Last year I “met” a woman online through my adventures with Project Conversion. We’ll call her Jane. She is witty, extremely intelligent, enigmatic, and has a strange interest in my psychological development through Project Conversion.
She’s also in the middle of a brutal fight with cancer.
Though we’ve never met in person, we’ve never had a problem discussing the darker side of our respective struggles with one another. When she describes the torments of chemotherapy, I imagine the very same chemical solutions burning through my veins. When I share my spiritual and psychological roller coaster ride, she straps in.
Yet there is an understanding that no matter how well we articulate these sensations and emotions, neither one of us will ever fully understand the other.
Only shared experience can accomplish that.
Although many of you were with me during much of last year, there’s simply no way you could fully understand my final catharsis when you asked me to share it. This isn’t due to some deficiency on your part. It’s the same reason I could never fully understand Jane’s cancer. You see, we’ve earned our current selves through the economy of experience. If you haven’t had my experiences, then full understanding is impossible no matter how well I articulate my ideas or position.
This is why when I announced who I was, what I’d become, some folks were taken aback, shocked, and even disturbed. They tried to fit what I said within their own context. We cannot fit others into our own mold.
I think this is why so many of our religious leaders/founders often hesitated before initiating their public ministries. The Buddha wasn’t sure people would “get it” when he described something he nearly died attaining. I think this was one of the reasons Jesus ventured into the desert for 40 days. Not only did he have to come to grips with the gravity of who he was, he had to figure out how to convey this point to others.
Remember a time when you’ve experienced something indescribable. Did you tell someone about it? It made sense in your heart, but once you applied words, the meaning and beauty simply melted away. Your words simply fail. People come up with all sorts of off-center conclusions based on what you’ve said. This is why there are always schisms in any philosophical/religious system once the leader dies.
I should have taken those 40 days on January 1st. I should have walked into the desert the second Project Conversion ended, because not even I was prepared for what I realized that fateful day on the river. We need time to allow the revelations in our lives to settle before we share them with others.
That’s what happened for me during Lent. By surrendering this blog and all social media, I entered the deep quiet and faced my true self. When we abandon the peripheral noise of life, we are left with our naked thoughts–the image of our selves–and that can be scary.
How often do we instinctively reach for the radio once we enter our cars, the television remote in our homes, our Facebook or Twitter news feeds? We are hiding from the silence because we know damn well what’s in there.
I reached clarity for my aforementioned “revelation” this past Easter Sunday while attending my wife’s spiritual home, Vertical Church.
Services at Vertical are always intense. A live contemporary band led by my good friend and Worship Arts Pastor, Jon Lloyd set the tone with loud, passionate music. Next, Lead Pastor Mike Pittman delivered a message based on a vision of heaven in the Revelation of John. The culmination of the service was the baptisms. Many of the baptisms were scheduled before the service, however Pastor Mike also invited congregation members who recently confessed Christ as Lord to participate in “spontaneous baptism” on the spot. My visiting mother-in-law was one of them.
The audience and Vertical Band roared with song and applause during the entire process. I sat in the front row with my wife and her family only feet away from the baptismal pool. Every once in a while, a bead of water splashed on my shirt or leg when someone exited the pool.
That’s when I felt it.
“I hope you’re paying attention, son…”
I recognized that tactile voice immediately. It’s the voice of intuition, inspiration, Spirit, knowing. Everything slowed down within the thunderous praise and euphoria and I looked around. The music, the people emerging from the waters, the flowing tears, the breaking hearts, the silent prayers, the convicted souls, the mended lives…I felt them all in a rush of sensation that nearly overwhelmed me.
I could feel the faith of hundreds.
Then, the voice whispered softly within me for the last time that day.
“You are in this world, but you are not of it.”
The clarity was absolute. There, in that beautiful and intense Christian movement of faith and emotion, I was a drop of oil in the water of their faith. I was among them, but would never be a part of them–a drop of water in their sea. This is the same for any spiritual congregation I find myself in: inside, but never fully integrated.
I was a bitter enemy of faith for so long. The hatred, the contempt, the pain was utterly complete in those dark days of my life. Now, my daily struggle, the thorn in my side, is accepting that I will never be a drop of water. I will witness, support, magnify, grow, nourish, advise, challenge, defend, participate in, empathize with, and console the faith faith of others, but I am not permitted a faith of my own.
My religion is found in the joys and agony of others on their paths. I must help bear the crosses I once created for others. This is why I described myself as a mirror which reflects the faith and disposition of the one who approaches me. My ritual, my spirituality, my life’s duty is polishing that mirror until I simply vanish and magnify everything around me.
This is my earned dharma. This is the culmination of my journey. I don’t expect folks to understand or accept this because how could they? But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that we go on exploring, sharing, and participating in the great human economy of compassion and experience.