Golden Calves

Anyone can observe the Sabbath, but making it holy surely takes the rest of the week. — Alice Walker

The wisdom traditions say that whatever or whoever annoys you is your teacher.

But I refuse to think that in that there’s a sit-down and stay in your desk until you learn this thing you need to learn subtext: you’re free to change your degree program, transfer schools, or be like Steve Jobs and say . . . I’m dropping out and moving on, and doing and thinking different.

You can love people, but consider most of their beliefs and behaviors fundamentally toxic.

For those of us who needed more than anything  to overcome poverty and ignorance, while living in creative awareness, God realization, mystical enlightenment, seeing the splendor of everything in a grain of sand, and for whom these things mattered more than other people’s opinions, more than the home, more than the vows, more than life itself, because we risked it all in one dislocating crap shot after another, there’s no nobility in hanging with folks who don’t want to learn.

No need to hang in or hang on.

I make a lot of mistakes, and for all my professed passions, I’ve been a slow learner.  One of the mistakes I made over and over is thinking that people want to learn, they want to grow, and they want to transcend the limits that other people tell them are true.

When I ask — when I pray to the Great Mystery — why am I in the stix of Maine in the middle of an economic and cultural abyss, I need to make meaning out of my life’s messiness.  I’m asking beyond the many practical and long-term reasons; I wouldn’t have been able to garden as I have on rental property in many places.

There’s the incomparable gift of nature, my view of the falls, the sound of the river and crickets and frogs at 2 am.

I’ve created a little spiritual oasis, a sanctuary, and an Eden from nothing, a miracle machine in a destitute area.

But after another exasperating day among the faithful, I am asking, yet again, why this community?

I assume that my light and energy and creativity can change the area and even ignorance’s spiritual tenor.

Well, my life can and does shine a light, but I make a lot of assumptions about other people, and it’s an assumption that I make too often.

Why am I here, what am I learning?

I’m learning that people don’t want to change, and they’d rather have their metaphors be as hard as metal, and that they build their metal metaphors to reinforce a collapsing belief system.

They would rather have their Golden Calf.

Instead of looking to Moses in the mountains, where the epiphany of immanence and transcendence took place, the “Children Of Israel” danced around a cast metal metaphor wrought from bygone days — the beliefs of Egypt.  

I thought about this last night, and it occurred to me that the “Children Of Israel” wandering in the desert surely didn’t have a lot, and what gold resources they had they quickly gave up to secure a safe identity when they “didn’t know.”

When uncertainty invited them to deep trust and grace, they chose fear, safety in their known beliefs.

The Golden Calf wasn’t the worship of money or materiality, given their limited resources, it was a retreat into the familiar, the known, the sure, the form of an old religion, and not Spirit waiting for their awareness.

The story is one of progress and liberation from old forms, and a call to approach every day expecting miracles, epiphanies, synchronicities . . .  creative awareness.

The trek from Egypt and its lessons wasn’t a story of national or religious identity, the story’s trek offered metaphors that pointedly resisted literalist readings.

Jewish interpretive tradition recognizes this.

Modern evangelicals don’t.

The current Christian faith in rural parts and on the national stage is one of comforting ideas and beliefs that have zero grounding in what history, theology, science, the mystics, and the artists give us.

Change threatens, and the folks who hold these stories will never revise them because of habit and comfort and fear: any loss of the psycho-social identity, the great path to unlearning and awakening, the collective ego guards against like a pack of hungry and taunted junkyard dogs.

The answer to change?  Get louder and more defensive, play the victim, be more vigilant against the stories that may cause you to question your literal interpretations of Sunday School narratives.

Stories written for children, not adults.

One woman told me,  and this was a breathtaking, raw honesty worthy of respect: “I guess I never questioned my beliefs because I was afraid that my world would fall apart.”

So I had to write this entry to see what I’ve always known, but had to dig deeper into, as I’ve always made big assumptions, and I’ve always taken on inappropriate responsibility:

The conservative Christians (and most folks) in this area don’t want to learn and don’t want to hear the voice of Spirit beyond their comfort zone.  

Beliefs stand-in for awakening practices, blankets of psychological ideas for experiences of immanence and transcendence.

This does not make them bad people; in fact, most are damn fine people with enormous hearts: they are generous, caring, thoughtful, and diligent.

(The political left will never see this, it’s too busy labeling them.)

On the other side, those who veer toward a mental, pseudo-intellectual approach (the rural bourgeois) have so flatlined their spirit that they live from a different set of comfy habits: social posturing and pretense.

I described the cultural split to a friend like this: the ones with the bad ideas have the big hearts, the ones with the good ideas have no spiritual awareness.

“The best lack all conviction, the worst are full of passionate intensity,” (Yeats) he replied.

This is much of what I see, simplified to make sense, and I am as of today not returning to a community of folks who  I love dearly, because it’s more work than it’s worth when I spend too much mental energy navigating around well-intentioned ignorance.

Extend love, peaceably move on.

Life is precious, make the changes quick and smooth.

What did I learn?

I am no longer responsible for a chronically sick mother and either rebelling against or meeting the expectations of her ignorant faith (see how we play these things out?), and there’s no reason to expect that people want to live life deep and rich and bountiful beyond what they know.

Giving up and digging in rules.

I’m here, and if they want to share fine, no need to assume beyond that — and there’s a deep peace in accepting other people’s path.

The Bible and Christian radio and muzak seem enough to meet their needs.

It’s not my responsibility to care for them (like I once did with many clients) in the name of service because I’m was raised to be a caretaker, and I’m a woman of a generation for whom that training runs too deep.

This is the stuff that writers and poets and prophets and mystics care about — life’s complexities:  the unlearning is all.

Seeing allows us to let go more quickly, without regret or second-guessing.

It’s the heart — courage — of sinking into one’s life, while letting old forms pass away.

She who would lose her life a hundred times over will find it a thousand times ten.

Letting go.


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