“The Mystery Beyond” (Rabbi Abraham Heschel)

Awe is an intuition for the dignity of all things, a realization that things not only are what they are but also stand, however remotely, for something supreme.

Awe is a sense for the transcendence, for the reverence everywhere to the mystery beyond all things.

[Awe] enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the Divine…to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple; to feel in the rush of the passing the stillness of the eternal.

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Surrender to Win…Really?!?

I hear the words of the Dutch saintly woman echo in my ear, “don’t wrestle with God, just nestle with God.” I choose not to. I choose to wrestle, like Jacob with the angel. I too will walk away limping from this, like I have before time and time again.

I do not surrender easily. The words from others living recovery whisper above the din in my heart: Surrender to Win. Poppycock says my brain; the same brain mind you that told me in my early thirties that drinking was okay, I could handle it, even though my father and his father were raging alcoholics. Really? I am supposed to listen to this particular brain of mine, the one that gets me twisted in knots and vainly trying to outwit God? But still I do listen to this fractured brain of mine.

My brain says surrender and lose everything. Jesus says in order to truly live, I must die. My brain says, gimme, gimme, gimme, I need some more. Jesus says give, give, give and you will receive good measure, over flowing.

Hmmm, but my brain is a whack job. If I am honest, in the last few days I have entertained my brain far too often, listening to its lies and bravado and inconceivable notions all while pushing God’s gentle voice to the wayside.

My heart has been patiently waiting in the wings, whispering words of hope and truth, words like “God is with you no matter how you feel; the Kingdom is within; you must die every day in order to truly live; surrender to win; I AM with you always, All Ways!

What?!? No way. Not that. Could it be that the message of recovery is finally taking hold in my heart and beginning to become part of my life? Surrender to win is not usually what my heart would whisper to me. But today it has been.

I hate surrendering because most of the time I confuse surrender with resignation, and resignation leaves a bittersweet, metallic taste in my mouth.   They are not the same. Surrender is active, faith-filled. Resignation is passive, fear-filled and far too often comingled with anger.

So, which do I believe? My brain which got me into this mess or the God Who has been my ever-present help in a time of need?

 

“Resurrection as Faithfulness” (Henri Nouwen)

The resurrection does not solve our problems about dying and death. It is not the happy ending to our life’s struggle, nor is it the big surprise that God has kept in store for us.

No, the resurrection is the expression of God’s faithfulness….

The resurrection is God’s way of revealing to us that nothing that belongs to God will ever go to waste. What belongs to God will never get lost.


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We are an Easter People

Happy Easter!

We have journeyed through another Lenten season, and been given another chance to grow more deeply in love with God and with one another, another season where finding the joy and comfort of God’s presence in rituals and the hope that Spring can bring.

Last night, Holy Saturday, I attended service at the Holy Cross Abbey with the Cistercian monks. Never having attended Lenten services at a monastery, I was not sure what the experience would bring. I felt like I had stepped back in time, in a wonderful way; the historical richness and the ever present reality providing a sacred collusion.  There was darkness, candles, prayers, chanting and singing in Latin and English, kneeling, bowing, and the Eucharist. It was delicious even as it was long – over two hours. The monks do not do anything quickly and in this world of immediate gratification, I was afforded the ‘time’ to slow down, breathe, and attune my being to the Divine Presence permeating the place.

All this pausing got me to thinking about the reality of this holy season and about living a committed and intentional spiritual journey. The shadowy, yet hopeful Saturday Vigil Mass reminded me that we truly are a people on the Way…in transition on this journey towards God and each other. We are a pilgrim people who must live between the tension of two days, Good Friday (suffering and death) and Easter Sunday (Resurrection and new life).

We are a Good Friday People; all we need to do is look around at all the pain and suffering in our world and in our hearts. But the glorious news is that is not the final word for we are an Easter people.  Some 25 years ago a friend of mine reminded me in so many words that we are an Easter People.  He said, “Niles, it’s Friday…but Sunday’s a comin’!”

We must all face the dailiness of life, the Good Friday moments, the smaller pains and frustration and the larger tragedies that can beset us. These Good Friday times are painful, no doubt, but they serve a purpose of molding us into the image and likeness of Jesus; they all but force us to deeper intimacy with God and a deeper reliance upon divine grace rather than human sensibilities.

Yes, we must go through (and not around) Good Friday for in our suffering, we somehow commingle with the suffering of others and with Jesus, bringing some sense of redemption to our pain, knowing we are not alone in it. We become more connected to Jesus and to those whose lives are permeated with suffering – the addicted, the homeless, the imprisoned, the poor – and we become in some way more human.

