Ragamuffin Musings…

I have a confession to make, a paradoxical one: I love and loathe addicts and alcoholics.  I am one…in recovery.  I love them, us (for there is no ‘us’ in ‘them’ there is only us), I mean.  I love the ‘Program’ as well.  No, I’m not violating the Traditions, just musings on dope fiends, alkies, and the one-day-one-step-at-a-time journey of daily healing and transformation that occurs for us ragamuffins.

I learn so much…from them.  I see me in all of them, even the ones I silently sneer at within my brain.  Then I remember I am one with them…and a convicted felon (so not much room to talk).

Every day I am reminded of God’s goodness and that there is more power in Love & Forgiveness than in hate and judgment.

I am continually reminded in this journey towards God and healing the infinite difference between expectancy and expectation.

Expectancy leads to grace, openness, newness, excitement and opportunity.  Expectation leads to resentment, tyranny, close-mindedness, and obligation.  Expectancy is dynamic and leads to life.  Expectation is static and leads to deadness.

I need the ‘Program’, I really do.  I need to walk it and work it or I fall from grace and turn from God and burn my worlds to the ground.

But I hunger for more as well.

I hunger for God to rise gently to me with tenderness through the opaque truth of poetry.

I need Beauty…and the soft, rustled breathing of the holy fur ball nestled up under my chin…my Domini Canus, my dog of God who is a god among dogs.  I need mountains within eye shot, stable majestic silhouettes reminding me of my speck-of-dustness-but-oh-so-lovedness.

I need kindness towards self and good food…to breathe more, and deeper with slowing motions of intentionality.

I need to remember that God is in the pain, the mundane, the profane and the profound.  God is in the other, and in me, in fragility, and falling down, in giggles and graying hairs.

I am learning it is Good to cooperate with Grace and not run from nor deny it.  Wrestling with Grace can be likened to ‘aarrrrggghh’ moments of removing sticky duct tape from your fingers as it teases you, playing from finger to finger before finally being wagged off wildly.  But Grace comes…and there but for the Grace go I.

One step, two step, three step, four <Breathe!>, step, step, step…12 of them that take a lifetime to trek.

And like rain to dry earth, almost in an instant that took my entire life to happen, I go from parched to overflowing.  And breathing becomes more natural, reconnecting me to holy spirit…wholly breath.

And I realize again and again, I need other wounded healers, cracked and lovely, rough and hewn on the edges of life.


Some Musings on Mystics….

A mystic is someone who, plain and simple, seeks to remove the ‘and’ from life.  This makes life a both/and experience rather than an either/or one.  To the mystic it is not either I work or I pray; it is I pray and work.  When I pray, I am working.  When I work, I am praying.

I got it last night after doing the dishes for the umpteenth time yesterday; I knew God was present in the dishpan hands, in the suds, in the warm water flowing over the ever cleaned dishes.  A mystic knows and experiences God doing the dishes – yes, I meant God is the one doing the dishes.  😉

Prayer is work, work is prayer.  Ora et labora as the Benedictines say.

As a mystic, I merely try to allow God to remove the ‘and’ from the spaces between and within my heart and life, from between the flurry of activities during the day and the moments when I sit in Silence seeking to know this loving God who dwells within.

I am a mystic.

I say that not in arrogance but in assurance for I know that God is faithful to me even when I am not faithful.  It is not an emotional declaration, but a truthful one: we are all made in the image and likeness of God and therefore bear the eternal tattoo of imago Dei.

As a mystic I simply spend the days removing the ‘and’ from life thus allowing the God who dwells within to dwell within everything I do or say, for God’s very presence flows from my very being; and all of this from the Spirit, and not from me.  Me, I am just an open, cracked jar of clay, a vessel waiting to be filled with divine love, waiting expectantly for the truth to emerge from within me.

And in this truth, all becomes one in the absolute awareness of the cohesion of God’s loving, created order.

“Another Way of Being” (Michael Leunig)

Dear God,

We pray for another way of being: another way of knowing.  Across the difficult terrain of our existence we have attempted to build a highway and in so doing have lost our footpath.

God, lead us to our footpath: lead us there where in simplicity we may move at the speed of natural creatures and feel the earth’s love beneath our feet.

