Prisoners to Our Nature
There’s a terrific show on AMC called “Into The Badlands.” It takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, and although the exact date is unknown, it’s obvious from the skeletons of interstate highway overpasses and the presence of cars that the show is based sometime after our current era—or perhaps in a parallel reality. The idea of before and after seems archaic to me lately.
At any rate, guns are outlawed and territories divided into a series of fiefdoms run by Barons who control different natural resources. There’s a Baron who controls oil and gas, a Baron for river passage and transport, one who controls most of the grain supply.
It’s an interesting scenario that allows the writers to explore some surprisingly existential questions. The philosophical and at times overtly religious nature of the show has surprised me because I initially tuned in for the terrific, sweeping, panoramic cinematography and jaw-dropping martial arts sequences (some of which are exhausting to watch at nearly 10 minutes long).
There are several powerful lead characters in the show, but by far the most captivating and intriguing is Quinn, the Baron who controls the Poppy supply—and so the opiate trade. He’s ruthless and bloodthirsty, yet he speaks with a slow, calculated, genteel southern drawl that coats his evil intentions with fake empathy and understanding. He is the show’s embodiment of evil; the devil, ha-Satan.
And he is suffering from a brain tumor—a sly commentary on human nature. The tumor is a clever plot device that always reminds us Quinn has something lethal growing inside him—and that Quinn himself is lethal.
An interwoven storyline is about a female doctor who is attending to Quinn’s tumor. She’s doing so because the Baron, in a fit of madness that might or might not have been caused by the brain tumor, slaughtered the only other doctors in town–her parents.
She is a marvelous character with the best name ever: Veil.
It took me awhile to see the underlying and deeply theological themes of the show, but once I started watching it philosophically, I realized it paralleled biblical themes of seeing the world anew, sacrifice, and our struggle to be decent humans so closely, it must have been intentional. I mean, a character named Veil, really?
The interplay between Veil and the other characters, especially Quinn the Baron, is a brilliant plot device. When Veil is in a scene, she always reveals a deeper truth to another character. It’s not preachy. In fact, it’s extremely subtle. There’s so much action in this show and at times incredible amounts of blood, that it would be easy to write it off as just another entertaining, post-apocalyptic action series.
But that would be as big a mistake as trusting Baron Quinn.
When the Baron’s tumor causes a massive seizure, Veil convinces him to try a procedure that will poison him, but possibly cure him as well–something akin to chemotherapy, but with the primitive tools she has available (Victorian-era centrifuges, for example).
While Veil is performing the procedure—and possibly saving the life of the monster who she knows killed her family, she asks Quinn why he killed her parents.
He thinks for a moment, does this little thing where he twists the corner of his mouth and sucks some air through it with a disgusting “Tsst,” and replies with his slow, silky, mesmerizing southern drawl, “It’s just in my nature, I guess.”
As the doctor is preparing to start the chemical flow into the Baron’s bloodstream, he suddenly grabs her arm and says to her, “You could kill me right now, you know. Just turn that valve all the way. Nobody would ever know. I wouldn’t blame you. I probably deserve it.”
And Veil thinks about it. You can see her internal struggle, the clash between doctor’s moral oath to save life and daughter’s broken hearted anger boiling into lustful revenge.
But Veil can’t do it. She can’t avenge the death of her parents by murdering their murderer. After witnessing her inner turmoil, Quinn looks at her and says, “I guess we’re all just prisoners to our nature.”
And I’m like, “WHAT THE?!?!” …Pause. Holy crap!
I guess we’re all just prisoners to our nature.
What a mind-bending thought. Notice that there’s no good or bad implied here. Both Quinn, who we see as bad, and Veil, who we see as good, are prisoners to their nature. In this show, our nature is neither good nor evil. It’s just nature. Some of us will tend toward deeds other people (and perhaps ourselves) view as evil; others will tend toward perceived good. Good or evil, though, it’s often a matter of perception—both of self and from others.
Either way, the implication is that we are born this way, and there’s no changing.
I guess we’re all just prisoners to our nature.
As soon as Quinn said that I thought about Paul and St. Augustine, and all the other early church theologians and many Christians today who would agree with the Baron—he’s the Baron of Opiates, by the way. Did I mention that? Yeah. As I said, brilliant.
