I am low today. I don’t understand things very well. I don’t understand people very well and because I am a people, I don’t understand myself. It means I can’t cary the burden. I can’t cary the burden of Being. I am no atlas. The lowering of the paralyzed man on the mat is more than a story of four friends doing the right thing. It is the story of how to go again. How to get moving again. How to get unstuck. I am stuck. Which is not very different than saying that I am afraid. Paralysis grows over a lifetime. The byproduct of an ego constantly exposed to the unknown—with its slithering, changing nature—with its ever rotating swords of flame. I close my eyes to it. I lay hand in hand with sleep and death. Fight or flight?… I chose neither. I chose paralysis. There is a viper far below what I know. In my lowness, I feel it—I freeze—I petrify. The world I cannot see is precipice and pit. Don’t move. But in that spirit world, in that divided kingdom, I am Lazarus entombed. I am the paralytic. I can not find my way into salvation—to healing—to moving again. I can not lift a finger. I hear the riot within. Who can bear up? How to get in when I can no longer move? I need the shipmates of Jonah, I need the hands of Mother, I need balaam’s donkey, I need that which listens to a voice I can no longer hear, I need that which carries me—flawed and flogged as I am—flawlessly, faithfully—to my destiny. My errors, my misses, draw me to the face of the Son of Man. A portal opens to the unknown. I am lowered down. I must go within. In humiliation. In trust I descend. Servants of Mother, donkey, body, nature, flesh, material, ship—your job is done. The viper must face the healer.
Why does the world say, “Where is your God?”
“My God is in heaven—the perfect place—his actions are always in alignment with his perfect will: to make his dwelling place and mine become one—which requires the borderlands and gates of his heavenly domain to expand; ever coming up against my earthly one. Where heaven meets earth—at this burning fissure, this ever-moving sword of flame, this ark of life, this pillar of stone, this burning bush, this cross on a hill— a battle rages, blood is shed, transformations are the rule. Transformations to continuously bring life out of death; to make the tyrant let go; to set the captive free; to shine light into the wilderness; to make safe paths out of the wasteland; peace out of conflict; perfection out of imperfection.”
“No,” the world says. “I cannot see that. I only trust in what I see.”
Yet, because compared to all there is to be seen, one sees almost nothing; then, necessarily, one is almost entirely blind. Therefore, what one sees...is only what one chooses to see. Those places he cannot see—those giant, universe-sized swathes of blindness—become merely gaps into which he deftly and arrogantly inserts himself in success and resentfully inserts others in failure. When one makes his own values—rationally—with his 4 bits per second of narrow thought and attention—he avoids the painful sacrifice of lowering himself in humility beneath every success and the equally painful sacrifice of elevating himself in responsibility for every failure. See what man does? He takes something, and creates with it, manipulates and endows it with meaning; imbues it with a value it never had on its own (and one can do this with almost anything). And he prefers to do this far, far from any burning bushes; far from any crosses on a hill.
Those who make their highest value (their idol) something of their own creation, by their own reason, their own human hands; and trust in it—they eventually become it; their idol. They become a parody of themselves—complete with eyes, hands, feet, noses and mouths; by all appearances—a successful human. Yet, a human who is rigid, unmoving and unmoved, unfeeling, blind, unable to utter a sound, unable to pay attention to Being itself.
The Cyclops is projecting, “No One is Killing me!”
The cyclops has only one eye, which gives him a shallow view of the world. From his point of view, everything is 2 dimensional; without depth. Without depth perception, it is difficult tell if what approaches is large or small; far or near; fast or slow. Because of this abnormal perception of the world, the cyclops inflates to a monstrous size and treats everything with same and equal force. If one can’t distinguish a mole hill from a mountain, then one solution is to grow to the size of a giant and stomp right through.
Distances are foreshortened, overreach is common, walking over the world is easier.
And to the monster with one eye, everyone else must see the world just like he does, because he sees them flattened like a Picasso.
But this is not reality. The world is infinitely complex, every problem with multiple sides. The valleys are far deeper, the mountains far taller, the reach far wider than the cyclops can discern. And, one day, in his lonely cave, feeding on human corpses, the penetrating light of truth finds him and blinds him. It sends him into a pitiful rage. And he screams; he thrashes and smashes. He screams that he is being attacked. He screams that he is being killed.
