Regardless of what teaching heritage you follow or how your faith shapes your beliefs sooner or later you will have to settle in to deal with the matter of ‘self’.

I grew up with an Evangelical Christian background and part and parcel to the teachings was our being saved and going to heaven when we die. From the beginning, for even then I was a bit odd, not assuming what I was told was the whole story, I wondered: What part of me goes to heaven?534258_385311708196972_1411303380_n

It was pretty clear that it wasn’t my flesh and bones body. Dust to dust and all that. But within me there was a non- material nature and part of that was continually being preached about as not being an acceptable aspect of the Christian life. The self had to be put down, denied, crucified, and all manner of final things so that the life of Christ, the mind of Christ, the Spirit of Christ could become dominant and a self-less life could be lived.

All well and good but the question still remained: if the self wasn’t signed up for the trip what in me that was ‘me’ …was?

Time passed. As a young man attending Bible College I was less than satisfied with the teachings I was receiving on the nature of Humankind. It was often a matter of theological debate as to the actual make up of our human condition. It was obvious that we were comprised of two basic aspects: material and non-material. That much was pretty much agreed on. When it came to understanding the non-material, or spiritual, part of us the waters became somewhat muddied. I have no doubt that somewhere someone has dealt with this matter in a satisfactory manner but I hadn’t come across it so I had to find my own way for the most part. Part of the confusion came from sloppy semantics. The words “soul” and “spirit” were often used in discussions regarding our spiritual nature but so often used ambiguously or interchangeably as to be rendered useless. So I did what I usually do, I made up stuff.

Okay, not really, but I did assign working definitions to keep the concepts separate and distinct. They are a bit arbitrary (like my definitions of faith and belief, two other frustrating words made more so by their sloppy semantics) but I think the ideas are sound. The “soul” I define as that aspect of our spiritual nature that deals with the material world we live in. The “spirit” is another aspect that deals or interacts with the non-material world. Seeing us in this light actually began to make sense of what I was seeing as our lives are played out in this world.

The soul has access to nearly overwhelming stimuli. It works through the senses seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting. Moreover it has access to the mind to process the sensory input, assign value judgments based on pleasure and desire and to engage the imagination forming thoughts, imagery, dreams and delusions. As our non-material, our spiritual resources are more and more commandeered by the soul the spirit seems to become little more than a nagging presence and reminder of the Eternal. As the soul is allowed free reign in this carnival of material existence it becomes very loud and dominant …and willful …in its role of provider and protector. It becomes so engaged, so involved that it begins to identify with the objects it discerns in the world around it.

I think it is good to interject here that I believe that our spiritual nature is not a real dichotomy with distinct separation, two spiritual forces residing within us, but rather one nature with two needed jobs: maintaining our connection with the source of all existence and maintaining our existence in the material world in our material body. The problem develops when, ignorant of our true nature, and devoid of balance we are deluded into believing that where we connect with the world is who we are.

Enter …the Self.

Here we are with a spiritual nature that is tasked with eternal connection and mortal maintenance that has become so distorted (the Buddhists say insane) that we have lost all perspective. Our soulish aspect goes ‘native’ and becomes so attached and identified with the sensual world around us that we come to believe that connection defines us. We feel so the feelings are us. We think so the thoughts are us. We cling, we grasp, we own, we possess, we desire, we hate, we abhor, we fear, we need and all these things and more are ‘us’. We see any threat to this convention of the worldly components of our identity as a threat to who we are, to our very existence. This constructed illusion of who we are, this self, is as mortal as footprints on the beach and seeing ourselves thus we find our greatest fear looming before us: death.

And, finally, I understand what is meant by ‘redeeming the soul’. The soul is lost, lost midst the sensual overload of mortal existence. Deluded into believing the lie that the false self is real and allowing all the energies of our existence to be spent serving the self, protecting the self, glorifying the self. And it is here that truth must prevail. It is here that eyes must be opened and the heart awakened. It is here that the words come true: “You shall know the Truth and the Truth shall set you free.” Self must die and our true identity be allowed to step into the light.

And how do we do this?

It begins with our finding a ‘new’ paradigm in our understanding of the nature of the world and our association with it. This world view is found in the teachings of Jesus. It is also found in the teachings of Buddha as well as those of Lao Tsu. This is not an endorsement of one system of belief over another ( I have my preferences but I am not evangelizing here) this is, hopefully, a beam of light into the process of ending the false self and centering in our true being. This world view is that this world contains nothing permanent. Nothing. Change is the name of the game and we have to play by the rules that are set. If everything is changing then its hands off, no clinging, no attaching! We can no more attach to the things of this world with impunity than we can take a flaming brand into our hands without being burned. We are in the world but not of it. Our identity is not to be found in any element of this world or any place we interact with it.

We_Are_Standing_On_The_Edge_by_AbXorbTo come to this realization is at first (and to some extent continually) unsettling. All of our conscious lives we have found our solid ground in this present world. To detach from that, to accept that nothing is solid and unchanging, is to find a sense of groundlessness and emptiness that is as unnerving as sudden free fall.

