I am yours, but where are you?

a_light_in_the_darkness_by_abenteuerzeit-d5dlskcI continue to contemplate how my faith engages the truth and presence of Christ while practicing silence and mindfulness. I earlier shared here how important prepositions are in defining one’s contemplative approach. St. Paul reminds us that “from him and through him and to him are all things” (Rom 11.36). We possess ourselves and make-meaning prepositionally, understanding that we are from God, in Christ, and live for him.  However, it’s one thing to agree that “all things” are from and through and to God. We may even appreciate the relation to God which these prepositions describe. That is, after all, the point. But it is far more radical to, intentionally and personally, integrate these into one’s fundamental Self and meaning, at which point they become prayer: “I am from you, Lord, and through you, and to you.”

In my last post I described a conversation I fell into during a time of attempted silence and how it further clarified my sense of the exchange of love and meaning-making that silence opens up, at least as I encounter it. “I am yours and you are mine” expresses a reciprocal recognition and affirmation of acceptance and belonging. Christ alone offers it, personally, and we constitute our truest Self as faith’s response to him, at which point we are not just praying, but rather we become prayer.

I’d like to share still another moment I had during my practice of silence. I wish I could say I always succeed at silencing the traffic in my head, but I’m still just a novice. Let me preface by saying that the moments I share here are part of an extended period of personal suffering, grief, and loss. We all suffer, sooner or later. I’ll just say that all the talk about the Void which I’ve engage in here is no academic exercise for me. It is a matter of life and death. We all must confront the truth of our finitude, mortality, and nothingness. Faith must navigate the journey through the Void. There’s no getting around or under it. If you haven’t stood in it, then what I’m describing may make me seem a bit crazy. But if you’ve encountered it, you know of what I speak.

The moment I’d like to share is a follow-up to my previous post relaying a conversation in which Christ clarified his presence and my existence as a true Self of his own creation. In the past months, my faith has engaged itself in simple terms. “I am yours, and you are mine” has become a touch-stone of truth and grounding for me. I have invariably ‘felt’ the truth of this exchange too. Whatever emotional chaos may grip my heart and mind, this particular exchange has provided help as I have felt Christ exchanging these simple truths with me. I know it’s impossible to provide a third-person account of how the mind and soul touch and are touched by God, but I don’t know how else to describe it.

In the days following that conversation, however, the very next day in fact, my faith reached out and engaged Christ as I regularly do: “I am yours and you are mine.” But this time it felt empty. No sense of encountering his presence as I offered myself. No intangible voice of Christ speaking its truth to me. Only the empty sound of my own voice. I showed up. But where was he? I confessed and called, observed and waited. But I felt no presence. And so it continued for days. Actually, if I’m honest, it still continues. I grew doubtful, even desperate.

Some days later another conversation ensued. A voice, a presence, doubtless Christ’s, though perhaps in and through my own voice, spoke.

Christ: Tom, when you say “I am yours and you are mine,” how are you able to say it?
Tom: Because I feel or sense you saying it.
Christ: And if you don’t feel it, as you haven’t been feeling it?
Tom: Then I fear it’s not true.
Christ: Can it not be true in the absence of such feelings? Can it not be true when you feel nothing but instead sense only my absence?
Tom: I don’t know how. It’s been my own source of real belonging and identity. But I suppose you’re right.
Christ: You suppose rightly. Think about what it is in you, what it is about you, that makes it even possible for you to cry out “I am your and you are mine.” Where’s your desire for it come from?
Tom: You. You have be present. No movement I make in your direction could be possible without you wanting me to move.
Christ: That’s right.
Tom: Your Spirit has first to give the grace of desire and empower the confession that ‘I am yours and you are mine’. Your “You are mine” creates my “I am yours.” If I was not yours, I could not desire to be yours or desire you to be mine.
Christ: Exactly. So what happens to all this when you don’t particularly feel it, or when your feelings positively abandon you to the grief and pain you’re in?
Tom: It means that the absence of particular feelings I’ve depended upon don’t mean you are not fully, lovingly present with me, that you’re not mine and I’m not yours. If my voice is the only voice I sense speaking, I can know your love is inviting my confession.
Christ: Yes.
Tom: But why nothing but darkness? Why such absence?
Christ: So that when life’s sufferings and losses at their most intense consume your world, and you see nothing but darkness, and feel nothing but pain, you will know that I am yours and you are mine, that I am in you and you are not alone.
Tom: Unspeakably beautiful. But it sucks that such pain accompanies it.
Christ: What’s your favorite NT passages?
Tom: Rom 8:18-39.
Christ: So there’s your answer. Faith must ultimately constitute itself as absolute trust, not a feeling. And such trust is born in the absence, not the presence, of comforting feelings. That is where faith apprehends me as the source and ground of undying, indestructible life.

