I’ve been practicing kung fu now for a very long time. I started with the club back in 1984. I worked out hard, earned my own class, even. I practiced diligently every single day. But around the year 2000, I injured my foot while practicing. I could barely walk for a few days. I thought it would get better quickly. Most other injuries I’ve suffered got better in time. This one didn’t. I went to the doctor. He made me stop working out. So I stopped.
There were times I cheated and practiced. And I paid for it. So I earnestly rested in hopes of getting better. And the days turned to weeks and the weeks turned to months and the months turned to years. I was miserable about being unable to do something I loved. I put my energies into other activities, such as music. So there is always a bright side. Eventually, however, the injury faded away in time. The pain was gone. Then I had to push myself to return to the club and start practicing again. Unfortunately, I had forgotten most of the forms I had learned. So I called up my friend, Lee, and asked him to help me regain what I had forgotten. Lee was a true kung fu brother. We worked out every day for months until I was back where I was when I was injured.
Then came the day I had to return to the club for a regular class. I had been a little nervous about going back. I wondered what those new students would think about me. Who’s this new guy, they’d wonder, the guy with the black tips on his belt. Where’d he come from? And then I’d worry about the other guys. They’d be wondering why I came back, and what I expected. I was sort of afraid I’d be getting the hairy eyeball and all, and that I’d have to prove myself to them all in some way.
But none of that happened. When I walked in, the old guys welcomed me back with smiles, and the new guys shook my hand. At the end of class, one of the new guys offered me a cup of tea, just as he did the other senior students. I couldn’t help feeling like the prodigal son being welcomed back home by a forgiving father. And when I walked back into that club, and stood among those guys, I knew I was back where I belonged. A piece of me that had been missing was back. I felt whole again.
It’s much like our relationship with God, or whatever you want to call God. It’s not that God wants us to love Him/Her. It’s not that our lives will be better, flow more smoothly, be more prosperous, if we are religious God fearing righteous people. It isn’t that we ought to love God, or that we ought to spend more time praising God or thanking God or trying to make God happy. It’s that we are a part of God. God is a part of us. We are parts of the same whole. Without God in our lives in some way, we are not whole. A part of us is missing.
Oh we can get by okay. I could get by quite fine without my kung fu club. But a piece of us is missing, and so nothing is ever quite right. We know this on a very deep level. That’s why so many people try to find something to fill that missing piece. Some people try lots of different things. We try hobbies. We try food. We try drink. We try drugs. We try sex. We try music. We try exercise. We try school. We try to fill that missing hole with all kinds of things. But nothing ever quite does it.
A lot of people turn to religion not so much to fill that hole, but to try to find that magic solution to all their problems. They spend their time in prayer hoping for prosperity and health. They want God to cure all their illnesses and bring them wealth and prosperity. They ask God to make it rain. They say that as long as there are tests, there will always be prayer in school. Even children are hoping that God will give them the answers to the test questions. There are a lot of preachers who promise that God will make you prosperous. Come to God in prayer and your needs will be answered.
Of course, there is a big difference between getting what you need and getting what you want. What you need is a way to get to work. What you want is a new car. For thousands of years, people having been praying to gods to satisfy their wants and needs. Humankind has long seen the divine as something not much more than a glorified errand boy.
Jesus understood this. His message was to change our way of thinking about God. People had seen God as a king, someone who punished our bad deeds and rewarded our good deeds. People had seen God as the great source of our good fortune, and bad fortune. But that isn’t the God that Jesus understood. Jesus taught us another God, God as a loving parent, as a comforter.
After feeding all those people, he tried to get away. He knew they wanted to make him a leader and he didn’t want that. But the people followed him anyway. They found him on the other side of the Sea. This is what happened:
When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there,
they themselves got into boats
and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus.
And when they found him across the sea they said to him,
“Teacher, when did you get here?”
Jesus answered them and said,
“Surely, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs
but because you ate the loaves and were filled.
Do not work for food that perishes
but for the food that endures for eternal life,
which the Son of Man will give you.
For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.”
So they said to him,
“What can we do to accomplish the works of God?”
Jesus answered and said to them,
“This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”
So they said to him,
“What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do?
Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written:
He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”
(According to the story of Moses, when the people were wandering in the desert, God sent a magical food from the sky, called “manna”. The people were expecting this miracle to occur again when the “messiah” came. So, in other words, they’re trying to see if Jesus is “the one”.)
So Jesus said to them,
“In truth, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven;
my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.
For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven
and gives life to the world.”
So they said to him,
“Sir, give us this bread always.”
Jesus said to them,
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger,
and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” (John, Chapter six, 24-25)
Jesus is saying, in other words, “You followed me because I filled your bellies. You’re looking for someone to solve all your problems. That’s just isn’t the point. That’s not what God’s about. God is the source of life. Don’t you understand that your life isn’t whole without God? You want to find peace? Do the things I teach. Believe me when I tell you to take care of each other, feed one another, and comfort one another. Have faith. God will provide for you all that you need.”
Some of us are still holding onto that Sunday School God, a child’s God. We want a God who will take care of us and watch over us, they way a parent would. We want to believe that God will make everything better, they way we thought our mother’s could kiss away our hurts. And in a way, God CAN do all that, but not in the way we expect. At some point, you have to grow up. Saint Paul says that when he was a child, he thought as a child. But when he became a man, he put away childish things. At some point, you have to grow up. You have to let go of that notion of religion and God.
We have everything we need to solve our problems. We have each other. We just have to love one another and share what we’ve got. We just have to have faith and not let fear rule our lives. God is there. God is the missing piece that completes us. The universe will unfold the way it will. There isn’t a lot any of us can do about it. But we can have faith in one another and faith in a God who loves us.
At some point, you stop expecting your parents to save your ass every time you get in a jam. At some point you stop looking at your parents as your safety net, and start loving them for who they are. That’s the grown up way of seeing family. You don’t love them for what they can do for you. You love them because they’re your family. Our relationship with God is much the same.
At some point, you stop seeing God as the great rain maker, and start seeing that divine spirit as the source of the life-energy that inhabits the universe, whatever the hell that means. I don’t have to understand it. I just need to know it’s there. And I have seen there is a power and energy in the universe beyond my understanding. It surrounds us and enfolds us. Open yourself to that energy, that Tao, that Prajna, and you find that missing piece. It completes us. Understand the teachings of Jesus and you see that God isn’t Santa Claus. S/He is better than that.