We stand between different perspectives, different points of view, different ways of seeing, different interpretations, different theories, different hypothesizes, different spins, different theologies and philosophies and decide which one to embrace, agree with, espouse, profess. We decide which one is right for us. How do we know? However we do it, decide, know, how do we know that’s the right way to do it? This gets us to the heart of the prob-lem of knowing what to believe, of deciding how we are going to see something, anything. Golf, bread pudding, Jesus. By what authority do we say “this” or “that”? What moves us to one position or another? How do we know?
Most of the time we don’t think about it. We just buy what someone else, someone we admire and trust, is selling, or has bought. We think, “If it’s good enough for Mama, it’s good enough for me,” and let it go at that. We are influenced by the example of someone we trust to do our thinking for us. Saves us the trouble. We have enough to worry about. It is our life, of course, but we don’t mind if someone else lives it for us. We just fall in line, do as we are told, follow the black footprints to the grave. What’s the difference? What do we care?
We have one life to live and we opt out of it. We live a nice, well-rounded, cookie cutter life, that is some-body else’s idea of how life ought to be, that looks remarkably like everyone else’s life on the block. We tell ourselves to just tell them what they want to hear and show them what they want to see, because what difference does it make anyhow and it’s so much easier that way. We ignore whoever it is that’s screaming inside, locked away in a back room, away from the light and what passes for life, wishing it would leave us alone, and in time it does. And we are left with a life that everyone is happy with and is a complete waste of our time.
When we die and go to heaven, we will meet our lives there, and have to explain to them why we didn’t live them. And that will be hell. So, we need to take a Quality of Life Assessment on a regular basis. How alive are we? How interested, and interesting, are we? How invested are we in our lives? Do we have dreams for our lives that weren’t realized, that aren’t being realized? Are we living in the service of our dreams? If not, what keeps us from living in the service of our dreams? Are we living the life we wish we could live? If not, what keeps us from living the life we wish we could live? Have we put our dreams away, shutting them up in a back room perhaps? Are we living in the service of our fears? What fears keep us from living? What stands between us and being alive?
Here’s a bumper sticker for you: Walk confidently in the direction of your fear. Here’s another: Run to embrace your fear. Here’s another: Step into what makes you most afraid. Marsha Truman Cooper has a poem about this very thing:
by Marsha Truman Cooper
Suppose that what you fear
could be trapped,
and held in Paris.
Then you would have
the courage to go
everywhere in the world.
All the directions of the compass
open to you,
except the degrees east or west
of true north
that lead to Paris.
Still, you wouldn’t dare
put your toes
smack dab on the city limit line.
You’re not really willing
to stand on a mountainside
and watch the Paris lights
come up at night.
Just to be on the safe side,
you decide to stay completely
out of France.
But then danger
seems too close
even to those boundaries,
and you feel
the timid part of you
covering the whole globe again.
You need the kind of friend
who learns your secret and says,
“See Paris first.”
Two of the things we fear most, that would surely be locked away in Paris, are our own thoughts and our own feelings. We will think anything to keep from thinking what we think. We will do anything to keep from feeling what we feel. We embrace bad religion to save us from ourselves, but it is the connection with ourselves and the life that is our life to live that is at the heart of good religion. You see the problem. We cannot get to good religion without going through the heart of Paris.
We need to think our own thoughts, and feel our own feelings, and live our own lives. In order to live our own lives, we have to be able to make a case for the life we are living. We have to think it out, think it through, think. But how do we know that what we think is what to think? We don’t. We can’t. We can only think what we think, and think it out, and think it through, and be able to articulate our understanding of God and life and what it means to be alive and what we are here for and how we are working to incarnate, express, bring forth, all of that into the life we are living. It will be good practice for when we stand before our lives in heaven.
Another of the things we fear is being wrong, being exposed for being wrong, being shown to be wrong, we have to be right. Okay. Here’s the question. Is it worse to be wrong or to be right? And, here is the catch, we have to risk being wrong in order to be right. When Jesus quotes the proverb, “Wisdom is known by her children,” he’s saying “time will tell.” He’s saying we can’t know beforehand how right we are. He’s saying “Truth will out. Truth will shine through. Truth will show itself to be what it is.” In time, but maybe not in our lifetime. We cannot live knowing we are right about the life we are living. We have to take a chance. We have to risk everything with our lives on the line. The idea gives us the willies.
Our panic fails to take into account the truth that we have what we need. We are afraid of being overwhelmed, undone, exposed, obliterated. We are afraid of the complete dissolution of soul. We are afraid of nothingness, and have nothing to worry about. All it takes is imagination, curiosity, and courage. Those things come packed into each of us at birth. We only have to sit loose in the saddle and enjoy the ride. We are only along for the ride. But we cannot ride casually, unthinking, unfeeling.
The catch is that something can feel right and not be right, so the constant need for examination and exploration, observation and inquiry. What are the contraries at work in our lives? How do we reconcile ourselves to them? How do we square ourselves up to the contradictions in our lives? Where are we not keeping faith with our-selves? How do our lives need to change to be better aligned with who we are? How are we blocking the way of soul, the expression of Self, in our lives? In what ways, and from what, are we hiding? What does what we are thinking about keep us from thinking? What does what we are doing keep us from doing? What are we avoiding? Where in our lives is the deep water calling our name?
The problem, of course, is that we can justify anything. Which makes it impossible to know if what we are doing is right or a spin job. And leaves us quite up in the air about everything. Maybe we are doing what needs to be done, and maybe we are fooling ourselves. Is it clarity, or is it self-deception? How can we be sure? We make our choices and live our lives, and that’s that. Time may tell if we were right, but after enough time it won’t much matter. But, we could be a little less smug and certain about our way being the way. That would help.
We can justify anything. When we wake up, we wake up to our ability to justify anything. The only differ-ence between being awake and being asleep is that awake we question our justifications and wonder if we are telling ourselves what we want to hear or actually making the choices that need to be made. Are we kidding ourselves or living soulfully? How do we get to the bottom of that one? Isn’t this great? I wouldn’t be anywhere but here for anything. I mean anything. This is so it. So perfectly, wonderfully, crazily it. We’ll never think our way out of it. If you can’t love this, you can’t love anything, because everything is going to test your ability to love it over time. And, if you can’t live with ambivalence, and ambiguity, and anxiety, and anguish, and angst, and agony, you better not come out of the womb. That’s just the A’s.