Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Wisdom of No Escape

When Chaos is Good News

Who knows that exact time, if indeed there is an actual time, when our childhood innocence is lost? My guess it is much like the Santa syndrome. We do not wake up one morning and say,” I do not believe in Santa Claus.” It is a daily erosion of suspended belief. Our willful suspicion has no buoyancy anymore. We try and try but the nagging doubt that Santa is not real is just too pressing for us to remain innocent and naive.

Equally I am not sure when I lost the ability to see myself through the eyes of loving kindness. I bring up the childhood Santa issue because I am convinced that children seem to get that hating oneself or loathing ones presence on this earth makes no sense spiritually or psychologically. But, alas, at some point, we do seem to allow these persistent thoughts into our hearts that we are unworthy, unable to get out of life what we need and helplessly thrown into a world of threat and fear.

This may seem dismal in its description but as I watch people work through their own spiritual journeys I am always astounded at the level of self hatred and loathing we humans carry within our minds and hearts. It is usually when things fall apart that we start to hear the messages our heart has been delivering to our soul for years. In this sense, chaos can bring good news.

There is something in our brokenness that as we approach the truest truth we become fearful and disquieted. Fear usually represents parts of our soul’s terrain we have not yet charted so just our awareness of this uncharted territory causes great concern and sometimes a great befuddling. Part of us is drawn to the edge while another part kicks and screams and refuses to admit that the old maps may just not be working.

As Christians we precede into this uncharted territory differently than others. We know that Christ has gone before us and that He knows us completely. There is a great theological dialogue as to whether God knows the future and therefore is orchestrating each and everything in your life or that our free will allows choices. I for one am not convinced God is this capricious nor chooses to be so over arching in His relationship with us that our own wills are not engaged or even consulted.

Therefore how we precede with Christ into the horizon takes on great significance. Scripture says that perfect love casts out all fear. Like much biblical wisdom, there are different reads on this but for the purposes of this discussion I am going to see perfect love as something God has for me. His love is perfect. He sees me in my completeness and through His loving eyes therefore I need not be afraid of His love being lacking or leaving me at any time. I cannot be abandoned by the Father.

For many people, issues of abandonment are primary to the soul's woundedness. From parents to lovers to friends to organizations like churches and jobs, all have inflicted great pain on people when they find that the relationship just is bringing in to much pain or confusion or in really sad situations is just not working for one of the parties in terms of usability. In other words, time is up …next.

I believe this sense of being abandoned is universal. It is this fear that we all know. Research has discovered that children held while infants tend to develop at a faster rate in terms of cognitive and emotional skill sets. It has also been proven that adopted children or foster children start into this world with some kind of stigma as to their worth and generally doubt at a very deep level that they are lovable. In some ways the death of our innocence is a form of our actual death. At some point we loose the ability to project the goodness of ourselves on all of life and sure enough life begins to offer up experiences that tell us, you are not lovable, you are not worthy of love.

Scientists and sociologists have talked about the fight or flight syndrome and it seems obvious that during extreme encounters our adrenaline is racing and we tend to see things differently. Whether we see with more clarity or not may be open to debate but it is obvious that when we are afraid, something happens to our sense of the world and ourselves.

A few times in my life I have sensed this tremendous sense of groundlessness and they were always tied to physical illness. There is something about the body revealing its paper thin covering that allows the reality of this present world in with a vengeance. Unprotected from the reality of our potential death, the present moment looms with power on the horizon. All things are impermanent, even us. What a great and frightening gift of knowledge.

In these moments we can either be tender with ourselves or respond with unnerving fretting that focuses on our ultimate awareness. We are not forever. When I learn I am not forever, what I am right now, today, takes on great power and beauty. To look the power of impermanence in the eye is to stare down chaos. It is to remain in the moment when the ground underneath your very being erodes. Hearing, sensing, praying, thinking, worshipping all take on different hues and even meanings. To walk from one world into another means to walk thought the door of humility. I am humbled when I do not know. I am lowered when I cannot tell others how I am coping and grasping all that is coming into my life. Being in the present moment and not allowing fear to over take my awareness of myself and God is surely a gift. I cannot do this alone. This is the perfect love I am looking for. It is loving when I am not. It is seeking when I am lost. It is calling when my tongue is thick and heavy with sickness and doubt…this is perfect love. This is Christ’s very being entering my life, entering my soul, entering my world and speaking to death and impermanence. It is the reason my childhood innocence could eventually remind me of Eden. Christ’s love and life and truth.

