There is a purity and sacredness as a life begins to ebb, the veil thins and the hint of what is to come becomes more palpable. While the biological mechanism that holds our soul begins to weaken and wear out, the soul in its beauty begins to shine through. While I fully realize that in this day and troubled age, many times the body that harbors someone’s soul is ripped apart too quickly, by violence and the harsh realities that come with human free will, there are those who, after a full and breathtakingly ordinary and beautiful life, sustain my belief that love is still the author of this play called life, and because of the tether we have to a gracious God, nothing will still it.
I think we sometimes forget the subtle and sustained moments of love that often go unrecognized in the day to day. It is like a favorite smell, song, or the warmth of the sun that bring a sigh, a moment of relief or happiness that Fill in the negative spaces and keep us moving forward. I am amazed to hear the stories my mother-in-law Rayola tells, each one a reflection of simple moments that wouldn’t seem to amount to much in the full span of a life, but are coming back to her with great clarity as her life begins to wane and the effect they had on her and her life’s journey. It gives me respect for the moments I often disregard as meaningless or less than impactful, when, in reality, they take root deep in our personal psyche and ripple outward inspiring other simple gestures of kindness and love toward even more people.
I see the ripple effect everywhere in this woman’s life…the circles of kindness, acceptance, and unconditional love that wave outward into the world making their impact heartily and consciously felt. I know there are many moments that may be unconsciously felt or recognized by the person receiving the benefit (as I am one such recipient), but they are powerful nonetheless. I want to remember the beauty in the waning of life, like the colors of a sunset or beauty of the first star of the night…like a hint of all the beauty and the glory to come. Love doesn’t need a trumpet or neon flash or pageantry. Love is the all, the beauty of a background and the whisper of God in our ears, just like my mother in law. Today I celebrate the indomitable spirit of those subtle but powerful moments of love.
In a perfect world, truth would be so much easier if everything were transparent…except, its not. Transparency isn’t the norm. So much of the circumstance of every human encounter remains hidden to each participant. How much personal pain, damage, courage, experience, deception or thousands of other bits of circumstance color the reaction expressed in each encounter? I would venture to say a lot. And yet so often we behave as if we know it all and are completely comfortable in the quick judgments we throw out into the world. In the last few days, I have been part of many conversations and observed the behavior of many on the national level that were rooted in misunderstanding and steeped in unwarranted judgement. Its exhausting, pushing down the desire to quantify and qualify everything. In the war between “my truth” and “your truth” does “real truth” get lost?
If we knew more of the “circumstances” that were behind every encounter, would we behave differently? I would hope so. Would a rash of angry and misinformed threats fall differently if the other party knew the circumstances that the other party was struggling with? Again, I would hope so…even if it only meant that words, perhaps angry or harsh, were then not taken personally, or to heart, but created a greater sense of understanding and empathy instead. As Christians, (since I am one, I claim no expertise on any other faith, which is why I use my own as an example) Jesus tells us: to walk in another’s shoes, to judge not lest we be judged, to turn the other cheek, to take the plank out of our own eye before we point out the speck in another’s eye, to be merciful, to love our neighbors as ourselves, and above all to tell the truth. Truth and living mindfully of these commands go hand in hand.
The other side of the circumstance coin is the person who hides deep deception and all other deviant qualities, like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I certainly have been the naive one in that equation, and I consider myself a pretty astute observer. The “truth” here cautions us to be careful, to take the time and effort necessary to not only give each person a break, but to remain cautious while the substance of what they speak is revealed, which usually takes more time than we are willing to commit to. Without trying to sound like a broken record, media, social, opinion or news, have created such a market that perpetuates snap judgments that do more to destroy the truth en-mass than any other mechanism I can think of.
In your next encounter, think of the mass of circumstance that you can’t see. Be mindful of how much you hold secret too. Truth takes time, and kindness.
In my year of bearing good fruit, today on Father’s day, I pause and wonder and pray for those whose fruit bearing was cut short, who, by our human tendency toward violence as a problem solving tool were shut down before their purpose and gifts in this life were brought to fruition. None of us can know just how other lives could have benefited and been saved by these individuals who were prematurely cut down, whether by the hand of another, or their own hand, but the future is affected nonetheless.
This year I have committed myself to be aware of those whose talents, gifts and influence have brought me thus far. They are a multitude. I am also aware of the tentative thread that connects all of these moments and actions together. What if one essential thread had disappeared, been cut short by violence? What if those God intended to be on my path at some future date were already gone? How are the many affected by a loss of a fruit that was meant as an essential benefit to someone long ahead in the future?
In a time when everyone is arguing about who deserved what, who caused what, and who ultimately is to blame, no one, it seems to me anyway, asks the very important question about what happens when human beings decide a life isn’t worth living, or redeeming, or is worthy only as a blood sacrifice. None of us are omniscient. None can know what the impact on our future will be. Yet, we are living in violent times. I understand the logic of self defense. I have heard all of the justifications. But….none of us know the mind of God or know the opportunity for redemption that could have come. As Christians, we should a least hold that as a powerful possibility too. We are told, when God is for us, who can be against us? Maybe if we had just a little more faith in that, we wouldn’t feel the need to use violence (both in words and deeds) to solve our problems.
We must do better. We must learn to work at problem solving with less vitriol. And because of all I learned last year about clarity, I must start with myself. And it is hard work. Before I went to sleep a couple of nights ago, I prayed hard that God show me how to move forward…and I didn’t like the answer. I am a vivid dreamer, and here was my dream:
I was on a rocky hill. Jesus, or my vision of him, was sitting on rock. I went and sat next to him and asked what I must do to help the world.
He smiled and said, “I have laid everything out in the Gospel” When I asked him to be more specific, he simply said “infrastructure”
Of course I wanted clarity, so I asked, “You mean like roads, bridges, foundations and things like that?”
He responded, “yes, infrastructure of the spirit. You must make roads and bridges and create a foundation all for and to the Kingdom of God.”
Feeling overwhelmed, I asked, “but how do I do that, where do I start?”
Jesus answered, “By being a servant first and foremost”
I got worried and asked, “But haven’t I been serving you?”
He looked somber and said, “it isn’t a question of past service, but what must be done to heal the wounds that are threatening the Body of Christ. The road ahead isn’t solitary, I require the Body, full and functioning. In order to heal it you must find the wounds first, and clean and remove infection so that it can grow in strength. It isn’t pretty, or easy but it must be done.”
Of course I’m all about healing (or so I thought) “I want to help heal it, show me what I can do.”
Jesus said “No servant is greater than their master, if you want to serve me then do what I have done.”
