Sunday, December 19, 2010

Let There Be Light!

My paraphrase of Deuteronomy 30:11-14 reads, Surely, what is asked of us is not too hard for us, nor is it too far away. The light is not in heaven, that we should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may see it and walk in it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that we should say, ‘Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that it might illumine our way?’ No, the light is very near to us; it is in our heart and soul that we might be the light we long for.

The hitch is that we don’t want to be the light we long for. We want to talk about the light as though we are 2,000 years away from it. When Moses came down from the mountain the people requested that he veil his face because he radiated the light of God and it was too much for them to look at. We want distance between us and the light. Yet, at the same time, we speak longingly of the light, and burn advent candles, and talk of epiphany as though we would like nothing better than to be visited by the light, but. We don’t want to have anything to do with the light.

The Gospel readings put us in our place. They start out comfortably enough, with the light being far off, “in the beginning,” when “the life was the light of all people,” as though we might see it from a distance and be comforted in the darkness, knowing we are not alone. We like it even better when John has Jesus say, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” But Matthew does us no favors. He quotes Jesus as slamming us against the wall with, “YOU are the light of the world,” and “Let YOUR light shine before others that they see (how you are living) and glorify (the Source of light by bringing forth their own light)!”

The light, remember, is the life that was in the beginning and lives in us waiting to come to life through us as we get out of the way and let our light shine, and live the life that is life, that is the life that waits to be lived. We are the light we seek but generate darkness by living lives that reflect our idea of how life ought to be, and we do not easily set our idea for our life aside in order to live the life that is truly our life to live. We are afraid that life will not be what we want it to be, even though it will be more than we can ask, or seek, or imagine. We are afraid.

Mary Oliver highlights our dilemma in her poem “Lightning.” (In the thunder storm) it was hard to tell fear from excitement; how sensual the lightning’s poured stroke! and still, what a fire and a risk! As always the body wants to hide, wants to flow toward it—strives to balance while fear shouts, excitement shouts, back and forth—each bolt a burning river tearing like escape through the dark field of the other.

The light that is the life of all people terrifies us and thrills us with its possibilities. We work out a compromise and talk about the light as though it lived in Jesus but not in us. We can be safe that way in the lives we construct for ourselves. We comfort ourselves with talk of 2,000 year old light and douse the flame that flickers faintly within us all, erecting mercury-vapor lamps to hold back the darkness we also fear—creating little islands of artificial light by living inauthentic lives in the service of plastic and superficiality, while life dies unlived within.

Rumi calls us out: “Darkness is your cradle…” “To thee light by darkness is made known…” The darkness that brings forth our light is not-knowing what to do and waiting there in that dark place, trusting the spark of realization, of awareness, of light—trusting the epiphany of perception and understanding—to guide us in the way of life that we might offer what is ours to give to the moment as it unfolds, to the situation as it arises. This is letting our light so shine before others that they see how we are living and glorify the Source of light by bringing forth their own light.

Of course, we are afraid, and seek to disappear our fear by making up rules to live by so that we don’t have to wonder what to do and run the risk of making mistakes, of being wrong. But “darkness is our cradle,” and we have to trust ourselves. We have to trust the light that lives within, the life that stirs within, and wait, listening, looking, for what needs to be said, for what needs to be done, in responding appropriately and offering what is called for out of the gifts we have to give to each moment of our living.

The moment is the adventure. We must not shrink back, afraid, resorting to the same old same old tried and true formulas for living that are the purview of the dead and dying. The light that is the life of all people is the creative source of ingenuity and genius that splits the darkness like a thunderbolt and shines like the sun bursting forth in the night to draw all people to the brightness of its rising to send them forth into their own lives to live there in bold new ways that light up the world. Amen! May it be so with us all!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

My Credo, Part VI

The Doctrine of the Two Ways—the Right Way and the Wrong Way—has been the central religious view in the Near East and the West for thousands of years, and is a popular religious outlook today. Nay! It goes beyond being popular! It is the predominant religious outlook today. We are seeped in the Doctrine of the Two Ways. We believe deeply that the way we believe (and think and do) is the Right Way to believe (and think and do) and that all other ways of believing (and thinking and doing) are the Wrong Way to believe (and think and do).

It gets worse. We believe that if we believe Right Beliefs we will go to heaven when we die, and that if we believe Wrong Beliefs we will go “as straight to hell as a Martin to its gourd” (You have to have lived in the rural south for a while to understand the metaphor and know that the Martin in question is a Purple Martin and its gourd is a dried gourd that has had a hole cut in it and is hanging with a dozen or so other gourds for nesting places for Purple Martins). The idea of heaven as a reward for Right Belief and hell as a punishment for Wrong Belief is the fundamental religious curse that people carry with them for life and with which they infect all who come their way.