Christ has disguised Himself many times in my life. Fear is one of His most clever forms. I am not taught as a man to embrace fear. I am told to project it on others, engender as much bravado as I can, or just ignore and barbiturate it with power, money, sex and even religion. When fear becomes a teacher, the present moment comes alive with truth usually deeply embedded in our hearts. It is this childlike tenderness towards ourselves we have forgotten and pushed away. Most men offer little compassion to themselves. Most men offer little compassion to others. Weakness, fear, and the sense of death are so deeply encoded into our DNA as threats that we just cannot sit in their presence and do nothing. We will fight or flight; one or the other. For those who run courage and faith are antidotes. To those who fight, tenderness and compassion our balms the soul needs.

When we engage in the primal battle of fight or flight, we find that many of our ideals and code words for God, truth, spirituality etc, seem to collapse and become either meaningless or lack the power to help us stay in the moment. Life is not as we thought it to be. Everything seems different. Our sense of naming has lost its ability to properly place meaning over the experience and we are caught in the enormity of the preset moment with all its overwhelming glory. We are alive and aware of our impermanence at the same time. This duality is confounding unless it is held in the hands of the one who loves us perfectly. Like Christ was nailed to the Cross we are now nailed to the perfect moment and the fear that everything is falling apart is happening right in front of us and we are helpless to do anything about it. Once again, this is when chaos is good news.

One of my favorite authors, Dallas Willard, talks much about our sense of how the story of God continues after we die. For those who have no sense of their journey beyond this world, spirituality becomes religion and we think more of heaven than see heaven coming down to us. Bono says his favorite part of the Lord’s Prayer is the part where we desire God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. This understanding makes our engagement of the moment and this life a part of the ongoing story. Heaven and earth now unite. But when things fall apart we long for heaven. We long for release from pain, confusion, lies, hurt, and betrayal.

Usually when things fall apart all of life’s “goings on” gets exposed. Our attempts to reveal to others a healthy happy marriage, the over powering sense of talent in our vocation, our ability to handle anything life throws us, is vividly revealed as limited and in some case a facade of sorts. Chaos becomes good news when there is no escape from this kind of falling apart. Self deception is now no longer an option because the truth of life, the truth of fear, the truth behind our sense of self now is the very map that is being exposed as untrue and not able to take us into the next land into which God is leading us.

I am not sure who said this but there is a saying that “Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us.” On some level this seems true to me but letting go of my seeming strengths, letting go of all my cleverness, letting go of any power and prestige goes against my very nature of self promotion. It has also been said that love of the truth puts us on the spot. When we say we are Christ followers or lovers of truth, we now have to be open to letting other see when chaos enters our lives and how we engage it. During these times it is my ability to receive the loving tenderness of Christ that keeps me going. I need His love so desperately.

When a degree of life is revealing its groundlessness the natural tendency is to run, deny, blame, or avoid. These are all more nuanced types of the fight or flight syndrome but they become so much a part of our very beings we don't realize we are stuck when we are blaming others for the truth this fear is so desperately attempting to reveal. We know the throbbing intensity of this intruding truth but not the tenderness of Christ who is walking along side of us in this very moment. Fear overshadows His presence.

There are times when God decides he is going to empty our soul of information, experience, and thoughts that are just not revealing Him in His glory. Much like one drains water that has been sitting in a jar for a long time so you can fill it with clean fresh water, God allows our souls to be turned upside down for this fresh infilling. However, sometimes the infilling is going to be filled with grief, with sorrow, with a degree of misery and sometimes it is joy, laughter, release from the past, or forgiveness of ourselves or others.

When we are moving into this new land or being emptied of old dirty water we will fight with all our might to keep the names and meanings of life we have here to for relied upon. But they just do not seem to work any more. Something in our souls wants to make this healing become concrete and immediate and not allow it its full sway in our souls. Real healing is life. There is no one particular all revealing moment in truth but to our souls it seems that way. God’s loving kindness is. Christ's perfect love is. To constantly walk in this awareness is impossible but prayer, solitude and contemplation do assist the soul's ability to hear and see the depth of God’s heart for us.

