It’s time to revise the first part of my daily To Do list.
Several years ago I adopted a three-tiered organization. To Do’s were divided into Must, Should and Could categories. And within each, things were in priority order.
I would then work each section, starting with the Must items and do them in priority order.
That organization worked pretty good for a couple of years. Important things got done. Things that could wait, waited. Some of the latter never happened because, in practice, I found (and still do) that I rarely get to the Could category. In that category were things I wanted but, for lots of reasons, I just never found the time. More important ones that must or should get done simply used up the hours of the days and nights.
That’s as it should be.
Along the way, I noticed there were the same To Do items always at the top of the list, and almost always in the same order. They were about getting my mind in the right place and getting priorities set for the day that was just beginning. One of the things in that list included making that day’s To Do list and there were things to be done, consistently, to make that list effective such as checking my calendar and so forth.
They had to be done to figure out the Must, the Should and the Could for the day.
So I moved those planning tasks into a new fourth but first category called Prepare.
That new first list is, after some initial trial and error, mostly static. It doesn’t change. It has the same things and the same priorities every day. It includes, for example, “#2 – Visualize being patient with others” which is quickly followed by “#3 – Visualize taking care of myself.” Pills, shower, reading the news and making the day’s specific list are farther down in priority, all essential but less and less important.
But something is wrong.
For several weeks as I’ve worked my way through this most important of all lists through which I plan the rest of the day and with it, the weeks and months, I’ve felt my #1 task to be a little off the mark.
It says, “#1 – Theological contemplation and prayer.”
But now I see the wording is wrong. The focus is, I am now convinced, in the wrong direction.
You see, the first part of that phrase has meant that I start the day by studying the Bible by direct reading, through various commentaries and the words of others, and it also means I study other religions, and I do that by the words written by others.
And therein is the problem.
You see, through all that and over many years of complex experiences, I now believe that approach was teaching me more, and in some cases, exclusively, about humanity, not theology. Reading between the lines in all these works, I see humanity’s searching, its hopes, its desires.
And in these works, I came to know man, but not God.
Whatever God is — which is utterly beyond any mortal’s ability to comprehend because, well, we’re mortal and every thing we see, touch and know has a beginning and an end — whatever God is, I can’t possibly know. He, She or It is not knowable through the words of man because man’s words, whether in English, Greek or Aramaic, are limited to what mortal man can know.
I cannot know immortality. It is not possible. And the men and women that wrote those books, inspired by God or not, and even if they are written by the very hand of God, cannot reveal God to man, because Man cannot know the infinite.
Man is finite. God is beyond, outside, not limited by the finite.
To man, God truly is unknowable.
And so the books are tutorials, textbooks, guides and primers, but no more.
There is a Zen Buddhist quotation, variously stated, that I particularly like.
“The finger pointing at the Moon is not the Moon.”
What I truly know comes from what I experience, not from what I read. Reading about foreign lands, cultures and people who are dramatically different is nothing compared to going there, seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and simply immersing oneself in that foreign land.
And as I’ve traveled I’ve learned that all humans are profoundly the same, but as individuals we are unimaginably different.
In this universe of which we are parts, and at its most fundamental level, I know there is one certainty, that life struggles to continue, to procreate, to flourish. And coupled with that is another — words fail me here — “force” that is focused on the opposite.
These two “forces” are in perpetual opposition and for as long as we have been able to communicate from one person to another, we’ve talked about them, drawn pictures of them on the walls of caves and written great volumes of inspirational literature to endless debate.
Some will use the words good and evil and, while I agree they are useful to a degree, they also lack something. There’s more to existence than finding out which one wins.
It is, I think perhaps, in the struggle itself that we find meaning and purpose.
Without the struggle, I am convinced, life has no point.
So in addition to the force for life versus the force for non-life, there’s a reason for them to be, and a reason for them to be in opposition.
What that might be, well, that’s the question. And that’s where I want to focus each day as I begin. I doubt I will ever figure it out completely but, nonetheless, each day will now start with:
#1 – Contemplation and prayer.