Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Doing of the Thing

Between the Creed and the Tears

This blog was in part driven by Bob Bennett's song..

The Doing Of The Thing
Words & Music by Bob Bennett
© 1991 Bright Avenue Songs
P.O. Box 1578
Cypress, CA 90630-6578
Reprinted/Posted by Permission
All Rights Reserved

Fleeting glimpses of you everywhere
Like sunlight at dusk
Through this ocean of trees
And me in speeding car
Headlong into the future
Your perfume through this poison musk
My eye on letter "E"

Mistake the nodding of the head
And all the words that can be said
Mistake the very song I sing
For the doing of the thing

She in white dress
He in rented clothes
Bargains are struck
And promises made
But soon we find those people
Are already dead or dying
They just exist in photographs
That show how far they've strayed

Mistake the nodding of the head
And all the words the can be said
Mistake the wearing of the ring
For the doing of the thing

And in that quiet cemetery
Where theories go to die
It's not a question of believing
It's not a question of the lie
It's the distance that we will not cross
For the fear of suffering
Between the creed we speak so easily
And the doing of the thing

Broken souls covered in broken skin
No resolution on the video screen
And half a world away
Somebody does our bidding
Because we like to pray
With our fingernails clean

Mistake the nodding of the head
And all the words that can be said
Mistake the sympathy we bring
For the doing of the thing
The doing of the thing

Though I knew the good, I do not the good. Paul in Romans

So why this persistent discrepancy, this gap between intention & outcome? James Hollis

Ultimately we are far more than the fictive fractal stories we tell about ourselves or are told. In the larger Kingdom story we are part of a restoration narrative that can only be done in community. This is the doing of the Church. This doing has an undoing dimension to it as well. Together, the seemingly factitious stories our inner man tells about itself or reveals each and every day, now becomes cohered into something redemptive and beautiful and good and true.

In the larger shadow of modernism’s narrative, we have unwittingly submitted our ultimacy to this autonomous assessment via rational means. So indeed, we do have an over arching oracle & story that animates and empowers our defining. It is this constant disaffection with ourselves as reliable sources for any certainty (postmodernity) but remaining in the posture that this assessment is the most accurate of any we may experience.

The kingdom doing of the thing offers to us sacredness to our rumination. For indeed we do think we are. (Descartes). But is the miracle that alone, that projection of thought upon the chaordic experiences of each day are not enough to quell the fears that we are not enough? Is this sense of lack a divine message as to our truer nature? May my inner sense of dislocation actually be a message of something greater & truer beyond myself? Could my very questions be the answer?

As we enter an age where our world as whole seems to be facing a reckoning and summons, we are beginning to grasp that the coming together of life cannot merely be the task of an individual for themselves alone. Although moral action and its consequences do indeed rest upon us an individual’s, can the “doing of the thing” ever really be done or sustained by the individual? My holy hunch is no. I cannot do this alone for I am not alone. One could read that sentence many different ways. I am not alone means someone is with me. I am…not alone might also mean that the very ontological nature of my existence cannot be realized without the corporate other. The doing of the thing is not a solitary task. It is s Kingdom assignment. Being is as much about submission as it is obedience. Being is as much about service as it is accomplishment. Being is as much about acts of love as it is acts of presence.

We are sitting in the cross hairs of a great smack down between myths. As believers, we are discovering how malevolent the shadow side of the modernism’s penchant for the separation of the observer and the observed. In offering this unique authority to the individual’s task of discovery, we have disempowered the Kingdom currency that animates and projects a truer self upon the cosmos. This is not an "I am" as much as it is a "we are" therefore I am.

The Kingdom naming of the “body” cannot be a mere coincidence. We are “parts.” We do not merely function “better” when we work as a body, we are “not” alive and true to or natures when we are operating outside these created portals and designs for humanity. It is not merely a better way but as they said in the first century, “The Way.” It is a mystical and dangerously frightening way for it demands we begin to deposit with others all these fictitious stories about ourselves and our world into and upon the hearts of others. In this depositing redemption begins to take place as we see that we are indeed particular selves. We have never been totally autonomous, however, & this projection upon our deepest parts is in error.

In the Kingdom doing we see the shadow stories begin to be dismantled and redeemed. In this dismantling of the shadowed story, we discover we are potentially capable of such beauty and wonder (name numerous grand & wonderful art works and accomplishments of humankind) but simultaneously offering to the world a brokenness that puts forth Hiroshima’s, German Prisoners camps, Poll Pot, slavery in the US, what we did to the American Indians, etc...

In the Kingdom space we see emerging a beautifully bejeweled book with a reader who is the Spirit. When we pause He comes to the center of the room and begins to speak. In this space, even the manifold darkness has no ultimacy over the larger story. In this space where we truly wonder about the doing of the thing (for purposes of integrity) and reluctantly offer up our hidden agendas and deepest darkest heart felt desires. In this space, our singular stories begin to be transfigured, redeemed and a way of knowing re-emerges that not only acknowledges some degree of healing but is healing and wholeness itself.

What we discover is that alone, I am incapable of defining my inner world with enough glory to empower the doing of the thing. Deep within my own historic past, the shadow of forgotten and unrealized factitious narratives rule and reign over the very truth I so vociferously proclaim to others on Sunday or in my testimony to the saints. But in honest and open moments of contrition and broken openness, I see that there indeed another within me. This “other” is hidden and yet present. He knows this realm in others and unless and until I acknowledge my deepest yearnings and my deepest lacks, the shadowed part of us all goes unmasked so our story has two powerful themes never acknowledged and the redemptive power and grand nature of this restoration has no real presence in my life for I do not need redemption that deep, healing that profound, restoration that complete. I am an isolated self hoping to get to heaven, worrying about my own salvation, wondering if the “the Divine Other" looks my way.

In the kingdom doing I spend little time in this autonomous posture absorbing the love of the Father for I am finding it wherever I go. I discover the doing of the thing was never meant to be something I did to accumulate my own worthiness before the Father. The grace I am offered is truly the very “thing” I need to engage this duplicity of shadowed stories even to the point where I see my own righteous projection as part of the story that is yet to be submitted. Could it be that the doing of the thing is my admission of my inability to do the thing?

As I started out with Paul, let's return to the statement, "I do what I don’t want to do." Yes…let us say this daily. "I do what I don’t want to do." Why? I am a being only when I cease to define myself alone. I am only beginning to be alive and true to my very creation when I am a being with other beings. We are here together. I am not here alone. Why? I am not made to sustain this awareness of self without a deep cynical malaise coming over my consciousness. I am too much to bear for myself. As I draw nearer to the core of my being, without community I become a Sartre, a Nietzsche and many others in the last few centuries, full of disgust about my own moral dishonesty. Like Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man, I am an anti-hero.