I was all in “I will, Lord” I responded. Then he handed me a towel and walked me over to a chair with a basin. I recognized the washing of the feet scenario…not too scary, I’ve handled worse. But then Jesus greeted someone behind me, and when I turned around Donald Trump was standing in front of me. My heart sank farther that I ever thought it could. Because, this is the first and last time I’ll say this, I despise him. Please understand it has nothing to do with a political party. I despise the man. I think he’s a narcissist, mean spirited, untruthful, a misogynist, weak in character and so much more. I looked at Jesus, and he looked really sad. He guided Mr Trump to the chair and asked him to remove his shoes. Thankfully he did was he was told and didn’t speak. (I’m sure my unconscious mind wouldn’t allow it). I looked at the towel in my hand and looked at Jesus with eyes that said “Really?”
He reminded me of something my son asked when he was a little boy, “Remember what you said when Connor asked you whether there was any place in hell that the love of God couldn’t reach?”
I said, “I told him that the love of God can and does reach every place in the universe”
And then Jesus said, “Show me that its true”
I literally got down on my knees and started sobbing. I picked up Mr Trump’s foot and started washing it. I suddenly realized how horribly misshapen-ed and wounded it was. Every time I squeezed the water on it, the wounds seemed to clear up a bit. Then he disappeared and it was Jesus feet in his place. They were perfect, even with the scar of the nail, they were perfect.
He said to me, “That what you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do unto me.” I was devastated. I had been schooled. Then I woke up. I committed in that moment to building a spiritual infrastructure worthy of the Body of Christ.
I have no clear idea of what to do. But I will work toward keeping the fruit of the future in tact, and I hope you will too. The time has come for us as servants to find the wounds and clean them and heal them, and not just the wounds we want to heal, or just the people that we believe are worthy of it. We must call out and stand in defense against any who would harm the Body of Christ…but our weapon is not a gun, it is LOVE. LOVE that flashes brilliantly to everyone to see, as proof that God can touch everywhere in the universe. We all benefit when we see Christ in absolutely every person out there. I know the journey will be hard and complex, but this dream will be forever on my mind when I walk…for the love of God can reach anywhere.
A wise teacher once told me that to truly live, you must do so without permission. Seeing myself as a free spirit and natural rebel, I couldn’t imagine he didn’t see that I had already mastered the concept. “Think about it for a moment”, he then said, “to whom or what do you seek permission?” I just looked at him blankly, wondering what the infernal hell he was talking about. “Total up all the, ‘Don’t think that’, ‘Don’t say that’, ‘Don’t Be that’, or ‘A good Christian says or does’, ‘An attractive woman is’, ‘A successful person is’ and don’t forget all the ‘You have too’s’, and ‘you can’t do that’s’, and you can see that your life is more restrictive than need be. Except no one can define you, restrict you…without your permission. You have all the power to decide, no one else. You decide who or what enhances your life. And it isn’t always easy…because we can’t always choose who the people and circumstances are that surround us and fill our heads. But personal survival depends on those you choose to submit to.” He then gave us an assignment to list what permissions must be extended, and those that must be denied. I cried for a long time while doing that assignment. When challenged to do so, I felt the terrible weight of the shackles that I had the key to unlock all along, and that meant letting go of some people and ideas and learning to see others in a new light. Change sucks, and I certainly understand why people talk themselves into staying in a situation that is toxic, and they are bound, because once the shackles are off…you have to walk on your own.
The reason I bring this lesson to light has much to do with my year of clarity. When I get lost in the business of living it’s easy to hand over your life in pieces without even being aware of it until suddenly, voila, my journey is weighted down by those shackles again. Except this time, no tears, just resolve. I choose, once again, to live without permission. I’m not talking about anarchy here. There will be always be rules and laws that I submit to because I understand that in the long run they will be as much a service to me as to those that I love, live, work and play with. But to those voices, people and structures who try and rewrite the blueprint that is me because it serves their purpose, I respectfully decline. I know my heart and with clarity I can see who is helping me become and who is keeping me from becoming all that I can be. I decide.
I also know that when I live without permission, I must extend to others the same accord. I must let them live according to their rhythm too. That means dancing a careful dance between support and control, and between fear and love. I am as guilty as any person of treading too far, of overpowering instead of graciously offering, and yet I won’t let myself be punished for trying too hard, even if I am sorry I overstep. And to those who have grown and expanded under my tutelage, I know that is because they have also brought out the best in me too. Because when you live without permission and allow others to live with out permission, everyone benefits. We all get to be our bigger and better selves.
So let me now extend a request. In the comment section on wordpress, share with me one way you would like to live without permission, and I would gladly pray for that to be extended to you. If you wish your comment to remain unpublished, I will submit to that too, (but I will still pray for you). The benefit of throwing it out there for all to see though, is that you will have many more wonderful people out there praying for you too.
Being ready to charge forth is how I always want to portray myself…but I am more a compilation of pacing, hyperventilation, tears, ending in quiet resolve. I am aware of what I have to say, no less committed to continue on the path that I see so clearly, shaking but never wavering. It just isn’t easy for me. On that note, I am provoked by the faceless ugliness of social media and the fearful nature of information, convoluted to champion ideological superiority and then weaponizing it as a way to justify a belief and behavior that circumvents the gospel, and yes I did say circumvent…because Jesus could never, would never stand for it…the finger pointing and the blame, the violent solutions and polarization of the world and its people. In John 13:13, Jesus lays out the model of behavior he expects of his disciples:
You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master’ and rightly so for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and the teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. Amen, amen I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you because of it.
He goes on to say in John 13:34,
I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
There will be those who will pick through scripture to find ways around this to justify their hatred of those who are the momentary evil of day…whether it is a political party, or those who terrorize in the name of their superiority. We, as Christians, are not allowed that weakness. That is what Jesus meant when he said:
You have heard that is was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you…
There are plenty of places to find what love looks like….which is where everyone should start. More importantly, we have to look at what drives us away from love, which drives us to propagate gossip and innuendo as fast as wild-fire. It is fear. It is fear. It is fear. It. Is. Fear. How can that be?, we who wear the gift of grace?, we who are promised that anything we ask for in prayer, with faith will be given, we who are commanded not to worry because if God clothes the world in such splendor, how much more does he have in store for us, so little in our faith? We fear because we have been lulled into the illusion that evil has the greater edge, that it can defeat us, and the greatest illusion of all, that the gates of hell haven’t already been shattered by Jesus death and resurrection. On the night he was betrayed he rebuked a disciple who burnished the sword:
Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you not think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels? Then how would scripture be fulfilled which say this must come to pass in this way?
That is the question isn’t it? How will our fate, laid out in scripure be fulfilled? Could God swoop down and finish the job? Or does he know that the sacrifice of his son has given us the necessary tools to be our own champions? 1John 4: lays it out plainly:
There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love. We love because He first loved us.
Love is what must be our core. It doesn’t mean that it will be easy, but at any moment in time we can pray to God to augment our imperfect hearts with His perfect love, or we can give into fear in all its seeming righteousness, in its promise of vengeance, its illusion of creating peace and safety. Violence will never be the answer; hatred exists as a bi-product of fear. But that doesn’t mean I am naive, either. I don’t condemn armies who fight for a cause…one of the conundrums of being human, I guess. Perhaps that is what Jesus meant when he said that we should render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. He also told us that we couldn’t serve two masters, and how narrow the road to righteousness really is. But certainly, the task at hand is to focus on how others will see us and know that we are his disciples…they will know us by how we love one another.