Now it is too late. He was told to let go; but he was too shallow to understand the truth, right in front of him.
And, now, in his blind rage, he can not even hear his own stupid, mistake. “Why,” he thinks, “does my family not help? Do they not hear me.”
Oh yes, they hear perfectly clear.
Because with each ridiculous claim, the cyclops projects to the world, that “no one” is attacking him.
“One day” it seemed my whole world was resentment, bitterness and contempt. That is to be in exile. That is the moment when suddenly you wake up to the fact that you are on a raging sea and the the captain of your ship says that it’s going down. You have been sailing away as quickly and as far as possible from your assigned task, anywhere but your destiny, and all of “what you should have been.” The lots are cast; and it turns out: fate is against you.
Whose fault is it, this storm, this foundering ship? It is the one who stopped listening—stopped paying attention to the wind. The one who knew what he was supposed to do and didn’t.
That person has to go. It’s the only way. That person must be tossed overboard.
And God provides a fish. A big fish. And down to the bottom you go.
Don’t be angry.
It’s not right to be angry.
It’s just how it is.
The one who needs redemption is also the one with the task to redeem.
The one who needs healing is also the one with the task to heal.
The one who is hungry is tasked to feed.
The one who is dying is tasked to save.
There is a strange overlay of patterns with Jesus’ view of those casting out demons in His name (in Matt. 7 and Mark 9), with the Cain and Abel story in Genesis 4. There is an arbitrariness with which the Lord views their sacrifice. He does not say exactly why one is accepted and one is not—but He can smell the difference.
Why are you angry? Why are you angry when your sacrifices in life are not accepted and your brothers’ are? “Lord, Lord! Didn’t we…blah, blah, blah.”
“If you are good, will you not be accepted?”
“But if you are not good, then the idea of sin and sin-offering will be a creature that crouches at your door and desires to own you. But you can rule it.”
It does not matter whether I think the fruit of my labour is acceptable, it matters what God smells when it burns —when what I bring is exposed to judgment of heat and fire.
Oddly, frighteningly, the most important part of my action is not the result that I see, but the result that I don’t see—not the fruit that I produce, but how it tastes when it is consumed. I may cast out demons in Jesus’ name and still be just as possessed—by “I”, by “My”, by my desires. My sacrifice may be burnt on the alter, and the essence of my heart detected and rejected.
To the degree that our lives are mundane, useless, slavish and spiteful; we are neither the hero of any story, nor the villain. We are mostly inconsequential. The NPC of a video game who says the same dumb sentence over and over, no matter how many times or under what circumstances he speaks. We are a flying monkey—entranced; following. A background zombie waiting for someone to wake us up.
It parallels the narrative function the Israelite nation serves in the Bible. Always getting trapped, lost, enslaved, becoming useless, turning into a parody of themselves, plugging back in to the matrix, sinking back into unconsciousness watching someone else’s life play out on a movie screen.
The mysterious plant at the end of the book of Jonah touches him literally—literarily. It connects to the fragile, fleeting nature of his own existence. The plant is Jonah’s fragile ego growing above his head—this plant he cares so much about. A distinction is being drawn between caring for this fragile I and true caring. My furious mental labor over the lava lamp, ameboid outgrowth of Me requires that I encapsulate and float away from my world and think about what I observe. It is a separate, alone, thinking kind of effort—a brooding, straining, selfish kind of caring. True caring—true effort and labor in God’s cosmos— is a connection; an intertwining of two broken things: my life and my world.
But all I want to do is sit and look at the world—at that great city of Nineveh—as an outside “objective” observer, and not burn while I do it. Yet there I sit in frustration and anger. My head burning. My flimsy, little structure can’t keep up with the heat and the sun. My own mental effort, my own thoughts even burn at the loss of the little relief I have for a moment—that little shade--at the “wrongness” of its leaving—at the exigency of the plant which was there when I woke up and disappeared while I slept.
What is the difference between zero and 153?
