“Behold! Behold the opening of the way to the Tower!”
It may be trite but there’s a little Eden in all of us. As with many things in our marvelous, modern civilization some of our question’s answers can be found mathematically. Case in point: politics.
In Europe they have multiple political parties; 9,270.5 to be exact. That’s because they’re educated, mathematically educated to be precise, although it may be my own lack of numerical skill that skews me into that perception. Here in America, we divide things in two’s. When in doubt, cut it in half – at least that’s what Solomon used to say. Two’s are manageable. Two’s are simple. Two’s are good. And as the old preface goes for any piece of pretentious, pontificating wisdom….”there are two kinds of people in this world.” And indeed there are.
One kind really, really, really suck. Or smell. Perhaps they smell suck, who knows. Whatever their dilemma it is painfully obvious that they just…don’t…get it. The other kind are like us, like you and me. You know…awesome. They see the important camouflaged amidst the horrifically lame and awful mundane tedious horror that we call “modern urban uber-hipness” or “life”, if you will. They get it, and we always will. They’ve tasted Eden and found it sweet. And since art imitates life as surely as Americans hack things in halves, there is as always a movie reference readily available. This time, oddly enough, it comes from the Star Trek franchise, “Star Trek: Insurrection”.
In the ultimate Cliff’s Notes version, the movie is about an Eden planet where you never grow old and never get sick and never die. The rather quiet and deliciously happy people that live there broke in half, with a younger generation going off rebelliously and the other half staying put and raising goats while making stone ground flour for fresh bread. Since it’s the future it’s assumed they washed their hands between these activities. ‘Lo and behold that younger generation spends about a hundred years out in space, exploring, getting older….and older and (to them) unbearably older. Think about it. If your neighbors never aged or worse, you irritating brother or sister never got any older, wouldn’t that just really tick you off? Well, it irritated our young Trekster whipper snappers and they came back to destroy the planet and relocate their cousins, and we’ll call that “plot”. But it’s the sub-themes that best capture what I’m after here. Questions arise from the Edenic denizens like, “Can you imagine a perfect moment in time? What if there were an entire universe captured within that moment?” And they’re right. Captured visually and stunningly, a hummingbird enjoys the bud of a flower in slow, slow motion. The colors of red and blue are vibrant and as alive as the hummingbird. The air is quiet and still and pleasant. The setting is perfect and stretches into eternity. And behind it is a life-giving woman and a life-protecting man, simultaneously making and participating in and enjoying this moment which has now taken on a life all its own. And while that scene with Donna Murphy and Patrick Stewart is a brilliant bit of movie making in a flick that will momentarily see phasers and warp cores, the subject of Eden is barely brushed upon yet, momentarily, perfectly depicted.We received a glimpse of Eden.
“For behold, the Kingdom of God is within you.” – Luke 17:21
Eden is in us, all of us. Almost as if it were programmed into our DNA without our knowledge, so that we may occasionally stumble upon it and manifest it in our lives, but never fully understand how we did it or how to recreate it. It’s been said that the Kingdom of God comes not with observation and I can see the merit to that statement; it comes from experience. When we live it we share it, and when we share it we manifest it. And if we can do that with each other then real peace and harmonious love lies just within our reach.
Ordinarily I would look at myself and declare emphatically that I’m babbling like an idiot, except that I’ve experienced this and recently. It was a perfect moment in time, when time stood still, when every worry and care fell from me like the sloughed off skin of a reformed snake. In moments like that people around me will say, “Yes, that’s him! That’s the real him. He’s not really that Nimrod who hates balloons and teaches his llama to poo in my front yard, he’s decent and worthy and wonderful…and look at those abs!” Okay, I ab-libbed the last bit but you get the gist: I experienced a perfect moment where time didn’t just stand still, it ceased to exist like the fiction that it truly is. Some call this phenomenon synchronicity with God or getting in touch with one’s feelings. Others have called it lost in love and one poor soul referred to it as a 1933 Studebaker, but he’s no longer with us and is unavailable for comment. Call it what you like, you know of what I write. You’ve been there. You’ve experienced love of simply being at its finest and most sublime. You’ve seen time stand still to the point of disappearing. You’ve been lost lovingly in a moment, not even possessed of enough negativity to wish that the moment would never end but only content to enjoy it. A wistful ribbon of sadness might ensue when the moment ends, as it always does and usually abruptly and in a violent back-to-reality manner, but the moment is so (dare I say?) holy that you have no desire to interrupt it. In fact, for that one brief, shining Camelot-esque moment you were actually free from desire altogether.
