Friday, June 10, 2011

You will show me the path...

("You will show me the path to life, abounding joy in your presence..." Psalm 16:10)

I have not written in quite awhile. I have been busy, of course. But it has been a sort of curious experience for me, because I have wanted to write. The inspiration just didn't seem to be there. I could think of things I might write of, but the thoughts, the ideas, did not seem to coalesce and flow. I began to wonder why. Sometimes this happens because I am not taking enough time to be open to God. Sometimes I will have an idea to write of something but only realize later, when I have been set straight, that I was going in the wrong direction.

Another thought occurred to me this time though. I thought: what if it is over? What if writing this blog was something God called me to do for awhile and now it is done? Maybe there is something different I should be doing. First, let me say that I don't believe that to be the case. Nor do I necessarily see God as a micro-managing sort who has plans that dictate my every action. But the thought was an important one because I truly love writing this blog. It has brought me much growth and joy. If, for some reason, God did not want me to do it anymore, could I just let it go?

I remember that I was fairly well into my young adult years when it occurred to me that I had always assumed that what I wanted was what God wanted. It was almost as though, prior to that, I believed that if I liked, loved or enjoyed something, then certainly God wanted that too. Of course I see now that there are some major pitfalls in that perspective. As Thomas Merton (Trappist monk and writer) put it, "I was living as if God only existed to do me temporal favors..." Certainly a nice sort of God to have - one whose only goal is to make me feel good. What I want is never wrong and never has to be sacrificed. If dealt good fortunes in life, one can coast along this path for awhile, mistaking comfort and ease for harmony with God. However, when life suddenly isn't feeling good, it is almost impossible to make sense of it. How could God allow me to feel bad? Especially, to feel really, really bad.

A story is in order. I remember back when I was in elementary school, attending the neighborhood Catholic school, missionaries would sometimes visit our classrooms. They would tell us of foreign lands where they had served, living in great hardship with the native people. Although I don't remember many details, I recall mention of primitive living conditions, lots of bugs and diseases like malaria. My spiritual education blended into these accounts the stories of the martyrs, the great saints of old who risked and bravely gave everything, even their lives, for God. I was quite impressed by all of this as a young child. So impressed, in fact, that for some time, I imagined myself following that path, enduring the hardships without complaint, heroically suffering and maybe even dying... It never occurred to my childlike mind that following this path would feel anything other than good. I wasn't yet capable of conceiving of true suffering and was very far from realizing that I wasn't at all good at enduring it.

Fast-forwarding to a few years later, in my early teens, I remember a thought coming to me while sitting in church one day. I suddenly had the idea that my sufferings in life were going to more mental/emotional than physical. I don't know why that thought popped into my head but it had the feel of truth - and I certainly didn't like it. As I have grown through the 40+ years that followed that thought, I must admit that so far, this premonition has largely come true. And a major realization that has come with it is that I don't get to choose my suffering. In fact, it is the lack of choice that makes it true suffering. In my childhood fantasy, I was bravely embracing a self-serving scenario that would lead everyone to admire me and I would just slip painlessly into the glory of heaven... Real life, of course, is nothing like that.

The Buddhist perspective on suffering, as I understand it, is that most if not all of human suffering comes from our wanting reality to be something other than what it is. Whether we have suffered physical or mental ills, whether we have lost people or jobs or possessions, it is our fighting, our outrage, our rejection of what is, that makes that experience "suffering". When we learn to accept, the undesirable experience is noticed, felt and passes by, just as the more pleasant experiences also pass. Nothing, neither the wanted nor the unwanted, lasts forever. Avoiding suffering, in a sense, is accomplished by not desiring anything: I accept the pleasant and the unpleasant and it all passes, one moment unfolding into the next. (My apologies to those more knowledgeable than me; I'm sure my portrayal of Buddhist teaching in woefully inadequate.) I do believe that Buddhism has much to teach us about life and suffering. But it is not my path... for without desire, the path does not seem to lead anywhere. How can there be love, without desire?

("You will show me the path to life, abounding joy in your presence..." Psalm 16:10)

I have chosen His path. Or more correctly, He has chosen me and I am learning how to say, "Yes, I'll come. No matter what". If His path were to lead me away from this blog (that ponderous thought I started with tonight), I would still go. But there are many possible, even likely, twists and turns the Path may take that are far more terrible (and terrifying) than that. The Path may lead through wrenching pain - pain in my body, pain in my heart, pain in my mind. And I will not get to choose. I may choose to be on the Path, but what happens next is not in my hands. The wrenching pains will not be the glorious fantasies of my childhood. They may even push me to the very limits of my endurance. I may wonder why did I ever take this path... where is it leading? Is it leading anywhere?

I take this Path because it is the path to Life. Not more of this life, with all of its ups and downs and absurdities. The Path to Life - a Life infused with love and hope and beauty. The Path is not one I can walk alone. To try it alone would be to be forever lost, thinking that I have figured it out, that I know how to get there - and then, at the next twist or turn, find that I have no idea where I am going or why.

There is, however, One to lead me - to show me the path to Life. He does not show me by simply giving me a road map or a set of directions. He walks the Path with me. He is with me through all of the terrors, the twists and the turns, the sufferings that are not at all glorious but that appear to my eyes meaningless and absurd. He suffers with me, to help me get there. And it is the suffering-with-me that is Love.

No, I am not a Buddhist, because I do desire. I desire that Love - not just for me - but for you, for all of us.

Let us walk the Path together. Toward the abounding joy...

(To share some of my path, click on the image below. You will leave this blog and be able to visit my web album of photos from this spring. To view as a slideshow, click on the slideshow button in the upper left; to stop the slideshow, hit the escape button on your keyboard.) 

Abounding joy

(Something new: I have put a link to my all of my public albums in the left sidebar, under the "About me" section. This will make it easier to find previous photos that have been posted at other times in the blog's history. You are welcome to download any of my photos for your personal use.)