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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ADVENT-Psalm 18:2

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.

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“No matter how many Advent seasons sweep by, Lord, your reminders remain the same. Each tear we cry has a purpose. Each trying stage has a divine reason. And in your capable hands, each icy rain of adversity is transformed into the warmth and sparkle of your grace.”
~Edited from Janet Perez Eckles’ “3 Reasons to Dry Your Tears of Sadness at Christmas

IMMANUEL – “God with us”

This short writing from Janet Perez Eckles details the tears, the difficulties, and the challenges of a mother and wife facing blindness.  Her loss becomes unbearably painful during the Christmas season when the delightful sights of decorations and children opening presents sends her to the bedroom in tears.  Those joys of Christmas have been reduced to a gray blur.  Her ophthalmic condition is incurable.  Yet Janet finds comfort in her Lord’s capable hands.

This mother’s loss of vision is a physical reality.  It is challenging, difficult, and disheartening.  But, her salvation lies in spiritual vision, the ability to go deep within and allow her Lord and Savior to dry the tears, encourage and strengthen this child of His to move on in life.

That is the beauty of the Advent season.  Immanuel – God with us – says that you and I do not have to battle life’s unfair punches alone.  We have deep, inner reserves of courage and strength that will transform the adversarial events, the tears of disappointment and sorrow into a season of “warmth and sparkle” embraced in the arms of the Lord.

“The Lord is my rock, my fortress, my deliverer….my stronghold.”  Psalm 18:2

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K.I.S.S.

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.

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Keep It Simple, Stupid

For those of you who are unfamiliar with 12 step recovery programs, this life-changing saying hangs on most meeting room walls.  It shares wall space along with “Let Go, Let God”, “Easy Does It”, “One Day at a Time”, and the Serenity Prayer.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

But, for mortals, especially those of us recovering from addictions, keeping it simple is, well, not all that simple.  It took numerous collisions with “self-will run riot” and retractions of my surrender to God to reach any semblance of simplicity in my life.

At the year of my 28th sobriety anniversary, I was plunged into the horrors of bankruptcy in 2009 due largely to the world-wide recession.  As small business operators, my partner and I suffered equally the devastation of losing a trucking business of 15 years, the equipment, the accumulated toys, the savings, great credit standing, and my house.  More devastating to me, a man 62 years old, was the loss of hope for a financial recovery.  I came out of the bankruptcy tired and disillusioned.

“Aha,” said He, my Higher Power.  “Maybe now you will learn from me.  Why not let me run your life?  I am not that difficult to live with.”

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am meek and lowly in heart;  and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”  Matthew 11:29

My life changed.  Gone were all the concerns about finances and credit ratings and running a business.  Gone were the responsibilities of owning a house and a bunch of toys.  I slept like a baby at night and found voluminous amounts of time to walk, hike in the woods, jog, read, and enjoy leisure time with friends.  I embraced Gandhi’s exhortation to “Live simply so that others may simply live.”  And I learned to live life claiming the words of Jesus in the book of Matthew, chapter 11.

I think Jesus would have approved of our modern-day acronym KISS.  What do you think?

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where’s my strength?

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.

What gives you strength?  Is it financial security, power, fame, friendships, family, faith?  In my conflicted life, it was alcohol.  For 17 years I relied on the demons of alcohol and related addictions to give me a sense of security and self-worth.  I was strong and fearless facing the challenges of life which most of my family and friends confronted stone-cold sober.  I never understood them.  Why didn’t they need the same crutches which I used?

As I approach 38 years of sobriety, I still ask myself, “What makes me strong?”

The lyrics from the SIDEWALK PROPHETS answers that question.  “Be strong in the Lord.”  My strength lies in practicing simple, spiritual principles in my lifestyle guided by faith in the promises presented by the fellowship of other recovering alcoholics.

We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.  We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.  We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.  No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.  That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.  We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.  Self-seeking will slip away.  Our whole attitude and outlook on life will change.  Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us.  We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.  We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.”  Alcoholics Anonymous BIG BOOK

Therein is the nugget of truth which frees alcoholics like me.  The realization of the promises hinge on putting my faith, finding my strength in the One whom I name Lord of my life.  Total surrender.  The gift of sobriety, something which eluded me several years even as a non-drinker, was not a matter of exerting personal will power,  reading self-help books, following a rigorous jogging routine, listening to preachers and evangelists.  No, sobriety happened slowly after a difficult period of ‘not drinking’ and working with others.

The passage from the Big Book goes on to ask if these are extravagant promises.  We answer, “We think not,” because we have seen them materialize when we have been willing to work for them.  “Work, work, work.”

Another favorite of AAers is a verse from the book of James in Christian scriptures which tells us that “faith without works is dead.”  Answers to my questions began to appear when God put those words in perspective.  Yes, the good works are necessary.  But, the foundation must be faith.  I must be strong in the Lord of my understanding.  That strength will carry me through times of travail, times of doubt and questioning, times when other sufferers disappoint me.  The works keep me busy and out of trouble; the faith gives me reason to continue.  How about you? 🙏

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St. Bonaventure

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.

