love, joy, peace

Like most people, I love gifts.  As a little boy, Christmas morning was a delightful time with family unwrapping the treasures given and received.  Being a member of a farming family and enduring the vagaries of farm income, some Christmases found nothing moretannenbaum than simple gifts of necessities under the tree.  Underwear, socks, toothpaste and brush were just as much appreciated in those years as were the toys and shiny bicycle in the prosperous years.

No matter the financial  status, always the Christmas spirit, the reason for the season was the prevailing theme of our celebration.  The act of giving was predominant.  Receiving a nice present was cool, but we were taught who and why we were celebrating.  That mindset was a prelude to maturing in a community of like-minded farm folks.  Life was enjoyed in very simple ways and the gifts of a loving God were not taken lightly.

It seems much has changed in America.  The biggest, brightest, most expensive gifts fill the kitchen with new appliances, the den with a 60″ widescreen, the driveway with a new Mercedes, and closets with brand new designer clothes.  Most often the holiday decorations glamorize Santa Claus, snowmen, and Disney characters.  Rarely do I see a crèche or angels on front lawns and certainly not at the county courthouse as I remember from my boyhood community.  Times have changed.  Jesus, the babe celebrated in the book of Matthew, is no longer center stage in our festivities.  His presence is no longer America’s reason for the season.

Jesus, the greatest gift-giver of all time, is relegated to candlelight services on Christmas Eve and nice music on the radio.  The giant retailers which pumped our heads full of pre-Christmas sales events and materialistic dreams of unaffordable gift ideas take a breather on the holiday only to return with a vengeance after Christmas Day to once again entice us into more debt buying the “must-have”, discounted unsold merchandise.

It’s a scam!  Americans have been hoodwinked into spending billions of dollars to create a sense of “peace on earth, goodwill to men” when that peace and goodwill are free for the asking from the greatest gift-giver ever to walk this earth.  Just ask.  Just seek.  Just knock.  It’s all there in one neat, readily available package and it costs nothing other than a willingness to open the door to the One who dispenses love and compassion as eternal gifts.

7“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”  Matthew 7:7-8

Love, joy, and peace are the 1st three of the fruits of the Spirit detailed in Galatians 5:22-23.  They are internal gifts which will be realized when walking this journey with God as a constant companion.  They were made incarnate in the character of Jesus as depicted in our Christian Scriptures.  They are attainable elements of a life surrendered to thechristmas emoji 3 grace of an almighty God.  This is not just a fairy tale or myth.  Jesus is truth given not only at Christmas but every day of the year to those willing to ask, seek, and knock.  Try it.  Those shiny presents under the tree will fade quickly.  The gift of Jesus will not!

 

 

 

the orange tree

Let’s talk about fruit.  I love the fragrance when the orange tree out back pops into bloom around late February.  Slowly the little green orbs grow into full-sized oranges packed with exquisite citrus juiciness and flavor by Christmas.  But, they don’t do this on their own volition.  A combination of weather, feeding, pruning, and TLC are necessary for healthy growth.  A good orange tree can become an unsightly, disease-laden, out-of-control member of an otherwise beautiful landscape.  It then loses its premier status in the yard needing to be either cut down or replenished.orange tree 2

Like my orange tree in the yard, I need to be replenished daily with TLC from the Master Gardener.  I must go to the well and drink of the clear, fresh water every day and read the verses that supply spiritual food.  Otherwise I will become unsightly, diseased and bare of fruit.  My orchard becomes useless if it cannot provide spiritual food for me and comfort to  those whom God has put into my life’s journey.

“I will lift mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.  My help cometh from the lord, which made heaven and earth.”  Psalm 121: 1-2

Without that help I will not grow and flourish.  I will wither and die unless I submit to the indwelling Spirit of God which teaches and guides. Just like the untended orange tree, my spirit’s fruit will be bitter and useless if I fail to give it some of God’s TLC regularly.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”  Galatians 5:22-23orange tree

 

Meister Eckhart

“Meister Eckhart, the German Dominican mystic (c. 1260-c.1328), said that spirituality has much more to do with subtraction than it does with addition. [1] Yet our culture, both secular and Christian, seems obsessed with addition: getting rich, becoming famous, earning more brownie points with God or our boss, attaining enlightenment, achieving moral behavior. Jesus and the mystics of other traditions tell us that the spiritual path is not about getting more or getting ahead, which only panders to the ego. Authentic spirituality is much more about letting go—letting go of what we don’t need, although we don’t know that at first.” cac.orgCANDLE

When’s the last time you had a yard sale?  For one or two days we dust off all those necessities which have been stored away in the attic or garage and make a decision that we no longer need them.  Many of our cherished keepsakes are simply not worth keeping.  They are not heirlooms, they do not enhance our lives, and they likely will not be the cash cows we had hoped they would be.

