Our spiritual origins rest in this silent mystery. We cannot know God until we are ready to say yes to the dark. It is in the dark soil that the seed first begins to sprout. It is in the dark womb that the child is created. And it is in the dark mystery that our souls release our ideas of God, our ideas of ourselves in relationship to God so that we might just be.
The God of my youth was a tortured figure forced to walk a high wire over dangerous beasts of prey who snapped their jaws below waiting for the tortured God to make mistake and fall into their pit. This God was a mockery, a buffoon, a clown I stuck high up on that wire. At the time, I did not live with a God of my own, but with the pale referents of the God of other people, with the shadows of their love and distrust. I lived entirely within the experience of others. I had no idea how to look for myself. I didn’t even know that was possible.
I could hear my spiritual director lean into the phone as she asked, And how many people do you think Gabriel visited before Mary said ‘Yes’? Such an idea had never even crossed my mind. The story of Mary, for me anyway, always held a quality of predetermination, like she was chosen for this particular role. It had never dawned on me that there might have been others who had been invited to that sacred relationship, others who, for whatever reason, said no. Of course, my spiritual director wasn’t really asking about Mary, but rather she was asking about my sense of call and what would happen if I said no. The story of Mary is one of the great calls in religious history. Out of her womb is born one of the great spiritual teachers, God to many. I had always understood this story as leading to an inevitable outcome. Of course Mary was going to say yes. But is that really true? As someone who does not believe in fate, as someone who believes we must have free will in our spiritual lives if they are to have meaning, it seems that people must not only have the option to ignore their sacred calling, but often do. We must have the opportunity to say no if we are really going to say yes.
I don’t know if every spiritual experience requires suffering, but I would guess that it does, at least on some level. For the ego to collapse, for us to leave behind the story of who we think we are in order to step into the beloved darkness where there are no boundaries we have to say goodbye to something we have known, maybe even something we have treasured. And in every goodbye there is grief. But there is also solace that comes when we are ready to be honest with who we are, with our brokenness, because in it we find the healing in other people. This is the meaning of a spiritual community. As bad as we might believe we are individually no one is going to turn away, rather there is a turning towards one another. You are suffering. Mmm, I, too, know suffering.
I don’t believe in fate nor in an interfering God. But I do believe that creation is always calling out to us, always inviting us into a deeper relationship, which is made visible in the world by a greater desire for health, and empathy, and connection. The call that comes through us is as much an enticement as anything. A beckoning into a larger experience of companionship, into that experience Thomas Berry speaks of, where we understand ourselves as a communion of subjects rather than a collection of objects. This experience of greater companionship winds its way into belief statements we call morality, but not with any particular agenda. The encounter with interconnection simply leaves us responsible, binds our lives to the lives of others we might previously have denied, awakens us the inability to escape the suffering of those we are now bound to.
Our lives are not consolation prizes with our fantasies being the lottery ticket we missed out on, which is not to say we shouldn’t examine “be here now.” We should. We should examine it precisely because it seems to be so important to us, not just individually but culturally. The question is, Can we examine this fantasy without regret? Because a fantasy is not attainable, it is more like a finger indicating a direction of what we would like, which, so often, is just to be happy, to know we are loved, to realize we have enough for everyone. When we can understand what our fantasies are saying to us we can begin to think about what it is we are willing to risk. When I know what I really want, then I know what I am called to do in life.
What is our call as spiritually motivated people? As people who believe in the transformative power of faith? Is it a question of living out our character, of upholding and promoting a set of community values that is larger than our own egos? Or a belief in God that gives us the courage to walk through the darkness even if we are not certain in our own strength? Or perhaps both? I believe we are called to the purpose of resanctifying the world, of resacralizing community and our relationship to one another. We are the people who believe in a more beautiful world. Our eschatology is not judgment and apocalypse, but empathy and companionship.
The anger that lives in us comes both from our personal lives, pain and slights we have experienced, and from the larger community of which we are a part. We cannot fully resolve to be without anger if we are unwilling to address the suffering that exists around us. And we cannot address the suffering of the culture if we choose to see ourselves as separate from it. But when I am in community I don’t have to carry it all on my own. It is also carried by others and it is also carried by God, for I truly am not separate. The redemption of the world comes through us more than we do the actual redeeming. I don’t know how to make a lotus bloom. But I do know how to prepare the ground so the lotus might choose to bloom. I am sad for my nation right now. This self-righteousness, this judgment, this anger is no place to live. But I also believe the suffering allows us to find a deeper understanding and compassion. So for that I am grateful as it gives me the opportunity to love more and more powerfully. What we nurture becomes the future. Let us starve anger and nurture love so we might be the transformation our culture so desperately longs for.
