Saturday, April 30, 2011

Seeing Yourself Truthfully

The following is an excerpt from Henri Nouwen's journal "The Inner Voice of Love." I'll make some comments afterward:

You continue struggling to see your own truth. When people who know your heart well and love you dearly say that you are a child of God, that God has entered deeply into your being, and that you are offering much of God to others, you hear these statements as pep talks. You don't believe that these people are really seeing what they are saying.

You have to start seeing yourself as your truthful friends see you. As long as you remain blind to your own truth, you keep putting yourself down and referring to everyone else as better, holier, and more loved than you are. You look up to everyone in whom you see goodness, beauty, and love because you do not see any of these qualities in yourself. As a result, you begin leaning on others without realizing that you have everything you need to stand on your own feet.

You cannot force things, however. You cannot make yourself see what others see. You cannot fully claim yourself when parts of you are still wayward. You have to acknowledge where you are and affirm that place. You have to be willing to live your loneliness, your incompleteness, your lack of total incarnation fearlessly, and trust that God will give you the people to keep showing you the truth of who you are.


I think Henri makes a couple of important insights in this excerpt. For many of us there are times, even if we think we're spiritually mature, when we get knocked off our foundation and forget who we are. We forget that we are radiant children of Light, that we are loved and irreplaceable. Many things can knock us off course: the loss of a job, an illness of a loved one, a break-up of a relationship, etc. We thought we were past all this crap, but here we are again. Nouwen says, firstly, to learn to rely on the judgments of your closest friends, those who know you. As vulnerable as this may make you feel, you know your friends and that you can trust them. For now, make them your mirror. When you stand before them, trust that they will reflect back to you who you really are.

Secondly, Nouwen says to not beat yourself up over how you feel right now, and to accept it. Accept that you feel like shit right now, and that life is hell. This can be very difficult for those of us who are on the spiritual path because we feel like we should always be trying to improve ourselves. There is nothing wrong with being positive, but the truth is, life is not all happiness and sunshine all the time. Feel your feelings deeply. Allow yourself to feel like shit, yell, scream, cry. To not do so is only suppressing or burying your true emotions and they'll inevitably show up later, whether it's a few days or a few weeks.

Accept where you are, and surround yourself with those who know you best. They will hold you until you can see your true self again.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Unveiling The Splendor Within

A Spring message to my family @ Unity Kitchener, and to others...

Perhaps you're like me and you're terrible at math. I've always been bad at it. Give me history, english, even geography, but please no math. And yet over the course of my 32 years I've become pre-occupied with addition. Let me explain. I grew up believing that who I was wasn't good enough. I was taught that something was missing, that I needed something I didn't naturally have in order to complete me. Thus the addition commenced. Maybe you can relate. I tried a creedal religion, I tried "the right beliefs" (whatever that means), I tried prayer. All of these things were an attempt to complete me. I am glad that I said goodbye to that way of living, and that eventually I found my way to Unity. But I must ask myself, have I replaced one set of additions for another? Am I still trying to become something better, more acceptable? It is easy to fall into, even as someone who loves Unity. Are you like me in that you read all the self-help books, say countless prayers, recite affirmations and denials, attend all the services? These things are not bad in and of themselves, of course not; I am glad for them. But they must not become additions that we use in order to become better or more acceptable to Spirit or to others. For, my friends, each of us already has a radiant splendor within us, from the time that we are born - yes, even before that! This is one of the key differences between Unity and many other faiths. There is nothing that we must do in order to "be better" or more loved or more worthy. Life is not an arduous journey in which we endlessly search for an answer that we do not have. Rather, all those self-help books, those prayers and affirmations, and those services, they are tools we can use to uncover the already existing magnificence within. Once we realize deep inside that all we need is already within us, everything changes.

Blessings of love and peace,

Mark Andrew Alward
Secretary, Unity Kitchener

Thursday, April 28, 2011

We're In This Together

5:25p.m. Starbucks, Uptown Waterloo

Good afternoon. Relationships are on my mind right now so I think I'll take a few minutes and write about that. By relationships I'm referring to all kinds of them: familial, friendly, romantic, spiritual, etc. I may touch on romantic relationships a bit more because, well, I'm a hopeless romantic.

