I had a flash encounter with God at the grocery store last week. He was scanning a bag of kale when I noticed his name tag.
“Hey,” I said, “Your name is the same as one of my nephews!”
“That’s cool. Is he doing the name proud?”
“Absolutely he is. How bout you? You doing it proud?”
“You bet I am.”
“That’s good, that’s good,” I said. “But I tell you what’s not good. I left my phone in the car, and I wish I had it so I could take a picture and text it to him. If you wouldn’t mind, that is. But I’m just gonna take a picture in my mind.”
“How bout I just give you this one, and you can give it to him?”
“You can’t give me your name tag!”
“Sure I can. I’ve got another one.”
“No, no, no. I can’t take your name tag.”
“Yeah you can.” And at that, he unclipped it and handed it to me.
“Oh, man, that is so nice. Thank you so much. He’s gonna love this.”
“My pleasure. Tell your nephew we gotta stick together.”
Now, I read a fair share of spiritual books, and from an also fair share of the world’s spiritual traditions: the Bible, the Buddha, the Bhagavad Gita, and that’s just the B’s. And most every book I read says roughly the same thing, that who we really are and what we’re really about has little to do with the name on our name tag or with any of the other labels with which we might identify in a given moment. We’re not really our gender, race, nationality, religion, virtues, or vices. Nor are we our bodies, thoughts, feelings, possessions, pleasures, pains, successes, or failures. Who we really are, what we really are, is the energy of Self-giving Love that is all there really is. Everything else is temporary.
And the path of enlightenment, the way of peace, love, joy, truth, and freedom, comes by recognizing the temporary-ness of the temporary, letting go the various partially real identifications that letter our name tags, and surrendering, bit by bit or all at once, to the presence and power of the Really Real.
All that’s in the books. It’s why I love the books. It’s why I read every day. It’s why I pray, as I read, that the love and wisdom in those books might rub off on me and make me less attached to the ten-thousand temporary I am’s and more surrendered to the one eternal I AM.
The books are great.
But sometimes you walk into a store, and the peach-fuzzed 20-something who checks and bags your groceries gives you a living, breathing, spontaneous demonstration on letting go, and it feels like you just met the Author.