There seems to be a whisper from beyond. A whisper we don’t quite hear so clearly, but we know it’s there. The whisper is so powerful because it calls out to us constantly, like the stream that wears away a rock. And the whisper is the call to beauty. There is a call from beauty, a sacred call, to bring to life, even if only for a few moments, something that takes our breath away. There are people who feel so compelled by this whispering they spend their whole lives in the pursuit of it. Some achieve great results and others less o, but it is a life given over to the call.
Anaïs Nin is famously quoted as saying “We don't see the world as it is, we see it as we are.” Which leaves a particular indictment of beauty on the table. The grasping for beautiful things, be they people or objects, often makes us look and seem quite ugly. But for those of us who seek the spiritual experience, who seek the sacred, beauty can also be a great guide. Today is not just another day in your life. Everyone you meet, everyone your eyes bless, everyone you experience as a presence is a gift to you. And you are to them. The beauty of these encounters is the feeling of the sacred. And the only real response is gratitude. Beauty is calling out to you, from all around you, it is part of you. If we do nothing but cultivate our ability to see the beauty of our very existence we will have lived amazing lives. And it begins with today. Go out and see the beauty. Go out and see what happens when we don’t see the beauty and then try to add a little in that space. It is healing to bring the sacred into all of our acts. And maybe at some point we will see things as they are because they will be as we are.
We are not here by accident. We have been called to honor the Sacred of the earth. We have been called to choose enlightened compassion over self-centered and socially conditioned power. We have been called to prayer as we move from dominating and controlling power to the power of love and empathy and connection. We have been called into a communion of subjects. The forest is sacred. The sky is sacred. The creek is sacred. You are sacred.
All around us we see people living divided lives because they think they need to protect themselves from the planet and either wall it off or stand above it. But on this sacred day, this day of changing light, even as division lives all around us, may we pray to know that wholeness is always a choice. It would be easy to condemn humanity, but not today. Today we choose not the divided path of good and bad, but of unity. May we come together to pray and sing and praise the beauty and wonder of Creation. May we come to bow at our spiritual estrangement from the earth. Not to wallow in melancholy nor to lament our actions because we did not do this to ourselves. This is the culture we were born into. This is our inheritance. But neither do we blame the ancestors. They did not know what they were doing when the separated themselves from the living earth. They had our best intentions in mind when they separated their consciousness. They could not have known what the consequences would be, but now we stand at the brink of an ecological collapse and the consequences of our separation from the earth have never been more apparent. But this is not the end of the story.
We live in an era marked by a fleeing from darkness, a fleeing from the reality of mortality and that which we cannot control. We try to illuminate everything, because perhaps if we cast a light everywhere no darkness will remain, but the darkness is so much greater than anything we can even imagine. And so we race around shining our lights in a desperate hope to avoid the pain, which, ironically, only leads to our lives being run and determined by that very same pain because all of our actions exist in response to it. Suffering is profoundly social and when we privatize our pain and cover it up we lock ourselves away from compassion and understanding. Which is why the suffering of each of us is so important. We all have the opportunity to experience transformation and it is our own wounding that calls out to us as a path to serve others. It is our own wounds that create the opportunity for us to explore sensitivity, compassion, and love. It is our ability to say “I understand” that creates the opportunity to be present for another human being, for another species even. Not to solve their problems as much as just to see them. Taking time with our own experience of suffering allows us to dive down like a pearl diver into the wound and find a gift that becomes available to others.
We suffer from a crisis of grace. We suffer from the belief that there is just not enough love for us, for all of us, like there is some sort of grace scarcity. So we hoard and act selfishly believing we will starve tomorrow if we feed those who are starving today. And the tighter we grow and the harder we grow the more suffering we see and the scarcer love appears. This, in turn, leads to a scarcity of praise because when grace is scarce so is joy. But there is no shortage of grace, there is no shortage of love. It is like going to the beach and worrying that there won’t be enough sun for everyone. Rilke writes “walk your walk of lament on a path of praise.” My great hope is that we become known as a people who stand in the world witnessing for justice but doing so from a place of praise. The world is in such terrible trouble, but if we allow the song of creation to come through us we will be changed by it and others will be changed by it. It is through acts of witness that we will grow ever closer to the understanding of ourselves as Gaia, the understanding that grace flows through every atom of our being.
