Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Letting Go And Letting God...Really?

At some points in our lives we have to let go and let (insert your chosen name for the divine or source here).

There. I said it.

Almost everyone who knows me knows my story about going from a fundamentalist conservative faith which believed that God knows everything and every outcome before it happens, and then to very little adherence to religion, and now to a more liberal religious view.

As Star Wars-like as it may sound, I believe in a Life Force that exists both around us and within us. However, I don't believe in a Supreme God who knows that a tornado is going to devastate a town or strike down a family member with an illness. This kind of God is not much short of an impotent, if not bastard-like sadistic creature (in my opinion of course).

So what, if anything, can we rely on when we face a difficult situation?

I believe this Life Force or Divine Spirit does exist and can be relied on, but that it is definitely much more about Mystery than we may be comfortable with. We'd like to say "I'm going to find the right mate in one year's time because I've prayed to God," or "My Uncle Frank is going to be healed from his fatal illness because it is 'God's will,' but we really don't know. This scares us because we want finite answers, but we just don't know. And then when our manufactured idea of God doesn't act the way we have commanded him to, we are miffed, disillusioned, or we may even abandon all religious belief.

This doesn't, however, mean that there isn't a loving safety net that is there, that is here for us, lovingly waiting to catch us during both the ecstatic and the traumatic times in our lives.

What's important, I believe, is that we take the jump, or as the Bible says, lean not on our own understanding all of the time. Our faith in Mystery cannot mature, cannot grow if we never ever use it. This may mean folding our hands in prayer, or throwing our arms up in the air and screaming at God with words we usually only hear in our minds or on an HBO series. But we must begin somewhere. We must test our faith. I encourage you to take a small step today. I'll try my best to do so as well.

Mark Andrew Nouwen

Sunday, October 13, 2013

On Being Aware, & Resisting That Which Would Tame Us

excerpt from "The Wisdom of Wilderness" by Gerald May

"What we are missing is fullness of life. To put it simply, in concentrating on one thing at a time, we miss everything else. Going shopping, we miss the sky. Doing work, we miss the singing of birds. In conversation with one person, we ignore the presence of others. Through it all, we fail to appreciate our own precious being - the soft flow of breath, the beating of heart, the subtle beauty and wisdom of body, the sheer pristine wonder of being aware. One could say these are only aesthetic qualities, unimportant in handling the real tasks of daily life, but our handicapped awareness has serious and far-reaching practical implications as well.

Like domesticated animals, we are completely unprepared for the wild - the wild outdoors, the wild in our cities, the wild in our own psyches. In any of these places, we panic when we're lost and afraid. We frantically concentrate our attention here and there, following nonexistent tracks, unaware of a thousand clues from sky and light and smell and inner Wisdom that could tell us where to go and what to do. Feeling so divorced from the nature within and around us, we make wildness an adversary that we must tame rather than join, master rather than learn from. Wherever we find it, we feel we must force Nature into the tunnel of our own concentrated vision. That's what brings us to manage natural resources, engineer social change, strategize our child-rearing and human relationships, control our emotions, and cope with our stresses.

There are, of course, places for focused awareness. I'm happy that my airline pilot and my surgeon are able to concentrate on their checklists and technical procedures, but I hope they have plenty of contemplative presence as well. When the checklist is complete, I hope my pilot will be open to all stimuli at once, the sound of the engines, the look of the surrounding sky, the feel of the controls, simply present to everything as a whole. And I hope my surgeon will pause frequently to take a breath and sense the subtleties that don't fit into lists and procedures, to be attentive not just to the rate of my pulse and breath but to their gentle rhythms as well, and to all the sights and sounds and smells and feelings and intuitions of each precious moment. In any activity, in any setting, it is this contemplative possibility that makes the difference between simple technical correctness and truly accurate responsiveness.

My hunch is that life needs 95 percent openness and 5 percent concentration, and we have the proportions reversed. I wish we could encourage our children's natural contemplative awareness as well as their capacity to concentrate. And I wish that we adults who have been trained-away from contemplative presence could have a teacher to show us where the present moment is. All it takes is Someone or Something to point us in the right direction, and then, when we look there, we discover teachers waiting everywhere: inside trees, animals, wind, and stars, in the pristine eyes of little children, and in our own souls."

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Embracing Our Woundedness

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013
St. Thomas, Ontario

Have you ever, like me, been walking down the street and come across a man or woman talking to themselves? Have you ever been in the food court of a mall and seen someone whose body was so contorted by disease that they must be fed by a care-taker? Have you avoided a visitation or funeral because it's just too overwhelming?

These things, these seemingly open and viewable wounds, disturb both you and I and sometimes leave us crossing the street, finding another seat, or avoiding the open casket.

In doing so, we are doing ourselves a disservice. I believe that the major reason for our avoidance is that we have not come to terms with our own woundedness, our own brokenness. If I can project an image of strength - emotionally, mentally, and physically - then I do not have to turn inward and look at my own wounds, though they may be less obvious to the outside world than the woman with schizophrenia, the man who was severely wounded in a car wreck, or the person who has died.

Along with our yearning for love and acceptance, woundedness is the common thread that weaves its way through millions of people on our planet. But instead of turning toward it or learning to use it as an educational tool in learning who we are as creatures, we most often run directly in the other direction. We immerse ourselves in the internet and social media, we shop, we watch countless hours of TV or movies, or we just keep busy somehow, whether it's with friends, sports, or volunteering. None of these things are intrinsically negative, but when used to continuously douse our pain, they come up well short.

So if keeping busy distracting ourselves is not the answer, then what is? As frightening and raw as it may seem, stopping and doing a 180 is essential. There is the saying "The only way out is through," and that applies here. It may feel like walking through a cemetery on Hallowe'en night, but the only way to find healing for our personal wounds is to face them directly, be gentle with ourselves, and then walk up to them and examine what we have tried to avoid for days, weeks, months, or years. Perhaps it is the loss of a relationship, the loss of health, the loss of dreams we once had, or the loss of a close relative. Perhaps it is deep loneliness and depression. My spiritual mentor, the Catholic priest and writer Henri Nouwen, wisely wrote that we should not automatically jump head-first into the abyss of our woundedness; that's too much to handle. Instead, and often with professional help, we mend the edges of that great chasm, slowly finding healing.

Returning to what I wrote about a little earlier, we encounter other wounded people every single day - sometimes their woundedness is obvious, sometimes it is not. But our woundedness, my friends, is something that should bring us together and spawn understanding, compassion, love, and friendship, rather than alienation.

Let us make a commitment today to realize our oneness with all people, and to slowly walk through our woundedness, not around it.

Mark Andrew Nouwen