I am yours and you are mine

Ealing-20130212-00858I earlier shared here an experience I had during my practice of (well, I call them “attempts” at) silence, mindfulness. In that post I slightly opened a window onto how I try to practice mindfulness. I’d like to share another episode from my attempts, a brief conversation I had last week as I sat silently.

Me: I’m here for you.
Christ: And I am here for you. I am yours and you are mine.
Me: I am yours, and you are mine.
Christ: [Piercing and loving stare.]
Me: Lord, all I have here inside me are false and selfish selves – afraid, alone, lustful, angry, lazy. There’s nobody here but these.
Christ: I am yours and you are mine.
Me: OK, but just so you know, there’s nobody home here. I see you here looking around for…
Christ: Looking around?
Me: Yeah, looking around for the real me, the true self. I can’t find him.
Christ: Well, first of all, I don’t “look around.” But do you actually see me in your mind ‘looking around’, lifting up furniture, opening closet doors, ‘looking for’ someone?
Me: Well, not like that, no. But I look around and all I see is emptiness. So I assume…
Christ: Exactly. You assume. So what do you actually see/imagine me doing? What’s the basic form my presence in you has taken since you first noticed I was here?
Me: Your eyes – like the icons I contemplate – lovingly viewing me, seeing me. Your unchanging gaze fixed on me.
Christ: That’s right. I don’t “look around.” I simply “see” – truthfully, hopefully, creatively, lovingly.
Me: Then you see that there’s no one here but false selves.
Christ: So who am I talking to?
Me: What?
Christ: Who am I talking to? Who is speaking to me? Who is it that sees the false self and confesses that it’s false? Who’s doing that? You choose to sit here in the silence. Who chooses that just to see me seeing him? Just another false self?
Me: Couldn’t be. False selves only seek to hide from you.
Christ: That’s right. And I don’t engage them, don’t see them the way I’m seeing you right now, and, in seeing you, invite you into Our company.
Me: [Silent]
Christ: Well, there *you* are. And have you ever not seen me seeing you?
Me: No. Your gaze has always been the fixed horizon of my every waking moment, even in my darkest hours. Even when I was hiding, failing, running – your face and gaze were always front and center seeing me.
Christ: That’s right. I am yours.
Me: And I am yours.
Christ: And you are mine.
Me: And you are mine.

That Shekinah smoke

shekinah

So…
Me and the Lord, we close, tighter than the tightest,
Stay in that Shekinah smoke, higher than the highest, the
Abyss of the Void doesn’t frighten in the slightest, ‘cuz
In the darkest times, that’s when the Light shines the brightest.

See,
Nothingness is our nature, ‘being’ is a Grace-gift,
From the Lifter of our Heads, a holy face-lift,
Made over in the Maker, not the Makeshift,
Journey through the Infinite in time without a spaceship.

Don’t get it twisted, though, I still know how pain feels, my
Dreams walked in and out of my life in the same heels,
Tried to chase ‘em but kept slippin’ on the same peels,
I lost it all, life went off the rails like some train wheels.

I even had the thought of just ending it,
But the Voice of the Lord came suspending it:
“Ok, you asked for more Grace, and I’m lendin’ it, but
Till you die, Christ-Crucified, and you keep defending it!”

So I lost a dream or two, but I got the Prize,
I went to school of Unlearning and forgot the ‘Wise’,
My mind is blown daily, but I bet the Lord is not surprised,
He said a broken heart with contrition he would not despise.