Where is the intentionality to be in deep relationship with the Beloved, with the Divine, with the Holy? It is not just enough to walk away from the structures that don’t feed us; the kings and the creeds and the castes. There must also be an intentional picking up of something, of a sacred life, a community of sacred livers and lovers because the world is not going to heal itself with secular culture either. There are no words or policies or laws to lead us into transformation. Transformation is a spiritual act. It is a counter-cultural act of resistance that demands we take a stand for the living, for life, for the sacred, for the Beloved, for God. We are being called into a time of spiritual renovation. People are starving for a new way of being. We are not called to cause the spiritual renovation. We are called to participate in it. We become it as others become it.
Lovers of love, we are not condemned to being condemned. Our purpose is adoration. But the adoration goes both ways. Just as we lay flowers on the altar, flowers are laid on our altar as well. Just as we light the worship candles, a flame is lit within us as well. We adore this mutilated world and we praise the Beloved. So put away the begging bowl. It is not appropriate. Instead, mount Loves’ stallion. This is the stallion we ride. This is the stallion that will carry us home. You are the richest person in the world because you are desired. And in that holy gaze we can face anything.
Martin Buber wrote, “The concentration and fusion into a whole being can never be accomplished by me, can never be accomplished without me. I require a You to become; becoming I, I say You. All actual life is encounter.” The encounters we have with one another are constant, our faith practice is to engage in them. Most often we don’t. The unhappiness of the world is a result of our refusal to acknowledge the encounters we have everyday. We have a hard time looking at each other in the eyes, especially when we argue. Stories call out to us from people living around the world, around our city, from the seat next to us. Stories call out from people carrying something so heavy but they don’t know how to share it. See me, hear me, respect me, love me. Will we be that mooring in the world for those who are adrift? Will we be available for those who seek to be seen?
The body is a sacred instrument. It is powerful, it is full of possibility, it is beautiful. And yet most of the time we live disconnected, disembodied from this sacredness. This miracle of existence that has come from the stars, which pulses with life, is so often overlooked, undervalued, disparaged, criticized, even blamed for some of our so-called baser behaviors. Lean into your body and listen for the ancient secrets that live in your cells and in your soul. Walt Whitman once wrote, “If anything is sacred the human body is sacred.” And perhaps my favorite line by Mary Oliver reads, “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” What you seek is seeking you. Let it come through you. Love the world with your body. Be present for creation, not just with your mind and your heart, but with your temple. You are beautiful, you are full of possibility, and most importantly you are sacred.
Shaking ourselves free from our moral conditioning is perhaps the hardest spiritual task we can take on. It is difficult because we are so adamant in our moral convictions. We would never say, “We know all there is to know about science.” Many of us would readily admit that perhaps 20% of what we now consider scientific fact will be disproven within a couple decades if not sooner. We are constantly learning. But rarely will you hear someone say something like, “At least twenty percent of what I consider acceptable or tolerable today, I will find completely immoral within a couple decades, if not sooner. Acts of violence are only possible in a moral framework. I believe, as a religious position, there is an innate sympathy within human beings, within life. And that it is the moral conditioning, the moral framework, that we live in that allows us to experience or inflict violence. We must demonize the other—humans, the planet—for this violence to be acceptable. To change the world we must become aware of our own moral conditioning.
What you think about God really says more about you than it says about God. God is not a what. God is not a thing. There is no “this is” that can be called God. God is immaterial. But the water we swim in, that which we don’t even recognize all around us, is material. We objectify everything. We objectify ourselves. We objectify God. And we become prisoners of our own thinking. Our purpose is to live in concert with creation. It is to stand in the sunshine of our true self and to witness our true face in the waterfall and the flower and the bird song and in the person next to us. The hidden treasure that lives within you has no material expression. That treasure is simply a lived life. It is curious as to why it is so hard to listen to our own lives and why it seems so desirable to want to live someone else’s life or a life defined for us by TV, but the spiritual path is to let go of that material and to see what magic is waiting for us. This is worship not of some external God, separate and distant, but rather the creative force that is calling out to us, calling out from within us to live our lives.