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“Those who look to the law of love as Jesus taught it, as the law of perfect liberty, and act accordingly as doers, whose acts are motivated by that love, will be blessed by God for living by that teaching.”
– Br. David Allen
“Jesus risked reputation and dignity in order to love—risked loving even a sinner. “O Lord, who risks everything to love, show us compassion that does not count the cost, and teach us to share it without hesitation.”
Do I risk ‘everything’ to love like Jesus? Do I follow a royal law of Love at all costs?
Do I risk my pithy reputation to love like Jesus loved? I sit in churches so often and all I hear is sermons majoring on the minors (so to speak), but rarely do I hear sermons about loving like Jesus did. Some say love the sinner and hate the sin, but I am only human and do not possess the surgical precision needed to separate the “sin” from the sinner, so I end up hating the sinner even as I say I am only hating the sin.
I can sit in the rooms and listen to others share their experience, strength and hope and I slice my fellow alcoholics to bits with the surgical knife of my mind.
Plain and simply put, I am afraid to love like this.
I am aware that most followers of Jesus are afraid to love like this: we fear being called gay, radical, Muslim, liberal, drunk, addict, loser, sinner, scum, one of “them” if I am in proximity to “them” attempting feebly to love like Jesus.
Or even worse, I fear being called “Jesus freak” – which is actually a grand compliment.
The old adage says, visiting someone with cancer does not mean I condone smoking; but I fear if I love those different from me, then I will be accused of being one of “them.”
But is that so bad?
Jesus was accused of being a sinner, a glutton, a drunk, a ‘friend’ of sinners, one who dined with traitors and whores… And yet, all he did was love, love, love.
“The Divine action may turn our lives upside down; it may call us into various forms of service. Readiness for any eventuality is the attitude of one who has entered into the freedom of the Gospel. Commitment to the new world that Christ is creating requires flexibility and detachment: the readiness to go anywhere or nowhere, to live or to die, to rest or to work, to be sick or to be well, to take up one service and to put down another.
Everything is important when one is opening to Christ-consciousness. This awareness transforms our worldly concepts of security into security of accepting, for love of God, an unknown future.
“The love of God will take care of the rest of the journey … ”
Fr. Thomas Keating
I love grace. I need grace; and desperately so. But most of all, I rarely understand grace. So permit some random musings on it.
One explanation I try and use for grace is that it is the place and space where the tenacious madness of God and the seemingly never-ending woundedness of human beings meet. Frederick Buechner says that this meeting place between us and God is almost “always a matter of life or death and usually both.”
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Grace is the reality that God meets us where we (wherever that is), as we are, and begins the transformation process at that precise spot. Grace is NOT “I’ll get a bit better, more whole, wiser, holier, etc., and then God begins to transform us.”
Not at all. That is the letter of the law kind of thinking, not the Spirit of Grace.
That still involves me doing the work, and God does the work. I ask for help, surrender, become open and wait upon the Spirit to breathe new life into these old bones.
That is grace.
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Grace is not just talking about God, or admiring Jesus, or even trying to follow his way. Grace is being down on the floor, all curled up, sobbing over the pain and confusion of it all, and knowing, experiencing the Truth that God is down on the floor with us, sobbing, being present to all of us, with us.
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Grace is God’s complete and total love and acceptance of us as we are NOW, the whole kit and caboodle, and not at some distant point in the future when we arrive or get to some heavenly place.
Grace is almost always a NOW thing, a movement of God that removes the stain of the past and the fear of the future and brings radical acceptance in the here and now.
Originally written and posted December 24, 2014
“In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (The Good News of Luke 1: 67-79)
“God became one of us and…pitched his tent in our midst.” – Clarence Jordan (taken from the Cotton Patch Sermons)
Since Christmas Eve is actually the last day of Advent, I thought I would muse a bit about the spectacular nature of this Sacred Season. So, this morning I received an email and in it this pastor was saying that no words can adequately convey God’s love for human life. I thought to myself that he may be right; no mere words can truly express God’s desire to be so close to us and to love us. My first thought was well the Incarnation is as good as it gets in describing that truth.
Think about it: God wanted to be so close to you and me that God put on flesh and became one of us! Pause for just a moment and really ponder that truth, the truth of what Christmas is ALL about. Ponder and personalize it:
God wanted you to know how much you are loved, wanted to be so near you, so much so that God put on flesh and became just like you.