Growing up middle class I am convinced that someone told me I could create a world that was free of pain and full of pleasure or at least pursue unabated the happiness and its acouterments. Add Christianity to that mix and you come up with this belief that if I get it right, life will turn out perfect or at least painless. This sense of entitlement runs through my prayer life and even my study of Scripture. I am constantly looking for God in “my” life and focus the majority of my relationship with Him around me. He is a pawn in my game.

What I have failed to understand is that often my pain is masking my greatest desire which is to know and love God fully and to know His love fully for me. This should be my first desire. I usually push it down the list. I am convinced, as Larry Crabb, that most of life we are determined to not look to closely at our souls. When there is no where to escape, the fear of exposure is heightened and we know the jig is up. Who we are, what we are, is being revealed. What I am missing is that God is going to be revealed to me as well.

To say I am beginning to welcome discomfort as the perfect teacher is a lie. I feel myself running even as I am writing. No one welcomes feelings of disappointment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, as good news. They are messengers for sure but I seldom seem them as indicators as to where I am stuck. They are intrusions into an entitled life. Why me, why now, why this?

It has been said that all addictions arise when life takes us to our edge and we refuse to walk into this new place. Denial is a form of “being stuck,” “not seeing,” not hearing,” not feeling.” If we can find a diversion to entertain our souls away from the truth, we can at least hold the pain of truth off for a while. Unfortunately this becomes my life. This posture becomes the very nature of my soul. It is how I now engage life. I barbiturate all experience through this protective mechanism my soul uses to avoid its own pain and truth.

But much like our lost innocence with Santa, at some point his existence ceases to make any difference for we have discovered a deeper truth to replace it. These little deaths of sorts now remind us of our deepest yearning and longing. This reminder is our Savior, both literally and figuratively. We cannot love our selves at the level needed to make it through this life. We need God’s love, the Savior’s love to be made perfect. That is perfection…to know we are loved. I sense some of my sadness dissolving through this season of life. Just a little bit of my calcified armor falling away allows me to embrace this loving kindness and tenderness God has for me. He knows my inability to meet the demands of life. He knows the capricious nature of this life or so it seems to my mortality. Now in my limitations and the collapse of my schemes, a doorway is revealed and in its archway I see Him standing. He is welcoming me, His arms are open and the prodigal part of me, the orphan part of me, the forgotten part of me, the broken part of me comes running towards Him. In this encounter I now see a more loving perception of my brokenness and limitations. I need not repress the pain. I can be generous towards myself for He is generous towards me. His mercies are new every morning.
This day I embrace those mercies and pass them on. The question today is honest do I want to be with myself and how much do I need His perfect love?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Embracing the Grey

Facing Regret, Failure, and Loss

I know all to well the haunting silence of grief observed. I feel much more conformable tracing the shadows of faith, & the in-betweeness of life’s moments of clarity than the purported absolutes. The dark night of the soul can take a lock on my heart and hush all articulations of certainty. Melancholy is a sweet wine that overcomes my bravado and allows me to sit near childlike on the floor pouring out my litany of lamentations.

But alas, shame generally wins out and I retreat to my searching giving off an air of discovery that I emulate from self help books, authors who appear to have discovered this technique for not only calming the beats within but taming and domesticating their fury. After all, leadership must be this confidence that comes from knowing for certain does it not?

This is not an essay on feigned certainty. It is a journey into the grayness of vision and insight created by regret, loss, and failure. Over the years, it has been the authors that track this brokenness that have most intrigued my soul. From St. John of the Cross, author of Dark Night of the Soul to moderns like Brennan Manning, et. al. , I have come to honor those who are willing to make their fame their shame. Shame in the sense that it is their weaknesses, their confusion, their lack of knowing, that they offer up as prayer of sorts.

It has been said that in a post Christian culture, humility may be the most powerful posture a Christian can take. Given the shear amount of knowledge concerning the human experience from other faiths, psychology, the social sciences, biology and physics, it would behoove those who believe to share their unbelief as well.