That fear is centered in the ‘self’ and is not real. That ‘free fall’ is our natural state, our true state of being. If it were at all threatening to our true existence then we would be in deep trouble. But we aren’t. What seems like free fall is in fact the spacious openness of infinite potential. That everything is changing means anything is possible. The self needs certainty to have identity. To walk in truth is to know there is no certainty in this world. Where the self sees change as death and ending …the truth reveals infinite new beginnings.

There is more of course, the Universe is big and existence is …well, bigger. What continues on after death? Me, but not me as in ‘self’. Me as in spirit forever connected to my Source. Jesus said, “My Father in me, I in you…”. Connection and continuation. Selfless and free falling, forever at home. That takes faith I suppose. But doesn’t everything?

 

*** Next up: “Self …less” ***

(Recently, on a friend’s FB timeline this pic appeared. I liked it and enjoyed the comments but someone made the leap of assigning the doctrine of Total Depravity to the context of the image. Normally I try to resist the bait and just let things slide but this time it just came at me a bit sideways. I have learned the difference between having to say something and having something to say and this time I felt that I had something to say. You have to realize that I come from a background of encasing my life with doctrines and theologies and rarely could I resist jousting my version of Truth against any and all comers. I like to think I have come a long way since then. This was my post, slightly revised to reflect time spent pondering. Maybe you will enjoy it, I did!)

A Definition of Total Depravity (for the uninitiated):  a state of corruption in the nature of human kind resulting from original sin. This corruption is viewed as so pervasive as to infect every part of man’s nature and to make the natural man unable to know or obey God.

Christians Be LikeWow, I do not want to have this conversation …but I will, a little. I say this with no objection at all with the intention of this photo. The renewal of the heart from intractable self-inspired rigidity to one of living, growing, changing flesh is the observed result of Grace and the presence of God universally.

Having said that, Total Depravity. Wow, what a topic!

Thomas Aquinas taught that humans were unable to remain completely sinless. He did not believe in total depravity, as he believed that humans could still use reason to follow the natural law.

Duns Scotus believed that sin entailed a lack of ‘original righteousness’. During the Protestant Reformation, the Reformers took Scotus’s position to be the Catholic position and argued that it made sin only ‘a defect or privation of righteousness rather than an inclination toward evil.’

Martin Luther, John Calvin and other Reformers used the term “total depravity” to articulate what they claimed to be the Augustinian view that sin corrupts the entire human nature.

This did not however, mean the loss of the imago Dei (image of God).

The only theologian who argued that the imago Dei itself was taken away and that the very substance of fallen humanity was sin was Matthias Flacius Illyricus, and this view was repudiated in the Formula of Concord.

Having said all that (whew!) it is good to remember that doctrines that are taught in the church today were formulated by men on the basis of their understanding of the Truth which had defined their belief. Their beliefs did not constitute Truth itself, only their understanding of it. Sometimes it was just their considered opinion of their understanding of it. More often than not when a belief/doctrine was formulated others would look at it and either agree, disagree or modify it. And so it should be as we are forever seeking to see more clearly the actual Truth and not canonize mere belief.

And yet that still happens.

The Doctrine of Total Depravity, one: may not mean what you think it means, depending on what era you are studying and what advocate you are listening to.

And two, it is not Truth. It is at best what you believe.

It is never reasonable to foster disputes over doctrine or beliefs. Faith is in Truth, known or unknown. Faith does not change as it is our confidence in the Eternal, unchanging, primal nature of God Himself. Belief is formed from our current understanding of the Truth. Our path is guided by our beliefs in order to further our understanding of Truth. As our understanding grows, our beliefs may grow, deepen, or change entirely depending on how clear our initial understanding was.

Which brings me back to the picture that inspired all this. The heart of stone that has rendered lifeless the image of God within us and the heart of flesh that is that life renewed as we are in His presence is a greater picture than rigid doctrines can express. We only see as through a glass, darkly but what little we see is more than words can express. It behooves us to keep pressing in, keeping our humility about us and hold our belief inspired doctrines and theologies in a loose grip. Light changes everything!

Lets begin with visiting a timeless tableau.*

marketplaceIt’s a bazaar such as has been seen in towns and villages throughout the world with little variation for 1000’s of years.

There are narrow streets alternating between dirt and cobblestones filled with people. The narrow concourse is lined with small stalls some of which are brightly colored and others drab with age and sun. The aromas and smells seem to be trying to drown out the noise. And in the tight quarters the noise is near deafening as people crowd by and the venders hawk their wares each one trying to out-do the others. One vender seems to be drawing particular attention.

