work it out for ourselves. But, we are not alone. We make our way to the way in the company of each other. In the process of learning to be good company, we learn to be ourselves.
I'll flash back to Paul and 1st Corinthians: Love has good manners and does not pursue its own advantage. That's as fundamental to being good company as it gets. After that, we only have to get the listening skills down, and know how to be a compassionate presence without being meddlesome and interfering in each others lives. Then, we'll be well on the way to offering the right kind of help in the right kind of way. And, who could ask for more?
I don't know what else we need to come to terms with our lives, to make our peace with the way things are, and to take up the work of bringing ourselves to life in our lives. It's the work of integrity, the work of bringing our contrary sides together in the work of being a true human being. This work is the Spiritual Journey, Task, Path, Quest. And, we don't have anything better to do with the rest of our lives.
But, in order to do that with the rest of our lives, we have to get to work. It will not happen accidentally, unintentionally, just because we talked about it once and wish that it would. We have to create a structure which will create and maintain the kind of atmosphere that will provide the kind of support we need to enable us to do the work that must be done, the work of being who we are within the context and circumstances of our lives, the work of bringing ourselves to life in our lives, the work of being a true human being. In order to do that work, we have to create a structure that will function for us as a life support system—a structure that will bring life forth, and sustain life in ourselves and all people. Creating that structure is a revolutionary step to the transformation of the world. That's the task that is before us in the time that is left to us. Amen! May it be so!