Sunday, December 27, 2009

Do You Believe In God?

“Do you believe in God?” she asked, with the innocence of the child she was, having heard that perhaps I didn’t. And, in the short space between her question and my answer, I thought, Which God would that be?

Would it be the God who commanded Moses, “The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt,” and who declared to Isaiah “My house shall become a house of prayer for all peoples”?

Or would it be the God who came up with the idea of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth? Who lived by the standards “Might Makes Right!” and “The End Justifies the Means!”? Who invented genocide and the scorched earth policy? Who commanded Joshua to destroy all who lived in the Land of Promise and to show no mercy to anyone under any circumstances for any reason ever?

Would it be the God who is a harsh taskmaster, reaping and harvesting without regard for those who did the sewing and the planting?

Or the God who welcomes the weak and heavy-laden, whose yoke is easy, whose burden is light?

Would it be the God who demanded the death of God’s only son Jesus Christ our Lord as the necessary payment—the wages, you might say—for the sins of us all?

Or the God who welcomed the Prodigal home, killed the fatted calf, and held a great feast honoring his return for nothing more costly than a well-rehearsed and self-serving “I’m sorry”?

Would it be the God who sent the Army of Heaven to destroy the Great Beast and its legions for their faithless disobedience, and punish them forever in everlasting fire?

Or the God who, in the guise of a faithless Samaritan, tended the beaten Jew in the ditch and paid for his recovery without inquiring about the quality of his life or the degree to which he deserved to be so treated?

Who is the God who is God? Would the real God please stand up, come forward, and be accorded the honor of my belief, allegiance and loyalty?

And, of course, they all stand up, come forward as One, gather around and wait for me to declare myself to be their servant everlasting, for they all are God to the core. Very God of Very God. “As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be world without end, Amen!”

Here, we are in the presence of the God beyond the catechisms and confessions of faith, beyond the creeds and the doctrines, beyond the eleven o’clock worship services and the Sunday school classes and the seminary lectures and the theologies ad nauseum.

If you are going to go to the trouble of believing in God, THIS is the God to believe in, not some tame, domesticated, house-broken god who comes in on cue and exits on schedule. Not some pale, polite, patsy god stepping in the black footprints and reading from a script with predictable lines and action. Not some computer-generated god spewing out formula speeches, creating weal and making woe by the book with the title, “How To Be God.”

If you are going to believe in God, believe in the God who IS God, by god! If you dare! If you can! If you can, believe in a God who can do it all! Who can do everything! Anything! At any time! And does!

God can do anything! We are always saying that, thinking of almighty, all powerful, omnipotent—not unrestrained and without inhibitions. It’s time we revised our thinking. God is wild. Wild beyond imagining. Wild beyond the commonly recognized limits of wildness. God is irreverent, immoral and unrepentant. Impertinent, imprudent, off the wall, over the edge, out of sight. Crazy.

Nothing is off-limits with God. You have to know that about God. No holds are barred. No punches are pulled. No norms are honored. Anything goes with God. Whatever it takes with God. God will do whatever it takes.

Whatever it takes to do what? What is God's plan? What is God’s angle? What is God trying to do? I’m glad you asked. God’s plan is to do whatever is required by the situation as it arises, unfolds! What God did in the last minute doesn’t apply to what God might do in the next minute. God’s plan is to do what is needed. God doesn't rule out any possibilities. God can do, and does do, absolutely whatever the situation calls for every time.

There is no long range, much less eternal, plan with God. It’s all day-to-day, moment-to-moment, here-and-now. Each situation calls for being creatively present for the good of that situation. God lives here, now, to make this situation as good as it can be.

As you know, the situation does not cooperate with its own best interest. The situation is the result of forces and impulses, trends and preferences, that have nothing to do with God or goodness, or even good sense. Something is always coming along to destroy, decimate, devastate, demolish and disperse, and God is always reconfiguring, reshaping, reforming what God has done in order to do what needs to be done here and now in THIS mess to restore harmony and make peace and bring forth the good.

And if the good of this moment clashes with the good of the next moment, God is there to join in the work of making that moment as good as it can be. In every moment, the good is created anew, on the spot, in light of what is needed then, there. A cup of cold water. A kind word. A nap.

God turns flips, does handstands, and rejoices at length over creative responses to the need of the moment. God delights in doing whatever is required in the service of the good here and now. And if good here produces bad there, it can’t be helped, that's the way it is. God joins in the work there to produce good in the bad, loving it, loving the work.

And if one person's good in this moment clashes with another person's good in this moment, well, we have to work it out. To God’s great joy, the work is never done! In this work, God has complete freedom to do whatever it takes—whatever it takes—in the service of the good of the moment. The good of the moment is the only good, and that good has nothing to do with preconceived notions of good but with what needs to happen then, there. It all comes into being in each moment to serve that moment.

And Jesus? A chip off the old block! Jesus raised the dead and left the dead to bury the dead! He forgave a guilty woman and cursed an innocent fig tree. Jesus did whatever the situation required as it unfolded—healing on the Sabbath one day, and refusing to give an "evil and adulterous generation" a sign the next day. You never know what Jesus will do when.

You never know with Jesus, or with God, or with YOU! YOU are completely free to do what needs to be done in the situation as it arises, and must, if you would join God in being as God is! This is the work of God: Doing what needs to be done in the situation as it arises, unfolds, no matter what!

Not even God can do more than that! God on God's best day cannot do more than what needs to be done in the situation as it arises, unfolds. You'll never hear a truth that is truer than this truth. But hold on, it gets better.

When I/you/we all do what needs to be done in the situation as it arises, unfolds, in the time and place of our living, we are as God-like as God can be, which is what Jesus was in being the Christ, a term that means “The Anointed One.” Anointed for what? For making God known, present, real! When we pull off being what the moment is dying for, we are the Christ as only we can be the Christ, and God becomes known, present, real in our lives and in the world in that moment.

In order to do what needs to be done and make God known, present, real in the situation as it unfolds in the moment of our living, we have to get ourselves out of the way. The only thing standing between us and God, us and the Christ, is us. We are our own worst enemy. And so, the question, Whose side are you on? is always the question. And the right answer is always: Thy will not mine be done!

What, then, is God’s will here, now? To see the good and do it! To know what is being asked of us, what is striving to come forth here, now and DO the thing! To be done with convention, with shrewd, crafty, wily ways, with covering our bases and counting the cost! What needs to be done in the situation as it arises, unfolds? DO IT! Here! Now!

In this way, every moment is the first moment of creation! Every situation offers the possibility of a fresh, “Let there be!” So, let it be! Let it be!

When we live to serve the good of the moment, of the situation as it arises, unfolds, we are not serving OUR good in the moment, or guided by our wishes, desires, ambition, fears. Freedom is being not bound to our wants, interests, tastes, preferences, anxieties, goals, plans, intentions... The freedom to do what needs to be done in the situation as it arises is complete freedom. It doesn’t get freer than that! And if God is anything, God is free—to be and to do whatever is needed in the situation as it arises, unfolds!

So, of course, I said, “Of course I believe in God! Who wouldn’t believe in a God as wild and alive as God? May we all be so wild and alive forever!” Indeed! May we be so!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Community of Individuals

The community serves the individual so that the individual might serve the community by being an individual within the community! The purpose of the community is to produce individuals! The community draws the individual forth, individualizing, you might say, the individuals who belong to the community. The community is careful to NOT erase the distinctions among the individuals within the community—is careful to NOT reduce everyone to some communal standard of thought, belief, and practice, so that everyone is a mirror image of everyone else and “we’re all just one big happy family,” believing the same beliefs, thinking the same thoughts, stepping in the black footprints and living our lives the way life is supposed to be lived, the way life is being lived by everyone around us (in a “Let’s just get along,” “Let’s be nice,” “Let’s go along to get along,” kind of way).

