Oh Lord, Make Us We

Delight always begins and ends in We.


“We are a small but important part in our universe.  We all have a part to play.  We need each other.”

-Jean Vanier


Flor lay in her favorite spot in the kitchen, catching rays of light through the opaque frosted glass door.  She looked confused.

I was dancing on my knees, half a peanut butter jelly sandwich in my left hand, arm stretched high, gesturing in sync with Macklemore’s track, Glorious. 

 I feel glorious, glorious

Got a chance to start again

I was born for this, born for this

It’s who I am, how could I forget?

“God, thinking we’d enjoy ourselves,” writes Fr. Gregory Boyle, “That God’s joy may be in us and this joy may be complete.  We just happen to be God’s joy.  That takes some getting used to.”

Taryn, was in and out of the kitchen relaying instructions and ingredients to Levi, who was helping her make strawberry kombucha on the other side of the apartment.

“Where can we write down what we need from the store?” I asked, as she entered to re-fill a cup of strawberries.

I had pulled out the last trash bag from underneath the sink which had placed me in the kneeling position in the first place.

Shortly after asking, Jakob emerged from the living room where he and Lucas had been playing with Duplos-oversized Lego blocks-the ones easier to use for smaller children.

He had been on a creative roll and was donning a very cool spaceship.  I approached him delighted, redirecting him back into the living room in order to check in on Lucas together.  Come to find out, Lucas also had a quite mean train built, equally lost in his own play.

Re-joining Lucas on the floor, Jakob, content with himself and the feedback he received, sat down and acknowledged his own delight in the situation-uttering the words-“I love you, Lucas.”

Saturday morning. Tasting delight. Paying it forward.  Forgetting ourselves through play. Sharing in the phenomenon of We.


“I want to partner fully with you in every part of our life,” I said, proclaiming my highest intention within my marriage.

I had just gotten off a call that had me feeling inspired, one day last week.

“Tell me more,” she said.

I was beaming the truth of the energy behind the statement and she felt it.  So, she asked for more.

The truth is, I was wanting more of the same of what we were already learning to create for ourselves-equal partnership inside our marriage.

My inherited models had placed me in a dominant and entitled position in the past; where I consider my time, interests, and work in the world, supreme, all the while watching my ego hide, justify, and defend itself; playing the victim when not getting its way.  An avoidance of true maleness, which is naked and unabashedly, unashamed.

I can still play this game.


“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

-Rumi


My LifePlan serves as a corrective for my accrued, habitual, self-centered way of being inside my marriage.

As the context for my life’s Greatest Delight and Most Demanding Work, our relationship serves as a symbol of Singularity, and, an arena for the constant Vision of Vulnerability. 

 It also puts me in touch with my deeper desires and longings; otherwise known as prayer.


“People would be surprised if they knew what their souls said to God sometimes.”

-Brother Lawerence


It’s taken me a long time to begin to learn what vulnerability actually looks like as a practice inside of marriage.  And it at least includes the continual recognition that We need one another, having exhausted the unspoken myth that the other person will make me whole, no longer blaming them for what’s “wrong” nor expecting them to fix whatever I think is broken.  Yet, somehow in the sharing of both our honest struggles and genuine aspirations, We grow in recognizing our interdependence-contributing to, and being enriched in, the safety of a mutual commitment to self-disclosure.  In this way, We gets enlarged, space is created for others to join in and together we discover the reality that we really do belong to one another; fashioned from the same likeness, invited to stay through whatever current illusion may be in the way of the truth of our oneness.  Indeed marriage, in the spirit of We, is a crisis to the fearful, possessive, protective, manipulative and destructive ways of the false-self.

“Many people, nations and institutions perish because they do not dare expose themselves to the pains of suffering, crisis and rebirth.  Only those who go through the crisis, only whose who endure “the perils of the soul” and brave the unknown dangers of the future find the way to new, mature and productive life.  They attain the experience of the Maturing-We and they help this We even if they sacrifice their lives in joining it.  They find themselves and they find the We-the We being their Self.  Even if they lose their lives they will find them.”

