Wednesday, February 24, 2016

I Get Along Without You Very Well. Of Course I Do.

I get along without you very well, of course I do.

I never think of that night back in college when I held you for hours in complete silence, when we just stared into each others eyes. I don't remember that they were the most intimate moments of my life. Of course I don't. I don't remember the disappointing end when I ended things because I thought a supernatural deity was jealous of my love for you.

I never think of that New Years Eve when I kissed you for the first time, a first for me. I don't remember that your dog ate all my Christmas chocolates, or how you dumped me two days later.

I get along without you very well, of course I do.

I never think of that day walking along the beach in my hometown when you decided I truly needed to learn how to kiss, or how great of a damn kisser you really were. I don't remember a tumultuous end.

I never think of what could have been with you, but wasn't because I was too scared.

I get along without you very well, of course I do.

I never think of just how goddamn drop-dead gorgeous you were or how I fell for you hard. I don't remember that your Mom couldn't stand that we were together because I wasn't of the same faith as you. I can hardly recollect that sexier-than-all-hell night when we grabbed a bottle of wine and lit those candles and how wickedly perfect it was as we made out to Nina Simone's "Nearer Blessed Lord." Of course I don't remember riding away from you on a train on another continent after things ended on the vacation from hell.

And I never think of you, the one who things seemed so synchronous with from almost the beginning, or the sheepish crush I had on you before we even started. I don't remember you driving away.

I get along without you very well.

Of course I do.

Mark Nouwen

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Hello, Again...A (Re?) Introduction To Me

Perhaps the face accompanying this post that you're reading is a familiar one, perhaps it is not. It could be the case that it's an older version of a face which you haven't seen in quite a long time. Whatever may be the case, welcome to my little article.

I am guilty as charged for being "one of those." By one of those, I mean, someone who has, fairly regularly, dilly-dallied with his online presence, most overtly through my adding and then subtracting people from my Facebook friends list. There have been times where I have hovered around the 500 mark; currently I am somewhere around 130. There is more to this than just having a love/hate relationship with Facebook. For a long time, not weeks, not months, but years, I have been highly decompartmentalized. Due to various circumstances in my life - some incurred upon me, and some by me - I have more than often led quite a fractured life; I haven't been able to integrate well.

I have lived with mental illness/complications for most of my life - this may or may not be a surprise to you. I sort of think that none of us are completely healthy, rather, we are on a sliding scale when it comes to our mental and emotional health. My mental illnesses, are caused by several factors - this is the case with most people who live with mental illnesses. There are environmental factors, chemical factors, social factors. Some of these can be prevented, some cannot.

One of the ways that I have dealt, or attempted to deal with traumatic events from my past, has been to decompartmentalize. If I shove something, or an entire section of my life into a box and place it into a dark corner of a dark, cobwebbed room, then I don't have to think about the trauma that took place during that period of my life.

I have a few boxes that I didn't touch for quite a long time. Among them are:

1) The Burwell Box - I grew up in a small village of 1000 people, called Port Burwell, in southwestern Ontario. There have been times when it seems like a dream - and one that I'd rather wake up from and quickly forget. This may come as a surprise to some who may be reading this and are thinking, "Wait, he always seemed pretty happy. He was kind of goofy, liked playing on the baseball team, etc." But, you see, sometimes when other, hidden, dark things are also happening, in my case emotional and verbal abuse, then some of us take on black or white thinking. Rather than trying to examine what was positive and helpful from a particular area in life, from what was traumatic, can be just too painful, especially when you try to do so without the help of a good therapist. Thus it was much easier - and likely a helpful defence mechanism at the time, to tuck everything from my childhood into a box and place it in that dark room.

Slowly, I have been dusting off that box and taking things out and looking at them; this is part of the re-integration process. I last visited Port Burwell this past summer, and it was an incredible healing experience, like a warm blanket being placed on you after you come in out of the frigid cold.

