Everything has its own integrity. Its own way of being. Our work, both individually and collectively, is to know and be who we are. The church of our experience has its way of being. It has tradition and momentum, and we are not going to talk it out of being the way it is. We have very little to say to it, except to wish it well. And, we can do that in all sincerity, because the people it speaks to and ministers to, would not likely be able to hear what we have to say. Our task is to be clear about who we are, to know what we are about. To be who we are and to do what is ours to do.
My idea of that is this: We are in the business of creating an atmosphere in which all voices can be heard, and people can find their voice, and say what they have to say, and come to see what is important to them—not because someone is telling them what should be important, but because they can hear themselves saying what is important over time. We have to be able to say something enough to hear what we are saying. Once we hear it, we can evaluate it, and adjust it, so that it says better what we mean to say. In this, our voices saying what we have to say are self-correcting mechanisms that enable us to find our way to what is important, to what is good.
This is the second thing: We are in the business of creating an atmosphere in which people can find their own way to what is good without interfering with anyone else’s ability to find their way to what is good. We are here to help one another find our way to what is good. When what is good for me is bad for you, and vice versa, we work it out. We talk it out. This one of the conversations we have to have on a regular basis.
Conversation is a self-correcting exercise. It is the way to The Way. Conversation is the key. We are about conversation as much as atmosphere. The atmosphere must lend itself to the right kind of conversation. While we are on the subject, grant me an aside.
It would behoove us all, across the board and around the table, to agree that we will not talk about God. When we talk about God (World wide, I mean, “out there,” I mean, as well as “in here”), we raise our voices, consult the scriptures, quote the authorities, slam doors, roll out the guns, beat on the drums, excommunicate one another, burn one another at the stake, and send suicide bombers into each other’s shrines, and temples, and synagogues, and masques, and churches. We should know by now that we cannot talk about God. But, we can talk about our experience of God.
When we talk about our experience of God, we lower our voices, sometimes to a whisper. We speak a common language. We use the same words. Words like peace and peaceful, and love, and acceptance, and oneness, and unity, and compassion, and wholeness, and beauty, and transcendence, and ineffable, and wonder. Our experience of God is remarkably the same, across the board and around the table. We should agree to talk only about our experience of God. That is a conversation that could heal the world.
Except, to have that conversation we have to have that experience. And, we are too busy talking about God to have an experience of God. It helps to be quiet to have an experience of God. And to visit the holy places. To be quiet in a holy place is especially helpful.
We have to hunt around for holy places. They are everywhere, but not everybody finds the same holy place. So, you have to be on the lookout for places that are holy for you. Mine may not help you much. You have to find your own, and spend time there, regularly, quietly, and open yourself in an un-expecting way to the experience of being there. The experience of God is, you could look this up, 100% of the time an experience of place. It’s the place that connects us with the experience of God. It’s the place that does it. Not theology. Not doctrine. Not the sacraments. Not the scriptures. Not the catechisms. Not the preacher or the preaching. It’s the place.
The place enables the experience which is the foundation of the conversation that could heal the world. You’d think we would all be out there right now looking for the right place to sit quietly so that we could transform the world. But, maybe it will suffice if we just understand that this is one of the things that we are about, sitting quietly in the right place in order to foster the kind of conversation that will change the world. Not that conversation is limited to our experience of God! That’s just one of the conversations we need to have.
The right kind of atmosphere and the right kind of conversation are two of the things that we are about. There are three more: eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that understands. Seeing, hearing and understanding. Right seeing, right hearing, right understanding lead to right knowing, right being and right doing. That’s it. That’s who we are and what we are about. Now it is only left to us to live lives that are integral to, that are integrated with, this understanding of who we are and what we are about, and so shape our way of being in the world. But, it all starts with us finding that right place, and sitting quietly, regularly and dependably, even when nothing seems to be happening.
Here is the really hard part: In order for this to work, there must be magic. There must be grace. There must be unexpected benevolence. There must be help. Assistance. Cooperation. Deus ex Machina. That’s how it works. We can’t begin to make it work. We can only wait for it to work. Without knowing what we are waiting for, or even that we are waiting. And, it may not work. Nothing may happen. That’s why we call it magic, and grace. It can’t be counted on. There is nothing predictable, or controllable, about it (and being able to predict something is almost as good as controlling it).
“Do your work,” says Lao Tsu, “and step back. The key to serenity.” Do your work and wait for it to work. Maybe yes. Maybe no. Maybe, after you plow and plant, it will rain in the right amount at the right time. Maybe not. Your work is plowing and planting and stepping back. Waiting. That is your work.
Our work is the right atmosphere, the right conversation, right seeing, right hearing, right understanding. It helps to know what our work is, and to do it, and step back. And wait for the magic.
If it rains in the right amount at the right time, then we have to cultivate and weed and harvest and market. It it does not, then we have to figure out how to live. But all along the way it is out of our hands. All along the way, we do our work and step back. And wait. For the magic. Because the really important stuff is out of our hands. The really important stuff depends on magic.
The thing to remember is that it is out of our hands. The thing to know is what is in our hands and what is not—what our work is and what it is not—when to step forward and when to step back. Getting all this figured out is not easy. There has to be magic there, too.
It’s all magic. I don’t know where we stop and magic starts. How did we get here? I don’t know about you but I was born ten miles from Itta Bena, Mississippi. I don’t know how I got here. Magic! Grace! It’s all the same, magic and grace. We can’t tell where magic stops and grace starts. Call it what you will. That’s what got us here.
And, we think, now that we are here, we can take over. We can take it from here. Okay. Give us the reins. Give us the wheel. Give us the helm. We are in charge now. We don’t need magic any more. Grace can take a vacation.
We are never more stupid than when we think we are in charge. Than when we think we know what we are doing. Than when we think we know what is to be done. Than when we think we know what our work is. Knowing what our work is and what it is not is all there is to know. And no one can know that without magic, without grace.
Real knowing is a gift. It isn’t learned. You don’t get it out of a book or out of some guru or guru-ette. You can’t figure it out. You can’t reason it out. You can’t sort it out. You don’t know how you know anything worth knowing. And you can’t explain it. You can’t make sense of it. And, you can’t talk anyone into knowing what you know.
The test is whether you will trust it under those conditions, whether you will give yourself to what you know, given that you don’t know where it came from, or where it’s been, or who its parents are. Will you know something you can’t prove, or verify, or understand? Or, will you put it aside and go back to your life as a rational human being? And not do the thing you know must be done? Because you can’t say why you are doing it or what you expect to come of it by when? Will you believe in magic?
The real work is believing in magic. In grace. Trusting ourselves to it, and being open to its unfolding in our lives. That’s really what we are about here—believing in magic, wallowing in grace.