All of us are driven by a philosophy concerning life.  It could be derived from any number of prolific authors, leaders, and statesmen.  Quite often our personal life philosophy is a result of theological teachings.  The beliefs which I inherited from my forefathers went unchallenged in my younger years because the community in which I lived all abided by the principles of those beliefs.  Christianity ruled.

And that would have been just fine if I had not ventured into the world beyond my community and experienced different cultures, different creeds, and different lifestyles.  Tribalism was not at the forefront of conversations as it is today, but in retrospect, it was alive and well.  Unwittingly, we all were suspicious of those who spoke, looked, thought, and worshipped differently.

Even more devastating to the growth of a young man finding his way in a life apart from the community of his upbringing was the concept of his forefathers’ God.  There were numerous new ideas and experiences outside that sheltered life of boyhood and teenaged years.  Most of them felt exhilarating and exciting, needed to be embraced and explored.

But, in the recesses of my mind, one dinosaur of theology always tempered the thrills of newly found freedoms.

“If it feels good, it is probably a sin.”

Thankfully, the alcoholism which controlled my life for so many years also brought me to a reckoning with the man I had become. 1) admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable 2) came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity 3) made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to a God of our understanding.

The key words in step 3 which changed my life dramatically were ‘God of my understanding.”  I finally realized that God had given to me at birth a sense of reason and inner understanding with which I was designed to understand  this ‘God-thing’.  Nobody else could do this for me.  It was a personal spiritual journey which became a lifetime endeavor.  And finally I was able to embrace a life of wonderful experiences without the sin factor hanging over my head.  Today, in my world, the word sin is a negative connotation used by others to control and intimidate when, in my reality, it simply means a temporary state of separation from the God of my understanding.

St. Bonaventure, an Italian medieval Franciscan, scholastic theologian and philosopher was born in 1221 Giovani di Fidanza and died in 1274.  He entered the Franciscan order in 1243 and studied at the University of Paris.  Marked by an attempt to completely integrate faith and reason, he thought of “Christ as the one true master who offers humans knowledge that begins in faith, is developed through rational understanding, and is perfected by mystical union with God.” St. Bonaventure

“Bonaventure pays little attention to fire and brimstone, sin, merit, justification, or atonement. His vision is positive, mystic, cosmic, intimately relational, and largely concerned with cleaning the lens of our perception and our intention so we can see and enjoy fully!” cac.org

I think I would have enjoyed life as a Franciscan living and studying with Giovani di Fidanza.  Hmmmm, maybe I did and simply have not yet realized that previous life.  🙏

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Jonah’s Whale

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Jonah, historically, was a prophet of the northern kingdom of Israel in about the 8th century BCE.  His name is given to the Book of Jonah representing the  Judaic teaching of teshuva, the ability to repent and be forgiven by God.

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.  He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’  You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.  A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.”  Jesus left them and went away.  Matthew 16: 1-4

There’s only one sign I’m going to give you: the sign of the prophet Jonah.

Briefly, the Biblical story of Jonah tells about a man of faith who was instructed by his God to journey to the city of Nineveh to warn the residents to repent of their sins or face divine wrath.  Jonah instead flees in the opposite direction and gains passage on a ship to Tarshish.  The voyage encounters tumultuous seas threatening ship and crew with destruction.  Jonah, realizing he is the cause of this raging storm at sea, orders the crew to throw him overboard.  He is swallowed by a whale, survives inside the whale’s belly for three days, is then vomited ashore.  Jonah completes God’s mission, the people of Nineveh repent, the disobedient man of faith is forgiven.

I enjoy reading this story about Jonah.  It is a rich example of the Judaic society of that time drawing upon the writings of the Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans expressing a faith system in greater powers than themselves.  It is a fascinating mythology.  But, in contrast to the neighboring cultures, the Hebrews developed a monotheism worshipping one God to whom they attributed power greater than any of the other gods of the time.

Our powerlessness is acutely apparent when we are in the “belly of the beast”.  Those times when I know what is right and sustaining, but choose instead to follow what is convenient and comfortable are days in the belly of the beast.  The times when I know what the Lord of my life commands, but follow instead what pleases my ego are even more days in the belly of the beast.  I relate to Jonah when what I choose to do is in opposition to what God desires for me.  The seven deadly sins (character defects) of greed, anger, envy, sloth, lust, gluttony, and pride will in a heartbeat put me in the belly of the beast.

It’s a place I can’t fix, control, explain, or understand.  Sooner or later, life is going to lead us there, you and I.  Graciously, that’s where transformation most easily happens—because only there are we in the hands of God—and not self-managing.  It’s transformation that leads recovering addicts out of the beast of addiction.  Like Jonah, that whale vomits us back up onto the shores of sanity and submission.  I am rebellious by nature, slow to learn lessons, and have spent many days and nights suffering in the belly of my personal giant beasts.

Thankfully, the Hebrews taught me about teshuva.  The story of Jonah affirms the teaching of their wisdom.  Repentance and forgiveness, repentance and forgiveness – the cycle continues into eternity.

love, sweet love

We are nothing if we cannot be love.  You and I were created to be love in this world.  Don’t defy your destiny by joining the elements of hatred rampantly destroying humanity.  Our species survival depends on love, sweet love.

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