Ragamuffin Musings…

I have a confession to make, a paradoxical one: I love and loathe addicts and alcoholics.  I am one…in recovery.  I love them, us (for there is no ‘us’ in ‘them’ there is only us), I mean.  I love the ‘Program’ as well.  No, I’m not violating the Traditions, just musings on dope fiends, alkies, and the one-day-one-step-at-a-time journey of daily healing and transformation that occurs for us ragamuffins.

I learn so much…from them.  I see me in all of them, even the ones I silently sneer at within my brain.  Then I remember I am one with them…and a convicted felon (so not much room to talk).

Every day I am reminded of God’s goodness and that there is more power in Love & Forgiveness than in hate and judgment.

I am continually reminded in this journey towards God and healing the infinite difference between expectancy and expectation.

Expectancy leads to grace, openness, newness, excitement and opportunity.  Expectation leads to resentment, tyranny, close-mindedness, and obligation.  Expectancy is dynamic and leads to life.  Expectation is static and leads to deadness.

I need the ‘Program’, I really do.  I need to walk it and work it or I fall from grace and turn from God and burn my worlds to the ground.

But I hunger for more as well.

I hunger for God to rise gently to me with tenderness through the opaque truth of poetry.

I need Beauty…and the soft, rustled breathing of the holy fur ball nestled up under my chin…my Domini Canus, my dog of God who is a god among dogs.  I need mountains within eye shot, stable majestic silhouettes reminding me of my speck-of-dustness-but-oh-so-lovedness.

I need kindness towards self and good food…to breathe more, and deeper with slowing motions of intentionality.

I need to remember that God is in the pain, the mundane, the profane and the profound.  God is in the other, and in me, in fragility, and falling down, in giggles and graying hairs.

I am learning it is Good to cooperate with Grace and not run from nor deny it.  Wrestling with Grace can be likened to ‘aarrrrggghh’ moments of removing sticky duct tape from your fingers as it teases you, playing from finger to finger before finally being wagged off wildly.  But Grace comes…and there but for the Grace go I.

One step, two step, three step, four <Breathe!>, step, step, step…12 of them that take a lifetime to trek.

And like rain to dry earth, almost in an instant that took my entire life to happen, I go from parched to overflowing.  And breathing becomes more natural, reconnecting me to holy spirit…wholly breath.

And I realize again and again, I need other wounded healers, cracked and lovely, rough and hewn on the edges of life.


Some Musings on Mystics….

A mystic is someone who, plain and simple, seeks to remove the ‘and’ from life.  This makes life a both/and experience rather than an either/or one.  To the mystic it is not either I work or I pray; it is I pray and work.  When I pray, I am working.  When I work, I am praying.

I got it last night after doing the dishes for the umpteenth time yesterday; I knew God was present in the dishpan hands, in the suds, in the warm water flowing over the ever cleaned dishes.  A mystic knows and experiences God doing the dishes – yes, I meant God is the one doing the dishes.  😉

Prayer is work, work is prayer.  Ora et labora as the Benedictines say.

As a mystic, I merely try to allow God to remove the ‘and’ from the spaces between and within my heart and life, from between the flurry of activities during the day and the moments when I sit in Silence seeking to know this loving God who dwells within.

I am a mystic.

I say that not in arrogance but in assurance for I know that God is faithful to me even when I am not faithful.  It is not an emotional declaration, but a truthful one: we are all made in the image and likeness of God and therefore bear the eternal tattoo of imago Dei.

As a mystic I simply spend the days removing the ‘and’ from life thus allowing the God who dwells within to dwell within everything I do or say, for God’s very presence flows from my very being; and all of this from the Spirit, and not from me.  Me, I am just an open, cracked jar of clay, a vessel waiting to be filled with divine love, waiting expectantly for the truth to emerge from within me.

And in this truth, all becomes one in the absolute awareness of the cohesion of God’s loving, created order.

