In my daily journal there are some recurring themes, unremarkable but for the fact that they don’t change. Over the course of 20 years, you would think my sphere of concern would rotate a little bit, or assume a different character. The evidence suggests otherwise.
One theme which has been a constant, if soft-boned, companion: I pray without expectation. Which sounds like a virtue. It isn’t. Despite my creating a space in my life in which to experience the presence of some Holy Eternal, or at times (like when I was 22 – 25ish), a fuzzier, benign-but-undefined Buddha version, at root I have to concede that I don’t really trust God. It is a basic struggle. My journals are filled with literally thousands of prayers, but they are more an extension of my discipline-minded personality than a continuous spiritual harvest.
If you’re going to pray, you should really believe in what you’re doing, otherwise what is the point? That’s an hour of your life every day, wasted on some mysterious old lady hocus-pocus. You’d be better off spending it asleep.
Or meditate. That is a viable alternative maybe. Except that doesn’t really get me where I want to go. Meditation is like sharpening a kitchen knife. Over time, you’ll have an excellent tool, but you still have to decide what to make for dinner.
I sat with a zen group for about three years, in my twenties. We met every Thursday in a clean empty room with yellow wood floors and tall windows. We sat on black zafu cushions and faced the wall for 40 minutes and watched our breath go in and out of our noses while jasmine incense curled through the air. We chanted something in Japanese (I don’t know what it meant but I can recite the syllables to this day) while the guy in charge hit a bell in time with the beat. It was actually fun, and helpful in a way.
It was also not what I came from, which was a big part of the appeal.
My time on the zafu was an interesting adventure that didn’t really stick. There’s a long explanation for why, but I can save you the trouble and sum it up thus: If Buddhism were a meal it would be a hot thin soup sipped quietly in a clean room. Which is great. Lot of virtue there. But I want thanksgiving dinner. I want the messy family, the brown gravy and jello casserole. I want the wine and the loud voices and the relatives you only sort of like but welcome anyway. Farting at the kids table. Spilled coke on white tablecloths.
I have made this analogy to myself many times over the years, but as I write this, my life is pretty far from a thanksgiving dinner. I like the idea of family, but I live very far from mine. I’m not married, nor do I at present feel at all capable of maintaining a relationship. I go to church but I’m bored while I’m there, or annoyed, and I don’t know the people with whom I worship even though I’ve attended the same church for three years.
So. I have to wonder what the hell I’m doing and if I shouldn’t be doing something different.
At root I’m not sure God cares about me. But that’s not really my hang up. My problem is, I feel like I’ve used my talents poorly. I have been given a lot, and while I’ve tried to make the most of what’s been handed me, I have to concede it hasn’t yet added up to much. So I think what I feel maybe is more closer to disappointment in myself than feeling the presence of an indifferent God.
Its more complicated than that. I’m an artist and artists are not very obedient. I’m not sure God has much use for me. Or maybe, despite my overtures to the contrary, I find a lot of joy in doing what I want when I want. I don’t make music because I’m trying to serve the Lord. I make it because it pleases me. If I did it for any other reason, it would be shitty music. Speaking of, an irreligious diversion: Christian music makes me want to impale myself on a rusty pitchfork. Contemporary Christian music is actually the new Devil’s music, created by a group of people consciously imitating what they hear on the secular stations, for profit. Aping faith for money. God I hate Christian Contemporary Music. If you want to know what kind of Old Man Troglodyte I am I’m also pretty dubious on the notion of drums in church. I mean, the whole modern world is fucking set to a dance track can’t we just have two hours on a Sunday with a pipe organ and some worn out hymnals?
Thinking about it. Returning to paragraph one. I pray because I still hope that I might be of use. I pray too because I don’t know what better to do. If there was something else out there I could embrace with complete conviction, I would. But the world still seems to me to be a very selfish place; the only thing that changes is the particular voice of whomever at the moment is holding the microphone.
I think that’s what I’m looking for when I pray. Something to mitigate the tide of selfishness I see welling up inside of and around me at every unchecked moment.
I was shown a way to live when I was a kid, and I’ll never really shake it. Forgiveness over justice. To yield rather than fight. Meekness as a show of strength. To trust God rather than to rely on my own resources.
I read this and I’m like, Lenker you are a weak-minded old ladyboy.
Then I think: no, there’s something here. Besides what else am I going to do? The answer isn’t in my phone, or in what my friends think, or on NPR.
More information is not what the world needs right now. Wisdom is what I’m looking for.
Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling. Two thousand years later that is still some pretty good advice.
That’s what I’m thinking about this morning.