Intersect 9-12-16

Monday Meditation
There is a place called by many names:
Shangri-La,
Nirvana,
Enlightenment,
Transcendence,
Heaven.
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
toward self-realization.

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
whispering gently
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
the dandelion,
we are the sunset,
we are the very mind and body
of God.

This realization of oneness
with all that exists
is where heaven is found.
This is enlightenment:
recognizing the entire universe
in the passing glances
of strangers
at once
all-too familiar.

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
within us,
waking us with misty kisses,
souling us into higher being,
converting us
from the inside out
until we finally start to see
and feel
your love within,
and exhibit it unconditionally
without.

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 alone,
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.

Amen.

Intersect 9-8-16

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?

Forgiveness.

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.

Amen.

Intersect 9-4-16

modern lotus--250Monday Meditation

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,

bathing 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 joy,

my best attempts

and my most heinous failures.

 

My every imperfection and blemish

is eradicated when you enfold me.

And here,

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.

 

My God,

my love,

my light,

my universe:

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,

the diamond

that had been

hiding inside all along

is revealed.

 

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.

Amen.