When men lack a sense of awe, there will be disaster.
One of my teacher/mentors once told me that I reminded him of Martin Luther, so in honor of him, the ninety-five theses, and this Easter time of year, I’m going to nail this piece of writing to the internet door.
It’s come to this time of renewal. As I sit writing I can hear the house finches and song sparrows singing in the Chinese elm in front of the house announcing their spring mating time has come. It has been unusually rainy and cold for months, so their cycle has been delayed. Two clownish finches have mounded an outsized nest on the beam over the porch I built a few years ago. The nest is tucked into a small cavity between the beam and the roof. Their straw debris is everywhere, salvaged from the dried waste from the sweet alyssum that grows around the yard. The finches act as if they’re frantic to get the nest built and move on to the business of mating, the urge to extend life in all its inexact complexity forward.
The Buddha once gave a sermon to an assembled multitude in which he wordlessly held a flower aloft. That was all. That’s all that is ever needed. Anyone who could was free to suddenly See. For my part I would hold aloft these finches, but because I don’t want to entrap them, I can only point in their direction.
Joseph Campbell once said that the goal of our spiritual quest, our “hero’s journey,” is to get to the point where we can just say “Yes!” to life. He told of watching a film of an African lion bringing down a gazelle and beginning to consume it, even as the gazelle still lived. Campbell’s message was that we needed to look at nature, at life, in all its complexity, say “Yes!” and move forward, embracing the totality and holding to awe.
The finch nest is right outside the front window. There was a nest built in the same exact spot last year. One day I watched out the window as a Stellar’s jay hung on the side of the beam, craned its neck around the top into the small cavity where the nest was, plucked an egg from the nest, glanced furtively around, then flew away. It was a shocking end to the dance, but the finches returned this year to sing, mate, and carry on with life.
I point to the finches.
I think Jesus was probably aware of the flower the Buddha held aloft and also observed the birds, maybe swallows, nesting in the desert cliffs. He said, “Look at the lilies of the field, neither do they toil nor do they sow….” He also said, “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to go to heaven.” I don’t think he was disparaging money, but instead was commenting on money’s inherent power to distract, to blind to the true nature of life. I’ve taught many rich kids, and I know that many of them existed in extreme pain. They could not sense the awe of life because they were too distracted by the multiplicity of their things.
If you were to rationally make a list of all Jesus’ attributes, especially as put forth in the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount and then take their opposite, you might come up with the portrait of an entity that you could call the anti-Christ. If you compared that negative list to known entities, you could quickly see that global corporations pretty much fit that description. Corporate leaders bow to the bottom line and feel that it is the arbiter of human destiny.
I once read where a state senator here in California said, “I love greed; it’s what makes the world go ‘round.” There is nothing in this posture that speaks to awe, that speaks to life, that speaks to the human need for love, compassion, and community. There is no sense of our attempt to embrace infinity. There is only the desire to embrace the infinity of greed.
Their way of life is extractive and does little to give back to the process of life itself, does not compost itself to bring forth new growth. It blinds itself to awe, to the mystery that moves through us all by gouging out its own eyes for profit, by strip mining its own consciousness. It has no eyes to see, no ears to hear. It simply makes excuses for its actions and its existence, then points to all its things, hoping we will be distracted. I cannot say “Yes” to this. It is not life. It is anti-Life, anti-Christ.
I point to the clownish finches, to Buddha’s flower, to Christ’s lily of the field.
In ancient China the emperors ruled by t’ien ming, the “Mandate of Heaven”. The ruler held a sacred responsibility to look after the welfare of his people and create a world wherein each person could work out their moral and spiritual destiny. If the emperor failed to do this, it was cause to rise up and remove him.
We are almost at the point where the devastation of our moral and spiritual landscape is so complete that our only spiritual destiny is to be a blind consumer of the remaining carcass. We have gone to sleep, rolled over, and allowed this to happen to our lives and Life itself.
Here is the ninety-sixth thesis. “Wake up, rise up!” Take back your life, take back Life. The bottom line is not Life, Life is the bottom line. Let rivers flow clearly. Let seas be abundant with fish. Let skies darken with thundering flights of life nurtured in the wetlands of our profound imagination. Take it back. It is the Mandate of Heaven.
Here is the flower. Say “Yes!” It’s yours, take it. We are almost dead and it’s time for our rebirth.