God spared NO expense to be close to us, to love us, to show that love to us! Now even if you do not believe in the virgin birth or that the Incarnation is real, still ponder the notion that God would do such a thing to prove his love to you and me.
That truth to me makes this a time of true hopefulness – a kairos moment pregnant with God. Kairos, the Greek word for time, is unlike the human concept of time, chronos, meaning “chronological time.” Kairos has to do with a divine visitation, a rending of the veil of human time when God comes to dwell among his people in an extraordinary way. The Incarnation is a Kairos moment that happened at a specific chronological time…an Infinite Moment held delicately within a finite one. It’s downright scandalous.
The Incarnation is both mind-boggling and paradox. Mind boggling in that almighty God would actually limit Godself by becoming flesh; paradox in that God comes to us through the fragile vulnerability of a helpless, newborn child who is Messiah. And the paradox of the Incarnation continues: God did not choose to come as a powerful military King Messiah ready to liberate the Jewish people with force from the brutal and ongoing occupation of the Roman Empire.
God, it seems, had different plans.
Instead, God chose to come to us as a naked, helpless baby born to a poor, unwed disenfranchised teenage mother in a land under the oppressive occupation of an Empire. That fact alone defies all logic and reason. Who would be more marginalized and dispossessed than Mary? Who could be farther from the seat of power? But it within this zeitgeist that the Incarnation happens; God did not come as a warrior God with a large army, a boon of gold, and a taste for control.
No, God came to us, as one of us, choosing to make himself known in fragility and poverty – a far cry from how most people thought Messiah would come.
Every year at Advent we are offered the chance for reflecting on how God came to us then, and how God continues to come to us now: in helplessness; in the tenderness of new life given during a dark time; in the promise of hope when all seems lost.
And let us remember too that Advent is an opportunity for us to remember during darker days that God is asking us again to allow our very lives to become, like Mary, a sacred womb where Hope can be born anew within us and indeed within the world.
I want to live my life as if I believe God is in my midst,
not as theory but as a Living Presence.
I hunger for God.
I pine for my life to be a living reflection of the God I believe in.
I want my life to be a fount of God’s love –
limitless, lavish and lushly poured out for all.
God is not to be out done in giving or benevolence.
God pines for us, waiting for us until we are ready to taste and see the
great goodness and truth that surrounds us – the truth that God indeed is in our midst.
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this [expression of love] everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
The most visible proof that Jesus is real and the ‘proof’ that I am – that we are – following Jesus is revealed by the answer to this one question: how we love one another.
It is not about how well I love the pretty, the well off, the ones just like me, or even how well I love the poor and wounded.
I believe the “calling card” for our faith is revealed by how well we love everyone.
The litmus test of my intimacy with God and the integrity of my friendship with God is shown to be abundant or lacking based on one proof: how well am I giving and receiving Divine Love.
So, on this journey, I ask myself daily, “am I allowing God’s love to flow into me and through me out into the world?”
The answer to that Question is my spiritual litmus test.
Wallowing in shame, remorse, self-hatred and guilt over real or imagined failings in our past lives [portrays] a distrust in the love of God.
Preoccupation with our past sins, present weaknesses and character defects gets our emotions churning in self-destructive ways, closes us within the mighty citadel of self and preempts the presence of a compassionate God.
It seems so simple, so obvious; this life of faith we are called to live. But in light of the heinous actions we have seen in the media and in our world lately – killing of black Christians by a racist zealot, religious hatred and bigotry, choosing nationalism over biblical mandates – that it appears to be far from simple.
What is so simple is this: God is Love; and if we love God then we must love AS God loves – unconditionally.
God is not white. God is not black. God is not a human, neither man nor woman. God is not Catholic or Protestant. In fact, I don’t even think God is religious, although God may be just a tad bit Zen.
The fact of the matter is, it really is plain and simple – this Love thing – it’s just not easy. And there is a huge difference between something being simple and being easy (just ask anyone who is a part of any 12 Step fellowship, they’ll explain it).
The apostle John, also known as John the Beloved, said it best when he spoke of two of the eternal truths about God – namely that “God is light” and “God is love.” The latter is the focus of this blog. This concept, this truth (Truth) is so simple, yet profound and almost unutterable. The truth of God’s being is so simple children get it and yet this truth – that God is love – is also so profoundly frightening that we adults are threatened by it so much so we create dogma, doctrines, denominations and diatribes to control the very essence and definition of God’s love. But God forever remains Love. Any and all expressions of love, whether pure or perverted, have their origination in and from Divine Love; all loves are mere shadows and reflections of God’s Perfect Love.
