God With Us

Earlier this week, a man I had never met handed me one of those “Don’t wait until it’s too late on the highway to hell” tracts.  “This is for you,” he said, and quickly exited the campus where I am working this year in Guatemala.  He had been staying at our guesthouse.

Not a word of relational greeting, not a gesture of farewell, but, for him, an act of faithful mission accomplished, the first in a busy day ahead, I presume, in a foreign land.  Duty bound and driven.  I offered simple thanks and walked to my office, watching my emotions flicker between mild surprise, adrenalized offense, the dim glow of dormant anxiety, some reflective affirmation for a life of commitment and compassion for what seems to me a misguided purpose.

The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus have been touted for centuries as the defining events, the sin qua non of Christianity.  There is no denying their powerful drama.  And a million words have been used to amplify, to give religious meaning, to add utility and certainly worldly power to them, whatever anyone may or may not think regarding a greater divine purpose.

Where Christianity as it has overwhelmingly been known leaves the tracks for me is in blood sacrifice and redemption.  The history of our human enterprise of religion is rife with efforts to appease and manipulate the gods.  In this view of the crucifixion, Christianity finally trumps all with God swooping in and sweeping aside the rest.  Finished at last with every failed attempt of the imperfect priest, God sticks it to his own perfect incarnation.  At last, blood that is good enough to cover your sins and mine, if we just believe in time.  And watch out for that devil, stealthily tricking you into delay until it’s too late.

There is, I believe, a healthy alternative.

Come, oh come, Emmanuel.  God with us.  God dying with us.  The God in us willing to live, and if necessary die, alongside our suffering neighbor.

The distinctive call of the true Christian, the follower of Jesus, is the recognition, as with the Buddha, of suffering as the nature of our existence.  And when Christianity really gets it right, where Jesus really got it right, is in the commitment to engage, to join in the suffering of others as the doorway to transcendence for all concerned.  In that light, the crucifixion and resurrection stand as powerful metaphors.

I am reading Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad.  If you have read it, you will understand that I am waking at night with stark visions of unspeakable horrors inflicted on slaves to assure economic privilege and access to wanton depravity.  And I live this year in a country where hundreds of thousands of indigenous passed through and died in a similar hell for the same reasons as little as 30 years ago.  Last week ICE raided a dairy farm in Upstate New York, Syria used chemical weapons against its own and stories of atrocities surfaced from every corner of the globe.

There is no greater hell than the one created by human forces of fear, greed and power, served fresh daily to millions of the innocent on our planet Earth.  We need no other.  A tract of the Gospel, of all things.  It’s difficult to think of a more twisted profanity than scaring the suffering with hell in the name of Jesus.

The crucifixion of Jesus, the lynching of Black folk in America, the trafficking of women and children for depravity and profit, the bombing and burning of anyone to crush a perceived enemy with fear.  There is quite enough blood with far too little redemption.

God with us comes in the hands and feet of those who walk with the suffering in the face of fear, who accept the cross, the noose, the rape and castration, the bullet and blade of every human prince of darkness.  God with us is the resurrection of community in the face of oppression, the dance of kindness under the Tree of Life.

© Jerry S Kennell, Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

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Jerry Kennell provides spiritual direction in person and by Skype at Two Trees Center for Spiritual Development.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com or by phone or text to (970) 217-6078.  Click FOLLOW above to be notified of future posts.

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Submit Yourself

East, West, which way to look for that perfect spirituality?  Such a quandary for the comfortable with time and resources to spare.  No doubt my deep intentions are tilting the universe in a better direction, while in turn, that very same expanse is conspiring for my greatest good.  But somehow the rubble still gets deeper in Syria.  The thugs paid by the palm oil companies are still burning the houses of peasants in Colombia.  And the string of cars belching carbon, clawing their desperate way to the mountains in Estes Park, Colorado, extend the crack in the Antarctic ice sheet.

