this little spark of mine – I’m gonna let it shine

 

“We are made, the scriptures of all religions assure us, in the image of God. Nothing can change that original goodness. Whatever mistakes we have made in the past, whatever problems we may have in the present, in every one of us this beautiful-cropland-dawn-1237119‘uncreated spark in the soul’ remains untouched, ever pure, ever perfect. Even if we try with all our might to douse or hide it, it is always ready to set our personality ablaze with light.”  EKNATH EASWARAN (1910-1999) cac.org

(Eknath Easwaran was an Indian born spiritual teacher and author, as well as translator and interpreter of early Hindu texts such as the UPANISHADS and the BHAGAVAD GITA.)

Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) taught:

“Our supreme purpose in life is not to make a fortune, nor to pursue pleasure, nor to write our name in history, but to discover this spark of the divine that is in our hearts.”

The world, specifically Western Culture, might do well to listen to the words of all religious traditions whose mystics searched beyond the limits of this life experience for truer meaning and self-less examination.  Escaping the insanity of violence, war, poverty, genocide, persecution, religious intolerance and greed is critical for a path to a sustainable co-existence of the human species as well as the ecosystem of earth which inarguably is essential to our survival.

Giving up self-indulgence is not easy.  Just ask any other recovering alcoholic or addict.  A primary symptom, if not the most salient aspect, of our addictions was ego-driven selfishness.  Unfortunately, that does not miraculously disappear upon our first day of the recovery process.  For most of us, especially me, this change in focus becomes a lifetime endeavor.  Some days are better than others, but the spark is there.  An AA saying that resonates is, “A belly full of booze and a head full of AA don’t mix.”  It’s the same with recognizing the divine spark within each of us.  Once you experience it, you can no longer ignore it.  That inner essence demands change.

I continue to be amazed that for some people this change is easily accomplished.  Involving in service work, rejoining their communities, whether in civic groups or church groups, seems to be a cakewalk for them.  Not for me.  You can drag me to a town hall meeting, but I will be kicking and screaming all the way.  It is not natural for me to do something that is not all about me, me, me.

We don’t hear WWJD very often these days.  “What Would Jesus Do?”  In no way have I perfected this approach, but when I ask myself this question, I can usually depend on a positive, forward-moving answer.  It doesn’t matter whether one believes a divine Jesus, a virgin-born Jesus, a reverential Jesus or a bodily resurrected Jesus, the keys to successful, peaceful, empowered living are contained in the writings which are attributed to the words of Jesus of Nazareth.  Those nuggets of inspiration and truth culled from the Bible’s chapters detailing Judaic history, folklore, and ancient wisdom present a lifestyle and mindset that lead to the change demanded by each individual’s inner essence.

Not surprisingly, this truth can be gathered from most of the world’s great spiritual traditions if we put aside the hype and tribal prejudices of religion and instead search for the reality of inner discovery.  History’s mystics lead that search.

 

 

“you said come just as you are”

 

photos by LARRY PAUL BROWN

There’s a place I go where the eagles fly high, the rivers run deep, the grass is lush.  In that place it is peaceful and kind, no violence nor intolerance.  Wildflowers wave in the gentle breezes as the freshness of nearby pine forests fills the air with breath after breath of luxurious serenity.  I sit in the grass, admire the beauty of the flowers and  marvel that truly there is a heaven on earth.

And then, when that which is called reality reins in this escape to a quiet place, I return reluctantly and sadly.  But, I know that someday this kind and peaceful place will be a permanent home where I also shall soar with the eagles breathing in the freshness of eternity.  Come with me, won’t you?  We can go there just as we are.

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Every one of us has a story to tell.  It usually reflects on the brokenness of a past life which carried us to places that were more like a living hell than heaven.  Sometimes it involves drug addiction or alcoholism. Often it is a story of abuse and deprivation at the hands of someone whom we trusted.  Or we may return to the horrors of sex abuse and physical assault when telling our story.  The common thread with each one of our stories is the final surrender of the pain and suffering to an unseen, unfamiliar power.  We somehow, miraculously, discovered healing and acceptance.  We recognized and embraced our inner beauty and greatness.  We became willing to believe that our past lives, though never to be forgotten, should no longer be baggage to slow down our journey through sobriety.  And with each passing clean and serene day we discovered a special place where eagles soar, water runs deep, and grass is green, a place where peace and kindness greet our morning sun.