My unbelief raises its continual questioning during moments of true vulnerability when I am willing to articulate my doubt, expose my sin, offer up my hopelessness, and reveal my inability to make sense of it all. These emotions and states of the soul seem to reveal themselves when regret, failure, and loss push their way into my heart’s view and nearly blind my faith.

I am not sure if I have very read a book on regret. Given the theological perspective that God can find glory in all things when He is allowed to do His work, some would then take the condition of regret and make it a useless emotion. Many would make it a period of the soul's journey that is passing and therefore needless to investigate. I am not sure about this seeming disdain towards regret as it appears that compunction is a condition of the heart that may actually see very clearly. It is condition of the soul that takes into account the power of sin, the falleness of humankind, the morality of the soul, and inability of the heart to truly be certain that all that could be done was done.

Living in this sense of failure can blanket the soul with depression. It can speak darkness into the heart and kill all dreams. But it can also unveil the dreams that the heart contains. What we most regret is often what we most dreamed would come to pass. Regret is often a gold mine of insights into the very substance of our deepest humanness. It tells of us of our uniqueness. What we are sad about tells us something about what we long for. What we long for tells us something about the trajectory of our soul’s journey. Are our hearts desires His? Is our journey walking along the paths He would choose for us> Is the regret a message to tell us of the ultimate emptiness of all things attainable?

The story is often told where an older person is asked what they would have done differently in life and the answer is “take more chances.” It seems like that statement is really full of regret. The chances may symbolize this unwillingness to step out of the comforting habits and inertia of life to risk failure and loss. Therefore looking at failure and loss and regret may tell us something about our souls. It has been said that discovering what you are proud about will often reveal the most fertile part of one’s soul. Fertility is the sense of potential for spiritual growth. I would beg to differ. I believe it is the terrain of regret that is the most revealing.

What do we regret doing , saying, not doing, or not saying? What do we wish we would have seen or engaged? What relationship do we long to see healed and restored? Time is the canvas of regret. It is upon time that certain actions or lack of actions begin to color the very eyes through which we see life. Bitterness is usually associated with those who have found that life is cruel, unjust, and unforgiving. For some, this posture of bitterness most accurately reflects the way in which life works. Cynicism, another form of bitterness most accurately describes how humans should respond to a world where loss, failure, and death seem inevitable. Is it possible that when one disallows oneself to have regret they are dulling if not killing the very emotions that fuel their dreams? Could the shadow of regret actually be what makes us human?

It does seem that regret is an inevitability. Who goes through life without some form of loss? Who engages other humans on any level without some form of regret and disappointment being present? Why then do we view regret as a second class emotion or sign of weakness. Indeed it is a sign of weakness? But can this weakness actually be truthful response to the way life actually works? Could it be that be that this response to life is actually the fuel of the imagination? Is this why melancholy is such a powerful emotion in regards to the arts and creativity?

Regret grounds the human soul in its finitude. We are not immortal in the sense that this life goes on in this way forever. Most of us are only vaguely aware of this truth. It may be that that the embracement of this awareness is too much for the soul to bear over a prolonged period. Is the continued dark night of the soul the precursor to depression and eventually insanity? This is not to deify despair or emotional illness as some form of divine trickery or joke placed upon certain individuals. No. I am speaking here of the work that needs to be done in this state of regret that allows the soul to see more clearly its existence, worth, and destiny. I brought up existence for I am convinced that the despair regret brings is different than self indulgent narcissism that is angry that life is just not treating it fairly or given it what it wants. No, regret is seeing many thing at once. On one had, regret is seeing what actually is. In other words, when one is without something it wants or needs , it often is seeing clearly what is not. Seeing what is not can be life changing for denial is the activity of the soul that is unwilling to articulate to the best of one’s ability the state they are in. When we are in the middle of great loss, we often do not want to admit it for fear this pain will go on forever, or that this pain was caused by something we have done, or that we are not going to be protected from future onslaughts of the same kind of painful experience.

My stint in the hospital gave me a sense of this. During a bout with cancer (thyroid) and then the discovering that it had migrated into my lymph nodes, I experienced deep regret over how I had treated my body and found I blamed myself for the disease. I regret not seeing my body as a part of my being. I found myself greatly fearing coming back to the hospital. The pain of IV’s, the silence of doctors and the fear that induced, the lack of friends and family at my bedside, all made the thought of returning deeply frightening. While there I wrote a few of my regrets.

