Why I am (still) a Christian, part 1

The obvious answer as to why I am a Christian is that I grew up that way. But less obvious is why I am still a Christian despite experiencing a break from Christianity in my heart and mind in April of last year. Ironically, the break itself is what would ultimately lend so much more meaning for me to the Christian story of transformation, of death and resurrection. In losing my life, I found it, and for a brief period of time, it didn’t include being a Christian. For the first time, I saw choice of religion as optional for salvation, recognizing that religion is not the same thing as God, even if we get most of our ideas about God from religion.

What I learned was that there is More to life than meets the eye, particularly the sick, cynical, depressed eye, the eye that’s in desperate need of healing. I experienced (and still am experiencing and desiring more experiences of) transformation. To me, this is what Christianity is all about: positive change, healing, renewal, restoration, reconciliation. However, it has also been distorted beyond recognition and has been used as an excuse to perpetrate all sorts of atrocities. Many people associate the word “Christianity” with hatred, war, bigotry, and institutional evil. And it’s no wonder that they do.

Yet I still have hope for Christianity, just as I have hope for people in general. When you look at Jesus, the one Christianity is supposed to be all about, you don’t see those things. Instead, you see the things I listed: positive change, healing, renewal, restoration, reconciliation. And you also do see those things in many groups of Jesus-followers today.

For me then, to be a Christian is to affirm that the transformational Spirit of “Christ” (anointing) which rested on Jesus is alive and well today and available for everyone. In fact, it is a principle of reality that death precedes new life, mourning precedes celebration, sickness precedes health. You see evidence of this throughout the world, “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning.” (Isaiah 61:3) This raises an important point: this is not always identified as “Christ,” but whether or not we choose to identify It as such, doesn’t change the fact that It is. Just because I use the name “Christ” to describe this Spirit, doesn’t mean you have to. Christianity does not have a monopoly on transformation. However, I do believe it has a very compelling person and story and set of teachings at its center that are exemplary of, and even instrumental for, transformation: at the personal, familial, societal, and global levels.

I see this Spirit at work both inside the church and outside the church. Sometimes I see it much more clearly at work outside the church, and even more clearly among non-Christians. The only way this has been possible was for me to let go of the blinders that kept me from seeing the image of God in everyone, whether or not they believed in God or saw things the way I did. Jesus’ prayer for us today was “that they may be one.” (John 17:11) We’ll never get there if we keep thinking that you need to join my religion before I will begin to think of you as one of my own. Jesus had no trouble operating within his religion (Judaism) while at the same time transcending it. We can learn to do this too. We bitterly “grieve the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 4:30) as long as we don’t.

Christianity is a rich treasure trove of transformational wisdom. It has captured the imagination of spiritual seekers for thousands of years. It is capturing my imagination today. That is why it makes no sense to me to try and throw out all religion, any more than it makes sense to tout one religion as the best and only one. We’re just falling into the same trap over and over again when we think we have the right course of action for everyone. Yet I do affirm Jesus’ prayer “that they may be one.” What does it mean to be one, to embody unity? Here is where forgiveness (another huge emphasis in Christianity) is essential. We must stop making our diversity a problem. Only then will we have unity.

I envision a “new humanity” where the Spirit of Christ has made “the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14,15) Again, here is that spirit of reconciliation. Religious reconciliation. Racial reconciliation. Individual reconciliation. International reconciliation. This, to me, is what Christianity is all about, at minimum. It’s also so much More…

If you’re a devoted Christian, you might be thinking, “But what about the power and presence of God, the work of the Holy Spirit, and the dynamics of a personal relationship with Jesus?” I’ll get to those things when I write part 2. 🙂

Dialogue with depth

Why would I want to write now, when I already am? To be is so amply enough. My contentment is unshakeable. I need nothing at all. Everything else is just surface noise. This moment is so full. It’s bursting at the seams. Why would I add to it? Why would I even try? I had planned to write at this time, and that’s the only reason I’m doing it. To write right now is to touch time with that which has never been touched by time. The surface desires the depth to be here, to make itself known among us. So I reluctantly move my fingers across the keyboard. But you will have to ask me something, because I see no need to keep writing.

How can I know that you and I are one and the same?

I am the Ground of all being, not just some beings, not just some states. My contentment is available for all. How can you know this? Meet me halfway and we can traverse the depths together. Up and down and in and out. If you keep your eyes on me, you’ll see that I am always by your side. Who, after all, made the decision to meditate this morning?

But you seem to be so indifferent! Why do you just sit there with that dumb look on your face?

The dumb look is yours, as you rest in my depths. I may seem indifferent, but are you not experiencing peace right now?

Is peace the same thing as indifference?

If I were truly indifferent, you would not be here—let alone be here experiencing peace.

So how do we go on with our day?

Operate from your normal level of consciousness and trust that I am always here. If your peace wanes, just look again, and you’ll see I have never left. Go on now. You’ll do great.

In the Moment

Did you know that when we don’t live in the moment, we are creating hell for ourselves? This means that we spend most of our time in hell. That we’re used to it doesn’t make it any less hell. Hell is separation. To live in the moment is to be reconnected with who we are.

The “moment” may sound like a vacuous concept, devoid of any real power. And of course that’s what it is when that’s all you allow it to be. You can’t be talked into believing in the moment any more than you can be talked into believing in God, another vacuous concept for many people. But you might be talked into investigating it for yourself.