“Another Way of Being” (Michael Leunig)

Dear God,

We pray for another way of being: another way of knowing.  Across the difficult terrain of our existence we have attempted to build a highway and in so doing have lost our footpath.

God, lead us to our footpath: lead us there where in simplicity we may move at the speed of natural creatures and feel the earth’s love beneath our feet.

Lead us there where step-by-step we may feel the movement of creation in our hearts. And lead us there where side-by-side we may feel the embrace of the common soul. Nothing can be loved at speed.

God lead us to the slow path; to the joyous insights of the pilgrim; another way of knowing; another way of being.


Source: The Prayer Tree

“Glorious Destiny” (Thomas Merton)

It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrible mistakes: yet, with all that, God himself gloried in becoming a member of the human race. A member of the human race!

To think that such a commonplace realization should suddenly seem like news that one holds the winning ticket in a cosmic sweepstake. I have the immense joy of being a member of a race in which God became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained.

There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.

Source: Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

The Journey is Not a Destination

I have been crucified with Christ; and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me…(Galatians 2:19)

Neither shall they say: Behold here, or behold there. For lo, the kingdom of God [God’s very Being] is within you. (Luke 17:21)

Our journey with God and into God is not about a “destination” but a transformation.  It is a transformation from (just) me living, into one where the Living God becomes an ever-present Reality living with me!  And it is a journey of re-membering, God ‘putting’ me back together as he sees fit.  And this journey is filled with real life stuff: depression, hope, miracles, addiction, freedom, anger, love, joy, ‘failure,’ listening, following, sometimes leading and sometimes being led.

And lest I forget, if Messiah is living in me then every single life I come into contact with and touch is being touched by him.  So, daily, I am being and becoming – through the power of the Spirit – the fleshing out of God’s love here and now.  As it was said to me some 20 years ago,”Niles, your life may be the only Gospel people ever see and hear!  So, how you living, brother?!” 

This transformative journey is one of me becoming more transparent – a transparency where you see more and more of God in me and less and less of just me.  And it is a paradoxical beauty, for I lose my life in order to get it back, more whole/holy, more loving, more real, and in truth more Niles.  For me without God is a selfish, spiteful, oh-so-full-of-himself addict.  But me letting God live in and through me (and this all through the Spirit) is a Niles who is gentle, compassionate, loving, honest, forgiving, and a playful servant.

What an amazing and hard thing to grasp: God lives in me! Me?!?  For any of you who have been touched by the darker sides of me, you too can scratch your heads along with me.  But – and that is a big but – all praise be to the God Who forgives, heals, and loves for when God decides to transform a life fully surrendered to him, there is no limit, NO LIMIT, to what God can and will do to and through that person.

So I ask: are you on a journey that is about a destination?  Or are you on a journey that is about Transformation?

And here is a Beauty’Full Truth to assist and comfort us on the journey: the moment – the very moment – we ask, God comes into us and begins the transformative work immediately (although it does take a lifetime for completion).  I echo the sentiments of the Scriptures “that I am sure of this, that [God] who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion… (Phil. 1:6).”

I’m on a journey, walking it day by day, sometimes two steps forward, sometimes a few steps backwards. But I’m still walking…in and with God.  And I am reminded of the ringing truths from an old, salty recovering alcoholic friend of mine who said to me after one particularly trying day, “God loves the man that I am today, but God loves me too much to let me stay this way.” 


Just Some Musings…

Musings: to gaze meditatively or wonderingly; to comment thoughtfully or ruminate upon [something].

Random musings here, so warning, it may be offensive to some.

Sometimes certain Scriptures take on new meaning when life takes a twist or a turn, for me now the one that has taken a deeper meaning is the one recording the last known words of Jesus (from Matthew 28:20): “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  I re-wrote it to remind myself how his words apply to where I am on the journey these days: “And re-member, I AM with you All Ways, to the end of the age.”

