Eternal fountain of light and truth,
enlighten our minds,
enliven our souls,
and invigorate our bodies.
into the likeness of Jesus,
filled with the living Christ,
in order to serve you
and all the life
of which you are
the prime element.
We look to Jesus
a more honest
way to live
of your glorious being.
Help us continuously strive,
God of endless energy,
to sense your presence.
You make us feel more beautiful–
not in some superficial,
Monday night television sort of way;
but more filled–
with a beauty
that transcends description
and becomes the center of our being.
In those moments with you
we clearly see
we are not in competition
with each other.
Filled with your splendor,
we are elated; elevated,
excited to share you
with everyone on the planet,
so they too can
so they might
once again have hope;
so they might see
there is light in the darkness.
We confess, Lord,
that we have trouble seeing the light.
We are berated for being too this
or not-enough that.
We are conditioned
to see the scars and blemishes
of a human race
whose faith and confidence
have been eradicated
by the slow churn of indifference
and the dangerous blather of intolerance
We have blinded ourselves
to the beauty
that exists all around,
and within, us, every one of us.
So we turn to you,
our All-Creative One,
who has promised–
and shown us in Jesus–
that we are the creation of your love–
unconditional, all forgiving, eternal.
We ask to rekindle our love with you
so we can give more love to others.
We ask to be forgiven,
and for the ability to forgive ourselves
in order to more readily
We ask for help caring
for all the people in our lives
and around the world,
who need your comforting
hand on their shoulder.
Ignite us with the light of love,
O Holy One,
so we can show others
that love leads the way
to a completely transformed world,
and the people who inhabit it.
Remind us, Eternal Essence of Grace,
that there is beauty all around us,
if only we would open our souls
and accept the beauty in ourselves.
If we are to be the instruments
through which you
defeat the darkness,
we must begin to
accept our inner Christ
and blaze a trail through
the inky night of fear
slowly oozing over our souls.
Help us see you through
the midst of suffering,
and help us show your presence
by being your presence,
to everyone seeking,
and seeking to become,
an agent of love.
We pray these things
in the name of love’s ultimate agent,
Jesus Christ. Amen.
For December 5, 2016
Active Waiting, part 3
Throughout Advent, our congregation is studying the concept of Active Waiting. Specifically, we’re consciously attempting to practice Lee Raffel’s Active Waiting Guidelines found here: http://www.selfgrowth.com/articles/Raffel1.html. I’m using Intersect to work through my own processes, an online spiritual diary of sorts. I’m also writing with as little editing as possible.
We left DeKalb just as I was to enter my last year of Middle School (8th grade back then). We landed in Dallas, Texas, for a year, then Austin, before finally settling in Moss Bluff, Louisiana. Moss Bluff is a sleepy little borough, all haunted swamps and mossy Cypress, about 20 minutes outside of Lake Charles proper. In the late 1970s the primary industry was petroleum, so much of the population was white working class. Even though I only lived there a few years, Lake Charles is the place I most think of as “home,” at least in some wistful way.
It was at Sam Houston High in Moss Bluff my innate love for music blossomed into passion. Nurtured by an amazing band director who taught me how to write down the notes that were playing in my head, I listened to everything I could to figure out the musical language my favorite bands were using. It occurs to me now that perhaps that is where I first learned to listen—and that Mr. Lambert was the one who planted that skill seed. Moss Bluff was a good season for our family. Mom and Dad were healthy—the importance of which we didn’t fully appreciate at the time. Who does though?
We took to the Louisiana culture like hogs to slop, as they say. Seemingly overnight, my mother started referring to herself as a “southern belle.” For some reason, nobody objected to this—even our friends who were native Cajuns. Everyone just started treating her like a southern belle! My mother, God rest her soul. When she got something in her head, that was it.
I’m glad I’m not like that.
Our neighbors and their kids—all around the same ages as my brothers and I, adopted all of us—not just mom. They introduced us to the food, art, music, wisdom, and history of Louisiana. It was a time for storytelling on the back porch, drinking Lemonade or Gin (or both), and casually swatting flies away as the dipping sun backlit the Cypress and tall pines, turning them into ominous guardians of the sacred Louisiana bayous.
