A peek behind the veil

This post may not be meaningful to everyone. It’s a bit of personal theology, but it’s also a glimpse into one of the deepest mysteries of the Christian faith and an intuitive leap that may be helpful.

It is almost universally held that the Trinity is a mystery, something that God has revealed that is beyond our ability to comprehend. But I got to thinking about this and had a flash of insight that I would like to share.

“God is Love.” It’s in the Scriptures and is totally unambiguous. But we gloss over it mostly because we read it on the surface as “God is loving.” That’s true of course. No one can love as God loves, and God loves His creation with an intensity that we can only know by analogy. We have children, and we love them so fiercely that we will defend them against anything that would cause them harm, even going to the extreme of rejecting others whom we love if necessary.

But the Scripture says something different. God IS love. Love is the very being of God, not just His nature. But suppose I were to say that I AM love? Not a contingent creature, but uncaused being. Preposterous. Yes, but why? Because I am created, and the nature of my being is not something I chose. Now for the sake of this analogy let’s see where that leads.

We believe that God is eternal. There never was a “time” when God did not exist. And to make this easier to comprehend, let’s imagine a “time” when the only Being in existence was God. Or to put it another way, the only being in existence was love. Our limited human experience understands love to be an action, not a “thing.” And love thus requires three elements: a lover, the beloved and the love between them. And if God existed at a “time” when there was no creation, then there must have been a “time” when the lover, the beloved and the love between them were a single being. Put more succinctly, God by necessity was a single being with a three-fold nature.

But God is “the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.” God never changes. So the God we worship today must have within Himself this three-fold nature. The lover, the beloved and the love between them. As Christians we use the formula “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Not names; name. Singular. Here is where we bump up against a mystery. We cannot conceive of this as a singularity. Our minds rebel at the notion and, like it or not, we struggle with the idea of a unity of three.

The glorious story of Christianity is that God loved His creation so much that He emptied Himself of His divinity, His uncaused being, and became a creature in an act of the purest love. And how could He not? The nature of love is to desire the highest good for the beloved. And what higher good could there be than to adopt us into this trinitarian love through His perfect sacrifice? This is the meaning of John 3:13. And even when Jesus would not be present in the flesh, the the Father continues this act of love by filling us with His Holy Spirit. We are no longer loved merely as His creation, but as part of His very nature. Adoption.

I may be rightly accused of overthinking this. But this was not an insight of pure reason. It was a revelation that burst upon me. I have no doubt that I am covering ground already well trod by greater minds than mine. And any insight I may have springs from the teaching of my spiritual fathers. But, just as Jesus said that the very rocks themselves would praise Him, this little pebble cannot contain himself.

So I say, as we so often do, “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.”

Amen.

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Who indeed!

Moses, however, said to the Lord, “If you please, my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and tongue.” The Lord said to him: Who gives one person speech? Who makes another mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord– Exodus 4:10-11 (NABRE)

So here I am, now fitted with a voice prosthesis, awaiting my first real speech therapy on Monday. And if I may be frank, it’s not something I am looking forward to. It’s not the work itself that I fear, although it’s going to be a tough road. The troubling thing is that now I have a new set of expectations to live up to, and I fear disappointing myself and others who see this as a solution.

People who have had laryngectomies (removal of the voice box) can usually recover fairly intelligible speech. But having had a glossectomy as well (removal of the tongue) my chances for doing that are much slimmer. Still, I have speech pathologists who are convinced that I can succeed in a significant way. We shall see.

The more meaningful issue for me is how this fits into God’s plan for me. I have maintained all along that this was part of His plan, but so far I have yet to see how this may be so. Charlotte and I were doing our morning readings and this verse came up. A sharp jab in the side told me she wanted me to pay attention. Does God make people mute? This is a subset of the larger question as to why He permits suffering in the first place, a question too large to be addressed here. In any case, I am and may be for some time. And I confess that there is a significant part of me that would happily settle for the status quo. Laziness or fear? I don’t know. Can one be too accepting of one’s station? Again, I don’t know.

