Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Nothing Matters; Everything Matters

This life presents us with many difficulties and obstacles. As spiritual persons, not only are we deeply aware of the presence and nature of God, self, and others, but we also see deeply the suffering around us. In his book A Testament of Devotion, Thomas Kelly presents us with the paradox, “Nothing matters; everything matters.” The spiritual masters often make such observations. I believe that it is in these paradoxes that we find the fullness of truth. God is present in the midst of the tension. But what are we to make of it: Nothing matters; everything matters? First of all, nothing matters because we dwell within God. We are time blinded and world blinded as well. To become wholly obedient to God, we keep our eyes on the presence of God and see nothing else. Nothing else is important because we are blinded to all in our attention to God. In the light of God, nothing else matters. But then, of course, everything matters. God counts every hair on our heads; even a sparrow is found in God’s attention. The full scope of creation is precious and worthy of redemption. Nothing matters; everything matters. We live in both places. In this paradox, we can say that suffering doesn’t matter and that it does matter. Will we even notice suffering when we are transfixed on the presence of God? But then, with God, we grieve the suffering and evil in the world and ultimately work for the triumph of good. Someday, suffering will be obliterated, but not in this earthly life.

We are neither to seek out suffering for ourselves nor work to remove it. We can only prepare ourselves for the suffering that will come. Some live under the illusion that they can find security through money or armies or the correct diet or isolation. Even though we all know this kind of security to be ultimately unreliable, we still tend to bank on it. We are called to trust only in God. And we know by example, that God will not remove suffering – God will walk through it with us and redeem it. If we build our spiritual house on the rock of the light within, when the suffering comes, and it will come, we will find that we pass through it accompanied by the great strength of God. We are called to acknowledge suffering and work to make it holy. If we approach suffering with our sanctuary state of mind, the holy making is inevitable. Holy making of suffering means that some measure of redemption comes from it. As Kelly states, through suffering, the heart is stretched and enlarged. At some level, suffering becomes a gift.

Another gift of obedience to God is the gift of simplicity. When Kelly talks about simplicity, he is talking about the kind of simplicity that comes after complexity: after one has struggled through difficulties and complications, only to find that simple is better. This simplicity is the simplicity of trust and singleness of heart. It rests in the assurance that one has experienced the sorrows and suffering and survived and only because God has made it possible. It comes after what Kelly calls the adolescent stage of “religious busyness.” I think religious busyness can be external or internal. Sometimes we get very busy volunteering for this and that, even when we yearn to say no more often than not. Or sometimes we have raging internal debates about the correct road to take. After this internal busyness, when a person is focused and determined to do the right thing, then the debate and struggle is already over. The question is resolved. It doesn’t have to get complicated. It reminds me of the last time I was on jury duty. In the matter of this particular case, it seemed clear what was right: parents should not neglect or beat their children – very obvious. But by the time the lawyers got done arguing the case, nothing seemed certain. The waters were greatly muddied. What had seemed clear and obvious was complicated by technicalities and suspect arguments. For a bit, I was confused, but it didn’t take me long to go back to what I knew in my heart was right and wrong. It really was not that complicated no matter what the lawyers said. This is the simplicity that is beyond complexity. Most of life really isn’t that complicated, and when we try to make it so, maybe we’re trying to explain away our sin. At least I think that is true for me. The spiritual journey is like this. We may go through stages where nothing seems certain and we are confused about which way to turn. When it gets like this, I always look for what I am afraid of, because, deep down, I think I really do know which way to turn to move closer to God.

Kelly says that this simplicity is such a deep trust in God that one “walks with a smile into the dark.” This comes out of that great center of the soul, the focus and singleness of heart that results from the roaring flame of the light within. Life becomes guided by love alone. The simplified life need only strive to love. There is really nothing complicated about it.

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