Bring It On… All of It!

Who doesn’t feel overwhelmed? And if we don’t, who among us does not succumb to the seasonal pressure to pretend that we are. Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday — and all the rest — whisk us toward the inevitability of “the Holidays.” Baubles galore are dangled in front of us as if material consumption can somehow quench our deep human longing. It’s exhausting!

Need it be? We too easily buy a bill of goods feeding a belief that the good life is one of luxury and ease, a life free of pain or insecurity. The older we get the more we appreciate the foolishness of our ways and the incapacity of that standard to deliver. In fact, those fortunate enough to reach the Biblical benchmark of three-score-and-ten are quite familiar with diminishment, loss and slowing down. What might that be about?

Despite our frenzied pace, even with our convenience items, not withstanding our creature comforts, we know in our gut there is something more. Our hearts crave something deeper. We seek a joy greater than mere happiness; we desire an abiding serenity that rests securely beneath all the turbulence; ultimately, all we want is to savor a bit of that Love which resides within the eye of the hurricane.

For millennia, that’s what this time of year has been about. The winter solstice invites us to celebrate the potency of womb-like darkness. Christians know this season as Advent — a period of intentional longing and expectancy for the pregnancy of time to finally deliver light, life, a savior. As with the birth of every child, we cannot short-circuit the development only patience brings forth. We can only enter the process, embrace the promise. We must receive the powerlessness and vulnerability of a newborn into our lives.

Our cultural traditions and social customs — richly diverse as they may be — have the potential to distract us from this one necessity. We can flutter above in a frenzied haze and never find that which alone is the “perfect gift” we seek. So knowing it as a wish for myself as much as for anyone else, I offer the following as a prayer. May we all experience more of what this season has in store for us:

I do not know what these shadows ask of you,

what they might hold that means you good or ill.

It is not for me to reckon whether you should linger or you should leave.

 

But this is what I can ask for you:

 

That in the darkness there be a blessing.

That in the shadows there be a welcome.

That in the night you be encompassed

by the Love that knows your name.

 

-Jan Richardson from Advent 1: A Blessing for Traveling in the Dark

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Thanks to the website of Wisdom Ways, a ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in St. Paul, MN for brining this poem by Jan Richardson to my attention.

What’s Really on My Mind; What’s Really Going On

You’re correct… I haven’t been blogging much recently. Part of the reason is that I have felt constricted by a presumed obligation to write “for others” and not for myself. Would my honest curiosities and musings be too raw, too honest? Would anyone else really care? I’ve heard the blank response from my family (perhaps the only ones caring enough or willing to tell me), “I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about!”

Well, today is different! Here’s what’s on my mind, the stuff I really want to talk about, what I’m really wrestling with inside. It’s from an email I just sent to a dear soul-mate friend with whom I had a long overdue phone conversation last evening. I offer it here with the simple desire to transparently “let others in” and with a faint hope that something, anything, will be of interest — maybe even helpful — to someone else. Here’s what’s been on my mind and what I really want to write…

Thanks for the great conversation. Really good to reconnect. It’s triggered a few more thoughts prompted by recalling that I had not spoken of a key awareness central to the “shift in consciousness” I’m aware of HAPPENING TO ME. And that last part is critical… happening to me.

I used to interpret the likes of Stephen Fowler and such behavioral psychologists as if we/I somehow had the ability or responsibility to “recraft” or even “recreate” our sense of meaning (e.g., our understanding of God, our “faith” as if it were some sort of volitional act). No!!! Now I’m recognizing that this “reformulation” is something that happens TO US, is done FOR US, is given (grace).

This is why talking with you is so important. I don’t create or craft the “shift in consciousness”. I don’t do the work. It’s done to us, for us!!! Nevertheless, speaking about it clarifies the experience (sheer gift) and enables me to recognize it, to RECEIVE IT! Thanks, buddy!

