Sunday, July 12, 2015

So Sad and Serious

So sad and serious,
forced to grow up
and look after myself.

I tried to be brave
I tried to be smart
Tried so hard
so very tired.
So tired of being sad and serious.

I don't know what joy is sometimes
or lightness of heart.
Like a little boy playing dress up in a mean, fast, grown-up world,
I pretend to mean and fast too.

Learned it by watching those with power;
Trained in the ways of those who can manipulate people and circumstances
for the love and security they want.

Only to find fools gold;
restless wandering
empty whirlwind
toxic water.

Can I be made young again?
Can there be a do-over?
Can this mean, fast heart be healed?
Can I take off the costumes and stop pretending to be someone I'm not?
What will become of me if I do?
Who will look after me?

Lord, have mercy.

I'd rather be fake than feel alone,
I'd rather be mean and fast than feel out of control and abandoned.
I'd rather take than be taken,
I'd rather use than be used.

Lord, have mercy.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Psalm Twentythreed: Being Formed by Psalm 23

For several years I have incorporated Psalm 23 into my morning prayers and throughout the day in an attempt to root my thoughts, feelings and choices in God’s care. It has been indispensable in helping me find healing and hope for deep layers of abandonment, fear, anger and shame.

As I have grown in praying this prayer, I have also grown in appreciation of what I would call the “semantic range” of praying the Scriptures (semantic range = what a word can mean, based on context). I have read, prayed and incorporated a variety of translations of Psalm 23, filling up a well of images and metaphors that no one translation could capture.

This is my loose adaptation for my morning prayer, involving phrases and imagery also from Psalms 16 and 27. I try to pray simpler versions throughout the day, but this more expanded version primes the pump, allowing me to move toward greater prayerfulness. 

I spaced out phrases where I typically pause or emphasize. I hope it blesses you as you seek to anchor your heart and mind in God’s Kingdom, where each of us can be safe and satisfied.

The Lord is good, and his mercy endures forever.
The Lord is my good Shepherd;
Yahweh, the GREAT I AM, is the one who personally cares for me.

I shall not want,
I lack nothing,
I have everything I need,
right here, right now.

He beds me down in lush green meadows,
He leads me beside still quiet waters of rest and provision.

He restores and refreshes my torn and weary soul.
He restores,
He refreshes,
my torn, weary and anxious soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness, peace and joy
for his name’s sake and for my good;

Although this path often leads through darkness,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me
You are for me.

Nothing can happen to me that is not redeemable by love;
nothing that meets me today can separate me
from your great, tender and pervasive love.

Come, Lord, penetrate and intertwine yourself
within the fibers of my heart, mind, body and soul
so that I would know you, the only true God,
and Jesus my Master whom you sent,
and that I would know myself as one deeply loved and pleasing to you,
never alone,
never alone.

You prepare for me a feasting table, right under the nose of my enemies;
even behind enemy lines, Lord, your abundance surrounds me.

Help me receive it with thanks and to live a thankful life,
an inviting life even toward those who use me and dislike me.
Thank you for my life, and all the relationships and experiences
that have made me who I am right here, right now.

You anoint my head with oil,
you kiss my forehead with grace
until my cup overflows.

You are my portion and my cup,
The Lord is what I have in life and is the one who sustains me,
you hold me safe and sound,
my life and body rest secure;
Gushing fountains of endless LIFE are always within my reach,
because the Lord is my Shepherd

Surely your goodness and faithful love
will never fail to pursue and overtake me,
surround, saturate and satisfy me
all the days of my life, all the moments of my day,
drawing me up into your life and your house
making it my home forever.

May this life, this body, be our shared habitation.

By your gracious invitation,
and my conscious intention as your disciple,
I will dwell with you in your house
my whole life long.

Friday, June 05, 2015

The Heaving Wait

What mysteries visit in the dark
when knowing and loving fail
and joy is forgotten?

