There is a practical test for every form of spirituality that has nothing to do with measuring one’s Orthodoxy by examining professed statements of faith: Does it work? Does it enable us to live well? Does it provide us with what we need to live our lives? Does it sustain us for the long haul? Does it bring us to life, connect us with the deep values, and the true goodness of being alive? Does it make us better people than we would be without it? Does it allow us to live with joy and passion? Does it enable us to say “Yes!” to life just as it is right out of the box?
Don’t give me a spirituality that takes the life out of me; that burdens me with guilt and shame, and makes me wonder if I’m doomed from the start—that keeps me afraid of God’s wrath, and going to hell, and therefore, afraid to be alive. That’s just death dressed up in a white suit trying to slip one over on us. Life doesn’t threaten us with death, doesn’t talk about death, doesn’t terrify us and keep us from going anywhere but to church where they talk to us about death and hell. Don’t give me that kind of spirituality. I’m going to be dead long enough. I’m for living while I can.
Give me a spirituality that talks about life, and living, and being alive. Give me a spirituality that is about loving life, dancing, singing, and being good company. Give me a spirituality that knows how to laugh. That doesn’t care who’s looking. That knows how to play. That can have a good time. Throw me in with the people who are a good place to be—who are home for my soul.
The primary rule guiding the development of spirituality as it ought to be is this: The soul knows. The soul knows what is good for us and what is not, what nurtures life, and what destroys life. Jesus came that we might “have life and have it abundantly.” Our soul perks up upon hearing that, and pays attention.
It’s amazing, don’t you think, that the church of our experience used the occasion of Jesus’ words about abundant life to talk about death? Jesus didn’t say, “I have come to give you life, and if you don’t do it exactly as I tell you to do it, I will give you death—No! I’ll give you worse than death!” But, the church of our experience said that. The church of our experience told us we would die and go to hell if we didn’t come listen to the preacher tell us we were going to die and go to hell if we didn’t come back and listen to the preacher tell us we were going to die and go to hell… Jesus talked about life, the church of our experience talked about death, and our souls suffered. Dried up. Began to shrivel and waste away.
Jesus took on the religious authorities by saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but by me.” The Pharisees and Sadducees had their way of getting to the Father—the way of being descended from Moses and the way of keeping the law. Jesus looked them in the eye and said, “I have my own way, thank-you.” Imagine that.
“The law is the way!” said the authorities. “Moses is the way!” said the authorities. Jesus said, “I am the way!” Where did that come from, his boldness in taking on the authorities, in standing his ground, in being true to his vision, his understanding of, his belief in, how things ought to be? Where did that come from, his being his own authority? So that the people said of him, “He teaches, not like our scribes, but as one who has authority”? What audacity! What faith in one’s own ability to discern what is true, and valid, and real! “I am the way!” We could use some of that confidence in our ability to know what’s what.
Jesus said, “If you want to get to the Father, you have to do it the way I’m doing it, because the Father and I are one,” and radically offended the authorities, who thought Jesus was claiming to be God, which was the highest obscenity, blasphemy, heresy—the greatest desecration of the holy—that could be said. Yet, Jesus was only saying what the Book of Moses said was to be true of everyone. “You must be holy as I am holy,” said the Book of Moses; “You must be perfect as I am perfect,” said the Book of Moses. “You must be,” said the book, “as God is,” or words to that effect. But, when Jesus said, “I am as God is,” or, “When you have seen me, you have seen the Father,” those in power took offense, and had him killed, because he was a threat to their way of seeing and controlling what was seen.
The church of our experience continues the mistake of the religious authorities of Jesus’ day, making Jesus divine in a way that no one else has ever been, or will be. In the eyes of the church of our experience, Jesus gets to be perfect because he was God from the beginning, born of a virgin, you know, half God, half Man. No. Fully God, fully man. Make sense of that, if you can. Any way you slice it, Jesus gets to be perfect because he cheated. He was God. He couldn’t help but be perfect.
And his “no one can come to the Father but by me” line was not understood to mean “You have to do it the way I’m doing it by carrying your own cross, suffering the pain of your life, and living out of your own authority,” but to mean instead, “You have to let me do it for you.” To mean, “You have to believe that I am God, and that I died to save you from your sins, and if you don’t, you are going to hell.”
