Thursday, December 1, 2011

loose the rebellious rapscallion!

I think that anyone who chooses to take spiritual endeavor seriously -- i.e. practice -- must of necessity become a rebel. Rebels are the rapscallions who seem to get things done in their own quirky ways, without being tied to slow and comforting ooze of a wider conformity. The younger you are, the more likely you are to believe that rebellion is really quite different from the norms from which that rebellion sprang up.

Anyway, I think spiritual life -- the blood, sweat and tears kind -- requires everyone to be a rebel.

An internet dictionary defines the noun "rebel" as:

-- someone who tries to remove a government or leader using force
-- relating to rebels or their activities someone who opposes their leader, especially in politics
-- someone who opposes people in authority or opposes accepted ways of doing things

And lord knows the rebellious spirit of spiritual life can be attractive. Jesus turned over the money-changers' tables. Quaker George Fox spoke out in church and got himself thrown into the midden more than once. The Zen monk Ikkyu is adored in part because he was a recognizable man -- a poet and frequenter of whore houses. And there are others ... everywhere. They stand tall and strong and slightly weird by comparison to the go-along-to-get-along rest of us.

When I was a kid, The Beat Generation was in flower. Those of us who loved the break-out spirit of stream-of-consciousness writing, poetry readings, and a certain sloppy 'freedom' tagged along ... wearing, among other things, black clothes. Black was a way of distinguishing ourselves, of standing apart, of rebelling. It did not occur to us to admit how bound-in-the-bone we were to that against which we imagined we were rebelling. Without conformity, non-conformity would be lost...and vice versa.

And the same is true in spiritual life: It requires rebellion for those who are serious, but rebellion against what? Is it a rebellion that takes ritual and rites to task? Is is like the atheism that is forced to posit God before it can deny that God?

Rebellion is absolutely crucial ... but the nature of that rising up, of manning the barricades, requires some honest investigation. Who is rebelling? Against what? And why? Targeting institutional religion is a game any number can play. But is this the core of the sort of rebellion that is required in spiritual (the serious kind) life?

I think that the rapscallions of spiritual endeavor are raising the banners ... against their own incomplete and inconsequential ways of conforming. I am the rapscallion; I am the droning conformist. 
Is there really something to rebel against? In one sense, yes there is: The ordinary ways of attachment and accolades do not produce the peace they promise ... there is always a rapscallion of doubt that whispers: This state of affairs requires a break from past, a concerted effort to revise what, to date, has not produced what I claim to seek... peace, happiness, whatever. But in another sense, it is impossible to rebel against yourself. You are who you are ... period. Good days and bad ... stuck with the farm of conformity or rebellion.

None of this is to demean the fire and fury of rebellion. It's real ... sort of. And the effort is required if we are not to be swamped by the tsunami  of old habits. Rebel! Raise the black flag! Take your conformity and stick it where the sun doesn't shine!

But your conformity is not the point. It is my conformity, my go-along-to-get-along attitudes whose barricades will need to be stormed. Work, work, sweat, sweat, and swear up a storm along the way. If you imagine there is something to tear down, well, knock yourself out.

If rebelliousness is a sine qua non for spiritual life, then, with a firm gentleness, I think there is a need to let loose the rapscallion ... let him/her run and run and run, until s/he returns, better informed, to the very conformity that inspired the rapscallion in any of us.

It takes patience and rapscallions are not always patient. But if spiritual endeavor is a serious matter in anyone's life, then I think the rapscallion of doubt and contrariness needs to be honored.

In the end, though, if we are all rapscallions one way or another, imagining there is something called a "rapscallion" or a "rebel" is an overstatement by quite a lot.

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