Your treasure is right under your feet…look where you stand.

I’ve written recently of the transition my family and I have been experiencing. The potential for this liminal time to disorient us and distract us from the important realities of life was – and still is – difficult to navigate. Over time, we realized Jesus’ presence would be with us regardless of what decision we would make. It wasn’t an A or B, but an A and B type of decision.
Recently I was discussing this with a friend of mine who has been praying for us through it all. After telling him we had actually made up our minds regarding some issues, he sent me the following piece from Martin Buber.
It gets at the existential beauty and treasure of life we often overlook and inadvertently dismiss. Attesting to the holistic nature of life, it addresses the fears and anxieties my wife and I felt as we were trudging through seasons of life shift. In short, it spoke to me at this moment in our life.
I pray it speaks to you, especially if you are in a season of liminality and transition. I pray it speaks to your searching and yearning.
————————————————————————————————————-

Rabbi Bunam used to tell young men who came to him for the first time the story of Rabbi Eizik, son of Rabbi Yekel of Cracow. After many years of great poverty which had never shaken his faith in God, he dreamed someone bade him look for a treasure in Prague, under the bridge which leads to the king’s palace. When the dream recurred a third time, Rabbi Eizik prepared for the journey and set out for  Prague. But the bridge was guarded day and night and he did not dare to start digging. Nevertheless he went to the bridge every morning and kept walking around it until evening. Finally the captain of the guards, who had been watching him, asked in a kindly way whether he was looking for something or waiting for somebody. Rabbi Eizik told him of the dream which had brought him here from a faraway country. The captain laughed: “And so to please the dream, you poor fellow wore out your shoes to come here! As for having faith in dreams, if I had had it, I should have had to get going when a dream once told me to go to Cracow and dig for treasure under the stove in the room of a Jew–Eizik, son of Yekel, that was the name! Eizik, son of Yekel! I can just imagine what it would be like, how I should have to try every house over there, where one half of the Jews are named Eizik and the other Yekel!” And he laughed again. Rabbi Eizik bowed, traveled home, dug up the treasure from under the stove, and built the House of Prayer which is called “Reb Eizik Reb Yekel’s Shul.”
“Take this story to heart,” Rabbi Bunam used to add, “and make what it says your own: There is something you cannot find anywhere in the world, not even at the zaddik’s, and there is, nevertheless, a place where you can find it.”
This, too, is a very old story, known from several popular literatures, but thoroughly reshaped by Hasidism. It has not merely–in a superficial sense–been transplanted into the Jewish sphere, it has been recast by the Hasidic melody in which it has been told; but even this is not decisive: the decisive change is that it has become, so to speak, transparent, and that a Hasidic truth is shining through its words. It has not had a “moral” appended to it, but the sage who retold it had at last discovered its true meaning and made it apparent.
There is something that can only be found in one place. It is a great treasure, which may be called the fulfillment of existence. The place where this treasure can be found is the place on which one stands.
Most of us achieve only at rare moments a clear realization of the fact that they have never tasted the fulfillment of existence, that their life does not participate in true, fulfilled existence, that, as it were, it passes true existence by. We nevertheless feel the deficiency at every moment, and in some measure strive to find–somewhere–what we are seeking. Somewhere, in some province of the world or of the mind, except where we stand, where we have been set–but it is there and nowhere else that the treasure can be found. The environment which I feel to be the natural one, the situation which has been assigned to me as my fate, the things that happen to me day after day, the things that claim me day after day–these contain my essential task and such fulfillment of existence as is open to me. It is said of a certain Talmudic master that the paths of heaven were as bright to him as the streets of his native town. Hasidism inverts the order: It is a greater thing if the streets of a man’s native town are as bright to him as the paths of heaven. For it is here, where we stand, that we should try to make shine the light of the hidden divine life.
If we had power over the ends of the earth, it would not give us that fulfillment of existence which a quiet devoted relationship to nearby life can give us. If we knew the secrets of the upper worlds, they would not allow us so much actual participation in true existence as we can achieve by performing, with holy intent, a task belonging to our daily duties. Our treasure is hidden beneath the hearth of our own home.
The Baal-Shem teaches that no encounter with a being or a thing in the course of our life lacks a hidden significance. The people we live with or meet with, the animals that help us with our farm work, the soil we till, the materials we shape, the tools we use, they all contain a mysterious spiritual substance which depends on us for helping it toward its pure form, its perfection. If we neglect this spiritual substance sent across our path, if we think only in terms of momentary purposes, without developing a genuine relationship to the beings and things in whose life we ought to take part, as they in ours, then we shall ourselves we debarred from true, fulfilled existence. It is my conviction that this doctrine is essentially true. The highest culture of the soul remains basically arid and barren unless, day by day, waters of life pour forth into the soul from those little encounters to which we give their due; the most formidable power is intrinsically powerlessness unless it maintains a secret covenant with these contacts, both humble and helpful, with strange, and yet near, being.
Some religions do not regard our sojourn on earth as true life. They either teach that everything appearing to us here is mere appearance, behind which we should penetrate, or that it is only a forecourt of the true world, a forecourt which we should cross without paying much attention to it. Judaism, on the contrary, teaches that what a man does now and here with holy intent is no less important, no less true–being a terrestrial indeed, but none the less factual, link with divine being–than the life in the world to come. This doctrine has found its fullest expression in Hasidism.
Rabbi Hanokh said: “The other nations too believe that there are two worlds. They too say: ‘In the other world.’ The difference is this: They think that the two are separate and severed, but Israel professes that the two worlds are essentially one and shall in fact become one.”
In their true essence, the two worlds are one. They only have, as it were, moved apart. But they shall again become one, as they are in their true essence. Man was created for the purpose of unifying the two worlds. He contributes toward this unity by holy living, in relationship to the world in which he has been set, at the place on which he stands.
Once they told Rabbi Pinhas of the great misery among the needy. He listened, sunk in grief. Then he raised his head. “Let us draw God into the world,” he cried, “and all need will be stilled.”
But is this possible, to draw God into the world? Is this not an arrogant, presumptuous idea? How dare the lowly worm touch upon a matter which depends entirely on God’s grace: how much of Himself He will vouchsafe to His creation?
Here again, Jewish doctrine is opposed to that of other religions, and again it is in Hasidism that it has found its fullest expression. God’s grace consists precisely in this, that He wants to let Himself be won by man, that He places Himself, so to speak, into man’s hands. God wants to come to His world, but He wants to come to it through man. This is the mystery of our existence, the superhuman chance of mankind.
“Where is the dwelling of God?”
This was the question with which the Rabbi of Kotzk surprised a number of learned men who happened to be visiting him.
They laughed at him: “What a thing to ask! Is not the whole world full of His glory?” Then he answered his own question:
“God dwells wherever man lets Him in.”
This is the ultimate purpose: to let God in. But we can let Him in only where we really stand, where we live, where we live a true life. If we maintain holy intercourse with the little world entrusted to us, if we help the holy spiritual substance to accomplish itself in that section of Creation in which we are living, then we are establishing, in this our place, a dwelling for the Divine Presence.
Martin Buber, The Way of Man. 169-76
Advertisements

