Moving in Faith

When I sit down to blog, I often have no idea what the subject will be. I’ve slowly learned that I don’t need to know, that something will come along that will surprise me, that as I write, some deeply held truth will work its way into consciousness for the first time.

I don’t generally approach my days with this same comfortable not-knowing. I tend to view the day as a to-do list rather than a revelation of divine love and an invitation to participate in that love. With a to-do list, I can pretend to be in control. Showing up to a divine love party requires that openness called faith.

In her book Abounding in Kindness, Elizabeth Johnson says, “faith is first of all an existential decision rising up from your personal depths to entrust yourself to the Whither of your life, the living God.” Faith is a decision to trust.

To entrust ourselves to anyone or anything, including God, “to put [ourselves] into someone’s care or protection,” as the dictionary defines it, seems like a dicey proposition. God doesn’t appear to be in the protection business. There are those times when we improbably and uncannily emerge safe from the midst of danger, and then there is sickness, war, school shootings, hurricanes.

God’s presence, God’s unwavering care in the midst of all that is incomprehensible and painful is what we must choose to trust. “God protects us from nothing and sustains us in all things,” Jim Finley says.

Without this trust, we cannot enter the fullness of our lives. Johnson calls God the Whither of our lives because God is our destination, “that ineffable plenitude toward which we are journeying.” The Divine Love draws us toward itself and places our feet on the road, “summons and bears our thirsty minds and desiring hearts.”

Trust allows us to follow that summons, to recognize the divine love party for what it is and know that every moment we are both already in the presence of and traveling closer to our Host.


Note: The Elizabeth Johnson quotes were taken from the essay “Atheism and Faith in a Secular World,” pp. 20-34.

Free Redemption, With or Without Coupon

I tend to think redemption requires a lot of effort on my part, but maybe it’s always already present, just waiting to be recognized.

When a sprained ankle ended my backpacking plans, I decided to take the vacation days anyway and hang out at home—my first ever staycation. To ensure the vacation aspect, I told myself no judgment was allowed on the basis of things done or not done. (Note that I didn’t eschew judgment altogether, God forbid.)

The gap between theory and practice was, not surprisingly, rather large. I chose to loop an internal video of returning to work and people asking, “So what did you do?” while I frantically attempted to create answers. After all, they didn’t get the “Terms of Judgment” memo, and clearly these people who genuinely like me will concentrate on finding fault above all else.

Then one day, I took a long drive up the Big Sur coastline with my friend Susan for no other purpose than beauty and joy taking form in nature, friendship, and food. It was a sun-tipped, ocean-clad drive along the cliffs, which put on their most dramatic show in that part of the world. We shared wonderful conversation, and though we had a destination—a restaurant—we relaxed into not having anywhere to be at any particular time.

During the trip I didn’t once think about tasks or the reporting of accomplishments, and when I got home, the whole scenario had lost its power to agitate me.

Redemption is as easy and accessible as enjoying a beautiful day. Redemption is not about suffering; it is about the transformation of suffering into joy. It is not earned; it is available. It is not coming; it is already taken care of.

I don’t know why sometimes we enter into it without effort and sometimes it appears elusive. Perhaps we can only recognize it when we stop trying to make it happen and accept it as gift.

Trusting Solstice to Solstice

On the solstice, the year’s high tide of light, I was reminded of the ebb and flow of our existence. This longest day, the peak of the wave, is also the beginning of the fading of the light.

I love the fullness of summer, the long days, the bounty and spectacle of fruits of all colors. I love the swooping and diving of the swallows who built their nests under the eaves of a nearby building and their little heads peeking out of the holes, keeping watch. Summer is a time for savoring some of the sweetest gifts of life, and its arrival began with the winter solstice.

I often forget nature’s rhythm or try to live as if I could choose to be apart from it, as if force of will could keep the wave of productivity ever cresting. As if this were somehow desirable.