Never, not once, in the history of humanity, has there ever been a single case of civilization advancing by way of a communal decision to think and do things differently. Every single advance (you could look this up) has been made by individuals standing apart from the community, asserting themselves over against the community, risking the ire of the community, in order to think and do things differently. Culture is carried forward by individuals. The individual is the incubator, developer, guardian and guide of society. Healthy communities produce healthy individuals who produce healthy communities. Who WE are as Presbyterian Church of the Covenant depends entirely upon who YOU and YOU and YOU and YOU are. YOU and YOU and YOU and YOU can never think of laying YOU aside in order to fit in, belong, and be as WE are! And WE have to see to it that YOU and YOU and YOU and YOU become YOU so that WE might become a healthy, viable, living and alive WE!

All the talk about becoming a community comes down to how well we care for and about one another and honor the sanctity of each individual psyche, soul, self. WE bring each other forth. WE are guardians and protectors of the vulnerable, fragile, self we each are. The baby in the manger depends upon the right social environment in order to become the Christ he is capable of becoming. We are all the baby in the manger, looking for the right social environment to come forth as the Christ in the world. It is our place as the community, the WE, to provide the right atmosphere for the coming forth of the Christ, the True Human Being, that we are all capable of being. Yet, we are not all to become the SAME Christ! My Christ is not your Christ, and your Christ is not Jesus’ Christ! Christians are not Jesus impersonators. They are their own version of the Christ—the Christ as only they can be the Christ. The world is transformed, is saved, is restored to harmony with itself, not by our becoming who Jesus was, but by our becoming who we are! And, it takes the right kind of community to bring us forth into the individual self, soul, psyche that each of us is.

How do we do it? We do it through conversation. We do it by listening. Loving. Accepting. Questioning. Inquiring. Asking. Seeking. Knocking. Exploring. Imagining. Playing... We do it by practicing the fundamentals of life together. Grace, mercy, peace, you know. We do it by remembering it isn’t about jumping through anybody’s hoops, or preening ourselves to look like somebody else, or molding and shaping and forming ourselves into the community’s idea of who we ought to be. We do it by knowing it is about living life that is meaningful to us, and that no one knows what is meaningful to us but US. LIFE requires us to do what is meaningful to us. We have to live in service to what we experience as meaningful—not in service to someone else’s idea of what should be meaningful.

A true community is composed of individuals who are living lives that are meaningful to them—which is enabled by the atmosphere they create in the community they form together. It is a circle, but the heart of the circle is the individuality of the members of the community. We do not sacrifice that which is essential to the individual self for the sake of the community. When the “I’s” give themselves up so that the WE might be happy, the WE dissolves into a pseudo community which does much damage. It is NOT better that even one person die than that the whole nation perish!

And yet, and yet… If you ain’t dying, you ain’t living! LIFE is grounded on our dying to our idea of what it means to “really live.” Adam and Eve in Eden. Jesus in Gethsemane. Adam and Eve died by refusing to die. Jesus lived by handing himself over to death. We can’t live if we will not die—again and again—to all that stands between us and life, and we are the ones who stand in the way! The question we must answer—again and again—is “Whose side are we on?” The right kind of community reminds us to ask and helps us answer that question. The question can ONLY be asked and answered from the standpoint of our participation in the right kind of community!

If we ain't dying, we ain't living. LIFE—being fully alive—asks hard things of us. Risky things. We can't be safe, secure and comfortable and be alive. We cannot do what we want and be alive. What we want isn’t the point. Being alive is the point. Being alive often requires us to do what we don't want. The deadest people you know are doing what they want. We are not here to hang out in the mall, or in the book store, or in the bars, or at the concerts and the movies until we die.

In “The Fellowship of the Ring,” Gandalf says, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” What are you doing with the time that has been given to you? Of what does life consist? What do you do that means the most to you? As we answer these questions we come alive. Notice, they have nothing to do with what we want. Life does not consist of what we wish to be “of life” for us. We don't do what is meaningful because we want to but because we have to. Wanting has nothing to do with it. LIFE is not about getting, having, doing what we want!

However, this isn’t the way we live. We live in service to our desires and ambitions. What we want requires us to live in ways that rule out what means the most to us. Adam and Eve in Eden, not doing what it takes to live, living themselves to death. How does what we want to do keep us from doing what means the most to us? Whose side are we on?

We have to trust ourselves to the service of what is meaningful to us. This is the beam that Joseph Campbell talks about when he says, “We know when we are on the beam and when we are off of it.” We know when we are doing what is meaningful to us, even though that may not be what we WANT to be meaningful.

We have to know what is meaningful to us—and do it! If we are not going to do what is meaningful to us in the time left for living, when will we do it? To live without doing what is meaningful to us is to not live at all. In the grip of a meaningful vision—the sense of what must be done—we cast what we want aside to do the thing we have to do, even though it may make no sense and we will not be able to explain it to anyone, even ourselves.

In the grip of a meaningful vision comes to pass the saying, “Thy will, not mine, be done.” And we have no idea who the “Thy” is! It doesn't matter who the “Thy” is, or who we understand the “Thy” to be. We have to do the thing that must be done whether we want to or not! Get up in the cold and write! It's crazy. The most meaningful things are often crazy. We sit for hours waiting for the right light to take a photo no one will see. Crazy.

And the community understands this and encourages us to do the crazy thing, because that is the thing that brings us forth. We are connected at the level of the heart, soul, psyche, self with the thing that needs to be done—the thing that needs us to do it. That thing is our life. We live to do that thing. And don’t be literal-minded here, the thing that needs us may be more than one actual thing, it may be a lifetime of things strung together one after the other, or it may be a multi-tasking glob of things hurled throbbing, glowing, and spinning into our lives. The point is that we have to wake up to the fact that what most needs us to do it is what we most need to do. Even though it is crazy and makes no sense and we cannot do it and pay the bills. We’ll have to do something else to pay the bills.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

God Without the Wardrobe

Wynn McGregor leads off with two stories, one about her grandson asking his father if “God sleeps naked,” and the other about a scene from Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass” where the celebrant smashes the chalice and is stripped of his clerical vestments.

Think of Transcendent Reality as God Without The Wardrobe. Think of religion as clusters of clothiers. We bring God down to our fitting rooms and begin to measure and cut and sew, dressing God in our ideas of how God ought to look. Draping God with our best stab at godliness. “Oh yes! The Holy Trinity! Doesn’t that look just perfect, though? My, my. And Omniscient. Omnipotent. Omnipresent. Stunning! Almighty! All Knowing! All Powerful! Immortal, Invisible, God-Only-Wise! Oh, indeed! And THIS: There Is No God But The God WE Say Is God! By all means! Perfect! As perfect as God should be! Just right, Your Holiness!”, we say, bowing to our creation.

The deeper truth is spoken by the child, and by the composer/conductor (Leonard Bernstein): God sleeps naked and has no need of holy garb. Transcendent Reality has no wardrobe. Transcendent Reality is the Underlying Reality, the Grounding Reality, upholding our lives. The visible world rests on the invisible world. The Christ is where the invisible becomes visible. Incarnation, you know. Human being becoming God (without the wardrobe). Christmas.

Mary gave birth to Jesus. Jesus gave birth to the Christ. There is nothing automatic and natural about the Christ coming forth into the world, either then or now. You think a virgin birth is hard. Just try being who you are! This is the hardest thing, the greatest work, bringing forth the Christ by being who we are. And, it has nothing to do with getting the Out There In Here, as though we have to mold ourselves into some external model of right living. The Christ does not exist Out There, Up There, Over There, somewhere beyond us, external to us. The work involves getting the In Here Out There, bringing forth the Christ within and making the invisible visible. Christmas. Every day.

The problem is that we stand in our own way, block our own path. We are of two minds, or three, or four, or, how many of them are there really? WE are Legion, don’t you know? In league with ourselves against ourselves. We want what we have no business having. This is as succinct a definition of sin as you will ever stumble upon: Wanting what we have no business having. Wanting what we want and not what we ought to want. Just try to want what you don’t want, or to un-want what you want! We can pretend, but we cannot comply. We can fake it, but we cannot make it. Unfazed lives the want-er within.

