Sunday, November 30, 2008

11/30/08 Ride the Bull!

I’m not here—we are not here—to mess with your life. We are not here to take anything away from you or force anything on you. You are just fine as you are. And things are fine just as they are. And, you, and they, will be fine, it all will be fine.

And, we all, you included, know that isn’t true. We/things are not just fine as we are. Yet, we/they all are so too just fine as we/they are. Both those statements are true. We live on the boundary between being just fine as we are and not being just fine as we are. We start where we are, knowing that we are just fine and that the process is always about transitioning, growing, developing, perceiving, seeing, hearing, understanding more than we ever presently do. That the process is always about the journey, never the destination.

Here’s how it works. The path begins under our feet. We don’t have to go anywhere or learn anything or change ourselves in any way. Everything starts with our granting ourselves permission to be who and where and how and why and what we are. We can’t be anything until we can be who we are. And, we don’t stop there. We open ourselves to ourselves, to our circumstance, to our choices, options, and possibilities, and see what happens. But, no one is going to push you to do that, or anything. You are just fine as you are. We all are. And yet, life is not static, bound forever to be as it is.

The Biblical ideas of the Promised Land, the Kingdom of God, and the New Jerusalem pull us beyond where we are toward the life that is yet to be lived. The call is to life. Yet, life is not a steady state. Life is not Itta Bena, Mississippi in 1956. It is not the Presbyterian Church of the Covenant in 1968. Life is not something we have, own, possess, accumulate, box-up, fence in, store away, keep safe. Life is wild and rambunctious, dynamic, unfolding, emerging, spilling over, pouring out, uncontrolled and uncontrollable, carrying us who knows where, asking us to do who knows what. We can’t define life, explain life, understand life. We can only live it as it comes. Hanging on and hoping for the best.

The rule for living life as it comes is: Ride the bull. The bull, of course, is our life. Or, any aspect of our life, that which is life for us, like photography, for example. It gets hard. It pays off in ways that cannot be weighed, counted, measured, put in the bank and used to pay the bills. We wonder why we are doing it. If it’s worth it. We think about quitting. The question is, Is It Life? If it isn’t life, leave it behind and live toward the life, go to the life. If it is life, ride it out, no matter what. Ride that bull! Hang on for the duration regardless of what it throws at you. Hang on through all the spins and twists and contortions. Don’t let it dump you, and don’t even think of bailing out. If you live to be 100 it will amount to less than the 8 seconds of a rodeo bull ride on the geological clock. It’s no time at all. Hang in. Hang on. Ride it out. For the glory of having done it if for nothing else. For the life of it.

We are in it for the life of it. And life is always out there ahead of us, urging us on. And, we are always hanging back, saying “Oh, but, we had it so good in 1956! We had so much fun in 1968! We are sure that’s how life should be!” We want to tame the bull and turn him out to pasture. And, our life is out there in the Great Beyond, shouting, “Come on! Come on! You haven’t seen anything yet!” But, we think we’ve seen plenty. We think we’ve seen enough. We want to sit down and let life pass us by. We want to let the ride go on with out us.

We want to return to the time when times were easy and things were fun. We had it so good when David was king! We want someone to restore the good times, to bring the memories back to life, to give us what we had. We look for a Messiah to take us where we want to go, back to the halcyon days of lore, back to fortune and glory and the good old days that were once ours, or our ancestors, and are no more.

“Are you the one, or shall we look for another? Are you the Messiah we want you to be? Are you the one to take us where we want to go? Are you the one to give us what we want to have? Are you the one to dance to our music and march to our drum? Or, shall we look for another?” The question is met with a question: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Faith in whom, in what? Faith in the bull! Faith in the cause of life. Faith in LIFE!. Faith in the ride, in the road that is no road, in the path that is no path, in the pull—so slight it can be overlooked, ignored—of the Great Beyond. Faith in more than meets the eye, in more than words can say, in more than we will ever understand. Abraham leaves his father’s house and strikes out on a journey that has no end. The Promised Land is without political or geographical boundaries. We do not settle down with Life. We move on. Beyond the limits of civilization. Into the unexplored regions. Into the wilds. Where there be dragons, or worse. Riding the bull, with the wind in our hair, and no concern for the clock, because the ride is the thing, and has its own version of fortune and glory, delighting in the day and wondering what tomorrow will bring.

