If you have been with me for a while, you know that one of the central features of my faith is the crucial importance of knowing what you would go to hell for-- being right about it being worth going to hell for-- and being willing to go to hell for it. Now, the catch is being right about its importance. How do you know that what is important to you should be important to you? We all know people whose judgment is suspect. We would not want them looking after our children, or taking care of our lawn, or choosing our desert. There is general agreement that they don't know what is important. And we know people whom we admire for their tastes and the quality of their life. They live with grace and kindness, and have a firm sense of direction and do not waffle on matters of grave importance. They know what they are doing, and do it well. They would all be on our list of admirable people. So there is common agreement among us as to what good judgment is and is not-- as to what is important and is not. We all know what should be important, and what should not be important. How do we know? Cultural cues perhaps. We have a common culture. We know how it is to be done in our culture. We know how "we do it" here. Put us in a different culture, and it probably wouldn't go so well for us until we learned the cues. Until we learned how they do it there. Then we could fit right in. What is important is a cultural preference. We think it is an individual choice, but we are children of our culture. Our culture can just be the group we run with. What is important to us is important to everyone in our group. We take our cues for living from them. We do it the way it is 'spozed to be done within our sub-culture. It still isn't an individual choice. Cut off from others, we don't have a clue about what is important. We would go to hell for anything at all. So, who composes our culture? Who are the people we look to for guidance? Who do we want to be like when we grow up? Or just when we wake up each day? Who do we try to please? Who would be most happy with the choices we make? That is who calls our shots, directs our life, guides us along the way. And we talk about being free. Being ourselves. Making up our own mind. But our mind is made up for us by the people who are important to us. The important thing to us is keeping the right people happy with us. That is what we would go to hell for. Think about that. What makes us think that the people we run with know what is important? How do they know? What makes them think so? How free are they to decide for themselves what is important? Or, are we all tricking ourselves thinking someone knows more than we do about what matters most? And, if so, where would that leave us? Going to hell for what?
We live with a foot in different worlds. There is the world of rock-solid, tangible, concrete, factual, weigh-able, measure-able, see/feel/touch/taste reality, and there is the world of numinous, ineffable, instinctive, intuitive, unconscious (because we are not conscious of it), undetectable, imperceptible, undefinable, inexplicable, unsay-able reality beyond words. It is our place to know more than words can say, and to live in this world of normal, apparent, reality, as the incarnation, expression, exhibition, living proof of a reality that cannot be told.
Liberty! Justice! Equality! Truth! Are the four corners of democracy-- and the essential rights of human development. We have to be free to live our own life without the constraints of injustice and discrimination, while honoring one another's right to their own life. That is what it takes to be true to ourselves in the work of finding and living our life-- an opportunity and a calling that we have squandered and wasted on entertaining pastimes and addictive escapes in avoiding our responsibility to be who we are in ways that incarnate/express/birth/exhibit ourselves in service to the good of the whole. It is time we stepped back from our rush to wealth, privilege and power in the service of greed and get to work transforming our relationship with ourselves and living to answer the question, "What should we do with the time left for living?" With what we want being restricted to doing what is called for with the gifts that are ours to serve and to share, moment-by-moment in each situation as it arises, whether we feel like it or not.
Martin Hägglund has written This Life--Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom in which he says, "Our time together is illuminated by the sense that it will not last forever and we need to take care of one another because our lives are fragile." His is a beautiful book offered precisely at the right time, with exactly what we need to gather ourselves and find our way forward, individually and collectively-- and I cannot recommend it highly enough. This is our time on the earth. It is all we have to work with. We are the only ones here to do the work. It is all up to us-- the present and the future hang in the balance, waiting for us to stand up and be who we are. There is no one here but us. No one is going to rescue us. No Savior is going to deliver us from the work that is ours to do, from the times that are ours to live. Fred Craddock said, all those years ago, "The message of the Messiah is, 'THERE IS NO MESSIAH!!!'" There is only us. And we have to make the most of the time that is ours to live. Beginning right here. Right now. Hägglund writes: "My freedom require3s that I ask myself what I should do with my time. Even when I am utterly absorbed in what I do, what I say, and what I love, the possibility of this question must be alive in me." And, as with him, so with us all!
Nothing can change until something else does. That is what keeps things as they are. Waiting for things to change. We have to change what can be changed in order for anything to change. We start with changing nothing but our awareness of the situation in each situation as it arises. Awareness doesn't change anything, but it is the foundational change that changes everything. Sit still and become aware of sitting still. Center yourself sitting still in the present moment. Realize that sitting here, now, you are the center of the universe. Breathe in the truth of your being here, now, at the center of all things. Be aware of your breathing. Control your breathing by taking a slow, deep, breath in through your nose to the very bottom of your lungs. Watch as your diaphragm expands and your belly protrudes to allow that to happen. At full lung capacity, release your breath slowly to a full exhale, contracting your stomach to expel the air completely. Between breaths, pause for a slow count of five, and repeat this process five times. At the end of the last, sixth, breath, focus your awareness on your sitting and the space around you. You have distanced yourself from the world of normal, apparent, reality for the space of six breaths. This distance is the space required to observe the situation without attachment to the situation. detached awareness observes without investment/involvement/participation/ judgment/concern/caring/opinion/etc. Just watching. Just seeing. Just observing. Just breathing. That's all. For six breaths. Repeat this exercise as frequently as you are able throughout the day, each day, for the rest of your life. Just sit. Just breathe. Just be aware of the moment, sitting, breathing. You will be transforming the world. One breath at a time. You don't have to believe it. Just. Do. It.