It is not a new thought; it is a re-membering: a putting back together that which is eternally true.  It is a reminder that whenever Jesus says “I am” it is reminiscent of Yahweh (YHWH) who revealed the divine to Moses by saying “tell them I AM WHO I AM sent you”; or another way of translating YHWH is I AM BECAUSE I AM…or I AM WHO I WILL BE.

No beginning and no end, no changes…just the great I AM.  And I say I do believe but…

I believe in I AM WHO IS without end or beginning.  Yet so often, I put constraints and restraints on God, as do so many people, coming up with lists of do’s and don’ts, rules and regulations, rituals that turn the sacred into sacrilege.

I scribbled the following on a scrap of paper this morning before I took Juno on our morning ‘prayer’ walk through the rolling hills of eastern West Virginia: belief in God should produce belief in God’s great gift (Unconditional Love) and in God’s greatest promise (Eternal Presence).

But I realize, I limit God and his love, sometimes even more than religions do.  I limit God’s presence even more than legalistic Christians do.

I am just musing here…random thoughts on a not-so-random God.  So I ask myself: Is God’s love really unconditional?

When I see in me, and in Christian doctrine and denominations, the placing of unbelievable restrictions on God’s love I have to ask myself, what do I believe about God’s supposed unconditional love?  We say God’s love is unconditional but most Christians believe that God’s love is only unconditional to those who believe in Jesus.  Do we really believe that God loves the Jesus followers equally (the exact same) as God does the prostitute having sex in a car for drugs and cash?  Or the man crushing up and snorting Oxy’s while he schemes up a new way to steal some pills to feed this habit?  Or the corporate shark stealing millions from unsuspecting investors?

Do we really think God’s love is unconditional?  When some say without Jesus, all are condemned to eternal, fire-based punishment?  I am going to cop out here and not say what I believe or think about hell, but rather ‘represent’ mainstream Christian thought.  I am just musing, and when I muse, I tend to tread on toes and skirt the edges of heresy, I must confess.  One thing I do know: God is bigger than my thoughts, doubts, fears and fantasies, so I have no problem bringing them to light…in the light of God’s love.

Is God’s love and Kingdom partially exclusive or completely inclusive?  Have we created Christian myths and a religious culture based on exclusion and become dangerously close to true heresy?  Could God and God’s kingdom truly be inclusive?  Could ALL be invited?

Jesus talked about when we have a dinner to go and invite the culturally uninvitable (the poor, the lame, the unclean, and the unrighteous).  Jesus talked about when he comes in glory the only ‘criteria’ for being a ‘sheep’ or a ‘goat’ is what we did and didn’t do to the poor, the hungry, the sick, the naked, and the imprisoned.  Jesus made no reference to doctrine or denomination…or even correct confession for that matter.

What do you think?  Is Rob Bell a heretic?  Does the ancient eastern Orthodox Christian belief that at the end of time ALL will be absorbed back into God’s eternal love and mercy on to something or is it complete mythology and heresy?

Can I see and find God in the profane as much as I can the profound?

I’m just musing here…so don’t start picking up those stones or prepping the wood for the Niles cookout just yet.  I am just not afraid to muse in brutal, perplexed honesty.

But as I look inward, I must confess this truth to myself: if I can’t find God in the profane as much as the profound, then I am indeed limiting God and my experience of, and movement towards, him that is for sure.

Musings for today are closed.  But let’s remember: God loves us! 😉

The Center & the Edge

The closer we get to the Center, the more God takes us to the edges.

The closer we get to our Center (the place where God dwells), the more we are drawn out of our comfort zones into a life of radical love.  The word radical comes from the Latin word ‘radix’ meaning ‘Root’ – so what we are drawn to is a Rooted Love and a Love Rooted in God.

The more we live from the Center, the deeper our roots become.  The deeper our roots become, the more we learn to trust the nature of God and his love.  The more we trust God and his love, the more we long and hunger to experience and share that Divine Love with all, especially those farthest from it.

The Triqueta - an Celtic Cross

The Triqueta – a Celtic Cross

The stronger our roots become, the stronger we become.  But this strength is not a power lording it over others, but the power to serve others deeply without losing or defining ourselves by such service.