Where do we find our strength, our direction? What sustains us, guides us, moves us on? What gets us up, involved in doing what needs to be done? That’s where our faith is. We trust that we are not alone, that we are being led, pulled, pushed into life, into living, into being alive—into transitioning, growing, developing, perceiving, seeing, hearing, understanding—always the journey, never the destination. Always the ride, never the dismount. Always the trail, never the bunkhouse, never the pasture.

The killer—death—is sameness, rigidity, homeostasis—the unbending, unmoving, fear of change and the unknown. Which seems like I’m saying it is not okay to be who you are where you are when you are why you are what you are. But. I’m not saying that. I’m saying it’s just fine to be who, etc., you are.

Here comes one of the 10,000 spiritual laws: We can’t be different until we can be who we are. Or, to put it another way (which is why there are 10,000 of these things), Nothing changes until nothing has to change. Or, to put it another way (see what I mean?), In order to change our lives, we have to make our peace with our lives—we have to let things be how they are. And, of course, we could keep saying this in different ways until we got really tired of the game and went to lunch. Which is generally exactly what it takes for things to shift. When we get fed up with something, anything, something happens. When we get fed up with trying to change ourselves, or our situation in life, something changes about ourselves or our situation in life. Maybe not what we had in mind. Probably not what we had in mind. But something. Anyway. Back to the point.

The point is that we are just fine as we are, and we can’t be different until we recognize that there is really no need in anything changing. Boom! As John Madden would say, things change. But things change in their own time, in their own way. And, not as a result of our trying to make them change. So, if you want a baby, for example, to grow up do two things. No three. Stop trying to make the baby grow up. That’s the first thing. The second thing is to baby the baby. Make the baby more of a baby than the baby wants to be. Take care of its every need. Change its diapers before they need changing. Wipe it’s little nose when it isn’t runny. Hound the baby to death taking care of the baby. That’s the second thing. Here’s the third. Fail the baby in significant but non-harmful ways. Make the baby take care of you by not being capable of taking care of either you or the baby. Become dependent upon the baby.

Here’s the rule. If you want someone to become more reliable, you have to become less reliable. If you want someone to increase their functioning in relation to you, you have to decrease your functioning in relation to them. If you want them to grow up, you have to become infantile. And, when they begin to take over, you have to let them take over.

Now, this gets us back rather nicely to the fact that we are just fine as we are. And we can only change by realizing that we are just fine as we are, and getting off our backs about needing to change. We do not need to change. And we can’t change until we can allow ourselves to be exactly as we are.

The Prodigal returns and his father welcomes him home. The father indulges the Prodigal. We would say the father enables the Prodigal. The father indulged the Prodigal by sending him away with his inheritance to the Far Country. That didn’t wake him up, so the father continues to indulge the Prodigal by welcoming him home. Maybe he wakes up, and maybe he doesn’t. Do you think the father can force him to be more awake than he is? Do you think you can change someone by telling her, or him, to change? If so, my wife would like for me to come live with you a day or two.

Look. Here’s how it works: God Says Yes To Me by Kaylin Haught—you can find the poem at the following web site:

Yes, yes, yes, means that over time, eventually, we wake up. We learn what works and what doesn’t work. We get it. Or not. And if we don’t, we wouldn’t have gotten it with all the angels in heaven yelling in our ears. We wake up over time. That’s the hope. In the meantime, we are just fine as we are. Or, to put it another way, Yes, Yes, Yes! 

Sunday, November 23, 2008

11/23/08--On the Path of White Rabbits

Do not think you know what the future needs to be. The future has a life of its own. It is not ours to assign a life to the future. It is ours to assist the emergence of the life that is waiting to be born in our lives, and through our lives into the future. How do we do that? We listen. We look. We understand. Eyes that see, remember. Ears that hear. A heart that understands. These are the tools that bring life to life in ourselves and in the world.

