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All historical experience demonstrates the following: our earth cannot be changed unless in the not too distant future an alteration in the consciousness of the individuals is achieved.
Catholic theologian, Hans Kung
And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.
Mark 13: 37
Waking up and becoming more and more conscious, aware, and alert are fundamental tasks of being a disciple and growing in faith and spiritual maturity. Some of us sleepyheads will resist such bold, open-eyed, clear seeing, tooth and nail. The call to consciousness rings throughout the scriptures and in the season of advent and Christmas the wake-up call is sounded loud and clear.
Real change and transformation is not a simple escape to a dream of a better place. Real change requires an honest appraisal and engagement with what is so. This may involve getting our noses rubbed in some realities we do not like. It may require first creating enough safety for oneself to speak aloud truths long denied, forgotten, or covered up with various kinds of painkillers and band aids. Before our external reality changes, before the people, institutions, and conditions around us change for the better, we must change internally. Our inner reality conditions and shapes how we see, experience, and respond to exterior reality.
A Box of Dread
Remember Pandora’s box? When I was a child I was fascinated and horrified by the myth of the young woman created by Zeus, who was given special gifts by each of the gods. In addition, Zeus added the gift of curiosity to her other gifts of beauty and wisdom. Then Zeus sent Pandora to earth to be Epimetheus’ wife. Zeus was still angry with Epimetheus’ brother, Prometheus, who had stolen fire from the gods. Pandora arrives on Epimetheus’ doorstep with a wedding gift from Zeus. The gift was a box or jar with a lid.
The age of spirituality lite,
and the gospel as entertainment is over.
2017 annual letter
Learn what I have been hearing over the past year, as I listened in over 300 conversations with people struggling with the challenging task of waking up and not giving up. When “things fall apart and the center cannot hold,” will the falcon hear the falconer?
This post is an adaptation of a post first published July 5, 2010.
My heart overflows with a goodly theme
as I sing my ode to the King. Psalms 45:1
The kingdom of God will come when men and women are willing to be penetrated by bliss.
-M.C. Richards – Centering in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person
Her words stopped me in my tracks and resonated like a struck gong. Little seemed blissful in my life at the time. It was 1973. I was living alone in an apartment in Ann Arbor, Michigan, working at a job I hated, depressed, and hurting deeply. These words of artist M.C. Richards penetrated my defenses, self pity, and sense of worthlessness like a swift shining sword. For the first time in a season of sadness I felt hope.
The notion that the rule of God, the peaceable kingdom, the promise of wholeness for all people is a function, not of ridding the earth of evil, not of righting all injustice, not in overcoming human sin and limitation, but rather our willingness to receive goodness and mercy into our being has animated my life ever sense.
“Put down your sword!” Jesus tells Peter in the garden of Gethsemane. Peter, in a desire to protect his master, had taken a sword to the ear of one of the Roman soldiers who had come to arrest Jesus. However, Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world. It is a Reality already here, present, and accessible to all. Jesus says, it is within you and everywhere like a seed, common and transforming as leaven. The winsome, disarming Jesus manifested that kingdom wherever he went and invited his followers to do the same.
Two disarming black labs, my Elijah and Jean Luc Picard, who arrived with some house guests, have been teaching me about bliss. The dogs met for the first time a week ago with the hearty delight of Adam, when God introduced to him the woman he had made of Adam’s rib.
“Ah, at last a fit companion! Bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh,” Adam exults. Though not recorded in the scripture, I figure Adam then wiggled all over just like my dog, Elijah.
The best-friends-forever have been inseparable – wrestling, play fighting, swimming, fetching, and sprawling, here and there, exhausted and snoring. Holding back nothing, these fellows have allowed bliss to penetrate and animate every cell of their bodies. Bliss surrounds, follows them, spills out of their eyes, and rolls off their shoulders. Even the cat has a spring in her step and an amused quality to her feline reserve.
I believe the great challenge of our time and all mortal time is holding our hearts open to the rain of grace – the glorious reign of delight that ceaselessly offers itself to the whole creation.
“But hold on!” you say. What about climate change eating away our coasts and killing off species? What about health care crisis? What about the lives and shores devastated by oil spills? What about your own personal crisis and impasse, your unemployment, your grief, your illness? What about the suffering ones everywhere we turn?
Could you, will you, permit the tiny possibility of joy to penetrate your darkness, to kiss you on the face, to pounce upon you from behind? Maybe, before you know it, it will jump up into your lap and go to sleep in your arms.
To notice, delight in, and allow ourselves to be penetrated by the goodness of God does not mean we ignore the places where that goodness is obscured or sorrow and pain exist.
The amazing opportunity to be a member of the homo sapiens species alive on this earth at this time is an incredible gift. Our willingness to receive, to lay down and roll on our backs in, the sheer bliss of being alive is what allows God to transform that vortex of darkness, greed, and hate through us. What evil and sin target and destroy is joy, because joy is a unfallable sign of the presence and power of God.
