In spiritual life, I wonder if it's not true for everyone that drip by drop and step by step, a collection of touchstones grows in the mind and heart -- little snippets of information and inspiration that guide and shape the endeavor. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," "the Tao that can be spoken is not the true Tao," "truth is one, wise men call it by many names," "love and charity towards all beings/ contentment under all circumstances/ control of the senses and passions," "cause and effect" ... the list goes on and on, varying according to the needs and leanings of the aspirant. A library of faith that includes monasteries glistening on impossibly-steep hills and the serene step of some monk in the forest.
Touchstones of faith.
Bush league aspirants use such information to browbeat others, to assess and/or denigrate others' purity and vigor ... and sometimes as a foundation for beating the crap out of them. But further along the path, such a collection of touchstones is more frequently employed as a means of yardsticking and encouraging the effort and growth of the librarian who collects such touchstones in the first place.
This morning, a friend sent along a New York Times article about a small piece of papyrus that suggests Jesus had a wife. Not 'proves,' of course, but certainly suggests ... and the resulting bush league argumentation is likely to be intense. Imagine that: If Jesus had a wife ... uhh ... well, the misogyny limned within some Christian traditions, a misogyny that has silver-tongued and slippery advocates, might be thrown into disarray and a touchstone displaced.
Touchstones. Assistants. Guardian angels. Goads. Discipline along what may be a very narrow path.
Gouts of joy and avalanches of sorrow may mark the touchstone path. Sometimes it's all pretty ho-hum and even borrrring. But whether easy or hard, still the serious aspirant sticks with it and touchstones provide a staff to accompany the effort and advance.
This morning, the touchstone that tap dances around in my mind is this: The louder the volume the weaker the faith. I don't mean this as a means of judging others, though it's probably true in that arena as well, but rather as a means of looking in the bathroom mirror. Louder and louder the touchstones of faith may become, but the louder they become, the more they assert the very opposite of the reason the touchstones were collected and collated in the first place.
And what faith is it that deserves nourishing? I think it is this: You were born to be happy, so ... be happy. You were born in peace, so ... be peaceful. What do touchstones have to do with a grounded happiness or peace? Sure, they're OK for a while ... but only in a time of faithlessness.
All of this may sound a bit over-weaning in its optimism, but optimism has nothing to do with it. Another sappy touchstone religion is not the point. The point is that the sky is blue, the grass is green and no man ever came out of the womb relying on touchstones.
It all reminds me of an old joke whose punch line I remember but whose context is forgotten. The joke concerned a little bird that was flying in ever-diminishing circles around a mountain peak. Smaller and smaller the circles became until finally ... "he flew up his own asshole and disappeared."
Spiritual life is largely a matter of imagining you are an asshole.
What an asshole!