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

 

 

fear

smiley-face-2Just 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.

“….So false pride became the reverse side of the ruinous coin marked ‘FEAR’.  We simply had to cover up our deep-lying inferiorities.”  AS BILL SEES IT, Bill Wilson, pg. 46

Often, I have heard “fear” defined as the absence of love.  In acts of unconditional compassion and love, there is no thought given to the “what if” moment.  What if this person is scamming me, what if that homeless man intends to harm me, what if my spouse is cheating on me, what if I lose my life trying to help my friend, etc.?  The list of “what ifs” can be endless.  They will control who I am and undermine my commitment to be fearless and thorough in all my actions.  Fear will always keep me from realizing my full potential as a person in recovery.

In addition to concerns about physical safety, which are healthy in certain situations involving the unknown intentions of people I encounter, fear has always been a tool used to hide my deep-lying inferiorities.  Having endured bullying at the hands of “the big kids” in junior high school, I convinced myself that, yes, the names those boys used were accurate.  I was everything they called me and I was inferior to “normal” guys.  I learned how to fend for myself, not by fighting back which would be against the faith in which my family raised me, but by justifying the self-hatred growing inside me.  I deserved their attacks because I was ugly, I was stupid, I was a coward.

My driving response to life became fear.  Fear that friends would not like me if they saw that which I saw inside of me.   I despised myself and therefore expected others would also feel that way when they came to know the “real” me.  I learned very effectively to present a persona completely contrary to the insecure man into whom I had grown.  Alcohol aided that deception tremendously.  Under the control of my demon, I eventually believed the lies I portrayed about myself.  Honesty was replaced by justified lying.

Fear, fueled by alcohol, led me into a life of torturing self-doubt and an inability to form any semblance of intimacy with another person.  When that possible mate reached a point which required absolute commitment, Larry bailed out.  My fear refused to accept that any other person could love me unconditionally.  How could they?  I certainly could not love me because I despised whom I was.  How could anyone love me?

Fear, consoled by alcohol, took me to a place where the walls were high and the moat was filled with emotional tools to protect myself from the intrusions of life.  I refused to participate in those events which brought joy and camaraderie to other people.  I convinced myself that they did not truly want me to be a part of their lives.  I resorted to my indwelling unworthiness to seclude and detach.  My concept of happiness was living in a cave of a cliff-side monastery baking bread and meditating on the meaning of life.

Fear, having consumed every second of life, finally brought me to a personal ultimatum.  It said to me, “You are worthless, you are useless, you are a failure, you should probably die.”

The absence of self-love in my existence was preparing the final victory for fear.  It was a demoralizing moment in an alcoholic’s life.  My constant companion, alcohol, had taken me to a place where human determination and self-will could no longer hide me.  There were no more places where I could run and continue life.

So, when I remember and when I tell others about the miraculous intervention of a Higher Power at that point in this alcoholic’s life, I joyously give all the credit to a God and a fellowship which loved me more than I had ever been able to love myself.  And guess what?  That love eventually rubbed off on me.  From my deepest insecurities flowed a healthy self-awareness of whom I really was.  From the self-loathing came an appreciation for the person God had discovered within me.  From the loneliness of a self-imposed cave on a cliff-side sprung a home among millions of brothers and sisters who had also been saved from lives of despair and worthlessness.

“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right Spirit within me.”  Psalm 51:10

It required a thorough, internal house-cleaning  and a complete restoration to bring the demon alcohol into submission and defeat.  The praise and the victory belong to a commitment to sober-living, the power of God as I understand God, and the fellowship of like-minded survivors.  If you are sober today, give yourself a hand.

clapping

 

me, a thistle?

“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.”smiley 3

I am a thistle.  Most of you have seen me growing undisturbed in an abandoned farm field or along a country lane.  The neighboring farmer thinks I’m just another noxious weed needing to be destroyed, but, I know better.  Like the crops which he grows, I have a purpose in this life because I am part of God’s creation.  If you have ever observed me while in full bloom, you will see the multitude of bees, butterflies and birds that come to partake of my sweet nectar.  Additionally, the beauty of my purple blossom is beyond comparison in the places which I grace.  I am useful and I am beautiful.

My velvety leaves protect me from those who would try to uproot me and place me in another location.  My spiny leaf tips give notice to those who would prefer to see me elsewhere that I am just fine where I am growing.  I know my purpose in God’s grand plan and I am destined to fulfill that purpose exactly where I am placed.  As with my neighbor, the dandelion, many would rather see us eradicated than appreciate the beauty and sustenance inherent in us.  But, both of us are hardy and undeterred by man’s plan to eliminate us.  We will grow in places which orchids and tomatoes dare not consider.

