Finding that Sweet Spot

Sometimes, I don’t even try to lightly toast a marshmallow.  Sometimes, I put it right in the flames.  I wait for the thing to combust.  Once the fire has taken over the whole thing, I blow it out.  I ended up with a blackened and crunchy skin on the thing.  Within?  Within, it is basically the same as it was before.

A burned marshmallow is not a bad thing.  This is part of why I do it.

Also, I am a guy.  I like to set things on fire.

Also, I can be pretty much assured that I will get this right.  There is no disappointment involved: I set out to burn a marshmallow, I achieved the burning of a marshmallow.

But other times?  Other times I decide I will invest the time and the effort in getting it just right.

I maintain a rotisserie-style rotation.  I angle it just in the right place, the uppermost tips of the flames just barely caressing the sweet.  I watch it in the flickering fire light so very careful.

And this, in some ways, is the biggest challenge.  It is an exercise in controlling my greed.  Because sometimes it starts to look pretty good, beginning to show some light tan.  The tan darkens up, takes over the thing.  If all is well, even the top of the marshmallow darkens.  Inside, it is becoming something transformed.  The sugar softens and warms.  Alton Brown could probably provide a nerdy and fascinating explanation of the chemistry that is happening.  All I know is that it gets good, and then a little better… and sometimes

WHAM!

Suddenly, it is not good any more.  There really is no browning of a marshmallow.  It pretty much goes from tan… to black.  It goes from divine to just o.k.  It does it in the blink of the eye.

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The trick is that there are stages of divine.  And pushing too hard, trying to get it just perfect… That ruins it.

There could be a mind-map that describes the perfect marshmallow.  Here, there are 2 kingdoms: “Roasted” and “Burned.”  A great marshmallow is found by leaving the capital of roasted, with it’s comfort and civilization.  It is found by heading down the dirt road toward burned.  And the closer you get to that border?  The better it is.  But the moment you step over the dividing line, the very second you pass by the “Welcome to” sign…  it is too late.

Meditative/contemplative prayer is that way for me.  The mind map I am thinking about now, it features three kingdoms.  They all border each other in a “Y” shape.  The kingdoms are “Ordinary Prayer” and “Sleep” and “Thinking.”

The closer I get, in prayer, to the borders of those other 2 place: sleep and thinking, the better it is.  But the moment I slide over the border, it is suddenly nothing like it was.  It was not nearly the thing it had been.

This process is very much like roasting a marshmallow.  It is as much art as science, as much under my control as out of my hands.  To whatever extent I can control it, there is an element of greed there, of knowing I can push too far, and ruin it by trying to make it better.

As I write these words, I am wrestling with them.  Because there is a way in which this isn’t quite right.  I mean, I know it isn’t quite right in that there is a sense that it isn’t accurate.  But I also think it isn’t quite morally right.

Because it shouldn’t be about the feelings I get.  The only problem is that pretty much everything we do is about the feelings we get.  There are all these warnings, across spiritual traditions.  They warn us about not going after the feelings or other benefits of our spiritual practices: we should be doing them for their own sake.

But I am left wondering: Is that a thing?  Do people do things just for their own sake?  I am not sure.  I know that I like connecting with the creator of the universe.

And also, I like marshmallows.

 

 

 

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jeffsdeepthoughts

The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

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