-Fritz Kunkel


I woke up on a warm winter day in South Texas almost four years ago.  And moved into my routine as usual.

We were living with Taryn’s parents, preparing to move to Spain.  A lot of uncertainty loomed around whether the move would happen, and if so, when.  I was still heavily relying on the very limited resources of self-sufficiency that were beginning to wear thin during this time.  And surrender was looking a lot like sabotage.

I encountered the end of myself that morning.

Alone in one of the bedrooms upstairs, I threw whatever book I was searching for answers in across the room, exhausted with my approach to the circumstances.  It was a Sunday.

Feeling pathetic, I slumped down into the olive colored chaise lounge along the wall.

The phone rang.

I answered it.

It was my brother.  He asked how I was doing.  I don’t know what I said, but I know I lied-probably saying, “I’m ok,” or something similar.

He then jumped into sharing about a dream he had the previous night, skipping past any small talk.

The crux of the dream was this…

There were two people searching for something important. One had a map.  That person shared the map with the other person. They navigated the journey together, never finding what they were looking for.  The purpose all along was to explore together.  The discovery was, that the meaning found in that, was truer than the thing they set out to look for.  

 My brother’s dream could not have been more perfectly timed.  And he of course had no way to know that.


“Knowing confers fellowship,” writes German theologian Jurgen Moltmann, “That is why knowing only goes as far as love, sympathy and participation reach.”


It seems only through We can there be access to more.


I love the darkness of my soul.

Those words are a statement of faith.  Because until I can accept my own darkness, I am dangerous to myself and others.  Literally, walking around split off from crucial parts of myself.  Yet, my sense of needing to be qualified through perfect performance so often keeps me from the delight of participation.  I can remain in the despair of thinking I know best how things ought to be, refusing to play until things are different.

Often the solidarity of “me too,” If I allow it, it can jolt me out of that constricted space and return me to a more spacious view, where “everything belongs,” as Richard Rohr names it.  In this way, I get more of me through leaning into We.


“No despair of ours can alter the reality of things, or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there…We are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance.”

-Thomas Merton


 Delight always begins and ends in We.

Epiphany, Participation, and Non-Duality

My Birthday is approaching, in a few days.  And here in Spain, the momentum of ‘las fiestas’ is still building, awaiting its crescendo on King’s Day, or, ‘El Dia de Los Reyes’-coinciding with the Feast of Epiphany.  I have a fat Cuban cigar awaiting me.  A birthday present to myself, I plan to enjoy, alone, in prayerful reflection.

A couple of years ago my in-laws generously gifted me some cash for my birthday.  I bought a pair of jeans, now patched up from wear, a denim shirt, that I’m wearing today, and, a bottle of Kentucky bourbon, though I no longer drink.

The day after Christmas our family went to an Italian all you can eat buffet.  I wore my denim shirt.

Towards the end of the meal, I sat together with my five-year old son, Jakob.  My wife, Taryn had gone to the bathroom with our other two boys.

Jakob sat kneeling on the red cushioned bench chair across the table playing with legos that Santa had brought.  His innocence spilling itself all over the table, dripping off the wonder of his blue eyes.  His messy hair, snotty shirt, sniffing nose and freckled face each playing their part to the tune.  A palpable pungency of the aroma of goodness that now makes me teary eyed recalling it.

I gawked.

It was one of the only relaxed moments during the course of the meal for me.  My ‘cortado descafeinado’ sat before me on the table.

Halfway lunging across the table to share a discovery, Jakob’s thigh hit the table sending my coffee and the moment dispersing.


As Epiphany approaches, we remember and pay homage to the Christ that was born, a Christ that is, and always has been.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” -Colossians 3:15-17

The child came, the man died, but the Christ lives on.  Jesus’ much underemphasized role as revealer of the Divine Life, is what Epiphany (as revelation) is about the wise men journeyed far to celebrate.  The Christ Mystery is indeed worth celebrating.  But this is much more about an invitation to join in on what Jesus shared with the Father, than it is about merely following the eventual Jewish Rabbi.