I regret not taking things to God at an early age.
I regret not writing sooner
I regret listening to others who often did not know my heart’s desires
I regret not taking my dreams more seriously
I regret not seeing that life is a shared experience and need not be placed only on my shoulders
I regret not spending more time with my father
II regret not journaling more
I regret not being more honest about my need for intimacy
I regret not loving my wife more deeply and passionately

So here I am standing in this sorrow and I realize the words of Jesus, “ Blessed are they that mourn.” So I take upon myself this mantle of lamentation and regret and let a beauty emerge from the ashes. This regret is telling me something about God’s design in my deepest parts. I must wear this dark grey garment to discover its warmth and protection and to discover the honor in my darker passages. A poem/ song whatever....

I want to know the truth
I want to feel the pain
Of memories of things I just can’t change
I am talking of the long hard climb
And the passing of time
As I’m embracing the grey of my life
All those dreams
That slipped right through my fingers
Only just one step away
And all those fears
That I am an impostor
Caught without a thing to say

Staying Put to Go Somewhere

I believed the story. Go to school, study hard, get a job, work hard and you will be rewarded. On some fundamental level this is not a lie. However, like all truths, they sit contextually in time and space and this work/job narrative is not merely under attack but has probably not been true for at least a couple decades if ever.

As a boomer these kinds of stories die hard. Be it Leave it to Beaver or Father’s Knows Best, my early years of TV were the myths poured into a highly porous child's soul. Years later I can be naively optimistic even to the point where I am abused and taken advantage of. I am a hopeless romantic and yet a practiced pragmatist to my core. Doctor Phil’s mantra, “Is that working for you?” humorously reflects how my generation thinks about life. Are you happy? Are you fulfilled? Is life working to your advantage? Are your relationships adding something of value to you and your dreams? This may not be all that Dr. Phil means in that question but the end results for me goes to the bottom-line. Why am I here doing what I am doing? Is it serving my ultimate goals, my ultimate direction in life? Is this bringing clarity to the journey upon which I have pointed my life?

Oh that life were so malleable that all one had to do is ask the right questions. Oh that life was cooperative with us such that all our dreams and aspirations were in collusion with the universe and God was indeed our private concierge, life coach, or personal shopper. We may recoil at those statements attached to God but indeed we do come into the cosmic conversation with some highly untested assumptions about what we “want” out of life.

The past few decades has seen the rise in the Protestant interest in monastic orders. I for one have been deeply interested in the lives of men and women like Thomas Merton and Mother Teresa but upon a more in-depth study of these individuals one finds an entirely different world beneath the biographies offered in the common parlance of the media and press. These people were not merely great individuals but people formed by commitments and vows. They were highly submitted believers to a rule that for most today would be repressive and indeed absurd and confining.

The paradoxical sense of these individuals’ lives reveals something about mine. Why would a vow of poverty, chastity and obedience seem so alien to me? Why would a lifelong commitment to one place seem not merely odd but dangerous and even wrong?

Once again I ask myself those same seemingly pragmatic questions. Where am I going? How do I intend to get there? And….what is the road I must travel upon to arrive at this destination? In Dennis Okholm’s most recent work “Monk Habits for Everyday People,” he explores the vow of stability in the lives of Benedictine monks. Okholm, a professor at Azusa Pacific University, teaches a course on spiritual formation and explores with his students the lives of monastic orders. Benedict is an interesting character who preceded the Reformation by a millennium. What is highly interesting to Okholm and to many who are now sensing this renewed interest in monastic orders is the similarity in cultural and historical happenings between then and now. Okholm goes on to say, “….He was heir to the deteriorating political environment of the Roman Empire’s last days. The fifth century into which he had been born had in common with our twenty first a struggle to make sense of the troubled and torn world that people were experiencing. Rome had fallen and had been sacked several times, by the Goths, Vandals, and Lombards. The dismembered Western Empire, once ruled by the “eternal city,” was not only in political chaos but troubled by ecclesiastical dirty dealings and underhanded ploys to win theological battles over the crucial issues of grace and the divine nature of Christ.”
How much our times were like those times is always a projection but it is clear that Benedict and the monks of his age felt a need to withdraw and a need to preserve. They sensed that the times demanded a much more diligent and severe commitment to the call of Christ and were not convinced that the Church was carrying that call with clarity and power. Sound familiar?

