“The Spiritual Life” (Evelyn Underhill)

This is a quote from the amazing little, but rich and deep, book, The Spiritual Life by Evelyn Underhill.  It was written in 1935 and now almost 80 years later it is on point!

“We mostly spend our lives conjugating three verbs: to Want, to Have, and to Do.  Craving, clutching, and fussing, on the material, political, social, emotional, intellectual – even on the religious – plane, we are kept in perpetual unrest: forgetting that none of these verbs have any ultimate significance, except so far as they are transcended by and included in, the fundamental verb, to Be: and that Being, not wanting, having, and doing, is the essence of the spiritual life

Any spiritual view which focuses attention on ourselves, and puts the human creature (with its small ideas and adventures) in the center foreground, is dangerous till we recognize its absurdity.”


The Gift of Failure

Failure is a gift from God…and I need spirituality to teach me that for religion only speaks to the shame of failure and not to its giftedness.

Spirituality teaches us how to deal with, and accept, failure as a gift and a needed tool for our journey with and towards God; for failure is the twin of success, much the way doubt and faith are inseparably linked.

One of the foundational ‘tenets’ of Alcoholics Anonymous states that the journey of sobriety is about “progress not perfection…[for] we are not saints.”  Imperfection and failure are two of the tools God uses to draw me closer to him; for by embracing imperfection and failure, I am reminded of the glorious truth that I am indeed human.  And in my being human, nothing is drawn away from God and his relentless love, and I find that if I embrace that truth, I am also fully alive.

My failures prove only that I am not a saint, but they do not take away from any goodness that God has placed within me.  I am fond of saying if there is anything in me you find good, then you can give thanks to God and my mother, but if you find anything in me that is not good, well for that I apologize.

As I look over my life I see a wreckage of pain, failure and broken hearts and trust strewn across the path.  I feel regret, and rue some of the poorer choices I have made.  But God is eternally good, forgiving and loving so that in his hands my past wreckage becomes malleable clay to be remolded into a shining example of divine love mixed with utter humanity.

And like or not, that is indeed good news.

I am a jar of clay, cracked but valuable when surrendered fully into the hands of a loving God.  My failures become familiar scars, gentle reminders of the power of forgiveness and choice all held by the urgent compassion of God.

God does not judge my failures, only I and other people do that.  God’s love is a merciful cauldron burning the dross of my failures away turning them instead into divine gifts meant to be of service to God and others.  God’s love is greater than any human perspective, judgment, religion, or persuasion.  God’s love embraces my failures as a vital part of me and my journey back Home to him.  And if God embraces my failures, then I can do no less.

So today, I embrace all my failures…all of me, surrendering them over to the hands of God, asking not for them to be removed but to be transformed into the living gifts of a merciful God.


“Notice the Glory” (Abraham Joshua Heschel)

To pray is to take notice of the wonder, to regain a sense of the mystery that animates all beings, the divine margin in all attainments. Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living. It is all we can offer in return for the mystery by which we live….

Amidst the meditation of mountains, the humility of flowers wiser than all alphabets–clouds that die constantly for the sake of God’s glory–we are hating, hunting, hurting. Suddenly we feel ashamed of our clashes and complaints in the face of the tacit glory in nature.

Source: Quest for God

Further Musings on Prayer

From Thomas Keating…taken from “The Theological Basis of Centering Prayer,” Intimacy with God

“Where does [prayer] come from? 

It is rooted in God’s life within us.

I don’t think that we reflect about this truth nearly enough.  We participate as human beings in God’s life just by being alive, but much more through grace…This stream of divine love that is constantly renewed…is infused into us through grace.  We know this by our desire for God.  That desire, however it may be battered by the forces of daily life, manifests itself in the effort that we make to develop a life of prayer and a life of action that is penetrated by prayer.”