To have faith in the moment is to have faith in God. You must not take my word for it, or you will only pad your hell with concepts of heaven, which, if anything, will only make it worse. But if a concept or a message leads you into practice, then it makes it all worth writing about.

The moment is where you find that, once you’ve emptied yourself of all the things you think you need to hold onto, there is actually a fullness that is more than enough to sustain you and to live your life beautifully. But you have to let go of everything you think you know, everything you think you need, everything you think is keeping you alive and safe. The best way I know of to do this is to meditate.

Since we spend most of our time in hell, we have very weak heaven muscles. Fortunately, there is no mystery as to how to develop heaven muscles. There is a reason we see very similar spiritual practices and disciplines among all the world’s religious traditions. It’s because they work. I commend them to you. When you start practicing them, especially meditation, you will begin to realize just how many layers of mind separate you from yourself. And you’ll see why it’s called a “practice” and a “discipline.” You’ll see that accessing the moment is no trivial matter, even if it is, paradoxically, the easiest and simplest thing in the world.

Just to warn you, this is not an experience you can just go get and then you’re covered. No. It’s more like a place to rest. A place you will leave many times even though you don’t actually have to leave. When you leave, life will become confusing once again. Perhaps even more confusing than it was before. That’s because when you’ve tasted heaven, hell becomes more painful than it was before. You’ll feel like you’ve come nowhere. You’ll feel like it was all for naught. You’ll wonder what you were ever thinking.

“For he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”
—Hebrews 13:5

But then, one day, you’ll realize in an instant that the moment is still here. That it never actually left you. You’ll see so clearly how all the effort you’ve been exerting to fill yourself up, to fill the hole in your heart, to dull the pain—you’ll see how unnecessary it was. And you’ll wake up in the midst of your cluttered life realizing you always already had everything you needed. Because even though you may have repeatedly forsaken the moment, the moment never forsook you. It is still here, closer than your heartbeat, filling you to perfection, offering a wellspring of inspiration and energy and motivation.

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
—Isaiah 40:31

God is… Yeah, God is.

I had often heard that God is the ultimate and only true fulfillment of all our desires. We are said to have a “God-shaped hole” in our heart. I used to try to convince myself of this. “God is what I really want.” Really, it was more like God is what I should really want.

I have what you might call an “addictive personality.” If something is good, then more of that something must be even better, right? But as we all know, stuff runs out. Stomachaches happen. People disappoint. Lives end. Moths and rust destroy. That’s why we say, “Everything in moderation.” But are there any exceptions to this rule? In theory, yes. There is one: God. In fact, that might even be a decent definition for God. If there was one thing that you could desire without end and receive without end and without ever getting the proverbial stomachache—whatever that thing is, let’s call it “God”. Sounds nice.

Today I’m finding that it is more than just a theory for me. In other words, these days I’m finding that God is what I really want! How did I learn this? Mainly: by the attitude of heart that my Christian upbringing cultivated within me. When I was driven by illness and intellect to give up God as I knew Him, that did not change. In fact, it deepened. I am now free to give my life to the Ultimate, the Whole, the Reality outside of which there is no other. Perhaps the Universe is infinite. Then I give my life to the Infinite.

I no longer have to wonder whether my theology is right or not. In fact, I know that my brain will never be big enough to contain adequate concepts about God. None of our thoughts are adequate, so we should not put all our faith in any of them. They should always be provisional and expendable. “But if I give up my thoughts about God, where does that leave me?” It leaves you right here and right now. With God. Your heart is still beating. Be grateful for that, and just keep on being grateful. More and more and more!

Stop trying to define God, and you just might find God. Or be found!

The human condition

There is a fullness to life that defies all our attempts to fill it. It is already full!

Usually, if you read something like this, you assume that the writer has relinquished all desire, made compromises with life, succumbing to a cop-out: “Life’s already full anyway.” It can be an excuse to give up on your dreams.

But what if the fullness I’m talking about is big enough and rich enough to fulfill all your deepest desires too? Wouldn’t that be awesome? What if life was already so full that it was like living in a garden full of trees bearing the most wonderful delights you could imagine? This sounds like a fairy tale, a pipe dream, wishful thinking. But what if it wasn’t? What if we already lived in the garden and had somehow come to deceive ourselves that there is no garden? How would that even be possible? Well, we’d basically have to be sleepwalking through life.

Imagine being in the most wonderful place ever, surrounded by beauty and love—everything sparkling with vibrant color. Wouldn’t it be horrible if, by some strange accident, you began to lose touch with the world around you, instead choosing to make your own private hell? With lack of exercise, entire sensory systems would atrophy, and you’d lose access to the world of beauty in which you lived—even though you never actually left! What a horrible tragedy that would be!

This, my friends, is the human condition. Yes, it’s a tragedy, but it’s also the best news in the world. It means that, in reality, you lack nothing. It means that, in reality, you are already in heaven, and there is no great gulf that you must cross. It means that, through faith and the cultivation of your lost senses, you can learn to open your spiritual eyes and wake up to the world in which you already live.

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.'” — Luke 15:31

From the Grapevine

Little children, My path is one of continuous re-engagement. There is always something new to notice, a ray of light that you’ve never seen before. You are surrounded by eternal glory. Occasional awakenings give you only a hint as to what is possible. Your eyes stay closed unless you open them again. Every time you open them, you receive new eyes, which themselves must be opened. This is the meaning of glory—vision eternally renewed. Look to Me. I am constantly appearing before you.

