We can’t do what we want and be alive. Interesting conundrum, don’t you think? Doing what we want prevents us from being alive. Who would have ever guessed it? In our view, being alive is EXACTLY doing what we want, when we want, how we want, for as long as we want, and then doing something else we want. That is what life is, doing whatever we want. Freedom, and life, in our view, are about doing whatever we want. Nope. Sorry. Hate to be the one to break the news to you. Doing what we want keeps us from being alive.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t have wants. We have to be concerned enough about our own personal benefit to not play in the street, or walk on the highway, or stand in ant beds. But, not so much concerned that we become the center and focus of our lives. We can’t be the center and focus of our lives and be alive. Maintaining the proper relationship with the center and focus of our lives precisely constitutes what we refer to as spirituality, spiritual development, the spiritual journey, path, and growth.
What is the legitimate center and focus of our lives? This is one of the essential questions. What is our work, our life? How does what we want interfere with our work, our life? With what we are about? The legitimate center and focus of our lives has to do with what is ours to bring forth for the boon of the world. How might we live so that others may benefit from our presence and live better because of us? How might I be of benefit to you is my question, not how you might be of benefit to me. How you might be of benefit to me is your question. Once we get the questions right, life proceeds merrily along its way.
There are other questions that must be asked regularly, and answered: "How alive can we be in the time left for living?" This is a particularly good one. The meaning of life is to be alive in the time and place, the here and now, of our living. What does it mean to be alive is the question. If we answer that one correctly, in each here and now of our living, we have it made. But, there are other questions that are also important.
"What needs to be done, here, now?" "What can we do to help things be more like they ought to be than they are?" "Who are we? What are we about" "What now, what's next, right here, right now?" We don't answer the questions so much as carry them with us, in our awareness. The awareness of the questions creates an openness in which our lives become the answer without our heads getting in the way. We don't think the answer, we live it. We think the questions and live the answers. Thinking the questions shapes our lives, living our lives deepens the questions, which further shape our lives. The stream and the stream bed are one, and create a life neither could have without the other.
When does our way get in the way? Can we lay it aside then, without emotional reaction? Can we have a way without having to have it? Recognizing when our way is getting in the way and setting it aside for the sake of what is called for in the situation-of-the-moment is a crucial step in our maturation/spiritual-development. The people who are always having to have their way or else are years away from being alive.
Here’s how it works. Being alive comes with a price tag attached. The price is living in the service of something bigger than we are. So that you won’t think I’m thinking of service in terms of working in soup kitchens and taking mission trips to Mexico, let’s call the “something bigger than we are” Our Heart’s True Desire. When Joseph Campbell talks about following our bliss, he’s talking about Our Heart’s True Desire, which can be blocked by doing what we want. The thing that keeps us from following our bliss is the thing we want, or think we have to have.
You would think they would be the same, I know. Not! Serving Our Heart’s True Desire nails what we want to the cross that we pick up and carry with us every day. We are never free from wanting what we want. We are never free from the nagging tug of Our Heart’s True Desire. We are never free from the burden of someone else’s idea of how we ought to live our lives. We live torn between what we have to do (what someone else wants us to do), and what we want to do, and what our heart wants us to do, which is the thing that needs doing that we can do in the here and now of our lives. That’s the human predicament, if there ever was one. The question is, of course, whose side are we on? Who do we listen to? How do we work it out?
Let me come at this another way. There is The Way Things Are, and there is The Way We Want Things To Be, and there is The Way Things Truly Ought To Be. Are you with me here? We live in the tangle of these conflicting interests and perspectives, and decide what good is the good we call good. Everyone always serves her, serves his, idea of the good. George Bush serves his idea of the good, Osama ben Laden serves his idea of the good. Everyone does. How good is the good we serve, is the question. Whose good is served by the good we serve, is the question.