Another recognition from the past couple months of my wrestling with what felt like depression (dark night?)… the institutional church (in my case, the Society of Jesus but compounded by the global clergy sex abuse crisis that triggers my PTSD) betrayed me. Charlottesville and the pardoning of the AZ sheriff, etc. further sends me over the edge because it to also triggers my sense of betrayal.

I’ve both a BA and MA in Political Science, I worked for the Nebraska Legislature for 4 years, been a delegate to state Democratic conventions, staffed a district Congressional office (all before entering the SJ). I taught American Government as a regent, did a summer internship in DC with Network, spent three years doing human rights advocacy at the Jesuit Conference again in DC. I could be fairly described as having been a “Faith & Justice” Jesuit (I would be honored by such an epilation).

Trump and our thoroughly dysfunctional Congress feels to me like wholesale betrayal (not to mention the racist and fascist undertow and allusions) by the institutions of government — our “public life”, really — paralleling the earlier betrayal by the church. In other words our public institutions have proven themselves to be wholly undeserving/unworthy of the faith I/we presumed I/we could place in them.

This is the context in which I experienced the killing on July 15 of our neighbor, Justine Damond, by a Minneapolis police officer. She had called 911 for help — actually she was reporting what she feared was a sexual assault in the back alley. She was doing what she trusted was the correct and right thing to do. Those who were invested with the public trust to “protect” us shot her! (Welcome to the world of Black America!!!!).

Again, those in whom we thought we could place our trust proved, not only to be unworthy of trust, but abusive. In sum, the core institutions of our culture — the very foundations for my sense of meaning and trust — have proven to be bankrupt and even a source of betrayal.

That’s the context for my outrage about “God never gives us more than we can handle” bullshit and my passionate insistence, “Oh yes He does, AND THAT’S PRECISELY THE POINT!!!” I/we don’t reformulate or recreate “our” concept of God or recompose our understanding of faith. It’s done FOR US, TO US. My best way to give expression to the experience is that “We are BIRTHED into it!”

BTW, I hope you noticed that I used male specific language to describe God just above. That was choiceful and deliberate! Even our politically correct language and tip-toeing around our God-talk for fear of “offending” someone else’s sensibilities — or that gender-specific language somehow “limits” or “constrains” God — is fairly bankrupt in itself (if not a pile of bullshit — but we dare not say that out loud, do we😨😱😃👍👏👌)?

Maybe the reason I don’t blog very much any more is because this is really the stuff I want to write about. And I’m aware that most people wouldn’t know what the hell I’m talking about (I hope that’s not as elitist as it sounds). And for those who do, they’d take it as a cognitive exercise, an “academic” speculation, a Lonerganian “insight” we think we can “comprehend” in our 30s. And the truth is it’s just the opposite.

It’s not something we comprehend or “command” as as if we were strategically moving pieces in a cosmic game of chess! Every shift in consciousness is done to us, for us, is wholly given! We are continuously re-birthed when the womb in which we have found so much security and nourishment is found to be inadequate (i.e., “not-God”), actually idolatrous. When God gives us (i.e., invites, teases, nudges us to experience) more than we can handle!!!

“Vanity of vanities! All is vanity sayeth the Lord!” (Ecclesiastes 1:2)

TS Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi”: “I should be glad of another death.”

😎😃😉🤡🤓 Smile… this is all very Good News!

Of the One and the Many

Thanks to or our friend Sheila Wilson for this timely excerpt from The Brother’s Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky:

” It’s just the same story as a doctor once told me,” observed the elder. “He was a man getting on in years, and undoubtedly clever He spoke as frankly as you, though in jest, in bitter jest. ‘I love humanity,’ he said, ‘but I wonder at myself. The more I love humanity in general, the less I love man in particular. In my dreams,’ he said, ‘ I have often come to making enthusiastic schemes for the service of humanity, and perhaps I might actually have faced crucifixion if it had been suddenly necessary; and yet I am incapable of living in the same room with any one for two days together, as I know by experience. As soon as any one is near me, his personality disturbs my self-complacency and restricts my freedom. In twenty-four hours I begin to hate the best of men: one because he’s too long over his dinner; another because he has a cold and keeps on blowing his nose. I become hostile to people the moment they come close to me. but it has always happened that the more I detest men individually the more ardent becomes my love for humanity.’ “

Simply Amazing, Isn’t It!?!