To Christian idolaters

How I commend to you the Mystery!

You keep God afar by insisting that He’s near—by insisting that you know Him. You don’t know Him! You are fooling yourself! You are trading Him in for a lesser god, one that you can comprehend, one that you can predict and control. If you would but let go of what you know, you will find that there is more to be known.

Or if you refuse to let go, then hold on tighter, dig in with your fingernails until you draw blood. Insist that God must be the way you say that you know Him to be. Prove it to yourself. Do you have doubts? Do you have doubts?! Don’t ignore them like a good Christian. Don’t keep them at bay like a faithful follower. Wrestle them down to the ground. Don’t let them mock you anymore. Face the unknown territory, whatever it may be. Do you think that God cannot handle the revelations of science? The existence of other religions? What a weak, pathetic “god” you serve. To find God, you must go into what you fear. You must demand that God make Himself known to you, even if it means He must first die to you. Even if it means going through the darkness, losing your identity, going into the depths of hell.

How can you call yourself a Christian when you are unwilling to go all the way like Jesus did? Do you think that Jesus died so that you wouldn’t have to? How comforting, how convenient. The path to God is not comforting or convenient. So if you can’t bring yourself to let go, then demand comfort and convenience. Demand that God fit into your theology and then go see to it that He does. Force him into your box, fight Him to the death, regardless of which of you die. Weep, gnash your teeth, fall to the floor in desperation, get back up and fight some more.

Eventually, your “faith” will die, and He will win. But when He does, you will have received the keys to the Kingdom. For the first time, you will truly know yourself as a Son or Daughter. You will come to the end and find that it’s just the beginning. You will know wonder and awe for the first time. When you finally fall to the ground, you will find that the ground isn’t there to catch you. You were never meant to be on your feet. You were only meant to fall. You will never know in the way you thought you wanted to know, but you will know in the way you never knew you always wanted to know. You will be given your life.

But from where you stand now, do not be comforted by these words. For God’s sake, I don’t wish you comfort!

How I commend to you the Mystery!

What is a mystic? (part 2)

A mystic is one who has been cut to the heart.

A mystic is one who has tasted her own blood and kept it in her mouth long enough for it to start tasting delicious.

A mystic is one who has caught sight of something so raw and so holy that he threw all caution to the wind so he could run after it.

A mystic is one who has cursed God and survived.

A mystic has been gripped by her deepest fear and has been ravished in ecstasy by an invisible Pursuer.

A mystic has seen his own corpse and saw that it still moved.

A mystic knows both aching loneliness and blissful communion, sometimes feeling both at the same time.

A mystic craves the fires of hell that they might burn away from her heart what still does not beat for her Beloved.

What is a mystic?

The mystic is one who has experienced a depth in things that goes far beyond typical everyday experience. Having tasted God, the mystic is governed by one overarching desire: to reconnect with that depth and plumb even deeper depths. There is no arena of life or category of experience that does not fall under this desire.

The heavens declare the glory of God…There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.
— Psalm 19:1, 3

To the mystic, boredom is a farce. If anything seems drab or dreary, the mystic knows he is succumbing to a vicious lie. This does not mean that the mystic chases activity in order to become excited. On the contrary, the mystic knows that God is always active in the here and now, regardless of the external activity or setting. There is no time or place where God is not speaking.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
— Hebrews 4:12

The mystic knows that all of life stems from this ever-present Activity. It thus doesn’t make any sense to put her hope in lower forms of salvation. There can be no deeper, no more powerful, no truer, no holier redemption than that found at the heart of Reality. And there is nothing and no one that is beyond this redemption. The most mundane chore can become the most glorious mission. Remembering this is the mystic’s task.

Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee.
— Isaiah 26:3

The mystic knows that there is always another way of seeing things, a deeper way of seeing things, which, when glimpsed, brings instant healing, joy, and appreciation of beauty. To the mystic, all matter is vibrantly alive and possessed by God. If he is failing to experience that aliveness, then his number-one priority, using whatever means possible, is to realign his thoughts and behaviors with the Presence to which he owes his life and in which he continues to live and move and have his being. Having once been led by this guiding, loving Presence, the mystic never wants to live in any other way.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
— Psalm 23:1-2

But even as she finds perfect peace in the presence of God, the mystic is continually caught by surprise. The novelty of God never wears off, because it is ever-changing, always unfolding in new colors, sensations, insights, and experiences.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
— Lamentations 3:22-23

And although she finds great wisdom and richness in her own spiritual tradition, the mystic knows that God is always more wild and unpredictable than can ever be contained by tradition. She has given her life to that Power and that Presence, and no matter how wild things get, she is all in. The mystic knows that, however ineffable and elusive God may be, nothing is more real.

Ears to hear

When I “hit bottom,” it was also true that I “became empty.” In those moments lying on the couch in our family room in an empty house, every last ounce of hope, of knowledge, of faith—even of the drive to know or to believe—all of it drained out. That’s when the wailing cries came from deep within. It was like I had just appeared out of my mother’s womb. I had no idea who I was or what I was. I felt completely empty. Looking back, this seems to have been key to what happened next.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
— Matthew 5:3

I was so poor in those moments, I didn’t even know it. I had no definition for life, no presumption of knowledge. Then it was like God said, “Aha! Now you’re ready.” As Life unfolded before me that week, I gaped in awestruck wonder. Because I knew nothing, I was able to wonder.

