Clarity

Thomas Merton, in the later part of his life, believed he discovered a path which would fulfill a missing component of his spiritual search.¹ That missing component Merton found was clarity.

Clarity allows us to see the connection of things. Clarity allows us to develop the ability to participate as fully as possible in the life of God. Clarity allows us in times of doubt, pain, suffering, injustice, betrayal, and uncertainty to see beyond the chaos to the order, the “effect” that illuminates God’s love in times when our world seems quite dark, tangled, difficult and confusing.

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Recently, I have returned to blogging as a means of sharing my journey as a spiritual pilgrim and seeker of the Way of Truth. Years ago I used blogging to challenge a significant injustice in the denomination I was serving.  After that time I used blogging to focus on spiritual issues in order to help the churches I was serving.

To be honest, I have not been an active blogger for the last two years. During the past few years, I found blogging to be very hard. It was hard because I found myself in a very difficult situation that neither prayer nor continuous reflection provided any understanding. I found myself in a situation of struggling with hidden evil, angry, hostile spirits that left me empty and distracted. I was always busy but felt very unproductive.

I also found myself in a  struggle with graceless attitudes while engaged with people who wanted to embarrass and hurt me no matter how I tried to love and serve them. This struggle took its toll mentally, emotionally, physically, financially and, sadly, spiritually.

Finally, I finally realized I was viewed as an expendable religious consumable that others had decided to cast aside. I must be honest, I had never felt lower, more worthless, and hopeless in my life. This is not a place I would wish on any human being. I reached the point of hoping the physical pain I was experiencing would increase in hope that it would eclipse the mental and spiritual pain I was enduring.

So, after a conference with a suspect supervisor who either unknowingly or very cleverly confirmed the hopelessness of my situation, I officially retired from the organization I was serving and threw myself at God’s mercy. It was a moment of clarity.

I know, this sounds like a poor me pity party and perhaps, up to this point it actually is. This is where clarity comes in. Once I made the decision to step away, the darkness and fog began to clear. I still had the pain and the uncertainty of how I would financially support myself, but what I received was more than enough compensation and consolation.

Suddenly I begin to see a pattern and purpose to all I had experienced. God was moving me to a place of healing. God was picking up the broken pieces and putting them back together in a new way. God was showing me a path of faith I likely would never have known this side of eternity without going the things of the past two years and sparring me the uncertainty that now faces what I left.

Some people seek certainty. Some people seek continuity while others seek conformity. As for me and my house, I am thankful for clarity that makes the complexity something to embrace rather than avoid.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. (Isa. 55:8 NRS)

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¹Mystical Theology and Contemporary Spiritual Practice, Ed. Christopher C.H. Cook, Julienne McLean & Peter Tyler, Rutledge, NY, 2018)

When Rollercoasters are Not Fun

I can remember many, many, many moons ago when going to an amusement park and riding a roller coaster was “fun”. By fun, I mean pretending, while standing in line with your friends, that you were not afraid while somewhat thrilled deep down inside with what was about to take place.

I can remember the eagerness to try and get either in the front or back seats of the long, multi-car creature. I can remember getting in the seat and waiting for the bar to come down, that bar that you would cling to for life, as the ride began.

Then came the slow, clicking and movement as the cars began their slow ascent up the first hill to the top. Once at the top, heart beating rapidly, time seemed to stand still for a second. Suddenly the car would build up speed, people would start to scream, and the sweeping adrenaline rush filled my body with the excitement and pleasure of the thrill of the ride.  Often the ride seemed to go on and on but then, suddenly,  it seemed to end too quickly as the cars pulled into the stations for you to disembark and the next group was given their turn.

The last time I rode on a rollercoaster was some 10 years ago. All I can remember is how badly my joints hurt when the ride was over. Roller coasters are no longer on my “to do list” anymore.

Yet, now, as I journey on my spiritual pilgrimage. I find myself on roller coasters of emotion, spiritual struggles, and the events of life that put me on this ride, but not of my own choosing.

The feelings of riding these roller coasters are not those of excitement and thrill, but of pain, sorrow, suffering, sadness, depression, doubt, rejection, and regret. I seldom know when these roller coaster rides will begin and know even less as to when they might end. In fact, some of them never seem to end.

I still yell and scream, cry and lament the ride. I still grab on to the thin bar of faith as tightly as I can. Sometimes I just close my eyes and hope this valley, the downward plunge will be the last, but so far, it has not.

You cannot change the path of the roller coaster. But you can change the way you deal with the ride. You can remember that no matter how long or terrifying this ride seems, it will end. All things in this life end.

