Surrender And Surrender Again

I’ve grown accustomed to this sanctuary. I come here when Kerri has meetings in the church. It is quiet. As I sit here alone, I easily become quiet. The evening sun pours through the stained glass, the symbols shimmer.

When I met Kerri I told her that, if we were going to have a relationship, she needed to understand two things about me: I don’t sing and I don’t pray. I imagine that was stark news for a woman who works as a minister of music. I imagine she rolled her eyes. It is a running joke with the folks that know the story of my proclamation that I now sing in the church choir and band. I love to sing. As for the praying, well…, I’ve always been a meditator and that counts. Quiet is a delicious form of prayer. I was hung up on definitions. I talk to the universe all the time. To-mAaa-to, to-Mah-to.

I have, all my life, believed religion most often gets in the way of a true spiritual experience (life). “Prayer” was for me, at the time I met Kerri, a word of religion while “meditation” was a word I associated with a spiritual life. One night, not long after my move, Kerri and I had dinner with Heidi. She asked me about my faith and laughed at my reflections, saying, “You are one of those many-paths-one-mountain guys.” Yes. And, to truly be a many-paths-one-mountain guy, I’ve had to challenge some of my long held defenses, walk into some of my long held prejudices.

Yesterday, Bill said a simple, beautiful thing about faith, grace and spiritual journeys. It reinforced something I have known (for myself) for years. He said, “The problem with religion is it is heavily invested in having answers. It becomes invested in being right (righteousness), being “the way” as if there was only one way. A true spiritual life,” he said, “is about walking into the questions.” Life, the real crackling, shimmering life, is always experienced in the questions. Awe is rarely experienced in something so constructed and contained as an answer.

I brought to the sanctuary an outline/book of a class that I intended to teach years ago but never got around to offering. In the introduction a previous-version-of-me wrote this: The premise is simple and ancient: when you change your story you change your world. All stories of transformation begin with an attempt to control the uncontrollable: transformation in a story happens when the main character surrenders their illusion of control, strips their armor, walks into their fear, and meets their dragon. There are many variations on this theme. What is important to grasp is that empowerment follows surrender….

Were I writing that today I would never use the word “empowerment.It is an overused and abstract word like “presence” and generally misunderstood as something to achieve (or sold as an answer). Power is irrelevant after a dragon is met.

When I met Kerri I was terrified to sing. I’d been shamed more than once for opening my mouth, thus my proclamation. I learned, as I sang the fear from myself, that the only thing that follows surrender is more surrender.

And, in surrender, there is shimmering quiet.

Have A Conversation

my quick sketches of two of the stained glass window panels

my quick sketches of two of the stained glass window panels

Yesterday I learned that my conversation with the stained glass window was only on hiatus. Several months ago we simply stopped talking. In the silence I thought the conversation was complete. For almost two years we had a weekly chat. I took lots of notes.

I recognize that one is not supposed to have chats with windows – at least not admit to it. Master Marsh teased me saying, “There’s help for things like this.” I’ve decided that my conversation with the window is more ordinary than odd: plenty of people around the world talk to statues. Most of us have had silent reckoning with the sky. I’ve witnessed mechanics talking to their tools and bakers wooing their dough. Who hasn’t cursed the object of a home fix-it job-gone-wrong (plumbing regularly gets a tongue lashing from me!) or praised a project done well? Traffic gets a regular talking to. In this region, at this time of year, more than a few brides make deals with the weather. A soul in exchange for sunshine.

Who hasn’t, in a moment of turmoil, looked inside themselves and asked for help? Who hasn’t uttered a quiet thank you or asked for guidance or made an appeal? Call it prayer, meditation, epiphany, catharsis, intuition, gut instinct, reading the signs, hearing the call, or communing with nature, it’s a conversation.

I’m not the only artist – or scientist for that matter – that, in moments of flow, feels as if something bigger is coming through. In that sense, all of my paintings might serve as the record of a conversation with something bigger. Writers often speak about having the experience of the characters writing themselves, of following rather than creating. Following, surrendering, allowing, listening, responding, getting out of the way. Play the chords long enough and you no longer need to think about them. In the land beyond thinking about it, music becomes possible. It’s a conversation.

