My Birthday is approaching, in a few days. And here in Spain, the momentum of ‘las fiestas’ is still building, awaiting its crescendo on King’s Day, or, ‘El Dia de Los Reyes’-coinciding with the Feast of Epiphany. I have a fat Cuban cigar awaiting me. A birthday present to myself, I plan to enjoy, alone, in prayerful reflection.
A couple of years ago my in-laws generously gifted me some cash for my birthday. I bought a pair of jeans, now patched up from wear, a denim shirt, that I’m wearing today, and, a bottle of Kentucky bourbon, though I no longer drink.
The day after Christmas our family went to an Italian all you can eat buffet. I wore my denim shirt.
Towards the end of the meal, I sat together with my five-year old son, Jakob. My wife, Taryn had gone to the bathroom with our other two boys.
Jakob sat kneeling on the red cushioned bench chair across the table playing with legos that Santa had brought. His innocence spilling itself all over the table, dripping off the wonder of his blue eyes. His messy hair, snotty shirt, sniffing nose and freckled face each playing their part to the tune. A palpable pungency of the aroma of goodness that now makes me teary eyed recalling it.
It was one of the only relaxed moments during the course of the meal for me. My ‘cortado descafeinado’ sat before me on the table.
Halfway lunging across the table to share a discovery, Jakob’s thigh hit the table sending my coffee and the moment dispersing.
As Epiphany approaches, we remember and pay homage to the Christ that was born, a Christ that is, and always has been.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” -Colossians 3:15-17
The child came, the man died, but the Christ lives on. Jesus’ much underemphasized role as revealer of the Divine Life, is what Epiphany (as revelation) is about the wise men journeyed far to celebrate. The Christ Mystery is indeed worth celebrating. But this is much more about an invitation to join in on what Jesus shared with the Father, than it is about merely following the eventual Jewish Rabbi.
“Don’t cling to me. It’s better that I go and send the Helper. I would rather you live my life as your truest experience than merely imitate mine-a transfer of my essence, and yes it will cost me everything, as love always does. The only purely exemplary part of my life then, is my willingness to say, ‘yes,’ summed up in the words “not my will, but thine be done.” The God-in-you will know what to do when the time comes. Surrender to that.”
There are a few necessary and important dualisms in the spiritual life I thought, rubbing the stain stick on my denim shirt, after returning home from lunch. The coffee stain, well set in.
This wasn’t the first stain I had worked on with this shirt. The color had faded, from its original light blue to an almost iridescent bend of whites, blues and browns from its regular wearing and washing. I knelt down on one knee in front of the washing machine, working the stain out, while the kids squealed and romped in the living room. Taryn stood in front of the sink to my left, washing dishes.
I felt a headache coming on as I grasped, trying to make something out of the thought.
Though, I’ve been reflecting on it a bit since:
Non-dual consciousness is the fruit of the relentless invitation to begin by making a dualistic choice-itself a grace. Control or trust, fear or love, isolate or connect, cling or let go. It is in making the choice, repeatedly, that we begin to access and see from the whole. And on the other side of that choice, the thing we chose against, or rather, over, paradoxically manifests itself in a different form-control of a different kind, an awe-filled trembling at the Mystery of God, a contented inner quietude, the feeling of being grasped. All gifts we could never commandeer through the forced-ness of willpower.
This is the invitation at the heart of Jesus’ relationship with the Father. A knowing from the inside of Oneness, where things like trust, mutuality, connection and freedom just are-much more an energy field than a thing we produce. In fact, one we often stumble into, as IT has already chosen Us.
This is the meaning of Epiphany-revelation of the Divine Reality being here and now. God says ‘yes’ to the concreteness of the messiness of human reality as God’s playing field.
And we join in through participation, more than imitation, in saying ‘yes’ back-always starting with a choice, which, by its nature, must be dualistic at some level.
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other,” says Jesus, “You cannot serve both God and money.”
“Why not become unified or identified with God so that we manifest God in every action, and in this way, give God a chance to find out what it is like to be a human being. That seems to be the project. But it is only half the project. The bigger half is the effort God has been making since the beginning of time to convince us that he loves us. We are pretty shy about that.” writes Trappist monk, Thomas Keating.
Last night Jakob and I hung laundry. My denim shirt had been soaking in the bidet for a few days, and was in the load we were pulling out of the washer.
As we began this work, standing on the back balcony where our laundry rack hangs, Jakob uttered, “I love you Daddy.”
“I love you too, Jakob,”
We continued hanging clothes on the line. Jakob, the socks, me, the rest.
I pulled out my shirt. I felt the heaviness of it, the lined threaded texture, along with a strong presence, resting in, and pulsating through my heart.
“I really like being here with you Jakob,” I said, aware, that I don’t express myself enough in moments of joy.
“I really like being here with you too,” he replied.
After finishing up with the laundry, we put on our jackets to head out. Jakob had been motivated to help as we were going to have special time together, just he and I.
On the way home after hanging out, Jakob and I spotted a partially cloud-covered full-moon. It looked ominous.
I pointed at it. Reminded in the act of our role as finger pointers.
“This was never about me. It was about my Father, says the Son. This was never about you, in getting something “out of life.” It was about Me and My Life being spread abundantly. It’s about living my life-more like being me and meeting Jonathan, or, meeting me in yourself and allowing my life its fullest expression in the shape of you. Capiche?”
And so, we remember, and then forget…stumbling, dabbling and tripping into the Divine Life Stream that rolls on, and on, and ON…hopefully discovering in our experience that IT has chosen Us as worthy and privileged participants.
“You have to experience duality for a long time until you see it’s not there. Don’t consider dualistic prayer on a lower level. The lower is higher. There are no levels. At any moment, you can break through to the underlying unity which is God’s gift to us in Christ. In the end, Praise praises. Thanksgiving gives thanks. Jesus prays. Openness is all,” says, Thomas Merton.
So we stay open, say ‘yes,’ choose trust, let go, join in and discover the dance extending itself to us as, in and through our life. IT is not elsewhere.
In the spirit of Epiphany, won’t you join in celebrating as a contemplative, allowing Divine Love to meet you in the concreteness of your messy, yummy humanity!
Keating writes on the subject, “To be a contemplative is to be willing to be loved concretely in every detail of life and on every level of human life, body, soul, and spirit. If you are merely thinking of receiving the Eucharist as a ritual, go home. That’s not what it is. It may start with that, but the Eucharist is primarily about the interpenetration of spirits—all that we are into all that God is, and all that God is into all that we are, including every detail of our life, every concern, joy, and suffering. In other words, we’ve got a life companion of infinite capabilities all lined up in our favor and ready to go.”
So let it be.