When was it for you? Was it teenage love with all its passion and hormonal enthusiasm? Or the sweet rapture of a beautiful piece of music or, better yet, creating said musical harmonies? This could have been the Rite of Spring strings of Stravinsky or the jews-harp of John Barry’s Dances with Wolves. Or perhaps some other artistic venue such as painting or sculpting or another method of bringing refined beauty out of raw materials? The moment might even be sheer emotional poignancy; a mother holding her newborn babe, a last conversation with a dying loved one or the unexpected words of a beloved friend.
Whatever it is, Jack…there ain’t enough of it!
I don’t know how to make it, this perfect time-free moment, but I can at least identify it as the most blissful, transcendent state in the human experience. In that moment you not only desire to do no wrong, you can’t conceive of doing wrong. In fact, all wrong has been set right and becomes altogether inconceivable. All your words are right, all your feelings are harmonious and loving, all your joys are to be shared and not squandered. As Whoopi Goldberg said in yet another Star Trek movie, “It’s like being inside joy”, and indeed it is.
That, my friends, is the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, and the first step in a quest which has required my entire life to take.
Stephen King wrote about the Dark Tower and I’ve always thought his premise to be mistaken, that some unknowable and rather scary powerhouse of reality is meant to be found and scaled and overcome, all the while lovers and mothers and heroes have been quietly slipping into this transcendent state and, in a direct contrast to combat veterans who’ve been there and can’t talk about, they never say a word. Survivors of militarized violence will decry that only those that have been there would understand, but that’s an understanding we can all do without, for something far better, far more noble and glorious, resides within the tentative grasp of our fingertips: Edenic bliss. And in this case, we’ve all been there, and we all wish to go back. And stay, forever.
Join me in this quest. Seek your tower, the pinnacle of the joy of your existence,to just be. And learn from our common mistakes by looking…if not in the right direction then at least not in the old directions such as money, fame, power and sex. It’s not there, and never has been. The Kingdom of God is within you, and perhaps of equal importance, among you.
I don’t know the way to the Tower, I only know that I’m heading in the right direction when I recognize love as the key that unlocks it. Love and acceptance of one’s self, love for one’s friend and neighbor, love for God. I have experienced these moments alone in nature or in communion with the Lord Who Loves Me, but I’ve more often experienced them in sweet fellowship with those that I love, and that’s where the quest might very well begin for you. For you may not always have slow-mo hummingbirds or a colorful garden with murmuring waterfalls and babbling brooks in the background. But you’ll always have God and you’ll always have each other.
Happy hunting. And in the words of Winston Churchill, “Never, ever EVER give up.”
Defining God…as best we can
It’s a terrible confession but my faith has been paper thin for most of my life; mostly a lot of flowery expressions, important sounding words and doing the things I thought would impress others. In this headlong dash for communal approval from my peers I missed some very basic elements, and the two most crucial I can think of that I passed right by would be, 1.) a definition of what the Kingdom is, and 2.) a working definition (in human terms) of who and what God is. Sounds so rudimentary as to be embarrassing, but when one is embracing a new life it behooves one…and I do so hate to be behooved!…to start from the beginning with an attitude of humility and the mind of a student. I am, of course, lousy at both but I figure I’ll just fake it till I make it!
So, having given a few words and even fewer thoughts to what the Kingdom is, I’ll backtrack just a wee bit more and take a look at the Patris. Understand these are not my words, nor my thoughts, but the business of the health of one’s soul and its relationship with God is of primary importance in life (I believe), so I have no problem whatsoever in shamelessly stealing them and posting them on my blog. At the very least I shall give credit to the original author and, who knows, writing them down may burn them into memory…at least for a time.