Good Friday teaches us some of the ebb and flow of grace. But we must hold out, we must remember that Good Friday is not the final word, Easter Sunday is. The cross is not the final word of silence, the Great Silence of the empty tomb is the final word and that Word echoes throughout human history and throughout our own personal histories with this truth: there is resurrection! 

Our emptiness, our addictions, our pain and sickness, our loneliness and poverty (even our death) are not the last word from the world; yes, they are indeed a word, but just a word. The resurrection of Jesus is the Final, all glorious, Word spoken to us. The living Word is our final statement. Hear God speak to you this truth: “Death is not the end…addiction is not the end…hopelessness is not the end. I AM the End that has no end; I AM the Beginning; I AM the Hope and Love for which you long.”

Let’s celebrate this Truth together, for we are indeed an Easter People – a people living in the creative tension of the already and the not yet of the Resurrection. So this Easter, I pray we all are deepening in our love for and experience of God and the power of Resurrection and new life.

So let us sing for Joy this sacred season for Christ is risen, risen indeed!

Velveteen Grace

I feel like the velveteen rabbit these days: stuffing falling out of me, my buttonhole eyes torn out, and my velveteen fur all rubbed away. Real is what I think this is called. But it does not always feel so ‘nice.’

I have days where I find believing in God and living close to Jesus next to impossible; days when everything feels like a faithless daze. But it is days like this that the experience and expression of divine grace becomes the most real…as the Scriptures say “when I am weak then I am strong.” For me that means when I am at the end of my rope, God makes up the shortcomings.

“Lord, I believe, but help me where my faith falls short.”

My spirituality these days is velveteen; ragamuffin grace in action. Something inside me, mostly cerebral, tells me God loves me in these moments – these moments when loving myself much less others is near impossible. That is when I need the Spirit reminding me that God will just love the stuffing right out of us, button holes and all.  God’s love will reach down into the wreckage of our lives and pull us right out of the proverbial crapper, placing us into the divine warmth of a blanket called grace. And this all occurs usually when I think I cannot handle another thing or in the so-called ‘Eleventh Hour.’

(self pep talk here) Make no mistake about it, grace comes, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, but come it does. Grace comes in the gutters and in the guttural.

Grace is the moment when all the stuffing has been pulled out, when the dangling button formerly known as an eye finally breaks from the last fraying thread and the word comes to us, “I love you truly, madly and deeply.” Grace is God in flesh, pitching his tent among us, saying he is for us even when all else and all others fail us.

Grace comes, child, oh yes it does!

God’s grace is that surreal power that changes the imperfect into the “I’m perfect” thereby making all else perfect as well. And as we stand at the precipice of a time when resurrection is celebrated all around us this weekend, and all we feel is dead, know that this moment – this precise moment – is the Perfect Moment of Grace.

Apathy Addiction

“Religion is the opium of the masses.” Karl Marx

Karl Marx, like him or loathe him, was indeed on to something.  Opium doesn’t ask us to change or spiritually evolve, but only to grow thick in our spiritual tummies.

I have been feeling the apathy addiction: lethargic in my desire to even put words to paper; resilient to growing in self awareness; stubbornly resisting God’s tender mercies deciding instead to live in a small place called fear.

Opium, the drug, is highly addictive.  Many, many years ago I smoked some opium…it made me dreamy “happy”, lazing the day away on the couch with nary a care in the world – not for food, human company, nothing.  And my faith in God, if it becomes a drug called religion, is not much different.

If my religion is a drug, my so-called service to God becomes simple apathy.  And apathy justifies complacency, fears awareness, stifles the inner –and outer – journey towards God, others and self.  Apathy leaves a slimy, icky residue on the interior lining of my soul, leaving it good for nothing – neither God nor people.

If my faith in God becomes an opiate, it will only seek to preserve the status quo, all the while fearing change, ingenuity and the divine gift of day-dreaming for God.

Apathy addiction leads to the seven deadly words: “we’ve never done it that way before.”

My faith in God, my ever deepening love for God and from God is a journey called spirituality – and spirituality is just religion with its clothes stripped off.  Spirituality is a verb whereby I stand naked before my God – a God who is pure love, eternal compassion, perpetual loving-kindness, and infinite goodness.

Spirituality heals the apathy addiction of religion and moves me deeper into God, creates movement, and fills me with the very attributes of God.  Spirituality empowers me to love God and my neighbors with gentle vigilance, tender mercy, wisdom and compassion.