“Don’t cling to me.  It’s better that I go and send the Helper.  I would rather you live my life as your truest experience than merely imitate mine-a transfer of my essence, and yes it will cost me everything, as love always does.  The only purely exemplary part of my life then, is my willingness to say, ‘yes,’ summed up in the words “not my will, but thine be done.”  The God-in-you will know what to do when the time comes.  Surrender to that.”    


There are a few necessary and important dualisms in the spiritual life I thought, rubbing the stain stick on my denim shirt, after returning home from lunch.  The coffee stain, well set in.

This wasn’t the first stain I had worked on with this shirt.  The color had faded, from its original light blue to an almost iridescent bend of whites, blues and browns from its regular wearing and washing.  I knelt down on one knee in front of the washing machine, working the stain out, while the kids squealed and romped in the living room.  Taryn stood in front of the sink to my left, washing dishes.

I felt a headache coming on as I grasped, trying to make something out of the thought.

Though, I’ve been reflecting on it a bit since:

Non-dual consciousness is the fruit of the relentless invitation to begin by making a dualistic choice-itself a grace.  Control or trust, fear or love, isolate or connect, cling or let go.  It is in making the choice, repeatedly, that we begin to access and see from the whole.  And on the other side of that choice, the thing we chose against, or rather, over, paradoxically manifests itself in a different form-control of a different kind, an awe-filled trembling at the Mystery of God, a contented inner quietude, the feeling of being grasped.  All gifts we could never commandeer through the forced-ness of willpower.

This is the invitation at the heart of Jesus’ relationship with the Father. A knowing from the inside of Oneness, where things like trust, mutuality, connection and freedom just are-much more an energy field than a thing we produce.  In fact, one we often stumble into, as IT has already chosen Us.

This is the meaning of Epiphany-revelation of the Divine Reality being here and now.  God says ‘yes’ to the concreteness of the messiness of human reality as God’s playing field.

And we join in through participation, more than imitation, in saying ‘yes’ back-always starting with a choice, which, by its nature, must be dualistic at some level.

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other,” says Jesus, “You cannot serve both God and money.”

So…

“Why not become unified or identified with God so that we manifest God in every action, and in this way, give God a chance to find out what it is like to be a human being. That seems to be the project. But it is only half the project. The bigger half is the effort God has been making since the beginning of time to convince us that he loves us. We are pretty shy about that.” writes Trappist monk, Thomas Keating.


Last night Jakob and I hung laundry.  My denim shirt had been soaking in the bidet for a few days, and was in the load we were pulling out of the washer.

As we began this work, standing on the back balcony where our laundry rack hangs, Jakob uttered, “I love you Daddy.”

“I love you too, Jakob,”

We continued hanging clothes on the line.  Jakob, the socks, me, the rest.

I pulled out my shirt. I felt the heaviness of it, the lined threaded texture, along with a strong presence, resting in, and pulsating through my heart.

“I really like being here with you Jakob,” I said, aware, that I don’t express myself enough in moments of joy.

“I really like being here with you too,” he replied.

After finishing up with the laundry, we put on our jackets to head out.  Jakob had been motivated to help as we were going to have special time together, just he and I.

On the way home after hanging out, Jakob and I spotted a partially cloud-covered full-moon.  It looked ominous.

I pointed at it.  Reminded in the act of our role as finger pointers.

“This was never about me.  It was about my Father, says the Son.  This was never about you, in getting something “out of life.” It was about Me and My Life being spread abundantly.  It’s about living my life-more like being me and meeting Jonathan, or, meeting me in yourself and allowing my life its fullest expression in the shape of you.  Capiche?” 

And so, we remember, and then forget…stumbling, dabbling and tripping into the Divine Life Stream that rolls on, and on, and ON…hopefully discovering in our experience that IT has chosen Us as worthy and privileged participants.