The social sciences have in part done what the Church was always meant to do. They have given us humans a glimpse into the inner workings of our fallen natures. They have offered up countless narratives (& anyone studying in these fields knows the myriad of philosophies and perspectives on social sciences) that tell us of our agendas, our own personal sense of the ridiculousness in ourselves. What the social sciences have done is give us a great glimpse into the story of humankind without any real reason to do any better. What is the point if there is no point?

The question now is, “So what is the point?”

How do we live in this tension where we are now able to feel and know on a certain level our inability to know? So we begin to return in some ways to the more powerfully mythic postures of our ancient pre-modern family of humankind. We begin to acknowledge the limits of our rationality and self knowing and possibly sit in awe and mystery of this paradox of knowing.

The fact we can know our noble truer selves and simultaneously know our most hideous and fallen selves is overwhelming on some level. Can this ability be a curse or a blessing? The answer may indeed be hidden in the question itself. To know my desire for love and goodness and to do it not is a curse. To be told that indeed there is built within the very nature of creation a prevenient presence and power that undergirds me on a deeper level called grace, that already know this would happen and be experienced is to have a brief respite for clarity of the soul.

The Kiss of Heaven

Can I take a few moments in my life to ponder this type of story that offers me grace in the midst of this dilemma which begins to rename the life I live from a problem to be solved to a mystery to be lived? And it will always be mystery. How do I name the mystery? How does this naming allow me to live within it ebb and flow with a degree of integrity and noble beauty? I contend it is this submitting of my story to the larger narrative of worship.

It is worship’s narrative forming power that offers me the grace I need to be the antidote to modernism’s cynical posturing. It is worship in all its broadness and fullness that coheres a larger story into which I am placed that gives me this grace. The grace I need to exist if only truly offered and manifest in this body. I am not meant to be isolated for I am not truly who I am without placement into this larger narrative of doing. I am not doing things in life to win salvation or redeem myself. This mystery of life appears not to be something individuality can glory in with true gusto on their own. Once again worship is the truest celebration of my being. Worship is my being, along with the whole of creation, honoring, and celebrating our complete imbededness into a gorgeous tapestry of nonfiction that celebrates our “unknowing” through a corporate leaning into the paradox. Rather than avoid it, we, like David Dark, celebrate all the questions as an act of worship. This life is sacred. That is what I beginning to know at a deeper level when I am doing the thing with others. I find it is my truest self that is being loved. My acts, although essential to me as they are me engaging the world, I am more than what I do.

To begin to grasp that I am more than what I do is to discover the grace to begin to be restored in my inner most parts. This kind of spiritual work is an act of worship and one that coheres me with the body. I cannot do this alone.

There is an inner distance in the soul that represents a large chasm. This is the distance between the belief and knowledge of what is true, good, beautiful and loving and the doing of the thing. I am convinced that much of my Christian upbringing has been a highly cerebral experience where much of my beliefs were stuck up in my head. I thought about them daily, wrote them down, took classes to understand them better, talked to my friends countless times about them, corrected those I thought in error of what I knew to be true, and finally assumed by understanding of what I know to be true drew me close to God. I have been in deep error in this regard.In fact, I am convinced that my excessive knowing, discussing, debating, and studying may very well have taken over the very heart of my supposed faith – and the doing of the thing.

It is clear that I am able to deceive myself into believing that my awareness of certain truths, my pondering of their impact on my life and their implications for the rest of the world can very well be ruminated over again and again and not once engender a doing of anything. It may be that the excessive pondering is more a byproduct of some inner dis-ease than a real desire for truth and the actions of faith.

I am saddened by my detachment from my own body. I thought I was my mind alone. Rather than worship, obey, serve, and love others, I obsessed on the knowing of a truth through rational means, assuming my disciplined inquiry would birth the certainty I needed in an uncertain world. Ironically, in looking constantly outside myself for the truth in teaching, preaching, scripture, and tradition, I detached the very act of doing from the encounter.

The doing of the thing involves an entirely deeper part of my humanity. The doing of the thing involves a deeper repentance into my body to discover what parts of my will refuse to budge, refuse to love, are a still unreconciled to what I know to be true. Once again, I have in the past perceived the lack of action to be an issue of an unclear understanding or a need for more information. I now see that space between the knowing & the doing as being. I am more myself when I obey what I know to be true than if I merely ponder or ruminate over it. I am Christ’s in truth when I love Him enough to obey what I believe.

It very well might be that a culture that excessively honors the mind and rationality when it comes to spirituality may fall prey to the deception of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is not some isolated event that a few deluded individuals purposely invent for the sake of power or deceit. No! This is a part of the human heart unwilling to look at the “troubling discrepancy between expectations for ourselves and the consequence of our behavior,” according to James Hollis in “Why Good People Do Bad Things.”

Why do I avoid in myself what I know to be unreflective of my truest values and commitments? Why do I condemn many of the same sins in others that I know reside within myself? Why do I minimize the impact my sin and lack of love have on my world while pointing out in others their obvious contradictions? What part of my very nature obfuscates the way of wholeness and purity? What lies in the way of such persistent fantasies about the impact of my actual life on my health, thought life, ability to be present and living to others and my actual love of the Savior? The distance between intention and choice does indeed involve my will. As a moral being I am given the ability to act upon certain inclinations and urges and understandings. I am not a puppet. So why would this freedom of sorts become such an existential blemish?

My experience with my men’s group and the ongoing inner work we do has given me glimpse into what appears to remain on some level intractable & persistent in our spiritual journeys. We are indeed beings in the process of either engaging life or ignoring it. As the 12step program says, “What we resist will persist.” The struggle we men have is the hidden strongholds that remain untouched by our beliefs, faith filled utterances and contrite postures of the heart. As Paul said, we want to do the good but…”

It may very well be that the ego’s most grandiose manifestation of hubris is the projection of its own sovereignty on its actions and thoughts. During what we men have come to call "work," it is clear that much of the inner world hidden away from our daily regimen is indeed the very realm in which forces and mandates are being deployed daily without our direct awareness. I say direct because we are aware but this insight does not come through what we have deemed the sovereignty of our ego or what some may call our persona. For those of us who are seeking a higher way or more authentic reflection of our Savior, we are indeed attempting to form a certain “type” of person. We desire others “see” us a certain way, believe our proclamations regarding our faith, and hope that our lives indeed do tell others about our commitments and allegiances.

