Lord, I believe but…

There is a story in the Gospels about a man with a sick child, believing that Jesus can heal his child, comes to Jesus and says the most amazing thing, “Lord, I believe but help my unbelief.”  It is not the most read story in the Gospels, and is often overlooked.  But I love this story of Jesus, of the man, of the need for healing, of the fragile beauty of being human when the father says to Jesus, “Lord…help my unbelief.”

If that verse of Scripture were translated exactly as it was in the Aramaic, it would be more truthfully written, “Lord, I believe but help me where my faith falls short.”

In truth, I have found my faith and my freedom in this little translation.  This verse is what sustains me when I pray amidst my doubt.  When faith is called upon to carry me and I am weak.  When I am called to stand with and for others and I shrink back and tremble.  And when I have nothing left, and I cry out to God in anguish and anger, empty over the state of my life, hating every part of my existence, when THAT is all I have left, the man in this story taught me to pray: Lord, I believe, but help me where my faith falls short.

In those eleven words comes the freedom to be raw and real with my God; to bare my arid soul before my Creator all but begging for mere scraps of Divine Love and Presence.  In those words, I am reminded that even my faith is a gift from God; even the lack of my faith is a gift from God.  It is as if I am stranded on a cliff and my rope is a few inches too short to reach the top to pull myself up, and God is the extra few inches of rope, God is the ledge; God is the very space between the end of my rope and the hope of my rescue.

In these moments of life, when I cannot see salvation, when I cannot find love in my heart, when bitterness and rage strangle my spirit…it is then that I cry out in a voice raw and raspy from screams and sickness: Lord, I believe…but help me where my faith falls short.

And it is enough.

Wisdom from 2 Spiritual Giants

Rainer Maria Rilke said, in one of my favorite books ever Letters to a Young Poet: 

I want to beg you as much as you can, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer. Perhaps you do carry within yourself the possibility of shaping and forming as a particularly happy and pure way of living; train yourself to it—but take whatever comes with great trust, and if only it comes out of your own will, out of some need of your innermost being, take it upon yourself and hate nothing.

 

Jean Vanier, Founder of the faith-based L’Arche Communities, said about CHANGE in his great book Becoming Human that:

Change of one sort or another is the essence of life, so there will always be the loneliness and insecurity that come with change. When we refuse to accept that loneliness and insecurity are part of life, when we refuse to accept that they are the price of change, we close the door on many possibilities for ourselves; our lives become lessened…. Life evolves; change is constant.

God’s Will? Fugetaboutit (repost)

I am learning it again, one of those lessons that I think I know (as in, “I got it Lord, now you can stop”) but then I’m reminded that I am due for a serious ‘refresher’ course.  And the lesson is this: God’s specific will and plan for my life will not be given beforehand.  And in trying to discern it, I fall into the trap of perfection: that I must be whole, perfect, arrived, etc., before God will ever use me or reveal to me his plan.  Nope.  Sorry.

I am learning, once again through God’s disturbing grace, only those who have fallen down, can ever truly know what “up” is; only those who have failed miserably can ever truly know what “success” looks like; and only those who are cracked and wounded can ever really know what healing truly is.

And part of this truth involves something I have struggled with for over 25 years – namely, God’s will for my life.  I am learning something that I want to share with you: forget about ‘knowing’ God’s will for your life.  Very few people in this world, in the Sacred Scriptures, or those who have come before us, have ever received the full blue print plan for their lives…much less even the 5 year plan!  So give it up.

Now, there are some things about God’s will I am certain of: that I stay clean and sober; that I pray and seek God; that I practice love and compassion; that I do no harm to any living creature.  Those I know.  What I am speaking of ‘letting go’ of is the actual plan, the down-to-the-specifics.

Example: God called a man and woman named Abram and Sarai, to pack up everything (their entire lives) and to set out to a strange land!  God did not say to them, “so, here’s your itinerary, here is where you will stop, here is what you will do, here is the specific plan.”  Nope.  And do you really think if Abram knew he was going to have his named changed through trial, error and circumstance, do you really think he would have done it?  OK, Abram, I’m going to finally give you a son in your old age, then I’m going to ask you to murder him.  Right God.  I’ll jump right on doing that (God’s will).”

