I, Judas

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 11, 2019 by thecrossingchicago

It was an intimate moment between the two of them.  Sure, there were others around.  Some were undoubtedly watching with their own interpretations wondering what it was that they were seeing.  Perhaps there was some dis-ease among a few, but then again, they were likely preoccupied by the fact that they were eating dinner with and talking to a man who was long enough in the grave to have a stench.

Judas made his opinion known as Mary used her hair to apply the mixture of nard and tears to Jesus’s feet in her final act of love this side of the tomb.  It was a frozen point in time special to the two people who were in it, who got it, who knew they needed it because it would be their last opportunity before the hands of fate would wrap them in its hatefully morbid grasp.

Like Judas imposing his own concerns about selling the expensive perfume instead of “wasting” it on Jesus, we often find ourselves in similar situations where we are assigning our own bias from the periphery.  Who knows if Judas was lining his pockets with the treasury money, but we do know that he was inserting himself into a space that wasn’t meant for him.

I dreaded carrying the pager.  Every chaplain in the hospital had to take turns, but I seemed to get it on days when I just wanted to set my mind on cruise control and get the day done with no interruptions.  That Monday was no exception.  When the pager started playing its irritating tune on my hip, I knew that I wasn’t going to get that luxury.

The number on the pager told me that it was the ER.  Most of the time, you don’t have any trouble finding your destination when you go to the ER because there is a flurry of activity and you make your way to it like a moth to a flame – occasionally with the same effects.

Diego’s mother was sitting in a chair just outside the bay where her three year-old son was covered in what looked like bubble wrap to keep him warm.  Tubes extended everywhere from his small body and machines were whirring and humming all around.  His father sat to the right of the bed with his head in his hands occasionally looking up at his boy in dismay.

His mom was understandably in hysterics and I knelt by her side to try to offer some comfort.  There wasn’t much I could do other than just be there and sometimes that has to be enough.  There were no magic words or incantations that were going to undo what had already been done at the bottom of a pool covered in a tarp that the unknowing tot had apparently mistaken for a trampoline.

She wanted something tangible to hold on to because she couldn’t hold her baby.  The team was doing their best to bring him back to life, but most knew it was futile.  I was doing my best not to show my emotions so that I could be strong for this broken woman, but I about came undone when she fell on the ground and clutched his tiny little shoes to her chest.  Seemingly washing them with her hair and tears in a Mary-like gesture for one who would not be raised.

It’s hard to forget things like that.  I wondered how Diego was doing and eventually assumed he had already died as I went about my week tending to other emergencies.  It was that following Thursday when, once again, that dreaded piece of plastic was clasped to my belt.  With the same desire to go about my day uninterrupted, I looked with disdain at the number on the display as it played its foreboding tune.  I didn’t recognize the extension and had to call to see where I was headed.  Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.

I pressed the button outside the unit and waited for a nurse to buzz me in.  As the doors opened, the antiseptic smell of rubbing alcohol and every antibacterial potion filled my nostrils.  Being a lifelong member of the I-Hate-Needles Club, it never failed to make me wince.

Making my way to the nurses’ station I made eye contact with the nurse in charge for that shift.  She tilted her head toward the open door down the hall and I looked wondering who was in there.  I could see Diego’s mom poking her head out the door sobbing, looking down the hall and then briefly at me before she went back inside the room.  So it was going to be one of those days.

I had no idea what had happened to Diego and his family.  The days blended together and other patients, other crises didn’t necessarily make me forget about them, but at least took them from the forefront of my awareness.  Now I at least knew they had made it this far.

I came around the side of the station and stood to the right of the nurse who was pouring over some documents.  She looked up at me with a look that I occasionally got from nurses that said, “What the hell do I do?”  She looked down the hall a few doors down from Diego’s room to where I could see people walking in a circle and hear music of some kind as they undulated to the beat.

“He’s gone and I ain’t going in there to tell them, Chappy.”  She looked back up at me.

“Alright.  I’ll do it.”  I took a deep breath and shook my head as I made my way toward the sound of what seemed to be praise and worship music in Spanish.  The people were waving their hands, some crying, as they threw prayers to the ceiling as if the intensity of their prayers was proportionate to the distance they would travel to God’s ears.

“I know God hears your prayers.”  I gulped as they all stopped and began to gather around me.  “But we need to pray for comfort and peace now because he’s gone.”

The weeping was of biblical proportions – tearing of clothes and heaping of ashes.  It was almost too much to bear seeing these people come apart.  Some collapsed into each other in a melee of tears and others began to pray through the sobbing as they once again began their circular dance.

I led a group of them back to Diego’s room and wasn’t prepared for what I would find.  I took a deep breath before I entered the room and unlike Lazarus, there was no smell of death.  Although he never regained any of his brain function after his fateful swim, he remained “alive” on machines until minutes before.

With the kind of grief that only a mother could feel, she held his lifeless body wrapped in a brown coarse blanket almost like a saddle blanket.  She hugged him close to her breast and I could see her shoulders tremble and heave from behind as she wept.  I placed a hand on her shoulder and once again did everything within my power to keep from losing it myself.  As an empath, it’s sometimes almost too unbearable to stand so close to a burning bush.

