Recalling a Sermon on Contentment

I haven’t listened to many sermons in the last few years, but I did tonight. It was a simple message, but it helped me see some blind spots.

The preacher shared a quote from Voltaire. It basically said ‘God created man in his image and man has attempted to return the favor.’ What this means, is that we try to create a version of God in our mind that fits our life. If we value financial stability and providing for our family above everything, we twist God into this being that understands when we hoard our money and don’t give with open hands to the poor. If we value romantic relationships above everything, we twist God into this being that understands and welcomes our sexual sin.

The preacher said we should twist ourselves to align with God instead.

“There are things about Jesus that I don’t like,” the preacher said. “There are commands that Jesus makes that are hard for me. But we cannot twist Jesus into something we like. We must twist ourselves instead. Die to ourselves and learn to cling to Jesus more.”

He went on to say that Jesus was radical. Jesus didn’t know where he would eat the next day. Jesus didn’t know where he would sleep the next night. But he still relied on God. Because Jesus was radical, we should live radical lives too; giving our security away so our brothers and sisters can eat, abstaining from sexual immorality when the world promotes lust.

The preacher said the reason we are not content is because we don’t really believe that Jesus is enough to sustain us.

These are things I have been hearing in church circles for a long time, but they struck me tonight. Dying to myself is hard. Believing ‘Jesus is enough’ all the time is hard. But twisting God into my own image does not work.

Fly Away – a meditation

“One bright morning, when this life is over, I’ll fly away.”


I want you to notice how soft that line is; how light and divine. It’s like the sentence is angled into a crescendo somehow; like the end of the sentence is taking flight above the clouds.

Sing it over and over in your head. Get lost in the idea of flying away. Pick up and leave every heavy thing behind. I don’t have to name the heavy things. We all know what they are. We recite them again and again until the area between our brow wrinkles.

But letting go of every heavy thing sounds nice, doesn’t it? All those recitations suddenly forgotten completely. And instead, that line above replaces them. The morning is bright, the race is run, I’ll let go of everything and just fly. 

No need to overcomplicate things; just flight and a new perspective from on high. 

 

Asleep in a still pool of water

Asleep in a still pool of water;
the figure balances atop
without disturbing the
balance.

Even the thought of a ripple –
would rock the water awake,
the figure has cleared
his mind.

Can you feel its quietness?
The sound of an empty mind
falling out of consciousness,
neither asleep nor awake?

It is hard to imagine
the sound of the space
and moment between
the two worlds we know best.

A third place, where the figure
finds his mind’s rest, is not
a beginning or a destination,
question or answer.

It is rather a state
of such tremendous peace,
that it brings a foe like worry
to its knees.

The quest for a rich life

I talked to my friend today. He said that while he was in Africa a few weeks ago, he and his family went to a game reserve. He said that it was breathtaking. As he looked out the SUV’s window, while the convoy weaved down a dirt path, he had this desire to throw the door open and run out and be IN the reserve; grabbing clumps of grass with his bare hands.

But he couldn’t do that because lions roamed the reserve. He felt like there was all this beauty in front of him and he could only experience it from a distance.

We started talking. Man, isn’t that just life?

We all know that it could be so much better. We can see something great on the horizon, but no matter how far we run, it still seems farther away. All the ingredients are there for an amazing experience. An exciting color-filled-richness is just out of reach, a place where all our senses are overwhelmed by vibrance and wonder.

We get something else, don’t we? Something tame. Something, boring even. Something frustrating and exhausting instead.

Vibrant is replaced with bland.
Wonder is replaced with mundane.
Excitement is replaced with commitments and time constraints and bills and meetings and progress reports and paperwork.

It’s all available:

Vast oceans – check
Deep forests – check
Fragrant flowers – check
Mysterious wildlife – check
Whistling wind – check
Tall mountains – check
A body to climb – check
Lungs to breathe – check
Eyes that see beauty – check
Ears that hear – check
A nose that smells – check

It’s all there, yet we are stuck in little drywalled boxes – staring at computer screens.

It’s not just beauty were missing, we miss purpose and meaning and depth in our relationships.

