16 October 2014
Rainer Maria Rilke said, in one of my favorite books ever Letters to a Young Poet:
I want to beg you as much as you can, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer. Perhaps you do carry within yourself the possibility of shaping and forming as a particularly happy and pure way of living; train yourself to it—but take whatever comes with great trust, and if only it comes out of your own will, out of some need of your innermost being, take it upon yourself and hate nothing.
Jean Vanier, Founder of the faith-based L’Arche Communities, said about CHANGE in his great book Becoming Human that:
Change of one sort or another is the essence of life, so there will always be the loneliness and insecurity that come with change. When we refuse to accept that loneliness and insecurity are part of life, when we refuse to accept that they are the price of change, we close the door on many possibilities for ourselves; our lives become lessened…. Life evolves; change is constant.
28 September 2014
Note: this is old school, first thought writing. There has been no editing, so know that it is as raw as it gets.
I am a ragamuffin; worn-out frenzied, failing at being even human sometimes, so hard on myself I crush out the very candle wick Jesus said he would not.
I struggle to forgive and accept forgiveness. I am a one man band on a self loathing pity tour. I am loved and deeply known by a God I far too often FEAR.
I am clean and sober, no longer held by the vice of active addiction, but I still hold too many secrets and regrets about the pain I caused so many dear ones who were held hostage by my drinking and drugging. My ‘daily reprieve’ is sometimes not enough.
I am stitched together by the grace of Jesus. He loves me deeply, so much so, I shudder to think that he knows ALL the evil and suffering I have caused and been through, all the dark nights of the soul and body that are all woven together and held by his golden thread. Jesus echoes in my mind, in my heart, constantly asking me just one question: “Do you truly know how much I love you?”
“Niles, do you know I love you exactly as you are not as you wish you were?”
Some days I get it; some days I don’t. Some days I need it; others I delude myself thinking I got this thing.
Today I need it. A friend committed suicide, falling to the deadly cunning of the disease of alcoholism, his darkness too much for the still small voice of Love. My friend is free of his pain now, free from us. Now…he is dead.
I feel dead today. But Jesus keeps whispering, “ragamuffin child, come to me, lay your rage, your pissed off, ungrateful, unhappy, leery soul upon me, and I will sit with you as you seethe and sink. I will hold you up as you let My Love seep into the cracks and crevices of your shattered heart. I will bring my light to bear upon you in warmth and tenderness. I will be your sobriety. I will be your love. I will be your life. I will be your Hope. I will hold you when you can no longer hold on…”
Jesus says these things to me as I realize my eyes are too dry to weep for loss and death, my heart too cold for prayers, my faith too old today to run the marathon called life…
Today it does not matter. All I hear in the din of my storm is the simple words of the children’s song echoing in the empty chamber of my heart and today it is enough: Jesus loves me this I know…
24 September 2014
I began to live as if there were not one in the world but God and me. I adored God as often as I could, keeping my mind in God’s Holy Presence and recalling it as often as it wandered.
I had no little difficulty in this exercise, but I kept on despite all the difficulties and was not worried or distressed when I was involuntarily distracted.
I did this during the day as often as I did it during the formal time specifically set aside for prayer; for at all times, at every hour, at every moment, even in the busiest times of my work, I banished and put away from my mind everything capable of diverting me from the thought of God.
Brother Lawrence, Practicing the Presence of God
6 September 2014
Reasonable: Sensible, rational, practical, logical, evenhanded
God can be a bit unreasonable when you get down to it.
God is not always rational, practical, sensible or within the bounds of reason. How reasonable and rational is a God Who chooses to use the wounded, the broken, the fallen, the fallible and even the wicked to do the divine bidding? I mean becoming flesh, walking among us, telling us we are God’s children and that God cares for us better than the best parents? Then he tells us anyone can draw near to God, be a friend of God, if only we surrender and accept the grace of it all?
Jesus’ resume would not have gone too far in the corporate or religious world today, if we judged by reason, rationale and appearances. God’s ‘business plan’ was (and still is) completely maniacal: hang out with the poor, the rejected, the unclean, women, blue collar types. It gets even better, Jesus decided to spit fire towards the pious, the righteous, the religious leaders and consistently show disdain for the emperor time and again through stories, healings, and parables proclaiming to both that there is a new way, a new Leader, and a new Kingdom where all are welcome if they but ask.
That is not my idea of sane or reasonable. Grace is the key to the doors of this upside-down Kingdom.
