Saturday, January 26, 2013

Step one and a half

I have gotten the wrong end of the stick! This morning as I read and meditated I came to a huge realization. The last blog was all about powerlessness, but I missed the point entirely. I knew it had something to do with not being able to fix my own addictions, my own crazies. But it is not really about that. Those things - the things I wrote about etc - are only a window to help me look onto the real issue.

Step one is not admitting I need help to control my eating, or to manage certain ways of being. Step one is the realization that I need transformation at the very core and then these things won't be powerful in my life.

Transformation, not expanded will power. Transformation, not support in my choices. Sheesh. This is suddenly a lot bigger.

This moves the issues from efforts to get my life to the order it needs and into invitation for my life to be a feast at the rich banquet provided by God. It is about another level of living.

I have been on a journey of transformation since 1991 and still have so much to learn and explore. As you SEE, I have also a vast array of areas where my own life is rough and dangerous. The invitation as I understand it now is simply to let go. Start with letting go.

I have a spiritual father who told me years ago, when you are at the end of your rope, let go. The whole purpose of coming to the end of our rope is to give us no more options.

Transformation. I am getting it now. Not a better a life. A whole new universe.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Step one. I am powerless.

I am doing the 12 Steps from AA. Does that surprise you? I think we should all do the 12 steps and build a recovery lifestyle together. By that I mean a lifestyle that is self aware, gentle, living in the present moment with gratitude, affirming of others etc. I am just learning all this.

The book that is taking me through the steps is Keith Miller's A Hunger For Healing. It is a Christian perspective of the 12 Steps, using them as a model for growth.

The first step is "I admit I am powerless over my sin." I have worked through the list of questions in the book - pretty pointed questions - and face that there are five areas in my life over which I truly am powerless. (I think the real insight comes when we realize that we are actually powerless to create our own blessing, to construct and control our life. All of it. But I start with five areas.)

Now here's the rub - I always thought that this idea of being powerless over my sin was really that I am powerless but with just a little help from God I am powerful and I will fix things. Nope. This is more difficult to admit - I am powerless.
Full stop. I will not ever fix it.

Take eating. (One of my five areas and not too embarrassing since so many of you are in the same predicament.) I am a compulsive eater. I don't have an eating disorder but I have disordered eating. I can, for a period of time, exercise incredible discipline and maybe lose weight. I can keep to a plan and be very firm with myself. But shortly after that I zing back to my disordered eating.

What makes it disordered? I eat when I am lonely or stressed to cover my pain. I don't stop eating when I am full. Sometimes when I am eating a plate of something tasty I am already planning the second helping and ignoring the experience of the food I am eating. I also eat when I need a reward.

I seldom eat because I am hungry, and then eat only to a reasonable and thankful fullness. Nope.

I also eat to make people happy. Instead of saying "no thanks," I eat because I want them to be happy (with me.) So I lie in my eating. Basically I eat to cover my pain, to make people happy and like me, and I eat without enjoying or thinking about the experience. That is disordered eating. I have done this all my life. I am apparently powerless to change.

It is a really radical thing to pray this - "I am powerless to change," instead of "help me stay on my diet tomorrow" (which means, 'with a little help I can do this.')

My friend works at a clinic in a poor area and she had an obese ten year old girl in her office. The girl's health is severely compromised and not helped at all by a sneering, sarcastic step-father who goads her about her unattractiveness. When my friend was with the child alone, the girl tearfully spoke, "I just eat to feel better." Sheesh. Isn't that what we all do?

Step one. I am powerless to get life right. I am powerless to manage this (and other) part(s) of my life. I cannot manage life with will or character or good training. I am powerless.

"We can't have joy because we can't stand pain, but pain evidently comes into the heart through the same doorway as joy. When we use something, from a vacation, to buying new clothes, to tranquilizers, [to food] - to blot out the pain of life, we block the joy as well. We are therefore often numb people, who have plenty of everything but can't feel the love for or from [our] people..." (Keith Miller, page 20)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Awful Grace of God

He who learns must suffer.
And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget,
Falls drop by drop upon the heart,
And in our own despair, against our own will,
Comes wisdom to us, by the awful grace of God.
(Aeschylus, 525 - 456 BC)

Richard Rohr wrote this: Suffering opens the channel through which all of Life flows and by which all creation breathes, and I still do not know why. Yet it is somehow beautiful, even if it is a sad and tragic beauty.

I am less and less afraid of suffering. Of course, I am not actually in any serious suffering right now. And I also fear that writing those words will "tempt fate" - which of course I don't actually believe in. See how conflicted I am?