One of the things we can’t help noticing as we consider the interplay between Jesus and the authorities, and the church of our experience, is the way the word “perfect” is understood. Jesus is perfect as God is perfect. “The Father and I are one.” The authorities, and the church of our experience, understand that to mean moral perfection. They say Jesus is “without sin.” Morality is the big thing for the authorities, and the church of our experience. We have to keep ourselves unstained by the world, and be morally pure or we will go to hell. That’s what we have been told by those who missed the point.
Morality misses the point.
One of the 10,000 spiritual laws states, “Morality is the best-dressed form of sin.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. Morality lends itself to the posture of the Pharisee in the temple, which is one of the stories that put morality in its place. Another is the story of the rich young man. Morality isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.
But, don’t think I’m hawking immorality here—not at all! Live the best life you can live, that’s my recommendation, but don’t sacrifice the good for the sake of the moral. Jesus was considered to be highly immoral by the code-keepers of his day. He associated with women—Samaritan women, at that. He socialized with prostitutes, and tax-collectors. He was friendly with “the people of the land” (also called “sinners”) who were too poor to pay the Temple Tax, and therefore couldn’t worship in the temple, and therefore were considered to be disgusting, untouchable, and unworthy by the upper strata of Jewish society because they were obviously being punished by God with poverty, so they must be sinners. And, he regularly broke the laws depicting how things were to be done in that day. He was called “a glutton and a wine-bibber,” which is another way of saying he was beyond parental control. He was called a blasphemer and a son of Satan. He was not a shinning example of moral rectitude. But, he was perfect.
Perfection is not a function of morality! You don’t get to be perfect by being moral.
Perfection is about integrity, about alignment of being. It is about destiny. Perfection and destiny are about waking up, growing up, squaring ourselves up with our life as it is, and as it must be. This is the deep work that is ours to do. The work is difficult—it is so difficult it is called the Hero’s Journey—because we don’t want to do it. We do not want our life as it is, or as it must be. We want a different, better, life. We have ideas, aspirations, dreams, goals, ambitions, and neither life as it is, nor life as it must be, compliments what we have in mind. The word of freedom and responsibility—the freedom to be responsible—is: “Wake UP! Grow UP! Square Yourself Up With Your Life As It Is And As It Must Be—And Get Up And Do What Needs To Be Done!”
Or life as it is constitutes the context and circumstances within which we live. We live where we live. We do not live next door, or down the street, or across town, or in another part of the country or world. Our life as it is, is different than it would be if we lived somewhere else. We have different choices. Different options. Different opportunities. We were born when and where we were born. Our parents were our parents. All the facts that have governed our life constitute our life as it is. They are our facts to square ourselves up with—to place ourselves in accord with. They are different from anyone else’s facts, and we all have the same work to do of squaring ourselves up with the facts that we have had to work with, deal with, all our lives long. We never complete that work. It is always to be done.
The facts of our lives—the time and place of our living, our choices and opportunities, etc.—are our fate. They are the things we were born into. The things we cannot help, or change, like the color of our hair or the size of our footprint, or how fast we can run the hundred-meter dash. We have to square ourselves up with them because they are what they are, and together they form the context and circumstances of our lives.
Now, within that context and those circumstances—within the fate that is ours—we are called to live out our life as it needs to be lived. This is our destiny. Our destiny is who we are called to become. Our destiny is what we are capable of doing with our fate, with the facts that determine so much of our life. They don’t determine all of our life, unless we let them, unless we cave into the facts, and submit to our fate, and surrender hopelessly to the context and circumstances of our living, in a “Who cares? Why try? What difference does it make?” kind of way.
I am here to remind you that the Source of Life and Being—that which has always been thought of as God—is with us within the context and circumstances of our lives, within the fate that defines our living, the facts that limit our lives, to enable and assist us in embracing and serving our destiny, and becoming who we are capable of being within the limits and boundaries of the time and place of our living. Our destiny is recognizing and bringing forth into our life, the gift, the genius, that is ours—that is peculiar to us, that makes us different from any other human being to ever live.
