23 February 2013

Dirt and Ashes

"Create in me a clean heart, O God; renew a right spirit within me."
Psalm 51:10

When we lived in Lee's Summit, Missouri, we bought a home in a subdivision that was about 9 years old.  Our home was five years old when we moved in.  It was a great area to live, and the neighborhood had a lively mixture of young and not-so-young folks...friendly and caring.

We had a homeowners association that oversaw our community pool, a pond in the neighborhood, and the care of the greenspaces that were common property.  It was then that I learned that this large development had been "robbed" during its construction.  The developer, when clearing the farmland for building, had also removed the top two feet of soil, taken it to another area and sold the soil for additional profit.  What we had left was the thicker clay-type subsoil, which did not allow for much water to soak through.  It made maintaining lawns and shrubs much more difficult.

With that knowledge and the help of a soil specialist, I learned how to aerate the less fertile ground beneath the lawn and apply the proper nutrients that would allow grass, plants and trees to grow and prosper.  In a sense, I got the land to work despite its insufficiency.  BUT, the insufficiencies were not part of the original organic nature of the land.  The top two feet of land, that had been removed, had sustained eons of prairie grasses, trees, plants and...over the 150 years prior to development...bountiful harvests of corn, wheat and other vegetables.

After selling our Lee's Summit home last March (2012), I let my concerns about all that go the way of no longer needed knowledge.  Until Wednesday night (02/20/13)...

I attended a meeting of our condo development homeowners association.  Two things happened at this meeting.  1)  I was asked to serve on the "architectural review committee," which will include the lawn/landscaping elements of Stonehaven (our development name).  2)  We were introduced to the lawn/landscape company that will be our folks for keeping grass, plants, trees, irrigation, etc. looking and functioning at their best.  The first was expected.  Our board members had already asked me to serve, because I had expressed concern over the previous company's seeming lack of expertise.  We pay HOA fees to have a well maintained development.

It was the second experience that got my real attention.  The owner and manager for the new landscape company were present and introduced themselves and the services they would be providing.  The owner expressed concern that our lawns and plants seemed a bit "anemic."  He will be taking soil samples for analysis and then applying appropriate organic materials to "beef up" the soil.  Then he said it:  "As you may know, when developers clear land for new construction, they usually take most all the topsoil to sell privately...what you have is subsoil that has not been properly prepared and enriched."  

So, this is a common practice all over the place.  That was rather new knowledge to me.  Suddenly, the right brain went to work again.  A connection was made, and an image emerged.

When a child is born, the fullness of that being is already present.  It is the Imago...the Divine Character...the Essence.  The newborn is also like a fertile field in which can be planted all that will connect him/her to life in the sensate, relational environment.  In terms of our openness, it is the True Self (birth self) which connects to this sensate, relational reality.

However, we also carry the capacity to create our reality in a form and dimension that corresponds to the boundaries within our field of being.  We call that capacity the ego.  It is there to serve and engage.  What "socialization skills" essentially do is to "scrape off" or strip away the fertile ground of True Self and replace it with the growing, functional ego...containing the expectations and rules of relationship; the less fertile and more shallow qualities of a self that reduces reality to the thin veneer of cause-effect interaction.

The emergence of the ego is not a bad thing in itself.  The Hebrew Scriptures (aka, Old Testament) tells the story of how the ego replaces True Self.  That replacement is known as Original Sin.  The sad part of theological development has been to say that "we are born with original sin."  We are not.  We are born with the capacity to either choose or to be conditioned to choose those things that structure the ego as the central identifier of human character.  The fully developed, separated and individualistic ego is the "apple" held out to the homo sapiens.

The fertile "top soil" of True Self is not robbed...like the top soil of a development site.  It is scraped away and buried so that, at worst, one becomes a self-consumed individualist (Simon & Garfunkel's, "I am rock; I am an island..").  At usual, the True Self becomes a voice within that moral theologians call the "character of goodness."  At best, the True Self re-emerges as the guiding force to which the ego becomes a faithful servant.

