Dark like a Root

“…I need more of the night before I open eyes and heart to illumination. I must still grow in the dark like a root not ready, not ready at all.”

Denise Levertov, “Eye Mask”

There are many reasons I love poetry – its ability to say much with so little, its deep spirituality, it intimacy and delicacy, to fill and to empty, to flourish and fire. Denise Levertov is another one of the reasons I love poetry particularly this poem; she has a way of capturing the deeper truths I am embodying without it being a Faulknerian novel; crisp, concise. It is good meat for my spiritual life as well. I too must remain still and rest in the dark, like a root not ready for the world and all it contains. I must gestate longer in this womb of God, like the Christ child in Mary, I too need more time in the darkness before I am fruition.

I do not fear the darkness like some; many good and wonderful things happen in the dark, more than just things that go bump and boo. In the darkness, all manner of vegetation, flora and fauna take root and take hold of the Earth, clinging to her like a babe to a breast finding life in the suckling darkness; then so lovingly and compassionately turning from what they received in darkness and to fill and feed.

What I know is that darkness is a good thing. It is not something to be feared, to run from, or to see as negative. Far too often in western culture, and specifically “white” western culture all things darker are considered negative, from skin to spirituality. But darkness is necessary for any authentic spiritual growth. In darkness, come dreams, fantasies, hopes, inspirations…God spoke in the days of old and still does speak in the dreams that come in the darkness (the prophet Joel reminded us that our young would see visions and our old would dream dreams).

I need to go deep into the dark like a root, so that God can water my soul, give me the tenderness of damp, earthy shadows where I can remove all pretense, drop my skin and shell to the floor like old rags, and lick my wounds and set them free to roam in God’s healing freedom.

As a dark root, I let God touch my selfishness, my anger, my chards of rage, my fears, self pity and my resentments towards all. In the darkness, God heals me, feeds me, molds me, and breaks me, loving me back to my humanity. So, like Denise Levertov, I am not ready for the illumination of the day. I am in need of darkness, the emptiness of gestation where the Divine Love that comes from nothingness, will be with me. I must still grow in this sacred darkness, a little holy root of God.

Broken & Loved

“In each one of us there is such a deep wound, such an urgent cry to be held, appreciated and seen as unique and valuable. The heart of each one is broken and bleeding…  An experience of being loved and accepted in community, which has become a safe place for us, allows us gradually to accept ourselves as we are, with our wounds and all the monsters. We are broken, but we are loved.”

Jean Vanier (Source: Community and Growth)

I was listening to one of my favorite shows on the radio the other night (yes, I still listen to the radio!), the deliciously soulful NPR show “On Being” and the host was interviewing one of my favorite Christian Irascibles, the Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber.  She was speaking at the Wild Goose festival and the topic happened upon her depression and how she dealt with it: she named it Francis.  I was struck by the hilarity and compassion that naming her depression afforded her.  When asked a direct question about does she preach and teach about her depression she smacked it out of the park and left my mouth agape.  Nadia said, “I try and preach from my scars and not my wounds.”

What gentle truth: I try to preach from my scars, not my wounds.

She essentially sums up Jean Vanier’s quote, the essential message of what it means to be a human being seeking God; that journey that leads us from our own wounds to the wounds of others and the beautiful healing experience of scars.

I love my scars, almost perversely so.  Some of them are physical, like the ones on my arms, and some are covered up with kanji tattoos of sacred text on both forearms, and some have been rendered almost invisible due to the aging process.  And some, well most, are the invisible ones , the ones that only God and I know about, the ones that only show themselves in holy moments of intimacy, prayer, and community

I am wounded, no doubt.  But I am loved.  The real struggle for me is do I spend more time focusing on the truth that I am wounded or on the amazing truth that I am loved, beyond words, by a God Whose loved is infinitely faithful and present?  The answer to that question reveals a great deal about where I am spiritually.

Our scars are the perfect reminders of this creative tension in which we must live – that creative tension of living between the “already and the not yet.”   I am whole, but not yet.  I am perfectly human but not perfect.  I am indispensable yet divinely unique.  I am loved by God, but I forget.  I am a shining example of God’s love taking place but I am broken and wounded and wound others as a result sometimes.

The truth is I am not my wounds, but I am my scars.

My scars are reminders of the place where God entered my life, and entered my wounds.  Each scar I have – whether seen or unseen – is a blessed reminder that God is right now, and always has been, with me.  Our scars are indeed reminders that God is with us in the pain and the healing, in the suffering darkness and the tender light.  God comes and sits down on the floor with us in our darkness and reaches out to touch us, to simply BE with us, saying I AM here.  Our scars remind us that even though God may not have delivered us from the the trial or tribulation, God did indeed come to us in Love, to be with us in the darkness and confusion.  I have experienced this Truth many times: when my father died; when my son died; when my mother and brother died; when all hope seemed so lost that I thought the only obvious answer was death…in all those moments,  God came.  And my scars are a reminder of God’s holy visitation.

Our scars are God’s calling cards, reminders of his faithful Presence, enduring love, patient tenderness, and infinite wisdom and power.

So the next time we glance down at our physical scars or feel the pang and tug of the unseen ones, whisper a prayer of Gratitude in remembrance that you may be wounded, but you are Loved.

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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Fear is a Ruinous Drug (updated)

I stumbled across this old blog from late December 2009 and as is the case with life coming full circle, this is ringing true as I begin 2013.  So, I sat down with it and just began to rewrite it, in order to write my way through this thing called fear.

Lately, and more so than normal for me at least, I am finding myself paralyzed by Fear (and that is Fear with a Capital F!).  I start writing blogs and the fear stops me.  I start sending out resumes (which I hate doing because I loathe working for another boss outside of me and God) to find paid work and fear seeps into even the words of the cover letter (I can see them even if the recipients cannot).   I am looking for housing for me and Juno with little resources and even less faith.

