I AM

I am.
Nothing.
But God’s love.

And God’s love
Crucifies.

I am.
Gasping. Panting.
Filled to overflow.

I am
lifted up by my collar bones gently.
Floating nowhere
And also everywhere.

I am
Mostly,
or atleast a little bit
Sitting In my meditation chair.
With outstretched arms embracing just everything.

I am nothing.
And yet this deliciousness
It is almost too much.

Going on, as it has,
In this timeless kairos

I am nothing.
And then The bell!

A ringing bigger than the world.
And me,

I am
The vibrations.
Working their way up
and down The bronze.

Baggage

I used to think that the main objective was simply to hear from God.

As I think about this objective now, I am imagining that my little toddler self, many decades ago, must have once simply wanted to be able to stand up with a little bit of stability.  At one point, it must have seemed to me that it would be so awesome if I could just stand up like the grown ups, with out having to hang or lean on something.  I imagine, at this time, that the idea of walking must have felt out of range; never mind running, or jumping, or skipping.   In fact, I would imagine that I didn’t have much of an understanding of the differences between these.

It is not that I see burning bushes all the time.  It’s not that I consistently can attribute to God.  Often, I have this sense that maybe this idea, or that idea, or feeling come from him.

Over the weekend, I had this moment of understanding that hearing from God is just the tip of the iceberg.  I was engaged in Lectio Divina.  A friend was walking several of us through this process of using the bible to allow God to encounter us directly.  The idea is that a passage is read repeatedly, and we might find a phrase or a sentence that seems important to meditate on.

I was so struck by the entering into this process that I hardly paid any attention at all to the bible reading though.  My friend Jason opened with a sort-of prayer, that we might have an open heart toward God.

And in that moment, I had this crystal clear realization that my heart is not particularly open at all.  I had an awareness of how guarded and tenative I am.  How full of my own agenda and foolishness I can be.  I had this understanding that if somebody starts off  with their baggage and agenda, the words we hear, the feelings we recieve, the verse we find ourselves focusing on will be filtered and experienced through this baggage.

I had been wrestling lately, with the act of letting go of my ego.  I can clearly see it’s presence.  But I had found myself wondering if I shouldn’t be giving more time and head-space to the idea of just reaching out to God and focusing on union with him.  The thing I experienced, last Saturday, was that all the time and effort I am spending, around letting go of my false self is pretty important.  Otherwise, I will be doing nothing but twisting God’s words and intent around for my own petty little purposes.

 

Broken Clocks and Thankfulness

One of my least favorite things to hear from somebody is, “You should be more grateful.”

There can be some pretty nasty implications in that statement.  Suggestions that they have sacrificed in some way that I am not fully appreciating.  Judgement that I have received something I don’t deserve.   When somebody says, “You should be more grateful.”  It might mean that all of my successes are not mine; it might mean that all of my failures should have been so much worse, if I had not been rescued from someone.

My baggage around hearing that I should be more grateful colors how I view it, no matter the context.  Lots of spiritual folks have preached the power of thankfulness for milenia.  More recently, science has caught up.  There are meditations, and prayers, and spiritual practices focusing on the power of giving thanks.  But I have had some walls to all these.  Partially because of the motivation of some people who needed a motivation check.

The thing is, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

And regardless of what the motivation of somebody is, they are right if they should tell me I should be more grateful.

Yesterday morning I started my day in a manner that was just about my favorite way to be.  I rolled out of bed early, but got started slowly on taking the day on.  I made some iced coffee, and engaged in a morning that was one part writing, one part meaningless netflix/computer games, and one part house keeping, bill paying etc.  If you had watched me, it would have seemed pretty random.  Fifteen minutes of guilty pleasures like the show “Supernatural” or the game “Civilization.”  Twenty minutes of writing.  Eighteen minutes of washing dishes.

Being able to follow my own rhythm, and alternate between feeding my soul, engaging in foolishness, and being productive on my own schedule is a real blessing.  It is, in fact, a thing to be grateful for.  For the first half of my Saturday morning, there was no joy to be had, though, because I was not willing to make room for it.

A handful of struggles– some pretty deep and significant– were on my mind.   This took up all the space there was in my head.  There wasn’t room for anything else.  I have this sense that gratitude paves the way for joy.  And joy is pretty fundamental.

I am writing this to make a comittment to myself, to engage in being thankful more.  Not only because somebody else deserves my thanks (though they often do) but also because it is good for me.

 

 

 

No Place Like Home

Basically, every story ever told is a quest story: The hero must go on a journey to locate the thing he thinks he needs.

And basically, every well-written quest story ends with the realization that the thing they have needed has been with them all along.  Consider, if you will, Dorothy with her ruby slippers.  It is telling that she received them right at the beginning; furthermore, it is the shoes which in some sense allow her to move down the yellow brick road at all.

It is as if the decision to embark on the quest is the most important thing.

 When Jesus told his followers he was going to be leaving, they got upset and asked how they would ever find him.  Jesus responded “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the father except through me.”

I understand Jesus to be saying, “Your journey is sacred.  The act of leaving is the holy part of it.  At the end, you will find that I have been with you all along.”

