It strikes me that there is a disturbing tendency in all of us to want it to be easy.
The spiritual quest should be wonderful; it should lead to wonderful things; it isn't that difficult, and the end of the path is nothing but bliss.
Some of us--maybe all of us--forget that the great examples of spiritual discipline were, before anything else, examples of disciplined spirituality. Christ, who reached what some would argue is the highest state possible for man, went through terrible deprivations in the desert, accompanied by trials and temptations orchestrated by the devil himself.
As if that wasn't enough, men nailed him to a cross, humiliated him, and killed him. Even more astonishing, he made his peace with that. You can argue all you want about which great spiritual avatar was the most developed; it seems safe to say that no greater example of an effort at forgiveness exists in human spiritual history. One has to turn to mythology to find parallels.
Buddha went through years of ascetic deprivation before he supposedly realized none of that was necessary. Mohammed never felt that he reached the end of his path; no matter how far he went, he knew it was never far enough.
One of my best friends (who will probably read this and beat me up for saying it) maintains that all the suffering in the universe is created by us ourselves. This is significantly divergent from Gurdjieff's understanding, which is that there is a sorrow at the heart of the universe all Beings must participate in. I would have to say that I come down on his side of the question.
Perhaps we cannot know what all of this means. We can know that it means demands are made. They are made within infinite mercy and by loving hands, but they are made. We will all be subjected to trials.
In my own work, I have on several occasions been given a glimpse of just how absolutely forgiving and loving those hands are. It repeatedly stuns me to see how far short I fall of being able to understand that, let alone practice it. In life, everything is two steps forward, one step back.
I find myself on the edge of Christmas eve asking for help. I do not know what it is to forgive; I practice compassion only sporadically, according to my state; I do not dwell within enough humility, or exercise enough patience. In this particular moment, where we commemorate the birth of something quite extraordinary on this planet, something that never came before and has never come since, I examine where I am and what I am capable of.
I see that more is demanded. My efforts are not good enough. They must be aimed at the practice of Islam: submission. This does not mean I need to become a Muslim. It does mean I need to learn to submit my will to that of a higher power. "Thy will be done."
Having been intensely engaged in that effort for six years, I pray that I am given enough time in this lifetime to complete that task.
It is not easy. As I grow older, I see that time is short. Having been granted an excess of grace, I see that what we are given is never the point. It is what we earn that will be measured. The man who buries his coins in the field and does nothing with them has done less than the one who spends them foolishly, for at least the foolish one has a chance to learn that he is foolish.
The Sufis say that there are Sufis in every religion: in every effort aimed at reconnecting with the wholeness, there are those who seek the heart of God through love.
Let's hope that together, we all take another two steps on that path today.
May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.