And so, the war of the wills. We strain to be morally pure and pleasing to someone’s (perhaps our own) idea of God, and white-knuckle it past temptation only to be ambushed by symptoms and circumstances we cannot control and do not foresee. The Christ we produce is a plastic prototype with robotic movements and delayed reactions following a programmed script written to be in accord with some church council’s decree of how it ought to be done. The Out There is squeezed without regard for style or fit In Here. The Christ is prefabricated and slapped, perhaps literally, into place.

We are directed to put on the Christ as we might put on “the full armor of God,” to use a scriptural metaphor. Told to wrap ourselves in a wardrobe cut out in the fitting rooms of ancient religion, and required to project an image that has come to us from Those Who Know Best And Must Be Pleased. But Bernstein invites us to see through the posing and the posturing, the draping and the strutting about. Crash goes the chalice! Gone are the clothes! Now what?

We are as naked as God, and have nothing but ourselves in the work to be the Christ, here and now, in the lives that are our lives to live, today. On one hand, there is nothing to it. It is simply a matter of finding our way back to ourselves, to “the face that was ours before we were born.” On the other hand, it is the hardest thing, the greatest work, because we stand in our own way, wanting 10,000 things more than we want to be who we are.

Carl Jung says we spend our lives walking around ourselves, around the Self we are born to be, circling closer, perhaps, over the years, but never arriving at the one we are. Jung spent his life working to help us close the distance between the life we are living and the life we are called to live, between the self we are and the self we are born to be. His term for becoming who we are is “individuation.” The Zen and Taoist term is “True Human Being.” The Buddhist term is “Buddha” or “Buddha-mind.” The New Testament’s term for becoming who we are is “Christ.” The Christ is the Anointed One, anointed to bring Transcendent Reality forth into the world of space and time by simply being who we are in the moment of our living.

In the wilderness, Jesus is stripped of all of the trappings—the wardrobe—of family and culture and stands naked before that which has need of him. Think of the wilderness experience as the birthplace of the Christ. When Jesus steps back into society he is following the path with his name on it, and is obedient to a will that is, and is not, his own. He speaks to this when he says, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and accomplish his work,” and, “The Father and I are one,” and, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” And he prays that his followers “may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us.” Paul reflects this when he says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

But, again, this is not an External, Out There, Model of Holiness that is being hawked. Jesus and Paul are simply exhibiting “the face that was theirs before they were born” in their lives, and, in so doing, bringing Transcendent Reality forth into the world. Here is the formula from a couple of weeks ago: The numinous (that which moves us, resonates with us, catches our eye) leads us straight, not counting all the detours and asides, twists, spins and round-a-bouts that compose the path—the beam—with our name on it, to the heart of Transcendent Reality and, interestingly enough, to the heart of our very own heart as well. Which is to say that the other side of you, the other side of me, is God. This means that the numinous which leads us to God leads us to us. So that oneness-of-being is our source and our goal.

In order to be the Christ, we have to be who we are, following the path with our name on it, which is not the same thing as the life we have in mind for ourselves. And we are back to standing in our own way, blocking the path to Transcendent Reality, to “the face that was ours before we were born.” Birthing the Christ within means getting ourselves out of the way and getting on the way that is our way.

This is not easy, but there is a guide within. We know when our lives are resonating with us and when they are not. We know when, and where, we are alive, and when, and where, we are mostly dead. We know, as Joseph Campbell says, “when we are on the beam and when we are off of it.” The path to God Without The Wardrobe, to Transcendent Reality, to birthing the Christ within is found in finding our way to that which is life for us, which brings us to life and enables us to be fully alive.

Yet, here is the tricky part. We cannot close ourselves off from the voice of opposition! Always the tension, the counterweight, the contrary! Life is not a quick sprint to glory along the path we love. As we got ourselves out of the way, so we have to get ourselves back in the way! Jung says “Life can flow forward only along the path of the gradient,” and, “In order to be balanced, there must be opposition.” Dialogue is as necessary for our spiritual life as air, light, food and water are for our physical life. And the necessary dialogue is both internal and external. In other words, we work it out with ourselves and one another!

We are always working it out! Within ourselves and among ourselves! What to do. How to do it. Who to be. What is needed. How to proceed. We figure it out anew in every moment! There is no formula, no recipe, no rule book, no black footprints, no wardrobe! Only the dialogue! Only the conversation! We find our way forward along the path of the gradient. We do not run up the mountain. We take our time, listening our way along. We circle the self over the course of our life, narrowing the distance (we hope) yet never settling into the center. And the community of sojourners helps us listen, helps us hear, engages us in dialogue, and keeps us in contact with all that has to be taken into account as we think through what is next, what needs to be done and how best to do it.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

We are our own authority.

The meaning of life gets all the press, but I’m here to talk to you about living a meaningful life. Living meaningfully IS the meaning of life. And, who is to say what that is? YOU are, of course. The authority resides within. We act on our own authority. Who better than you knows what is meaningful to you?

You wouldn't trust me to sweeten your coffee for you. Why would you trust me to tell you what to do to live a meaningful life? You wouldn’t trust me in a matter of no consequence, why would you trust me, or anyone else, in a matter of ultimate consequence? Why would you trust anyone but yourself to know what to believe, think, do? It's your life. Live it!

Ah, but, I hear the objection welling up from each of you: “How do WE know what to believe, think, do?” How do you know when your coffee is sweet enough? When it’s time to eat, or go to bed? No one can tell you those things. We can be trusted to know what is right for us. We know when apple pie is called for and when it’s a glass of wine that is just the ticket. We know when it’s time for a walk around the block and when we have had enough of anything. The same thing applies to the deeper questions.

We know what we need, what needs to happen, what is needed in the situation as it arises. All it takes is paying attention, observation, awareness, seeing, hearing, understanding to know what is called for. We find our way to the answers that matter by way of resonance, instinct, intuition, the tug of heart, the movement of soul. Even external rules, orders, decrees, and demands have to ring true. Resonation is the key that turns the lock to knowing what to do.

Our path has to resonate with our heart, our heart has to resonate with our path. We have to sense what is right for us—all things considered—and do it. In every moment, the future is in our hands, and we do not have time to waste, so, we must listen carefully, imagine fully, observe completely in order to take everything into consideration and know what truly needs to be done, and do it. To live knowingly, with awareness and perceptivity, with vision and grace and compassion is as basic, and as spiritual, as it gets. Eyes that see, ears that hear, a heart that understands, and the courage “to get up and do what needs to be done” are all it ever takes. That is the spiritual path, and the way of a True Human Being.

The path of the heart is a seeing, hearing, understanding, knowing, being, doing path. It takes effort to live the way life needs to be lived. We have to concentrate, focus, pay attention. It's easier to follow the leader. Go where you're taken. Do what you're told. Maintain the routines. Honor the traditions. Step in the black footprints. Ask no questions. Make no waves. Happiness. Death. We are happiest, it seems, when we are dead. To be alive, we have to lay happiness aside and live as those who are open to the moment and what the moment is asking of us, even when it is asking hard things of us.

When we live open to the moment and what it is asking of us, there are no rules to keep, no formulas to apply, no recipes or black footprints to follow. “Eat when hungry, rest when tired,” is a Zen rule suggesting that we listen to our body and follow its lead. Yet, Zen masters often ignore their body’s signals, and sit zazen through hunger, drowsiness, and the ache of joints and muscles. Always the question: “How do we know when to do what? How do we know where to draw the line?”

The best answer is arbitrary and subjective, but, we want to justify our actions with precedents, probabilities and iron-clad rationale. Yet, there are no absolutes that cannot be over-ridden. “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” says the commandment, but the Jewish authorities kill Jesus, saying “It is better that one man should die instead of the whole nation.” By what authority do we over-ride absolutes? What is the seat of wisdom? What guide do we follow? When do we acquiesce? When do we overturn? Who is the decider that decides? Our own arbitrary and subjective self, that’s who! After we take everything into account, we have to choose when to acquiesce and when to overturn.

