When It Hurts Physically, Emotionally, and Spiritually

Jesus gives comfort

Life can be hard when you hurt. It can be exceptionally hard when you hurt physically and then also have to deal with emotional pain and (if we can understand it) spiritual pain at the same time.

I write this blog during a time of great hurt in my life. I daily struggle with chronic physical pain that cannot be treated with surgery. I do not do well with opioids so rarely is the pain alleviated.

My emotional pain comes from the losses I have experienced for the last twenty years and the loss I am about to experience. Some of these losses are my own fault but many are injustices I have suffered at the hands of other “Christians.” Some of my losses are the natural occurrence of living in a world God calls fallen and cursed. No matter the reason, the pain is still real and the memories still sting.

My spiritual pain is from the spiritual desolation the enemy is currently trying to use against me. It is a pain of guilt, of failure, lack of hope, and struggle to keep my focus upon the love of God.

This is my little self-pity party. I do not know how many other people face the temptation to feel sorry for themselves in their situation, but it is a temptation I struggle with continually. One of the tools God has given me (God never abandons us, we might think so but this is only an illusion) to use during such times is a cheap, tin bracelet with the words, “Why me God?” on the front and the words, “Why not me?” on the back. This helps me to refocus on God’s grace and goodness even in difficult times.

When facing the challenges of the enemy  I have found that my training as a spiritual director, especially Ignatius’s rules for discernment, is key to finding any hope or comfort in the challenge. Too many people, myself included, seek to depend upon their own abilities to pull themselves out of despair. So when I say, I find things helpful it is because God makes them helpful. I do not depend upon the rules, I depend upon the God who has shown others the path so that they can help others on their journey as well. This is the community of Christ.

Rules 6-8 gives us a pattern of thinking and acting in the face of desolation. These rules are:

Sixth Rule. The sixth: Although in desolation we ought not to change our first resolutions, it is very helpful intensely to change ourselves against the same desolation, as by insisting more on prayer, meditation, on much examination, and by giving ourselves more scope in some suitable way of doing penance.

    Seventh Rule. The seventh: Let him who is in desolation consider how the Lord has left him in trial in his natural powers, in order to resist the different agitations and temptations of the enemy; since he can with the Divine help, which always remains to him, though he does not clearly perceive it: because the Lord has taken from him his great fervor, great love and intense grace, leaving him, however, grace enough for eternal salvation.

    Eighth Rule. The eighth: Let him who is in desolation labor to be in patience, which is contrary to the vexations which come to him: and let him think that he will soon be consoled, employing against the desolation the devices, as is said in the sixth Rule.

It is the eighth rule that gives me the most hope. God never leaves us in desolation.  There will come a day when my physical pain will end. There will come a day when my tears of emotional pain will be dried. There will come a day when the Lord himself will lift me up.

Psalm 38 is my Psalm for the day of desolation. May it give you comfort and hope!

Psalm 38:1

O LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger, or discipline me in your wrath.
For your arrows have sunk into me, and your hand has come down on me.
There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin.
For my iniquities have gone over my head; they weigh like a burden too heavy for me.
My wounds grow foul and fester because of my foolishness;
I am utterly bowed down and prostrate; all day long I go around mourning.
For my loins are filled with burning, and there is no soundness in my flesh.
I am utterly spent and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart.
O Lord, all my longing is known to you; my sighing is not hidden from you.
My heart throbs, my strength fails me; as for the light of my eyes– it also has gone from me.
My friends and companions stand aloof from my affliction, and my neighbors stand far off.
Those who seek my life lay their snares; those who seek to hurt me speak of ruin, and meditate treachery all day long.
But I am like the deaf, I do not hear; like the mute, who cannot speak.
Truly, I am like one who does not hear, and in whose mouth is no retort.
But it is for you, O LORD, that I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.
For I pray, “Only do not let them rejoice over me, those who boast against me when my foot slips.”
For I am ready to fall, and my pain is ever with me.
I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin.
Those who are my foes without cause are mighty, and many are those who hate me wrongfully.
Those who render me evil for good are my adversaries because I follow after good.
Do not forsake me, O LORD; O my God, do not be far from me;
make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation. (Ps. 38:1-22 NRS)

Amen

Death Wish Economy

uncle sam

A man, a sometimes mystic, very intellectual scholar,  and always a man of God named Francis Schaeffer warned us of a time in which the western world criteria for human life decisions of life and death would be economics. That time is here. Politicians are telling us to chose the economy over people’s lives.