If we try to skip our own ebb times—hours, days, or seasons—it’s so much harder for the fruitfulness naturally growing within us to fully ripen. We are so convinced that we have to do something, to work hard to become what we are supposed to be, but life is working within and around us to draw forth and bring into being who we are.

This process of becoming is not so much up to us as we think. We can’t hurry it along any more than swallows can build their nests in winter.

Allowing our own ebb and flow requires trusting life. There are so many reasons not to trust—chronic sickness, war, cruelty of all kinds—but perhaps the deepest reason is that we do not believe in our own divinity, that who we are becoming is beautiful and beloved.

It’s easy to see how this happens. Our culture tells us hundreds if not thousands of times a day that love depends on performance and appearance when anyone who has loved another person, animal, or plant can tell you that this is fundamentally untrue. We love the dog’s floppy ear, and we often love our friends most tenderly when they’re struggling.

Summer and winter, ebb and flow, the Life and Love that lives through us sees that we are dazzling.

Beyond Wanting

Strolling around the local farmers’ market, I noticed my mind flitting off toward each bunch of lettuce or giant chocolate chip cookie saying, do I want that, do I want that, do I want that? It surprised me and showed me that we, perhaps especially we Americans, are taught wanting as a fundamental way of relating to life. (I did want the giant cookie, in case you’re wondering.)

We start this education at a young age. What do you want Santa to bring you for Christmas? What do you want to be when you grow up? And then we become more sophisticated about it. What kind of kitchen cabinets do you want? What are your career goals?

In Buddhism, there is a practice of directing loving kindness, or Metta, toward oneself and others. In one guided Metta meditation I listen to, the leader reminds the listeners that deep down all beings want to be happy. The problem is, the giant cookie will not ultimately get us there.

There’s nothing wrong with selecting cabinets one enjoys, but if you’re like me, the amount of energy we put into these decisions and the expectations we attach to their results do not align with reality. In investing ourselves and our happiness in the particular outcome we chose, we might miss out on what life is calling us to.

We have settled for wanting when we are made for longing. We can’t find the depths for which we long in any exterior thing or accomplishment that we want or any solution that we can invent inside our own heads. Life is offering us more than we can know or even imagine.

To find the unimaginable, we must let life lead. We must allow what we encounter to open us to our own becoming. We must live in the midst of our longing as it calls us into being. Only there, in that ever-changing moment, will we truly come home to ourselves.

Only there will the words of the Metta meditation come to fruition: May all beings be well. May all beings be happy. May all beings find peace.

Faith in What?

I was listening Tracy Chapman’s song “Heaven’s Here on Earth” while wondering about the fate of the world, and her phrase “faith in humankind” jumped out at me. What a radical idea that is.

Faith is not an easy or a reasonable thing. The news tells us 24/7 that humanity is an unreliable mess. Society recommends trusting constant acquisition of stuff and status instead.

Jesus, on the other hand, had tremendous faith in humanity. Who in his right mind would say, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church”? What was Jesus thinking? This is the guy who fell asleep in the garden and went on to deny Jesus three times and run away. But Peter’s also the one who recognized the Christ: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus called Zacchaeus, not exactly a model citizen, down from the tree. He told the woman caught in adultery to go and sin no more. That shows tremendous faith. He didn’t overlook what they’d done before, who they’d shown themselves to be up until then, he looked beyond it. He didn’t ignore the evidence against them but was willing to look at all the evidence in their favor.

What did he see?

He must have seen himself. He must have seen their divinity.

According to a reflection by Jim Finley, “Thomas Merton says there is that in you that no one [including you] can destroy or diminish because it belongs completely to God.” At the same time, we are literally made of this Earth. Everything we are and have comes from the Earth.

These are not contradictory ideas—these are two reasons for hope, for faith in humankind. We are not earthly or divine interlopers. As one of the products of billions of years of evolution, we belong on this sacred planet, as Brian Swimme points out.

“Heaven’s here on Earth in our faith in humankind,” Chapman’s song reminds us. Faith in our ability to love and to change, in our intimate connection to creation, in the reality of God dwelling within us.

