December 14, 2012
Are you ready? No, I don’t mean Christmas. Are you ready for life? Again, no – not me! I never have been. I never knew what to expect. Short of preparing for the worst, how can you be ready for the unknown and the unexpected? And having prepared for the worst – how can we enjoy all the good that comes our way? “Ya, that was pretty good but you never know what terrible thing might be coming next!”
And just look at the vegetative and animal world – how they protect themselves. Hard as a nut, we say. Thick hides and claws, venom and jaws! Old Lady Natures pack’en and protected!
Even egg shells – fragile, certainly. But perfectly suited to protect the life they hold. And the human animal – skin on the outside and hearts guarded from unwanted intrusion. So, am I ready? No. On guard? Yes! Unfortunately, I am. There is another way but for most of my years it eluded me, to be truthful, now that I see it more clearly, I am attempting to elude it! We’ll get to that later.
What follows includes a personal snapshot – a time and place that was as important as any, maybe more important than some. It was important for all it’s presumption and pretension – all that was wrong. While at the same time it was full of so many things that were right. It took me years to separate the two and learn to appreciate both.
Our family attended church every Sunday. Not just any church. Part of my early armor was our presumption that we had an edge in this life and the world to come because we were Baptists!
The First Baptist Church was a red brick building with wide cement steps leading up to heavy, double hung, wooden doors. The entrance was situated under a parapet style, crenellated tower rather than the traditional steeple. Inside the tower a single large bell was hung. The bell rope dropped though a hole in the ceiling of the entry way, the foyer they called it. Boys, being boys, we competed to be allowed to ring the bell, jumping to grab the rope up high to get it started. Then, hanging on, with each successive swing the bells massive cast weight raised and lowered our young bodies. I can still feel it – we were flying!
There is nothing better and nothing worse than being under the control of massive a force. If the force means you harm and cannot be escaped… well, isn’t that the very definition of terror? If the force offers relief and protection – to be taken by that which is, “greater than,” is the fulfillment of a longing that many have long forgotten. But when it happens you realize that you never forgot it for one minute – you know – doubter, cynic – it matters not – you have been waiting and hoping for just this one thing – for a lifetime.
There is another urge that comes from deep inside – we want to fly. Generally speaking, the best of dreams are flying dreams!
As an explanation, this might be too simple – but aren’t these the reasons we attended church? To enjoy the favor and safety afforded by the infinite power of God and the promise of flight? As the song says:
“Some glad morning, When this life is over, I’ll fly away!”
So it is. For better or worse, magical fantasy or metaphors, the paths we take through life are shaped by our beliefs and our community. But the fulfillment of life is Life itself. Some take the long way – some try to cut corners. We all put our stamp on it – our personal “spin.” Doesn’t matter – we all want the same thing – the good news is… that “thing” wants us!
Right from the beginning we need a defense against the worst of illusions – held by our mothers, we feel assured that we are not alone. But it’s not enough. As we make the journey from childhood to maturity we continue to bump up against this fundamental fear. Are we alone? For those who do… belief in God and participation in community help to assure us that we are not… alone. We hope.
Believe as we may, the question persists; Are our beliefs true… in whole or at least in part? At times, along the way, we may find that what we have believed is not true – or maybe, just not completely true. That’s how it worked for me. Piece by piece my beliefs were dismantled. For a time I was left with little. For comfort, I whistled I the dark. But with more time something better was revealed. Mixed among ridged tradition, I found the pieces – one here, one there – ultimately its all right there waiting for me, (us), to square up to what is true rather than what my tribe was comfortable believing, The perennial truth leads us to a practice – a practice that delivers us beyond belief to experience – This is what it means to labor, to enter into His rest. Among the most valuable of these revelations was and will always be the certainty that I was not – we are not alone. We inhabit separate bodies and we have separate thought lives – This is a big one, but trust me – We are unique but not separate. We are not alone!
To experience this – experience rather than believe – to transcend belief and actually hold this experience, (for a short time – but long enough that I will never forget.), I had to let go of my emotional support system – my belief structure was broken and a new and larger experience of life emerged, rebuilt with some things new and some things old. Rather than discarding in total and changing, genuine insight is exhibited when we transcend but include – respecting the good part of the old ways as we build something new. We must build and grow and allow for changes because that is what it means to be alive.