There are many differing groups and contingencies that are engaged in a discussion about where the Church is headed. I would contend that we very well might be much worse off than we naively optimistic baby boomers can tolerate. We want to soften the blow, lessen the pain, and give it to people slowly. It may be that drastic times need drastic measures.
The title of this article was borrowed from a phrase Okholm used in his book on Benedict in which the issue of "remaining in a community" impacted one’s ability to receive and know the full depth’s of Christ’s call on one’s life. How can I grow into the character of Christ when I am always on the move, always looking for that place in which I can spread my wings? Maybe my wings need to be clipped. We have a saying in our community that the self is communally constructed. We are a person comprised of varied peoples. Each day I walk with the same people is one more day I begin to know their hearts. That means I know the shadow as well as the light, the sorrow as well as the joy.

This tendency to run and avoid commitment seems to be a part of our age. It appears that the constant moving not only allows for the devout mask to remain but makes the removal nigh unto impossible. Rowan Williams puts it this way when he says, “The barriers of egoistic fantasy are broken by the sheer brute presence of other persons.” I am only conformed to the likeness of our Lord when I am in relationship with others and the reality of my sin and the beauty of my glory dawn upon my deepest parts. This is real conversion.

The constant search for fresh stimulation is the way a consumer society forms me. I want more. Be it actual goods or even spiritual experiences. Give me more and give me more when I want it. Being steadfast is a concept that is foreign to most of us today. What might it look like for me to remain? To stand firm, to stand beyond fear? To walk truly in faith when my sight is blinded by suffering and sacrifice?

Okholm offers us this pithy insight when he says, “We will discover our true selves as we patiently simmer in communities and relationships to which God has called us. And we will find God there as well, because if we cannot find God where we are, we will not find him elsewhere.” Okholm says it well, “…the irony is that we must stay in the same community in order not to stay in the same relationship with God.”
As John Henry Newman wisely discerned, “In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”
Here’s to staying put to get somewhere!!!!!

The Circle Gift

To posses is to give
To own is to share
A trustee, I receive
I dispense
I distribute
I keep the circle round
As the gift moves
From hand to hand
From heart to heart
No bartering here
I offer up my gift in silence
Not wondering aloud what will return
A part of my very soul travels with the gift
I keep the circle round
I give you what you did not give me
And you likewise do the same
Passing it around the circle
No reciprocation here
Only blind gratitude
For the circle gift keeps growing
Not from an ego of one
Or two lovers opened at the heart
But a trinity who keep the motion going
So the gift circles into mystery
Leaves our hands and returns in jubilation
Enlarged by its abundant exchanging
The passing from hand to hand its divine replenishment
Keep the gift alive and well!!

When the Soul is a Project

We forbid the dance
We divide the room
We force the story
But He still has not arrived
What to do?
What to do?

Grand, perennial ideas are so woven in the very fibers of our existence that they are hidden and elusive to our gaze. The perception of the soul as a project or an organism that needs to be nurtured and taken care of for the sake of its growth can have deleterious results on the quality of one’s life.

Science has so permeated our consciousness regarding the way in which the world works that we often subject our humanness to paradigms, equations, theorems, and stratagems, that unwittingly become crucibles in which we place our humanness or even more hidden, the very formative “stuff” out of which we know our selves. Our knowledge of ourselves is always strained thru this cipher.

To see the soul as a project is to in some ways disassociate oneself from oneself. It becomes a way in which we can divide ourselves into parts for observational purposes or in the case of spiritual growth, for the sake of regarding our estate.

When the soul is a project we find that much of experience is seen as though from above, or in cases where one sees themselves as weak or evil, as from below. There tends to be a disembodied regard for the “whole” of one’s humanity. Most theological camps engage biblical hermeneutics in regards to the compartments of our humanness if you will. Whether they are dichotomists or trichotomists (i.e. there is body and soul and sprit- there are three separate and distinct parts of our humanness.)