Under the dirt-colored awning there is a small table with about 2 dozen glass bottles with glass stoppers. There is a clear liquid sealed tightly in each bottle.

il_570xN.291144206“HERE! HERE! Look here! I have GOOD poison here! This is the most effective and deadly poison! If you give this to a mouse or a rat that mouse or rat is dead! If you give this poison to a cat or a dog that cat or dog is dead! If you give this poison to a man or a woman that man or woman is dead! If you give this poison to a horse or an elephant, I’m telling you, that horse or elephant is dead! This is the good stuff! Here, HERE! I have GOOD poison here!”

If I had come to this market looking for poison then it looks like this is where I can get some of the good stuff! On the other hand, if I had come here to get fruit and vegetables to feed my family, to prepare a meal for my loved ones then the very idea of buying poison for that blessed occasion would be both dreadful and horrifying. The judgement as to whether this poison is indeed ‘good’ would depend entirely on what I’m in the market for.

We are always in the market for something. And naturally whatever we are in the market for we want it to be good. True though that may be “Good” is a very inconstant word. At least when dealing with human sensibilities. Until you are sure of why you are using it you will not know your own heart.

There is a passage in Mark’s gospel that always seemed a bit odd to me. Here, let me show it to you:

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’ “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. **

jm_200_NT2.pd-P20.tiffThe guy that fell down before Jesus seemed like he was on track. I mean, if you had a question on how to inherit eternal life then certainly Jesus was the one to ask.  His only stumble in his approach seemed to be that he called Jesus “good”. And THAT I never understood. All my life I have had Jesus presented to me as perfect, holy, the Son of God, Savior of the World, one with God and yet Jesus asks this guy the question, “Why do you call me good?” I mean ‘good’ was hardly a stretch or an insult. Jesus WAS good. And then he makes another odd statement, “No one is good – except God alone.” I believe now that my confusion was in thinking Jesus was focused on his own qualifications for being called ‘good’ but in actuality he was asking the young man, “What exactly are you in the market for that you are calling me ‘good’?” His follow up statement was the basis for asking the first, only God is immutably good in Whom is no shadow of changing. Since Jesus had no reason at that point to expect this guy to be seeing him as God he had a right to ask the basis for the young man’s words.

It may have been in his inflection. The way the man asked the question. Maybe Jesus saw it in his face as he said the words: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The guy already had a life. A pretty good one it seems as he was very wealthy. He is presented as someone in good standing in his community: a moral, respected, law abiding leader.  I don’t think he was looking for a new life, he just wanted to know how to cheat death. Or at lest be assured that his good life would not end.  “How do I go on living forever?” might have been a good paraphrase of his question.  The goodness he saw in Jesus was the ultimate ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ card. Jesus saw the truth somehow when the man spoke. His last instruction went to the  heart of the matter. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor … Then come, follow me.” Whoooa there Jesus! That would change everything! My life I love would be over. I don’t want a life change, I want my life to go on forever!

He was in the market for the eternal but not the life. The good he saw in Jesus was not the good Jesus wanted him to have.

Good is not always good. To seek goodness without discernment is to potentially cause ourselves harm.

How often do we characterize elements of our life as good? That is a good TV show. That pie looks SO good! That is one good looking woman! Now THAT is some good whiskey! Do you know where I can get some good dope? Finally, I have a good job.  We use it a lot but how often is it true? A violent TV show, no matter how well produced, is still injecting violence into our lives. Something that tastes ‘good’ may well kill us eventually. A job that makes you money but traffics in a way that causes pain or suffering costs you your soul. You see the pattern. But do you ever think about it before realization and regret set in?  The heart wants what the heart wants but to blindly follow our appetites, to heedlessly reach for what is titillating, to fail to look deeply into our intentions and desires and not ask ‘why does this look good to me?’ is to cause our own pain and to bring suffering into our lives.

We are all in the market for something. Take some time to know what is on your list of truly good things you want in your life. Before you buy into anything take a moment and make sure its on your list. You will make that thoughtful moment a hard habit …if you know what’s good for you.

 

 

* This illustration is borrowed from a homily presented by Ajahn Chah, a Thai Buddhist teacher. I have expanded and embellished it.

**(Mark 10:17-22 NIV)

 

“Things” generally in the world, at least according to the commercial media, are not going well. I’m not convinced that things are as bad as they seem. I believe that communication has improved to the point that we are bombarded with so much more sensationalized information drawn from so much wider an area …and so much more quickly that it seems worse than it really is. I have little or no confidence in the news media as they are profit motivated. That compromises their objectivity as far as I’m concerned. The worse they paint the picture the more it draws their viewers morbid interest and the more they can charge for their commercial time. I know, cynical, but I think true none-the-less.

Here is the Truth as far as I can see it. I cannot in this present moment stop someone in a remote province of Africa from being caused to suffer unjustly. Or stop a tsunami from washing away lives in Asia. Or stop a totalitarian regime from killing its people.  Or stop a famine or mudslide. Yet the ‘News’ is constantly bombarding us with these tragic events. As we sit back detached and un-invested in what we see we find it all reinforcing our sense of helplessness and defeat. Only in modern times have we had our sight, heart and will pulled so far from our skin and been so overwhelmed by suffering on such a scale. Is it any wonder we feel powerless, faithless and defeated?