Lead us there where step-by-step we may feel the movement of creation in our hearts. And lead us there where side-by-side we may feel the embrace of the common soul. Nothing can be loved at speed.

God lead us to the slow path; to the joyous insights of the pilgrim; another way of knowing; another way of being.


Source: The Prayer Tree

“Glorious Destiny” (Thomas Merton)

It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrible mistakes: yet, with all that, God himself gloried in becoming a member of the human race. A member of the human race!

To think that such a commonplace realization should suddenly seem like news that one holds the winning ticket in a cosmic sweepstake. I have the immense joy of being a member of a race in which God became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained.

There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.

Source: Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

The Journey is Not a Destination

I have been crucified with Christ; and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me…(Galatians 2:19)

Neither shall they say: Behold here, or behold there. For lo, the kingdom of God [God’s very Being] is within you. (Luke 17:21)

Our journey with God and into God is not about a “destination” but a transformation.  It is a transformation from (just) me living, into one where the Living God becomes an ever-present Reality living with me!  And it is a journey of re-membering, God ‘putting’ me back together as he sees fit.  And this journey is filled with real life stuff: depression, hope, miracles, addiction, freedom, anger, love, joy, ‘failure,’ listening, following, sometimes leading and sometimes being led.

And lest I forget, if Messiah is living in me then every single life I come into contact with and touch is being touched by him.  So, daily, I am being and becoming – through the power of the Spirit – the fleshing out of God’s love here and now.  As it was said to me some 20 years ago,”Niles, your life may be the only Gospel people ever see and hear!  So, how you living, brother?!” 

This transformative journey is one of me becoming more transparent – a transparency where you see more and more of God in me and less and less of just me.  And it is a paradoxical beauty, for I lose my life in order to get it back, more whole/holy, more loving, more real, and in truth more Niles.  For me without God is a selfish, spiteful, oh-so-full-of-himself addict.  But me letting God live in and through me (and this all through the Spirit) is a Niles who is gentle, compassionate, loving, honest, forgiving, and a playful servant.

What an amazing and hard thing to grasp: God lives in me! Me?!?  For any of you who have been touched by the darker sides of me, you too can scratch your heads along with me.  But – and that is a big but – all praise be to the God Who forgives, heals, and loves for when God decides to transform a life fully surrendered to him, there is no limit, NO LIMIT, to what God can and will do to and through that person.

So I ask: are you on a journey that is about a destination?  Or are you on a journey that is about Transformation?

And here is a Beauty’Full Truth to assist and comfort us on the journey: the moment – the very moment – we ask, God comes into us and begins the transformative work immediately (although it does take a lifetime for completion).  I echo the sentiments of the Scriptures “that I am sure of this, that [God] who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion… (Phil. 1:6).”

I’m on a journey, walking it day by day, sometimes two steps forward, sometimes a few steps backwards. But I’m still walking…in and with God.  And I am reminded of the ringing truths from an old, salty recovering alcoholic friend of mine who said to me after one particularly trying day, “God loves the man that I am today, but God loves me too much to let me stay this way.” 


Just Some Musings…

Musings: to gaze meditatively or wonderingly; to comment thoughtfully or ruminate upon [something].

Random musings here, so warning, it may be offensive to some.

Sometimes certain Scriptures take on new meaning when life takes a twist or a turn, for me now the one that has taken a deeper meaning is the one recording the last known words of Jesus (from Matthew 28:20): “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  I re-wrote it to remind myself how his words apply to where I am on the journey these days: “And re-member, I AM with you All Ways, to the end of the age.”

It is not a new thought; it is a re-membering: a putting back together that which is eternally true.  It is a reminder that whenever Jesus says “I am” it is reminiscent of Yahweh (YHWH) who revealed the divine to Moses by saying “tell them I AM WHO I AM sent you”; or another way of translating YHWH is I AM BECAUSE I AM…or I AM WHO I WILL BE.

No beginning and no end, no changes…just the great I AM.  And I say I do believe but…

I believe in I AM WHO IS without end or beginning.  Yet so often, I put constraints and restraints on God, as do so many people, coming up with lists of do’s and don’ts, rules and regulations, rituals that turn the sacred into sacrilege.

