I once read that Gertrude Stein said of the great mystical poet and artist William Blake, “Of course he was cracked. That’s how the light got in.” These days we can do research sitting at a computer, and I could not verify that attribution. Similar quotes, however, can be found in the work of a number of writers (Emerson, Hemingway, Rumi), and especially in the lyrics of singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen: “Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” (From his song Anthem)
There are two powerful impulses within the psyche of every human being. One is evolutionary. It is the will to survive, to defend, to protect; the will for power and self-determination. The other is the impetus to love: to give, to share, to include. It is this second impulse that rises out of our spiritual consciousness, our sense that we didn’t get here by ourselves and that we are not alone; that there is more to life than meets the eye. It is this impulse that leads us to balance our acquisitive nature with generosity, our defensive instincts with vulnerability, our self-confidence and natural narcissism with humility.
I’m pretty sure we need both impulses to navigate the journey of life. As Scott Peck reminds us in The Road Less Traveled, “Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths.” Without the survival impulse…well, we might not survive. There are times when defending and protecting are appropriate responses to the threats and challenges that come with life. For most of us, this is instinctive and does not need cultivating. The more challenging impulse, and the one that needs nurturing, is the capacity to love and include those who are outside our family or tribe. This is a spiritual challenge, and the resources come from God.
This is why prayer is important, especially those forms of prayer that remove us from the center and invite God to alter the ways we think and live and relate to others. Much of the time our efforts at this seem futile, and we rise from prayer unbended and unchanged. But occasionally, especially in those times when life has broken us a bit, God finds a crack and shines the light in, making us just a bit more human, a little more in the image of the One who is Love.
Rev. Don Underwood