The watch words—Did somebody say “watch”? How timely!—Did somebody say “timely”? This is too weird—of scripture, remember, are “Wait” and “Watch” because we do not know the time of that which is coming, of that which is waiting to be born. We do not know what the future needs to be. Trying to make our ideas for the future be the future destroys the future that is waiting to be born. We do not know what is coming, or what needs to happen in the service of what is coming, and so we have to allow ourselves to be surprised, to be shocked and appalled.

This is the nature of magic. Magic is shocking and appalling. It is disgusting and revolting. The Messiah is crucified. How’s that for disconcertion? Dismay? Devastation? Now we’re talking magic! Magic has to destroy our dreams in order to deliver its gift, and the gift is always more than we could dream up in a thousand years of dreaming. Ah, but, no sooner is the gift delivered than we begin to dream anew. We have it all planned out in no time. Resurrection. Ascension. Return to right wrongs and reward the faithful. We wrote the script practically overnight, and missed the “the time of our visitation” again. And still don’t know “the things that make for peace.”

Magic is the reversal of our happy plans. The gift is not what we want it to be. The Messiah is never who we have in mind. The help we get is not the help we are waiting for. We don’t know what the future needs to be. Our life is not OUR life. It is not MY life to do with as I please. These are all the lessons we refuse to learn. They don’t mesh with our wishes for ourselves and our lives. We keep looking for that which is not coming and waiting for that which will never arrive. “Delta Dawn, what’s that flower you have on? Could it be a faded rose from days gone by? And did I hear you say he was meeting you here today, to take you to his mansion in the sky?” Amen! Can I have an Amen? Amen! Jesus is coming soon, you know. The end is near. Prepare to meet thy God! Amen! Amen!

Here is what is necessary in order for us Delta Dawns to become the Virgin Mary, mothers and mid-wives of the future that is waiting to come to us, and through us, into the world: Put yourself in a receptive frame of mind and see what comes. Do not try to hurry the coming. Our place is not to speed things up, but to receive what comes, to sift through what comes and let the chaff blow away with the wind. Everything that comes isn’t worth having. Our place is to know what’s what. To know the difference between what is the gift and what is the clutter. The gift comes with a kiss of energy, of power, of life. It’s a light, gentle kiss on your cheek. You can miss it if you are thinking what a waste of time this is, and how enlightenment/realization/seeing/hearing/understanding better hurry up if it wants you to have anything to do with it, or if you are looking for something too big to miss.

The kind of energy that transforms our lives and brings us to life is easily dismissed and ignored. It doesn’t have the power of thunderstorms and atomic bombs. It’s more like gravity, or the force of water through the landscape, or the ability of a gnat to irritate and disturb. Our place is to be disturbed, awakened. We choose what disturbs us, what to attend and what to overlook. Our place is to choose wisely, to know “the time of our visitation,” to recognize the White Rabbit when it flashes across our path.

The gift can be missed. We can not know “the time of our visitation,” or “the things that make for peace,” again and again. We can not look, or, looking, look for the wrong thing. The Messiah better match up to our ideas about the Messiah, you know. Those heavens better open and he—and he better be a he—better come riding down on those mighty clouds of joy decked out in those flashing beams of light with all that fanfare and all those angles fluttering around. He better not come like a white rabbit, a girly white rabbit at that, flashing by, winking, disappearing.

How do we know “it” when it comes along? The White Rabbit? The Holy Grail? How do we know when our future flirts with us, winks, and disappears? I call it an energy flux. It’s like a fresh breeze on a sultry day, or a whiff of chocolate chip cookies right out of the oven. Those kinds of experiences break into our awareness and are gone. We notice them, but we have no chance of holding onto them, sitting down with them. Yet, if we permit it, we can allow that momentary interruption to deepen our awareness generally, and see where that takes us. Awareness unleashed from bondage to the concerns of the moment transforms the moment, and frees us to live in the current of a different life. Who knows where it will lead? We have to trust ourselves to something.