But somehow in my view of life I know that suffering must be abide with us, in large and small doses. Maybe it is that our level of tears must stay high enough that they can pour out over someone else's heart.

I am not suggesting that suffering in itself is noble. I just know that in the dark places we do gain wisdom, we do find our souls. I have no idea how it works.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Conversation in a van

Six couples sit in the darkness of the van as it swerves left and right, up and down through the Kentucky countryside approaching Midway where dinner waits at the Holly Hill Inn. Stories pour out of acts of generosity: kids who have chosen brave sacrifice; businessmen and women who expend energy finding ways to give generously. The stories cross the globe. During a pause, someone comments that in this world, where so much is dark, there is still so much beauty.

Dinner behind and the logi of good food making the atmosphere in the van feel meditative and gentle, stories of pain emerge: a child who has died; a suicide; the bombing of community center. A sigh. 'The world really is a horror,' someone says.

Here's the thing - life is 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows. The darkness will never totally go away. The darkness will not not disappear no matter what we do. We cannot create the kingdom of God here on earth. But John's gospel says, "The light shines on the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it."

Part of maturity is realizing that the darkness will always be present in our lives. We are never exempt from pain, and just when we think we have life under control a lightening bolt may hit and shatter our well constructed walls. Darkness comes in many shades, and by several means. We see the darkness, we touch and feel it, we lose our way in it. And candles are lit. We see. We hope. There is darkness and there is light. We live with both.

Richard Rohr says that if our posture with the darkness is to 'stand angrily, obsessively against it, ... we will become mirror images of it.' A mature posture in life is to be honest in naming the darkness - and liberal in shining the light. Everything is not beautiful. But some things are beautiful. Our job is to shine light, even if we can only manage the tiniest flicker.

Our acts of justice, sacrifices of love, and ministry projects are light in the darkness, a sign of a greater Light remains with us always. And in a mysterious way we will find life's gifts, which sometimes hide in the darkness. Isaiah 45:3 says, "I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places."

Sunday, January 6, 2013

the littlest birds sing the prettiest songs

star date: january 6, 2013

I have four bird feeders with three food options in a little corner of my yard. It is wise to keep the feeders together because the grass will be ruined and one must not care.

By happenstance I glanced out the front door window and saw the most beautiful scene. There were at least fifty birds flitting around the feeders, on the ground, on the trees around. The goldfinches (which are dull this time of year) completely dominated the thistle seed feeder. House and purple finches were everywhere, and some sparrows who don't mind eating off the ground. There was a titmouse with it shiny slick backed hood like a used car salesman and cardinals, male and female, who keep their color in the winter which makes them so photogenic in the snow. A line of mourning doves sat six inches apart on the wire above the feeders looking down with disdain. (An aside...did you know that doves are like squirrels and can load up their cheeks with food? I have seen a dove fill its cheeks so full that when it flies back up to the wire or branch its head is below its body, being so heavy. Greedy greedy!)

Some of my best little friends were missing - the chickadees usually make it to any good feast. They will come later I suppose. When the birds stay all winter I am pretty much guaranteed a lot of nesting activity around the house in the early spring.

But the gift of the morning was a red bellied woodpecker going after the frozen suet. This is one of the prettiest woodpeckers, with a florescent red ball of fuzz on its head and top of its back. The belly is slightly red and the back is covered in flecks. The bird is about 10 inches long and has a real regal look.

The little birds often fly off when a big bird comes to feed but the woodpecker didn't bother them, in fact, they were almost landing on top of him (it was a brilliantly colored male) so many was the crowd. A blue jay for instance, will dominate and scare off all the small birds but they were not afraid of the woodpecker... must be a kinder personality!

This was my view of holiness today. A glorious moment of nature, of generosity, of cooperation, joyful feasting and beauty.

Friday, January 4, 2013


My son in law went into a McDonald's and with his order was given the empty cup and nod toward the fountain drink dispenser.When he got there a little boy was using a white ketchup cup to capture Sprite from the spigot, which he quickly slurped down and then refilled, again and again.

Curtis smiled at the boy and said, "You look like you are having fun."

"Yup!" said the kid. And then with a huge twinkle in his eye, "I invented this!" Curtis laughed and said, "I bet you did!"
 When my granddaughters heard the story they said, "Oh dad! You should have given him your cup!" But Curtis wisely said, "No - that would have spoiled all his fun!"

I laughed. Something about that story makes my heart happy. Very happy. Probably because the kid was beating the system. Maybe because every kid needs moments like that are ridiculously free. Certainly because Curtis entered into the joy with him.