I scribbled the following on a scrap of paper this morning before I took Juno on our morning ‘prayer’ walk through the rolling hills of eastern West Virginia: belief in God should produce belief in God’s great gift (Unconditional Love) and in God’s greatest promise (Eternal Presence).

But I realize, I limit God and his love, sometimes even more than religions do.  I limit God’s presence even more than legalistic Christians do.

I am just musing here…random thoughts on a not-so-random God.  So I ask myself: Is God’s love really unconditional?

When I see in me, and in Christian doctrine and denominations, the placing of unbelievable restrictions on God’s love I have to ask myself, what do I believe about God’s supposed unconditional love?  We say God’s love is unconditional but most Christians believe that God’s love is only unconditional to those who believe in Jesus.  Do we really believe that God loves the Jesus followers equally (the exact same) as God does the prostitute having sex in a car for drugs and cash?  Or the man crushing up and snorting Oxy’s while he schemes up a new way to steal some pills to feed this habit?  Or the corporate shark stealing millions from unsuspecting investors?

Do we really think God’s love is unconditional?  When some say without Jesus, all are condemned to eternal, fire-based punishment?  I am going to cop out here and not say what I believe or think about hell, but rather ‘represent’ mainstream Christian thought.  I am just musing, and when I muse, I tend to tread on toes and skirt the edges of heresy, I must confess.  One thing I do know: God is bigger than my thoughts, doubts, fears and fantasies, so I have no problem bringing them to light…in the light of God’s love.

Is God’s love and Kingdom partially exclusive or completely inclusive?  Have we created Christian myths and a religious culture based on exclusion and become dangerously close to true heresy?  Could God and God’s kingdom truly be inclusive?  Could ALL be invited?

Jesus talked about when we have a dinner to go and invite the culturally uninvitable (the poor, the lame, the unclean, and the unrighteous).  Jesus talked about when he comes in glory the only ‘criteria’ for being a ‘sheep’ or a ‘goat’ is what we did and didn’t do to the poor, the hungry, the sick, the naked, and the imprisoned.  Jesus made no reference to doctrine or denomination…or even correct confession for that matter.

What do you think?  Is Rob Bell a heretic?  Does the ancient eastern Orthodox Christian belief that at the end of time ALL will be absorbed back into God’s eternal love and mercy on to something or is it complete mythology and heresy?

Can I see and find God in the profane as much as I can the profound?

I’m just musing here…so don’t start picking up those stones or prepping the wood for the Niles cookout just yet.  I am just not afraid to muse in brutal, perplexed honesty.

But as I look inward, I must confess this truth to myself: if I can’t find God in the profane as much as the profound, then I am indeed limiting God and my experience of, and movement towards, him that is for sure.

Musings for today are closed.  But let’s remember: God loves us! 😉

The Center & the Edge

The closer we get to the Center, the more God takes us to the edges.

The closer we get to our Center (the place where God dwells), the more we are drawn out of our comfort zones into a life of radical love.  The word radical comes from the Latin word ‘radix’ meaning ‘Root’ – so what we are drawn to is a Rooted Love and a Love Rooted in God.

The more we live from the Center, the deeper our roots become.  The deeper our roots become, the more we learn to trust the nature of God and his love.  The more we trust God and his love, the more we long and hunger to experience and share that Divine Love with all, especially those farthest from it.

The Triqueta - an Celtic Cross

The Triqueta – a Celtic Cross

The stronger our roots become, the stronger we become.  But this strength is not a power lording it over others, but the power to serve others deeply without losing or defining ourselves by such service.

That is my passion, that is my Center and my edge – called to the life of God as an earthy monk, a shepherd, a servant leader.  It is a calling as one who leads from within, from the Center, from God.

And the more Centered I become, the more radical my love becomes and the more radical my love becomes, the more I desire to serve the poorest, the despised, the broken – those at the edges of existence.

The closer I get to my Center, the more God takes me to the edge.

And the closer to the edge I get, the more I feel the itch of wings starting to grow and spread…so that leaping off this edge becomes sheer joy rather than fear.