So, without further adieu, allow me the great pleasure of introducing you (and myself) to….God. Some afterthoughts will help round out this definition, I think. I hope these words, again not my own, mean as much to you as they did to me when I read them this morning:
(who God is, by Adam Clarke, as taken from Dallas Willard’s ‘The Divine Conspiracy’, pages 65-67)
…the eternal, independent, and self-existent Being; the Being whose purposes and actions spring from himself, without foreign motive or influence; he who is absolute in dominion; the most pure, the most simple, the most spiritual of all essences; infinitely perfect; and eternally self-sufficient, needing nothing that he has made; illimitable in his immensity, inconceivable in his mode of existence, and indescribable in his essence; known fully only by himself, because an infinite mind can only be fully comprehended by itself. In a word, a Being who, from his infinite wisdom, cannot err or be deceived, and from his infinite goodness, can do nothing but what is eternally just, and right, and kind.
Now, from Dallas Willard…
Think of someone whose every action, whose slightest thought or inclination, automatically assumes he reality of the God Adam Clarke describes. When you do this you will have captured nothing less than the thought of Jesus himself, along with the faith and life he came to bring. And with such realities in mind, it then becomes illuminating to say that God is love.
Why does this mean so much to me? Aren’t there volumes of passionate prose written about the nature and identify of God? There are indeed, and I’ve read a few of them. Perhaps I just never read them when I was consistently seeking him so diligently or needing him so desperately. Since God has always been there and doesn’t move, maybe it was just my time, and I’m perfectly okay with that. Especially now, since to have a relationship with someone you very much need to be able to know who they are and what they are about. In this, I think the words above do very nicely.
Beats me how it happened. One day your prayers are uplifting, energizing, invigorating, the next day you can’t summon the strength to complain. One day you’re on top of the world (Ma!) and know exactly who you are, what you’re doing here and how to go about it. The next day you couldn’t find your butt with both hands and a map, with the added insult that it now looks exponentially bigger in those jeans than it did a month ago. One day you have God, and the next you seem and feel completely and utterly alone.
Kind of feels like dying doesn’t it? It only feels that way because that is precisely what is happening to you. And I wouldn’t be writing this if it hadn’t happened to me as well.
It doesn’t have to be this way. While you can never change your nature (after all, in the words of John Ortberg, “God doesn’t make appliances, He makes masterpieces.”) you can be assured that if Tiger Woods can summon himself into “the zone” even after the world’s most expensive and embarrassing divorce then you can too. Then, in the parlance of the game, you can go back to being deliciously and successfully teed off again!
Separation from God, from our maker, from The Source is death indeed. There is perhaps as much confusion over the nature of salvation as there is over the nature of damnation. If being saved was simply an insurance policy that, once signed, allowed me to go chummily along my merry way without a care in the world then I would have been the first to sign up. Actually, I was. It sounded like a good deal but it didn’t work out as the fire-breathing Baptist preacher I was named after told me it would. He may very well have pounded people from the pulpit because, in spite of following all the Biblical rules and guidelines of salvation as preached from Protestant circles, he was miserable. I have gone on for years pounding people on the internet, in chat rooms, in emails, in personal missives, in person and so on for the very same reason. In spite of heart-wrenching confessions, in spite of proclaiming with my mouth that Jesus is the risen Lord, in spite of tithing and praying and even having an attitude of gratitude (which turned out to be a platitude!) I was miserable. I’m not entirely sure that is salvation, even if I am a knock-knock-knocking on heaven’s door with the assurance of gaining entry. Eternal life may be the blessed hope but who has the strength or desire to even hope when every day is a burden? Being saved in the next life yet utterly and inexpressibly unhappy in this one is not salvation.
(there is a great deal more to convey on this concept, but suffice it for now to say that it is a Kingdom concept, meaning that He, Jesus, came that we would have life and that more abundantly. In other words, God is one of the few people you can look dead in the eye and say, “Well…yeah. Thanks, I guess. But what are you going to do for me today?” and He won’t take offense. In fact, like any good father the happiness, health and well-being of His children, His masterpieces, is of paramount importance to Him. You were meant to be whole and complete, in this life and the next, and you can be. You should be.)