That is my passion, that is my Center and my edge – called to the life of God as an earthy monk, a shepherd, a servant leader.  It is a calling as one who leads from within, from the Center, from God.

And the more Centered I become, the more radical my love becomes and the more radical my love becomes, the more I desire to serve the poorest, the despised, the broken – those at the edges of existence.

The closer I get to my Center, the more God takes me to the edge.

And the closer to the edge I get, the more I feel the itch of wings starting to grow and spread…so that leaping off this edge becomes sheer joy rather than fear.

Walking Across the Snow

“Looking for God in prayer is like looking for a path in a field of untrodden snow.  Walk across the snow and there is your path.”

Thomas Merton

I love this quote by Thomas Merton, a truthful man if ever there was one.  Although a monk in one of the strictest Orders in the Catholic Church, he lived his life in gentle yet transparent  honesty.  Known mostly for his deep writings on faith and social justice, Merton was above all a man of prayer.  And yet he penned the above quote.  I venture to reason that this quote was written by Merton for himself.  He ‘walked across the snow’ faithfully, seeking God in all ways and in all things.

I’m pondering this quote and sharing it because of my own life of prayer these days.  I pray a great deal.  I say that not to brag but more as a confession since I have no where else to turn most days except to God, for the things surrounding my life seem larger than it.  So, I pray often because otherwise I’m a sloppy example of flesh and blood, prone more towards my addictions than my healing.  Prayer for me is a pathway to deeper intimacy with God, with myself, and with the world I have been called to serve in love.  Without prayer I am like fruit that has fallen from the tree while still believing it is growing and connected to its Source.  Without prayer, I am pure illusion.

There is a “lostness” to these days, as the light of day gives way more quickly to the shuddering embrace of darkness, my prayer life is following the ‘natural rhythm’ of winter.  When I say ‘lost’ I do not mean in my entire life, but in the sense that this part of the journey is “rubber meets the road” time, a time when the giddiness of the pink cloud has burst and I must show up.  But I am reminded that just showing up is indeed half the battle.

So I show up.  I set aside time to be in contemplation with my God, to listen to the still, small Voice above the din and noise within my head and heart.  I show up knowing, regardless of what I am feeling, God is there as a Present Reality and not just some  far away entity.  Much like the well known prayer of Merton’s posted a few days ago, I do not know the path I am called to take in certainty, yet I feel the tug of the Spirit leading me down paths I sometimes fear to travel (even if they are for the Best).  At times, I sense I am traveling alone.  But I have learned that God’s  presence is a promise not an emotion and I have tasted God’s love as deeply in his Absence as I have in his Presence.

I sense I am being led to a place that will open up for me a life I have only ever dreamed, but fear still persist as does confusion.  And not the confusion of choices made in or by my own stupidity, rather choices made in the hands of Divine Providence, choices that may alienate me from some while ingratiating me to others.  Regardless, the truth is choices must be made and they must be done so by (and in) faith: faith in God; faith in knowing that if I ask for Wisdom, it is promised; faith in knowing I must walk across the snow in order to see the path God is laying out for me; faith in knowing that I am traveling with One who will never leave or forsake me.

In making these choices I am seeking obedience to God and his will – a will that is more tender than stern, more compassionate that perfectionist, more about trust than certainty.  The word for obedience in Latin is “obidere” meaning “to listen.”  I love that definition because it ties into my coming before God in prayer to know him, to know what he is asking of me, and in order to do that I must be still and listen to his voice of love.

So on this cold afternoon, I am reminded again that the path I am seeking is made along the Way.  The path God is leading me on is not always so clearly laid, yet I am promised the faithfulness of God’s warming Presence in the chill of the unknown.  I am reminded too that prayer is a loving communique filled with hope – the hope of Jesus being born anew in me and in the world.  And my prayers, much like this hope, do not come in strength or unfailing assurance, but rather in fragility, vulnerability, and in weakness.

