Love: Wrapped in Feelings

A lot of us talk about love without ever really understanding it.  One of the major sticking points of a spiritual life has been the mandate to “Love thy neighbor as thy self.”  Right now I’m got a neighbor that really makes that difficult.

A lot of people make that difficult.  On Friday there was a little old lady who didn’t like giving me the right-of-way at a four-way stop.  I could see her shaking her finger at me in my rear view mirror.  I think to myself, “Geez lady.  Should you be driving?”  Irritation wells up in me like as easy spring.  I shake my head to let it go and look up to see her scowling face and shaking finger.  Obviously she wasn’t letting it go and she wasn’t even in the right.

Ok, Lord, just how do I love people like this, the people I don’t like, the people who reject me and say bad things about me?  People can really make some stupid choices, me included.  How do you do it, this Love thing?  How did you send a part of yourself to die for this sorry bunch?”  No answer flashes in my head.  I am left to allow my irritation to run a quick course and switch my thoughts to something more pleasant.  This is a skill I have countless opportunities to practice.  The introvert in me often returns home feeling like the world has given me a beating.

This morning, I awoke and decided that it was the perfect time to pray.  I wanted some answers.

One of the people I follow on the internet, Teri Goetz,  suggested a ritual to dive into one’s inner wisdom.  The prayerful question to ask:

“What do I need to know right now?”

Asking is the easy part.  Listening to the answer, allowing it to come is the hard part.  I spend a half hour trying to resist my own desire to answer the question for myself.  Slightly frustrated I get up, start a pot of coffee and turn on the computer.  Suddenly, in my head I hear,  “You are a child of the most high God.” Since this isn’t the normal way I talk.  I pay attention.  I think about arguing for a second and then settle in to a warm fuzzy feeling.

The other person I follow daily is Mastin Kipp over at The Daily Love.  In my inbox is Kipp’s blog post for today.  In it, he writes:

The Uni-verse is a diverse place and when we celebrate this diversity instead of condemning it, we become more spiritual – that is to say, more Loving. And we begin to hate others less when we hate ourselves less for feeling what we feel. The other way to say it is that we Love others MORE when we begin to Love ourselves and our feelings more.

Feeling your feelings and not judging yourself or others – this is a place of spiritual mastery. Can you do it? What feelings are you avoiding feeling? And why?

Feelings good, bad, and indifferent are a portal to the spiritual life.  They are what make us uniquely human.  They are what they are. Being annoyed with my grumpy elderly driver was human and okay.  I didn’t turn my car into a battering ram and I certainly didn’t give her the finger.  Maybe that didn’t feel loving to me but it was.  I often have this unrealistic expectation that doing the right thing the loving thing is always accompanied with this saintly feeling of goodness.  I’ve been kidding myself.

Some times the loving thing to do is to walk away and feel the hurt and rejection.  Allowing people to experience the impact of their own choices, giving them a chance to take the responsibility for their lives  and to travel a path without you is the loving thing to do.  And some times it’s not.

Wanting answers doesn’t mean they will magically appear in my time frame.  They always come but I often have to wait, and wait and wait. In the mean time, I muddle through.  I make mistakes and feel angry or sad and a thousand flavors in between.   When I allow the feelings to run their course, to fully experience them and persevere in the challenges daily life throws at me, my spiritual being grows and expands to show me the path I need to walk to become a more complete human being.

 

 

Jesus Take the Wheel

(Thanks, Carrie Underwood and Youtube.)

The small god of electronic and electrical devices works overtime in our house.  This is not a benevolent god but a capricious sprite with a terrible sense of humor.

The fan in the old PC sounds like a jet engine on approach to PDX.

The stove won’t ignite but will collect lethal and explosive levels of gas.  Don’t even think of trying to use it.

The microwave above the stove stores my Dutch oven and collects kitchen grease like no body’s business.

Our dishwasher is a dim memory.  (Its physical remains have been dissected by the boy and I and used to host a tomato plant in years past.)

