The spiritual task is to live in the world without being undone by the world—without being overwhelmed by the world—without being immobilized, traumatized, and terrorized by the world. The spiritual task is to live in the world as those who are undaunted by the apparent hopelessness of having any impact on how the world works—of shifting things in any way from the way things are to the way things ought to be.
We have to acknowledge from the start that it’s an uphill effort. Negative is easy, positive is hard. Killing and burying are easy, birthing and nurturing are hard. Hating is easy, loving is hard. Death is easy, life is hard. Dying is easy, living is hard.
The way things are stacks the deck against us. Greed, self-interest, despotism, jealously, vengeance, vindictiveness, and all that resides on that side of the street, seem to have gotten there before us. They have the high ground. They have us surrounded and out-numbered. And, they have stupidity on their side. Simply put, we don’t have a chance.
The path to a life worth living is a very difficult path. Where do we start? How do we manage? What can we do that has any hope of helping? With these questions, asked from the heart, and with awareness and insight into the nature of the task before us, we begin to get a sense of what Paul had in mind when he spoke of “principalities and powers.”
We are slugging it out here with the elemental forces of the universe, and we don’t have a prayer. We aren’t going to end hunger, poverty, homelessness, racism or homophobia. We aren’t going to stop war, or institute a livable minimum wage, or… We don’t have a political or social platform, plan, strategy, or approach that is going to turn things around in our lifetime or anyone else’s. That isn’t what we are going to do here.
What we are going to do is see what is to be seen, feel what is to be felt, know what is to be known, perceive what is to be perceived, and love what is to be loved, and do what can be done. We are going to open ourselves to the way things are, without running away, or hiding, or denying what’s real, or pretending it isn’t so, or telling ourselves sweet deceptions to make ourselves feel better about life as it is, and what we can do about it.
We are going to experience life in its fullness. We are going to meet the totality of that experience with grace, mercy, peace, kindness and compassion—with bigness of heart, and generosity of spirit. We are going to step into each situation as it arises, evaluate what we find there in terms of what is happening, what needs to happen and do what we can do about it with the gifts that are ours to give—and get ready to do it again in the next situation as it arises.
Life is coming at us full throttle, and we are not going to step aside. We are going to say “Yes,” to the whole thing. The whole impossible thing. And we are going to smile. We are going to do what we can to place ourselves between life at its worst and its victims, and smile.
The smile is going to remind us of, and connect us with, the hope that is life in the middle of the worst that life can do. Standing in full awareness, in complete mindfulness, in total consciousness of the headlines that aren’t going to change about the awfulness of war, and poverty, and homelessness, and AIDS, and all the rest, we are going to nod in acknowledgement of the truth of what we are up against, do what can be done about what needs to be done—and smile.
The smile is going to come out of a place the principalities and powers cannot touch. It is going to ground us in that place, and center us in the knowledge of what is also true: There is that which does not die! There is that which does not quit! There is that which does not give up. It may be hopeless, with no way to win. So what? That is no reason to quit, lose heart and sink into despair. Hope wakes up and begins to stir exactly when things are the most hopeless and there is no chance, not one, of anything happening that anyone would call good. It is exactly there that hope yawns, stretches—and smiles.
What we are about is the creation of an attitude, a mind-set, an orientation, a perspective, an outlook, a point of view, a way of seeing that becomes a way of doing, and a way of being, a way of living, a way of life, the name of all of that is spiritual, just, right and good. We are about establishing connection with the spiritual foundation of existence.
“Spiritual” is “of the spirit.” “Physical” is “of the body.” “Spiritual” is abstract. “Physical” is concrete. “Spiritual” is intangible. “Physical” is tangible. “Spiritual” is invisible. “Physical” is visible.” “Spiritual” is love, joy, peace, patience, and the like. “Physical” is food, clothing, and shelter.
Jesus came saying that we don’t live by bread alone, but by the words that come from God. He came warning not to worry about what we will eat, drink, and wear—saying that we should seek first the things of God, and that the physical aspects of life are secondary to the spiritual aspects of life. Joseph Campbell said that all primal societies understood the physical world to be grounded upon the spiritual world—that apart from that world, this world is meaningless and without foundation.
We are to think about the relationship of the physical and the spiritual in our own lives, and grow toward granting spiritual reality at least as large a place in our lives as physical reality. The spiritual task is to experience the impossibility of things in the physical world being as they ought to be—and smile. The spiritual task is to live out of, and grounded in, that which does not die. The spiritual task is to live in defiantly concrete ways as a testimony to our refusal to be impressed by the odds against us. And, to do it again tomorrow, for as long as there are tomorrows. Because that’s what hope does, refusing to quit, and smiling all the while.