We have to place ourselves in the service of our lives, of Life, and take our chances. In that respect, the old prayer takes on new meaning, and is quite applicable: “Lord have mercy! Christ have mercy! Lord have mercy!” Life, have mercy! We are quite at the mercy of that which is better equipped to do without us than we are to do without it. Taking our chances with Life is our only hope, and it destroys our hopes and dreams for our lives. In order to have Life, in order to be alive, we have to hand over our idea of what our life is to be. Make sure you understand that. That’s the price we pay to knock on heaven’s door.

But, on the other hand, what exactly do we have to lose? What keeps us locked in place? Seeing, thinking, doing, being as we have always seen, and thought, and done, and been? What are we afraid of? Our life is out of sight over the hill, and we are thinking there might be some terror over the hill, and stay in place, to the delight of the terror we call our life. We don’t gain a thing by not following our life, by not knocking on heaven’s door. We are just afraid of what we might lose, and we don’t have anything to lose. That’s the irony of our situation.

The life we wish we could live is always distracting us from the life that is available to be lived. We are always dismissing the life that is waiting for us to live it in favor of the life of our fantasies and desires. We look past the treasure dreaming of the treasure. Most of what passes for “waiting for the White Rabbit” and “searching for the Holy Grail” is pretending to wait and search. We are “waiting.” We are “searching,” with quotation marks around the words, meaning we are not really waiting, not really searching. We are hoping that Life will come along, all right, so we are waiting and searching to that extent at least, but we are waiting and searching with strings attached. We want Life to fit neatly into our life, in a seamless, invisible, kind of way. We want to be alive on our terms. We don’t want Life to inconvenience us, to make demands on us, to require us to live differently. We just want to be alive, doing what we have always done, without having to go to any trouble or change any plans. We just want to feel better about living the way we are living.

We wait for a while for the White Rabbit to appear, see nothing, decide nothing is happening or is going to happen, and move on. We see nothing because we are looking for a white rabbit. The White Rabbit comes in all forms, and is quite unrecognizable in most of them. We have to trust ourselves to the strangest things. That’s the first thing. The second is that when we decide nothing is happening, what that means is that nothing that we want to happen is happening. The White Rabbit has no necessary connection with what we want to happen. That’s the second thing.

We may call it “waiting for the White Rabbit,” but we really mean, “waiting for what we want.” We have our ideas, or plans, our schemes, our agendas. We wait for life to serve us, for the White Rabbit to come along in servant’s clothes, with a silver tray, and peeled grapes on a satin pillow. We know what we want. Nothing less will do. And, with that condition in place, we may as well move on, because we don’t have what it takes to be on the trail of the White Rabbit.

Here’s the deal about white rabbits. They are like photographs (everything is, you know). We never know where the next photograph will be found or when one will come along, AND we have to put ourselves in the path of photographs, and wait, watching, for their eventual arrival. We have to go in search of photographs. We have to track them, stalk them, pull them forth from their hiding places, dig them up, nose them out, dog them relentlessly until they raise the white flag and come out with their hands in the air. And, if there be contradiction tucked away in this little paragraph, well have a healthy helping and enjoy the meal. That’s what it tastes like, being a photographer, being alive, in the company of white rabbits.

One of the best ways I know of putting ourselves in the path of white rabbits is by engaging regularly in the right kind of conversation. The right kind of conversation is governed by three rules. No agenda. No frivolity. Nothing but heart. No agenda means we don’t structure the conversation to achieve a particular outcome. We don’t come together to talk about a certain topic. Conversation is conversation. It is not lecture or discussion. No frivolity means we avoid news, weather, and sports. Rants about what we think about the economy and what should be done to solve the world’s problems are not the right kind of conversation. Nothing but heart means we talk about the heart of the matter. What is happening in our lives and how we are dealing with it? Where we are encountering resistance and depletion and where we are finding assistance, encouragement and replenishment? The future unveils itself and white rabbits appear when we simply say how it is with us to those who can hear us with compassion and help us clarify what is important and what we can do to bring it forth in our lives.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sermon/Dharma Talk, 11/16/2008

The Messiah is never the Messiah we are looking for. The help we get is not the help we have in mind. The White Rabbit is anything but the path to the future of our dreams. Nothing gets in the way of our living like the expectations we have for our life.