“You have to experience duality for a long time until you see it’s not there.  Don’t consider dualistic prayer on a lower level.  The lower is higher.  There are no levels.  At any moment, you can break through to the underlying unity which is God’s gift to us in Christ.  In the end, Praise praises.  Thanksgiving gives thanks.  Jesus prays.  Openness is all,” says, Thomas Merton.

So we stay open, say ‘yes,’ choose trust, let go, join in and discover the dance extending itself to us as, in and through our life.  IT is not elsewhere.

In the spirit of Epiphany, won’t you join in celebrating as a contemplative, allowing Divine Love to meet you in the concreteness of your messy, yummy humanity!

Keating writes on the subject, “To be a contemplative is to be willing to be loved concretely in every detail of life and on every level of human life, body, soul, and spirit. If you are merely thinking of receiving the Eucharist as a ritual, go home. That’s not what it is. It may start with that, but the Eucharist is primarily about the interpenetration of spirits—all that we are into all that God is, and all that God is into all that we are, including every detail of our life, every concern, joy, and suffering. In other words, we’ve got a life companion of infinite capabilities all lined up in our favor and ready to go.”

So let it be.

 

School is in Session

I am a recovering perfectionist, living cross-culturally in Spain.  I have three children-Levi (6), Jakob (5), and Lucas (3).  Tomorrow we are getting a puppy named ‘Flor’-meaning “flower.”  

Each of these elements provide the necessary messiness, and context, for my life’s healing and ongoing transformation.  

Let’s just say…my life is set up in a manner where I never get to get away with looking too good, for too long. And, thank God for that!!!        

I meditate most mornings, and try and follow a twice a day practice of centering prayer.  I also enjoy reading in the mornings, especially on Saturday mornings, and especially with a cup of coffee.  Although typically, it takes me all morning to finish my first cup.  

Sometimes I replace reading with other things, like listening to recorded talks.  Today I listened to a teaching on humility by James Finley.  He talks about a particular transition in our spiritual journey when it seems as though we, in the role of seeker, move from being the questioner of life and God, to the one being questioned.  

From his book Merton’s Palace of Nowwhere, Finley writes:

“The experience is something like going, you think, to teach a class at a    university.  You come in on the first day of class and you’re so pleased to see how many students have signed up for your class.  You come up to the front of the room and you open your attache and you put your notes on the podium.  The students are continuing to file into the room.  And at a certain point an administrator comes up to you and whispers as gently as possible, “There has been a terrible misunderstanding.  You are not invited to teach the course, you are invited to take it.”  And the professor who was invited to teach it is standing there with her attache waiting for you to get out of the way so that she can start the class.  And in front of the whole room you are fumbling, dropping notes on the floor, trying to get yourself together, and there is only one seat left empty in the room which is in the back row.  And the professor begins to speak in a language that you do not know, and the first exam is on Friday.  We do not like moments like this…we thought we were teaching the course and here all the while we were being asked to take it.  And we don’t even understand the language the course is being taught in.  Nor do we understand the scales in which our progress in the course is being weighed.”      

I also work with a tool called a Life Plan-a visual narrative that helps a person co-create their life with the Divine through a lived remembrance of their essence.  A Life Plan therefore includes all of a person’s most essential relationships-with a Higher Power, oneself, partner, other family, friends, community and purpose.    

After completing my morning routine, including the reading of my Life Plan, I got up to join the rest of my family on the other side of our apartment.   

My wife, Taryn, and our oldest son Levi were preparing to leave to the pet store.

Standing in the entry way, having put on his jacket and shoes, Levi broke out into a song with synchronized movements as Taryn and I stood rapt in awe, trying to listen closely to the Spanish lyrics, taking in our son’s glow and sincere desire to share with us this gift.  Standing side by side, we glanced at each other in mutual recognition at the beauty of the moment’s unfolding. 

Really feeling it, I began to dance along, unaware of the coffee I was spilling in the process.  

As Taryn pointed out that fact, I glanced down to see it on the floor; along with some darkened spots sitting atop the grey wool of my house slippers.  

At that moment I could uncharacteristically care less as I beamed in the perfection of the design of my life plan, recalling its words surrounding my relationship with Levi.