The downside of viewing the soul a project

We seek perfection as if it can be attained

We regard our current state as though not as important as to the destination

We regard our experience as highly untrustworthy

We regard our soul as though it were alien to us (something other than us)

We are constantly looking to the future for respite

We superimpose the language of science, therapy, evolution and mathematics over experience

We disengage from our emotions and bodily feelings as though “less than” the place or role they play in our “growth”

There is weariness to this age. The proclaimed prize of a “free self” has only served to hover like an irate schoolmarm over all our endeavors. The self must progress at all costs. We think we must grow, know more, expand our consciousness, transform our humanness into the divine.

This preoccupation of idea of the soul as a project to be nagged into its birthright only exacerbates our isolation from others as we constantly look for a people and place where our self is celebrated, lifted up, made special and honored

There is paradoxical tension here as we understand the preciousness of each individual self (body) in relationship with other selves. However when the soul’s worth is always unfolding progressively as though through some observance of technique and specialized engagement, the moment gets lost and the divine has no portal into which to pour itself. God is left from the equation for that very reason. It is a technical naming of the enchanted when the soul is a project. This is impossible. One cannot properly embody reality when that very place is desacralized through hubris and specialization. We are all children in regards to the vastness of the universe and have so little control. In our moments of clarity we sit in that weakness as gift. When the soul is a project we despair of this terrible truth and hide from its mystery once again attempting to explain the weeping.

The Consequences of Saying Yes

The Heart Breakthrough of Obedience

“Deep calls to Deep” is a biblically phrase that has always resonated with a colorful and poetic sense of language. In this blog I may have adulterated it truest meaning on some level but it is so rich in metaphor that I am sure God allows me to bend it a million different ways. For me that “deep unto deep” phrase radiates with mystery and knowing. It tells me that much of what is calling me and much of what I am being called to is still hidden. I believe that on some foundational level my soul does grasp the significance of moving into a divine dance with God and His deep. Something begins to rise to the surface that is frightening as well as attractive and compelling. But as I move into the deep all that is shallow cries out for the surface oxygen. All the old habits, distractions, ways of seeing others cries out like a siren song and I find myself on the road of trials once again.

Is it our perennial fate to walk simultaneously with joy and sorrow? Is the path of light always filled with darkness and the path of truth filled with brokenness as we discover all the deep in us that is murky and unredeemed? On this road the siren’s song suggests that maybe our calling was indeed a projection of our grandiose ego state, our desire to stand above the fray of life or another case of just plan old “missing the point.”

Richard Rohr speaks quite often about the danger of the heroic in the ego. He remarks how much of what is done out of that heroic space is often filled with a degree of control and pride. Could it be that our willingness to actually hear our sin’s mocking tones represents our humility and perspective playing into the deep we have thought was hidden?

It has been said that if God is anything He is humble. I am convinced I have no idea as to what it means to be humble. I do know what it feels like to feel incapable, unworthy, and divided in my sense of who I am in God. Thus, embracing setbacks is the first step of coming out of the deep or through the deep as it were to discover the rhythms that move in and out of this deeper place in God. Naomi Newman in her monologue Snake Talk, says that every forth step we are meant to fall. Not that we might fall or could fall but that we are meant to fall. I take this poetic assertion as a spiritual observation. Setbacks come with the territory. They are the deep. I am just fearful I may fall down and stay there for the rest of my life.

Scripture is not silent of the consequences of saying no. Jonah after all spent some real down time in the belly of the whale. I am sure the overpowering stench was a message of avoidence that could no longer be ignored. Ironically, the consequence of saying yes doesn’t provide the soft place or smooth road we may think comes as a by product of obeying. The dragons and sea monsters are part of the landscape of a fallen world. The great devourer as well is out and about doing his will and way. On some level we are a people at war. As we have seen with Iraq, war is not an abstraction. People kill and get killed. Thus, the courage it takes to continue walking in our calling means we walk as well into the consequences of this divine agreement.

Recently I was admitted to hospital with some very low potassium levels. I was totally caught unawares as to the power one element can have in your body. The lack or over abundance can throw the entire human body into great convulsions (literally). I have come to understand that as I live, I move, and as I move, I shake, and as I shake, the very wheels on my life begin to rattle and hum as well. This is natural byproduct of Newton’s third law of motion. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Why am I so naive about the impact my yeses will have on my life? Well how could I? I have never been here before. This is a new place on some level and an old place on another level. I move forward with one foot and sense the other dragging behind me. I step forward with courage and find another part of my heart draw back in fear and reticence.