Here’s the deal. A potter plops a glob of clay down on the wheel, and takes a seat with an idea of a pot in mind. As she puts her hands on the clay and the wheel begins to turn, something happens. The clay resists her efforts to force it into what she wants it to be. The clay has a mind of its own. A life of its own. The potter has to listen to the clay, has to see where the clay wants to go, has to know what the clay wants to be, has to allow the clay to lead her to an outcome that might be quite different from what she has in mind. A pitcher, not a pot. A plate, not a bowl. A set of contemporary goblets, not a traditional run of mugs.

Our life is a pile of clay on a wheel. It is not ours to make of it what we will. We do not stand before our future and decide what it will be. We listen and follow the lead of that which we cannot name. Who is directing the action? Who is producing the pitcher, the plate, the goblet? Whose idea is this life that we are living? We didn’t get here by thinking our way here, or by carefully placing our feet in the black footprints laid out by Those Who Know Best.

Our life led us here. Our life will lead us into our future. Our place is to be alive in the time of our living, to be attuned to what our life is presenting to us, asking of us, as a potter is attuned to the clay. We join our life, as a potter joins the clay, in producing an outcome—a LIFE—that is more than we could ask, or think, or imagine, more than we could design and implement, on our own. The Lesson here is that we are not alone! We are no more alone than the potter is alone in the production of pots. But, we have to open ourselves to that which is present with us if we hope to bring ourselves into alignment with who we are, with that which is striving to be born in us and through us into the world.

We are mid-wives of our own lives. We bring ourselves, our lives, forth. It’s the birth process. We are mothers of who we are. Who we are emerges through our interaction with our environment, with the nature and circumstances of our lives. This is our work. Bringing ourselves forth into the world, into our lives. Our work is to be who we are.

Ah but, how’s this for a complication? There is who we are. And there is who we wish we were. And there is who other people think we ought to be. And there is who our circumstances require us to be. And we stand before all that and want to run. How can we integrate these fragmented selves? How can we restore ourselves to wholeness? How can we make peace within, and between ourselves and our environment? This is the spiritual task. It is the search for the Holy Grail.

The work of squaring things up is the work of soul, the work of spiritual development, the spiritual journey, task, quest. It requires us to live on the boundary between yin and yang, between how things are and how things also are, and to make our peace with the opposing forces pulling us in different directions. It is peace that we seek, harmony of being, and we achieve it by recognizing the validity of contrary voices and giving them their place in our lives. This is true, and that is also true. In living the contradictions we become whole.

The work of wholeness is the work of integrating our opposite sides, our opposite selves. We do that by granting all sides/selves their right to their own voice, perspective, agenda, but requiring them to talk to each other through us, and ultimately trusting us to make a decision about what is to be done after listening carefully to the desires of every inclination.

It’s harmony of being all the way. We have to harmonize ourselves with ourselves and with our environment, square who we are and how we wish things were up with the world. We cannot live in a state of dissonance, of dissociation, of disconnection with ourselves or with the world. We cannot deny how things are with us, or with the world, and get by with it. Living in harmonious accord with ourselves and with the world is IT. There is nothing beyond that to get, or have, or be. The work is harmonizing our lives, living at-one with ourselves and our environment, being true to ourselves within the nature and circumstances of our lives. This is the work that kills us and restores us to life. It is Grail work. The spiritual journey, task, quest. We live to be at-one with ourselves in the life we are living. We come to life and are alive when we are at-one with ourselves in the life we are living, in a way that nothing else (a new house, car, partner, etc) can duplicate or surpass. Harmony of being/living is the essence of life. True human beings are those who harmonize being with living. They are who they are and their lives reflect that, exhibit that, make it plain for all to see, and they are a blessing in the lives of all who come their way, just by being who they are in the lives they are living.

