I’m not here to tell you how to get what you want from God while you are alive, and how to get to heaven when you die. This is not the church of your experience. I like to make that clear up front, so if you stumbled in here hoping for the formula for pleasing God and being rewarded for your effort, you can leave in time to get to one of the places where that hope might be realized. We have a different agenda here. Here, we are about waking up and doing what is ours to do whether we want to or not, whether it pays off handsomely or not, every day for the rest of our lives.
How’s that for drudgery and boredom? Where can you beat that for complete absence of curb ap-peal? There better be some fine selling point here, or this will be the last time I’m likely to see any of you. Why would any of us sign up for this kind of undertaking unless there is something really good in it for us? Here’s the bad news. There is nothing in it for us beyond living the life that is our life to life.
Everything but this comes with a selling point, with what’s in it for us, with what we are going to get out of it. Heaven, you know. Fame, fortune and glory. Not this. All we get out of living the life we are called to live is living the life we are called to live. Why would we do it? Only one reason. We know that’s where the life is to be found. How do we know that? By having looked everywhere else for it.
We have to be at the end of our rope. We have to have tried the lights and action of Gay Paree, or some reasonable facsimile thereof. We have to know the emptiness of all that purports to be life, before we have what it takes to sign on for life with what is life. If you aren’t here because you know you have to be here, I’m not going to have anything to say to you to keep you here. But, if you are looking for life and are willing to do what it takes to be alive, because you know that’s the experience that life is all about, I hope I have something to say that you can hear.
It starts with this. Here is the formula for being increasingly awake, aware, and alive: Curiosity, Clarity, Courage, Commitment. We have to be curious about life, clear about how things are and what needs to be done about it—about what is important. We have to have the courage to act upon what we know. And we have commit ourselves to action, to doing what needs to be done. That’s it. The action will produce a shift in how things are, and we will have to repeat the process, ad infinitum, until we die, and maybe beyond. That’s the plan for the rest of your life.
The kink in the process is our propensity for denial. James Hollis says the primary form of pathology is denial. Everything that is wrong about the world, and life, and our lives is grounded in, and flows from, denial. From pretending that things are not what they are. From pretending that we are not pretending. From fooling ourselves. From shooting ourselves in the foot. From telling ourselves what we want to hear.
There is a second reason for slipping over into denial, for telling ourselves we don’t really need to live the life we are called to live. The first reason, as above, is that it isn’t attractive. The distractions and diversions of Gay Paree, etc., are more delightful. So we run through the gamut of the world’s fine attractions and find them to be as empty as they are. The second reason for not living the life that is ours to live is that it’s nothing short of terrifying to do so. Fear keeps us out of that ring. We long for the safety and stability of the comfortable and familiar. We long for mother’s reassuring presence.
Who wouldn’t? The Mother protects all the children, and whether our real, actual, mothers did a good job at that is not the question. We all yearn to be protected, to be taken care of, throughout our lives. And growing up is the hardest thing to do. Spiritual formation and development are just terms for the maturation of the soul, spirit, self. The spiritual journey, task, path, quest is to grow up and be who we are, to live the life we are called to live. But, we are stuck between what we do want (desire) and what we don’t want (fear). And, the question is, do we have what it takes to boldly do what must be done—again and again for the rest of our lives?
We are as miserable as we are because we will not square up with how it is with us, and let it be, because it is. We will not see, and hear, and understand. We will not be clear about how things are and what needs to be done about it. The old prophet was not the first, or the last, to observe our propensity to say, “Do not tell us what is right! Speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions, leave the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more about (the way things are and what needs to be done about it)!” (cf. Isaiah 30:9-11).
Squaring up to our lives, to what our lives have been and what they are and what they might be—to where we have been and what has happened and what we have done and what has been done to us—and saying something on the order of, “Okay, now what?” and looking for the next step, the next best step, and taking it, is my idea of what the idea is, of what we are here to do, of what I’m here to help you with (you have to admit that was quite a sentence). We are here to wake up, to discover and take up the business of living the life we are called to live.
Waking up is not an intellectual, rational, process. We do not wake up by listening to a lecture, reading a book, having it explained to us, and placing our feet in the black footprints all the way to enlightenment. No one can tell us how to find our life and live it. That is our work all the way. That is the Grail search—for the life that is ours to live—and the trail of the White Rabbit. The nature of this work is imaginative, intuitive, to the core.
The path to our heart winds through our imagination. “Path” and “heart” are figments of our imagination. Our imagination carries us to where we need to be. This is why our spiritual practice has to be supplemented with a creative practice. Sitting, or walking, for instance, can create an openness to experience, but then, we have to have something to stir the imagination so that we might experience our experience in a different way than we normally do. It is not enough to be quiet and receptive. We have to learn to see with the eye of imagination in order to apprehend what we cannot begin to comprehend.
While no one can wake us up, we need assistance with waking up, paying attention, seeing, hearing, understanding, coming to terms with how things are and knowing what the next step is. We cannot do this alone. We cannot wake ourselves up. And, we cannot do it in the next five minutes, or at a time and place that is convenient for us. It takes discipline and dedication to the task, a spiritual and a creative practice, and a community of the right kind of people to have a chance.
Given that, the process is simple: Wake up. Pay attention. See. Hear. Understand. Then, take the next step, and repeat from the beginning. That’s the formula for the rest of your life. Wake up! See what is important! Do what needs to be done! Offer what you have to give! This is not hard. What’s hard is com-ing to terms with the fact that this is not how we want things to be, it is not how we wish things were, it is not what we have in mind.
We cannot be made to grow up before our time, but we can postpone growing up indefinitely. We can delay growing up in the service of the next great promise of deliverance, or in submission to the next great fear of the unknown, the uncertain. In order to be alive, to take up the life that we are called to live, we have to stare down the beast (of fear) and the apparition (of delight), and boldly go where few have ventured.
Living the life we are called to live is no romp through spring meadows to “fame, fortune and glory,” and the life of our dreams. What we get is what we get. The way things are is the way things are. After the work is done, and the next step is taken, and the effort is made, and the dust settles, what we have is what we have. And, the next step is waiting to be taken. But, we are not stepping toward the realization of our dreams for ourselves and having it all line up the way it is supposed to be. We are living the life we are called to live, and the boon from that life does not accrue to our account. The boon is for the whole. The good of a person’s life is measured by the good that person’s life brings to life in other lives, in the degree to which the world is a better place because of the life she, he, lived. But she, he, may have precious little to show for the effort she, he, made. And, we think, “It isn’t supposed to be this way!”
There is no “spozed to,” no “supposed to be.” No static Promised Land flowing with milk and honey, with no problems of any kind, ever. That’s the happy fantasy of the infantile ego eager to trade life for being mothered and call that Really Living. Being alive asks more of us.
Being alive brings with it the realization that there is no steady-state. We cannot arrange to have things as we want them to be, as we wish they were, and if we could, we would change our minds and want things to be some other way instead. There is no strategy for having it made, for living happily ever after. So, we do what we can imagine doing with what we have to work with and let that be that. It’s already changing, and before long, we’ll have to live with that. So, we are always adapting, adjusting, accepting. The work does not stop: Curiosity, Clarity, Courage, Commitment to action. World without end. Amen.