Only if it were that simple that our desired persona was indeed the one that most clearly reflected our deepest selves. But alas, that is not the case. As men go deeper into the discrepancies of will and action, it becomes apparent that we are not a unitary whole in our persona or projected ego we offer to ourselves and others. What we are beginning to glimpse in our “work” during our daily and quarterly weekends, is that the desire for Christ likeness is certainly work and the exertion and toil of the soul needed to integrate the disparate parts of our hearts and minds is our salvation being worked out in fear & trembling.

The fear of disclosure has to be one of the most powerful energies hidden behind the confident and often arrogant persona we offer to others and even ourselves. Our daily lives so remove us from these anxieties that we are unaware of their toxic and discrete energy they deploy through our daily lives. The avoidance of humiliation seems to be such a primal force in humans that hiding is an option we take when our outward experience touches an inner un-resolvedness.

Because we believe the autonomy of our egos and personas are accurate and reflective of our truest selves, any sense of that idea of self eroding or being attacked throws us into a highly defensive posture. We now become defensive and angry. Our initial state of weakness is now being covered over with anger and we get lost in the attempts to correct any discrepancies or flaws another may being projecting on us in the moment or so we think & feel.

Much of the denial and avoidance we display daily is necessary to function. To consistently look into the inner crannies of our hearts and emotional lives is more than daunting. It is dangerous & impossible to be done alone. The journey is much like a group climbing a mountain or entering a volcanic crater. Whether climbing to the heights or the depths, we need ropes tied to our hearts and minds. We can get lost in our woundedness and angry at ourselves and others and in the process add to our lostness and anger.

Men naturally protect themselves. When that protection has been violated, when that ability to trust and receive love has been deeply scared and wounded especially in early childhood, the projected energies of denial, repression, suppression and avoidance get magnified. These are all mechanisms to avoid the anxiety of viewing our inner discrepancies with clarity. In some extreme cases one may even disassociate from themselves to the extent that they can engage in certain behaviors and nearly be unaware on some levels of the episode. To some degree, our personas our different identities. They are different people we offer to the world as to who we are. As Nate Larkin says, he has the church Nate and the husband Nate. We could probably name countless personas within us if we named them in this manner. The point is that spiritual work is not merely articulating beliefs but drilling down into the very strongholds that animate and energize the aforementioned anxiety management systems of denial, repression, etc. So in our work in NA we create a space for the man to sit in the anxiety. We extend to him a safe container to begin to ponder, express, report, offer up, any details, emotions, and possibly hidden reflections on their life to date. Nothing is off the table. Nothing is deemed untrue or false at initial offering.

Over the weeks and months of work we men begin to hear a story about ourselves that we have been telling others for years. We begin to hear the stories others have told about us. We begin to hear the story we believe God is telling about us. We hear the story, in the case of believers, of the Church upon us. We are a storied people. It is the multitudes of these stories that offer quantum energy to our lives and in some ways adds to the seeming discrepancies of our commitments and our behavior. Why don’t we do what we know to be right? We must find out. We can find out. This is the gift of the Savior's restoration. Salvation is more than a belief system but the very nature of God moving within in us to bring us into wholeness, integration. He desires we become whole and begin to offer this story up to His Holy Spirit for a re-write if you will. This re-write is written by the family of God. It cannot be written alone for much like there are legions within, so we need the power and presence of many to untie these fractal selves within our hearts.

Whenever a man enters the weekend retreat with a powerfully animated sense of self, it is clear that it takes much of his inner spirituality to cohere this energy for others to see. "I am powerful. I am smart." And the most difficult one to maintain, "I am holy and good." As the inner journey ensues, it becomes more and more apparent that “life" is inherently contradictory and conflicted, and any view that seeks to finesse these contraries is ”operating in bad faith,” says Hollis. As much as our ideas about our commitments seem congruent and befitting to our ego or personas, they are not powerful enough to touch the deepest inner contradictions or character flaws. No amount of ritual, repetition, reading sacred texts, will replace the work of exploring our hearts in the presence of His people. This is our life time work to grow in Christ tighter.

The working out of our salvation is what this life offers as the road of truth. The road of religious piety can offer others your persona and all its good intentions. This is not to imply that we are disingenuous or even deceptive when we offer this aspect of ourselves. But, as we grew in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord, we begin to see the subtle hubris that forms these personas and continues to allow them preeminence in our daily interactions with our spouses, friends and co-workers. At some point humility is the inner admission of your admitting the discrepancies are indeed a part of who you are as well. We are this strange mixture of our dreams, our commitments and our humanness full of duplicity and moral weakness.

When we remain in the level of our persona that moralizes around certain acts we tell ourselves we are evil, we may indeed have a history of acting a certain way. This is obedience on some level but it is not righteousness formed by deep contrition for my good works and outward persona is what I use my energies to sustain. This is not an outward manifestation of an inner work but an outward energy sustained by an outward persona. This is why we may call it a superficial or surface self. It is shallow for it does not emanate from the authentic self but the self we have concocted in our minds and the persona we actually believe we are. This is delusion and we act thusly on a day to day basis.No amount of haranguing the ego or will can turn this conflicted persona into a whole person. This is why moralizing over sin never works if it is a besetting sin as the Scripture calls it. Besetting sin that it is persistent and powerful in its impact on our lives. On our weekends we are most concerned with these besetting sins for they are a sign of the core voices and stories that are here-to-fore ignored in this man’s inner life. This is the portal for entry into the story that enables and empowers this person he does not want to be but in moments of truth can admit he indeed is.

The Church today is challenged to provide safe places for this unveiling to take place. These kinds of inner journeys do not take place during a Bible study or morning Sunday school class. These are strongholds that take an initial weekend and months and even a lifetime in some cases to begin to unravel and reveal the narratives that rule our will and heart. The strategies that many men’s groups’ offer, which is to promise you will not do a certain behavior ever again are on some level noble attempts to obey God’s laws. But the power needed to be restored at a deep deep level does not come from us. This is not to downplay the power of the will to engage in “acting” a certain way. In fact, once again, the 12 Step movement talks about “faking it till you make it” which is revealing the power of the body obeying what the mind knows to be true even when the mind is still playing tricks or recalcitrant. We cannot and will not see or hear the stories that undergird our deepest wounds and besetting sins until we stop certain postures towards life. Denial that our drinking, over eating, addictions to power, religion, lust or other drugs of choice, must be seen for their darkness and poison they are to begin the descent. The admission of and the willingness to engage may mean total withdrawal from a certain action or engagement. This detoxing from sin, allows the heart to begin to feel the anxiety that animates and cooperatives with our sin natures when we fall. We know the sin is sin. We are now looking at the “doing” or the “not doing” of the thing.

