Dave Brisbin 12.11.22
Woke up out of a dream in which a couple agreed to adopt triplets, but as soon as the adoption was final, found out all three infants were blind. Doctors told of a procedure that could repair the optic nerves, but no guarantee. Husband was furious, accused the bio-father of fraud, wanted to annul the adoption or add contingency for successful surgery. His wife turned to him—said when you have a baby, you don’t know what’s coming and whatever arrives is yours and you can’t give it back. She reminds him that he’s built businesses from the ground up, that he should know that a life being lived without risk is not being lived at all. Then I woke up.
How do our minds come up with this stuff? My wife wanted to know the end of the story, but I suppose that wasn’t the point. The non-ending leaves the choice midair. What would we do? What place does risk hold in our lives?
We may be willing to risk big, hoping to acquire enough to become risk-free. But there is no such thing. Human control always fails. Jesus was willing to risk small, a child who never grew out of childlikeness. If we want to find something hidden by a child, we must get on our knees to see the world from a child’s height. If we want to find a big truth hidden by a childlike God, we must get on our knees, let humility empty our illusions of control. The story of Jesus’ birth is the story of our rebirth. Jesus, born into the vulnerability of a child, risked the smallness of never growing out of it. The story of our rebirth is to risk growing back in.
Dave Brisbin 12.4.22
We’ve all heard of the patience of Job. Book of James called it to our attention in the West when King James translated it that way in 1611. But the word that James originally used primarily means endurance that is at least a bit stoic if not cheerful; when he means patience, he uses a different word. Question is, how cheerful or patient was Job?
To refresh, Job was a righteous, blameless, and incredibly wealthy man with a large family who, for no reason known to him, is stripped of everything he owns and loves including his children and his health. His wife tells him to curse God and die, but though his heart is broken, his integrity is not. He curses his birth, but not God. Three friends come to comfort him, but end up only debating, maintaining that Job must have done something secretly wrong to have earned such punishment. As their arguments escalate, Job grows increasingly angry, sarcastic, biting as he verbally attacks them, shifting his focus to God, complaining, criticizing, even berating God for targeting him and letting the wicked continue to prosper. He feels and says everything we’d imagine he would, everything we ourselves would and have at times of our own greatest loss.
When Job replies, it is in full submission. But more than that, it’s in full release of his illusion of control—being righteous, pledging allegiance to God, assuming he knows how life works. Accepting what the moment brings is his first step toward trusting what he may never understand. Job had to travel kicking and screaming through pain and loss, through his own impatience to anything that would look like patience to James. Or King James. Or us.
Dave Brisbin 11.27.22
The older I get, the simpler things look. I used to love complexity. All the words, diagrams, contingencies, choices. Now I love that my wardrobe has come down to one basic uniform—black shirt, jeans, alternating pairs of shoes. And I love that I’m caring less what anyone thinks about my fashion choices. I’m convinced that the things in life that remain complicated are less important than things that don’t. And becoming aware of the complexity to which I remain attached is one way of knowing where my stone is not yet smooth.
Jesus was a master of simplicity. Pared everything down to the fewest possible words. An image or metaphor. We imagine God’s kingdom to be filled with laws, rules, doctrine, rituals, good works. Those are all parts but not the point. Jesus boils it down to one thing. Love. Of God and each other—which in turn become one thing in the act of loving. Seek that and all else will be added. Live that and all else is commentary. And when we do, what does that feel like? Just one thing.
The one thing to which Jesus is pointing feels like gratitude. Gratitude is what love feels like. We can’t be grateful and angry at the same time. Or insecure, envious, victimized. Gratitude embraces the humility of receivership, acknowledges a gift we could not give ourselves. We can’t manufacture gratitude. We become it when we let go of the complexity of entitlement. It’s that simple. And that difficult at the same time.
Dave Brisbin 11.20.22
Do you know how many creation stories there are in the bible? Two… Surprised? How many flood stories? Two. There are many “doublets” or repetitions of stories in the bible that scholars attribute to a near literary certainty that, apart from the epistles of the New Testament, the books of the bible weren’t written as an author would write a novel, but compiled as a film documentary would compile sources to weave a story.