I’m tempted to conclude
amidst the heaving wait
that darkness will utter the final word
that doom shall consume
that all I’ve ever feared
will become true

But if I wait
for the heaving to do its work
until my hands hang limp
and my knees give way
fall to a calming quiet

As I wait there
powerless and oddly safe

as pure gift
the dawn breaks

Monday, May 18, 2015

As the Dawn Pierces

Waiting and watching

anticipation ripens

As the dawn pierces the eastern sky

hope pierces my heart

the night can be so long and lonely

few linger to feel it

and taste the dewy darkness;

But when the sun is born anew

and breaks through the horizongate

Those made ready are able

to receive the tardy embrace.

The earth is flooded


drenched in golden joy

this is how days start.

Friday, May 01, 2015

The Gift of Aloneness

"Being alone is a difficult discipline: a beautiful and difficult sense of being solitary is always the ground from which we step into a contemplative intimacy with the unknown, but the first portal of aloneness is often experienced as a gateway to alienation, grief and abandonment. To find our selves alone or to be left alone is a deep, fearful and abiding human potentiality of which we are often unconsciously, deeply afraid." (David Whyte, "Alone" in Consolations)

Being alone is a requirement for becoming human. Whether we call it “solitude and silence” or “being alone,” we have a particularly desperate need to quiet ourselves and separate ourselves from other people, activities and all the noise that comes from both. This is especially true in our day when we live and move in a noisy carnival of masks where “we are what we do” and “we are what we have” and “we are what others think of us.”

“There is no greater disaster in the spiritual life than to be immersed in unreality, for life is maintained and nourished in us by our vital relation with realities outside and above us. When our life feeds on unreality, it must starve. It must therefore die. There is no greater misery than to mistake this fruitless death for the true, fruitful and sacrificial ‘death’ by which we enter into life.

The death by which we enter into life is not an escape from reality but a complete gift of ourselves which involves a total commitment to reality. It begins by renouncing the illusory reality which created things acquire when they are seen only in their relation to our own selfish interests.” (Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, 19, emphasis mine).

If we're never willing to be alone with ourselves, to quiet our hearts and minds for extended periods, we shall never learn that in our aloneness we are never alone, for God is nearer to us than we are to ourselves. Not even our aloneness can separate us from the love of Christ! Very few people are willing to discover this, convinced by fear that if we get alone and quiet we shall discover the worst thing of all – there is nothing to us but emptiness. We must persevere in pressing through our unrest, anxieties and fears; if we do, we will find that in silence we can be safe and solid as we are upheld by God alone.

This is one reason why the desert has held such a place in the history of spirituality. The desert epitomizes the emptiness of being alone and the great gift of what this brings us in our relationship to God.

“The Desert Fathers believed that the wilderness had been created as supremely valuable in the eyes of God precisely because it had no value to men. The wasteland was the land that could never be wasted by men because it offered them nothing. There was nothing to attract them. There was nothing to exploit. The desert was the region in which the Chosen People had wandered for forty years, cared for by God alone. They could have reached the Promised Land in a few months if they had travelled directly to it. God’s plan was that they should learn to love Him in the wilderness and that they should always look back upon the time in the desert as the idyllic time of their life with Him alone.

The desert was created simply to be itself, not to be transformed by men into something else. So too the mountain and the sea. The desert is therefore the logical dwelling place for the man who seeks to be nothing but himself - that is to say, a creature solitary and poor and dependent upon no one but God, with no great project standing between himself and his Creator.” (Thoughts in Solitude, 21)

It is good to occasionally retreat from our familiar geography and re-locate ourselves in a quiet secluded spot for extended periods. We can also create little “mini-retreats” throughout our day as we break apart for 2-5 minutes and seek to be alone with God (e.g., The Daily Office). I tend to simply hijack what I’m already doing (like restroom breaks) and make them into “desert time” where I simply become aware of God with me and in me and seek to surrender afresh. Slowly, gradually, I am finding my life taken up into the life of God as I do so.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Two Ways the Heart is Broken

I have been thinking a lot these days about what suffering does for us in our relationship with God and others. I am aware of times when I anesthetize emotional and physical pain with lust or food (I did it again last night); I am also aware of times when suffering ushers me into the wounds of Christ, like stepping through the narrow wardrobe into the vast world of Narnia.