We do not live well, we do not live as those who are alive in the time of our living, accidentally. Coming alive does not “just happen” any more than a potter “just happens” to produce a chalice or a jug. We come to life by intending to be alive, by taking up the work of being alive, by engaging in the practice of being alive.

The practice is being present. We practice presence. We practice “being here, now.” We practice seeing, hearing, and understanding. Seeing what we see, what we look at. Hearing what we hear, what we listen to. Understanding where we are and what is going on around us. Knowing what is happening and what is being asked of us and what is needed “in the situation as it arises.” That’s the practice. The only practice. Get that down and you are exactly where you are going to be when you get to wherever it is that you think you are going.

Are you beginning to see what we are about here? Being alive. That’s what we are about. Bringing ourselves to life by engaging the contradictions of who we are and who we also are and what our life allows and what it disallows. By working to achieve the harmony of being who we are within the context and circumstances of our life. By developing eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that understands. By living to exhibit and express who we are within the context and circumstances of our life. By being true to ourselves in caring relationship with other selves. By seeing what we see, hearing what we hear, knowing what we know, tasting what we taste, smelling what we smell, sensing what we sense, feeling what we feel, touching what we touch, liking what we like, etc. and saying how it is with us and what our experience of life is in caring relationship with one another… As Linda Cohn might say, “Are you picking up what I’m laying down here?”

We have to know what is important and what is also important, and live in the tension between the competing claims on our time and attention. The One Thing Only focus, is not about one thing. It is about all things, everything. We can only do one thing, focus on one thing, attend one thing at a time. To talk on the phone and watch TV and scramble an egg and change the baby at the same time is to not do any of those things well. We do only one thing at a time even though all the things might be going on at once. Multi-tasking leads to car wrecks and heart attacks, and those who pride themselves on doing it are no fun to be around.

The point is to be focused on and attentive to the One Thing that requires our focus and attention at any point in our lives, and to not be ruled by that thing through all the other moments as though it and it alone is worthy of our complete devotion and allegiance forever. With me, photography is not the only important thing. Other things become central in their own time, and photography has to be set aside, has to move over and make room on the table for that which is also important. I can’t walk through life with a camera stuck to my face. We have to live in light of what is important and what is also important, and bear the pain of choosing what must be done now.

This is quite a different approach from living focused on the black footprints. Following the black footprints asks nothing of us, yet, it takes everything from us. The surest way to kill an organization, or a relationship, or ourselves is to live strictly by the rules. Pull out the manual of operation. Follow the prescribed procedures in making every choice. Do what the instructions say to do the way they say to do it without fail or exception. Death by careful compliance. Live your life stepping in the black footprints, thinking what you are supposed to think, believing what you are supposed to believe, doing what you are supposed to do. You’ll be dead by the end of the week. You may be breathing, but, you’ll be dead. But, you will be very safe and pain free, free of the anguish of deciding how to live your life.

The cross that Jesus talks about is not the cross of death but of life. It is the cross of dying the death that life calls us to die. The death of opening ourselves to the experience of life, of not knowing what to do with the clay on the wheel, of being afraid, of wanting desperately to follow the black footprints so as to avoid having to choose. “Who do you say that I am?”, asks Jesus. “Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right?”, asks Jesus (Luke 12:57). Why don’t you listen to the clay and see what happens?

Listening to the clay, to our lives, to the life that is trying to be born in us and through us into the world requires us to believe that there is more at work here than our conscious, thinking, rational, logical selves. Requires us to believe that we are not alone. Requires us to believe that there is more to us than meets the eye. If we are going to live, we are going to have to take a chance on life, and die the death that life calls us to die, and bet everything on the possibility of life after death, here and now, on this side of the grave.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

11/09/08, Sermon/Dharma Talk

Obama hadn’t been President-elect fifteen minutes before the hue and cry about “Can he deliver?” was raised. The question, of course, is more accurately phrased: “Can he deliver us?” Can he save us? It’s the question of John the Baptist to Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” We are always looking for someone to save us. To turn things around for us. To usher in the Golden Age and give us what we want. Can Obama do it? How long before we give up on him and pin our hopes on another? Here’s the truth for you that is as true as anything has ever been, or will be true: The Messiah is never the Messiah, and the help we get is not the help we have in mind.