Quality time is such a big deal for me. I want to spend every waking moment (almost) with the people I love. Heck, I want to spend moments with people I don’t know too, as long as they are interesting and challenging.

But I don’t get half the quality time that I would like. I sit in my room a lot and rifle through my contact list and call almost everybody. Mostly, people are spending time with their kids or going on double dates or having a night in or are working late. I get it. We are all busy. But that doesn’t change the fact that my heart wants to experience community so badly.

Meeting new people is challenging.

I play guitar at open mic nights and I meet other musicians. After I’ve waited the “appropriate” amount of time, I ask for their number and say we should hang out. I feel like I really connect with some folks, but I set up a date to hang out a week later and get completely blown off.

It’s like people are unwilling to expand their little circles. Circles that make them feel safe and like they’re in control. I heard a joke one time that said, “People talk about Jesus and his miracles. Walking on water. Turning water into wine. But they never talk about his most impressive miracle, having twelve close friends in his early 30s.” That joke got even more real as everyone in my ENTIRE life got married.

I have a desire to always be in community. This is not being fulfilled.
I have a desire to experience the beauty of nature everyday. This has not been fulfilled.
I have a desire to make music with cool people. Stuff gets in the way.
I have a desire to make a living off my writing. I’ve made about $50 so far.

It sounds like a lot of complaining and it may well be, but it’s also true. And it’s true for every single person that I meet. I have said this so many times. I walk around and I see no one who is content. I don’t see a single person who experiences the kind of peace that reverberates throughout a whole life.

I do see people who experience glimpses. I even see people who experience way more glimpses than the average.

I have to wonder, is contentment something that can truly be felt in this life? Or is life just a struggle to try and find tiny moments of clarity and peace.

How do we move forward?

I wish I had the most profound answer to this, but I might have to turn to a well known “Eastern” philosopher: Alan Watts.

He says that man only suffers when he takes seriously what is meant for fun.

He says that we don’t experience the present.

He says the meaning of life is to be alive, but what we do instead is try and achieve something beyond ourselves.

He says if you live for money, you waste your time.

He says faith is letting go.

He says Jesus Christ knew he was God so, wake up and know who you are.

He says If you are writing, then you are a writer.

He says take a deep breath and tell us something that will save us from ourselves.

He says tell us your deepest darkest secret.

He says plunge into change.

He says never pretend to love something you don’t feel.

*                *                 *

He says a whole lot of things on a whole lot of subjects and I’m glad for people like him. Reading those quotes actually really helped me. My take away from all of them is:

You are enough.

Just you. That’s it.

The quest is to find the richness in life:

  • Don’t take yourself or anyone else too seriously
  • The present is more powerful than your dark past or anxious future
  • You are enough; do what comes naturally
  • Waste money, not time
  • There is force bigger than you (call it what you like – God, reality, momentum, force, energy) understand the scale of that larger entity
  • Be the thing that you already know you are
  • Titles don’t just belong to the masters
  • What will the world lose without your voice?
  • Set someone free because of your vulnerability, we all seem to believe we are completely alone and you can look straight into someone’s eyes and say, “I am right here with you”
  • Change is inevitable, jump in with both feet
  • Do not follow false loves

I hope for a day when everything that is wrong will be made right. I hope for a day when all the sad things will come untrue. I hope we can experience the fullness we all know is out there but cannot seem to reach. I hope for complete contentment and peace. The kind of peace that surpasses all understanding.

I hope for a day when my friend and I can go to that reserve in Africa, jump out of the land rover and dig our hands into the beauty of that countryside and laugh about when all of it was out of our reach.

 

(This post is dedicated to Bevan Binder – a man filled with hope and wonder) 

Hold it in

 

Peace, for me, is this fleeting thing. Most of the time, it seems just out of my grasp, like a favorite something dangling right above where I can reach. There are times when I even hate the thought of it because it seems to mock me. I can see it on passerbys’ faces when they hold their significant others close and laugh about these universe secrets that I’ll never know about. ‘Why not me?’ I ask God or whoever is holding down the fort. He is usually pretty quiet and unassuming.

