Two Musings: Doubt is a Gift

 

“Doubt is a gift. It means the way you see God is fraying at the edges, and maybe it needed to.”

– Mike McHargue

Musing One…

I have often felt that one of the paradoxes of God is that in order to experience God we must simultaneously truly let go of every single image of God we have, to drop every ‘box’ we have put God in.

In essence, we must pray the prayer that the 15th century German mystic, Meister Eckhart prayed, “I pray God to rid you of God.”  We must do this because all that we use to define God often comes from flawed and pained sources – mostly childhood ones for me.  You see having an alcoholic father can make trust in God a difficult thing.  I struggle with trusting God, trusting his love, fidelity.  I do not struggle with believing in God’s love or power; I struggle with believing God desires to shed those qualities on me.

In A.A., the 3rd Step states that we must make a decision “to turn our will and the care of our lives over to God, as we understand Him.”  The funny thing is that not only did I have an alcoholic father; I also am one in recovery.  So what is hard is not actually the surrendering over to God all of my will and being and living my life for God; what the struggle is comes in the words “care.”

In order to surrender my life to God’s care, I must first trust that God indeed does care.

And I often doubt that one… that God does care.

I know, I know.  How can I call myself a Jesus follower and doubt God’s care?  How can I doubt that I am loved when all the cross Jesus hung upon says to me is love, love, love.

I see Jesus forgiving all sorts of untouchables and unlovables and yet I doubt with some regularity that God cares for me.

So, I pray often for God to “rid” me of God.  I pray for God to remove from me all the idolatrous and graven images I have set up to be a poor substitute for him.  My father, whom I love very much, is still a poor lens through which to view and experience God.  My addiction is another poor choice; people in power and people with presumed power are also poor lens through which to experience God.

It is why I return again and again to Jesus.  In him, I see all that I need to see of God; in Jesus I see love unfathomable, grace unlimited, and mercy unmitigated.  It is why time and time again I go to Jesus when I am lost, scared, and most of all when I am in doubt.  Jesus is God with flesh on.  When I wonder how God would ‘act’ and what God would do or say to the situations and circumstances of my life (and the world), I return to the words of Jesus, to the life of Jesus to get Truth.

For in Jesus, I find all that I need to learn to be still in my doubt, tender in my fears, and embrace all of me, even as I see the me that needs embracing is dark and wounded.

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Musing Two…

Saying God is not in my doubt is sort of like saying God was not in my past – in my drunken stupors and bleary-eyed cocaine hazes – and it is an insult to God.  It limits God and God’s love and grace.  It is about the same as if I am saying God only exists when I say God exists; as if God does not start being real until I say God is real.  Leaving God out of my doubt, or fearing my doubt, is an ego-based act of attrition.

Saying God does not exist in the doubt is an insult.

And when people are uncomfortable with my doubt, and speak with words like backsliding, or faithless, or heretic or not a true believer, I just tell them their discomfort with my doubt, and my truth does not negate my truth; that no one defines me but God alone, and no one truly knows the faith or lack thereof that dwells in my heart.

For people who say that doubt is the opposite of faith, and the lack thereof, are people who have made God two sizes too small.  For God is everywhere.  There is nowhere (no where) that God is not so that means that there is nowhere that God’s love is not.

My doubt and the crazy cracks in my faith are the very spaces God uses to let his light in to shine my world up.  The same is true for you.  My doubts, and my cracks, are truly gifts from God.  And for them I thank God and sing praises to him.

Advent Musings on the Incarnation

Originally written and posted December 24, 2014

“In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”   (The Good News of Luke 1: 67-79)

“God became one of us and…pitched his tent in our midst.” – Clarence Jordan (taken from the Cotton Patch Sermons)

Since Christmas Eve is actually the last day of Advent, I thought I would muse a bit about the spectacular nature of this Sacred Season. So, this morning I received an email and in it this pastor was saying that no words can adequately convey God’s love for human life. I thought to myself that he may be right; no mere words can truly express God’s desire to be so close to us and to love us. My first thought was well the Incarnation is as good as it gets in describing that truth.

Think about it: God wanted to be so close to you and me that God put on flesh and became one of us! Pause for just a moment and really ponder that truth, the truth of what Christmas is ALL about. Ponder and personalize it:

God wanted you to know how much you are loved, wanted to be so near you, so much so that God put on flesh and became just like you.

God spared NO expense to be close to us, to love us, to show that love to us! Now even if you do not believe in the virgin birth or that the Incarnation is real, still ponder the notion that God would do such a thing to prove his love to you and me.