The Crisis as Threshold

A crisis is a holy summons to cross a threshold, says Sue Monk Kidd in her seminal work “When the Heart Waits.” The word crisis derives from the Greek word krisis and krino, which mean “a separating.” It is clear that deep inner change only comes about through crisis or profound and enduring prayer. As most of us have not developed such disciplines, crisis is the usual gateway to redirection and a straightening of one’s way. Most of us live in middle class neighborhoods, attend sedate churches, engage in soft hobbies, avoid harshness of any kind and settle in nightly to a routine of television & sleep. Our desire is less for peace of mind & heart and more for comfort. In this anesthetized world of habit and consumption, our inner man is sedated through routine. When circumstances hint that rough road may be ahead, we usually begin to barbiturate ourselves through doing more of whatever is numbing us out, dumbing us down. This is why for men at least, it takes a persistent addiction to reveal the true condition of the soul. The somatic messages of the body herald and rudely name what our minds are unwilling to welcome. And so a crisis describes our inner landscape, our soul’s longing.

Humans can only take a crisis every once in awhile. It is clearer that for some, under the moniker of bi-polar syndrome, crisis is ever present at least on an emotional level. What is even clearer from observing this tragic pose is that the very weightiness of one’s humanity is enough for those who contemplate their own brokenness occasionally and this ever present revealing for those with BP unveils nothing long lasting. We are not meant to gaze into the abyss of our own ruined will at length. In fact, standing at the threshold, in the seemingly abandoned space of contrite observation can destroy one without the grace offered by others willing to bear witness. We bear witness to the irrationality of our wayward hearts and obstinate wills. We nod in solidarity as we observe a brother over come with his own imperfection. We know we will undoubtedly be in that same “inbetweeness” once again ourselves.

The Threshold as Reality

Just as the madness of bi-polar ruminations are a curse for so many, so too is the mistake of attempting to live in the tension of our own duality. I like to see myself as one who embraces nuance and subtlety in life. However, when it comes to my own lack of perfection I am tossed between the oppositional forces of self love and self loathing. Ernest Kurtz in “The Spirituality of Imperfection” offers up this healing insight when he observes, “ To pursue perfection because we despise our imperfection-is to find neither satisfaction in successes nor wisdom in failures. Life becomes a constant battle, a never ending struggle to get somewhere, to achieve something, to produce something. Having split our world (and our selves) into either or dualisms- god or beast, angle or devil, right or wrong, left of right, good or evil, up or down- we lack all sense of balance. We tend to sway precariously on the teeter totter of life, running from one extreme to another, missing the point that the only stable place to be is in the mixed-up- middle. In the reality, that is the only place we can be.”

The phrase “reality” is so diminished and bastardized. I am the chief of sinners here in its demise as a God word. Let me vamp a bit here through an idea David Dark’s latest book The Sacredness of Questioning Everything spawned in a late night pondering of “reality.” For me Dark’s book is a poetic rant on the ontological subtleties of faith. His pages are filled with a luminous recounting of just how duped we are to our own convictions of certitude when it comes to truth and in a particular the reading of Scripture. As a recovering Evangelical, I have grown up in the climate of biblical presumption. Part of my heritage if not tutelage involved the projection of snippets of the Bible over life’s conundrums without impunity. This is what we did. We named “reality” quickly and with precision. Dark so powerfully reveals not only the shady under belly of the presumption but the impact on us humans when we deny the anxiety that accompanies these very conundrums. Dark says, “But the pretense of certainty come at a cost.” Indeed it does. This cost is the inability to “do the thing.”

I need the truth to set me free. I need the in breaking power of God’s Spirit into & upon my very being to be given the power of will to obey. This is being loved into action. What Dark made clearer for me was the “real time” prophetic power of the Scripture being pronounced in the moment of revealing. When Jesus read Scripture in the temple something was indeed happening. When He said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” He was pointing to the reality of truth breaking into the moment. So much of my understanding of Scripture remains sequestered in a static recognition of “reality.” I know what I know. Correct? Well no. I don’t know what I know because I don’t know what I don’t know. And, until the moment of revealing, my ability to know may be veiled in my own limited ability to see and grasp the depth and breadth of reality.

Many times I have seen a man transformed right before my eyes through what we call “work” in New Adam. After this unveiling of the truer deeper real self, many times a Scripture will be read or recited over the moment of revealing. Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing,” seems to be exactly what is happening here. We were seeing the witness of all the ages manifest right in our midst. A man was ushered into this place where the naming of his very being is now aligned with eternity and the very voice of God as manifest through His holy writ. Now that is bearing witness to the infallibility of Scripture. Notice, however, it is in the in-breaking nature of this truth revealed that we see what lies before us. We did not see it before this time. So life is always revealed in retrospect. We look to the future in faith and see the truth of our beings revealed in the rear view mirror. The doing of the thing is a grand spectacle that involves the fullness of God’s revealing. I can only sit under it in awe and worship. Worship with others who are doing the best thing.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The History of My Silence

When the “Unsayable” is Spoken

Over the last decade, I have been a part of a men’s community. In this group, our kinship revolves around an ongoing process of what many call “work.” This work, due to our Christian naming, is a process in which salvation and redemption are applied to the realities of our broken lives. Wholeness, which many may see as an essential part of, if not the purpose of salvation, is what we strive for. Integrity means integration, thus all things must be brought into the circle of trust. All things must be submitted to the mind of Christ. All things must be brought out of the silence into a trusting reverent moment where the men are gathered.

Over the years I have been blessed to hear hundreds of stories. Many are filled with laughter and light and the blessings of loving families and communities. Scores of others are mingled with a mix of deep anguish and loss as well as the elation of undeserved blessing and enlargement. Occasionally, through the narrative of a particular man, the group steps into a dark shadowy land of malevolent energy that can only be named as evil. In these moments what has been wordless and voiceless begins to find sound.

At a very primal level, words are merely sounds. They are utterances to which we apply meaning. It appears that some feelings are difficult to name and thus we hum or sing nonsense phrases. Other sounds are much more difficult to identify because they are rarely if ever spoken and they are off putting in their manifestation. In the book Unsayable, author & therapist, Annie G. Annie Rogers tell us that “whatever is terrifyingly present in our body, yet unsayable takes on a coded form in our speech and actions.” I have learned that nearly all the unsayable is a coded poetry, a dance with words that reveal a heinous crime against someone’s very soul. As much as emotionally returning as best one can to the scene of the crime is essential, it is the lifelong trauma that marks the body becoming invisible and inarticulate that makes these stories intolerable and agonizing.