Louisiana in the late 70s-early 80s was still firmly Catholic. Louisiana has parishes, not counties. The reach and influence of the Church were impossible to miss, although it’s easier to get a drink in Louisiana (drive-through!) than anywhere I’ve subsequently lived.
By the time we landed in Moss Bluff my life was devoid of any formalized religion. We never went to church or synagogue. Yet, I had this unshakeable sense that something was happening that I couldn’t explain with my senses. In Dallas, I had started reading and collecting books about Indian Yogis and Hinduism after a French teacher “randomly” introduced me to Paramahansa Yogananda.
By the time we moved to Moss Bluff, I’d studied, at least a bit, everything from Judaism to Hinduism to Zoroastrianism. I learned about Freemasons and Rosicrucians, ancient Isis cults and, of course, Atlantis, which apparently was amazing.
I had also decided that organized religion was a crock. It seemed to me that every time someone’s teachings turned into an organized “religion” that the teaching became diluted, ignored, or otherwise murdered beyond recognition. Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tze, Mohammed—their teachings became religions which became states which became empires which continue to rule the world through the gospel of bloodshed and phobia.
My friends in high school in Moss Bluff didn’t help the cause. They believed in a version of Jesus most Christians are very comfortable with—the one and only Son of God who came to earth to save it by dying for our sins. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this idea, of course. Redemption, love, and especially, forgiveness, are all attributes that would indeed transcend humanity out of this ghastly bog of hate and loathing.
I saw no reason to believe in Jesus as a human sacrifice to a bloodthirsty overlord. I saw many reasons to believe him—the way he lived his life and the peaceful, unconditional love of God he taught. Everything he said about being fully human and fully divine. Jesus taught about waking up and being better people because the power of God—which is love and nothing but love, lives within us all. We’ve just done an exceptionally good job of smothering our innate God particles with negativity, doubt, low self-esteem (ironically, often caused by religion) and a myriad of other reasons compounded by an ever-more noisy, polluted, industrialized, globalized world.
Once stripped of thousands of years of mythology, I found in Jesus a teaching and way of life breathtakingly similar to Buddha’s. Also, my Jewish experience gave me a different lens through which to view and understand Jesus. As a Jew himself, I couldn’t fathom how Christians could so mercilessly pick on Jews—the very people who birthed Jesus! But even today I run across someone now and then who insist Jesus was not a Jew. He was born “special,” always a Christian (this happened just a few weeks ago after a Thursday night meeting at The Current).
In high school, I began to understand Jesus as a mystic. Yes, he was special, but not in the way my friends—genuinely concerned for my eternal soul—thought. I believed differently, and it kept me away from both synagogue and church for most of my life—but never from conversation. That conversation continues today, and it has drastically altered the way I view Christmas this year.
Meditation: Know life’s experiences, good and bad, are opportunities for new learning.
Active Waiting, part 2
Throughout Advent, our congregation is studying the concept of Active Waiting. Specifically, we’re consciously attempting to practice Lee Raffel’s Active Waiting Guidelines found here: http://www.selfgrowth.com/articles/Raffel1.html. I’m using Intersect to work through my own processes, an online spiritual diary of sorts. I’m also writing with as little editing as possible.
When I was seven-ish years old, we lived in a little white house surrounded by a little white picket fence in the not-so-little town of DeKalb, Illinois. DeKalb had two (TWO!) claims to fame: A hybrid corn made famous by its deliciousness and “flying ear of corn” logo, and Northern Illinois University, home of the underwhelming Huskies. Yes, my early, formative years were lived in a Midwestern cliché.
Memories of that era play on my mind’s eye through cloudy puffs of nostalgia. In the winter, sunlight danced on a glistening white carpet of snow. Snow makes the world seem more magical, don’t you think? Perhaps it simply reveals the magic that’s always there.
When you’re a kid, Christmas is full of magic. Back around 1969, I watched as my entire town transformed into a winter wonderland. All us kids were on vacation from school. Every day was filled with snowmen, snow forts, sledding down the hills of the ol’ North 40 (a huge empty lot near our neighborhood that was snow festival in the winter, amateur golf course in the summer), snowball fights and, of course, anticipation.