We, like Dorothy, will find that the ruby slippers we got, right as we took those very first steps, are the things we needed after all.

I think the way that we use that verse is tragic.  It is wielded like a weapon.  You would think that Jesus said, “I am the wall, and the football team’s defensive line.  I plan on actively interfering with your ability to find truth and life.”

Of course, a little bit of a shell game goes on.  Because the people who pervert Jesus’ words in this case might object that they want to help those on their quests find Jesus.  When those words get (mis)used, inevitably what follows is an explanation of their view on just what a Christian needs to do in order to connect to Jesus.

A reason I find these understandings suspect is that they generally rely on cherry picking from some other part of the bible.   There is talk of special prayers that are required to connect with Jesus; or specific rituals; or prescribed actions.

Perhaps these actions, prayers and rituals are good things to do.  Many of them are in the bible.  But Jesus, I think, is saying at this time, that his followers already know where they are going.  They have known the father the whole time.  They are wearing the slippers that they thought they were looking for.

As a big fan of quest stories, I know that one of the ways to drag out a quest is to complicate the trip in some way.  If it doesn’t take Harry Potter the whole novel to find the piece of Voldemort’s soul, perhaps we can extend the journey by requiring him to find a weapon capable of destroying the horcruxes.  If the video game’s over-arching plot wasn’t quite extensive enough to justify the money customers will spend, perhaps we can throw in some side quests to customize the game.  If the journey with the one true ring isn’t quite expansive enough, perhaps we need to take a side-trip to where the elves lives for somebody to heal up.

If the actual distance covered in this journey wasn’t really the point, then the actual distance in the side-journeys is even less relevant.  I have been thinking, lately, about the soul.   I think, that our quest to find, understand, and highlight the soul is a side-quest…  An adventure in missing the point.  

The thing we had?  Our version of the slippers?  It was the thing that was so close we never even gave it a second thought.  It was this body, that carried us around, through the journey.  The physical stuff that carter our thoughts, ideas, and sensations around…  This was what we needed in the first place.

I realize that there is lots that ought to be said about this.  I hope you will forgive me if I am being a bit provacative.  I will be back in a couple days and say some more about this idea.  But for now, I wanted to give you something to sit with, and explore.

If you have some thoughts– maybe simply that I have it all wrong– I hope you’ll leave a comment below.  

Wondering. And Wandering.

And me?  I had been wondering, and wandering before.  There were these answers.  And these people who loved me.  For the first time, I was using the same kinds of words as my wife to explain, and describe the important things in the world.

I remember the night I decided I wasn’t battling with Jesus anymore.  I would be contemptuous if I saw a movie like that.  Because the weather outside was such a perfect representation of what was going on within me that it would be difficult to believe this sort-of thing actually happens.

The thunder was so loud that night it literally shook the glass window panes in the sill.  Huge rain drops came down, roads flooded and the wind whirled.  And then?  Then it all fell into place for me.

This church that my wife had found was good.  The people was good.  I found a place I felt like I belonged for the first time in a long time.

 

It was all so good in the beginning.

Adam had this garden, and this partner.  He walked with his maker.

And me?  We had these groups that met every week.  We ate together and laughed, and we worked at figuring things out.  They loved me.

Our lives intersected, outside of those times.

We worshipped on Sundays.  Songs that felt like they were constructed in my world.  Not the silly and obselete church organs of my youth.  Electric guitars.  Drums.  And sermons that spoke to where I was…  Mostly.

Adam and Eve eventually contended with the snake.  

And me?  Well I guess like Adam, it was all those doubts and fears that I didn’t want to own.

There were all these pat answers and easy explanations.  Lots of them were about who goes to heaven and who goes to hell.  There was not much doubt about those explanations.  We invoked God’s mystery, sometimes, but mostly about why and how it had to work this way.  God’s mystery didn’t threaten the explanations themselves.  It was only ever use to justify why those explanations didn’t make sense to us.

When I look back on that time, I think about all the things I thought I knew.  I think back about how knowledge seemed like a requirement for the right way to be.  And it seemed like the fruit of the right way to be, too.  We knew this and that and the other thing.

I don’t know why I never wondered about the tree, in the garden, that caused all those problems.  It was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

These days, in the middle of my reconstructed faith, I see some importance to that.  It is, perhaps, a statement about the human condition.   We have this desire to know the nature of good and evil.  But someway, somehow…  This is just not how it works.

We don’t, we can’t know the nature of good and evil nearly so much as we want to.  This is the only tree that we are told not to eat from.  We are, I guess, supposed to lean into our connection with God, and discern good and evil in some other way.  Perhaps with a bit more humility.

 

You

You are already lovely.

You began as you are and as you will always be.

 

Those doings of yours,

They are perhaps good.  Or not.

But those doings of yours are only and ever just that.

 

They will rise and fall like waves and empires.

 

But you.

You.

You are the ocean beneath the waves,

The ground beneath the buildings.