We are all faced with opportunities for growth and we are not always eager. Growth can involve a significant amount of pain. New wineskins have to do a lot of stretching and that can’t feel good. But pain is greatly affected by our understanding of its purpose. If someone jabs a needle into my arm for no good reason, the pain is an insult, a needless moment of suffering. But if a doctor must do so to heal me, then it becomes something I can accept with grace. So is my present suffering meaningful? Is this new challenge part of the plan? I hope so. In any case I will assume so because the Spirit of God has given me the grace to endure.

Being a Christian is not something one does in isolation. If I am not connected to the Body of Christ, I will wither and die. Fortunately for me, I am surrounded by a cloud of friends so loving that I can scarcely believe it. The biggest challenge I face in that regard is finding new ways to communicate. Our Marriage Encounter sharing group was held at our house last Saturday, and since we were the hosting couple I could prepare my dialog in advance and play it using my text-to-speech app. And I had a pretty good conversation with one of the couples during our after-meeting social time by writing on my Boogie Board while they read. Not ideal, but more real-time than anything else I can do at present.

I recently spent time listening to recordings of some talks I gave before 2009 (filed under the “Resources” menu), and I came away with two unexpected realizations. One is I talk too fast and say “ya know” constantly. If I were listening to someone else doing that I would probably have gotten up and screamed “Yes, we know!”

The other was that I am grateful that I could speak so easily, off the cuff. Yet I don’t regret the loss of that today. I thought listening to these would sadden me but it had the opposite effect. There’s a line in the Big Book, familiar to many of you, that says “We will not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it.” That clearly means that we are at peace with those shameful things in our past that we need not do today. But it can also mean that we are at peace with those wonderful things in our past that we can no longer do today.

A year from now, I may be able to record a greeting to all of you which you may even be able to understand. But that will not be the measure of my success. Voice or no voice, I am loved. And I do not need to speak to love you in return. I am grateful beyond words for all the tender-hearted people God has put in my life, and that is the only measure of success that matters to me today.

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Straight to the bone

Beauty is only skin deep. But ugly goes straight to the bone. – Fred Sanford

 

Charlotte dragged me kicking and screaming to the 8:00 Sedona meeting today. I have yet to find my niche in the program, but I am certain that God has His plans. People were genuinely delighted to see me, and I got many warm hugs. Since I didn’t bring my writing board, I just smiled as best I can these days and nodded goofily. It’s a struggle letting go of my need to be witty and pithy.

The trip to Detroit is scheduled, but for a number of reasons I have elected to come home as soon as the speech prosthesis is placed (or “the thing” as I will refer to it for the sake of brevity). I plan to work with my speech pathologist (SLP) at Mayo as soon as I get back. I am not getting my hopes up. As the SLP in Detroit reminded me, people who have lost their tongues have a much tougher road than simple (?) laryngectomies. As usual, Charlotte’s hopes are higher than mine, but she handles disappointment better so I can live with that. My motto is “no appointment, no disappointment.” I would rather that “life on life’s terms” exceed my expectations.

The topic of the meeting turned to the joy of sobriety. For as unhappy as I have been feeling lately, I have never lost my joy. Happiness is based on happenstance. Joy is based on the love of God that underlies everything. I have never lost that. To paraphrase Mr. Sanford, “Happiness is skin deep. But joy goes straight to the bone.” How anyone can live a joyless life is incomprehensible to me. I couldn’t do it. It might be argued that my faith in God arises out of a deep need to find purpose and meaning, but that just begs the question. If God draws me to Himself by making me keenly aware of how bereft of joy life would be without His love, then He has achieved His purpose. As I once said to an early AA mentor, “If this is a myth, then it is the most benevolent myth imaginable.” I recently saw Jordan Peterson responding to the question as to whether or not he believed in God, and after a couple of attempts to express it, he said simply, “I act as if God exists. Now you can decide for yourself whether that means I believe in him, so to speak.” A page out of our book, to be sure.

