One of the earliest references I ever heard regarding profound spiritual experience was in John Denver’s classic song “Rocky Mountain High.” In it, he sings of a man who was “born in the summer of his twenty-seventh year.” My mother loved John Denver and those songs were an important part of growing up. Even as a child I understood that Denver was a spiritual man, bent on grace and finding God.
As I grew older I learned that not everybody was “bent on grace.” Even people who went to mass every Sunday didn’t always seem to care that much about daily contact with God. It was a curious phenomenon. What was it that called to me? Why did it call to me? In high school a friend lent me two books – “Zen Flesh, Zen Bones” edited by Paul Reps and Robert Sohl’s and Audrey Carr’s “The Gospel According to Zen.” The latter changed my life about six seconds after I read it. It was as if I finally understood how to understand Jesus.
Zen enlightenment is a complicated issue. For a long time I subscribed to the cliches. You sit in a temple for sixty hours meditating on the sound of one hand clapping and then in a sort of cosmic orgasm become one with the universe. Or something like that. As I grew older, and actually tried practicing Zen, and read Christian writers like Thomas Merton and other mystics, I began to understand that this idea of awakening – enlightenment, rebirth, whatever – was actually quite personal and very hard to talk or write about it.
And yet, talk and write about it I do, in main part because I’m a voluble guy for whom shutting up is a kind of puzzle. Sometimes I do it, sometimes I don’t, and it’s not always clear why or how. My spiritual path settled some years ago when I became a student of A Course in Miracles which, for me, is a helpful and natural blend of Christianity and the eastern practices that have been so influential and useful to me. In that text, we learn mostly about awakening – what we might say is simply the recognition that our will is God’s and God’s is ours. There is no separation between what we are what God is.
At one point, the Course points out that awakening, which “runs easily and gladly through the Kingdom,” is the “natural response of every Son of God to the Voice for his Creator, because It is the Voice for his creations and for his own extension” (T-8.II.8:5-6).
Awakening is natural. It is the rememberance that we have never left our Creator, that Heaven is a present condition available as soon as we ask for it. It is the answer to the question who am I? What am I? What is my purpose in life? When we awaken, we glorify God in a still and quiet way.
Don’t sweat the definitions. Don’t sweat the theology. And by all means, don’t sweat whether it’s a Zen idea or a Hindu idea or a Catholic idea or just new age tripe. We awaken not by studying awakening, but by directing our attention exclusively to remembering and realigning ourselves with God. If that’s our sole goal, everything else will fall into place. Find your path and follow it. We all want to wake up. We all will wake up.
And in the meantime, it’s nice to be here with you.