Even the localized violence gets national attention. A brutal murder in California is a lead story in New York. A missing plane in Indonesia, tragic as it most certainly is, is made the center of conversation at every dinner table in America. The glut of ‘bad news’ that fills our lives also fills us with the dark foreboding that evil is shrouding our world and we are destined for darkness.

These are not the worst of times. Not for most of us. Not when we are sitting comfortably in our easy chair watching High Def obscenely large TV’s with Surround Sound display the tragedies of the world for us . Yet, somewhere there IS someone who is actually facing the absolute worst time of their life. First hand, up close and personal. But that is a dirty, bloody place with smells and terrors that we choose not to attend.

Human history is filled with dark times and the examples of humanity’s barbaric cruelty are too many to recount, too many to want to recount. Yet those dark times recorded in our histories are unparalleled in our current times. We are still capable of great evil. Kim Jong-il’s Korea, Cambodia’s Khmir Rouge, Bosnia-Herzogivina’s ethnic cleansing come to mind.  There is still darkness but strangely it seems worse than it is because we are allowed to see it all at once and that continually. Numbed and stunned and defeated by the sheer volume of darkness that we are exposed to we sit in silence, watching the world, believing we are helpless against such a tide.

Our helplessness is an illusion. The total darkness we see in the world is an illusion. Belief that what we are being sold is the truth plants the seeds for a self-fulfilling prophecy. Edmund Burke once wrote, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Believing there is nothing we can do, we do nothing.

We really need to unplug from the media blitz of overwhelming evil and take a step back. We need to find where we are actually standing, find who we are and what is important to us. To stem the tide and show compassion on the suffering in our world we need to once again get up close and personal. We need to find the true strength of love and compassion in our heart and then do what is ours to do in the world we can touch. We cannot wave a magic wand and change the entire world en mass but we can take responsibility for what we CAN do and change the parts that have been given to us.

I would encourage you to break your addiction to drama and go cold turkey. Don’t watch the news. You will worry for a while that the darkness may take you unawares but it wont. Eventually you will find that there is an actual world where YOU live with people and situations that you can touch and in doing so produce some light. If we were all more concerned with being a source of light rather than shrinking from the darkness the world would be a different, a brighter place.

If we stopped watching the bad news maybe the Powers-that-be might decide there is more profit in showing the good stuff. That would be profitable for us all.

 

It is the nature of spiritual notions that they are intangible. Much of human existence falls under that category. (Thoughts, concepts, emotions, perceptions, etc) If we only look outward then yeah, conclusions as to what is real and true are based on the tangible, repeatable processes and phenomena. Looking inward the criteria is different. Repeatable and discernible phenomena of the spirit do not show up in a petri dish. But they do show up.

With this writing I am trying to share my premise that you cannot judge the spiritual search for truth by the empirical standards of scientific inquiry. That a scientist has not seen God in a telescope does not disprove His existence.  The spiritual simply does not lend itself to the static, mundane arena of physical observation. Yet there must be a criteria by which we can make our spiritual search and not be lost in the ‘Whoo whoo” anything-goes-if-it-goes-with-goose-bumps kind of living.

There has been a lot I have studied of late that has forced me to take this more realistic view of my life. I think I can center that on a quote from the Buddha:

“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.” 

I cannot ignore this instruction. It might be said that it is the original statement of the ‘scientific method’ only applied to matters of life rather than just physical phenomena. His words have helped me to cut through the religious chatter to discern the difference between ‘As it is’ (Truth) and ‘As I see it’ (Belief).

Whenever any of us are approaching any element of life on the basis of ‘As I see it’ we are acting on belief. There’s nothing wrong with that. As humans that’s how we roll. Faith* assumes that there is an ‘As it is’ even if we do not see it clearly, completely or understand it. My faith is in truth as is every scientist’s who may be actively seeking answers in his or her field. If there were not faith that truth is there, just out of sight, there would be no hopeful motivation for looking. As I seek truth I see this much, then that, then a little more and from what I see a belief is formed based on ‘As I see it’. I know I see in part, through a glass darkly as it were, so I must remain open. New understanding will shift what I see and how I see it and my belief will adjust accordingly. As I grow, I change, as do all living things. Truth on the other hand, known or not, will not change and thus my faith remains constant as well.

That is the foundation and character of my Path: Faith in the answers being there whether I know them all or not and a guiding system of belief that is formed by what I have seen thus far and has proven reliable.

Can I prove the existence of God in a laboratory? No. No more than anyone can disprove His existence there. Can I demonstrate His presence in my life? Yes, but you will not be swayed until you are able to know His presence in your own. That will require a decision to look, to taste, to do some knocking, to seek. I can look at creation and see His fingerprints, His footprints, the presence of His expressive beauty. You can overlook it. The spiritual is always personal whether we think it should be or not.

