Isn’t it cute the way we walk around thinking we’re God? We move through our lives making everything in the image of our own likeness, deciding what’s right and wrong, how everything should subscribe to our own belief systems. We pick and choose and run toward some things and away from others. We tell ourselves our life is our own creation, that everything is in our own hands.
We all worship something, whether we want to admit that or not. We worship our careers or our bosses or our significant others. We worship our victimhood, at times. We worship alcohol. We worship travel and vacation. We grasp at things, looking for meaning, or hoping for an escape from being human.
We’re all just trying to move through this life, and we don’t realize how much our conceptions of how to live are holding us back from the actual experience of it.
I worry that if I say, put God at the center, you’ll write me off. I do not run in crowds of people who point their fingers and tell others what to do. I do not hang with people who think they have it all figured out. When I was younger, though, and had no faith, I very much thought I knew what decisions people should make, how they should be, what would make them perfect or better. I thought I knew it all. Without realizing it, I had been worshiping myself.
The more time I spend in prayer and meditation, the more I see how vast is the plateau of the universe I do not, and may never, know. Instead, through my prayers and devotion, through my sitting with, through my earnest exploration of my own life, I am left dumbstruck, jaw-dropped, amazed. That’s what it means to be humble. It does not mean that some overarching power stands over you with a pointed finger and fire, saying you are worth nothing and must be condemned except for these few pennies of grace. Instead, it means you walk into an ocean of the unknown, a vastness so wise and spacious and love-filled you can do nothing but open your mouth in ecstasy.
Living in devotion and prayer is better than sex. It’s better than art. It’s better than a good bottle of wine or a nice piece of chocolate. It’s better than taking a week-long trip to a beautiful city.
All of those things are good. But put the Infinite at the center of your life, and everything becomes an expression of that original beauty. A city is something you can fully enjoy. Sex is an expression of love, rather than a grasping for ecstasy or enlightenment or a balm to childhood wounds. Food and drink are merely a delightful way to keep yourself alive and enjoy the company of others.
So what does a life of spacious faith look like?
It may look different depending on who you are, or what phase of life you’re in. All I can speak to is what it’s like for me, right now.
I sit down two times a day (sometimes more, if I have the time), in what’s called heart-centering prayer. It’s a Christian mystical form of meditation, with the intention of surrender and union with God. I don’t have to make the sign of the cross or do any sort of elaborate ritual or read the Bible (though I sometimes do). I make myself comfortable. I open my hands on my knees and I relax my shoulders and close my eyes. The anchor to this practice is a sacred word that I repeat as I notice thoughts move through my mind. (My word is “surrender.”) I observe the thoughts without getting attached to them, and let them slither away like droplets of rain. When I notice myself getting attached and lost in a thought, a memory, or a daydream, I come back and inwardly repeat my sacred word.
This is a simple practice, but not easy. The most important attitude it requires is kindness. Because it is very hard to let go of thoughts in our minds. We may get frustrated with ourselves and decide not to even try. But we must treat ourselves the way we would a beloved child (or a dog, if you prefer), with love and patience, and keep up the practice.
Slowly, we begin to realize that thoughts are just thoughts, and they don’t constitute the actual substance of who we are.
You mean I’m just a person, one of many?
You mean I don’t have to figure everything out?
You mean it is not up to me to control people or convince them of anything?
You mean that deep down I am just a little child who wants her mommy and her daddy?
Letting go of our attachment to our thoughts, beliefs, concepts, and ideas can be a very scary thing. Because when we begin practicing that, there are times we think that we will die. We think that if we let go of these particular thoughts, narratives, beliefs, and concepts, there will be nothing left of us. Who am I, if I discover I want a different career path than the one I held onto since I was twenty? Who am I, if I adopt a different style of clothes? Who am I, if I am not a person mired in pain and wounds and a neurotic family history? Who am I, if I let go of the story I’ve been telling myself about how I got here and where I’m going and why I did those things? Who am I, if I move beyond a category or a label, a political affiliation?
What makes me different from anybody else?
Nothing, actually. What’s at the core of you is at the core of everyone, of all God’s belongings.
Isn’t that delicious?
Categories: spirituality and faith