A or B?: A Few Thoughts on Discernment and Decision Making

“A good journey begins with knowing where we are and being willing to go somewhere else.” – Richard Rohr

For several months now, my wife and I have been praying, thinking, and discussing with friends and family regarding a potential shift. Not only the possibility of a move in geography and locale, but one of occupation as well. It has been a long, developing set of circumstances filled with doubt and frustration, joy and laughter, bewilderment and irony. This past week brought some conclusion to this time as I have accepted a position with a company here in Syracuse.

While traversing this time in liminal land, we have had to deal with times of disorientation as we wondered what was around each corner. For us as a family, it was a much deeper and concerning time as we now are not only responsible for ourselves as a married couple, but also for our 3 children. In many ways, the decisions we were facing had the potential to alter the trajectory and direction our family has been headed. For us, it is imperative to filter our own longings through the interrelated grids of community, incarnation, and mission.

Through it all, we knew discernment had to permeate all we did. This wasn’t a task we took lightly as it had/has enough inherent force to change how things play out in the future.

We are by no means experts in any of these things, but I’d like to share a few lessons we’ve come across and implemented through this particular season.

Discernment

Community Discussion

We knew through it all we could not and should not pretend we could make it alone. The lie of autonomy is exactly that: a lie. We have been taught in many ways that independence is a higher value and aspiration than interdepedence. Whether it be engrained in us implicitly or explicitly, the modern imagination has been shaped by power, prestige, and self-importance. Everywhere we turn, we are bombarded with the illusion of autonomy and the good life it purports. The interdependent life sees these and names them as antithetical to its very existence. Postures of humility, mutuality, and vulnerability are the hallmarks of interdependency and run counter-intuitive to our individualistic mindsets.

So, we tried our best to incorporate not only our thoughts on things along with the thoughts and feelings of others. We began with our family and closest friends, along with co-workers and neighbors. Knowing our decisions would have effects on people beyond ourselves, we deemed it necessary to include the voices of those we are tethered to. Through their input, we were able to discern gifts, talents, possibilities, and the ripple effects of potential decisions. For this we are/were extremely grateful.

