It is no small matter to stay the course of unselfish living, to have effortless access to the soothing impact of divine Love, to find the stillness for the next step, to experience genuine healing.
Mary Baker Eddy has words of assurance for us:
"That tomorrow starts from today and is one day beyond it, robes the future with hope's rainbow hues. In the battle of life, good is made more industrious and persistent because of the supposed activity of evil. The elbowing of the crowd plants our feet more firmly. In the mental collisions of mortals and the strain of intellectual wrestlings, moral tension is tested, and if it yields not, grows stronger. (...) There is no excellence without labor; and the time to work, is now."
(Miscellaneous Writings, p. 339/340)
Christianity as Jesus introduced it, wasn't called Christianity originally. It was called The Way, I learned. I get from this: It is a practice, not an object of admiration. Jesus himself talks about life as a way:
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad and easy to travel is the path that leads the way to destruction and eternal loss, and there are many who enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow and difficult to travel is the path that leads the way to [everlasting] life, and there are few who find it."
If you have no Bible background and are unfamiliar with this quote and can't make sense of "everlasting", think "continuous", and if "life" is too abstract, think "being". So living in sync with continuous being is living the good life - the real life, the only existence that truly is. It is here.
But, Jesus says, beware of the danger zone, the "wide gate", opening to a destructive path. The good life is to found only behind the narrow gate. Why is it narrow? How many ways are there to go wrong, how many chances to give in to "the elbowing of the crowd" (Mary Baker Eddy) and elbow back? Millions, of course. Because there is only one way to do it right. So what makes the gate narrow is, I find, its precision. We have to hit the mark. The "narrow gate" is a hand-forged master piece, because there are many wrongs, but only one right. The divine way.
Narrow is in its original meaning also another word for tailored - it is really fitting and clear, not restricting. It is narrow, because it is made FOR YOU. It feels right like a custom-made dress. Who are you truly, what defines your being? What is true individuality? The answer is specific and it is glorious. It is unlike the path of anybody else.
Difficult to find this gate and to travel this path behind it? Yes, says the couch potato, the poor little me, that can only understand a limited life-span. In order to find it, to daily and walk in it, I have pinpointed those small thoughts that lead me right into the danger zone in which it is impossible to life the real life. We can detect those thoughts quickly and know: "I am not going there. My thinking is private, it is the reflection of Goodness and intelligence, of generosity and humility. I will not let one of my thoughts be used to jeopardize the divine plan of justice, health, and peace for all." You will notice quickly that the danger zone is no fun, although it feels justified to stay there. The danger zone is really dangerous, not at all like Kenny Loggins' energetic "Highway to the danger zone, gonna take you right into the danger zone". The danger zone is hazardous, it erodes strength, takes away meaning, and makes healing impossible.
So now it is time: The curtain rises. Drum roll! Its time to present to you:
"The infamous d-a-n-g-e-r z-o-n-e."
Look around, behold its ugliness, its unnatural allure, see its bottom covered with sludge, beware of the tar on the side, look at the dust covering the walls, ash and cinder everywhere --- and hear what the voices hidden in its obscure recesses are whispering:
Quickly jump out of the danger zone, take a deep breath, take a bath in the sunshine of goodness - and make a healthy plan: Own your life and take responsibility. Get to know Good. Find the narrow gate and walk right through it up the good path. Note how it becomes wider at every step. You have avoided the danger zone, the ego cascade, thoughts recurring to your needs 24/7, the "me first" nightmare, the story of desperation. Discipline and love will keep you on the right track and will make your life complete, less lonely, boring, or stressful. It will teach you how to live the good life, the abundant life. Good, God, enables you to do your mental homework every single day and work within God's master plan for all.
Write something on your personal banner as you march on. Perhaps a poem? A spiritual idea? A Bible verse? A wise counsel? Or this hymn. It will boost your confidence, encourage you to stay alert - and keep you safe and sound out of the danger zone, complying with a divine standard. It is fixing you right in the middle of Love's comfort zone:
"Is the heart a well left empty?
