Dave Brisbin 2.18.24
We’re still in the first days of Lent. If you didn’t grow up in a liturgical church, you may not know about ashes on foreheads, confession and penance, fasting and giving up candy bars or some other treat for forty days. And even if such memories are part of your past, you may have as much to unlearn as others have to learn about Lent.
For nearly 1,800 years, the forty-day period before Easter is meant to be a time of preparation. Originally the preparation for baptism of new converts, it was ported over to Easter as an annual time of preparation for the new life of rebirth. Mirroring Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness, the deprivation and suffering of Jesus’ experience is emulated, but why? As children, we understood it as punishment and penance for our sins, wiping our slates clean for God, but this relatively passive and vicarious approach is not what Jesus experienced during his fortyness.
The fortyness of Lent is meant to be a similar, ritually difficult preparation for transformation. But if that’s our intent, we need to reframe it: not as a negative punishment or penance, but as positive, affirmative action we intentionally take to clear out distractions, take a dive into our shadow selves, and create an ideal interior environment for spiritual breakthrough. The fasting and deprivation of Lent is not punishment, but an opportunity to lower our egoic guards and awareness threshold—allow God’s presence to show through. We can use Lent as a crash course to silence and simplify enough to see what is really meaningful in our moments and any interior limitations keeping us from that meaning.
Dave Brisbin 2.11.24
What churches and religion inevitably forget—as does every human group—is that their laws, doctrine, and practice are not ends, truth in themselves, but pointers, guides to non-rational truth that must be personally experienced, never bestowed.
Thomas Huxley said that new ideas begin as heresy, advance to orthodoxy, and end in superstition. Belief systems practiced for a length of time follow this curve, and Christian thought is no exception. The practices that Jesus taught and his followers called the Way, heretical to most, were understood as a way of life that prepared individuals to experience the paradoxical truth of God’s love. But as the movement matured and institutionalized, life practice became ritualized, and the theological ideas that had grown around them were legalized into orthodoxy. Eventually, law and ritual were believed to have supernatural power, ends in themselves rather than pointers to spiritual experience.
Jesus is teaching us that law is not fulfilled in obedience or righteousness in ritual practice. Legal compliance and ritual observance mean nothing in themselves, but everything when they have become the deepest purpose of a transformed heart. To believe otherwise is to miss the Way entirely, remain focused on conformance rather than transformance…as if training wheels are permanent, the highest expression of riding a bike, and not a limitation—the outward badge of an inward inability to fly.
Dave Brisbin 2.4.24
Some things are too big to grasp all at once. Like those Nazca lines in Peru…geoglyphs laid down on a windless plateau around the time of Christ—so big you can only see them from the air. Other things are too big to grasp within the limits of rational thought. You need greater perspective to see, not altitude, but a step outside conscious thought to the wordless awareness of pure presence. You still can’t grasp the thing intellectually, but you can experience its reality.
God’s radical, degreeless, indiscriminate love is just such a thing. This is why Jesus doesn’t give us a theology. More things to think about. We can understand the words that describe perfect love, but not its reality from words alone. So Jesus gives us a Way of living, the only way to experience the reality of a love so alien that it can’t be rationally understood. Alien. I hope that word is uncomfortable. Only if we are experiencing something uncomfortably unfamiliar at first, or even frightening or amoral according to our sense of justice, are we even in the neighborhood of God’s radical love.
This is a completely interior process that only we can do for ourselves. No one, not even God can do it for us. God doesn’t forgive; God is forgiveness as much as God is love. God can’t withhold his own nature; it self exists. All we will ever get from God is love and forgiveness, but we will never know this reality until we live the Way, until we love and forgive those who haven’t earned it. Then we’ll know how real it is, how it had to first be given to us before we could ever give it away.
Dave Brisbin 1.28.24
Familiarity breeds contempt usually means that the more we know people, the more we can lose respect and judge more harshly. If contempt seems too strong a word, at least the more familiar things become, the more they blend into the wallpaper until we don’t even see them anymore. And when those things are religious scripture and doctrine, we may be so saturated that we believe we know things we have never considered on our own: accepted as children or under group pressure, such teachings became familiar before ever teaching us how to live spiritual lives in a physical world.