It’s a cleansing endeavor which adds a few bucks to the household pantry budget, sweeps out the dark corners of our houses, and declutters prime storage spaces.  For the cost of a few hours of our time we receive the realization that material things are not really all important and we recognize how they can actually clutter our daily routines.

Ahhh, you’re way ahead of me; you see where this is going, don’t you?  Yes, my spiritual life also needs to occasionally have a yard sale.  Meister Eckhart agrees.  Today, I am serious about my Quest to become the man my Higher Power would have me be.  By God’s grace I now have the willingness and sincerity of heart to make a difference in this world.  I have realized my need for a Shepherd.  I took my sorry butt to the altar and begged for renewal and, miraculously, the trash which I had called ‘my life’ became another voice calling out of the darkness.  Sobriety grabbed me off the beach of drunkenness and said, “Follow me.  I will make you a fisher of men.”

But, my humanness continues to have a need to feed the ego which drives me.  I am still broken in many places and I often look to the place within which has served me well in the past.  I continue to accumulate unfounded fears, I harbor resentments, I entertain unhealthy thoughts, and I resort to anger.  These character defects have been a part of me for many years, they have gathered dust in my brain, and they have become the unnecessary yard sale stuff in my attic which regularly needs a housecleaning.

My humanness also leads me to want to gather favor with God, to think I can influence God’s opinion of me, and to believe my works will put me in better standing with God.  My humanness drives me to look upward for enlightenment believing it is a condition to be attained, a place in the heavens where God will love me more than here on earth.  My humanness continues to try to deceive me.

It’s tough to accept that less is more in my spiritual life.  Emptying out one’s self is serious internal work because my ego enjoys the religious traditions, the church doctrines, and the hymns of worship.  But, that’s all icing on the cake, tasty but not necessary.  Emptying out is like a twinkling star on the horizon, a newly discovered truth to be followed,  a way of life to be embraced.  It’s somewhat like the story which tells of the appearance of Jesus in Bethlehem.  He replaced everythingsmiley 3 which the Jewish people thought they needed in life to attain salvation in heaven.  They had a rich tradition, but, it was not necessary and eventually led to stuffed attics and bulging garages.

“do something”

“To repeat, if God operates as me, God operates as thee too, and the playing field is utterly leveled forever. Like Jesus, Francis, Clare, and many other humble mystics, we then rush down instead of up. In the act of letting go and choosing to become servants, community can at last be possible. The illusory state of privilege just gets in the way of neighboring and basic human friendship.” CAC.ORGCANDLE

Father Richard, in this daily meditation, begins by discussing his upbringing within the community of white privilege, the favoritism shown to whites, the status of higher education, numerous challenges which whites do not endure and which non-whites face on a daily basis.  It is truly a different world for those of us who walk the earth in this life as Caucasian.

When I realized and accepted within my heart the truth of “Namaste, I bow to the divine in you,” the Spirit within would no longer cover my inbred white privilege.  It refused to entertain all the excuses I held for my bias and prejudices.  It forced me to look upon my brothers and sisters whom God created in various shades and hues as beings loved just as much by the Creator as me.  I no longer had an excuse to trivialize the plight of people of color.  Our “white” world via politics and extremist religions has demeaned, ostracized, brutalized, and oppressed those children of God and it is my challenge as a white man to make restitution.

In order to do so, Father Richard exhorts me to take the route of ancient mystics who, rather than aspiring to rise toward a perceived heavenly God, focused  downward and joined the suffering and oppressed masses living on the edge of survival in an ungodly world.  That is where true obedience will be found, where salvation shall be experienced, and ultimately where the living Jesus dwells.

Most of my life has been spent anticipating the great white mansions in the far reaches of the Universe where God and Jesus sit side by side on their thrones waiting for me to arrive for my final judgement.  (Incidentally, both of them in my past have been “white boys”.)  I no longer wait for that occurrence because the truth as revealed to me, the GOD OF MY UNDERSTANDING, is right here, right now living in the hearts of all humanity regardless of race, religion, nationality or creed.  I must now choose on a daily basis whether to commune with God and his indwelling truth or return to a denial of that truth.  It’s very simple theology; it is awe-inspiring and breath-taking.

The path which I walk has been tortuous and twisted.  I have endured the full spectrum of faith experiences from belief in a God who was vindictive and vengeful, to a God who was aloof and unapproachable, to an errant acceptance of atheism, to the revealing grace experienced in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Even during my period of strident atheism, I came to realize that my denial of God’s existence only  fortified that his existence was real; otherwise, why would I expend so much energy denying him.  If God is dead, then I should probably take up knitting or crocheting doilies instead of rallying with the oppressed masses or with a suffering alcoholic in forging a better world.  If God is dead, then I would need to depend on the “goodness” of mankind to save us from physical and spiritual destruction.  I can’t do that because goodness is not inherent, it is derived from a Source.

