applause please

clappingIf you are sober today, give yourself and your Higher Power a hand.

It is quite a miracle, you know.  We, who could not put together two days of sobriety now embrace a lifestyle of sober-living with all the wondrous beauty and amazement which accompanies our daily reprieve from alcoholism.  We who could not live without our liquid fortification now enjoy days and nights free of the desire and the temptation.  We know, when we awaken in the morning, exactly what we did last night, whom we were with last night, where we  parked the car last night.  We know those things now because we did not saturate our brains with alcohol.  Give yourselves a hand.

The praises to a God of our understanding cannot be overstated for it indeed was an act of divine intervention.  All our efforts to practice controlled drinking, all our readings of self-help books, all our attention to heathy diets, all our promises to loved ones to quit could not defeat the curse of our common demon.  As much as we tried to be better as spouses, friends, employees, those efforts paled when that first drink of the day stood in front of us.  We finally admitted that we were powerless.

But, let’s not diminish the tremendous efforts on our part in the sobriety story.  Remember the field research we endured sitting night after night at our favorite watering hole romancing the bottle rather than a loved one at home.  And then the brilliance of that initial revelation that there was indeed a better way to live.  Sometimes it happened after an especially violent argument.  Or perhaps a dear friend urged us to “straighten up and fly right.”  A car accident, a lost job, a divorce, a financial crisis.  At some point the God of our understanding revealed God’s plan for our lives and we said, “Yes, I am willing to surrender.  I must surrender or I will die.”

That was just the beginning of another sobriety story joining the millions of other souls who had discovered a better way.  Chapter one of that story detailed the nights waking up in sheer terror after dreaming we had given in to the allure of alcohol and had been out drinking.  We roller-coasted from exquisite moments of clarity to abysmal thoughts of suicide.  We loved, hated, enjoyed, despised, hoped, despaired, laughed, cried and yet through it all we did not drink or drug.  The physical demands of our addictions lessened with each sober moment until after about 90 days, the challenge was essentially emotional and psychological.

Then began the realization that drinking was just the tip of the iceberg.  We had inflicted upon ourselves grave emotional damage that needed to be addressed in our new way of living.  We could no longer run to the bottle to hide the deeper, underlying defects of character which had plagued us long before we used alcohol as a cover-up.  Lifetime habits became glaringly problematic for us as sober men and women.  Facing necessary changes was grueling work which required a team effort.  You, your fellowship, and your Higher Power became that team.  For the first time in our lives, we understood the power of the nemesis called “self-will run riot.”  The intervention and ensuing miracles were acts of God, but we did the grinding work.

If you are sober today give yourself a hand.clapping

 

 

 

longsuffering

“Dear lord, please lift me up and heal me.  Cast out of my mind all thoughts that are not of You.  Cast out of me all harsh and critical nature.  Cast out of me all violence and all anger.  Cast out of me all demons from my past.  For I would be made new.  I wish to walk so close to You that we might be as one.”  Marianne Williamson, ILLUMINATA
truth

“Harsh and critical nature, anger and violence”.  We betray the truth of our lives, the love and compassion of a Savior, when we fail to speak our truth kindly.  Our Lord’s truth cannot be spoken in any other way.  Tolerance, patience, and forbearance are synonyms of the old English “longsuffering”, a word which occurs frequently in Scriptures.  Probably the most familiar is:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith…”  Galatians 5:22

and in the Buddhist tradition:

“The greatest prayer is patience.”  Lord Buddha

Is one born with patience?  Probably not.  Most agree that patience is earned the hard way.  Life situations teach us patience.  Other people teach us tolerance.  Compassionate listening is developed by listening for hours to the trials of another person.  Children teach us unconditional forbearance.  Our friendships are the result of communications tempered by attitudes of longsuffering.  When we enter into a life occurrence with anything less than a prayer for patience on our lips, the outcome will likely be less than spiritual.

“Our first objective will be the development of self-restraint.  This carries a top-priority rating.  When we speak or act hastily or rashly, the ability to be fair-minded and tolerant evaporates on the spot.”  Bill W. AS BILL SEES IT, pg. 113

Finding a patient friend is a blessing of the greatest order.  Being a patient friend is more desirable than fame and riches.  Nations have crumbled, politicians have failed, families have disintegrated, wars have been waged, and genocides have been initiated because one person failed to engage another in conversations of tolerance and longsuffering.  Words that are harsh and critical, angry and violent will never establish mutual understandings which are necessary to peaceful survival.  And that is our mission, that is our evolution.  We are commanded by all of God’s messengers to live as a brotherhood of mankind speaking our truth kindly.