 

“Everything in the World is Waiting”

Astonishing freedom is available to us all the time. Really, I’m not making it up. As William Stafford writes in “A Message from the Wanderer,”

…Prisoners, listen;
you have relatives outside. And there are
thousands of ways to escape.

This week, the transformation of a simple question pointed toward one escape route: trust. Pulling into my garage one night, I thought to myself about some aspect of life, “What am I doing?” in a mental voice tinged with a Pig-Pen-like cloud of despair. Then I heard the question repeated in an excited, joyful tone, as if the asker couldn’t wait to discover what wonderful thing I was about to do.

Many of our social and religious constructs teach us to deeply mistrust ourselves. They subtly say that we must be hyper vigilant to prevent ourselves from running amuck, as if our failings were just waiting for that one relaxed moment to rise up and overpower us.

While healthy self-reflection is necessary for growth, we need to remember that we’re made in the image and likeness of God and to consider what that means. We have our weaknesses, but we are manifestations of God’s abundant love, of God’s abundant self, and though it feels risky, we can trust that Ground of our being.

God is not waiting to smite us. God is loving us into existence with every breath and heartbeat, as Jim Finley says. God’s love is our true nature, and it is infinitely trustworthy. The more we know this to be true, the more we will trust ourselves and the more we will embody that trustworthiness in all our relationships.

We are going to mess up. We will almost certainly hurt one another by acting unconsciously or from a place of fear, but those mistakes don’t define us. “Nothing less than love has the power to name who you are,” Finley says.

Thus freedom always came nibbling my thought,
just as—often, in light, on the open hills—
you can pass an antelope and not know
and look back, and then—even before you see—
there is something wrong about the grass.
And then you see.

That’s the way everything in the world is waiting.

Everything in the world really is waiting. And it’s so excited to meet us.

You Are Trustworthy

How does one go from “God is trustworthy, the world is trustworthy, I am trustworthy” one week to “Everything I do is meaningless” the next? I’m not sure, but I might add “covering almost the entire existential spectrum at high speed” to my resume.

The trustworthy part arrived unexpectedly during my drive to work one day. Sometimes the universe gifts us a download of knowing after which, for a little while, we can perceive reality differently.

“Trustworthy” didn’t mean everything will be OK as we usually think of it—no pain, no loss—but rather that love fills all of life, even the hard stuff, so it’s already OK in a way we rarely notice. Also, creation has a “benevolent trajectory,” as my friend Markus says. On the cosmic, evolutionary scale, it’s all headed somewhere good, though again not necessarily good as we understand it.

I am trustworthy because God’s essential nature and creation’s essential nature is my essential nature. I’m not going to singlehandedly derail the cosmic experiment. As a matter of fact, I’m participating in its becoming, as we all are.

That was profoundly real for three days, and then literally a week later I understood why middle-aged people go out and buy little red sports cars—preferably a convertible, thank you. When all of the identities we’ve confused for our selves stop providing any sense of who we are, life becomes quite uncomfortable, and surely a sports car will relieve that discomfort.

How did I travel such an emotional and spiritual expanse so quickly? Humanity, I suspect, in the form of returning to my really healthy daily practice of not-enough-ness.

A vast chasm separates the person I think I’m capable of being from the person I’m actually capable of being. The imaginary person in my head maintains complete mastery over the physical and spiritual realms at all times. She always focuses on the most important task and completes it brilliantly, regardless of whether she got six or eight hours of sleep. At the same time, she’s riding the express train to nirvana, and it’s a straight shot.

Unfortunately, aside from being fictional, she’s missing the point. The world is already trustworthy; she is already trustworthy. There is nowhere to get to, not even nirvana. We don’t live to attain spiritual or any other kind of fulfillment. We are filled—and therefore fulfilled—by embodying loving kindness day by day, as my friend Bardwell once described his approach to life.

And we are already doing it. God is trustworthy, the world is trustworthy, you are trustworthy.