“Mind-boggling Diversity” (Sallie McFague)

We come from God and return to God, and in the ‘interim’ we live in the presence of God – even when we do not know or acknowledge it. We are created in the image of God (the entire universe reflects God’s glory, each and every creature and thing in its particular, concrete, unique way).

Creation is a panoply of mind-boggling diversity, a myriad of outrageously extravagant species and individuals who all together make up the body of God…. Each creature praises God by simply being itself, by being fully alive.

Source: Life Abundant

Apathy Addiction

“Religion is the opium of the masses.” Karl Marx

Karl Marx, like him or loathe him, was indeed on to something.  Opium doesn’t ask us to change or spiritually evolve, but only to grow thick in our spiritual tummies.

I have been feeling the apathy addiction: lethargic in my desire to even put words to paper; resilient to growing in self awareness; stubbornly resisting God’s tender mercies deciding instead to live in a small place called fear.

Opium, the drug, is highly addictive.  Many, many years ago I smoked some opium…it made me dreamy “happy”, lazing the day away on the couch with nary a care in the world – not for food, human company, nothing.  And my faith in God, if it becomes a drug called religion, is not much different.

If my religion is a drug, my so-called service to God becomes simple apathy.  And apathy justifies complacency, fears awareness, stifles the inner –and outer – journey towards God, others and self.  Apathy leaves a slimy, icky residue on the interior lining of my soul, leaving it good for nothing – neither God nor people.

If my faith in God becomes an opiate, it will only seek to preserve the status quo, all the while fearing change, ingenuity and the divine gift of day-dreaming for God.

Apathy addiction leads to the seven deadly words: “we’ve never done it that way before.”

My faith in God, my ever deepening love for God and from God is a journey called spirituality – and spirituality is just religion with its clothes stripped off.  Spirituality is a verb whereby I stand naked before my God – a God who is pure love, eternal compassion, perpetual loving-kindness, and infinite goodness.

Spirituality heals the apathy addiction of religion and moves me deeper into God, creates movement, and fills me with the very attributes of God.  Spirituality empowers me to love God and my neighbors with gentle vigilance, tender mercy, wisdom and compassion.

Grace, eventually…I guess, um, er, well, I hope!

Author’s Note: this was written May 2, 2009; I was in a different place, but I felt the urge to repost it to remind myself of some of the growth my journey has taken.    

While reading the NY Times, my eyes focused on an advertisement for a church service that said “Leap and the Net will be there…”  But it made little sense to me, today, because I am lost in monkey mind, filled with screeching, wild little monkeys racing through my head.  And statements like that tend to piss me off when days like today occur: the kind of day when even catching my breath and breathing deeply is an ordeal.

I find leaping shear dread, especially when the leap is one of faith.  For you see, most of the time I am a coward, one who fears even his own shadow.

As Annie Lamott once wrote, “If you give the Devil a ride, sooner or later he’s gonna be driving.”  And the devil and his legion, my demons, have been holding the wheel for a good while.  I’m lost, in addiction, in fear, in stupid decisions, in caring friends gone amok.  I’m lost in myself and I can’t seem to find my way back Home.

But as painful as that is, I am right where I need to be – in the moment.

The way is made along the way, the old Spanish adage goes, but how does one find his way along the way when he is truly lost along that very way?  (re-read that again…if you need to)

I am made along the way as well, by grace that eventually comes, sometimes softly, sometimes as a storm awakening, but come it does.  And I write this is the thick of the grand mess called my life.  I am not writing this from some mountain retreat center with my soulful dog at my feet, no I write this from a friends’ tiny flat in New York’s Upper West Side, between Yorkville and Spanish Harlem.  And let me be clear in no uncertain terms: I am not a big fan of NYC.  It’s too much for me…

I’m at home in cities that have skies or anywhere I can see mountains in my line of vision and my dog as well.  I’ve spent the better part of my life, over half to be exact living in urban America, mostly Washington, DC and some time in Philadelphia.  But my heart lies in the mountains, be they Blue (as in the great misty Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia) or be they Green (those delicious Mountains of Vermont).