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SEX

“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.”orange tree

Aha!  Now that I have your attention, let’s talk about something that is highly over-rated and miserably misunderstood.  Trust me.  I know from experience that all the hype before I actually became a participant was gleaned from locker room banter and behind the barn experimentation.  That’s just the way my generation’s parents dealt with the “birds and the bees.”  I can’t recall any of my friends receiving the father-son talk at puberty.  What we learned about sex was learned from older brothers or older friends who had as much insight into sexual relations as the bull in the barn.  After we had been active for several years, the school’s gym teacher broached the subject in junior high school with instruction that covered only the physical aspects of anatomy and not the emotional/psychological/spiritual responsibilities.  At home instruction consisted of a terse, one sentence directive: “Keep it in your pants.”

Easy to understand why, as budding alcoholics, the sexual aspect of our lives was most often colored by a hodgepodge of misinformation and selfish activity directed by the developing “self-will run riot” mantra which controlled us.  Of all people, alcoholics were the least qualified people to enter into committed relationships and rear families.

In order to attain a completeness in sobriety we had to make drastic changes in thinking and behavior.  Of course, the grace of a Higher Power guided us into that new way of sober-living.  Giving up old ideas about sex was probably the most difficult change to master but we knew that  gaining healthy attitudes about sex was necessary for us to return to roles as husbands and fathers in our families and community.  To that end, pubescent boyhood sex-play had to mature into adult manhood sexuality.

Understanding that sex is a God-given, joyful responsibility rather than a sinful, hidden activity, for some of us, was a huge hurdle.  Our early experiences were often saddled with guilt and shame.  Our religious upbringing did nothing to enlighten and dignify the most powerful human force known to mankind.

As Peggy Lee lamented in “Is That All There Is?”, a very popular song of 1969, we often developed in our sex lives the same addictive behavior which controlled our use of alcohol and drugs.  More experimentation, riskier encounters, and less emotional satisfaction drove us to places in which only fools and derelicts attempted to find fulfilment.  Not surprisingly, we became losers, misfits, and runaways in our addictions of substances and behavior.  Only the grace of a loving God was able to restore us to sober-living in all aspects of our lives.

“We tried to shape a sane ideal for our future sex life.  We subjected each relation to this test: was it selfish or not?  We asked God to mold our ideals and help us to live up to them.  We remembered  always that our sex partners were God-given and therefore good, neither to be used lightly or selfishly nor to be despised and loathed.”  Bill W., AS BILL SEES IT, pg. 142

smiley 3

truth

Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.

truth

Do we know what truth is?  In today’s worldly rhetoric, truth has become a relative concept.  Truth depends on circumstances, truth is shaped by one’s environment, truth  can be bent to fit one’s personal ambitions.  We are told that trusted news sources are untruthful and mankind is not inherently honest.  Political views are castigated by those professing a different truth, spiritual bearing is challenged by sects who claim theirs is the only truth.  So, the question is, “How do we know truth?”

“Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.”  Buddha

Must we search?  Should we read scriptures?  Do we need to find a spiritual guru?  The Buddha says the sun and the moon cannot be hidden for long.  We know this to be truth because, when we look at the heavens, there we see the sun and the moon.  That fact is evident, it is obvious.  The  Buddha also says truth cannot be hidden.  It is as evident and as visual as the sun and the moon.

In the tradition of Buddhism, a path is offered.  It is called MAGGA, the eight-fold pathway to enlightenment:

  1. right understanding
  2. right thoughts
  3. right speech
  4. right action – nonviolence
  5. right livelihood – nonviolent
  6. right effort
  7. right mindfulness
  8. right concentration – meditation

We should note that none of the eight-fold path involves deeply secretive, spiritual practices to finding enlightenment or truth.  It is totally a manner of lifestyle which we undertake to the best of our abilities.

Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”  John 8:31-32

This directive set forth by Jesus of Nazareth is clearly specific.  Know the teachings and lifestyle of the human manifestation of Christianity’s God, follow that example known as “the Way” as best as humanly possible, and we shall know the truth.  Hallelujah!  Truth is not relative to circumstances or environment.  It cannot be manipulated or bent to one’s personal needs and desires.  Truth is attainable by adherence to a lifestyle of love and compassion directed toward others, to ourselves, and to the Earth itself.  It will be as evident as the sun and the moon in our skies.

“Watch out for false prophets.  They will come to you in sheep’s clothing , but inwardly they are as ferocious wolves.”Matthew 7:15

It is our mission to share our truth.  When attuned to the spiritual presence which defines each of us, we are able to share and communicate in a kindly manner the truth which has set us free.  Jesus and the Buddha in us will always portray as  non-violence in thought, word, and deed.

