Living from fullness

Live from fullness. Recognize your absolute Self-sufficiency. You need nothing. You have absolutely everything you need. Life is not about fulfilling your needs, for all of them are already fulfilled. Life is about pouring out and expressing your fullness. To love is to live from fullness.

I’m not just talking in some theoretical sense. I’m talking about you, right now, wherever you’re sitting, whatever you’re doing, whoever you are. Right now, you have absolutely everything you need. There is no lack. You are not missing any pieces. There is nothing missing in this moment. There are no empty spaces, no places to fill, no imperfections to correct. You are wholly and completely full.

These words are useless unless you let them sink in. I don’t expect you to believe them fully. Treat them like a hypothesis. To what degree do they seem true to you? What evidence in your experience supports these claims?

It is easy to cite evidence to the contrary. But when we do, we’re missing the point. We’re missing the deeper truth of fullness. Because this truth does not depend on everything being “hunky-dory” in all the surface ways we can think of. It doesn’t depend on there being no pain or suffering in the world, no hunger or illness or heartache or violence or tragedy. The truth of fullness transcends all of these and lies at the heart of all of them. If you are offended by such a statement, good! It means there is still life in you. You see the ills of the world and you want to heal them. That impulse is an impulse of Love.

But guess what? Love flows from fullness. Love gives everything it has, because it needs nothing. It needs nothing, because it already has everything. It is already full. So even if you have trouble believing in the truth of fullness, can you see how belief in fullness could lead to love? How it’s a very practical thing for healing our world?

But this isn’t mere pragmatism. I don’t use the word “truth” lightly. It just turns out that the truth is quite practical. Life is quite functional, thank you very much. All we have to do is agree with Life. To align ourselves with it. To see whatever glimpses we can of the truth of fullness, of sufficiency, of provision, and then live out the truth we have seen. You can also live as if it were true, which itself can lead to seeing. In other words, you don’t have to wait for anything. You can start living the truth of fullness now, keeping your eyes open to seeing it yourself. Your life will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, but not just any self-fulfilling prophecy. It will be a true self-fulfilling prophecy.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
—2 Corinthians 12:9

Walking by faith

Faith is necessary, because we can’t always see. Faith is possible, because we have seen.

“Faith” is a word that has many meanings. As a Christian, I would mean different things by it at different times. For example, I might “have faith” that God will answer a particular prayer. This is like the faith that Jesus spoke of (“faith that can move mountains”). But most of the time, when I would refer to “my faith,” I was referring to my belief system. How strongly do I believe X, Y, and Z about God? How sure am I that those beliefs are true? So my “faith” equated to my belief system, and to strengthen that faith was to hold to those beliefs more confidently or assuredly—to have greater certainty that those beliefs were true. Conversely, to be less certain was to have a weaker faith. After all, Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (emphasis added)

When my beliefs were challenged and I began to seriously question whether they account for the whole story of Reality, it felt like my faith was being threatened. And of course it was, because whatever I meant by faith, even if it was a general trust in God, that God is good, or that Life is good, it was inextricably linked to my belief system. If what I believed about God turned out not to be true, then I would be facing hell itself. Life would be meaningless, and I would be hopeless and lost.

The thing is, that’s not actually true. The truth is deeper than that. The truth is not so easily codified into a belief system. The truth transcends belief systems and thus survives their demise. I had been believing this: If I am wrong about reality, then that means life is meaningless, and I am hopeless and lost. Yikes! That is a huge burden to put on one’s belief system. You’d better get it right! But what if life isn’t meaningless, even if I’m wrong about who God is? What if I still have hope and a home, even if I lose God as I’ve known Him? In other words, what if the image I’ve made of God is false, but God, and hope, and meaning, and purpose, will always survive even if my beliefs turn out to be wrong?

I can hear the objections already. Are you saying it doesn’t matter what I believe? Well, yes and no. What you believe is not intrinsically important, even though, extrinsically, it can be incredibly important. In other words, what you think about the nature of reality is not important in and of itself. After all, you could think one thing one day and another thing another day, but if you don’t speak it or share it or act on it, then it hardly matters what you believe. What you believe doesn’t make any more difference than the thousands of random thoughts that pass through your head each day. But how do your beliefs impact how you live? How do they shape your actions? That’s where beliefs start to matter.

If we are resistant to this idea, then it’s because we have been making an idol of our minds. This is part of the human condition. We feel an intense need to be in control, and one of the ways that we can feel most in control is by substituting reality with our conceptions of it. But if right thinking serves no other purpose than right thinking, it also serves no other god than itself.

Does this mean truth doesn’t matter? That you may as well throw in the towel instead of trying to find truth? That’s what your mind would have you think. It wants to be the arbiter of truth. “If I can’t be certain, nobody can!” But that’s just a tantrum, and it’s not true. You can know truth, even and especially if it doesn’t fit neatly into your mind.