Sometimes we eat when hungry, rest when tired. Sometimes we push past hunger and weariness. Sometimes we indulge ourselves, sometimes we deny ourselves. By our own authority. We decide for ourselves how our lives are to be lived. We say where meaning is to be found, of what our joy consists, what is important, what needs to be done and left undone. We are who we have to please. We Have To Learn To Listen To Ourselves. That’s the task of life: Know Thyself. To thine own self be true. Or, as Jesus says (in Luke 12:57), “Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right?” What other choice do we have? May we choose wisely, and hold ourselves accountable, and deal well with the outcome of our choosing!

In ascribing meaning, assigning value, and deciding what it takes to live a meaningful life, we bring the world we perceive into being through our perception of it. “In the beginning was the word.” Whose word? OUR word! Our word creates the world. Red does not reside in the apple. Red does not exist apart from the eyes that see, and say, “Red,” into existence. Beauty comes into being in the act of being perceived and declared to be beautiful. We paint the world with meaning, and bring it to life.

Our place is to witness the world into being, to produce the WOW that sets it apart from the dreariness of unnoticed marvels. Our gift to the world is amazement, appreciation and praise. We acknowledge the wonder of every sunrise and rainbow. We sing the world into being. Thanksgiving is what we do best. We are the thankful ones. May it certainly, and always, be so!

Maybe any living thing with half a mind gets out of itself from time to time and notices, knows that there is more to it than meets its eye in its own little world, knows that there is a bigger world, and loves it, relishes it, delights in the wonder and the joy of it. I hope so.

I know for sure that we are capable of that. And it is our shame that we don’t do it more often than we do. That we don’t do a tail dance, like dolphins, on ocean waves, and wheel through the air, like red tail hawks, for the pure pleasure of it. That we don’t rejoice, and aren’t glad, more often. The numinous calls for that, requires it. Our place is to respond—to see, to know, to be moved, to give chase, and see where it leads.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Church as it Should Be, Part II

The 9:20 Experience began on November 16, 2003. We have moved into our 7th year as a progressive alternative to the Church of our Experience. Over the course of the past six years, the nature of our work to become the Church As It Ought To Be has been to take everything off the table that has ever been on the table, and begin to put back on the table the things that we think should be there, including things that have never been there. But we kept the table as the primary, central metaphor of the Church As It Ought To Be, reflecting the importance of the whole in the lives of the parts, and of the parts for the life of the whole.

The Presbyterian Church USA, as a specific denomination, provides an historical, traditional, foundation for this work of becoming The Church As It Ought To Be. “Reformed, always reforming,” is the motto of the PCUSA. It means we are always becoming The Church As It Ought To Be. The essential dialectic, or dialogue, for this process of becoming The Church As It Ought To Be is underscored in the two poles of the PCUSA.

On one hand, there is the officially recognized sanctity of the individual conscience. This is worth quoting the original sources for verification: From the Constitution of the PCUSA (Part II, The Book of Order): “God alone is Lord of the conscience...therefore, we consider the rights of private judgment, in all matters that respect religion, as universal and unalienable...The Holy Scriptures are the only rule of faith and (practice) (and) no Church governing body ought to pretend to make laws to bind the conscience (by) virtue of their own authority.”

A counterweight to the right of individual conscience is the fundamental assumption of Presbyterianism: All of us are wiser than any one of us. We make decisions as a representative democracy, and one of the promises of the old Presbyterian Church in the United States (the “southern Presbyterian Church”) made at the ordination of ministers and members of church governing boards (Elders, serving on a church board called the Session) was “subjection to my brothers and sisters in the Lord.”

The work of integrity, of wholeness, is between the part (the individuals) and the whole. This work requires a fluid, dynamic, flow, a dance together, much like the relationship between the stream and its channel as it finds its way to the sea. Nothing is static, or frozen, or rigid about The Church As It Ought To Be. It is vibrant, alive, breathing, always becoming what it should be. “Reformed always reforming.” Re-forming itself again and again to take into account changing circumstances, perceptions, and the growth of both individuals and the whole.

Here we are, then, beginning our seventh year of existence, continuing the work of becoming the Church As It Ought To Be. This work begins with the encounter with the Numinous. Those of you who were on hand Wednesday night two weeks ago heard me describe the seven weeks away on the combination sabbatical leave and vacation as an engagement with the “Numinous Landscape.” And, you know that I am putting a DVD together with that title and the subtitle: “Doorway to Transcendence.” Who knows when it will be ready, but it’s coming, much like we are becoming the Church As It Ought To Be.

I said then, and I will say now, “numinous” is a word that comes from a word that means “to nod” (According to James Hollis, and why would he lie?). The numinous nods at us, winks at us, beckons to us, whispers our name, and waits, momentarily, to see if we notice, hoping that we will, so that the chase might be on. The numinous evidently loves a good chase. I’d love to know where that comes from, but, as with everything else about the numinous, we will probably never get to the bottom of it.

So. The numinous nods at us and is gone, like a white rabbit, around a corner, over a hill, down a hole, leaving us wondering if we saw anything, and wondering, itself, if we will give chase, if we will come after, if we will stop what we are doing and do what it wants us to do, which is, to look closer, see where it leads. The numinous pauses, hoping that we will take up the trail of the numinous, which is also the path with our name on it, and laying caution and timidity aside, follow after.

Ah, but, where DOES it lead? I’m so glad you asked. There is no reason to hold anything back. Most of you are old enough to take it, so here goes: The numinous leads us straight, not counting all the detours and asides, twists, spins and round-a-bouts that compose the path—the beam—with our name on it, to the heart of Transcendent Reality and, interestingly enough, to the heart of our very own heart as well. Which is to say that the other side of you, the other side of me, is God. This means that the numinous which leads us to God leads us to us. So that oneness-of-being is our source and our goal.

But this may be too much for one sitting. While I’m sure you will find what I’m laying out to be the case, it may be prudent to begin softly and go slowly so as not to give you too much of the unheard of to hear. We tend to shut down when we hear things that are too much unlike the things we have already heard. So, I will start over and say the numinous is that which stirs our soul, which touches us, which moves us. What happens then is the critical part. We must move toward that which moves us. The movement of soul within us, the stirring of heart, the resonating vibration of something responding to something, must be translated into the physical act of bodily moving toward that which nods to us, winks at us, calls our name. Everything hangs on it, on our moving toward that which moves us.

We recognize when something outside of us resonates with something inside of us. We don’t take anyone’s word for anything without resonation. When we experience the resonating movement, what is resonating? What is moving? What knows what? Yet, it is not to be ignored. When something catches our eye, we have to look closer, chase after, or else. We must move! This means we have to leave home, or what has become home! We step boldly into the wilderness and find our way back, well, home!

The hero’s task, the spiritual journey is waking up, moving toward what moves us, following the white rabbit, doing what needs to be done. One white rabbit leads to another. Grace is never linier, direct, predictable. We do not know where we are going or how we will get there. We think it’s about one thing but it’s about another, and when we think it’s about that, it’s about something else. Everything is a doorway, nothing is a destination. Even Transcendent Reality opens to us. The whole and the parts in eternal dialogue, becoming the Church as it Ought to Be.

We are all responsible for nourishing, for nurturing, our sense of the numinous, the ineffable, “the underlying reality.” We find the way forward by doing what we think, what we feel, what we intuit, what we instinctively sense, needs to be done and seeing what happens, seeing where that takes us, seeing what that leads to. We must not miss the treasure on the way to the treasure. We must not ignore what is opening before us, beckoning to us. We must be able to abandon our previous plan in favor of what is obviously calling our name, though it might be nothing like what we had in mind. We start out in the attic and find ourselves in our neighbor’s basement. This is called allowing the path to open up before us.

It can be a while between white rabbits. The process requires patience and being present to the moment with curiosity and compassion. The question is always “Now what?” We wait, watch, for something to wink at us, to nudge us, to catch our eye, call our name. It’s our practice, waiting, watching but not sitting on our hands, or wringing them.