Sitting on the chancel, listening to Kerri play, I stared as I often do at the morning light pouring through the colored glass. I studied the symbols. Birth and death. Tree of knowledge, Tree of Everlasting Life. The Grail standing between two flames. It’s a repetition in symbol of the same idea. Born into an experience of duality and distinctions, a world fighting over its differences, we have the opportunity to walk the middle path, the unity consciousness, the “something bigger.” “Between the two, one,” I the heard the window whisper. “It’s simple, really.”

a quick sketch of all three panels: birth, death, and the middle way.

a quick sketch of all three panels: birth, death, and the middle way.

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Create A Purpose

photo-2In the sixteenth hour of our drive to the mountains, to keep us awake, Kerri and I began a rousing game of This-or-That. “Frosted Flakes or Lucky Charms?” Frosted Flakes all the way; those little marshmallow things get wonky in the milk. It’s amazing what you learn about yourself and others when the world of infinite possibilities is reduced to two choices. The game soon escalated to the impossible with pairings like “Coffee or Chocolate?” Real life penetrates the game when the only possible answers are, “It depends!” or “Both!”

Since our drive to the mountains I’ve been paying attention to how often people unwittingly play the This-or-That game, pretending that there are only two choices and, further, pretending that the choices are distinct and knowable. Democrat or Republican? Communities collapse when they forget that the important stuff is unanswerable. The important stuff is a moving target and requires conversation, debate, and comes along with multiple points of view. Two sizes do not fit all bodies.

I’ve also been playing my own inner game of This-or-That, purposefully choosing impossible pairings. Order or Chaos? It seems like a no-brainer until you dive in a bit deeper.

My favorite version so far is the Purpose-of-Life category. I picked a most lofty purpose: Illumination – and matched it with the utter absence of purpose. And, of course, I came to, “It depends!” or “Both!” I sprang my line of reasoning on Kerri (she thought we were going to talk about what to make for breakfast. She’s grown quite used to my surprise topics so she rolled her eyes, sipped coffee, and listened, knowing that no breakfast choice would be possible until after I unpacked my game).

No matter which spiritual tradition I read, the final point seems to be presence (living fully – aware of your moments). And in practice, presence becomes possible when thought is either transcended (meditation) or focused (prayer). Meditation and prayer are both purpose-full. Thought needs transcending and/or focus because it is mostly a babbling brook of nonsense or, better, a brook of babbling nonsense. It’s a lot of made up stuff that often takes the form of a game called This-or-That (I win/I lose, I’m right/I’m wrong, Us/Them). The game, as is true of all forms of interpretation, gets in the way of direct experience. It interrupts presence.

Detach from the babble. Meditate. Or recognize that it’s all made up and focus what’s made up. Pray. In either case presence comes through the recognition that it is all made up. The hitch: every notion of purpose, then, is also made up. There isn’t one. But, having a purpose is required to come to the recognition that there is no purpose. It’s a loop. It’s all creativity. It’s all imagination.

Spectrums and polarities are often cycles in disguise. They are both/and. They are yin and yang (not Yin or Yang). Illumination or Purposelessness? It depends. Both. Order needs chaos just as much as chaos needs order. The question is, what do we want to create? Why, a purpose, of course! So, let’s see what’s needed and decide to address it.

“My imagined purpose is breakfast,” Kerri sighed at the end of my rambling dissertation. “Pancakes or an egg scramble?”

 

There Is Wisdom In Dancing

TODAY’S FEATURED THOUGHT FOR HUMANS

There is wisdom in dancing

To restate an old notion: knowledge is not wisdom. And, often times, our reliance on knowledge blinds us to wisdom (for instance, passing a test has little or nothing to do with learning). My mentors taught me that the toughest thing in life to master is relationship. The reason: relationship is at the heart of everything we do whether we acknowledge it or not. Life IS a relationship. Education, business, art, spirituality, leadership, management, self love, economics, agriculture, kindness, gratitude… are all relationship skills. Wisdom is found in the fields beyond your thinking. Get onto the floor of life and dance.

TO GET TODAY’S FEATURED THOUGHT FOR HUMANS, GO HERE.

JFGI!