There is a kind of knowing which does not depend on an external delivery of the truth, which you then must carefully evaluate. No, it is contact with the truth inside yourself. In a sense, you become the truth, which is then validated in manifold ways by the wisdom of the ages, the Scriptures of your tradition, and even the science of today. Jesus oriented to truth in this way when he said “I am…the truth.” (John 14:6, emphasis added) When God awakens inside you, even if only for a moment, your very own spiritual eyes are opened. This is what makes faith possible, and not merely “blind faith.” Very often we are told that following Jesus is not “blind faith,” because we also have reasons and rational arguments we can point to for doing so. But what really makes faith possible is not arguments. What really makes faith possible is spiritual sight. The Apostle Paul describes this kind of seeing in his second letter to the Corinthians:

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
—2 Corinthians 4:6, NIV

This kind of seeing does not come from rational deduction or rightly interpreting the Bible. No, it comes from direct revelation. There is a light that shines on our very hearts, the center of our being. Moreover, Paul tells us, it is “the light of…knowledge.”

Okay, so faith is made possible by spiritual seeing. But if we can see and know, why is faith even necessary? Ah, that has an easy answer. We don’t always see. In fact, we rarely do. That’s why Paul says shortly thereafter,

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
—2 Corinthians 4:18

In this case, “what is seen” is what we see with our unenlightened physical eyes. Paul himself was struck down with a vision of the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus. He had a profoundly life-changing mystical experience in which the eyes of his heart were opened to eternal dimensions of reality that we don’t see every day. But eventually he did return to everyday life, where he did not see as clearly as he did on that road. At that point he had a choice. Shall I “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7, KJV), willing myself to live in alignment with the truth that I’ve seen? Or shall I pretend it was a hallucination and go back to living the way I lived before?

When you are in the midst of a spiritual awakening, and you clearly see “God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ,” in the face of Creation, in the face of other people, then you can’t help but live in alignment with it, at least during those moments where you see it clearly. There is a sort of “choicelessness” that happens. You hardly need to exercise your will, because you are caught up in the love of God and you can’t help but become one with that love. You have absolutely no reason for doing otherwise, and it wouldn’t even occur to you to do so. Moreover, you think there’s no way you could ever forget this. You assume that your life has now changed for good.

But then life goes on and the glow begins to fade. You’re confronted once again with your old, habitual ways of behaving and seeing the world. Life takes on its normal dreary complexion again. You think, “What happened?” You weren’t expecting this. You seem to have forgotten what you saw when on the mountaintop. It’s dark here in the valley, and you begin to wonder whether you ever actually saw anything.

Enter faith. What a gift this is! You have a choice. To “walk by faith” is an act of the will. This is incredibly good news. You want to know why? Because it means you don’t have to wait for anything! You have the power to live the truth of what you have seen, starting right this very moment. As wonderful as the gifts of spiritual sight are, you can’t control when you will be given them. But you can control what you will do about it now. Here’s what I think the real role of faith is: transformation. Again, faith is an act of the will. “I will live in alignment with the truth that I have seen.” In so doing, your life will be transformed.

SPOILER ALERT. If that weren’t great enough news (you can be transformed, and therefore you can transform the world), wait until you see what tends to happen next: your eyes are opened again to newer and deeper truths! When you surrender to life being the way it is, and commit wholeheartedly to living the truth whatever happens and no matter how you feel, something magical happens. You increase your capacity to receive new spiritual experiences, insights, and awakenings. You may still not be in control of when these occur, but now you are in the position of a humble servant on whom Life is eager to bestow more blessings.

I don’t really know why this is the case, but it has been the experience of people throughout the ages. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8) One possibility is that, until our hearts are proportionately purified, we won’t be able to handle the revelation of God. It will be wasted on us. We’ll see the imminent dissolution of our identity as we’ve known it, and we’ll be too afraid. We’ll turn back. But if we have been “work[ing] out [our] salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), actively and deliberately dissolving our self in how we now relate to the world, we’ll gain confidence that it’s a trustworthy path to let go even more. It is safe to take up our cross. It is safe to die, one attachment at a time. When we have seen for ourselves that life keeps going on, even after we have let go of major parts of our self-image, we will be ready to see even more of the truth. Put another way, we’ll be blown away a little bit at a time.

So, what do you know about God? I don’t mean what have you heard about God? What do you know? What deepest truths have you directly known and experienced? Think back to the deepest spiritual experiences you have had, or if you don’t think of them as “spiritual,” just think back to the deepest knowing you have had. When did life seem most meaningful, or good, or beautiful? What truth lay behind that experience? What did you see?

Once you’ve gotten a glimpse of what it is, don’t stop there. We tend to wistfully pine for the experience we once had, the communion we once felt, and leave it at that. No, ask yourself some more questions. What would it mean to live in alignment with that truth? How am I failing to do that now? What needs to change? This is your opportunity to say “YES” to the truth of your experience, to take a stand for what you have once known and clearly seen. Few people are willing to do this. Few people are willing to take this kind of responsibility, assuming the power they already have to transform their lives by faith in action. Are you willing to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Eph. 4:1)? Are you ready to grow up and “no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves” (Eph. 4:14) of your shifting feelings and desires?