All this begs the question, “How did I lose my salvation?”. And in response to your query I might ask you right back, “Which time?” Now if you’re an absolute literalist when it comes to Scripture you might be having an adverse reaction to the thought of one losing their salvation, being quick to cite such verses as “No man will pluck thee out of His hand” and so on. Well, also one must work out their salvation with fear and trembling, and one verse that fits like a glove is (paraphrased) that it’s a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the Living God…especially if He’s not happy with you or your choices. So if you’re working up a good old-fashioned fuss then maybe it’s time to take a chill pill, Phil, relax a bit and admit to yourself one very important fact: if God is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-American and altogether fourteen shades of awesome then do you really think you’re going to understand everything He said in the Bible on the first read or two? I found a very effective cure for my fusses when it comes to the Word of God, and that is the great liberation of declaring “I don’t know.” Is Noah’s Ark on Ararat or Pike’s Peak? Did Job see a dinosaur or did Jonah get gobbled by a whale or a fish? Why do men have nipples and why did you make a mosquito and a flea in the first place, ‘O Lord? The answer is…we don’t know. If God were fussy like we often get then the answer might be formulated a bit like like, “Nunya bee’s wax. I’ve been God for a long time and the position is filled, so relax and have some apple juice.”
As for losing one’s salvation, I don’t know…but it sure feels like it. And while the sum total of our lives is a lot more than how we feel at any given moment, some feelings are pretty danged important. I want to feel like I’m in communion with God. I want to feel His transcendent love. I want to feel saved and not just know that I’m saved so I can nibble over potluck in a church gymnasium on a hard plastic chair expressing half-felt sympathy for all those other poor suckers who just don’t get it. And when I feel like I’m not saved that’s as important to me as that distant tingling sensation I get when I place my hand into a nest of angry wasps. My body, my spirit, my soul are all telling me something vital to my continued comfort and even survival, and it sounds like a pretty good idea to listen.
Life. The moral of the story, its beginning and its end and all the gooey stuff in the middle, is life. Life everlasting, life today, life tomorrow. Life for you, life for me, life for everybody. Call it whatever you like that makes you feel comfortable; losing one’s joy, being bereft of stillness, down in the dumps, chronically depressed. I call it my salvation, my day-to-day experience of the greater life and reality all around me all the time…and I’ve lost it more times than I’ve lost my car keys, my wallet and the TV remote combined.
I don’t want to lose it again. I want to be back in the zone, back in communion and as Duane Dyer says it, “back in the spirit”. This is about the return journey, the road home. It’s a how-to piece on salvaging one’s salvation. Most of it is pretty simple and straightforward, except for the hard parts. I’ll skip those to make it easier, because that’s what I’ve historically done whenever life gets hard: just skip a bit, brother.
First and foremost, know that since God is everywhere He really can’t go anywhere. And if He’s still there then why aren’t you with Him? He never moved. Where’s He going to go? It’s not like He has to go to work because unlike a great many of us He loves His job and pretty much lives at His desk. The bad news is, you turned. We all have. You turned like a saucer of mayonnaise getting a sun tan, like one of those fancy lawn mowers that big companies use for their big company lawns. You were moseying right along, happy as a half-baked clam, then zip! Off you went in the other direction without so much as a “C-ya” wave over your shoulder to the mightiest being in the universe. You left, He stayed. Then you got unhappy about it. That’s Human Existence: 101 and nothing to be ashamed about. In fact, 9 out of 10 patriarchs in the Bible recommend acting like an idiot in order to figure out some of life’s most basic principles. The burned hand teaches best, but when it comes to walking away from one’s Creator, one’s Source, it might be best to just dip one pinky toe in the pool to test the waters instead of cannon balling off the diving board only to find that the pool is filled with liquid nitrogen. Or worse, that there’s nothing in it at all.
