So Whats the Point?
A Primer for True Spiritual Awakening
We had a wonderful visit in our class from Bob Lively.
Bob Lively is a native Texan, who was born, raised and educated in the Dallas public schools. He is a graduate of Austin College and also of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. The Presbyterian Church ordained him in 1973, and for the past four decades he has served the church as a pastor, community activist, teacher, certified pastoral counselor, campus minister, and recovery center chaplain. He is the author of 9 books of non-fiction and is an award-winning short story writer. For 23 years he wrote a regular column in the Austin American-Statesman.
Bob began his discussion of his book by referring to the book cover (above), which is a painting of Long's Peak and telling his story of his childhood attempt (with his father) to climb Long's Peak in Colorado.
Bob and his father began their trek at the empty Long's Peak trailhead parking lot at 2:00am. By the time the sun rose they had arrived at the base of the steep North Face at a place called the Boulder Field. The Boulder Field is about a mile in both breadth and length and consists of nothing but huge pieces of granite. Halfway up the Boulder Field they saw the possibility of impending danger from the sky as a storm began to gather.
Both rain and sleet, accompanied by loud thunder and lightening strikes all around them made them realize they were in great danger. They finally decided to find wedges between the granite boulders to avoid being struck by the constant barrage of lightening bolts, some of which were shattering the granite and showering them with the debris.
Bob described how he began to conclude that if he did not die from being hit by lightening he would succumb to hypothermia from the increasing accumulation of sleet all around him.
Then he began to pray. He described his pryer as a bargain with God. “God, I will give my life to your will if you will save me from this storm.”
Finally, at dusk the storm decided to move on. Bob and his father then climbed out of the burrows they had dug for themselves and descended the mountain. He commented that he will never know how seriously he took the promise he made back then in a moment of abject terror but he certainly never forgot it.
So - where did the title of this book come from?
About 10 years ago, Bob lost his younger brother to an early death. After a graveside ceremony in which Bob was overcome with grief at the loss of his brother he was approached by a boyhood friend that he had not seen for 25 years. The friend then proceeded to tell Bob his life story since they had gone their separate ways. He described his divorce from his wife, which he admitted was all his fault. Then described his clumsy failed attempt at suicide.
But after concluding his story and assuring Bob that he was now safe with himself he said, "So what's the point?". Bob reported that he probably gave him some quick response, but it was not memorable.
Bob described how he could not get that question out of his mind during the 200 mile drive back from Dallas to Austin, and it has taken him many years of introspection since them trying to answer the question. The book represents his try in answering the question.
Bob's further definition of the question boiled down to So what's the point of our existence on this earth. What are we supposed to make of this life? What exactly are we to do with it? How do we not waste it?
His answer was first shaped by a careful reading of Jesus' answer to the scribe regarding what is the greatest commandant. And Jesus answer was "you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself."
Bob described this as a three-legged stool.
So, the first leg of the three-legged stool is to love God with everything in us. Jesus tells us that the love he has in mind is the total devotion of one’s mind, soul, heart, and strength to God as opposed to bowing our heads in prayer occasionally and dropping a dollar or two in the church offering plate every so often.
The second leg on the stool is the appropriate love of one’s self. In his role as a pastoral counselor for twenty-five years, he become convinced that loving one’s self appropriately is, at best, a daunting challenge, and, at worse, an impossible dream for many people, especially those who were abused as children.
And, very importantly, the third leg of the stool is to love one’s neighbor as you love yourself. This is only possible in us flawed human beings if we first embrace the universal truth that God loves us and accepts us.
Bob points out that the Gospel Jesus came to proclaim is so counterintuitive, so counter cultural and so radical as to cause even the most sincere Christians to miss altogether its core message. No, the majority of us Christians sit in the glow of stain glass sanctuaries and listen to sermons Sunday after Sunday without once pausing to realize that our real gods are the idols of success, status, and image. Sadly, we profess Jesus as our Lord, while, in truth, we are much like the Children of Israel who worshiped the Golden Calf out there in the Sinai Peninsula three thousand years ago. We give some serious lip service to Jesus, and yet, all the while we worship at the throne of the unholy trinity of success, status, and image.
Bob reminds us that from the very beginning (in Genesis) all of us are made in God's image, the image of love, and, therefore, made for love and made to express love. But unfortunately, this fallen world so wounds us when we are young, we necessarily develop a constellation of ego defenses, the sum of which too often turn us into self-absorbed adults who find if difficult to love ourselves in the way Jesus intended. In our upbringing and cultural training we have developed a false self that is antithetical to the image of love.
Bob uses the term "spiritual awakening" ( the subtitle of his book) to describe the process we can and should go through to recover our true self. We do not have to create it, God already did. We need to recover it.
How Do We Recover It?
