John Cowan in Taking Jesus Seriously: Buddhist Meditation for Christians, says that culture is a way of defending ourselves against the fear of death and impermanence.
“He who wears a blue suit won’t die,” is a line from Cowan, a line I added to my short story, “The Blue Suit.”
Jesus says, “He who tries to hang onto life will forfeit it but whoever forfeits life will preserve it.”
Life itself is undefended life, unprotected life. Life itself sees suffering as part of life, and even welcomes the suffering that life entails, using it to awaken us further, to awaken our hearts.
Every time Carole and I have a bad patch, and this is mercifully not very often, I learn that if I will remain open to my vulnerability and my suffering, I will learn and grow even closer to her than I already am.
Jesus was himself preaching the Gospel of Life Itself, the gospel of ordinary life made new by his Kingdom images, ordinary life that once we see and experience ordinary life and its vicissitudes with new eyes, we experience being in the Kingdom Now.
I saw a book on Amazon, God’s Love is Better Than Life Itself. But I think that what we mean by God’s Love is ‘life itself,’ life lived meeting ordinary experience head on, with an open and waiting and vulnerable heart.
Life itself is the challenge of waking up to the kingdom of life itself in our midst, rather than the kingdom we think is only at the end of life or the end of time.
Life itself is living the common experiences that we all encounter from birth to death, the sufferings and joys, illusions and fears, that are our common lot.
The stories in the Bible are not stories only about this or that historical personage, but narratives about life itself and its tribulations and fears, from the terrors of child sacrifice, to adultery, to murder and marriage and inheritance, to hunger and poverty and famine, to great wealth and power, to power and intrigue, and so forth.
This is life itself, the common experiences and challenges of ordinary life.
Jesus sought to redeem these experiences with new ways of seeing them, new ways of living them. He wasn’t issuing moral rule or even platitudes. He was trying to shock us into the new, to seeing better the delusions and demons that possess us, and that lure us away from the wonder of life itself, including the challenge of awakening to the Kingdom of God that is found in the compassionate heart.
Jesus was trying to awaken our cordoned, fearful hearts just as his own heart was awakening to God’s Kingdom.
Jesus was warning against the tyranny of deadly familiarity, the accepted, the expected. We were dying in the prison of pious observances; we ground the poor in the gates; we treated children with disdain, we worshipped the rich and powerful; and the rich and powerful were enslaved by their possessions.
The Gospel's stories, like Shakespeare’s stories, are stories of human life and its foibles, its tragedies, it triumphs, with Jesus pleading that we see through all of that, to constantly awaken our hearts and our eyes to the Kingdom of God breaking in, which is less a picture of what the world looks like all shiny and new than a picture of what the world looks like as it is being made new in life itself.
Life itself then is life being born anew, again and again, life renewing. Life meeting life.
Ask and you will receive, life itself. Not a shiny new car, or a promotion, or recognition, or this or that new toy. What you pray for is the very possibility of life itself. You pray for the awakened heart and awakened eyes to God’s kingdom breaking in, life renewed, life itself.
There is even a kind of door to life itself: if we open our hearts and our minds, and our lives to life itself, we will rouse our new hearts, or what the Buddhists term, “bodhichitta” of the awakened heart.
The more we live life itself as life with an openness to the plight of others, to the hearts of others, the more we awaken our own hearts and thus the more we can receive life itself.
This is how life itself renews itself, how the Kingdom grows in our midst.
By the way go buy Cowan's book Taking Jesus Seriously: Buddhist Meditation for Christians. Cowan will change how you think about Jesus and the Gospels.