So, I stand, broken and yet I’m still whole,
for my Beloved, soft-spoken and yet I’m still bold,
Blazing with the Flame of Glory, yet I’m still cold,
Stayin deep in the Pocket of Presence like a billfold.

(Dwayne Polk)

Desire, Worship, & Idolatry

Tempt 

Interesting thought I recently ran across in George MacDonald (GM, the Scottish writer/mystic/Christian universalist) in a passage examining Christ’s temptations, particularly where Satan offers Christ all the kingdoms of the world and their glory if Christ would simply bow and worship him. GM suggests Christ is here offered a vision of what he knows will be manifestly his eventually – the whole world, but it is here offered to Jesus on different terms. GM says here was have an example of good and right things being pursued on false grounds.

GM ends the passage with something that shocked me a bit, but with which I could only agree:

“Not even thine own visions of love and truth, O Savior of the world, shall be thy guides to thy goal, but the will of thy Father in heaven.”

One can possess the God-given forms of things, but possess them falsely. Only the Father’s will (God himself) can be truly, rightly, desired. This may explain the distinction Paul realizes in 1Cor 13 when he says one can perform any of the common acts we associate with doing rightly or well, or serving God (i.e., exercising spiritual gifts, giving all we have to the poor, sacrificing our lives to save others, etc.) without these acts being right and good if they’re not intended by, or as, love. The same act (giving to the poor) can be false or true depending on the love with which it is performed, for the end we intend defines our actions (as loving, meaningful, etc., or as worthless). This has to stand within Paul’s admonishment in Col 3 that we do what we do with all our heart “for Christ, not for people.”

Christ had to bring his (our) humanity to God in the same terms. GM’s point is that while the whole world was bound to come to Christ, to be his in all its glory, nevertheless to pursue this end as such, to intend it and not the Father, is equivalent to worshiping Satan. One needn’t sacrifice a goat and bow down within a pentagram to be beholden to evil, for desire (when it takes shape within intention) is worship. Idolatry, then, isn’t just a form of worship that involves images other than God. It is desiring anything other than God.

A phantom kingdom

Hell is with us at all times, a phantom kingdom perpetuating itself in the wastes of sinful hearts, but only becomes visible to us as hell because the true kingdom has shed its light upon history. In theological tradition, most particularly in the East, there is that school of thought that wisely makes no distinction, essentially, between the fire of hell and the light of God’s glory, and that interprets damnation as the soul’s resistance to the beauty of God’s glory, its refusal to open itself before divine love, which causes divine love to seem an exterior chastisement. Hell is the experience (a possibility in each moment) of divine glory not as beauty, but as a formless sublimity; it is the rejection of all analogical vulnerability, the sealing off of the “self” (or the cosmos) in univocal singularity, the “misreading” of creation as an aboriginal violence. The “fire” of hell is that same infinite display of semeia [signs] by which God is always declaring his love, misconstrued (though rejection) as the chaotic sublime rather than the beautiful, not susceptible of analogical appropriation, of charity; it is the soul’s refusal to become (as Gregory says) the expanding vessel into which the beauty of God endlessly flows. For exile is possible within the beauty of the infinite only by way of an exilic interiority, a fictive inwardness, where the creature can grasp itself as an isolated essence. Hell is, one might almost say, a perfectly “Kantian” place, where the twin sublimities of the star-strewn firmament above and the lofty moral “law’ within remain separated by the thin tissue of subjective moral autonomy: where this tissue has become impervious to glory, the analogy of the heavens is not the transforming voice of God but only a mute simile, an inassimilable exteriority, and so a torment. Hell is the perfect concretization of ethical freedom, perfect justice without delight, the soul’s work of legislation for itself, where ethics has achieved its final independence from aesthetics. Absolute subjective liberty is known only in hell, where the fire of divine beauty is held at by, where the divine apeiron [limitlessness] miraculously divests itself at the peras [boundary, end, extremity] that, in Christ it has already transgressed and broken open, and humbly permits the self to “create” itself. True, though hell is the purest interiority, it is also by contagion a shared interiority, a palpable fiction and common space superimposed upon creation, with a history of its own; but still, it is a turning in, a fabrication of an inward depth, a shadow, a privation, a loss of the whole outer world, a refusal of the surface. For Eastern Christian thought, in particular, it makes no difference here whether one speaks of death, sin, or hell: in each case on speaks of the same privation, the same estranging history, the same limit shattered by Easter; and hence there can be no aesthetic explanation of hell (something that few of the Fathers occasionally foolishly attempted) that would make of it a positive moment in the exposition of divine beauty, a part of the universe’s harmonious ordering of light and darkness. Hell cannot serve as an objective elements of the beautiful—as source of delight—because it is an absolute privation of form and quantity; it has no surface, nor even a shadow’s substance; its aesthetic “place” is the sealed outside of an inside.

