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…

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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.

Musings on Mysticism

Here is a piece on mysticism written by my go-to writer and guide Fr. Richard Rohr.  This comes from one of Fr. Rohr’s email meditations on one of the great mystics of our world – Hildegard of Bingen.   More of his writings can be found at the Center for Contemplation & Action.  Enjoy and may it lead you deeper into God.

Hildegard of Bingen

Throughout the ages, the mystics have kept alive the awareness of our union with God and thus with everything. What some now call creation spirituality, deep salvation, or the holistic Gospel was voiced long ago by the Desert Fathers and Mothers, some Eastern Fathers, in the spirituality of the ancient Celts, by many of the Rhineland mystics, and surely by Francis of Assisi. [1] Many women mystics were not even noticed, I am sorry to say. Julian of Norwich (c. 1343–c. 1416) and Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179) would be two major exceptions (though even they have often been overlooked).

Hildegard of Bingen communicated creation spirituality through music, art, poetry, medicine, gardening, and reflections on nature. She wrote in her famous book, Scivias: “You understand so little of what is around you because you do not use what is within you.” [2]

This is key to understanding Hildegard and is very similar to Teresa of Ávila’s view of the soul. Without using the word, Hildegard recognized that the human person is a microcosm with a natural affinity for or resonance with the macrocosm, which many of us would call God. Our little world reflects the big world. The key word here is resonance. Contemplative prayer allows your mind to resonate with what is visible and right in front of you. Contemplation is the end of all loneliness because it erases the separateness between the seer and the seen.

Hildegard spoke often of viriditas, the greening of things from within, analogous to what we now call photosynthesis. She saw that there was a readiness in plants to receive the sun and to transform it into energy and life. She recognized that there is also an inherent connection between the physical world and the divine Presence. This connection translates into inner energy that is the soul and seed of everything, an inner voice calling you to “Become who you are; become all that you are.” This is our “life wish” or “whole-making instinct.”

Hildegard is a wonderful example of someone who lives safely inside an entire cosmology, a universe where the inner shows itself in the outer, and the outer reflects the inner, where the individual reflects the cosmos, and the cosmos reflects the individual. Hildegard says, “O Holy Spirit, you are the mighty way in which every thing that is in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth, is penetrated with connectedness, penetrated with relatedness.” [3] It is truly a Trinitarian universe, with all things whirling toward one another from orbits, to gravity, to ecosystems, to sexuality.

References:

[1] See a timeline of Mystics and Non-Dual Thinkers throughout history (PDF).
[2] Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias 1.2.29. Translation supplied by Avis Clendenen, “Hildegard: ‘Trumpet of God’ and ‘Living Light’” in Chicago Theological Seminary Register 89 (2), Spring 1999, 25.
[3] Hildegard of Bingen, Meditations with Hildegard of Bingen, ed. Gabriele Uhlein (Santa Fe, NM: Bear & Co., 1982), 41.

3 Original Poems

Seeds

A monk once said to me
your faith should be like tea

served Ch’an style – rough, warm,

and loosely wrapped;
your religion the same:
hopeful, warm to the touch,
& hewn on the edges of life.

 

# # #

 

Faith Like Jazz
If faith were like jazz
Well that would be Cool.
No.
that would be tragically hip,
cool to the touch
hot to the heart.
Jazz: a space, a place, a thought, a word, a life, a lifestyle.
Faith and jazz…where
chaos is not feared but necessary.
There are no jam sessions without chaos.
The Jam Session is
where all the chaos flows
into one complex song.
Notes rising, crashing, colliding,
all the colors bleeding into One.
That would be Cool. That would be fly.
Oh that would be Real.
For God is cobalt Blue & Coltrane cool…
like Jazz

 

# # # 

 

Dreaming
I awoke from a dream…
feeling like a habit held together by
flesh & grace…
so filled with God even
the Emptiness brimmed over.

 

Some Space for Grace

“Gratitude prepares a space for grace to reside.”  – Jimmy, an A.A. old timer

We all need grace; some of us more than others.  Those of us in recovery (from drugs, alcohol and life) know this; we know that grace is the primary foundation of recovery.

I am a firm believer God sends grace to us through two primary ‘opportunities’ – one is through our wounds and the other is when (intentional empty) space has been prepared.

It has been my experience that God rarely if ever forces grace upon us, but that like an every-flowing river, it is always available to us if we but ask and seek it.  Grace comes when we create an empty space for it.

You see I know God is in the “Grace Business” for I am a wounded alcoholic/addict who has experienced divine grace more than I can even recall.  But I am learning ever so slowly that grace does not force its way in, but rather I must open myself up to it, empty myself of all that is ego, then and only then does grace come rushing in.

I must be intentional in preparing a space and for me that space is created most immediately through gratitude.  Gratitude is a reality that claims that God IS and because God IS therefore all is well.

Gratitude knows that all things, moments, and experiences are and can become blessings when seen through the whispered prayer of ‘thank You.’  Gratitude understands that nothing lies outside of God and God’s will for if anything did stand outside of God’s hands then God is neither omnipotent nor omnipresent.

Gratitude understands that in truth all things are present now, that I do not need to beg God for them, and that trust and thankfulness are the keys that open us up to the blessings of grace in all things.  Gratitude is about fleshing out my “thank You’s” to God.  It is about knowing I am only what and who I am because of God’s grace.  And let me tell you, I need grace, daily, sometimes minute by minute because the world wants to ensnare my heart, strangling it with fear and dread and my dis-ease wants to consume me.

