We are here to be alive, to help one another be alive. We do that by seeing, hearing, and understanding. We do it by looking, listening, knowing. By being seen, and heard, and understood. But, the thing about seeing, hearing, and understanding is that it doesn’t take much for us to think we have seen, heard, and understood enough. Being alive asks us to keep looking after we have seen enough.
Being alive asks hard things of us. That’s why the cross hangs on the wall in the sanctuary. Life is death, death is life. Yin is yang. So, Jesus says, “If you want to be my disciple, you have to pick up your cross daily, and follow me.” The cross he is talking about is the cross of being alive.
We can’t be alive without paying the price of being alive. The price of being alive is the price of seeing, hearing, and understanding. It is the price of knowing how things are, and how things also are. “This is how things are. This is what you can do about it. And that’s that.” The Zen poet Ryokan wrote: “I think I won’t think about it/But, I do think about it/And my sleeves are wet/With my thinking about it.” Thinking about it, knowing about it, is the cross we bear, the price we pay for being alive.
It is easier and much more attractive to not-know, to not-see, not-hear, not-understand. To wrap ourselves in the illusion of perpetual bliss, the fantasy of an ever-expanding economy, the wonder of an endless supply of oil and natural gas, the delusion that shopping is the solution to all of our problems, the apparition of happily ever-after.
It is easier and much more attractive to embrace the culture’s latest offering of diversion, distraction, denial. To chant the culture’s mantra: Buy! Spend! Amass! And Consume! To believe the culture’s promise that we are only one major purchase away from the life of our dreams. But, the truth is we are not born to serve the economy. We are not slaves to the prospect of an ever-increasing standard of living. Wealth is not an end worthy of us, and luxury is not a substitute for being alive.
Seeing, hearing, and understanding enable clarity, and require courage. We have to live with what we know. Where do we find what it takes to look life-as-it-is in the eye and live on, with heart, and soul, and compassion, and peace any way, nevertheless, even so? We step here into the realm of faith, of trusting ourselves to the way things are in spite of harsh evidence suggesting this is not a trustworthy place. And, that takes courage, and courage is an inside job.
Courage comes from knowing what needs to be done, from coming to terms with what is ours to do. It comes from sitting with the facts. From understanding what is being asked of us. From realizing that there is no one here but us, and that if we don’t do it, it won’t be done, and picking ourselves up, and stepping into our lives, and doing what must be done there because that’s what living requires.
This is the fundamental decision. No one can make it for us. We stand between life and death and choose, to live and pay the price of living, or to die and pay the price of dying. We are here to be alive. Why die before our time? Each must decide for herself, for himself, but why not live in the time we have left for living? Why be dead one minute longer than we have to be? Why NOT summons the courage and step into life and be alive?
Trusting ourselves to life is not only about facing all that is ugly, frightening, depressing, disheartening and the like, but also about trusting ourselves to our own sense of direction, trusting ourselves to the outcome of our own choosing and deciding.
How long has it been since you had a thought of your own, or acted on it? Since you decided for yourself how you were going to spend your time? What would you do with an afternoon? What are the things you are not doing because they aren’t somebody’s idea of who you should be, of how things ought to be done?
We are talking here about the work of being alive. How alive can you be in the time left for living? How does being alive coexist with being responsible? How do we take care of business in both worlds? How does being responsible in one world keep us from tending our responsibilities in the other world? We have to be alive, and we have to pay the bills. How do the bills we pay help us to be alive? Are we paying the right bills?
There is good mothering and there is bad mothering (Happy Mother’s Day). Bad mothering comes in different styles. Bad mothering can be good fathering. There is good fathering and bad fathering (Happy Father’s Day). Bad fathering comes in different styles. Bad fathering can be good mothering.
We are here to mother our own lives, to nurture our own lives, to bring our own lives forth from our own womb. And, we are here to father our own lives, to tend the structures and forms that make life possible. How do we maintain the forms of life without becoming lifeless keepers of the traditions and customs (the formalities) of life? How do we father and mother our lives into being? This is the work being alive, managing the necessities of life in both worlds. Fathering AND mothering our life into being.
How much life do we allow ourselves to have before we begin to rein ourselves in for having too much fun? Where do we go for fun? Whose idea of fun is it? Is it more like grabbing the gusto or rocking a baby? More like bungee jumping or walking through the aromas of spring? Where would we go, what would we do to be the most alive we could be between now and the time we go to bed? Whose idea of “being alive” is being served in going there and doing that? Who says that’s “really living”?
One of the things that can keep us from being alive is the idea of what’s in it for us. What do we get out of it? What’s the advantage? The gain? How do we stand to benefit? Bad mothering, don’t you see? Having to justify being alive, takes the life right out of it. What do you do for no reason beyond the wonder, the joy, the pleasure, the experience of doing it?
What is death? What is life? We have to think about these things to know. One of the tasks of life is thinking about what it takes to be alive. Life is not automatic. We have to work at it, at living, at being alive. It takes a lot of looking to be able to see. A lot of listening to be able to hear. A lot of asking the right questions to be able to understand. A lot of asking, seeking, knocking to be able to find what we need to do what needs to be done. Our work is the work of being alive. Our work is the work of resurrection. It is the work of being born again—reborn into the lives that are our lives to live. It is the work of rising from the dead.
Another of the tasks of life is identifying the next step, the next thing. At times, there is a definite sequence, a specific order in which things happen. At other times, it’s improvisation all the way. What do we do? We take the next step, and see where that leads. We cannot map out the life that is ours to live. It unfolds before us. We bring it forth incrementally. It doesn’t happen according to design, but according to opportunity, according to possibility. Who knows who we will be when we grow up, or at any stage along the way? It’s an adventure, don’t you see? The search for the Holy Grail! We are the Grail we seek! It is slowly revealed to us who we are over time. And, we are always surprised and amazed to discover “Thou art That”!
What is the flow of life, what is the nature of that flow—is it from life to life? From death to life? From death to death? From life to death? What is the movement? What has momentum? Do we need to resist or assist the flow, the momentum? Do we need to interrupt it? Maintain it? How shall we exert our influence? Redirection? Continuation? Cessation? It takes listening to it to know. We have to create listening rooms—living rooms—in our lives—time and space in our living to listen to our lives, and to our body’s reaction to our lives.
Our body is our guide. We come complete with fully functioning and quite reliable internal guidance systems. Not that we can’t jam the signals or dismiss the communication or short-circuit the wiring. Nicotine and alcohol and sugar (and opium, and heroin, and cocaine—and ten thousand other possibilities), can re-route the body’s wisdom and carry us into places we have no business being. But even in the grip of addiction, something knows, and something knows that something knows. But, we look away. Dismiss the knowing. Go on with our lives.
What we want for, and from, our lives can over-ride what our lives want for, and from, us. We can not-care about what “something knows.” We can live out of the mantra, “Damn the shoreline! Full speed ahead!” We don’t have to pay attention to what “something knows.”
It takes a lot of living, sometimes, to wake up, become aware, and be alive. We might think of all the false starts, wrong turns, and dead ends—all the times we were sure we knew what we were doing, or didn’t care whether we knew or not—as labor pains. As preparation for delivery, for the birth of our own soul-self, for the experience of, finally, being alive.