Letter to a Fellow Priest
who wrote saying...
My dear friend,
Right after I was ordained, a fellow priest told me, "The priesthood is like riding a big horse." Normally, when someone says that something is like something else, they follow it up with an elaboration of some kind, but he did not. He just left it at that, smiled, and walked away. Obviously, I never forgot what he said, and it comes up now in response to your speculations about the futility of control.
I have some horseback riding experience, but not much. My sister, however, loves horses. She used to barrel race in the rodeo. One day, she had her horse at the house, and she wanted to borrow my car. I said, "Sure, if I can ride your horse." She agreed, and my friend who was also there, seized the opportunity in the midst of our ride-trading frenzy and asked to ride my motorcycle. How could I refuse? So, I took off up the street on top of this huge rodeo horse, and my friend took off on my bike in the opposite direction. When I got to the top of the street, I turned around and started trotting back down toward the house. Just then, my friend came roaring around the turn right past us in a cloud of dust and gravel. The horse bolted. Trot turned into gallop, and I panicked. The only thing I could do was hang on for dear life. I had NO control. The house loomed up fast, and I thought I was going to die. Fortunately, my sisterís horse regained its composure about twenty feet from the side of the house. I jumped off and fell face down on the lawn, clenching the grass with both hands, and kissing the earth.
So, you can imagine what went through my mind when that priest told me that the priesthood was like riding a big horse. Once again, I felt completely at the mercy of something much larger than myself. Since then, Iíve thought a lot about horses and what it means to be in control.
It seems to me that the art of horseback riding has a lot to do with getting to know the horse. Ostensibly, the idea is to get the horse to do what you want him to do, go where you want him to go, and to get there in the amount of time you want. So, on the surface, it's all about controlling the horse. But, since the horse is so big and has a mind of its own, any controlling is going to have to come as a result of understanding the horse and in learning how to speak its language.
Sometimes, I get the feeling that discussions about the futility of control are really about timing. Our lives are like this great big horse that seems to have a mind and a direction of its own. It just pulls us along down a path that it seems to know quite well, but usually surprises the hell out of us at every turn. Somehow we get lulled to sleep, believing that we have nothing to say about which direction our life is heading, but it's only because our timing is off, not that we don't actually have control. This, to me, is a key distinction.
This is all laid out, of course, in the Strength card of the Tarot. The lion (beast) is controlled by the subtle repetition of subconscious directives (garland of flowers). Orderly repetitions have timing as their main architectural feature, and therefore, timing, while having no power of its own, has ALL the power to direct the existing forces of our lives. Anthropologists like to point out that the early priests were those who knew the cyclic patterns of the heavens, the first astronomers. What the anthropologists don't know, however, is that the real "heavens" the priests were studying were the heavens of the inner world, and that their knowledge of those cycles is what gave them their wisdom. Knowledge of cycles equals knowledge of timing. And knowledge, as everyone knows, is power.
So, when we get thrown off the horse of life, odds are pretty good that the culprit was bad timing. Some people would simply call this "bad luck", but, as priests, you and I know there's no such thing as luck. There's only knowledge of cycles or ignorance of cycles. Along with this, we know that we can establish certain rhythms within an existing cycle, through subtle repetition, so that we can influence the cycle indirectly, using its power for our own purposes. This is priestcraft. Add to this the power of the Word, and the possibilities for control shoot right through the roof. But only if we have good timing.
American Plains Indians must have understood their horses very well. They could ride and shoot a bow and arrow at the same time. Training their horses to keep pace with a fast-moving buffalo herd and to respond to subtle knee-pressure, the riders could use both hands to shoot with. They harmonized the larger cycles of buffalo and horse, and then used timing and execution to make their shot. The forces involved in shooting the arrow were miniscule compared with the forces of the larger cycles, but the control they exerted over those cycles was absolute.
While being in the present moment has a profound power to bring us to a state of peace, that peace is only sustainable if we master the use of timing and execution as we ride along the prairies of our life. We have to discern the larger cycles, to live in a larger present moment, if we are to have any say over which direction our lives are headed. The possibilities in our lives are like wide-open spaces, whereupon we can write what we will. And as long as we live and work within the existing cycles, moving with them in a harmonized rhythm, our ride will be smooth and productive.
Horses are easier to control when we are on top of them, when we understand their rhythms, and when we combine subtle commands with patient repetitions. This is wisdom. But it's wisdom based on knowledge and made useful through execution. Knowing what to do, or even when to do it, is insufficient if we do not summon the will to do it. When we let the arrow fly, it's no longer in our hands. But the fruits of our labors will sustain us, and our destiny will align itself with our vision.
So, what Iím saying is this: donít be too quick to let go of the reins. "Loving what is" is fine, as long as your vision is part of that existential moment. If we embody our vision (what we envision ourselves to be), then it goes with us. It is where we are, and we become the present moment. Then, our very presence is a statement in the world. It is our Word. The present moment defines itself by what we are being, responding to what we say it is. In this sense, there is no time, no "present moment". There is onlyÖus.
Love in Christ,
"Do not try to bend the spoon. Thatís impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth. There is no spoon. Then you'll see that itís not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself." - The Matrix