I had to use this painting for this post. I call it Eve

I had to use this painting from the archive  for this post. I call it Eve

Notes at the crossroads of The New World Order:

1. Betsi was disappointed in the low attendance at church. She told us that everything had changed in the last decade. Churches that were once thriving were now struggling. It is a trend. It is happening everywhere. It’s true. A few months ago I saw the statistics of church membership in America and the numbers are plummeting.

“What changed,” I asked.

Without hesitation she said, “People don’t need God anymore. They think they know everything.”

I quipped, “Who needs God when you have Google?”

She laughed and said, “Right! JFGI!”

“What does that mean?”

She smiled, “Just f*cking Google it.”

It is probably true for believers and non-believers alike that God is slower than Google, especially if the notion of God is uncannily human, (i.e., a rule-maker, judgmental, angry one minute and loving the next, assigns ‘chosen’ status to one team but not the other, etc.). Such a god might easily be confused with a search engine or a legal system.

I thought, but did not say, perhaps people are looking for something that neither technology nor a search-engine-god can deliver. Perhaps they are looking for something less volatile. Information is readily available. So is judgment. Wisdom is a bit harder to come by.

2. After band rehearsal we went to a bar. Jim grew up Catholic and we were talking about the revolution of thought that Pope Francis is inspiring. Jim said, “I really like that guy!” Suddenly, he pulled out his phone. “I wonder if The Pope is on Facebook?” We laughed when he found and “liked” The Pope. Facebook showed us a gallery of others who’d “liked” The Pope. The top of the list was The Dali Llama. “I’m going to like him, too!” Jim cheered and added, “I wonder if he’ll like me back?” We laughed.

I remember when a photograph was absolute proof that something happened. I remember the day that a photographer showed me a new “software” (at the time I had to ask what that meant) that could alter a photograph. He showed me and erased someone from a shot. I remember wondering what would be the new standard of proof? Sitting at the bar the other night with Jim, nearly 30 years later, I finally received my answer: it doesn’t exist if it isn’t on Facebook.

This brought me to what will be my next late night bar conversation topic with Jim: When did all of life become marketing and data collection? Have you checked your “likes” lately?

This inspired a glance at the fast moving river that is Facebook. I read:

Religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for people who have already been there.

That raises an obvious question: Is hell an experience or a place? JFGI!

Feel The Thunder

An untitled  watercolor I did years ago

an untitled watercolor from the archives

I am sitting alone in the back room of a coffeehouse. The room is dark because the day is dark with rain. It is hot and very humid. The building shakes with thunder and the voices in the front room drop to a whisper. I imagine the voice of the thunder inspires awe or at least a library-esque respect. After the rumble subsides, the volume is restored. People laugh again and talk in a tumble over each other until the next rumble quiets them.

I came to work. Good coffeehouses have always been productive places for me though today I’m distracted by the thunder. Like the other patrons, the angry sky has me on alert. It is nearly impossible to focus on my thoughts when the sky has so much to say. The truth is, I want to listen to it. I want it to stop all motion, to interrupt all the little things I deem important. I want to pay attention to what it has to say.

I remember listening to a recorded lecture of Joseph Campbell. He said that the voice of the thunder was probably humanity’s first experience of the godhead. In other words, when the sky talked, people listened. Long before the weather channel replaced the oracle, connectivity between human action and the elements was assumed. Our actions mattered. The gods communicated their pleasure or displeasure with us via sunshine or tsunami. Calm seas and good sailing were signs of approval. It is a marvel in the age of humanity blowing a hole in the ozone, pouring tons of carbon into the atmosphere, having created a Texas size floating trash site in the ocean, exhausting aquifers, etc., that we can in all seriousness debate whether or not we are having an impact. I wonder if in the age of the weather channel as oracle we have so disconnected from “our nature” (our connectivity) that the debate is less about impact and really about whether or not we matter at all. If we do not recognize that our actions have impact, that the smallest action ripples through the lives of others, how can we possibly expect our existence to matter? Mattering requires the understanding and experience of connectivity.

When was the last time that you felt connected to the bigger whole? In the end of the day, mattering (spirituality by another name) is a very practical thing. It is to feel connected. When was the last time you stopped and listened to the thunder? When was the last time you felt its rumble in your chest, or noticed how quiet you became when it spoke?