The Way Things Truly Ought To Be is not necessarily, or even often, The Way We Want Things To Be. We want the lights and life of Gay Paree. We want the silver mirrors and Mardi Gras beads. The Yellow Hummers and the sail boats tied up at the dock. And, we don’t want anything interfering with what we want, like The Way Things Truly Ought To Be, for example. Like our Heart’s True Desire, for another example. So, it’s a problem.
Let me come at it another way. Sin. We have bought for much too long now, the Orthodox Christian view of Sin, call it, if you want, the Biblical view of Sin. It’s expressed very succinctly in the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “Sin is any want of conformity unto (don’t you love the language though), or any transgression of, a Law of God.” Sin, here, and in the church’s understanding, teaching, and proclamation of the Gospel, is what we do to displease God, oppose the Divine Will, and deserve the sentence of everlasting Hell. This isn’t nearly sophisticated enough. Take God completely out of the picture. Sin remains.
Sin has nothing to do with “a Law of God,” the Ten Commandments or The Law of Love, or the like. Here’s the deal about sin, and you can take this to the bank, any bank: Sin is thinking the wrong things are important. Sin is wanting what we want and not what we ought to want. Sin is wanting things to be the way we want things to be—the way we think things ought to be—and not the way things truly ought to be. Sin is shooting ourselves in the foot, and wanting what we have no business having, and bulldozing Our Way through the world. Sin is not listening, or listening, not hearing (Not seeing, not understanding). And, Sin isn’t something we can do something about.
Here’s a little aside for you where sin is concerned, only we don’t call it sin, we call it crazy. Here’s what makes for craziness, call it sinfulness: We strive to impose the way we want things to be on the way things are. That’s it. It’s a fruitcake world that lives out that scenario. Think we can stop wanting what we want and start wanting something else instead? Just because we ought to? We ought to floss. We ought to lose 30 pounds. We ought to exercise regularly. We ought to cut back on salt and sugar. Need I say more?
Know what sets Jesus apart? Two statements. They say the same thing. “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and accomplish his work.” And, “Not my will, but Thine, be done!” Say that, and mean it, if you can. “Not what I want, but what I ought to want instead!” Say that, and mean it, if you can. Not meaning it is the essence of Sin. Try to make yourself mean it. Try to want what you ought to want. See the problem?
Now, the problem disappears in the grip of what Joseph Campbell calls “a mythic vision.” Jesus was gripped by a vision of mythic proportions. His sense of how things ought to be easily obliterated whatever he might have wanted for himself or those he loved. He didn’t have to try to talk himself out of what he wanted. He was captivated by His Heart’s True Desire. What he wanted never had a chance.
Sometimes, it happens that way. We are gripped by a compelling necessity and nothing matters but our affinity with, our service to, that thing. But, for the most part, we are much too level-headed, rational, smart, and concerned about what’s good for us to lose ourselves in the service of what is good. What we want gets in the way of what truly ought to be, of our Bliss, of our Heart’s True Desire, and so, the struggle. Where do you go for a mythic vision, these days?
Every day, there is The Way Things Are, and The Way We Want Things To Be, and The Way Things Truly Ought To Be. And, we have to work within that context to make things more like they ought to be than they are. It is not easy. There are no recipes. There is no figuring it out. There are no formulas, no “If then, therefore’s.” It’s a rank, oozing, mess out there, all around. How’re we going to fix it? We think we can fix the world, and we can’t fix ourselves. We can’t get out of our own way in order to do what needs to be done. What we want interferes with how things truly ought to be. And, everybody is in the same boat. We have to recognize that and talk it out.
We have to work it out. We have to know that we are in each other’s way, and in our own way, in the way of how things truly need to be. We have to assist each other along the way. Talk, talk, talk. You can call it confession if you want to, or repentance. It’s all a part of the conversation that is the heart of our life together, of our life together with every living thing on the planet, in the universe. No one knows what she, he, or anyone else should do for the good of the whole. We have to talk it out. And help each other do it. Constantly. Continually. World without end. Amen.