Saturday, June 18, 2016

List making and Love making: do you want one with everything?

There are two kinds of people, those who make lists and those who don’t. I do sometimes, so maybe that makes three kinds of people. But I used to do more, used to make lists of right and wrong, good, better, best, mediocre, bad and worst. When I was 19 I remember spending a summer with a good friend making lists ranking, actually grading, everything and everyone we knew on a spectrum of A, B, C, D, and F. I wasn’t a real nice kid.

But then when I was 23 I met a monk named Aelred Graham, author of a book called “The Love of God,” and another book named "Zen Catholicism," who quoted a thirteenth century Buddhist monk named Dogen who wrote, “Take no thought of good and evil, only cease to cherish opinion.”and that linked up with a line of St Augustine's from the early 5th century that went, “Love God and do what you will.”

And those two quotes, and a few other things that life put on my path made my young certitude and my deep need to judge loosen up a bit, and the list making started to fall apart a little after that, except when I am under pressure, time limits, things to do, then it can, occasionally, come back. I’ve decided lists are good and bad: they start out as aids to discernment and learning tools, then can turn to abusive arbiters, but finally, if we’re lucky, they will serve as schoolmasters to turn us to Christ.

They seem to come with the territory of being alive and trying to take the path, make a difference, maybe two sides of the same story: law and love, good work and God’s grace, making plans and having patience, but how do we balance the tension we sometime find between these two?

Here’s my most recent preliminary draft of a rule of life; it might be related to reconciling that a little bit:

Breathe Spirits Deeply
Honour Bodies Often
Love Neighbours and Strangers
And Just Keep Dancing.

You might not guess it from all this, but I’m actually pretty orthodox. I believe in the Nicene Creed, can say it with conviction, because I’ve worked with it closely, studied it, argued with it for a number of years, actually learned to love it a little; even though I don’t keep it too near my pillow. But there are four or five other things I believe in more deeply, try to keep close to me most of the time: the rule points in that direction. The big one is that the God of love makes, meets and mends the world in every moment of time, and without that we’re nothing.

But up there in the top five or six beliefs is an ongoing conviction that the most essential gesture in being human, and the place where we often meet God, is when we see we're on a journey which sometimes takes blind turns, a way where we find ourselves on a road that curves ahead, when times come when we look to see that we’re going to have to change, do things differently, try a new way, be a new person, without knowing exactly how or what that’s going to look like.

It’s the corner where something old ends and something new begins: like the first day of school, a new job, the beginning of relationship, the end of relationship, cancer, chaos, love, life, death, resurrection. Times when the road turns us around at a costly crossroad, an intersection of old and new, faith and doubt, life and death, in a way we've never known before.

Now It often isn’t easy and we can call it a crisis or a dangerous opportunity; but I believe it’s where our incomplete lists meet God’s unfinished journey. It’s where we can give up our lives as a right, and, by God, take them  back as a gift, and then maybe even give them over as a blessing, as an offering.

Sometimes this process seems shockingly new and other times it's like a circle tour; maybe taking us to the place where what T. S. Eliot writes:

… the end of all our exploring 
Will be to arrive where we started 
And know the place for the first time.

Now let me change the subject and tell you a story -- and I warn you that this is one that often falls flat.

A robed Buddhist monk approaches a genuine New York City Hot Dog Stand; some guy from Brooklyn is there, shouting, “Get your hotdogs here, toasted buns, mustard, ketchup, onions, succotash, you can have it all!”. And the monk walks over to the guy and just looks at him silently. So the guy from Brooklyn says, What’d you want, buddy?” And the robed Buddhist monk says, “Make me one with everything!”

If we “Love God and do what…[we] will,” could it be that we would be one with everything, in a place where we are all in God’s one love and where, as Paul puts it to the Colossians with words close to  those we heard in his letter to the Galatians, “…there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, or free, but Christ is all and is in all.” What must it be like to live, to love, in that new creation where Christ is all and in all?

It must be like what Elijah knew after all the special effects of earthquake and fire, with the sound of sheer silence, the sound of God’s soft breath, the sound of God making, meeting, mending the universe in every moment; it must be like Moses on the mountain meeting God face to face; it must be like Peter witnessing the mount of the transfiguration with Moses and Elijah and Jesus, in that mountaintop moment where the journey started to curve ahead to a mysterious future.

It must be like the man who had lived for so long lost, naked among the dead, with legions of lies and illusions and opinions holding him tight like an occupying army, being suddenly freed, breathing deeply, made whole, clothed in his right mind, living in the light of love; one with everything in the Grace of God.

Maybe just two questions matter: How do we get there from here, and where do we go from there?

Another story about another eastern monk, who had spent his life trying to be enlightened, to learn to love within God’s compassion, and hadn’t quite gotten there. So he decided he would leave his monastery in the village, walk down the valley and up to the nearest mountain top to sit there in prayer and meditation until he either learned what he sought or died in the attempt.

And while he was walking up the mountain, there came an old man carrying a sizeable package,  coming down the mountain path, and he had the look of holiness about him. So the monk told him his problem, shared his story and asked the old man, “How do I wake up, become enlightened in God’s light?” The old man looked at him with love and simply dropped the package -- and then the monk suddenly knew peace for the first time --saw what he sought. “Oh, thank you!” he said, “And what do I do now?“ And the man smiled at him, picked up his package once again and continued to walk down the mountain towards the village.

And the end of all our exploring 
Will be to arrive where we started 
And know the place for the first time.

Elijah will return to dealing with powers and principalities, kings and corruption; Moses walks down from meeting with God on his mountain to rally the troops further on their unwilling pilgrimage to the promised land, Paul and Peter will go on to deal with all the issues of ethics and compassion and politics and even list making in the emerging Christian community and they will finally join Jesus in giving their lives over in the name of love to a future they cannot fully understand.

Even the man who had been lost and naked with the legion of demons is told to take his new clarity and clothes and understanding back into his old home and tell everyone what the Lord had done for him.

Same here.  One with Everything. It isn’t easy but it just might be true. So we come to this altar to give our lives over, to put down our burdens, so that we might, fed by God in the wilderness, incorporated in Christ in our journey, led by the Spirit into the City where we will find contradictions and blessings on any corner, at every crossroads, as we learn to breath in the gift of the God who makes and meets and mends everywhere and here and now, all and in all.  Amen.

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