The normal distribution curve would suggest that the majority of people who gather in a church on Sunday morning fit the following profile: They don’t want to grow up. They don’t want to be responsible for their own life. They don’t want to have to go to any trouble, be inconvenienced in any way, or do anything they don’t feel like doing. They want to be pleasantly taken care of, entertained with a lifetime of diversions and distractions, and live happily ever after. And they would want me to tell them how to arrange for that to happen.
Since you are already outside the normal distribution curve by being here on Sunday morning, I can reveal to you the actual truth and you will not cringe, blanch, or run and hide: Here it is, spoken by Shelton Kopp over 30 years ago: “We have to solve our own problems every day for the rest of our lives.” Here’s more of it, spoken by Carl Jung over 60 years ago: “None of the real problems have solutions. We don’t solve them. We outlive them.”
There are no fixes, remedies, potions, cures, nostrums, recipes, answers… There is only living in the mess and waiting out the problems. We outlive what we cannot solve. I know that isn’t inspirational. We don’t want to hear it any more than the people do in the church of our experience. We have our stake in the status quo just as they do. We long to be comfortable in our little world, just as they do, just as anyone would. And we don’t want to do anything to disrupt what peace and certainty we have managed to attain. Our lives are in enough upheaval without our adding to it.
We want me to go away with my take on reality. Leave us alone. We want stability. Safety. Refuge. Rest. And, here is the interesting part, we want to take up the spiritual journey and grow spiritually and live deep, ex-pansive lives. Yet, we don’t want to go anywhere or to do anything new. We don’t what to change. We want to grow without changing. We want things to be better without things being different. We want opposite things at the same time.
Always the tension, the contradiction, the dynamic! “Without contraries is no progression” (William Blake). We cannot take anything at face value. What is true is counterbalanced by what is also true, and we live between opposites, on the boundary between yin and yang, for better and worse, all our lives long.
We want to be reassured that the life we have chosen for ourselves can work with just a bit of spiritual tweaking, with some spiritual mumbo-jumbo, meditation, maybe, or a crystal medallion. A personal mantra—that would do it. But don’t ask us to change. We have worked hard enough to be where we are, and we are not about to give up any of it for the sake of spiritual growth and life lived on terms other than our own.
But, we also know there is no place of safety for those who are alive. There is no immunity, no protection. We know we have to get used to it. Only the plastic people feel no pain. Life is painful, work, trouble. If we are going to be alive, we are going to do the work of accommodation, adjustment, acceptance, acquiescence, adaptation… We move over and make room for life, or we wrap ourselves in a bubble of denial and pretence—pretending we are not pretending and not knowing the first thing about being alive.
The church as it ought to be is only good for those who are into life, living, being alive. It exists as a way-station of encouragement when life rises up to slap us around. “Get up and get back into it” is the message of the church as it ought to be. Not, “Come here and you will be safe and happy until the kingdom comes.”
Being safe and happy have absolutely nothing to do with being alive. Happiness is a cultural substitute for life. People make themselves happy to compensate for being mostly dead. People who are alive don’t worry about happiness. They are too busy living, invested in the experience of being alive. The pursuit of happiness is a dead-end path and the antithesis of the spiritual journey. Happy growth and development is the oxy-est of oxymoron’s.
Being alive is about working the program. Working the program means waking up to how it is with us right now. What is true and what is also true? Where are we most alive? What is trying to come to life in us? Where are we dead? Stuck? Blocked? Refusing to live? What fears drive us? Limit us? Keep us from being alive? What are our dreams saying to us? Our symptoms? What keeps flirting with us as an interest, an urge, an inclination, an attrac-tion? What do we keep putting off? What are we doing to keep from doing what we know needs to be done? The practice is being aware of the life we are living and how it needs to be lived instead, and taking up the work of mov-ing from where we are to where we are asked to be.
We don’t want to work the program. We don’t want to be silent and reflective. We don’t want to dialogue with our dreams and symptoms. We don’t want to explore our stuck places, examine our repetitive, recurring, reactions and encounters, look at our patterns, make inquiries about origins and messages from the gods. We want our lives to unfold according to our ideas for their unfolding. We want the life of our dreams delivered to our door. We want to know how to get what we want. We want to live happily, conveniently, ever after. It is not to be.
I know as much about God as anyone on the planet. So do you. The idea that there are authorities on God—theologians—God scientists tucked away in the high hallways of academia, or the lecture halls of institutional religion, who know what we should believe and not believe is a trick played on us by us. We want somebody to know more than we do. We don’t want to be left on our own, alone with God. Yet, that is exactly the path each of us must tread to the land of promise. We drink the same water, but we dig our own well. Each of us must find our own way to God, simply by waking up to the God who is calling our name. Ah, but. That God asks hard things of us. That God doesn’t love us the way we want to be loved. Therein lies the problem. So, we call on the theologians to tell us what to do to get God to love us the way we want to be loved. And God recedes farther into the background of our lives.
Always the opposition, the contraries, the limitations, the restrictions, the boundaries, the barriers, the terms and conditions! Life is lived in contention with that which does not support life. The universe doesn’t care about us. Doesn’t even know our name. Is not here to serve us and dote on us and make sure we have what we want, or need. We have to work in the service of life. Life is lived pushing against the limits that make life difficult, if not impossible. We are the dandelion buried beneath the asphalt. What are we going to do about that?
We cannot put living off. If we are going to be alive, we have to begin in this moment right now by opening ourselves to the moment, receiving the moment well, seeing what the moment has to offer and what the moment needs, and offering to the moment what we have to give out of that which is deepest, best and truest about us. What are the possibilities for life right here, right now? Who would we have to disappoint in order to take advantage of the possibilities? How would we have to do it, and not do it, in order to be alive right here, right now? What existing structures would we have to ignore? What new ones would we have to honor? How differently would we have to live? What is keeping us in place, locked into the same old, same old, waiting to be rescued, delivered, in-vited to be alive?
None of us is aware of everything. The more aware we are of one thing, the less aware we are of other things. Diffuse awareness dilutes particular awareness, particular awareness inhibits diffuse awareness. We are always missing something. Always unconscious of that of which we are unconscious. Always being challenged to see more than we see, to hear more than we hear, to understand more than we understand. We never graduate from the school of awareness. Don’t even get to the second grade.
But. We’ll figure it out. We will figure it out if we are nurtured and cared for (Mothered) in the right kind of way. All we need is time and the supportive presence of the right kind of community. We need to be upheld, sus-tained, encouraged while we figure it out. If we are Mothered in the wrong kind of way, it’s all over. We don’t have a chance with the wrong kind of Mother. Everything hangs on the kind of Mother we have and are.
We cannot hope to be an “I” except as a part of a nurturing “we.” “We” bring “you” into being. Not by telling you what you need to hear, but by listening to what you have to say. We hear you into the realization of yourself, into the you-ness of you. We ask you the healing questions. We explore with you the lair of dragons. We call you to work the program even as we work it ourselves. We share the path with you and laugh with you along the way.
The training for becoming a nurturing “we” is the work of being a listening “I.” It is the work of seeing, and hearing and understanding. The work of developing eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that understands. There is no way to do that. There is only doing it. It is the way to Carnage Hall: “Practice, practice, practice,” until we can work the program in our sleep and follow our dreams to the land of promise.