None but God its void can fill;
Nothing but a ceaseless fountain
Can its ceaseless longings still.
Is the heart a living power?
Self-entwined its strength sinks low;
It can only live in loving,
And, by serving, love will grow."
(Poem by Elizabeth Charles, Hymnal #360)
I returned from a fabulous business trip to the US - what a wealth of insights, ideas, joys. How much we learn from each other, how far love, pure love, travels, how joyful service can be. I am grateful beyond words.
On my way back home I took with me Akhil Sharma's book "Family Life", a book on my mind and desk for six months. What a book! Funny and sad, wise and daring --- Akhil Sharma opens his heart and life to the reader, and anyone who can take an extraordinary share of tragedy and join an author as he works himself through the trauma and forward, is in for gift.
I am reposting my original blogpost in which I wrote about the plan to read the book, and an extraordinary moving article from the same author, which had invited me to buy the book in the first place.
You probably make the same experience: Some articles you read, stay with you. They have something that resonates with you - and they feed you and help you to grow. I have a collection of those articles, and the one, I am about to share with you, is one of them. The article "The trick of Life" by Akhil Sharma was suggested to us by Christian Science Monitor journalist Josh Kenworthy, and Sharma's text is part of our inner landscape ever since. The author shares something from his own experience and allows his insight to multiply and grow in our lives, too. The trick of life is more than a personal suggestion to his readers - the trick of life is a law in the human experience. And this law is Love. I read the headline to be "The trick of Life", although I am not sure whether he would agree. The article is about healing, redemption, about being true to a standard even if no one looks. This is called integrity - and Love is feeding it. I plan to read "Family Life" by Akhil Sharma over Christmas, his novel that he mentions in his text. When our daughter Anna-Zoë reread this text to the family a few days ago we all had again - as always - tears in our eyes.
Reconsidering Sharma's thoughts I went back to Mary Baker Eddy's wonderful insight into the nature of prayer - a definition that many people would subscribe to, without knowing that loving and including all mankind in one love is prayer. A universal definition from a fresh perspective. No formula, only practice. Sharma is living it.
Mary Baker Eddy writes in her beautiful book "No and Yes":
"True prayer is not asking God for love; it is learning to
love, and to include all mankind in one affection. Prayer
is the utilization of the love wherewith He loves us. Prayer
begets an awakened desire to be and do good." (p. 39)
Here is the article, originally published in the New York Times in April 2014.
The Trick of Life
by Akhil Sharma
SEVEN years into writing a novel, I started to lose my mind. My thirty-seventh birthday had just come and gone, the end of 2008 was approaching, and I was constantly aware of how little I had managed to accomplish.
I would sit at my desk at 2 in the morning, unable to sleep, and drink pot after pot of tea and try to write. The panic attacks came then. I would be staring at the screen, examining a paragraph that I had already rewritten 170 times. Suddenly the screen would start to ripple, as if I were peering through water, and I would feel a pain like a punch in the chest. Months passed this way. My chest felt constantly bruised.
One December morning, the crisis finally came. I had lain down on my living room sofa and found I could not get up. The idea of another year ending with the book not done overwhelmed me.
A day went by and then two. My wife would stand beside me with her face full of fear. Finally desperate, she phoned a good friend of mine. He drove in from out of town, three hours away, and took me for a ride in his car. I was like a sobbing infant on the ride, but my friend was like a father who drives till his child falls asleep, soothed.
When I returned to my apartment, I lay down once more on the couch. Again I felt the weight of my stalled novel. But something had changed. My friend’s kindness kept drawing my attention, the way a piece of glass at the bottom of a stream can keep blinking in sunlight and pull your eye. Each time I thought of him, I was soothed.