Because we cannot risk being wrong and going to hell, we cannot question what we have received as Right Belief, and have to believe what has been believed unquestioned through the ages. In so doing, we create a hell on earth populated by the walking dead, empty-eyed and soulless, talking of Eternal Life as compensation for the life they are not living and never have lived, thanks to the Doctrine of the Two Ways.

Darkness and Light, Good and Evil, Right and Wrong, Truth and Error, the Way of Life and the Way of Death, etc. are set out before us, and the wise among us choose well and the foolish, or evil, among us choose poorly. Believers are urged to pray, therefore, that they will choose well in order to be ushered into the Kingdom of Goodness and Light with the accolade: “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

There is, of course, a different way of looking at things—if you dare!

Good, at some point, goes over into evil. Evil, at some point, goes over into good. Not only that, but from some point of view, good IS evil and evil IS good (Floods, for example, that destroy homes and lives and livelihoods also fertilize the land to produce the crops that feed the people. Are floods good or evil? Both!). And, as the old saying goes, “There is so much good in the worst of us and so much bad in the best of us, it doesn’t behoove any of us to talk about the rest of us.” Absolute Good and Absolute Evil are theoretical concepts without precedent in the lived experience of human beings. Given the truth of the relative nature of the options comprising the Two Ways, we can’t long avoid the realization that it is not as simple as we have been led to believe.

Think not of living a morally pure and upright life and deserving heaven when we die. Think instead of living aligned with the Way and living the life that is our destiny, our life to live—of being properly engaged with inner and outer reality and offering what is needed out of what is ours to give to each situation as it unfolds. It is not a matter of matching our behavior up to some ancient standard or code but of responding appropriately to the moment in each moment of our lives, doing what is needed there never mind what our parents or preachers declare ought to be done.

And if we are wrong about what needs to be done? Shake it off! Get up! Get ready! Get back in the game! The next moment is on the way! The beauty of The Doctrine of More Than Two Ways is that getting it wrong is just a step on the way to getting it right. The meandering of the river is no threat to the sea. The roots of tomorrow’s Right are grounded in yesterday’s Wrong. Learn from your mistakes. Learn from your successes. Learn from everything. Living is the lesson and life is the teacher. We have a lifetime in which to learn what being alive is all about. Wake up! Pay attention! Be alert! Take a chance and another one after that! There is life to be lived! We are not dead yet and we must not live as though we are! Do not die before you are dead! Live with all that is within you for as long as life is possible no mater what! Amen! May it be so!

Sunday, December 05, 2010

My Credo, Part V

Here is the formula: “There is the way things are. And there is the way things also are. And that’s the way things are.” This is symbolized neatly in the yin/yang of Taoism (Or Zen—Buddhism mingled with Taoism to become Zen, and I don’t know the historical moment yin/yang came into being). Yin is the way things are. Yang is the way things also are. And the circle containing them is the way things are. Reality, you might say, is one in its duality, in its polarity.

William Blake puts it beautifully: “Without Contraries, is no progression” (The Marriage of Heaven and Hell). This means our work is “working it out.” We are always and forever “working it out.” We are always and forever needing to counter-balance, to compensate, to counteract our excesses and deficiencies. We go too far in one direction and have to be reeled in, called back, by the forces contained in the opposite direction. This is “finding the center” or “walking the straight and narrow.” We live on the boundary between yin and yang. We have to be “rounded out” by the opposition in order to “square ourselves with” that which is true and that which is also true. We find our way forward in a conversation with “the Contraries” within and without. We must be careful to not allow the opposites to cancel each other out, but to open each other, and ourselves, up to worlds, to possibilities, we could not imagine or enter on our own.

This opening is enabled by conversation with the opposites, among the opposites, between the opposites. Conversation enlarges, deepens, transforms, unites. Conversation is the way to the Way, individually and collectively. The kind of community that is required for living properly aligned with Inner and Outer Reality, centered, in synch, and on the Path, is a community of opposites, of polarities, where all persons take each other seriously, treat each other with the deepest respect, honor each other’s perspective, and allow conversation with one another to expand, deepen, and enlarge one’s own sense of how things are and what needs to be done in response. In this kind of community there is no one way of seeing, thinking, believing and doing. There is no sense of “our way” being the Right Way and “their way” being the Wrong Way. The right kind of community is not “one big happy family” in firm agreement about what to think, feel, believe and do. It is one that values contrary views and finds the way to the Way by taking all pertinent perspectives into account and allowing them to inform and guide the development of each participant in the community, but in the end, each participant is responsible for determining and doing what she, what he, thinks needs to be done in each situation as it arises.