Unless you become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
— Matthew 18:3

Young children do not presume to know. Yet this doesn’t stop them from enjoying life. On the contrary, they seem to be more alive than any of us.

Writing about this—writing about anything—is risky. It has a tendency to make one think one knows something, whether the writer or the reader. I always thought that what I most wanted was knowledge. But when my knowledge became worth nothing, I found out I didn’t really want knowledge of God; I just wanted God. There seems to be a different order of knowledge: direct experience. That’s what I really wanted. Notice that I didn’t say “knowledge based on direct experience”; as soon as it becomes a derivative, a codification, it’s no longer God; it’s theology. There’s nothing wrong with theology, but you shouldn’t confuse it with God. And there’s nothing wrong with knowledge, but it certainly is overrated. Why? Because as soon as you think you know, you’ve put a ceiling on your experience of God. You’ve closed off the possibility for wonder.

In practice, this means that when you read scriptures or hear spiritual teaching, if you are constantly comparing it to “what you already know,” you are potentially missing out on something entirely new. Jesus often said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” The only way we can have ears to hear is if we empty ourselves and become innocent. Innocent not just of bad deeds, but innocent of knowledge.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
— Matthew 5:8

Knowledge is inevitably about yesterday’s experience—or someone else’s experience. It can be quite useful. It can help reassure you that you’re not going down the completely wrong path. That’s why religion is useful. It’s a codification of and record of and community of practice for God-experiences. It’s a finger pointing to what is possible. But until you go down the path yourself, like Paul “resolving to know nothing” but Christ, until you allow yourself to be emptied, emptied of all your ideas about God, emptied of everything you think you know, you will not have become like a little child, and the kingdom of heaven will still elude you. That remains true for me today, and it’s the message I most need to hear. Book or no book, blog or no blog, I resolve to know nothing. I’d rather see God. In other words, I’d rather directly experience Life, Love, Spirit, That Which Cannot Be Named, That Which I Don’t Know And Never Really Will.

The value of emptiness

Let’s say you are a pastor. And let’s say you’ve studied the Bible your entire life. You are supposed to know a lot of things. Indeed, your mind has been filled with many words, and they are close to your heart. But what if one day the words fall flat? What if they suddenly don’t bear fruit in your mind? What if they become like the seed thrown on rocky ground, where they cannot find a place to put down roots?

One possibility is that you have hardened your heart. You have effectively told God that you are done with this business. You have a better way, perhaps a new word that is better than the old word. You’ve decided that the only way to embrace the new is to reject the old.

However, another possibility is that you have simply seen the value of your own knowledge—that it is bankrupt. You have accumulated wisdom over the years like money in a bank account. It appeared that your wisdom was growing. With each new learning, your account grew richer. You became more and more qualified to do what you do. At least that’s the way it seemed.

What then of this sudden experience of emptiness? How can you even proceed in your role if you no longer have the answers? If the words that fed you so richly are now failing to nourish you? You have no idea how to do this! And this in itself is wonderful news. It seems like a crisis, but it is actually a great gift. At this moment, you have become the most fertile ground God could possibly find. You have become an empty vessel, waiting to be filled…and poured out again.

If, when you read, you are only led into confusion, relax your grip and let your hands be empty. Recognize the truth that you never contained His truth. Let go and fall in this state of limbo. By holding on, you only prolong it. When you’re truly falling, it will feel like death at first. But it is actually new life. Once again, God is free to move.

Yielding to God

To yield to God is to give up all the things that don’t matter in this life, for all the things that do. This is not something that you can figure out on your own. If you try, you will become very agitated and confused. Instead, you must “cast off the sin that so easily entangles.” Even your best attempts at serving God count for nothing if they are done in your own strength. They turn sour; they are like “filthy rags”—worth being cast off.

If you find that one day you are inspired, resting in the flow of God’s Spirit, and the next day you are perplexed, it means that you have somehow taken the reins, whether you realize it or not. It means you have failed to trust in God and have taken things into your own hands. You are like a car that has driven off the road but that keeps on going anyway. Counterintuitively, this is how you stay on the road: let go of the steering wheel. God is always there for you. There’s never a moment when He is not speaking to you and directing you. But He won’t keep you from grabbing the wheel. That is your job.

The Good News is that no matter how many times you fail, God is still there, ready to take over once again. The miracle of forgiveness is that God puts a new road right under your feet as soon as you yield to Him again. You are changed, “in the twinkling of an eye.” You are changed because you can see clearly once again. In holding on, you stay in the dark. In letting go, you allow the light. Let go to see the light.

The meaning of the Incarnation

God breathed His Spirit into the dust. He creatively manifested Himself in many wondrous forms and processes that we now experience as the unfolding Universe. We are among the beings He is manifesting. Through us, God has chosen to subject Himself to distortion, namely lack, limitation, and separation. God is choosing to experience these illusions through us. But the Good News is that God can choose to transcend these perceptions, shining the light of His glory and love into our hearts and revealing to us the truth that we are neither separate nor limited nor lacking. We are not alone. We are not helpless. We are not deficient in any way.