Lest any of you think that the preceding implies a wavering in my faith, let me be quick to reassure. I have always been a skeptic and doubts have always crept in. I had to build a faith that could encompass doubt or it would be no faith at all. One thing I can say with absolute certainty: I made a decision at the age of thirteen that God did not exist, and twenty years later my life could be charitably described as a heap of stinking, smoldering rubbish. So at age thirty-three, I made a decision to “act as if” God existed. Thirty-seven years later the results continue to affirm that living my life on that basis is overwhelmingly the better of the two. I see no reason to reconsider. Neither would Pascal.

So I face this new year with the same profound joy that has brought me this far. I may or may not be “happy,” because I can’t predict what will “happen.” But I can say with certainty that my joy will carry me through, as it always has. So to each of you,  I wish you a joyful new year. Let’s live it to the bone.

 

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A New “Advent-ure”

I am reposting an earlier post from the old friday600 blog that is a good jumping off spot for something I want to discuss today.

First, the original post.


The missing preparation

It has been pointed out to me more than once (let’s just say a lot more than once) that I tend to over-think the Program. I thought about that a lot. But at the risk of confirming what everyone already (rightly) believes, I would like to share something.

It occurred to me pretty early on that there was a definite structure to the Steps, something that may have been unconscious to the writers but jumped right out at me. Here’s a chart that I would like to use as the basis for this post.

Honesty (fact-finding) Open-mindedness (preparation) Willingness (action)
   Step 1 (admitted)    Step 2 (came to believe)    Step 3 (made a decision)
   Step 4,5 (made an inventory, admitted)    Step 6 (became willing)    Step 7 (asked)
   Step 8a (made a list)    Step 8b (became willing)    Step 9 (made amends)

 

The first nine Steps have a recurring set of actions that line up almost perfectly with the three essentials, Honesty, Open-mindedness and Willingness. Let me start by explaining each of the columns:

  • Honesty: These are Steps which are all about fact finding, soul searching, reflection, etc. They are inward processes that are necessary in order to move forward at each stage of the Program. In Step One, we “admitted” that we were powerless over alcohol. Or as it is stated elsewhere, “We learned that we had to fully concede to our innermost selves that we were alcoholics.” This is our first attempt at self-searching. We later extended this in Steps Four and Five to an examination of all our defects with an admission of them to God, ourselves, and another person. Then in the first half of Step Eight, we again took stock of the harm we had done others. In fact, the Big Book says we already had this list, that we had made it in the Fourth Step.
  • Open-mindedness: These Steps are all about changing our way of thinking in light of what we have just discovered. They all describe an inward process of preparation for the action to come. Step Two is about changing our thinking about whether or not AA can actually work for us, if a Higher Power can in fact restore us to sanity. In Step Six, we take the information we have learned about our defects and shortcomings and seriously consider if we are ready to give them up, to be changed in ways we can’t predict. The second half of Step Eight confronts us with the very difficult task of forgiving others who have harmed us and receiving forgiveness for the harms we have done them.
  • Willingness: Finally, we are called to take specific actions. We “make a decision,” we “humbly ask,”we make amends.” These are actions that we are now fully prepared to take, without reservation, knowing that we are doing the will of our Higher Power.

It has been my experience that people get hung up by trying to go from Honesty to Action and neglect the very essential process of preparation that comes between. I believe “Easy Does It” is an admonition to focus on the middle process, the preparation needed to really take the right action. And it is the process that is at once the most beneficial and the least practiced aspect of the program.


Why bring this up now? Today is the First Sunday of Advent, a time of inward preparation as we look forward to the Lord’s coming. It happens again in Lent as we prepare ourselves for the Lord’s Passion and Resurrection. Raised in an Evangelical Protestant home, the concept of a liturgical calendar was pretty foreign to me. But it has become a great source of discipline and focus for my disordered spiritual life. And I think it verges on being a universal principle. The Lord Himself went into the desert for forty days in preparation for His earthly ministry. Likewise, John the Baptist preached a gospel of repentance and conversion in preparation for His coming.

Is it possible that part of our problem in fully internalizing the truth of our Christian faith is that we take too little time to prepare the soil? Does the seed of God’s word fall on unprepared ground?

So as we look forward to the joys of Christmas, take these next few weeks to meditate fully on the unimaginable fact of our Creator taking the form of a human infant so that we might one day share in His divinity. And when that joyful night arrives, let our hearts be fully prepared to receive the unspeakable Gift that God is offering us.