Numbers are generally not my forte, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate them, or understand their significance in our lives. There is a great song lyric from the song, “Seasons of Love”, from the musical “Rent’ that I love: 525,600 minutes, how do you measure a year.” This weekend, working at a “Feed My Starving Children” event at Osceola High School, less than 250 high school students, faculty, and a handful of parents, assembled 300,000 meals. That means 822 children will be fed for a year, 432,043,200 precious minutes of life sustained and celebrated. Actually that last number gave me goose bumps because 432 is a sacred number, (for my science and religion students, Joseph Campbell pointed out the significance of this number), as well as the square root of the speed of light, and how the golden mean is exemplified in sound (432Hz tuning). And this very number is repeated twice in those precious minutes we helped save this past weekend!
I’ve been focusing on these words of Jesus this year, “Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive” and “Every good tree bears good fruit.” This event was the perfect, shining, harmonic example of everything Jesus was talking about. By the hands of the few, many are saved. So many good trees, bearing good fruit. There is nothing more powerful than that. It was done with joy, celebration and mad organization by the staff of “Feed My Starving Children” and Joel and Heidi Hazzard who sponsored the event. Duplicating loaves and fishes and even moving mountains doesn’t have to be complicated. Simply joining together and working together can accomplish amazing things. Congress could learn a lot from these young people, who came together from all different social groups to work in concert together and accomplish an amazing goal. I’ve always said the most extraordinary things are accomplished by ordinary (and yet amazing) people.
The last time Jesus rode into Nazareth, he did so with the aplomb of a King. He had reached the conclusion of his ministry, celebrated by ringing voices “Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest. At the pinnacle of his ministry, he entered the temple and trashed all those merchants buying and selling saying, “It is written: ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’ but you are making it a den of thieves” Then he healed the sick and lame and irritated pretty much everybody who had any status whatsoever. He even withered a fig tree that wasn’t bearing fruit and cursed it to never bear fruit again…and when asked how the tree withered immediately, he said something that has become one of my very favorite phrases EVER: “Amen I say to you, if you have faith and do not waver, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain: ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea’ it will be done. Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith you will receive” BOOYAH!
So who do you think our modern money lenders are? Here’s my take…Anyone who acts under the auspices of faith and uses it to gain advantage or influence. You and I both know who those kind of people are. Here’s the thing. At that moment, riding into Jerusalem, Jesus could have used his new-found adulation from the people to do pretty much anything he wanted. But instead, he upset the apple cart and made it very clear what needed to be done was challenge the status quo. They weren’t bearing fruit or building the kingdom, so they were done. Things were going to change. But he also let us know that we had the same power to make the changes he did…enough to move mountains. Anything asked in prayer with faith…and what people forget is that he instructed us how to pray as well. He said to pray in secret, don’t pray like the hypocrites so that everyone will see, do it in private where your Father who sees in secret will repay you. The bottom line? You can never fake out God. He knows our hearts. He knows the hearts of those who profit publicly on his name too. I guess I would rather move mountains than gain approval.
The buying and selling of influence under the auspices of faith is the barren fig tree that Jesus withered. If you are not bearing fruit from your faith, if you are not keeping the temple ground sacred, then you are done…just like the money lenders and those hypocrites who pray to be seen. All of us have at times had barren patches, I’m not really talking about that, but when you make a claim to be one who bears fruit in name only, and do nothing? Well, that is a whole different story. People of consequence, who really believe and have faith in prayer and do it secretly to the Father will move mountains.
I’ve embraced that breaking out in a cold sweat will be the new normal as I write this first post for the new year. After the title popped into my head I knew I needed to write before I lost my nerve. Here goes.
Every person on this earth is of consequence. Everyone. God’s plan for the world is weakened, altered whenever we lose sight of this most fundamental idea; we are in this together. How do I know this? Just read the Bible, actually most Holy Scriptures. Since I am a Christian, this is how I know this. In Jesus’ wheelhouse of people, he spent the majority of his time with the least desirable, most despised, greatest sinners…etc. He chose simple fishermen for his disciples, and often the oddest of people to dine with and talk to. His reach went beyond the limitations of class, ethnicity, religion and politics; everyone mattered. Everyone deserved to hear his message He especially avoided those who had held the prestige of class and distinction….because they had forgotten who God was, and how to build up His Kingdom.
I don’t think it is difficult to draw a parallel to modern culture. We have become as exclusive, judgmental, bigoted and narrow-minded as those who were threatened by Jesus in his day. We have forgotten who God is and how to build up His Kingdom. To twist the words of Jesus to exclude and redefine who is acceptable to God is nothing short of blasphemy. So don’t. God celebrates every one of us, he doesn’t make mistakes. I hope that isn’t a hard pill to swallow, because to each of you who really hates a section of the population for whatever reason…stop, because they are precious in God’s eyes.
Ouch, I know that can be harsh. So I have to see preciousness in the people who literally make my skin crawl? Yes. That doesn’t mean that we all go hug a random criminal or (insert name of the faction of the population you hate the most). So here is where I move beyond “of consequence” and on to consequences. Saying the phrase, “of consequence” and believing it is hard. Most people I know are insecure and struggle, in a variety of ways, with low self esteem…that includes those who appear über confident and present the illusion to the world that their shit doesn’t stink. It is what drives the angry divisive, bullying behavior of people today. Those who really believe they are precious, essential, loved and important just don’t behave that way. I also think it is why people refuse to accept responsibility for their own choices, and how that is manifested, I suppose, is different for each person. For example, I think the one of the reasons the Pharisees hated Jesus so much is that he took their power over the people away. If Jesus was the Messiah they had been waiting so long for, they were no longer formidable. Their self-worth depended on knowing more, having more power, the exclusivity of being the God’s chosen people, rendering them more important that everyone else. Jesus virtually pulled the rug out from under their belief of who the Messiah would be, not a mighty King, but a loving servant. That could not have set well. They were precious in God’s eyes and yet there were dire consequences of what they did. How are we supposed to love that?
Being “of consequence” will never render the “consequences” of any our actions in the world null and void. We all live by the choices we make and often suffer the fallout of choices others make. We have to hold others accountable, but only in a way that offers the possibility of being “of consequence” again. I’m not naive, the world has some pretty evil stuff going on. But remember that we are not alone, God is truly with us and for us…all of us. And until we can believe that we are all precious in His sight, even though we all sin, we have to stop throwing stones, the kind that destroy and not build up. We have to stop blaming the government, the 1%, the poor, ethnicity, ideology… the list goes on and on. Jesus said, that whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me. Holding ourselves and others accountable while still seeing the worth in all sinners is how we grow and how we grow to understand God. I just want people to understand that the kind of choices we make change when we look in the mirror and believe that the person who is looking back matters, is important, and is an expression of God’s great creative mind. Because if you can’t see God’s creation when you look in the mirror, you won’t be able to see it in others either.