 

 

CANDLE

 

 

 

 

 

meditation

namaste4

 

“Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God……..”  from Step 11 of ” TWELVE STEPS AND TWELVE TRADITIONS, Alcoholics Anonymous

Did we ever meditate when we were drinking or drugging?  Probably not too much.  My meditative thoughts encompassed the vintage of my bottle of wine and whether I had enough to get a good buzz.  Oh sure, sometimes when suffering a debilitating hangover I would meditate on why I was such a weak person unable to control my drinking and enjoy alcohol like my non-alcoholic friends.  That process usually ended with me saying, “Oh, what the hell,” as I headed to the liquor store for the next round of fortification meditating on whether it would  be Colt 45 beer, Cutty Sark scotch or a few bottles of Chablis or all three.

Seriously, for most of us newly sober drunks, meditation was something only the Buddhist monks did while chanting.  It was a new and foreign activity which did not come naturally.  But, we tried, we practiced, and we did not give up until some results were realized.  I learned to appreciate the fleeting peaceful moments and the clarity of thought following 10 minutes of meditation.  I knew that something within was being manifested which I had never known before.  Not sure if it was a God thing or mind manipulation, I nevertheless pursued this newly discovered tool of sobriety because it often countered the insanity and chaos filling my head.

Many years later meditation and prayer are mainstays of sobriety happening sometimes in the quiet of a darkened room, sometimes under a bright blue, sunny sky, often in a straight back chair listening to soothing music such as that of classical masters, and occasionally chanting with the Buddhist monks on YouTube.  I have also done meditative walking.  Now that’s a trip which can transport a person out of this universe within less than a mile of step-ping, step-ping, step-ping.  For me the variety of settings prevents the repetition which can lead to boredom and mental distraction.

I am by no means an expert.  However, when I learn a new habit which enhances my sense of wellness, I try to incorporate that habit into a daily routine.  As with all experiences in sobriety, I pursue spiritual growth rather than perfection.  When I was searching for the “proper” way to meditate, I tried to emulate those whom I saw sitting in lotus position straight-backed and legs crossed.

“Oh no”, my body said, “we cannot sit that way.”

Feet firmly on floor, sitting alert in a straight back chair, with hands opened upward in my lap is my position of choice.  The position is not set in stone.  Other meditative trekkers have different approaches.  For me it is not the body position, the mantras or the music that matters.  It is where we go, God and I, during that time of quietness and introspection.  It is what God and I accomplish during that half hour of communion.  How’s your good heart today?

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no longer strangers

NAMASTE

 

 

LUKE 15:11-32

The PRODIGAL SON in the book of Luke in Christian scripture is undoubtedly my favorite of the parables taught by Jesus.  It is my story.

I was raised within the love and protection of a community of hearty, salt-of-the-earth farmers.  Their lives were dedicated to raising families and raising crops.  Very simple needs, even simpler desires.  I often have reminisced that we were the prototype for the “Waltons” of television fame.  Indeed, it is true.  My extended family of great-grandparents, grandparents, mother and two aunts lived in an early 1900s house with 9 upstairs rooms which could be used as bedrooms when necessary.  During the years previous to my arrival in 1947, the household consisted of numerous children and a full live-in housekeeping staff plus an assortment of farm-hands.  During the harvest season Mammy (my great-grandmother) assisted by her daughters prepared a lunch table groaning with several meats, 2 or 3 potato dishes, vegetables fresh from the garden and at least 4 pies for dessert.  They fed 6 to 12 hungry men.  As was customary, the women folk ate after the men had finished.

But it was a hard life.  I was earning a wage by the time I was 12 years old, had after-school chores, and during the summer worked long days in the fields as well as helping to tend the cattle, pigs, and chickens.  It was a very hard life.  I determined early in my youth that I was not going to be a farmer.  When my friends from town came to visit they were awed by my lifestyle.  I, on the other hand, was envious of their freedom to join social groups and participate in extracurricular school activities.  They enjoyed the farm chores which to me were onerous.

Church attendance was mandatory.  Through the eyes and ears of this thirteen year-old, the preaching was ominous and the threats of a punishing God were overwhelming.  I finally accepted that anything which felt good was probably a sin.  When I turned sixteen I was no longer required to attend services or participate in my family’s religious tradition.  When I turned seventeen, one of my multiple addictions had already consumed much of my life and another two, smoking and drinking, kicked in with a vengeance.  By nineteen I was fully controlled by substance and behavior addictions.

