existentialist cafe

life is sacred

Month: June, 2013

Being authentic intentionally is kinda hard, up there with trying to relax and attaining non-attainment. When I was training to be a chaplain, I spent a lot of time trying to relax. I knew that the key was simply to be honest, authentic person; that letting go of agenda was the only thing that was necessary, and that any care needed would flow from that state of openness.. However, the letting go of agenda itself became an agenda. When I realized that, then letting go of the agenda of letting go became the agenda. And so.

The needed motion is the same one that springs a Chinese fingertrap. Not striving, but surrendering. Setting the spirit down as one sets down a heavy book, or as one rests one’s body on the surface of the water (I’m reminded of the Dead Sea, where to not float is impossible. There’s too much salt in the water. It’s a good idea to have something Dead Sea-ish in your life – something which reliably stands in for the effort you spend in vain. Of course the Dead Sea is also terribly poisonous, so maybe I do not want to carry the metaphor too far.). It is hard, yes, but not like lifting a heavy boulder is hard; it is hard like trust is hard. The trust is that everything that we need will be given to us, if we stop trying to grab it.


If there is a such thing as salvation, then it exists in nothing other than willingness to share in the vulnerability of others, because it is only in total self-sharing that a healing power worthy of the human soul can emerge. Many of us are experts at rational discourse, and have decided that our message of salvation is going to be one targeting against erroneous beliefs of various kinds. Insofar as the life of a human being is a life of rational discourse, such an approach will be effective. Insofar as the life of a human being is a life of desire, hope, relationship, regret, beauty, pain, and pleasure, it will not.

These three maxims are a distillation of many things that I have been experiencing and learning over the past several weeks.

1. Trusting in vulnerability may be the only way we will survive. I believe this is the alternative that authentic religion can offer the world. Creating space for vulnerability is not easy, but it is only not easy in the way that surrendering is not easy, or falling backwards into someone’s arms is not easy. Vulnerability is our natural movement; we resist this movement, however, out of the quite natural fear of being an unprotected body moving through space.

2. The spiritual life is bowl-shaped. If we pray “give us today our daily bread,” we must ourselves be vessels that can hold this daily bread – no bigger, and no smaller. We receive everything we need for the moment, then dump it out and start again.

3. Do not be afraid of any truth, no matter how small or how big. Whoever we are, there are certain realities that we do not want to face. So we just need to find in our life those sources of courage that will enable us to face them.

Lord lend me the bell-struck wonder

abscond completely with the inward eye;

Resounding ravenous of caverned deep

wells where bellows sturn the flame.

Not the bell, nor the hammer be,

but the heaven to earth sound

with each heavy swing.

I saw Hem for the first time last night at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia. They’ve played such an important part in my struggle against anxiety, that I wanted to let them know. So I send them this email.

Dear Hem,

Long time listener, first time writer. I never thought that I would be one to send a note to a band I like, but I needed to, so here goes.
Read the rest of this entry »

If ‘immaterial’ means unimportant, does that mean that only the material world is important?

Every time chipmunk
You venture out of your hole
You think better of it.

This may be obvious already to many people, but I want to take just a moment to remind everyone that you do not need to make an apology for who you are and what you believe.

And by apology I mean two things.
I mean, first, a plea for approval;
I mean, second, a formal justification or defense.

It is one thing to explain yourself because someone misunderstands you; it is another thing altogether to feel as though the thoughts and feelings of others will vindicate you in some way. If you are, like me, a sensitive sort of person, you may have learned an unfortunate vigilance in tracking how other people draw acceptance circles of varying sizes and permeability. This undo focus on others’ circles of acceptance has kept you from drawing your own circle, as big or small as you please. Other people are powerful – they are charismatic, imposing, or ruthlessly logical, and have learned to bully others out by defining the rules of behavior and discourse. We fall into that game when we buy into the notion that we need to justify ourselves to them. Such justification is expected of us.

The kingdom of heaven, however, comes with its own economy and its own logic. If you try to justify the kingdom of heaven with earthly language – issuing a formal defense of its existence and right to be – you may succeed in part but only at the cost of severely deforming it. You will be left with a hollow shell and nothing more, which may deceive others for a while in the same way that a cicada shell might fool someone until the wind comes and blows it away. This does not speak of the inadequacy of the kingdom of heaven, but the inadequacy of human language to bear it. By analogy: an analysis of a piece of music may be right, but only a fool would think that it is a suitable stand-in, or that the beauty of the music has been reliably and adequately conveyed. Understanding the kingdom of heaven is simply a matter of listening to that deep music that flows through the world.

Moon holds a grudge
Thrown from the sky-
Caught in the tides at the narrows,
Where the shore forms a bow
And the moon holds a boat like an arrow.

Shot carries wide as the moon is turning red
he pulls in the tides tangle on the river bed.
And we rise, and we fall,
And we land where we’re led.
~dan messe

We create the world;

we are also created by the world.

We, who hear music;

are also music.

Life is a mountain whose summit we are always trying to reach. It is surmised by many climbers that the mountain is of infinite height, as it is composed of an infinite number of cliffs. Others, though, have surmised that a short-cut could be found to the top.*

If each cliff is climbed in half the time as the previous, then an infinite number of cliffs could be scaled in twice the time that it takes to climb the first one.

Maybe the first is climbed in one year.

The second is climbed in half a year.

The third in 1/4 of a year.

The fourth in 1/8 of a year.

The fifth in 1/16 of a year.

The sixth in 1/32 of a year.

And so on.

If you add up all of these infinite cliffs, 1 + 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 + 1/16 + 1/32 + 1/64… 1/n = 2

Some have dismissed this as a mind game, with no bearing on the climbing of real cliffs.

Others, however, have taken up the game of paradox, and in fact argue that through extensive meditation on these paradoxes, one can begin to perceive the totality of the mountain, though in dim outline only. In fact, they argue that this mountain is not only infinitely large but infinitely small as well, and that it can be perceived in a sunflower, a bird flying south, or a drop of water falling into a tea cup.

Others have argued that anyone who perceived the mountain would always fail to perceive herself as well, and therefore taking in the whole at once would be impossible.

Still climbing.

*Rudy Rucker, “Infinity and the Mind.”