When you don’t know where to go to take a photograph, for example, or what to do, go somewhere, do something. The act of going somewhere, of doing something, will give you some momentum, and will increase your chances of seeing where you need to be, of what needs to be done. So, go somewhere. Take a photograph of something. See where it leads you. Nothing is worse than standing still, wringing your hands, burning daylight.

When you aren’t in the mood to take a photograph, go take a photograph anyway. That may get you in the mood. Besides, you don’t have to be in the mood. We must develop the discipline of going in the direction of what moves us, resonates with us, is important to us, regardless of what we want, or are in the mood for. We cannot just follow the white rabbit as long as it takes us where we want to go, but it better go straight there with no fooling around. What we get out of following the white rabbit is a meaningful life. Something not found in the display cases or on the show room floors. In the grip of a compelling vision (the white rabbit) we put all we thought we wanted aside and serve the vision. Or else.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Stack of Stones

All it takes is taking it. All we have to do is take it, and go on taking it, for as long as it takes. Do we have what it takes to take it, is the question. Where do we find what we need to take it, is the other question. What helps us take it, is the other question. Here's what I think. It gets us back to the Inukshuk and to the Inunnguaq.

An Inukshuk is a stack of stones, or carin, placed by the peoples of the Artic for those who came after them. An Inunnguaq is an Inukshuk in the form of a human being. Here's one I created from stones taken from the Robson River in British Columbia:

An Inukshuk or Inunnguaq was placed in the Tundra as a landmark and a reminder. The placement of the stones could point the way to food, shelter, or water, and provided comfort along a frozen and forbidding way. The stack of stones was a connection with those who had gone before. It stood as a reminder, and as a metaphor, as a representative of the fact that we were not as alone as we thought we were. Someone had been here before, had been where we are before, and left this as a representative of them to us, as a way of saying, "Come on. Don't give up. This way. I'm with you."

The stack of stones connected us with an actual, tangible, real human being who put the stones together, but, more than that, with whatever it is within each of us that finds what it takes to do what it takes, even in frozen, hostile, forbidding places, where there seems to be nothing in the way of resources and comfort to keep us going. The stone stack connects us with ourselves, with whatever is deep and resourceful and courageous about us.

And, more than that, the stone stack connects us with whatever is beyond us that is here with us in every time and place to resource us, encourage us, and keep us going. This is what I call "Transcendent Reality," it is the Underlying Reality, which forms the ground of our being/doing/living. In the Tundra, we are not alone. In the Tundra, there is That Which Is With Us to comfort, console, encourage, and point the way to those who know how to listen, how to wait, how to open themselves to the presence of that which is present with them. Who know how to trust themselves to that which the stones represent, to the Truth that is more than words can say. I call this attitude of openness to that which is with us "a prayerful countenance."

When Paul said, "I can do all things in him who strengthens me," he's talking about doing all things in "that which" strengthens us all. We do the "him" or the "that which" a disservice when we reduce it to the God of Christian theology. The experience of the "that which" is for all people, belongs to all people, is truly “of the people,” beyond doctrine, or belief, or theology or ideology. It is the foundational principle of existence. In the Tundra, we know we are not alone, and it has nothing to do with doctrine or theology. "Transcendent Reality" is the Underlying Reality, the Tao, that undergirds all things. We don't have to understand it to trust ourselves to it.

We cannot map it, predict it, say what it is, reduce it to a formula, or a plan. We can only trust it, trust ourselves to it. The stack of stones is all we have to go on. Someone was here before us. Someone made it through this place with nothing more than we have. Something helped someone. Something will help us. We have to trust that it is so.

The ultimate test of faith is not whether we believe in God but whether we will trust ourselves to life and risk being alive. Will we step boldly into our fear every day and refuse to die before we are dead? Will we trust that we will have what it takes and find what we need to "get up and do what needs to be done" the way it ought to be done—and go one doing it, no matter what, every day for the rest of our lives?

Faith is trusting ourselves to life, to the experience of life in its rawness, in its realness, in its full fury and its unrelenting drip, drip, drip. Faith is trusting ourselves to life knowing that we will have what it takes to deal appropriately with whatever comes our way. But, we are afraid we won’t have what it takes, and our fear keeps us from being alive.

Carl Jung says, “Only boldness can deliver us from fear.” We cannot reason our way out of fear, into the goodness of being alive. If reason could do it, I would say something like this to you: “Look,” I would say, “we are here, now. We cannot deny that we have made it this far, to this day, this hour. Nor can we deny that we came through hell more than a time or two in getting here. We have faced more than we ever imagined we could face, and dealt with what would have surely kept us forever in the womb had we known it was waiting on us, laughing. And, we came through it all, wounded and limping, perhaps, but recognizable and more or less in one piece and here we are, as living testimonies of what we are capable of—of what we can do—because we have done it.”

That’s what I would say, but you could as easily say as way of rejoinder, “Yes, but. We are afraid the worst is yet to come. We are afraid we will not have what it takes to survive the next round, or the one after that. We are afraid we cannot keep on coming up with what it takes to face what still waits on us, laughing.”

So, you see, I cannot reason you out of fear into courage. I cannot talk you into living bravely. You have to make up your own mind in the matter, and gather your resolve, and step boldly into your fear every day for the rest of your life. But I will say to you, in order to remind you of the essential nature of that work, our only protection is found in knowing/trusting that we will have what we need to deal with what comes our way and do with it what needs to be done. And it is important that we know this and live as though it is so, because it is so, but we have to believe it and act on it, for it to become a hard and fast reality in our lives. But this is the foundation: Living courageously and stepping boldly into our fear. Everything depends upon it, and flows from it. Even the fear of death pales and retreats before those who will not die before they are dead.

The stack of stones called Inukshuk and Inunnguaq calls us to trust ourselves to our lives and connects us with all the people who have experienced the full emptiness of the Tundra—with everyone who has dealt with idiots and narrow-minded-ness and injustice and smallness-of-heart-and-soul-and-being and the awful un-ending-ness of one damned thing after another. And they left these stones behind to encourage us, and remind us that we are not alone. They took it. We can take it. We can give our best to the work of our lives in spite of an apparent, or even obvious, lack of impact. And we can leave a stack of stones for those who come after us. It's all we need, really. A stack of stones. To remind us of all that is true out there in the Tundra, beyond words, beyond reason, beyond explanation and understanding.

And, there is one other thing. The stones are not glued together. There is no steel rod running through their centers to bind them tightly erect and keep them in place. The wind blows across the tundra. The ice forms, and melts, and forms again. The rocks shift. And fall. And other people come along. And other hands stack them again, differently.

As with them, so with us. We are always being torn apart by the forces of life, and being helped to gather ourselves back together by those who extend caring hands. We are capable of an infinite number of reconfigurations. The wind always blows on the tundra. The ice always forms, and melts, and forms. The rocks fall and are restacked. Our lives fall apart, and we are helped to get them back together, and live on, shaped by our circumstances without losing our original essence, reconfigured, yet still the same. Laughing back at what laughs at us, knowing we are not alone, and that no matter what, we will have what it takes to do what needs to be done in the tundra and all other places all our lives long. Amen! May it be so!

Sunday, November 08, 2009

We are always growing toward who we want to be.

The question I'm interested in us living to answer is not "Who are we?" but "Who do we want to be?" The spiritual journey is the process of maturation, of growing up, so, who do we want to be when we grow up? And, since growing up is never completed—we are always growing up no matter how old we are—we are always growing toward who we want to be.

There are no steady states of being. Being is not static. We do not get it together, or get it right, and freeze ourselves in place. Death is the only static form of existence. Life and being are always moving, changing, shifting, evolving, becoming. We are always reconfiguring ourselves to deal with each situation as it arises, or to put ourselves back together following harsh encounters with hard realities.

We are not who we were yesterday, or who we will be tomorrow. We are certainly not who we were before I left seven weeks ago. To say who we are is to say who we were when we said who we are. Two days, or fewer, after we say it, we have to say it again.

