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“Looking for God [is sometimes] like looking for a path in a field of untrodden snow. Walk across the snow and there is your path.”
I am learning day by day that change involves awareness and that awareness can be painful. Reality is not to be taken lightly, as one of my favorite books states in the title, Awareness: the perils of Reality (by Fr. Anthony de Mello). And I have an easy time ‘lying’ to myself, fooling myself into believing that ‘my’ way is the right way. But I am also learning that I do not want to follow the ‘right’ way; I want to follow the truth. And what is truth and what is right are not always the same thing.
Awareness burns off the dross, at high temps, leaving nothing but pure gold and all the dross floating at the top, waiting to be scooped away or completely burned off by the Spirit. Growing in awareness – both a deeper awareness of who I am and who God is revealing himself to me as – can be like driving down a new road. It’s unfamiliar and unknown, and the unknown can be quite disconcerting even if it is the Way I should be going.
Sometimes it feels like I’m traveling down this new road and still using old road signs. It reminds me of the definition of ‘insanity’ – doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. That road does not work and honestly just gets me more ‘lost.’ But the still, small Voice inside says “keep driving, keep going down this Way, for it is My Way.” Eventually my eyes will adjust to the new road signs and sooner or later (hopefully sooner!), my eyes and actions will adjust to the new signs…and the New Road.
And the still, small Voice keeps saying “Don’t run from anything.” For in truth, God is larger than my reality. And God is loving and powerful enough to handle all of it. Period.
God knows how to bring me through this and show me divine love and grace in ways I could never dream. I have said it before and I will say it again: even the best life I’ve dreamed for myself pales in comparison to the life God has in store for me. So, I’ll keep driving, moving along slowly but surely on this Journey, becoming less and less concerned about the destination (for that is secure in God), and becoming more aware of the joy of the Journey itself.
As St. Catherine of Siena said long ago, “All the way to Heaven is Heaven.”
We struggle to describe the mystery of Christmas. We say God came. What came? Who came? There is no adequate name for God, only hints of God’s Being, God’s Reality. We say Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace. All hint at something ineffable, beyond, infinite–that which we cannot grasp and know but have received intimations of, and a few times have even experienced directly.
This Beyond reality, whatever name and other descriptors we give it, is Love. We know it is Love because it wants to be close to us – to be deeply connected with all that has been created. The infinite galaxies, the endlessly fascinating space we call Earth, all the multiple expressions of Life, including what we call human life, was brought into being because that is what Love does.
It is the nature of Love to beget, to become, to bring together.
Several minutes ago (or in human time, about 2000 years) God said, “Love compels me to get closer. I must be amongst this life I’ve created and loved from the beginning. I must find a way to be even more deeply connected and let my people know me and enter more deeply into their true nature, which is deeper and deeper unity with one another. They are by nature ONE. I must let them know.”
The awesome claim of Christmas is that this ineffable Reality that brought it all into being wanted to be more deeply involved with the created, wanted to be with us, be one of us. “I will make a new covenant with my people. I will remove the heart of stone that shuns this closeness, and I will replace it with a heart of flesh which wants no separateness. I will come into their midst, assuming total vulnerability alongside them and will establish this new covenant of union. Together my people and I will live in this ecstatic union and draw all creation toward the joy of it.”
That’s the culmination of the work of the Babe in Bethlehem’s manger. Joyful union of all creation with the God of our beginning.
Source: Taken from a Sermon given by Gordon at The Church of the Saviour. Gordon, his wife Mary, and a few courageous others co-founded the church some 60 years ago as an expression of God’s radical reconciliatory Love…it was an inter-racial church made up of rich and poor located in a poor neighborhood of Washington, DC. I attended and worked with a few of the missions for many years during the 1990’s and hold this Church dear to my heart.
Writing comes hard these days and for a myriad of reasons: I have limited access to the Internet; my mind is filled with screaming monkeys; unemployed and penniless; and feeling the dregs of a powerful bout of depression (something I have struggled with for 30 years). And God willing a final court date is approaching on January 11 that could change my life, at least externally, for years to come. I’ll write more on that later.
I have not “felt” much myself lately; but then again I am probably more myself than I could have ever hoped for.
I feel like the last 18 months has been my own personal school of hard knocks.
I am seeing more and more the depths of the shadows, layered like onions, each time I get through one layer, an infinitesimal amount of layers seem to exist. Peeling the onion again and again and again…and the tears come with this gifted onion, my many-layered soul.
And it may not seem like much, but just writing this little bit is hard. My fingers moving slowly across the keys, feeling them out, like two stray dogs sniffing each other’s truth.
My mind, my heart, even my soul feel like arid deserts. But today, I showed up. I’m here front and center, waiting.
Waiting on God’s grace – a grace that comes for people like me, wounded and in darkness.
