Tuesday, February 14, 2012

the awful agreements of spiritual endeavor

One of the most disagreeable and debilitating aspects of God -- a word I will use as a shorthand for the ineffable in any spiritual tradition -- is the notion that human beings need to agree about God in order not to be debilitated.

Traditions, of course, make their money and owe much of their existence to this cookie-cutter agreement, but instilling or supporting the notion that everyone will turn out as plaster-replica saints is something that adherents need to see clearly ... and leave behind.

In particular, I think of those adherents who -- perhaps inescapably -- measure themselves against one guru or another, one saintly person or another, one hero or heroine or another, one lofty idea or another. Such measuring may inspire and draw people forward, but there comes a time when, assuming anyone is serious about his or her questing heart, the business of becoming 'like' anything whatsoever will be a greater debility than any former debility ever was.

Adherents may work their asses off to clarify and set aside habits of greed, anger and delusion. For those inclined, it's a very good effort. But imagining that such an effort is to advance the cause of knowing or actualizing God (just like Jesus, just like Buddha, just like Mohammad) is, in the end, pig swill. And getting together with others who hold similar notions ... while it may serve as a tentative inspiration and support, still, imagining that every chocolate chip cookie will be exactly the same as every other saintly chocolate chip cookie is a basis for war, not peace.

So a bit at a time, I think, there is a need to wean ourselves from our facile agreements. God is just plain more interesting than our agreements about him/her/it. Take a clue from the world as it appears in front of your nose. Is there any place or time or circumstance that is precisely the same as the place or time or circumstance that preceded it? Is there ever a chocolate chip cookie that is precisely like any other chocolate chip cookie.

God is not a box of lock-step chocolate chip cookies. Isn't God more like the "yum" of any and all chocolate chip cookies? I think so. And I think that without the "yum," chocolate chip cookies would lose the usefulness and delight. It's a bit like the old Christian nudge: "Imagining that going to church makes you a Christian is like standing in a garage imagining you are a car."

Let's not imagine that agreement and spiritual life have anything significant in common.

Let's practice our "yum."

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