I am stricken with, and seemingly addicted to, this ruinous drug called fear.

And it is the Holidaze/HolyDays Season (Christmastide goes well beyond December 25th for those outside the US).  This is a time for familes and mine is splintered and fractured by death, time and distance.  Mom died in 2008, one of my brothers in 2010 and Christmas without the roots of a mother (for me) is not Christmas at all.  I miss my Mom now more than the day she died (June 7, 2008).  And at 45 years old, I am fascinated with just how much like a little child I truly feel these days: rootless; a small speck of dust in a big, bad universe; a feeling of being an orphan; ‘feeling’ alone and seemingly unable to simply make ends meet.  The list could go on.

I hate grieving during the HolyDays/Holidaze.  I use the term HolyDays to imply the Sacredness of this time of year.  I use Holidaze to imply the selfish, surface, materialism of this time of year.  Feeling sad, grief, bleak and black when all around you there are “signs of Joy and Newness.”  It sucks.  But I know that regardless of the externals, I am right where I need to be and I am who I am supposed to be: I am held gently in the hands of a Loving God and I am a beloved child of this Living God (that goes for all of YOU as well).

So, the question then begs to be asked and answered: if I truly do see and know that I am a child of the Living God then why does fear even have a place inside me?  I thought Perfect Love casts out fear?  And that God is Love?  But fear persists.  The quick answer is I’m human but that does not always cut it for my deep need to analyze the stink out of something.

I read once that FEAR stands for False Evidences Appearing Real (this is the update and this comes from Neale Donald Walsh).  I might add that FEAR could stant for many things: Future Expections Assuming Reality.  For now either definition will do.  I have been in worse places and situations than right now.  But unemployment during the HolyDays is a piss-ant way to ‘celebrate’ them.  Money issues for me are intimately connected to what the clinicians would call my ‘mother/father’ issues (mom went without for years and my father died poor and penniless living in a Salvation Army shelter in Roanoke, Virginia).  You can maybe see where the fears come from…history.  But if the past is in truth a stored memory and the future is merely a projected fantasy, then living in the Present moment is the only real solution for in truth Now is the only real moment that exists.

Now is the eternal moment of God and yet in my humanity, I forget and live life in spiritual amnesia: forgetting from Whom I came and to Whom I belong and shall return, namely a tender, loving God who is with me and for me.

But still my humanity persist and I fight it.  Their are those who say that what we resists, persists.  So I must embrace and bless in loving trust all that is coming my way, all that is coming from within.  I pray often, hourly for the Spirit to soften and fill me, to remind that I am “swimming in God” even as I feel like I am drowning.  I am praying I can embrace where I am, literally and spiritually.  But today, I rant and rage and fight God all the way to surrender, with fear as my untrustworthy guide.

Silly human that I am.

Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  His name shall be called Immanuel meaning God is with us!  Alleluia…

May the icy grip of fear be melted by this Love so warm and so Divine.

The Wind Blows Where It Will…

Writing comes hard these days and for a myriad of reasons: I have limited access to the Internet; my mind is filled with screaming monkeys; unemployed and penniless; and feeling the dregs of a powerful bout of depression (something I have struggled with for 30 years).  And God willing a final court date is approaching on January 11 that could change my life, at least externally, for years to come.  I’ll write more on that later.

I have not “felt” much myself lately; but then again I am probably more myself than I could have ever hoped for.

I feel like the last 18 months has been my own personal school of hard knocks.

I am seeing more and more the depths of the shadows, layered like onions, each time I get through one layer, an infinitesimal amount of layers seem to exist.  Peeling the onion again and again and again…and the tears come with this gifted onion, my many-layered soul.

And it may not seem like much, but just writing this little bit is hard.  My fingers moving slowly across the keys, feeling them out, like two stray dogs sniffing each other’s truth.

My mind, my heart, even my soul feel like arid deserts.  But today, I showed up.  I’m here front and center, waiting.

Waiting on God’s grace – a grace that comes for people like me, wounded and in darkness.

Waiting on the most Faithful Love that has ever existed.

Waiting at the table where I am told a Feast awaits many.

Waiting.

Graceful Grays…

I find myself these days living in the graceful grays between the black and white spaces of life; living between the creative tension of the small hope within and the hopeless despair trying to suffocate it.

Severe depression in and of itself is hard to describe.  And that would be true if it were the only reality I was dealing with…but life goes on regardless of the circumstances that blur and taint it. And God is an ever-present Reality whether I can sense it or not; for the truth supersedes the thick darkness hanging over my heart.

How do I describe the feeling of waking up daily feeling like either there is a wet blanket tight around my head or that it is like taking a gasping breath under water suddenly realizing my lungs are filling with liquid suffocation?  I’m not sure I am competent enough to describe it more than I just did.  Some days, I am barely able to ‘live’ with it much less describe it.

But during times like these, God’s grace is not always pretty or clean, much like life, but it is always beautiful. God’s grace rarely comes in the rigidity of our black or white world. Grace is a “both/and” kind of gift more than an “either/or” experience. Grace is like ‘pure gray’ – seemingly neutral but a mixture of the “either/or” of black and white that paint and taint our lives. Grace just happens, much like gray, in between the cracks and crannies of life, seeping deep into it.

And today I’m living in the graceful grays under the unbearable weight of darkness and the lightness of God’s grace. Somewhere in-between is a space and place where the goodness of God dwells, like an untapped well. I know this, it’s just that these days seeing and experiencing that holy space is a chore when the eyes of my soul are blurred while groping in the dark for God’s grace.

I pray that God’s grace finds me this day, like a soft warm blanket on a crisp Autumn day.  I pray this for all of you as well.