Baggage

I used to think that the main objective was simply to hear from God.

As I think about this objective now, I am imagining that my little toddler self, many decades ago, must have once simply wanted to be able to stand up with a little bit of stability.  At one point, it must have seemed to me that it would be so awesome if I could just stand up like the grown ups, with out having to hang or lean on something.  I imagine, at this time, that the idea of walking must have felt out of range; never mind running, or jumping, or skipping.   In fact, I would imagine that I didn’t have much of an understanding of the differences between these.

It is not that I see burning bushes all the time.  It’s not that I consistently can attribute to God.  Often, I have this sense that maybe this idea, or that idea, or feeling come from him.

Over the weekend, I had this moment of understanding that hearing from God is just the tip of the iceberg.  I was engaged in Lectio Divina.  A friend was walking several of us through this process of using the bible to allow God to encounter us directly.  The idea is that a passage is read repeatedly, and we might find a phrase or a sentence that seems important to meditate on.

I was so struck by the entering into this process that I hardly paid any attention at all to the bible reading though.  My friend Jason opened with a sort-of prayer, that we might have an open heart toward God.

And in that moment, I had this crystal clear realization that my heart is not particularly open at all.  I had an awareness of how guarded and tenative I am.  How full of my own agenda and foolishness I can be.  I had this understanding that if somebody starts off  with their baggage and agenda, the words we hear, the feelings we recieve, the verse we find ourselves focusing on will be filtered and experienced through this baggage.

I had been wrestling lately, with the act of letting go of my ego.  I can clearly see it’s presence.  But I had found myself wondering if I shouldn’t be giving more time and head-space to the idea of just reaching out to God and focusing on union with him.  The thing I experienced, last Saturday, was that all the time and effort I am spending, around letting go of my false self is pretty important.  Otherwise, I will be doing nothing but twisting God’s words and intent around for my own petty little purposes.

 

Why?

My friend asked me what my goal was, here at The Contemplace.

As I started to explain it to him, I realized this would be a good thing to write about: Why, precisely, am I doing this?

I am a middle aged guy.  And I spent the whole first half of my life searching.

I had this love-hate relationship with Jesus.  I was fascinated by the things I heard about this person.  And pretty contemptuous of his followers.  This is, in part, because they were sometimes hypocrites.  It seemed like taking that name, ‘Christian’ was more of a political thing than a spiritual one.  And the politics they endorsed, didn’t seem very consistent with the fascinating stories I heard about the man.

But, in truth, it was also about me.  I was not willing to be particularly tolerant.  I had this sense that taking that leap– following Jesus– would change everything.  In college, I majored in philosophy.  I got a chunk of the way through a master’s degree in philosophy, too.  Philosophy of Religion was my field.  I wanted to find out how these things could be true.

In the midst of all of it, there were these things that didn’t make sense: trinity, for example.  And the crucifixion, as well: Why would God need to kill his first son because of something his other sons did?

On a night when my life was falling apart, there was this tremendous storm.  It’s embarrassing to admit how the thunder shook the window panes; if I saw that scene in the movie, how the weather outside so mirrored my feelings within, I never would have believed it.

In a way, some of my thinking changed.  I had a sense about how the Jesus thing could work.  More importantly, that night, I got the sense that I did not need to understand it.

I became a member of a church.  At that time, it was really good.

They accepted me and all of my thoughts and questions.  It felt like home for a long time.  I loved being there for about ten years.

There were lots of ideas shared with me.  Some of them worked.  Some of them didn’t.  In that place, there was an emphasis on the things we do.  And the things we believe.  I started to drift away.

I remembered my time as a philosophy student.  When you are a philosophy student in Southern California, you are legally required to identify as a Buddhist.  I loved to meditate, back then.

As a Christian, all those years later, I found myself longing for some sort of practice that ran deeper than the sorts of prayer I saw done.  A gulf was forming between who I was and the others who were around me.

This gulf began with this sense that I might somehow be more connected to God.  But there was also a blossoming isolation from the other people around me.   I would hear whispers about these old practices: lectio divina; centering prayer; contemplation.  Nobody specifically and explictly told me to stay away from them.  But nobody seemed to think it was a good idea to explore them, either.

Eventually, I worked up the nerve to explore them.  I found a church home that wasn’t skeptical of them.  And I thought about the years, all the years, that I was so very close.  I could almost touch God.  But he had still been far away.

This is why The Contemplace exists.  Because I wish somebody had told me all those years ago.  I wish they had told me about this forgotten, neglected group of practices.  I wish my community had cheered me on.

I am just a step or two down this very long path.  I suspect that someday I will look at this time in my life and smile wryly, and think that I was trying so hard to be so deep, but that there were lots of things I was pretty clueless about, way back in 2016.

I am willing to take that risk, though.  Because even if I have got a bunch of stuff wrong, I have this sense that I have got a few things right.  I believe not only in the power of these old practices.  I also believe that we can be closer to God than right beliefs and ideas will ever get us by themselves.  I believe that we ought to be urging each other on, toward this closeness.

I believe, most of all, that I am not alone.  We feel homeless, we fear that we are headed down the wrong path.  But we have grown out of easy answers and pat explanations, and we are ready for something more.  This is what The Contemplace is really about: taking this journey together, toward God.