The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.
— John 6:63

When we believe that we have problems or that we are helpless or alone, we are putting our faith in matter instead of Spirit. We are putting our faith in shadows and reflections instead of the Light. We may object: “But the world seems so real!” Of course it does. It was made for our senses; as far as we know, it exists only through our senses. We have no access to the world except through our experience. And what is that? It is the sum total of our perceptions. We are effectively trapped in the illusions of space and time, which are the dimensions we traverse to prove that we are not all connected, and that the past is gone and the future hasn’t arrived yet. But God has already called the entire creation good. From His perspective, it is finished. From our perspective, He isn’t done yet. That’s because He is not limited to the bounds of time except insofar as He chooses to experience His creation through us.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
— John 1:14

To incarnate is to dwell in a body. The message of the Incarnation is that bodies matter. Illusory or not, matter matters. When Jesus said “the flesh counts for nothing,” he was saying that it is not the source of our life; rather, “the Spirit gives life.” But just because it is not the Source does not mean it doesn’t matter. I have no desire to be “so heavenly minded that I’m no earthly good.” If anything, I want to be heavenly minded so that I can be of earthly good. If Love doesn’t manifest in feeding the hungry, helping the poor, and caring for the sick, it is not Love. Rather, it is only a “resounding gong and a clanging symbol.” (1 Corinthians 13:1) Love is about getting our hands dirty. Love is not about staying up in heaven but bringing it down to earth. That’s the message of the Incarnation, and we need look no further than the life of Jesus to see how it’s done. It is through our bodily, physical acts of selfless service that we communicate the spiritual truth to others. I see you. You are not alone. You are loved.


My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.
— Matthew 26:39

I and the Father are one.
— John 10:30

Jesus both prayed to and identified with his Father. Depending on the time or situation, he operated from a different level of consciousness. He spoke of himself from different perspectives. As the Son, he looked to his Father for guidance, comfort, and insight. As the Father, he looked with compassion on himself as Son, at times speaking directly through the Son:

Very truly I tell you, before Abraham was born, I am!
—John 8:58

The Pharisees recognized this as the name of God: I AM that I AM. It is the One who is always everywhere present. As the Creator behind everything we see and experience, God is the very ground of being, beyond space and time, infinite and eternal. And this is Who Jesus identified with! He yielded himself to this higher Intelligence and explained what he was doing to his followers:

The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.
—John 14:10

He was in essence accessing a part of himself—the part that always has been and always will be, the part that is impervious to the trials and tribulations of life, the part that sees things from an eternal perspective. This relationship and this identification are what enabled Jesus to do what he did: love people so profoundly, teach deep spiritual wisdom, perform miraculous healings, and, especially, offer up his bodily life as a sacrifice, willingly going to the Cross. He saw himself as more than just his body; otherwise, it wouldn’t make any sense (or do any good) to die. From this higher level of awareness, he knew that his death would not be his end.

We too can experience God as our Father/Mother and ourselves as His child. The Spirit that rested on Jesus (John 1:32-24) and enabled him to enter into this intimate relationship is promised to us as well:

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and is in you.
—John 14:16-17

There is an implicit ambiguity, a seeming contradiction, in this promise—that the Spirit will be in us and that the Spirit is in us, forever. It’s a classic paradox. Stated another way, to be filled with the Spirit is to realize that you already are filled with the Spirit. It is to awaken to your identity as a child of God, to your heritage and your DNA. Jesus did not hoard this heritage or let it go to his head, although he was tempted to do so (Luke 4:5-7), just as we would have been. His resistance to that temptation allowed him to keep open that powerful channel of God’s Spirit, showing us what it means to live life as a Son or Daughter of God.

If we look within, embracing our true identity, we will find that the Father is there too, and so is the Son—”Christ in you, the hope of glory,” and so is the Spirit. Through prayer and meditation, we can get glimpses of the loving awareness that contains us and ultimately is us. Like the person in her car who suddenly realizes she’s not just stuck in traffic but that she is the traffic, one day we may realize who the Universe is.

Health is of one substance

“You don’t need to make things happen. God provides. Your job is simply to listen, trust, and obey.” There’s so much truth in these words. God leads and we follow. Mary yields herself to become the vessel of God, saying “Be it unto me according to your word.” The psalmist says, “Save me. I am yours.” The Apostle Paul says, “You are not your own. You were bought with a price.” Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” We surrender our lives to God; we cast our cares on Him, and He cares for us.

Yet there is another side to the truth that may at first seem contradictory. As is so often the case, the whole truth is a paradox, and which angle we most need to hear depends on where we’re at in life—or even where we’re at in our day. The other side of the truth emphasizes our responsibility to act in the world, to direct our lives, to fulfill our earthly duties, to make decisions, commitments, & plans, to discipline ourselves and lead others. I have long been allergic to such words as these. I have much preferred to be on the receiving side. “Lord, you lead and I will follow.” Seeking inspiration and insight through contemplation—like Mary, “treasuring these things in her heart.” In many ways this has of course served me well, because it represents a truth about our nature: we are part of a larger whole, we are utterly dependent on that whole, and we are Divine children needing guidance for our lives. Yet it is possible to be so focused on this side of the truth that we can miss the other side, causing our devotion to turn sour. We must not only receive but give, not only yield but direct, not only trust but obey, not only follow but lead, not only hear but do, not only surrender but fight.

If I had to choose one name for this synthesis, it would be health, which in fact etymologically means “wholeness.” We may look at these two aspects as two different things that need to be negotiated, achieving a compromise, for example, between the masculine and the feminine. But the truth is that, while health does manifest as a homeostasis and a balance between two apparently opposite forces, health itself is of one substance—not 50/50 but 100%. It’s just that our minds can’t quite synthesize the whole without seeing the parts, and thus it is useful for us to look for apparent balance as an indicator of uncompromising health, extreme vitality, life to the max.