The first inklings of some kind of significant brokenness in a man may be a rupture in his speech pattern. People can offer up the most horrendous experience and treatment with cold detachment. When the sense of disconnection between words and emotion is significantly disengaged from reality, it is usually the case that deep trauma has offered up a counter narrative that rules the conscious mind. I hear over and over again, “Well he is a nice guy. He did not mean to do that. She was suffering a lot herself. They were just acting upon a long held prejudice or hatred. As right as those assertions may seem to the logical mind, bringing these wounds to remembrance is challenging. This is due to the emotionally charged repressed knowing which is fighting to tell the truth but is unsure and undecided. How could this have happened? These memories seem so wrong. My father could not have done this. My uncle was a good man. My family had so much going for them. These interpretations could go on a life time and for some they do. Some of us will never ask the deeper questions, look beneath the quandary, or touch the tender and sore spots on the soul.

But it is the confounding nature of our experience that forces our souls into ambivalence. Part of this is denial’s gift as facing the shocking realities of our histories can force our bodies into the involuntary sickness of revulsion. For some of the men, this may be their first time that they have admitted indeed what has happened to them. This is the first time they named the pain within. This is the power of silence. Much of what has marked the body is written in invisible ink. It is nigh unto impossible to to detect without an interpreter or a spiritual curator who is schooled in the historically charged world of soulish antiquities. As though ancient hieroglyphics, this offering up of the unsayable becomes a shared language as others who know their own dialect offer up questions to the story teller. Time after time we would watch sounds and words call up something out of the ordinary, plant it in a man’s body and watch it remake his world. This is why we often ask a man, “Where is it in your body?” What we are asking is, “Where has your emotional storage of that experience been located in or on your body? Where do you keep these secrets? What part of your body holds the secret?”

What if I told you the truth? What if I could? Robert Pinsky

I might not be able to carry it, Mr. Frodo, but I can carry you!

The indicators of something sorely wrong are often first manifest in the voice, visage or posture of a man. There appears a crack in the silence and falling out of this previously hidden place we may hear a muttering or a low pitched whine. His head may slump towards his knees,. He may stare into space for long periods of time and say nothing. When he does begin to speak one can hear sounds nearly animal like. It often shakes the soul and sends chills up the spine. Sometimes the opening crack closes as quickly as it appeared and the man must be asked by another, “Where were you just now?” Over and over again you will hear the man say, “What do you mean where was I? I am right here.” Once again the query from another, “No…where did you go inside yourself. You changed. Your face, your voice, your pose. Where was that place you went?”

Usually when one is unconsciously coming upon the unsayable, the body will begin to fidget and show signs of inner terror. In the case of men who see themselves as stoic and strong, it may only appear in slight and hardly detectable body ticks. If you know the man, you may see a tick that usually comes out during stress or intense situations. Now here they are sitting in a circle with men and those same body messages are beginning to rise to the surface. If we are quiet and stay in a position of sacred listening, the man may just begin to utter the unspeakable. This is the place Christ has always been. This is the place He desires to inhabit. For His presence to be acknowledged one can only go there. Go there again. No one who has experienced the unspeakable will ever desire to go there again. In fact, many have made an invisible pact with their most vulnerable childlike self to never ever allow themselves to be in that position again. Thus, all the resources here to date the unconscious has mustered to protect are now fighting the healing. The unconscious has no script to read. It does what it is told. To untell it is to reprogram a number of stories (therapists call them complexes) and listen to and rename countless things. That is why we call it work. It will take a lifetime.

I have heard many stories that are nearly unbearable. No! They are unbearable to hear. Often when someone is sharing their horrific past I want to stand up and scream at the top of my lungs. I want to find this person who did this, track them down and do to them what they have done to this person. But that is my work. That is my story. That is how I found myself with these men. I began to name the unnamable and say the unspeakable. That is the history of my silence.

But when I quell my own need for revenge or justice I can step back into the hidden & protected language this man is offering up to me and to others. It is in those blessed holy moments that something beyond the group emerges. Sometimes the story has been carried for generations as in the case of those who have experienced racism & genocide. To hear the names men have been called from nigger to chink to yellow man breaks your heart. When it is offered up in true vulnerability it becomes too sacred to ignore. You must embrace any part of that sin that might be yours and silently repent to the brother to remain present and clean of soul. To detach yourself and your own behavior from this man’s story is to assume he is not a part of you. We often say, “Your work is my work.” And indeed this is true. For another man to continue articulating the unsayable, I must take responsibility for his pain be it personal, corporate, or even out of complacency. Justice is not an abstract ethic but my responsibility to protect the other from abuse, sin, greed, or lack.

There are occasions where a man’s past and suffering is so repugnant that speechlessness is an act of properly naming the offense. In these moments there are no words to offer up to the suffering of another. Words can often be explanations for the sake of the “talker.” In light of what is being spoken, often for the first time, these expressions can make the story small and inconsequential. When the weight of grief and torture are unimaginable, all the men can do is bear witness to its enormity and cruelty by weeping. Weeping as a family. I have seen grown men fall to their knees and weep and wail for another. This was the only response one could have to such unspeakable atrocities done to people. To hear them is to see redemption in a new light. To hear them is to see evil as more than a concept or some devil in some red suit. You begin to see our own role in the passing on of great hurt and pain. I can become a part of great hurt in another’s life. I can become as well a healing voice with protection an comfort. I choose either way. This is a frightening truth. I have in my own heart such power. The more I name my own brokenness the more I can stand beside those who are yet to name theirs and do so as a sacred calling.

This naming, of course, is easier said than done. For some, the darkness is just that. To bring something from another realm is to feel once again the same violence, abandonment, or injustice which formed or informed so much of their lives. The calling up of those darkened events long forgotten or submerged is indeed the loosing of strongholds. It is the unraveling of years and yes, generations of thinking, acting, and naming.

In the case of severe trauma, be it physical, sexual, or emotional violence, transporting these shadowy and threatening remembrances is all but horrific. On some level, it is to live them all over again. For this reason many will never go to these places. They will instead hideaway the suffering of the soul, deny its reflexive blindness and wander through life half full or nearly empty.

It is said that we cannot be conscious of what we are unconscious. So as good as we would desire to be, something is always in collusion. Something is always complicitous in our acting out, our sin, our projections of pain on others. But we cannot find the root. We do not see the cause. For many that cause is hidden from our memory to such an extent that even when ask we may draw a blank. This blank does not negate the realty of our experience. It merely reinforces the power of denial to shut away the remembrance of painful times. Some of these experiences are so painful we turn to anxiety relief through denial, repression, suppression, or addiction.