These ancient Hebrews books as we’ve come to know them, comprise various sources that scholars have reconstructed using internal clues: the specific name of God being used, language dating from different periods, discrepancies in details. In the Genesis creation story, the two traditions are simply laid side by side with no attempt to harmonize; the differing details weren’t meant to be harmonized. Six days or one day, God hovering over chaos or starting with land and mist, man created last and all at once as a race or first with just one man and woman. We want to resolve these differences into one true story, but the differences themselves tell the truth of the story.
We think only one thing can be true at a time. The ancients knew better. That life is a paradox of seeming contradiction that tells a whole truth. Until we can embrace the mystery at the heart of life, we can’t follow the Way of Jesus, the vulnerable relinquishing in the second half of life that leads us back to the Source. Our first home. In the garden.
Dave Brisbin 11.13.22
A businessman watches a fisherman come in with a great catch. Asks how long it took to catch so much. Only a short while. Why not stay out longer and catch more? It’s enough to feed his family for the day: he gets up early to fish, plays with his children, takes a nap with his wife, then plays guitar at night with friends. The businessman schools the fisherman to stay out longer, catch more, sell, save, buy more boats, build distribution companies, invest in stocks, and after twenty or twenty five years, retire to do exactly what he is doing each day right now.
Why doesn’t the businessman see the obvious? Why isn’t the fisherman tempted by the businessman’s plan? The businessman represents the first half of life with its focus on deriving meaning from acquisition. The fisherman represents the second half of life with its realization that lasting meaning only comes from within, not from circumstance. The fisherman takes what is needed each day from an inexhaustible sea, feels no need to own storehouses, trusts the sea and doesn’t fear the future. For the businessman, each day’s work is calculated to create a specific outcome. Against all contingencies, he must carve out and protect assets he hopes will avert the possible futures he fears.
How many of us really admire the fisherman? Isn’t he a poster boy for lost potential? First half mentality can never see the wisdom of the second half, yet second half mentality includes the first half…as a tool for living physical life, not an identity. The difference between the businessman and fisherman is a vanquished ego. We can’t acquire that. It can only be relinquished.
Dave Brisbin 11.6.22
William Shatner, Star Trek’s original Captain Kirk, flew to space on a private suborbital flight a year ago, and like many astronauts, had a profound, worldview-shattering experience. Space was “unlike any blackness you can see or feel on Earth—deep, enveloping, all-encompassing. The contrast between the vicious coldness of space and the warm nurturing of Earth below filled me with overwhelming sadness. Everything I had thought was wrong, everything I had expected to see was wrong.” Leaving the spacecraft after landing, he wept, and it took him some time to realize that he “was in grief for the Earth.”
He saw Earth as we can never see it from the surface: an isolated, fragile spot of warmth and life set against vast darkness. On the surface, if we don’t like one spot, we can move to another, assume inexhaustible resources, distract ourselves, and take our home for granted. But from space, the realization that all we have and are, all human history and experience, love and life exists in just one spot, on one little ball hanging in a vacuum, reveals…there is no backup.
The Teacher, from his shattering realization, wrote that God has set eternity in our hearts. The unremembered awareness that all time, all at once everything and everywhen exist within us and are only ever accessible now and here. Searching anywhere else is striving after the wind. Shatner said, “I hope I never recover from this.” That will be his choice. It is always ours as well.
Dave Brisbin 10.30.22
It doesn’t take a prophet or a genius to see that the world is on a collision course with something out there. That everything can’t continue at this speed indefinitely. It’s a scary realization, and when we get scared, we start looking for something certain on which to stand. Which means I’ve been getting questions again on whether we are in the end times, whether the scriptures that describe them are true and when they will play out.
Short answer: I don’t know. Longer answer: no one can possibly know, no matter their years of study or absolute certainty. Jesus tells us flat out that no one knows the day or hour when such end times will occur—not the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. Couldn’t be more blunt, but Jesus gives a clue here that can help us make sense of apocalyptic passages. Fear drives us to imagine certainty, some illusion of control, missing that the purpose of these passages is not what—the certainty we crave—but how to live in uncertain times. Prophetic books tell us how to live to avert disaster; apocalyptic books tell us how to live after the disaster has occurred with continued hope and faith.