That truth to me makes this a time of true hopefulness – a kairos moment pregnant with God.  Kairos, the Greek word for time, is unlike the human concept of time, chronos, meaning “chronological time.” Kairos has to do with a divine visitation, a rending of the veil of human time when God comes to dwell among his people in an extraordinary way. The Incarnation is a Kairos moment that happened at a specific chronological time…an Infinite Moment held delicately within a finite one. It’s downright scandalous.

The Incarnation is both mind-boggling and paradox. Mind boggling in that almighty God would actually limit Godself by becoming flesh; paradox in that God comes to us through the fragile vulnerability of a helpless, newborn child who is Messiah. And the paradox of the Incarnation continues: God did not choose to come as a powerful military King Messiah ready to liberate the Jewish people with force from the brutal and ongoing occupation of the Roman Empire.

God, it seems, had different plans.

Instead, God chose to come to us as a naked, helpless baby born to a poor, unwed disenfranchised teenage mother in a land under the oppressive occupation of an Empire. That fact alone defies all logic and reason. Who would be more marginalized and dispossessed than Mary? Who could be farther from the seat of power? But it within this zeitgeist that the Incarnation happens; God did not come as a warrior God with a large army, a boon of gold, and a taste for control.

No, God came to us, as one of us, choosing to make himself known in fragility and poverty – a far cry from how most people thought Messiah would come.

Every year at Advent we are offered the chance for reflecting on how God came to us then, and how God continues to come to us now: in helplessness; in the tenderness of new life given during a dark time; in the promise of hope when all seems lost.

And let us remember too that Advent is an opportunity for us to remember during darker days that God is asking us again to allow our very lives to become, like Mary, a sacred womb where Hope can be born anew within us and indeed within the world.

 

Advent: A Time for Pregnant Pausing

 “Advent is a season of the secret of Divine Love growing in Silence…” Anonymous

Advent, from the Latin word adventus, means “a coming.”  In the busy days of the Christmas season, it seems Advent has become more of ‘a coming and going and rushing about’ than a pregnant pausing to celebrate the birth of Divine Hope.

One of the things that bothers me the most about this time of year, more than the blatant and rampant consumerism, is the edgy “busy’ness” of it all.  Like hamsters on a treadmill going nowhere fast, we run from store to store, party to party, event to event, never taking the time to pause and reflect upon the momentous occasion of the true “Coming” that this season is based upon.

Advent was and is meant to be a time of pausing, a time of seeking the Great Silence away from the rush and temptation of every little thing that tugs at our attention.

Advent is about taking the time to ‘stop’ time: to reflect upon the miracle of the Infinite rending the veil of time, thereby making all that is finite holy and sacred.

Advent is a time of deepening spirituality. And rather than some highfalutin concept, spirituality is more of a Velveteen rabbit-like experience of sensing God’s movement and Love in our lives in ever deepening ways, especially when things seem darkest.

Advent is also a specific “liturgical time” that gives us a chronological space for sensing God’s movement in our lives and in the world around us. It is an intentional time of pausing to look for the Holy in all the ways it is embodied around us. During Advent, we are reminded to allow the Spirit to transform our lives into “living mangers” – places where Christ can be born anew and afresh in us and in a world crying out for divine love.

This time of year is a time for seeking and seeing all the ways God comes to us, in tenderness and smallness, in ways and places that we may not normally look for God: places like a manger (a feeding trough to be exact) or the distressing disguise of the homeless; or the numerous people waiting in line at the soup kitchen or the forgotten and lonely or those struggling with addictions or the person next to us in line at the store. All of these are moments when we can both see and be Christ.

In these last days of Advent, may this be a time when God comes to each and every one of us in deliberate ways, ways known only to us, special ways that afford us the opportunity to renew our faith, discovering the depths and richness of God’s love and compassion for us and the world.

So as we continue to journey on into these days of Advent, let us all pause…

and reflect…

and take time…

to recognize the Holy Presence that surrounds us.

Faith: farming or schooling?

I can break down my own personal faith journey into one of two camps whereby faith is either treated like a farm or like schooling. Neither one is better than the other, but my faith has evolved from the latter into the former; and I have spent years learning to become more and more comfortable with the growth process of faith as farming rather than schooling.

The farming metaphor of my spiritual journey into and with God tends to see the spiritual life through the lens of what farming looks like: ploughing earth; planting seeds; cultivation; seasonal; ritual; laborious; filled with both droughts and deluge; feeding; sustaining; rewarding; plenty; scarcity; menial; painful; boring; joy-filled.  But above all life giving.  Farming involves co-creation, partnership, and is less hierarchical.  In this farming metaphor, the earth (or God in this instance) has its place and I know mine in relation to it.

