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?

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