Posts Tagged ‘present mystery of reality’

PSALM 16:1-4, 12-19

I love the Lord, because he has heard
    my voice and my supplications.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
    therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
The snares of death encompassed me;
    the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
    I suffered distress and anguish.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
    “O Lord, I pray, save my life!”

12 What shall I return to the Lord
    for all his bounty to me?
13 I will lift up the cup of salvation
    and call on the name of the Lord,
14 I will pay my vows to the Lord
    in the presence of all his people.
15 Precious in the sight of the Lord
    is the death of his faithful ones.
16 Lord, I am your servant;
    I am your servant, the child of your serving girl.
    You have loosed my bonds.
17 I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice
    and call on the name of the Lord.
18 I will pay my vows to the Lord
    in the presence of all his people,
19 in the courts of the house of the Lord,
    in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the Lord!

You have loosed my bonds. There are many metaphors used in religion to represent what is commonly called “the human condition,” but the most popular by far is that of captivity, bondage, imprisonment, and oppression. Salvation in light of this metaphor can be understood as escape or emancipation if the accent of meaning is on the circumstances of bondage, or as awakening, empowerment, and transcendence when the liberative move is more about an inner shift of consciousness.

What is it that holds us in bonds? Repressive governments do this, but so do the heavy circumstances of poverty and economic hardship. The prison of consciousness that we call the status quo can keep us in a consensus trance our entire lives. And we cannot forget the multiform delusion of orthodoxy, where the mind is strapped and chained by convictions that hold captive an otherwise creative intelligence.

Is it correct to say that mortality is another form of oppression? Are human beings “stuck” in time and “condemned” to die? Many feel so. But upon closer inspection what we find is that it’s not really the conditions of mortality that keep us hostage, as the widespread fear we have attached to this fact of facts. We are prisoners, then, not of death but of the fear that the prospect of dying provokes in us.

Of course, other animals die as well, but we have no evidence that they worry over it quite to the extent that we do. So much of the world we construct as human beings – at both the cultural and individual levels – are little more than shelter, distraction, and insurance against death, not to mention a major campaign for its denial and temporary postponement.

It’s not long before we find ourselves locked inside a prison of our own making. We invest in layers of insurance that obligate us to monthly payments, which makes it  necessary to pursue higher-paying jobs and work longer. We purchase gym memberships and a growing pharmacy of supplements in an effort to stave off the creeping menace of age, dysfunction, and disease. We might hand over our freedom and intelligence to a religion that promises everlasting life in exchange for our doctrinal consent and a weekly offering.

But perhaps the greatest liability in the construction of this fortress we build has to do with how it prevents us from full participation in reality, constantly shuttling our awareness away from this present moment, from the real presence of mystery. The spiritual traditions name this mystery the ground of existence, the presence of God, radiant being, and Abundant Life – but whatever it’s called, the referent is acknowledged as beyond all names and forms.

When we stop running and hiding, fretting and fighting, looking away and waiting for later, there is in that moment, in that very passing moment, the possibility that we might fall into the gracious support of the present mystery we call God.

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PSALM 130

1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
2     Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
    to the voice of my supplications!

3 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
    Lord, who could stand?
4 But there is forgiveness with you,
    so that you may be revered.

5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and in his word I hope;
6 my soul waits for the Lord
    more than those who watch for the morning,
    more than those who watch for the morning.

7 O Israel, hope in the Lord!
    For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
    and with him is great power to redeem.
8 It is he who will redeem Israel
    from all its iniquities.

There are times in life when the solution or answer we seek cannot be found inside our present circumstances. No matter how much we rearrange the furniture or change out the pictures on our walls, the “box” we’re in remains a box.

Let’s be careful to understand that by “circumstances” we are not simply referring to the external conditions around us. Even more important are the mental categories in our minds that assume, explain, classify and predict reality into a corner known as “certainty.” When we are certain about something, curiosity, imagination, as well as critical thinking fall into disuse – and may even go extinct.

The common state of psychological depression typically occurs when our world is shaken by chronic pain, abrupt change, or permanent loss – experiences that force us into serious disillusionment concerning the security and meaning of life. Down inside that emotional pit, our view of reality is drastically reduced in scope – even more so as we start to turn inward on ourselves and ruminate on our misery.

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.” We do have a choice, even down there in the deep emptiness of loss. We can persist in turning the pain over and over in our hearts until we are exhausted and ready to give up, or we can give it over – breathe through it, then take it gently in both hands and surrender it entirely to the provident mystery of grace in this moment.

Once we can let go of our categories, reality has a chance to surprise us. And it’s always more than we could have imagined. Instead of more illusions to replace the ones that were taken with our disillusionment, we are finally open and ready for insight.

PSALM 112:1-10

Praise the Lord!
    Happy are those who fear the Lord,
    who greatly delight in his commandments.
Their descendants will be mighty in the land;
    the generation of the upright will be blessed.
Wealth and riches are in their houses,
    and their righteousness endures forever.
They rise in the darkness as a light for the upright;
    they are gracious, merciful, and righteous.
It is well with those who deal generously and lend,
    who conduct their affairs with justice.
For the righteous will never be moved;
    they will be remembered forever.
They are not afraid of evil tidings;
    their hearts are firm, secure in the Lord.
Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid;
    in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor;
    their righteousness endures forever;
    their horn is exalted in honor.
10 The wicked see it and are angry;
    they gnash their teeth and melt away;
    the desire of the wicked comes to nothing.

As the Reformation and Counter-Reformation (the Roman Catholic response and parallel development) established  generally pessimistic views of human nature at the center of their respective orthodoxies, the societies under their influence became increasingly anxious, discontent, avaricious, and self-absorbed – conditions that would soon be incorporated into the new capitalism of modern market economies.

If there’s nothing of inherent worth inside you and the world around you is fallen and condemned, then what’s left but to store up for yourself treasure in heaven? Eternal life is out there, after this, in some other place.

But that’s precisely not where eternal life is to be found. Rather, and as Jesus would make more clear in his gospel of the kingdom of God, life above the mortal conditions of temporal existence is available here and now. All that is needed is to pass through the “narrow gate” of present awareness.

After all, it’s always and only here and now that we can enter and enjoy our communion with God. “The righteous” have long known this truth: their “hearts are steady” and “they are not afraid,” for they are rooted in the grounding reality of God’s peace, power, grace and love. This is the first principle of mystical spirituality: Reach deep enough within yourself and you will eventually pass into the Divine Mystery, where you and that Other are One.