The schooling metaphor (and schooling is not to be confused with ‘education’ from the Latin word, educare meaning to “draw forth from within”) was one that I framed my spiritual life in early on in my intentional faith journey. I looked at faith and even God as like a schooling metaphor which included seeing faith like this: compensatory, laborious; ubiquitous standards; something I dreaded doing, had to do, and was told would get me ahead more quickly the more of it (schooling) I got; it also included cramming; caring only about what is on the test; and overall not be able to wait to graduate from it so I could get on with life.

You can see by these metaphors how the farming one has been a richer one for my life than my schooling metaphor. Farming involves being on partnership with that which is greater than me, allowing things to grow wild sometimes. Schooling always involved being told in Kindergarten to ‘color within the lines.’

School is a great deal like that – drawing lines and teaching people to stay within them..or else our grades will suffer.

But I think faith, and God, are more like farming – not always so neat and tidy, messy, hard work, seasonal, organic rituals that are organically connected to the natural order of things. Farming is cyclical, but it evolves and changes from season to season, yearly as well. One year, corn is planted, the next soy, the next, the fields may be left to grow wild in order for the nutrient rich earth to replenish itself.  My faith is like farming in that way.

It can be summed up maybe something like this…God as Creator (THE grand farmer) fallows out the dry ground of our souls, planting this seed or that one, watering all in Divine Love in order that our life might be abundant, grow deeply and upwardly, out into this world as a gift and find harvest so as to feed and be fed.

Cracks in the Mirror

Sometimes I want to blow the lid off this blog; be so brutally and blatantly honest, that even my A.A. compadres would blush. And the blushing would not be due to raunchiness but because of the ‘rawness’ of it.  I feel like such a fraud these days, writing of a faith I am struggling to hold onto, saying I believe things that these days are not always so.

I want to be authentic about my life and where I am spiritually, yet I fear judgment; from where I do not know. Indeed, I am but flesh and blood.

I want to say that the faith that has been an intimate part of my life for 30 years sometimes feels like it’s slipping away, that it is not something I hold either tightly or dearly.  Or that the Catholic Church that I entered just five short years ago, along with most Christian doctrine, is leaving me wanting and empty.  The faith I profess is 2,000 years old. The Creeds I quote are less than 1,700 years old. The rituals from the Mass, well some of them are less than 600 years old. All things have changed in those time era’s but not religion, not much at least. My faiths seems outdated and dead.  In the last few years alone I personally have changed drastically. I change…my mind, my heart, my jobs, my friends, my addictions for recovery, and yes, some of my beliefs.

But God, well, God I know is timeless.

I am wanton to share that most Christians offend me, somewhere along the way the American version of Christianity became a marriage of conservative politics and social causes ensconced in fundamentalist tenets. That is not my faith. But I am also left empty by liberal politics that have all but abandoned their religious inspirations for protecting both the poor and the vulnerable. In truth, the poor and the abandoned, the imprisoned and the broken are the sole responsibility of Christians. But it seems Christians these days are known more for their hate than their love. I fear Jesus would not recognize the people that call him “Lord” if he were reading the papers and visiting the churches.

I am saddened and sickened by most religions these days, if I am to be honest. It seems my faith is fed more by what is outside of its bounds than what is within it.

I am not alone in my disillusionment. A recent NY Times’ bestsellers was a book by Frank Schaeffer (the son of one of the “fathers” of the rise of Conservative Christian political viewpoint) entitled Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God. Then there is the rise of the religiously disillusioned, the “Nones” who according to the Pew Research Centers: “[are a group of] people who self-identify as atheists or agnostics” as well as those who have left the church of their youth while still holding to a deep faith in God, just not in organized religion.

Some days I feel like a “None” – I believe in God, and madly so, but I find most organized religious expression to be pedantic at best, ruled and run by angry zealots who are milquetoast concerned more with doctrine and dogma than compassion, justice and mercy (the weightier matters of the Law according to Jesus, see Matthew 23:23).

I am rambling.

But I am seeking clarity and honesty.

I love Jesus. I mean I am really into (and in) Jesus and the words we have for him on record. You would not know it by stepping into most churches these days but Jesus spoke more about helping the poor, money, loving your enemies and forgiveness than about heaven or hell. And not once did Jesus ever condemn my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. Jesus never said “love the sinner but hate the sin” – a diatribe I have a hard time with because I am not so skilled at separating the “sin” from the “so-called sinner.”

The long and the short of it is I am seeing the cracks in the mirror.

My faith is old, and dry. My prayers are empty and seem worthless. The God I professed years ago is no longer the God I turn to in times of trouble or joy; when I do in fact turn to God at all.

