Bottom Dwellers, Gliding Schools, Surface Bugs

The unthinkable is thought all the time. It’s a reality of human nature that our minds – deeper than oceans — swim with thoughts as varied as marine life – from the tiniest, most primitive diatoms and unseeing bottom dwellers to schools of fish that move as one – glittering with brilliant color, in patterns like a flock of birds, to giants who, despite their size, sail and dance for joy like angels might and cross boundaries of difference, breathing through air and water, and try to establish connections with other quite different creatures. That’s the mind, as wild and deep as the ocean.

Sometimes we have thoughts we know are base and primitive and we’re able to dispel them by remembering the freer and finer things we have discovered. To do this we have, at least, to be taught two things: to think critically (systematically, comprehensively, and logically) and to love bravely (in the face of anxiety or fear).

There are all sorts of bottom-dwelling thoughts – you’re in a hurry, waiting alone in a store for the cashier to return, a fleeting thought comes that you could just set down the money and leave, morphs into the thought that “some people” would just leave with the merchandise unpaid or others might come and take your money off the counter anyway, to why should you be a goody two shoes in a world of thieves. If you’re well-balanced, lucky or both, those thoughts skitter across your mind so fast that they can’t even be measured and are hardly noticed. They aren’t real thoughts, just bits of the trash from your overflowing, overstimulated brain. But we live in such an interdependent world now – everyone with a smartphone can “share” their skittering thoughts of the moment and someone else can find that skittering little creature and it feeds their own growing beast. Hatred is easy to engender and promote – just appeal to the mortal vulnerability and the animal defensive we can all feel.

Love is more challenging. Yet love is a large part of what calls people to worship and religious community (it can be disguised as a longing for “community, religious education for one’s children, a desire to work with others for justice and compassion, or a need for time to reconnect with our better selves”.) Love calls for focus – on what is worthy and on what needs to be surpassed or dissolved. The calling of my faith – which is a faith in the possibility and the power of love and human transformation – is to teach and practice love and critical thought from the heights to the depths, from coast to coast to coast, from the pulpit to the Sunday school to the twitterfeed to the streets and – just as importantly – from the surface of our thoughts to the depth of our minds.

sea bottom

At our best, we look within ourselves and salvage the best of our thoughts. It is a constant spiritual practice to clear out the trash and keep faith with the best within us. We don’t have to be perfect at this – that’s why it’s called practice. But it is only when we have some of that practice – when we have developed the habit of bringing ourselves back to our best, most faithful, noblest – that it is wise and, in fact, safe for us to turn toward the world. It is transforming to witness when people engage in the public sphere, in the service of love and justice when they are truly grounded in faith – I think of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., or Thich Nhat Hanh, John Dear…. People who embody the best of their faith and use it to make life better for others.


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