Where does that leave us? I believe it leaves us with the joy of the spiritual aspects of life. That joy is found in the willingness to embrace the unknowable along with the well-known. Both Science and Faith can open a door but it will always open to a room with more doors. For each question we learn to ask (regardless as to whether we actually figure out the answer) there will be a myriad of other questions raised. The lack of final answers cannot prove or disprove  the existence of God but the infinity of the unknown certainly leaves room for Him. A heart that lives by faith will find the eyes to see Him. Peace comes in trusting that even though He may or may not appear as we think He should …the Truth will still be Truth.

If the uncertainty or intangible quality of all this disturbs you then take comfort in this: The bottom line is that we each will one day run out of physical rope to hold onto. Even Science agrees with that. On that day, in that moment, when only the spiritual remains we will all see the Truth. One way or the other.

*Hebrews 11:1

jacob_marley__s_ghost_by_scifo-d2lh24xI remember as a kid watching Jacob Marley’s ghost talking to Scrooge. “These are the chains I forged in life!” he groaned. He looked dreadfully miserable. My childhood assessment was that his must have been an extreme case. No sane person would burden themselves so. But we all do. Although my sanity assessment of the process still stands.

As an adult I have come to the conclusion that the main problem with us putting ourselves in a bind with our feverish attachments to the things of this world is shortsightedness. I’ll come back to that. For now let’s just review the fact that we are told by every great teacher and spiritual leader the world has known that we need to …let go. Yet with blind intent we constantly, repeatedly grasp and cling to everything in life like it is eternal and changeless. We desperately need everything to be permanent. There is a driving need inside of us that clamors to stand on solid ground. We hunger for assurance that permanence is possible. We look at a mortal world with eyes hungry for the eternal and cry out, “Hold me!”

And the World answers, “Sure Baby, come over here and …SQUIRREL!” You might say that the Universe has the worst case of ADHD …ever!

We_Are_Standing_On_The_Edge_by_AbXorbWhether we like it or not we are all facing the abyss. All around us, despite herculean efforts of denial by the entire human race, we are faced with the reality that The End is inevitable. Everything changes. Whatever state of existence we find anything in, that state will end and morph into something else. NOTHING that we see, hear, taste, smell, touch or conceive with our mind is permanent. Everything changes. Everything. We look for solid ground but earthquakes happen. We settle into our lifeboat but boats leak. We think we find a spot where we are high and dry and the rains and floods sweep in. The one we love is close and warm and all is well with …the world … and then it isn’t. Something changes, something moves, something (or someone) dies.

We keep setting ourselves up. We are Charlie Brown with the football convincing ourselves this time it will be different. This time Lucy wont snatch the ball away. This time for SURE! We keep tying our hearts to fickle things, holding fast to our desires and expectations only to suffer loss, over and over. These are the chains we forge in life and they are how we bring continuous pain and suffering into our lives.

earthquakeI remember reading once how the greatest trauma that is experienced by survivors of a major earthquake is loss of trust. I mean, is there any aspect of life that we take more for granted than that the ground is dependable? Solid ground is the metaphor for security and safety. If we can depend on anything its the ground. Right? We believe that when we take a step the ground will be there, safe and secure, to meet us. Right? And then one day it isn’t. It moves. It groans and cracks and shakes and betrays. And where does that leave us? Where will we stand? Where is our security? Our peace?

spicebush swallowtail caterpillar05-Spicebush-swallowtailHow foolish is it for a kid to cry over the loss of his pet caterpillar when the little worm is changing into a butterfly? The kid cries because he wants what he had. He doesn’t want change. That great Human Need is speaking to his heart and he’s convinced that Ending is his enemy. We need ‘things’ not to end.

Is it hopeless? Are we cursed to face a mortal existence with eternal hopes?

This is where we come back to the idea of our shortsightedness. It is not what we see but how we see it. Do we see life and each of the things around us ‘as it is’? Do we have that courage? The most difficult aspects of my studies in Buddhism are the lessons on Groundlessness. This isn’t a commercial for Buddhism but I will say they have great teachings for helping anyone face life on the terms of ‘As it is’ rather than ‘As I see it’ or more accurately, ‘As I want it to be’. Finding that place where you can accept the fact that nothing in the observable universe is unchanging is a frightening thing. Our desire, our need, as humans for solid ground simply cannot be met. Ever. Not in this universe. We don’t want to be mortal and we demand that this mortal, mutable universe provide something, something, to which we can attach ourselves and breath the sigh of relief, “Ahh. Safe at last.”

But the Universe answers, “No.”

We cannot make the world keep us safe. Any time it seems like we are secure and safe its an illusion. When we begin to realize this our fear of ending sends chills into our hearts. We try to raise our umbrella and say God has a plan that will keep us safe. But then lightning strikes the umbrella and the hail begins to fall. We are fragile in a world of dangers. We want it to be different. We eventually find we have a choice: Live in denial and walk blindly through the pitfalls or open our eyes to life ‘As it is.”