Things break and fall apart on a regular basis  in our house, people included.  I often threaten to attach the latest broken item on the end of a rope (always inanimate objects) to the bumper of my van and give it a spin around an empty parking lot.  In my mind, I imagine my latest hated appliance on a rope smashing into as many parking bumps, curbs and poles as possible.  All the while, I  laugh, a giddy laugh of vengeance and destruction.

I’ve yet to do it, of course.  Not many church or store parking lots are going to welcome me with open arms.  In my fantasy rampage of destruction I see broken plastic and computer components laying in haphazard streams of glorious garbage which signifies a liberation of the soul that I will only meet in my dreams.

This image is so satisfying that when things break or quit working,  I take a quick moment to visualize the process of parking lot destruction and my frustration dissipates.  After all,  it only a thing: a broken thing but still a thing.

This morning I suddenly realized that what I like best about my destructive fantasy is that I’m in the driver’s seat.  Most of the time, I tend to feel like the thing tied to the bumper.  Ouch.

Acceptance is one of the central issues of a spiritual life.  Religions vary as to the ratio between acceptance of God’s will and the role of an individual’s free will.  Thinking about it makes my head hurt.  Theologians and angels dancing on heads of pins may debate it but when you’re driving the car or being drug behind it, your position in the universal scheme of things is the difference between sitting in a comfy seat or being covered with road grime and gravel as your life is quickly extinguished.  Perspective — placement—is everything.  How you feel about it and how that feeling fuels faith, is everything else.

When I’m behind that vehicle wearing gravel like body glitter, I need God in that driver’s seat.   In extremis, nothing else matters but having a ghost of a chance at salvation.  I, however, am not an easy appliance to save.  I’m headstrong.  I like to argue with God over who gets to drive.

Figuring out what I can control, what I can do something about isn’t as easy as it sounds.  Maybe because I’m such a stubborn case and tend to cloud the issue with talk of driving and glorious streams of haphazard garbage.  Fortunately God is patient and kind.  He allows me to flop around in the gravel or occasional take the car out for a spin so I can learn to get my priorities straight.  Every day is a new opportunity to learn to allow God to take the lead.  I’m tired of the view from the back.  I want to be riding alongside the driver.  The seat is warm and ready for me.  There is an amazing road trip in my future.

The Calling

For months, I’ve been trying to escape the obvious.  I dance all around the issue.  I procrastinate. I avoid.  I know in the fiber of my being that I need to write about spiritual things.  I need to have the courage of my convictions and publicly commit to a belief in God, to write about my reluctance to allow God to have center stage.  I am ashamed to admit that belief in God often feels embarrassing to me, like I’m some ignorant back woods peasant.  I’ve been afraid to be ridiculed for my profound belief, so I’ve tried to ignore it and down play it.  It’s just not working for me.

To those people I love, who question religion, who challenge God’s existence, I have no intention of insisting we believe the same thing.  After all, I am rational enough to know that I can’t prove the existence of God and that it is possible I am wrong. (For the curious, consider Thomas Aquinas’ arguments for the existence of God if you enjoy theological mind candy.)

My life may end in an exhalation of breath and the energy that was me, will return to the earth and become part of the soil in centuries hence.  I’m really okay with that.  In the meantime, my belief is grounded in something as solid and ephemeral as my personal experience with God.  If it’s fiction, then I am delighted with the illusion because this Divine Illusion is the only thing holding my life together and giving it meaning.  I love the God-Story. . . believing I am infinitely loved by a Creator. . . believing I am saved through no merit of my own.

Trying to ignore God’s place in my life has really gotten me in trouble.

Who am I kidding except myself?

Did I really think that I could ever remove God from center stage given my history?  Can a leopard really change its spots?  Can a simple girl from a German Catholic town enter a convent and then leave without giving God a second thought in all the years since? (Insert an emphatic, NO!  I CAN’T. here, Carol.)

My understanding of God has certainly morphed over the years.  I’ve had lots of experiences.  I’ve tried to elude “The Hound of Heaven” but the biblical references, theological asides and my personal belief keeps creeping through my life and my words like veins in a body.  And like veins in a body, this belief is my life blood.  It’s time to get real.