2) The Christian Box (For the sake of time, this will include The High School Box and The Bible College Box) - From the time I was born until my mid-twenties, my entire identity was solidly encompassed within fundamentalist, evangelical Christianity. There was us (the saved Christians) and them (the unsaved people around us, and it as our job to try our best to influence them to become like us Christians. This was my understanding. From as far back as I can remember, I went to Sunday School, church services, youth Bible studies, youth activity nights. When I entered high school in Aylmer, Ontario, I was highly involved in the Christian Students Network. During this period of time, I was also involved in music leadership at churches that I was involved in. Skipping ahead, I moved to Kitchener, Ontario to attend Bible college. I made a lot of good friends, and again was involved in leadership (again on music teams, on a missions committee, and as a dorm resident advisor.) However, two things happened during my time at Bible college that would radically change my entire worldview, and just as importantly, my view of myself. Due to hideous false guilt, followed by a questioning of most of the core tenets of fundamentalist, evangelical Christianity, I came to reject Christianity altogether. I left Bible college without graduating. What followed for several years was what I call "my teenaged rebellious years, just a decade late." Late-nights filled with angsty, navel-gazing vodka-filled writing ensued; I was quite miserable for the most part. I was uncertain of many things, except for one: I wanted nothing to do with Christianity. Period. I remained friends with several Christians, but let others fall by the wayside. Looking back, part of this was, again, a kind of defense mechanism. I felt hurt (and admittedly still do to varying degrees) by the brand of Christianity that I had lived under for all of my life, and it was easier to just not be around people who still espoused the beliefs that I no longer believed in. However, in taking responsibility, I let some important friends down. In the intervening years, I wrote many a blogpost railing against that form of religion, and I got a thrill going toe-to-toe with people on meaningless Facebook debates.

I am fairly certain that I will always, at least periodically, speak out against certain aspects of fundamentalist Christianity, since there are ways that living within it impacted me very harmfully, but really, when all you can speak about is what you do not believe, that says something in itself. I know that I alienated quite a few people by my tirades.

It's getting a little later on in the night, and the wick on my oil lamp here in St. Thomas, Ontario is dying out, so I'll briefly conclude. For just over a decade, I remained in Kitchener, Ontario, and I made very little progress, in several areas of my life, including treating my mental and emotional illnesses. I hopped from one therapist to another, one prescribing doctor to another. I stayed at a job that payed the bills, but one that I was not passionate about, which I have learned can be pretty close to soul-killing; however, again, I met some great friends where I worked, and they were particularly gracious to me. In addition, I did have highly positive experiences working on the executive of the local NDP riding association. Undoubtedly what I miss the most about Kitchener is my Unitarian congregation. They are like my family and I miss them on almost a daily basis,

Mentally and emotionally, I have my good days and my horrible days. In September of 2013, I relocated to the county where I grew up; I live in St. Thomas, about forty kilometers from where I grew up. I am taking the time for both one-on-one and group therapy, and to concentrate on my continuing healing process (much of which includes re-integration and taking those boxes out of the dark room, which still has quite a ways to go - do we ever stop?) I am happy to be volunteering at my local hospital, and still love to read (mostly on spirituality and religion) and to write.

In closing, I suppose this article is my way of walking back into a conversation and re-introducing (or in some cases introducing) myself. I suspect that I have hurt some people by my actions (or inaction) or words. There are bridges to be mended, in time. I guess for now, I'm just saying, Hi, I'm Mark Andrew Nouwen, how are you?

I can be reached on Facebook. Please feel free to Facebook "Share" this article if you think we have mutual acquaintances.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Years Song For The Broken-Hearted

for those whose situation does not yield for a cup of kindness here.
for those who will still wonder where their next meal will come from in 2016.

for those who have long given up on 2017 and 2018,
and the years beyond long long ago when you were deeply hurt.

for those who lost their jobs in 2015 and are tired of all the paperwork to complete
in order to receive benefits that are pathetically shrinking.

for the disabled, either short term or long-term,
mentally, physically, or in any way.

for those for whom holidays lost their meaning long long ago,
perhaps during childhood.
instead they shine a light on a shattered innocence and faded laughter and dreams.

for the lonely.

for all of you, I have been to many of your desolate places.

i wish you a spark of hope, some warmth for your heart,
and a silent prayer that despite all appearances,
you will know the simple but life-giving fact that you are loved and lovable.

a sincere happy new year 2015, my sisters and brothers
~ mark andrew nouwen

At The End Of The Year

At The End Of The Year

The particular mind of the ocean
Filling the coastline’s longing
With such brief harvest
Of elegant, vanishing waves
Is like the mind of time
Opening us shapes of days.
As this year draws to its end,
We give thanks for the gifts it brought
And how they became inlaid within
Where neither time nor tide can touch them.
The days when the veil lifted
And the soul could see delight;
When a quiver caressed the heart
In the sheer exuberance of being here.
Surprises that came awake
In forgotten corners of old fields
Where expectation seemed to have quenched.
The slow, brooding times
When all was awkward
And the wave in the mind
Pierced every sore with salt.
The darkened days that stopped
The confidence of the dawn.
Days when beloved faces shone brighter
With light from beyond themselves;
And from the granite of some secret sorrow
A stream of buried tears loosened.
We bless this year for all we learned,
For all we loved and lost
And for the quiet way it brought us
Nearer to our invisible destination.