The next step, however, was to begin to talk with those outside of our closest circles. In many ways, those who are not too familiar with the ins and outs of our existence can give us eyes to things we don’t see. Those closest to us are invaluable, but there are communal blind-spots we share that an outside perspective illuminates. As I began to talk with friends across the country, I was able to gain insights I wouldn’t have gained otherwise. They poked and prodded in ways our friends and family here couldn’t.

If you can, I suggest you look at both of these circles in your own life and ask how they can open your eyes to things you may not even be aware are present.

Stage of life

Discerning our stage in life was vital. We have been married for 7.5 years and have attempted to live as simply as we can. In some seasons this has been easy; in others, a bit more difficult. I was 24 when we were married, 25 when I started my Masters, and by 26 we had our first daughter. Those first two years of marriage we were both working full-time and had plenty of time, money, and energy. However, the past 5 years has given us 3 daughters and time, money, and energy have been found wanting.

Dreams and aspirations change as the seasons of our life change. The things I was chasing after have taken drastic twists and turns. With each new child, those potential endeavors and passions have changed as life has become more about family and less about Scott. Even within the past 5 years of having children, each successive child brought new challenges and opportunities. What I saw as necessary when I was 25, I now have been able to bury in the ground. Paradoxically, life has still emerged and emerged all the more beautifully.

So, for us, determining what stage of life we were in was a must as we came to decisions. There is a whole new set of questions we have to be asking as we form answers to what directions things might move in. They are different for everyone, but I suggest you prayerfully reflect upon them and your current stage of life.

Prayer

I know. For many, this is a given. Still, for many others, it is a given in thought, not in reality. I was certainly in the latter camp for a long, long time. It is interesting – and somewhat embarrassing – that it takes tough times to truly turn to God. Desperation has a funny way of tearing down our arrogance and providing the framework necessary to realize our finiteness. God is a being of participation, rather it be small or large decision. As Ruth Haley Barton says,

As strange as it may sound, desperation is a really good thing in the spiritual life. Desperation causes us to be open to radical solutions, willing to take all manner of risk in order to find what we are looking for. Desperate ones seek with an all-consuming intensity, for they know that their life depends on it. (Barton, Invitation to Solitude and Silence, p. 30)

The longer we prayed about our potential change, the more we became open to whatever God had for us. As the Richard Rohr quote above states, we were becoming ever-increasingly willing to go somewhere else. Rather ironically, our “going somewhere else” will take place in our staying put geographically.

And this leads me to perhaps the weightiest part of this all.

Decision Making

I’ll be with you regardless.

There is a strong idea, perhaps even a doctrine, embedded within many Christian communities regarding God’s will. It has several variations, but essentially goes something like this: “God has a wonderful plan for your life and as long as you’re in the center of God’s will, you will be blessed.” Have you heard this before?

I have had numerous conversations with people who have heard this. They were facing decisions with tectonic shift-like power and were ruminating on some permutation of the aforementioned Christian axiom.

Now, hear me: I’m not saying this statement is inherently evil nor are those who perpetuate it. I have said it, believed it, encouraged it, and acted upon it. However, as of late, I have come to the conclusion that I have no idea what it means.

Maybe it’s my age. Maybe it’s my inexperience. Maybe it’s my faith.

Regardless, my worry is that it has created more confusion than clarity. For those whom I have spoken with who were wrestling with the ramifications of “being in God’s will” there was a paralysis brought upon them by this belief. It’s as if there is either A or B and you must choose and choose wisely or else. There is no “both” because they are typically seen as mutually exclusive and singular in their pathways. As such, there is a visceral fear of making the wrong choice in regards to God’s will and finding God is blatantly absent from our lives due to it. (Obviously, there are decisions we make that are outside of the life and kingdom Jesus beckons us into. The thought here is central to decisions decidedly not of that nature.)

In place of this fear, we have found freedom in finding God’s presence in both A and B. Recently, we were reminded, “God made humans, not robots.” Again, it is one thing to understand this; it is another to embody it. Yet, the beauty of God’s love is its allowance for choice.

God is infinitely patient. He will not push himself into our lives. He knows the greatest thing he has given us is our freedom. If we want habitually, even exclusively, to operate from the level of our own reason, he will respectfully keep silent. We can fill ourselves with our own thoughts, ideas, images, and feelings. He will not interfere. But if we invite him with attention, opening the inner spaces with silence, he will speak to our souls, not in words or concepts, but in the mysterious way that Love expresses itself – by presence. – M. Basil Pennington

I firmly believe we would do well to crack the illusion of both God’s non-involvement in our lives and God’s commandeering of our wills. We have certainly found the grace of God in the tension of earnestly praying for his will to be done all the while knowing it was our decision to make. As we have decided, we have rested in his promise of “I’ll be with you regardless.”

What about you? What has aided you in discernment and decision making?

There is a lot more to be said. What am I missing?

I’d love to hear your story.