Saturday, May 21, 2011

The God Who May Be

I have begun to make my way through Richard Kearney’s “The God Who May Be”.  Kearney’s discourse takes place between a few rival ways that have historically been formative in shaping the cultural content that forms our knowledge of God.   He suggests that the capacity to respond to God comes first by recognizing our own powerlessness, vulnerability, fragility and brokenness.  It is in this paradoxical place that we find ourselves empowered to respond to God’s own primordial powerlessness and to make the potential Word flesh.  There is something in this that rings true – it draws us beyond the limited boundaries of propositional statements about God into the God of the possible – the God who may be.  This evokes a few things in me.  One, it solicits a movement into the unknown of life that actually requires a trust and faith.  This movement terrifies me.  Most of what has masqueraded in my life as faith and trust are really suburban and domesticated desires for security and assurances. Security that I will have enough and assurances that life will deposit me to the end of my days relatively unscathed, money in the account and a memory bank replete with joy, laughter and meaning.   And then the words of Etty Hillesum shortly before she was executed in a Nazi concentration camp, “You (God) cannot help us, but we must help you and defend Your dwelling place inside us to the last.”

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

It's Just Like That

For the most part the west conceptualizes spiritual and emotional resources as a type of personal thermostat with the promise that with well-honed effort and discipline one can establish,fix and control the outcome and trajectory of most experiences. Imagined as such we organize our lives to get the temperature right.  We pour an exhaustive amount of energy into achieving balance, equilibrium and a state of stability. Small adjustments here, larger adjustments there.  The endless pursuit of control.  There is a whole world of unconscious behaviors, impulses and neuro-conditioning that gets organized around this desire for control.  John O’Donohue was right, “it is our minds that make our lives so homeless”.
It is a cruel, disorienting and finally a merciful realization that the life of the spirit is a weak force. Love is a weak power – and sometimes feels like no power at all. Maybe that is its strength.  We want control,love whispers “surrender”; we demand “secured outcomes”,love points toward the path of full-involved participation; we crave probability love sings of possibilities. 

It is the weakness of love that harbors the hope of our transformation. And so our falling apart is not mere testament of our frailty, there is also a healing within it.  As a voice from the east says, “We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Caught Between Our Past and Who Knows What

Barry Taylor is an artist, poet, theologian, cultural muser and has become a dear friend the past year or so.  He sits uncomfortably as the associate rector at All Saints Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills California. I say uncomfortably because Barry occupies thought and presence at the outer edges of Christianity, caring little for polishing the relics of orthodoxy while somehow en-living its very intent. He dwells in the hyphenated reality (christian-agnostic-eastern-western-poet-artist-mystic-materialist...)more comfortably than anyone I know. This poem came from a homily where he was reflecting on John 1:29-49.

"There he stood, pointing, pointing
day after day after day
and only sinners came
unwashed to be washed clean
then one day he pointed, hand trembling
gaze fixed on one he saw
pushing us away in his direction
he bid us go, go

and there we stood, wondering, wondering and glancing back and forth and back again we began to walk hesitant, hopeful, eager, afraid we picked up the pace with one last look we saw john turn his back and we were gone, gone

the one before us stopped, stopped
and watched, and watched us approach
caught between our past
and who knows what
then he asked “why?”
we looked at him like children
both of us said “you”
and he said “come, come”
- Mike Mercer

The spiritual path is caught between our past and who knows what's next.  That space of uncertainty, the lack of confidence, our disorientation, the 'not-knowing' is the space where we learn to be human.  Yet our hands grasp for certainty and assurances, the two things that life will not offer and so we are apt to fashion these with our own hands.  Lesser gods that become the gravitational pull of our life. Yet still a Solicitation occurs that will not be extinguished, "go to the limits of your longings...flare up like flame and make big shadows I can move in, let everything happen to you.."(Rilke) There is something irreducible that continues to call us into the depth of our own humanity, longing and life. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Crooked Mouth

Richard Selzer in his book Mortal Lessons: Notes on the art of surgery recounts a story of a young woman and her husband following surgery:  

"I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish way.  A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth has been severed.  She will be thus from now on.  The surgeon had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh; I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had to cut the little nerve.  Her young husband is in the room. He stand on the opposite side of the bed and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private.  Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, greedily?  The young woman speaks, "Will my mouth always be like this?" she asks.  "Yes," I say, "it will.  It is because the nerve was cut."  She nods and is silent.  But the young man smiles. "I like it," he says, "It is kind of cute."  "All at once I know who he is.  I understand and I lower my gaze.  One is not bold in an encounter with a god.  Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works." 

An encounter with love is always though contorted lips. There is no other way to give or receive it. When I was young I marshaled my energies to achieve love under the movements of "acceptability" and various forms of "attractiveness".  But love would have none of it.  Now that I am older I see the twisted lips of my friends everywhere.  My salvation (and the worlds!) comes through the crooked mouth of love.