Waiting on the most Faithful Love that has ever existed.
Waiting at the table where I am told a Feast awaits many.
Autumn has slumbered into winter,
the grace and Advent within us.
and the World stands Still
like it did once on a Holy Night
thousands of years ago.
Winter Solstice Luna
Brilliant ivory Lover of mine,
rising with quiet passion over the
you, all fecund…
me, all lost, empty and searching…
You light my way, oh gracious Luna,
Lighting the splendid darkness of my
night with Divine light.
The late afternoon sky reminded
me of old, worn out bones,
ashen gray but filled with a holy spirit,
mine and God’s.
and I wondered if my life would be as
much of a gift to those who have
been such a Gift to me…
The wind whips the snow around
like a whirling dervish,
a pure white ghost dancing wildly
over the snow as it coaxes and teases
the dying sun, glimmering pure blindness off the
icy whiteness of the world as it
settles into the familiar sweet blackness
of a Winter’s night.
“Suffering of any kind can be a compelling opportunity to see and experience the face of Jesus in places where otherwise we might be blind. We find and are shown grace at the margins of life.”
N.C. (the earthy monk)
“In Jesus, we discover that God is just sloppy with his amazing grace and completely beyond common sense when it comes to his love.”
Chaplain Mike (Internet Monk)
On this Christmas Day, I am reminded of Christmas Day 2010. I had worked a 16 hour day at Maya Angelou House, a 90-day residential addiction treatment program for homeless women who have hit rock bottom in every way. Being with the women of Maya Angelou House on that Christmas Day reminded me of the two truths quoted above.
Maya Angelou House is run by a group I worked previously with almost 20 years ago as an AIDS social worker and an addictions counselor – the place is called SOME, Inc. SOME stands for So Others Might Eat and was started by Fr. Horace McKenna 40 years ago as a soup kitchen in the basement of St. Aloysius Church barely a mile from the Capitol building in Washington, DC. Since then it has grown into a variety of programs, from feeding the hungry and homeless, to addictions treatment, to medical and dental and counseling services to the poor and uninsured, as well as various housing programs for the formerly homeless (women with children, men, families, the elderly, and those in recovery).
SOME also cares for the severely mentally ill and has a job training/adult learning academy to offer opportunities for the marginalized to regain empowerment. I love what SOME does for they do Gospel work – the works of mercy, by showing mercy and walking with the poor and dispossessed, in solidarity. I see the face of Christ in what they do and in whom they serve. But I digress…
Christmas Day 2010 was for me a day for finding grace at the margins. Being with and listening to the stories of these courageous women who had lost, had taken away or in some cases – under the influence – had resigned certain parts of themselves to feed their addictions was painful and inspiring. But there they all were, on that Christmas Day, speaking of God’s goodness and grace.
It was and still is a deeply humbling thing to listen to people (who in the eyes of the world) have lost everything, speak so gratefully of the goodness and grace of God. It definitely put me in a different perspective and it also put me in my place…it still does thinking back.
I am grateful for the women of Maya Angelou House, as I am grateful for my addiction (and my recovery) as I am shown again and again God’s grace at the margins of life. I am shown time and again just how “irresponsible” God is with his grace and love, pouring it out lavishly on the just and the unjust, the addicted and the petulant.
God truly is “sloppy” with his amazing grace, and it is in Jesus that I discover this truth. On days like Christmas, when the new and unknown is almost unbearable, it truly does not make any sense how abundant God is with his love. For even as I find myself still filled with doubt and confusion (fearing a dream may once again be deferred), I am showered in the goodness and love of God.
The challenge is to “let go” of the assumption that in times of confusion, despair, sadness or lostness that we are being punished by God for some action (see Luke 13:1 – 5 to dispel that myth).
No, it is quite the opposite: God is fully Present at the margins lavishing grace upon those, who in their own eyes or the eyes of the world, do not ‘deserve’ it; God is in the confusion and the lostness, being fully Present to us, wrapping his love around us like a warm blanket on a cold night.
So this Christmas, I challenge you to fight any possible preconceived notions you have about God, and let his grace pour over you, lavishly, unexpectedly, and with reckless abandon. I challenge all of us to surrender to the ‘sloppiness’ of God’s love shown to us in Jesus.
So, let’s all go ‘play’ in the frivolous love God has for us, basking in the grace that is found at the margins and in the manger, knowing that in Jesus we are totally accepted and completely acceptable.
God is breathing gently,
God never hurries,
Is never anxious or pressing,
God just waits,
Breathing gently upon us
With great tenderness
Until we look to God –
Source: I Hear a Seed Growing
“What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the Son of God fourteen hundred years ago and I do not also give birth to the Son of God in my time and in my culture? We are all meant to be Mary.”
