Monday
Sep062010

« Sabbath Year »

I cannot find a single example in male stories where a man comes to enlightenment by taking a course, studying philosophy, becoming ordained, joining a community, or going to school. Those are all quite fine things to do, but in themselves they do not transform us. In mythological traditions, the young man cannot reach enlightenment until he has sustained some wounds, experienced disappointments, and confronted baffling paradoxes. Like Odysseus, he will invariably find himself trapped between the rock Scylla and the whirlpool Charybdis. This is where wisdom happens.

The young man absolutely must struggle with darkness, failure, and grief. Physically, the darkness can be experienced as pain and handicap. Intellectually, the darkness is experienced by struggling with the riddles, dilemmas, and absurdities of life.  There is no linear, clear, or nonstop journey to the Light.  Like physical light itself, true light must both include and overcome the darkness (John 1:5), and this cannot merely be done in a person’s intellect or will. —Fr. Richard Rohr

It has been quite an experience in the spiritual journey this year, and continually seems to unfold in its layered meaning for me. And, with this first week in September, I am also marking another anniversary—the time I spent at Halcyon in 2003, the time when for all intents and purposes, the old me died and made way for something new. In some way, the Arizona experience just named and reinterpreted the life experience that I already had. It refocused it. The initiation was already a lived experience; the Arizona rites were recognition of that. But the Arizona experience has given me new ways to look at the familiar. Even at Halcyon, the main counselor who was working with me spoke of the word recognition as "re-cognizing" i.e., to re-know something, or to draw on knowledge that is somehow already planted within you but for it to come alive in a new way. Some call this revelation. The discovery of the true self is the re-knowing of what you were born with, the essence of who you were before society tampered with you and tried to make you be everything else God didn't intend. The journey to true self is marked with failures, humiliations, deaths of the ego, hurts, falls of all sorts. Indeed, the only way up is to recognize your down-ness. The entire biblical narrative from Genesis to Revelation is a story of wholeness, wholeness lost, wholeness regained. Spiritual journey, in still other words.

This year is a sabbath year for me. Seven years since I died. Seven years since I was given a new chance at life. Seven years since I was reborn to be in service not of my own desires, but the needs of others. Marriage, web work for JEM and others, favors, volunteer work, church offices, opening my house, potluck dinners, sharing life in all the ways I know. Those are some of the things that really were nearly impossible things for me to do prior to 2003 because that part of me had not been born yet. All those things listed speak of being tapped into a source that allows a kind of openness and generosity that just can't happen in the sort of person I was till that time in 2003. And now, in the sacred cycle of seven years, I feel something else is at work. Something that I am not really in control of. This must be what the Apostle Paul was referring to when he talked of being in Christ and Christ being in him/Me. Allowing one to be a conduit for God's agenda is preferable to fighting it. Lots of unhappiness from that path.

Some people love to use the terminology of "born again" and others hate to hear it. I am making my peace with it, but instead of letting it imply some physical rebirth, I prefer to visit upon other translational possibilities—that of being born of the Spirit, or being born from above (if the pre-scientific three layer universe cosmology doesn't hang you up).  Each is legitimate interpretation of the Greek. But I have had a more recent thought that describes things in a way I have not yet particularly heard. What if that new birth was to be born for the sake of others? As in, your first birth establishes you as a body, an organism that is born and takes its oxygen and releases its waste, but is not yet fully human? And that it takes being dunked into the deeper waters of God's reality to reemerge as a de-centered and re-centered human with a new mandate to not just consume but to supply life for others? Dietrich Bonhoeffer called Jesus "The Man for Others." Even the story of Pinocchio is a story about this: Pinocchio was just a piece of wood—animated, but wooden—before he did the deed of saving Gepetto from the whale by the final daring act of heroism that would kill a person. It was that deed that brought him into his full humanity. That is to say, you're nobody till you're for someone else. You're not animated with the spirit (anima=spirit, a feminine grammatical form) till you get out of yourself. You're not human till you are able to serve someone else's humanity. And usually you can't get to that point till you die to that false self of made up identities that society and ego like to dress you up in.

Seven years ago I was just about to turn 30, a time when the MROP school of thought considers a major time to ask the big questions of life and self and of God. Even Jesus seems to have moved into his public ministry around that age. So I was just on time. Depression and fear and emotional paralysis were all I knew then. The old me was expiring. The old me had to die. Hardly anyone equipped me for understanding this stuff in this spiritual journey kind of way. Even if they had, this mysterious and paradoxical stuff was not my cup of tea, so maybe I just glossed over it. But I have been able to better embrace that sort of mystery of my own being more since given a vocabulary to recognize my own experience, and to see how the Christian narrative is one that lays it out for us all, if only we stop with the easy interpretations of it, the cheap answers, the black and white answers. The story goes like this. God loves you and there is nothing you can do about it. Just go on in peace and accept the gift, and share likewise. BE Jesus in the narrative—the man who found true self and lived from that centered place, no matter if it took him to humiliation and death. The promise to us is the life after the death. Sorry if you miss the value of this talk—but I am here on the shoulders of that story, with my own twist on it.

Father Richard Rohr, founder of the rites that I completed, cautions that we can't stay on the cross all the time and we can't expect to live in the resurrection all the time. We can't always be dying and we can't always have the glory of newness and rebirth. It is more like the ebb and flow of the tide or of the waxing and waning of the moon—interestingly, both feminine images in popular thought. The coincidence of opposites are what make things what they are. It is written into the universe of creation, and unless we have egos the size of Jupiter, it is our reality too. We learned in the rites that our only rights are to love and forgive as Jesus did—our only rights are to share something from so deep within, to draw from the well that God alone keeps filled. And he did so right till the end, with the record showing a love so great that even as he was suspended on a cross, his concerns were directed to the good of others, even the ones that people called criminals and to the ones that people considered the law or legitimate authority of the temple or of the land but that were responsible for the whole scandal of his death. He exercised his one right to own his ability to forgive and love, all other claims to rights being abstractions at that moment. That is clearly not a person acting out of self interest.

I could say this week marks my seventh birthday. As I write, I am in the process of archiving old audio tapes by a guy who apparently shared my name and lived in the same houses as I did, at the same time. But who is that guy? I don't recognize him for much. I'm not even sure my dog would. Unless there was a common thread of enjoying bacon.

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