In a world where so much goes wrong, it can be easy to wonder where all the heavenly help has gone. You know, you hear all those stories of mystical beings springing out of nowhere to save the day, never to be found again to be thanked, but I wonder…is that the exception for angelic behavior, or the rule? I know Jesus inferred many times that heralded help may not always be what it appears, wolves in sheep’s clothing, thieves in the night. So how do we know? Is it a good standard to escape the pain and difficulty that are almost essential to mastering the game of life? Is it logical to surmise that when things go our way, heaven is behind us and when they don’t we are being punished or plagued by a demon? I say unequivocally, no it isn’t logical…but then again neither is God. That isn’t to say that God can’t behave logically. God just isn’t defined by it. Logic is a human invention to help make sense of life and discover truth. It will never be a primary tool to uncover and understand the divine.
So then, it’s complicated. If heaven is beyond and not limited by our comprehension, how do we know when help is near…and more importantly when it’s not, and we are just being duped into deeper and deeper illusion? That’s when I rely on the teachings of Jesus. I truly believe in the realm of angels, because Jesus did. And while I may not understand all that entails, I do understand Jesus when he described the different kinds of people who would follow his words. The parable of the sower in Matthew 13 is a perfect description of those who abide by his teachings: there are those who are more shallow and the words never take hold, those who don’t hold them deep enough and forget the minute things get rough, those whose would use them for their own thorny purpose and choke the life out the message, and finally, those who let them deep into the soul and nurture them till they bear fruit. I always pray that I am of the latter, but time and humility will tell.
That’s how I feel about angels. I am aware that I need a lot of help if I am to nurture this seed of faith that I’ve been given. In hindsight, though, my personal magical moments hardly ever consisted of being swooped up and saved by a heavenly messenger, rather it usually meant knowing I could survive the pain of heaven peeling away the darkness and replacing it something brighter and more pure, whatever the situation. Angels don’t make our lives easier, they help us make it better, and that sometimes means harder. They direct us down a better road, often the least traveled or obvious. They help us defy and ascend logic by demanding faith in that which we cannot yet see, but have been told to be real. Their presence is with us all the time, yet because of free will, requires our permission to assist in sowing the sacred soil of the soul. The fruit of which, is to extend an angelic hand to someone else, not necessarily to save, but to serve.
I tell my sons this all the time. Much of the lifestyle we live, is earned and I am proud of that. As much, however, is not. I am always mindful of that I live in a rich country, have freedoms that others fought for, have the ethnicity that offers more opportunity to me than to others. I am gifted spiritually by Grace, and perfected by God’s sacrifice. I am NOT entitled to anything, except the opportunity to love as Jesus did and help bring light to a world that often seems dimmed by smoke and subterfuge…so that we cannot see that we are blessed, created by and vindicated by God.
I can’t help thinking that if we really believed that we were greatly privileged, and wore that greatness as a badge of honor, we would embrace the responsibility to love and honor each other so much more easily. We’ve been lulled into believing that we will never have enough, will never be enough, and the world’s acceptance matters. We should be better at it by now, you know, loving one another and being the Body of Christ. We are way too obsessed about gaining what is rightly ours…when nothing really is, in this temporal world, all is fleeting and none of it will matter in the next world.
I know it doesn’t mean we stop practically living in the world, but we would live differently if we really believed that we could. I think that is what Jesus meant when he said, “Sell all you have and follow me”. With the privilege of Grace, comes responsibility.
Yesterday I was just bored. Bored with the cold weather, bored with life and its problems and bored with my prayers. So I decided to change things up a bit and pray for those out there who don’t have the wherewithal to pray, who are too broken, too arrogant or just too ignorant to know that the necessary help is right there, waiting to be tapped. I prayed so that their eyes may be opened, and their hearts filled love so they could see the world in a new way. I prayed also that my judgement on what they needed would not factor in to the equation…because we all have a bias about what people need. I prayed that God’s will be done and not mine, even if the outcome was to bless those that I don’t think deserve it, or challenge those that I believe do. If a random act of kindness can create a ripple effect of kindness, think of what a random act of prayer can do.
It has been awhile, for good reason. I am woman caught on fire. In the last two weeks, the archdiocese I spent more than a decade working for, and the University where I received much of my training, released the lists of priests who have been accused of sexually abusing minors. The pastor of the first parish I worked for was on that list…and some who I have personal knowledge and experience of that should be on it were not. While my relationships with some of these men did not fall within the perimeters of the alleged abuse, it was still abuse. Suffice it to say that the rage I feel is based on countless power struggles during my tenure with the archdiocese that I believe impeded my ability to do the job that I was hired to do, called by God to do, and ultimately became the central reason I walked away from ministry. Given my personality, I always knew that I would have some difficulty working for the Catholic Church. I was an attractive, smart, strong willed, vivacious, intelligent woman. For those of you who think I should also include egotistical and arrogant to the list…yeah well, given all that I sacrificed during those years, believe me, while my list of vices may be many, false humility and lack of objectivity aren’t part of the list. Anyway, what matters is that given who I was and what the church was at that time, I knew the road would never be easy, and I took extra precaution to live a very pure life, to which I never strayed. But I never thought for one minute that I would be immersed in such a deep struggle between the sacred and profane. I can’t even regard them as people anymore at this point, because the manipulation and the mind games were so malevolent that even in the face of knowing rationally that something was way off with whatever situation I faced at the time, often I was the one left feeling like the sinner and they, the saint. I learned to work with blinders on just to survive, but I was too angry so I moved out of parish work to teaching after that, which didn’t turn out much better. The suggestions that perhaps if I dressed more appropriately for my profession, the rumors that went around never would have started. Shortly afterwards I cut off my hair. I’ve included some pictures to prove I didn’t dress like a whore, nor did I dress like a nun either.
I thought long and hard about what details to share, but I don’t think that would serve any purpose other than just more titillating proof of the kind of abuse that occurs in an environment of ultimate power, and fueling even more hatred won’t offer answers, just annihilation. The girl I was at the time wouldn’t like it. She would be embarrassed, humiliated and hurt, and just because she may have not been the typical theologian she deserved the respect she worked hard for. Still, after all this time, I don’t hate the church…I worked with too many wonderful and spiritual people during my time there. I do however hate the path the church has taken, and I can’t walk down that path anymore. For me, I knew I needed help finding clarity…that was what therapy was for, and given that the therapist knew I had never been sexually active at the time, said that I had all the symptoms of someone who was the victim of sexual assault, only on a spiritual level. She helped me see there is a much deeper dimension to the kind of power struggles I faced, and lost. I didn’t appreciate until I read those lists of names what a deep toll being a victim of spiritual, sexual assault took on me. I had many great plans and ideas back then, to manifest the Gospel in new and exciting ways, but I just got worn out and gave up. Meeting my future husband and moving to the woods of Wisconsin saved my sanity, which remains tenuous because I live in crazy town (too many men, too little common sense).