As I move forward into community and deeper relationships all the fears of my personal deep begin to rise to the surface. Much of this surface rising comes from the muddying of my life through circumstances that are now put into motion. My yes is dangerous for the all the no’s within me now begin their litany of orchestrated doubt. They tell me what I have known all along…I am weak and unable to see my dreams come to fruition on my own. Indeed, I may even have the wrong dreams. But this willingness to say yes to something has divine healing power to it. In saying yes, new truth begins to emerge from the depths of my life. The more public I go with my yeses the more those around me are filled with both encouragement and discouragement. Flannery O’Connor said that, “ you shall know the truth and it shall make you odd.” I am convinced that my yes has thrown me into a place in my soul that here to fore has not be traversed. It is my deep. But my deep calls out to another’s deep.

What is surprising is that much of the deep of others is mired in fear and wounding as well thus any calling up represents “stuff “ for which we may not have bargained. Saying “yes” to my calling may cost me some of my deepest friendships. Even my spouse may at first deeply question my willingness to be broken open as it were. To step into my own suffering is to send a message to those around me that I am willing to go places I have not here to fore gone. The possible exposure of my no is now corporately and communally revealing. It triggers animosity and confrontation. I am one who hates confrontation. I did not know this until I began operating out of this deeper yes. My deeper yes is going to necessitate that those closet to me go with me to some extent. I had no idea that would be a part of my yes. I feel guilty and responsible at the same time. I want my yes to be a balm to people not an enema. Not a good metaphor possibly but both do heal the body. Who wants the intrusive acts of the soul especially those that take us into our very digestive track? Indeed we are what we eat.

The challenge with learning to navigate the deep is to not demand that others go there with you without their compliance. The single mindedness of healing can often throw relationships into the river. Twelve steppers tell of the zeal of an evangelist during the beginning stages. We hope the whole world begins “the program.” But alas, there really is no program for everyone. God’s grace is highly personal although not private. There is a significant difference between personal and private. Personal means to me that I am who I am. I am a self. There is no denying that I exist and that I have desires and experiences that are solely mine. However, with that being said, my life is not a private experience for me that has no impact on others. In fact, I am divinely knit together with my family and friends and all that I am and am not impacts them daily.

All are forced by life’s circumstances to step into the deep of our lives on some level. This divine yes can be the Spirit’s urging to walk into Him and through Him to a beautiful place in the heart of the Father. The desire’s of our heart may bring with them both joy and sorrow. To uncover what our heart is really saying brings with it the exposure of the real self. This is the divine self God knew and intended to be expressed before the foundational of the earth. Walking into the divine yes means mustering all the forces of mission and purpose within us. As we walk through and in the deep we realize this journey is both beautiful and frightening. As we begin to live on the edge of our callings we sense the power of change on our lives. We must evolve, we must grow. Not that it would be nice but that life now tells us we must grow or die. Grow or die! Sounds harsh but when the time is right it is a gift. Coming up from the deep means breathing at levels the lungs and heart are not used to. If the soul cries out for something higher it also has a great naiveté about the place we call “higher.” In this place we get vertigo, feel overly exposed, finding ourselves wishing for the old ways and the old places. In these places we felt safe at least. Now we feel so frightened. But this fear is intertwined with the yes. This fear also wonders what will I do if there is no more love in this world? What will my heart feel if there is no more hope? What will my soul feel if I give up on seeking for a place of trust and safety? There is a price to be paid for either posture.

In recent months the level of helplessness I have felt has been overwhelming. The price of my yes is now coming to fruition and indeed a degree of suffering and disorientation are accompanying the willingness. At the deepest parts, however, I am discovering this powerful truth. All of life represents choices. Every yes means no to something else. Every no means a yes to something else. In those choices only faith navigates the outworking. I don’t get to know what my future holds. I only get to make the choices. Let my deepest response be a yes to the fullness that is indeed in store for all of us when we see faith beyond the abyss of fear and doubt.