Primitive religion is not believed, it is danced!

Arthur Darby Nock

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
And only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Elizabeth Browning

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Recently I have been reading through Sam Keen's book "To A Dancing God.".  At one point Keen describes a moment when he felt totally confused by life.  He describes his confusion this way.  "It was as if my interior space had been hollowed out, and boredom, anxiety, despair, impotence, erratic willfulness, and shameful self-consciousness were dumped in and agitated like clothes in a washer.  These demons whirled around my inner emptiness, their harsh screams reverberating and blending into a painful cacophony in the vacuum" (p. 16).

I remember reading that and going "Wow!  That's me!"  Maybe not today.  But many times in my life as my sense of dis-ease with myself, my journey, my life, has come oozing the the surface.  Escaping my careful attempts to keep it hidden.  Not just from others, be also from myself.

What Keen has helped me understand is that my dis-ease comes from my uncertainty about the answer to one very important question. "Who am I?"  It seems like a 58 year old man with two masters and a doctorate ought to know the answer to that question.  But if I am really honest I am not sure I really do.  In part it is because I have been asking the wrong questions.  I have looked for meaning and purpose by asking "What am I to do?"  I have looked for answers to the puzzle of my self by looking at my past, and hoping I could find others' to blame for some of the quirks in my character.  So I have looked behind, and looked forward, but I have had no clue who I am now.

It is not that I can ignore the past, and my memories, or the future, and my dreams.  But I must learn, within the context of my past realities and future hopes, to live in the present.  To be.  More specifically to be present.  To be present with those whom God places in my path.  To be attentive and open.  To listen and care. To put aside the way my past life and future hopes color my perceptions, and really welcome the reality of others, to accept the wonder and mystery of who they are.

In short I need to be present with myself, and others. Sounds simple.  I know all too well it is not.  But I am going to try.  To let go of my slavery to my past, to what I have done, and what has been done to me - to let go of my vision of the future, and the way it narrows my view - and be, with God, with the Spirit in this moment.  For it is in that way that I allow God to lead me each stop of the way, and quiet the chaos within.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Divided Self

Parker J Palmer, in his wonderful book "A Hidden Wholeness" suggests that many of us suffer from "a failure of human wholeness."  We are not, he insists, integrated but have a disconnect between who we are internally, and who are are externally.  This happens because we deny our true self, in part because we can't embrace the parts of the inner self that are problematic and dark, and thus put on an exoskeleton of morality (I would say pretense) which is the person we present to the world.  The problem is that the divided life is, as Palmer notes, a "wounded life."  Being pathological it is marked by symptoms.  Palmer notes the following
  • We sense that something is missing in our lives and search the world for it, not understanding that what is missing is us.
  • We feel fraudulent, even invisible because we are not in the world as we really are.
  • The light that is within us cannot illuminate the world's darkness
  • The darkness that is within cannot be illuminated by the world's light
  • We project our inner darkness on others
  • Our inauthenticity and projects make real relationships impossible, leading to loneliness
  • Our contributions to the world, especially through the work we do, are tainted by duplicity and deprived of the life giving energies of the true self.  (p.16)
Sadly those symptoms have been all too present in my own life, and are present in the lives of many I talk with.  Many of us, including me, need wholeness.  We need to rejoin the inner and outer person, or as Palmer puts it, the "soul and role."

How does this happen?  There are perhaps many paths to wholeness.  One path is likely to be community.  Finding people with whom I can be real.  Whom I can trust enough to let my light shine, and whom I trust enough to share my darkness.  Perhaps we might call this community.  Can it be the church?  Ah, that is a scary thought, for often the church is not a safe place.

I think community is key, but I would suggest that the real starting place is the Spirit. "The secret is this, Christ in us. . . "  Christ in us, the Spirit, in us.  It is when the Spirit is in us that we have the capacity to be new people.  The Spirit illuminates, it helps us see the good and the bad.  The Spirit empowers, it gives us a capacity to begin to move beyond old patterns of behavior.  The Spirit moves us like wind, impassions us like fire. The spirit burns away the division between the external and internal and allows us to be whole.  And as people "becoming whole" (do we ever really get there?) we can connect in a new way with others on the same journey.  And thus we have community.  And perhaps, in wonderful moments, thus we have the church.

This is scary for me, this idea of being my true self.  For it is much safer to hide.  But I need to let my inner world shape my outer.  And I need to let the outer world impact and touch my inner world.  For in that way I become real, and truly touch others, and am touched by them. It is then that the walls come down.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Inner and Outer

Over the past week I have seen over a dozen people with some form of mental illness. And I have talked with a number of people from my church, as well as a couple of friends, and something startling emerged from those conversations.

What struck me was the degree to which almost universally the people I talked to had what is called - in psychology speak - an external locus of control.  Almost every one, in one way or another, was crediting people, events, circumstances outside, for what was going on inside.  A husband, a job, Obama, the GOP, taxes, the economy, children.  So many things are out there that we can point to which "cause" our inner state.  Sometimes those things make us sad, or mad, and at other times they bring us joy.  Or so we think.

But is this really true?  Is it what is happening outside us, or is it how we are responding to that external factor that is the problem?  When someone makes us feel bad, is it really how that person behaves toward me the problem, or how I chose to interpret that action?  An interpretation usually determined by "my stuff."  For example my insecurity, or my lack of self worth.

The same problem emerges when we seek happiness.  Is it a good thing that I rely on another person's acceptance or admiration to make me feel fulfilled?  Lou Marinoff notes that "most people who seek happiness through the pursuit of pleasure or euphoria become increasingly miserable... "  It doesn't matter what we seek, erotic love, power, status - any appetite that can be satisfied by some means external to our self is going to be temporary.

What we need is an "internal locus of control."  We need to find, within ourselves, the strength, the resources we need. For it is what is inside that counts.  For inside is God's Spirit.  As Paul notes, the secret is this, Christ in us!"  When we go inside, when inside we find strength, and inside we find joy, then we can be people who can withstand the battering that life gives us.  Then we can be people who find deep joy and contentment

It is then, as Paul notes in Ephesians, that "we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming."

In this world of polarities, of conflicting values, of voices screaming at us to buy this, or drink that - in this world where people are telling us to be afraid or hate - we need to turn inside, to the God who has become present in us in the Spirit.