Short Musing on “God’s Will”

If you are in recovery, and if you are a ‘worker of the Steps’ then most likely you are often encouraged to seek and pray for God’s will and ONLY for God’s will to be done.  And if by chance you are like me and have a background filled with a toxic bit of the following – evangelical, fundamentalist, charismatic, and/or Catholic Christianity (the toxicity of which I am still healing from as well) – then you are taught to always seek to do God’s will.  You are taught at an almost obsessive level to be seeking this specific Will of God and you are simultaneously taught that God has a plan for everything in your life – from finding a wife to finding a parking space!

If you are like me in any way thoughts of God’s will can become an exercise in selfishness, self-will, and self-obsession: what is God’s will for ME; what does God want ME to do? What does God want for ME?

There is nothing wrong with the questions, but the focus still is me, me, me.  And selfishness is as dangerous to my soulfulness and sobriety as any drink or drug.

So, with that in mind, I am sharing the following quote from a man whom I respect spiritually and whose integrity is high in my book.  Enjoy the words of Dallas Willard that are found in his book Hearing God:

There is a neurotic, faithless and irresponsible seeking of God’s will, which is always taking its own spiritual temperature. In this state, people are far more concerned with being righteous than with loving God and others, and doing and enjoying what is good…

We may insist on having God tell us what to do because we live in fear or are obsessed with being right as a strategy for being safe. But we may also do it because we do not really have a hearty faith in God’s gracious goodwill toward us. If so, we need to [do a bit of growing up] and nothing short of that will solve our problem…certainly, more words from God will not!

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.

“Patient Trust” (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin)

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.


Written by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., and excerpted from Hearts on Fire

Surrender to Win…Really?!?

I hear the words of the Dutch saintly woman echo in my ear, “don’t wrestle with God, just nestle with God.” I choose not to. I choose to wrestle, like Jacob with the angel. I too will walk away limping from this, like I have before time and time again.

I do not surrender easily. The words from others living recovery whisper above the din in my heart: Surrender to Win. Poppycock says my brain; the same brain mind you that told me in my early thirties that drinking was okay, I could handle it, even though my father and his father were raging alcoholics. Really? 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 in order to truly live, I must die. 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!

What?!? No way. Not that. Could it be that the message of recovery is 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, faith-filled. Resignation is passive, fear-filled and far too often comingled with anger.

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?


“Resurrection as Faithfulness” (Henri Nouwen)

The resurrection does not solve our problems about dying and death. It is not the happy ending to our life’s struggle, nor is it the big surprise that God has kept in store for us.

No, the resurrection is the expression of God’s faithfulness….

The resurrection is God’s way of revealing to us that nothing that belongs to God will ever go to waste. What belongs to God will never get lost.


We are an Easter People

Happy Easter!

We have journeyed through another Lenten season, and been given another chance to grow more deeply in love with God and with one another, another season where finding the joy and comfort of God’s presence in rituals and the hope that Spring can bring.

Last night, Holy Saturday, I attended service at the Holy Cross Abbey with the Cistercian monks. Never having attended Lenten services at a monastery, I was not sure what the experience would bring. I felt like I had stepped back in time, in a wonderful way; the historical richness and the ever present reality providing a sacred collusion.  There was darkness, candles, prayers, chanting and singing in Latin and English, kneeling, bowing, and the Eucharist. It was delicious even as it was long – over two hours. The monks do not do anything quickly and in this world of immediate gratification, I was afforded the ‘time’ to slow down, breathe, and attune my being to the Divine Presence permeating the place.

All this pausing got me to thinking about the reality of this holy season and about living a committed and intentional spiritual journey. The shadowy, yet hopeful Saturday Vigil Mass reminded me that we truly are a people on the Way…in transition on this journey towards God and each other. We are a pilgrim people who must live between the tension of two days, Good Friday (suffering and death) and Easter Sunday (Resurrection and new life).

We are a Good Friday People; all we need to do is look around at all the pain and suffering in our world and in our hearts. But the glorious news is that is not the final word for we are an Easter people.  Some 25 years ago a friend of mine reminded me in so many words that we are an Easter People.  He said, “Niles, it’s Friday…but Sunday’s a comin’!”

