While power washing my back porch the other day, I accidentally aimed the nozzle too aggressively at the deck. The dull gray color suddenly vanished, replaced by a vibrant red cedar tone. At first, I was upset with myself for scarring the deck. Then I realized that this was the actual deck. I was very pleased with the color and cleanliness, but I hesitated to pursue the in-depth cleaning because halfway was probably good enough, and company was expected soon.
Isn’t this story symbolically familiar? The comfort zone threatened. Something that disturbs the norm. The aha moment telling you that what lies beneath the surface is so much better. Then hesitancy about reaching for that depth and substance. Right here is where so much of life is decided. Do we stay comfortable or dive deeper? The good ... or the best?
Recently I’ve been having many similar experiences. I’ve been participating in an ecumenical online community called Radical Acts, which is all about engaging with some of Jesus’ most fundamental – and toughest – teachings.
When I first heard about it, I was a bit skeptical. I was comfortable with my current understanding of Jesus’ teachings. I decided to engage, though, and then spent about a month participating in online discussions, enjoying music composed for this project and listening to audio stories by people living some pretty radical acts. I successfully incorporated the letter of some of these teachings – befriending “undesirables,” living abundantly, seeking the kingdom of God first – into my daily comfort zone.
Then last week, it hit me. I was downtown, being greeted by a man I’ve chatted with before. However, this man doesn’t dress or behave in a way that fits most people’s notions of normal, mine included. Whenever we talked in public, I was always spending half my time looking around to see who was watching me chat with him. I was living the letter of Jesus’ teachings about befriending folks not like myself, but I wasn’t engaging in the spirit and really taking this man into my heart. What’s more, I was not treating him as I would wish to be treated.
Did he notice? I don’t know. But here was my moment to dive deeper. I suddenly realized that it wasn’t about “successfully completing” a radical act or trying to fit it into society’s norms. The teachings of Jesus, or the teachings of any religious or inspirational figure, are not items on a checklist to be ticked off as I walk down the aisle of life. To live love – which I would venture is a summary of every spiritual and ethical path and teaching – means throwing out the checklists and being vitally, inseparably involved with the opportunity at hand to see just how beautiful, substantial, healthy, loving, and loved, we truly are. The “size” of the situation is irrelevant.
So, without planning or thinking about how I would convey this love, I began to truly pay attention to this man. I engaged with him. I let respect and love for him be the rule. We shook hands – which we’d never done before – and as we parted, I saw that he had the biggest smile on his face. It mirrored mine.
Was this a massive, life-changing interaction? In the past, I would have tried to determine in what specific ways I had accomplished a radical act. But now I see that this would miss the point. The real question is, Am I living with my eyes wide open to the immediate substance and depth of life?
My study of Christian Science has shown me that Life is a synonym for God. So for me, the question means: Am I consciously living as the expression of that infinite joy and vitality that drives the whole universe? I also understand Love to be a synonym for God. So can I throw off the comfortable, and live so as to know nothing but Love itself?
The answers to these questions are yes and yes. More so each day since I’ve begun participating in radical acts in a deeper way – one that’s more connected to my heart.
Oh, and I did clean the whole deck. All the way down to that vibrant color below.
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