Having established the obvious, mainly that He rules and is slicker than sliced bread while we struggle with basic motor skills and personal hygiene, we can move on a bit. It is important however to take responsibility for this, and it only stings for a moment and the only thing injured is our pride, an overrated human attribute if ever there was one. That’s the bad news. The good news is this: much like those fancy zero degree turn lawn movers that make gigantic lawns such a breeze, you can zip right back towards God without so much as running over a sprinkler head. And best of all, He’ll have you back.
How do I know this? Easy, because I’ve done it a gazillion times. The only reason I’m writing about it now is because the stakes are a little higher, I’m a little older and there is a winding debris-ridden trail of wrecked human relationships zig-zagging behind me as if I were a garbage scow with a leaky cargo hold. He will take you back. He has too. It’s in His contract (ie. the Bible) and He never breaks His word. But that’s not why He takes us back. The why is likewise simple: because He loves us, and love is everything. Why does the Earth orbit the sun and the moon orbit the earth? Why does the grass grow towards the sky and the electron circle the nucleus? For the same reason I go to Dairy Queen and get a double chocolate Blizzard (that’s chocolate ice cream with hot fudge poured on it) and extra candy of the Butterfinger variety. Because I love to. Love overcomes all without raising a voice or lifting a finger. Love determines all without getting fussy or bossy or even writing a memo. Love…in the immortal words of my favorite green sock puppet, Yoda…surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we indeed, and not just this crude matter.
There’s another great movie out there, one of Bill Murray’s more serious roles which I think he pulled off quite nicely, called “The Razor’s Edge” based upon the book by Somerset Maugham. In it our hero, Larry, is a spiritual seeker and winds up in India, probably not just for the vindaloo. He travels high into the mountains and goes to work in a Tibetan monastery, then travels even higher up to the snow-covered peaks of the Himalayas where he reads his books in a hut with no walls and slowly begins to freeze to death. He takes one of his last remaining matches…and uses the holy books for fire fuel, then saunters off to the enjoy the breath taking view all around him with eagles soaring and dancing amidst clouds that are beneath his very feet. Larry travels back down to bid the monks good bye, having completed this particular essay in the school of life, and tells the holy man, “Isn’t it true? It’s easy to be a holy man when you’re sitting on top of a mountain?”
The monk responds enigmatically, “You’re closer than you think. The path to salvation is narrow, and as difficult to walk as a razor’s edge.”
Hooray! We have a title. But allow me to quote another great movie in response, this time Al Pacino in “Scent of a Woman”. What a crock of sh*t!
It’s not narrow. It’s not difficult. And it’s certainly not a razor’s edge. It’s easy-peasy lemon squeezy. All you have to do is turn. You don’t even have to understand love or manifest unfailing love for others or walk around with a little love in your heart. You just have to accept love, just be on the receiving end. Turn and catch.
Ah, but you’ve screwed up ROYAL, haven’t you? Yeah, me too. Don’t sweat it, just turn and be loved. And much like I told my beloved wife, best friend and love of my life, when she was heading to get me something to drink: “Don’t screw it up.” (charming, eh?) But it’s sound advice for oneself, though something of a relationship killer I now see with 20/20 hindsight. Don’t be saddled with guilt and shame about being “God’s loser”, about screwing things up royal, about all the mistakes you’ve made. Just turn and be loved. God absolutely goes ga-ga over prodigal sons and daughters making their way back. He’s weird like that. I think of Charlie Brown and Lucy, the lovely girl who happily holds the football that Charlie never successfully kicks, but instead pulls it away at the last moment again and again. God’s love is kind of like Charlie’s foot swinging away trustfully over and over, ever flailing never connecting.
It doesn’t have to be like that. To sum up with one of my all-time favorite verses, “Be still and know that I am God.” That’s right, it’s a 3-part plan but they’re pretty simple parts. Turn, be loved and then be still. And rest assured that the loving, cleated foot of God will finally connect and boot your buns right between the goal posts if only you’ll let Him. May seem like a funny way to get one’s salvation back, but much like a certain writer made in His image, God’s a funny guy.