8 March 2017

The Spiritual Path: When “God” Becomes “Work” And “Love” and “Life”

When God Becomes Work And Life

We are in the midst of a great social upheaval, and social upheavals are always accompanied by two things, a great surge in creativity, and a period of profound spiritual awakening.

A spiritual life is not a luxury, a choice for those on the fringes of life. It has never been more necessary or important.

I'm reading a wonderful book called You Must Change Your Life, by Rachel Corbett, it is the story of the great creative relationship between the poet Rainer Maria Rilke and the sculptor Auguste Rodin In the book Corbett recounts a story told by Rodin about his reading The Imitation Of Christ, the fifteenth century guide to leading a spiritually fulfilled life.

Rodin said that each time he came across the word "God," he would replace it in his head with the word "sculpture."

It worked wonderfully for him, resulting in chapters of his own book with titles such as "We Must Walk Before Sculpture In Humility And Truth," and "To Despise the World and Serve Sculpture Is Sweet."

I was astonished to read this, as I took up this practice years ago, after the Rev. Billy Graham, who I was traveling with as a reporter, cautioned me to never speak poorly of my life. It might, he said, be listening.

More than a decade ago, and especially when I wrote a book inspired by Thomas Merton called "Running To The Mountain," I began every morning reading Merton's teachings and journals, and I always substituted "God" or "Christ" for "life" or "work."

Over time, this became automatic, and came to love my life and my work deeply and never complained about either. I believe that God, whatever version one chooses to believe in, if any, does live in my life and work and life, just as prayer does. In fact, my life is a prayer, my life is God. But I don't worship him in the same way the Bible tells me to.

This practice has greatly deepened my spiritual life and my own sense of worth. One of my favorite writings of Merton reminds us that "To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything he has given us….Every breath we draw is a gift of His love…"

When I read this writing on gratitude, I phrase it differently: "To be grateful is to recognize the love of life in everything I have been given. Every breath I draw is a gift."

He also wrote: For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience.  And that is what makes all of the difference."

I read this differently: "Life is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all of the difference." I often substitute "work" for life, and thus, my life and work become a prayer, and an affirmation. Since I believe God and prayer exist in everything, it seems natural to me to sanctify my life and work and also, my love.

This way, I can stay connected to his wonderful teachings without feeling false or distracted. Rodin learned to love his work in this way, and speak spiritually about it. That is my choice also, and this has always helped me create, even when the well sometimes seemed to run dry, or the world seemed to have left me behind.

Merton and I have always had a close relationship, but he was a devout Trappist Monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani, and I am a Jew-turned-Quaker still adrift in many spiritual ways. I know now that I will not land in a single faith or embrace a single dogma, yet I am powerfully drawn to a spiritually fulfilled life, and am getting closer all of the time.

This, I know, is a journey without end, hard and continuous work. The spirituality comes from the searching, not the final destination. There can be none.

We are in the midst of a great social upheaval, our country is torn apart in many ways, and it people are frightened and angry and worried about how it will all turn out. I do not accept that I must hate the people who disagree with me, or argue my beliefs.  Instead, I see a spiritually fulfilled life, just as Rodin did.

I tell my outraged and sometimes hysterical friends – on both sides – that this upheaval will be long and traumatic and bitter. People who drift into rage and argument for at least the next four  years will damage themselves and sacrifice their opportunity to live their lies fully and meaningfully.  It is not just that argument accomplishes nothing, it is that it will eventually consume the people who argue.

That will not be me. I will work to do good everywhere I can, but I will not give my life and spiritual work up to anger and fear.

To have a spiritually fulfilled life, I worship my wife, my life, my work. None of these things are arguments for other people to share.

if you wish to put a label on me, as so many people do, then ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or whether I am on the left or the right, ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the things I want to live for. That is my label, my identity, my purpose. Life and work and love are sacred, I will worship them as God.

Merton wrote that "love is true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone. We find it with God, and with another." And with our lives.

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