Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Larger Work

The Deeper Promise

We have cluttered our lives with strategies for belonging, trying through some combination of performance & cleverness to make ourselves look attractive and valuable so that those who really belong will let us stay around. But trying to earn our belonging by pleasing others is like shoveling mercury with a pitchfork. As hard as we try, sooner or later it all slips away, leaving us feeling homeless and bereft of a place we can call our own.
Wayne Muller – Legacy of the Heart

It is not an exaggeration to say that I have spent my entire adult life looking for a place of safety, care and belonging. My story has been told over and over again to the men in our community and I am always amazed at how gentle and kind they are. I am sick of my story but I now understand that there is a difference between wallowing in my hurt and shame and sharing my need for redemption. For many of us, even marriage, church and friendships seemed like “temporary postponements of certain exile,” as Muller articulates. Life was merely a backdrop for the inevitable: the revealing of our ultimate judgement-we have little to no worth.

This cleverness and performance approach can work in the early years of our male rites of passage. People will hook their wagon up to our energies and use our gifts. That is the problem. They use our gifts not to celebrate them in light of who is offering them up. We are merely a disseminator of what props up and keeps running the corporate dream. Thus, if you work over time, ignore your family, spend way too much time at work or on line checking out the information running through your job title, then so be it. It is for the greater good which is seldom if ever questioned.

In authentic community everything is held up to the light. All things are questioned. In that space we are constantly asking ourselves what we really want and what we really need. It is clear that for me, issues of care and belonging will be sacred wounds into which God is pouring Himself continually. When I get caught up in relationships and endeavors that grant me stay only if I produce, I begin to self sabotage. I begin to lose my interest, lose my heart.

Being allowed to stay is not the same as belonging. All communities will have certain conditions but in healthy communities they are not about performance and cleverness. In fact, these ways of engaging only keep us from finally coming home. We are not spiritual share croppers that work the land on a conditional basis. No man owns our soul. Our sanctuary is always available because of whose Son’s we are.

Why do I avoid belonging then? Why do I impose a degree of self exile upon myself? Why do I hide out in books, creativity, consumerism, wasteful time given over to the things I call my hobbies? These are my secret places that keep me from getting hurt again. But they no longer work for me. I have waited too long to belong so I must confess to all my real needs. I hunger so deeply to belong and be cared for. Life seems to be a place of scarcity on so many levels. Why be present and disappoint myself one more time? This is my struggle to be present. To know what it means to belong is to truly open myself once again to rejection and exile. In other words, I must spiritually reenact the very thing my soul knows well is my Achilles heel and see if the universe will once again name me as unworthy.

I am so blessed to have heard from my brothers my real name. I am beloved. I am a Son. Praise be to the Father. He is full of loving kindness and mercy. I now know that there is no place of refuge. There is only a people of refuge. No job, no house, no amount of money or lack of money ultimately defines me. I always belong. I am always a Son. I always have refuge. Yet, I forget. To sustain this awareness I must continually bring before the community my insatiable need to be loved. I am ashamed of that need and this I know is wrong. I should glory in the fact that my deepest parts only live and survive on love-unconditional love.

I am slowly beginning to discover that real care is not in short supply. My history tells me that care is rationed and that I must either fight for it or live without it. In the past I have chosen to live without it. On paper the shear absurdity of this statement is clear. And yet my soul has breathed in as little oxygen of hope as possible. I have hid my very body and presence in hopes no one would see me and shout, “ Hey, he does not belong here!” My sense of scarcity has become so habitual and chronic that only severe mercy and powerful displays of God’s love shake me from my self exile.

As God allows this life to wrench from my hands the last vestiges of my self entitled ownership I am slowly beginning to understand the wealth of my community. In this larger family I am a rich man. In a larger family I am cared for and my scarcity posture begins to fall away. Now I begin to see and know that there is abundance if I will come with my real condition and need. I want to cleverly get my needs met. I want to fill up my sense of emptiness without making a place for the infilling. I want redemption without confession and repentance.

David Steindle-Rast, a Benedictine monk, speaks about this ever flowing abundance that heals my deepest needs for belonging and care. To access this abundance I must realign my posture to receive by allowing myself to be emptied. Real abundance “is not measured by what flows in, but by what flows over. The smaller we make the vessel of our need. The sooner we get the overflow we need for delight.” By walking into the abundance of the brotherhood through my deep fear of scarcity, I find so much is overflowing. There is no scarcity here. And yet, the impulse to heal myself through a job, a home, a clever saying or article all begins to reveal the inability of these endeavors or objects to fulfill. I close with a poem by Wendell Berry. This poem to me is an homage to the bounty of God through His creation and His people.

Like tide it comes in
Wave after wave of foliage and fruit
The nurtured and the wild
Out of the light to this shore
In its extravagance we shape
The strenuous outline of enough

Our Father has given us to each other. We each carry this precious glory, this brilliance and this beauty of soul in jars of clay. Yes, the phrase works here. We bring “our enough” in containers that appear to be unworthy. That is the divine joke. Oh the beauty of it all! Let us laugh today.

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