We must all face the dailiness of life, the Good Friday moments, the smaller pains and frustration and the larger tragedies that can beset us. These Good Friday times are painful, no doubt, but they serve a purpose of molding us into the image and likeness of Jesus; they all but force us to deeper intimacy with God and a deeper reliance upon divine grace rather than human sensibilities.

Yes, we must go through (and not around) Good Friday for in our suffering, we somehow commingle with the suffering of others and with Jesus, bringing some sense of redemption to our pain, knowing we are not alone in it. We become more connected to Jesus and to those whose lives are permeated with suffering – the addicted, the homeless, the imprisoned, the poor – and we become in some way more human.

Good Friday teaches us some of the ebb and flow of grace. But we must hold out, we must remember that Good Friday is not the final word, Easter Sunday is. The cross is not the final word of silence, the Great Silence of the empty tomb is the final word and that Word echoes throughout human history and throughout our own personal histories with this truth: there is resurrection! 

Our emptiness, our addictions, our pain and sickness, our loneliness and poverty (even our death) are not the last word from the world; yes, they are indeed a word, but just a word. The resurrection of Jesus is the Final, all glorious, Word spoken to us. The living Word is our final statement. Hear God speak to you this truth: “Death is not the end…addiction is not the end…hopelessness is not the end. I AM the End that has no end; I AM the Beginning; I AM the Hope and Love for which you long.”

Let’s celebrate this Truth together, for we are indeed an Easter People – a people living in the creative tension of the already and the not yet of the Resurrection. So this Easter, I pray we all are deepening in our love for and experience of God and the power of Resurrection and new life.

So let us sing for Joy this sacred season for Christ is risen, risen indeed!

Velveteen Grace

I feel like the velveteen rabbit these days: stuffing falling out of me, my buttonhole eyes torn out, and my velveteen fur all rubbed away. Real is what I think this is called. But it does not always feel so ‘nice.’

I have days where I find believing in God and living close to Jesus next to impossible; days when everything feels like a faithless daze. But it is days like this that the experience and expression of divine grace becomes the most real…as the Scriptures say “when I am weak then I am strong.” For me that means when I am at the end of my rope, God makes up the shortcomings.

“Lord, I believe, but help me where my faith falls short.”

My spirituality these days is velveteen; ragamuffin grace in action. Something inside me, mostly cerebral, tells me God loves me in these moments – these moments when loving myself much less others is near impossible. That is when I need the Spirit reminding me that God will just love the stuffing right out of us, button holes and all.  God’s love will reach down into the wreckage of our lives and pull us right out of the proverbial crapper, placing us into the divine warmth of a blanket called grace. And this all occurs usually when I think I cannot handle another thing or in the so-called ‘Eleventh Hour.’

(self pep talk here) Make no mistake about it, grace comes, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, but come it does. Grace comes in the gutters and in the guttural.

Grace is the moment when all the stuffing has been pulled out, when the dangling button formerly known as an eye finally breaks from the last fraying thread and the word comes to us, “I love you truly, madly and deeply.” Grace is God in flesh, pitching his tent among us, saying he is for us even when all else and all others fail us.

Grace comes, child, oh yes it does!

God’s grace is that surreal power that changes the imperfect into the “I’m perfect” thereby making all else perfect as well. And as we stand at the precipice of a time when resurrection is celebrated all around us this weekend, and all we feel is dead, know that this moment – this precise moment – is the Perfect Moment of Grace.

“Calling a HALT” (Kayla McClurg)

For Sunday, March 9, 2014 – Matthew 4:1-11

The 12-step movement suggests an acronym, HALT, to remind us to pay attention when we become Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. Unheeded, these natural human conditions can make us vulnerable to temptation. As ridiculous as it sounds, many of us try not to notice our needs. To admit that I get hungry, angry, lonely, tired—and the list goes on—is to acknowledge that I am a contingent being, leaning on a Power beyond me. No, not just leaning, but inexorably linked, totally dependent on currents beyond my own. HALT gives me permission—in fact, orders me—to stop and notice who I really am, fragile and limited, with awesome potential for connection. I will not overcome temptation through placing greater restrictions on myself, a common Lenten mistake, but by following my deeper intuition to embrace the disciplines that will help me “let go and let God.”