It is my hope and prayer that Pope Francis can not only clean up the mess, but begin to heal the many wounds caused by the hierarchy. But until I see evidence of that change, my faith life remains catholic…with a small “c”.
It is so weird…the weather is really cold, I tackled Cyber Monday, my eldest son comes home from Montana for the first time in four months, I’m cleaning for the holiday celebrations, my cat died….yeah MY CAT DIED. Just sleeping on my bed. When I went to move her over so I could go to sleep for the night…she didn’t spring into action like she usually does. We all freaked out a bit, because she wasn’t very old, and then the practical me kicked in, cleaned, wrapped her, autopsy, cremation. The vet said she found no cause…most likely a brain or heart incident. I feel kind of funny in the face of immeasurable losses people have experienced around me to focus on my cat, death still shockingly disrupted my life and for a moment shed the film that often clouds my vision. It is amazing how an animal becomes ingrained in the rhythm of life and softens the mundane. So much more for our loved ones. We have to fashion new ways to celebrate their presence in our lives and imbue everyday things with their spirit. And yes, I do believe even my little kitty has a spirit. For this holiday season anyway, I pray my faith expands my sight to beyond what my human eyes can’t see to what my soul can.
Plato, in his allegory of the cave, gives a perfect illustration of how we can become captive by illusions. As a result of believing the shadows on the wall to be true reality, the world becomes a fabrication, like the old tale of the Emperor’s invisible clothes. Like the fundamental assumptions that society believes often without question or in many instances fails to even notice, the world’s illusions seem to have snuck up on us slowly, so much so that it appears that we have lost the ability to distinguish between what is real and what is simply a shadow on the wall. What is most frightening, though, is the level of ferocity (even violence) with which we as individuals and as a society have chosen to hold on to illusions, rather than recognize, grieve, and surrender the deceptions we believed and then move upward and outward into the light.
It may appear to be the greatest of arrogance for me to tell you that you’ve been staring at shadows your whole life. So I won’t say it. Of course if your life is not hunky dory then you’ll have to draw your own conclusions as to the reason why, and let me suggest that the list begins with the primary source…yourself. The only claim of expertise made here will be from what I’ve learned as a fellow observer, one with the added vantage point of standing in the middle. Not only is there an equidistant view from where I stand, if I’ve been lulled into believing in shadows, the chances are pretty good that others have been lulled into believing them too. So if you see room for improvement in your life, then take a chance and read on. I won’t even attempt to tell you what illusions you may be staring at in shadow form. The starting point is to simply admit that you may have them. It will be your job to figure out what those shadows are. And let me tell you that when you do that, the chains dissolve away. There is no trick to escape, no enormous locks; it all centers on personal choice. Those first few steps in relative darkness are the hardest because it demands that you have faith in something that isn’t known yet. It’s after you take those first steps and go outside that you will understand the difference; the light makes it impossible to transfer one shadow for another, they are lost forever. But take heed to this warning: the process of escape usually really sucks. The pain is a necessary part, but like a painkiller I’ll try to dull it a bit. If you were able to accept the challenge and let go of all the rules you live by and live in cosmic anarchy for a while, then you’re already 10 steps ahead of everyone else.
One of the rules that I’ve adopted (post cleaning my own cosmic closet) is that things are not always what they appear to be, so making rigid judgments about any given situation doesn’t even factor into the movie in my head; when I have done so in the past, the result is most often catastrophic. Most people are aware on some level that what they see is often colored by who they are and what has happened to them thus far in life. What trips me up most often is not that things are something other than what they appear to be, but that I hold on to the judgments that I create about them (often rigidly) even in the face of knowing better. A shadow is a shadow, regardless of how articulate or insightful modern commentary is in trying to justify the truth of its existence. Real change happens in the heart. Any person can say they believe in something over and over, but if their heart isn’t willing to follow along, especially in terms of their behavior, then the chains will never be let loose making it impossible to move out of the darkness.
As an observer, besides using my native good judgment in determining at any given time when I’m living in the land of illusion, there is also a process I use taken from the rules of Evidence in the American Judicial System. One of the most basic rules of evidence is that only evidence that is relevant may be permitted, that is only that material which has the tendency to help prove the truth of the issue at hand. The most obvious relevant evidence would be something like a murder weapon or an eye witness to a crime. Even when evidence is relevant, though, it may still be excluded if the value of the evidence is outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues or misleading the jury. Other forms of evidence like hearsay: a statement made outside of the courtroom but is offered in court to prove the truth of the matter asserted; or character evidence: using a person’s character to prove that person acted in conformity to that character, may not be allowed because of the risk of unfair prejudice. The bottom line is that the rules of evidence are very restrictive because those who decide the case whether it be the judge or a jury deserve the kind of evidence that best leads to the truth.
Unfortunately, this kind of filtering isn’t necessarily applied when it comes to dispelling many of the illusions our culture lives by today. Look at how most of us receive information, especially from television. It is common to utilize deeply biased and second and third hand information to inform the public about an issue. It is also more and more common to attack someone’s character as a means of uncovering “the truth,” or to diminish the validity of their perspective. It appears that the means by which we prove the truth in our lives would never hold muster in a court room. Is it because the truth by which we live is less important than the truth that will prove us guilty or innocent?
There are three things that I have found helpful in destroying the illusions that pop up in my life: 1) coming to terms with the judgments of my heart, 2) steering away from that kind of evidence that distracts me from the truth and 3) refusing to engage in “king of the hill” behavior, meaning defending with such vigor those judgments/illusions I have that truth is forced to take the back seat to winning the argument. Have you ever had an argument with someone and fought to the death even though you knew full well that you were wrong? Just wanting to be right never got me anywhere, whereas shifting my thinking from a win/lose mentality to an exploration of what new information I may gain, has usually gotten me everywhere. Take a moment to listen to your innate good judgment and see if there is truth in what others are saying. Feeling super defensive is a sure sign that it is a crucial time to listen. Ego thrives on illusion. I’ve also learned, the hard way, that truth never prevails when the impetus to present an idea is rooted in fear (even if the fear is as simple as not wanting to lose the upper hand).
Although chances are also great that the other person doesn’t know what they are talking about either and are also just trying to win, when you remove the competitive element either the wind will completely blow out of the conversation (being there is nothing left for the other person to conquer) or you will find out the other person is really trying to make a point. There may even be the not so rare occasion when they weren’t listening to you anyway and just like to hear themselves talk. Even in these situations discovery may happen. The focus should not be on the other person, but on what your heart tells you in response to them. Face it change is hard…in Plato’s allegory, there were plenty of people who wanted to kill the messenger, the one who escaped the chains and wanted to share his expanded frame of reference. We often shoot down new information if it requires us to shift beyond what we believe at any given point. Holding onto shadows may be easier, but then one must accept the kind of darkness that will forever shield one from true illumination. Faith in light beyond the darkness is the only escape.
