Recently I listened to a podcast from The Commonwealth Club that truly captivated my mind and spirit. In this particular episode, Krista Tippett, the host of On Being was interviewed by Rev. Alan Jones. It was spectacular, so much so that I am on my second listen.
There are so many things that I am pondering about this episode, but the entire undercurrent for me is questioning who we are and where we are headed as a people. This has been on my mind already because I have been so deeply unhappy about our political situation at large. The program got me thinking further about which way I think we are headed.
One of the topics addressed by Tippett was the development of inner and outer lives, and how material wealth and poverty drive those lives – or don’t drive them. Of course, the cultivation of inner lives is not something truly valued in our American culture. I suppose that is why we value religiosity perhaps more than we value what the spirit of religion is about. When I think about where the word religion even comes from, things become even more mystifying to me. The root of the word religion, if you are wondering, was from binding or making an obligation, and became the understanding of monastic life. Of course, one might see monastic life (or religion) about being “bound” to rules. Truly, it should mean that we are bound to one another in love. Sadly, that is not the common understanding.
Anyway religiosity, as opposed to religion, can often get trapped in a lack of interior development because of a “binding” of sorts to rules, regulations, and a kind of loyalty that is cognitive, rather than from deep within. This distresses me greatly, although it is exactly what kept me away from religion for so many years.
Today I live very deeply in a religious setting, but that is not some blind assent, that I can promise you. I am engaged in daily grousing, complaining, railing against, questioning, and pestering God. Yes, I know the rules, and yes I endeavor to live by them, but am I successful at that? Not particularly. Talk about bristling, what the heck is success in a religious context anyway? Hellooooo – we follow a condemned man who was hung on a cross and surrendered to that. This behavior is not exactly art of any contemporary virtues.
So you see, this tension between the outer life – the gaining of knowledge leads to success, and if we are successful and continue to be, we gain more knowledge, but we also gain more power and more money. Who wants to go backward with that? (What would I know… On December 31, 2007 I spent my last full day as a Senior Vice President at a corporation, by December 8, 2008 I was a church secretary.) We are a forward marching people, full steam ahead to success and growth! Bigger, better, more, faster, and so forth.
This is not an assault on the exterior life, not at all. Work is meant to be good, success is as well, so is growth. But we put ourselves on this one way trajectory and there is nowhere to go but up. Thanks to Krista Tippett and this podcast, I’m thinking that the real issue is the overdevelopment of that exterior life at the expense of the interior life. These things become some fork in the road, and regrettably we often choose one without even considering the other.
All of this was on my heart as I read today’s Gospel from John. Jesus is busy assuring the disciples that he has a plan a place for everyone. The apostles who are always in need of assurance, are asking practical questions about spiritual matters. Where are you going? How will we know how to get there? In the end Jesus offers the assurance that he alone is the “the way and the truth and the life.” How much more clear could this be? Yet, 2000 years late, we are the contemporary disciples, unsure of what Jesus means, and even less sure about how to get there. And in the midst of this is of course the clear picture that we are to be bound to one another in love.
That brings me to something else discussed by Krista Tippett in the podcast – the topic of what love means. Love, as many of you already know, is not a feeling or emotion. It is not tingly, exciting, warm, fuzzy, or even very fun much of the time. Since we have domesticated love to some bizarre notion of romantic relationship between couples, we have long since lost touch with love as the force that drives life. Sure, we can say “God is love,” but how do we live that? (Don’t ask me, I have no clue, I just keep looking. Failing and looking and failing, and then looking again.)
That leaves me seeking the path to love, remembering that Jesus is the “way, truth, life” of it all. So where does that leave me? And how do I “get” wherever it is I am going? I have no clue, but my Camino Santiago memories provide me with the structure of getting up every day, no matter how poorly I felt, and getting up and getting out. As the Spanish poet Antonio Machado so beautifully wrote in “Campos de Castilla,” “there is no way, the way is made by walking.” Jesus is the way, and the only way for me is by walking with him. I’m never sure how to get there, or how far I will get, but I will make the way by walking and walking and walking.
Are you coming with me?