But there is more. I think God is like that with us. He doesn't want to tame us, to make us all proper or even right. He wants us to be whole, not just holy. Sometimes our definition of holy is pretty scary - generally contained and tamped down. Rarely would we think of holiness as a wide open field, a flock of birds, or a child's laughter over a ridiculous feat!

When you have Sprite pouring down over your hand and you are slurping your drinks inappropriately, don't imagine that God wants to stand you up straight and make you more domesticated, decorous and proper. He probably just wants you to get him a little tiny drink!

Being over the limit

A friend told me today about his mom who always said to him, "Don't speed when you drive, or God will withhold His care for you."

Okay ...what kind of theology is that?

If I have to be good - on the dot perfect - careful at all times - not 'over the limit' - for God to be a positive force in my life, to be a Presence of care and goodness, well, then, I am pretty much pooched.

I am over the limit in so many places in my life. 
I try to contain myself, but I escape.

Yes, I do speed. Occasionally. But in lots of other ways. Today at lunch for instance, a woman friend and I BOTH ate a full dessert. After we ate a full lunch. I ate a piece of Carrot Cake that was obscene. I feel quite awful right now sitting here. But that is just the least of my problems.

I am over the limit in what I want. I've always wanted too much. I am over the limit in what I give away sometimes - I give away what I should protect and keep gently. I am over the limit when my anger flares up, and you don't know anything about my covetousness - sometimes I just want another life, someone else's life. (Don't get all righteous on me here... don't start lecturing me on how we don't know the pain in other people's lives. I know all that. I am just saying, I am over the limit at times, and I know it.) I sometimes go over the limit by staying under the limit - I skip things I should do, I give too little love, I get petty. And I am keeping a whole bunch of things private...none of your business!

What is this limit thing, anyway? Is it a line? Or an invisible box around our lives that sends a signal to God when we bust past? Kind of like an ankle bracelet to let the police know we've left the building.

Nope. I am happy to report, there is no limit. There is no speed limit and no slow limit. If there is a line of limits in your life you created it ... or adopted it from someone else's bondage.

Such broken ideas keep us from experiencing God's love. Instead of consciously cooperating with love, we try to consciously cooperate with obligations and laws and end up feeling fully rejectable. AA has the right idea - the beginning of wisdom is to acknowledge that we can do NOTHING about our problem. We can only be open to love. When we receive divine love, when we know God in love, we possibly become a conduit of love to the world. And when we open to love we begin to be healed.

Winners and Losers

I once gave a talk about God's love and made the point that God has no favorites. God does not have a descending scale of love. One young woman came up to me afterward, obviously distressed. "I always thought I was one of God's favorites," she told me with sadness.

What is with the inherent need to be the favorite? Why does it bug us when someone else gets the attention?

Most of us are tempted, I think, by what can be rightly called "the pride of the inner circle." We like to be the one who is needed, who is loved, who is most important. Even if we are the kind of person whose contribution is to sacrifice, we secretly have moments where we want to be noticed for sacrificing the most or the most helpful thing. "No, no - don't mention it." But we are so glad it was mentioned. If we love to humbly serve and a moment happens when thanks is given, and we are not mentioned, it is a wound. "I'm fine. I didn't do it for praise. ... But it would have been nice....!" If we are a friend, and friends are invited in, we want to be one of the first invited in. When a life is celebrated we would like to be mentioned as significant.

The pride of the inner circle is our false self wanting to be seen and separated into a category of its own - Winner!  Important! Valued! Come sit over here beside me. You are one of my closest friends. You are special.

I am not young, and I know that in almost any situation there is something of value I can give, but I also know I don't need to be in the center of things, I don't need to be in the know. I make choices to stay quietly by the side and offer to the situation what I feel God or reasonableness is requiring of me. And then ... Okay - I want to whisper this ... when I see that I am not actually IN the inner circle, I feel left out. Just a little rejected. Sad. Cheated. Unwanted just a bit.  I whisper this because it is just a whisper in me. Just a bit of me playing with a small ball of self pity. But it is there more than I care to admit! ARGH! How can this still be part of my inner self!?

We feel this way because of our human nature. It is a signal of our brokenness. But let me tell you about the relief you can feel when you accept that you are important, but you need not be the center of things. The freedom of a healthy sense of self without needing to be constantly affirmed is a moment of joyful maturity.

True spirituality connects us to our true self, the place of our belovedness and identity. It is an inward reality that lasts.