I am in one of the most vulnerable categories who face serious consequences from his virus. It would likely kill me. I accept this. So I do what I am told and self-quarantine to protect myself and others. I stay six feet away. I even wear a mask. Yet, instead of being told we are doing a good job of not becoming infected with the virus I find in government leadership individuals who think my risk of dying is an acceptable if it means the economy can recover.

As far as dying, in many ways I have and I want more than anything in the else to be in the presence of God. However, I would miss my wife and family so much I am willing to struggle to try against the obstacles to continue to seek to live and love.

I choose to live a life of belief in God. I believe life is important to God.  I do not believe that any person who does not value the life of human more than the material valuables humans chase is not fit to lead.  Many have forgotten this type of thinking is what allowed Nazi to take over Germany during Post-WWI. We are becoming the monsters the Bible warns us will arise. A people whose hearts have grown cold. A people seeking to kill love.

I seek to pursue God. I seek to strive to get others to draw closer to God even more. This has been my life for the last forty years. I hope it is a fire that continues to burn. Sometimes God does lead someone toward death. God tells us always to be ready for death. Death is going to come for us. I believe that if those with minds who embrace a death wish economy have their way, I likely will die from this virus. But honestly, do we really want to live in the kind of world with such selfish, backward, thinking like we see in the Texas leadership?  What kind of a country are we living in now that where the selling of stuff is more important than human lives?

Certainly not America!

Oh, that’s right, we did allow slavery.

The First Rule

st-ignatius

First Rule:

In the persons who go from mortal sin to mortal sin, the enemy is commonly used to propose to them apparent pleasures, making them imagine sensual delights and pleasures in order to hold them more and make them grow in their vices and sins. In these persons the good spirit uses the opposite method, pricking them and biting their consciences through the process of reason.

This is  a statement from a warrior. A physical warrior turned spiritual, mystical warrior. This man, Ignatius of Loyola, understood the spiritual warfare that we face daily. A war that is engaged in the will. The gift God gave to humanity that makes us uniquely human, our will.

We can read about great battles like those witnesses by Dr. Victor Frankl in the death camp. We can read about the experience of St. John of the Cross or St. Teresa and still not grasp how often the battles we fight are everyday, mundane, vicious, diabolical, and constant.

Whenever we risk of inserting out presence into the world we will either generate a positive presence that comes from God’s love or else we we insert a horrible possibility we did not see. And then, we may add nothing to the mayhem other than our own banality.

What Ignatius gives us is the perspective of a seasoned warrior, the wisdom of one who totally committed his mind, heart and soul to God and to the Church. As a warrior, he needed to know what wins in combat. What wins against Satan is discipline that is trained to resist and overcome. It is call to be aware.

If I am going to lead, I must be led. If I am going to overcome, I must trained to do so. If I am going to do so, I need to make the choice to be committed to this training and use it as oft as I can. In this war, boot camp is the battlefield.

All this for what? If there is conviction in you life, what is the source? Do you really know how influential evil may be in your life? God’s way leads to peace, assurance, and presence.

God gives us discomfort in times of sin.

Sin gives us discomfort in times of God.

 

More to come…..