Just as we can not step in the same river twice, not only because the river is flowing, changing, but also because WE are flowing, changing, so we can’t say who we are twice because something changes between the saying. So, since there are no steady states of being, we have to talk about the values, qualities, characteristics we admire and then work to incorporate them into our lives over time. What is the ideal, personal and corporate, that we live toward? Who are we working to become? Who do we wish we were? Who do we want to be when we grow up?

This takes us straight to the heart of the matter, to the Christ, the True Human Being ("Son of Man" was Jesus' term for True Human Being), the Anointed One (what "Messiah," or "Christ," means). Anointed for what? To be who the Holy One is ("The Father and I are one," said Jesus). We are as close to God as some people get. We are working to be so Christ-like, so divine-like, so much a True Human Being, that people see the divine through us, are touched by the holy as they engage us. The qualities of the numinous, of the wonder, of the beauty and truth, of the mysteries of Transcendent Grace and True Human Being-hood, are to shine through us, be exhibited in us, expressed by us, personally and corporately. We are to treat one another and all others as Christ would. We are to treat one another and all others as though the other is divine, holy, is Christ. As though we are divine, holy, are Christ.

The qualities we are working to bring forth in our lives, and in the life of the congregation, and in the world, are the age-old, time-tested expressions of the divine spirit within us and about us: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, generosity, goodness, self-discipline, grace, compassion, and the like. How do we bring love (and all the other qualities of holiness) to bear in "each situation as it arises"? We have to be creative and prayerful to answer this question because what is needed in "this situation" will not be needed in the same way in the next situation, though it may be a very similar situation. No policy statements apply. We step into each situation and decide what love (etc) requires here and now. We have to listen, hear, look, see, understand, know, and act in response to this moment as though we were the Christ, the Anointed One, bringing forth the holy into the moment, with no black footprints to follow.

This gets us to the foundational attitude of the spiritual journey: A prayerful countenance. Prayerfulness is a right-brain function. We do not think (left-brain function) our way forward, doing this, then doing that, out of some recipe book, applying someone’s idea of a formula for life, but wait, with eyes to see, ears to hear, a heart that understands, and a will to do what needs to be done, for what needs to happen to be revealed to us. We “wait and watch.” This is prayerful waiting, prayerful watching, prayerful living ("Pray constantly," advises the old Apostle. This doesn't mean to say the Lord's Prayer constantly, but to live prayerfully, to live open to the moment and to be aware of what needs to happen there, not knowing beforehand how we will answer our accusers or what we will do).

This is the solid core of the Biblical witness. None of the main players there do it by the book. No one does what is expected of her, of him. David and Bathsheba certainly don’t, yet, from that union come, according to Matthew, Solomon and Jesus of Nazareth. Abraham leaves the security of home and strikes out on his own, which might be not all that unheard of in his day, but he does not sacrifice Isaac which did stand apart from the customary way of doing things back then. Moses murders an Egyptian, escapes, then returns to Egypt. Mary says sure she will have a child as an unmarried woman. Joseph says sure he will marry Mary nonetheless. Jesus heals on the Sabbath and returns to Jerusalem, tempting fate and daring the authorities to arrest him. From cover to cover in the Good Book, no one does it by the book.

They all live prayerfully open to the situation that is opening before them and respond to that situation, not out of what ought to be done in the mind of the authorities of their day, but out of what truly needs to be done in the situation as it arises. THAT is the Biblical standard. Not keeping the rules. Not doing what is expected. Not stepping in the black footprints. Not reading from the script. Not living like we are supposed to. But prayerfully responding to the need of the moment, in the here and now of our living, exhibiting the divine qualities, and trusting ourselves to Transcendent Grace, as we step into the unknown and do there what needs to be done.

So. Who are we? We are those who are working to develop the divine qualities and bring them forth in all of our interactions, reconfiguring ourselves as needed to live appropriately in each situation as it arises, doing what needs to be done there as Christ would in our place, so that they might say of us as the Centurion said of Jesus, in a manner of speaking, "Surely this person was, these people were, divine!"

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Trusting Ourselves to Grace

We grow spiritually, we deepen our spiritual sense and find our way back to the beam, to the intuitive center of our lives, by moving toward that which moves us. By seeing what catches our eye and looking closer, following after. By doing what needs to be done. That's all there is to it. It is no more difficult than allowing ourselves to be moved by that which moves us, than going in the direction of what catches our eye, than doing what needs to be done. Trusting Grace.

But. We get antsy, anxious. We want to know what the future holds. Give us a map! NOW! Are we there yet? How much longer? Lay it out! Grace doesn't say. Makes us crazy. We want to know what cannot be known. We want to will what cannot be willed. The Taoist idea of wu wei, or doing by not doing (like the ripening of a tomato, or going to sleep) is wasted on us. We think action is the only form of action. But, the truth is that so much time is spent waiting, watching, looking, listening, and so little is spent actually doing anything to manage our future. As if!

We cannot manage our future. We can only do what needs to be done in the present moment of our life. Tomorrow is tomorrow's work. Tomorrow may well have implications for what needs to be done here, now (e.g., studying for an exam, gassing up the car, buying groceries) but. We do what needs to be done now, and we determine what that is.

Determining what needs to be done in the here and now, in this time and this place of our living, is the key to our future. We are preparing the way of our future, without knowing it, by tending to what needs to be done in the present moment of our lives. The Way has a way of opening up before those who are not trying to force their way on the Way but are open to the wonder of Grace at work in their lives.

The wonder of Grace at work in our lives keeps those who are on the Way on the Way. It's the only thing that does, or can. "T'was Grace that brought us safe thus far, and Grace will lead us home," goes the old hymn. The underlying reality has been called Tao, God, Logos, Ground of Being, etc. I prefer to think of it as Grace. It is personal but not private and connects all things. To perceive/receive Grace is to participate in the work of Grace. It is to be a gracious source of Grace in the lives of others. The Evangel is not to talk about Grace but to live graciously, to exhibit Grace as servants of Grace in all of our coming and going. There is no Doctrine, no Dogma. There is only living graciously as expressions of Grace, as channels, you might say, of Grace in all that we do.

The spiritual journey, quest, task is to align ourselves with the underlying reality. This is the search for the Holy Grail, the Promised Land, the Kingdom of God. We cannot think that we are here accumulate wealth, amass abundance, and collect plastic. There is a bigger purpose than our personal purpose. The larger purpose has nothing to do with our interests, our advantage, our gain. We are here to serve it, assist it, bring it forth. This is the right order of things.

Grace is a white rabbit. Will we be led or not? The challenge is always to trust ourselves to Grace directing our life like a white rabbit catching our eye, hoping we will follow. Only the bold and faithful can be so foolish as to follow the white rabbit of Grace throughout their lives no matter what. Our spiritual practice is to become bold and faithful. We practice that by following what catches our eye, by moving toward what moves us, by doing what needs to be done.

When we allow ourselves to be moved by what moves us, that's the white rabbit knocking, winking, calling us to be up and after it. We cannot ignore what moves us. It's the door to life. The test of life is movement. The deadest people I know aren't moved by anything. The energy that moves the universe can't touch them. Dead. Spiritual energy is emotionally moving. It isn't just gospel music and fiery preaching that does it. Anything can. Something must. Move us. We can't be spiritual if we can't be moved. What moves you? Where would you go to be moved? Church? The beach? The mountains? Go there! Often!

We are spiritually, emotionally dead, empty, lifeless because we don't put ourselves in position to be moved. We live unmoving, unmovable. We live cut off from life in sealed mayonnaise jars and order out for sex, drugs, and alcohol, hoping that will do it for a touch of being alive.

We either try to numb ourselves against the pain of life or try to feel something by living on the edge but we aren't moved by anything. We are stimulation junkies simulating movement by moving constantly, always on the go-go-go and dead-dead-dead. The energy that moves the universe can't move us. Being unmoved and unmovable is worse than death. It's being deader than dead.

The experience of being moved by something is traditionally thought of as the encounter with God. It's mysterious, mystical, irrational, real. When we are moved, we are moved psychically, soulfully, and our life takes a turn often at odds with our idea for our life. We have success on our minds, you know.