What kid doesn’t get excited about Christmas? Even growing up in a mixed Jewish (my mom)-Catholic (my dad) household, Christmas was a big deal in our family. Both sides of the family are firmly Polish, with forbears emigrating to America with the great tide of new souls at the turn of the 1900s. And since Chanukah is typically around the same time as Christmas, we found a way to weave both traditions into a big extended family celebration.
Part of our Christmas day tradition was to drive to Chicago, about an hour away, to celebrate with my dad’s relatives. All the cousins and aunts and uncles would swarm on my grandparent’s house on the South Side. The smells of Kolachke, fresh polish sausage from Steven’s Deli, roasting turkey and ham and other delectables are as imprinted on my memory as playing the piano on the deck of my cousin’s house or playing “Operation” together after dinner. By the way, none of us became doctors. Probably a good thing.
As a young boy, Christmas was about family, friends, and food. I do have some hazy memories of going to Mass (in Latin) and Synagogue (in Hebrew). One of the first Christmas gifts I remember was a children’s book of illustrated Bible stories. It was massive, and I loved it. It had pictures of Noah and the ark surrounded by a bevy of beasts, gazing around an island backlit by a rainbow. It showed Moses, long white beard, insanity in his eyes as he delivered the Ten Commandments to God’s people. It showed Jesus, teaching people who sat around him in a circle hanging on his every word. It showed him hanging from a cross, bloody and beaten. I didn’t realize it then, but those early images burned into my psyche and were my earliest experience with the schism between Judaism and Christianity.
At the time, there was a distinct divide between Jewish and Catholic (the only Christianity I knew existed then) traditions. My Mother and Father’s marriage in the early 1960s was somewhat scandalous. I didn’t know this until much later, of course, because by the time I was old enough to know what was going on, the families had made amends with their religious differences. Still, Jews were Jews and Catholics were Catholics, and in my young mind, the only real difference was a squabble over the divinity of this Jesus fellow.
My parents tried to explain this religious schism to a seven-ish-year-old as best they could. What I remember is this: Catholics believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God sent to save the world. Jews think he was a nice Jewish rabbi. At the time, I suppose this explanation worked for me because I didn’t know what a Messiah was. As I grew up and we moved to different places, though, it became apparent to me that my Jewish heritage was problematic for a surprising number of people.
In my teens, Christmas began the inevitable transition from a holiday of childhood wonder and excitement over gifts to a quest for deeper meaning. What is this holiday about? Why do we exchange gifts? Why the celebration for the Son of God, Savior of the world, when it’s obvious the world is full of treachery, fear, and cruelty? Christmas was no longer full of excited expectation and sledding with my friends. It was instead rife with melancholy. It became disambiguated; a celebration for the birth of a Messiah who had, in my teenage mind, failed miserably at his task.
Trying to talk with my Christian friends about any of this was blasphemy. They didn’t have answers to my questions. They hadn’t been told the background of Christmas. They didn’t know the early church picked December for Jesus’ birthday primarily because the cycle from Advent through Easter worked nicely with the winter and summer solstices, already celebrated by the world’s greatest religion in Jesus’ era: Paganism. My friends knew only one thing: Jesus Christ was King of the Universe, and if I didn’t believe in him, he would send me to Hell after I died.
Merry Christmas, indeed.
To be continued…
Active Waiting, part 1
Throughout Advent, our congregation is studying the concept of Active Waiting. Specifically, we’re consciously attempting to practice Lee Raffel’s Active Waiting Guidelines found here: http://www.selfgrowth.com/articles/Raffel1.html. I’m going to use Intersect to work through my own processes, an online spiritual diary of sorts. I’m also going to attempt to write with as little editing as possible. Therefore, my thoughts may seem scattered. I suspect most of us think this way as we begin to formulate an opinion or belief. That is the unfiltered process at work, and that is the essence of Raffel’s first guideline about process.
I’ve been meditating on Raffel’s suggestion to “Hold to your vision and accept that your life is in process.” I love the idea of process, but I’m impatient. This whole waiting until Christmas thing to give and receive gifts is killing me. But it’s not that I’m just waiting for the Christmas party. We spend so much time building up to this one day and, for better or worse, it’s become largely about gifts. I just wonder why we don’t give gifts all year round? What does it say about humans that we have to designate a particular day to be decent to each other?