Reflection: 65 and the virus

Death

Suddenly, there is an awakening in this country. This awakening is the reality of death, death caused by a virus. This awakening comes especially to a group of people, someone at sometime, categorized as the Baby Boomers. I am a baby boomer. We are a generation that had ideals, had our Bernie Sanders (George McGovern), our social prophets (of all races and genders unlimited), and the Beatles for heaven sake. How can we be the most vulnerable generation of people facing this potential fate.

However, as Ash Wednesday reminded us, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen. 3:19 NRS). We cannot get out of the “dust you shall return part.” The Coronavirus is doing its part to bring many people to face this truth. Pray for all who seek to help fight this disease and for all who have been affected.

I am fortunate to have a soul mate along side me through this process. We are both doing our best to self-quarantine for our safety. We both understand why we must do this and still be a lifeline to others we care about. This is a time in which our social mandates fit hand in hand with our contemplative pathway. We have seen God present us with some interesting encounters (socially distance acceptable of course!)

There is also a spiritual challenge, Some would say a mental health challenge. It is not either/or but both/and.  I fear the spiritual more than the mental. Death now surrounds us. Death gives no respect to status or position. Death comes from an attack by a virus upon our very breath. It has proven it can kill, the youngest as well as the oldest. The challenge is for us to have our own spiritual foundation assured through faith and our responsibility to be open and willing to guide others to develop a confidence in their foundation through the guidance God has given to each of us. It has been a long time since comfortable Christians have been made uncomfortable. We really need each others prayers, support, and the giving of meager attempts at love. Relationships, from the top down must grow closer and more accepting of each other while holding on to our precious relationship with God. Only God’s 

We will also have the opportunity to examine our lives in the light (or lack of light) by using spiritual disciplines as our tools. If you have done much reflection upon the Eucharist and its relation to apostolic succession you may look at an option to revert back to the earliest of liturgical practices carried out in house churches.  The “clergy” (individuals called by God who  by as the successors to the role of apostle) presided over the Eucharist. I would recommend both deep soul searching, serious theological reflection and deep spiritual examination before you make any decision.

I have found the Daily Office to be the most uplifting, convicting, and presence confirming tool for my life. I am most comforted by the Anglican heritage I have adopted. I am also comforted by commitment of the Methodist church I am attending to reach out to it members and to find ways to connect us. In this church I find spiritual food.  Seek a church! Don’t just ask God, go and visit. While you are there you can begin the process of discernment. Being part of a church is a serious matter.

This is my last recommendation. Now is a time to seek to go deeper. Find a spiritual director who can not only help you with Ignatius’s 14 rules. Be careful however for there are a lot of people offering new age philosophy in place of the spiritual practices of the Christian mystics that where orthodox and effective. Find a director who is willing to listen to God with you and for you knowing you must ultimately discern.

In closing, in over 67 verses throughout the Bible there is the phrase, “Do not be afraid!” This is what I deeply feel all who believe need to hear now. Be smart, be alert, be protective, stay informed, but above all else, seek God’s presence, and “Do not be afraid!”

This is the time to not be afraid.

Oh, please, please wash your hands often.  While washing, say The Our Father. The Our Father (Lord’s Prayer) is long enough that you will have washed well. Also, and very important,  you will pray more often.-Got that from Juanell.

Never Forget the Fall (not the season but the reason) and the Power it Has Over Us

Fall

“God’s delays are mysterious; sorrow is sometimes prolonged for the same reason for which it is sent. God may abstain for the moment from healing, not because Love does not love, but because Love never stops loving, and a greater good is to come from the woe. Heaven’s clock is different from ours.”
— Fulton J. Sheen, p. 357   Life of Christ

It is truth worth repeating, “The only good in this world comes from God’s grace. With God’s grace there would be no good in this world that is cursed.”

What does it mean to say that the world is cursed? It means God has decided to allow negative consequences and struggle in this time line and reality. We currently do not live in the totality of the Kingdom of God but in the reign of death, the history of death, the limitations of human understanding due to death. To forget this reality is to set oneself up for apatheia at the least and idolatry at the worst.