The question about Obama—Can he do it? Is he the one? Will he lead us to the Promised Land?—allows us to neatly skirt the larger question about ourselves: How differently are we willing to live our lives? What are we going to change about the way we live? Nails us, doesn’t it? We are the ones, remember, who want to reduce our dependency on foreign oil AND drive as frequently and as far and as fast as we want to. We are the ones who want to eat as much of whatever we want without gaining weight. We want to exercise when we want to for as long as we want to and let that be enough. We want to live however we like without incurring any consequences we don’t like. We want Obama to give us what we want and we don’t want to change the way we are living.

I wish I had better news but… Things aren’t going to be different until we change the way we are living. Here’s another shot of truth for you: For things to be better, they have to be worse. The change that is necessary for things to be different in the way they need to be different is the shift in perspective from the material to the spiritual. Life is lived on two levels, the physical/biological level and the spiritual/psychic (from psyche, soul) level. The physical serves the spiritual. That is the right order of things. When we reverse it, and try to use spiritual techniques (prayer, for instance) to serve our physical aspirations and interests (winning football games, for instance, or being awash in prosperity—Bad Religion always uses the spiritual in the service of the physical), we confuse ends and means and corrupt the world. We produce the wasteland in which nothing can live.

The physical serves the spiritual by being the realm in which the spiritual aspect of existence is embodied, incarnated, exhibited, expressed. The physical world is the canvass, you might say, of the spiritual world. The spiritual world is brought forth in and through the physical world. The abstract becomes concrete, actual, tangible, visible, definite, particular in space and time. As we bring spiritual reality to life through the way we live in the physical world, we come to life ourselves, and are alive in a way we could never be just living on the physical plane alone.

But, we are always thinking the physical plane is the only plane. To Really Live is to be loaded down with material stuff. The forbidden fruit is a metaphor for our seeking satisfaction in things that delight the eye and titillate the senses. “Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory,” is another way of saying, “Here, honey, have a bite. It’s all you’ll ever need.” When Jesus comes talking about “living water,” we think in physical terms, and don’t understand thirst as a spiritual reality. From the Garden of Eden on, we have tried to satisfy spiritual hunger and thirst with physical food and drink (and silver mirrors and Mardi Gras beads). And, it has not worked, nor can it work, because we don’t know what we are dying for.

Barack Obama cannot provide us with what we crave. To get that, we have to change the way we are living. We have to change what we want. But it has to be the right kind of change. It has to be the kind of change that is occasioned by, the result of, a shift in perspective. It has to be an awareness of what constitutes the nature and ground of life that is true life, abundant life—the kind of life that Jesus lived, and all those with spiritual insight live, to serve. We have to become those who live consciously, intentionally, deliberately toward life, living, being alive, and we have to create an environment which is conducive to life in the deepest, best, truest sense of the word.

This “true life” is realized and expressed by those we have come to call “true human beings.” This is what we are dying for. This is the center of all of our searching, longing. There is something pleasing about photographs and other works of art that please us, about scenes that ground us, center us, focus us, bring us into the perfection of the moment, and elicit a "Yes!" to all of life. And, we have no idea what it is. What is pleasing about what pleases us? Why that and not something else instead? Why do "reasonable facsimiles" never quite do? We don't know. But we live our lives looking for, searching out, seeking to find, the real thing. The genuine article. IT. Whether we know it or not, we live to find and be The True Human Being.

We do not carry out this search in isolation, independent and self-reliant. We become true human beings in right relationship with each other. We bring out the best in one another, and enable the realization of that which we all seek, true life, abundant life, everlasting life—everlasting in the sense that once we are really alive, it lasts forever, and nothing can take it from us.