You can let go of the bar, hold your hands high in the air and give in to the reality that either the bar will hold you in place or not. If not, your ride will end. The ending may be tragic, but it will end. If the bar does hold you in, then you experience the confidence and assurance that your bar, your faith will do what it is supposed to do.

So let the valleys and the hills come. Let the speed and uncertainty of life come. Remember, you are not alone on this ride, not now or ever.

Every valley will be raised up, and every mountain and hill will be flattened. Uneven ground will become level, and rough terrain a valley plain. (Isa. 40:4 CEB)

Every valley will be filled, and every mountain and hill will be leveled. The crooked will be made straight and the rough places made smooth. (Lk. 3:5 CEB)

 

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Afraid to Grow Old

While at Starbucks this afternoon I noticed a man likely in his mid 70’s with a wife who was likely in her mid-20’s who the man guided around like a prized filly. The man, with obviously dyed blonde hair which was combed forward to try and cover a bald area, appeared as if he had recently had a facelift with tight pulled up cheeks. He was dressed in stylish clothes that you would likely see in an Abercrombie and Fitch advertisement, was wearing a lot of gold jewelry and paid for his coffee with a twenty dollar bill surrounded by numerous one hundred dollar bills taken from the center of a money clip with an apparent diamond in its center.

I make no judgment of this man. He is entitled to dress any way he wants, display his wealth any way he wants, and marry whoever he wants. Yet as I encountered this individual I could not help but feel this man had a fear. I felt, by his actions, his words, and the way he tried to project a bravado, this man was afraid of being old.

Luke Timothy Johnson in his book, The Revelatory Body, writes that there are two types of cognitive dissonance that faithful Christians must contend with in order to live out our days on this earth. First, states Dr. Johnson, “is the massive societal denial of aging, which is in effect a denial of death.” The second “is caused by the tension between the bodily experience of diminishment – the pull of mortality is ever more obvious – and the Christian hope for a “life-everlasting” in the form of a bodily resurrection.”

Our culture is centered on youth because youth is equated with a better life. To be young means that death seems far away. The body seems strong and vital, beautiful and optimistic. So many who find the years slipping by quickly seek to recapture youth through an artificial appearance and a lifestyle of denial.

I myself, at the mere age of 64 find this to be an exciting time. I have no desire to be young. I am aware that my time in this phase of the journey is limited and I am thankful for that. I am closer to being with my Lord unhampered by this fallen world. What a reason to rejoice. I also know that many of the characters of the Scripture did not even begin their finest work for the Lord until they reached this age.

Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness. (Prov. 16:31 NIV)

For this path I am grateful. For this chance, I glory in my Lord.

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Strength in the Face of Temptation

I have found that one of the enemy’s key strategies in my life is to seek to tempt me when I am least on my guard. It may be while I am searching for a topic on the computer or when I am casually walking in a store. Temptations such as anger, acedia, pride, and arrogance can seemingly come out of nowhere.

St. Ignatius speaks much about discernment, however, the ability of discernment requires awareness and the skill of awareness must be developed. The tool Ignatius used to help develop an awareness leading to a more discerning way of life was to practice the prayer of examen.

Ignatius believed we should practice the prayer of examen at least twice a day, once at noon time and the other at night. By taking the time to engage in this prayer (10-15 minutes) a person can become more aware of the times of temptation as well as the times in which God was drawing close to us in our daily lives.

The prayer of examen involves five (5) steps:

1. Stop and take the time to do something to remind you God is always present.
2. Think of the things you should show God gratitude during your morning or day.
3. Pay attention to the times you felt you were acting in God’s will and times in which you were moving away.
4. Confess you times of failure and ask God to help you depend on him in the hours, minutes, time ahead.
5. Look toward honoring God as you continue your day (specifically plan to do something you can do to honor God).

You will be amazed at how this simple act of prayer can strengthen you against the enemy’s actions.

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Don’t Let the Enemy Win

St. Ignatius gave the church a powerful tool to use against our enemy in spiritual warfare and in spiritual direction. The tool is a set of rules to follow while living with the understanding we have an enemy bent on the destruction of our soul and the limitation of our spiritual growth.

Eighth Rule. The eighth: let the one who is in desolation work to be in patience, which is contrary to the vexations which come to him, and let him think that he will soon be consoled, diligently using the means against such desolation, as is said in the sixth rule.

What this means is simply, don’t give in. In times of spiritual desolation, we will find it hard to pray. The answer to this is to pray even more. In times of spiritual desolation, we will find it harder to focus on spiritual matters. The answer is to focus even more on spiritual matters.