Meister Eckhart (15th century)
The word Advent comes from the Latin word adventus which means “coming.” Indeed, it is a time of year when we tune our hearts and minds to remembering the birth of hope in Jesus the Messiah.
I have written previously about Advent as a time of wild hope, and it is. But the thoughts just keep coming about the hope that Advent offers. And since I am in the throes of depression, and seeing little hope in my current days, I am doing all within my reach to seed and water any hope I can. So here are more thoughts on Advent.
This time of the “Coming” is indeed a time of true hopefulness because it is a kairos moment pregnant with God. Kairos is a Greek word for time that is unlike the human concept of time known as chronos (from which we get chronological time). Kairos is not a time of the clock but is a time of divine visitation, a rending of the human cloak of reality when God comes to dwell among his people in an extra-ordinary way.
Kairos in many ways sums up Advent: God going to great lengths to come to us in a manner which we would truly be able to relate. It is God coming to us through the fragile vulnerability of a newborn child, who would grow into the Messiah, a human being through and through acquainted with the pain of sorrow and the power of resurrection.
We need this sign desperately today: a sign of faithful love and solidarity given with no expense spared. But it seems we have fallen prey to some of the same distortions as the people who lived during the birth of Jesus, namely the misled belief that Messiah would come as a powerful military King to liberate his people.
But God, it seems, had different plans.
God chose instead to come to us as a naked, helpless baby born to a poor, unwed teenage mother in a land under occupation, which defies all logic and reason. Jesus did not come as some warrior God with a large army, a boon of gold, and a taste for control. No, he came to us, as one of us, and chose to make himself known in vulnerability, fragility and poverty – a far cry from how most people thought Messiah would come.
Advent reminds us that Hope, coming in the Man of Sorrows, is indeed a scandalous moment: a moment where God made his unfathomable grace known and available to each of us in ways both comforting and disturbing.
This time of year is a time to remember that the hopeful coming of the Messiah occurred in relative obscurity, with little pomp or circumstance, with no “Black Friday” sales, or shiny decorations, and without the hottest new toy that we somehow deem necessary for our survival.
God comes to us again this Advent as he did over 2,000 years ago: in the gentleness of vulnerability; in the tenderness of new life given during a dark time; and in the promise of hope when all seems lost.
Advent is not only a coming, it is also an opportunity. It is an opportunity for us to remember during the darker days that God is asking us again to allow our very lives to become like Mother Mary, a sacred womb, a place where the hope named Jesus can be born anew within us and indeed the world.
I find myself these days living in the graceful grays between the black and white spaces of life; living between the creative tension of the small hope within and the hopeless despair trying to suffocate it.
Severe depression in and of itself is hard to describe. And that would be true if it were the only reality I was dealing with…but life goes on regardless of the circumstances that blur and taint it. And God is an ever-present Reality whether I can sense it or not; for the truth supersedes the thick darkness hanging over my heart.
How do I describe the feeling of waking up daily feeling like either there is a wet blanket tight around my head or that it is like taking a gasping breath under water suddenly realizing my lungs are filling with liquid suffocation? I’m not sure I am competent enough to describe it more than I just did. Some days, I am barely able to ‘live’ with it much less describe it.
But during times like these, God’s grace is not always pretty or clean, much like life, but it is always beautiful. God’s grace rarely comes in the rigidity of our black or white world. Grace is a “both/and” kind of gift more than an “either/or” experience. Grace is like ‘pure gray’ – seemingly neutral but a mixture of the “either/or” of black and white that paint and taint our lives. Grace just happens, much like gray, in between the cracks and crannies of life, seeping deep into it.
And today I’m living in the graceful grays under the unbearable weight of darkness and the lightness of God’s grace. Somewhere in-between is a space and place where the goodness of God dwells, like an untapped well. I know this, it’s just that these days seeing and experiencing that holy space is a chore when the eyes of my soul are blurred while groping in the dark for God’s grace.
I pray that God’s grace finds me this day, like a soft warm blanket on a crisp Autumn day. I pray this for all of you as well.
Dear God, Speak gently in my silence. When the loud outer noises of my surroundings and the loud inner noises of my fears keep pulling me away from You, help me to trust that You are still there even when I am unable to hear You. Give me ears to listen to Your small, soft voice saying: "Come to Me, you who are overburdened, and I will give you rest... for I am gentle and humble of heart." Let that loving voice be my guide. Amen.
My ultimate desire for The Earthy Monk is that it’s a catalyst for our movement towards God so we can all experience God’s love more deeply and grow in our ‘fleshing out’ of this Love in the world. The Earthy Monk is the work God has given me and my desire is that it nurtures others closer to God and inspires us all to creating a kinder, more compassionate world.
I am asking for your prayers (and tell us how we can pray for you). I ask that you forward the blog to your friends, Facebook us, write to us.
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My thanks and blessings to all this Sacred Season!