I have to empty myself out and make some space for grace and the space I need to empty out is where the ego resides, for my ego takes up a great deal of space.  But empty I must if there is to be any room for grace.  I am to be like Mary, Jesus’ mom, who in order to be so full of grace had to be emptied of herself…as in when she said “be it done to me according to Your Will.”

I am rarely in the headspace for grace or gratitude for that matter.  But when I shift into gratitude I move into the ‘heart space’ and in that space grace comes – and it comes in ways unexpected, forthrightly, surprisingly, sometimes messily, always tenderly…but always, always does God’s grace faithfully come.

 

“Forgiveness: Admitting Our Wrongdoing” (Fr. Richard Rohr)

 

I love Richard Rohr; a Franciscan priest who founded and runs the Center for Action & Contemplation in Albuquerque, NM and the author of numerous books.  Although he is a “normie” he writes prolifically about the power of the 12 Steps to transform our lives spiritually; and outside of actual A.A. literature, his is a grand interpretation of the 12 Steps.  So enjoy his words on Recovery and Forgiveness.  Niles

Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. – Step 5 of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous

When we human beings “admit” to one another “the exact nature of our wrongs,” we invariably have a human and humanizing encounter that deeply enriches both sides—and even changes lives! It is no longer an exercise to achieve moral purity or regain God’s love, but in fact, a direct encounter with God’s love. It is not about punishing one side, but liberating both sides.

If you are still inside the economy of merit—a quid pro quo universe—you will undoubtedly not understand this at all. In fact, you will find it abhorrent. Forgiveness is not a popular or easy path, but some wise ones have shown us how. Desmond Tutu’s “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” in South Africa exemplified the economy of grace after the fall of apartheid. All had to take proper and public responsibility for their mistakes, not for the sake of any punishment, but for the sake of truth and healing. In fact, the healing was the baring—and the bearing—of the truth publicly.

This is revolutionary and almost unheard of in human history but it is biblical, starting with the prophet Ezekiel during and after the Exile and dramatically lived out by Jesus.

Ezekiel lays the biblical groundwork for truth-speaking, accountability, and restorative justice. For him, the cement that holds the whole thing together is YHWH being true to YHWH’s Self, and not merely reacting to human failure (or God would not be free). For Ezekiel, God always acts with total freedom—from divine integrity and unilateral faithfulness to the covenant with Israel, whether they keep their side or not—without this foundational message, “grace would not be grace at all” (Romans 11:6).

God resists our evil and conquers it with good, or how could God ask the same of us? Think about that. God shocks and stuns us into love. God does not love us if we change; God loves us so that we can change. Only love—not duress, guilt, any form of shunning, or social pressure—effects true inner transformation.

The ego expects this pattern: sin à punishment à repentance à transformation.

Ezekiel recalibrates this process after experiencing [God’s] purifying love for Israel. The pattern becomes: sin à unconditional love and forgiveness à transformation à repentance.

If this is indeed God’s pattern, as I believe it surely is, this is a very different universe that God is creating. Jesus called it “the Realm [or Kingdom] of God.”

Reference:

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (Franciscan Media: 2011), 37, 39-43.

The Poor You Will Always Have With You

“The poor you will always have with you…” – Jesus recorded in Matthew 26:11

There has been much misinterpretation regarding the verse about the poor as spoken by Jesus when he said “The poor you will always have with you.”  What is misunderstood about it is not the truth of the matter – that there will always be people who are poor – but that this is used as an excuse to not help and serve the poor.  I constantly hear Christians say since Jesus said the poor will always be with us then there is no use “helping” the poor, as if it is a waste of time.

What is misunderstood about this particular verse is that Jesus was NOT saying don’t do anything to help the poor because it is fruitless and hopeless because they will always be with us.  Rather he was speaking of God’s command to the Hebrews through Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy (15:11),when God says to Moses:

For there will never cease to be poor people in the land; that is why I [Yahweh] am commanding you, ‘You must willingly open your hand to your afflicted and poor brother in your land.’

It is precisely because the poor will always dwell in the land that we are commanded, as followers of Jesus, to be willing to help and serve and be with the afflicted and poor among us.

And in case there is any doubt as to the scope of Jesus’ Mission on earth regarding the poor and oppressed let us look to the Gospel of Luke where Jesus ‘announced’ his very mission – his Messianic Proclamation if you will – reading in the synagogue from the Book of Isaiah (61:1-2) where Jesus reads:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me because [God] has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  [God] has sent me to proclaim freedom to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  [Jesus] then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down.  And the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on him.  [Jesus] began by saying to them, “Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled. 

My frustration is with people who say they love God but in truth and reality show little or none of that love to those who are poor, afflicted, oppressed (or addicted).  In fact, one of the most pervasive beliefs in American Christianity is a “blame the victim” mentality – one that holds the poor to a higher standard of morality than the rich are held to.  Most people I speak with regarding the poor and service to them hold a belief that the poor deserve their lot, are lazy and shiftless, or hold to the tenet, “that’s just the way things are…”

I disagree and so do the Scriptures and more importantly so does Jesus.

How can we say we love God when sometimes we fail to show some of that love to our neighbors?  And Jesus clearly spoke to the question, “just who is my neighbor?” when he tells the parable of the Good Samaritan: our neighbor is anyone, anyone we see in need.  These are tough words to hear in this busy, me-first, stressed out, hurry up, Microwave Society.

Yes, it is true, we may always have the poor ‘with’ us for reasons of divine and human doing, I could go on about that forever.  But maybe, just maybe,  if we stepped out of comfort zones and took God at his word we’d begin to realized there is no “us” and “them” – there is only US.  If we began to live like that, by God’s grace, then maybe the world would truly start to see and believe in God’s amazing love as it is being lived out through the followers of Jesus.