Anyone who read last week’s article will see that I was given a lot of encouragement from church members to look harder and deeper. Funny stuff – Wacky behavior! As I write these weekly pieces you will sometimes read what may appear to be highly critical remarks related to the Institutional Church – Organized religion and its membership. Make no mistake – these remarks are intended to be hard and harsh – I intend to cut deep and draw blood. We have been polite for too long. As a wise man told us, “Better are the wounds of a friend than the kisses of an enemy.” I am a friend of the Churchman and his charges. As I say this, I am sharpening my knife.
I love the line, “Truth cares not who speaks it’s name.” I happened to have sprung from Christian roots which means that I will always speak with a Christian “accent” – with words and a tone familiar and helpful to some and a challenge to others. And I am particulalry concerned when I see the Christianity in denial of it’s contemplative, experiential foundation – the power to transform. I am only one among many working to set the Church back on it’s foundation. So don’t be offended by the critical stories I tell. They are intended to be curative. And truth be told, I am too small to do much damage – other than to you readers if you use what I say to fortify your own grudges. I trust that you will not make this mistake.
While others have seen fit to trash the institutional church, I came to realize that it has an important part to play. It holds a much, much larger story in seed form. The church is Noah’s Ark. A church congregation is Moses and the Israelites taking strength in numbers while they wander – waiting to come into the Promised Land. Heaven? Well, I’ll let you decide. But Jesus and Magi that visited him in His infancy seemed to have an even bigger vision. Heaven? Yes! Here? Yes! Now? Yes! Later? Yes, sort of. Actually better than later. More like, Always and Already!
This explains the multitude of references in our spiritual literature to the immediacy of access to peace of mind and heart. Peace that passes understanding.
Ya, ya. But meanwhile, back on earth all hell has broken out. Four or five thousand years of it. We have so little apparent joy in the world. And here we come – Christmas again! Joy to the World?
“We’ve just received news that a magnitude eight earthquake has rocked the north east coast of Japan. Residents are bracing as reports suggest some areas could experience extreme flood conditions.”
Don’t you hear them… the messengers? The angels are proclaiming; “Peace on earth and mercy, mild!”
“Shooting erupted in an otherwise peaceful, small town this morning leavening at least twenty students and teachers wounded and…”
“Joy to the World?”
“This is Walter Cronkite with a special bulletin. President Kennedy has been the victim of an assassin’s bullet in Dallas, Texas. It is not known as yet whether the President survived the attack against him.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
Life can appear to come at us, wave after wave. Some gentle, some… not so. So what about this other way I mentioned in the opening paragraph? Well, It’s very easy to understand but it confuses and frightens everyone it approaches. I would say more but what do I know? It shoved it’s nose in my face a few weeks ago and broke all the eggs in my basket – would have crushed me but I ran way, frightened and angry because I knew it was true. Truth so full and raw. The old truth spoken with a new, more encompassing and and demanding voice!
Jesus put it this way; “I have yet many things to say unto you but you cannot bear them now.”
So… If not now, WHEN? Just as soon as you and I make ourselves ready, friend.
“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone.”
Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jew. Secularist, Muslim, Atheist too. What’s truth is true, the same for me and all of you. All mankind, all of nature – we are all seeds. We are all seed bearers. We are brother and sisters. Anyone who doubts this need only look at how we fight with one another to see that in fact, we are family!
This, “better way.” The harder way. In the end, the only way – it’s not the property of any religious brand. And yet it tolerates no rivals. The fact is this. Natural laws, the laws of life can be transcended but not altered. The truth is exclusive but universal – inclusive but uncompromising. We are growing things. We start as seeds and we become seeds again. Our experiences make for new understanding which grows until ripe and ready to express new life – a fuller, more complete expression of life and more seed to spread life’s newest and best across the expanding face of creation. We break free of one shell only to find ourselves as fragile eggs waiting to be broken by life and love. Destined to be both broken and the egg breakers again and again.
We are born. And if we will – we are born again. This is the better way. It’s scary as all hell! short weeks ago, as another round of regeneration was demanded of me I ran like a little girl. But – hey! take my word for it… It really is the best – a genuinely better way to approach life! There’s one more thing that needs to be said about it. It’s the only way that works. Quoting that Wise Guy again… “Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.”
One more time; “… unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies it bares much fruit.”
You are, I am – a seed that must die to break open into more of life. We are eggs that shelter life only to be broken as life takes wing. Which of us can say that they are ready to be broken? It does not matter. Life shatters all that stands in its way. We break eggs as surely as we will be broken, over and over again.
So, are you ready?
This time I mean, for Christmas! No, again? Well let’s get busy. This is one thing that we can be ready for. After all. After all that has gone and come again, it’s coming on Chirtmas. I wish you Joy. May our world know something of peace in this next year and all those that are sure to follow.