Loving God’s Justice

God’s justice is not our justice, Fr. Raneiro of New Camaldoli Hermitage emphatically pointed out in a sermon once. I had never considered that reality before, but looking around our world, it seems like the most obvious observation many of us never make.

In both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, God gets really clear about what justice is. Treat the widows and orphans like family. Feed the hungry. Tend to the sick. A just people cares for those who can’t care for themselves, for the poor, the marginalized.

These are not the principles on which our justice system is founded. Our justice system is largely concerned not with mercy but with maintaining privilege for the privileged. God’s justice system overflows with love and abundance. “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly,” Jesus says.

It can be hard to picture a universal order that’s so much more generous than we are, and yet it’s all around us—trillions of galaxies, millions of species of insects, around 200 seeds on the outside of a strawberry. The author of existence is Infinite Love. What other kind of universe could it be?

If we can learn to see the generosity with which God gazes at us, we can then see the rest of the world with wonder and love.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….All things came into being through Him.” That’s God’s generosity, giving away the divine being in and as absolutely everything that is. Complete inclusion—not a single particle escapes that outpouring.

To no corner of the universe does God say, sorry, I don’t think you’re worthy of me. Quite the opposite.

The invitations to Judgement Day say, come experience absolute grace and forgiveness. This is going to be one hopping and everlasting party, and everyone’s going.

The Marvel of Life’s Abundance

There is something tender and beautiful about pausing our sometimes relentless motion to give thanks. Of all the incalculable gifts in life, here is a selection that hints at the largesse of the whole.

I’m grateful…

For generosity of spirit—sharing what we have with strangers during times of gravest need or with coworkers who’ve run out of sugar, giving one another the benefit of the doubt while in traffic or strong disagreement.

For selflessness—driving fifty miles back to the gas station where the favorite teddy bear was left, letting someone in a rush go first at the grocery store, serving in the military.

For those people—or animals, plants, places—that shape our hearts simply by the quality of their presence in the world, especially for those who have passed on this year.

For conversations—the way they wind around and draw out our thoughts, make them elastic, give them new form and in the process give us new understanding.

For ideas—on one hand the most insubstantial of all things and on the other hand the foundation of all the realities we humans have created on this Earth.

For the Earth, this astonishing crucible of life.

For the “concrete immediacies” of our lives, as Jim Finley would call them—the couch that is comfy enough to fall asleep on, the cat who curls up in the crook of my legs and purrs as if he were in a purring contest while I’m nodding off.

For existence, for the completely gratuitous and freely given nature of that initial “Let it be.”

For love, the very warp and weft of our lives, the material of our being that opens us into relationship and makes us more whole the less we hold onto ourselves.

Happy Thanksgiving. May all your cups overflow.

Beyond Powerball

I should probably start by clarifying that the Californian who won Powerball is not me, just in case you were wondering.

One fun thing about Powerball fever is talking with people about how they would spend the money. Everyone I spoke with planned to share their winnings with friends and family, and some more widely. No one said, “I’m going to put it in a Swiss bank account, buy the biggest yacht I can find, and go live in the middle of the ocean by myself.”

The idea of having $1.5 billion dollars allows us to imagine abundance, which appears to inspire generosity. The thing is, we live inside of astonishing abundance every day.

I was eavesdropping on a conversation between a few students on campus the other day. (Yes, if you’re near me, I’m eavesdropping on you. It’s one of my favorite pastimes.) Two of them wished a third good luck on a presentation, and after he left proceeded to pick his appearance apart in a breathtakingly unkind and thorough way.

Wow, I thought, that’s harsh, and not five seconds later watched myself internally do exactly the same thing to someone who for whatever reason didn’t meet my expectations. It was unsettling.

I think if we were truly conscious of the abundance of gifts we have, that judgmental voice in our heads might quiet down. We might recognize that this other person is a gift, that he or she is part of ourselves in ways that we can’t fully understand and that quite literally make us whole. We might be more generous—with our patience, with our love, with our understanding.

And the odds of success are better than 292 million to one.

 

Getting Clingy

I received a number of lovely and kind emails this week, each of which I read and, ten minutes later, read again, not so much to enjoy them as to reassure myself that I am loved and appreciated. Because, you know, the pixels might have rearranged themselves to make different words

I think this is what Buddhists call clinging, something Thich Nhat Hanh does not recommend in his book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching. Instead he suggests getting up close and personal with the appreciation of impermanence. After all, think what would happen if some things were permanent, like mosquitoes. By now Earth would be so full of mosquitoes that we’d have figured out intergalactic travel.

There are other things that most of us do want to be permanent, though—a really chocolatey chocolate ice cream cone (or vanilla if you happen to be one of those people), our health, that feeling we get when someone expresses her love for us. Apparently we don’t get to pick—clearly a universal design flaw.

In looking into the source of my obsessive email re-checking—another of the Buddha’s suggestions relayed by Thich Nhat Hanh—I found a lack of trust in the abundance of the universe. We live in a remarkably abundant place, from the number of mosquitoes to the number of galaxies—there is a whole lot of stuff here. And a lot of love and nice emails. I’m not saying we’ve worked out the distribution system particularly well among us humans, but that may have to do with this clinging, which I think is related to greed.

The reason greed is called a mortal sin is not that we are extra bad people when we are greedy but that it will kill us and others. We harm ourselves by trying to provide what only God can truly give, whether food or fulfillment, and end up feeling empty. Then, because of that feeling, we start hacking into other people’s inboxes and stealing their best emails. Or simply having too much to eat when others have not enough.

Trust doesn’t mean sitting on the couch and expecting the bag of potato chips to fall into our laps; it means recognizing that we are not the source of our existence, which can be difficult because it’s not what we’re taught. Paradoxically, though, when we don’t worry about when the next kindness will arrive, we can enjoy the present one a lot more.

Checking in on Reality

When you are chronically single, it is good to have at least one other chronically single friend. This increases the odds that, at any given time, one of you will be sane.

I was speaking with one such friend recently, and it was her turn to be sane. Both of us would like to have kids, and both of us are ever more rapidly approaching the age of ain’t gonna happen. The subject came up and my friend said in a hushed, semi-awed voice, “I think I’m OK with that.”

The “OK with it” option had occurred to me but was a little too scary to contemplate closely, like the ingredients list of a Twinkie. I have this idea that thinking will make it so, but here’s the thing: it is already so—I neither have kids nor do I currently find myself in a situation that leads to the rapid production of children.

When do we continue to believe in the possibility of something that isn’t yet and when do we accept life in its current state? On the never ending list of things I don’t understand, the balance between those two is near the top.

My friend’s sanity lay in shifting the emphasis: while she may not have this one thing she wants, she recognizes that her life is incredible. The question is not so much am I giving up on something as am I remembering that right now, my life is incalculably rich. Right now, I have an enjoyable job; I live in a beautiful place; all the parts of my body work well; I have wonderful friends and family; I no longer need to worry about the ingredients list of a Twinkie.

Louis CK does a great comedy routine called “Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy.” (On being impatient with smartphones: “Give it a second, it’s going to space.”) There’s always something available with which to play the if only game—marriage, kids, publication, four-foot-high chocolate fountain. It’s just so much more fun to play the everything’s amazing game.