So how can we be sure if love is present and is what propels us forward? Where do we go to find out what it really is so that we can begin the process of harnessing it? There are volumes of literature, music, psychology, philosophy and theology that have tried to depict what love really is. What more could I possibly say about love that would amount to a major discovery? Are there any new ways to talk about the true nature of love? Well, based on humanity’s past observations and experiences of love, we should be able to understand a few things about what it is and what it is not. So I offer another kind of construct or tool that may offer us a unique perspective.
Let’s start with a short discussion about love via logic and mathematics. During law-school, I was re-introduced to Boolean logic as a research tool. When searching for cases on West Law or Lexis, my classmates and I would use Boolean language which reduces words, mostly connectors like “and” and “or” to symbols. (search engines like “Google” and “Yahoo” also use this tool) George Boole, an Irish school teacher of the mid-nineteenth century, reduced logical statements to simple arithmetic by inventing an artificial language which reduced ordinary language to its barest form. It introduced symbols for complete sentences and for the conjunctions that connect them such as “or,” “and,” and “If/then.” It uses different symbols for the logical subject and the logical predicate of a sentence and it has symbols for classes, members of classes, and the relationships of class membership and class inclusion. A picture description of this would be a Venn diagram. It also differs from classical logic and its assumptions regarding the existence of the things referred to in its universal statements. The statement “All A’s are B’s” is rendered in modern logic to mean, “If anything is an A, then it is a B.” When applying this kind of logic to the word love (A), we cannot assume that A exists, but once we do prove it does it will be the standard for everything that flows from it. So if we can prove that A exists and know what A is, we will know if anything else, B or C for example (let’s call them given expressions), fit into the class.
I’ve already suggested that love exists beyond the human plane making it virtually impossible to “prove” in a definitive sense. I can say emphatically, however, that love is endemic to all people. Perhaps that is proof enough of its existence. Having studied world religions, there are some universal qualities that give even further clarity to what love is. Using these universal qualities (some of which will be laid out in a moment) helps to define “A”. We should be able to exclude or include other classes, some of which, according to my research have been incorrectly applied. How do we go about the process of inclusion/exclusion? What follows was my first step in harnessing the power of love.
When teaching a science and religion class, I, with the help of our math teacher, used symbolic language and resulting truth tables to determine whether two statements were logically equivalent or not. When something is A, when would it be B as well? The reason for this approach is because when you begin speaking about love, especially to a group of individuals in the throes of hormones, not only is it hard to be objective, it’s almost impossible to break away from all the cultural baggage that they already associate with love. Most students could not get out of the rut of interpreting or defining love merely by their physical senses, especially in a sexual or romantic sense. While senses are important in understanding the effect love has on humanity, love is not an effect or expression, because they are unique to each individual. But because effect and expression, or “the results” of love are what we observe, it is understandable why we have so often tried to define in love in this way.
By using a language that is, by nature, devoid of subjectivity, it’s easy to avoid defining love just as an effect or expression and see it from a different angle. Using a truth table can tell you the conditions for which a conjunction (two statements joined by the word “and”) and dis junction (two statements joined by the word “or”) would be considered true or false from a logical perspective. My concern was to help students apply this simple logic to qualitative statements and not only determine whether or not they were logically equivalent but also if they were true. Not to infer that this particular approach reduces love to a mere logical process, but if we begin with universal definitions of love, then any expression (B), or effect (C) of love (A) should, logically, flow from that definer. This seemed to be one approach to help clean up the past conclusions we have made about love. For demonstration purposes let me use two of my favorite authorities on love: Jesus and Shakespeare.
Initially, students were provided with quotes from Shakespeare and Jesus that defined aspects of love: “A rose by any other name…”, “love is patient, kind…”, “love has no room for fear…”, “love is not love which alters when it alteration finds…”, and a host of others too numerous to list. After discussion about these statements and their validity, we listed those traits as being in the class of “A.” We then posited conditional statements: If “A” then “B” or “C” to see if the statements were logically equivalent.
The conditional statement I always liked to use, and which was certainly apropos to high school students, went like this: “If you love me then you will have sex with me.” Students set up tables that included converting the statement “If you have sex with me then you love me”, adding negation “If you don’t love me then you won’t have sex with me” and what is called the contrapositive, “If you don’t have sex with me then you don’t love me,” which interesting enough, should be true (or false) when the original statement is true (or false). The crushing blow for this particular phrase (to the students I taught anyway) was that in every word or phrase we use to define love (love is patient, love is kind, etc.) sex was never used. So, if sex were in class “C,” it wasn’t a logical equivalent of “A.” In fact, we discovered by our truth tables that (I admit this may have been manipulative on my part) sex, which inherently focuses on the pleasure of the individual, can actually oppose love (in its purest sense of course). Besides generating many loud discussions by many students, they were also challenged to view love differently.
Love, like a constant in math (k), is an immutable force in the face of which an individual expression is of small consequence. The Bhagava-gītā, states that love is indestructible and eternally existing, its constitution never changes. So let us not define ourselves by how we express love to each other, but rather allow love to define who we can be as individuals. The result, my friends, is heaven. Any time I start to judge someone else’s expression of love, I remember that love is a lot bigger than I am.
Let me go even further. Even if we can find some universal qualities to better understand the nature of love, as far as individual experience of love goes, it is as unique as a snow-flake. Love as experienced by me is always different from how it is experienced by someone else, even if the difference is only subtle. That is not to say that love is a personal invention. As an individual, though, I am a unique accumulation of millions of observations and experiences so accordingly, my expressions of love will be unique to my journey. Here is my challenge: the more we each discover about the true nature of love independently, and share it, the broader our understanding of love’s true nature will be. The result is like a spectrum of colors, the likes of which has never been seen before. Mind you, this kind of discovery is a process of trial and error; most of us will be burned a few times. Despite the painful risks the rewards have to be worth it. Whenever I feel defeated, I just try and image what modern life would be like had we not harnessed the power of fire.
All crap aside, I have tried in the last couple of days to 1) figure out what exactly drives me as an observer and 2) figure out how to improve and change what drives me as an observer. Truthfully, I am stuck. I’m stuck because there is a part of me, perhaps the part that is rooted in common sense, that absolutely can’t change how I view that portion of the world that is so rooted in illusion that they are convinced it is the rest of the world that is completely insane….I KNOW! THAT VERY EXAMPLE FITS ME BOTH AS AN OBSERVER AND THOSE THAT I OBSERVE!!! It is a bit of a conundrum. So, I have begun to disassemble the illusory elements in my life…which also stands as proof that my willingness to accept that I may just be as crazy as those I’ve been judging, is a sign that I am in fact, not the crazy on in this observer/observed relationship. Also, the fact that I would never go out in public with my boobs tucked into my pants because I misplaced my bra and shirt is a point on my side as well.