We humans are prisoners to our nature, and for Paul and those who follow him, that nature is evil. Paul believed our nature is inescapable, and so Jesus became the salvation for all human beings, who because of Adam and Eve’s transgression, are forevermore cursed to walk the Earth, live a life, and die—because death is bad, according to Paul. And it’s our nature, unchangeable. God may have forgiven us for our nature, but God doesn’t change what we are.
For Paul and those who followed, human nature is so bad we can’t even behave in paradise.
Paul would say our moral struggles—the internal, eternal wrestling over right and wrong we see in both Veil and Quinn, show we are flawed. I say moral wrangling shows we are human. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being human. Especially if we’re doing the hard work of moral wrangling.
I think Paul and Augustine and all the others who think we are a fallen species miss not only the point of Jesus’ teachings, but also the meaning of the stories about him, completely.
The Jesus stories are intended to show us that we are not fallen. Rather, we are ascending.
Our nature, our inescapable essence, doesn’t imprison is. It sets us free.
I don’t think Jesus ever intended to be a scapegoat for all humanity. I believe he was perfectly in tune with the nature of the universe—pure, unadulterated, divine love, and that he wanted to teach us about our true nature.
We are all divine at heart. Imperfect, flawed, too often cruel, without question. But that is not our nature. We are a work in progress. That’s why Jesus’ story doesn’t end with his sacrifice on the cross. It ends with his ascension. I think the ending of a story is pretty important—too important to virtually ignore. It’s the part that proclaims our nature sets us free.
Our nature sets us free.
Why is it that for thousands of years, Christianity has stopped three-quarters of the way through the Jesus story? It’s like reading A Christmas Carol and stopping just after Scrooge fires Bob Cratchit. “Ah well! There’s no hope for Scrooge!” we might mistakenly believe.
Jesus’ story doesn’t end on the cross. It ends with the ascension as he “is taken into the clouds.”
In The Bible, cloud imagery signifies the presence of God. So, when Jesus “ascends” into the clouds, we should understand the author meant to imply Jesus was surrounded by the presence of God. So deeply, perhaps, that he simply ceased to be material.
Our true nature, after all, sets us free. Even from the bonds of the flesh.
We are created from love to be love, just like Jesus. We have the ability to ascend to a much higher state of being, just like Jesus. It’s our nature, in fact, and as Baron Quinn says, “I guess we’re all just prisoners to our nature.”
In my mind, that’s a very, very good thing.
you who are
all the wisdom and grace
you create through
Before we took this form,
we were in perfect relationship with you.
In this form,
we seek perfect relationship with you.
After this form expires,
as all things do,
we will once again unite
in perfect relationship with you.
When the time comes
for you to take physical form,
we are formed and transformed
until the spark of human birth
graduates us to a new sense of being
and a new sense of love for you.
From the moment of our material birth,
we form connections with our parents,
the doctors and nurses caring for us,
and all the aunts, uncles,
and even strangers
who will soon become family.
We are carefully crafted for relationship, Holy One,
to all that exists
both seen and unseen.
all the people you have brought into our lives.
For every story, every lesson,
every shared laugh or tear,
we thank you for the deep,
personal connections and bonds
that transcend time and distance.
We give special thanks today
for all those who have mothered us over the years;
for all those nurturing spirits
who bandaged our cuts and bruises when we fell,
who encouraged us in times of self-doubt,
who picked us up and dusted us off
and loved us unconditionally,
no matter how badly
or how often
we totally screwed up.
Thank you to all our moms,
who simply love us for who we are.
Just like you, our non-judgmental
Lord of Love.
For all those who teach us to love,
we praise you.
For those who inspire us to be generous, just and kind,
we thank you.
For those who nurture our relationship with you,
In all our relationships
may we live the truth of your boundless love for us
by returning that limitless love
to everyone we encounter,
of every day of our lives.
We pray in the name of Jesus the Christ,
who loves us all without condition,
from before birth to beyond death.
For the Week of May 8, 2017
The Everyman Diary
Fragments from a diary dated to the time of the First Rip
What follows is the official English translation of one of the most significant archaeological finds in history. Now referred to as “The Everyman Diary,” the text was overlooked for years.
Discovered at a roadside antiquities tent in Machaerus (southwest of and across the Dead Sea from Bethlehem), the merchant claimed his daughter had found the diary in a small, unnamed, unexcavated, ancient village a few kilometers to the north.
The diary was ignored for decades because its provenance and authenticity could not be established until recently, when work at the unnamed town revealed it to be the home of an influential religious movement organized just after the First Rip. Like the town, this sect has no recorded name, although a remnant remains today.
