A rather lengthy excerpt from In Our Poverty the book, which waits patiently until I get around to get it published:
I WAS staring at an advertisement taped to a coffee shop window. I was looking at its words, but I wasn’t really reading them. They were about some kind of presentation being given in town, on the subject of writing and getting published. I was thinking something about the idea that if I was serious about writing I needed to start living more like a writer but I didn’t really have the time, and I was wondering what it means to be true to oneself and true to others and what, if anything, is the difference between the two. From the coffee shop emerged a college student I knew by casual acquaintance. The advertisement led us to a discussion of writing, and she wanted to know what I write about. I said that I try to write about the spiritual reality of life, that God’s Love is all there is, that what we each need is to find God, to experience him in his reality, and so forth. I am used to people being less than comfortable with topics like these, so when she said nothing for several seconds, I assumed that she was going to change the subject or continue on her way.
Instead, she looked over her shoulder as if someone might be listening, and with a subdued voice began to tell me a story. Almost in a whisper, she told me that once while she was praying she felt as though she were lifted up into the air, with a presence of love all over and around and through her—a love incomparable to anything she had ever experienced. Her story brought chill bumps to my skin, and with her voice still hushed as though I might be wearing a hidden microphone she asked, “Is that what you’re talking about?” I smiled seriously and nodded my head. “You know,” she said, “If people could feel that just once, all they would ever want is God.”
She was absolutely right, of course; it is a beautiful thing to truly feel the Love of God. It can be so overwhelmingly powerful and blissful that a person can spend the rest of her life wanting nothing else but to relive the experience in every waking moment. But her final comment to me betrayed something of what she had already realized about her moment of being touched by God: She said that she had never told her story to anybody in her church, because they would think she was crazy.
The experience of God, for all of its splendor, is also a kind of curse: The totality of life seems very much different afterwards. Life becomes different in a way that is joyous yes, but also in a way that brings a profound and unavoidable sorrow. It is a sorrow over the sufferings of life, a sorrow over those who are lost in the middle of everything, and a sorrow over religion that does very little to help. It is a sorrow caused by the realization that not everyone knows its beauty. But most of all, it is a sorrow so noble that it is heavenly. It is a knowing that you have been found by God, and so now you belong to everyone who has not. In a word, it is a sorrow we call compassion.
WE KNOW very little about Jesus, but we can know enough to begin to be like him. We can know that the message of his life was one of utmost simplicity and tremendous depth, and we can know that he called people to love—to love God, to love our neighbors, and to love our selves.
But to understand this fully, to love well and to love well in all circumstances, our love cannot be something we do because we feel like doing it at the moment, or because we decide it is a good idea, or because philosophically it seems like a good way to live. And certainly, necessarily being a true and universal love, it cannot be merely what you or I define love to be. Therefore, more importantly, more essentially, and more finally we are called to become the love that is God. We are called to become this love and, since by its nature it is boundless, we are called to a path of endless becoming that never ceases to deliver us further and further into the limitless depth of the reality of life.
The love we are called to manifest and become, become and manifest, is a love so numbingly profound and so far beyond all other things in beauty, that on behalf of people the world ignores, we may well die as innocent persons, in poverty and ridicule and pain, at the hands of hate-filled, prideful, ignorant men. This is what the formula knows can happen, and this is what the message proved does happen.
ALL ROADS to God merge in the end, joining the singular path of true compassion. Any road that does not lead to this compassion does not lead to God. Until we come close enough to God that we feel compassion within us the way Jesus felt compassion within himself, we will never really understand the Jesus story. We will never really understand why Jesus lived the way he lived, and we will never really understand why he died the way he died. We will never have the focus that serves to keep our lives out of the darkness.
Until we come into meaningful contact with the compassion of Jesus, and welcome it for what it is, we will forever live our lives thinking in terms of what is wrong—what is ugly and contemptible and shameful and evil—with other people and with ourselves. We will never learn to live our lives thinking in terms of everything that is made right—beautiful and noble and honorable and good—in the purifying love of God.
True compassion requires and nurtures a depth within us, a profound unearthly depth that comes from God and God alone, but it also requires a simplicity that allows compassion alone to be enough for us, and that stops our intellect from questioning the decency of everyone and everything around us. Compassion is the determinant of all that is truly moral and selfless, but a prideful human morality and the selfishness of man strive every moment of every day to hold compassion in contempt—to belittle and control and limit it. Therefore, if we want to be compassionate people, if we want to have the heart of God, at some point in our lives we have to draw a line in the sand, surrender many things, make a stand, and say with all our resolve, This is where I will live and die. We have to make up our minds that our own lives do not matter at all, that we will be satisfied with a strange and foreign depth of being that most people will never comprehend, and that we will never care nor notice if everyone around us thinks we are foolish, stupid, idealistic or demented. We have to deeply believe, and will eventually come to know, that what the world and our friends call living is nothing of the sort, and that we live a different kind of life that is hidden from the world behind the shadows of everyday living.
THE THING man needs most is certainly not what the world offers him in foolish philosophies, childish physical distractions and cheap entertainment. Those things are little more than lies, and certainly man does not any more of those than he already has. But neither does man need to sit in a chair and study himself blind concerning himself with insignificant details of religion or think about what he can do to make himself more approved by other men. Least of all what he needs is to go through his day wondering if he appears holy enough to everybody else that God is sufficiently pleased with him. There are ten thousand things in the world and probably that many more in religion that man does not need and is therefore better off without. What man needs most is the touch of God, and a heart that is open and pure enough to feel it when it comes.