And what is more familiar than the Lord’s Prayer? Even those not steeped in Christian tradition are familiar with it. We learned it as kids, recited it—but what is this wallpaper saying? Is there anything to learn beyond mere recitation? We know the words: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, as in heaven, so on earth…
The five lines of the prayer form the steps of a process that starts with becoming unfamiliar again with everything we think we know. Clearing an interior space allows us to see the reality of the sacred in the ordinary details of life and begin to match our values to God’s, only knowable when our sense of separate self is lost in present action. Released from that sense of separateness, the victimhood of the past, we realize a new connection, always herenow.
If we can become unfamiliar again, see these words again for the first time, we can stop reciting them and start living the path they describe. Or better, recite them as a reminder to really live.
Dave Brisbin 1.21.24
Disciples of a spiritual master come to his home only to find him on hands and knees in the front yard. He tells them he lost something of great importance, so they fall in to help search, hands and knees, eyes straining. After some time, they ask where he had it last, where he might have lost it. Oh, he says, that was inside the house. Then why are we searching out here? Because the light is so much better…
We laugh, but as crazy as that sounds, isn’t this exactly what we do spiritually? The master is trying to teach his students that we all want to conduct our existential search where it’s comfortable…how it’s comfortable. In our strong suit, under conditions where the light is good, and we can hold on to the illusion of control. We want to dictate the terms of the search, and even the nature of the thing searched for. Much safer to search for a god we imagine we understand.
In his famous love chapter, Paul said when he was a child, he acted and reasoned like a child, but when he became a man, he put away childish things. He places this metaphor against the fact that we can only see spiritual reality dimly, but when the “perfect” comes, face to face. We think he’s talking about heaven, but Jewish context is always this life herenow. When the perfect comes is any moment our house of cards, our world of opposites collapses, and for an instant we see the oneness, the sole substance behind our opposites.
For Paul and Jesus that substance is what we call love, the ultimate reality we’ll never find until we grow up and out of the need for certainty—willing to search in mystery where the light is not so good.
Dave Brisbin 1.14.24
Dualism is a sneaky worldview. Worldviews themselves are sneaky. We don’t often realize we have one, that we experience life through cultural and self-imposed filters—it’s just reality as we’ve come to believe it is. Dualism divides our view of reality into opposed and contrasted aspects. The most obvious is mind and body or material and immaterial. But once you have drunk the dualist Kool-Aid, you see duality everywhere: right/wrong, male/female, now/not yet, secular/spiritual, heaven/earth. As if everything we experience is reducible to two opposing aspects.
Since we are focused on contemplation as a primary tool for spiritual growth and Jesus as a Hebrew contemplative—working interiorly to step away from cognitive and emotional distractions in order to experience pure presence—another dualism presents. Contemplation and action. If we’re focused inwardly, using silence, solitude, stillness, and simplicity to quiet our minds, hearts, and the world around us, how are we of any use in our relationships and communities?
Our world is falling apart, and we’re meditating in the corner? Inactive? Uncaring?
Paul appears to uphold inaction toward slavery and subjugation of women in his biblical letters, but I see him trying to help people prioritize. To fight the interior revolution first, prepare hearts and minds before we strike off to fight the exterior revolution. Contemplation and action together. In that order. We train before we compete, wipe windshields before we drive. Must see reality as it is before we engage action that is clearly our duty to perform.
Dave Brisbin 1.7.23
Psychology tells us that all human neuroses are caused by our intolerance of uncertainty. Think about that for a minute. As children, everything is unknown, uncertain, but we don’t know we’re naked so we accept each moment as it presents without question. Everything is as it should be until we get hurt, and when old enough to conceive of tomorrow, we first fear the uncertainty of next time.
When fear is great enough that we can’t tolerate the uncertainties of life, the need to create or at least imagine certainty becomes overwhelming. The strategies we use, mostly unconsciously, are our neuroses—attempts at control that emotionally feel better than uncertainty. Intellectually, we know there are no certainties in life, at least not in the big things: life and death, health, wellness, relationship, spirit. But can’t we carve out little certainties for ourselves in the spaces between the big things that can add some tolerance for the rest?
Repeated cycles imply a conscious creator, someone who set the cycle in motion and cares to keep it going for the sake of those who need a solid place to stand. And that care implies the love from which all else is derived. Once aware of such love, we can make friends with the uncertainty at the core of life and finally begin to let go of our neurotic attempts at control that keep us grounded in fear. It’s all about the balance. Celebrating the cycles of sun and moon that make life possible while creating cycles of daily ritual that hold life in place and make learning to love uncertainty possible—trusting the mystery that gives life its ultimate interest and meaning.