Not for the first time, I think this morning that the most popular approach to spiritual life is like the old joke about the ant creeping up an elephant's back leg ... with rape in mind.
Stealthy and savvy, intellect and emotion advance on the objective, collecting and collating data in hopes of attaining or assuring some blessed relief from uncertainty. Tip-toe, tip-toe. It may be just out of reach, but if I'm careful enough and sneaky enough and smart enough, I'll catch the wondrous essence of spiritual adventure while it's not looking and I'll be happy at last.
Another version of this approach can be seen in the wonderfully silly Geico Insurance ad:
With the technologically-advanced night-vision goggles of intellect and emotion, all dangers can be laid to rest, all sorrows melted, all doubts resolved.
When I worked as a newspaper reporter, one of the sine qua non requirements of the job was to 'source' the material included in a story. It wasn't enough to say the mayor was a crook ... you had to find some law-enforcement official to say so and/or point to a law book that described the mayor's activities as illegal. You had to 'prove' it and proving it meant finding others -- credible others -- who would use their credibility to reassure you that yes, the mayor was in fact a crook. Your opinion might be spot-on accurate, but without a source, without a touchstone, your opinion and $2 would get you a bus ride and your editor would throw your story in the waste basket.
Prove it. If you want to rape an elephant, you have to climb a leg. If you want to escape the predators of this life, you'll have to don your intellectual and emotional night-vision goggles. And that's the most popular approach to spiritual life, I think ... proof-by-source, proof-by-reason, proof-by-emotion, proof-by-others.
And there's nothing naughty or bad about it. Intellect and emotion can be wonderful inspirations. Spiritual life amounts to little more than a fart in a wind storm without some sort of proof. But the only problem with employing the usual tools of intellect and emotion in search of that proof is ... well, they simply don't work. Elephants don't succumb to horny ants and night vision goggles don't provide protection once the sun comes up.
Proof is important, but formerly-reliable sources -- the only sources that may be currently available -- just don't reach. Of course, some are content with the kinds of proof that are ordinarily employed and whole lifetimes can pass in thrall to those ordinary sources ... the intellectual and emotional tip-toe-ing that suggests a real whopper of an ant orgasm is possible.
And yet, for some, there is a whispering as from afar: Prove it! If "God" is so important, who is God really? Not, "who is God" according to the usual sources, the night-vision-goggle sources, the horny-ant sources, the everyone-says sources, the holy-and-wise sources ... but really ... at 3 a.m. when the bedroom ceiling is your sole companion.
It may be a scary question, however it is phrased, but still, for some, it becomes a demand that can no longer be papered over with belief and hope. This is a command performance and the only question is what performance is required.
Experience is the only answer. Intimate, fall-on-your-face-and-get-up-again experience. Sure, a red-hot orgasm may be the goal at first ("enlightenment," "heaven," "bliss," "peace" etc.) but as a means of finding an unalloyed source ... well, some find a practice and then, with courage and patience and doubt, practice it. And through practice, experience evolves ... not overnight, perhaps -- though there can be bright-bright openings that come and go -- but bit by bit by bit.
Bit by bit by bit, the proof that was yearned for loses its force. Bit by bit by bit the need to get it on with the elephant recedes. Bit by bit by bit, the need to reassure yourself that blue sky is blue is no longer so necessary. Bit by bit by bit, the night-vision goggles of control and understanding and belief and hope ... well night-vision goggles are extra, aren't they?
Is there someone else who can have an orgasm for you?
Where's the fun in that?
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