Of course, I have been at times envious of the beauties growing in the farmer’s manicured vegetable garden and yard.  Who wouldn’t want to be the star attraction, the luscious orange carrot or red beet in the garden, the multi-colored petunia or geranium gracing the front yard?  We all, at one point, aspire to greater appreciation.  But, that chase is futile for a thistle can never be a tomato.  A thistle can only hope to be the best thistle ever to grow in God’s creation.  I’m OK with that.  Are you?

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Oprah

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

namaste rainbowWhat thoughts come to your mind upon hearing “Oprah Winfrey”?

Class, grace, soul, empathy, justice, survivor, wealth, power, elegance, intelligence, creativity, renaissance?

Recently when visiting with Ellen, her response regarding a character-diminishing tweet from a political figure resulted in a mere shoulder shrug.  The world understood what she was saying and with that simple body language, Oprah positioned herself above the callous, uncivil, and immature tweet passing itself as political/social discourse.  She trumped her detractor with grace, elegance and non-engagement.

She has been quoted to say, “I try not to give power to negativity.”

In these tumultuous times, I need to heed Oprah’s wisdom.  I am the first one to jump feet first into a political foray.  That usually results in heated conversation which resolves nothing more than declaring them the “idiots” and me the “thinker”.  My mind wins the argument every time.  But, that victory comes with a price tag.  With each successive news story capturing my attention, the need to respond becomes an involuntary commitment to always be in “combat” mode.  It’s not a healthy mental nor physical condition to carry through out the day’s activity.  It colors every potential peaceful moment with anger and disgust.  I am giving power to all the world’s negativity even though I know this is not my God’s intention for my life.

The Buddhist tradition reminds us to find the quiet spaces within, to freely allow thoughts, positive and negative, to flow effortlessly into and out of our minds.  Do not resist any but, also,  do not dwell on any.  That is the power within which shapes our seconds, minutes, hours, days in this path called life.  It is my choice to surrender that power to negativity or goodness.

Certainly this does not dismiss us from the responsibilities of social justice for all mankind.  I have not been called to retreat to hillside caves on a Greek island, baking bread for the brothers and chanting verses throughout the day, although this is often an extremely beckoning option.  I know who I am today, I know what political action I will support, I know what my vote will be in upcoming elections, but learning to embrace Oprah’s advice will allow me to be “who I am” in a peaceful, self-empowering, soul-nurturing walk through life.

 

go and proclaim

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

Not going into the world and proclaiming is not an option.  It does not matter that the world doesn’t want to hear.  Recovery is a life and a story.  What has been graciously given as a free gift is a message which needs to be shouted from the rooftops.

Recovery – not just an event, but a lifestyle that needs to be practiced 24/7

 

mercy

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

A key element in sobriety is forgiveness.  Bill W. comments that until I have completed a 4th step inventory and then gone on to a place of showing and accepting mercy, aka forgiveness, I will not understand or achieve sober-living.

The power in this act is that it is a mutual undertaking, it’s a two-way street.  I ask my Higher Power to forgive me, I ask those whom I have offended to forgive me through amends-making, but I also must forgive those who have injured me in any way by word or deed.

This is a facet of the powerlessness necessary to overcome self.  When I am able to accept the forgiveness of God and of other people, I am giving up that sense of pride which has been telling me that I’m better than mercy, I’m going to accept forgiveness on my terms.  “Self-will run riot” is quick to return to me unless I am vigilant.  God uses me best when I am fully powerless, when I am humble.  Humility is defined in the “Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions”, pg 58, as “….a clear recognition of what and who we really are, followed by a sincere attempt to become what we could be.”  Step 5’s admission of my defects to another human is a step toward humility.

“Withholding forgiveness is a form of power over another person, a way to manipulate, shame, control, and diminish another.” cac.org

That’s a convicting indictment of my unwillingness to forgive.  My Higher Power does not play that game and neither should I.  In retrospect, owning up to the control freak that I can be, I should not be surprised that accepting forgiveness from God or from others has been difficult.  I did not want to become powerless.  Grudges are a result of this unforgiveness.  Grudges justify my resentments, my need to be right, and my anger.  And, yes, I have held grudges, resentment, and anger toward God.  It’s part of my alcoholic personality.  It’s part of that old personality which refuses to accept responsibility for myself and my actions.