I understand that the holiday Advent is leading to (Christmas) is supposed to be a birthday party for Jesus, but really? Is that where we’re at spiritually? Exchanging gifts to celebrate the birth of one of the most extraordinary beings ever born? I’m a pastor, and this season’s noise and divisiveness even have me doubting… well, everything. Is there a point to all this? Does there need to be? Sometimes I feel as though I have lost sight of my vision—or perhaps I am finally too numbed by the inanity of the media that I’ve been beaten down into, if not the submissive puppet they desire, at least one too exhausted to fight back anymore.
And then I think, “Hold to your vision and accept that your life is in process.”
Advent is a powerful time to remember that we are in process. We await the arrival not of the cute little baby Jesus, but of the new consciousness he represents—a new way of perceiving and reacting to “reality.” Jesus’ birth heralds the arrival of what we’ve come to call “Christ Consciousness,” and it is all about the process of becoming—of preparing every day for a greater sense of awareness.
We are not beings of instant gratification. Even though I have trouble resisting shiny new things, I understand that my vision—my life—is in process. Life is a long process of becoming. We’re not on a slow march to death, and there is no sin in dying. In fact, by the end of life, we have achieved our vision. Coming to that realization has required me to realize it’s not my vision I want to achieve. It’s God’s.
And while we wrestle with what it means for God to have a vision, part of my process has been to consider that by simply existing we are achieving God’s vision. The good, the bad, the ugly of life—it’s all part of the ultimate process. God’s process. What if the purpose of life is to merely live and celebrate living? We Christians take this one day on December 25th—this one birthday and use it to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Then we spend the rest of the church year (we call this the liturgical year in the biz), celebrating HIS life through Easter.
I’m wondering if perhaps the best way to celebrate the life of this incredible, inspired, fully God-conscious being we call the Christ is to simply live our lives and accept we’re in process. Stop worrying about what it all means, because all of it has meaning. Whether we live one day or one thousand, every minute of life is meaningful because it is the birth of God in the world.
We are all the children of God because we are born from the very being of God. And while we might never achieve the conscious awareness of this union as did Jesus, I think understanding life matters helps us hold on to our vision, no matter what it is.
I will hold to my vision that God is in the process, somehow, in some way I cannot comprehend. And I will hold to my vision that God is not a manipulator, not even a partner, but rather loving creator. And as we begin to realize our intimate connection with this loving creator, that’s when God’s vision and ours becomes one. And that’s when we have the strength to hold on to our vision of love, peace, unity, and hope.
And I suppose being able to hold onto those dreams in a world that appears increasingly dark is the purpose of faith.
Meditation: Hold to your vision and accept that your life is in process.
The Raggedy Man
By Michael Junkroski
SCENE 1: Detroit, Winter, 1943
A raggedy man slowly shuffles toward the lunch counter. It is apparent to Emma, working behind the counter, that every move this man makes is a struggle. Either his clothes are several sizes too large, or he is several sizes too small. His coat swallows him whole, mostly covering him in darkness and shadows, except his face.
She can see his face, shaggy, a little overgrown, unkempt and covered in dirt and muck, but she glimpses a welcoming, forlorn twinkle in his eye.
Seeing his struggle, Emma gently moves toward the stranger. As she approaches, the raggedy man is taken aback, as if he hasn’t been touched–or even spoken to–by another human in a very long time.
“It’s okay,” Emma says. “What can I do for you? What’s your name?” He looks at her with misty eyes and whispers with all the strength he can muster, “Thank you.”
Emma brings the man some soup and a hot cup of coffee. He nods appreciation and tentatively grasps the coffee mug bringing it slowly to his lips. Emma thinks, “The Detroit winters are brutal. His clothes look warm and heavy, but they’re so worn I doubt they provide much comfort.”
As if he has just downloaded data, the raggedy man brightens up—just a little— and asks, “My name?” Emma can see that he is earnestly trying to remember as he takes another sip of soup.
“Yes, sir… I was just wondering. My name’s Emma. I like to talk to people. Manager says maybe too much. Anyway. It’s not like this joint is jumpin’,” she says as she surveys a nearly-empty department store.
