This morning as I meditated I felt a sense of surrender. My thoughts and my prayer were not centered so much in what I want or need, but in how I could be an expression of the Divine.
So often our prayer can be about what we want or need in life. Ultimately we are an expression of the Eternal or Unmanifested spoken into form. If I am an expression of the Divine, perhaps my emphasis in prayer should be more on how the Divine wants to express itself in my life, rather than how and what I (read – the ego) want the Divine to do in and for me.
It feels good to surrender, to be taken, to allow oneself to enter an adventure – to walk into the unknown, to be lead. There is a sense of ease about surrender. Instead of the work involved in trying to arrange my life as I want it, there is an ease about surrendering and allowing myself to be lead.
The synchronicity of things amazes me sometimes. Just as this sense of surrender was emerging from within, I read this passage in my morning prayer: “We must let ourselves be plowed so that the furrows of our person become deeper and deeper, so that our earth becomes softer and softer” (Jean-Marie Howe, Cistercian Monastic Life/Vows: A Vision, p. 367). Perhaps it is in surrender that I become a softer person and, conversely, perhaps its in running and trying to arrange it all myself that I become hardened.
Perhaps today we could think more about what the Divine wants to do in us, rather than what we want out of the Divine.
“If a person is virtuous, does what is right, . . . he/she will have life!”
See Ezekiel 18: 1-10, 13, 30-32
In 12 Step programs there are various catch phrases which quickly call to mind the principles of the program that lead to a good, happy, productive life. One of these catch phrases is “just do the next right thing.” Sometimes that’s all it takes, just doing the next right thing, not worrying about tomorrow, but what is before us. And, doing the GOOD AND RIGHT thing.
Some people are like that. They do the right thing . . . simply because it’s the right thing to do. They don’t make a big deal out of it. It’s just the way they choose to live. Such people have a sense of serenity in them that is obvious. They don’t live with a burden of conscience or with wonderment as to whether their life had a good impact on this world. By doing the right thing they store up an account of serenity.
I have a friend who is like that. I received a text message from him out of the blue yesterday just quoting a line from the song “On Eagle’s Wings.” “He will raise you up on eagle’s wings and make you shine like the sun” (Michael Joncas, New Dawn Music, OCP Publications, Portland Oregon). That’s all his text said. He does this once in a while. A simple message to show his thoughts and concern. I am convinced he expects nothing in return. I have seen him out in public and am touched by his kindness, sensitivity and attention to people’s needs.
Am I doing the right thing today? Would I be considered a “virtuous” person?
This concept that God would choose a specific people over and above all others has always seemed unfair, if not antithetical to the very nature of how God would act. It seems to me a primitive understanding of the nature of God, which has set up this “my God against your God” mentality throughout history until this present day. We need not look far to see the violence that such a tribal notion of God has created in the world. I read this in Jeremiah today: “At that time they will call Jerusalem the Lord’s throne; there all nations will be gathered together to honor the name of the Lord at Jerusalem, and they will walk no longer in their hardhearted wickedness.” Jeremiah 3: 17. I felt sad at the reality of Jerusalem today, a crossroads of major religions, yet far from being a place of peace. My God, not yours.
In light of such a reality, I am so grateful for the “new” spirituality that is emerging more and more. It lives outside the confines of any one religion or any one concept of “God.” The unprecedented globalization that we experience today is bringing to consciousness the tribal nature of a “my God against your God” mentality. Go to any bookstore and look at the spirituality section and you will see there a large selection of spiritual books, not based in any one religion. Look at 12 Step programs which are hotbeds of personal growth where people of all religions (or no religion) come together. One concept of God is not thrust on anyone. Everyone chooses their own concept of a “Higher Power.” And it works! People don’t get caught up in a “my God against your God” mentality, or fights over whose belief system is correct. They get caught up in growing as human beings and doing good for themselves and others! Period! And isn’t that what being “Godly” is all about?
I believe the Christ knew this and tried to break through this tribal mentality of God. And he got in trouble for it! For in his day, just as in our own day, there were upstanding religious people who felt very threatened at the thought that their particular “God” or belief system wasn’t the best and the one to which all should aspire.
Instead of fighting over belief systems or worrying about whether or not mine is the best, can we look at what is common among them and what makes us grow in love and self giving toward others?
Matthew 5: 38-48
“You have heard it say, . . . What I say to you is . . .”
Jesus actually had the courage to point out the deficiencies and flaws in his religion. And obviously he got in quite a bit of trouble for it! He quoted Scripture, . . . and then corrected it! Who in God’s name did he think he was!!?? Correcting Scripture? But that he did! “You have heard it say ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.’ But what I say to you is: offer no resistance to injury.” “You have heard the commandment, ‘You shall love your countryman but hate your enemy.’ My commandment to you is: love your enemies, pray for your persecutors.”
In the first instance, Jesus is quoting his Hebrew Scripture from Exodus 21 and the second seems a vague reference to the admonition in Leviticus to love one’s countryman and not bear grudges. However, there is no “commandment” to hate one’s enemies. Whatever the case, Jesus, here and elsewhere, goes beyond and defies the prevalent religious thought and practice of his day. This is evidenced in his relationship with women, touching the sick and the dead, his care for those on the fringe, his many challenges to religious leaders and his breaking of religious laws. He goes beyond religious precept and points to the centrality of love.
I had a professor in graduate school who used to say: “God is love. . . . The rest is commentary!” The problem is, we get all caught up in the commentary. We get all caught up in this or that law, this or that Scripture verse and tempers quickly flair! Kind of ironic isn’t it?
I meet people who are sometimes so bound by religious law or precept. They think that nothing they do is good enough, it just doesn’t stack up to religious precept; and this keeps them paralyzed. Certainly in my own experience I thought that I was surely headed straight to hell because I was gay! The bottom line is this: Am I living a life that is loving and self giving? Am I living a life that builds people up? Am I living a life that speaks of love instead of hatred? If I am, no matter who I am, no matter my religious affiliation or lack thereof, I am headed in the right direction.
By the way, I highly recommend John Shelby Spong’s book The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible’s Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love. Check it out! The guy’s got guts!