The man I see in the mirror, although I know to be a child of God and made in God’s image, is cracked, faltering, burdened with a sense of giving up the faith and on the verge of quitting the ‘good fight.’

Maybe what I am going through (and not around) is a deeper, more authentic way of living; a birthing into the death of childish faith into the reality of the Real. Or maybe just maybe I am spiritually lazy and perpetually defiant, needing to reject something in order to feel powerful about anything.

I don’t know, I just don’t know. I still believe…but I don’t. I have faith, when I don’t. I am one with a God I know longer believe in. I am in the light even more so when I am in this darkness.

I find comfort in the words of the German mystic Meister Eckhart who said it best when he said the following statements (that almost got him burned at the stake!):

“I pray God to make me free of God…”

and

“If I had a God I could understand, I would no longer consider him God.”

Decaf Faith

If most of us are honest, we would say we prefer having a decaffeinated faith: it tastes like the real thing, but it is guaranteed to not keep us awake.

I don’t want decaf faith.  I want a faith that wakes me up – fully human, fully alive – prepared to be Present to all of life, good, bad, ugly, beautiful, pain and joy.

I pine for a faith that is more “red eye” than decaf, an extra caffeinated faith that hinges on these two truths, that God is Alive and God is Love!  And therein lies my faith standard of measurement: does my faith in God wake me up and does it lead me to Love?

Car Accidents, Irony & a Bigger God

NOTE: this blog is raw, no editing, first thought, first word. And since it involves the rawness of realness, I felt OK with leaving it be.

My life has a funny way of having moments of “embodied Irony.” A moment like that crossed my path earlier this week. I had written the post about being in search of a bigger God and had set up my blog to auto post it. Well between the writing of the blog and the posting of the blog I had a miraculous experience: I survived a serious car accident.

A 4:30 p.m. on Palm Sunday, I was heading out from a friends’ house to get to evening Mass. I am far from a good Catholic or even a faithful follower of Jesus, but the events of Holy Week and Sacred Rituals of Easter and Passover are vital and important to my own spiritual l journey. So, I was pulling out of the gravel road onto a state highway. I looked left, then right and for some reason decided to go left to stop by a convenience store for an afternoon cup of Joe. I pulled out and there it was – a 1990 black Honda Accord traveling at about 60 miles per hour.

Picture taken by Hugh McGee at the scene of the accident.  It is of my drivers' side, direct impact of accident, Juno was sitting at the point of direct impact as was I.

Picture taken by Hugh McGee at the scene of the accident. It is of my drivers’ side, direct impact of accident, Juno was sitting at the point of direct impact as was I.

Time stopped or at least felt like it slowed down. I knew Juno and I were going to get nailed by this car so I reacted the fastest way I could: I simultaneously slammed the gas pedal to the floor (hoping to only have only the tail of my car hit) and I used all my strength to reach around and move Juno from behind the driver’s seat, pressing her against the rear passenger door (thereby putting her as far away from impact as possible).  All of this occurred in 2 seconds or less…

The car slammed into us, never even hitting the brakes before impact. Then it became surreal: metal twisting and bending; pain and searing fire erupting through my body; the shriek of a terrified dog; spinning around and around with dizzying force; then a second or two of pure stillness.

Then I heard the voice of a young person, “holy shit that is a lot of gas….get out, get out, man!” I only remember scrambling to get my seat belt off and nothing happening.  I was stuck and in blinding pain.  The door had me pinned in. I just remember screaming out to God, “Give me strength NOW, help me, Lord, save Juno. I don’t give a shit about me but save HER!!”

The seat belt unclasped.

I flipped over into the back of the car, grabbed Juno by her harness, and we literally fell out of the car stumbling about 30 feet away from the car. I could not breathe and pain was setting my body and soul on fire. The rest is a blur. All I remember is asking a bystander to call my friend and have him come and take my dog to the ER vet hospital.

I also remember Juno being right next to me, tight up against what I would learn were my fractured ribs. She did not move. When the paramedics approached me she growled but then let them touch me. My friend Hugh came and did what he is great at: exhibiting grace under pressure and jumped into the Solution. He just said, “I’ve got Juno.  The paramedics have got you.”

Then the pain took over…all over; searing, fire like, pained breathing, burning on my face and arms. Later I would learn it was the air bags and a few fractured ribs, one vertebrae fractured (L4) and another compressed (L3), bruised lungs, scrapes, cuts, and soreness all over, covering me like a blanket.

Out of all of this too, I learned I have a “shaded area” in my lungs that appears not to be affiliated with the accident. So, the accident afforded me the chance to learn that I need a biopsy on a shaded lump in my lung.

As I said before, my life is Embodied Irony. Continue reading