It’s Hidden in the Words

What is the quality of knowing that is hidden in our speech? What can be discerned about a person in what they say and more importantly, what they don’t say? I am a victim. There I said. I loathe that word. I even loathe that posture as I interpret it in the lives of others. For when I encounter a real victim, a deep calls to deep. Just their carriage and pose can trigger rage in me. It can take me to me knees. Just the look in their eyes can cause my breathing to get shallow, my superficial happiness to crash and my head to fill with venomous fatal ruminations that scatter my presence to the wind. In an emotional sense, I leave the room & hide. That is the power of converging silent stories. This is the part of me that reminds me of how weak I was back when my story first began. This is why alcoholics can pick each other out in stadium. The deeper the wound the deeper the frequency of the unspeakable cry. This cry is only heard by another who is feeling or has felt that depth of pain. Many of us go through terrible anguish as children. It always marks us on some level. Who can understand the resilience of one and the seeming fragile shatteredness of another or the violent rage of another that takes their pain and compounds it on countless others?

Therapist Annie Rogers, who worked many years as a staff psychologist at a mental ward working with teenagers, remarks as to the uncanny manner in which the body and language are in collusion. “When all traces of history have been erased and the body itself is inscribed with an unknown language, how does a child begin to speak? How is it possible to listen so that that child comes to know something vital, and speaking freely becomes possible, so that living inside one’s own body is no longer a nightmare?”

I am convinced we are all experts on our lives. If we can only find a place where people really listen, we can discover a healing not privy to our souls otherwise. Why? Only those who have listened to the unspeakable can hear the unsayable. As Parker Palmer says in A Hidden Wholeness, circles of trust are needed to coax the soul from its tender hiding. A group, be they Christian or therapeutic, cannot shout for the soul to come out. So much of our dialogue is the dialect of listening and practiced silence. So few of us can wait for the soul to check its territory and borders for safety and protection. We are so trained to offer answers we often give the wrong answer at the wrong time. How many Christians have spent years of their lives living the answer to a question that was that of another? Are not most books a configuration of a shadowed projection we writers superimpose on humanity? In our minds we believe the world needs one more book, one more explanation, one more piece of insight.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Running in to Our Self

When I am Tired of Being Human

Reality TV has its detractors and rightly so. But if there is an up side it is the unabashed revealing of just how volatile, vulnerable and easily influenced we humans are. In the midst of following any person be they a speeder or a rejected jilted lover, one thing seems clear. We are all looking for something and we need it bad.

So what is it that we all need? Love and sex seem like front runners but most of us over 30 in or out of a healing or broken marriage know that relationships are paradoxically rich and fulfilling as well as exhausting and debilitating. No quick fix here. But the search for the beloved goes on. Driven to find that gaze of “the other” reflected back with near worship and adoration, we move from scenario to scenario projecting all this energy into the middle of the room but unaware of its beckoning power we remain aloof & distant.

So the paradox of humanness persists. We desperately need & constantly diminish that neediness through hip posturing and distancing. I guess we would all rush towards the shadow, towards what is not being said, what is not being addressed if we only knew it were there. But alas, profound insight into our blindness seldom provides the exotic rush of projecting the beloved or the rescue upon another or another experience. We are unconscious of what we are unconscious.

Recently I watched my inner self played out in a relationship. As much as I may have wanted to distance myself from a friend based on my interpretation of life and its challenges, my love and history with them would not allow me to ultimately demonize their actions. I could only see myself, our self. It was me (we). I was him.

As I watched the play role out and parties line up to take sides, all I could do was hope some insight might emerge I could offer up. I had a lot of thoughts about what I thought was going on but none of them really sunk deep into a more vulnerable honest part of my soul. What my friend really needed was compassion. What I really had very little of was compassion.

As I sat in that lack I wondered why it was so hard to muster up even a sliver of empathy and kindness. What was the glitch in heart on this one? Often when I see others struggle with identity I project my own submerged sense of dislocation and abandonment on them and become cold & mocking. How can this guy or gal be so screwed up and self absorbed? I have unfortunately learned to soften my projection of narcissism on to others by feigning interest, asking questions but at times my heart still remains distant and cold. I have already named them (me) and it is settled at a deep unconscious level. By settled I don’t mean I am at peace with myself. I mean I have spiritually acquiesced to my impotent attempts to be present and authentic so this person’s exposure of the inflated exalted self is especially grievous and offensive to me. My shallowness is being revealed in the moment. My inability to love at a deep level frightens me as I pronounce some verdict in my heart upon them. Now I realize this judgment falls on us all. I do not escape my own inability to be compassionate. What I deny to my friend I deny to myself.

I need compassion. As life unfolds and the Father draws me unto Himself, I am discovering that the unfolding of the soul is not merely a personal journey. I practice His love on others. I practice His love on myself. This is the one thought I have so much trouble submitting to. Why am I not convinced of how much I need compassion? Why would I not offer it to others? This is the condition of my own heart. I would rather go without my own bestowment of compassion so as to remain arrogant & proud. Rather than see in others my deepest need, I deny my essential nature & loose touch with my own brokenness.

Today I make room for myself in my heart so as to make room for others. Do unto to others…oh yeah. I’ve heard that before.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Wisdom of Distance

Searching for Hidden Affinity

We are paradoxical creatures. Simultaneously we long for the expression of our uniqueness and yet yearn for belonging. Given our seemingly oppositional proclivities towards individuality and relationship, it is often the case that we view the distance between ourselves and others with fear and self protection. John O'Donohue reflects on these tendencies of the soul in his book Eternal Echoes – Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong. He names this space we call distance as “longing.” This longing is a manifestation of the deepest nature of the soul which is relationship. How odd that we are seemingly drawn towards the very thing that reveals this distance. It is O'Donohue's following statement that intrigues me and is the focus of this pondering.

“Distance awakens longing; closeness is belonging. Yet they are always in a dynamic interflow with each other. When we fix or locate them definitively, we injure our growth. It is an interesting imaginative exercise to interchange them; to consider what is near as distant and to consider the distance as intimate.”