This diary provides a rare glimpse into life just after the first paradigm-shifting Rip in the cosmos and the many ways people interpreted the event that changed our world forever.
I’ve never really thought of myself as an interesting person. I’m pleasant enough (I hope), but my life was largely spent moving from one tedious little box to another.
Wake up, clean up in a little box;
go to work, work all day in a little box.
Come home, do chores, sleep in a little box.
As I said, tedium.
The funny-not-funny thing about the little-boxes tedious life is that when you’re living it, you don’t recognize how tediously boxy it genuinely is. You’re happy with the predictable stability of it all. Even thankful, maybe. Tedium becomes mantra becomes God.
I wish I knew how to say that in Latin. It would probably sound a lot cooler.
We should be happy with our tedious little boxes–I was. I was happy and thankful for my tedious life. I didn’t ask for everything to change, for life’s little boxes to be violently tumbled around like loose change in a clothes-dryer.
On the contrary, I loved my glorious routine. I loved every minute of it, right up until the time it was shattered forever that bitter-cold summer weekend… years ago? Has it been that long? Or has it only been that long? I forget. I miss the reliable timeline of tedium.
Ah, well, baby steps, as they say.
It feels good to finally write about that fateful day that changed the world. The morning it happened, the worst sound I’ve ever heard startled me awake. It was the sound of a million buzz saws angrily sparking through unrelenting steel, the entire struggle amplified by a sound system I imagined the size of Jupiter with the distortion knob turned up to infinity.
I instinctively reached to the nightstand for my headphones and, embarrassingly, immediately regretted not purchasing the noise-cancelling pair. Not that they would have helped much.
I put the headphones on anyway, ran to the window, and saw a gash in the sky that reminded me of a knife wound. On the front lawn outside my apartment people were running in little circles, hands over their ears in mostly unsuccessful attempts to block the merciless shriek of whatever was happening. I noticed my friend Jay on the front lawn. I also noticed he was wearing noise-cancelling headphones but was doubled-over in a fetal position, writhing on the ground in pain. This made me feel better and worse at the same time.
UNISON PRAYER: God who is creation, help us honor you. Work through us as we try to create a more peaceful, loving world. Give us our food for today. Forgive us for doing wrong, as we forgive others. Keep us from being tempted and protect us from evil. Amen.
SONG: God of Wonders (YouTube Link)
The shrieking continued, and to make matters worse, our building started to shake a little. I ran out my door and glided down the seven flights of stairs to the street in what I’m sure was record time. Hoping I could block out the shriek of what sounded like God’s tormented death, I clasped my headphones tightly against my ears, flew through the front door, and landed in a clumsy lump on the front lawn at the feet of my neighbors.
Our reunion was short-lived as our building—our home, began to crumble. The shrieking began to change, too. Now, the sound felt like someone tightening a belt around my waist—ad they were tugging hard and holding fast.
The intensity of it brought me to my knees. It wasn’t just loud, it was thick. I know that’s a strange way to describe a sound, but I listen to my music loud. The sound outside was more than loud, somehow more than just sound. It was agonizing. Like, agonizing over a decision, and it seeped into my pores, eviscerating my tedious little boxes.
I heard reality’s broken hearted scream, and it sucked all the air out of me, out of the world, like it was all being neatly vacuum-packed for cosmic storage.
Another little box.
About a dozen of us made it to some little, deserted, not too-destroyed anthill of a town. We’ll set up camp and start rebuilding. We don’t have a lot of strength right now, much less motivation, so starting again will take some time. And who knows when another Rip might happen? Aside from the fact that fully two-thirds of The Rip’s existence was excruciatingly painful, it also created a new reality. I don’t mean this figuratively, either, although it did do that, for many. Myself included.
But, we’re apparently living in a new physics to which some people are not anatomically or genetically suited. Our family lost dozens of loved ones, hundreds of friends, and there’s no sign the epidemics are ending anytime soon.
Why did we survive? Who knows. Nature loves adaptation. We were unknowingly adapted. Some people say God is saving us for a greater purpose. Others say God has damned us and left us to rot.
Sometimes, I just want my tedious little-boxed life back!
Most often, though, I find myself drawn to this interesting group of traveling companions, this little community in a new world. The Rip has given us cause to reexamine our priorities. We have decided to stay together and live communally. We’ll start to settle in to this new world and invite any and all who happen our way to join us.