 

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Thank Luck

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. – Abraham Lincoln, October 3, 1863

Even atheists say “thank God.” Gratitude is an odd word that demands both a “for” and a “to.” It is usually pretty obvious what one is thankful “for.” But we tend to forget that, in saying it,  we are thanking someone or something for the gift. To whom are we grateful? If someone gives us something or does something for us, we thank them. It’s concrete, tangible, unambiguous. But to whom are we expressing gratitude when we reflect on the many good things we have that, for lack of a better term, were dropped in our lap?

Lincoln’s proclamation left no doubt as to whom he felt our nation should be grateful. And for the most part people who would not call themselves believers still feel gratitude towards some vague, amorphous condition that they might call luck or fate or some such. For believers, we know that luck and blessing are two very different things. Being lucky just means that you got an outcome you didn’t necessarily deserve, it just came out that way. Could have come out different, but “I was just lucky, I guess.” Lady Luck is simply the personification of blind and random forces in life that determine our fate. Inescapable, amoral and impersonal. No one says “Thank Luck.”

Being blessed is another matter entirely. We are the object of a transitive verb, and how we choose to fill in the “subject” says much about who we are. At one extreme, it is again a vague and impersonal force or being, “The Universe,” a “Higher Power,” something that is “out there” giving us goodies. Funny thing is, when the gift brings with it suffering, God usually gets the blame. Even though they may not believe in God, they still need someone to pin it on.

At the other extreme, there are those of us who believe God to be a personal, loving and powerful being. When we are blessed we say “thanks be to God.” Except when the gift brings with it suffering, we aren’t thankful. It is because that in saying that, we imply that God causes bad things to happen to those who don’t deserve it. Especially me.

But for us Christians, real faith in God requires us to be grateful for all the blessings we receive, even the ones that seem malevolent. Real faith sees the hand  of God in everything, the bad as well as the good, for  “…we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

We are grateful for good family, nice friends, a home, puppies, rainbows, unicorns. But never cancer or loss or hardship. Do I have the spiritual maturity to be grateful for the whole package, or do I, as was suggested to Job, “curse God and die?” It would be the height of denial to say that my circumstances today are what I would have chosen. But I don’t believe God gave me cancer, twice. What I am grateful for is that God is with me in  my cancer, that I am not alone in this burden. And I fervently believe that good will come of it, that my acceptance of what I have been given will in some or many ways bless someone else.

So on this Thanksgiving Day, I thank God who has so richly blessed me in all aspects of  my life. And I thank all of you, family and friends who have walked this difficult path with me, for your generous and sincere love. I’m not lucky but I am blessed.

 

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No matter where you go, there you are

Somebody nudged me the other day and asked when I was going to post to this blog again. And again today, someone wanted to know how I am doing. It’s been far too long since my last post and there’s a reason for this, one that I’m not particularly proud of. As a rule, when I post it is because there is something interesting and worth sharing. And I want it to be profound and engaging because frankly I get a lot out of your responses. And I don’t like posting some boring, day to day stuff because there probably won’t be any spectacular response. It never occurs to me that the people who love me just want to include me in their lives. This is pride, the foremost of the Seven Deadlies, and the one that underlies them all.

I have been home a month now and have settled in to what, for now, is the new normal. Maybe you want to know what that is, maybe not. But I’ll share this with you all.

One of the most significant developments for me is that I am finally being fitted for the devices that soon will allow me to produce sounds via a voice prosthesis. It won’t be speech, but it will be a necessary first step. I’ll be back to Michigan in January for the placement of the prosthesis and several intense weeks of speech therapy. As my therapist said, my success is up to me. It’s a long road ahead but he feels that I have the right attitude to pull it off. We shall see.

One side benefit of this is that I can now use a button called an HME (heat/moisture exchanger) that eliminates the need for nightly humidification. One less piece of medical equipment. We returned it the other day. The HME is also a filter that removes larger contaminates like cat hair (no shortage of that here), and the usual junk that floats around. Normally your nose does all of these things. But since mine is now merely decorative, it’s a necessary and welcome replacement.

