Metaphysically speaking, 40 might represent that whatever-it-takes for us to get from a former state to a future state. 40 might represent that whatever-it-takes for us to get from a former consciousness to a future consciousness, from a former situation to a future situation, from a former identity to a future identity. It’s a journey, perhaps, of preparation.
And if our biblical characters offer any clues, perhaps the foremost might be that these journeys of 40 aren’t comfortable. In their journeys of 40, our biblical characters are imagined to be on the sea, in the wilderness, in the desert. Our biblical characters are imagined to be in places of personal vulnerability, powerlessness.
And if you’ve ever been on a journey of 40 (and trust me - you have), I imagine you can relate.
To lose a loved one is to begin a journey of 40 from a life-no-longer to a life-not-yet. To pursue a dream is to begin a journey of 40 from a life-no-longer to a life-not yet. To receive a diagnosis is to begin a journey of 40 from a life-no-longer to a life-not-yet. To get fired, to change homes, to have children is to begin a journey of 40 from a life-no-longer to a life-not-yet. What the parents among us might experience as the empty nest syndrome is a journey of 40 from a life-no-longer to a life-not-yet.
You are not either spirit or flesh, but both simultaneously. You are not either eternal soul stuff or temporary earth dust, but both simultaneously. Fasting can be a practice in which our humanity and our divinity are brought back into right relationship, one with the other.
And of course, giving is another practice. Almsgiving is one term commonly used and it tends to imply an act of generosity from those having more to those having less and I celebrate such a practice even as I suggested a broader palette of possibilities. Whether your practice of quiet giving is explored with a shelter dog or a needy human, quiet giving has magical ways of refreshing your vision, renewing your spirit, reenergizing your faith.
Said more clearly, if love seems lacking, find a way to give love. If resource seems lacking, find a way to give resource. If friendship seems lacking, find a way to give friendship. If hope seems lacking, find a way to give hope. It was Unity’s Charles Fillmore who said that we must become that which we would see manifest in our lives and I think there’s truth in his words.
Spiritual practice is another way to enrich your journey. Again, tradition would say that prayer is another way to enrich your journey but I’m suggesting that prayer is not the only practice which seeks to elevate consciousness.
Next we’ll explore repentance (and don’t be scared of repentance). Fundamentally, repentance is the art of changing direction. Now, that doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Repentance is the art of changing direction.
And lastly, we are encouraged in the practice of forgiveness.
So, these five: fast, give, pray, repent and forgive – all practices which history suggests you will find beneficial. And I have no disagreement with this list.
Whatever gives you a sense of elevated consciousness is prayer for you. If music gives you a sense of elevated consciousness, music is prayer for you. If creativity gives you a sense of elevated consciousness, creativity is prayer for you. If nature gives you a sense of elevated consciousness, nature is prayer for you.
In this sense, prayer isn’t best considered a goal. Prayer is best considered a practice. If I could choose between a world of people speaking all the right words without cultivating compassion (let’s say) and a world of people cultivating compassion without speaking all the right words, I would choose a world of people cultivating compassion every time.
Prayer is not a means by which you change God. Prayer is a means by which you change you. Prayer doesn’t convince God/the universe/the cosmic mechanism (whatever you call it) to do what it does better or faster. If you experience material benefit from your work in prayer, it isn’t because God finally changed God’s mind about you, about the nature of your life, about the quality of your world. If you experience material benefit from your work in prayer, it’s because you finally changed your mind about you, about the nature of your life, about the quality of your world.
Now, when I meditate upon these suggestions of fasting, giving, repenting, and forgiving as practices for a human journey, something of a theme seems to emerge for me. When I meditate upon these suggestions, the practices don’t so much speak to lives lived from the outside-in so much as they speak lives lived from the inside-out. They don’t so much speak to the art of acquisition as they speak to the art of surrender.
Fasting: the art of surrendering attachment.
Giving: the art of surrendering ownership.
Repenting: the art of surrendering comfort.
Forgiving: the art of surrendering resistance, and so forth.
This speaks to me of my favorite of Unity’s Twelve Powers. The Twelve Powers isn’t unique to Unity, nor can it be said that it was invented by Unity Co-founder Charles Fillmore although he certainly gave rise to the structure Unity teaches today. Among these twelve powers are faith, strength, wisdom (Did you know that you share Mind with the greatest thinkers, avatars, seers, gurus of all time?), wisdom, love, power, imagination (If your imagination has the capacity to give shape to the life you live, you do well to consider what you’re imagining nowadays.), understanding, will, order (It’s not enough to have a great idea. You have to have great timing. Countless brilliant ideas have been sacrificed on the altar of bad timing. So, while understanding might give you the what, it’s order that gives you the when.), order, zeal, life and finally – perhaps the most underrated and underused of all the powers, my favorite: elimination (or renunciation). If you remember two of the twelve powers, let the two be imagination and elimination (or renunciation).
In a society in which all problems tend to be answered with an outside-in process of acquiring, we often overlook the inside-out process of surrendering. Said more clearly, sometimes the growth, the understanding, the shift, the resolution, the peace we seek won’t be realized by something more but by something less. In a society which celebrates divine addition, sometimes celestial subtraction is better.
Not only would this paradigm have us go to God to acquire something new, but it would have us go so far as to tell the self-existence that has spun Itself into form across eternity – some 14 billion years on this green marble alone – it would have us go so far as to tell God how that something new should be delivered as well.
“Dear God, the rent is coming due so please deliver $450.00 into my bank account by Friday. Amen.”
“Dear God, I’m feeling uncomfortable so please bring that tired, old, dysfunctional, broken-down relationship back to me right away. Amen.”
We become like the person in the old adage, driving around and around and around the parking lot, so focused on getting that front row parking space that we completely miss the limousine that was waiting to deliver us to the front door all along.
It was the great transcendentalist, Emerson, spoke to this paradigm this way. He said: all of nature works by falling – the ripe fruit falls, the planets fall, even human walking and the miracle of birth are acts of falling – as nature works by falling, it is only as we align with nature’s ease that we can discover real strength. It is only as we align with nature’s simplicity that we can discover real power.
He goes on to say, and I quote, “In the end, successful people are so because they have abandoned something of the struggle and despair – something of the ‘wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth’ which is of no assistance whatsoever to the higher laws which are ever ushering life forward in calm assuredness.
“Successful people are not so because there is something more in them. Successful people are so because there is something less in them. Successful people are so because this divine mind found an unobstructed channel.”
Is there an arena of your life in which you feel as if you’re struggling and despairing?
Is there an arena of your life in which you feel as if you’re wringing your hands? Gnashing your teeth?
Is there an arena of life in which you feel as if you’re driving around and around and around the parking lot, focused on getting that front row parking space?
Let your prayers this week be prayers of surrender. “Dear God, what would be surrendered in this?”
Not a brand of surrender that gives up living, but a brand of surrender that gives up struggling and despairing. A brand of surrender that would have us become like water: flowing easily, pivoting gracefully, releasing quickly. If life in the moment looks like a cup, it’s a brand of surrender that would have us become a cup. If life in the moment looks like a bottle, it’s a brand of surrender that would have us become a bottle. If life in the moment looks like a teapot, it’s a brand of surrender that would have us become a teapot. A brand of surrender that makes us available to something of an effortless effort.
“Dear God, what would be surrendered in this?”
Emerson went on to say, it’s a brand of surrender which would have us, “…take our bloated nothingness out of the path of the divine circuits… [to] unlearn our wisdom of the world,” and, “place ourselves in the middle of the stream of power and wisdom.”