To use Carl Jung’s term, individuation is what sets Jesus apart. This is what his “no one can come to the Father but by me” means. When we are who we are the way Jesus was who he was, then, it may be said of us all: “The Father and I are one.” Our call is to become who we are asked to be within the context and circumstances of our life. This is our work. And, we are not alone in that work. That which has always been called God is with us in that work to help us do it.
The Source of Life and Being is with us to do the work of fulfilling our destiny—which is the work of self-realization, of bringing forth our gift, our genius—as boon and blessing to all who inhabit this place with us. The Source is not with us so that we might have it made, live any way we choose, and still have all our dreams come true—so that we can fritter away our time in trivial pursuits and entertaining pastimes—so that we can hang out at the mall, or take trips and cruises, until we die. The Source is with us for the specific purpose of doing the work that is ours to do, becoming who we are as a blessing to all—to give our life, so to speak, to set others free.
This is the Hero’s Journey, the hero’s task. Abraham leaves home in search of home. He leaves his physical home to find the home of his spirit, his soul. He goes looking for where he belongs, for what he belongs to. Where we belong—what we belong to—is the Promised Land, which is also the Kingdom of God, which is also The New Jerusalem, which is also the work that is our destiny, where we and God are one. This does not exist in some far off distant future, or some far off distant place, but is right here, and right now, when we take up the search for the gift we have been given, for the life we are called to live, for the work that is ours to do, for where we belong, for what we belong to. To take up this search is to, in Jesus’ words, “have life and have it abundantly.” It is to live the life we are called to live, bringing ourselves—the self we are created to be—forth into the world of normal, apparent reality.
We get there by being true to ourselves within the context and circumstances of our life. Perfection is integrity, integration, synchronization, oneness of heart and life—living in ways that are integral with what is deepest, truest and best about us. Where word and action are one thing. Where external and internal are one thing. “I Am Who I Am,” says God to Moses. Jesus is one with the Father, not because Jesus is God, but because Jesus is one with himself—because Jesus is Jesus, and Jesus is “of God” the way you and I are “of God.”
The heart of spirituality is to be who we are in loving relationship with those about us. If you think that is easy, give it a spin. But, when you get it down, you will have achieved perfection. The trouble is that we are divided within. I want to be the best father in the world, and I don’t want to be a father at all. Try integrating that division if you have the heart for it. That’s only one of the warring opposites I have within. The work of integration, of perfection, is a life-long undertaking—and it is the spiritual task, the heart of what we are about.
We are divided at the level of the heart. We want mutually exclusive things. We are Adam and Eve in Eden and Jesus in Gethsemane. Here is another place of the cross in our lives. When Jesus says, “If you want to be my disciple, pick up your cross every day and follow me,” he’s saying, “Don’t think this spirituality stuff is easy. It’s hard work being whole.” Our everyday cross is the work of realizing and integrating the conflicts and contradictions at the center of ourselves—of facing and reconciling who we are and who we also are. We cannot become the unique individuals we are alone. It takes the right kind of community to bring us forth into the life that is ours to live.
The right kind of community, what I call a community of innocence, is a theme that I will return to over the course of this book. It is central to the work of being human—of being true human beings, fulfilling our destiny, realizing our gift, our genius, and offering what we have to give to each situation as it arises. The work of spirituality is the work of coming to terms with who we are, and who we are and also are—with how it is with us, and with what we are about. It is the way of finding our way back to ourselves—the way of integration, integrity and wholeness of being. It is the way of knowing what is important, what has true value, and living in light of it for the rest of our days.
This is the work of individuation, self-realization, which Carl Jung recognized as the true work of being human. It is the work of mindful awareness—the work of attention, which is the work of articulation—the work of conversation, the work of talking together about the things that matter. In order to do this work, we need a community of innocence—innocent in that it has nothing to gain by being present with us for our good, and has no interest in exploiting us for its advantage—to listen us to the truth of who we are, and also are, and help us decide what that means for us in the here and now of our living.
A community of innocence is glad to listen to us, help us bring ourselves into focus, and help us live toward ourselves within the context and circumstances of our lives, with grace, mercy, peace, hope and compassion. A community of innocence brings us to life, encourages us to live, enables us to be alive by providing us with a good place to be while we do the work of becoming a self in loving relationship with other selves. As we do this work, we take our place in the community by bringing forth the gift we have to offer, and sharing who we are with everyone, within the community, and beyond it.