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“Conversion is a continuous and lifelong process. Conversions proceed layer by layer, relationship by relationship, here a little, there a little—until the whole personality, intellect, feeling and will have been recreated by God.” – John Westerhoff, The Spiritual Life
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“God is continually giving us gifts; but we do not understand that they come from God, and we take them as if they were merely natural results. We take them and forget God. The habit of prayer opens the eye of the soul to be watchful for God’s love, to recognize his hand in his gifts” – Richard Meux Benson
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“If I were to wish for anything I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of what can be, for the eye, which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. And what…is so sparkling…so fragrant…so intoxicating as possibility?” – Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or
may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old
may my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple
and even if it’s sunday may i be wrong
for whenever men are right they are not young
and may myself do nothing usefully
and love yourself so more than truly
there’s never been quite such a fool who could fail
pulling all the sky over him with one smile
“Gratitude prepares a space for grace to reside.” A.A. old timer
I am a firm believer that there are two primary ways that God’s grace comes to us, there are unfathomable ways for that to occur but these are the two prime ones in my life: they are through a wound in our hearts and/or when space has been prepared.
You see I know God is in the “Grace Business” for I am a wounded sinner who has experienced divine grace more than I can even recall. But I am learning that grace does not force itself into me, rather I must open myself up to it, empty myself of all that is ego, then and only then does grace come rushing in.
I must be intentional in preparing a space and for me that space is created through gratitude. Gratitude is a reality that claims that God IS and therefore all is well. Gratitude knows that all things, moments, and experiences can be and become blessings when seen through the eyes of ‘thank You.’ Gratitude understands that nothing lies outside of God and God’s will for if anything did stand outside of God’s hands then God is neither omnipotent nor omnipresent.
Gratitude understands that in truth all things are present now, that I do not need to beg God for them, and that trust and thankfulness are the keys that open us up to the blessings of grace in all things. Gratitude is about fleshing out my “thank You” to God. It is about knowing I am only what and who I am because of God’s grace. And let me tell you, I need grace, daily, sometimes minute by minute because the world wants to ensnare my heart, strangling it with fear and dread.
I have to empty myself out and make some space for grace and the space I need to empty out is where the ego resides, for my ego takes up a great deal of space. But empty I must if there is to be any room for grace. I am called to be like Mary, who in order to be so full of grace, had to be emptied of herself…as in when she said “be it done to me according to Your Will.”
I am rarely in the head space for grace, but when I shift into gratitude, I am always in the heart space for grace to come and come it does: in ways unexpected, messily, tenderly, forthrightly, surprisingly, but always, always does God’s grace faithfully come.
“It is good and right that our own understanding of God and God’s purposes should change and develop.” Geoffrey Tristram, Anglican monk
“[All] life is engulfed in God and God can reach out to us anywhere at any level.” – Evelyn Underhill
I firmly believe that God appears to us as we see God; if we see God as Love then so God appears. If we see God as angry, so too will God appear. If all I see is an angry God in Scriptures, then so shall God be. If I see God as Love, then too shall God be. In truth, each of us holds the power of perception over how God comes to us. Maybe all that needs to happen is the slight transformation of how we see God in order to become more open to real grace and to grow closer to God as God Is (and not as I see God).
Retired Bishop John Shelby Spong said that “imagining God as a “being” with primarily anthropomorphic constructs is an immature way of imagining God.” I could not agree more. The late theologian Paul Tillich nailed it on the head when he spoke of God not as “a being,” but rather as the “Ground of all Being.”
My spiritual task is to “discover the Infinite in the finite.” My passion, my hunger and my search in life is for oneness with a God Who is Real and Present.
As I watch and study Christians from all walks of life and from every construct (Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox) I am coming to believe that the greatest enemy of (our) faith in God is not doubt, but certainty. By its very nature, certainty blocks the child-like nature needed to see and experience God unfettered, without constraint. ‘Certainty’ assumes a perspective that can become myopically idolatrous – the belief that my beliefs are the Truth (rather than my experience of truth) and that there is no need or room for the evolution of beliefs.
Our Scriptures are thousands of years old, our creeds are more than 1500 years old and our liturgies are about 500 years old and our Christian faith has evolved almost nil. Every single facet and paradigm of human existence has evolved and changed in some capacity or another in that time period: science; technology; medicine; politics; education; economies; philosophies. But NOT so much in the Christian faith.
I wonder why that is.
In the early years of Christianity, the common hallmarks of those who believed in and followed Jesus included: their care and love of each other; their love of their enemies; caring for the poor, the widows and orphans; sharing of resources with each other; not serving in the military; burying not only their own dead but the dead of the ‘pagans’ as well.
You can study the manuscripts of non-Christian historians and writers and even they wrote of this as a “marvel to behold.”
Now if I run that by what Christians are known for today: almost violent and all consuming in their being against abortion; hating gays, lesbians and all who are different; cutting social welfare programs and healthcare; hating all Muslims; protecting the 2nd Amendment at all costs; anti-immigration nationalism; and a stark aloofness towards climate change and protecting and preserving God’s creation.
As the song says: “things that make you go, ‘hmmmm.’”
God may be never changing, but I must…change. I must allow God to ‘evolve’ me with a revolution of the heart – a revolution of radical love that alters my own agenda, placing it at the service of loving neighbor, showing mercy, doing justice, and practicing kindness regardless of my religion or denomination or political slant.