There are flies all over all of us.  What to do?  We can rage against the darkness.  It’s so easy to blame the stupidity of others for the burden we share.  We can wallow in despair, sighing our way to the next tomorrow and the next.  We can stick our heads in the sand.  If I am comfortable in this moment, why look beyond my bubble?  We can work ourselves to weariness with good deeds, shrug, and say we did our best.

But these alternatives share major flaws.  They are selfish and disconnected.  All focus on how I feel about myself in relation to the problem or to the rest of creation.  My anger at others exonerates me from personal complicity and, therefore, action.  And yet, especially as one of the world’s privileged, I take no step and breathe no breath without exhaustive and violent extraction from the Earth and all its creatures, including the bulk of humanity.

Despair, of course, is just completely irresponsible.  I can blame my inactivity on the impossible size of the task and the exhaustion I experience just thinking about it.  Focusing on my own comfort at least gives me pleasure and distraction.  But these two options also abdicate responsible participation.

And let’s be real.  My good deeds are never enough.  I can never run fast enough or jump high enough to save the planet on my own.  And the conclusion that at least I tried is just another form of despair, with the gold star of performance pasted on it to relieve my guilt with a little smug pride.

The root error of all these responses is that they focus on me, as though my feelings are what matter, or as though the outcomes of creation are somehow, in a very special and important way, on my shoulders.  And when I am focused on me, I am too distracted to be truly useful.

I opened with a less than subtle dig at the spirituality of intention.  Perhaps that is unfair.  Focusing our intentions for good can, it seems, shift energy with positive outcomes in ways that we can observe, if not yet comprehend.  As Masaru Emoto documents in his Messages from Water and the Universe, even a positive word pasted on a glass of water can yield a response of astounding beauty in ice crystals formed from that water.  Perhaps on a given evening we could effect positive change if millions focused their intentions completely on the healing of our president.  And yet our New Years prayers for universal peace – offered annually all over the world – have yet to tip the balance decisively.  Who can say, of course, that they have not at least held us back from the brink of destruction.

What we miss in all of this is that we are not, indeed, ourselves.  Nor are we just our intentions.  We are intention embodied.  We (not just humans, but every particle and the energy that binds it into being) are the hands and feet of Creation.  Our intelligence, while seemingly vast from where we stand, is just a speck of something grand beyond imagination.  Whether we look big and far to the stars and galaxies or small to the mysterious behavior of the Higgs Boson, we learn that everything is always more and different than we think.  Our book of physics is never more than a scratchpad of notes in the library of what we vainly imagine to be the universe.

We are intention embodied,  We act within the capabilities and limitations of our embodiment.  Granted, that is a statement of blind faith.  But what is more blind than the borders of what we think is real?  I choose – I invite you to choose – faith that the wonder of all we don’t know is expressing itself continually into the void.  And we are part of that expression.

I propose active submission to that greater intention.  We can engage the gorgeous paradox of acting, in complete rest, into that intention.  There is direction available to us for action.  We connect with it when we, as Gerald May has put it so well, eschew willfulness and embrace willingness.

When we submit (read “allow connection of”) ourselves, all our intentions and all our actions, with confidence to Creation/Spirit/Mind/Source (read words I use for God), we move forward, acting with compassion from a position of expectation, the joy and surprise of creation.  We are not exhausted.  We do not despair, nor do we fear or avoid walking forward.

We cannot know.  We do not need to know.  Our satisfaction comes in submitting ourselves and all our gifts to the intelligent Whole, being and acting rather than owning and resisting.

Exhaustion and despair are the net of our selfish frenzy under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Rest and compassionate action join as one for health and wholeness under the Tree of Life.  Come with me, dear one, to the place of wonder and deep satisfaction.

© Jerry S Kennell, Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.

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Jerry Kennell provides spiritual direction in person and by Skype at Two Trees Center for Spiritual Development.  Contact jerry@2treegarden.com or by phone or text to (970) 217-6078.  Click FOLLOW above to be notified of future posts.