And now I’m forcing myself to write just to try and save my rear end.  Because when all else fails, follow the advice of great, earthy artists and writers, “Start with what you have” (not with what you don’t) and “Start with where you are…and kill that doggone self critical editor” (at least in the beginning of the writing).

So here I am; or am not.  If I feel at all, it is little; or a torrent of dread, fear, and demons that hold sway in my little brain and squeeze the life out of my soul and heart.  Squeezing out the Grace that God so generously gives to me.

Darkness is no friend or foe, it just is: penetrating, thick, the kind that feels disorienting when there is no adjustment to this type of darkness.  It’s a bit like night blindness, something I am starting to have ‘issues’ with out of my left eye at night (the vision is sometimes darker, blurrier, and has no real adjustment period, it merely stays in the original black fuzz).

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Sensing the Tug Within

One of my favorite writers is Kathleen Norris, known mostly for her seminal work Dakota.  In her follow up book The Cloister Walk she writes that “a prophet’s [calling] is to reveal the fault lines hidden beneath the comfortable surface of the little worlds we invent for ourselves, the national myths as well as the little lies and delusions of control and security that get us through the day.”

That is a calling of a tall order if ever there was one, and it brings to mind that to be a prophet (or a healer, a poet, an artist or a mystic) there is a definite sense of divine calling involved.  To be such, we must be called (or sense the tug within) and feel called by God and led by Spirit into such lives.

Norris writes intensely and powerfully about “call” and “calling” in The Cloister Walk.  Her writing reminds me how much I love it what a book comes to life, speaking intimately and directly to what I am living though.  It is a “God wink” moment.  My life is going though so much beautiful transition and this transition involves me embracing and surrendering to the tug within – that tug of the Spirit to live a called life – whispering that I am called to flesh out the divine life within through a specific vocation.  My vocation and my avocation are becoming my occupation.  And as the tug pull becomes more pronounced so too does the resistance therein.

The tug within is telling me not to fear the supposed arrogance of being called.

For indeed, many in our society think those who sense a purpose to a called life are a bit trite, arrogant, and above all presumptuous.   How dare you say you are called to be a monk in the world or living a mystic’s life?  Who are you to call yourself prophet, a healer, a poet, or a shepherd?  How dare you assume the hand of God on your life?

Well, I say how dare you not live a called life!  It is my personal opinion and experience that living an uncalled life is the same as what Socrates said about living the unexamined life – it is not worth living.  In fact, it’s not life – it’s robotic.

Kathleen Norris goes on to say this railing against a called life “would explain our mania for credentials, which allows us a measure of objectivity in assessing our differences.  Credentials measure what is quantifiable; they represent results.”  Being called by God is not about results but listening and obedience.

I sense deeply in my heart that living a called life is a process, a dynamic relationship.  A call is meeting, between pain and joy, hope and despair, fear and love – and it is my ultimate meeting with God.

And exactly just how does one “credential” a calling like that?  Does my need for being a professional replace the hunger for passion, compassion, and mission?

According to the “world”, if I call myself a mystic, a shepherd, a poet, or a healer I am presumptive.  And just exactly what are my credentials?  Do I even need worldly credentials?  But if you can call me poet, prophet, or a shepherd, then it becomes “acceptable” because you and society deem it so.  Calling is an inward work with outward actions, not the other way around. I must never forget that truth.

Another question is who exactly is doing the “calling” (or better said, naming the calling) at this point?  Me?  God?  The world?   And just who has the authority to issue a call?   For me, it is God alone, not any human being or even myself.  I am merely the responder.  Norris hits the heart just right when she says that when one is called, like a prophet, or a poet, we must surrender all human need for credentials, “accepting only the Authority of the call itself.” 

I pray we can all muster the courage to be so authentic and follow the call in our hearts and on our lives.