We don’t always get along. It’s not paradise. But we’re a weird little family with lots of strange ideas, and we all agree that whether God or nature, we survived. We don’t think that makes us “better” or “saved” or anything like that.
I think the living have a superiority complex.
UNISON PRAYER: Holy and Wondrous God, fill our lives with appreciation for each breath. Make our words tender and our hearts forgiving. Give us love, give us hope, give us peace. Amen.
We’ve been talking about God a lot lately and whether or not God created The Rip to reset the planet and cleanse it of evil. We’ve started to get a lot of travelers through our village, which has been great! They not only buy our produce and goods, they share news from other places. Everyone has a theory about what caused The Rip. I’ve been surprised how many of them involve God.
Well, I suppose that doesn’t surprise me. I’m surprised how many people think The Rip was the result of a vengeful God.
For example, in a reversal of “The Rapture” many Christians used to blather on at me about all the time, the self-proclaimed “New Christians” say we few, good folk were left behind while all the bad guys were eradicated either by the epidemics or the natural disasters caused by the Rip. Either way, it was all caused by God for God’s good purpose.
There are a few problems with that theory, the most obvious being that a whole lot of terrible people are still here.
I don’t know. In my tedious past I never gave God much of a passing glance. Now that all this has happened, well… I just don’t know.
SONG: Glory Doxology
SEPTEMBER 7 [at the communion table]
I wasn’t very religious before The Rip. I didn’t believe, I didn’t not-believe. I just didn’t really think about it. But now, with time to sit and think and look at stars and smell the fresh desert air and break bread and talk with my friends and just, well, just wonder about everything, I’ve started to think about God.
Maybe I’ve even felt God once or twice. Or maybe we’ve been in the desert too long. But now I[m beginning to understand light. God is light. God as light. God as love, always pulling us toward the light. We have endless discussions about whether God is leading or pulling. I suppose that’s what happens when life is no longer tedious.
I don’t think God did any of this on purpose. That’s not what light does. Light simply shines in the darkness and reveals what lies beneath. The Rip just happened. I think the key is seeing God’s light in the event and its aftermath, which I never would have said before The Rip. Maybe my change of heart proves the existence of God?
At any rate, The Rip gave us the opportunity to redefine our community for the better, and for that, I’m eternally thankful. I don’t feel tedious anymore, or boxed in. This concept we call God has expanded my mind, my heart, and sure, my soul, whatever that is, if it’s even a thing that exists physically.
Hey, I’ll always be a skeptic.
I invite you all to share a meal with our community now. You don’t need to declare anything, you don’t need to join our group of hopeful peaceniks. Please, just come and break bread with us as a show of unity in love of God and neighbor; break bread with us as a symbol of a new start and the beginning of a new reality, which begins with every single one of us gathered here today.
COMMUNION PRAYER: God of love and light, reveal yourself in this meal. Fill us with your spirit, wisdom, and holiness. Make us holy: wholly yours, holy human. Amen.
SONG: Go Light Your World
Do I believe in God now? Maybe. Sort of, I suppose. I sure do think about God a lot now.
Is thinking believing?
Because when I think about God, it’s a rabbit hole. I mean, what if God can cause something like The Rip but without intention? How does that work? Can something like The Rip just happen naturally? What does that say about God and nature? Is God an active universal force for love? As my friends and I are fond of asking lately, is God the light that reveals truth in the darkness, coldly, without attachment? Or is God so in love as to become beloved objects, that out of love God must occasionally make very tough decisions. Like whether to rip reality in two, I suppose.
I’ve decided that religion is making a choice between two contradictory ideas. Faith is being able to hold them in tension.
The Rip chopped up the electromagnetic spectrum, leaving gaping empty spaces of literally dead air where there was once useable frequency. I miss Smooth Jazz 101.7.
There are some funky, funky places around where poles are reversed and gravity is weak. In fact, my group has become hypervigilant about “gravitational sinkholes,” near-zero gravity points sort of like cosmic quicksand. You can’t see them, and if you get stuck in one you’ll just float there, spinning in circles until someone comes along to nudge you out. They’re not particularly dangerous, unless you got stuck in one for a couple months, I suppose. That’s why we wander around looking for stuck souls to gently nudge out of their cosmic quicksand.
As I said, freaky.
Some clever souls have begun to rebuild a communications network, and with that important piece of technology restored, we can once more receive all manner of rumor, innuendo, fear-mongering and hucksterism. I presumed a different world implied a better one.
