A Vague Memory of the Ever Present

“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”  – Jacob (Gen. 28)

Note to Self: God is here, right now, in this place with me.

God is here right now with you.  And let the record show that I base that truth of how I am “feeling” and how much I actually feel God.  My emotions are not the best judge of whether or not God is the ‘Always Present.’  My emotions are as fickle as a 5 year old in the candy aisle.

But Jacob was speaking truth: for sure the Lord is in this place; and I seem to forget all too quickly.  God is the ever Present albeit invisible Reality surrounding me right here.  Sometimes it feels like God is nowhere to be found when the truth is God is Now Here.

What I love about this verse is the context of the story behind it.  It was spoken of by Jacob, the one whole stole both his brothers’ birthright and blessing (Gen. 27).  Jacob, the one whose name in Hebrew has several meanings including “heel” because Jacob followed Esau out of the womb holding his brothers’ heel.  But it also means to circumvent, to usurp or steal.  So Jacob, who after he wrestled the angel and become Isra’el, was the father of Israel and the father of the 12 sons who became the 12 tribes of Israel.

It was this Jacob, Jacob the Thief (i.e., the criminal), who failed to recognize the presence of God in the place where he was – a place he had stopped to rest as he was fleeing his angry brother who was seeking to kill him.

So, it was in the midst of trouble and trauma, caused by lying and deceit, that Jacob had a dream and saw the angels of the Lord and realized God was in this place.  He did not recognize God in a sacred place, in the tabernacle or a church, but rather he recognized and experienced God’s presence while on the run from the consequences for his devious acts.

It was there, in his utter humanity, that he found and experienced the presence of God.

And so it will be with us sometimes.

God is at hand and miracles are everywhere.  Everywhere God is, is in truth a miracle.  God is closer to us than our very breath; God is in every breath we take.  And because God dwells within…everything therefore becomes Holy Ground.

 

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Surrender to Win…

A note from Niles: You may have notice that the name has subtly changed from Wild Monk to Wild Mercy…click HERE  for a small explanation.

Corrie Ten Boom once said “don’t wrestle with God, just nestle with God.”  She and her family helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II by hiding them in her closet. She went to prison for those actions.  She wrote an amazing book called The Hiding Place, read it if you need inspiration.

Wrestle, don’t nestle is what my brain tells me.  No, no, no, nestle don’t wrestle says another voice, a small whispering one.

If I am honest, I choose not to nestle most days.  I choose to wrestle.  I think I get some sort of pleasure from it or else why do it.  In the Old Testament we are told Jacob wrestled an angel; and the angel “touched” him giving him a permanent limp for the rest of his life – a reminder that we can choose to wrestle with God but we are the one ones who walk away limping.

As a person in recovery, I am told by my recovery program to surrender, all the time, and to surrender everything…EVERYTHING!

I do not surrender easily. The words from others living recovery whisper above the din in my heart: Surrender to Win.  Bullshit says my brain.  This being the same brain that told me in my early thirties that drinking and doing drugs was okay, I could handle it, even though my father and his father were raging alcoholics.

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 surrender and find life.  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!”

Could it be that the message of sobriety and spirituality are 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 and faith-filled; resignation is passive and fear-filled.

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?

Good. Works.

Good. Works. We are called to do them; we are called to be them.  Good works are a response to God’s love; they do not earn God’s love.  Good works are a response to grace; they do not earn it.

Good works are the way we say “Thank You” to God for all the blessings bestowed on us by God; they are the way we live out our gratitude for life and love.  Good works are the hands and feet of the good news of Jesus.

Good works are necessary for me because as I have learned in sobriety, “I can keep what I do not give away.”

Not a sermon, just some musings…

 

The Necessity of Emptiness

The all-important central emptiness which is filled
with the presence of God alone.”

~ Jean Danielou

 

I am learning more deeply in these days that emptiness is necessary; it is also quite scary for most of us. I could lie and say that emptiness no longer scares me the way it did as a child, but I would be lying. As I grow older, and death becomes more a part of my intentional consciousness, emptiness brings some level of fear, for far too often I confuse emptiness with loneliness.

Like many, I fear growing old alone.  I fear the dark emptiness that this could bring.  But there is an emptiness which has nothing to do with a partner, for I have been with others and simultaneously felt alone.

Emptiness is not only necessary it is also good. Emptiness is the only space that can truly ‘contain’ God. In emptiness there are no leaks or cracks, just pure and endless space. I fill the emptiness far too often with things that are not meant for it. For years, to the point of addiction, I filled emptiness with drugs, alcohol, sex, excitement, drama, darkness. You name it…and I could try and use it to fill the void known as emptiness.

Everywhere I look I see this same symptom of addiction: fill the void, fill the emptiness. Marketers, admen, corporations, news programs, and pharmaceutical companies will tell me – without actually telling me – that the hole in the center of my being was created for their specific products. And if I listen to them I have no shortage of deluge of things to fill this emptiness – antidepressants, sleep aids, pain meds, meds to keep me paying attention, meds to keep me skinny or hard as a rock.  Then throw in the 24 hour a day channels that spew endless upon endless means for consumption be it news, sports, or shopping networks.

And at the end of the day, that is the true enemy of emptiness, not evil or addiction, but consumption; the never ending obsession with “more”.