Emma wipes the counter, biting her lip the way she always does when she’s deep in thought. She sees the raggedy man taste the soup—cautiously at first, and then with a bit more vigor. With each sip, his eyes seem a little clearer, his body a little stronger. She says, “We make a pretty good soup, huh?” The raggedy man smiles and says, “I remember a soup just like this a long time ago. People were nicer then. Anyway, the soup—and some company—always brightens my day.”
The raggedy man continues to eat and they have more conversation for some time. As the raggedy man begins to leave, Emma smiles and says, “It is nice to talk to someone. Stay warm out there,” a blessing possibly unrecognized, but most certainly not unrealized.
SCENE 2: London, Summer, 1976
A raggedy man sits on the stoop of a once-proud Brownstone, wiping his brow with a perhaps too used handkerchief. It is as futile an attempt to stay one step ahead of the brutal London Summer Sun as it is to return the brownstone gem to its former glory. Both human and human-made have seen better years and are, perhaps, headed toward the ends of their eras.
The raggedy man melts into the concrete rubble under his feet when a long, cool shadow casts over him. “Are you okay, my friend?” A voice sweetly sings.
The raggedy man squints and tries to focus, but he still can’t make out any features. The voice is only outlined by the blinding, brutal sun, which gives it an otherworldly glow. The raggedy man thinks, “Angels? Demons? It must be a trick of the light.”
“Who are you? What do you want?” the man tries to shout. It has been a long time since anyone—or anything for that matter—has interacted with him, so he only manages a sad whimper: “Nobody cares about me anymore. Why don’t you leave me alone?” He drops his head and curls up within himself.
“Come now, don’t be so dramatic!” Ella says cheerfully. Oh great, she’s going to annoy me to death, thinks the raggedy man.
“My name’s Ella. May I help you inside?” she asks. “What’s the point?” the disheveled man replies. “No cooler in the house.”
“Well then, maybe I know a house where you can be more comfortable,” Ella says. “I know a nice cool place. Come on; you don’t need to be afraid. I just want to help.” When the raggedy man hears that phrase: I just want to help, he suddenly raises his head and his heart jumps. “That voice,” he thinks. “I know that voice.”
“Do I know you?” he asks.
“I don’t think so; does it matter?” Ella also inquires.
At that, the raggedy man stands up rather more rapidly than Ella thought possible. “I’ll go with you. Why don’t you tell me about your family?” the raggedy man says flashing a reminiscent smile that blinds the sun.
Part 3: Tokyo, Spring, 2029
The raggedy man sits on a park bench feeding the pigeons scraps he’s found around town. Leaves and cherry blossoms lazily float downward until they settle prostrate on both the things of nature and the things of man.
Enma is taking her lunchtime stroll through the park. She has seen thousands of raggedy people sitting on thousands of park benches feeding pigeons, but for some reason, today, this raggedy man attracts her attention.
She watches as he slowly (perhaps painfully) reaches into a bag and throws crumbs, bits of vegetables, meat, and other indescribable, possibly inedible vittles on the ground for his avian friends. “Forgotten scraps for the forgotten scraps, unfortunately,” she thinks.
Enma decides to do something she’s never done before. She approaches the raggedy man, who cautiously looks up from his task to see who could possibly be coming to talk to him.
“Hello…” she says tentatively. “Hello,” the raggedy man says. Enma thinks she sees a twinkle in his eye but decides she’simagining things. “I don’t know why I’m here,” she says, “I just felt like coming to talk to you. Is that okay? Would you like to talk?”
The raggedy man smiles and says softly, “I haven’t much to talk about, but if you want to talk, please, be my guest.” He motions for her to sit on the bench with him and says, “I’ll listen.” His voice betrays a formal Japanese education and particular social class. Enma says, “How about we take turns? I’ll start. My name is Enma, and I work for the government.” She pauses for a moment and then says, “Isn’t it funny how we always define ourselves by our work? That’s so very Japanese, don’t you think?” She waits for a response but receiving none, she prods: “Hmm? What’s your work? Your hobby?”
The raggedy man looks sweetly at her and says, “I would very much like to hear your story.” And suddenly, Enma proceeds to tell the raggedy man every detail of her life. It is as if somebody else is speaking through her. She cannot prevent any detail of her life from escaping.
