Last week I shared the words of Hospital Chaplain Amy Wright Glenn who wrote:
All that is seen, touched, tasted, held, heard, and thought shifts with each passing moment. This is true whether our perception is pleasant, unpleasant, beautiful, or horrible. Impermanence describes so much of our human experience perfectly.
These words eloquently remind us that change is unabating. And that as spiritually mature human beings we have to accept the ultimate reality of impermanence, which is death. But death isn’t the only truth. And last week I didn’t finish Amy Wright Glenn’s quote. She completed her thought about impermanence by saying:
I believe a power not touched by time exists and that this power can be intuitively known. In my experience, this power is love.
Love is a common word. But it’s a big idea. And it’s an even bigger action. And when we start to talk about love from the perspective of the spiritual heart, it becomes larger than life itself.
The love that Amy Wright Glenn is talking about here—Love as a power not touched by time and known through intuition—is an understanding of love that leads us toward something beyond our human language and temporal knowledge. Humans have been grappling with these kinds of spiritual realities for as long as we’ve been around. We’ve always intuited this…this…this something not touched by time. Every religious tradition I’ve ever encountered claims that there is something that exists beyond the reality of time and change and death. Something that allows for immortality.
In Christianity, we’re taught of resurrection. In the mystical Gospel of John Jesus says over and over again in different ways that we can pass from death to life. He says that even though we die, we’ll live. He’s not telling us that we can escape death. He’s trying to tell us that in life, right now, we can experience the heart of Eternity. In Hinduism, we’re taught that the Atman, or the soul, doesn’t experience birth and death. In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna tells us that “Bodies of the incarnated Eternal can be destroyed, but the Eternal Itself is indestructible.” (2.17-18)
Jesus and Krishna aren’t telling us that we can live forever as the human self we take ourselves to be. And they aren’t enticing us toward some imagined place of perfection where we’ll no longer die or experience hardship. Jesus and Krishna are calling us toward an inner transformation in this moment, in this life.
Physicist and religious scholar Ravi Ravindra calls us to a deeper understanding of the word immortality. He describes immortality as:
…a state of being that is freed of time, not merely enduring in time endlessly. What is everlasting is not eternal: eternity is not a matter of a quantitative extension in time; it is related to a quality of being. The mere extension of existence in time, without a change in quality of being, can appeal only to a dull mind fearful of any serious change and addicted to a continuation of the known.
Ravindra is calling us toward maturity. The teachings of Jesus will not allow us to decide that injustice is just par for the course “this side of heaven” and Krishna is not justifying war in the Bhagavad Gita. These ancient teachers—these divine beings—are calling us to transform every aspect of our self understanding. They’re calling us to release our identification with change and death. They’re calling us to release our identification with like and dislike, with hatred and conditional love. Jesus and Krishna are calling us to tap into the Divine Mystery that exists beyond time. They’re asking us to find and root our identity in the Eternal.
When Jesus and Krishna—or any other incarnation of the Divine—invite us into immortality, they’re opening a door into the deepest reservoir. They offering us a spiritual resource that’s endlessly abundant. But sadly, for most of us, trying to accept this invitation will feel nearly impossible. Because the reality is, we’re deeply attached to our particular sense of self. We’re attached to our own story.
Releasing our identification with change and death, like and dislike, or any other small and limiting idea of who we are takes constant, consistent, devoted effort. The journey of transformation is difficult, but take heart because the actual task is simple. It’s radical, it’s counter cultural, and it’s hard work. But it’s simple.
Slow down. Turn inward. Be still. And listen.
And in the next hour, be ready to do it again. Because this is a practice. The work of spiritual practice—of transformation—is a slow unraveling of our attachments and a re-rooting of our identity.
So tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that… Slow down. Turn inward. Be still. And listen. Listen to the Eternal, always, already present within you.