When confronted with friends or family members that are going through a hellish time, some people like to say that "You're going through this for a reason, to learn something." I like to refer to these kind of people as assholes.

The only problem is, while their words can be unhelpful and sound trite, they are often correct. Damn it!

The last several years or so have seen some extremely challenging times for me. I've dealt with health issues as well as strained or failed relationships, etc etc etc.

One of the things I am learning as I get real with - and accept - the different parts of myself, is that I am - we are - indeed made for relationships. I think I've always known this in theory, but now I am finally - finally - getting it.

Perhaps you have seen the 2007 movie Into The Wild. It's a true story based on a college student named Christopher McCandless. In 1990 he rejects a materialistic life, destroys all his credit cards and ID and donates almost all his savings to charity. Then he sets out on a cross-country drive to experience life in the wilderness. He does not tell his parents or his sister where he is going and doesn't contact them during his travels. Along the way he loses his car to a flash flood and he starts hitchhiking. Christopher also changes his name. He ends up kayaking down the Colorado River to Mexico, where he loses his kayak and walks back to America. Fast forward 2 years, yes 2 years, and Christopher, now Alexander, is in Alaska, all alone and forced to hunt to survive.

Through all of this, and this is the key, after 2 years of trying to find himself and the meaning of life all alone, Christopher concludes that true happiness can only be found when shared. Realizing this, Christopher decides to return from the wild to his friends and family. This was not to be, however, as the stream he crossed in the snow has now become wide, deep, and violent due to the thaw. He cannot cross. Christopher returns to his small abandoned bus that serves as his shelter, and by this time is resorting to eating roots and plants since he doesn't know how to dry or smoke meat. He has a book to help him to distinguish edible from inedible, but he confuses similar plants and becomes violently ill as a result. His book informs him that his mistake will cause him "starvation and death". In his final hours, McCandless continues to document his process of self-realization and accepts his fate, as he imagines his family for one last time. He writes a farewell to the world, writes the quote "Happiness is only real when shared" into his journal, and crawls into his sleeping bag to die. Two weeks later, his 66-pound body is found by moose hunters. A month later, his sister returns her brother's ashes by airplane from Alaska to the eastern seaboard in her backpack.

Phew, that's a lot to take in, but fascinating (worth a rental, don't you think? Or worth a read: Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer.)

Sometimes I think we figure that we have to be saints. Or that it's better to be alone, that we have to figure out life on our own. Perhaps we think that we have to be well-adjusted (whatever that means) to be in relationships with others.

Have I left college, left all my family, burned my ID, changed my name and ended up in Alaska eating roots and plants? No.

Have I isolated myself in other ways? Absolutely. Namely in places like the one I'm sitting in right now: a coffee shop. I can't tell you how many countless hours, days, months I have spent sitting in café's. There have been small café's, larger ones, empty ones, packed ones. But there's one common denominator: more than often I've been alone. Now sometimes, even oftentimes I've enjoyed this, as I love to write and read. But there comes a time when it's Enough, with a capital E. Sure, part of it may be my personality - which according to the Myers-Briggs Personality Test people, straddles the border of introvert and extrovert - but there are other, negative reasons. One of them is perhaps that I'm trying to find that "Aha!" moment when I figure something big out about life. Another reason may be, even if subconsciously, that I believe I deserve to be alone for some reason.

My point is this. I am learning that Christopher was absolutely right, that happiness is only real when shared, or if you like, life is best when shared. It's OK to need! For some reason some of us think that "need" is a weakness. But it's natural to need other people! This is something I should post on my bathroom mirror so that I'll see it every morning. There are things in relationships that we can't get when we're being a hermit. Love from others, conversation, lessons they've learned, touch (well, I guess you can experience that last one, but God kills a kitten everytime you do.) Another important thing is that we learn more about ourselves when we're in relationship with others. Our own self-perception can at times be skewed and we need others in our lives to remind us of who we truly are.

I am blessed today to be opening up and being in relationship. I have great friends, family, a spiritual community as well.

Relationships are also healing. Is there anything better in the world than laying beside the woman/man you truly love on a rainy afternoon and just gently stroking their arm or playing with their hair?