But that pining emptiness within me tells me there is another way, a way of divine love, a way that says my emptiness is the portal for God as much as it is a reminder that I am fallible and finite.

Emptiness reminds me of my place in the grand scheme of things. I am created before I am a creator. I am an image of God not the God. I am finite yet I am a dwelling place for the Infinite. Emptiness is necessary if I am to encounter God on a daily basis for in my emptiness God in his fullness comes near, reminding me I am both child and beloved.

So, today I will try and face my fear of emptiness and in the mere confronting of it I know I will experience the One who is the Fullness of Love.

In Search of a bigger God

​“Our highest knowledge of God is nothing close to that which God truly is.” Attributed to St. Thomas, paraphrased

I have a confession to make: I am in search of a bigger God for you see my current one is too small.  that’s right, the God that occupies my thoughts and heart has shrunk in size and scope, even divinity. Honestly, I need to get rid of him or I’m doomed to a small life in a small world with all hope suffocating to the point of death. I have made numerous attempts to give this God the pink slip, even writing him out of my life, but to no avail.

You see my God is too small, but he is equipped with a rather large “Ego” – this God I have currently is petty, pithy, and pedantic at best.  The God that resides in my heart is an idol, one made up of fairy tales and freak outs passed down to me from my drunken fathers’ presence and absence.  This God is narcissistic, needy, omnipotent, tyrannical, and just like my father my God is an Almighty Drunk. It is frightening.

I thought that decades ago I had been loosed of this Divine Schizophrenic but circumstances as of late have left me reeling in disbelief at the very core of my beliefs and just how small my God has become. Doctrine, dogma, stigma and stain all have left the remnants of a child-like faith based in innocence smashed and tattered by a full out frontal assault of FEAR. I am scared of my “oh so small God”

My current God cannot handle my pain, my emotional outbursts or my constant neediness. Nor can this God handle my questions or queries, leaving hope suffocated by the minutiae of daily life, questions big and small.

In fact, this God is too small precisely because He IS a He – a Zeus like old man resembling my Pops. Why can’t this God be a She? Or be like my mother? My mother was such a strong, lovely, regal woman who had wits and wilds about her…why can’t she be the source of my image of God instead of my alcoholic dad?!?

Here is something that piques my interest in the feminine face of God: one of the most oft used words to describe God’s wondrous glory in the Jewish Bible (the Christian Old Testament) is the word “Shekinah” – a feminine Hebrew word.  And much like the French language and other Romance languages, gender is ascribed to words rather than leave them neutral and therefore neutered. Shekinah, to be more specific, is the English spelling of a grammatically feminine Hebrew name of God in Judaism. The original word means the dwelling or settling, and denotes the dwelling or settling of the Divine Presence of God, especially in the Temple in Jerusalem (search Wikipedia for more on Shekinah).

In Abrahamic faith traditions, your name denoted not only your character, but your destiny as well.  So, Shekinah, a word implying the very dwelling Place of Presence of God is a feminine word.  So maybe just maybe my God can be She as much as He as much as neither.  For the sake of my own sanity, my oh so small God can grow and I can acknowledge that the great traits of my mother (and all the amazingly strong women in my life) can be divine reflections of the God I need in my life: One Who is strong, faithful, creative, beautiful, tender, and compassionate (a Divine Mama Bear not to be reckoned with when one of her cubs was in danger).

The search for a bigger God continues…

I can cash in this Peon God for one much larger than me, truly a “Power greater than myself” or I can stay stuck in the minutiae of a miniscule God and drive myself into insanity.

It is for this reason I love the 2nd Step of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous when it says “we came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”  A Power greater than me…” That can be understood in many ways, for me it can mean a Power greater than any limitation or fear I could ever have of God; it can mean a God Who is a Power that is Pure Love and desires unbroken intimacy with me, loving me no matter my foibles and frailties, no matter how needy or poor I am.

I am truly searching for a bigger God: not a health and wealth pie in the sky God; not a Polyannish one who never sees the darkness of life; not a Santa Claus God who gives me my wish list.

I am in search of a God whose Love is beyond being meted out by human restraint.

I am in search of a God who is holy – wholly other – yet dwells within me.

I am in search of a God Who is beyond dogmatic and doctrinal delineations; a God Whose very Being and strength is pure Love, infinite Mercy, holy Hospitality…a Liberator and Healer who is Radically Compassion.

I am in search of a God Who in turn is in search of me…

“On Doubt” (Frederick Buechner)

Some Musings on Doubt from Frederick Buechner:

Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts, you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.

There are two principal kinds of doubt, one of the head and the other of the stomach.

In my head there is almost nothing I can’t doubt when the fit is upon me—the divinity of Christ, the efficacy of the sacraments, the significance of the church, the existence of God. But even when I am at my most skeptical, I go on with my life as though nothing untoward has happened.

I have never experienced stomach doubt, but I think Jesus did. When he cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!” I don’t think he was raising a theological issue any more than he was quoting Psalm 22. I think he had looked into the abyss itself and found there a darkness that spiritually, viscerally, totally engulfed him. I think God allows that kind of darkness to happen only to God’s saints. The rest of us aren’t up to doubting that way—or maybe believing that way either.

When our faith is strongest, we believe with our hearts as well as with our heads, but only at a few rare moments, I think, do we feel in our stomachs what it must be like to be engulfed by light.

-Originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words