Yes, I know that I’m not the ideal spokesperson.  Yes, I know that I’m a fallible, often crabby, cynic.  I’m certainly not always kind or understanding. There are people, some close to me, that I don’t get along with and don’t even want to.  I’m hopelessly human and maybe that’s what makes me uniquely qualified to enter the realm of the spiritual.  God knows I have the inclination, the desire.  God knows I love words and have a bit of the gift of the blarney (even though I’m as German as a potato pancake.) God also knows that I’ve been very busy trying to avoid following the calling of my own heart largely out of fear.  No one wants to look like an idiot and feeling like one is even worse.  Looking like an idiot because I have a conviction that God is calling me forth is so scary that I haven’t wanted to go there.

Unfortunately, everything has been blocked due to my reluctance to follow my heart, the heart that God holds in his/her hand.  So, what the heck!  It’s time to go out on that limb, that limb of conviction and know that it might get sawed right off.  Nothing is more important to me and my life than the spiritual, than the belief I carry in my heart that God is love and that my primary calling is to explore what that means and to be willing to share that journey with others.  It doesn’t mean I’ll always live up to my end of the bargain.  I will fail at Love more times than I’ll succeed just like I may fail at becoming a more spiritual person and an occasional spiritual writer (but my instinct is telling me this won’t be so.)

I’ve failed enough over the years at a lot of different things to know that failure, while grossly unpleasant, won’t kill me.  Failure has been the most effective teacher for this potato pancake.  Bring it on, God.  You’ve got my full attention.  I’m on that limb and I’m holding the saw.  It’s up to you, Lord.  You win.  I cave.  Show me what to do, what to say, which way to go.  I’ve got some failing to do and Your Name is going to be all over it.

 

 

From the Ragamuffin Gospel

Some time this last year I read a book by David Timm entitled The Power of Blessing.  In that book, Timm references a quote from Brennan Manning’s Ragamuffin Gospel.  Manning was a priest, author and wrote candidly about his struggles with alcoholism.  Manning’s humble realism and poetic soul appeals to me.  I copied the following down from Timm’s book which quotes Manning on page 19.  The piece of paper on which I wrote these words is passed around from pile to pile.  The edges are starting to wear down.  I reread it often because I can’t help myself.  I especially love the line, “unsteady disciples whose cheese is falling off their cracker.”

I know exactly what that means.

Lately, it’s been hard to write.  I’m afraid too.  Opposition, criticism can really eat away at one’s self esteem, one’s courage.

Life is also crazy busy.  I am drug behind the freight train of life struggling to climb aboard.  This isn’t the way I imagined it would be.  There are lots of moments of joy in between moments of grave disappointment.  The cheese on my cracker is Swiss.  Joy is the cheese.  Disappointment are the holes.  Manning reminds me that this is as it should be.  He gives me hope that even though I’m a scalawag with slipping cheese, I am loved beyond imagining.

This is the essence of the Christmas message.  The Nativity Story is the story of simple people, a simple God, and the most humble of beginnings. Love was born into this world in a barn. Imagine the smell of the animals, the flies, the little rodents who love to share spaces like these.  Imagine no snow in the Middle East.  Imagine hot manure.  Imagine a helpless new born baby beside it.

This Good News is the Ragamuffin Gospel.

“The Ragamuffin Gospel was written for the bedraggled, beat-up, burnt-out.

It is for the sorely burdened who are still shifting the heavy suitcase from one hand to the other.

It is for the wobbly and weak-kneed who know they don’t have it all together and are too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace.

It is for the inconsistent, unsteady disciples whose cheese is falling off their cracker.

It is for the poor, weak, sinful men and women with hereditary faults and limited talents.

It is for the earthen vessels who shuffle along on feet of clay.

It is for the bent and the bruised who feel that their lives are a grave disappointment.

It is for the smart people who know they are stupid and honest disciples who admit they are scalawags.”

 

I can recycle that scrap of paper.  I write the Ragamuffin Gospel on my soul.

Thanks, Fr. Manning.  I’m beginning to understand the true joy of Christmas.

I am the person behind the words printed here. I write because my heart will not allow me the option of NOT writing. It has taken me half a life time to discover this basic truth, but now that I have, writing is as natural as breathing. This is where my breath takes the form of words.

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The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life (Before 8AM)
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