16 Apr Digging for Treasure
Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is like a hidden treasure or a pearl of great value. Once found, a wise person will sell everything else to gain this most valuable of all possessions (Matthew 13:44-46). The changes and uncertainties which have descended upon us with this global pandemic are leading many to a deeper examination of their lives and what they are looking for in their daily existence. On the most basic level, of course, we are concerned with survival, trying to stay healthy and to figure out ways to continue to meet our most fundamental human needs. With our elimination of public gatherings, we are seeing afresh our need for human connection. Many are finding that being alone and shut up in their homes creates internal suffering. Our first instinct is to find ways to mask the suffering, to drown it with food, alcohol, noise, entertainment, and tasks. Otherwise, worry, fear, loneliness, and emptiness overwhelm us and paralyze us.
In our culture, we have been trained to expect that the solution to our inner turmoil lies beyond us, outside of us. What we hope for is that social and economic restrictions soon will be lifted and we can return to a life where we feel more comfortable and safe once more. We listen to leaders and experts debate when this will be and to what degree. Will we have to wait for a vaccine and a successful treatment before we can return to normal? Will more tests pave the way for a return? As the psalmist prayed, “How long, O Lord, how long?”
But what if we discovered that the key to our recovering equilibrium lay not outside of ourselves, but within? What if we discovered that external circumstances have limited power over our sense of wellbeing? What if we learned to see our lives from a perspective of presence which holds us and all reality in an energy of infinite love? When Jesus spoke about the kingdom of heaven, this, I believe, was what he was talking about. The capacity to experience and connect to presence within oneself in the midst of all of life’s external variables. The ability to lean into our own internal cacophony of discordant voices and find beneath them all, something or someone holding us in a place of peace. When the externals of our lives are supporting us, we may not feel the need to search for such internal support; but, when our externals are crumbling, then such a potential gift would suddenly become something of great value. Jesus pointed to such hidden treasure within.
This is the hidden treasure that all true spiritual teachers have known about and tried to guide us to. This is the goal and path of all contemplatives and mystics. But it is counter-intuitive and not usually the first place we look. The true gift of this current crisis would be a rediscovery of this hidden treasure, this pearl of great value.
The Center for Action and Contemplation has as its mission helping people to learn how to dig for such hidden, inner treasure. Each day, they publish a meditation by email with hints for how we might find the treasure. This morning, April 16, core faculty member, Cynthia Bourgeault, wrote about finding mystical hope. “Mystical hope is not tied to a good outcome, to the future. It lives a life of its own, seemingly without reference to external circumstances and conditions.” All contemplative practices seek to stabilize in us a hope which is not based on shifting external realities, but to a reality discovered within which “lives a life of its own.” “We ourselves are not the source of that hope; we do not manufacture it. But the source dwells deeply within us and flows to us.”
Most mainline churches have not known about or taught people how to access mystical hope. Our experience of God is more theoretical and moral in nature. We have tended to reflect the orientation of the culture and mimicked its instincts. We want to talk about and provide hope, but the hope we envision is of a more practical, realistic and external nature. Virtual companionship, assistance of some kind, heart-felt sentiments of care and encouragement. I do not mean to disparage these. They are of value and offered usually in all sincerity. But as one whose life has been spent in delivery of such hope, my sense is that it falls short of what Jesus talked about and gave his life to.
Because we have yet to really experience mystical hope, we come together in an inner stance of inadequacy trying our best to manufacture hope. We want to provide rescue, but what we offer doesn’t get to the core of the self or offer a transformative reality. To provide others with mystical hope would be to invite people on a journey of deep spiritual practice. It is a path of growing inner observation and letting go of attachment which leads eventually to a new way of seeing and a deeper experience of presence. Cynthia Bourgeault writes, “This journey to the wellsprings of hope is not something that will change your life in the short range, in the externals. Rather, it is something that will change your innermost way of seeing. From there, inevitably, the externals will rearrange.”
These comments are not meant as judgment of anyone. We are all doing the best we can to cope with difficult circumstances, and none of us will do so perfectly. It seems to me, however, that something much deeper and more precious is being offered to us than a relatively quick return to normal. This is never what Jesus had in mind. Jesus wished for us the big treasure of transformation, of inner union with God, so that we develop the capacity to see and to trust God in all things, and to live our lives in deep alignment with God. To find such treasure is the work of a lifetime and will require some digging on our part; but, surely, the significance of our moment is asking us for such deeper intentions as this.