(David Bentley Hart, Beauty of the Infinite)

Reppin’ the Kingdom

banner

Heard this beat and I had to get it pronto,
Eat it like steak with potatoes and cilantro,
The Lord’s the Lone Ranger, I’ll be the Tonto,
Reppin’ the Kingdom from Texas to Toronto,

I Am aka the Head Honcho,
Raining down Grace, betta get yourself a poncho,
I’m Ricky Ricardo and this beat’s my bongo,
Runnin’ it like OJ in a white Bronco.

Bump it, Ima keep goin’, the Spirit’s in me, Livin’
Water, let it keep flowin’, no fear in me, Givin’
Love, let it keep showin’, deep in the focus
Like mud, but I keep growin’, like a lotus.

So I’m standing tall in Imago Dei,
You can have the world, baby, I’m OK,
I got my mission, and I’m stayin’ in position, so when
God starts to wishin’, I listen and obey.

(Dwayne Polk)

Free-falling

hell1

Free-fall in ivory black of night with not a soul beside,
No wind to pace my sure decent, no echoed cry to mark the ride,
No shout of warning from below, nor from above a last Adieu,
No compass and no map in hand, no starlit sky to see me through.

No memory can ease the fear as Shame’s grip ever tightly holds,
And I, recounting all the steps by which I hid within its folds,
Cried out for help and strained to hear only Winter’s silent voice,
And so am falling ceaselessly, the consequence of my own choice.

But when all hopes at last expired, and I still falling through the dark,
A face appeared and, falling with me, made no gesture or remark,
But only saw me, and I in seeing knew, I was beheld and known,
And being seen could only mean that I in fact was not alone.

His eyes and voice were one and fixed as to my fading form his glance,
Undisturbed and free of threat from all my loss and circumstance,
Spoke faith and love and hope within my thinning ghostly mortal frame,
Assured me he would never leave, and as he spoke he said my name.

What poetry then can reproduce his presence which in me construes
Falling into friendship and from loss my liberty renews?
Would I give up such brokenness if it meant milder grace to gain?
I’d say surely not, and recommend to you the same.

The way you win the prize

rebirth-1

So I’m…

Slowly approaching the Throne, the
Queen is in her Glory, I’m approachin’ alone;
She loves me dearly, but she still wears the Crown, so my
Head and my knee, I take and bend them on down.

She rises from the Throne, and walks so regal,
Beauty, Truth, Goodness – there is no equal,
Giver of Life, she does it all for her people, if
Lovin’ her’s a crime, I don’t care – I’ll be illegal.

She stands in front of me, so close but so far, ‘cuz I’m
As nothing before her, while she’s shining like a star.
She lifts my head and looks me in the eyes, and says
“Living in humility’s the way you win the Prize…

“Won’t you have a seat with me?” She gives a hand, I
Arise like a new knight in a new land, we
Walk back to the Throne, lover and Beloved, and the
Sky is no limit, ‘cuz there ain’t nothing above it.

(Dwayne Polk)

No coward soul is mine

BronteSisters I’ve known of the Brontë sisters (mid-19th cent) for years but only recently picked up a volume of Emily Bronte’s poetry. It’s stunning. Knowing the difficulties Emily Brontë faced, the struggles of her day, her family trials and losses, the stiff opposition she and her sisters overcame, besides dying at age 30 of tuberculosis (3 months after her brother died of alcoholism), some of her poems are nothing short of miraculous. I have one or two others I will share, but “No Coward Soul is Mine” will do for now.

If you haven’t watched the 2-part TV series Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters, please do. You won’t be sorry, unless of course you don’t appreciate good literature or the English language at its best and most beautiful!