She talks about her grandmother, and how she always said, “Never underestimate the healing power of a soup made with love.” Enma talks about her mother, “who was just the kindest soul I’ve ever known. My mom would talk to anyone! She even ran a house for raggedy folks.”
Enma gets lost in her story, and as she tells the man everything, she suddenly notices that he is much less unkempt. She decides it’s her imagination and the setting sun playing tricks. “I’m sorry, I’ve just been going on and on. Please, tell me about yourself!”
The man sits silently, a tear slowly trickling down his cheek. He smiles at Enma and says, “I have lived for a very long time, and I have seen beauty and horror. But let me start by telling you about this amazing bowl of soup I once had.”
God of all things graceful and gracious, find
use me to technicolor the day.
Help me paint reality
with oversaturated love.
There is a place called by many names:
And while people have searched for it
since memories began,
it does not exist
at the top of an ancient mountain,
or just beyond a hidden valley.
Nirvana lives deep within our souls,
and it is discovered
not by traveling great distances
around the globe,
but by taking the first small steps
Do not be fooled!
The path is difficult,
and most of us will spend
many lifetimes before
we take even those first small steps.
But at some point,
we will hear a voice
with a tone so melodious
we weep uncontrollably—
for we recognize the sound
as perfect love.
At some point,
if we are seeking even cursorily,
we will feel a tap on our shoulder,
and turning to see who is there,
we suddenly realize we have been
tapped by God, awakened,
and the world will never look the same.
These are our first intimate moments
with you, our God,
whose sweet, compassionate voice
wells up from
the center of our being.
Your voice teaches us
that Shangri-La is
all that was, is, and ever shall be;
every creature great and small,
the morning dew on a Dandelion’s flower
and a sunset,
hand-painted colors exploding across the sky
as we realize we are
we are the sunset,
we are the very mind and body
This realization of oneness
with all that exists
is where heaven is found.
This is enlightenment:
recognizing the entire universe
in the passing glances
We pray for enlightenment today.
We pray by emptying ourselves.
We ask for nothing.
We seek a mind of no-thought,
knowing that in these moments of release,
all our family and friends,
all the turmoil in the world,
every fear, hope,
regret and dream
is already bound to your infinite wisdom.
We don’t need to tell you what needs to be fixed,
Holy, eternal God.
We only pray to let you know
we are ready to be used
as part of your healing presence
in this too-treacherous world.
We pray by recognizing and realizing
the Eternal Love of the Universe
waking us with misty kisses,
souling us into higher being,
from the inside out
until we finally start to see
your love within,
and exhibit it unconditionally
And so you cause us
to gleefully shout
that we are never without:
never without your presence,
never without your inspiration,
never without your encouragement,
never without your love.
We offer this prayer
in remembrance of Jesus Christ,
who shows us how powerfully you are with us
through times of joy and sorrow,
to our deaths and far beyond tomorrow,
neither forgotten nor forsaken.
What a Magnificent Mess We’ve Made
It seems to me that one of the major storylines weaving throughout the Bible is about just how often we human beings mess up. The book has even been assembled so that, pretty much as soon as humans enter the scene, we manage to screw up our perfect existence in paradise with God completely. Temptation rears its ugly head and, well, it’s pretty much all downhill from there.
Consequently, we’re told we’ve been “forced” to leave what is described as a place of calm and beauty, where all creatures live in harmony, where there is no shame, no fear.
Humans. Give us something beautiful and we’ll do our best to obliterate it. Am I right?
As the stories in the Bible progress, we’re introduced to character after character who has, in one way or another, made a total mess of their lives. Moses kills an Egyptian taskmaster, then covers up the murder and leaves Egypt under an assumed identity to begin an entirely new life. Moses messed up.
There’s King David who, while God constantly leans on him to lead God’s people, David also breaks at least half of the ten commandments. King David messed up. Royally.
How about Simon Peter, who, when the going gets tough, denies ever knowing Jesus? Three times? Peter messed up.
And then there’s Paul, the former Saul of Tarsus, the man one could easily argue is most responsible for the existence of the religion known as Christianity today. As you recall, Saul initially ruthlessly hunted down and murdered anyone he found associated with the Jesus movement. Even Paul messed up.
