Having completed my journey home (The Road Home: A Contemporary Exploration of the Buddhist Path by Ethan Nichtern), I found myself looking at Peter’s exhortations at church on Sunday. I’ve shared these before (Robbing Peter to Play Paul), but stimulated by Nichtern’s detailed description of the Buddhist path to healing, I saw them in a new light.
Let me present them again:
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So how does this path evolve?
Faith is simply a posture towards existence that asserts it is constructed to allow us to find well-being. Faith in the Old Testament was most often associated with the exhortation “Fear not” – which is the most common phrase in the Bible. It is to take comfort that a greater power guides us into a meaningful purpose, and that purpose includes our well-being. The story of Lot is the most dramatic parable of that process.
Once we make the leap of faith, we then open ourselves to recognition of goodness in the world, and allow it to fill us. Yes, I am saying that Peter’s exhortation is not to be good, but to allow the goodness of the world to enter into us. That means not consuming things and experiences, but allowing them to enter into us, and giving recognition and gratitude for the good they bring. So when we eat food, when someone cares for us when we are sick, when someone pays us a fair wage, we should offer our gratitude and recognition of their goodness. This attitude protects our goodness and the goodness of others from corruption by divisive attitudes. It allows goodness to grow in the community of the faithful.
Given the experience of goodness, we turn next to understanding of the world and its operation. We seek knowledge. But we do so with an innate sense of how knowledge relates to goodness. When told a lie, we can feel that it’s corruption deep in the heart. When told how to exploit the bounty of the earth, we feel the land crying out in pain. So we filter knowledge and uphold that which creates and sustains good.
Once we have a base of knowledge regarding the working of the world, we can predict the consequences of our actions. We apply that understanding to constrain our actions. It is not just goodness that guides us at this point – we adopt the practice of self-control. We are now set on the path of the knowledge of good and evil. We expose ourselves again to temptation, and as Cain, seek to master sin.
Sin is subtle and alluring. It offers us pleasures without great cost to ourselves. So we fall prey to its siren song. We make mistakes. We have to try, and try again. We should not beat ourselves up too much, but persevere. This is not an easy journey!
As we grow along that path, we find that we obtain skill in creating good among the community. Thus we become godly, in our own little way. We create circumstances in which the powers held by others are channeled to the benefit of all. We attain stewardship, just as God has stewardship over us.
Now there will be arguments over the allocation of resources. We need to avoid taking those arguments personally. That is accomplished best by opening our hearts to one another in compassion. When we speak, we speak not only for ourselves and our perceptions. As stewards, we allow those we guide to express their needs, fears and hopes to us. When we represent them in decision-making councils, they then speak through us. It is through mutual affection that the needs of the community can be expressed and resolved without rancor or ill-will.
And finally, we learn simply to love. That means to focus all of our energies outwards, realizing now that we are fitter in caring for others because they have not yet learned to care for one another. We invest in their growth, knowing that while we might be able to do a thing better than they, in the end that investment empowers them to love us in return.
From this, I see indeed the truth in Peter’s claim: this is how best to be effective and productive in our knowledge of loving.