Knowing can in certain ways be deadly, because too much knowledge makes us too self-reliant (and we are called to be God-reliant) or we will be filled with dread and run from God’s loving will.

So instead Abram and Sarai listen to God in that moment; they listen to their God say, “pack your bags, start walking and trust Me!  Stay close to Me so that when the next thing occurs you will be intimate enough with Me that trusting Me and listening to what I say and following that word will be easier.” Continue reading

Journey Inward, Journey Outward

“The one journey that ultimately matters is the journey into the place of stillness deep within one’s self. To reach that place is to be at home; to fail to reach it is to be forever restless. In [contemplative prayer] we catch a vision of not only what is, but what can be. Contrary to what we have thought, contemplatives are the great doers.”

N. Gordon Cosby

The Journey of faith is a twofold journey: it is a journey inward and it is a journey outward.

The inward journey is the starting point, the infinite steps that have no end…towards God, others and ourselves; it is a journey that goes on for the ages.  This inward journey leads then to the outward journey, the journey of self in service to God, others and the earth.

The key that unlocks this journey is prayer but is found in the ordinariness of life – the practice of the dailiness of our days.  For not many of us live on the mountain top all year round, no, for many of us there are dishes and diapers and bills and demons and darkness, fragile faith and nagging doubts.  But God is greater than all of these and thus we are immersed in the Divine every moment of our existence.  We are given, lovingly, the power to choose to recognize the very sacredness of our existence in every Moment.  With God there is no past, or future, there is only now for time is a human construct.  God is timeless and when we are in the now, we are indeed one with the Infinite Love.

Prayer allows us to enter into the emptiness of silence where we are awakened to the fullness of God and to the power of prayer to mold us into a people of relentless love, messy grace, and compassionate service.

It is this silence that feeds the journey inward and the journey outward, and it is in this twofold journey that leads us to a divine banquet, one where we can taste our lives as a holy space where God and flesh meet, the place where the boundary between the sacred and the profane dissolves and all is wrapped in the warm tenderness of God’s love.

 

Author’s Note: I first learned of and experienced this naming of the journey as both inward and outward when I was a member of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC back in the 1990s.

For more information on this journey, please click on the link (www.inwardoutward.org).  And to read the book that inspired such missions and fed my soul deeply please see the book by Elizabeth O’Connor, Journey Inward, Journey Outward.  It can be purchased online at Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/Journey-Inward-Outward-Elizabeth-OConnor/dp/0060663324)

The Inner Hermit

This was sent to me by a friend, Jeannie Kirkhope.  Jeannie runs the Appalachian Catholic Worker in West Virginia and she has been giving me spiritual and emotional support for starting my ‘God Dream’ retreat center.  We also had (have) a mutual friend from DC who spent his life serving God and the poor.

You can click on the live link to check out the Appalachian Catholic Worker!  Pray for them, go visit them, maybe send an online financial donation in honor of the Advent Season…

 

The Inner Hermit

“I want to be with God in prayer.”
“What you want is an absurdity.”

“Why?”

“Because, whenever you are,
God is not;
Whenever God is,
you are not;
so how could you be with God?”

Later the Master said,
“Seek aloneness.
When you are with someone else,
you are not alone;
When you are ‘with God,’
you are not alone.
The only way to be really with God
is to be utterly alone.
Then, hopefully, God will be
and you will not.”

Musings on God’s Will

The wheels in my head have been spinning wildly the past few weeks, spinning over trying to figure out what the next steps of my life are to be, or what God wants me to do.  I know change must occur, for my safety and sanity, but the details are elusive, like grasping at a wisp of smoke.

This leads me to ask: why is knowing God’s will so hard?

There are some things about God’s will that are easy for me to know, things like staying sober, staying on my healing journey, practicing love and compassion, praying constantly, seeking God in all ways, in all things, and in all people.  Those are obvious…to me.

But the minute details of God’s will cause me much consternation, lack of sleep even; which is itself a contradiction.  I am told by God not to worry, trust that the day will be provided for and know that if the lilies of the field neither sow nor reap yet they are the beauties of God then all shall be well for you and me.

But trust is elusive and sometimes those are just words on a page.