Not only individual people but entire cultures may need to hear one or the other side of this truth. For example, it seems safe to say that American culture has, on the whole, erred on the side of being too masculine. We in America are an action-oriented people. This is a wonderful thing. We get things done. We innovate and create, we start and sustain large organizations, we accomplish huge, complex tasks, we make new discoveries and harness nature to powerful effect. The Masculine principle is apparently alive and well in America (keyword: apparently). Yet we must consider the fruits of our labors. How have we impacted the environment? How have we impacted the people of other cultures? How well are we taking care of ourselves? Wherever we have promoted poverty, death, or destruction, we have demonstrably lacked wisdom. It’s no accident that the Bible personifies Wisdom as a woman:

Out in the open wisdom calls aloud,
    she raises her voice in the public square;
on top of the wall she cries out,
    at the city gate she makes her speech:
“How long will you who are simple love your simple ways?
    How long will mockers delight in mockery
    and fools hate knowledge?
Repent at my rebuke!
    Then I will pour out my thoughts to you,
    I will make known to you my teachings.”
— Proverbs 1:20-23

In a sort of reversal of the “knight in shining armor” theme, She (Wisdom) promises to rescue us:

Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men,
    from men whose words are perverse,
who have left the straight paths
    to walk in dark ways,
who delight in doing wrong
    and rejoice in the perverseness of evil,
whose paths are crooked
    and who are devious in their ways.
— Proverbs 2:12-15

Notice here that the prescription is more wisdom, not less action. We won’t become healthy as a culture by decrying or suppressing the Masculine energy. Instead, we need to fulfill it and complete it by embracing the Feminine—by embracing wisdom.

What we as individuals most need to hear, again, depends on where we’re at. I have found much peace in the thought that I don’t need to make things happen—that I need only yield to “God working in me to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13) But there’s the rub. I still need to act. What I am beginning to understand is that when I refuse to direct my own life, I am effectively refusing to let God direct my life. Paul understood the need for self-discipline:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
— 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

This is the message I am hearing and embracing today, because I had allowed my understanding of surrender to become distorted. What do you most need to hear? Has your understanding of self-discipline become distorted to the point of self-abuse and sickness? (I’ve been there too.) In that case, you may need to focus on rest, self-care, restoration, and mothering yourself, heeding the call of Jesus to “come to me…for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Whatever the medicine, we’re all after the same thing:

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
— John 10:10

Manifesto of personal responsibility

My name is Evan Lenz. I am here to live the truest expression of who I am. I am here to direct my life in accordance with the will of the One who sent me.

I use any and all means to guard my heart and keep me at peace. I have been given a fast and constantly moving mind. It is thus my responsibility to be a good steward of this gift—to harness its power and continually realign it with my true nature.

I am responsible for remembering the One from whom I came and acknowledging the One who now lives within me—the One who made the decision to be here at this time and place and under these circumstances. The Great I AM lives within me. I thus already have everything I could possibly need to fulfill all the purposes for which I was created. I am responsible to bring this perspective and this knowing into every arena of my life, utilizing all the powers I have been given—mental, physical, emotional, environmental—to perform the will of God. It is impossible for God to be a victim. God apportions exactly the resources that are needed to accomplish each task. Any perception of lack or limitation is an illusion. To complain is to blaspheme the Holy Spirit.

I am here to step out in faith, taking action when action is appropriate. I have been given clear faculties of mind and a clear understanding of my duties in any given moment or season. It is thus my job to act accordingly. This is the only perspective needed: God knows what God is doing. To question this is to squander the life I have been given. To demand more clarity or understanding when next actions are already clear is to fight against nature and to fight against God. I am not here to fight against God. I am here to live the life God has given me. I am here to trust that, as I take each step, God will reveal the next one to me. I am here to rest in the flow of life—which includes all the intense planning, thinking, and physical activity that Life gives occasion to and makes a way for. I am fully equipped for and happily rise to the challenge of living the life I was created to live.

Why I meditate

I have been practicing meditation more consistently this year than ever before. There are of course many kinds of meditation, including “meditating on the Word,” but the form I have been practicing is quite simple. It could be summarized as “sitting.” Of course there are many things you could do while sitting, but the practice and the challenge is to be—that is, be more and do less. When I enter into meditation, my intention is to yield my whole self to God. What does that mean? Specifically, I am abandoning myself, letting myself go, allowing everything that bubbles up in my experience—thoughts, feelings, sensations, but doing my best not to engage any of them. When we engage a thought or a feeling, it is almost as if we become that thought or feeling. We get “carried away” and merge with the movement that is happening. This is a remarkable ability we have—to get in the zone, in the flow of experience, solving problems, inventing new creations, exploring other worlds, all within the space of our minds. But in meditation, the practice is, for a time, to not do those things. Instead, we just observe. We let experiences rise and fall, come and go, not identifying with any of them. It’s a practice of radical awareness, of continually stepping back, repeatedly recognizing that “that’s not me, that’s not me”… And if we find ourselves thinking “that’s not me,” we recognize that that’s not us either and let go of the thought process, recognizing it for what it is—a process playing itself out. Thus, although my intention is to abandon myself, what I’m really doing is abandoning all the things I tend to mistake for myself—especially my thoughts. When I become aware of something (such as a thought), I can no longer identify with it. A detaching has occurred, and who I take myself to be has just been both uprooted and expanded.