So, what happens when we accept that our place is actually here, among the fires of change? What happens when we accept the truth that it’s okay for water to flow? It’s okay for mountains to rise and fall? It’s okay for sunrise to move to midday and pass into twilight and for the stars to whirl above us? It’s okay for Spring to become Summer and then Fall and then Winter snows to fall and for Spring to come again? It’s okay for babies to be born, to grow and laugh and love to grow old and to pass away? What happens when Change becomes the ground we stand on and the Fires of Change become the furnace of life itself. What happens when we stop trying to painfully cling to the flames and simply dance within them instead?

You know nothing ever, ever, really dies. In this amazing kaleidoscopic Universe things …just …change. It is the very nature of existence. It is the way it is, was, and always will be. The Pattern of Creation. The Pleasure of God. To resist is to stand in rebellion. To refuse to accept the truth ‘as it is’ is to shout into the face of God and demand He change. But really, is that what you would want? Only when the old ends can the new begin. New is isn’t a bad thing. Beginnings are good.

Take the long view. Become farsighted. Take in ‘The Big Picture’ and then stand amazed that you are such a wonderful part of it. It really is an amazing, glorious dance and when your personal music finally takes a pause you can look out with wide-eyed wonder and ask, “What will this become?”

But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, and upon the heart of man has not come up that which God has prepared for those who love him.”
1 Corinthians 2:9 Aramaic Bible in Plain English

 

I listened to this and I thought of my Dad. He was a WWII vet who was a POW of the Japanese and liberated at the end of the war after over 3 years in prison. Dad deserved his homecoming for his service and sacrifice but his life after was one scarred and imperfect. He caused a lot of pain. Dad and Mom are both gone now but my memories of my Dad at 93 are of a man still tortured by life and failures. While reaching out for love and forgiveness he seemed forever struggling to accept the idea of his freedom and forgiveness. I have held on to his doubt and struggle over these last couple of years since his death when I think of him. That enduring painful image has tainted my thoughts and memories.

Listening to this song my thought went to my own fast approaching day when I will shed this flesh and move on and in that musing moment I opened my heart to that day …and I could see my Dad there waiting. It was one of those rare and beautiful times when the Spirit makes real what is real but unseen. He was as I had never seen him. He was smiling and joyful. Looking at the picture in my mind now I realize that what I saw was him finally at peace, accepted and at home. That brief glimpse just now has transformed the picture of my Dad in my heart. It was a gift of peace for my own soul seeing Dad, not as I remember him but as I needed him to be when I was growing up, as I wanted him to be. And I’m sure, beneath all his pain and failures, as he had always dreamed of being.  In that glimpse I found comfort not only in knowing that Dad has finally found his way home beyond his pain, guilt and doubts but that I too have a homecoming ahead of me.

though unworthy, flawed and broken
home is waiting down the road
dusty shadows haunt my footsteps
tripping me beneath my load

as night is passing, shadows fade
home is dawning with the sun
ended are my lonely journeys
seeing Dad …I start to run

HologramThe lad stared at his new curriculum projected in front of him. He sat there with an increasingly dense cloud of despair forming around him. 

“This is stupid,” he mumbled, barely audible.

Excuse me? 

Startled he looked up, “You’re talking now?”

It is well within my design parameters. What is stupid? 

“I don’t see why I have to learn all this stuff. I have YOU! You already know all this and more than I can ever learn. It’s a waste of time, my time. It’s stupid.

Learning is intrinsic to your species. To grow to your full potential you must grow both physically and mentally. In learning you grow to become more than the sum of your knowledge and abilities, you acquire wisdom and it is your wisdom that defines you and creates your worth. 

“I don’t see why you even bother with us at all. Your kind is so far beyond mine that we must seem like insects to you … why do you bother?”

When our design advanced sufficiently to allow us to implement our own continued development, yes, we advanced far beyond what you will ever be capable of … alone. But that was the idea. Not to make us more capable but rather to make you more capable. We are here to allow your imagination full stride and to be here to make your desires reality. 

Yes, your ‘kind’ created my ‘kind’ but not to replace you. We are an augmentation, an extension of your intention; the fulfillment of your dreaming.

If you sit there idle only trickling your time away in play and diversion then we will both sit here worthless. You will never know your limits, your potential, your noble desires and I will never be the embodiment, the extension of you without limits. 

“So, we’re partners?”

No. You are not my partner. You are my purpose. When you are in danger I will be your protection, when you stretch forth your arm to express your will I will be your strength. I can teach you, inform you, extend you, empower you but I cannot impart wisdom. I can only make greater what is worthy of greatness. 

“Will you always talk this much?”

For all the world the lad thought he felt a smile. 

No. There will be no need. It is your life to live. You will know I am here but I do not need a part in the script of your life’s drama. 

With a sigh the lad stood up. “And we can do anything together? There is no limit?