It’s funny though, because I seem to have caught a bit of it right now; peace that is. It feels so nice to wear peace like a christmas sweater – with all the dangling fuzzies rubbing up against my neck. It kind of tickles even. My whole body is missing this swirling, frantic feeling that I have normally – like I’m late to a very important appointment that will determine next year’s salary or something.

I don’t know how peace strikes you. My guess is that it is quite different for everybody. The way I experience it happens first in my chest. Normally, there is this big pretzel knot that squeezes and constricts my heart and other surrounding organs, but then peace comes like this massive set of hands and kneads the dough back to its original state – into a fine pasty, putty that could be molded into whatever I suppose.

That’s always the first step and right after, I can breathe better and more fully. Then peace does something to my eyes. There’s a cloudiness that covers my sight most of the time and after a while it grows thick and hazy – until I can hardly see anything at all. But peace comes and spritzes something like windex into them – only its organic, I think, because it only stings a little – and I can see farther and clearer. I can almost see the future and when you can see that far, you start to realize that, mostly, everything will be alright, and if it’s not going to be alright, then there’s something else in control that’s pulling the strings. Maybe that’s when I realize, whoever this stringpuller is, He or She or both, is more subtle than I thought and I kind of like the delicate nature of it all.

Lastly, Peace grabs a hold of my mind and massages it like when Bugs Bunny opened up Elmer Fudd’s head and played with his brain. Peace kind of rubs the creases and all this tension gets released.

Basically, once Peace has done what it wants, I realize the “big” worries in my life aren’t so big and there are only a few things that are important and I know their first names and get dinner with them a bunch. Oh, and my shoulders relax too, which is nice.

Promise

A friend of mine was praying. While he prayed, the word “marriage” came to him again and again. “But I am already married, Lord,” my friend said aloud. “What does this mean?” He continued to pray and then he heard a name come from God. He thought he must tell this person, but before he did, he prayed for two weeks to make sure he had heard correctly.

My friend came up to me in church. I had not seen him in a while.

“I’ve got something to tell you,” he said. “Something I heard from God.”

I was intrigued and admittedly a little nervous. I thought perhaps God wanted something big from me; to move to another country or become a missionary.

“God told me that you will be married,” my friend said to me.

I smiled and blinked as I stared blanky.

I have thought so many things since that moment. I’ve asked my friend if he heard the word “soon” or if another name was given. My friend smiled and said “no” to these things. This friend of mine is solid. He is a man of his word and has heard things from God before. This leads me to believe that he is not lying and that he did in fact hear something.

I am a worrier. I worry that I will die alone (it is my greatest fear). I worry that I am not stable enough for a marriage. I worry that I won’t be able to provide financial support. I worry about so many things: my lack of physical fitness, unstable mental health, struggles to start a career,  but I think I worry the most about never finding love.

So in the midst of all that worry and doubt came a promise from God:

You will be married.

I struggle with deep depression. Perhaps this is God’s way of saying “hold on.” I think he knows my greatest fear and speaks against it. “I got you, even in that dark place.”

I am glad for that knowledge. I am glad for the peace that comes from it. I am going to try and believe the promise God made to me and all the other promises he has made to all of us. I am going to try and leave worry behind and pick up hope instead. It is much lighter, I’m sure. 

For Sure

I constantly have to slow down and reset.

  • When I get really sad
  • When I become overly confident and emotional
  • When I take things too seriously

I always have to reset and when I do, I ask myself the same question:
What do you know for sure?

My faith is not bulletproof. My relationships aren’t either. Few things are.

I do know for sure that I enjoy driving late at night and contemplating. Thinking about whatever I feel is pressing and worth mulling over. For the same reason, I enjoy walking, deep in thought, after the sun has gone down.

There is something peaceful about the quiet of a December night and the feeling that everyone in the world is tucked away in their beds, but me. It isn’t so much that I feel powerful, but perhaps that I am experiencing a special moment designed for me centuries ago.

Frequently, I come to the conclusion that I can’t come to any conclusions. I struggle to define what really matters. However, the things I know for sure, center around ideas like: peace, contentment and tranquility. Quiet moments of clarity give me a glimpse of what is important and what is lasting. Those things, I want to hold on to forever.