A day or two after his visit, I got up from the sofa and walked down to the Hudson River, which I live not far from. I sat on a bench by the river and rested. I stared across it to the tall apartment buildings in New Jersey. Thinking of how people were living out their lives in those buildings comforted me somehow. I looked at the gray rushing water and its movement, the fact that it was coming from someplace and going someplace else also consoled me. It was then that I realized that I needed somehow to always be outside myself. My mind had become uninhabitable.
When I was 10 and he was 14, my older brother, Anup, dived into a swimming pool, struck his head on its bottom and remained underwater for three minutes. When he was pulled out, he could no longer walk or talk, could no longer feed himself, could no longer even roll over in his sleep. Only a few months before, he was heading to the Bronx High School of Science.
My parents are deeply pious Hindus. We had been in America for two years when the accident occurred, in 1981. And of course when tragedy occurs, even nonimmigrants and nonpious people find themselves turning to their most atavistic selves. My parents took Anup out of the hospital and brought him to our house. For the next 28 years, until he died, they tried to fix him through faith healing. Strange men — not priests or gurus, but engineers, accountants, candy shop owners — would come to the house and perform bizarre rituals, claiming that God had visited them in a dream and told them of a magical cure that would fix Anup.
Having grown up like this, among so many crackpot rituals, I find nothing alien in exploring oddball ideas. So, sitting on the bench by the river that day, I remembered having read in Reader’s Digest — a periodical my family has undue reverence for — that when you are feeling bad, one way to make yourself feel better is to pray for others.
I BEGAN to pray for the people who were passing by. I prayed for the nanny pushing a stroller. I prayed for the young woman jogging by in spandex. I prayed for the little boy pedaling his bicycle. I prayed that each of them got the same things that I wanted for myself: that they have good health, peace of mind, financial security. By focusing on others and their needs, my own problems seemed less unique and, somehow, less pressing.
After this, when I would sit at my desk, trying to write, and despair welled up, I knew what to do. I prayed. Not for myself, or for the ability to write, but for others, whether dead or alive, known to me or not: William Faulkner as much as the crazy old lady in the grocery store.
During my breakdown, many things, tiny things I had not even registered before, had begun to torment me with guilt. I used to steal Splenda from Starbucks. I would go into a Starbucks whenever I needed the sweetener and would take a fistful of packets, even when I didn’t buy a coffee. This had never struck me as especially wrong. Now, whenever I did this, my chest would tighten as if I was about to have a panic attack. I was also not an especially diligent recycler. But now, if I mixed plastic with metals, I had nightmares so severe that I would sweat all night. Waking from these, I found my fingertips so wrinkled that it was as if I had taken a bath, or swum in a pool.
The answer to these problems turned out to be very simple, so simple I had missed it all this time. I stopped wishing away the guilt and started acting in ways I didn’t need to feel guilty about, even a little. No more stealing Splenda. No more mixing recyclables.
All this praying and punctilious honesty might seem absurd, but it did let me finish my novel. The style of it is very different from my first. The nouns in my sentences used to fall in just a few places. Now they seem to bop around, nudging themselves into places I would never have thought to place them. Before, each paragraph had pushed the reader directly into the next. Now there is space between my paragraphs, and I have trust in my reader’s patience and generosity to stay with me, without shepherding him.
Just as my parents were always looking for ways, however ludicrous, to wake my brother, I find that I am constantly on the lookout for ways to keep my mind quiet, so that I might live and work in peace. Recently, I read an interview of an actor who said that when he needs to change his behavior toward someone, he merely thinks, “I love you, I love you,” as he is talking to the person.
I called my parents a few weeks ago on the second anniversary of my brother’s death. My father began telling me that he felt abandoned by my brother, that my brother’s dying feels like him leaving us. As he spoke, I started thinking: I love you. I love you. My usual response at this point would have been to tell my father that he needed to focus on the future, that what was past was past. Instead I told my father that he was wonderful, that he should think of how brave he had been to take care of his poor sick son for all those years, that his devotion had been heroic.
However odd my reasons may seem, I am glad that I said this.
Who is writing?
In my work as Christian Science practitioner and writer I draw on listening to God and listening to people.
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