I want to know …specifics; specifics like what job, where to live, should I jump off the cliff and pursue the dream that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt God has placed in my heart?  Or should I wait, wait, wait?  My ‘Nana’ sent me some wisdom the other day, saying “until God opens the next door, praise him in the hallway.”

I love it.  I get the feeling I am in the hallway, waiting, for the minutiae details of God’s specific will and plan for me to be revealed.  Did you read that as I wrote it: intentionally laying out the obsessive need for perfection in specifics instead of child-like trust in a loving and faithful God?

I know it does not happen that way – learning God’s will is more about trust and leaning.  I trust God to give guidance, examples, circumstances that are just for me so that I know God is intimately in the details of it all.  And leaning, well I must lean hard on God.  If all the knowledge and information came at once, well then I’d forget God and lean on the information given rather than the Giver.

God wants me to relax into him, trust, surrender, and release all.  If I am practicing those disciplines then I am compelled to ask this odd question: does it even matter what choices I make, if I am seeking God, loving God, hungering for God to be revealed through my actions and life?

Continue reading

“To Be EnLightened” (Sr. Joan Chittister)

To be enlightened is to see behind all the forms life takes to the God who holds them in being. Enlightenment sees, too, behind the shapes, icons and language that intend to personalize God to the God who is too personal, too encompassing, to be any single shape or form or name. Enlightenment takes us beyond our parochialisms to the presence of God everywhere, in everyone, in the universe.

Source:

Still…

The life that I could still live, I should live, and the thoughts that I could still think, I should think.

  (Source:

I have been thinking, praying, mulling over this quote.  I am on the verge of making some major changes and I am in need of God’s hand and wisdom to guide and provide.  But I keep asking myself, “why am I so afraid to leap when all these years God has been there, constant and faithful?”  But still, I am afraid of making the wrong choices.  And could they possibly be wrong if all I hunger for is God’s love, glory and my needs (not wants) being met?  Is that too much to desire?

Still…

I hunger for more of God, for being a blessing, for being blessed.  I know that as long as I still have breath in my lungs that I can reach long and hard for the divine destiny to which I know I am called.

Still…

If  I am <still> then I shall see the face of God reflected back to me in the world that surrounds me.  The famous Psalm, “be still and know that I am God” actually says in the original language, “stop being at war…and know that I am God.”  If I am still, and wait with hopeful expectancy, then God and all that is God comes to me, the wars end and Life blossoms, opening up before me, fragrant and free.

As Jung, said, the life I still could live, as long as I jump into it headlong with God, it is possible and I should indeed live it.  For in living out my destiny, I will by default assist others in claiming theirs.

So, the life you still could live, you should…live.

Pestering Prayer

Prayer is pestering.

Being a pray’er means being a pest.  Kayla McClurg, a shepherd with the Washington, DC-based Church of the Saviour, reminded me of this regarding the Lectionary readings from July 28, 2013.  It is the story from Luke’s gospel where the disciples asked Jesus how to pray.  And he tells them, in what has become one of the most oft-quoted and prayed prayers around.  But it is not simple rote.

The story reminds us that prayer involves closeness and intimacy with God, for we can call him “Papa” for that is what “Abba” means in the Aramaic and Hebrew, not ‘father’ as it is sometimes translated; father is too austere for the playful and proximate stance we have with God.

I remember when I was a kid being in the car for too long left me antsy and itchy, so of course I would squabble over and over again, “when are we going to get there?!” or the ubiquitous, “are we there yet?!” until my dad gave me an answer.  I am so grateful that God is not like my dad or I’d be in trouble for my dad’s answer sometimes involved a swear word and always involved that wearied parental frustration that came out not only in his tone but in his furrowed brow as well.

When I pray, I dare say, I am just like that to God.  I pester God.  I bang on the door; I knock until my knuckles bleed; I search until every stone is over turned and tossed.  I refuse to stop when I am hungry for more of God and God’s love and world.

Prayer is pestering God for more of God.