The world does not need our disgust, outrage, anger, and rage. It needs the Reign of Christ’s joy with its unfailing hope, faith, and love. The world – sucked into the whirlpool of greed, violence, and suffering – will not enter the Kingdom of God through our anger, retaliation, and swords, but through our bliss, the utter delight and lab-lucious joy of being children of the Father of Goodness and the Mother of Mercy.
Let no one and no circumstance rob you of such a splendid birthright.
Download and read latest issue of Holy Ground – A Quarterly Reflection on the Contemplative Life, “Try a Little Tenderness”
He lay slumped on her lap like a great heavy mail sack stuffed with the cards and letters of creation’s lovelorn. They spilled from him with the blood. “Save me. Heal me. Help me. Love me. Save me. Heal me. Help me. Love me.” Over and over the messages were the same. Some were written in the scraggly script of the old, some in the sprawling letters of the very young, some on the finest stationary. Others were on scraps of newspaper, prison walls, and sheets from hospital beds. Some were stamped out in the snow, and some were imprinted on faces, especially around the eyes and mouth. “Save me. Heal me. Help me. Love me.” https://theprayinglife.com/tag/pieta/
Prayer that hurts
If anyone claiming to be united to God is always in a state of peaceful beatitude, I simply do not believe in their union with God. Such a union, to my mind, involves great sorrow for the sin and pain of the world; a sense of identity not only with God, but also with all other souls, and a great longing to redeem and heal. St. Teresa of Avila
Vulnerable involvement with the broken world will expose our own wounds and need for forgiveness. If I pray for my enemy, I risk having my mind changed. To pray for others is to consent to experiencing the cross. It may be as simple as dying to my own desires for a particular outcome, or dying to my desire to do something other than to respond to someone’s need for prayer.
Intercessory prayer asks what good is my peace, my sense of well-being, when my sister is hurting? What good is my abundance, if it does not give me the freedom and strength to bring my faith and peace to someone else’s weakness and sorrow?
Sometimes intercessory prayer tends to be more a desperate act of love, than eloquence; a messy melodrama, than a polite request. It is as though the intercessor has one foot in the darkness and terror of human existence and the other in the beauty and joy of abundant life. The presence and being of the intercessor becomes a life line through which moves the power of God. To stand in the gap of another’s need without being pulled to one polarity or the other requires spiritual strength and maturity.
The formality and reticence of ecclesiastical prayer is utterly foreign to the Bible. Biblical prayer is impertinent, persistent, shameless, and indecorous. It is more like haggling in an outdoor bazaar than the polite monologues of churches. – Walter Wink, Methodist pastor and author
When I began this ministry of prayer, I did not have a clue as to what praying would mean. I took on too much. I felt too much. I was a child playing with fire. I carried other people’s pain. I became ill. There were periods when I strongly identified with Christ on the cross in ways I wondered if I was going crazy. Over time I learned what God was teaching me about suffering and redemption, vulnerability, and the presence of Christ in our lives.
Some people do suffer in prayer for others. Saint Therese of Lisieux saw this as her vocation as a Carmelite nun. 18th century Presbyterian missionary, David Brainerd wrote: “God enabled me to agonize in prayer. My soul was drawn out very much for the world. I grasped for a multitude of souls.”
Evelyn Underhill notes, “As the personality of the saints grew in strength and expanded in adoration so they were drawn on to heroic wrestling for souls..Real saints do feel and fear the weight of the sins and pains of the world. It is the human soul’s greatest privilege that we can thus accept redemptive suffering for another.”
I believe we all suffer for one another within the larger mystery of Christ’s suffering. However I also believe Walter Wink’s caution: “We must not try to bear the suffering of creation ourselves…We can only give it expression and let the groaning pass through us to God. Only the heart of God can endure such suffering. Our attempts to bear them are masochistic, falsely messianic, and finally idolatrous.”
We have limits. We need to know the difference between suffering with another at God’s invitation and when it is merely tragic and spiritualized self-abuse. There is a difference between prayer and acts which are codependent, manipulative, ego driven meddling, and prayer and acts which are life-giving. Knowing when to back off, what is truly my concern, how to protect myself with clear boundaries, and when one’s work is finished comes with experience.
It is difficult to open your heart and mind to the raw suffering before you and remain there steadfast and watching in someone else’s Gethsemane. Yet to wait in faith and hope at the foot of your neighbor’s cross is one of the most healing acts we can offer one another. This is because here in the darkness at the end of the road is where divine action meets human limitation and leaps from heart to heart.
Maybe you light a candle, say the rosary, ask others to pray with you. Maybe you go outside and spread yourself over the ground and let all the sorrow and pain drain out of you into Mother Earth. You might pound on the table or the wall. You might shout to the heavens, “Do something! Be merciful! Be God for us.” You reach out, call a friend or a hotline, write a letter, or paint a picture of the great groaning earth crying for mercy. One way or another we each funnel a piece of the anguish of this broken world through our being to the One we believe can help.
Your prayer does not have to sound beautiful. It just needs to be honest. Carry what you have been blessed to bear over the terrain of your day into the heart of God.
Pretty soon your life will be etched with little channels running between the ocean of suffering in this world and the endless mercy of God.
Read entire issue here: Holy Ground, Intercede, Part 2 – Summer 2014
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