Where is God in that?
Does salvation lie in community?
Wherever two or more gather
At present will be God
Therefore, I will join the one
One who was left behind
The one who’s going places no one else wants to
There is no other
This poem attempts to address the tensions between the mystical loftiness of spirituality, characterized by the elusive “oneness” present in many great faith traditions, and the palpable, practical, everyday realities of a broken and divided world. I find this tension ever-present in the inward-outward journey. We cannot be saved alone, as one, and be true to the demands of much larger realities, including the world we live in! Personal purity and piety become empty in larger contexts. One answer to this tension was demonstrated by Buddha, when he attained enlightenment and instead of “blowing out” — a literal translation of nirvana — he chose to return to earthly existence to help others on the path. Compassion for all living beings, at the center of Buddhist living, requires developing relationships or community with one another. Buddhists call their intentional community sangha, which includes monks or nuns, and laypeople. Compassion is the prime characteristic developed in a relationship with The One. This “inward” compassion is then matched with “outward” compassion, becoming whole, compassion manifest fully. Compassionate living is most fully manifest when it enters into relationship with the most broken and divided aspects of all living beings’ realities. Joining those “left behind” or “going places no one else wants to” represents the highest level of compassionate living. Perhaps paradoxically, even sticking only to one’s community is a falling short. Active spirituality, rooted in compassionate living, is ever seeking to connect with out-groups. Spirituality inevitable creates a tension with one’s own in-groups, ever-seeking to expand, transcend, make more whole. This is why solidarity with outcasts is so essential to building authentic community. This is the very process where wholeness is nurtured, for both the individual, community, and beyond. This is why I see spirituality as fundamentally counter-cultural. Culture is what defines a particular group at any given time, with its particular norms and practices. Spirituality pushes both cultures and individuals to be more than they are. This is why spiritual “growth” is almost a redundancy. The vitality and dynamism that spirituality uncovers is the very nature of life. There is no such thing as static living — though perhaps reactionary. The status quo and the powers that be must perpetually be engaged and redeemed, made more whole. Jesus captured this perhaps most powerfully in his command to love your enemies. This command, which I consider the pinnacle of spiritual genius, literally instructs us to reconcile (apparent) opposites. Such an epic task can only be dared by developing a deep and abiding relationship with The One. Truly, we reap what we sew!