“O, be some other name! What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.” –Juliet, Romeo and Juliet
I have fallen in love with Scripture. Fallen deeply, deeply in love. It is as though nothing else will do.
(Other things do do, however. I love poetry, and anything by Rilke. I just bought a book on Native American medicine and a worn copy of Romeo and Juliet.)
But here is what I love about Scripture. It rises up to meet you where you are. It is like an entity of itself, a soul, a breathing being, and it dances with you and takes your breath away and gives you breath again. I am hungry for these words.
I stayed far away from Scripture for a long time because people who I knew to be unfit were using it to destroy rather than give life. They were using it to condemn. Instead of surrendering to the vastness and beauty of the universe, of this essence we call God, of the spirit that moves through everything and informs the way we read, they used scripture to beat people over the head and tell them what to do. They acted, and still act, as though they are Gods, and they know all, and they suggest they have figured everything out, and Scripture is their handy rule-book.
Yet we all know that Scripture is the farthest thing from a rule-book. It is a collection of stories. Stories passed down from Mother to Mother, from Father to Father, from Child to Child, from Mother to Father, and so on, and so on, for generations.
I keep coming back to Rainer Maria Rilke. He is essential. If you don’t want to read the Bible, because it scares you—and I don’t blame you!—read Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. He’ll give you all you need to know to begin exploring your life. That book is a Scripture itself, and Rilke shares that he only carries two books with him on his journeys: a book of Jens Peter Jacobsen, and the Bible. So he’s a good resource for Love, in that he knows Love intimately, and not through a bunch of doctrinal statements. He lives and breathes love.
Rilke says if life is a room, most people learn to know only a corner of their room. And Henry David Thoreau says most men lead lives of quiet desperation.
Let’s take these two quotes, these two truths, together. And let’s tie Jesus in, because he’s so sweet and funny and, like, this magical love potion that he sprinkles wherever he goes.
What these guys are saying is that most people live not according to truth or love or holiness, but according to convention. And that’s the truth.
Most people are too afraid to explore the territory of their souls. Most people cling to wealth and jobs and “security,” which doesn’t exist. Seriously, people, security doesn’t exist. It’s just a false god, but we all long for it to be true. Life is life, and being wise is being aware that on any given day, you may have 20 more years of living, or 20 more minutes. You are not in control. No one is.
And so what most people do is buy in to what the world teaches us about how to live, what to do. It’s a friggin’ mess, if you haven’t figured that out already. I’ve been a teacher for many years, and I’ve also worked in a cubicle, and I’ve also been married, and I’ve also given birth three times, so I know a thing or two by this point. And the worldly ways are a mess, I can tell you that. What the major worldview teaches is that life is all about doing something now to get a return later. What the world teaches is that if you follow all its rules, you’ll be happy, eventually. Happiness, bliss, contentment, is for a later time. Right now, it’s all about sweating and being battered and bruised, but through that effort, the reward will supposedly come.
Instead of living in that backward way, we should be waking up each morning with a recognition of What do I have today? Where am I today? What will I do today? Am I going to live basing my life on some future that may not exist, some destination or longing that may never arrive? Or am I going to operate from a deep source within me that believes in kindness and compassion and love in the here and now and which is the only thing that is true?
We are so damaged by this belief that money is the essence of all things, that money is the essential ingredient to a fulfilling life, that we lose our heads and our hearts and our spirits and our souls and don’t know how to live. We hoard instead of spend.
So let me share with you a story of investment that has nothing to do with money, but has everything to do with God.
In this story, God is the man on the journey.
It comes from the book of Matthew, but let’s call Matthew Mary, just for shits and giggles, because there were a lot of women disciples, and we don’t know their names.
[The kingdom of heaven] will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
When the master on the journey comes back, he is pleased with the guys who gained more bags, but pretty pissed at the guy who was so terrified that he hid his money. The master is like, What the fuck. You wasted it. You squandered your life in fear. And now all these other guys created more and more richness and abundance and resources, and you just sat on your ass biting your nails. Get the hell out of here, asshole. Sit in the dark for a while. Figure out what you did wrong.
So the man who hoards and is full of fear and has no trust in his master ends up in the dark alone.
The ones who go out and invest and spread good cheer have more and more inner wealth (not necessarily money), and they honor their master, and there is rejoicing and dancing and celebrating. And this is not when you die, as Christians will have you believe. This is heaven on earth. This is the kingdom of God, not some capitalistic American destination. The kingdom of God is here and now, in this moment. It is the awareness of heaven and the glory of God within you, and it is an active living of abundance, sharing, investing in friendships and love and radical kindness (which shouldn’t be radical!), and seeing all the returns around you in every minute of every day. If everyone did this, like, seriously, would there be any hunger? Would there be homelessness?
We have all just been wired and taught to think that life is about hoarding our money, and we have little faith.
Jesus came to change all of that.
Not many know how to listen.