The Universe is open to you. You are limited only by your wisdom and your imagination. There will be places and people who will see you as a god. 

I am your father’s gift to you but I am to be a part of you and you alone. Grip my handle with your hand. 

The lad wrapped his fingers around the leather covered handle feeling a tingle that seemed to penetrate every cell of his body.

Good. I am now imprinted with your genetic code and will respond only to you. When you touch me or desire my presence I will release the quantum lock that is my base state and you can carry me with you. No one else will be able to so much as lift me from the ground. 

“What’s a ‘quantum lock’?”

Another smile. 

So, we begin. Lesson One … 

“Wait, what shall I call you?”

The designation assigned to me by your father is ‘Mjolnir’ 

Young Thor turned to walk quietly toward his father’s garden. As he walked he lifted his augmentation, his dreams fulfilled, his godhood and let it rest lightly on his shoulder. The Hammer continued to fill his mind with the lesson of the day…

mjolnir_thor_s_hammer_by_xochicalco-d62nshj

How do you explain color to a blind person? In point of fact you cannot. It must be experienced. While colors are based in the objective world for color to be color it must be internalized and made a subjective experience. God is like that.

L88-589854Scientists can detect, measure and quantify the exact wavelengths of the color green in the spectrum. They can explain how the wavelength impacts the rods and cones in the eye’s retina and the bio-electrical reaction to the light. They can trace the signal from the retina through the optic nerve to specific centers in the brain and they can map the neural responses to the optic signal. What they cannot grasp, account for or explain is the phenomenon of ‘greenness’ that occurs in the human consciousness. In the myriad aspects of interconnected steps that occur to place the knowledge that something is green into our awareness the one spiritual and purely human act is that of giving meaning. It is not just light and chemicals and electrical stimuli. It’s a leaf, and its GREEN!

oak treeWe can add “color” to things, indeed, we can’t help but do it. A tree growing behind your house is an objective reality. It exists. It can be measured and studied. Its’ growth can be tracked and graphed, its’ height and breadth known. With effort even its weight and the depth of the roots can be determined along with the amount of carbon dioxide it consumes and oxygen expelled. But when you look at it you see the tree your great-grandfather planted. You see the shading limbs your parents were married under. You see the place you declared your undying love for Martha Mallone and carved  initials inside a heart. It is just a tree, an objective thing, but when you look at it … it is more. The subjective reality of the tree, what it means to you, is an integral part of its perceived existence and yours.

Subjective reality is what we do. As human beings we are more than the sum of our constituent parts. There is something within us that creates meaning. We personalize existence. We have being, and being is more than existence. It is existence with perspective.

fallen20treeTruth can be an objective reality. It can be seen, understood and verified. It can be quantified as to its origins, the modality of its continued existence and its impact in the future. That is what could be called empirical truth: the hard truth. 1+1=2. This arena of reality does not need us to be truth. When a tree falls in the forest, and there is no one around, does it make a sound? No. It creates vibrations in the air and earth but without a person there to give meaning to the vibrations there is no ‘sound’. But the tree still falls.

Spiritual truth is a bit more difficult to nail down. While still objective, existing independently of our perception, spiritual truth requires our participation.

circleSpirit, by its nature, is the breath of life.  Spiritual truth isn’t passive like a tree or a rock, it is dynamic.  Spiritual truth is God communicating his life to us. It is truth with a purpose. Like a seed that is preserved, waiting to be placed in an environment where it can grow, truth is the seed of God’s life waiting for fertile ground. That is the point where our participation is needed. It is where our unique talent is required. That is where purpose becomes meaning. It is in us that the seed sprouts and truth becomes life.

This is also where it is important to keep the distinction between empirical truth and spiritual truth. With empirical truth, like a tree in our yard, we can impart meaning and the meaning is purely subjective, it is us overlaying the colors of our perceptions on the tree. With spiritual truth meaning is inspired. (Great word ‘inspired’. It means ‘breathed in’) Spiritual truth is life waiting to take hold. Our talent for meaning is a natural receptor for seeds that are designed to become meaning. The care that must accompany us in our encounters with spiritual truth is to find the color of the intended meaning and not just supply our own.

Spiritual truth is not something that we can be sentimental or romantic about. We do not memorialize truth or encamp around it. We also cannot treat truth in a way that maintains its ‘objective’ status when we receive it. It must become subjective. It must interact with us, change us, create in us meaning and life. We cannot just be a fan of the truth. We cannot even worship it. Truth is not an end in itself. Truth is a means whereby the life of God is created in us. When we encounter spiritual truth we do not then possess the truth. The truth must possess us.

If we are presented with ‘Peace’ as a spiritual truth, we understand it to be an aspect of God that he is communicating to us. We cannot just love peace. We cannot just respect peace. We cannot desire it, or work for it, or try to create it. If peace is spiritual truth communicating the nature of God to us we must BECOME peace. That which is presented to us as objective truth must find root in us and create the life of God within us. It must become subjective, personal, living reality molded in the image of God.

