I think there is a reason why most churches are filled with old people. I don’t think it’s because old people are getting closer to death and are afraid of the great unknown. And I don’t think it’s because “the church” (whatever church or religion) has nothing to say to young people. I think it’s just because most young people are busy building their lives. They are going to school, getting jobs, finding true love–or at least a reasonable facsimile, having children, buying houses, cars, dogs, cats, lawnmowers and kitchen cabinets. When you’re driving the car, sometimes you don’t notice all the scenery. You’re too busy driving.
Of course, this isn’t true for all young people. But in order to find God (or whatever you want to call God), you have to be looking. You have to feel something pulling you, and it’s hard to notice one particular thing pulling you when you’re already being pulled in many directions all at the same time. And of course, the last thing we want to become is our parents, so children frequently reject those things their parents held as important. We want to be our own people. And nobody likes being told what to do and churches are really good at that.
And eventually, we do become our own people. We have our kids, or not. We build our lives, and once our lives are built and pretty well set, then we have time to start thinking about our lives. And there is this feeling that something is missing. You might at first think that it is a bigger house, or more money, or a better partner, or another kid, or something like that. And you might even spend the rest of your life trying to obtain those things. But then, after you acquire those things, you find you still have that feeling, that something is missing. And that’s when a lot of people start going to church in the hope of finding some kind of peace of mind there. Sometimes they find it. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they spend a whole lot of time at church because they think that if they just spend a little more time there they might find that missing something. But it’s kind of like the misplaced car keys, as long as you’re looking for them, you can’t find them.
Some people just buy into whatever the dogma of the faith is because it’s easier than thinking. Let the authorities tell you what is right and wrong, what to do and what not to do. Just trust in their directions and you will find peace, and if you find peace in the absence of critical thought, you might just be happy. Many people are. But some people still find that unsatisfying. They don’t find God in the dogma of a particular religion. Sometimes, it seems the more you look at the beliefs and traditions of a particular faith, the more God isn’t there. Even the early church fathers recognized that. Saint Paul said that we make void the word of God by our traditions. And the Christian church has a lot of traditions.
I always think it’s better to look past the traditions of the Christian church, and look directly at the things Jesus said. The Pharisees, forerunners of that rabbinical tradition of today, would keep asking him when the “kingdom of God” would come. And Jesus answered them and said, “Look, nobody is going to say here’s the Kingdom of God, or there it is, over there. The Kingdom of God is within you. (Luke, Chap. 17)” Which is to say, stop waiting for that something that you’re waiting for to come. It isn’t GOING to come. It’s already HERE! Indeed, the Greek word generally translated as “within” also means “among”. Being dualistic ourselves, our brains want us to choose between within or among. But Jesus is saying both. The Kingdom of God is WITHIN you and WITHOUT you (Thanks, George Harrison). The Kingdom of God is all around us!
People are looking for God in a particular place or a particular religion or by saying a specific prayer and meanwhile, God is all around us and inside us and part of us as we are a part of God. This is what Jesus is trying to say. This is why he said if you had the faith the size of a mustard seed you could command a tree be uprooted and planted in the sea. You are the power of the universe. You just don’t feel much like you are, but that’s where faith comes in. You are what you believe you are.
When we think about what it is God does, taking care of us, comforting us, feeding us, healing us; those are all things within our own power to do, for ourselves and for one another. And when we do those things, we become the hands of God, with every act of kindness, with every kind word. We share our physical blessings with one another, money and food, clothes and medicine. But we also share our energy with one another. Sometimes just being with someone who loves you can give you the energy you need to keep going. Sometimes just a kind word of encouragement can make all the difference. I know that back when I was running marathons, the cheers and encouragement of the people watching really helped to keep me going when I wanted to quit. Those people were the hands of God for me during those hard moments.
That combined living energy, that life force, that creative spirit, is available to all of us. It is there just for the asking. All you have to do is connect. And all you have to do to connect is to believe that the power is there. And once you do connect, once you do feel the energy, you begin to become transformed. You don’t follow a bunch of rules because someone tells you to follow those rules. You realize that to take care of others, to put them first, is the ultimate selfishness. By reaching out to others and taking care of them we are healing ourselves. You don’t use people anymore because you don’t WANT to use them. You begin to realize that hurting others only hurts yourself and nobody wants to do that.
Then you discover that you don’t pray because somebody is telling you that you have to pray to get into heaven. You pray because you discover the more you pray, the more connected to that healing energy you become. And when you pray, you start to find yourself asking for stuff less and less and just listening instead of talking all the time. Sometimes God (or whatever you want to call God) has a lot to say. Jesus talked to the Pharisees about praying too. He told them a little story.
“There was this judge who lived in a little town. And this guy had no respect for people or for God. And there was this widow that came to him and asked him for a fair judgment against her adversary for her. And for a long, long time, the judge was unwilling to help her. But she just kept on bugging him about it. But after a while he thought, ‘If I don’t do something for this lady, she’s likely to hit me.’ So he ruled in her favor. Now you folks pay attention to that corrupt judge. If that bastard was willing to answer her, don’t you think God, who’s a real nice person, will answer you? I tell you He will, but will YOU have the faith?” (my own translation of Luke)
Now there are two things to notice about this lesson on prayer. First, this woman was very persistent. She didn’t just ask once and then give up when she didn’t get an answer. She kept asking. If you want to connect to the Tao, you have to be persistent. You can’t just sit down to meditate or something and give up after fifteen minutes when you don’t feel anything. Everything that is worthwhile takes time. Any bonafide martial artist will tell you it takes at least three to five years before you achieve any useful level of skill at all. So if you think you can join a karate school and be a black belt in a year, forget it. If you want to connect to that creative force in the universe, it is going to take time to feel it. You have to keep the faith, even when you’re not feeling it. That’s why those revelations about Mother Theresa mark her not as a hypocrite, but as an even more remarkable woman of faith. She kept going even when she felt nothing. She kept faith.
The other thing worth noting about this widow’s prayer was the specific nature of it. She didn’t go to the judge and say she wanted help. She demanded a fair judgment. She was quite specific about what it was she wanted. Prayer needs to be focused. How many times have kids come to complain to me about something and I’ve responded by saying, “What do you want me to do?” And they are unable to answer. They don’t know what they want me to do. They just know they are unhappy. We need to focus on just what it is we want from that power and be specific about it. When you focus on things, you put a lot of energy in play. And our energy is very powerful. The power of prayer is dynamic. And it’s okay to ask others to pray for/with you. It’s amazing what the combined power of many people all focusing on the same thing can achieve.
Now there’s nothing wrong in building a life and it does take an awful lot of energy to do that. But I think it’s good to remember that when that life has been built you will find there is more to it than a home and kids, etc. And somehow, when the Tao, or spirit or whatever you want to call it, is included in your life, the things you do build seem to be that much stronger and more durable. The relationships seem stronger. Churches are filled with old people because old people have acquired the wisdom to know that there is something more important than acquiring all the stuff we think we need. Those old people are looking for something. And according to the promise, whoever is looking for something will find it. It just takes persistence–and faith.