Thursday, February 09, 2006

Window Shopping in the Garden of Grace

I had breakfast with a saint yesterday. His name is Bo Lozoff. Bo is the author of several books, most notably “It’s a Meaningful Life. It Just Takes Practice,” and the co-founder with his wife, Sita, of the Humankindness Foundation, a contemplative outreach program for inmates in American prisons.

I have known Bo for decades, but we rarely have the opportunity to sit with one another. As we ate eggs and waffles (I had the first, Bo the second) in a local Waffle House (Murfreesboro is a three-Waffle House town), I listened to his experiences with a recent year of silence. This was not Bo’s first experience silence, but it seems to have been the most transformative. He emerged as a true servant of God.

A servant of God, as the early Jewish sages defined it, is one who has surrendered his or her will to God. God sets the agenda for your life; you are simply a vehicle for doing whatever it is God wants done. But how do you know what that is? How do you know it is God’s will you are following rather than a subtle whim of your own masquerading as divine?

On the one hand, you don’t; you can’t. And that is part of the process for it keeps you humble. You have to trust that whatever is given you to do comes from God. It sounds like a perfect scam for an ego looking to hoodwink itself and others. And yet as Bo described his life, I knew that in his case it was anything but. His service to God translates as service to others. This is what God wants: that we serve one another in our mutual quest for integrity, simplicity, justice, and compassion.

So, on the other hand, you can know when the will of God is calling you. If you are called to be of service to another’s God-realization— this is God calling. If you are called to serve yourself at another’s expense, or serve yourself through this seemingly selfless service to others, then it is ego and not God that is calling to you.

Later last evening, long after talking with Bo, I was browsing in the religion and spirituality sections of Nashville’s Borders Books and Music. So many books dealing with spiritual growth and divine service. But the vast majority—Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “The Cost of Discipleship” being a notable exception— were thinly veiled cries of the ego pretending to be the Still Small Voice of God. These books equate your happiness with God’s will. God wants you to be wealthy, healthy, well-groomed, and tax-sheltered. This is what Bonhoeffer calls “cheap grace.”

Cheap grace is the religion of most Americans. It is a feel good, get rich gospel that is in the service of the self not God. As I listened to Bo I heard the cost of discipleship, the stripping away of ego, the painful, frightening and yet ultimately liberating death of the false self as part of the birthing of the true self.

If you wish to serve God know that it will cost you “you.” It is a high price to pay, and there is no discount. I wish I could say I was ready to pay the price, but I am not. I am still window shopping in the Garden of Grace.

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