So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:6-8)
Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation. (1 Peter:11,12)
I have to admit that I was terrified before I went into the monastery for that week, . I was terrified because I knew that when I came back I was not going to have any more excuses for how I lived in my inner world. Since 2005 I have been doing a lot of work on myself to cultivate compassion. In order to do that, I entertained a lot of thoughts that in the past I never permitted to take residence within me. These are thoughts like lust, envy, regret, excessive anger, justification, defense, etc. Now I know that some of you may be confused by this. You may even be wondering who I think I am to say that I didn’t struggle with these feelings. Well, I don’t know what to tell you. That has just been my experience.
I remember when I was a teenager and other boys my age started looking at porno magazines and movies. They were so excited to see the naked girls and I pretty much didn’t feel anything. They would say to me, “don’t you wish you could get with her?” and I would honestly respond that I didn’t know who she was or what type of person she was. Of course they would laugh and say that I was a homosexual. Then if anyone ever turned on a porno movie I would fall asleep. I don’t know why, but I would just shut down. After a while, I started thinking something was wrong with me. All the other boys were really into this and I just didn’t care at all. I ended up getting upset with myself for not feeling anything and literally grabbed a magazine and stared at it and prayed to God to fix me with tears in my eyes. But still I felt nothing. I started wondering if they were right about my sexuality.
This story raises three questions:
- What does my physical dysfunction have to do with God?
- Why do I think this is important to spiritual development?
- Why am I not embarrassed to tell this story?
Well the answer to the first question comes in that first Bible verse quoted above. It has been my experience that absence from the body truly is presence with God. Just ask anyone who meditates, surrenders fully in their prayers, or even works or plays with total mindfulness. It is a fact that when we are focused on these bodies then we are dwelling in a house of selfishness. I know that doesn’t sound good to many people, but I don’t know how else to say it. When I was a child I hardly ever gave my body a second thought. For whatever reasons, I did not identify myself with my body. To me that would have been the same as saying I was my clothes or I was my house. In fact, I used to wonder why I had to drag this thing around. It was like a lost puppy that went wherever I went and I didn’t know how to get rid of it.
When I try to explain this to people I rarely hear anyone responding that they can relate to what I am saying. Most of the time they try to diagnose me. They’ll tell me something about my obvious trauma as a child or any other number of things. I couldn’t prove it one way or the other and didn’t really care so I let people think whatever they wanted to think. Today, I would explain it as God’s grace. Now that I am mature enough to look back on my life and imagine what it would’ve been like if I did identify myself with my body, I have to admit that I would’ve been in serious trouble because as a person in the flesh, I am very weak.
If I felt the things that came toward my body when I was a child and young adult, I would be completely messed up by now. Just the racism alone would have completely distorted my worldview and limited the ways and the people through whom I can come to learn more about God and who we all are in God–which, by the way, is one of the only two reasons that I am here. Throughout my life I have had difficulty in certain “special relationships”…primarily because people were struggling in their efforts to figure me out. Ask some of the females who dated me and they will tell you how hard it can be to be with me. I readily admit it. In the beginning it is easy to be with me, because women can tell that they can trust me. They know that when I talk to them it is not because I have some kind of lust for their body. They feel safe with me so they start to open up. But this is only temporary. At some point, if they are in a relationship with me, they want me to lust over them. To do that, I have to actually be more into my own body than I would be into theirs. It’s true. People have it backwards. We don’t lust over people or things outside of ourselves because of those objects. We lust over them because of ourselves. Our only thoughts are how those people or objects can satisfy us. That’s the nature of lust.
So bringing this back to God. Well, my friends, God is Love. Love thinks about how it can serve–not about how it can be served. So as one of my uncles says, “To make a long story short”…whenever we are lusting after anything, we are absent from Love and consequently God. There is no way around it. I used the physical relationship as an example because I know that this type of attachment and lust is usually the one that most people can identify with. I was also inspired by the genius of Bernard Clairvaux who I’m still studying to use the Song of Songs (Solomon) which is the most sensual book in the Bible to explain our need for God. He talks a lot about reading the “Book of Our Own Experience” to tell whether something is true. I’m offering you the same.