Jesus is driven into full HALT mode when the Spirit leads him into the wilderness. He experiences the whole pathetic chaos of the human condition. Our raging thirst for power, prestige and honor, our ravishing hunger for material goods and lives of ease, our desire to go it alone yet never be alone. It seems significant that Jesus, who certainly was no loner, who was known for sounding the call, “Follow me,” makes this sojourn without human companionship. All of us will face such times, when the crowded life must be left behind, when we must peer into the dark well of our own need, our lust for what we do not have, our weariness with what we do have, our temptation to do and be and possess far beyond our capacity, beyond God’s callings for us.

Maybe our temptation is to rise high above our plain existence, or maybe we are scrambling to win last place. Neither is the humble path. Kneeling in secret on stones and barbed wire will not prove our devotion any more than leading prayer groups on a luxurious Lenten cruise. The way is much harder and simpler: Call a HALT to life as usual. Say no to the sweet, sweet sounds of temptation, and yes to the One who made you and loves you still. Lose your idea of yourself in order to find God’s idea of yourself; become anonymous for the sake of learning your true name.


Through the Cracks…

Blessed are the cracked and broken, for it is we who are filled with God’s grace.

If there is one thing I have learned in my life it’s that everyone is wounded in some way, shape or form.  There simply are no people in the world walking around scar-less.  In fact, I’ve learned those who project a greater sense of wholeness, or an “I’ve already arrived” mentality, are in fact the ones who are the farthest away from the very wholeness and perfection of which they speak – and unfortunately this seems especially truer among people of faith.

But who wants to be “perfect” anyway?  I don’t.  As a person of deep faith, someone who loves God deeply, I am reminded by the comforting truth that Jesus did not come for the ‘perfect’ rather he came for the sick, the cracked, the poor and the screwed up.

God loves our cracks and wounds.  Our scars are reminders that God has come to us and shown us sacred love and brought us some level of healing.

And the truth of it all is that it is only through the cracks and woundedness of our lives that the profound mystery of God’s love and grace can enter into our hearts and lives bringing tender mercies.  In our myth of perfection and achievements, we lose the truth of our brokenness by believing that we are already perfect and whole.  In that ‘lie’ we become “sealed shut” and the elements of God’s abundant grace have no opening with which to enter our hearts.

It is a comforting and disturbing truth that grace enters our hearts by way of a wound.

We are a broken and imperfect people.  And thanks be to God for that!  Yes, Jesus did say, “Be perfect as [God] is perfect.”  But the word perfect there does not mean without flaw, error or blemish.  In its original meaning, “perfect” means to be “mature, complete, and healthy.”  And with this definition in mind, I truly hunger to be ‘perfect’ in God: growing in maturity; complete in God; striving towards wholeness through the Spirit.

So we, who are broken, are called to a God Who enters us through the very brokenness we often run from and deny.  It is the lovely mystery of God: that the Holy One enters that which is not so holy.  God loves the broken and cracked among us!

And when I speak of the wounded and broken, I am speaking of all of us, but especially those who are wounded and vulnerable on the outside.  I have said it before and will say it again; God does indeed have a preferential option for the poor, the broken and the oppressed, not because they are better or more loved, but precisely because they are more vulnerable.  Truly, God loves all equally and perfectly.  But those that are the most broken, those who cry out in their brokenness, are the ones who are the most open to God’s messy grace.

We who are broken know that we need grace.  Those who find themselves to be whole have no need of grace or forgiveness or healing…or even God for that matter.

In truth, without God’s grace and love, I am just an alcoholic hungry for another drink, chasing an illusion.  But with the love of the Messiah poured out into my heart and soul, I am whole.  And it is this truth – living between the Already and the Not Yet of wholeness – which I must embrace.

So my friends, blessed are the cracked and broken, for it is we who are filled with God’s grace.