________________________________________

No coward soul is mine
No trembler in the world’s storm-troubled sphere
I see Heaven’s glories shine
And Faith shines equal arming me from Fear.

O God within my breast
Almighty ever-present Deity
Life, that in me hast rest,
As I Undying Life, have power in Thee.

Vain are the thousand creeds
That move men’s hearts, unutterably vain,
Worthless as withered weeds
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main.

To waken doubt in one
Holding so fast by thy infinity,
So surely anchored on
The steadfast rock of Immortality.

With wide-embracing love
Thy spirit animates eternal years
Pervades and broods above,
Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates and rears.

Though earth and moon were gone
And suns and universes ceased to be
And Thou wert left alone
Every Existence would exist in thee.

There is not room for Death
Nor atom that his might could render void
Since thou art Being and Breath
And what thou art may never be destroyed.

Exiles rejoicing

Ezra 3.12: “But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy.”

Israel is here returned from 70 years in exile. They’re rebuilding their lives, including their temple. Most of those present were born in exile, so any temple at all is a reason to rejoice. But some of those present were old enough to remember the former Temple, destroyed 70 years earlier, and all they see are reasons for weeping. Why? Because they recall the first Temple. Painful memories. Memories of past mistakes. Memories of taking the wrong way and suffering the consequences. Memories of missed opportunities. Regret over what might have been. To fall under the spell of such memories is to view even blessings as a cursed reminder of the past.

Another similar passage:

Haggai 2.3: “Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not appear to you like nothing in comparison?”

Why ask this? Because, as we know, some are weeping. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. “We’ll never recover what we had. Our mistakes have condemned us to a Plan B that will always trail behind Plan A. We’ll live the rest of our lives weighed down by the shame of our regret.”

Eventually the pain of regret comes to the surface not just for the older generation who were around to remember the former days, but also when Ezra gathers all the people in Jerusalem to hear the Scripture read aloud. What happens? Neh. 8:9b: “All the people were weeping while they heard the Scripture being read.” Why? Because they hear described God’s historical call to Israel, his promises to Israel, his gifts and blessings, the history of his faithfulness and provision, and they’re overwhelmed. Why? Because that has not been their experience. They sit and leaf through Israel’s older photo-albums of former times rich with blessing and peace, and they mourn its loss, if they’re old enough to remember, or its absence, if all they’ve known is exile.

So what’s God say to them about the regret and pain of past mistakes and missed opportunities? Two things:

1) Through Nehemiah (8.10) God says, “Don’t grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” And when Israel hears the feast of tabernacles described in the public reading of Scripture, they confess, “What? We haven’t been celebrating this,” and they all gather palm branches and tree limbs and build humble, leaky, dirt floor dwellings to celebrate the Feast of Tents/Tabernacles. Nehemiah (8.17) says there was great rejoicing. Exiles rejoicing?

2) Through Haggai (2.9) God says: “The glory of this latter house shall be greater than the glory of the former house.” The Temple was destroyed in judgment, and as it’s rebuilt, it becomes clear this will not be a return to the former Temple. God asks, “Those of you who remember the first Temple, what d’ya think?” And they just weep. But God encourages them, “Don’t cry. The glory of this latter house shall be greater than the glory of the former house.” Understand it correctly. The former house was larger, more impressive, a top-shelf Temple, a true denominational HQ, red carpet and all. This latter house, however, is smaller, humbler, and far less impressive. And yet God promises the glory of this latter house will be greater than the glory of the former.

Your past failures cannot foreclose upon the goodness and glory God wishes to manifest in and through you. For the glory of the house doesn’t depend on the history of the house; it depends on who occupies the house. This latter house won’t look the same as the former house. It’s less impressive to outsiders, less accommodating, less fitted for headlines and conference. It gets no invites. Hosts no celebrities.

Your life may have taken a very different path than it would have taken, but you will cross the same finish line everybody else crosses and you’ll participate in the same transforming glory and goodness of God. It matters not what you are in; it matters what is in you. The glory is his, not the house’s, and it can flow in the fullness he desires from the rebuilt ruins and losses which exile inevitably brings.