As far as what drives me as an observer, I would say first and foremost it is my faith as a Christian….I KNOW! MOST OF THE CRAZY PEOPLE I’VE OBSERVED ALSO INCLUDE CHRISTIANITY AS THEIR BIGGEST DRIVING FORCE! That includes, and is not limited to those horrible spirited people who protest funerals, those that think that a woman’s body has special powers to keep from being impregnated when she is “legitimately” raped, and any or all of the “Real Housewives of Orange County.” So, what happened? Did we get it wrong? I, personally, think we did. This then, is where I will start. Read this verse John 13: 34 & 35 and answer this question…is this how you understand your faith? Actually read the whole chapter, it is the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. A wonderful portrayal of what is expected of authority.
I know that Jesus didn’t just grab a random person off the streets and command them to love like he did and wash their feet. He loved these disciples. He had journeyed with them, spent three years with them…he had tamed them. Because he had tamed them, he knew that they would understand his command. The ties that bound them on earth were so important when it came to building and continuing his church, and he was no longer physically with him. They were responsible to each other, just like the Little Prince taught (see post on Taming). I think is the most important part…I asked myself the same question: How am I responsible to Him?. I didn’t get tamed by Jesus personally…only spiritually, and it was through a disciple that I came to understand what he was all about. It is what made me different from any of the others that have made the same claim. It has put me on a path of not focusing on being better than or being right…but one of being better and responsible to this phrase: “They will know you are my disciple by how you love one another.” The break down of illusion starts there.
“What is essential is invisible to the eye; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly” Antoine de Saint Exupéry.
The above quote, from “The Little Prince,” is where I root the fundamentals of friendship and has helped me harness love, especially in regard to the fragile nature of the human heart these days. The gist of the tale is this: the wood fox leads the little prince on a journey of establishing ties (friendships, the true essence of taming) which makes the prince’s ordinary rose “unique in all the world.” In the end, after the wood fox tamed the little prince and it came time for the prince’s departure, the fox was sad. The little prince could not understand the benefit of establishing ties if the result was to end in possible sadness. To help him appreciate taming despite the sadness, the fox sends the little prince back to a rose garden to try to understand how all the roses there were different from his solitary rose on his own little planet. It is in the presence of all these other roses that the little prince realizes that his rose matters more than any of the others because of the time he has spent caring for her, watering her and protecting her. It is the ties that he established with his rose that has made her so important.
The fox makes it clear to the prince that in order for taming to be successful one must observe the proper rites. In all it’s beautiful simplicity it means that taming takes time and patience. At first the fox told the little prince to sit at a distance and do nothing except to allow the fox to see him out of the corner of his eye. He explains that during this initial phase the prince should say nothing at all because words are the source of misunderstanding. Everyday the little prince was to sit a bit closer. He also told the little prince to come back at the same time everyday so that he would begin to know at which hour his heart should be ready to greet him; consistency is everything when it comes to taming.
The wood fox explains that the process of taming causes the world to appear completely different. For example, the fox had no use for the wheat field but after the prince had tamed him, the golden color of the wheat will always bring him the thought of the prince and give him joy. The fox will never see the wheat field in the same way again. It will be larger and more powerful all because he allowed himself to be tamed. The fox also can live happily because there is at least one person who truly understands him, for one can only understand someone after they’ve been tamed. After all is said and done and the little prince understands the essence of taming, the wood fox goes on to share a secret. The first part is the quote cited above, and then he continues with “it is the time you have wasted for your rose which makes her so important…you become responsible forever for what you tame.”
What is particularly poignant about this story, in this fast and furious age in which we live, is that it is the time and effort put forth that makes taming successful. The nature of today’s world certainly doesn’t endorse wasting time for anything. The wood fox in The Little Prince believed that humans didn’t understand anything anymore because they tried to buy everything ready-made at stores. However, there was no store anywhere where one could buy a true friend: friendship demands that we waste the necessary time and observe the proper rites to establish ties. As an observer, it is those that I have established ties with in this world that have helped transform how I see it. The world becomes infused with special meaning. All of us can rework the rules we choose to abide by and focus on our inner rhythm, but ultimately it is the process of being tamed and taming others that put those rules and cosmic music to practical use.
Loss, as foreshadowed in The Little Prince, is a common element in establishing ties. Because all of us are on different roads, with varied dreams, relationships often change or end. The up side to this kind of loss challenges us to spend more time reflecting on how the relationships in our lives have affected how we see a wheat field. Whenever the inevitable happens and those people I’ve established ties with begin a different journey, I’ve learned to look at it as just an opportunity for them to transform a wheat field somewhere else. Distance can’t ruin ties, only complacency does. True taming doesn’t rely on proximity.
Taming need not be complicated, but it may seem risky at first. When you put yourself out there to tame and be tamed you may be rejected. But just like the little prince did, I’ve found that if you let your heart guide you and observe the proper rites, the chances are that rejection is just an unrealized fear. Establishing ties with someone practically demands that you put the other person first. Taming someone for the sole benefit of my own needs almost guarantees failure. It should come from a place of empowering, rather than having power over. Trustworthiness is essential. Remember the last part of the wood fox’s secret: you are responsible, forever, for what you tame. Although being responsible for what you tame may seem daunting, try to see it for a moment as a beautiful consequence of the process.
Unfortunately taming, like the middle of many processes, is an often passed over step, because it takes time, it takes commitment and it takes patience. We live in an electronic age that makes everything quick, easy and often anonymous. Anonymity voids the element of responsibility, and I think it is why the ties of today are so flimsy. How we establish ties may differ with every thing, person, place in the world, but it still demands those essential rites. Regardless of the uniqueness of the method, the challenge remains: to reflect on who we have tamed in our lives and more importantly how we handle the responsibility. It is a powerful thing, this taming process, especially when it commands us to rely on our hearts more than our eyes, for eyes can play tricks whereas the heart does not (contrary to popular opinion that love is blind).
You see the thing about taming is that it is subtle, and it usually occurs over a long period of time. Those who have truly tamed me acted so subtly and consistently that I wasn’t even really conscious of it at the time, leaving me no time to run in fear. It need not be complicated and dramatic. Even though I’m just as big a fan of the being swept away themes in movies, I do realize they are only two hours long. The rest of us have lifetimes to contend with, we have to go beyond the “and they lived happily ever after” line. The work is worth it though. I feel so much better about myself and my world knowing that the relationships I’ve established (and it doesn’t have to be many) are transforming the way others see the world. I tame because I love; the responsibility then becomes a bonus and not a burden. It’s not even fathomable to me to imagine what life would be like without them. Given that life is unpredictable, I do know that even in the face of loss, life will never appear the same again. I wear them proudly like a seal on my heart. Now, before I get too verklempt, let me stop now so you may talk among yourselves.