I don't have to be alone anymore. You don't have to be alone anymore. We deserve to be loved by others. It's time to open up.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Befriending Our Emotions And Stuff To Do With That

The following is an excerpt from Henri Nouwen's journal/book The Inner Voice of Love, which he wrote during a time of great depression for him.

Afterward I will make some comments.


"It can be discouraging to discover how quickly you lose your inner peace. Someone who happens to enter your life can suddenly create restlessness and anxiety in you. Sometimes this feeling is there before you fully realize it. You thought you were centered; you thought you could trust yourself; you thought you could stay with God. But then someone you do not even know intimately makes you feel insecure. You ask yourself whether you are loved or not, and that stranger becomes the criterion. Thus you start feeling disillusioned by your own reaction.

Don't whip yourself for your lack of spiritual progress. If you do, you will easily be pulled even further away from your center. You will damage yourself and make it more difficult to come home again. It is obviously good not to act on your sudden emotions. But you don't have to repress them, either. You can acknowledge them and let them pass by. In a certain sense, you have to befriend them so that you do not become their victim.

The way to "victory" is not in trying to overcome your dispiriting emotions directly but in building a deeper sense of safety and at-homeness and a more incarnate knowledge that you are deeply loved. Then, little by little, you will stop giving so much power to strangers.

Do not be discouraged. Be sure that God will truly fulfill all your needs. Keep remembering that. It will help you not to expect that fulfillment from people who you know are incapable of giving it."


Where to begin. I think that most of us who are on the spiritual journey (I think all of us are, regardless of if we are aware of it or not) go through times when we lose our bearings, get knocked away from our center and seemingly get kicked around by our emotions. We may do our best to pray, to meditate, to be positive, but still an event will happen, that person will call, that outcome we anticipated won't occur, and we're left spinning like a top. Here, Nouwen comforts us in saying "Relax, it happens. You're human, don't beat yourself up."

He follows that by saying, "It is obviously good not to act on your sudden emotions. But you don't have to repress them, either. You can acknowledge them and let them pass by."

First of all, while I agree that at times it is not good to act on your sudden emotions, at other times it is perfectly alright to trust them. One of the things I learned, one way or another growing up is that I couldn't trust myself. The things I felt in my heart and that bubbled up near the surface weren't trustworthy, they weren't really valid. And I suppressed them. I think that to a large degree I became suspicious of happiness. So in many ways now I believe you can trust your emotions. Dance when you hear a good song on the radio. Laugh when you hear something hilarious. Pounce on your lover when you're both feeling the urge. We can learn that many times our emotions can be trusted. Of course there are times when this is not the case, like when you want to choke the guy in front of you who just cut you off in traffic, or when you feel like smacking the gaggle of toddlers that the lady brought into Starbucks with her (WhyTF do people do that, seriously it drives me fucking crazy - take them to the library, or the park, or the kennel!)

Hmm, what else. It's just important to me to recognize my emotions and give them some room to breathe rather than repressing them. Now, I have to watch this, particularly since I currently live with bi-polar II, major depression, and anxiety. I'll let myself feel sad and depressed sometimes; there's just times when to not do so would be completely disingenuous. During those times, I'll grab a coffee, put on my pajamas, lay on the couch and watch a movie or a TV drama.

Also, the question should be asked, "Do I have to be completely centered in order to be in relationship with others?" It's here that I hear one of the mantras that often rise from within me: "Be easy on yourself," and another one, "You don't have to be alone." For some reason perhaps we have learned to be our own worst enemy or overly harsh with ourselves, much more harsh than we'd ever treat a friend. And at least for me I think that I have to be alone. I have to be somewhat of a secluded hermit in order to be holy. But guess what?! Relationships aren't blissful, Hollywood-esque, flower-petalled entities all the time as much as they are loving, committed, realistic ones. Do you want someone to love you for the centred, calm, happy person you try to be? Or do you want someone to love you for the centred, calm, happy, sometimes bitchy, annoying, sad person that in reality you sometimes are? I know what my preference is. Now of course this doesn't mean we then have license to just act like a prick all the time, no. We still strive to be that centered, calm soul and to treat our partner like the precious gift that they are. But in an honest relationship, we know that if we do have a bad moment/day, that person will not go riding off into the sunset.