So much of our inner world is unclear & opaque even to ourselves. Why are we are so amazed at how incomprehensible many of the acts and feelings are into which we inhabit the idea of ourselves? As much as we desire transparency, there is at our core a portion of our soul that is inaccessible to those without. Yet community reveals that no one is cut off from others completely and much of the reticence and caution we display regarding others reflects a deeper yearning to connect. Although much of our world is private nothing is indeed exclusive.
Scripture speaks of unity over and over again. The Spirit’s advocacy appears to bring with Him a profound sensitivity to discord. Harmony within the Body of Christ is more than group think or unanimity. Surely it is the restoration of what the Creator’s intentions must have been from the beginning within the Trinity. That is a complete awaking to just how much we all belong. Many in our community have read Rohr’s "Everything Belongs.” In this work Rohr points again & again to the powerful awareness that our own center is never discovered alone. At this core reality we uncover the sacramental moment where no one need compete, judge or make comparisons, or seek to dominate. In this present moment God uses everything. In and through the lens of divine foresight nothing is wasted, all is recycled, & everyone & everything belongs. All is grace.

It is only the holy fool who walks into this way of being for it is beyond mere thinking. Until I regard the distance between myself and others as an invitation rather than a signal to cut & run, I will name it punitively. In a post modern world where much of our humanity is abstracted and real presence is always tempted to become mere simulation, how do we quell the crisis of belonging and the great divide between us all? Once again we must seek a new designation for this longing? Could this restlessness within our hearts be a voice rising up for form and presence? Are we like the Greek mythological character Echo who sitting in the eerie silence of the forgotten self longed for Narcissus’ love? But alas, mistaking Narcissus words for her own she ran to him and discovered his self absorption and felt her own deep rejection. As Rohr alludes in Everything Belongs, there is a place within the heart that we all share. In this silent depth we are open to love, to touch, to affection, to trust. Out of this place the distance we thought was powerful & real now is transfigured into a guiding vacancy, a divine opening in the soul awaiting the shelter of community. Being is being with. I am fully myself in & through my brother’s welcoming.

Let me end with another O’Donohue quote as his writing is so powerfully guiding in this piece.

“There is something incomplete in purely individual presence. Belonging together with others completes something in us. It also suggests that behind all our differences and distances from each other, we are all participating in larger drama of the Spirit. The life and death of each of us does indeed affect the rest of us. Not alone do we long for the community; but at a deeper level we are already a community of the Spirit.”

Sunday, May 10, 2009

To the Orphans on Mother's Day

The Mothering of God

The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe."
- Albert Einstein

Then he said to the disciple, 'Behold, your mother!'" Jn 19:26-27

I have always been inept at physical nurturing. Touch and affection come hard. With the exception of our cat buddy, allowing anyone into my space is daunting and frightening. It is on mother’s day that this experience finds a name.

I always dread mother’s day. Church usually offers up a fairly maudlin version of motherhood & for anyone who doesn't fit the mold (most of humanity?), the very presentation & sermon meant to encourage tends to dishearten and depress. As I glance around the congregation and see countless adults wiping away the heartbreak they had buried for years, I find myself wondering why God made us this way. What is it about our relationships with our mothers that speaks so deeply to our being? Why did God create us with such a deep longing to be cherished & cared for?

I have read countless times the scriptural teaching on God’s loving character. I catch glimpses of this in the men I walk with at times but the memory of my mother’s gaze is much more painful & problematic. One only needs to ask my wife to discover how difficult it is for me to see my own loveliness. The burden of my broken estate & the subsequent flaw that is my birthright is real & resident to me. Is it possible that God has sent mothers to offer up a small & initial glimpse of how the Father sees & knows us?

To be nurtured because one needs it is one issue. To be cherished is entirely different & transforming. For those who have not had the experience of being treasured, this part of God’s character is estranged and distant. We are all orphans from the Father. To know His heart for us is to be able to imagine how He longs for our very presence. We first become familiar with this idea when our mothers welcome us home after a day at school. When our homecoming (not every day mind you) has a high degree of focused love, care & celebration, we can then imagine the fanfare of the prodigal’s father.

Today is a day of remembrance. Undoubtedly is will be bitter sweet as is most of life. But for those who long for love, these mother child memories can weigh heavily on the soul. To the orphans this day I say let the Father mother you. Surrender to that ache & let Him touch that profound sense of being unattractive to yourself, to your lover, to your friends & family. Surrender to His unrelenting pursuit. Let His Abba Fatherness be your mothering. Let His welcoming presence be the arms you never felt. Let His tender eyes reveal the pleasure He takes in you. Allow His still small voice to whisper just how much He values your company & looks forward to the intimate times you have together.

Remember, Jesus had a mother. She bore the Son of God. She is counted blessed by the entire family of God since her time on earth. So it must be important that you had a mother. So….To the motherless by circumstance or pain, let this day of remembrance find its meaning in the Father’s heart. For you are the apple of His eye.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Imposition of Ashes -Ash Wednesday

We Are Tortured Wonders

The Church’s practice of Ash Wednesday has become a powerful metaphor for life’s transient nature. The very act of bowing one’s knee and having another human place darkened ashes upon your forehead tells a powerful story to our bodies that we are indeed going to face our end. Growing up in the holiness tradition I was fairly unfamiliar with the sacraments and rituals of the high church. Ash Wednesday and its formative power were missed on me and others like me. What was the point of wearing some kind of darkened ash on one’s forehead? In his book Tortured Wonders, Clapp reflects on an experience an Episcopal priest friend of his had during an Ash Wednesday service

As the priests were offering up prayers and the Gospel, they prepared to offer up the reminder of each and everyone’s frailty in light of the body’s fragile reality. As one of the priests administered the ashes on the foreheads, a stunningly beautiful woman dressed obviously with fashion and panache walked forward and knelt before the priest. Her reticence and awkwardness were obvious and at some point she leaned forward as if she wanted to say something to the priest. He instinctually drew closer to her whispering only to hear her say in halting speech, “Father, I am a model. I know I only have a few years, and then I will be too old for this work. My body is aging, and I can hardly admit it to myself. I do this once a year, at this service. So rub the ashes on. Rub them hard.” Page 170 Tortured Wonders

I bring up the season of Lent for it is the system of time under which we live. We all live under some construct of time and ascribe value to it. We know how we value time by observing how we manage it, how we talk about it, and how we attempt to capture more of it for our use. Time tells us when to go to work, when to rest, when to allow leisure, when to celebrate, when to mourn and on and on.

When we as Christians introduce the Church calendar as a lens through which we see and value time, it is going to form and frame our lives differently than clocks set to other standards of value. If one travels at all they begin to see that the perception of time and its presence is defined and expressed very differently from one culture to another. Any time spent in South America and it is clear that smaller increments of time do not exist. Time is measured in hours at best but mostly in days and those days are broken out into things like sunrise, the heat of a noon day son, and the cooler hours of impending nightfall. If one treks down to Columbia or Ecuador, they quickly learn that smaller configurations of time (like minutes and hours) usually are considered porous expressions of intentionality and not literal containers into which life should be lived.