Susan Stabile is both a good friend and the Director of the Office for Spirituality at the University of St Thomas. She suggested a superb exercise at a program kicking off the beginning of the school year. Perhaps you will be as inspired and moved as was I. Surely, it is something I hope to come back to again and again.

Susan quoted the esteemed Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel:

Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement…get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.

Susan then proposed three insightful and incisive questions:

What are you finding most incredible and phenomenal in your life at this time?

What, if anything, do you take for granted?

What single change could you make in your life to live with a greater sense of amazement?

Yes, growth in spirituality and our relationship with God can be a simple as that… Amazing, isn’t it? Simply amazing!

Show Up, Pay Attention and Listen!

Whether en route to lunch with a friend or heading off to the grocery, three random threads keep weaving their way through my thoughts. Amazing what intrigues us or where we find wisdom for living.

Last evening during a three-part offering about meditation sponsored by our church the facilitator quoted a Tibetan monk: “Easeful attraction is more effective than frantic pursuit.” Jeb the Dog has taught me much the same when I try to convince him to return to our yard rather than pursue that bunny up the alley. I guess it just takes a monk to convince us that simply paying attention reveals much of what we need to know.

The second snippet comes from a dear friend who has been grieving a terrible loss for the past few years: “How do we get past what we will never get over?” So much of life is this way. Grief is a tenacious and persistent experience,  a process that never really ends. Here’s what I’ve learned… we never do get over it, nor should we! The best we can do is to get past it by finding the ability to somehow cherish that “recurring void” as a sacred testimony to that, or to the one, we have lost.

Somewhere over the past two weeks someone said something or I read something that provided a flash of recognition and appreciation: “Love suffers, but suffering is not love.” Wowser… I could almost feel the synapses connecting! Brought back grateful memories of Mom and Dad as well as so many great loving and long-suffering parents I’ve observed. Isn’t that the truth. Our world could use more of that bit of wisdom!

Life is so crammed full of goodness and truth. It really does come down to: “Show up, pay attention and listen!”

A Necessary and Honest Confession

I can be pretty harsh and judgmental, especially about things related to liturgy. I hate congregations that haven’t learned a new hymn in thirty years (unless it’s truly a rock-the-rafters or tug-the-heartstrings classic). Some of my harshest criticisms focus on mediocre preaching — and in my opinion there is plenty of it our there!  And that’s not all.

Another pet peeve that irritates me are lectors who do a crappy job of proclaiming the Scriptures. Too often they seem unprepared and clueless about what they are reading. Too often that’s what it is — just reading, and it may as well be the weather report or assembly instructions for your Weber grill.

Today I found my hackles rising and my stomach tighten as the lector rattled off the Old Testament reading. I was really annoyed when he then reappeared to do the reading from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. Then something happened! It was external, not something I initiated. I heard, “Stop! Just stop!”

The images of the first Christmas, not the one just celebrated, flashed back. Simplicity. Poverty. Away from home. A simple, insignificant young woman. A nobody carpenter. Events occurring, not in cosmopolitan Jerusalem, but quietly nine miles away in the backwater outpost, Bethlehem.  World-shattering events, done poorly by my sophisticated standards.

If I cannot hear the Word proclaimed in a hurry, without polish, less than perfectly I would most certainly pass right by the inauspicious stable of Jesus’ actual birth! At least that’s what I heard when I was asked to stop my harsh, judgmental criticisms.

Then I heard something else, not a judgment but an invitation. A consoling voice reminding me that the most polished oration is no match for simple living.  A gentle questioner whispered, “How’re you doing with giving flesh, embodying, living the Word?” I felt exposed, though not embarrassed; admonished, but with my self esteem intact.

For the first time this season I really experienced Christmas — God’s Word laboring to take flesh in our world. Yes, even in me!