Unless You Are Not There

We are told that we have to balance our budget; whether in Washington or at home. On the other hand, we are also told to love your neighbor as yourself. Which self? The budget-balancing self? The self-preserving self? How many would risk safety to help others? Who would give all to the needy?

We are programmed to count our losses. We lock our cars during the day and our church doors at night. Even in giving to charities we wonder what percentage is spent on the administrative cost.

In the material world of limited resources almost all economic and political systems are built on the basis of competition, whether today or two thousand years ago. From childhood we are taught to compete and be successful. If we cannot get more, at least get a fair share. Even in biblical times, the workers in the vineyard ask for fair payment that is proportional to the time worked in the field. The logic of fairness operates in a world of scarcity or perceived scarcity. Counting is the tool of that logic. Abundance renders irrelevant that tool. Do we count the wild flowers in an open field?

How can I sit here and talk about abundance when millions of people are starving in Africa, Somalia last year, South Sudan this year?

But then how did the lord of the vineyard respond to workers’ complaint about unfairness? In what mind frame does one perceive the unfairness? Fairness is an issue constructed in our mind when we compare what we get with what others get.

So long as we live with the need to have more, the need to be right, and the need to be loved or be treated fairly, we participate in a game of competition in which we want to win, or at least not lose. The modern society does not enslave us, so we claim to be free. But we are enslaved by our own need to succeed, to be prosperous — indeed, to be free. We guard vigilantly our liberty to feed our needs. When we are too stuffed of ourselves, can we really be free? True freedom comes only when we can be free from ourselves.

At the Trappist Abbey in Lafeyette, OR, outside the meditation room is an area where a hanging on the wall frames a single sentence:

God’s love and joy are all around us, but he cannot visit you unless you are not there.’’

The obstacle is we ourselves. Who is our real self? Our capability to think, to feel and to sense are different dimensions of our consciousness. We measure them in binary terms, right, wrong, good, bad, hot, cold. Underneath them all is the inner awareness that has no dimension. If it did, it becomes binary. In the non-dual center there is emptiness. There is no counting to seven, or to eternity. It is now. The present. The Presence. As Thomas Merton has written, the center of our being is a point of nothingness that belongs to God.

Yeshua says: “Dwell in me as I dwell in you”. The living presence of that in-dwelling and our awareness of that presence are what makes the present unchanging. But we are often unaware of the silent presence because of the noise in our lives. Upon arrival at a rented cabin at McKenzie Bridge last summer in a gathering of three generations, we all went immediately to the river’s edge and were transfixed by the roaring rapids. It took a while to find the peace and hear the silent voice in the roaring river when human activities move to the background. That is how it is in our daily lives. Our need to succeed and to find pleasure, health, even virtue, let alone to avoid pain and failure, keeps us away from the awareness of that inner peace. What we really need is to be able to make the transition from the noisiness of our egoic self to the unitive silence within. That deeper reality is invariant, since the divine in-dwelling is not in our control. The practice of making the transition is a process, the outcome of which is not for us to evaluate. Evaluation of success or failure puts us back in the noise.

The inner self is not a place for us to find. It is an abiding state of being. If we set out on a project to find it, we are likely to refurbish our outer faculties in satisfying our needs for the project. All we can do is to disable those faculties, and have the trust that we will be visited by love and joy when we are not there. It is our mystical hope that the inner ground of nothingness springs forth with the abundance that we do not own.

“Abundance that we do not own”: that sounds theoretical or theological. Mystical hope is the kind of hope that is not tied to outcome. At a retreat with Cynthia Bourgeault many years ago, we sat across each other at a dinner table at a time when conversation was allowed. I said to her that I couldn’t understand hope that is not tied to outcome. She looked straight into my eyes and said, “That’s because you are trying to understand it with your egoic mind.” It went directly to the point and no further comment was necessary. “Mystical hope is a flow from the head to the heart.”

We all feel bad about the suffering in the world around us. But if it is a feeling in our ordinary awareness, it stays at that level and we may react with some action from that level. How can we let the world’s suffering enter deeper into our consciousness and become our suffering? To be able to allow that to happen is a gift. Jesus took upon that suffering to be his own and suffered for us. To let God enter our deeper self is to internalize that suffering. All that we can do is to not stand in the way and to let the emptiness in us be filled by God’s love. That domain is non-dual and dimensionless.

Jesus asked the Samaritan woman at the well for a drink. She could have given him some water and that would be the end of his thirst. But as the conversation went on, it became clear that it was really Jesus who was offering the woman a drink of living water. Are not the hungry people in South Sudan not only asking for food, but also offering us living food? To receive that offering we have to tear down our protective wall of questions in the mind about how (as the Samaritan woman asked), to expose our emptiness, and to ask for the living water that can fill us with abundance.

That well spring of living water nourishes our interior landscape where scarcity and abundance merge into a unitive wholeness, and where suffering and joy are fused by Divine Love.

O God, You love us before we knew you,
You suffered yet You visit us with joy,
You were thirsty, but offer us water.
Enter into our heart so that we may live,
Give us the abundance that we are not to own.

Not as the world gives, do you give.
What You give, You take not away,
For what is Yours is ours also if we are Yours.

Amen

** This blog post is offered by a long-time student of Cynthia’s who prefers to remain anonymous **

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