Matthew West in a very powerful song questioned a God who would allow all the suffering endured by mankind, “God, why don’t you do something?”  The reply from his Lord was, “I did, I created you.”  I was created to do something, but it all happens through and by the grace and direction of a Higher Power.smiley 3

 

Atheist & Agnostic

CANDLE

I have many friends in real life and in the blogosphere who follow the path of atheism and agnosticism.  I respect their choices and refuse to view my given path in life as “better than” or more spiritual.  What I have discovered is that the common thread in these friendships is mutual acceptance of the other person’s ideas.  No, a pursuit of evangelism and proselytism is not my cup of tea.  The fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous clearly states that it follows the concept of “attraction rather than promotion”.  That works for me.  If you like what you see in me and want to know more, than I will fill your ears for hours with the truth which has discovered me in some of the darkest corners of my life.

One of my blogger friends posts daily about his spiritual walk.  From the first time I read his writing I felt drawn to what he was saying and wanted to hear more.  Mike’s NEW HOPE FOR DRY BONES approach is somewhat different from mine, but his message rings clearly about his faith and love for Jesus.  I like that.  Recently, I’ve come to realize that the most salient thing about Mike’s stuff is that he never preaches.  It is always about his experience, strength, and hope.  I trust folks who share themselves rather than preach morality and righteousness.  Jesus did not preach. He was accorded the title of teacher, not preacher. According to the scriptures of Christianity, he walked with the common people, he shared their sorrows and joys, he hurt when they hurt, he partied with them, but he also shared the joy, wisdom, and freedom of a spiritual kingdom.  He was extraordinarily honest and self-less in the world of hypocrisy followed by the Jewish hierarchy.

I suppose this is why I love recovery programs.  They attract real people with real problems.  I cry with them and I grieve with them.  We console and instruct.  But, we also live joyously a new life with a renewed spirit.  Then, if we choose to do so, we can navigate the waters of spirituality, commune with people of varying understandings, and receive the blessings of a loving and compassionate Higher Power in a colorful array of worship and celebration.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.”  Psalm 51:10smiley 3

 

 

humbled

“a clear recognition of what and who we really are, followed by a sincere attempt to become who we could be.”  Bill W. 12 AND 12 pg 58cropped-brilliance.png

Bill Wilson’s definition of humility can be extremely difficult if I try to cover it with my old ideas about being humble.  I don’t want to be weak.  I don’t want to be submissive.  I don’t want to turn the other cheek.  Humility is not the American way.  We are proud, strong, and invincible.  Then I take a look at my flawed condition and my brokenness.  “Yeah, and look where your pride has taken you,” a voice inside says to me.

That inventory which we are guided to do early in recovery can be a very excruciating experience when we go into it honestly with courage.  I shuddered at the list of transgressions and defects which had to be shared later with God and another person.  I did not want anyone to know my deepest, darkest secrets.  Exposing myself like that would shatter the self-image I presented to the world.  “Yeah, and look where that image has taken you.”  Damn that voice inside.

“His admission is the beginning of humility – at least the newcomer is willing to disclaim that he himself is God.”  Bill W. AS BILL SEES IT pg 191, from a letter of 1966

“a clear recognition of what and who we really are….”  Like most newcomers to the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, I had lived a life apart from the concept of God.  Some of us never knew God, some of us refuted the God which we knew.  When my new sober friends advised that initially the group itself could be the greater power necessary to begin me on the road to recovery, I cautiously accepted that idea.  I had no choice.  My way was described as ‘self-will run riot’ and I had to reluctantly agree.

I love Bill Wilson’s connection between Higher Power and humility.  It tells me that I am not in charge, that I am not in control, that I am not God.  And Bill goes on to say “this is the beginning of humility.”  In my active alcoholism, I had never given credence to the thought of not being the master of my life.  It was an alien idea and totally un-American.

I am not God.  When the miracle of Alcoholics Anonymous is undertaken with this understanding, the 12 steps are not a daunting, unpleasant experience, especially steps 4 and 5.  I am humbled in a fellowship which advocates honesty and courage.  Sober living becomes second nature because I am no longer forced by ethic or tradition to be the man in charge.  No, I don’t control the miracle happening.  I am still a work in progress.  I am still flawed and broken.  But today I know a Higher Power who can heal and fix me.

“Humble yourselves therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”  1 Peter 5:6

namaste rainbow