My grandfather, who raised me as his own son, offered me his farm.  I ridiculed the offer saying that no way in hell was I going to be a farmer.  Fifty-two years later I am still haunted by the look of rejection on his face.  We never recovered that father-son relationship.  My last remembrances of him are of a sickly man sitting in his favorite chair which offered a view of the highway.  Reading his Bible he would look up to see who was driving by.  Sometimes it would be the community’s undertaker, a solemn man named Lawrence.   Looking at me with his clear blue eyes, Grandpa would quip in his Dutch accent, “Well, maybe next time Lawrence will be coming for me.”

I had an idyllic upbringing and a wonderfully simple life surrounded by people who loved me.  But, I thought something was missing.  I thought that those city folks living in the midst of glitz and excitement were offering a dream which my community and my family’s traditions could never provide.  And at age nineteen I chased after that dream.

Drinking, smoking, drugging, and carousing assured me that finally this farm boy had arrived.  Life was going to be grand and lavish.  Partying every night, trashing relationships became the norm and for a few years I loved it.  Never looked back on what had been sacrificed.  Lost my job because of drinking, failed college because of my drinking, destroyed a military opportunity because of my drinking…..”Aw what the hell?  That wasn’t the life I wanted anyway.”

Then the blackouts began.  The car wrecks, the addiction-imposed poverty, the broken promises to friends and family stirred within me memories of a much simpler life, a life of hard work, joy, and focus.  Like the prodigal in the book of Luke, I asked myself if I could go back home.  Could I return to age sixteen and redirect?

Of course my answer was no.  The farm had been sold, my family was cautious of their wayward son, no eligible prospects for a relationship wanted to take a chance with me, and my faith walk had virtually dead-ended.  I was spiritually, morally, and physically bankrupt.  I was a broken man at age 34 with no hope for redemption.

With nothing to lose except my wretched life, I arrived in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Something about those AAers sparked hope within me.  Their message of sobriety through a Higher Power and a fellowship with kindred sober-living drunks offered a glimpse of a new life through recovery.  I latched on to the enthusiasm and promise which I discovered in those rooms and held on to it for dear life.  Unspeakable joy interspersed with debilitating depression controlled many of the early days getting sober.

My Father welcomed me with open arms as if we had never separated.  He told me that those arms were wrapped around me all of the 17 years spent in the far country.  I finally understood that God walked that trek every step of the way protecting and loving me while patiently waiting for me to return.  The parable of the Prodigal tells me that Father was overjoyed to have me home.  He prepared a feast and a celebration for my return.  The celebration continues.  We are no longer strangers, I have come home.smiley 3

 

 

 

worthy of all praise

“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.”

orange tree

Listening to great music from contemporary artists and the masters of classical works has the capacity to soothe and encourage.  Sitting in a chair in the stillness of a quiet nook, my world is transformed from one of agitation and discontent to the truth of knowing without reservation that God is, always has been, always will be.  Music such as Chris Tomlin’s “How Great Our God” confirms that others experience this same peace and awe in the presence of a Greater Power, one which defines for us compassion, acceptance, and love.  Unconditionally!

I cannot temper my feeble attempts to be Christ-like with earthly conditions for extending or withholding God’s indwelling spirit.  I cannot deny anyone the directive of Jesus to love my neighbor as myself.  The color of skin, the ethnicity, the creed, the political affiliation, the sexual persuasion, the gender, and the theology of another brother/sister cannot be a determinant for sharing the grace of God which was freely given to me.

Most of us, especially me, are often conflicted by this wisdom from a gracious God.  If you are white like me, male like me, Christ-follower like me, Democrat like me, and peace lover like me, then it is not difficult to also be Christ-like.  My perfect world is one in which no disagreement or contention exists.  My perfect world would also be totally black or white, right or wrong, moral or immoral, no shades of color filtering into it.

That, fortunately, is not God’s world.  The God, which I know today, knew from the beginning that we would be a broken species fraught with discontent, envy, jealousy, anger, intolerance, hatred, bigotry, and “isms” of all descriptions.  Yet, God loved us enough to give us messengers in human form who showed us how to evolve into the humanity with whom He would be pleased.  I don’t have to pursue this transformation without instruction manuals.  Each of our great religions have presented to us a path to follow which leads to enlightenment.

Enlightenment is not some mysterious element in a future eternity.  It is not something to be attained by sustained adherence to rigid rules of morality.  No, enlightenment is the discipline of practicing and sharing here and now in this lifetime the same mercy and grace which is freely available to every soul on earth.  In this quiet space of the soul, a corner of absolute connection to Spirit, there are no distinctions, no fears, no judgements.  We all are one with the great Oneness whom some name Allah, some name Krishna, some name Yahweh, and some name God.  The name we call  upon doesn’t matter.  The heart we share does.  How’s your good heart today?

CANDLE