“But with the alcoholic, whose hope is the maintenance and growth of a spiritual experience, this business of harboring resentment is infinitely grave.  Bill W. AS BILL SEES IT , pg.5

Forgiveness is the gift of mercy in action.  I desire mercy but, I also need to extend it.  In the Beatitudes, the message of Jesus compacted into the book of Matthew 5: 3-11, the author says:

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”  

 

 

 

 

poor in spirit

If you, like I, went to Sunday School and VBS as a child, you probably memorized the 23rd Psalm, the Ten Commandments, and maybe the Beatitudes.  The eight short sayings of the Beatitudes give the core teachings of Jesus in a concentrated format.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” —Matthew 5:3

Oh, how I struggled with this one.  This proud country boy did not want to be “poor” in any way, shape or form when he grew up.  Although my family, as farmers, provided adequately for our needs, we could not afford the vacations other people took each summer nor the fancy new car every 2 years.  Fortunately, designer jeans were not a necessary fashion statement in high school in 1961 and most often I started the new school year with last year’s clothes augmented by new shoes or a new shirt.  Life was pretty good but, when I considered the first of the Beatitudes, this 13 year-old farm boy raised up a few secretive, quiet prayers, “Lord, anything but poor.  I don’t want to be poor.”

I believed for many years that when the pastor recited the first Beatitude, he forgot the last two words, “in spirit.”  A more likely scenario is that  I did not hear them because I was too enamored by the cute neighbor girl sitting beside me on the pew. I think that maybe I missed a lot of the things I needed to hear in church because I was distracted.  Whenever I heard “blessed are the poor,”  my mind pictured a crowd of people saved by grace mulling around heaven in tatters and rags.  What is so blessed about that?

I’m sure my boyhood pastor recited the Beatitude in full.  I simply was not ready to hear it in full just like so many other lessons and teachings from Jesus.  That could explain why for many years I stumbled through life filling my God hole with everything but God.  Ranging from alcohol to sex to pot to pornography to numerous other idolatries, I did not become ready to listen to all the words from Jesus until I was utterly defeated by my own life.  No enemy could have defeated me as soundly as I defeated myself.  Finally the sweet words of surrender filled my heart when I put some verses into that God hole.

“Be still and know that I am God.  I will be exalted….”  Psalm 46:10

“If the Son, therefore, will set you free, you shall be free indeed.” John 8:36

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

Those were the first verses I memorized.  And yes, I finally heard the full verse of Matthew 5:3.  It happened only when my mind understood “poor in spirit” to mean that I need to be fully open and receptive to Jesus, I need to find a state of nothingness  and then let Jesus fill the void.  I need to go to that space where there is only God.  When there I am as a beggar on the street seeking alms, begging for the bread of Life which feeds, the living waters which quench.  I have then been impoverished, made poor in spirit, and Jesus will relieve my poverty.

Sure, my mind still shuts down God’s space sometimes, fills it with junk.  My thinking says that I should pursue a spirituality based on knowledge, surety, certitude.  My ego begins reviewing the spiritual advancement, the learned theology, the numerous books, the good works.  I can very quickly become haughty and self-assured within my own religious arrogance.  But then, when I have suffered enough from running my own show, Jesus says, “Come back, you will find assurance in me.” cac.org

“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!  Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!” 

Frances J. Crosby 

CANDLE

 

 

RENEWAL

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Especially for those of us who belong to this club of recovering drinkers, involving ourselves in controversy carries a greater degree of risk than most of our friends and family.  In sobriety we become keenly aware of social injustice, of bigotry, and racism and we carry that concern into our daily lives sometimes with quite a negative effect upon our desire for ‘clean and serene’.

It’s a delicate balance we seek juggling a sense of civic responsibility with the peace we have found in our recovery program.  Sometimes, as in this election, we go overboard with the politicking.  After all, we are alcoholics.  We never did anything in moderation.

Whatever the outcome of our election might be, for most of us life will go on much as before.  We will work our jobs, pay our taxes, support our families, and give homage to our Higher Power.  It is, therefore, extremely crucial that we maintain our sense of priority.  For us, the humility described in the writings of Alcoholic Anonymous, “a clear recognition of what and who we really are, followed by a sincere attempt to become who we could be,” needs to become the focal point once again of our recovery.

Possibly a personal inventory and clean sweep is in order followed by a heart and mind renewal.