When it comes to understanding power, the last temptation that Jesus faced in the desert (at least in Luke), is the greatest show of strength and power by doing absolutely nothing at all. It was a challenge from the devil to Jesus, to prove that he truly was the Son of God by jumping off the highest parapet of the temple. If he truly was God’s son, God, “would command his angels concerning you, to guard you lest you dash your foot against a stone.” To which, Jesus, unimpressed that the Devil can quote scripture, responds: “It also says you should not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” Booyah! Oh yeah! Take that sucka (gestures included)…That, of course, is what I would have said as the Devil skulked away, because Jesus is that hefty of an adversary even after starving in the desert for 40 days! Most of all, though, it tells me real power is not defined by or proven by show and tell. Think about it, I don’t know anyone who even has a tiny bit of that kind of power and doesn’t use it…including the Son of God because he chose not to. The conundrum for me is this: Since no one else was there, how do we know that the devil wasn’t just a figment of delirium resulting from starvation, and none of these tests ever happened…should it even matter? Even if the story is pure conjecture, it did affect how Jesus understood and utilized God’s power throughout his ministry. Obviously, history tells us of his great miracles and his great authority and ability to command a crowd. Most important to me, however, was that he remained true to all three lessons. He is the most powerful figure in human history because he satiated our spiritual hunger first, showed us by example and parable that true power has nothing to do with amassing temporal kingdoms and controlling others, and most importantly, that trust in God is the true cornerstone, even if it means being subjected to torture and death.
I think about the temptations in the desert a lot, and I worry that as a Church, we are failing the three tests. I am worried that amassing worldly wealth far outweighs the need for spiritual fulfillment. I am worried that controlling the faithful by determining who is fit for everlasting life is more important than empowering people to be just who God created them to be…which is to be a part of the body of Christ, where every part is just as important as the next and not just the ones that hold a higher place. I am worried that we constantly put God to the test by demanding that he answer every prayer the way we want him to…and use the result as proof that he really does love us, or is punishing us for something. As a result of our failure, I’m worried that while the devil may have not been successful in tempting Jesus, he has been successful in tempting the Church…the whole Christian Church.
Who really has authority and power in this world? While fasting in the desert, the Devil told Jesus that the authority of this world was his and he could give it to anyone he wished. All Jesus had to do was subjugate himself and worship Satan. To this Jesus (at least in Matthew) grows angry and demands he leaves and reminds him that it only the Lord God that we are to worship and he alone shall we serve. Curiously, I’ve often wondered if Satan really believed he controlled this world, or that it was just a trick, a slight of hand to obstruct Jesus true power. When I look at dictators throughout history who appeared to have control of their respective kingdoms along with the allegiance and worship of their people, their power was always rooted in fear, was transient, and their people always fickle. Selling one’s soul to the Devil for the illusion of power will never really make one powerful. Control over someone isn’t necessarily power over them. No one can take our power without our permission. The Devil can’t give away what never belonged to him in the first place: our free will. Shackles may contain us physically, but the spirit never. Jesus knew this, which is why he knew he could command the Devil to leave.
When I look back over my life, the thought of having some form of a kingdom never appealed to me. I don’t really want that. But there were plenty of times that I felt controlled by someone or some circumstance. In hindsight, I realized that I simply allowed myself to believe the illusion that I was powerless. I later understood that at any time, I could have simply said no and relied on what Jesus said…we get our power from God and serve him alone. But hindsight is 20/20. So, while I can’t change the past, I can change the future. I need not convince anyone that the power they think they have over me is an illusion. I’m the only one who needs to know and believe that they don’t. That is the way to break the bond of power. When that person realizes they can’t control your spirit after all, like the Devil did, they leave…perhaps not without some damage, but that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger right?
People who desire to rule over others, generally choose those who feel powerless to begin with. Feeling powerless opens the door to being seduced by someone who will promise you anything, all for the exchange of your soul. A hefty price to pay for an illusion. When you build a source of inner strength, you stop attracting those kinds of people and situations. You attract those who will empower you and be empowered by you.
I’ve been thinking a lot about power these days and how deeply I think it is misunderstood. When I am feeling most vulnerable and powerless, I look to my greatest role model, Jesus. In chapter four of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus has been in the desert without food for forty days and at this very vulnerable point the Devil comes to tempt him. Initially, the Devil goes right to the heart of the matter, Jesus’ physical needs and tempts him to use his power for personal gain, to turn a stone to bread and satiate his hunger. He refuses, and replies that we cannot live by bread alone. It is a choice between the discomfort of hunger, to which he in his heart knew to be temporary, and satiate a desire to show off his power over nature. That, to me anyway, is a pivotal point. He could have begun his ministry with pomp and circumstance of showing off the power to bend everything to his will and be glorified. But he didn’t. He chose to live and walk as a man, and never use his power for personal gain. Just because he could didn’t mean he should.
When I think of my own hunger, it manifests in many different kinds of deprivations, all that create discomfort. Recognizing that weakness is when I doubt and lose faith and look to try to get rid of the discomfort the easiest way possible, is the exact moment to reject these inclinations and follow Jesus’ lead. If I want to live like Jesus did, I must believe that these weaknesses are only temporary, and choosing be uncomfortable or embarrassed in this moment forces me to access my own true source of power, and satiate my spiritual hunger first. While that may soothe me spiritually and philosophically, I also know what it feels like to be in the presence of someone who plays on a weakness and dares me to prove that I’m not by a show of force. It is tempting to prove to them that I’m not what they say I am and at the same time punish them for exposing and taunting me about it. I’ve fallen into that temptation many times in the past and have used power just to prove I have it. I can truthfully say that I only felt weak afterwards. Avoiding that temptation to prove yourself to someone and to stand tall and not accept the bait is and always will be the greatest show of strength.
So how is the story of changing a stone to bread different from the wedding at Cana when Jesus was asked to change water into wine? In transforming the water into wine, he did it as a sign of who he was. In the desert, there was no one else there. The true source of power isn’t being able to transform a stone into bread or water into wine, but to know the power exists within to do these things first. Is it a subtle distinction? I think so. I really believe if Jesus would have allowed himself to be baited into making that bread, to prove himself, he would have lost it. In Cana, he didn’t really need to prove anything, he didn’t really want to make that transformation either, because he questioned whether was ready. He inevitably did it because his mother asked him to, that this was the moment to start his active ministry. Knowing you have the power to do something and doing it to prove you have it…is a sign of weakness. But using your power so do something and use it to bring others to a greater place is not. I’m sure that choice was always on Jesus mind. It isn’t always obvious if we use power to make ourselves look better or to help others. I struggle with that choice as a parent all the time. And in a time of muscle flexing and sand pissing…i.e., “my God is better than yours”, or “my political beliefs are right and yours are wrong”, or “Money buys power” etc.etc., that struggle becomes all the more difficult. We all need to entertain the possibility in any power struggle whether or not we are taking the devils bait.