You know why all these people messed up? Because they were human.
Today, we read these stories and think, “Oh, Saint Paul was amazing,” or “Saint Peter was… such a saint” or “Moses led his people to freedom,” but that’s because we’ve exalted all these folks to places of high honor. And while it’s certainly more than appropriate to respect these people, exalting them reinforces the idea subconsciously that we could never do such great things. We forget that these people weren’t perfect. In fact, in most cases—King David and Paul specifically, they were pretty horrifying individuals.
When these stories were written, I think part of the point was for the ordinary folks hearing, and later, reading them, to understand that God does incredible things through us, ordinary folks.
The Bible is a book of stories about ordinary people who have extraordinary experiences. But when we read it and make the characters into superheroes, we miss a significant part of the point. These are our stories.
This book is about us—you, and me, and every human being who ever messed something up royally in their lives. And that’s every single one of us.
Yes, we’ll mess up. Yes, we’ll wrestle with our spiritual demons like Jacob. We’ll run away from God like Jonah. That’s what being human is all about. It’s a mess. A glorious, God-given gift of a mess. But you know what? Messing up means we’re at least trying. We’re trying to comprehend why we’re here, how to get along with each other, and if there is more to life than simply working ourselves to death.
I don’t think anything in the Bible sums up the idea that we should embrace all the messiness of our lives—and enjoy our lives, not toil until we die—better than Ecclesiastes. While people often read it and think, “Jeez, what a downer. Everything is pointless. Really?” Ecclesiastes says nothing of the sort.
The ultimate conclusion Ecclesiastes’ author, Qoheleth (which most likely means “teacher”) comes to is that life is meant to be enjoyed to its fullest.
We are expected to make a mess of things—in fact, it’s unavoidable. If we are trying to live, we will sometimes make a mess. Being human means messing up. For Qoheleth, that means eating and drinking new things, traveling to new places, meeting new people, and this is important: always questioning the status quo.
Ecclesiastes asks us to push ourselves way outside our comfort zone, to take a look at the status quo and always decide it needs to be changed.
Qoheleth was railing against the status quo of his era. In fact, centuries later, when the Bible was taking shape, many, many people lobbied to exclude Ecclesiastes from the finished product. They found it do be a downer, and they didn’t understand what Ecclesiastes had to do with God, or the good news of Jesus Christ, the lens through which they were putting the Bible together. Thank God Ecclesiastes’ fans’ won the day. It is by far the most philosophical work in Scripture.
I find Ecclesiastes to be an incredibly hope-filled work. After all, it compels us to live life to the fullest and to go ahead and accept that we’ll mess up now and then. We’re even told that when we do mess up, God still loves us. And God will help us through the mess we’ve made.
Isn’t that the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
At this point, some of you might be asking, “if that’s true, if God is with us when we mess up, and if it’s the expectation that humans will mess up, then why kick us out of paradise in the first place?”
Well, let me answer that question with a question: “How can we possibly be fully human without the opportunity to get messy now and then?” Living in Eden with God is awesome (I assume), but it’s not really a human experience, is it?
No. Ecclesiastes describes what being human is about: It’s difficult. Frustrating. Filled with regrets and do-overs. It often seems pointless, a chasing after the wind. But rather than thinking of that as some sort of Divine punishment for eating a piece of fruit, Ecclesiastes forces us to consider that messing things up is the beauty of being human. And do you know what makes our messy, frustrating human lives so beautiful?
In every one of the stories mentioned above, someone forgives someone else for the wrongs they’ve committed, just as we believe, quite powerfully, by the way, that God forgives us for simply acting like humans. Perhaps we weren’t kicked out of the garden as much as we were nudged out to go and experience life to its fullest, as Ecclesiastes suggests.
Ecclesiastes 8:15 So I commend the enjoyment of life because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.
We try so hard to be perfect—to say the right things, to behave in some way we believe society will approve. But this is exactly what Ecclesiastes is railing against. Qoheleth says, “Don’t let society tell you who you are, or what to be or how to act or how to worship or who to love. Life is for living, and that is all life is for. Life is fleeting, so make the most of it while you’re here.”
