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Archive for October, 2017

LOVE-INTIMACY. . .

For we who espouse to be followers of Jesus-the-Christ, the message is clear: We are loveable/love-able.  We are here to love.  What keeps us from embracing both of these simple, yet life transforming messages-invitations?  There are many hindrances that get in our way of ‘hearing,’ embracing and living into and out of these messages-invitations.  A common hindrance is fearFear is the enemy of intimacy. Love is intimacy’s abiding companion.

Love-Intimacy exists beyond fear (or resides behind fear waiting to be called forth).  For we who espouse to be Christians, when Jesus says: ‘It is I; do not be afraid,’ he reveals to us a new space in which we can move and interact without fear.

When St. John says that fear is driven out by perfect love, he identifies a love that comes from God, an abiding, faithful love that will never be compromised and will always be available to us.  This abiding love – this perfect love – embraces and transcends all, including fear.  This perfect love drives out fear and invites us to become perfect love’s participants.

This perfect love is God and is available to us in many ways.  For we Christians, God so loved us that he came, literally, to be among us.  He came to demonstrate perfect love among us.  He came to show us the ways to love.  A powerful metaphor for us humans is home.  At its most powerful ‘home’ connects safety, inclusion, acceptance, honoring, intimacy, and love.  To make his message clear to us, Jesus used this metaphor; he is preparing a room for us in his own home – in God’s home.

It is significant that St. John describes Jesus as the ‘Word of God’ who is pitching his tent among us (John 1:14).  John tells us that Jesus invites him and his brother Andrew to stay in his home (John 1:38-39), he also shows how Jesus gradually reveals that he, Jesus, is the new temple (John 2:19) and the new refuge (Matthew 11:28).

For me, this is most fully expressed in Jesus’ farewell address.  Jesus reveals himself as the new home: ‘Make your home in me, as I make mine in you’ (John 15:14).  By making his home in us he allows us to make our home in him.  By entering into the intimacy of our innermost self he offers us the opportunity to enter into his own intimacy with God.  By choosing us as his preferred dwelling place he invites us to choose him as our preferred dwelling place.

God so much desired to fulfill our deepest yearning for a home that God decided to build a home in us.  Thus we can remain fully human and still have a home in God.  God, who is transcendent, came close to us by taking on our mortal humanity.  A powerful symbol and act of abiding love.  In loving as God invites us to love we become more of who we are called to be – loving – and to then to be more like God: loving.

For me, Jesus says: ‘You have a home…I am your home…claim me as your home…you will find it to be the intimate place where I have found my home…it is right where you are…in your innermost being…in your heart.’

I can – I have – become so possessed by fear that I do not trust my innermost self as an intimate home; I anxiously wander around hoping to find it outside of myself.  When I am fear-full I try to find that intimate place in knowledge, competence, success, pleasure, dreams, and distractions.  I become a stranger to myself; I become a stranger to abiding love.  I forget that I am love-able, loveable and that I am here to love.

I leave us this morning recalling Henri Nouwen’s words.  Henri writes: ‘You are loved long before other people can love you or you can love others.  You are accepted long before you can accept others or receive their acceptance.  You are safe long before you can offer or receive safety.’

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TO CHOOSE. . .LOVE

 

We go abroad to stand in awe of the mountains, at the ocean’s waves, at the beauty of the winding rivers, and at the thousands of stars that invade the darkness at night – AND yet, we pass by one another without having any sense of wonder or curiosity.

Our standing in wonder and awe as we encounter one another seems a bit removed from the ‘read world.’  Yet, I think it is important – perhaps crucial – that we pause a moment and reflect upon a scene from the ‘real world.’  Rather than stay in the light, however, I invite us to stop, step-back and visit the real world at its worst.  Let us go back and visit a death camp of World War II.  We need a guide.

Our guide will be Viktor Frankl.  He will share with us a scene he witnessed as a prisoner in the concentration camp at Auschwitz (I refer us to his book, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’).  Frankl wrote the following in his journal:

We who lived in the concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread.  They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.’

In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way – an honorable way – in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment.  For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of his words, ‘The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.’

Later, Frankl tells the story of a young woman in the camp:

…like the story of the young woman whose death I witnessed in a concentration camp.  It is a simple story.  There is little to tell and it may sound as if I had invented it; but to me it seems like a poem.