Wow, I'm going on here. Let's conclude with this from Nouwen: "The way to "victory" is not in trying to overcome your dispiriting emotions directly but in building a deeper sense of safety and at-homeness and a more incarnate knowledge that you are deeply loved. Then, little by little, you will stop giving so much power to strangers (and events might i add)."

To me that's what it all comes down to. Building up knowledge that you are deeply loved. You are loved when you're centred (something we should all spend time trying to attain). And you are just as deeply loved when you're so very sad or angry.


Mark Andrew

Sunday, April 24, 2011

My First Easter Blog - Getting To Know Jesus Today

3:19p.m. Easter Sunday, Uptown Waterloo

Happy Easter! ...Now there are various responses that you might come back to me with. A simple "Happy Easter to you" could very well be one of them, or there could also be a "Um, but you don't believe in Easter." In either case I wish you a Happy Easter, particularly for those of you for which it holds so much importance.

In this article I'm going to hash out my thoughts on Easter as it means to me, and I do so not in order to antagonize in any way or to "rile up feathers." I am spiritual. I like to write. Thus I write about spiritual things.

Briefly about the past. Easter weekend used to mean the following to me: Good Friday was about Jesus' death on the cross for my, and the rest of humanity's sins. I used to go to church services every Good Friday, and the most powerful and deeply emotional ones were when a group from the church would put on a play. First the Roman centurions would come up the aisle, followed by the two thieves. Then would come Jesus, with a crown of thorns upon his head, with blood (fake of course) pouring down from his brow. He was dirty and sweaty and carrying his cross. Even thinking back to those times it is still emotional. I remember sitting in one of the front pews one year just bawling and bawling and bawling with emotion. "Jesus did this for me." "It was because of my sins, my mistakes that he was punished and died."

Easter morning of course was an entirely different story. Sometimes I would go to two services, one at sunrise outdoors (I'm not sure exactly why sunrise services are a tradition, but i liked them) and then another larger service inside later in the morning. It was happy, joyful, for Jesus was now alive. I've heard it said that in the Christian life Christmas is special, but it's Easter that holds the most importance.

What about now? What are my thoughts 8 years or so removed from evangelical Christianity?

One thought that I want to refute from the outset is the well-worn statement that "if Jesus didn't die for our sins then his death meant nothing and he was a lunatic." This is very one-sided thinking and allows for no other possible interpretations. I understand it, I just don't agree with it.

First of all, let's talk about the condition of humankind. A widely held belief is that Jesus died because our sinful, evil nature separated us from God and we needed some way or person to bridge that chasm. I disagree. I do not believe that humankind's original, natural state is sin or evil. For one reason or another probably since the dawn of history humans have felt the need to feel bad about themselves, to feel like they're not worthy of goodness. This is only reinforced if you grow up being bullied, abused, or abandoned. "I really am shitty." Or the fact that we were bullied, abused or abandoned reinforces our belief that we are originally sinful and unworthy. It works both ways.

If you and I aren't originally sinful (and the story goes that sin was handed down all the way from Adam in the Garden of Eden), then what on earth was the purpose of Jesus? If he didn't come to earth to die for our sins, then why did he come?

First of all, I don't necessarily believe that Jesus came down from Heaven. It's fine by me, and actually more miraculous - not less - if Jesus was born naturally from two human parents, and that he made mistakes and "sinned" just like all of us have. What was so special about Jesus then? At some point Jesus became enlightened to the divinity within him. Instead of knowing God as an outside being in the sky, and instead of knowing spirituality as being about laws and regulations, Jesus came to the mind-blowing awareness that he was one with God, God lived within him, and spirituality was about connecting with that inner divinity, and then living that out amongst others.

I'm still processing this, and probably will for the rest of my life, but the authorities probably killed Jesus because 1) Jesus said he was God (blasphemous) and 2) Their power and rule were threatened. Jesus, not being willing to lie about who/what he really was, did not fight back.