It’s good to finally be back in familiar surroundings, but I am beginning to realize just how much I need to adjust to function in a world where speech is expected. So I carry around my Boogie Board to write on. And there is a voice to text app on my phone that helps a lot. But other people don’t quite know how to act around me. One guy started writing back at me, assuming that since I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t hear. An understandable but humorous response.

Another thing that is turning out to be harder than I thought is developing a simple sign language that Charlotte and I can use to communicate. It takes a lot of work and we’re usually short on time, or too tired to work on it. So it’s not moving along as I had naively hoped. Patience is the requirement here.

Participating in group discussions is proving to be very problematic as well. I got a taste of it when I was in Michigan during my recuperation, but now it is becoming a point of real frustration for me. We have a bi-weekly bible study that I used to actively contribute to, but it’s the same problem of being ten steps behind the conversation so that by the time I have typed what I want to say I am hopelessly off topic and I end up erasing all the typing I just did. We went to our Marriage Encounter sharing group last night and they started to wrap up the meeting before I had a chance to “say” anything. It’s no one’s fault. I just feel left out and minimized. It’s obvious that people don’t understand what I need from them. Our little Sunday AA meeting in Rochester gave me a chance to actively participate because they came to understand my limitations. From that a comfortable dynamic emerged. But I can’t expect that to happen in most groups, at least not at first.

I developed a pretty bad strep infection in my chin which the doctor is treating with an arsenal of antibiotics. There is still a lot of edema in my face, and it is always at risk for infection. I am getting regular massage by a physical therapist trained in lymphedema massage. But even with that, it will probably be a year before the swelling fully subsides.

Still, it’s good to be home and able to go in to work a couple of days a week. Everyone has become so accustomed to my working remotely that I usually have no reason to go in. As a result, I have become a house husband, something Charlotte is enjoying. Every day that I work from home, there is a list of chores for me to do in addition to doing my regular job. And I’m happy to do it. If I ever really retire, I suspect I will have a “honey do” list every day. I don’t mind because it means I have a wife whom I can care for.

So that’s where I am. My life is pretty ho-hum. And that’s just fine with me.

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Going Home

 “You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.” – “You Can’t Go Home Again.” – Thomas Wolfe

I now have something which seemed like a distant horizon not so long ago. Charlotte and I have airline tickets to Phoenix where awaits my car to finish the journey, my home, my bed, six impossible cats who own my heart, and most of all my wife.

“Home” is a state of mind. It is the place where there is a reasonable expectation that things are as they should be, or at least attainable. I have been in Michigan for most of the summer and early fall, and I am surrounded by people who love me. Everything I need is at my disposal, I want for nothing. I know my way around familiar streets and I notice the unexpected presence of businesses and buildings that weren’t here when this was “home.” But it no longer is. And even if I were to move back here, I could not return to the “home” that I once knew. That state of mind has passed away, as it certainly should.

Home will be found again in our little house in Arizona filled with the things that make it more than a mere dwelling. And I do so long to be back there. And yet, I will not find the home I left. It will certainly become “home” again, but it will never be “. . .  the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time.” These are the musings of one whose life has been more than half lived, for whom the inevitability of change has seeped into his very bones.

Is this a melancholy surrender to these feelings? It can be, but it certainly needn’t be. For with the perspective of time and an understanding of the transient nature of all that surrounds us, we can turn forward in anticipation of joys yet to unfold, of loves awaiting our arrival. For those like us whose faith is in God, we can affirm that “it was good, it is good, and good it shall ever be.”

Welcome home.

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What graveyard?

Tuesday, I set out to do something that I have not attempted before. One of the reasons that I chose to have my surgery here was that I would have the support of my AA family as I recovered from my surgery and went through radiation. But with the exception of a small meeting we started on Sunday for my benefit, I hadn’t been to any regular meetings since I got out of the hospital. If I wanted to be with all the people I love it was only logical that I should go to them. That meant going to regular meetings, even if I couldn’t participate by sharing.

