by Andrew Ramer
I believe it was Jesus who said, “Don’t hide your light under a bushel.”
This is very good advice.
Too many of us walk around with genius inside, which we hide from the world as if it were something to be ashamed of, or keep from the world because we don’t even know it’s there, forgetting that our gifts aren’t ours alone but belong to everyone.
Only sometimes we go too far with this advice. We shine our light in every corner, broadcasting our supposed enlightenment to the world. When we do that or see other’s doing it, it may be useful to recall these words, which I found in a book of sayings by Hasidic masters: “The greater the light, the greater the shadow.” This explains to me what happens to spiritual teachers whose actions turn out to be the opposite of what they’ve been preaching. I’m not talking about those gurus who were charlatans, frauds, con artists, all along, but the genuine spiritual guides who were overwhelmed by internal issues they hadn’t dealt with or healed, who plunged into denial, deceit, megalomania, and abuse.
Maybe it was different in Jesus’ time, when a large percentage of the world was still enslaved, but our culture pushes us toward accomplishment and achievement. We all want our fifteen minutes of fame, and then some more. Talk shows and reality shows turn ordinary people in celebrities, so no wonder gurus of all kinds get into trouble.
Recently my co-workers and I had to attend a two-day training called, “Excellence in Programming.” We thought we were doing a good job, but lots of flip charts, power-point displays, and indoctrination on the importance of using words like “output” and “outcome”, came at us with a very unsubtle subtext — “You could do better. You should do better. You will, in fact you must do better!” But it seems to me that the rewards for good work and living a good life should be found in the work itself and the way it makes the world a better place, not in the adulation our culture tells us we deserve and should strive for. And if we don’t achieve, if we don’t live up to our potential, we can plunge into despair and question our very existence, especially we queer folk, who are vilified by the dominant culture simply for existing.
So the question is: how do we live meaningful lives? Lives in which we don’t hide our light under a bushel, nor fan the flames of our egos so strongly that we commit the opposite mistake, increasing our light and thereby our shadows?
How do we know when we have enough light? How do we look in the mirror each day and know that we are created in the image of God, at the same time remember that we are made from clay that we will crumble back into? How do become transformative global citizens, who are grounded and humble as well?
Gay American writer and editor Donald Windham was a friend of Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, and pen pal to E. M. Forster and Alice Toklas, among others. He wrote these words in his openly gay novel, Two People, first published in 1965— “It is ordinary to love the marvelous. It is marvelous to love the ordinary.” If you haven’t read Windham, seek out his work, both fiction and non-fiction. He’s a forgotten master of language and explorer of the creative process. And think about his words. “It is ordinary to love the marvelous.”
Everyone does that.
Turn around to look at the Greek god sauntering past, the Mogul prince standing regal on the cross-town bus. But Windham went on to write: “It is marvelous to love the ordinary.” The down-to-Earth. The real. The weary office worker sitting across from you on the subway, in crumpled jacket and pulled down tie, magazine open but unread on his lap, whose bloodshot eyes still sparkle. The multiply-pierced fellow with chipped black nail polish, hunched over the counter at your favorite health food store, who never makes eye contact with you but always puts the fragile tomatoes and delicate cilantro on top of your grocery bag.
Windham’s prescription is a key, as far as I can tell, to walking the path between “Don’t hide your light under a bushel” and “The greater the light, the greater the shadow.”
Here are his words again:
“It is ordinary to love the marvelous. It is marvelous to love the ordinary.”
It’s easy to be seduced by excellence. But Windham is inviting us to live in the world in a different way, grounded in the ordinary, the everyday, the mundane, the real.
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Andrew Ramer lives in San Francisco.
He is the author of the gay classic Two Flutes Playing
(available from www.gaywisdom.org)
Praxis is a regular feature in each issue of White Crane.