Drunk and reeking of alcohol, I met my unseen, unfamiliar Higher Power in a bar room as I staggered past a man who grabbed hold of me and said, “Son, do you want to be free?”  My blurred vision couldn’t really focus on the man and upon finally making my way to the door, turning around to see who had spoken to me, he was gone.  I demanded of the bartender,

“Who was that man that just grabbed me by the shoulders?”

“Sir, it’s just you and me in this bar room.  Nobody else has been here in the past hour.”

Do you want to be free?  Free of substance addiction, free of behavior addictions, free of self-imposed hell?  Lean into the Master and receive your miracle.   Matters not whether we name it Higher Power, the Source, God, or Spirit, the salvation we seek will welcome us with open arms and a hearty,

“Welcome home, son.  I have been waiting for you.  Now, come just as you are; sit with me for a while.  We have some catching up to do.”


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IT’S A GREAT DAY! – weakness

I have a confession to make – my name is Larry and I am a TV news show junkie.  Not baseball, not sit-coms, not movies from 1948, no, I sit for several hours watching the latest developments from national leaders unfold on my screen.  You might say, “Well Larry, that’s a good thing.  It is good to stay on top of current events.”

No, no, no this is not a good thing.  How do I know?  I know that when I have viewed a great movie classic or an exciting baseball game, when I have guffawed uncontrollably over the antics of a sit-com cast, I feel good.  However, when I have spent 4 hours watching this political figure or that wannabe leader spout a stream of accusations and innuendo, defame people who are my heroes, immaturely slander others who aspire to make a difference in our society…when bedtime rolls around, I am angry, disturbed, depressed and vindictive.  My internal dictionary tells me that these are negatives.  That is not a good thing.  I try not to entertain negatives in my life.

Denying that I have a problem does not help.  Believing that I can practice controlled viewing does not work.  When 7 PM rolls around I am magnetically drawn to the remote control, I am savoring the first few minutes of updates.  Ten minutes is too much and four hours is not enough.  My mind is putty in the hands of those celebrity pundits appearing on my screen.  Hold me, caress me, teach me the things I need to know about society and politics.  Yes, yes, yes, form my opinions, make me intelligent and witty, give me the words to argue with any of my neighbors.  Here I am.  Take me now and we will dwell forever in digital ecstasy.

Pretty damn sad, isn’t it?  So, as you may have noticed, the title of this post is “IT’S A GREAT DAY! – weakness.”  When I was a young boy working with my grandfather on his farm, the farm hands who assisted in the summer months were young, mature, worldly men who had been around the block a few times.  They knew the pleasures and the secrets of life.  Full of advice for a boy growing up totally naïve, they always joked with me about girls and the mysteries of puberty and adolescence.  But invariably, with dead seriousness, they would then end the conversation with, “Life is great if ya don’t weaken.”

“Hmmm,” I wondered to myself, “what on earth are they talking about?”

Trial and error answered my question.  Many trials and many errors in dealing with sex, in finding my place in society, in succumbing to numerous addictions.  If anyone learned about life the hard way, it was me.  ‘Life is great if ya don’t weaken’ took on painful profundity as I battled the demons which were in control of Larry, the young man.

When I share my concern with the news programs addiction, we know it is somewhat in jest.  Perhaps it would be more accurate to say this evening pastime of national events is incongruous with the mindset I want for myself and that I need to corral that remote control by setting limits upon what networks it can access.   Yeah, that sounds like a winning course of action.  Honestly, an intelligent, reasonable, well-grounded man cannot possibly be ‘addicted’ to TV……can he?

I have a great start to this day.  Upon awakening I hugged the sleeping cat aside me, I brewed my first cup of coffee, I dwelled upon the dawning day, and then set a course for honoring the master of my life.  Meditation, yoga and a light workout got my lungs breathing and heart pumping.  I have a few chores for this afternoon and a list of options for this evening….baseball, a book to read, maybe a classic movie.  Please wish me luck as I battle my latest affliction and try not to weaken by 7PM.  It’s a great day at my house and in my mind!  How about you?

IT’S A GREAT DAY! – dice roll

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So, you’re a gambler?  How often do you win?  Excites you, doesn’t it?  The thrill of the bet, the risk-taking, the ecstasy of a win, the personal satisfaction in knowing you have beaten the odds.  Ok, good for you.

