The first reality in life is being, everything else comes later: principles, laws, rules, the lists about how to act good and be good, holiness codes – all these are after-thoughts. We experience life before we evaluate it and codify it.
In Critique of Pure Reason published in 1781, philosopher Emmanuel Kant says that it is the job of the mind to turn the chaos of raw experience into something that we, as individuals, can understand. We need rules, according to Kant, so that the confusion that is around us in life can be interpreted – can be made sense of. This sounds reasonable, except for one thing: Kant begins with the assumption that, at its essential nature, the universe is bedlam and human beings are the ones who bring order to it. Today the opposite is true. Philosopher Jay Ingram in The Theatre of the Mind says that the mind itself is bedlam – not the universe, and our job is to still the mind so that the harmony that is all around us can filter in.
If you study meditation– whether Christian or Buddhist or Hindu, you’ll know this latter reality to be more along the lines of these ancient religions. For thousands of years religion has said that when you still your racing mind, you come into a place of pure God. God is the first reality. Rules about God, far from being ultimate truth, are reflections of the people who make the rules up. They are secondary.
For instance, Paul becomes a follower of Jesus not because Peter or one of the other disciples comes to him with a brilliant thesis on Christian ethics or a well-packaged course on interpreting biblical texts. No, Paul has some sort of experience. It might have been an out of the ordinary and ecstatic experience, but it felt integral to him. Every parent who has watched their eight month old put her fist, the dog’s tail, or someone else’s old candy in her mouth knows of what I speak. In the beginning there is the event. The discerning and deciphering of the event happen afterward. The rules come later.
Of course, rules are important. Like the directions in a cook book, they help us move from a stage of uncertainty to a stage of proficiency. Rules mean that you don’t have to re-invent the wheel every time you try to make something that you haven’t made before. But any good cook knows, once you have become proficient, you throw the rules away again and do your own thing. You throw in some lemon grass. And some sweet basil. And a hint of hot pepper. And then the thing comes alive. Once the rules have served you, you leave them behind.
This is also true of rules about God. There is not one rule, one doctrine, one teaching in the whole Christian church, as important as they all are, that will exempt you from living your life as a full human being under your own steam. That’s why Paul says, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you.” After you become proficient, you have to let the rules go. Your job is to live. Period. Because living is what God intends us to do.