What is the good news about Jesus for us? The good news for me is that Jesus' purpose was to be a way-shower. Sometimes I like to say, within or out loud, "Jesus was not the point!" Firstly I think Jesus might very well shudder if he were to see the religion based on his name with tonnes of churches, evangelists, priests, authors. Secondly, I strongly do not believe that he wanted to be worshiped. Big deal. If he wanted to be worshiped he might have become a politician or a Nazarene Justin Bieber (God help us all). Instead he walked the countryside with a ragtag band of fisherman who probably were in great need of a shower. Yet what do we do with Jesus now? We paint pictures of him, we fashion images out of marble and stone, we sing songs of him, we bow before him. No, this is not Jesus to me.

I believe that Jesus purpose was to show the true nature of humankind. Through Jesus we see that the true nature of humankind is divinity. We don't have a sinful nature, we have a divine nature. Jesus' purpose, as he was being lifted up, was to lift up all those around him so that they could see their beauty, their magnificence, their brilliance, and their divinity. In life Jesus was always making people feel worthy, accepted and he was lavishing them with the all-encompassing grace and mercy of God. I think of the woman who washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. (Is there any more beautiful image in the world? This afternoon I can't think of any.) Or the woman who was caught in adultery, or the little children who came to him. Jesus always enhanced and uncovered the splendour within everyone he met. And in his death he powerfully and bravely said once again, "You may not think much of yourself. You may be down and out, you may have been called dirty and unacceptable. But good news! You are good! You are worthy! God lives within you!" The Easter resurrection story then says to us that death has no hold on divinity.

What then can I call Jesus today? My Lord? No. My God? Only inasmuch as God lives within me. My Saviour? Not in that he saved me from my sinful nature. Teacher? Rabbi? Friend? Shepherd, Brother? Absolutely.

The truth of Jesus Christ lives anew in my beating heart and it courses through my veins.

I am more than acceptable to God, divinity lives within my heart.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Do You Own Your Pain?

The following is an entry from the book The Inner Voice Of Love by the Catholic writer Henri Nouwen. The entries within this book were written during a time of major depression and darkness in Henri's life. He wrote them as personal journals. I have a few thoughts of my own after this excerpt...

Own Your Pain

You wonder whether it is good to share your struggles with others, especially with those to whom you are called to minister. You find it hard not to mention your own pains and sorrows to those you are trying to help. You feel that what belongs to the core of your humanity should not be hidden. You want to be a fellow traveler, not a distant guide.

The main question is "Do you own your pain?" As long as you do not own your pain - that is, integrate your pain into your way of being in the world - the danger exists that you will use the other to seek healing for yourself. When you speak to others about your pain without fully owning it, you expect something from them that they cannot give. As a result, you will feel frustrated, and those you wanted to help will feel confused, disappointed, or even further burdened.

But when you fully own your pain and do not expect those to whom you minister to alleviate it, you can speak about it in true freedom. Then sharing your struggle can become a service; then your openness about yourself can offer courage and hope to others.

For you to be able to share your struggle as a service, it is also essential to have people to whom you can go with your own needs. You will always need safe people to whom you can pour out your heart. You will always need people who do not need you but who can receive you and give you back to yourself. You will always need people who can help you own your pain and claim your struggle.

Thus the core question in your ministry is "Is my sharing of my struggle in the service of the one who seeks my help?" This question can only be answered yes when you truly own your pain and expect nothing from those who seek your ministry.


I have often in my life been one to "not" own my pain and when in relationships or friendships it oozes out like a festering wound and I expect my friend/partner to "fix" my pain. More and more I'm realizing that it is not anyone's job, not my friends, not my partners, to take away my pain. I have written about this recently, but I think that it is such a part of being human to have an aching, a loneliness, a kind of unquenchable thirst. These are cravings that are pointers, pointers toward God (or whatever you may call that "something More." Because of a childhood where I didn't receive the kind of consistent love that I should have, I have often been too needy. It's a big step when I realized that no human being can take away that pain that I feel. It's an ongoing struggle.

But neither do I think that we have to be a fortress where we can't let our vulnerability or pain show. We are only human, we do not have to be perfect! If I can realize that I'm a human being who has pain and can be honest about that, then I can love a person/people without needing them to completely take away my pain. I agree with what Nouwen says when he suggests having objective people around you who know you and can support you, help you, and give you back to yourself.