In his years of work as a recovery center chaplain Bob realized that spiritual awakening is not the province of psychology, or even counseling, but rather the goal of all good spirituality. We worship God and study scripture so that we might be awakened to our true purpose in this life, which is to balance our lives on the three-legged stool, or in other words, to love God, ourselves and our neighbors.
Psychology alone cannot accomplish this, but the 12 Steps of recovery can and does every day. And why is this so? The answer lies in the origin of the 12 Steps. Did these 12 steps fall out of heaven? No. Should they be included in the canon as holy writ? Again, the answer is no. They did not fall out of heaven, but they are in part extrapolated from the Beatitudes, which are pure Jesus in that they are so counterintuitive, so mysterious and, most of all, so incredibly healing.
Like the 12 Steps, the Beatitudes begin at the bottom, where we find ourselves poor in spirit.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Upon the discovery of our condition, we realize only that we want out of this place. And this is where we encounter bad news and good news at the same time. The bad news is that we must die to the false self and the good news is that we will be comforted as we do. If we dare to die to the egocentric self we created, we will discover that we will experience pain.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Without doubt we will mourn. But again, this discovery is followed by the very good news that we will be comforted. The Holy Spirit will not permit us to languish and twist in the wind. In ways we cannot imagine, God will show up to comfort us as the Spirit delivers us from the pain of mourning the death of the ever-voracious ego. As we awaken from our period of mourning where our pain and confusion have brought us closer than ever to God, we discover much to our surprise that we are becoming meek.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
And we find ourselves questioning the nature and the very essence of all that it means to be meek. This is not at all easy because in this world meekness is such a rare commodity. But Jesus teaches that the meek will inherit the earth.
Bob pointed out that the beatitude regarding righteousness segues perfectly into the next since mercy is the natural expression of the meek and mercy can be counted on to be always right. The meek express mercy because mercy is their core identity. Mercy is not something they do so much as it is who they are.
And Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Bob says that all meek souls have been touched by grace in a powerful way. Thus, all meek souls know what it means to experience forgiveness, and because they do, they give grace freely and, in time, even reflexively. The meek know a secret that is lost on most people And that secret is this paradox: They must give grace away if they hope to keep it.
Bob says that In his four-plus decades of experience as a pastor, he has yet to meet a resentful human being who was happy, much less at peace. If we are ever to know any real lasting peace in our lives, we must first learn to practice the challenging art of forgiveness. And we best learn that art by first asking people to forgive us. He believes that once we become meek enough to ask for and then to receive forgiveness, we will learn for ourselves how to give it to others. And in asking others to forgive us, we assist them in keeping the grace they themselves have received. So then, as strange as it sounds, every request for forgiveness is truly a benevolent act. In other words, we do a person a favor in asking them to forgive us.
Finally Bob discusses the apex of the spiritual journey and feels it is reached when at last we become genuine peacemakers.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.
All along, the perceived end of our journey has been to draw closer and closer to God. And once we have become capable of making peace, Jesus tells us that our blessing will be to be called the children of God.
Bob explains that we know the world will probably not call us the children of God because the next two beatitudes warn us that we will very likely be persecuted. So who will know us as “the children of God?” The only answer can be Christ Himself. This is so because, as we enter into the difficult and even sometimes dangerous business of peacemaking in our war-torn culture, we will become the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ and, therefore, “the children of God.” Why is peacemaking so difficult, and why does it invite such a reflexive punitive reaction from the world? The answer to the first question is rather obvious: peace is not the norm in this world. Conflict is! When someone says, “I want peace,” what he or she is up to, unbeknownst to themselves, is to make the concept of peace a goal of the their false self, or ego.
The word “want” connotes desire. And where the ego desires anything at all, there is always yearning and longing, and hence, no peace. If led by the ego alone, we will begin every quest for peace with an innate, deep-seated conflict stewing about within our souls. And because we can only realize peace by first becoming peaceful within ourselves, making peace is difficult at best, and impossible for most people since most of us have no clue as to how even to begin the process. The effective peacemakers in this world are those few who have grown so mature spiritually that their very lives provide the world with a glimpse, and nothing more than that, of Jesus’ proclamation of the ‘Kingdom of God.”
Thus the need for a spiritual awakening attained through a life of prayer that gradually replaces the false self with the true self that lies in the heart of all of us, implanted as the image of God. Only with that true self and it's accompanying love and continuous practice of forgiveness can we be effective peacemakers.
Bob's final answer to the question of the book's title "So What's the Point?:
We are to become the Kingdom of God right here and right now. We have been made for love’s highest purposes and for love’s greatest ends, and if we fail to discern this purpose for our lives, we will likely wander aimlessly about in a wasteland of bewilderment, which is that narrow stretch separating deep satisfaction from abject despair.
Thank you Bob!
NOTE: Bob's book can be ordered from Amazon from this link: