Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wait . . .

I felt the urge again. 

Once again I felt the urge I've felt so often throughout my ministry -- the urge to pack it in, metaphorically "take off my collar," and go flip burgers somewhere or retire to a cave. 

Here am I, this guy who's had the audacity to stand up in front of two different congregations on a regular basis (as well as an untold number of others as a guest), who's led retreats and workshops, given talks and presentations . . . not to mention having written three published books and essays included in two anthologies.  You might think I know a thing or two.

And that's the thing.  So do I sometimes.  And then, all of a sudden, out of the blue, it hits me.  I don't have a clue.  I have no idea what I'm talking about.  And the urge comes upon me again.  As Mark Twain once famously said, "It is better to keep your mouth closed and risk appearing a fool, then to open it and remove all doubt."

The impetus for this most recent urge is my reading of another of my beloved mentors in prayer, the Jesuit priest Anthony de Mello.  de Mello, who was born and lived most of his life in India, brings a very Hindu perspective to his Christianity; he has sometimes been called a "Christian guru."  In his fabulous book Awareness:  the perils and opportunities of reality, he says,
"Spirituality means waking up.  Most people, even though they don't know it, are asleep.  They're born asleep, they live asleep, they marry in their sleep, they breed children in their sleep, they die in their sleep without ever waking up.  They never understand the loveliness and the beauty of this thin that we call human existence. . . . most people never get to see that all is well because they are asleep.  They are having a nightmare. . . .

The first thing I want you to understand, if you really want to wake up, is that you don't want to wake up."
How's that for provocative?  He also says, and this book is a transcription of talks he gave during a retreat, "Do you think I am going to help anybody?  No!  Oh, no, no, no, no, no!  Don't expet me to be of help to anyone.  Nor do I expect to damage anyone.  If you are damaged, you did it; if you are helped, you did it.  You really did!" 

I love this guy.

So I'm now reading a book which is new for me:  Contact with God.  It also is transcripts of talks he gave to Jesuit priests who were on retret with him, and so far it's really great stuff.  I'm having to do some "translation" of course -- his theology and, especially, his mode of expression are not fully in synch with my own -- but why would I expect them to be?  What he says, though, comes from such a deep place, and it resonates with that equally deep place in me.  In that deep place we speak the same language.

Well, anyway, in an early chapter -- it was the beginning of the retreat -- he says this: 
We read in Acts 1:4: "While Jesus was in their company he told them not to leave Jerusalem.  'You must wait,' he said, 'for the promise of my Father.'"  Do not leave Jerusalem.  Once again, resist the urge to be up and doing before you are freed from the compulsion to act; the urge to communicate to others what you yourself have not yet experienced.  Once the Spirit has come, "You will bear witness for me in Jerusalem . . . and to the ends of the earth."  But not before, or you will be lying witnesses -- or, at best, you will be pushers, not apostles.  Pushers are insecure people who have a compulsion to convince others, so that they themselves will be less insecure.  (italics mine)
That's all it took, and the urge was once again upon me to shut up and go flip burgers, or start bagging groceries at Stop n' Shop. 

There is a line in Richard Bach's book Illusions:  adventures of a reluctant messiah -- "You teach best what you most need to learn."  I have always felt that that's what qualifies me to speak and write about spiritual matters.  I am a seeker and, as Anthony Bloom said of himself, am only a beginner.  Yet I claim nothing more than that -- I offer only descriptions of what I have seen and heard and felt and tasted and touched along the way that I have wandered. 

Still I wonder if Lao Tzu was right -- those who know don't talk; those who talk don't know.

In Gassho,

RevWik Print this post


Anonymous said...

Reserve a place for me, too, Erik.


Anonymous said...

Been there many times--usually in the middle of writing a sermon. But my brother, two summers ago I visited Brewster and you preached on that very passage on waking up (or something very like it) and woke me right up. That sermon was an alarm many, many times that whole year, whenever I nodded off. So wherever you're preaching from, holy ignorance or wherever, keep at it.

RevWik said...

Thanks to you both -- Scott for assuring me that I won't be alone in my cave, and revamy for reminding me that I can come out from time to time.