John O’Donohue (1956 – 2008)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Co-existence Is A Foundation, But Peace Is Much Deeper.

"Real peace implies something deeper than polite acceptance of those who are different. It means meeting those who are different, appreciating them and their culture, and creating bonds of friendship with them. Family, culture, religion, community, and friendship are all realities that are vital for human growth. But we need to learn how not to remain enclosed or imprisoned in such groups. We have to cross boundaries and meet others who are different. Coexistence is a foundation, and it is important, but peace is something much deeper. To create peace we have to go further than just saying hello. We have to discover who the other person is and reveal who we are. As we listen to and really meet one another, we begin to see the work of God in the beauty and value, in the deepest personhood, of those who are different."
~ Jean Vanier, Finding Peace (Anansi 2003).

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Scraping Off The Mud That Hides The Light

How long have you been caked in mud? I'm not talking about dirt, the kind that you can quickly shake off like a Taylor Swift song; I'm talking about deep, dense mud that you've either covered yourself in or had flung at you by someone else. Maybe you think that this is all there is to life, that your ship has sailed, that happiness, even contentment is something for those other people, but not you. You're just surviving, and it seems that's all there ever will be. I don't have a magic potion, I can not snap my fingers and send you back in time to a place when you felt unsullied and non-violated by the spindly cold fingers of that someone, or that system that kept you from shining the light inside. But I can stay here and say that no matter how dark, no matter how grim things may seem or actually may be, that light is still inside of each and every one of you. It may take time to uncover it, to scrape off the mud, but it is there. As much as you may have tried to go it alone, to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps - something that we often hear is a noble thing to do - that is just another lie. We need others - others who will confirm our inner light even when we can't see it, others who won't provide easy answers, but will sit there with us as we scrape off the mud. The priest and author Henri Nouwen was wise when he wrote that we must be careful where and with whom we share our pain. If we are not on the road to healing - be that through professional help or some other aid - we may soon find ourselves bleeding all over the place and feeling that many people are walking away with different parts of ourselves. Cry inward, he writes, and the inner light that you do still possess will eventually pierce the darkness.

This is not the end, no matter how dark, dank, and devastating as this may be. Let us begin again and again and again.

Mark Andrew Nouwen

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Role Of Religion & Inner Wholeness As We Seek Global Peace

Quaker pastor and author Philip Gulley.
"I have a friend who believes a personal relationship with Jesus is essential for peace. He cites as proof the violence and upheaval in nations that aren't predominantly Christian. Though predominantly Christian nations aren't exempt from violence, he believes that is an aberration, not indicative of a general trend. I believe my friend, despite his many virtues, is unaware of the tendency of Christians to be just as violent as our fellow religionists.
I don't say this to denigrate Christianity or any other faith. Religion, when grounded in an ethos of grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation, can be a powerful tool in the struggle for peace. It matters little whether that religion is Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, or Hinduism. What matters is the believer's commitment to the highest ideals of his or her religion. But our tendency to believe our own religion or nation is uniquely qualified to attain a virtuous goal is part and parcel of our dilemma - we believe the best about ourselves and suspect the worst about others. This inward lack of trust breeds outward suspicion, generates ill will, and makes peace all the more unlikely. 
Violence is a human problem with a human solution. I believe in a Divine Presence, but I see little evidence that God miraculously intervenes to bring peace. While some who work for peace are motivated by religious principles, even those who are not religious have a role to play. The work of reconciliation begins when we believe in the inward capacity of people of all religions (and people of no religion), nations, and cultures to contribute to that end.
Inward wholeness is the foundation on which outward peace rests. We live from the inside out. Inward imperfections rise to the surface, just as magma pushes through to the earth's surface. Consequently, the work of peace begins with a sincere consideration of our inner condition and its effect on our world. Does our greed create economic inequality? Do our prejudices make it easier to despise and exclude others? Do our religious beliefs breed distrust? Do we expect moral perfection from others with little awareness of our own ethical frailties? What inward deficiencies of our own push to the surface in our lives, causing harm to others? 
~ Philip Gulley, "Living The Quaker Way: Discover The Hidden Happiness In The Simple Life," 2013.