Time is different for believers. The nature of this sojourn demands we regard this seemingly vaporous experience with great care and stewardship. The Church calendar is a value system created by believers that reflects this honoring. We see and value time in a distinctly Christian manner. As stewards of life and its resources, we are not ultimately going to see time as merely a container for our own personal needs and preferences. This is not to say that we do not see ourselves living inside of time as a person but that there are grander purposes into which life and truth, goodness and beauty can be expressed and time is one of those containers.

Lent is a season that takes us into a cycle of repentance and mourning. It is clear that as we approach Easter, our hearts and minds begin to see the impact of our personal sinfulness and the sinfulness of the world. So much of our suffering comes from our unwillingness to embrace our limitations and our rootedness in our own agendas for life. Thus, we need a calendar or a clock if you will to tell us to mourn this condition. We must set aside some time to remind ourselves of our own finitude, our own limitations, and our own divine confinements.

Divine confinements is a phrase that came to me as I sat in a hospital wondering why the season of illness had befallen me. Wondering is probably a softened term for in fact, I was feeling God’s hiddeness and most of my prayers were those of desperation and crying out. As we allow ourselves to fall under the power of the Church calendar we begin to see that our Savior as well entered into this time where the confinements of life and His impending death were looming large on the horizon and overwhelming to His humanness. The wounds of overwhelment and insufficiency plague us as humans. This is the space out of which we question our faith, question, God’s existence, question the very thought of a kind and gracious God.

Michael Card makes it clear in his book Sacred Sorrows, that real mourning is different than despair. Despair comes when we do not think God is hearing our cries, when we take our crying out, and like Nietzsche, scream it into the abyss of nothingness to a God that is a figment of our own imagining. It is during times of great lament that the aloofness of the mystery now moves from being merely an intellectual conundrum solved by philosophers and preachers to an emotional necessity that we settle once and for all whether God and us can handle the visceral exchange that takes place during lament.

The Imposition of Ashes (Ash Wednesday) is in many ways the Churches answer to the ultimate question which is, “why do we die and why must I know that I am going to die?” Animals of course don’t seem to have this awareness. This may be open to debate as some elephants do seem to mourn the loss of their mates and many have said that other animals do as wall. Regardless of the level of consciousness of animals, it is clear that for humans, the question of our forthcoming death is a foundational exchange that all of us have at some point or the other. Ernst Becker in his ground breaking writings talked about the power of death as a back drop for much of life’s intensities and challenges.

As Christians we do have a hope and much of the modern church tells us to focus only on the hope side. Real lament seems to me to take hope into consideration but it also allows for the soul to cry out. It allows for the soul to tell a Father that the pain is too much; the feelings of sorrow and abandonment go deeper than they ever imagined they could feel, the seeming sense of insufficiency and overwhelment stand like cold specters over our shoulder reminding us daily of our impotence.

Any cursive reading of Scripture reveals quickly that much of the Old Testament writers did not sugar coat their laments. I am fearful that our satiated sense of self sufficiency that comes through abundance, keeps us from feeling at a deep level that this life is just not enough. The perks, the positions, the joys and pleasures in the end do not keep death from our door. Thus, this is a portal through which all enter. Death is the great leveler if you will.

As we enter the season of lent we are being told by our ancient heritage that honoring the lament, repenting over our ways of engaging each other and the created realm, are ways to redeem the time. There are ways to spend our time wisely and mercifully. Any spirituality that does not allow for lament is a cheap religion. It is not what God came to earth to offer us. In Jesus we see that God cares about the suffering of His people. In fact, the rain falls on the just and the unjust implying that God’s common grace is not merely an over flow but intentional in the sense that He wants this part of His character to be preeminently available. Crying out is something He welcomes. Deep questioning and sacred sorrow are things He is familiar with as his own Son questioned the very plan of salvation on some level. “Why have you forsaken me? Why? Why?”

As we continue to explore our spiritual roots we begin to see that the prayer of abandonment is an entry point into the heart of God. To seek after God is to first of all speak into the darkness with truth. Are you there? Why are you hiding?

It is during times of darkness and its shadow that we feel the tension of this life with a vengeance. We cannot hold back the tears. We cannot explain well enough to our souls the sense of impending loss. Thus, wisely, our brothers and sisters from times past have said….come under the canopy of this clock. Come under the story of time offered to us by our Hebrew brothers and sisters and then through the atoning story of our Savior begin to see yourself and your relationships to time and space through this blessing of permission. We have a time set aside in our lives to see it as it is. We do not have to deny the seasons of the soul, the journey of the heart. Regardless of what time the clock says, what time zone we are in, what part of the world we are in, there is a moment set aside for us to face the divine confinements of this life and mourn. We can do this without shame and hiding. We can even make this time oddly enough one of beauty. Wear the ashes with humility and grace.

A Poem

The Final Boxing Up of Life’s Things

Death will peer thru the front door window
Quietly come in unannounced
Only to discover most of my projects in moderate disarray
Exposing just how unsettled I really am
But alas, the one uncovering my cluttered domicile
Will most likely miss any sense of meaning and placement
My things will dissolve into their separateness
Revealing little about the tapestry I was constructing
This unwelcomed intruder will box up my things indiscriminately
Never to reveal anything to anyone regarding
The underside of my life’s weaving mystery
Only You see the life we’ve formed

Ash Wednesday Historical Background

The imposition of ashes on the foreheads of Christians is an ancient Christian practice, going back at least to the 10th century. Biblically, ashes are a symbols of purification and penitence (see Numbers 19:9, 17; Hebrews 9:13; Jonah 3:6; Matthew 11:21, and Luke 10:13 ).

In the early church, people who had been separated from the church because of serious sins might seek to be re-admitted to the fellowship by observing a formal period of penitence during Lent. These people were generally sprinkled with ashes or given rough garments sprinkled with ashes as a sign of their sorrow for their sins.

Beginning in the tenth century, the observance of Ash Wednesday became a general rite for the church. The ashes, which were a symbol of purification in the Old Testament, remind us that we are mortal. In many churches the ashes are made by burning the palms from the previous year's Palm Sunday. Ashes are placed on the forehead, usually in the sign of a cross, in a ritual known as the Imposition of Ashes. As the ashes are placed on the forehead, words such as these are spoken:

"Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return," recalling God's words to Adam in Genesis 3:19.

The ashes are prepared by burning palm leaves from the previous year's Palm Sunday celebrations and mixing them with olive oil as a fixative. In the Roman Catholic Church, Ash Wednesday is observed by fasting & abstinence.