But you know what, one thing I'm thinking tonight is that I don't have to be a f@#&ing saint either. I can realize that I have a lot pain without heaping all of it onto another.

Another thing I'm thinking is that you know what, it's ok to get some comfort and relief from another human being. That's only natural. There are so many times when all I want is simply a caress of the hand or the touch of somebody's skin. Simple, but so healing. I think I am kind of a mystic and I also think that I think too much. It's okay to need other people, to an extent.

So yes, realize and own your pain, seek out friends or professionals to whom you can pour your pain out to, but also know that you don't have to be a saint or know it all in order to receive healing or love from another person.


Mark Andrew

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ron Sexsmith & Two & A Half Hours Of Happiness

Hello friends. Tonight I had the privilege of attending a Ron Sexsmith concert at the Starlight Club in Uptown Waterloo. It was the 3rd time I've seen Ron, all at the same venue. It was great to enjoy the night with my friends Marnie (who I met at my 1st Sexsmith show), Alexandra and Chris.

Ron always has quality acts opening for him. 3 concerts ago it was local musician Peter Elkas, last time it was the superb Meaghan Smith who won best new artist at this year's Juno Awards, and this time it was Winnipeg duo Ash Koley.

Ron always performs a balanced mix of songs from his latest album and songs from his impressive catalogue. Ron, a St. Catherines native, has released 10 solo albums, plus the impressive early effort Grand Opera Lane with his band The Uncool, and a duet album Destination Unknown with drummer/vocalist Don Kerr.

On this night, Ron said that he was still recovering from a lost voice and he sipped on tea all night, but you'd never know there was even the slightest problem. I've seen him 3 times, and I think this was the most impressive of the 3. His voice was bang-on, and he and the band were particularly tight and appearing to have a great time. I'll list off a few of the songs that he performed. May I say that while Ron's music just keeps getting better and better as his career progresses, I think his handwriting is getting worse and worse! I asked one of the band members after the show for the set list taped to the stage, which I now have in my possession, and it's barely legible, and sometimes not even that! Anyways, Ron's newest album is Long Player Late Bloomer, and it has received more publicity and attention than any previous album that I know of. He recently returned from a European media tour. You see, Ron is a highly regarded and praised songwriter from people such as Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, k.d. lang, Elton John, and Sheryl Crow to name a few. But he's not quite the household name around the world, and deserves to be. So this push of his new album seems to be a push to break-through of sorts. And the quality of the album is outstanding. Tonight he performed several songs off of it, including The Reason Why, Believe it When I See It, Love Shines, and Late Bloomer. Older songs that he brought out included Hard Bargain (which he introduced by saying that EmmyLou Harris recently covered it and it's the title track of her just-released album!), Just My Heart Talkin', Wastin' Time, Gold In Them Hills, and Secret Heart (one of my favourites). Ron always puts on a high-quality show.

It was a particularly enjoyable and needed night for me, as the last few weeks have seen some very hard times dealing with persistent illness and lack of employment. A couple of things came to mind as I mellowed out and watched Ron and the band from a table so close to the stage that I could have almost whispered to him between songs and he would have heard me.

The first thing that came to mind as I enjoyed myself for the first time in quite some time is that "Some of us aren't used to being happy." We just aren't. Many of us are weighed down by many things, whether it be lack of money, dysfunctional relationships, shitty jobs, illness, loneliness, etc. And we wonder why it seems like so many people around us are so happy yet we can barely string together 2 minutes of contentment. But when we can find ourselves in an element where we are truly happy, even for a few minutes, it makes such a difference. That's how I felt for awhile tonight watching Ron perform. And you know what? We deserve it. Don't give up my friends, press on. There's Heaven after the Hell, even if you can't see it right now. Another thing is that you don't deserve to go through whatever you're going through alone, you just don't. As hard as it may be, try reaching out to a trusted friend or two. We were meant for relationship and the love that comes with them.

The second thought that came to mind is that it is so important to be present in whatever situation we're in. This seems to be getting harder and harder with the saturation of Blackberries, iPhones, and the need to update to Facebook and Twitter. But if we can stop for a minute and breathe and just be in the moment, forgetting about all the shit that we're dealing with for a moment, we may find moments of true happiness. I felt that a couple of times during Ron's show tonight.