At least my new faith gives me hope. And, truthfully, my new life is much more fulfilling, more interesting, less restrained than before The Rip. I feel alive. Renewed.
While there are some networks chartered to help people find their way to safe havens like ours in this strange new reality, most of the airwaves are crammed with shadow-government conspiracy theorists; end-times prophets asking for money to build a spaceship (as if); and reruns of Gomer Pyle, USMC. No, I do not know why. But in a completely unreliable world, having that one reliable thing, whether it’s Gomer Pyle, USMC or God… that’s something, isn’t it?
UNISON PRAYER: Holy God, forgive my judgmental nature and make me instead into your natural force of love. Help me remember that everyone is born of your creative energy, and make me always treat others with the love and adoration I have for you.
I’ll probably never answer my logical questions about God. But my crazy, maybe even foolish side just knows everything’s headed toward love and light. I just know it. And I’m tired of being terrified all the time. I went from tedious to terrified. It’s time for my life to be defined by a new letter of the alphabet.
Faith in something greater, even if I have no idea what the hell that something greater is, gives me hope for a new world, and energizes me to carry that hope to everyone I meet.
God of endless grace,
for one more chance
to get things right.
One more chance
to tell you “I love you”
and hear you whisper,
“I love you, too.”
One more chance
to seek forgiveness
from people I’ve wronged,
and from myself
the worst bully I’ve ever encountered
Thank you for one more chance
to defeat the bullies in my mind,
and in our world,
merely by recognizing
the love we need.
I call you Holy
and thank you
for one more chance
to fully surrender my life
Thank you for one more chance,
one more day,
one more week,
one more month,
one more year,
one more life,
one more resurrection.
Thank you for making me new,
over and over
and over again.
Thank you for the gift of patience
as I learn to follow
in the footsteps of our teacher,
Jesus, the anointed one,
who shows us your intimate, everlasting love.
In the name of love
and the manner of Jesus
I will practice giving
And with every day
of this new life,
I will thank you, Lord.
for one more chance
to get things right.
This article first appeared in Intersect on April 4, 2016. I’ve revisited and updated some thoughts for today’s article.
Seeking Golden Threads
I’ve always found it useful to look for common threads weaving throughout the world’s religions. The intersection of ideas creates wisdom. At the very least, religious commonalities reveal that in our quest to understand our place in the universe, we quite often come to the same conclusions. One such common thread is “The Golden Rule.” Every religion, theistic or not, includes some variation of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Check out the chart below (click for a larger version):
If most religious systems agree that we should be good and fair to each other, why then do we so often attempt to annihilate each other in the name of our religions?
I have two theories about that.
First, many of the wars fought for “religious” reasons were (and are today) political wars. On the ancient world stage, most of the states were theocracies in name or manner. Emperors and kings were seen to be, if not gods themselves, then a god’s chosen representative on Earth. Early interpretations of how Jesus was also God continued this misguided and dangerous tradition of Holy Monarchy. The idea is still too pervasive in contemporary Christianity for many of us. With the advent of hereditary monarchies, rulers consulted religious leaders—Cardinals and Popes, for example, before making any decisions. Often, monarchs were simply puppets of the dominant religious system and its leaders, who used the ill-conceived notion of “saving souls” as a façade for colonial expansion.
Second, there is a tendency within all religions to resist syncretism—the blending of different belief systems and traditions, sometimes in an attempt at inclusiveness. Many faithful people see any theological adjustment as a dilution of the “purity” of their religion. The truth is, however, that no religion is “pure.” People don’t live in a vacuum. The idea that religion (or any human system for that matter) won’t be influenced by other religions, science, archaeology, history, biology, pop culture, education, reason, etc., is naïve. Religions don’t just suddenly appear in human consciousness. Humans create religious institutions in response to their surroundings, most often in a quest to answer questions such as Who am I? Why am I here? What happens after I die? Is there a God, and if so, what is God’s nature? If there is a God, why is the world so horrific?
It takes a long time for a religion to evolve to the point where acceptance of different, sometimes contrary, ideas is possible. The Golden Rule stagnates as a statement of faith for believers, not applicable to the institution. Religious institutions get nervous when their ideas are challenged (Moses challenges the Egyptians, Jesus challenges his fellow Jews, Martin Luther challenges his fellow Catholics, etc.).