Time and time again in my own spiritual pursuits, I have, like so many others allowed the effects of the Fall to influence my life. Even when I have been consistant in my spiritual disciples and worship I have made the mistake of not being on my guard for the deceptions and delusions that are a constant presence. If not for God’s grace and likely angelic intervention, I have no doubt I would have been overcome by the dispair and destructive nature in these lapses.

However, God does intervene and does seek to bring us back to the narrow path, the road less travelled due to God’s love for us. The question then arises, “If God loves us so much why does God allow the Fall to continue or why does God not awaken us before we give in to the Fall’s effects?”

I cannot answer the first question, but I beleive the second (and likely the first) is answered in the above quote. The only answer to the effects of the Fall are found in a faith that trusts in the mystery of faith and the revelation of the incarnation. God counters the power of the Fall in the hope of what is to come and in the grace of experiencing the reality of God’s love in Jesus in the events of our lives.

God gives us a promise, “Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the LORD your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.” (Deut. 31:6 NRS) And also, “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:20-1:1 NRS)

We do not travel in the history of death alone. The Fall should not define us, our trust and our faith in the creator of this world should. This is what is offered in God’s love.

 

Embracing an Answered Prayer

th

About three and a half years ago I began to pray the “Litany of Humility” from a handbook of prayers my then spiritual director had given me. The prayer is written below:

Oh Jesus! Meek and humble of heart hear me
From the desire of being esteemed deliver me, Jesus
From the desire of being loved deliver me, Jesus
From the desire of being extolled deliver me, Jesus
From the desire of being honored deliver me, Jesus
From the desire of being praised deliver me, Jesus
From the desire of being preferred to others deliver me, Jesus
From the desire of being consulted deliver me, Jesus
From the desire of being approved deliver me, Jesus

From the fear of being humiliated deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of being ignored deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of not being secure deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of being despised deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of suffering rebuked deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of being calumniated deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of being forgotten deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of being ridiculed deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of being wronged deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of being betrayed deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of being suspected deliver me, Jesus
From the fear of being hurt deliver me, Jesus

That other be more loved than I, Jesus grant me the grace to desire it
That in the opinion of the world, others would increase while I decrease
That others be chosen and I set aside
That others be praised and I unnoticed
That others be preferred to me in everything
That others become more holy than I provided that I become as holy as I should

Now, as I reflect upon my situation, I realize God has answered my prayer. The problem is that I was not prepared for the answer. Thus, being unprepared, it is hard for me to embrace and rejoice in receiving what I asked for. I made the mistake of not counting the cost. How foolish of me.

By not being prepared, I find myself in a deepening depression when I am criticized, ignored, and hurt. This reaction is itself a state of sinfulness from which I must repent.

It is not easy being in a state of constant physical pain and then experiencing what I perceive as being an emotional wound. God never said it would be easy. In fact, Jesus warns us that this road is a difficult road indeed. Still, I need to embrace this answered prayer by not projecting my emotional mess and physical situation on others. I need to remember that I am receiving an opportunity of grace and should not blow it with fits of self pity and sarcastic remarks to others. To embrace this answered prayer with thankfulness and trust is the challenge I now face, Jesus help me please, Amen.

Have mercy on my Thoughts

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God
Have mercy upon me, a sinner.

As I was driving to Abilene, Texas to have a procedure done by a back surgeon. I tried to keep my mind off the surgery by allowing myself to just float from one topic to the next. The problem with this type of thought surfing is that it can be a perfect time for the Evil One to attack.

As I drove mile after mile, I first struggle with the directive of Jesus to love our neighbor as yourself. I have always had trouble with this. I believe I need to love my neighbor a whole lot more love than I love myself because I really do not love myself that much. So my thought surfing lead from one negative thought to another about the phoniness, the sinfulness, the foolishness, and destructiveness of my life for the past five decades. As I thought, the depression I began to feel deepened.

