“Grace…” (Frederick Buechner)

AFTER CENTURIES OF handling and mishandling, most religious words have become so shopworn nobody’s much interested any more. Not so with grace, for some reason. Mysteriously, even derivatives like gracious and graceful still have some of the bloom left.

Grace is something you can never get but only be given.

There’s no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about any more than you can deserve the taste of raspberries and cream or earn good looks or bring about your own birth.  A good sleep is grace and so are good dreams. Most tears are grace. The smell of rain is grace. Somebody loving you is grace. Loving somebody is grace. Have you ever tried to love somebody?

A crucial eccentricity of the Christian faith is the assertion that people are saved by grace. There’s nothing you have to do. There’s nothing you have to do. There’s nothing you have to do.

The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you.

There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it.

Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.

– Originally published in Wishful Thinking

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Musings from the Shadows

I’m struggling lately…a veritable case of the f***its and blahs.  I’m sure some of it is the fact that I am three weeks away from my 50th birthday.  And some of it is depression.  And some of it is where I am in my recovery (like I have a new Sponsor and I am re-working the 12 Steps all over again for those in recovery who know what that can be like).

Part of my spiritual journey though has been to not shrink back from the shadowy parts of me, and of life.  As a Scorpio and someone with an attraction to mysticism, I find that God is to be found just as deeply in the shadows as in the light.

Walking into the shadows intentionally, can be mind-blowing and emotionally disruptive (as anyone who has done a thorough 4th Step will tell you); it can lead to feelings of stuckness, and lead us deeper into the parts of life where anger, resentment and fear dwell.

And that, my friends, is where I find myself again.

I am feeling so stuck these days that all I am ‘feeling’ is resentment and anger, which can be quite dangerous for this ragamuffin if left unchecked.  But awareness and honesty are two ways through it for me, and I am quite aware of it and I am ‘sharing’ it.

A few years ago I had a breakthrough when I came to know that I no longer wanted to, nor could, be the servant of another person’s dream – that equates to spiritual slavery for me.

But in the end I am the one responsible for my own happiness.  I am neither the victim nor the villain in this story of my life.  I am the only one who is responsible for my happiness and the integrity of my journey. I am not blaming anyone.  I am merely speaking my truth in order to regain the power I have: the power of choice in sobriety.  I must lean hard on God, even as I am in the midst of much doubt and struggling with my spiritual life and condition.

I must allow God the freedom to poke, prod, prune and do a new thing, a completely new thing – within and without.  I must once again, surrender my will and life over to the care of a wildly loving God. 

I am in that ‘fear place’ again.  I am sinking in hopelessness.  I am trying to make choices that will free me up, that will feed my soul, but I am not doing such a hot job. I am stuck in ‘Mythological Thinking’ – believing God will pull some ‘Deus ex Machina’ and come rescue me like some fairy tale damsel in distress.  That mindset is Bullshit.

Now God can indeed do whatever God desires, like pull a Deus ex Machina, but for me to be married to some specific outcome is dangerous. It can leave me stuck, myopically staring at the “one thing” I desire while the greater thing I need passes me by.

I am fond of saying there are no spiritual victims or villains in my world. I can no longer blame my alcoholic father or my mom for anything in my life; I can no longer blame society, or my brothers, or even my addictions for my state in this life. I alone am responsible for the choices I have made. God did not force them on me, nor did my family.

But oh how it would be nice for some miracles, some out of the ordinary experience, to come into my life out of left field. I still want that. But wanting it and obsessing about it are two different things: the former is human, the latter is deadly.

In truth, my life is surrounded by cracks of light in the shadows, miracles abound everywhere if I just re-orient my definition of one. I am blessed with another day where I wake up sober (and I have for years now). I have a cozy room with everything I need. I have a friend who is generously allowing me the use of his car for my needs.  I have a 13 year old dog who, for her age, is healthy and whom I adore, who brings me joy simply by her very existence. I have friends who love me, sometimes in spite of myself, sometimes because of myself. I am free to speak my mind and heart in this blog and not be shot or hauled off to jail for violating speech laws.

Indeed, I am blessed.

And this is why I write.  I write my way back into hope; I write my way honestly back to the truth of my blessedness.  This writing alone has allowed me to go from bleakness in the beginning to a sense of gratitude by end. This piece was written over a span of a few days, in the middle of an Indian Summer October.  As I finish this piece up, the rain is falling hard and the skies mirror my gray and dreary emotions.

But even in the supposed dreariness of the day, I rejoice in the Creator’s care for the Earth and for me – we both need rain water to thrive. So even in the rain, I am left with a sense of shadowy gratitude.  As my former co-worker Brother Francis used to say to me decades ago, “an attitude of gratitude is what makes life full of miracles.”

So at this very moment, this divine now, I am grateful…

A Short Musing on the Cross (or Musings on Theology and Politics and Prejudices for Christians)

For those who believe in God and specifically follow Jesus there is one earth shattering foundation truth that can never be lost: everything must pass through the Cross.

All theologies must pass through the cross – our conservative theologies, our progressive theologies, our Western and American theologies ALL must pass through the great equalizer – the Cross of Jesus the Messiah.

All political ideologies – be they Left, Right, Alt or Indy – must pass through the Cross.  All my fears, hatreds, prejudices and judgment must pass through the Cross.

So if my theology is prosperity based or married to the Republican or Democratic Party, my theology has become heretical for it veers sharply away from the very Cross that even Jesus himself had to pass through.  If Jesus could not escape the Cross, then how in the hell can my theology avoid it?  Preposterous and “unbiblical” at best, destructive and cultish at worst.

All denominational understandings must pass through the Cross.  If I call myself Evangelical, Catholic, Baptist, Pentecostal, Methodists, Anglican, Ecumenical or even a ‘None’ – all of these interpretations must pass through the Cross as well.

All my politics and prejudices must pass through the Cross as well – be they Republican, Green Party, Democrat, Libertarian, or Reform Party, Independent, Alt Right or Alt Left.  For those who profess Jesus as Lord EVERYTHING must pass through the Cross.  And if it makes through that, well then, go ahead and follow it.

If in our shortsightedness, our theologies, out politics, our prejudicial tendencies have NOT passed through the Cross, then we have in essence pissed on the Cross and its power.  We have made human persuasion more powerful than God’s performance. 

And here is the thing about all ideologies passing through the cross: the cross wins.  The cross kills everything and everyone.  Not even the Messiah escaped the permanency of the cross.  In the time of Jesus the cross was an instrument for the death penalty imposed by an imperial empire to punish those convicted of sedition – for that is what the Roman Empire used the Crucifixion for historically.

But even more importantly and more powerfully than being an instrument of state execution, the cross was and IS an instrument of God’s Love not God’s punishment.  And until people who profess Christianity understand that key point, we will continue to use the Cross to crucify everyone who does not agree with us, look like us, vote like us and believe like us.

So when we go spouting our theology, our politics, our cultural folkways and mores, it behooves us to remember this groundbreaking, ego-shattering truth: the Cross of Jesus was God’s tool for restoration not retribution.