* to encourage a reasoned awareness of how our beliefs impact the way we interact with the world around us
* to foster intelligent and open dialogue
* to inspire a sense of spirituality that has real meaning in day-to-day life

Monday, October 1, 2012

1 Samuel 1-3: Our Divine Calling

The two-volume book of Samuel presents a history of the three legendary kings who ruled over a united Israelite monarchy: Saul, David, and Solomon.  In the story, Samuel is a prophet, both in the sense of proclaiming God's message and in the sense of being a seer.  He is directly involved in placing both Saul and David on the throne.  Before we get to the kings themselves, however, the mythical story of Samuel is recounted.  Born as a result of fervent prayer, Samuel is raised by a priest, Eli, whose sons are an embarrassment to their holy stations.  Even Eli seems to be so far removed from sincere and authentic ministry that he has a difficult time telling the difference between drunkenness and prayer.  At least he eventually recognizes that Samuel is hearing a calling from the Lord and not just dreaming, otherwise the story may have been much shorter.

In Samuel's origin story, his dedication is contrasted to the behavior of Eli's sons, who are self-serving and indulgent to the extreme.  For some, this out-of-control self-indulgence is the image conjured when they consider looking within themselves to find Truth.  If everyone did that, they believe, the world would collapse into selfish violence and disregard for others, because everyone would believe whatever they liked.  This is an understandable fear, especially when some prominent belief systems teach that people are rotten and broken and need some outside supernatural assistance just to hold society together.  And yet, a quick glance at the world suggests that people already twist prominent belief systems to suit their own self-interest.  Against the teachings of their own holy books, they justify violence, bigotry, and oppression as it suits them.  What keeps people from self-indulgence at the expense of other people is not an imposed set of rules, because those rules are easily twisted and broken.

Although it's easy to look at the caricatures of Eli's sons and see them as vaudeville-style villains, it's important to remember that all self-indulgence, violence, bigotry, and oppression is based ultimately on fear.  Eli's sons are no different from a lot of people today, afraid that they will suffer if they don't take what they want by force.  They abuse their position as a way of addressing their fears about their lives and their identities.  The pattern of bullying in which they engage is a symptom of profound, unaddressed fear that has taken over their beliefs and runs the majority of their lives.  We don't know what that fear may have been, but based on our own internal dialogue, we could probably guess a great portion of it.

That fear is not what people find when they look within themselves deep enough to find Truth, Beauty, and Creativity.  Although fear does come from within, it is based on untruths or half-truths.  Fear always seems perfectly reasonable, but when we examine many of our fears, we find that they are based on assumptions.  Fears are almost always given power by unverifiable beliefs that we have developed over a long period of time.  Looking within and basing our lives on the Truth we find there involves dismantling those fears and getting beneath them to something deeper, something that is not threatening, something that connects us to other people rather than fueling animosity. 

Developing this level of spiritual maturity is not necessarily an easy thing, even for people who live their lives doing holy work, like Eli's sons.  It seems easier to react to our fears and build beliefs that look like protective concrete walls with barbed wire and booby traps.  We feel protected for the moment because our fears have been addressed, but fear never shuts up.  We can never be insulated or guarded enough to be completely safe and secure from irrational fears.  All of our efforts just strengthen the power of our fear and create patterns of behavior that cement those irrational beliefs firmly in place.  Reacting to our fears expends a phenomenal amount of time and energy.

Getting to the heart of who we are, at the deepest core of our being, may also take considerable time and energy.  But the results are very different.  Instead of ultimately ineffectual protection against irrational fears, by recognizing and living in accordance with the deep Truth within us, we create connection with other people.  We have the opportunity to turn our creativity toward more meaningful pursuits, building the lives we most want rather than the walls that we think will make us feel safe in the moment.  Through reaching beneath the fears and false beliefs, we have the resources to build ourselves into the people we most want to be rather than the people we think we must be in the face of all that seems to threaten us.  The process still requires some effort and dedication, but in reality, we are exerting that effort every day; the choice is merely a matter of what we are building.

Eli's sons built for themselves lives that seemed secure and happy.  Samuel built a life of dedication to something deeper, something more meaningful, from a very early age.  In the story, he is called by a voice he doesn't recognize.  At first, Eli doesn't recognize what Samuel is experiencing, either.  The divine reaches out to Samuel, and for the biblical writers, this was most easily depicted as an externalized calling from a deity who was enthroned upon the ark of the covenant.  When we think of the divine calling us today, we have a much richer symbolic palette from which we can draw.  Although we may envision it in myriad different ways, it is the character of the divine -- that deep Truth, Beauty, and Creativity -- that calls us from beyond all of the irrational fears and false beliefs we have built up in its way.

Make no mistake, the divine does not call to a select few who have drawn some spiritual lottery, even though it may seem like only a select few respond earnestly to the call.  Within all of us, there calls the voice of our divine self, not in any audible sense, but as an internalized spiritual awareness that tugs at us.  Whether we acknowledge it or not, this calling from within is continuous and relentless.  Our divine self does not give up.  It calls us to see other people through compassionate eyes, so that we might recognize the value inherent in everyone we meet.  It calls us to see our impact on the world, to be purposeful about creating something meaningful.  It calls us to see ourselves as beautiful and capable.  It calls us to fearless connection.  It calls us to unashamed love.

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