If God has desire (a big if) then I believe that’s what God wants for our souls—a lifetime of experiences: the good, the bad, the ugly, the triumphs and the tragedies. God embraces it all, because God embraces us all, every single imperfect, tortured, messy, beautiful, blessed, cherished life.
So go ahead. Take chances. Make mistakes. Get messy. Be human.
God loves that.
Holy and Eternal
God of endless and unrestricted affection,
I want you to know that
I am astonished by your presence.
When I stop to think about
how deeply you have dived
into my human being,
I weep tears of joyful thanks.
I lift my arms to the sun
and let you wash over me,
in the electric light
of endless energy
that renews my spirit
and cleanses my soul.
You provide me comfort, O God,
in my times of deepest pain
and unbearable suffering.
You encourage me
when my too many fears
paralyze me into
apathy and inaction.
You embrace my tears,
my best attempts
and my most heinous failures.
My every imperfection and blemish
is eradicated when you enfold me.
safe in your loving arms,
I realize you’ve been holding me all along.
You never leave me—
it is I who forget to find you
where you always are
and always will be:
the very center of my soul.
My fits of rage and
blinding frustrations overwhelm me,
and I curse you for leaving my side,
for giving me too few moments of perfect love,
then deserting me
and abandoning me to the evil ways
of a corrupt world.
But you haven’t left me,
I know that now.
You never leave me,
you couldn’t if you tried.
For I finally understand that
you and I are as bonded to each other
as surely as hydrogen and oxygen are water.
You are my oxygen, my Lord.
You are my every breath,
and I pray that tomorrow,
when the frustration and anger
attempt to worm their way back into my soul,
that you will remind me
there is nothing under the sun
that can ever separate you and me.
You inspire me into being,
and into being more
than I believed was possible.
You animate me with
words of worth and hope,
when the world tells me
I am worthless and hopeless.
You drive me to act beyond myself,
in the manner of Jesus the Christ.
You have shown me,
beloved and infinite presence,
that my life is precious and beautiful,
even though I sometimes
feel like a lump of coal.
But even coal is full of potential,
for once the intense pressure
of your presence
bears down on it,
that had been
hiding inside all along
I humbly submit myself to you, Lord,
so that my inner diamond
might shine brightly
with your healing energy
for all the world to see.
One by one,
transform us all
into the brilliant and valuable gems
we are at the core of our being.
In your many names
and all your diverse images, we pray.
The Razor’s Edge
Scripture: Ecclesiastes 4:4
And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
From the Katha Upanishad:
Sharp like a razor’s edge is the path,
The sages say, difficult to traverse.
Thought for the Day: In the Hindu Katha Upanishad it is written, “The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to salvation is hard.” The spiritual path is narrow and requires balance. Ecclesiastes reminds us that relentless pursuit of wealth (or any material gain, for that matter) is a shallow goal that ultimately has no spiritual payoff. In the verses just before this, we are admonished for being lazy. So it seems that in Ecclesiastes, as in the Upanishad, we are being instructed that the middle ground is often the wisest spiritual path.
We have many opportunities to find the middle ground in this country (and throughout the world). Yet, we remain polarized in ideologies and dogmas that are as unrelenting in their grip on us as we are in our quest for ever greater material profit. The sense of social justice that comes from a spiritual lifestyle is virtually lost. We have been blinded to the wonder and awe of looking out to the stars by the unrelenting light pollution of our cities. We have been divided into left and right, red and blue, vegetarian and carnivore, and we talk about the polar opposites so much that we forget there are many of us in the middle.
I enjoy vegetables and meat! There are aspects of the Republican agenda (fiscal responsibility) I agree with. There are aspects of the Democratic agenda (social justice) I agree with. I’m an environmentalist and a libertarian to a certain extent. I think most of us are moderates. Yet, a media that attempts to divide us into neat little packages ruthlessly bombards us with the ancient and misguided “us v. them” mentality. And we’re all buying into it.
Being human is not a neat little package. It’s a messy process, full of mistakes and regret, yet also full of incredible discovery and joy that stirs the soul. I hope we can start to remember that compromise is not a four-letter word.
Prayer: Faithful God, guide me over the razor’s edge so that I might remain moderate in temperament, focused in spiritual study, and ever obedient to your command that we love each other and you, Eternal One, with all our hearts. Amen.