When looking at a bridge for example,
or a tall building,
the person will obsess about structural weaknesses
or points of vulnerability
and what could go wrong
to make it come tumbling down.
I have that phobia
in a very manageable form
but when I was much younger
I could get freaked out about such things
to the point it would sometimes cause me to get
cold and clammy.
Here is an example.
I used to have season tickets
to The Ohio State football games.
For ten years I went to the Horseshoe,
as it’s affectionately called,
where I was crammed like a sardine
with 100,000 other people.
The stadium was built in 1922
and I would sit there sometimes
looking at those huge steel girders
with rivets the size of my fist
and think about…the Titanic.
“Hmmm,” I would muse,
“the Titanic was built in 1911 with defective steel
caused by human error in the manufacturing process…”
Thoughts such as that
would cause me to think about escape routes
should the deck above me fall
when those 100,000 people started
stomping their feet and singing,
“We will, we will, rock you!”
I see the humor in this,
I did even then.
Not so much as a kid.
When I was young, a passenger in my parent’s car
and everyone else enjoying the five mile drive
across one of the world’s longest expansion bridges
over the straights of Mackinaw in Michigan,
I would push my face up against the window
and inspect the cables for fraying as we passed.
It gets to be pretty funny.
In the Lincoln Tunnel going into NYC
I will catch myself thinking about how I will escape
if water comes rushing in.
And once, flying home from Africa,
I revealed to Katy
that thinking of the plane crashing
was not near so troubling
as what it would be like to then be eaten by a shark.
She assured me that we wouldn’t be alive
when we met the shark.
I call these thoughts “The Jesus Syndrome.”
Of course I would –
but not because I want to be like Jesus.
I call it that because it reminds me there is a good reason
to have limited confidence
in anything human,
and to always keep the long view
even while trying to accomplish the short-term task.
I love the image from today’s gospel
in which Jesus is gazing upon the amazing Temple
whose majesty was extolled across the Roman Empire.
“Yep,” Jesus says matter of factly,
“one these days those babies are coming down.”
If we think about the first century
and Judean and Galilean peasants living in those parts,
there just would not have been many superstructures
for them to ogle over.
Peasants did not travel far and
they would have no access to
palaces, Pretoriums, and coliseums.
The Temple in Jerusalem
would have been a unique experience
for someone marginalized like Jesus,
because it was a rare architectural giant
they could actually walk into –
even if with very limited access.
Calling my little phobia “The Jesus Syndrome”
also comforts me with the idea
that Jesus had crazy thoughts too.
But this story reveals
that Jesus’ thoughts weren’t all that crazy.
His fantasy about the Temple falling down
turned out to be true.
Thirty-eight years after Jesus was executed
the Roman army reduced the Temple to ruins
and all that remains of it today
is that bitter irony called
the Jewish “Wailing Wall” below
and the Muslim “Temple Mount” above.
But here is a human oddity.
I look at something like Hoover Dam
and see frailty
while someone else is awestruck
by the magnificence of human capacity.
At the same time,
I look up into the night sky in Derby, Vermont
and feel exuberant joy
at my infinitesimal stature in the cosmos.
Meanwhile that other person who took pleasure
in the vast capacity of human ingenuity
may feel anxious
about our obvious and total insignificance
beneath the twinkling dome of the sky.
above and below
and over and beyond,
Not only from where we are standing
but from behind the eyes
which see the thing we are looking at.
Take the Temple for example.
The Temple wall standing before Jesus and his friends
was well known and could easily become ordinary.
It had been there for their entire lives.
It was massive and spectacular to be sure,
a veritable feat of architecture, power, and wealth,
but 40,000 people passed by it every day.
It was a wall.
It was a really big wall
with really big stones,
made by an army of people –
3000 priests to be exact,
because it was stipulated that only priests could build it.
But really, when all was said and done, it was a wall.
It was an ordinary, every day, walk along side of it, wall.
So they are walking out of the Temple
and someone marveled at the big stones
and that caused Jesus to suddenly see them differently.