How often do you lose? How much? A lot?  Really?  Sounds like you might be losing more than you win.  Yeah, I know it’s just entertainment; after all, you’re not addicted, right?

Do you gamble with your life?  A risk-taker?  Do you jump out in front of moving traffic?  Do you play Russian roulette with your friends?  How about unprotected sex?  It’s just gambling, right?

Life is more than just a roll of the dice.  When you wake up in the morning, rolling those blocks of chance, giving the day’s promises to Lady Luck is going to guarantee one of three outcomes.  You will either win or you will lose or the day will wind up a wash-out. That’s just 1 in 3 chances of having a great day.

Try this instead.  Open your eyes, look around the room, appreciate the bed in which you slept comfortably,  and let the first words out of your mouth be a sincere “Thank you.  I am so greatly blessed.”

Monkey brain will attempt to engage.  Will you allow it?  Got to clean the bathroom, must call the pharmacy, need to get groceries, Johnny needs a clean shirt, the cat has fleas, North Korea is going to bomb us, the world is ending, I’ve got to vacuum the rugs…..”oh Lord I’m so weary already!”

STOP!  Don’t let monkey brain begin your day.  Instead, breathe in.  Air is rushing over your lungs, aerating the blood, pumping fresh life into your organs, bringing life to limbs.  Wiggle those toes, shake out the cramps from sleeping on your arm, wipe the sleepies from you eyes, hold that breath and then…..exhale.  Release the thoughts trying to capture your thinking, inhale again.  Exhale, inhale, exhale.  Envision your body parts waking up to a great new day.  Breathe in, then breathe out.

Now, you are ready to swing those legs out over the bed and rise to greet this day ahead of you.  Are you going to roll the dice?  No, of course not.  You will make this the best day ever, the beginning of the rest of your life.  Imagine how you want to enjoy today.  Have a cup of coffee or tea on the patio listening to the melody of songbirds in the nearby oak trees.  Watch the mother duck leading her hatchlings to the pond.  Become amazed by the roses sharing their aroma in the morning air.  Are you feeling it yet?  Life is wonderful and a great day lies ahead.

Of course, if you would rather roll your dice, go for it.  Read the morning headlines, turn up the volume of the TV.  Fuss at Johnny for not putting his dirty shirt in the laundry.  Scold the cat for being a cruise ship for fleas.  Yell at your spouse for being such a slob in the bathroom.  It’s your choice.  Roll the dice and hope for the best or give the day a fighting chance to be terrific by waking up to the splendor that surrounds your life.

Wasn’t it Erma Bombeck who wrote, “If life is a bowl of cherries, what am I doing in the pits?”  And remember what Confucius said?   “When life gives you a bunch of lemons, make lemonade.”

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IT’S A GREAT DAY! – a gift for you

and it’s yours for the taking
Picture40Nobody else can have your day.  Only you can embrace it.  Look today’s you in the face and say, “You are wonderful,  I love you.”

So, what will you do with your day?  Welcome it?  Cherish it?  Live it minute by minute?  Enjoy it?  Love it?  Make it the 1st day of the rest of your life?  Or maybe you will make today the best day ever.

The options are breath-taking.  Wake up and greet the sun or sit on your porch and watch the raindrops dancing in the backyard puddles.  Pull on those sneakers and sweats for a jog around the neighborhood or savor a cup of coffee as you read a few verses of poetry.  Greet your spouse with a hug and smile or pull the cat onto your lap and listen to the serenade of purring?  It’s your day – what are you going to do with it?

The choices are yours!  Not everybody has a choice.  The ability to choose is life’s golden ticket.  It is the passport to enduring contentment and joy.  There was a time, for many of us, picking up a drug or a drink was not optional.  We had to do it.  That substance controlled every moment of the day.  Planning for it, anticipating it, relishing the 1st one of the day was routine behavior.  Many “normals” considered us morally weak and socially depraved, usually we agreed.  Drinking and drugging was not a choice we enjoyed.  It was a disease which opened each day with regret and led us into thoughts and behaviors which disgusted us.  But, we had no choice.  Finally a reprieve was offered.