Try this when you have a moment of recognition that you are not being invited into the center of things, and if you are honest you know it bugs you - become aware of your feelings and recognize your deep need to be given a special place. You have just identified your elusive false self! That alone is a victory. Then pray a small prayer and open yourself up to the love of God. Right there. Even a small openness is enough. Maybe the size of a grain of mustard seed. Something might shift in you.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


Yesterday morning I read through all the "kingdom" parables in the book of Matthew. These are all the sayings of Jesus that mostly begin with: "The kingdom of heaven is like ..." They are not hard to locate in my Bible because it is a 'red-letter' edition with all the sayings of Jesus in red letters. Who knew? :-)

I noticed something. Jesus' earlier statements about the kingdom are gentle and lovely: The kingdom is like finding something you lost and dearly love; The kingdom is like discovering a treasure and selling all you have to get it; The kingdom is like a sower who goes out and sows seed lavishly, without regard to the soil.

As the storm swirling around Jesus intensifies, the parables take on more edge. The kingdom is like a marriage feast where all the society guests can't be bothered to attend and so the host fills the room with unsuitable guests. (There is also one man who comes without putting on decent clothes and he gets thrown out.) And the kingdom is like a man going on a journey who trusts all his servants with money and provision and the one who hides his money and doesn't do anything with it is punished. The kingdom is like a fig tree that doesn't bear fruit and so is destroyed. Etc.

As Jesus life intensifies and so do his images. Both the gentle seeking images and the stern images are kingdom pictures. They are two sides to the same coin as the old expression goes. But I am also pondering this thought:

Like Jesus,
our awareness of and participation in the kingdom of heaven 
is experienced differently during
the various seasons of our life.

Think about it. When we are young we have energy and passion: risk taking can seem almost a game and our 'sureness' is untested. Then we live through necessary and various seasons - some of which are gentle and full of mercy and joy, and others are severe and costly. We are loved and mistreated, honored and dismissed. Hearts break and bodies wear out. Our work brings fruit and joy and then sometimes just weariness.

There are seasons when it seems a forlorn hope to enter into a deeply meaningful participation in kingdom life. All that is surely in the past. 

But because the kingdom is about richness on the inside of things, it is never lost to us. And because we don't create the kingdom - thank God! way to much effort - but are invited to enter it, participate in it, watch for it, no one is too old, too tired, too broken or too lonely to live just there, inside the kingdom of heaven.

The kingdom of heaven is at once this complex collage of seemingly disparate parts inextricably bound into one thing, and also a completely unique, individual, specific set of experiences flowing through our own life and season. 

Just another grace.

New Year Ponderings

I am sitting on the couch beside the fire eating the last of the Christmas oranges. I finished off the cookies and chocolate and these must be gone before I launch back into work tomorrow. The Christmas holiday has been generously long and flown by, as all time does now for me. I remember a time in my life when days were able to crawl. Those were the baby times - when days were young.

Rachel gave me a book to read when I was with her - called Room. For the first time this fall, I think, I actually ate it eagerly and finished it with interest. I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a different book to capture your imagination. It is about a woman who is kidnapped and kept in a shed, 12 X 12, for 7 years. The twists and turns will keep you reading. What could have been horridly dark is kept lighter by the 'voice' of the writing - her five year old son, conceived, obviously, in captivity. The woman's name is never given in the whole book because it is about her life lived through her son's eyes.

Now I am reading a book called Turn of Mind. The story is a murder mystery (my favorite genre) and the 'voice' is a woman with Alzheimer's. Again, the voice makes the story. I can become so immersed in prose well written that I actually begin to experience events, feelings and impulses. I just put this book down because I started feeling, well, a creeping sense of dementia. :-) One of the best lines is from a neighbor who says he is grateful every moment 'the bottom doesn't fall out.' Interesting thought, that.

I have enough experience with anxiety to know what it is to live expecting the bottom to fall out. Such thoughts are really not paranoia. There are plenty of rotting floors beneath our feet, plenty of rubble and weakness and decay under each step: the economy, government, fragile relationships, our children's concerns, health, death, incoming weather and even the line-up on TV.

Every year since 2000 Steve and I have prayerfully chosen a word to be a window on our year. Such a word isn't magical - or even spiritual, really. The idea is to create a simple frame of reflection through which the events of the year can be understood. I believe any word will do this, just as any act of silence can reveal truth. My word this year is Kingdom.

Jesus is constantly inviting us to notice the heavenly Kingdom coming alive in our world. He is calling us to see what is inside of things, not just what is so obvious on the outside. Last night we saw Les Mis at the theatre. As I watched the story unfold through the window of Kingdom I realized I was watching the inside of things, the gospel that brings Life.

The oranges are gone. My coffee is lukewarm. Back to Turn of Mind and the fragility of life.