 This young woman knew that she would die in the next few days.  But when I talked to her she was cheerful in spite of this knowledge. ‘I am grateful that fate has hit me so hard,’ she told me. ‘In my former life I was spoiled and did not take spiritual accomplishments seriously.’  Pointing through the window of the hut, she said, ‘This tree here is the only friend I have in my loneliness.’  Through that window she could see just one branch of a chestnut tree, and on the branch were two blossoms.  ‘I often talk to this tree,’ she said to me.  I was startled and didn’t quite know what to make of her words.  Was she delirious?  Did she have occasional hallucinations?  Anxiously I asked her if the tree replied.  ‘Yes.’ What did it say to her?  She answered, ‘it said to me, “I am here – I am here – I am life, eternal life.”’

For Frankl, there is one thing that cannot be taken away: the flame of love that burns in one’s heart – both the love given and the love received.  Frankl writes: The salvation of man is through love and in love.’

For me, it is crucial that I strive to remember the words: ‘You are my Beloved.’  These words reveal to me the most intimate truth about all human beings. .  .ALL HUMAN BEINGS!

 

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PRAYER. . .

‘Prayer’ can be formal, as in ‘The Lord’s Prayer,’ or it can be informal, we emerge the prayer from our heart and soul using our own words.  A Prayer can focus on ‘begging,’ or ‘bargaining,’ or ‘being thankful,’ or it can involve ‘praise’ and ‘celebration.’  Prayer can focus on ‘seeking forgiveness’ or ‘healing’ or ‘offering comfort.’  Prayer can emerge from within a person or a community (think: spontaneous prayer) and prayer can be ‘recited’ by a person or a community (think: the Book of Common Prayer, for example).

Consider, gentle reader that, now and again, we should offer the warmth of our love as a blessing for those who are suffering, damaged, isolated, shunned, and unloved.  With our Prayer we can send our love out into the world to those who are desperate, to those who are starving (physically, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually and socially), to those who are trapped in prison (the prison of their own making and the prison that others have made for them), to those who are in hospital, hospice, or nursing home, and to those submerged in the depths of depression and despair.

When we send our love out to others via our prayers we truly love one another.

Prayer, as John O’Donohue notes is the act and presence of sending this light from the bountifulness of your love to other people to heal, free, and bless them.

O’Donohue continues: When there is love in your life, you should share it spiritually with those who are pushed to the very edge of life.  There is a lovely idea in the Celtic tradition that if you send out goodness from yourself, or if you share that which is happy or good within you, it will all come back to you multiplied ten thousand times.  In the kingdom of love there is no competition; there is no possessiveness or control.  The more love you give away, the more love you will have. 

I conclude this morning with one of John O’Donohue’s wonder-full blessings: A Friendship Blessing.

May you be blessed with good friends.
May you learn to be a good friend to yourself.
May you be able to journey to that place in your soul where there is great love, warmth, feeling, and forgiveness.
May this change you.
May it transfigure that which is negative, distant, or cold in you.
May you be brought in to the real passion, kinship, and affinity of belonging.
May you treasure your friends.
May you be good to them and may you be there for them;
may they bring you all the blessings, challenges, truth, and light that you need for your journey.
May you never be isolated.
May you always be in the gentle nest of belonging with your anam ĉara.

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I write to understand as much as to be understood. –Elie Wiesel

I continue to seek to understand us human beings for many reasons; here are two of the reasons I have held for decades: we human beings are living contradictions, paradoxes, and perplexities and we human beings have consciously separated ourselves from our environment.  Gentle reader, what are two reasons that motivate you to seek – or to continue seeking – an understanding of us human beings?

By nature we human beings are endowed with the ability – and desire – to reflect.  Thus each of us has at least a vague notion, image or dream of what humanity ought to be, of how we humans ought to act.  I find myself motivated to reflect when we human beings encounter a tension, a conflict or a contradiction between the expected and the outcome – between what we are as human beings and what is expected of us as human beings.

It seems we human beings truly become aware of our better natures when we experience pain and anguish (directly or empathetically).  When we become aware, and what we have ignored, denied or disregarded suddenly erupts in painful awareness and this awareness disturbs us (an understatement, I know) and often moves us to ‘caring.’

We human beings gain a greater understanding of human beings when we intentionally and purpose-fully ‘see’ the ‘other(s)’ in human terms, when the ‘categories’ we usually apply to one another are reframed into human adjectives (think: we set aside our inorganic metaphors – banking and mechanical: people are assets, resources, commodities and liabilities and people are cogs in the machine – and replace them with organic metaphors – people are members of a human community).