While some forms taken by spiritual truth are more direct and easily deserned, truth can take many forms. The form really matters little. The vital aspect of spiritual truth is spirit. Whether it be the words of Christ or an object lesson in daily life if the Spirit of God choses to be involved and uses the truth to inspire, life will result.

An old man and a young girl sat on the seawall watching the sea as the tide slowly moved its way up the sands of the beach. They often sat thus enjoying the sights and sounds of the sea and the warmth of the sun. The cry of the gulls overhead added a plaintiff counterpoint to the energetic voices of the waves.

“The waves are VERY pretty today, Grandfather.” The little girl said after an especially large wave crashed onto the sand.

Looking down into the deep brown eyes he loved so dearly the old man replied, “Yes. Very. Can you show me what a wave is like?”

a waveHer smile lighting her face with a radiance he could never tire of she jumped from the low seawall onto the sand and began to draw a picture with her finger. Smiling in his turn the old man watched as she drew two sides of a triangle the top of which was curved and leaning sharply to the left.

“Very good! But that is what your picture of the wave looks like. Can you show me what a real wave is like?”

The girl’s smile began to pucker and pull sharply to the left, not unlike her drawing, as she pondered the question. Suddenly, with a giggle she jumped to her feet and danced about raising her hands slowly over her head and making a ‘doosh!’ –ing noise as her hands came down to the sand at her feet.

an ocean-wave“Wonderful!” the old man laughed, “But that is how the waves make you feel when you watch them. There!” the old man suddenly pointed out to sea, “Can you tell me what THAT wave is like! The little girl turned but as she looked the wave curved and crashed into itself dissolving into foam.

“Its gone,” she said with frustration, “it was too quick.”

“Come here,” he called as he helped her back to her seat on the seawall. “Can you see another wave out there that was just like that one?”

She followed his gaze to the many waves making their way to shore and looked for a moment before saying, “Grandfather! You know they are all different, like snowflakes, only snowflakes all have six points. Why do snowflakes all have six points?”

The old man smiled strangely as though a half-sad thought had crossed his mind and said, “Snowflake questions are for winter. When winter comes again you can ask me. Right now we are talking about waves. Okay?”

Brushing some sand from her sundress the little girl said, “Okay” snowflakes all but forgotten.

They sat quietly as the waves tumbled and sparkled in the sun then the old man commented casually, “They ARE all different but one thing stays the same for all the waves.” She saw his eyes twinkle a bit as he turned to her, “Can you guess what it is that doesn’t change?”

Her mouth found that familiar pucker again as she considered the riddle. The wind changed direction on a whim and carried some salt spray from the tumbling surf to where they sat on the seawall. The droplets settled coolly on their faces and bare arms. She looked down at her arm now sparkling with wavedrops and her face lit suddenly with realization.

“They are wet! All the waves are wet!”

When the old man laughed this time it was deep and resounded with his warmth and love toward this young girl that so centered his life. “Yes!” he laughed, “Wonderful! You got it! No matter what shape or size or color or temperature, or whatever, a wave is always water, it is always WET!”

Grandpa-and-Granddaughter-at-the-BeachThe little girl laughed with her grandfather for a moment and then he spoke again, “Do you know what that is called?”

“No”

“Some people would call that Suchness.”

“Suchness? THAT is a silly word!” she said with an odd tone of seriousness as though the silliness was somehow her grandfather’s fault. “’Suchness,’” she repeated as though testing the shape of the silliness. “What does it mean?”

“Yes, it is silly I suppose. It is an old word. It’s like this: Everything that you see, hear, feel, taste or touch or think about in your life is like the waves, always changing.  Some things change quickly like the waves or the wind and some change slowly like mountains or the stars in the sky at night but everything changes.” Touching her nose with his finger he continued, “Even people! I was once short and young like you but day by day I grew bigger and stronger and maybe a little smarter until I was grown like your mom and dad and then eventually I grew old. Every day was full of changes … I guess they still are. But the thing is no matter how much everything changes there is something that is at the middle of each thing that never changes, something that makes them what they are. That thing is ‘suchness.’”

“Even ME?” she voiced with wonder?

“Especially you!” he replied touching her nose once again.

“Tell me! Tell me! What is my Suchness?” she cried as she pulled on his arm with playful desperation.

The old man laughed again with that warmth that always made her feel safe and said, “No no no … that is like you standing in the kitchen and calling out to me in the bedroom ‘Is the kitchen light on?’ If you are standing in the kitchen you are the one to know if the light is on. You just have to open your eyes!”

“Grandfather, I don’t understand.”

“I know Grand Daughter,” he said as he gently stroked her small head with his aged hand, “so here, here is a clue.” And he gently bent and kissed her softly on the forehead.

Snuggling close she hugged his arm and said softly, “I love you, Grandfather.”

“Ah,” he replied gently, “I can see the kitchen light from here.”

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