Here, I will say something controversial.  Not because I want to, but because of the need to make it clear.  This happens in every religion and every cultural group calling a religion the centerpiece of its principles.  Because we choose to function with egos more or less on "steroids," we create the Divine in our image.  For Christians, Jesus becomes a savior who thinks like I think and fits comfortably within the element of society and culture wherein I identify my own sense of what is right and wrong.  This happens in Islam, Hinduism and, as I said, every religious group.  We see it with the Fred Phelps group in Topeka, KS (an "At worst" example), or in elements of the Taliban (another "At worst" example).  Any enterprise where the phrasiology hangs around, "Me/Us and my/our god" is mostly working from ego-based inculturation and manufactured reality.

Yes, such words are harsh; but let's take a quick look at some words that appear in every spiritual tradition.  The most important is Humility.  The actual meaning of this word is: Of the Earth, or...more organically...from the dirt.  This word, humility, has been used to try to put folks in their places...as an attitude.  The foundational theological reality is that this from the dirt place is our True Self...out of which only true love and goodness can grow.  It is the fertile character of our birth nature.

Another word is metanoia.  The actual meaning is: to be turned around.  More to the core, it means to be recast or remade.  It is like the mound of clay on the potter's wheel that, in the process of throwing a pot, can be begun anew or reshaped to create its perfected form.  It is a process word.  However, we have turned it into an event word, which, for Christians, becomes the word:  "saved."  One of our more prideful capacities is to point with admiration at the very moment we "were saved."

Metanoia can also be translated repentance, which means turning away from.  It is a sturdy enough word but describes, again, only a beginning act of a much longer process.

Another word is hubris.  We use this word to speak of pride in a negative way.  Actually, it is a warning word.  It means: spiritual pride or excessive pride toward or defiance of the Divine.  It warns us that we have gotten really close to the kind of functionality that claims Divine Authority as one's own to wield.

Finally, there is the word contrition.  This is an almost forgotten word within moral theology.  It has two meanings:  act of drilling down, and showing a deep sense of guilt or remorse.  This is both an event and a process term.  It is the "aha" moment of something being wrong within...by virtue of thought or action.  It is the process of identification as to what that thought or action is that is creating the remorse or guilt.  The ego wants to deny guilt and remorse and will actively find ways to avoid responsibility.  Contrition loudly heralds our need to own whatever is going on inside...."to sit with the charge" as it were.

Ten days ago, the Christian tradition began the 40 day season of Lent.  Ash Wednesday marks (literally) the beginning of this annual journey.  In liturgical traditions of Christianity, the priest will bless ashes made from the palms of the previous Palm Sunday of Holy Week and will sign the worshiper with a cross on the forehead saying, "Remember that you are dust; and to dust you shall return."

This is a direct invitation to remember the rich, fertile soil of the True Self and our connection both to earth and to God.  It is an invitation to drill down and allow ourselves to be remade or recast.  We tend to make mockery of this journey by almost laughingly talking about what we are "giving up" for Lent.  Truly, if we don't emerge from the season of Lent having been fundamentally reshaped in some way, we have abused and wasted the season. 

This is an invitation to begin a process that leads to the ego being reduced to the place of servant to True Self.   We cannot force this process.  It is not one of bargaining, or buying, or controlling.  All of those are acts of hubris.

This is an invitation to submit in humility to the Divine...who loves us so much and wants only to shower us with transformational Grace.  The process begins with us asking, humbly, to be changed...and to really mean it.  Then allow whatever God wants to do with us happen.  Lent is making space for that process.  If we emerge and say, "I am now fully remade,"  chances are that we are not.

In the end, when we are remade, we proceed in the world in the state of being awake to our true nature, and the Divine utilizes us as people of transformation.  Our environment becomes the holy ground into which we were first born.  We experience others as fellow beings of light and transformation.  We celebrate connectedness and a kind of lovingkindness that cannot be manufactured or controlled on our own terms.  It simply is, because It Is.

Love and Blessings,


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