what do you see?

Where do you go for comfort, reassurance, consolation?  In our past lives many of us found our fix sitting on a honky-tonk barstool listening to jukebox favorites as we watered down our drinks with tears while sharing sad stories with the unwitting stranger sitting next to us.  We always had misery and heartbreak riding on our shoulders and, unfailingly, it was never our fault, was it?

This will not be a war story, there are millions just like mine; rather, it’s a testimony of personal victory gained through the power of Alcoholics Anonymous, the dedicated people sitting around the tables of a recovery meeting, and the grace of a God as I understood God.  Trust me, in those early days, understanding God was a challenging proposal because in 1981 at my first AA meeting, a more strident atheist than I could not be found.  “Don’t talk to me about God, don’t expect me to pray, don’t give me any God literature.  All I want out of this group is to learn how not to drink or, even better, to learn how to drink socially like my buddies.”

The first 90 days were a long and tedious journey through numerous nail-biting nights of sheer terror fearing the old demons would reclaim me.  But also, bringing me back to the tables day after day and night after night (yes, I was one of those freaks who did at least 2 meetings daily) was the promise from others in the rooms and from the Big Book that I too could get better, that even for me there was hope.

One of those AA guys with a no-nonsense demeanor which I admired took me aside one night and suggested that I use g.o.d. as my higher power until I became ready and willing to consider a sober-minded understanding of God.  Good Orderly Direction served me well for the time necessary to clear the alcoholic fog from my brain and explore the joys and promises of a developing spirituality.

The time from then to now is my story, a fantasy trip surpassing any drunk or any high I ever experienced prior to sobriety.  It has been filled with absolute joy and unbearable sorrow, heights of fulfillment and lows of abject despair, moments of awe and days of drudgery.  Guess what?  That’s life.  It is the same as it always was – suffering sprinkled with joy and peace. But, today I don’t have to sit on a barstool crying in my beer.  I am changed.  Me, a few good friends, and g.o.d. can handle anything that comes along.

Not surprisingly, comfort and strength can be found visiting with an old friend.  I find sustaining reassurance through many of the foundational hymns and verses learned as a young boy, but rejected later in life as lies and deceit.  Today, I am an integral part of the stories and songs I remember.  I am the prodigal son, I am the doubting Thomas, I am the denying Peter, I suffer with Jesus on his cross.  These are my friends from years ago who have taken new meaning in a spiritual awakening.

Sobriety does not force us to find religion, to profess creeds, to do weekly confessional.  Sobriety does, however, expect that we will surrender to a Higher Power and pursue changed perspectives.   An aspect of those changed perspectives is our approach to worldly things.  Especially in today’s tumultuous social and political atmosphere, the words of Helen Lemmel, a writer and hymnist who lived 1863 to 1961, urges us to turn our eyes upon Jesus (an old friend), look full in his wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.  

Don’t need to worship, don’t need to adhere to any particular faith walk, don’t need to bow to any deity – just know the story of Jesus of Nazareth, his life and work, his compassion.  Then look upon that as a path to living life soberly in spiritual comfort and reassurance.  Perspectives will change when the things of earth grow strangely dim.

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Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace

Through death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow him there

Helen Howarth Lemmel

Turn your eyes

Turn your eyes upon Jesus.  Look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.   HELEN H. LEMMEL 1922

Follow the link above for the full lyrics.  Tonight ends one of the days when I am tired, I should go to bed and call it a “done” day, but I am resisting because I need reassurance that the sadness which I feel, the disappointment which envelopes me, the fears which intimidate me are not the last thoughts that I will have should tonight bring my final breath in this life.  We septuagenarians consider these things, we don’t take another tomorrow for granted.  Just as my financial affairs are in order, my final life directives are written and my best friends know I love them, it is also important that spiritual concerns are addressed – every night.

Remember our bedtime prayer when we were kids:

Now I lay me down to sleep; I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

If I should die before I wake; I pray the Lord my soul to take.

The day went well; it was productive.  I kept an appointment, exercised, read a few chapters, did the daily chores consisting of sweeping the floors, washing the dishes, and cleaning out the litter boxes.  Nothing of a negative nature happened.  But, tonight I enter the late hours of the day feeling detached and subdued, lonely and unimportant.

“The things of earth” annoy me, challenge me, make me angry.  My primary response is to cocoon into a safer, more comfortable world.  I’m tired.  I want to take my old-fashioned ideals and my sense of decency far away into a land where butterflies flit and hummingbirds hum in carefree abandon, a land where the only chore for the day is sniffing the roses in the garden.  I’m tired.

 

Helen Lemmel

CANDLE

I encounter a number of people who do not want to hear “Jesus” in the conversation.  It’s as if a brain wave has a fart and immediately odorizes the thought patterns.  I understand their reaction and I can’t take offense because they often equate Jesus with religion and the Christian Church.  But, consider this.  Does Christianity need Jesus to validate its existence?  Yes, of course.  The theology is thick with the virgin birth, the man/God, the divinity, the crucifixion, and the resurrection.  Without those elements , it would be just another minor, extremist sect.

Does the living Jesus need Christianity?  Absolutely not.  Leave theology out of the Christian walk and what remains is the man who has eternally been a voice for tolerance, love, and compassion; he remains a champion of the world’s disenfranchised and oppressed.  Unfortunately, as in Jesus’ earth life, the dogma and doctrines of some of today’s hypocritical religious institutions are crucifying that unifying voice.  They have disguised the power of the universal almighty Sovereign and one of its messengers, Jesus of Nazareth, and have defined that power as a vindictive, intolerant code of laws.

The historicity of Jesus of Nazareth has been studied, argued, and disputed by scholars who have devoted a lifetime to this undertaking.  Some reference the writings of a Jewish historian, Josephus, who mentions Jesus, a worker of incredible acts and a teacher.  Other scholars dispute this paragraph in the writing of Josephus saying it was inserted at a later time.  Some scholars note that the time span of the writings later defined as the Gospels by Christianity point to historical accuracy.  More recently the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi scriptures give further credence to the belief that Jesus was a  historical fact.  It doesn’t matter if the man called Jesus was a living being in ancient Israel.  The legacy he created, the legacy attributed to him is sufficient to lead me through the valleys of darkness and despair and the lion pits of life.  It is more than sufficient to set me on the highest mountain and soar with the eagles.  Martin Luther King, Jr. and I have been to the mountain top; we have seen the promised land.

The bottom line is that none of us knows with certainty whether the Christian Church has nailed the truth with its theology.  Karl Marx called religion….”the sigh of the oppressed creature….the heart of a heartless world.”  He also named religion as the opioid of the masses.  karl marx

In a world overrun with physical and psychological brokenness, is there anything wrong with a spiritual opioid?  Perhaps not.  “The heart of a heartless world” strikes a chord within me.  I have experienced the joy of communal worship, the escape from a heartless world afforded by my religious tradition.  As in the realm of pharmaceuticals, a spiritual opioid used as intended can be a tremendous pain reliever.  Used indiscreetly, it can become a vicious master and enslaver intent on destruction.

I need a doctor in my life to fix my brokenness, a physician who can prescribe a faith walk which will enhance my solidarity with all mankind, not just the ones who look, think, talk, smell, and worship like me.  I need a shepherd who will lead me into pastures of inclusiveness and tolerance, not thorn-filled fields with noxious weeds.  I need Jesus in my life, not to make me more religious, but to create me in a new image, a transformed version of the old Larry.

Here’s a verse from Helen Lemmel’s song which has renewed my spirit innumerable times when I feared being swamped  by a heartless world:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace. 

Helen Lemmel 1863-1961

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