Practicing the concept of “do unto others” means we listen, with respect, to those who think differently. Contrarian ideas don’t necessarily have to be integrated into the religion itself, but the sign of a healthy, vibrant, living religion is one that is willing to reexamine its positions on a multitude of sacred and secular topics. Often.
For us to grow as people of faith, as human beings sharing an increasingly small space with limited resources, we must relentlessly self-reflect. We must measure what we believe against what others believe and never cease learning about each other and the workings of the universe. We must continue to grow spiritually, intellectually, politically, socially, emotionally, and physically, even as our religions fail us and noisily fight their way into irrelevancy as we are filled with surprising answers to our questions by a renewed sense of relationship with the mysterious all-being of all realities, God.
We must realize, especially as we head to the resurrection symbolism of Easter, that the birth of something new, wonderful, love-filled and miraculous, requires the death of our old habits, thoughts, ideas, and prejudices. To live the golden rule, we must think and act differently and demand the same of all our institutions—religious and secular.
Meditation: Share your peace with me, that I might share peace with others, my God of Wisdom and Love.
God of endless wonder and surprise,
fill us with your joy!
Excite our senses
with the sights, sounds, tastes,
and calming touch of your presence.
We need to experience you,
our Lord of resistance.
How else can we overcome
the blathering bullies
to an all-too-eager
crowd of lost souls?
Without you, where is hope?
how can we the people,
lost souls all,
lead each other to your light?
So we plead to be with you,
only with you,
our love, our light,
our song of life.
We give thanks for you,
our Holy, Loving God
and hold you near,
today and forever.
Hold us near, too,
as we traverse
the slippery and obstacle-strewn
path to a higher level of being;
a greater sense of Universal Consciousness
pervading all things.
This higher state of being
reveals enemies as friends
and turns strangers into family.
Help us journey together,
leaving no person behind.
Unite all people
in love and understanding
through the clarity of mind,
body and soul
that comes from realizing
our Oneness with you.
Wake us up!
We need to experience you because
without you, where is hope?
For the past few weeks, we’ve been talking about The Book of Psalms. This Sunday, as part of our new conversational style of worship, everyone was asked to think about a subject (something like tremendous joy or unbearable anguish; an aspect of God’s nature; thanksgiving to or frustration with God, or whatever else came to mind) and write one sentence summarizing their idea. We then wrote one response/exclamation to our initial thought, creating the first couple lines of a Psalm.
We don’t have pews or aisles of chairs in our sanctuary. We sit around tables of six or seven people who then assembled their thoughts together on a single page, in any order that struck them. It is surprising how effectively these separate pieces of poetry formed a Psalm.
I’ve assembled everyone’s work into the following single Psalm. Thanks to everyone at The Current for your constant willingness to try new things, for your participation, and for your inspiration.
I don’t understand why there’s so much dissension in the world.
We must try to have more togetherness,
to understand each other better
and hope it works out.
The Holy, Infinite One is immanent today!
Let us be glad!
1,000 homeless children in Naples. Why?
80,000 children lost in India.
How should/could I respond?
I accept my life,
filled with ups and downs,
is a wondrous journey.
How will I possibly learn how to accept this
without the love of God?
God is the creator of abundant life!
I hope so.
Handle me with care;
will I always be lost?
Am I on the right path?
Love should taste like honeysuckle and joy,
not like toothpaste and obligation.
Stop confusing self-satisfying love
with real love.
Stop thinking love
is a ticket to Heaven
or a social necessity.
It’s not possible to do enough
during our short lives here
to deem us worthy of
the incredible blessings we receive.
It’s our responsibility as human beings
to come as close as we can.
God, I feel your presence
in the waves of the ocean as they roll in.
The waves roll in
and take away my anguish and problems.
The Lord is my strength.
I can do it!
God is my foundation.
I need You to guide me!
God, I believe you guide my life
and I just wonder,
why am I here today?
My faith allows you to lead me!
You are my support;
You carry me in all I do.
I’m always searching for ways
to know You better.
You are always there for me;
I know You have the answers.
Praise be to God,
my hope and my salvation.
Thank You for loving me.
Why is there no happiness in the world?
I pray for peace and well-being,
I sometimes lose sight of You
in my daily struggles.
I will try to focus
more clearly on You.
I love what makes me an “untouchable.”
It is what makes me who I am
and there will only ever be
one of me.
There is an amazing life ahead
with the help of God.