“Yeah, they’re big all right,
a real tribute to human power, money, and imagination.
But they’re toast.
They’re coming down.”
What might someone who was with Jesus have felt
when imagining the Temple being reduced to rubble?
Well, he or she might have felt saddened by it
but maybe not.
For people inside that wall,
especially those on the top of it looking down,
Jesus’ words would have been bad news.
But for the peons below,
people like Jesus and most of his pals
who were painfully aware that their taxes
paid from pitifully poor wages
went for its maintenance,
maybe the thought of it falling down
gave them a chuckle.
for peasants that had to practice their religion
in the Temple,
and only in the Temple
because there was a monopoly on sacred space;
and who had to buy entrance into it,
maybe for those folks
the Temple wasn’t full of warm fuzzies.
for those folks,
the ones who had to purchase an expensive animal
to sacrifice for their sins
and who also had to pay the priest to sacrifice it
in a part of the Temple they could never enter;
maybe for those folks
the idea of bringing down the Temple
seemed like a long-overdue act of God?
Such things really depend upon where we are standing,
and who we are standing with: Perspective.
so many times I’ve come
with my empty cup
a beggar of the heart
devoid of nourishment
depleted of energy…”
The colors and music of abundance can surround us
yet we can feel desolate and empty.
The sun can dawn on a cloudless spring morning
and it can feel to us like a burning coal of bitterness.
In a room full of people who love us
we can shake inside from the echoes of loneliness.
Our perspective is not dictated by events,
but how we see
and interpret events
is dictated by our perspective.
so many times I’ve come
afraid of unknowns
full of negatives and no’s
fighting the challenges
closed and resistant to growth…”
The exact thing we have been waiting for
can arrive and be greeted with our anger.
Our hope, so long a gleam on the horizon,
can find its way to us and we shut the door on it.
The opportunity that will unbind us for flight
may be bitterly resisted as an enemy to our cause.
Our perspective is not the cause of events
but the effect of our perspective on events
determines whether or not
the opportunities in front of us
slip into the moment to become
in the life
we have been longing for.
so many times I’ve come
a stranger to my spirit
crammed with cultural clutter
crowding my inner space…”
The hunger that can nourish us
is often the very thing that will repulse us,
yet the desire that most depletes our soul
is often the most infatuating.
We want what we cannot have
and need what we do not want
but always the choice resides within our mind
and either lights the room
or darkens it.
Our perspective cannot take away
the pain of harsh choices
that lives side by side in our heart,
but it makes all the difference in the world
with whether or not we learn to live well
in spite of what hurts
and find healing even within an ache that is chronic.
I come to you again
holding out my waiting cup
begging that it first
of all that blocks the way
then asking for its filling
with love that tastes like you.”
As far as I know,
God does not fix
the course of lives by fiat.
But our perspective
can and does change
whether or not we see
to God who is present
in any and every moment –
and our response then changes
the course of lives.
puts it all on God to come save us,
come heal us
come make us different.
God does not need to come anywhere
because God is here
We are the ones
that need to come
enter into the moment with God
and allow that simple act
to change the course of lives –
ours, and others.
As the Inuit saying goes,
“We are sitting on a whale
fishing for minnows.”
So what I would say about spiritual practice
is that it should not focus on God
and where we can find God
or feel God
or come to understand God.
Rather, our spiritual practice
needs to focus on our own perspective
and how it enables
and activates us
as spiritual people,
or whether instead it depletes
and starves us.
God will be God
but it is our own perspective that governs our mind
and we do have a great deal of power
over our own perspective.
We can change it,
we really and truly can.
It may not be a linear process
and no one can give us a How-to manual
that will lead us on an orderly path
from A to B to C
until we are done once and for all.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be trying
to change our perspective
to discover other ways of seeing
from which we start to see things
that we never saw before –
or from perspectives we have never stood in before.
We are not stuck where we are
unless we want to be.
who awaits us
in each and every moment,
awaits our discovery of a new perspective
from which we will be amazed
at what we haven’t been seeing all this time.