So, the importance of coming together to create a gathering place where we gather our fragmented selves into the whole that we are. This is where we do the work of integrity, of aligning ourselves with "that which is deepest, best, and truest about us." Where we come together for the work of being who we are in the world. The world, you know the one I'm talking about, is a place of fragmentation, disintegration. We need gathering places to do the work of integration so that we might step back into the world as those who know who we are and what we are about. We gather ourselves in order to remember "the face that was ours before we were born" and live the life that is ours to live.

What's to do? What's to be done? What needs our attention? What needs us to do it? We believe we will do what today? How do we know? How do we decide? What directs our action, leads us to act? Once our basic biological needs are met, then what do we do with our lives? Where do we go for the answer to THAT question? We answer that question with the right combination of solitude and community. Naps and walk-abouts and the right kind of conversation over time help us clarify who we are and what we are about. We work it out together over time.

The fundamental, foundational, truth is that we need help with our lives. We do not, cannot, live well alone, cut off, isolated. We are on our own, AND we need one another. The difference between solitude and exclusion, or isolation, is the difference between life and death. Ah, but. As Shel Silverstein so aptly put it, “Some kind of help is the kind of help that help is all about—and some kind of help is the kind of help we all could do without.” We spend our lives looking for the right kind of help. It shouldn’t be so hard to find.

The right kind of help falls out easily into two categories, physical and spiritual. We need an environment that is physically and spiritually safe. In order to be imaginative, creative, alive, we have to be safe. We can't be imaginative with things like our survival, physical or emotional, on our mind. We can't be thinking about where our next meal is coming from or how we are going to pay the bills and whether we will have the grades to get in, or stay in, grad school, or if the headaches mean anything... We have to be in an "imaginative space" to be imaginative, and that is primarily a safe place. We can't be embroiled in the ten thousand things. The "imaginative space" grounds us, centers us, restores us, and opens the way to life, and it is the gift of the right kind of community.

In order to be fully alive, we need an environment in which our basic needs for food, clothing and shelter can be met. And, we need an environment which enables the development of eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that understands. We need an environment which is conducive to life, living, and being alive. It is not enough to be 98.6 and breathing, to be up-right and intact, to be able to sit up and take nourishment.  LIFE requires more, asks more of us, than that.

As we move into the consideration of what constitutes LIFE, we might say “abundant life,” being fully, wholly, completely alive, we move into the arena of the spiritual. The difference between the spiritual and the physical is the difference between a house and a home. You can decorate a house with all the beautiful accoutrements the best interior designers can recommend, but things on the walls, ceilings, and floors do not make a home. We try to make a life by loading it up with things on the walls, ceilings, and floors, but we cannot produce LIFE in that way. LIFE has a different orientation, foundation, basis and direction. And that “differentness” is what constitutes spirituality.

The spiritual journey is the search for the conditions that are required for LIFE, and the central component of those conditions is a community that helps us form the perspective necessary for life, living and being alive. This is the perspective that flows from and leads to eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that understands.

When we see, hear, and understand, we see, hear, and understand what is important. We know what is being asked of us in “the situation as it arises,” and we know what must be done. Right seeing, right hearing, right understanding lead to right thinking, right being, right doing, which all together are the components of right living which is the essence of LIFE. And, all of that is a spiritual process which cannot be even approximated through a strictly material, or physical, approach to life. We can build a house with that approach, but we cannot make it a home.

The work is to be, not to have or to do. Of course, being is evidenced in doing. What we do and how we do it incarnate and exhibit who we are. This is the physical serving the spiritual. The work is to do the things which incarnate and exhibit who we are, to align our life with the center of our being—and to be at-one with the “ought-to-be-ness” of things there at the center. And we grow in our awareness of who we are “at the center,” we begin to recollect “the face that was ours before we were born,” as we engage in clarifying conversations with those who know how to talk with us about the things that truly matter—the things that lead to life, living and being alive.