So Near, So Far

There are many ways to follow Jesus.

The one that resonates with me these days is the path of the mystic.  I believe that a deep connection to God is possible.  I am experiencing a  connection that  runs deeper than words, ideas, and doctrine.  Experiencing this connection is an act of waking up to a reality that has been present all along.

I have been moved, recently, to take another look at Moses’ first encounter with God in the desert.  This passage, in Exodus chapter 3, has shaped my understanding of God… and perhaps more importantly, it has shaped my daily practice as a mystic.

At it’s most general, this encounter is a study in contrasts.  More than ever before, God is right there with us. And at the same time, he is so beyond us.  Where it begins, Moses’ life has fallen apart. He has fled the only life he has own. He has gone from being a prince to tending his father-in-law’s sheep.  He sees something strange: a bush which is on fire but not burned up, and he goes to investigate. And by the third verse, the God-is-here/ God-is there dynamic is already present:

 

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”  Then he said, “I am the God of your father,[a] the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”

On the side of the fact that God is other:  he appears as a a burning bush. As if this isn’t weird enough, it’s a fire that doesn’t consume what it has taken over.  And as if that weren’t weird enough, he is an all-powerful, talking, ominiscient burning bush. When Moses approaches, he is told that he has entered some place new and special, and that he should not come any closer.

And yet!  The very first words that God speaks are Moses’ name.  God identifies himself as the god of Moses ancestors. This is a God who understands.  He expresses both knowledge and empathy. He beckons his child to him.

  Perhaps it is because he is overwhelmed with these two intense realities that this happens next:

Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God

And this is speculation, but perhaps God is responding to his overwhelmed prophet in what he says next.  Maybe this is God’s attempt to get Moses feeling close again:

The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.”

 

So.  There is lots to be said.  And so much that can’t be said.  I feel that this is just a set up to some of the awesome stuff that will happen in the upcoming verses.  

But it’s pretty amazing all on it’s own.  I think it’s worth sitting with and chewing on:  A God transcendent of all our weaknesses and limitations, but one who is intimately involved with every aspect of our realities nonetheless.  

So for now, I think I will stop to breathe.

Breathing In With Adam, Breathing Out to God

This morning, with my in-breaths, I breathed in with Adam.  As God breathed life into him, I felt that breath coming into me.  It comes in as physical nourishment, of course.  But also life itself.  A primal spark I am re-living.

And with the out-breaths, I knew I was saying God’s name: the Hebrew words given to Adam, carrying a nearly impossible-to-translate meaning, sounds without teeth and tongue.  It is a name above other names, in that it is a thing said through out our lives, countless times.  And it is name beyond names in that it is a thing we do.

When I breathe this way, it feels as though God’s primal spark which enters me with an inhalation, leaves me as an act of worship…  As all worship does, it is begun in Him, comes from Him, returns to Him.

And breathing in that intimate space, lips near mine, like some primal mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, like a kiss.

And when I had done this for some time, as I breathed in, my mantra was “Jesus lived.”  With the held breath my mantra was “Jesus died.”  and as I breathed out “Jesus is coming again.”

And after thirty minutes of this, I was such a mess, a wonderful mess.  These strange sobs– not bad things– were coming up from the deepest parts of me.  I felt the space between God in me to be less than nothing.

There was a part of me that knew I would return to the ordinary way of perceiving.   These flood gates that were thrown wide open wood close.  And I had this sense that this was my doing, this was my act of self-defence, that God would have me that close to him, all the time.

I will head to church in a while, and I will then go about my Sunday.  And then I will enter my week.  I am going to try and do with all those doors within wide open.

 

#5 Would a Rose, By Any Other Name…

Names are no small thing in the bible.  There are many figures who are given a new name when they perform a great deed.  Angels go to the parents of  John and Jesus and tell mom and dad the names the kids will have.  The evil spirits cast out of people frequently make a big deal out of knowing their own name, and they often place importance on the fact that they know Jesus’ name.  The book of Revelation tells us that we have a secret and true name carved into a stone that is waiting for us.

There are things in the bible that don’t feel very relevant to us today.  So  we might try and pay lip service to the idea that names are just arbitrary and meaningless.  We could claim that they are just a random series of sounds assigned to us birth.  But our life experiences don’t bear this out.

So many  groups that wants to create a community will assign its members new names.  From summer camps to street gangs, from college fraternities to online communities, we give each other new names.  We go to restaurants or coffee shapes, and when we interact with people we will never see again, we find it important to make sure that they spell our names correctly.  Kids that are just reaching their adult years often find it necessary to re-name themselves, requesting that others call them by some new name, a process not unlike ancient tribal people, who would endow those entering adulthood with a new name, often earned through some sort-of vision quest.

When you engage in meditation today, perhaps you would like to choose a word, today.  People use mantras as a way to focus.  Repeating the word silently is a strategy to get past the distractions which our minds will throw at us.  Some people like to use words with a specific meaning they won’t to focus on: “Love”  or “Jesus” or “Yahweh.”  

Contemplative John Main suggests the word “maranatha.”  Before I researched this word, I kind of liked it.  It is almost as long as each of the breaths I take.  When I choose a shorter word, I find that distractions creep in, between repetitions.  And when I looked the word, discovering it is one that Jesus himself said, an invitation for God to come and a declaration that God has already arrived, I liked it even more.

There is no magical meaning to these sounds.  They are just words.  But even without magic, words and names are powerful things.  Choose a mantra today, and let go.