Living into Love

It’s remarkably difficult to align our lives with what we believe to be true. For example, I believe in love and compassion, in approaching all beings with an open heart, in kindness to self and others, in the power and beauty of words, in the importance of creativity.

But I forget and spend a good amount of time—especially mental time—acting as if I believe in getting things done and receiving recognition for doing them well. Why don’t I more consistently practice what I believe?

Or to phrase the question in a more useful way, how can we live our most deeply held convictions ever more fully? After all, we are and always will be works in progress.

Jim Finely says we must find our identity and security in God alone. That’s a radical statement. He’s not talking about our 401ks and insurance policies. He’s talking about the place from which we move.

Finley also says God is loving us into being with every breath and heartbeat. He’s describing our fundamental nature, beyond protons and electrons, our identity as beings of Love.

When we know we are loved and are made of love, we become free to express that love without worrying that its lack of reception will define us or that we’ll run out of love and there won’t be enough left to sustain us. This freedom allows us to act in accord with the beauty in and around us and discover and reveal that same beauty in others.

Life will always be unpredictable and insecure, but the nature of our existence is utterly reliable. We are made by Love for love. By becoming ever wider conduits of love, we live into the fullness of ourselves, and it is glorious.

Tuning into the Divine Frequency

Life would be so much easier if fulfillment could be found in exterior things. The world’s most amazing piece of chocolate cake exists somewhere, so find it and bam! you’re done. Mission accomplished. Life well lived. Carefree from here on out.

But nothing outside of our selves—space intended—will ever satisfy us, a reality that can cause a lot of joy or a lot of suffering.

So many things seem as if they describe or comprise our selves but don’t: our accomplishments, our responsible-ness, our moral conduct, others’ opinions of us. Sometimes, though, we really mess up all of these things—I mean really, or at least I do—and so they can’t be who we are.

What’s left when everything our society teaches us to value or work toward is not us? In a recent meditation, Richard Rohr writes, “Gospel holiness…is almost entirely about receiving God’s free gift of compassion, mercy, and forgiveness.” Or to put it another way in another tradition, “We don’t need to look outside of the present moment to find inner peace and contentment; when experienced with awareness, everything becomes a source of joy,” according to Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche.

This sounds great but can be frustrating because there’s nothing we can do to make ourselves happy or become who we want to be once and for all. We are more than anything else receptors, and the best we can do is attune ourselves to the divine frequency, a station that only plays in the present moment.

“I am a hole in a flute that the Christ’s breath moves through,” says the Sufi poet Hafiz. When we allow that music to flow through us, our actions become notes in the divine song—natural expressions of our true selves. I suspect this receiving and giving is better than chocolate cake.

Who You Are

A younger-than-me friend asked what words of wisdom I had to offer on my birthday last weekend. Dispensing advice at age forty-three may well lead to taking it all back at sixty, but I’ve been thinking about it and decided it’s worth the risk.

My sage advice is: love who you are. I can see the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland, framed by a perfect smoke ring, asking, “Who are you?” We have so many selves, so many voices bumping around in our head, so many personas for so many situations. I would say this:

  • Love the person you are when you are overcome with joy.
  • Love the one whose soul sings looking at a baby’s smile or the ocean or a leaf you’ve seen a thousand times without, until this moment, noticing the pattern of its veins.
  • Love the human being whose heart breaks for a friend’s suffering or for the child half a world away whom no one wants.
  • Love the you who cannot seem to change that one fault—or, OK, many faults—no matter how many times you make the same mistake.

In other words, love the entire package that is actually you, not the person you think you should be. Because this love will lead you to yourself—the mystery of yourself, the divinity of yourself, the you that encompasses all the selves on that list but is other than their sum total.

We are made in the image and likeness of God. We have that within us that both is and transcends all that we are, and when we love ourselves enough to get in touch with it, we’ll meet the rest of the world there.

Lenten Joy

For Lent, I am giving up being frustrated with myself. We’re a couple of Sundays in, and I regret to inform you that I’m not yet walking around in a state of perpetual bliss.

My exterior behavior hasn’t changed much. I am still getting or not getting about the same amount done, still going to bed late sometimes, still missing the van, still haven’t written the great American novel. So what, then, is the point of this practice?

The more I do it, the more I think it helps me learn to “refuse to find my security and identity in anything but God,” as Jim Finley says. When I look at the source of my frustration, it’s usually not my actions but rather fear of what people will think about me.

On the one hand, it’s not an unreasonable fear. Most of us receive job evaluations that could have real effects on our lives, and our days are simply more enjoyable when people are kind to us. On the other hand, what exactly would happen if the nebulous “they” didn’t like me? To paraphrase Finley, when we think our lives are going down the drain, stop and ask which drain.

Not to mention that I’m making it all up—no one has ever approached me and said, I don’t like you because you don’t get enough done.

Basil Pennington, reflecting on the Rule of St. Benedict, says that the point of Lenten practice is to enter into the “fullness and joy of Easter” now, to look forward to Easter by being joyful. Richard Rohr in his daily meditations this week has included the prayer, “Astound me with your love.”

This wide open graciousness can feel risky. It’s much safer, at least to me, to stick within my narrow frustrations because there, I know who I am—I’m someone who’s going to mess up and disappoint myself. God may just have a better option than that.

Moving Grasshoppers

Well, this week wasn’t an “I’m here” kind of week. It was an “Oh *!%*#” kind of week, a week of being stuck on a level of relating to the world that is pretty useless.

Someone at work told me about a wasp that kills grasshoppers and then takes them back to a tunnel it built in the ground. Before it takes the grasshopper into the tunnel, it flies through the tunnel to make sure no one has invaded it. If you move the grasshopper away from the tunnel entrance, the wasp will move it back and then go sweep the tunnel again, no matter how far you move the grasshopper, no matter how recently it swept the tunnel.

The tunnel I’ve been running through with great zeal this week is the “I’m not good at my job” tunnel. And because I am really clever, I’ve been moving my own grasshopper by repeatedly trying to assess how bad of a person I am for having missed some deadlines. Don’t try this at home—it’s for advanced monkey minds only.

The problem is, as Cynthia Bourgeault would say, that I’m running the wrong operating system. Whether building myself up or tearing myself down, I’m still basing my identity on job performance.

It’s interesting that over identifying with job performance does not improve it, at least for me. Quite the opposite. If my sense of self is based on whether or not the magazine comes out on time and there’s no way the magazine is going to come out on time, I’m pretty screwed. My personal reaction to this situation is paralysis, which is generally not conducive to getting work done.

Jim Finley says we need to find our identity and security in God alone. That sounds pretty good. I think I’ll start judging myself on how close I’m getting to that standard instead. Excuse me, there’s a grasshopper I need to attend to. Bzzzzzz.