Today, as you swing your legs out of bed, thank your Higher Power that this morning is different.  This new day has infinite possibilities.  Look at yourself in your mirror, gaze into your eyes and bathe in the realization that you are a wonderful creation with unlimited potential.  You are perfect and worthy just as you are.  That universal energy, which some call Higher Power, God, Allah, the One, would not have it any other way.  Bathe in the reflection of a man/woman who is loved by an indescribable and undefinable, omnipotent and compassionate essence which surges through every creature and every organism of this earth.  Take it in, stop for a minute and think about this moment.  You are loved beyond human comprehension.

Today is yours.  Don’t waste it dragging in baggage from yesterday’s mistakes.  Don’t squander today’s precious hours worrying about tomorrow’s problems.  If you are here, now, reading these words, then you have been given another chance to do more than just survive.  It is your destiny to thrive.  Smile at the sunrise, embrace the fresh morning air, raise your hands up to welcome the limitless universe into your day.  It’s a great day and it belongs to you.
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grace that’s amazing

 

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“Pretty danged froggy.  Better than I deserve to be.”

As a teenager, I worked with my grandfather on his farm.  One of his hired hands, Bill, several years older than me, was a simple sort of fellow with a wisdom far beyond his age.  When someone asked Bill how he was doing today, he always replied, “Pretty danged froggy.  Better than I deserve to be.”

Isn’t that true for most of us in recovery?  We haven’t won awards for civic accomplishments, we failed in our relationships, and we certainly missed the “citizen of the year” bus.  But, for reasons beyond our understanding, grace and mercy were extended to us, we latched on to a miracle, and our lives were transformed.

“Amazing grace
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost
But now I’m found
Was blind, but now I see.”

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Well, I never!

old codger

In high school junior class, “Well, I never,” became one of those responses to just about every situation that caused one to raise an eyebrow or melt in shame.  The math teacher assigns 2 hours of homework for homecoming weekend – “well, I never.”  Our English teacher assigns 3 hours of reading for the night – “well, I never.”  My girlfriend tells me she’s pregnant – “WELL, I NEVER.”  I relate my generation’s words to the recently popular, “Shut up.”  Yeah, thankfully, what was cool years ago like, “cool, daddyo,” and “friggin far out,” wear out and the younger hip dudes and dudettes come up with their own lingo.  OK, OK, forgive my lack of current jargon literacy, I don’t interact with many young people.

But, it was, in my days of being cool,  just an expression of exasperation over something another person said or did.  And it caught on in junior class to the point that even junior high kids were using  it.  Of course to us hip cats in junior class that meant that another response needed to be found.  “Well, I never,” was just so not cool anymore.

Later in life, after years of self-flagellation at the hands of alcohol, when sobriety became a matter of life or death, we heard the “I nevers,” many times at our recovery tables.  I never cheated on my spouse, I never stole from my employer, I never beat up on my lover, I never hurt the kids, I never wrecked my car, I never swore at my dad, I never murdered anyone, I never, I never, I never.  And the correct response to all those “I nevers” was a resounding, “not yet.”

Go back out for more field research, hang out in my favorite bars, start feeling sorry for myself and that I never list will dwindle.”  Many sober drunks became again drinking drunks and did things they boasted would never happen.  Their I never list shrank.  Some died chasing down remaining items on their list.

I don’t tempt the statistics.  If those numbers prove that hanging out with the wrong people in the wrong places doing the wrong things reduces my chances of staying sober than I will not put my sobriety in jeopardy.  When my friends argue with me that I have been sober a long time and not an alcoholic anymore, “Go ahead have a glass of wine,” then I am in a dangerously precarious situation.  When I am tempted to forget my last drunk and my last car wreck and my last blackout, then I need to get on my knees and turn it all over one more time to the God of my understanding.

That same God says in the Book of Hebrews in chapter 13, verse 5:

“I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

That’s an “I never” to which I will nail my sobriety.  How about you?

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O COME, O COME, EMMANUEL

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.

O come, O branch of Jesse’s stem, unto your own and rescue them! From depths of hell your people save, and give them victory o’er the grave. 

O come, O King of nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind.  Bid all our sad divisions cease and be yourself our King of Peace.

Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Immanuel shall come to you, O Israel.

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“Victory o’er the grave?”  Is it possible?  Absolutely!  Ask any addict who has been saved from the hell of his/her addiction, the death sentence of a spiritual abyss, and you will be told,  “Yes, yes, yes!  I have been raised from my personal hell on earth, my living grave, and we, my Higher Power and I, are victorious over death.”