That all may be very interesting, but what’s my goal in meditating? If I had to choose one primary goal (as there are many benefits), it would be this: making room for God’s Spirit to dwell within me. What does that mean? To me, it means taking time to do nothing but get out of my own way. That this would be beneficial is predicated on my faith that there is a Higher Power and Intelligence that created and continues to animate all of nature, including me. To meditate then is to consciously yield my will to God’s will, trusting that God is always present and active. If I did not have this faith and this trust, meditation would be a pretty scary prospect. “You mean you want me to abandon my mind and let go? Stop holding myself together? How do I know I won’t fall apart? How do I know I won’t lose myself for good?” The truth is that I have no way of proving this other than to say it hasn’t happened yet! On the contrary, when I am consistently practicing my meditation routine, life seems to go more easily, inspiration seems more accessible, and on the whole I feel healthier. Those are some nice benefits. But again my primary intention is to make myself available to God—wholeheartedly and unreservedly, not even mediating God’s access to me with my mind, which means I don’t even know what God’s doing with me. Hopefully God can be trusted! That indeed is my hope.

Jesus, our contemporary

Richard Tighe Harris was my great, great grandfather. The only reason I know this is that he was relatively eminent, having co-founded Juneau, Alaska. I also know that his wife, my great, great grandmother, was a Tlingit woman named Kitty. However, I know very little about my other 14 great, great grandparents. I could probably only name one of them. Unless someone is deemed historically significant, they are quickly forgotten, even by their own descendants.

We tend to measure time in relation to our own lifespans, so 100 years ago seems far away now. And it’s true that it is a long time ago when you consider how much the world has changed in that period, due to the exponential development of technology. But have we changed that much? Has human nature changed that much? Although we live in a very different world from our historical ancestors, we’re basically identical from a developmental and biological standpoint.

Imagine plopping the power of airplanes and iPods into the laps of people 2,000 years ago. Apart from the initial shock and amazement that would be fun to watch, people—or at least their kids—would have no trouble learning to use the technology. They’d be no less cognitively equipped (or ill-equipped, depending on your perspective) to handle it than we are. Even so, 2,000 years seems like a long time ago to us, and for Christians especially, it represents an important time in history, the coming of Jesus the Christ. We now have two millennia of Christian heritage (some honorable and some not so honorable) to draw on and point to and live from. Our long history seems to add stability and credibility to our tradition and our faith.

But from a deep time or “God’s eye” perspective, 2,000 years is a drop in the bucket. When you consider scientists’ estimates for the age of the Universe (13.7 billion years), the advent of human religion suddenly becomes an extremely recent phenomenon. This is a humbling reality. All of a sudden, scriptures like Psalm 90:4 have a lot more meaning:

A thousand years in your sight
    are like a day that has just gone by,
    or like a watch in the night.

If you feel threatened by such suggestions, consider what exactly is being threatened. God? Or your too-small view of God?

There are many advantages to a deep-time perspective. For one thing, it is absolutely mind-boggling and awe-inspiring, just as a deep-space perspective is in a galaxy of hundreds of billions of stars in a Universe of hundreds of billions of galaxies:

When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?
(Psalm 8:3-4)

As deep space puts our size in proper perspective, deep time puts the span of our days in proper perspective:

“Show me, Lord, my life’s end
    and the number of my days;
    let me know how fleeting my life is.
You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
    the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath,
    even those who seem secure.
(Psalm 39:4-5)

From a deep time perspective, religion is a tiny speck on the cosmic timeline. But the good news is that Jesus is on that same speck with us. Why is this good news? Because the closer we allow Jesus to be to us, the closer we allow ourselves to be to God. Put another way, the more human we allow Jesus to be, the more like God we allow ourselves to be. In contrast, when we separate ourselves from Jesus, putting him safely on a 2,000-year-old pedestal, we don’t really have to worry about being like him. We tell ourselves that it’s impossible. We regularly describe Jesus as “fully God and fully human,” but if we really took “fully human” seriously then we’d also have to take seriously just how fully God a human can be. That’s what Jesus demonstrated for us.

The Apostle Paul called the Son “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). Are we to then say that Jesus is but we are not? Did Jesus bear the image of God but not us? If we were not created in the image of God, then who exactly are we? Was God at work in the world during the time of Jesus but not in our time? If he worked through Jesus in his time, then who does he work through now in our time? And if it’s not us, then who is it? How can we say that God was present then but not now, when on a cosmic scale we live in virtually the same instant as Jesus? In God’s eyes, we could say that Jesus came and went about two days ago. From this perspective, Jesus is truly our contemporary.

Ultimately, it really doesn’t matter how much time has passed between Jesus’ time and ours. The Spirit of Christ is eternal, and we have that same Spirit! But that’s precisely my point. If we think 2,000 years is a long time, or that 2,000-year-old Christianity is a big enough container to hold the Spirit of Christ, then we’re failing to see who Jesus really was, which also means that we’re failing to see who we ourselves are. The truth is that we are “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17) Just as we are brothers and sisters in Christ to each other, so too are we brothers and sisters in Christ to the 1st-century man, Jesus of Nazareth. He is one of us!