The difference for me is found in the “bent” of my will; either I am angrily pushing back against what feels like assault, or I am broken to the point of surrender or despair. Usually I’m some place in-between. One thing I have found to be true is that if I linger in despair, shame is always right there, which leads me into further degradations of my soul as I inevitably seek to numb myself. I am learning from Jesus (the Man of sorrows, remember) how to direct my heart toward surrender instead of despair, because I have confidence that he holds me and every aspect of my story, even (especially) those parts even I cannot yet hold.

In the end, when I seek to numb the pain I am diminished. When I follow the suffering into conversation with God and others, I am enlarged.

Parker Palmer says it better than I can when he says,

Suffering breaks our hearts — but there are two quite different ways for the heart to break. There’s the brittle heart that breaks apart into a thousand shards, a heart that takes us down as it explodes and is sometimes thrown like a grenade at the source of its pain. Then there’s the supple heart, the one that breaks open, not apart, growing into greater capacity for the many forms of love. Only the supple heart can hold suffering in a way that opens to new life.

What can I do to make my tight heart more supple, the way a runner stretches to avoid injury? That’s a question I ask myself every day. With regular exercise, my heart is less likely to break apart into shards that may become shrapnel, and more likely to break open into largeness.

There are many ways to make the heart more supple, but all of them come down to this: Take it in, take it all in!

My heart is stretched every time I’m able to take in life’s little deaths without an anesthetic: a friendship gone sour, a mean-spirited critique of my work, failure at a task that was important to me. I can also exercise my heart by taking in life’s little joys: a small kindness from a stranger, the sound of a distant train reviving childhood memories, the infectious giggle of a two-year-old as I “hide” and then “leap out” from behind cupped hands. Taking all of it in — the good and the bad alike — is a form of exercise that slowly transforms my clenched fist of a heart into an open hand.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Surviving Easter in an Evangelical World

Easter, alongside Christmas, is one of the highest points of symbolic reflection in the Christian year. We appropriately reflect together with other believers on the work accomplished on the cross and empty tomb. We create space and time for celebration and joy! These are all good things from our Father who gives good gifts.

My experiences of Easter in my 26 years of Christian pilgrimage have often been a bit discouraging, unfortunately. Easter celebrations, in my limited experience of the Evangelical world, present a shallow triumphalism that has little continuity with Good Friday or the life that Jesus continues to live as the Risen Lord. Too often the unspeakable suffering of Good Friday and the gut-wrenching silence and shameful failure of Holy Saturday are lost in the rush to celebratory shouts of Easter Sunday. What does this say about us - about what we value? What does this say about the gospel we actually live by?

As one who is often in some kind of physical or emotional pain, honesty permits me to say that this weekend doesn’t bring me much hope. The places where I can take my pain, suffering and mind-numbing confusion are eviscerated in the attempt to present “our best face” for visitors on Easter Sunday morning. What’s up with that, by the way? Why is it, that in order to feel welcome at Easter Sunday, I have to go visit another church? The guilt and pressure to serve and “make space” for visitors is quite overwhelming at times. I feel like I’m part of an effort to make a good impression on a first date. 


Now, I realize that I’m probably over-reacting a bit here; that there are things being “triggered” in me that are provoking an emotional response stronger than what is probably fair. But, does that make it any less real or important? I bring these things up in the hope that Jesus can heal these things in me and in his church. I love the church and long for the day when suffering and glory are not two disparate bookends to a fragmented story, but lovers intertwined in the mystery and intimacy of relational union and communion. This is what it means to know Jesus, folks. Intimacy with Jesus creates capacity to hold suffering and joy easily and naturally.

All I want is to know Christ and to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings and become like him in his death, in the hope that I myself will be raised from death to life. (Philippians 3:10-11 GNT)