For those of you who feel like you can’t relate to what I am saying about not identifying with my body, you have simply just forgotten. If you were ever a child for a moment you once knew what I am talking about. Watching my daughter, I now know for certain that the only thing abnormal about my experience is how long it lasted. We all knew what it is like to just live and not worry about all the material things of this world. We could enjoy life without being attached to it. Everyday I watch my kid get excited about what we would consider to be the smallest things. She is not yet concerned with boys and she sure as heck is not concerned with other people’s ideas of fashion or “normal” conduct. She’s free. We all were once and in God we still can be if we learn to let go of the lusts of the flesh. That pretty much covers Q 2 from above. Now to answer why I am not embarrassed to tell my silly porno story while talking about God at the same time. Well because absolutely everything that is belongs to God including me and my potentially embarrassing stories of which this is only one of many. If God wants to use it to serve others, then so be it.
I am not going to sit here and tell you that I am perfect as the world understands it. No, I am extremely far from it. But, I am convinced that when Jesus was reported to have said, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect,” he wasn’t playing a trick on us. So as Paul said, “let us go on to perfection”. Back when I said I was terrified about the monastery because I knew I wasn’t going to have anymore excuses about how I lived my inner life, I didn’t just mean for me. I have no more excuses for how I see myself or what I see in others. I also am going to hold everyone to the same standard.
One of my favorite verses from Paul that I’ve mentioned here before is:
“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Romans 1:20,21)
Like most people do when they are young, I used to think that everyone thought what I thought. As I grew older I began to question that. I was convinced that it was impossible for people not to know about God. How could they live and even hope to enjoy any of the gifts of being and ignore the One in whom all things are. That was unimaginable to me and as a result I was hard with some people who seemed to be trying to convince me that I was foolish for my child-like faith. But in my heart I knew that they were trying to convince me out of their idea of love and the stand I took sometimes translated to them that there love was not good enough. Enough of those experiences led me to seek a way to be more compassionate i.e. to feel what they felt so that I could speak in a way that they understood. I did and it hurt a lot. I saw how some of them perceived me, but what hurt most was how they perceived themselves.
We are all so beautiful to God. When we were called into being, it was in Love. When we were given this world of abundance in which to explore and know our relationship to God and each other, it was in Grace, and when we were given the power to create, it was in Freedom. Believe it or not my friends, that is all that exists in God–infinite Love, Grace, and Freedom. Deep down we all know this. That is why we don’t have an excuse for not sharing all that we are with God and yet we still feel free to ignore God and be ungrateful. In some crazy way, it is because we understand the very nature of God–even His eternal power and Godhead. We know that God will always be there so we use our freedom and God’s grace to explore the depths of our own illusions. And as a result we lose sight of True Love and settle for unworthy substitutes of our own making. These things become our idols. The worst idol of all is that of self.
In my efforts to understand this, I tempted fate so to speak and I almost forgot why I came here. Thankfully God kept the promise to make a way out of every temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13). I let myself fall into a deep illusion in my effort to understand myself for the sake of others. It seems to me that in most cases the only reason we try to figure people out is because we are afraid of something–perhaps of being rejected, not having the love we give returned to us, or of just being wrong. But when I see my kid, I see the Way. She can walk into a Mickey D’s Playland and make instant friends. Because she’s innocent, she’ll play with the other kids regardless of external differences and most of the time without even knowing their names. That’s another reason why I’m here–to reclaim my innocence and to play with my friends (Matthew 18:2-4). And since I assume I am among friends, I’m sharing what I have with you. Do with it what you will. I hope this reminds you of something beautiful about yourself and God who loves you.