I just finished a class comparing some of the Judeo Christian Bible stories to those in the Koran. It was wonderful – an exploration of how changing a few words or details can create a very different meaning. And I loved it so much that now I’m listening to one of the many biographies of Mohammed (pbuh) the Prophet and first Muslim.
What stands out to me is that when Mohammed had his first revelation, he wasn’t very happy about it. He thought he’d been possessed by a demon. He considered suicide. Can you imagine what the world would be like if he decided to die (ending the demonic possession) rather than submit to the will of God as he understood it and bring the Koran into being? The history of Europe, our knowledge of chemistry and algebra, and our access to the teachings of the ancient Greeks would now be very different.
How many times have I gotten up from my meditation chair moments before my revelation? How many of us have felt the beginnings of a sacred call and run like hell so that the call would go to voicemail? What is it about Divine revelation, which should be our birthright that seems so awful?
I can only guess. I don’t think of myself as on the same level of the Prophet or any of the saints. I know that I was leery of accepting the call to ministry because it would challenge my beliefs about authority and (I thought) mean that I had to be poor for the rest of my life.
The truth I have found, which I think might be common, is that I had to submit to a Divine madness. I found that the things I needed to do to answer “the call” were things that made no sense to my friends. Go back to school and do another expensive master’s degree? Why? I’d just worked my butt off to get out of debt. Give up a safe government job with great health benefits where I’d worked my way almost to the top of the heap? For heaven’s sake, I’d have to move to a place where I knew no one except my congregation. And I’d been warned about the pitfalls of having congregants as friends. It took me forever to make friends and create a home, why should I give that up?
The Divine madness wouldn’t leave me alone and eventually resistance was more painful than submission. I did have to give up the things I listed above. I did have to make the sacrifices. However, what I’ve found, and I’ll be the Prophet would agree, is that there are both tangible and intangible treasures to be found within Divine madness. Living in surrender to the flow, or in Muslim terms, in submission to God, has its own rewards.
On a recent Sunday, I talked about the miracle of Passover. For those of you who don’t know, Passover is the Jewish holiday that celebrates being freed from slavery in Egypt, when Moses told Pharaoh to, “let my people go.” The name comes from the last plague that swept over Egypt. The Jews put a sign over the doors of their houses that told the angel of death to pass over them but the first born son of every other home died. That included livestock. After that plague, Pharaoh ordered them out. Unfortunately for him, he changed his mind and chased them all the way to the Red Sea. But that’s another post.
Here’s the part I meant to talk about and didn’t due to time constraints (plus I forgot). The Jews who were enslaved were the descendants of those who 300 years or so earlier, had fled to Egypt to escape a famine. Remember Joseph and his amazing, technicolor dream coat? Okay, so that’s not what they call the coat in the bible version, but I’m writing this, so hush. Joseph brought his father and brothers down, in spite of the fact that he was only there because the brothers sold him into slavery, and they were given some of the best land in the area to farm. They prospered and multiplied and began to crowd out the Egyptians and then politics happened. Eventually, they became slaves.
The thing is, that idea or practice that once was my salvation can turn into what enslaves me over time. There was a time when I prayed for abundance almost exclusively because I was broke, broke, broke. I was paying my credit card bill so that I’d have space on my credit card for food. I have never been so close to homelessness before or since. At the time, learning how to manifest money was a god-send (pun entirely intended). However, I’ve seen folks become owned by their things. I’ve flirted with the love of money myself. When the need for more money becomes all I think about, in spite of how beautiful my home is and how well stocked the fridge is, then I have become enslaved by the very thing that saved me once.
Every so often, we are advised to go through our things and release what no longer gives us joy. I’d suggest that we do the same thing with our spiritual truths and tools.
For the past few months, folks have pointed out to me that there is a spider web in our sanctuary. There’s a concern because it looks like we never clean (we have a service come in) and it might suggest to newer folks that we don’t care about hygiene or our building. Several people have come up to me over time and suggested that something needed to be done. I keep forgetting about it because that’s not a corner folks sit in, so I almost never look over there. I notice it at odd times and think, “I should do something about that.”
I have a few spiritual thoughts about all of this. Since I normally see the spider web, which has become more visible as it collected dust, during those moments when I peek during meditation this thing has become part of my meditation. Where are the cobwebs in my inner sanctuary? Like the dust, I become stuck to certain thoughts. I get stuck on anger. I get stuck on hurt. I get stuck on who is doing what to whom out in the world and how helpless I feel to stop it all. I think about those things I know I should be doing – helping out in the greater community, giving more time to listen to the broken-hearted and eating real food. I consider the people who connected with me around this web and how we are all connected. I consider Indra’s Web and its metaphysical meanings.
Then I consider the words of our founder, Ernest Holmes, who said, “One of the great difficulties in the new order of thought is that we are likely to indulge in too much theory and too little practice.” And then I got a broom and pulled the cobweb down. No more musings on the cobweb.
Here’s the thing – we can contemplate our problems and the realities of life all we want, but until we take action, it’s just navel gazing. I’ve been told that it’s not the minister’s job to sweep up cobwebs. I agree. It’s my job because the spider web was bothering me. It was of no use to the spider that was long gone. I cleaned it up and moved on with my day, thankful that the only thing left behind was the inspiration to write all of this.
I sometimes forget that not everyone lives the way I do. For instance, I spend a lot of time talking about ideas and having deep conversations. Intimacy of the emotional variety is simply part of my everyday life. It surprises me to hear that there is an epidemic of loneliness because folks don’t feel they have the opportunity for those conversations.
I forget that a lot of people believe in sin and brokenness. I live with the idea that God is all around me and in me all the time. People who are deeply passionate about the “right” way to relate to the “right” God are not really part of my life. Even the folks that quietly believe there is a “true path” aren’t much part of my life. I am free of the need to be right about that one. I honestly don’t care what you call the god you relate to.
What I also know is that I have to be careful to stop living in my safe little world every so often. And so I take classes on religion out in the bigger world. I read about what the current trends and research are in culture and religion. I read about the wants and needs of the Baby Boomers and the Millennials. I read about the needs and experiences of people of color and prisoners and people in other countries. All of that is mostly theoretical though. I can read about how to ride a bike, but that doesn’t get me out on a bike, does it?
And so, I’m going to step out of my usual world for a bit. Although I will still have posts going out over the next few weeks, I am going on walkabout. I’ll be away from my Center for six weeks. I’ll be out of the country for part of that. It’s time for me to fulfill a bucket list dream and travel a bit. My desired outcomes include getting some rest and doing some stuff I’ve put off around my house. I want to get out the mental rut we all get into when our routine takes over our lives. I want to travel to a place where I can see how people who live very differently actually live. I’ll be in London – a city instead of the rural life I have here, and a culture very different than American culture. There will be different money, different food and a chance to ride on a different side of the road both metaphorically and physically.
In order to see things through new eyes, we sometimes have to shake up our very foundations. We have to be willing to be uncomfortable. We need our assumptions about life and how it has to be lived to be challenged. I understand that travel does that. I also understand from my ministerial friends that how we live is not entirely normal and that you need to stop for more than a long weekend or even a week or so in order to really shift gears.
So I thank the Divine that I have this opportunity to live life unlike I live it. I’m grateful to the folks who will be covering for me on Sundays and during the week. I’m grateful that I have no idea what I’m getting into and so can’t really set any expectations. And I offer you the suggestion that you, too, can take yourself out of everyday life in order to find out what else the Divine has in store for you.