Levi, in his MORE, leadership, unfettered goodness, and contagious zeal for life, is my forgetting myself, and I give him space, a room and a tether to BLAST OFF in WILD CELEBRATION!

Taryn eventually handed me toilet paper.  I held it, waiting for Levi to complete his perfect rendition-which it was by the way.  

Closing the door behind them, I knelt down reverently to clean the mess.  Disposing of the paper, I walked down the hallway into the living room where meanwhile, Jakob and Lucas were watching the animated film Kung-Fu Panda.  I sat down, placing my arms on the back of the couch, Jakob sliding under the fold of my wing with Lucas laying peacefully on the floor at my feet.        

It felt good. Like the way a Saturday morning should be.  I sat wearing a satisfied smile.   

A moment passed before, looking up at me, with big, innocent, knowing eyes, Jakob declared, “I’m Oogway.”  

Oogway of course being a character from the film; a wise, elderly tortoise and kung-fu master, and one whom my ego usually identifies itself with; while my kids typically claim ‘Po,’ the fun loving, curious, albeit clumsy, slow learning, and undisciplined, panda.     

Knowing Jakob knew this, I pulled him in closer to my body, partly in adoration and partly as a placating gesture.  Though clearly he felt my affection for him, under the heir of my sense of superiority and rank, as he then settled his head down into my lap.  

In the gap between that moment and the next, I relaxed deeper into the felt sense that indeed all is well in the universe. 

That is, until, a sudden jerk sent Jakob’s body across my lap, his head bumping into my half-full coffee mug.  

I jumped to my feet, feeling the room temperature liquid splash on my hand as I swept my arm up trying to keep the coffee contained.  Simultaneously I heard the words “sorry,” and “what the fuck,” spring into the air, the latter ones coming out of my mouth as I completed the motion of standing up.  My eyes had moved from the mug down to the couch surveying for where and how much coffee had been spilled.  First spotting the darker color of grey on the couch, my eyes then focused in on the liquid I saw that had been spilled on the back of my phone, which had been sitting next to me on the couch.  Quickly stepping towards the dining room table in front of me I set the mug down with my left hand and reached back across my body with my right hand to grab my phone, picking it up and chucking it against the back of the other couch that sits at the adjacent wall, spewing the words “God damn it!” as the phone left my hand.  

Having already turned my back to walk out of the room towards the kitchen, I heard a thud accompanied by a three year old “aaooowww,” as I crossed the threshold through the doorway into the kitchen.  The phone must have bounced off the couch, hitting Lucas’ small, sprawled out body, where he lay on the floor.

Only now can I appreciate the words of my Life Plan regarding my relationship to Jakob and him to me. 

Jakob, in his sensitivity, stubbornness, charm, and affectionate nature, is my caring for myself, and I give him access to safety and challenge that shows up AT THE END OF ME. 

After rinsing and wringing out a rag in the sink, I calmly walked back into the living room as though nothing but the accident that it was had happened, having now gotten to the “end of me.” 

I dropped the rag on the wet spot of coffee, next to where Jakob sat on the couch in a conceding-like acknowledgment, that yes Jakob, indeed, your head butting wisdom had come as a gift, reminding me again, that I am, and always will be, much more like ‘Po’ than ‘Oogway,’ much more student than teacher on the spiritual journey, the one being sought and questioned, much more than the one doing the seeking. 

“There is no shortage of spiritual directors in our lives. For our spiritual directors are the people we live with.  They place upon us unbearable burdens.  They give us unexplainable gifts.  They grind us like wheat.”

-James Finley

 

Humility celebrates life’s messiness as an experience of grace, trusting the entirety of human experience as an expression of God’s infinite generosity; giving itself to us and through us as the very shape of our lives.  Its purpose being, in part, to learn the ongoing lesson that our ego is not Running The Show, and our sense of what’s good or bad, right or wrong, positive or negative, is not only, typically misguided, but ultimately, irrelevant.  

Because in the end, God is Everything and All is Grace.  

 

(Originally written on November 12, 2017)