I recently attended an ecumenical ministerial gathering (which means Christian clergy from different traditions) for fellowship and discussion. During our meal, we were discussing the reality that we live in a time in which fear is feeding shadows of discord. In these places of us/them, right/wrong, it can feel difficult to make space to listen to one another. It is only further complicated by the tone and tenor that those in political leadership model. When those we entrust to shepherd us, use words casually and divisively, we are quickly reminded that what we say literally affects us. Endeavouring to be awake in this context becomes both more challenging, as well as more important.
Awakening – in the context of spirituality – has many paths. There is no cookie cutter model. What works for one person may not work for another. The range of practices in which people have engaged in this faithful work are many. From mindfulness and meditation to physical labour and music, the options are inspiring and are certainly not mutually exclusive. Like a finely woven tapestry, the strands of each intertwine to reveal the beauty that shines within each of us. This is not easy work and there are no shortcuts. It is often said that the journey, not the destination, is the goal and it has been my experience that this certainly rings true when one commits to an intention to awaken.
One of the ways I have come to appreciate this inner work is through the story of Jacob and the Angel. This story, the struggle, for me signifies a few things: one is the reality that the Holy – sometimes called God, Creator, Mystery, the Universe – is relational. What this means for me is that though I can never claim to comprehend what God is, She is, nonetheless, deeply relatable. She can take our anger, our venting, our doubts and listen and hold us carefully, even if we are raging. To engage in this relationship, however, as the story of Jacob becoming Israel reveals, leaves us changed forever. Transformation or awakening is a difficult struggle. I believe it is one we all long to begin. Though we may want to, it is often easier not to because change is anxious making.
The other thing this story has always revealed to me relates back to the fear I discussed previously when gathered with my ministerial friends. Fear, though a false companion, is one that lulls us, tempts us, distracts us with confidence that is born from our ego. Being right becomes more important than listening. Not listening, allows us to seek out those echo chambers that repeat what fears wants to hear, though perhaps not what is healthy for us to listen.
Fear and listening, awakening and transformation are all part of a larger dance. A dance in which we, as a species, find ourselves sometimes stumbling. Here is where it gets complicated. For those who endeavour to awaken, one of the gauges or metrics in respect to transformation, is whether we are able to listen to those who are in fearful places.
In the Christian tradition, one of the metaphors of our task is to bear light in a shadowy world. We are called to sit with those who are lost, afraid, even angry, perhaps also dangerous. This task is not about being right and the Other being wrong – I believe it is more fundamental than those ego trappings I mentioned. I believe the awakened journey reveals an interconnexion to one another that reveals our interdependence. In this connectivity, my well being is directly connected to yours. I cannot fix you or claim to have an answer for the fears in which you might be dressed, but if we sit within one another long enough, it becomes clear that the struggle is not just mine, but ours.
Finally, this collective struggle further expands the story of Jacob and the Angel. On one level, it speaks to our individual wrestling with Creator. On another, as Israel, it is not just our collective struggle with God, but with one another. None of these divisions, I have come to realise, are real: they are illusions born in fear. Letting go of the illusions, however, is ultimately what the struggle invites us to do. It is not the goal of letting them go, however, that I would suggest is transformative. It is simply in the choosing and beginning to let go, that awakening dawns. In the Christian tradition, this is sometimes called Good News …