Because you have seen, will you now walk by faith, not by sight?

[Many thanks to Craig Hamilton, whose teaching has unlocked within me a greater appreciation of the role of faith, and a greater commitment to living the truth regardless of how I am feeling. I know the ideas in this article aren’t ultimately his or any one of ours, but he has been the one who has challenged me the most recently and successfully. The questions I ask at the end of this article are closely related to the model of transformation that he teaches.]

Ten guidelines for the reading of sacred texts

  1. Remember that they are human in origin.
  2. Remember that ultimately nothing is human in origin.
  3. Don’t too quickly play the “fallibility card.” It might be your own fallibility that is causing the discomfort, rather than the text’s.
  4. Don’t too quickly try to resolve the question of who is right or wrong. Welcome the tension of not knowing. Allow entire passages to remain a mystery to you.
  5. Extend reverence and an open ear to the text. Assume there is something for you to learn. Be innocent. Have a beginner’s mind. “Become like little children.”
  6. Take the stance that you are not there to resolve the text; the text is there to resolve you.
  7. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Wisdom at earlier stages of development is still wisdom. Don’t let the author’s flaws blind you from seeing the truth in their words.
  8. True words are words that convey the truth; they are not themselves the truth. For that reason, allow the words to speak to your heart and not merely get stuck in your mind.
  9. Allow a lack of understanding to remain indefinitely. Open your mind not only so that you may receive new understanding, but also so that you may practice keeping it open even when no understanding is forthcoming. Allow this frustrating tension to chip away at your habit of needing to be in control.
  10. At the same time, devote yourself to understanding whatever you possibly can, so that you can take responsibility for the truth you have seen, putting it into practice.

Unity in diversity

Religious exclusivism gives rise to a not-so-subtle form of polytheism. “Our God is better than your god.” No, you might say, it’s about which God is the real God. But don’t you see that the answer to that question must be none of them and all of them? The real God can never be adequately described or conveyed or captured by human language and tradition. The real God can never be simply equated to a particular culture’s version of God. Otherwise, we’d have to admit that God is a purely human creation. To be God, God must transcend all human custom and theology. Yes, some expressions more effectively reflect the Divine nature than others, but none of these expressions are comprehensive. Always more is needed, and no number of them will ever be enough. God must always be speaking, or God is as good as dead.

So… If we want to serve a graven image made to serve the purposes of a few, then let us vehemently declare that the outsiders are wrong, damned, mistaken, lost, and confused.

But if we want to serve God and free our own tradition’s expression to be all that it can be, let us humble ourselves, bowing before the Mystery, keeping our eyes open to the manifold ways in which God is always speaking, celebrating the diversity of all of God’s Creation, and welcoming the unity that naturally ensues when diversity is celebrated.

How good and pleasant it is
    when God’s people live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head,
    running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
    down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
    were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
    even life forevermore.
—Psalm 133

Spiritual algebra

Spirituality sometimes reminds me of math. When you resolve all the equations, there’s nothing left to do. There’s just identity, the one thing. All the parts have been resolved to the whole, and there’s nothing left to be said. Yet here I am writing, the mind keeps on going, and we keep yearning for truth because we haven’t yet received it in full measure. We don’t yet know the answer, so we’re driven to find out what it is.

But math seems pointless. If you already know where you’re going, what’s the point of going through the exercise? As soon as you start talking about it, you realize that “2+2” is just another way of saying 4, so why ever say “2+2” in the first place? Let alone some more complicated formula? I’ll have to leave it to the mathematicians to explain what the big draw is. But I suspect it has to do with something more than just finding the right answer. There’s something about the process of getting there that is intrinsically cherished. (Otherwise, why not just look at the back of the book for the answers whenever you can?)

My mind goes down the same road with regard to spirituality. We learn from those who have tasted Enlightenment that God is all there is. For a mind looking for complex, interesting answers, that’s potentially anti-climactic. Okay… so God is all there is. Great. I guess we’re done then. Let me go…umm…do nothing… because there’s nothing left to do. So much for that instinct inside me that told me I was on a mission. “Pssst, hey you, the answer’s already at the back of the book!” Whaaa?! I can’t believe you just spoiled it for me. Thanks a lot! Now what?

Maybe we can learn from the mathematician, who takes the stand that the process itself is good. Perhaps it is cause for celebration. What if God is not just “all there is” but that God is also unequivocally, absolutely, undeniably good? After all, if God needs absolutely nothing, why did He create the world? Why is there something rather than nothing? What is going on here? Yeah, you, I’m talking to you! Somehow, some way, this is where you are right now, reading these words. How did you get here? What exactly are you doing here? This isn’t rhetorical. Please tell me. Why do you exist?