We don't mind being moved but we insist on being moved in the direction of our goals, desires, dreams, ambitions. On our terms. Under our control. I'm sure you see the problem here. We can give ourselves the accouterments of life, the glass beads and silver mirrors, but not LIFE.

We are not moved by the things we serve. We do not serve the things that move us. There you are. Life on our terms seals us off from LIFE. We move into the mayonnaise jar and wonder why we don't feel anything. Well, LIFE cannot be had on our terms. We can't be alive without movement, without being moved by what moves us, and following it, like a white rabbit, into LIFE. Problem solved. Ah, but. Security. Safety. Comfort. Ease and certitude. The rocks! The whirlpool! We cannot follow what moves us! What kind of life is that? Scary! Fearsome! Uncertain! And so, we practice being bold and faithful by following what moves us.

Or, we forsake life, ignore the white rabbit, for the sake of the safety and security of the mayonnaise jar. Nothing is safer than a tomb. Especially one where you can order out for sex, drugs and alcohol. It's almost like being alive.

The fix for what ails us is simple, and as near to hand as our next breath. All we have to do is open our eyes to what moves us, or to what needs to be done here, now, and do it. Bingo! We are on the trail of the white rabbit. The white rabbit is what moves us, what catches our eye AND what needs to be done here and now. By attending what needs to be done we sensitize ourselves to the movement of the white rabbit, and increase our chances of seeing it when it flashes across our field of vision.

So, what Needs To Be Done here, now? What moves us? What catches our eye? These questions are the central focus and concern of our lives. When we get them down, everything hums along. And, in order to get them down, we read the situation and go, without waiting to know for sure if we are right about what we think needs to be done. The rule of thumb is: Constant input, constant adjustment. We are self-guided, self-directed, self-correcting servants of Grace.

We have to trust our sense of things, our sense of what needs to happen, and make adjustments as we continue to read the situation as it develops, as it arises. Don’t look for consistency. What needs to be done in this situation may be different from what needs to be done in a similar situation. How do we know what needs to be done? Eyes that see, ears that hear, a heart that understands. Where do we get those? Practice, practice, practice. Our practice is seeing, hearing, and understanding. Right seeing, right hearing, right knowing, right being, right doing. Practice, practice, practice.

This is not easy, doing what needs to be done, moving toward what moves us. It requires intense attentiveness, courage, resolve, imagination, creativity, compassion... The list is long of characteristics of the art of doing what needs to be done. Our life becomes the list over time. But, with Grace as the foundation, as the underlying reality of our life, of all of life, of all that is, we have the freedom to experiment with what the situation might be asking of us, to explore the possibilities and trust ourselves to learn from experience in seeing what needs to be done and doing it in the here and now of our lives.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

What would be helpful? 08/30/09

What would be helpful? What do you need help with? You’re looking for the right place, the right environment, the company of the right kind of people to help you do what? It would be helpful to me if you knew what you needed help with. Perhaps, you need help knowing what would be helpful. That would be helpful to know.

You have to help me, help us, help you. It would help me, help us, if you knew what you need, or, at least, if you knew that you need something. Why would you go anywhere, particularly at 9:20 on a Sunday morning, not knowing what you were doing there, what you were looking for, hoping to find? You wouldn’t go to the grocery store without something in mind, if it were only to wander the aisles looking for something to appeal to you. You wouldn’t go to the doctor without a reason for being there. You wouldn’t go to a spiritual retreat center looking for a place to bowl. What are you here for? What do you need help with?

If we are to help you, you have to do your part. Your part is squaring up with who you are (and who you also are) and how it is with you (and how it also is with you). Your work is looking until you see, listening until you hear, asking until you understand. Seeing, hearing, understanding—knowing and not running. The Cyclops represents all we don't want to face about our life. About life. Our work is to face it, to deal with it. In the right kind of company. The right kind of company helps us do what we must do alone. Recognition. Acceptance. Accommodation. The bringing forth of our gift, our life, our destiny.

Now, I know you don’t want to talk about fate and destiny. Sounds too deterministic to you. You want to be free to do anything you want. The problem with that is you are not free to want anything. You are limited to wanting what you want. You cannot want what you don’t want. As you grow up, you begin to want what you ought to want. Your work is to want your destiny, to fit into the life that is yours to live, that no one can live but you. Our destiny is the life that is our life to live. It has nothing to do with what we want for ourselves, with the life we wish were ours. Our fate is the way things are in our life. It is what is waiting on us when we come out of the womb. Reality. The facts of life. If we don't use our fate in service of our destiny it becomes our burden to bear, our “lot in life,” a ready excuse that keeps us from having any life at all.

Our task is to take our fate—the givens of our life—and use it in the service of our destiny—what is ours to do. The quality of our life hinges on US, on our consciousness, our awareness, our full participation in life as it is (our fate) in light of our life as it can be (our destiny). We play the central part in bringing our life to life, in bringing ourselves to life in the life that is ours to live. This is our work to do alone, and we can only do it in the company of, with the help of, the right kind of people.

The bad news is that we don't get much out of it beyond having done it. Fortune and glory don’t enter in. Destiny isn't a ticker tape parade. LIFE is what we get out of the deal. To look for more is to miss the point. To ask what's in it for us is to miss the point. We are here to do what needs to be done, what will not be done without us. We are in it for IT!

Now, the problem with all of this is that I’m answering questions you aren’t asking. No one can give you his, give you her, questions. Your questions are your questions. The catch here is that you have to be asking questions. This is also your work: You have to be asking questions!

What are your questions? Knowing what your questions are is fundamental. Curiosity is the essential characteristic, which is discouraged early on. No wonder we are in such a mess. We are told to not ask so many questions, to sit down and be quiet, to do what we are told. Questions are out of the question, yet, questions are the hope of the world! So, what are your questions? Ask them. Examine them. Reformulate them. Perfect them. Expand them. Ask more of them. You can't ask too many questions. The deadest people alive ask no questions. Have no questions. No life. There is a connection!

If you are asking questions, you know what you need to hear. You can only hear what you are ready to hear. I can say all this stuff but you can’t hear it until you’re ready. But I have to say it. I have to say it because that's my part. Your part is to be as ready as you are to hear what you need to hear. To listen, hoping to hear. We have to listen for what catches our ear. Sometimes, we don’t know what we need to hear until we hear it. But, in order to hear anything we have to be listening for something.

Hearing is a function of listening. Seeing is a function of looking. Things from “out of nowhere” come to those who are looking for something, somewhere. We can't be so intent on what we are seeking that we overlook the Find. See the photograph on the way to the photograph is the first rule of photography and life. Looking for gold, we miss the oil. Looking for India, the New World just gets in the way. We miss the treasure looking for the treasure. Looking is the momentum required to see. What we see may not be what we are looking for, but if we hadn't been looking, we wouldn't have seen.

Asking, seeking, knocking is essential for ears to hear, eyes to see, hearts to understand. The work required to do our work is curiosity. We have to be alchemists of sorts, interested in seeing what we can do with the base metal of our lives, wondering how we might turn what we have been given into gold. We are the philosopher’s stone, the mystical agent required to transform the hum-drum and the ho-hum into dazzling sparkle, light and life. How do we do that? That’s our question to ask and answer.

Those who are dead and dying think their lives are just fine as they are and that all they need is a little luck and a little more money to have it made. Our lives aren't fine as they are. We are living at odds with ourselves. Fragmented. Dis-integrated. Off the beam. In the Wasteland. And we know it.

We know how it is with us and don't want to admit it because we are lazy and it would take too much work to change what needs changing. We want somebody to fix our lives for us and do for us what needs to be done to make us happy. Mama! We want our Mama! But our lives are our own, and it is up to us to live them. It is up to us to take fate and turn it into destiny, to bring ourselves to life. We have a life beyond what life has done to us, is doing to us, and we bring that into being in the time left for living.

