Say the word God – try it – and what comes to mind? I imagine that the word will conjure up as many images, ideas, beliefs, doctrines, even ideologies as there are people doing the conjuring. It should come as no surprise that God conversations tend to be fraught with danger in both our public and our political spheres. Ironically, the danger is real even among those of us who allegedly espouse more or less the same thing when we say the word God, which is why – in our churches, for example – we have so few truly transparent conversations among ourselves, and continue to look to well-educated and informed clergy to make it all sensible.
Say the word universe, or planet, or planet Earth – these words conjure up only a couple things, maybe three. One, a vast playground of wealth and infinite resource to be exploited; two, a sacred and ultimately mysterious creation of which we humans are an integral and interconnected part; and three – just because I feel obliged to put it out there – simply the taken-for-granted backdrop against which we live our small, and all too often self-important lives. I say small not in any pejorative sense; in the context of the sheer vastness and complexity of the universe, humans are, truly, small.
Which ought we choose as a unifying and sacred principle that benefits all life forms? I’d opt for universe. Those of us who are still sleeping, can always awaken. That’s what transformation is about.
The universe is real, and it is perfect, perfect in the sense that the Sufi teacher Aliya Haeri intends it. “One day I awoke feeling overwhelmed with gratitude for the generosity of life,” she said, in a 2009 interview with Elizabeth Debold of EnlightenNext Magazine. “I recall how everything struck me as perfect – not a flaw in the universe. Perfection is what is, beyond duality. I have learned to see with the eye of unity that there is no fault in this universe.”
As my goal has been and continues to be, to find deep and holy community in what I have named the space between, it is of critical importance that we find the language, symbol, and ritual that allow theists, atheists, and non-theists to release the egoic trappings that tend to accompany our religious (or non-religious) pursuits, and this for the sake of the earth community.
I am reaching for the african concept of ubuntu, roughly translated, “I am because of who we all are.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu explains it in this way, “It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours. I am human because I belong. It speaks about wholeness, it speaks about compassion.” But I want to lift the concept from its specifically human-to-human context, and place it in service to the universe. I am because this universe is. To me, that brings it closer to the ground of all being, which, in turn, sends me both forward to Ken Wilbur and Andrew Cohen, and back to Tielhard de Chardin.
So. Enough philosophy. The need to step into the space between is not only essential but urgent. Every day is a day of mass destruction and irrevocable damage, much of it in the name of God. Suppose we could surrender the notion of a God made in our image (but who among us will confess and surrender our religiosity), perhaps we could begin to create an ubuntu life on the other side of our illusions and obfuscations.
Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” I’m with Oliver Wendell Holmes in that. It’s what I mean by “the other side of our illusions and obfuscations.”
I dream about the other side, really, and I imagine – can only imagine – that there are as many iterations of the sacred on the other side of surrender as there are on this side. The difference, however, makes all the difference. On the other side, all life forms have a say in the nature of a perfect and still evolving universe; some use words, most don’t. And all are emerging from common ground, the ground of all being.
The path, of course, is the apophatic way, the path of release, the surrender that allows us to enter the space between. I think of it as the invitation to shed what obfuscates, to release what encumbers, to let go of all that stands in the way of enlightenment, and I will close this with the words of Aliya Haeri: “The journey is moving beyond the conditioned self and all of the barriers that the self puts up to battle for its autonomy and that keep us from the enlightenment that’s already there.”