Both Israel and the church have always seen themselves as brides of God—all human history and each individual life lived between betrothal at birth and consummation at death, between heaven and earth, now and not yet. We can’t know when or what, and that terrifies us, but we have been given how. How to live without fear. It’s all we can know with certainty, but with trust it’s all we need.
Dave Brisbin 10.23.22
From third century Christian tradition…young hermit tells an elder: I know the objective of life, what God asks of us, and the best way of serving him—I’m just not capable of doing all that I should. The elder is quiet for while then says: You know about a city on the far side of the ocean, but you haven’t found a ship, loaded your bags, or crossed the sea. Why spend time imagining what it’s like to walk its streets? Knowing the objective of life and how to serve the Lord is not enough. Put into practice that which you think, and the way will be revealed all by itself.
Two hundred years earlier, the first Jewish followers of Jesus agreed. Calling themselves talmidey orha—Followers of the Way in Aramaic, they were making an emphatic statement. If their primary focus was on the Way Jesus lived and loved rather than the historical person himself, then their primary focus was on action rather than thought. A very Jewish trait. They were saying with their lives that they understood Jesus’ message to be a way of living, not just thinking or believing.
The way of the mind—our thoughts and beliefs—can take us right to the door of the connected life Jesus calls Kingdom. But only Jesus’ Way—the way of the heart, contemplative practice—brings us through. It’s been seventeen hundred years since the Way of the heart identified Western Christians as followers of Jesus. It’s time.
Dave Brisbin 10.16.22
A wealthy man asks a Zen master to write a text that will inspire and remind him of his love and devotion for his family. The master returns with a beautiful calligraphy that reads: The father dies. The son dies. The grandson dies. The man is furious, but the master calmly tells him that this is his blessing. If his son died first, it would be devastating. If his grandson died, unbearable. But if his family disappears in this order, he will be blessed and his family will continue for generations.
There is a natural order that we see written in life or just in our own minds, and we are very attached to it as the way things should be. Any losses we suffer hurt, but when they violate the natural order, as the death of a child, we are devastated by both the loss itself and the offense against the natural order. We anguish and rage in a tragic gap between the way things are and the way we think they should be, a limit situation where we run headlong into the limit of our ability to control an outcome or even the narrative in our head.
Jesus shows the way through the tragic gaps of life without losing identity or faith in the process. It’s the way of descent, becoming unattached, unidentified with the narratives in our minds that judge what should be. Those who were marginalized by life, the poor, those least invested in the status quo always followed Jesus first, were the most open to accept life just as it was with hope and gratitude. Because working for change without first accepting the limits of this day is just another tragic gap.
Dave Brisbin 10.9.22
Thirty years ago, living alone, I was trying to be a monk in the city. Maintaining silence in apartment and car, reading all I could find on spiritual life, up at 5AM, prayerfully running through dark streets, meditation cool down by the community pool, back up to my apartment to journal, getting ready for work. Day in and out. Put that way, sounds like I knew what I was doing, had a sense of confidence in direction and growth.
A 1993 journal entry written after run and prayer asks, Where are you, Lord? Where do I go to listen? What do I listen for? How do I listen? Do I strain? Do I relax? Is it obvious? Subtle? Does it frustrate you that I am so deaf? A snapshot of the condition my condition was in: that despite all I was doing, I was not experiencing what I expected, feared I was doing it all wrong, anxious even despondent over ever getting it right. Yet the same entry also contained the seeds of answers breaking conscious ground—that God was not somewhere else to be found, but right in front of my face, trying to get my attention. That it wasn’t a matter of where to find God’s voice, but of thinning out eardrums too thick to hear the still, small voice already present.
To choose not to be distracted or dissuaded. To cultivate the daily experience of choiceless awareness was the shape of an inner journey that eventually convinced me I was already hearing God’s voice, but in a way I never expected, imagined, or even desired. Until I did.