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.