There is more to us than the facts which define us. There is more to us than the lot that is ours. There is life beyond the life we are living. Being alive is what we do in response to the life beyond life. Being alive is what we do in response to what stirs, sometimes, within. It is when we move in sync with That Which Knows, trusting it, listening for it. Being alive is what we do when we hear the music and dance. When we know what has to be done and do it. Being alive is when we work out what's right for us within the terms and conditions, context and circumstances, of our lives. Being alive is when we do what needs to be done AND pay the bills because that also needs to be done. Being alive is when we live in light of what is right for us without neglecting our other duties and responsibilities.

Of course, this is not easy. It is the Hero’s Journey. The temptation is to decide it isn't worth the effort, to give up the struggle to be alive, and settle for living out our days as comfortably as possible. The temptation is to sell out, and spend our time going through the motions, hollow-eyed and empty, buying plastic. Faking it but not making it.

We need those with us who tell us we can do it, who tell us how they did it, are doing it. Laughter and playfulness, kid. Laughter and play. The problem with laughing the kind of laughter that is foundational for making it is crying. Can't laugh without crying. Sorry. Yet, it is as easy as knowing what's right for us and doing it. That leads us to doing what needs to be done no matter what. Which saves the world.

Picasso said action is the foundation of success. You can think you can attract success by thinking, but. No one succeeds without doing. We have to do what needs to be done whether we want to or not. That's the hard part. Easy to do what we want. Hard to do what we don't want. So, we just have to do what’s hard. It’s never more difficult than that!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Doing What Is Right For Us, 08/23/09

You aren’t going to like this, but. In every situation there is what is right for us and what is wrong for us. Our place is to intuit and live toward what is right for us. Of course, there is a catch. What is right for us may be wrong for someone else. Your good may be my bad. My good may be your bad. It gets worse. What is right for us may also be wrong for US! Chocolate, for instance, may be right for us and wrong for us. So, what’s right for us? It gets even worse. Doing what is right for us may require us to do what is wrong for us. Changing the baby’s diaper, for instance. And, here is the worst part: What is right for us has no necessary connection with what we want for us. We can want what is wrong for us. We block our own path, wanting. I knew you weren’t going to like it.

It’s too complicated. You wanted something easy, something light, like a Jazz brunch on a Sunday morning. Five minutes to a trouble-free life, that would do it. Everybody else gives out instructions for five minutes to a trouble-free life. What’s up with me? I know, I know. I don’t know. But. Here’s what I do know: When we fail to do what is right for us, our psyche suffers. Our soul shakes its head and sighs deeply. Our lives become more of a wasteland. Of course, there is a price to pay for doing what is right. Doing what is right for us asks hard things of us. The Spiritual Journey is no stroll through the park. Walking that path is the Hero’s Journey. To not walk it is a failure of nerve and to die well before we are dead.

All of our symptoms, physical (headaches, muscle aches, stomach aches) and emotional (fear, anxiety, depression, etc.), are invitations to take up the path, to begin the Hero’s Journey, to get to the heart of the matter, to square up to who we are and what is being asked of us, to face up to the conflicts within and without and do what must be done.

No wonder, wouldn't you say, that we do everything we can think of to keep from getting to the heart of the matter? Seeing is doing. Or not. If we see and do not do, woe be unto us! It is better to not know the time of our visitation than to know it and do nothing about it. Once we know what needs to be done and fail to do it, we have to live with having failed to do the thing that had to be done. Let’s not know. “Leave the way, turn aside from the path, speak no more of (the things that must be done)!”

Instead of doing what must be done, let’s surround ourselves with a culture of distraction, diversion, denial and treat our symptoms and never get to the heart of any matter. Somebody pass the sex! Somebody pass the money! Somebody pass the drugs and alcohol! There is nothing like sex, money, drugs and alcohol for saving us from getting to the heart of the matter. But. The heart of the matter doesn’t go away.

It isn't going to get any easier than it is right now. Whenever you start, you're just going to start somewhere. Why not here, now? On the path to the heart of things? You start by paying attention to your sense of things, to your sense of what is right for you and what is wrong. Live toward what is right for you, away from what is wrong for you. Live toward what is right for you with grace and compassion, courage and resolve, refusing to let fear and lethargy keep you from that work.

Fear says, "There be dragons!" And keeps you from living toward what is right for you by listing the bad things that will happen if you do. Or, it says, “What do you mean, thinking of yourself when there are so many with so much need! Serve others! Serve others! Serve others! Or, you know, else!” Lethargy says, "What's the use?" And lists all the reasons nothing you do will ever do any good and why nothing will change about your life. Well. You owe it to yourself to find out about the dragons and the uselessness of doing anything. Don’t die not knowing.

Live toward what is right for you, and see what happens. Don't think you know what should happen. You are exploring your own life here. You are seeing what can happen. You aren't following some blueprint to success and eternal happiness—there is none! You are living toward what is right for you, seeing where that leads you.

Don't give up just because it's hard and nothing seems to be working and you aren't getting anywhere, and there is no cooperation. It's a test of your resolve. The Universe doesn't come to the aid of those who don't mean it. Who want it to be easy. Who just want to want something and have it delivered. The magic is in the work, in the doing, in the practice. “The more I practice, the luckier I get,” said Lee Trevino. And Arnold Palmer. And Gary Player. And Tom Watson. And Samuel Goldwyn… If you want magic to happen, do the work. Consistently, reliably, dependably. Live toward what is right for you, with grace and compassion.

Of course, we don’t know what is right for us. We only know what we think is right for us. Live toward that. Toward your best guess. Find out. Instinct and intuition, kid. Instinct and intuition. We aren't here to give up. We are here to get it down. Sensing what is right for us. Knowing what is right for us. Being right about what is right for us. And doing it.

Oh, wait. I know. It's too late, isn't it? No use to try now. You missed your chance to have a life, way back when. Now, there is no point. Lethargy speaking. Tell it to step aside. You aren’t here for fame fortune and glory unbounded. To hit the big time and have it made. You are here to find your life and live it. To do what is right for you. Period. You live toward meaning when you live toward what is right for you. You live toward life when you live toward what is right for you. You are here to find what is meaningful and do it. What good is meaningless fame, fortune and unbounded glory? Go for the meaning. Every time.

Whatever our experience is, we have to experience it, explore it, express it, and live toward what is right for us within it. Instinct and intuition, imagination and creativity, are our primary tools in aligning ourselves with what is right for us and doing it. They work anywhere. Any time.

In doing what is right for us, we have to accommodate ourselves to the circumstances of our lives. We live where we are, when we are, how we are, and do there what is right for us. And what is right for us doesn’t have anything to do with what we want. We can always want what we cannot have. The fundamental conflict is a conflict of interests. We can want what we have no business having. Go talk to us about that. Make us happy. Doing what is right for us may not make us happy. To do what is right for us and to do what must be done, what needs to be done, is the same thing, and it may not be what we want.

We take it all into consideration and act. In doing what is right for us over and against what we want for us comes forth the saying: “Thy will, not mine, be done!” Our practice is doing what is right for us even when it is wrong for us.

To get beyond what we want to what is right for us requires focus, concentration, awareness and practice, practice, practice. There is no standard for optimal living, no blueprint, no black footprints. There is you living toward what is right for you in your life in relationship with us, and all the others. We live toward what is right for us in relationship with those who are living toward what is right for them, and we work it out all the way. We have to be a self in relation to other selves. Gets tricky. Negotiation and compromise, kid. Negotiation and compromise.

Then there is the fact that what's right for us may also be wrong for us. What's wrong for us may also be right for us. Life is funny that way. Pays to withhold judgment and to not give up just because it isn’t what you think it should be. There is no blueprint, are no black footprints. There is only listening deeply and living toward what your best sense of what is right for you here, now, all things considered.

This is not easy, living toward what is right for us, within the context and circumstances of our lives, in relationship with each other, but that’s the task. It is not for the "carefully kept," or the faint of heart. Imagination and creativity, kid. Imagination and creativity. Courage and resolve, kid. Courage and resolve.