Prayer is persistence as well.  Prayer is like calling someone over and over again until they answer the phone.  Prayer is the persistent widow who would not take no for an answer.  Widows were the most vulnerable in those days, aside from orphans, and as women with no husbands they had no right to demand anything, so when Jesus likens the way we should pray to God the way the widow did, that was extraordinarily empowering.  It is extraordinary because Jesus is saying when we communicate with God, not just talk, we are communicating with the Source of all that is and we should do so with a radiant mixture of awe, wonder, love and child-like trust.

The trust we are seeking with God in prayer can be likened to that of the little boy sitting in front of me this morning at Mass who crawled up into his momma’s lap during the Eucharistic prayers seeking a comfort he knew would be there without any doubt or rebuke.  God is like that…Maternal like a mother hen who gathers her chicks.  And it is to this God we ‘pesteringly’ pray.

I said previously that prayer is about communicating with God which is more encompassing that talking, for words can fall so short when communing with the Divine Lover.  I communicate with my body, my mind, my spirit.  I communicate with God through nature, through love, through service.  I communicate in Silence.  I communicate when I am angry.  But regardless of form or function, ALL of it is communication and all of it is prayer to and with God.

Pester.  Pester.  Pester.  Because when we are pestering God, we are seeking God’s face, God’s heart, God’s very Being.  And pestering God is far better than not doing so, for in all of it God is the beginning of our prayers and God is the very end as well.

So, pester away prayerfully at God.

More Musings on Prayer…

There are four prayers I fall back on, four I try and pray daily: Thank You; Please; Help and Wow!  They can sum up my spiritual life and my relationship with God.

Prayer is an amazingly simple, yet profound experience; it is something that is hard to teach, unless by example.  Prayer is not something, in my estimation, that can be done wrong (except not to do it at all) – I mean to say that as long as one is holding the moments as sacred and as a holy ‘conversation’ between created and Creator that in and of itself is prayer and there is no correcting it.

I put conversation in semi-quotes because for many, myself included, prayer has nothing to do with spoken words, but rather the living words of my heart in direct communique (veritable oneness) with God via contemplative prayer and meditation and being in silence in the woods or mountains or by a stream or river.

I say all that to basically let myself off the hook about ‘teaching’ on prayer and rather sharing some of my prayer life with you.  For when it comes to prayer, I am no expert or saint, but I do pray a great deal (like every day or else I am doomed).

When I pray, I start and end my days with a simple “Thank You” to God in loving gratitude.  And regardless of what is going on in between those waking hours, if I am alive, I have something to be grateful for, namely life (all of it).

“Please” is high on that list as well because if it ain’t obvious to you, it sure is to me: I am one needy little boy.  And I don’t mean I say please as in, please give me a Porsche (don’t like them) or a mansion (too much maintenance required).  I say Please as in “Please God, come to me, be with me, remind me that You are forever one with me…and as Your child all I need do is re-member my oneness with You…” and all is indeed well.

For when I say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank You’, I am merely paying tribute to my Momma and my Nana’s who always and often reminded (whether nicely or with a wooden spoon to my behind) that I was always and forever more to say Please and Thank You, especially to God!

“Help” is an obvious one.  I need a great deal of help, all day long, every day.  It really is that simple.  When I feel the sting of hurt feelings or the rage rising up when another idiot is behind the wheel of a car or I am frustrated with the addictions that rage in myself or the people around me (or when toxic people leave me feeling toxic), I need HELP!

And only God’s help will do…most other help is ego-based megalomania.

Yes, God works in and through people, but to me as long as my ego is in check and my level of self awareness is “on” (not self conscious), then I am attuned to the divine help coming through flesh and blood.  But when I am out of whack, and the source is out of kilter as well…hmmm, recipe for disaster.  As a wise person once said to me, “2 dead batteries will not start a car!”

And last but certainly not least: Wow!  That is the prayer I utter when I realize all the grace and miracles that surround me…from my dog Juno (I truly believe there is a reason dog is God spelled backwards) to the sunrises and sunsets, to the Blue Ridge Mountains still within eye shot.  All is glorious and indeed divine splendor!  And the best and most appropriate responsorial prayer is “Wow, God!”

Which then of course leads back to “Thank You, Lord.”  And the whole prayer cycle starts all over again.

So, if today you cannot think of what to say to God, might I suggest: Thank You; Please; Help and Wow!