“Turned Upside Down” (Fr. Thomas Keating)

“The Divine action may turn our lives upside down; it may call us into various forms of service.  Readiness for any eventuality is the attitude of one who has entered into the freedom of the Gospel.  Commitment to the new world that Christ is creating requires flexibility and detachment: the readiness to go anywhere or nowhere, to live or to die, to rest or to work, to be sick or to be well, to take up one service and to put down another.

Everything is important when one is opening to Christ-consciousness.  This awareness transforms our worldly concepts of security into security of accepting, for love of God, an unknown future.

“The love of God will take care of the rest of the journey … ”

Fr. Thomas Keating

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Three Things, Simply

Love.
God is love.  And not the kind of love that is necessarily Hallmark like, but the kind that is Present when no one else is, when all else has failed, when there are more doubts than assurances.  And in all things and through all things I am keen to remember (re-member) two solid truths: one, that God is Perfect Love and two, I gave my life to God.   All else in my world must flow from these truths or I am lost.  And if God is perfect love, and I surrendered my life to this God of Perfect Love, then I am wise to allow that divine love to flow into me and through me.  I must get out of my own way, so to speak, and allow God’s all embracing, all encompassing love to BE just that in me and through me: embracing all and encompassing all.

Learn.
I am here to have my mind conformed to the will of God.  And God’s will is that of love, so therefore I am also here to learn of God’s love and to let God’s love teach me the divine ways of being.  For me, God’s love cannot be learned in a book of paper but rather in the and through the book called Life.  I have joked around that the definition of LIFE is Love In Full Expression.  And so must my learning be: learning to let God’s love have full expression within me, burning off the dross of my banal ego and my leanings towards the pettiness of things.  If I am to learn of God’s love, I must place myself consciously “in the way” of this love, and I am here to learn of this will of God that is love in being and action.

Lean.
And finally, since I am oh so human and I need to learn to lean on God and others for my support, my growth and also how to be someone others can lean on.  Love received can only be nurtured if it is love given.

So simply put, I need to Love, Learn and Lean…

Musings on Paradox (Revised from May 2013)

The thought of discovering spirituality and a deepening relationship with God in a room full of recovering drunks and addicts telling stories might seem like a paradox.  But as ancient truths reveals to us, stories are one of the very foundations God uses to reveal himself to us and to the journey of transformation; and stories are exactly what are found in the rooms of recovery.

Jesus told stories – some offensive, some hilarious, all of them insightful – as he taught and lived these very stories as a means of communicating God’s infinite and tender love for us.

Stories in general and our stories in particular, are what keep people like me sober.  We share what we have done and who we have been in the hopes of opening up our hearts to let the grace of God fill and transform us, so we do not remain those fractured characters of our stories past.   In sharing our stories, in sharing my story, I find I am freed from the bondage of the past and the restraints of alcoholism.

In truth, when my story is unleashed, I am unchained.

Stories are the vehicle for God’s grace as it comes in tenderness, in messiness, in darkness and shifting shadows…but come it does when I open my heart and share the truth of who I am and what I have been like.  And in stories, in the sharing of my past wreckage and destruction, healing is found and divine light is released into the world, shining so as to light the path for those who walk with me and those who will come after.

Addiction is indeed cunning and baffling, but only for us, it is not so for God; for God is not baffled by my dis-ease.  For God is the great Mystery that swallows up all the mysteries of the how’s and why’s of addiction; God is the truth in the lies; God is the light in the darkness; indeed, God is the tenderness to my sharp edges.

That is the grace and power of paradox.

Only in a room full of addicts and alcoholics (the walking wounded and wonderful) do I learn that I cannot keep what I do not give away.  And like the ancient echoes of the prayer of St. Francis, I learn daily that in giving, I receive; in pardoning, I am pardoned; and in dying daily to my selfish ego, I am born anew in the living grace of a loving God.

 

Wrestling with God or Two Things with Which I Struggle

Billy Joel was right when he sang “honesty, it’s such a lonely word.”  And I know Jesus said the “truth shall set you free” to which I always add “but first it will piss you off.”  I crave brutal honesty with my God, at all cost, at the expense of propriety.

I often ask myself happens in a relationship when people are brutally honest?  Growth, intimacy, destruction, despair, loneliness, resentment?  All of the aforementioned?

I know personally I can be brutally honest with God and there will be no real repercussions; not like there can be when I dump truth on to the people in my life.  You see the one problem that most people create in their relationship with God is in assuming God has an ego.  Only those with egos get their feelings hurt, feel jealous, harbor and nurture resentments, plot and plan revenge and retribution.  But God has NO EGO therefore God cannot like other human beings be ‘wounded’ by any unrefined truth laid bare in prayer.

