Sunday, February 14, 2016

2016.02.14 Turning a LIfe Around?

I know I should be Happy Valentine-ing it so Happy Valentine's Day to all you dear readers. I do love you, ya know.  And love, even in its smallest, funniest expressions, least expected or traditional, does turn lives around.

A man in treatment to recover from addictive disease once told me that he hated love because it was so gooey. I asked him what he loved, and he burst into hearty laughter, saying: "Gooey caramel candy covered with melty chocolate. Better than a beer!" And there you have it.

When things turn around there is usually a tumult of reaction, inside and out. It can be a new direction you decide to take, a new understanding of a relationship, a sudden humorous take on what you thought was sacrosanct or right for you. Or a new way of thinking about God and your relationship or your language about God. 

On Thanksgiving in Maine, 2014, I wrote: "Along the Kennebunk beach road looking out to sea there was a sunset so spectacular people stopped and stared; people pulled their cars off the road and jumped out with their i-phone cameras to snap a shot. Reverse selfies!— turning the camera's eye away from the self toward something much grander and more beautiful." Such a switch is refreshing in this age of selfie-ism.

Beauty will save the earth, I'm sure. It arrests us, even those in the midst of despair or in the grip of evil. All it takes to turn a life around is one moment, followed by a lifetime of hard work and commitment. Watch for the moments. And by all means feel free to project theology onto them.Such beauty may be a beckoning.

How do you know what is transcendent and what is immanent? Whether God beckons you from without or within?

William Temple,  one time Archbishop of Canterbury (1942-1944) wrote a brilliant book called Nature, Man, and God. I read it years ago in seminary and didn’t understand much, except that I never forgot the way Temple fused aspects of Divinity which our tiny minds inevitably separate: the close presence of God, immanence, and the distance of God, transcendence. Is God far away or is God as close to us as our own breath? Can we have one without the other? Nope. Temple wrote about the transcendence of the immanent and the immanence of the transcendent. We’re stuck with both together at once. (Temple's mind was not blurry like this image:)
Christians see this fusion in Jesus the Christ. Look for it in yourself, too—or in Nature or Music or Humor or any prayer. 

I  know a woman who calls God “Honey".   She regularly loses her keys and other small possessions that matter to her and prays: "God, Honey, I lost my keys again. I was sure I left them right here. Any ideas?” Then she bustles about and usually finds what is lost.

My one-time Jesuit spiritual director once suggested that I find an affectionate name for God, something to down-size divinity, draw it close, like a lover or a teddy bear. (My comforting god was my thumb which I sucked mercilessly as a child.)

Overwhelming almightiness and superpower dominance is admirable of course in a window, or miles away at the high altar, or in the towers of cathedrals, but I wanted to touch and feel and sense—and name with affection. I tried calling God sweetie, then darling, my mother’s favorite term of endearment, but nothing stuck until I thought of beloved. I don’t regularly call anyone else that, but for God, whose love I’d been taught was too vast even to imagine, let alone hold onto, and I can imagine anything, Beloved seemed close enough.

Henri Matisse, born in 1869, in Le Cateau, France, had no interest in art. He went to law school in Paris and never visited a single museum. Had it not been for a case of appendicitis, he might never have become an artist. Bedridden for several weeks during his recovery, he took up painting as a way to pass the time. It was a revelation, a turnaround. He said, "For the first time in my life I felt free, quiet, and alone ... carried along by a power alien to my life as a normal man." At 22, he quit the law to begin work as a full-time artist. He was a revolutionary who dressed like a bourgeois, and he once said, "It has bothered me all my life that I do not paint like everybody else.”

Don’t worry if you don’t think of Godde like everybody else. Just find a way for you. Just make it your own. Then see how it feels when you behave toward yourself and others exactly as your god-image behaves. You might find out it's pretty much as you want to be treated yourself. 

“Wheresoever you go, go there with your whole heart.” -Confucius

A woman who is struggling through rounds of chemotherapy for cancer, without remission, asked for prayer just to stay with the treatment. She said humor helps. She also said that a fresh new day with the sky pure blue and the sun in full shine mode, even a winter day, raises her soul  She has had many blood transfusions and calls herself Vampire Jane (not her name).  "Vampires are strong. They get good blood, right?" Right.

And I can not resist sharing a couple of typos. Mistakes, even unintended, can break right through fear and tension and the most violent of prejudices and differences, everything that mandates against going out on a limb, everything that causes us to fight.

Occasionally the institutional Episcopal church goes out on the limb and doesn't fall off the tree—yet.  After the Rev. Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, was elected bishop in New Hampshire in 2003 there was plenty of flak.

Maine's Bishop Chilton Knudsen offered "listening sessions" at every congregation she visited after the controversial consecration of Robinson. People could come to talk, ask questions, even kvetch—and also listen to each other. The bulletin in one parish read (Freud would love this one!):  

"After the service today, the bishop will remain in the chancel for a listening session to hear your comments about the election of Gene Robinson. You are welcome to stay and share your thoughts with her. If you don't wish to stay and meet with the bishop, please heave quietly."

“Be not sad, surly Allah is with us.” Surely Allah is, along with all of Allah's other divine names and images, is with us. It is we who are "surly" and we who "heave"— and we, too, who can turn lives around.