Jesus is just plain unreasonable and screws up all my preconceived notions, messes with my plans, confuses me and makes me uncomfortable. And those who say they follow him try and tame, deputize, and moralize him making him into an Uncle Sam savior or a Pinocchio wrapped in Levi’s, a goatee, hipster glasses and mod rock music. I am not judging just observing.
Try and tame a tiger and risk losing your hand; try taming God and risk losing everything that has no lasting value.
God is unreasonable. And if God were not, we’d all be doomed. For grace is the outflow of God’s unreasonableness. So therefore grace is not reasonable either.
Grace is absurd. God’s love is absurd as well. Why would Jesus of Nazareth live a life that he did: loving the unlovable, defying social convention and norms, threatening the state simply by the love he showered upon people when he healed them?
It is absurd that one must die for the many to live. But it happened and the prison doors have been flung open.
I will say it, plain and simple again, grace is absurd. And way too many of us spend too much time trying to ‘figure’ it out rather than experiencing it; far too many try and control it foolishly, like gripping sand tightly hoping to prevent it slipping from their hands.
1 September 2014
Gratitude takes me from being closed to being open, and opening up leads me to see just how blessed I am and how much I have been given so that I can be a blessing to others. Gratitude leads me away from resentment, arrogance and judgment into a place of forgiveness, acceptance and tenderness. The attitude I must have is one of gratitude for in every circumstance, every encounter, and every person is an opportunity for me to see God and share God. Every opposition, taken with gratitude, becomes an opportunity to meet God and give his love away.
Grace is knowing and learning (albeit painfully) that anyone can be used by God as a messenger. Anyone. It is not my place to judge the ‘quality’ of the messenger; it is my place only to listen and discern the truth given.
I am learning that the people God has placed around me do not need me to correct or validate their feelings; they need me to listen and be clear, compassionate, consistent and loving.
More and more each day, I am understanding that God’s grace is like an ever-flowing river and all I need do is come to that river and drink to my fill. I need to understand that is the Reality for others as well: God’s grace is always available to them as well. I cannot block, dam or clog up this river nor can I drink it for them. They must drink from the River themselves and I must never block passage to this ever-flowing river.
29 August 2014
As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and water bears them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them,
so would I learn to attain
freefall, and float
into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace,
knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace.
20 August 2014
I feel that this re-posting of something I wrote a few months ago speaks to where I am today…but just today. May you be blessed and broken so that you may be filled with ALL that God longs to fill you with, namely, himself.
“In each one of us there is such a deep wound, such an urgent cry to be held, appreciated and seen as unique and valuable. The heart of each one is broken and bleeding… An experience of being loved and accepted in community, which has become a safe place for us, allows us gradually to accept ourselves as we are, with our wounds and all the monsters. We are broken, but we are loved.”
I was listening to one of my favorite shows on the radio the other night (yes, I still listen to the radio!), the deliciously soulful NPR show “On Being” and the host was interviewing one of my favorite Christian Irascible, the Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber. She was speaking at the Wild Goose festival and the topic happened upon her depression and how she dealt with it: she named it Francis I was struck by the hilarity and compassion that naming her depression afforded her. When asked a direct question about does she preach and teach about her depression she smacked it out of the park and left my mouth agape. Nadia said, “I try and preach from my scars and not my wounds.”
How raw and authentic, how utterly insightful, and how true for those of us in recovery…”I try to preach from my scars, not my wounds.”
She essentially sums up Jean Vanier’s quote, the essential message of what it means to be a human being seeking God; the journey from our own wounds to others wounds and the healing experience of scars.
I love my scars, almost perversely so. Some of them are physical, on my arms, some covered up with kanji tattoos of sacred text, and some have been rendered almost invisible due to the aging process. And some, well, they are invisible and only show themselves in holy moments of intimacy, prayer, and community
I am wounded, no doubt. But I am loved. The point is do I spend more time focusing on the truth that I am wounded or on the amazing truth that I am loved, beyond words, by a God Whose loved is infinitely faithful and present? The answer to that question reveals a great deal about where I am spiritually (true dat!).
Our scars are the perfect reminders of this creative tension in which we must live – that creative tension of living between the “already and the not yet.” I am whole, but not yet. I am perfectly human but not perfect. I am indispensible yet divinely unique. I am loved by God, but I forget. I am a shining example of God’s love taking place but I am broken and wounded and wound others as a result sometimes.
The truth is I am not my wounds, but I am my scars.