So with that worthy goal in mind, Charlotte and I got in the car and began driving to the 11:00 meeting at Church of Christ. But before I even reached the end of the driveway, I found myself crying and so full of ambiguous feelings that I was paralyzed. Where the hell did that come from? I hadn’t cried since the surgery. Suffering such a tremendous loss of function left me only two alternatives: to give in to the hopelessness that loomed always at the periphery of my consciousness. Or to adopt the attitude that it was all part of God’s plan, that good was bound to come out of it, and that He held me in His loving hands. It was the latter I chose, and continue to choose today. What benefit is there to say you believe in a loving, all-powerful God if, when the harsh realities of life present their formidable challenges, you derive no strength or comfort for so believing?

Yet at that moment, sitting in a pool of swirling inexplicable emotion, I wondered if I had, in fact, just been whistling past the graveyard. Had I just been putting on the brave face to win recognition for my courage, something I needed so badly at the time? It seemed like everything I had been saying and believing became a hollow shell, collapsing under its own weight. What was the source of this tremendous grief that had so thoroughly seized me?

So, as I was taught, I prayed, I meditated, I sought God’s will for my life. I became willing to do whatever was required of me to accomplish His purposes. But mostly I cried, curled up on my bed, asking “why me.” The answer came in due course and, like most of the answers that God gives us, it wasn’t quite what I wanted. The fact is, the nature of my relationships with others had been irreversibly changed. I wanted to go and be with people in the same comfortable way I always had, but I never would again. I was grieving deeply the loss of the familiar, of the easy familiarity that characterized my relationships with people stretching back decades. I would need to learn an entirely new way of relating. It seemed daunting, and I was horribly frightened that it would not be enough.

Originally, I was going to end here, but I made it to the 10:15 meeting today and it was great seeing everyone. It’s different, that much I can say. And I don’t have a way of communicating spontaneously yet, although that may change in the future. In any case, it’s another hurdle behind me. I certainly felt the love you gave me. I won’t let fear ever rob me of that again.

So you will be seeing me. We will share our friendship in whatever way we can. And God will create something new and surprising and just as wonderful as what we had before.

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A God With Skin

With peals of thunder punctuated by blinding flashes of light a mother attempts to get her child into bed.”Mommy, I’m scared” he says not surprisingly.”Honey, nothing will happen to you. God is watching over us and nothing bad can happen when God is our protection. Now go to sleep and we’ll see you in the morning.” Mom gets into bed, but a couple of flashes later her son has jumped into bed with mom and dad. “Honey, I told you God was watching over you. Let me take you back to your room. You’ll be nice and safe there.” But, of course, it only takes a couple of flashes and back into their bed he jumps. The scene repeats itself a few more times,and finally mom says, “Honey, don’t you believe that God is watching over you?” “Yes,” he replies. “But right now I could really use somebody with a little more skin.”

 

This is an old joke but a favorite for one important reason. It’s easy to talk of God’s goodness and protection when things are not terribly frightening, or when they are happening to someone else. But what happens when things get real, when it’s no longer a matter of simply knowing that God cares for us? Sometime, God works in tangible and immediate ways. The rent is due and an unexpected check shows up. You need to hire a replacement for a person that just quit, and you run into someone with the right qualifications looking for a job. We have all experienced moments like that. They can be faith builders, but they aren’t a foundation for faith.

The central fact of Christianity is precisely the punch line of that joke. We need a God with skin. We need a God who took on human flesh so that as human beings, we have a God who knows our infirmities, who knows intimately our deepest fears. And our deepest, most secret fear is that God is an illusion, a story we tell ourselves to feel better. But the little boy in the story wasn’t buying it. He didn’t want a story: he needed real protection.

How, then, do I experience a God with skin? How do I experience the tangible reality of a God who is my protection? Jesus came in the flesh to conquer all sin and death. But that meant that he had to first die. And even though He rose from the tomb, it was still necessary for Him to leave us so that something more powerful could take the place of His earthly presence, limited, as it were, by time and space. What He gave us was more than His risen body. He gave us His Holy Spirit. And it was His intention,, and that of the Father, that those who are baptized into His death are likewise baptized into His life.