 

Bodies

I drove by this toddler on my way to work this week.  She was standing by the kitchen door, at the end of a driveway.  A school bus door was closing, the flashing lights atop turned off.  The little stop sign, on the driver’s side of the bus, folded inwards.

This little toddler was waving, waving, waving as the bus pulled into the traffic, down the street, and out of sight.  There was another figure there– presumably her mother.  To judge by body language, the mom was probably telling the younger daughter that she could come in, now; she didn’t need to keep waving.  But the little girl did not seem to want to stop until the bus was gone.

There is something so basic using our bodies to work out emotions.  Young kids learn sign language more quickly than they use words.  Happy dogs sometimes wag their whole bodies, not only this tail.  That little girl, this week, wanted to physically act out saying good bye to her older sibling.

We are embodied creatures.  There is wisdom in recognizing this.  Rituals like communion require us to physically eat.  Liturgies call on us to stand, sit, and kneel.  In churches we say prescribed responses; in schools we recite the pledge; in magical systems, participants recite incantations.  In all these cases, we are not saying words to communicate meaning.  We are engaged in talking as a physical act.

Our bodies are important.

I think this is part of why breathing is such an important aspect of contemplative practice.  And so many meditations technique begin with bringing an awareness to our bodies.  Our bodies are good and a fundamental part of who we are.   These reminders are important.

Hoping to Hear From You

We are looking to hear from you, today, and considering transitions in our faith.   When did you know it was time to leave? How did you know it was time to leave? What are some things that surprised you? What are the positives or the negatives? The answers to this question will help shape a post on this blog. If you have pithy comments that you would care to share with others, post them in the comments below. If you would rather a level of anonymity, or would like to run longer, send an email to  thecontemplace@gmail.com

Where the Joy Is.

The Dalai Lama and Bishop Tutu inspired me.  When they agreed that joy is at the foundation of who we are, I decided to spend some time sitting with this truth and exploring it.

It seemed like this could be one of truths hiding in plain sight in the Genesis creation story: we are made in God’s image.  He is a creative God, a God that lives in community.  If this is truly more fundamental than the fall, then this joy ought to be waiting for us.

And so I set about looking for it.  In truth, it has only been a week or so of meditation practice that I have been on this hunt.  But Martin Buber says that prayer doesn’t happen in time; time happens in prayer.  Richard Rohr and Madeline L’Engle make much of the distinction between man’s way of measuring time: chronos, and the divine experience of time: Karios.  Perhaps these things all mean that it doesn’t matter that I have only been looking for a week.  Or maybe I am rationalizing.

I did not find an oasis of joy and ecstasy.  I have not had one of those crazy mystical experiences of God entering into my world and blowing it wide open.  I did have a sense about some things, though.

The Big Bang came to mind.  Smarter people than me point out that the big bang was not an explosion that happened an empty universe, with all this time stretching out before it.  Rather, that explosion created the very possibility of space-time.

I find myself wondering if God’s image, that primal joy I am looking for, isn’t confined to a certain location in my inner geography.   It seems the divine image is maybe the very possibility that I have this kingdom within me at all.  God’s joy is built into the very fabric of my own inner spaciousness.

I had this other sense.  In a way this is a counter-point to the last thing.  But it is also a continuation of it.  And also totally separate…  I had this other sense of a man running around and trying to see his own eyes in a world with out mirrors.

Perhaps the joy resides in the part of me that is doing the searching, in the place where all my thoughts and feelings come together.  Perhaps this primal joy is in my soul/psyche/spirit/will/medial posterior parietal cortex.  Perhaps I don’t see it because it is too close.

As my brain started to go in these directions, I found that the meditative state came and went.  There are times it felt like I was not sitting all, just thinking, which is quite the opposite.

I anchored myself to my breath, one of these times.  Tried to return my awareness to just there.  And then I had this third, final thought.  Also this thought is a continutation of that same first thought.

God breathed into the first person.  That’s where he turned them from a handful of dirt into a human being.  In that breath.  I have babbled on, some, on this blog, about the profundity of this first breath.  But it strike me anew, as I was wondering about this primal joy and how I find it.  It is in the breath.

The breath that always brings me back to here and now.  The breath that wipes away my past regrets and my future fears.  The breath that rises and falls like waves through out my whole life, ushering in a fresh new now with every single one.  That is where joy is: It is where the first joy came to us from God, and it lives there now, just waiting for us.

 

Joy!

I discovered this book written by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.  It is about joy.  I am quite daunted by the idea that these two men, after all their life experiences, can find so much to be joyful about.  When I think about the persecution and exile, the cancers, murders, fear that these spiritual giants have faced, it puts my struggles into perspective.

According to this book, Buddhists view joy as the natural state of being.  With practice, they believe that we can return to this state.  At this point, I decided to put the book down.  Because I was struck, suddenly, by the idea that this could– maybe should– be a Christian view, too.

I have given lots of space in my head to what it might have been like in the Garden of Eden.  But I am not sure I have ever considered the joy of that place.  I suspect that joy is the natural state of being from a Christian perspective, too.

I am going to go meditate on this possibility now.  I will let you know how it goes for me.  If you have some thoughts on this topic, I would love to hear how them below.