My scars are reminders of the place where God entered my wounds, entered my life. And each scar I have is a blessed reminder that God is right now, and always has been, with me. Our scars are reminders that God is with us in the pain and the healing, in the suffering darkness and the tender light. God comes and sits down on the floor with us in our darkness and reaches out to touch us and to simply BE with us. Our scars remind us that even though God may not have delivered the trial or tribulation from us, God did indeed come in Love and be with us in the darkness. I have experienced this Truth many times: when my father died; when my son died; when my mother and brother died; when all hope seemed lost and I thought the only obvious answer was death God came.
Our scars are God’s calling cards, reminders of his faithful Presence, enduring love, patient tenderness, and infinite wisdom and power.
So the next time we glance down at our physical scars or feel the pang and tug of the unseen scars, whisper a prayer of Gratitude in remembrance that you may be wounded, but you are loved.
17 August 2014
For Sunday, August 17, 2014 – Matthew 15:10-28
We can look almost anywhere in the world and see the consequences of one of our greatest failures as human beings—our inability to disagree. Yes, that is what I meant to say. We are suffering today not so much from our inability to agree as our inability to, peacefully and respectfully, disagree. Opposing opinions threaten us. We feel judged and disrespected when others do not align with us, and instead of considering their views with an open mind, we set out to prove how wrong they are. Our local, national and international governments, our religious and civic bodies, all give evidence of this pervasive inability to disagree in good spirit. It takes humility to hear each other, let alone work with each other, while seeing things differently. What are we afraid of—that we might learn something new, and have to change?
A woman comes to Jesus seeking a crumb of mercy for her daughter. She is a nobody among nobodies. The disciples want to send her away, and Jesus himself compares her to a dog scrounging for scraps under the table. Yet she is remembered still today, not because she and Jesus hit it off so splendidly, but because she dares to disagree creatively. She is put down and spoken to dismissively, but she does not let this deter her. She has a vision bigger than the evidence at hand. She has her own sense of God’s wide, wild mercy, and she recognizes this mercy within Jesus. If he is not yet ready to stand with her, so be it. She is ready to stand with him.
This is what it means to disagree with an open mind. We hold in our hearts our sense of what is right, and we also hold those who oppose us. We refuse to accept the same old worn out stories, and we also refuse to blame. We know the old bigotries and hatreds have harmed us all, and that we of opposing opinions are not the real enemy. We also know that keeping quiet is no longer an option. When she asks Jesus to heal her daughter, her beloved, her future, he says no. Can you believe it? What happens next makes all the difference. Does she erupt against him? Does she remain quietly agreeable? Or does she find a third way, allowing her expanded vision to stretch his? From this woman we see what a living relationship with Jesus and each other can look like. We see the healing mercy that can come from disagreement.
14 August 2014
Trust (v.) -from Old Norse treysta “to rely on or to make strong and safe.” Trust (n.) – “reliance on the veracity, integrity, or other virtues of someone or something; religious faith,” from Old Norse traust “help, confidence, protection, support and/or comfort.”
“Many people pray as though to overcome the will of a reluctant God, instead of taking hold of the willingness of a loving God.” From Came to Believe
One little simple word that strikes both fear and at the heart of my spiritual reality.
It is one simple word and yet my entire spiritual foundation, and journey, rests on those five letters. Without it I am lost to the chaos of a random universe leaving me unattended and directionless in a world filled with anxiety and anger.
If I am really honest, I mean honest in the way that raises eyebrows and strains the freedom I have in Christ, my faith is a mess, my trust is a joke, and I do not have me shite together.
I am surrounded by grace: a grace that says, you are not your yesterdays; grace that says all is forgiven and the cross proves it. I must trust that God pours out his grace on me because God is trustworthy, ever reminding me that I am perfect when I am weak because grace seeps into us through our cracks and wounds and is perfected in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).
So, I am not called to clarity or certainty nor perfection but trust. Scriptures echo this truth – the Psalms going so far as to say that I am blessed when I trust God…not when I am perfect or have the right theology or am working a perfect program of recovery, but blessed when I trust God.
I am feeble, weak, arrogant and angry…but I am loved and called by One named Faithful and True, worthy of my trust and worthy of the wreckage known as Niles. In growing in my trust of God, I am invited to ease into a life of “progress not perfection” knowing that trust is not only historic but must be dynamic, animated daily through prayer and encounters with God and with the beauty’full people that cross my path.
13 August 2014
Dorothy Day (co-founder of the Catholic Worker houses and farms) is one of those salty saints whose entire life has inspired me and my mission for over 20 years. And whether it is about me living my recovery or following Jesus, her words simplify it best: