Learning to let go of my beliefs, ideas, convictions, and throwing myself into space to see where I’d land has been one of my greatest teachers. Religious ideas and beliefs are not what save us, and holding on to them only confirm we have not yet stopped worshipping idols. I’ve come to the conclusion that when it comes to matters of the spirit; ideas, beliefs, and distractions are only idols. And I could be wrong. However, in my life, it is this that has made the symbolism of the cross so compelling. It is only when we suffer to the point of letting go of ideas, beliefs, and that which distracts us from what's at the heart of the spirit, that we can be fully present in God. If we hold on to our ideas, beliefs, and distractions; we’ll only look for reasons and excuses to explain away our predicament. Instead, it is in surrendering to the nothingness, to our powerlessness, and the emptiness in front of us that puts us in the position to let go of ourselves to God on God’s terms - and come face to face with ourselves on God’s terms.
This is the kind of bare, naked exposure the soul needs to grow, deepen, and mature. Without it, we are only sucking our thumbs and coming back for another fix of another idol.
It reminds me of the time my back went into the most awful spasms which produced blood curdling screams and the most incredible pain of my life. The only thing I eventually could do is move deep into my soul in surrender while in a spasm. It was the deepest place I’ve ever known…and God met me there. The pain was a thousand times worse than labor, or the excruciating pain of having to let the root of a tooth die because my husband, at the time, refused to pay for the dental work. The latter pain was so excruciating it caused me to vomit in the worst of it, and yet, these spasms were worlds worse.
Christianity, in the traditional sense, wasn’t messy enough for me. It was so ordered, so perfectly cropped that it made me squirm. I didn’t know how to be that predictable - and not one cell in my body wanted to be. It literally felt against my God given nature. It became most prevalent at women’s Bible studies when asked to fill in the blanks in the supplied study guide, and the leader read the answers in the back of the book to the most mundane (lame) questions possible. If they were developing the questions to reach a broader audience, they definitely alienated anyone with a brain. It was clear that people who preferred critical thinking were not on their radar or important to their marketing goals.
INSURRECTION, Peter Rollins - the story of the show, The Prisoner. “When we are ripped away from the political, social, and spiritual structures that define us, we are really being ripped away from that which we help sustain, that which is both a part of us and bears down on us. When we strike at it, we strike at ourselves.
This example was powerful for me, because it’s exactly what the journey is if we’re willing to truly follow the way. It’s not about what we believe that matters, it’s actually what we’re willing to let go of believing and being attached to.
It’s one of the junctions where Buddhism and Christianity meet, if truly meeting. Jesus asked his followers to let go of their preconceived ideas of reality, of limits and boundaries, of shoulds and should nots, of societal expectations and personal ideas of right and wrong. He asked followers to hate his mother, father, brothers, sisters…and his own life. If they don’t, they couldn’t be his disciple. He knew if they held on to the ideas from the past, their mind would not be free enough to absorb the new. He knew if everything they did was relative, and being compared and measured to the life they left behind, they wouldn’t have the full experience they needed. It has always reminded me of the adage referring to a boy becoming a man, “A boy must meet his father on the road and kill him.” Rollins points out that we see the same thing demonstrated on the Cross. We are witness to the separation of a son and his Father, as well as the leap into space that forces us to let go of our ideas and all that we know.
What we “believe” is what give us meaning through ideas, while who we belong to gives us meaning through relationships. Both of these attachments are severed on the cross.
Belief Systems and Paradigm Shifts.
When I stumbled upon the book called, Holistic Management, at the table in the entrance to the Elko Convention Center, I was certain it was something that might appeal to my intellectual curiosity and challenge my limited knowledge of how the world works. The word, holistic, appealed to my progressive side, while the Elko Convention Center’s Cowboy Poetry Gathering appealed to my newfound interest in all things of the American West. Finally, I thought, the two divergent sides of my personality shall meet.
What I found instead was a book dedicated to explaining how cows, who were widely known to have overgrazed and destroyed the nation’s public lands and stream banks, might be the solution to restoring them. I bought the book, and headed in my pick up with horse and horse trailer in tow for points further west. I spent the next three rainy months in northern California reading that book from cover to cover and back again. When spring sprung, I got back in my pickup and headed back to Idaho where I thought I wondered if I could make a difference. To my surprise, Idaho had unknowingly begun to feel more like home than the coffee shop lined streets of Napa and Sonoma. Change sometimes happens when we’re not looking.
I realized, at the time, that trying to convince environmentalists in urban areas that cows might be an answer to the nation’s environmental problems was a long shot, I couldn’t help but feel hopeful that there were answers to help resolve the conflicts that haunted people that lived in the open space of the West.
Change that happens when we’re not looking can look like the change in my preferences of state and lifestyle, or they can manifest as ideas we have about ourselves. In 2005 (check date), 70% of Americans said they believe in God. Yet, churches were getting emptier every year. Did people believe in God, but not religion? Or were American in denial? Did they like the idea that they believed in God, but in actuality, no longer experienced any real connection or lifestyle that demonstrated real faith?
This is what happened to me. Life took on a life of its own, and religion had, little by little, dissolved into the background. It was part of my scenery but only on a prop. There was no evidence of a Christian faith that anyone could see from the outside.
I lived with man who I was not married to, and had born a child out of wedlock three years before. I was also divorced. I was as unChristian looking as they come from the outside. The only solace I had in my Christian image was remembering Jesus’ words when the woman washed his feet with her tears, “He who has been forgiven much, loves much.” Even though Jesus always sounded like he was talking in double speak, his meaning is that someone who has screwed up a lot, has also needed to restore much, thereby learning through their own experience the real meaning of love and compassion through suffering and brokeness.
That said, my Christian image wasn’t nearly as important to me as my real experience of God in my life.
The trouble with being attached to the words written in the Bible, without allowing for shape shifting, if you will, is we will shut ourselves off to new understanding as we change and grow. If we are adamant that our current understanding is static - or absolute truth; - we won’t have the ability see what else it may have to teach us at another moment in time - or what we’ve missed.
This is what evolution is. The E word isn’t always all bad.