How to Be Human

Jesus spoke to the Pharisees again. “I am the light of the world,” he said. “Whoever follows me will have the light of life and will never walk in darkness.
— Gospel of John

“You are the light of the world, like a city on a hill, illuminating life.”
— Gospel of Matthew

One afternoon, Hodja Nasruddin, the celebrated 13th century “wise fool” of the Middle East, was inside his simple home making quite a commotion. Passersby grew concerned as they heard him shouting and throwing items about. After about 20 minutes of this, their concern turned to confusion as they saw the Hodja step outside and begin rummaging through the bushes and flowers in his garden. Clearly he had lost something. This went on for some time, when several in the gathered crowd offered to help and started searching through the plants and bushes as well.

After another twenty minutes or so, finally, one of the neighbors helping stopped and asked, “Hodja, perhaps it would help if we all knew what we were looking for?”

Hodja replied, “I’ve lost my keys and have been searching all morning for them.”

Another asked, “Where did you last have them.”

“Inside,” he smiled as he continued to search through the bushes.

“Then why are we looking outside?” the neighbor complained incredulously.

“Oh,” smiled the Hodja, “because there is much more light out here!”

There is some wisdom here, I think, once we get past the seemingly awkward illogic of Hodja’s foolishness. Sometimes the best way to deal with the problems of being human — the conflicts we have with one another, the tensions and stresses we feel in certain relationships, the seemingly endless struggles we have with certain life decisions, the emotional crises we find ourselves getting stuck in. Sometimes the surest way to some sort of answer is to go to where there is more light, though that may seem the opposite of what we need.

The struggles of being human, living in relationship with one another, or just living with ourselves, can feel overwhelming. We find ourselves stuck in patterns of self-doubt or emotional chaos or simply confused about the next step. We want some sort of answer that solves the riddles we face. Not only do we seek resolutions, we often feel we deserve resolutions to our problems, our conflicts.

The author and Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron writes, “Not only do we not deserve resolution, we suffer from resolution. We deserve something better than that. We deserve our birthright, which is a middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity.”

This seems foolish to me in some ways, letting go of a need for answers or specific resolutions but instead finding comfort in the “unknowing.” And yet is also seems a path that might lead us outside of the problem and into some light. The irony is that the light is there at all when we find ourselves trapped in these emotional, relational patterns. It mostly feels dark.

When I read the text in John where Jesus said, “I am the light of the world,” I can’t help reflecting on that in the context that he also said, “WE are the light of the world.”

Which raises this question for me in facing our deepest challenges, in dealing with life’s seemingly intransigent problems, seemingly incapable of the resolutions we want: what if WE are the very light we are seeking? What if that light, that illumination has been here all along and we simply get too caught up in ourselves to see it? What if the very essence of our deepest spirituality and illumination is in finding, illuminating, our essential humanity?

This Sunday, we’re starting a new series, How to Be Human. I invite you to join me as we explore paths of ambiguity and unknowing toward the discovery of the light at the heart of our humanity. This Sunday, we begin by “Giving Your God Some Space,” with the music of Billy Joel, East Mountain South, and Bruce Cockburn, and a special Gift of Story, to shed some light on the matter.

I hope to see you then!


Rev. Tom McDermott
Associate Pastor of eleven:eleven

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