However, God’s love comes in the chilled, biting wind chaffing my cheeks as I stare out into the gorgeous wintry openness.  And as the feel of snow rises in the air, and the chill numbs my fingers, I am reminded once again that the path may not be certain, but God’s tender love and presence is.

A Comforting & Disturbing Grace

I keep hearing a great deal about God’s ‘grace’ these days but seeing very little of it from Christians.  And quite honestly, I have little use for empty words and false piety when it comes to some of the commentary on God’s grace.

My take on Christianity (whether Catholic or Evangelical) is that Christianity is meant to be a grace, mercy and compassion-filled intimacy with God as experienced in Jesus; a relationship based more on freedom than rules to follow, hoops to jump through or religiosity.

Most of us, if we are honest, take this relationship as an “outward-in” approach, which is more often than not based on human effort rather than God’s.

As I keep learning, God’s grace is both quite comforting and disturbing.  It is comforting because it cannot in any way ever be earned by any human effort.  It is disturbing for precisely the same reasons: it cannot be earned by any human effort and it flows and is given to whomever God so chooses and whomever asks regardless of whether I like it or not.

Some 2,000 years ago the people that “got” the message of Jesus best were often the ones who had been shut out of grace the most: prostitutes, the untouchables, the rejected and scorned,  the poor, orphans, widows (all women for that matter), the hopeless and helpless, even the betrayers known as the tax collectors (those whom worked for the Empire siphoning money from their brothers and sisters to earn a living).

The ones who did not get it were the so-called ‘righteous’, the pious, those who tried (in vain) to follow the “letter of the law” thereby blocking the very vein from which flowed God.

I fear that there are many today (myself included sometimes) who are falling prey to the same tendencies, turning this truly amazing grace – this absolutely upsetting and freeing Grace – into an outward appearance.  And this Outward-in approach is a shell for the real deal, a con job hidden in human effort rather than hidden in God.

The truth is that God’s disturbing and comforting grace is a complete Inside-out job.  We come into relationship with God and he changes us; and he does so from the inside-out!  In no way, shape or form do we author or control the changing.  God does.  All we can truly do is ask in faith, be open and receive.  We ask for God to come to us, to take over every facet of our lives, and God does the changing and in his time, in his way working and molding us like soft clay on the Master’s wheel.

This can be quite disturbing to many ‘Christians.’  For it is not about appearances, church attendance, the size or particular theological ‘slant’ of your church, or buildings, or even based on piety or how spiritual we are.  It is solely about God’s grace, not our effort.

Grace gently (and sometimes not so gently) reminds us that this sorting out of our relationship with God is in truth a lifelong journey as well as the journey of a lifetime.  As it was said to me a long time ago: “the life of faith is struggle enough in a broken world without us [people] complicating it for others.”

This journey is about God: it starts with God and it ends with God with all the gaps in between filled in by God as well. We must let go of the urge to control and force (wicked hard for a control freak like me) and simply let God ‘control’ those ways and moments – the ones in which he comes to us (and others) with his disquieting experience of a Love undeserved yet freely given.

And it is vital to a life of faith to not compare our journey with others and to remember (re-member): God comes to each of us in different time frames and in different ways.  I’m not talking about ‘relativism’ here, where there are different truths for different people.  No, I’m merely speaking of God’s timetable versus ours.  We live by the clock…God dwells in Eternity.  It is however about trusting God…in all things, with all things, and in all ways.

Oh yes, the life of faith and grace is about trust (another hard one for me): I trust God’s process in you and I trust God’s process in me.  And I trust God’s process for us together.  It is not about forcing things, either for ourselves or others, for that is the Outward-in job approach and this is a total Inside-out job.

If I was going to give advice (let’s just call this a ‘suggestion’), I would say stop trying so hard to make something happen with God.  Ask him to make himself known to you.  The truth and promise is that he will make himself known to you, guaranteed.