In the end, I pray for God to evolve me into someone who, well, imitates God.
Greg Levoy has some Wise Words on seeking, finding, and doing out Callings:
There is such a thing as thinking too much about a calling, which is like leaving a hot iron too long in one place while you’re trying to smooth the wrinkles out of your shirt. Not only can studying it to death—turning it inside out like an old sock rather than, to some degree, simply exposing yourself before it—make it bony with refusal, but it can also be a pretty good way of avoiding the call altogether. We can analyze every facet of it. We can probe every consequence of following it, not following it, procrastinating in following it, jumping on it right away, or trading it in for another. We can ponder whether it’s really ours or whether we’re appropriating someone else’s, whether the time is now or later, whether it’s being murmured to us by God or not-God.
We can hold off and then beat ourselves up for not taking action, or we can take action and beat ourselves up for not being more patient. We can scare the backbone out of ourselves by contemplating the enormity of the call and the modest talents we bring to bear on it. We can break ourselves against the rock of debate. We can spend so much time, in other words, dithering with definitions and exactitudes, possibilities and probabilities, that we do little more than chase our own tails and eventually collapse into bed too exhausted to do anything at all.
My world feels more like PISSibility than Possibility.
I am feeling so stuck these days that all I am ‘feeling’ is resentment and anger, which can be quite dangerous for this ragamuffin if left unchecked. But awareness and honesty are two ways through it for me, and I am quite aware of it and I am ‘sharing’ it.
I have had two spiritual epiphanies, ones that may seem simplistic, but have begun to rip open my eyes and heart that changes must be made or my soul will continue to wither: one, I have realized I can no longer be the servant of another person’s dream for that equates to spiritual slavery; and two, I have unfortunately placed my financial security in the hands of someone other than me (someone who has not the right nor the acumen to be in such a position).
Both of these truths remind me that I am the only one who is responsible for my happiness and the integrity of my journey. I am not blaming anyone, nor spreading darkness. I am merely speaking my truth in order to regain the power I have: the power of choice in sobriety.
I must lean hard on God, even as I am in the midst of much doubt and struggling with my spiritual life and condition. I must allow God the freedom to poke, prod, prune and do a new thing, a completely new thing – within and without. I must once again, surrender my will and life over to the care of a wildly loving God (see Step 3 of the 12 Steps).
I am still in that ‘fear place’ I wrote about earlier. I am sinking in cynicism and despair. I am trying to make choices that will free me up, that will feed my soul, but I am not doing such a hot job. I am stuck in some freaking magical thinking vortex, still believing that God will pull some ‘Deus ex Machina’ and come rescue me like some fairy tale damsel in distress.
Now God can indeed do whatever God desires, like pull a Deus ex Machina, but for me to be married to some specific outcome is dangerous. It can leave me myopically stuck staring at the “one thing” I desire while the greater thing I need passes me by.
I am fond of saying there are no spiritual victims or villains in my world. I can no longer blame my alcoholic father or my mom for anything in my life; I can no longer blame society, or my brothers, or even my addictions for my state in this life. I alone am responsible for the choices I have made. God did not force them on me, nor did my family.
But oh how it would be nice for some miracles, some out of the ordinary experience, to come into my life out of left field. I still want that. But wanting it and obsessing about it are two different things: the former is human, the latter is deadly.
In truth, my life is surrounded by cracks of light in the shadows, miracles abound everywhere if I just re-orient my definition of one. I am blessed with another day where I wake up sober (and I have for years now). I have a cozy room with everything I need. I have a car that not only runs but is exactly the kind of car I have wanted for a while (a 2004 Isuzu Rodeo!). I have a dog that is healthy and I adore, who brings me joy simply by her very existence. I have friends who love me, sometimes in spite of myself, sometimes because of myself. I am free to speak my mind and heart in this blog and not be shot or hauled off to jail for violating speech laws. I am blessed.
And this is why I write.
This writing alone has allowed me to go from bleakness in the beginning to a sense of gratitude by end. This piece was written over a span of three days, days that have been Autumnal in temperature and rainy from Hurricane Joaquin drenching us here in the Mid-Atlantic States. But even in the supposed dreariness of the day, I rejoice in the Creator’s care for the Earth and for me – we both need rain water to thrive. So even in the rain, I am left with a sense of shadowy gratitude.
As Brother Francis used to say to me decades ago, “an attitude of gratitude is what makes life full of miracles.”
So at this very moment, this divine now, I am grateful for the “pissibilities” turned into possibilities.
This Blog post is a repost from Red Letter Christians written by Lenora Rand.
Lenora’s blog, Spiritual Suckitude, is about figuring out how to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God, while working in corporate America and trying to get the laundry done. She is also co-founder of The Plural Guild. Check out her earthy, soulful writing and enjoy this short piece below.
“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)
“I used to have a sort of idealized Disney-version of kids in my head. Then I had some. And I noticed that in their natural state, before us adults manage to fully “civilize” them, kids are crazy with questions, needy and rambunctious, don’t easily take “No” for an answer, feel everything deeply, hate unfairness and aren’t ashamed to yell about it, and basically live every second of every day until they pass out in blessed exhaustion. And if we’re like them, Jesus says, that’s how we enter the Kingdom of Heaven. That is actually heaven.”