And since God is love, we too are called to both BE love and DO Love. We can spend all sorts of time, money, and energy arguing about this Love or we can spend all of our time, energy, money and efforts Being and Doing Love – and leave the rest to God.
God will forever and infinitely BE love, it is we who are born, live and die. Love abides forever.
God’s love is so awe-inspiring and eternal that we are given free will to choice to do as we wish to this Love. We are free to qualify it; we are free to quantify it. We are free to try and control it through restrictions, definitions, exegesis, rules, regulations, stipulation and the like. We are free to commodify God’s love. We are even free to try and mete out, control and block God’s love for that is how much God loves us – to allow us to do some pretty heinous and asinine things and still BE LOVED.
But it is still simple. Love. Jesus said it, preached it, lived and died it. Love. Love. Love. In truth, if you break down all that is required of us it is simply love: love God with all your being and love your neighbor (everyone!) as yourself.
But God’s love is unconditional, unlimited, unbridled…and that truth scares the bejesus out of us. We – I – do not know what to “do” with a Love like that, so I do what most people do to love – I end up killing it with rules, reg’s, and restrictions. I tame love. I make it safe for me, and you if you jump through the proper hoops and channels.
We humans are so afraid of the utter brilliance and intensity of divine Love that we have to limit God’s love in order to understand it; we have to control it in order to receive it. At the end of the day, we cannot truly believe God’s love is indeed unconditional, as in absolutely unconditional, that we need to establish temporal conditions to that which is Eternally Unconditional. Religious laws are/were constructed because people are not to be trusted with the unlimited, unfathomable, unchanging, unbearable, all inclusive and all embracing love of God.
What would happen though if we simplified it, really simplified it, down to what it is: LOVE? What would happen if all who love, seek, pine for and “speak for” God simply sought to give, be and do Love? What if all other dogma, doctrine and denomination burnt away as the dross that it is, and only God’s unconditional love reigned supreme in all of our hearts?
What would happen?
Would the walls drop away? Would all the excuses we have for separating ourselves into neat little, safe categories melt away? Would we stop being white, black, red, yellow, rich, poor, red state, blue state, pro-life, pro-choice, anti-gay, queer friendly? What would truly happen? My sense is the greatest revolution of our existence would happen: a revolution of the heart (to paraphrase Dorothy Day).
God’s Love is not a doctrine, or a sect, or a rule; God’s love is an ever Present Reality. Love is God’s very Being – the very essence of who God Is. When God said that his name was Yahweh (YHWH), what was being said was “I AM Who I Am and Who I AM is Love.”
The late Teilhard de Chardin urged us onward and inward, to discover the “energy of Love” – which he considered to be the energy of God’s Being. Teilhard told us, “Someday, after mastering winds, waves, tides and gravity, we shall harness the energy of love; and for the second time in the history of the world, [humanity] will have discovered fire.
Divine Love is just that, divine. And no human language or doctrine or dogma should ever try and tame the perfect wildness, the wondrous Fire, that is the Love of God.
(Scripture references: see 1 John 3:11, 18; 1 John 4:7-21)
“…I need more of the night before I open eyes and heart to illumination. I must still grow in the dark like a root not ready, not ready at all.”
Denise Levertov, “Eye Mask”
There are many reasons I love poetry – its ability to say much with so little, its deep spirituality, it intimacy and delicacy, to fill and to empty, to flourish and fire. Denise Levertov is another one of the reasons I love poetry particularly this poem; she has a way of capturing the deeper truths I am embodying without it being a Faulknerian novel; crisp, concise. It is good meat for my spiritual life as well. I too must remain still and rest in the dark, like a root not ready for the world and all it contains. I must gestate longer in this womb of God, like the Christ child in Mary, I too need more time in the darkness before I am fruition.
I do not fear the darkness like some; many good and wonderful things happen in the dark, more than just things that go bump and boo. In the darkness, all manner of vegetation, flora and fauna take root and take hold of the Earth, clinging to her like a babe to a breast finding life in the suckling darkness; then so lovingly and compassionately turning from what they received in darkness and to fill and feed.