God is in all things
and in me.
We praise your Holy name
and give thanks for Jesus,
whose human suffering
teaches us to endure.
We thank Jesus
for his gift to us all,
I thank God
that I have You to talk to
This allows me to be
totally open and free,
since there is no need to hide.
Your unconditional love
is always present everywhere.
our hearts and minds to you
for healing and wholeness.
Shoot a prayer.
Expect a response.
It seems as though the world,
rewards the most ruthless among us.
Sometimes it feels like
suffering and death
are all around me.
I depend on
my Spirit connection
to get me through my journey.
What is healing?
Sometimes, death is the healing.
The meek shall inherit the Earth.
I am concerned that
there are so many people
who won’t help others.
I will swim upstream
against this trend!
Why does life
become so unfair and horrific
for some people?
It is simply the way
of a human-inhabited world.
In the end,
all will become air and peaceful
Why is everyone getting cancer?
We are given hard times
to better understand life.
Hard times have a ripple effect.
Thank You, God,
for guiding me
when life is pulling me
many different directions.
When negativity has increased
in my life,
God guides me to decisions
I’ve never made before.
I am thankful
that I don’t understand everything.
Life is challenging
and exciting and rewarding.
Give me patience
to deal with my present situation.
I must trust God
to be with me
and see it through!
Living in the Godstream
Throughout Lent, we’ve been talking about seeing through the darkness. We’ve been discussing the idea that we only see a piece of reality; that we’re trapped in a cocoon that causes us to see the world through a hazy, silky veil, and that by refocusing our minds and lives on God we will begin to see our existence more deeply, more profoundly, more selflessly.
The veil is created by our human need to achieve things; to control things. We’ve convinced ourselves that this Newtonian world, where every action has an opposite reaction, is the true nature of existence. We have conditioned ourselves to believe in opposition. One need only look at this week’s headlines to understand how detrimental this attitude of constant opposition is.
Lent is a season to remember to let go. Let go of our control. Let go of our worries, our anxieties. Let go of the things we think are true and make way for new ideas—more holistic ideas that help us see through the veil, into a truth beyond simply reacting to opposition. The Lenten journey invites us to clear all that stuff out, and The Book of Psalms is an excellent companion for that journey.
The Psalms are more than just the hymnal or prayer book of ancient Israelite and Judean worship. They are the preserved, poetic prayers of people of faith who struggled, just like us, to remain God-centered when responding to life’s challenges. The Psalms are soul songs to God, and they are intended to be used as more than a prayer book—they are meant to be lived.
As such, there is a common theme that weaves through the entire collection. Sometimes explicitly, more often as a gentle brushstroke, every Psalm is about the key to human happiness. And the key to human happiness is to be God-centered; to let go of our need to control; to stop reacting in opposition to things and start acting as a God-centered human being.
The foundation for this idea is established right from the first Psalm where the poet writes that the truly happy person “love’s the Lord’s instruction” and recites that instruction “day and night.”
It is not an exaggeration to say that the Book of Psalms was scripture to the ancient Jewish people. Yes, it is part of the Torah. But it also had a life of its own as an important, perhaps indispensable, holy book. Archaeologists have discovered references to Psalms in writings from all over the ancient Jewish world and fragments of The Psalms in digs from houses and businesses. The Psalms were an easy-to-carry reference guide for the human being who wanted real happiness and knew to seek it through a more intimate and personal relationship with God.
For the regular folk—the carpenters, stonemasons, farmers, seamstresses, nurses and tax collectors—people like you and I just looking for a little happiness—Psalms is our book. We know The Psalms because we live its contents every day. We understand the struggle to stay connected to God when all we see around us is death and devastation.
The world of the Psalmists was also filled with war and poverty, ignorance and xenophobia. So, they found power, hope, and comfort by turning to God for guidance and reassurance. And perhaps that’s what the Psalms reveal more than anything else: when all hope is lost, when we feel like we can no longer fight the powers trying to destroy us, when we’re on the brink of completely giving up, all we have to do is turn our hearts toward God and say, “I pray to you, Lord. I beg for mercy. I tell you all of my worries and my troubles, and whenever I feel low, you are there to guide me” (That’s from Psalm 142, by the way).
I think the Psalms indicate that finding happiness in God requires us to let go of control. Letting go doesn’t mean we’re helpless. It’s an admission that this human struggle is difficult, perhaps impossible, without a lot of love and patience. Personally, I run out of love and patience all the time. So did Moses, so did Jesus, so did every single one of the Prophets. Yet, we must let go of everything to make any progress as individuals, much less as a species.