That is what the gift of Immanuel, the spirit of God made incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, has done for mankind.  This is an inexhaustible gift which can never be used up, discarded, put in the attic, or trashed before next Christmas.  But, it can be repurposed and shared with other hungry, dying souls.  I like sharing gifts.  How about you?

“Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?”    1 Corinthians 15:55

O come, O come, Immanuel

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Jesus in disguise

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest beckoning me.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and mercy will follow me.

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“Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger………

The fiercely defiant woman holding her travel bag refuses to release the arm of a small child, her 6 year-old son.  Guards surrounding her now, she screams profanities at the men who are attempting to take the child from her.  They understand her Spanish words and react more harshly to accomplish the mission of the border agents.  Since three days before, when a new government directive ordered that children crossing the border with their families be separated from parents  and confined for further relocation, detention centers were created from abandoned retail centers to house the detainees.  Within those buildings fenced cages housed the children.  Their only offense was escaping with their parents from hostile and dangerous conditions wrought by political and social turmoil in their native homeland.  They sought to start anew in a land they perceived as a place of opportunity and freedom.

………or needing clothes or sick in prison…….

Since going into hiding on 6 July 1942 with her parents and sister in concealed rooms behind a book case, the young girl remembers a previous life of respectability and shared community in the Netherlands.  A gifted writer, she passes her time keeping a diary.  They are joined later by the van Pels family and Mr. Pfeffer, a dentist.  The eight of them share the cramped quarters for two years.

Then on 4 August 1944, “Shhhhh, they are here, don’t move,” whispers their father.  The noises and sounds of footsteps grow closer and the Gestapo storms the door which has concealed their whereabouts, their hiding place.

On 3 September 1944, Anne, her sister Margot and their parents Otto and Edith were boarded on a cattle train to their final destination at Auschwitz where the Nazi government’s solution to the disposition of unwanted elements in Aryan society was carried out.  The men were separated from the women by the SS. Those deemed able to work were admitted to the camp; those deemed unfit including children under 15 years of age were sent directly to the gas chambers.  Of the 1019 passengers on that train, 549 were immediately dispatched to death. Mother Edith died later of starvation, Anne and Margot died of typhus.  Father Otto survived the death camp.  He returned to Amsterdam where, having received his daughter’s diary and notes from a friend, he realized the significance of Anne’s writings and proceeded to publish them.

……and did not help you?”

His half-frozen body hangs from the fence crossing the barrenness of the cold October prairie.  Small in stature, boyish in appearance, he has been brutally beaten and left to die by his abductors.  It is many hours after the assault before he is discovered and rushed to a nearby hospital, where he will die six days later from severe head injuries.  A bright young man, fellow students remember him as a friendly face in the college classroom where he has attended classes.

Stories detailed the events leading up to his death.  Some wanted to believe it was a drug deal gone bad, others said it was a hate crime directed at his sexual orientation.  In the end analysis, it truly did not matter to his mother and loved ones what reasons were responsible.  The boy was brutalized and left hanging on a fence in Wyoming to die.

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for the least of these…..

The man standing on the corner holding his tattered cardboard sign looks longingly at motorists passing by hoping that someone will roll down the car window and pass enough money to him to feed his growling stomach.  Nobody stops.  They don’t seem to notice.  He reflects on the times he also was that motorist who ignored beggars standing on the corner with their cardboard signs.  The times back then were better.  He had a job and a family who depended on him, loved him.  But, addiction stole all of that, made him an unbathed, ragged homeless man who now lives in the nearby woods with others like him.  Different stories to tell, but all of them now hungry and destitute.

…..you did not do for me.”  Matthew 25:44

I open my eyes in a sweat-soaked bed, my pulse racing.  I recognize the man with the sign on the corner in my dream.  It is me.  I recognize the motorists passing by ignoring the man’s needs.  They also are me.

I am the one who stands along the rail tracks leading to Auschwitz wondering where the human cargo is heading, knowing where they are going, too frightened to be involved.

I am the border guard seizing the child from his mother.  My conscience tells me this is not right, but I have a family to support, I need the job.

I am the one who watches the frail boy being bullied after gym class.  They are calling him a sissy, a wimp.  I watch as the bigger boys punch and poke him.  They make fun of him because he is different.  I turn and go to my next class not wanting to be the next target for their taunts and abuse.

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

ELIE WIESEL