Yesterday I had my own Fourth and Walnut experience. It was utterly banal, and all the more real for that.
Walking down the street in Kingston, I became aware that I was surrounded by holiness. All the people walking past me on the street, people as ordinary as any you’ve ever seen, people weighed down with care, pissed off, joyfully humming, people who may never have heard about God or Jesus or mystical union–all were as deeply immersed in holiness as they could be. And I was, too. In the face of such perfectly ordinary holiness, all I could do was walk down the street. An alleluia was not only unnecessary but would, in fact, have tarnished the simple and primitive fact of the holiness and wholeness of all that is.
Perhaps the most striking part of this experience is that there was no flashing light, no overwhelming tears, no joy or terror or awe. It was simple, unadorned, given, realness itself revealed.
Lately it seems as if my spiritual life, which is to say my life, has been turned upside down. The pillars that have held that life in place seem to be crumbling at their base, and the whole structure threatens collapse. The containers that have provided the space for my life in God to unfold–the liturgy, the scriptures, the monastic rhythm, images of God–seem more and more insufficient to the task of creating space for that unfolding to continue. Meanwhile, my relationship with God is as rich and as sweet–richer and sweeter, even–as it has ever been.
I realize, even amid the chaos, that at some point the structures that invite us into life with God must be destroyed for that same life to deepen. As the Buddhist saying goes, “if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” Structures and rules are helpful tools to the life with God, but they are not ends in themselves. Too often these same structures become a shorthand that exempts us from living with integrity and purpose. These rules and structures can also become idols, forms that domesticate the living God, who is fire and hurricane as much as the peaceful calm after the storm. If, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, we desire to be the true I before the true Thou, familiar habits, rules, structures, images, and language will eventually reveal their own insufficiency.
A friend recently sent me this quotation from Urban Holmes III on obscenity:
One commonplace access to the chthonic powers of the earth is obscenity. It literally means what does not fit. A trivialization of the obscene is the dirty joke, whose humor is built on the incongruous and is the obverse of our fear of the dark mysteries of life associated, particularly, with the orifices of the body. With all its love for decency and order, perhaps because of it, there is sometimes an irrepressible delight in Anglicanism for the obscene. Is it possible that obscenity taps an energy for mystical union?
The chaos of crumbling structures and certainties about who I am and who God is is perhaps the threshold of the obscene, the gateway into the dark mysteries of life. My intuition tells me that my consenting even to the dismantling of much I have known to be true is also a consenting to be further stripped of what would weigh me down on my path to the heart of God. This “yes” is also a yes to riding the stormy waves into the darkness of the I AM, where everything is holy and nothing is obscene, and where silence is the only response necessary.
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