We move from viewing and engaging one another as ‘functions’ to viewing and engaging one another as fully human beings in pain, in need.  We then respond to the fully human being and his and her fully human pain and need.  We embrace the better angels of our nature [thanks Abe].  We see the other’s ‘better angels’ and we respond to the other from our ‘better angels.’  In a real sense, the ‘sacred’ transcends the ‘mundane.’

When I take the time to stop, step-back, and reflect upon ‘human nature’ I experience a number of questions emerging into my consciousness; I have many, many more questions than responses.  Here are a few of them that emerged this morning as I was preparing to write this post: What is it that I am seeking to understand?  What is it that I want to know?  What is it that I am fearful of knowing?  What is my purpose when it comes to this ‘seeking to understand’?  Am I searching in order to search; am I searching in order to find? 

We human beings are not tabula rasas [‘blank slates’], we are born inherently curious – we are born with the desire to ‘understand’ ourselves as ‘human beings.’  For thousands of years the great wisdom figures have attempted to teach us that in order to know ourselves we must first question ourselves.  Socrates told us that the unexamined life is not worth living and Robert K. Greenleaf upped the ante when he noted that to refuse to examine the assumptions one lives by is immoral.

Gandhi reminded each of us that: I am my message.  We are challenged to seek to understand when and why we choose to ‘be our best’ and when and why we choose to ‘be our worst.’  We are also challenged to understand that each of us is capable of bringing great light and of bringing great darkness to ‘our world.’  This last idea is so disturbing to us human beings that we expend great amounts of energy denying its reality.

He who knows is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened. –Lao Tzu

 

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The enemy of life is indifference. –Elie Wiesel

One way I strive to protect myself from being indifferent is to seek to understand us human beings.  Fifty-four years ago a wise person offered me the following guideline: Do not equate ‘understanding’ with ‘agreement.’  If I equate the two then I am hindered, if not directly blocked, from achieving an ‘understanding.’  Anyone who has had the privilege of being entrusted with raising an adolescent knows that for the adolescent a classic ‘trap’ is: ‘You don’t understand me!’  The adolescent equates ‘understanding’ with ‘agreement.’  I have also known many adults who have held the same belief.

During these past two years I have spent more and more time striving to seek to understand us human beings.  My seeking is rooted in and supported by questions – especially questions from a place of not knowing.  There are, as you might remember gentle reader, three types of questions: The first is the question that invites an immediate response; the second is the question that is held for a brief period of time and then invites a response; the third is the question that is ‘held’ over time and is ‘lived’ and ‘lived into’ so that perhaps someday, in some way, I might live into the answer (my thanks to the great German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke for this ‘third way’).

How do I ‘see’ us human beings?  I don’t know if this is ‘the’ best, first question, but I have found it to be an essential question.  I invite you, gentle reader, to hold and reflect upon this question and discern what emerges from within you as a response.  Here are a few guiding questions that have emerged for me as I hold this question:  Do I believe that we human beings are ‘problems’ to be solved?  Do I believe we are ‘paradoxes’ to be embraced? Do I believe that we are ‘spiritual beings’ who have a physical manifestation?  Do I believe that we are physical beings who may or may not have a spiritual manifestation?  Do I believe that we are rational beings who have an emotional component? Do I believe that we are emotional beings who have developed a rational component?

I have found it helpful – and challenging – to emerge and discern some of the tap roots that feed, nurture and sustain these questions.  For example, what are three core values, three guiding life-principles, three assumptions, and three core beliefs that I hold about us human beings?  What are three of my life experiences – life experiences that have powerfully contributed to the person I have become today – that influence, if not directly determine, my current understanding of what it means to be ‘human’?

I have also discerned that it is crucial for me to seek to understand my ‘motivation’ for this search.  During these past two years I have, for example, been motivated by anxiety, frustration, anger, confusion, misunderstanding, being perplexed, deep curiosity, and fear (that we human beings have become self-destructive).  Since my search is not a ‘one time’ but an ‘over time’ endeavor I have found that at one time and within a specific context that one of these motivators often takes center-stage over the others.

I have also discerned that I have been – and I expect to be – influenced by ‘de-motivators.’  There have been times when I wanted to ‘give up’ my searching and seeking.  At times my ‘de-motivators’ whelm me over and for a time I find myself ‘surrendering’ to one or more of them.

So, what are some of my ‘de-motivators’?  Here are a few of them: apathy, resignation, rage, arrogance, pride/hubris, judgment, prejudice/stereotypes, depression, hopelessness/despair, distraction, busyness, and illusion of. . . (think: self-protection).  Gentle reader, what are some of your ‘de-motivators’?

I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better. –Abraham Lincoln

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