Oh how so many would be freed up in their relationship with God if they could just fathom deeply, experientially, that God has no ego; that God is Love, pure love, holy love, perfect Love.  God is free of the ego, unlike you or I.

But I digress, because my point is not so much that God does not have an ego. No, that is just the precursor, ,my point is to share about two of the greatest struggles I am living in and through right now.

The two ‘issues’ are this: one, I know God has the power to do miracles in the world and in my life but I do not necessarily believe that God has the willingness/desire to do so in my life; and two, I experience God these days more so as an historical Memory rather than a Present Reality.

I do not feel judged when I write these lower case truths.  In fact, there is a certain freedom that occurs when unburdening myself of the need for propriety when praying.

So I live with this creative tension that God is all powerful but not necessarily all willing. I live with a rich historical sense of God and God’s presence in my past, but not so much today (or the last 12 months for that matter). 

I try and come up with metaphors to explain these two things more ‘rationally’ or easily, but to no avail.  I am not saying I have no faith nor am I saying I will never get over or through this.  What I am saying is I must start from where I am rather than where I am not.  And where I am is struggling – wrestling as it were – with God.

I believe the greatest gift I can give to people is me being as real and authentic as possible and in that posture pray somehow, some way, you see the grace and love of God.  The best way for me to help people, to walk with people as they grow spiritually which is my calling, is to be velveteen rabbit real, even when that ‘realness’ makes people uncomfortable, gasp, or wonder if I have fallen away.

Indeed, Jesus was spot on when he said that we would know the truth and that truth would set us free.  So, even though I am fighting and struggling, I am indeed free in God’s love to do so, free to be fully human, and velveteen real.

Healing is an Act of Beauty

In 2002, I was reeling from the still-born death of my son, Quinn.  As a result of that experience my partner, Quinn’s amazing mother, and I decided to go to Sedona, Arizona, to do a small memorial service for him on the Sacred lands of one of the most Beautiful places on earth. Quinn’s death was, to say the least, one of the most devastating experiences I have ever been through.

At 16, I held my father’s hand as he died; in June 2008 my mother died as well and in 2010 one of my brothers died from cancer, which went untreated due to his chronic mental illness.

When I write about healing, I do so with deep reverence and humility, while fingering my scars, (both spiritual and literal) for writing about healing is like standing on Holy Ground, the bush burning brightly in front of me. And although Quinn’s mother and I did not stay together after that experience, I can now write with transparency and say that our life together, and Quinn’s death, were and still are blessings in disguise, and a beautiful blessing at that.

While in Sedona, I was reading a book about the Navajo Nation and came upon a chapter that spoke of one of the Navajo words for healing. It is a word that is translated to mean “healing is to return to Beauty,” – the Beauty of the Creator to be precise.

When I read that something inside of me clicked; I had the sense that I had just come across the perfect use of language to describe healing…returning to Beauty.  How amazing.  How delightful.

Rather than see healing as something done to us or merely as the process of “curing” and “fixing,” healing becomes a sort of homecoming, a returning to the original Beauty placed within us as children created in the image of a loving Creator.  This concept of healing as a return to Beauty embraces the wisdom that in coming into healing and wholeness, we must rediscover, cherish, and honor the Beauty of God, ourselves, each other, of the Earth and the world around us.

I have been doing a great deal of learning (and un-learning) about healing, about what it is and what it is not. And the Navajo understanding of healing affirms the notions I have about Life, healing and the spiritual journey, that it’s not so much about “finding something,” or necessarily about losing something (although it is, but much more).  I am learning that healing is more about unfolding, like roses in bloom.

And we are all little roses of God; beautiful, succulent thorny roses.

You see roses already are the beauty of their blooms even when they are seedlings, or empty thorny stems pruned for greater growth. And so too it is with us: we already are the Beauty of God as much in our darkness and woundedness as we are when we are in full bloom: brilliant, scented and full of wonder.

We already are everything God has ever wanted us to be. I don’t see a need for “fixing” or self-improvement; but rather for self-awareness and self-acceptance.  I see it the “goal” of being growing in our awareness of the God who dwells within and fully embracing the person God has made us.  In a growing self-awareness and self-acceptance, we are simply continually unfolding, like roses, growing into the Fullness of who we are: the fullness of our humanity.  John Powell said that the glory of God is a human being fully alive.  That truth is what beauty is; what our unfolding is, into a life with God.

When we are living in the fullness of our humanity, we are indeed dynamic expressions of God taking place right here and right NOW.

Maybe I’m off here or maybe people will disagree with this concept, thinking we all need to “fix” ourselves and find a cure, or attend some New Age or religious seminar, or find the next “How To” book that holds the answer to taking away all my pain, all my struggles and increasing my material wealth.

