Do you like buying things second hand? I don’t. Knowing that someone else wore the clothes I am now wearing bothers me. Even when I buy a new shirt or pair of pants I tend to pick one that is folded tightly rather than one that has obviously been picked over. This is craziness on my part, I know. And it doesn’t stop with clothes.
I have trouble with second hand cars, cds, furniture; you name it. Even gods. I want to know God for myself rather than take someone else’s God on as my own. That is why I have a hard time in conventional religious settings. We spend so much time picking over well read words and well worn ideas that I long for something untouched and fresh.
I know lots of people who feel the just the opposite. At least about God if not about clothes. They take great comfort in reading the words that others have read for thousands of years. They find a deep level of joy holding and being held by the God of history. I admire them for this. I wish I could feel the same. But I don’t.
I think that is why I like to read about the Founders of the world’s great wisdom traditions; about the prophets and radical reformers; about the crazy wisdom teachers who break all the rules in order to reveal the fresh light of God for which they so deeply hunger.
The Founders were not loyal followers of their inherited paths but radical iconoclasts who rejected the conventional wisdom of their day and struck out on their own. Abraham, Moses, Lao Tzu, Buddha, Jesus, Paul, Mohammed all left home (physically and spiritually) before they could encounter God. The irony is that where the Founder’s internal drive for God pushed them to leave home, the religions they founded demand that we never even cross the street.
Not everyone is called to leave home, of course. The geniuses of the Talmud, for example, felt no need to wander in the wilderness. They were content to fine tune the wisdom that the wandering Moses passed down to them. Indeed, if there were no one happy to stay home there would be no religions at all. I admire and respect them. But I am not one of them. I am driven to wander.
Why? Because the actual experience of God is unique to each individual. There are no followers there. You either experience it for yourself or you don’t, but you cannot follow another or take on their experience. If you could follow someone to God, God would be reduced to a commodity. Do “x” and God will happen. But it isn’t that way at all. There is nothing I can do to find God. Indeed, every effort to find God only seems to make God appear more hidden.
So what shall I do? If I want the God of the Founders I have to do what the Founders did: leave home: leave behind all the conditioning of my tribe, culture, and family; strip myself of everything I know so that I can encounter the Unknown and Unknowable. How do I do this? There is, of course, no “how”. That is my point. There is no way to God, there is only God. So how can we go where there is no going? Is there a know-how in this world of no-how? Yes: meditation.
You could object, saying that meditation is also second hand. And it is. But the analogy is more to recycled writing paper than to recycled clothing. The threads of the paper are old, but the page itself is clean and empty. Meditation is old, but the experience of meditating is fresh every time you do it. When you sit in meditation you silence the mind and all it imagines. You set out into the wilderness of the unknown to hear the Still Small Voice of Silence hidden within it. The Voice speaks ceaselessly, and yet it never repeats. Its message is always the same and yet it is always new. It is something that no words can convey, and no ritual impart. It is the simple truth of God’s Presence in, with, and as you. It is experienced as pure joy; it is expressed as pure love.
I am not saying that we should abandon the religions of the Founders. I am only saying that once in a while we should seek the experience for ourselves just what it was that what it was the Founders found.