So then my mind went scapegoating. My first focus was the dubious character and malevolent activities of my former district superintendent. I could write some really dark stories based on my thoughts about her. But of course, thankfully,  came the conviction followed by the prayer of seeking forgiveness that added to the proof of just how stupid I can be. The Lord knows all about my feelings and I need to leave my thought on her with him.

The next target drifting into my thoughts were others that were involved in destroying my ministry (if you could call it that) and who forced me into poverty, horrible physical injury, and create in me the desire to sue them.  I serioisly prepared to do this and had ample evidence to win but I back down because that is what they would do so I thought. In reality, God just said no. Well, I least I did on thing right, I think. But these thoughts and all their negativity would not stop and I was getting close to complete despair as I drove. Not a good place to be.

I felt I had only one hope. Repeating the Jesus Prayer. So I began: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner, breathe out. Breathe in, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner, breath out, repeat. Again and again I developed the intentional rhythm and focus to continue this prayer for 40 miles until I reached the surgery center.  The dark thoughts were gone and I felt a bit a peace while I waited for my turn to be sedated and injected.

Every day of my life is a battle against my thoughts. Every day is a battle but the awareness I gain is both painful and redemptively truthful. I am an intuitive and likely function mostly under the seer/lover archetypes so I lean to the addictive which produces much of my negative shadow.

Being in this state gives me an awareness of when I am being played by politeness and conventionality. I can sense when people really do not want to be around me and I do not want to be anyplace when I am not wanted. This means I need to be sensitive to expectations that will not be fulfilled and not become to upset by those I bore or worse. They are not the ones to be scapegoated. The only scapegoat I have for my current state is my self.

Until I work through the mental mess and psychic potholes in my life I am going to be very vulnerable to attacks. I will be fighting my thoughts. I will be easily wounded and more self depreciating. But I know, as the pilgrim discovered, there is a prayer for this and every situation that changes the direction of thought to the One who can handle all that comes.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God
Have mercy upon me, a sinner. Amen

 

That Brighter Day

When dreams are filled with nightmares
And your thoughts are filled with dread
When you think that no one really cares
And you hopes are all but dead
You still can find some peace of mind
You still can find a way
To look beyond this world to find
A future with a brighter day

The struggle to surrender to righteousness is not a simple as making a decision. Anyone who believes otherwise is entering the realm of self delusion. The truth is that it takes hard work to move beyond the cheap grace of today’s prevision of good news. Salvation is a moment by moment process that is continually being attacked by a nature that is like completely corrupt. As Scripture rightly says, “There is no one who is righteous, not even one; there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned aside, together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, there is not even one.” (Rom. 3:10-12 NRS)

I am sick of those who say only focus on the positive. Focus on the power of redemption as if it were a form of magic that mystically transforms us into beings of light. Yes, focus on redemption, but understand the way to righteousness depends on God’s righteousness and a continual process of reflection, discernment, and decision. Repentance means going the other direction and this direction is the narrow road. “For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matt. 7:14 NRS)

One of the deadly sins is that of apathia or sloth which is a failure to carry out one’s spiritual  responsibility. It is to take the easy path of painless religion, convenient religion, the social religion that deceives and deludes. It is a path the requires very little and has the mantra, free grace.

I believe we can grow in our faith but the road is more like that of Abraham, Job, Paul of Romans chapter seven and Jesus rather than Joe knows church. At least for me, the path of righteousness only comes when I do not trust myself, do not feel empowered or secure, but when I reflect on the battle between my old nature and the powers and principalities. It is painful. It is filled with times of seeking to move from self loathing to fear and trembling. Yet, this struggle is worth the reward that is promised. It is worth a future with a brighter day.

When dreams are filled with nightmares
And your thoughts are filled with dread
When you think that no one really cares
And you hopes are all but dead
You still can find some peace of mind
You still can find a way
To look beyond this world to find
A future with a brighter day

Spiritual Direction?