Or maybe, just maybe, this sense that Healing is as much an Unfolding like a Rose and a “Returning to Beauty” somehow fulfills my need to believe and know that every struggle, every painful moment, every joyful blink, every wondrous second I engage in deeply, is meaningful. That ALL moments are THE moment when God and I are one, when you and I are one, and healing is no longer about time, space and location, but about Truth, Awe, and Beauty.

The longer I live (I’m 48 years old now), the more I am afforded the chance to see so many people around me unfolding into Beauty right before my eyes and that truth alone fills me with gratitude, amazement, and hope – and heals my painted soul.

And even as I see the fabric of my life unraveling, as much as it is unfolding, I still hold to the hope that all is not lost, that pain will not last forever, that brokenness will not be the last word. Yes, I still hold hope that in our Unfolding, Divine Love and Beauty will indeed prevail and embrace all.

 

 

God Not God

“[W]hen you say God, you don’t really mean God.  You mean your idea of God, or, to put it another way, you mean God as not-God.  I say that because whatever we say about God is more unlike who God is than saying nothing.  And so, where do you begin?  Well, all that words do, all that dogmas do, all that doctrines and rituals can do for us is to point in the direction of the mystery, of the super-meaning of God…

It’s a mystery, and a reality at one and the same time, and so this warns us that we have to be prepared to expand our idea of God in ways that are more and more inclusive but less and less articulate. … So, nothing could be more elusive … and yet nothing is more present or fundamental.”

Thomas Keating

Excerpted from “Who is God?” audio recording

Cracks in the Margins

Sometimes I want to blow the lid off this blog; and be so real it will make even the closest of friends scratch their heads.  I desire authenticity; about my life, about where I am spiritually yet I fear judgment – mostly from within, but somewhat from others.

I want to tell you that my faith in God has been an intimate part of my life for 30 years and yet sometimes I feel it slipping away into a pithy form of agnosticism.  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 some of them are less than 600 years old.  All things have changed in those time era’s but not religion, not much at last.  In the last few years alone I have changed drastically.  I change…my mind, my heart, my jobs, my friends, and yes, some of my beliefs.  But 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; nor the faith and life of Jesus.  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, care of the poor, the abandoned, marginalized and the broken are the responsibility of those who claim to follow Jesus (there are over 400 verses citing God’s concern and mandate to care for the poor and oppressed in the entire Bible).  But it seems Christians these days are known more for their hate than their love.  I fear Jesus would not recognize his followers” if he were reading the papers and visiting the churches.

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

I am not alone in my disillusionment.  One of the 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 and love God, deeply, 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 Jesus and the words we have for him on record (I’m a Red Letter Believer you could say).  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 margins.

My faith is old, and dry.  My prayers are empty and “feel” worthless.  The God I professed years ago is no longer the God I turn to in times of trouble or joy.

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 hopelessness.

Maybe what I am going into and through is a deeper, more authentic way of living; a birthing into the death of childish faith into the reality of the Real.  Or maybe, I am simply spiritually lazy and perpetually defiant, needing to reject something in order to feel powerful about anything.

I still believe…but I don’t.  I have faith, except 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 this: “If I had a God I could understand, I would no longer consider him God.”

“The Power of Humility” (Roberta Bondi)

“Humility as the early monastics describe it has nothing to do with passivity, nor anything to do with deliberately cultivating a poor self-image. Being a doormat is not being humble, nor is giving up the self in order to serve the needs, desires and whims of another person who is not God.

Humility is not sniveling, nor is it daydreaming gentle thoughts while the world’s violence goes on around it…[Humility] calls for the renunciation of all deep attachments to what the world holds dear: goods, social advancement, the satisfaction of appetites at the expense of others, the right to dominate others in any personal relationship.

But if humility is hard, it is also powerful.  Humility has to do with taking and accepting radical responsibility for the things that happen in life.”

~ Roberta Bondi, To Love as God Loves

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.

Snapshot Musings…

I believe we were created by God to flourish and to do good in a world full of abundance. Yet so many of us feel stressed, crunched, and perplexed around issues of time, money and creating a meaningful life.

However, I do believe that there are practical mystics who have gone before us and showed us there is a trusted path for recovering this life I believe we were created for: a life of meaning, freedom, and compassion.

Much like A.A.’s “Simple but not easy” truth, the foundations of this adventurous Journey are soulful practices that are ‘simple but not easy such as:

  • free-flowing gratitude;
  • radical trust in God; 
  • contentment with what is; 
  • generosity; 
  • service;
  • surrender; and
  • acceptance.