So take a moment and look at you hands. If you are a Christian, those are not your hands. They are the flesh that clothes the hands of God. This is not a metaphor. The highest expression of God’s incarnation is that he redeemed our own flesh that it might become His. But we do not experience it unless we use it. The Holy Spirit is power, and power is not dormant. It is only when those hands are animated by the Holy Spirit that the miraculous ensues. The irony, then, is that I am never so close to the protection of God as I am when my hands reach out to protect someone else. God made us for purpose. Not merely a purpose, but purpose itself. As Christians, that means that nothing ever happens outside of the purpose of God.

I am dealing with some very difficult struggles right now. It is Sunday afternoon and a group of friends who stopped by have gone home. It could be the saddest moment of my week. Nothing is easier than self-pity. I could go in my room, close my eyes, and let the tears flow. And there would be nothing inherently wrong in that. But it is less than God wants for me. So I grabbed my computer and did what I could to give the moment meaning. I wrote. And by writing about the reality of my life, perhaps someone else’s life will be touched, or they will touch someone else. After all, what is skin for if not for touching?

 

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Drinking From the Stream

If you have sat at AA tables with me anytime during the last thirty years, you have probably heard me use this analogy a hundred times. If so, suffer a fool to make it a hundred and one.

Before I came to faith in God, I was like a stone, hard and impenetrable. The grace of God was flowing around me everywhere, but my obdurate nature ensured that I would not drink from that stream. The fear of giving up the only security I knew, while subconscious, drove all my decision making. I was genuinely frightened by selfless people, people who had surrendered themselves to something higher. Yet that very vulnerability was also attractive and it began to slowly erode my protective shell.

As Bill W. puts it,

When we became alcoholics, crushed by a self-imposed crisis we could not postpone or evade, we had to fearlessly face the proposition that either God is everything or else He is nothing. ~ Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 53

Ultimately , in that moment of ego deflation, I called out to a God who was at once both inconceivable yet essential. And like many in that condition, I became aware of the genuine presence of God. It was an awareness not of the mind but of the heart, yet no less unshakable for it. The grace of God had penetrated that shell at last.

I lived in that reality for some time, but came to realize that faith in God alone was not sufficient. Those people whom I had seen abandoning themselves to God had something greater than I. The grace of God had filled me, but at that point I was more like a vessel than a channel. God had gotten in, but I kept Him for myself. But quietly, almost imperceptibly, the Steps of AA began to lead me toward a path of unselfishness, of giving myself without any thought of benefit in return. The phrase “you have to give it away to keep it” became less and less an aphorism and increasingly a guiding principle. Still, there was a fear that abandoning myself like that might mean the loss of something I was not willing to give up. This was where the jumping off point for me came, the actual taking of Step Seven.

The grace of God had eroded the other end of that vessel and made me into a channel of that grace, just as we learn in the Prayer of St. Francis. And here is the paradox. I was not merely a channel but a recipient in a way I had not previously anticipated. A vessel can only hold so much, but a channel can carry an inexhaustible stream. And whoever allows himself to become such a channel finds he is  filled from that unending source.

This challenge I face today is, in any normal sense, insurmountable. I am in need not merely of a measure of grace, but an overabundance of it to give me the power to live each day as it comes. I always knew on a conscious level that I was being of service to those around me. But never over the course of those thirty odd years did I imagine what treasure I was laying up for myself. The outpouring of love that I have experienced these last couple of months has overwhelmed me. And you all, in giving of yourselves as you have, are no doubt drinking of that same stream. That’s the real paradox. No matter how much you surrender, the blessings you receive in return far outweigh whatever sacrifice was required of you.

My sincere desire is to be part of that blessing. Nothing would defeat me more than if I thought this trial was for no purpose. I am convinced that the joy that I experience in this time of difficulty will, in some unseen and and unknown way, lighten the burdens and gladden that hearts of those who face their own challenges.

[The Lord] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong. – II Corinthians 12:9-10 New American Bible Revised Edition.

May the Peace of Christ dwell richly in you.

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Filed under Apologetics, Christianity, memoir, Recovery