No Beauty That We Should Desire Him

What if the kingdom of heaven were the opposite of what we were expecting? What if we we were wrong about the guest list (Matthew 22)? What if our intuitions and expectations of heaven were ill-founded? What God’s life was a dim bulb that drew only the quiet and humble seekers, rather than a spotlight drawing all from across the valley?

Christ suggested this time and again, with the Kingdom of God being likened to counterintuitive analogies that are head scratchers to this day. Regardless of what the Kingdom is, Jesus seems to be saying again and again it what was we expect.

Mosiah warned us we would be uninterested in heaven if we are not interested in serving the undeserving (Mosiah 4:17-18).

Indian Jones understood in time that the Holy Grail was not inherently desireable, but humble and plain. What if heaven, and the kingdom of god on earth, was the same?

C.S. Lewis paints a similar image in the Divorce of Heaven, with the weak and flimsy souls of purgatory repulsed by heaven and its unwillingness to bend to their comfort and expectations.

Perhaps the gate is straight and the way narrow because it is unintuitive, not difficult in terms of tasks and obedience. In fact, what if the way to get there was to let go and submit?

Worry is an abuse of God’s gift of Imagation

It is stunning how much time I spend lost in my own thoughts, and how so much of the trouble and trials I experience are localized between my ears. This morning I meditated on the following teaching from Sri Maharaj Nisargadatta:

Once you know with absolute certainty that nothing can trouble you but your own imagination, you come to disregard your desires and fears, concepts and ideas and live by truth alone.

I am incredibly fortunate to live a life in which biggest troubles are of the mind and not the body, there are many around me who are suffering disease, privation, or mental illness; but if you are like me I would imagine even a brief moment of self-examination would disclose a similar tempest in a teapot.

In the words of the genre-bending band twenty one pilots:

Am I the only one I know
Waging my wars behind my face and above my throat

There is comfort in knowing that, no, we are not alone in waging this war of thoughts and emotions.

The Enso of Christ

My decision to practice zazen was also simple: I desperately craved a refuge. Rarely do I find comfort in the scriptures or in my church meetings; in fact, I often leave my ecclesiastical endeavors filled with turmoil and further questions. I have come to appreciate these emotions as productive—pushing me to find more answers, to turn the doctrines of God over again in my mind, to come and reason together. It is not after a particularly peaceful sacrament meeting but a particularly irritating one that I will break through self-imposed barriers of culture and spiritual myopia to discover a new theological possibility. Mormonism, after all, is a faith in which one is anxiously engaged. But sometimes, I need a break from this constant anxiety and engagement.

If I seek peace, if I seek the balm of Gilead for my wounds, if I seek a pavilion or hiding place to shelter me from the raging storms of life, I do not turn to holy writ or ordinances or prayer, whose paradoxes only agitate my mind. Rather, I sit and be still, attempting to know who is God. I sit until my mind resembles my motionless body. I stop doing works and simply empty my mind until it fills with eternity. And the more I sit, the less the anxiety and engagement that define the Mormon worldview sit well inside of me. If our gospel is one of peace, why does it cause so much conflict within me? If God is a God of love, why does so much of his plan for us create sorrow and division? If our Church is one that strives for total conversion and inclusion, why do I feel so isolated and betrayed by the culture it produces? If I’m trying to find answers to these questions while sitting, I know that I have not sat long enough. I need to quit thinking and just settle, like sediment in a pond. Only when this happens can I experience God’s infinities in all their horizon-expanding glory.

To Begin With

I suffer because of how I relate to my thoughts and feelings. I suffer because I try to build on thoughts and feelings, all of which are ephemeral and unstable. Suffering comes from clinging to hope and recoiling from fear, an exhausting carousel. At times a truly significant event incites the cycle, but just as often it is a small slight, inconvenience, or success (many of which are also completely imaginary). Thoughts and feelings never fully satisfy me because they are all fleeting. I am exhausted because I am always treading water.

“We cannot deny the existence of pleasant and unpleasant sensations, but they are trivial with respect to genuine well-being.”

-Matthieu Ricard

I will fail if I attempt to force the mind and heart to be silent, or calm, or happy, or peaceful. The key is to:

  1. Begin again and again in my practice of being aware of
  2. thoughts and feelings which are
  3. individually temporary, and
  4. collectively never-ending.

Over time, experiencing thoughts and feelings in this way allows me to step behind the water fall. It is here, behind the stream but fully aware of it, that I find stable footing.