We cannot control the world. This past weekend, for example, the Food Angels came in to prep for the pantry only to discover most of the breakers in the building had blown. All the freezers shut off and all our meat thawed. All the meat we had for hundreds of people was now worthless. Some massive power surge had hit the plaza and tripped nearly all the circuit breakers in our church. There’s nothing you can do about that. Do we curse God because of that? Sure, if it makes us feel better, but we know a power surge and our unfortunate loss is not God’s doing any more than our winning the lottery. God doesn’t bless some people and curse others. That’s an extremely misguided view of God, one the Psalms help us move beyond.
In the Psalms we see people begging and pleading with God for help. For example, from Psalm 119: “You are merciful, Lord! Please do the right thing and save my life.” This line comes after the poet has explained to God how faithful to the Law—God’s instructions, he has been. Still, this person is persecuted, and there is no hope in sight.
So what does the author of Psalm 119 do? Finally, the poet lets it all out to God. All the pain, all the disappointment—including disappointment in God—all the confusion about how following God’s instructions could still lead to a life of persecution, it’s all let out. And that release is the key to God’s power. It’s not the expectation that God will react to our prayers or our situation—that’s our human concept of action and reaction. It’s simply the release of all our anguish, all our suffering, all our hopelessness into the Universal Fountain of Light and Truth that sets us free.
Perhaps God doesn’t react to our suffering as much as God absorbs and dissipates it.
The Psalms reveal the power of letting go without expectation of any sort of reaction on God’s part. It’s the power of release that’s the key, not the expectation of supernatural intervention. The Psalms help us remember that even while we praise and worship what we think is the inherent goodness of God, we have no control over nature, and God is not making it rain or snow, or causing the planet to overheat.
God is not reactionary, and as beings reflecting God’s image, we shouldn’t be reactionary either.
We can pray to God for better weather or more money or a better station in life, but sometimes, shit just happens, and we either fall into despair and give up or we throw it all out into the universe and let God soothe our souls.
For me, it’s easier to let things go to God if I stop thinking of God as the bearded man on a rocket chair in the sky pulling all the strings. Instead, as modern, post-Newtonian science is implying, I think of God as the energetic, creative, loving, current of reality.
We exist because we are formed from the energy of God. God is the flow of all being, the flow that creates reality, and like a mighty river carving out canyons, God just flows along, taking us for the ride. It is the Godstream. There is no reaction there, only constant and consistent progress.
The Godstream is like a river. We can either gently ride along with the current, or try to swim against it. The Psalmists idea about “following the Lord’s instruction” gets to the heart of this matter. Today we might say something like “go with the flow.” I would say, “step into the Godstream.” Following God’s instruction is not about taking The Bible literally. It’s about going with the flow.
When I was in high school in Louisiana a bunch of us used to drive from Moss Bluff north a bit to hang out on the Ouiska Chitto river. The riverbanks were dotted with makeshift campgrounds and cabins. We’d take inner tubes, rope to tie the tubes together in a long train, and beer. We’d just sort of hang out in the river all day, lounging in the inner tubes, lazily floating downstream with the current. We didn’t need to be anywhere; we didn’t have to accomplish anything. We just let the river gently carry us at its own pace, wherever it wanted to take us. And in those blissful moments on the river, we were completely carefree.
We were in the Godstream.
This is the Psalmists view of God, too, if we read the Psalms with spiritual, rather than literal, eyes. God is the great universal river carrying us along for the ride with the current. We can relax in the current and see where the journey takes us, remaining open to surprise twists and turns, or we can steer the tube in the direction we want to go and fight upstream every step of the way until we, and our lives, are completely exhausted, and we’re still no further along the river than when we started.
Happiness comes from moving with the current. If we want to go with the flow, if we want to live God’s instructions, if we want to be living Psalms rather than just people misinterpreting the words of our ancestors, the first step is to let go of everything we think we need to control and enjoy the ride in our inner tubes down the Godstream.
To paraphrase Psalm 62: Trust God, my friends, and always tell God each one of your concerns. God is our place of safety. We humans are only a breath; none of us are truly great. All of us together weigh less than a puff of air. Don’t trust in violence or depend on dishonesty or rely on great wealth. Relax in God.
Meditation: Keep me centered in the flow of love.