Zero is darkness. Zero is blindness and nothing. Zero is neither hot nor cold. Zero holds the keys to hell. If we see life as giving us nothing, zero, then we are giving Satan back the keys to the gates of hell; and he gladly opens his dominion in our lives, behind our back, beneath our blindness. We are Polyphemus crying, “Nothing is killing me!”
Jesus says, “You’ve got it all wrong.”
What happens beyond the horizon? We don’t know. Only the sun knows.
What is the purpose of life?
Jesus says, “Loving me is giving. Loving me gives purpose that eternally calls and eternally satisfies.”
The young get what they want—go where they want. Those are brief satisfactions. They end when the goal is attained. So, therefore, that goal, that frame, must constantly be replaced by another goal another frame. It is eternally unsatisfying. “I’m going to get fish.” Wrong goal. Wrong “why.” Wrong frame. Satan just can’t wait to see those empty nets.
I’m sure Peter would ever reflect; maybe even while hanging inverted on his cross; remembering his nets, full to the bursting with 153 fish, as he helped drag them to shore:
Others will always—eternally—be unsatisfied, eternally dirty, hungry, thirsty, sick, hurting, dying. I will help. I will cast my nets the right way and for the right goal. I will stop being young and become old. I will make myself sicker, hungrier, dirtier, and die, because I know better—Christ taught me better—because I know how to satisfy. I know, now, the goal set before me by Christ: ‘Feed my sheep.’
The lamb that willingly sacrifices himself—sacrifices his wants, his goals, exposes his vulnerability— feeds all sheep, and becomes a new, perfect lamb willing to walk to the alter again. It is living. It is sacrifice.
It is the Way, the journey, that satisfies.
“Where does your amazing strength come from to defeat the enemy?”
Samson replies, “Alright, alright. You keep nagging me and I keep telling little lies about myself, but here is the real truth. My strength lies in my hair.”
NO! WRONG! Samson’ strength was a gift from God. The hair was a gift—a symbol—gifted; given—but still just a material thing. Anything that is given comes from a source. Where the gift comes from—who the gift comes from—the “relationship” to the source—is what infuses it with power. And the source is what replenishes the gift with the power to defeat the enemy—as long as you remain mindful of—have a relationship with— the source. It is just the same with any relationship. The “gift of strength” does not reside in the thing itself. It is a terrible mistake to confuse symbols for the actual treasures—abstractions for the actual gifts, for power. To confuse this, is to disconnect, to shear, to “let a hand touch your head.” And when this disastrous mistake occurs; the symbol is gone, and with it, the gift. Delilah did not trick Samson. Samson was the one playing tricks. And like all tricksters, he relied on distraction, confusion, and lack of attention. Samson tricked himself. Samson betrayed God, and in doing so, betrayed himself. He became blind. Only when he grew the strength of character to talk to the Lord again and ask one last chance to change—to make things right—did he reveal his understanding of who his real enemy was. Samson is the one who had to go—to die. It is the last place anyone wants to look—it is dark, deep, lonely. It was in the filth, in the dust, in the dirt, at the bottom, in the belly of the beast, that he found what he needed most. When Samson finally discovered who was the true enemy, the true betrayer, he knew what to do. “And in his death he defeated more enemies than when ‘he’ was alive.”
I remember feeling like Dorothy waking up at the end of Oz, in her bed with her family surrounding her, for the first time with joy in her heart. The great lesson of “The Wizard of Oz” is not that the source of power resides in the ruby slippers (Dorothy had those on right from the start). The great lesson is that the power to get home springs from one’s deep understanding and admission after defeating the enemies within, that “there’s no place like home.”
Dorothy wakes up and says, “you were there, and you were there! And you! You were scared. You were stuck. And you were broken! And I was lost. But we found each other and went in search for answers—looking for a way back home. And we found that what we were looking for was right within us the whole time!”
And the joyful faces all around the bed of the just-waking child say, “Yes, Dorothy, we were so worried about you. We saw you running away from home. We saw the terrible storm coming. We knew you were at great risk of dying, but there was nothing we could do! And then you were badly hurt and fell asleep—It was as if you were dead.
But you woke up! You came back! And now, even though we were here all along, it’s as if we are seeing each for the first time!”
“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”