Thursday, September 06, 2007

A Little Sickness And The Experience of God

I was not in the office yesterday. It was one of those days where my body was not cooperating with the rest of me. It is a thin line between being sick and simply not feeling good. I spent most of the day on that tightrope. The day was not a total loss. I was able to turn the time into a hermit day. I went the entire day without human contact other than a few necessary emails. Even though I felt poorly, it was good to have a day of solitude. A day home alone, for any reason, is usually a gift to an introvert. I tried to use the day well by resting and giving my body a break. I think minor illnesses can sometimes be a gift from God. I usually interpret them as a message to stop and take a break from the never ending demands of life. Since the day was totally unplanned, it was even more appreciated. The only work I did was change from my everyday work clothes into something more relaxing. When I got up, I fully intended to go to work. My body had other plans and I am glad I listened to it.

Tuesday as I was walking into the office the morning sun was shining very bright. It was so intense that I had to turn away quickly after I glanced at it. This is how I imagine the direct experience of God would be. Many of the great mystics describe the experience of God as burning, intense, and even painful. In the story of Moses on Mount Sinai, we are told that Moses had to turn his back as God passed by. In this life the best most of us will get is a glimpse of God. His light is too bright and we cannot look directly into it. Of course, like our experience of the sun, we can feel the light and warmth of God even though we cannot look directly into the light.

Last week I shared a few thoughts about work and how we shouldn't find our identity in what we do. I shared that I wasn't what I do. I was Michael, Dad, Pa Paw, Son, Brother, and Friend. One of my friends and readers responded that many of us, even if we don't find our identity in work, still often find our identity in the different roles we assume. It occurred to me that I sometimes avoid identifying with undesirable but necessary roles for more preferred ones in terms of my identity. What if we found our identities in characteristics rather than roles. What characteristics would describe who you are? When I list what I like to consider my personal characteristics, I want to say things like "I am spiritual. I am strong. I am compassionate. I am tolerant. I am forgiving". Of course, even if these were all true, I would also have to say things like "I am weak. I am lustful. I am lazy. I am procrastinating. I am undisciplined." Buddha keeps it simple. When asked who he was, he simply replied, "I am awake". In reality I am a little of all these things. Some days my light shines bright and all around me are warmed by who I am. Other days my light is dimmed by my more human weaknesses and no one is impressed. On those days I rely on the light of others. I must also remember that the sun is always present even when hidden by cloudy days.

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