The other day I saw a social media post from a spiritual leader that seriously hooked me and within seconds I was completely torqued! Totally pissed me off! Huge judgments running through my mind, and it sat so heavily on me I had to send an email to friend and rant for a couple paragraphs in order to move that freight train off my chest and get right with the world again.
By now you’re probably thinking, “Well, what the hell did the post say?” You may want to sit down first, and remember this is MY experience, MY response, MY thoughts. Yours may be different. Another big tip: beware of your intolerance of another’s intolerance. It’s a deadly trap, trust me!
So here goes. This is the message sent out to the world by a well-known spiritual leader. “Life without God is like a non-sharpened pencil. It has no point.” If you are triggered, first start by noticing your trigger, and breathe. At least that’s what I had to do.
Seriously? Please tell me I did not just read that? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot! My thoughts focused on how divisive the statement is. You just alienated atheists, secular humanists, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and God knows how many millions of others! (Pun intended!) I don’t know about you, but I am in no position to tell an atheist, or anyone else for that matter, their life is pointless. I feel confident that brilliant and compassionate atheists like Bill Gates, Simone de Beauvoir, Butterfly McQueen, Jawaharlal Nehru and Mark Twain, to name a few, would disagree as well. Not to mention, I see their atheist lives as anything BUT pointless!
Then, like any good spiritual adventurer and warrior, I followed the thread of my thoughts and feelings to see where we would go. As suspected, sadness eventually washed over me. I knew this person who posted it isn’t a cold-hearted person, in fact I knew they cared about people – why else would you get into ministry? For the fame and fortune? So what in the world would possess this person to send something like this out into the world? I don’t have an answer. I do know I’ve sent a thing or two out that I probably could have edited before launching it onto an unsuspecting world.
A two-letter word though would have changed everything about this post. ONE. SIMPLE. TEENY. TINY. TWO-LETTER. WORD. That’s all it would have taken to make all the difference between communicating a sentiment that could build bridges rather than walls. The spiritual life does not come cheap. It is not a stroll down a Mary Poppins path with a candy-store God who gives sweets and miracles. It is a walk into the dark in the hopes there is a light to lead me through the darkness. Ironically, this journey actually has little if anything to do with God – unless I CHOOSE to make it about God. Doesn’t make the journey any less easy or pain-free.
If I have learned nothing else in my journey as a religious and spiritual leader, it’s that I actually know very little. Every day, each year, I know a little bit less, which is OK. Life has really become about listening and feeling what it is to be alive – and alive in a universe that is alive in ways I haven’t seen or felt or known and can’t even comprehend! And the only way to listen, to touch that aliveness, is to empty myself of all I think I know, which includes God, and just listen. This practice of emptying and listening is how I hear the heartbeat, the rhythm that IS LIFE ITSELF.
How do I listen, how do I empty myself of all I know? I begin again and again over and over in every moment. I keep beginning, empty and then open… empty and open – being fresh and new with each experience, everything I breathe in, see, touch, taste, smell and hear. It means giving up expectation of what I will emerge and what things mean.
All I can do is give my attention to what is before me – and finally, lean in to what I hear and be willing to be changed by it. Sounds easy I know. Not so much somedays. The beauty of emptying and opening, is knowing that no one can see or understand all of life anyway, so I don’t have to try to hard. A great paradox of life is that while I will never comprehend it all, in this practice of emptying and being open, I will be met with teachers repeatedly, and I also need to seek out these teachers even though I likely will never “get it.”
My job is to remain curious, and allow my passion for feeling that aliveness of the Universe to uncover the teachers as they cross my path because ultimately, this is the story of my life. The root of the word curious means paying attention to the details. I am writing my story with every breath, with those details, and my story matters. Your story matters. There is a point to EVERY life, to ALL life. My story is filled with drama, silliness, sadness, passion, uncertainty, magic, death, peace, kindness, suffering, sometimes God, sometimes not – and many, many pages yet to be written. Thus our teachers are speaking to us, and if we listen, we will allow them to hold the pencil, and sometimes provide us an eraser, while we write our narrative.
Teachers come in different shapes and sizes, and sometimes they are in the human form, sometimes they are the earth you dig in with your bare hands reminding you of your place with your tribe. Other times it is the moon pulsating down on you from the night sky, or the ocean wave gently rocking you as you float through your day. Yet for some, God is the ultimate teacher. Each may help you write your story of realizing peace in your heart, or perhaps be the lightning bolt of creativity to spur you on when you have stumbled and fallen. No teacher is truer than another, just as no life is more or less pointless than another. Different teachers emerge from each person’s commitment to emptying and opening – to listening with curiosity.
So what and whom have been your teachers? What stories are you writing that carry your teacher’s message? If you don’t have a teacher, find one. Empty yourself of what you think you know and listen – find your next teacher. She will be in the loss that is about to happen, he will speak to you through the eyes of that precious, child’s innocent smile. Our teachers will find us, whether God exists or not. And when treated with respect, care and love, the meaning of their messages are inscribed in our hearts and ears in order to sharpen our pencils so that we may fill the pages of our unfinished book.
By now you may be wondering, “What is that two-letter word that would have made all the difference in the message?” You tell me. Empty yourself and listen. That one tiny word would have shouted to the world, “This is my pencil, my story and my God,” and every bit as filled with a point as another soul writing the story without a God.