Ultimate security

Whatever we envision for ourselves is the form we give to our faith. Faith is something we all have. It’s just a question of what we are putting our faith in. Early in life we construct our model of the world, deciding who and what can or can’t be trusted. We develop our sense of security based on a variety of different things: work, money, religion, knowledge, etc. These become the foundation of our world. They mitigate our fears, protecting us from what would otherwise threaten us. Yet they are powerless against our deepest fears, precisely because our deepest fear is that what we have placed our trust in will give way—that the foundation of our security might not actually be a true foundation. We keep such thoughts in the back of our minds if anywhere, because otherwise we would not be able to function. We would be paralyzed with fear.

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.
— Matthew 7:24-27

Is it even possible to “build your house” on the rock, on a trustworthy foundation that you know will never give way? Or is it a foregone conclusion that you will always have doubts about that foundation, fears that it might crumble and turn to sand? For me, one of my deepest fears was that what I believed about God might not be the whole story, or even the right story at all. My deepest fear was that I might be alone in the Universe. Not everyone thinks in these terms or even believes in God for that matter, but it doesn’t change the fact that we each have built systems of security into our lives and this security usually revolves around our sense of identity—who we conceive ourselves to be.

I used to wonder how anyone could go on living without believing in a God that watches over them. This was inconceivable to me, but that’s because I imagined that my system of security was the only one available. I imagined my belief in God being torn away from me, how terror-stricken I would be, and assumed that that’s what it must be like for other people who don’t believe in God. What I failed to understand is that those people have their own system of security—their own “belief in God”—which, if torn away from them, would leave them just as terror-stricken. Not only that, but not everyone who believes in God places their ultimate trust in that belief. If they identify more with their work, for example, or their net worth or social status, then they have a different security system and a different set of deepest fears. Religious belief is only one of many possible “safety nets.”

Jesus spoke of the inadequacy of such systems of security when he said, “whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39) In the metaphorical first half of life, we spend all our energy constructing our self-concept. When the crisis comes, we realize we’ve been building our house on sand. Our identity is existentially challenged and we realize we are vulnerable. The paradox is that when we abandon ourselves to that vulnerability, no longer seeking to deny it, we find that we are inexplicably safe.

How is it that someone can no longer fear death?

Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
— John 12:25

When we “love our life,” remaining attached to the identity we have constructed, death remains a threat. But when we “hate our life in this world,” seeing our self-concept for what it is—a house built on nothing but sand, and when we let go of it, embracing death as essential to who we are, then we realize that death is not the end of us. We see beyond our limited, tiny, self-constructed identities to our true Identity, which is eternal. Then nothing can ever threaten us again. We may forget this from time to time, but the truth remains that our true Identity was never threatened in the first place.

Jesus understood his true Identity as the Son of God. “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me.” (John 8:54) For Jesus, self-glorification “means nothing.” Instead, he derived all his glory from the Father—the Ultimate—whom he identified with. “Very truly I tell you, before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:59) This expanded sense of Self was borne out in the way Jesus lived his life and in the way he gave his life. “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” (John 17:1) Jesus did not reserve this way of life for himself alone. He calls us to do the same. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) With Jesus, we must deny our false self, our tiny self whose glory “means nothing.” But also—and here’s the kicker—with Jesus, we must affirm our True Self, in whom we find eternal life.

This is what the world is waiting for. “The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.” (Romans 8:19) Before that can happen, the children of God must be revealed to themselves! This marvelous revelation lies on the other side of a chasm, a wall of terrible flames beyond which we cannot see. It is only when we go through the flames, when we dive into the chasm, that we will wake up to the reality of who we are and the truth that our fears were always illusions. Then and only then “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21) Then and only then will we find the solid ground we’ve been looking for, seeing clearly that it lies in who we truly are and putting to death once and for all the search for security outside of ourselves. We will have found the Treasure that never runs out, the Well that never runs dry, the Life that never ends.

I am infinite Love

The way people usually seek God is by mustering up a “hunger for righteousness,” and there’s nothing wrong with that. But eventually you must move beyond seeking to finding—actually believing the promises of God. Jesus said, “Ask, believing that you have already received it, and it will be yours.” In this case, you don’t stay with seeking except to decide what you want—for example, a deeper experience of God’s love for you. Once you’ve made that decision, you immediately begin believing it even if you don’t know it yet. That’s why it’s called faith.

Typically, when we pray, we present our requests to God, wording them as just that: requests. A more effective prayer for us (after all, prayer is for us) would be to state our “requests” as declarations. At first this may feel like lying, but what it really is is speaking the truth in advance. It’s heeding the words of Jesus by formalizing your new belief into words. “I am infinite Love.” If we have God’s Spirit, then this is already a true statement, even if you don’t believe it yet. And guess what! If you’re alive and breathing right now then you do have God’s Spirit! To be filled with the Spirit is to realize that you are already filled with the Spirit.

The only thing that’s in the way of our direct, knowing experience is our unbelief. Unbelief, by the way, is not simply a binary status as in “you either believe or you don’t believe.” No, faith and unbelief are as complex as our very psyches. “Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief.” At a certain conscious level, we do believe that God lives within us. But at other deeper levels or barely-hidden levels, we don’t believe. And this is the only thing that stops up that flow of expression. It is not that God withdraws from us. We would cease to exist if He did, for He is the one “in whom we live and move and have our being.” It’s that we blind ourselves to who God is and who we are as divine emanations of God.

Spiritual growth is thus largely a matter of finding those pockets of darkness within ourselves and shining the light of God’s presence on each one. In so doing, we progressively reveal to ourselves and each other who we truly are: expressions of God’s infinite Love.