To conclude, again it was a much needed night for me. And it was an excellent show tonight in Waterloo; Ron is always gracious in coming out at the end of the show for a few minutes, so we were able to chat a bit, and get this picture :)

Recommendations: You can read a full bio of Ron Sexsmith on his site right here.

Here are a couple of YouTube videos of 2 songs off the new album Long Player Late Bloomer:

"Believe It When I See It"

"Love Shines"

Other standout albums include Cobblestone Runway and Exit Strategy of the Soul, and all Ron's albums are available through his site or iTunes.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Unquenchable Thirst

I've talked a little bit about this in past entries, about the unquenchable thirst. There seems to be a hurt inside some of us, a deep hurt that we carry around within us no matter how much time passes or what activities we occupy ourselves with.

It is a thirst, an aching that is part of being human. Part of it is the woundedness we feel from things we've experienced. Bitter disappointments, failed relationships, loss of jobs, abuse by parents, being the one in the schoolyard who always got picked last for games.

These are things that we carry around with us. Sometimes it's a small aching because we've had lots of therapy or have had great friends to help quench the thirst. But still, to a degree it remains.

I don't think we'll ever be complete. There, I said it. As positive as I think I am sometimes, or at least would like to be, as many affirmations as I use, and as many self-help books as I read (and believe me, I've read many) I still have this thirst, this aching that is not soothed. Is this a failure on my part? Why haven't I "got it" by now, damn it!

Because as much as it hurts, particularly between the hours of about 10pm and 7am, it is all part of being human. The late Christian singer Rich Mullins said it "kept him aching with a yearning." But for what? I think the thirsting, the aching we feel keeps us realizing that we need something more in our lives.

What is that "more?" I leave that for you to give it a name. Why? Because as soon as I use the word "God" you might bristle and say "that stuff's not for me." The word God has been misused and misrepresented for thousands of years and has been used for violence, prejudice, and pain. So, why don't you pick another name? For me, I use the word Mother, Creator, or Spirit. To complete the Rich Mullins line "keeps me aching with a yearning, keeps me glad to have been caught, in the reckless raging fury that we call the love of God."

I believe that there is a living, spiritual reality all around us and within us whose love and acceptance of each of us is greater than all prejudice, hatred, or pain. It is for this that we yearn. We yearn for something that no human being, as good as they are, can give us. And guess what, that's a bitch, there's no way around it. But there's something within this aching that touches the very bottom of my heart, and it's something that I would not feel were I able to heal my pain by any of the ways that I have tried: entertainment, drugs, relationships, etc.
I feel my whole heart because I ache, and I don't think I would trade that for anything.

So what is there to do? I think we can re-discover prayer. Perhaps in the past prayer for you has meant "blessing the food at dinnertime" or "begging a spooky God to forgive you of your sins." No.

There is no wrong way to pray. Again, find your name for God - Universe, Father, Divine, etc. And then just let it all out, in your language. (God is not offended by the words "shit, "damn," or "fuck.") In order to connect with the divine, we must be real - "let it all hang out" as they say.

That aching that you and I feel? It'll lessen at times as we learn to consistently come to the divine in prayer to meet our needs; we'll be soothed by the divine in a way we couldn't find anywhere else.

But we'll never completely escape this unquenchable thirst, and we aren't meant to. It is our call, our call to connect to the divine.


Mark Andrew

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Embracing Loneliness

"Even when I was engaged, even then - I had a ten-year relationship with this girl - and I would often wonder why, even in those most intimate moments of our relationship, I would still feel really lonely. And it was just a few years ago that I finally realized that friendship is not a remedy for loneliness. Loneliness is part of our experience and if we are looking for relief from loneliness in friendship, we are only going to frustrate the friendship. Friendship, camaraderie, intimacy, all those things and loneliness live together in the same experience." - singer/songwriter Rich Mullins

Perhaps "embracing" loneliness is too strong of a word, but part of me doesn't think that's the case. It's just so foreign to so many of us. I think if most of us were to be asked, "Is loneliness a good thing or a bad thing?" many of us would choose the latter. That's because we often experience loneliness as a negative emotion.