One thing I am learning that I will share with you is this: I try to pray without expectations and instead pray with expectancy.  The former controls (and therefore closes us off to) the many ways God reveals himself; the latter opens us up to the divinely hopeful knowledge that God will indeed come to us.  Trust God with all the details of your life, from the mundane to the intense, from your joys to your anger and doubt…oh yes, God is indeed big enough to handle ALL your truths and will embrace them into his tender, eternal Love!  I’ll stop now, but before I do, I’ll add this (and I’m sure this is going to upset some folks): your failures don’t matter that much to God.  He will just keep showing you how “real” he wants to be in your life!

And that, my friends, is indeed a comforting and disturbing Grace.

The Journey of St. Dismas

All that is known of Dismas is that he is the Good Thief crucified with Christ on Calvary. The other thief is known as Gestas. A completely unsubstantiated myth from the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy that enjoyed great popularity in the West during the Middle Ages had two thieves who held up the Holy Family on the way to Egypt. Dismas bought off Gestas with forty drachmas to leave them unmolested, whereupon the [Infant Jesus]  predicted that they would be crucified with Him in Jerusalem, and that Dismas would accompany Him to Paradise.  His feast day is March 25th. (On St. Dismas the Good Thief).

I have been debating about whether or not to write about what this blog post is.  Fear and judgment, among other things, stand in the background telling me that the truth in this instance will not set me free but leave me in worse shape, shamed and discredited.  But as I stated in the “About the BLOG” section that I would write about things [I] sometimes prefer not to talk about.”  So, this blog is a leap of faith into the hands of Divine Love, a stepping off the cliff of self-preservation and looking ‘perfect and pious’ in order to soar into the truth.  For the Truth will indeed set us free.

I need to trust that One who has been faithful and write a little story that is my current story.  To the point: as of January 11, 2013, early in the afternoon my life changed in a way that is still unforeseen but dramatic. I was convicted of a felony for commiting a financial crime that I did indeed commit. There I said it: I am a convicted criminal. I was given a 4 year suspended sentence which means no time in prison as long as I don’t violate parole, miss a repayment or violate any criminal law for at least 2 years).  I was also given 2 years supervised probation and financial restitution set at about $6,400 to be repaid by the time my probation period is done.

What can I say; I am not proud of it but I did it and I have learned in the last 12 months of dealing with it a great deal about forgiveness, mercy, restorative justice versus punitive justice, the ‘justice system’ and the corporate-like elements to behind the scenes deals between lawyers and just how much power a judge can have on a person’s life, and biasedly so.  Let me say this: justice is not blind, far from it.

I am not angry nor entitled.  No, far from it.  I am humbled because I could have been sentenced up to 20 years in prison. As it is my life will never be the same in this body, as I will live with the social stigma of being a convicted felon, losing certain rights permanently and others temporarily.

So, now a new journey begins again. A new life must be fashioned and I am not the one who will fashion it.  But the One who will fashion it has said that I am forgiven and I am loved.  I am reminded daily that with God all things are possible.

In some ways, this has strengthened my hunger for God, increased my desire for Rez Farm to become reality, and to pursue chaplaincy training and graduate work in pastoral care. But today as I write this, I do so fending off panic, desperately looking for more permanent housing, seeking any type of paid employment (The Earthy Monk is my God work, albeit unpaid), and dealing with the shell-shock that 25 years of work, both mission, ministry, and nonprofit work all but vanished like a wisp of smoke because of some very piss poor choices on my part.

Who will ever trust a ‘thief’ to run anything? Who will trust a person in recovery who also is a convicted criminal again? Heck, I have been turned down for work as a dog washer at PetCo and a dishwasher at IHOP (so much for 5 years of college education when in one fell swoop, I destroyed it all with a relapse-based drunken stupor while in the throes of a deep depression – no excuses here, just the facts).

But certain Scriptures just keep echoing in my head and heart,  whispers from a God who is all about starting over, second chances (and third and fourth as well):  “For there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus…Let the one without sin cast the first stone…Judge not, lest you be judged.”

Continue reading