“What is hateful to you; don’t do that to others.”
Hillel the Elder
“What you desire; do that for others.”
Yeshua et al
“Be all that you can be.”
US Army recruiting slogan
“Do your best.”
Many voices—persistent, challenging, expectant—calling for me to be a righteous person, trusting in life, and faithful. Of course, there are other voices calling me to a life of ease, a gospel of prosperity, and a home filled with possessions. If only I had the right dietary supplement I would be slim; the right exercise DVD, sexy abs; the right clothes, business success; the right God, wealthy; and so much more.
I run from the voices, but they are too insistent. The radio station in my head won’t turn off. Then I remind myself that I am on a spiritual journey—exciting, exhilarating, edifying. Journey images tend to suggest steady progress—some set-backs, of course—but steady progress. Sometimes the journey takes me into the wild and untamed wilderness where my faith and expectations are tested. But I always have maps that take me through the wilderness to “milk and honey.” That’s the story I keep telling myself, hopeful for some measure of continuing progress and spiritual growth.
If I were more insightful (maybe even more honest), I might suggest another image, an alternate story—sometimes running toward God; but more often running away. Like Francis Thompson’s “Hound of Heaven”
I FLED Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
But, no matter how fast I run… no matter how far I’ve run… no matter what direction I am running… there is one factor, one reality, one sense nagging the very core of my being:
I thought, I’ll forget him;
I’ll no longer speak in his name.
But there’s an intense fire in my heart,
trapped in my bones.
I’m drained trying to contain it;
I’m unable to do it.
Jeremiah 20:9 (CEB)
There is an intense insistence trapped in the marrow of my bones that I can’t escape. It is like the sharp elbow to my ribs, delivered by my wife when I am dangerously close to a major social gaffe. It is the song that haunts my day by repeatedly singing itself inside my head. It is the unsigned invitation to meet a friend at a favored hang-out. And, when I pay close attention, it is an inner call from somewhere deep within the mystery of the divine to live beyond—beyond the conventional rules and regulations of social propriety; beyond the aphorisms of Sunday’s sermon; beyond the strict moral code of my upbringing; and sometimes even beyond the simple dictates of scripture.
The intense fire (passion) calls me to a creative non-indifference. When the fire burns I cannot walk by a person in need without becoming involved. I cannot turn my back on a neighbor who is the victim of hatred because they are black, LGBT, Muslim, or have some condition that others consider as a weakness. I cannot be indifferent to a political structure that prioritizes the strong over the weak, the rich over the poor, the healthy over the sick, the powerful over the weak. I wish I could, but I can’t!
I try to run in the other direction, but I am pursued and contained by that which rages within me, drawing me beyond myself. When I try to throw water on the raging fire to dowse it or contain it, it rages on. When I try not to listen, a voice echoes through the cavernous emptiness that is within me. When I find myself running away, something keeps trying to nudge me back on the rightful path. And the blaze of insistence is intensified.
The more I run, the more my heart yearns, the more my bones ache. But, when I slow down and pay attention… when I align my actions with the passions of my heart… when I become my calling… when my non-indifferent listening to the faint whispers of the needs of people around me allows me to hear their cries of woundedness… Only then can I be in touch with the embarrassed tears of my own indifference… only then am I ready to stand with those whom Yeshua called the poor… only then does the fire within shed light and heat, instead of destruction and devastation.
That is how it is with the insistence that comes in the name of God. Perhaps. It is always there—nudging, hinting, inviting, challenging, prodding, urging, calling; but never commanding or forcing. The decision, the response, and the shaping of my action is left to me. Will I follow my own self-interests? Or, will I be a responsible citizen, a trusting follower, and/or a faithful agent of the mystery of divine presence?
My prayer: O, fire raging within, fueled from the depths of mystery and fanned by a divine spirit, disturb my resistance and help me lighten that paths of those whose woundedness has robbed them of the fullness of life. May it be so!