Everywhere I go, I find evidence of a growing hunger in many, many people for a direct experience of the Absolute, of the Holy One...
This hunger finds little consolation or hope within the framework of the established religions. So, like pilgrims of old, we stop and offer homage at every wayside shrine. Yeshua, Mother Mary, Siddhartha the Buddha, Radha Krishna, St. Francis, Rumi, Mother Teresa, Yogananda, and Hafiz are among the many favorites who receive the flowers of our love and devotion. Still, that same hunger persists...
Even on the streets of America, even in the midst of incredibly deep pain and suffering, the same search goes on. One might even say the search on the streets is more open and honest than ours precisely because of the evident brokenness everywhere. Addictions are many things including, perhaps, a blind searching for the Face of God -- for Home -- at the bottom of the Vodka bottle or the end of the crack pipe.
After decades of work on the streets, I have concluded that transformative experiences of the Holy One are not primarily found in our devotions or acts of piety. Rather, they are more likely to be found in those oftentimes unacknowledged and ignored places of emptiness and interior brokenness that we have learned so very well to keep hidden from others, and usually from ourselves as well. Yet our human condition of brokenness is the only real access point of our minds, hearts, and souls with the Divine. All other religious expressions, exercises, and experiences are, as it were and at best, but opportunities for "preparing for the way of the Lord" -- the acknowledgment that it might be time to ready ourselves for the real work.
So, from that secret place within, and known only to us, the real work begins. It is in our minds, in our habitual thoughts of unworthiness, ugliness, and un-love-ability that we must work. This is the grunt work that will make possible sobriety. In mystical terms, "sobriety" means non-attachment to, and renunciation of, our false perceptions of reality and our false definitions. We are and always will be how and who we were made: perfect, worthy, and loveable images, or "mirrors", of the Divine. As we cultivate the interior fields of our lives with affirmations of beauty and truth, we will begin the process of our radical transformation into 'who' we were all along.
The liberation of our personal stories, perceptions, habits, and addictions into Truth is that which our bodies, minds, hearts, and souls hunger for. This "Real Reality" can then be nourished by the daily practice of the Way: "Love everyone, serve everyone, and remember the Holy One" (as taught to Ram Das by his guru Neem Karoli Baba). With these daily practices as the flowers of our devotion, our visits to the many shrines of the Way will become great and purposeful endeavors, just like volunteering in a soup kitchen or organizing for social justice. This pilgrim, at least, thinks it is time for the many religions of the world to submit to the renewal of One Love. Only that One Love is genuinely worthy of our surrender, our service for justice and nonviolence, and our poetry and dance!
Open Hearts, Open Hands are not new images for those inclined to mysticism or involved in community action for justice. They are profoundly powerful as symbols, signs, and perhaps even as samples of the Holy One. If one is at all serious about stepping out upon The Way, then contemplating those first steps are important -- primarily because those steps establish patterns which either serve to keep us opening, or eventually compel us to "hunker down" into appearances, habits, and rituals.
The first symbol of the movement of open hearts, open hands is that of the basin and the towel. In the story from the Gospel of Yeshua, he took a simple basin, and wrapped a towel about his waist, and proceeded to wash the feet of his friends. He didn't question their worthiness; he didn't require a penitential service; he didn't insist upon some sort of public humiliation to qualify for that service or for his forgiveness. As he did, so too must we do. He embraced his friends, and asked them to do the same. It might seem silly, but the question needs to be asked: how do you forgive your friends? If you can't start with them, how the heck will you be able to move on to enemies? There are other symbols, but this is a good practical starting point.
Next we come to signs. If you were to ask a saint about a genuine sign of someone being "on the way", they would all say humility. It used to be said that "humility was the Queen of all virtues". But how to translate humility into something for our open hands to get ahold of? How about kindness? Yes, kindness. A humble person is nice! A humble person looks for the good in another. A humble person takes the time needed to understand anothers' deepest pains, losses, and fears. A humble person does not save up ammunition to use against someone somewhere down the line. A humble person never creates the circumstances for someone else to hurt -- deliberately. A humble person proclaims his or her sins if they hear someone gossiping about someone else. A humble person protects his friends, welcomes the stranger, forgives the wrongdoer, assists the weak when they fail, and always stands in solidarity with anyone who is being marginalized or tossed out of the circle of community. (There is enough here for everyone to work on something).
Finally, we come to "samples of the Holy One". The "easy" suggestion might be to open a soup kitchen or form a community! And you could do that! Without a doubt, those endeavors are very much needed nearly everywhere and would be great. But my suggestion for a "sample of the Holy One" is a tad bit different: find someone who has been beaten up, time and time again, and yet still has the capacity and the desire to love and love and love some more! "Though my family has rejected me, my friends have deserted me, I'm no longer wanted at my job, I've got bills I know I'll never see the end of, you know, the list could keep right on going, but dammit! Bring it on! My life has been one wild ride and through it all I've realized that love is all that matters! I just want to love -- it'd be great if you loved me... but regardless, I'm sliding into home-plate all beat-up, battered, bruised, scarred, and bloodied. I'm going to love without limits, no matter all else, you can count me a failure at everything, but I will to love!" When you find this person, side right up, ask for some stories, some little bit of wisdom and grace for your journey... you'll be receiving a sample of the Holy One...
So! Begin (or renew) your journey upon The Way, with open hearts and open hands. Stick to it. Keep showing up. Take up the basin and towel. Be humble, nice, and kind. And remember to listen...
Robert Daniel Smith was privileged to serve the homeless and marginalized for 30 years in Salinas, California. Together with his wife, Michelle, they founded an intentional community called the 'Companions of the Way', also in Salinas. Robert and Michelle are community organizers, Catholic Worker renegades, sacred activists, writers, poets, artists, Divine Mother devotees, and practitioners of Kriya Yoga as taught by Rev. Ellen Grace O'Brian of the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment. Michelle is also a Montessori public school teacher. Robert is also an ordained Interfaith Minister.