Loneliness is something we run away from. How do we do that? We fill our lives with music, movies, shopping, exercise, church activities. None of these things in and of themselves is a bad thing, but none can fill the need that loneliness highlights for us. Often we cannot bear to spend a waking moment in complete silence, because it can be a kissing cousin to loneliness. So we turn on the radio, put in the earbuds, or turn to the satellite dish. Almost all of us do it, including myself.

Then there are friendships and relationships, as a mentor of mine, Rich Mullins, talked about in the above quote. What do we do when we're lonely? One of our first answers is "call a friend," "go out for coffee with a friend," or "find a partner." Certainly then our loneliness would be assuaged. Or would it? Have you ever been in a friendship or relationship and still felt that uneasy inward feeling that you feel when you're alone? There is that loneliness again. And we get pissed off, either at ourselves, our partner, or at life because "damn it, I'm in a good friendship/relationship now, I should feel better than this!" And the friendship or relationship inevitably breaks down because the other person cannot take away that aching loneliness.

Don't get me wrong, friendships and relationships are important, and they can make us feel better somewhat. I believe we were made for relationships, we weren't intended to live completely alone and isolated. I've been learning this in my own life as I make new friends, re-connect with old friends through Facebook, and become more involved in my spiritual community.

But still the loneliness remains. So what is it?

I believe that loneliness is a call from none other than God himself to draw near to him. It is a call to pay attention to our spiritual selves. We spend most of our days paying attention to our physical selves (eating, exercising, going to work to pay the bills) yet how easy is it to forget our true source. Loneliness is a call from deep within us that says "Slow down, just sit here for a minute, spend some time with me, rest your spirit on my shoulder for awhile." It is here, in these set-apart times where that aching and longing can truly be soothed by God. It is in these times when we hear our inner voice gently saying, "Be still, I made you, I know your needs, you can trust me fully."

Does this mean that it's a "one-time" solution? No. This loneliness, this aching, will stay with us until our very last breath. And it shouldn't be any other way. For we were made to be in relationship with not just those around us, but the God who lives both within and around us. So the next time you're feeling restless and unsettled or lonely, maybe the first question shouldn't be "what's on TV?" but rather "Have I consciously spent time with God today?"

It is here where you will find the love you desire, from which all good things flow.

Friday, April 1, 2011

At Your Core You Are Good And Loved

Do you start your day by waking up in peace, a sense that carries on throughout the day that "everything is ok?" Sure you sometimes have bad days or get into moods, but that happens. Overall though you're centred, in touch with yourself and/or God. Things are pretty good.

Or do you wake up with a general sense of dis-ease, a feeling that stays with you as you go about your day. It's a sense that "something is wrong" and "I have to do something to make it right."

I think we can read all kinds of self-help/spiritual books and listen to all the helpful preachers, but what we need, I believe, is not to "acquire goodness" from something outside of ourselves, but instead find ways to release the imprisoned splendor and goodness that already lies within our hearts. This may have been covered up or walled up by several things - an abusive childhood, failed relationships, unrealized dreams. But it is there.

At your core you are good and you are deeply loved. The question is how to get in touch with that core. 2 things come to mind. Time spent in quiet prayer and meditation, and building friendships with people who will continually remind you of your goodness and loveliness. It may take a lot of time to erase the old mental tapes of unworthiness or fear, but it can be done. A good therapist is also a great idea.

Nothing is wrong with you. You are good, loved, and lovable at your core.


Mark Andrew

Coming Home

by Henri Nouwen from The Inner Voice Of Love

There are two realities to which you must cling. First, God has promised that you will receive the love you have been searching for. And second, God is faithful to that promise.

So stop wandering around. Instead, come home and trust that God will bring you what you need. Your whole life you have been running about, seeking the love you desire. Now it is time to end that search. Trust that God will give you that all-fulfilling love and will give it in a human way. Before you die, God will offer you the deepest satisfaction you can desire. Just stop running and start trusting and receiving.

Home is where you are truly safe. It is where you can receive what you desire. You need human hands to hold you there so you don't run away again. But when you come home and stay home, you will find the love that will bring rest to your heart.