I wonder in my limitation
How stark can darkness be
For even though I seek the light
I find it is darkness who chases me

Time after time darkness catches me
And I pay the most terrible cost
And even though I see the light
I feel as if I am lost

 

In our current days of disconnect and distraction, of comparison and consumption, seeking to grow in one’s faith can be exceedingly hard.

Now there are plenty of books, manuals, videos, and people claiming to be gurus who promise to lead us toward a deeper relationship with Christ, but I cannot help but wonder if they are the blind leading the blind. Perhaps they have been so deluded in their own reality, so deceived in their pseudo locutions of spiritual insight that the have crossed over into the fantasy of self-deception.

There are times I wish I could talk with someone who lived in the years between the story of Malachi and Matthew. What was it like when God went silent? What techniques did the spiritual gurus of that time offer?

There are clues in the likes of Simeon and Anna. They were old. They had an expectation and were wondrously surprised when God came into their presence. It is the living in the hope and expectation that sustained them. A faith developed through the Scriptures they had and the hope they came to embrace in their hearts.

I strive to read every book I can on spiritual direction and the “Christian” spiritual experience of every noted mystic I can find.  By Christian, I mean that which is based on the good news of the incarnation of God that has been preserved and believe by the faithful in all times and places. For me, Christian is a word meaning follower of Jesus who has made the commitment to be a disciple who tells others of the birth, life, death, resurrection and promises made by Jesus.

I put emphasis on the word “Christian” because much of what is passed off as spiritual direction today is much like current politics, swinging either to the fringe right or the fringe left.  I just left an organization that was started by Christian spiritual directors and has now drifted into a hodge-podge of eclectic psychology and new age magic of which I have no desire to be affiliated. On the other end are the Trump-ites whose idea of spiritual direction is MAGA, stockpiling arms, and building walls for the glory of Jesus.

Most of my life I have been trying to find those paths which we lead me closer to God. I am convinced the harder I try, the more difficult the journey gets. I am becoming more and more convinced that the more you try to find and follow the light, the more you attract the darkness. I have also discovered that I am no match for this darkness.

So,

I wonder in my limitation
How stark can darkness be
For even though I seek the light
I find it is darkness who chases me
Time after time darkness catches me
And I pay the most terrible cost
And even though I see the light
I feel as if I am lost

The Wise Choice

“Persevere in labors that lead to salvation. Always be busy in spiritual actions. In this way, no matter how often the enemy of our souls approaches, no matter how many times he may try to come near us, he’ll find our hearts closed and armed against him.”
— St. Cyprian of Carthage

St. Cyprian of Carthage

It is an easy mistake to make. You get busy. You become tired. You seem to not have enough time, and thus become susceptible to illusion that you can not make your practice of spiritual disciplines you primary goal of you day. This is exactly what the enemy is hoping for.

There is no cease fire in the spiritual war raging around us. No peace treaty, no neutral zone, no place that we can let down our guard concerning our souls. Once we allow a weakness in our spiritual life develop, the enemy will quickly use it to attack.

I have come to believe that we need to develop a mindset like that of the desert Fathers and Mothers. They look at their culture and understood the power it had in influencing human beings toward lives that did not honor God. So they went to the desert to spiritually survive. We need to create our own deserts of time and place that gives us labors and actions that can help us escape the powerful influence of our own cultures.

Some would say, “I go to church to do that!”

I am sorry, as a pastor for 40 years in two, now three denomination, I have found the church has chosen to compromise. Some of turned to politics. Some have turned to market shares and statistics as their means of self-evaluation. Some have become social clubs founded upon cultural preferences and self oriented consumer “needs.” No, the local church is not the place to find the spiritual strength to become what we are called to be. As part of the universal church we can still find nurture and guidance in the rituals that offer us an opportunity to encounter God, but even then discernment is needed.

In the desert, the Fathers and Mothers developed community. They developed a community of accountability and spiritual survival. I hope we can do the same. I believe this would be a wise choice.