Spiritual desolation and non-spiritual desolation are very difficult to deal with. It can be a major struggle when things are not going well in one’s life. When you have been betrayed, slandered, discarded without regard, and then stepped on by a world that sees no value in you at all, desolation can be a crushing weight and continual searing emotional pain that seems hopeless.

When in such a state, it is time to reflect upon the last days of Jesus. It is time to rejoice that you have been given the opportunity to feel. It is time to put things in a perspective beyond the moment and let yourself be present with the one who is with you, the one who feels everything you feel. The one who has been there and rose from the grave to show us the day of consolation will come.

Amen!

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Danger, Seeker, Danger

I was asked to review a new book that is soon to be released that could easily have been titled, “A Beginner’s Guide to Contemplation in Five Easy Steps.” This book is one of many trying to jump on the “hot new” trend in post-modern Christianity of engaging in a type of pseudo-contemplative life.

My feedback on the book was direct and critical. I feel what the author was offering could be simply feeding a fad at the least and spiritual dangerous at the worst. The reason I say this because of the manner in which the spiritual disciplines dealt with in the book are presented. The author encourages individuals to “experiment” with the differing means of developing more contemplative disciplines in a manner of going to a Golden Corral and trying all the different dishes to see what one likes.

This type of consumer-driven pursuit of what is pleasurable might be okay for trying new foods or fashions, but in the spiritual life, it can lead one down a path of deception and misdirection or lead to disillusionment and frustration.

I know this to be true from personal experience. Spiritual disciplines are relational instruments given to us through the traditions of the church, connected solidly to correct doctrine, and evaluated by commitment and divine consolation. It is a very difficult path to try to travel alone, much less with a shallow, broad based workbook. The disciplines deepen our life of prayer and communion with God, others, and ourselves. The type of help needed with this process that can take forty years rather than the simple forty days pitched in the book.

Now I will give the author this, she does understand the shallowness of our current consumer-driven Christianity. I do believe she is sincere in her desire to see people engaging in these disciplines in hope of deepening their prayer lives and trust in the mystery that is our loving God who desires this depth of relationship with us. I am afraid, however, because of her own unique situation, she is calling others toward a spiritual path filled with deceptions, let downs, and possibly even spiritual harm.

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Awakening to the Presence of God in the midst of a Spiritual War

Last year, I faced one of the most frightening events of my life. I had unwittingly entangled myself in a domestic dispute between a boy and his girl friend. I had met the girl several times at church and thought her to be a strong Christian.

However, on this day, when the young man called and asked me to give him a ride home from work, I received the surprise of my life. When I brought the young man to the house where he and the girl lived, a fight broke out between the girl and the boy. I did my best to get in between the two, but eventually I felt the need to call for law enforcement intevention before someone was seriously hurt.

Then, the young girl, who was not herself, jumped in her car. She looked at me, but the being looking at me was not the young girl. A voice, an angry, masculine, harse voice yelled at me, “The next time you see her she will be a corpse!”

The young girl then pushed the accelerator to the floor and drove around 300 feet into an large old oak tree. The front of the car crumpled, but the air bags deployed (This particular car had been in two front end collisions and the air bags had not deployed). The girl was injured but not seriously hurt. Had the airbags not deployed she would have been killed. She had no idea she had driven the car into a tree.

I had an encounter with a demon.

I was not ready for this encounter, nor was I ready for the aftermath of spiritual desolation and darkness that stayed with me for the next eight months after this event. Everything went wrong. One of the churhes I served turn completely against me and manufactured lies in order to get me removed from my office. I face family crisis and had no support from the denomination I was serving, in fact, the person who was supposed to be supportive of me did her best either consciously or subconsciously to destroy me even more. The depression became so bad, like Dante before Virgil took him on a tour of hell, I considered ending my life.

But then came the opportunity for a morning prayer group. With this prayer group came support and nurture. As Ignatius instructs, in time of desolation do the opposite. I spent more time in silence. I refocused on more spiritual reading. I engaged in a more active

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discernment of the spirits, and with God’s grace and drawing presence, I have moved back into a state of life in which consolation is more frequent than desolation.

I am not yet over the wounds of this battle, but I have forgiven the human elements involved and am more aware of the enemy that is likely still close by. I am better prepared now should this entity come close again. I know greater his He that is in me that he that is in the world.

I am afraid too many of us do not take the challenge of spiritual warfare seriously. I know I do and will.

1 Peter 5:8 Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. (1 Pet. 5:8 NRS)