What I know is that darkness is a good thing. It is not something to be feared, to run from, or to see as negative. Far too often in western culture, and specifically “white” western culture all things darker are considered negative, from skin to spirituality. But darkness is necessary for any authentic spiritual growth. In darkness, come dreams, fantasies, hopes, inspirations…God spoke in the days of old and still does speak in the dreams that come in the darkness (the prophet Joel reminded us that our young would see visions and our old would dream dreams).
I need to go deep into the dark like a root, so that God can water my soul, give me the tenderness of damp, earthy shadows where I can remove all pretense, drop my skin and shell to the floor like old rags, and lick my wounds and set them free to roam in God’s healing freedom.
As a dark root, I let God touch my selfishness, my anger, my chards of rage, my fears, self pity and my resentments towards all. In the darkness, God heals me, feeds me, molds me, and breaks me, loving me back to my humanity. So, like Denise Levertov, I am not ready for the illumination of the day. I am in need of darkness, the emptiness of gestation where the Divine Love that comes from nothingness, will be with me. I must still grow in this sacred darkness, a little holy root of God.
There is that old adage that behind every good man is a great woman. And as sexist as it is, there is a truth hidden in there as well, except it is not gender specific. A more apt way of saying it is that behind all goodness, greatness, and success in any person’s life, behind all great acts, there is someone ‘back stage’ making it possible – a ghost, as it were.
No one succeeds on their own. No great event in a person’s life, no great literary work, no great feat of healing and recovery, no great discovery, nothing happens in a person’s life without someone else, in the shadows, helping them. Whether they be friends, lovers, spouses, donors, benefactors, prayer warriors, co-workers, strangers, fellow wounded souls, other people in recovery, there is always someone there to walk with, be with, open doors, pay bills, give a shot to, sway the course of a life. Always.
That is one thing that is 100 percent true in my life; behind every word, every victory, every day of sobriety, every chance I’ve ever gotten, there are at least 2 people in the background holding me up, feeding my soul, sharing their wisdom, putting money in my pocket, making a phone call, or whatever it is, allowing it to become my “own” victory.
So, I stand here in praise of the ghost, the unseen beloveds who have walked with me through this journey of my life. Some of them know who they are, some do not. I give thanks for some of you now by name because you are my greatest ghost:
There is Ian Chan Hodges and the whole Chan Hodges tribe, Monsieur Lanier, Anthony Cauterucci and all his beautiful children. There is Durty Jones, Priya Kale, my adopted Nana Leona Choy. There is Hugh McGee, Joanne C. and her sweet angel Adrienne, and of course Artie S. There are those who are part of the Tribe of Wounded Angels. There is Tisa S., Ashley S., Jim D., Misty, Glen Fischer, a NayNay, Greg B., Berit, and my brother Kevin. There is my real Mom, the late Sandy Comer James. There is also a foster “Mama and Dad” – the Grantiers and their son Mark. The entire Bishop McGuinness High School community in North Carolina, especially Father Frank Cancro. There is also Carlton, Cathy, “Shelly Belly”, Tim Callahan, and John McMonagle. There is Ken Yamaguchi-Clark and W. Terry Beck (a most delightful Angel). There are writers and artist like Frederick Buechner, Anne Lamott, Paulo Coelho, Neale Donald Walsch, Tom Absher and all the freaks affiliated with the now defunct Writers & Artist Workshop of Vermont College of Norwich University (where I finally finished by B.A. 19 years ago). There is Megan, Quinn (my son), Lloyd Odell, Tony Campolo, Father Krempa, and Pastor Jack. There is the entire Daniels tribe.
I also give thanks to all the “ghosts” in A.A. and N.A. and to my dog Juno.
The greatest praise and thanks go to my God Whom I love more and more every day; Who gives me LOVE, Life, and Sobriety.
All of you help me stay on the path to wholeness and love. There are literally hundreds more who moved mountains, opened hearts and doors, gave when they had little to give of their own, who have made my life all of what it is today.
So, to all of you (written here and not but who know who you are), I say thank you, bless you, and may you be given back all that you have given to me a hundred fold. May God be praised for your love and faithfulness and may you be Blessed!
If you have any ghost in your lives who dance in the shadows, enriching all that you do, cheering you on, I challenge you to express your love, thanks and gratitude to them…for no one is an island, but all of us should stand in praise of the ghost.