Sunday, February 7, 2010

Grace Intoxicated Contemplations #1: Tenacity

By: Kyle Elden

I awoke this morning with the phrase, "God is still speaking," a United Church of Christ statement of faith, swirling around in my head. I am moving through a great transition in my life and have been navigating this change for over a year now. In many ways this has been one of the most difficult and challenging years of my life. I've been confronted with a complex array of new and difficult to bear emotions, situations, and circumstances. Yet somehow, in this dark place that often feels confusing and terrifying - that tilts me toward fear and keeps me feeling constricted and stagnant in my life, I have felt and heard God speaking. Nearly all religious and spiritual traditions teach us that God is always available to us and ever present if we would only open ourselves up to that relationship, if we would only do the work we need to do to remove the dams in our lives (our poor habits, negative thought perceptions, and dysfunctional patterns that cause suffering, constriction, and stagnation) that block us from experiencing what some coin as "God-consciousness" or, as was stated in a church service I attended last night, living out our lives in the same way that Christ did. The bible urges us in Luke 11:9 "And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you." The hard thing at times is how to actually go about this venture; how to ask and knock correctly so that we are truly opening ourselves up to be in relationship with God in an authentic and transformational way.

For the most part, as humans we desire to live out our lives in the way which is for the highest good for ourselves, those we are in relationship with, and the world around us. We just don't always quite know how to do this. Stephen Cope, psychologist and scholar in residence at the Kripalu Center, teaches that we are spiritual beings on a human path and that we are really not that great at being skillful humans. Clearly we suffer and cause suffering, even to those we love. Cope believes that enlightenment (and I would venture to say God-consciousness or living like Christ)is not an unattainable state of being only acquired by monks who cut themselves off from the world and meditate or by those individuals who dedicate their lives to only serving God, such as nuns. To the contrary, enlightenment (God-consciousness or living like Christ) occurs on the front lines of being human in relationship with other humans, learning how to live skillfully so we don't cause harm, and learning how to bear anything that we face. We are spiritual beings, we are one with God. Luke 17:20-21 outlines this clearly "And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation. Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, Lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you." We just forget who we are in this myopic stance and perspective we dwell in as human beings.
As humans we go to holy books, churches, psychics, healers, tarot readers, palm readers, temple, spiritual retreats, meditation, and on, and on, and on to find guidance, to learn how to bear the difficult things we face in our lives. We need direction and we can definitely experience profound healing and transformation in the context of a church or through the guidance of holy and sacramental scripture. However, sometimes even these avenues come from a place wherein we are grasping externally, seeking for answers outside of ourselves. In a way we sort of try to excuse ourselves from the responsibility to attend to our own lives. I think a danger in this is that we can get so caught up in convention, dogma, what society or friends or our spiritual community thinks we "should" do to be "right" that we don't necessarily go straight to the source. If the kingdom of God is within us we can utilize our church community, meditation, prayer, our therapist, or whatever practice or avenue that guides us and helps align us with God and that which is for the highest good in any situation; however, I think it's crucial to always go within and listen deeply to what God is saying, right here, right now in the present moment. And we might find that the "truth" we are best suited to live out might be contrary to all the well-meaning advice, dogma, and conventional prompts.

I am in no way an expert on this, nor do I always go to the source, listen deeply, and make choices or act from a place that is aligned with God. In fact, I've found myself often over this past year (and just generally in life) acting from a place of fear, selfishness, control, grasping for things to be something different than they presently are because it feels too overwhelming to bear, or doing what will make other people happy but actually causes me distress. Yet amidst all my stumbling in life I've felt God speaking to me, gently guiding me onward. Sometimes I ignore, push down and set aside that which is my soul's truth, my inner compass guiding me toward wholeness and fullness - the kingdom of God within if you will. The mystical poet Rumi tells us "when you do something from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy." I believe our purpose in life is to remember who we are, to know that we are one with God and that the kingdom of God is within us. Our journey is one toward wholeness and self-actualization. And God is still speaking. I have had many experiences that validate this truth and they aren't always conventional. Yet, deep within myself, when they occur there is a deep resonance and peace ~ all of a sudden, without drama, I know the truth, I know what it is I need to do, and I muster the courage and strength to make tough decisions and go through what may be the most difficult thing imaginable, yet on the other side I am more alive and whole than I ever would have been.

Joseph Campbell states that "people say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive." Many of us are asleep in our lives and I think that it is though refining our listening ears to hear God's voice directing us we can become awake, alive and be in that enlightened, god-conscious, or Christ-like existence. This is often tenacious and requires great courage because we might be doing that which is counter-cultural or unconventional. This reminds me of the Anais Nin quote "and the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." The alternative to this is much more painful and leads to continued suffering, constriction, and stagnation - and we all intimately know what this feels like. I will end with a quote by Sonia Choquette I just stumbled upon today that resonates deeply with me currently and has helped me rectify my deep inner listening, "tenacity is when you follow your heart -- when the whole world is screaming to get back into your head."