Do-it-yourself Reality: Making Do with Homemade Truths

The Perspective of Divine Reality

There also exists a constant tension between ideas and realities. Realities simply are, whereas ideas are worked out. There has to be continuous dialogue between the two, lest ideas become detached from realities. It is dangerous to dwell in the realm of words alone, of images and rhetoric. So a third principle comes into play: realities are greater than ideas. This calls for rejecting the various means of masking reality: angelic forms of purity, dictatorships of relativism, empty rhetoric, objectives more ideal than real, brands of ahistorical fundamentalism, ethical systems bereft of kindness, intellectual discourse bereft of wisdom. [Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, 231]

The depth and quality of our ideas are directly related to our broader understanding of existence. When our minds are mired in the trivial and passionate about the transient, we have difficulty elevating our thoughts above the mundane. We lack a correct or sensible understanding of reality.

… I think what we’re really dealing with are the very deep issues of the heart: how do you spend your life, how do you spend your time, how do you spend your money? What are you really invested in? We all tend to live in denial about that stuff because we’re so caught up in being so busy and trying to be successful that we have a hard time seeing it. [John Ortberg].

Do-it-yourself Reality

Our do-it-yourself reality is a binary construct of personal thoughts and feelings. Pleasure turns us on, pain turns us off. We respond only to rewards and punishments.

If my prayer is centered in myself, if it seeks only an enrichment of my own self, my prayer itself draws my attention and longing away from God and toward myself. I am left rich and alone and nothing can assuage my hunger. The most dangerous spiritual violence is that which carries our will away with a false enthusiasm which seems to come from God but which is in reality inspired by passion. [Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, p. 115].

Homemade ideas of good and evil can formulate our lifestyle. With the spirit of compassion, benevolence and love noticeably absent, we lack the unifying power of the Divine Presence to override our mortal urges.

Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” [1 Corinthians 3:18-20].

Compare this DIY reality with the transcending reality of prophets, sages and saints who have revealed to us paths to salvation, equanimity, peace, and true understanding. It is difficult to conceive of any endeavor that would not benefit from such a Divine perspective.

…. He knoweth that which is in front of them and that which is behind them, while they encompass nothing of His knowledge save what He will…. [Quran 2:255].

What’s My Motivation?

We need a reality from which we can launch our most ambitious efforts. In any challenging endeavor, we always face several options. We have more than one way to regard the problem, understand the situation and respond to the facts. Our judgment determines their relative significance, and it either hinders or facilitates the solution.

Wheresoever this restless and unsteady mind wanders away, one should bring it back to the reflection of the Supreme. [Bhagavad Gita 6:26].

Conventions and cultural biases can limit our vision. Often, we need to distance ourselves from a situation by becoming a detached observer. A more universal point of view can trigger thoughts that a provincial perspective neglects or ignores. The increased scope of our vision sharpens our intellect and stimulates our actions.

One of the ways that our faith expresses itself is by our ability to be still, to be present, and not to panic or lose perspective. God still does his best work in the most difficult of circumstances. [Tim Hansel, You Gotta Keep Dancin’, p. 123].

Darkness of Light

Discovery and innovation are difficult to reconcile with tradition and the status quo. We often seek truth and enlightenment where they are most conveniently available.

If you do not raise your eyes you will think that you are the highest point. [Antonio Porchia, Voces, p. 9]

The paths trampled by our predecessors are much easier to follow than the less-traveled terrain teeming with unexpected obstacles and challenges.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. [2 Corinthians 4:18].

Many accomplished artists and respected scholars have invested a lifetime of learning into their education. After such arduous effort and commitment, they owe allegiance to their disciplines and to their mentors. Though wearing titles of masters and doctors of their profession, they are often mere slaves to orthodoxy and tradition.

Once a neighbor found Mulla Nasruddin in the street, down on his knees, looking for something. “What have you lost, Mulla?” “My key,” said Nasruddin. After a few minutes of helping in the search, the other man asked, “Where do you think you dropped it?” “At home, in my basement.” “Then why, for heaven’s sake, are you looking out here?” “Well, can’t you see, there is more light here.” [See: Nasruddin].

It is not surprising that many scholars, theologians, artists or scientists, attach themselves to rules and practices that have become commonplace and widely accepted. Standard protocols, methodologies and processes are far more comfortable and lucrative than controversial or iconoclastic ones.

The world is but a show, vain and empty, a mere nothing, bearing the semblance of reality. Set not your affections upon it. Break not the bond that uniteth you with your Creator, and be not of those that have erred and strayed from His ways [Baha’u’llah, Gleanings From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh ].

Divine Perspective

A Divine Reality includes more than material phenomena. It extends beyond birth and death. It accounts for the unseen and the miraculous. It provides absolutes and constants. It is the sacred component of universal existence.

…  what is the sacred? The sacred is the Divine Reality as it is in Itself and as It manifests Itself in beings in this world. So there are things that are sacred and then ultimately there is the ”Sacred” as such with a capital ”S…. God is the Sacred, and then there are things in this world that are sacred because of their relation to the Sacred. [Seyyed Hossein Nasr].

Scholars tend to depict the human experience as one long, continuing media event. Rulers, conquerors and generals are the highlights, while scientists, philosophers and artists are the narrators who describe life and explain existence to us.

However, the perspective of secular narrators can never be eternal. It cannot provide the depth and vision that only the Divine Reality offers.

There is power in praise. Focusing on the greatness, love, mercy, care, presence, and power of God, lifts us above our own limitations. It directs our minds to a source of strength beyond ourselves. We gain perspective for our own time and circumstances. I find, and many others have shared the same experience, that problems are seen in a different light, perplexities untangle, confusion often vanishes. [Maxie Dunnam, The Workbook of Living Prayer, p. 85].

It is by Divine guidance that we can patiently proceed through our existence. Revealed wisdom provides the light we need for our greatest work.

Truth is a part of what God has put in creation to help us deal with reality. Truth is like the aim of a rifle or a gun or some kind of mechanism. If it is right, it enables you to hit the target. If our beliefs are true we are enabled to deal with reality effectively. [Dallas Willard].

We may stray into darkness following our misdirected thoughts, but God pardons and forgives. So long as we don’t close our eyes to the Truth, we can always return to the straight path. He is most merciful, full of compassion for His servants.

IS THEN HE who was dead [in spirit] and to whom We gave life, and for whom We set up a light whereby he might see his way among men – [is then he] like one [who is lost] in deep darkness, out of which he cannot emerge? [But] thus it is: to those who deny the truth, goodly seem all their own doings. [Quran 6:122].

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