She turned to me and held out her little boy.  At first, I didn’t know what to do.  I stood frozen as I looked at the shell of this tiny life and then back up at her.  Then I got it.  I took Diego in my arms and held him tight for a few moments.  I kissed his smooth precious forehead and turned and passed him on to the person next to me – probably an aunt.  It was hard to see her face through my tears and that was ok.

As I watched each person hold Diego and anoint his face and hands with their tears, my feeling of dismay and discomfort gave way to a better realization.  Where I initially felt an extreme dis-ease around them passing this body around and that they were somehow doing something wrong, I became aware that it was I who was wrong.  It wasn’t that these people were doing something horrific or unconscionable.  It was I, who like Judas, had walked into a thin place and imposed my own interpretations as I wasn’t immediately able to see the pure holiness of it all.

Groping Around in the Dark

Posted in Encouragement, true self with tags , , , , , on March 30, 2019 by thecrossingchicago

In a world where being sure about everything is the way of life, embracing mystery can be incredibly difficult.  Unfortunately (or fortunately), there are many aspects of our life to be gleaned in those dark places, so we shouldn’t forsake them.

It’s easy to feel that life would be so much easier if we could just know everything clearly and be able to define every occurrence accurately without having to take time for interpretation.  If we could know ourselves without all of the soul-searching and contemplation, wouldn’t life be so much better?  I don’t think so.
Those walks in the dark where the ambiguity is the rule and not the exception, are transformative.  Barbara Brown Taylor said that “I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion.  I need darkness as much as I need light.”  Groping our way around in the darkness teaches us things about the world and ourselves that seeing them in the light never could.
During Lent, we learn to embrace the darkness so that we can appreciate the light.  That faint glimmer of sunshine that pierces through the gap between the stone and the cave wall is not a reassurance that we will be saved from the darkness, but rather a reminder that the darkness is good, too.  Light and dark need each other to exist.
When Thomas Merton was starting his writing career and making his early attempts at being a novelist, some of the beauty that would emerge from embracing the spiritual writing that he was best at shone through.  In this excerpt, Merton is having a conversation with a couple of Gestapo officers in London through the window of a bombed out house as he writes.  They ask him why he writes and he replies that it is so he can learn about the world and himself.  The officers then inquire as to whether it would just be faster to see things clearly from the beginning and that writing to figure things out would lead to many volumes of wasted paper and meaningless books.  Merton’s reply was:
No doubt.  But if I if it were all clear at once, I would not really understand it,
either.  Some things are too clear to be understood, and what you think 
is your understanding of them is only a kind of charm, a kind of incantation in your mind concerning that thing.  This is not understanding: it is something you remember.  So much for definitions!  We always have to go back and start from the beginning and make over all the definitions for ourselves again.
 
Even the things that can be seen clearly in the light aren’t always what they seem to be: scripture, the actions of another, our own lives, even.  It’s in the overcoming of the discomfort and the dis-ease of our own being that we finally start to reach out in the dark without fearing the monster that may lie waiting beyond our fingertips.  It’s in those moments when we really get to know the world as it really is.

On Grief

Posted in peace with tags , , , , , , , on November 20, 2018 by thecrossingchicago

Grief. It’s not something that happens in the background as we go about our regular daily activities. It’s something that has to be actively and intentionally done.

As a hospice bereavement counselor, I often hear people say that they are processing their grief by staying busy. Nope. This isn’t grieving, it’s avoiding. If you think it all just goes away at some point, then

I’m sorry to say that this isn’t the case. The grief will always be there, but it doesn’t mean that it has to be a bad or unbearable thing.

Any change or transition requires grieving. Most think of it as something that happens when someone dies, but it’s not limited to death. A breakup, divorce, losing a job, moving, loss of mobility, loss of autonomy, change of role – these are all reasons to grieve. Even intentional acts such as when you are the one to walk away from a relationship or a planned retirement are causes to grieve.

So how do we do it in a healthy manner? As much as we want to run at every uncomfortable feeling, just the opposite is what’s required to come to a place of peace. Sit with the pain, the loss, the uneasiness. Stare it in the face. Embrace it. To feel means to know we are alive, even when the feelings hurt.

This time of year with the holidays as a constant reminder of our losses, old wounds are ripped open and many come to the realization that, although so much time has passed, it still hurts. This is because we didn’t allow ourselves to go through the process.

It’s never too late to grieve. Sit in the silence and take note of what you are feeling. Don’t fight it. Let the emotions wash over you and don’t try to be logical about it. It’s tempting to believe that if we can just find a good reason for it that make sense to us, then it won’t be so bad, but this isn’t true. There is no way to reason loss. It’s both a mystery and a reality, so let it be just what it is.

Grief is not a clean cut linear process. There is no rhyme nor reason to it. You will have good days and bad days, good moments and bad moments. Sounds, sights, smells will trigger grief. So don’t beat yourself up by thinking that you should have progressed farther and shouldn’t still be feeling emotional. The emotions will always be there, but eventually you will own them instead of them owning you.

Lastly (as if there ever is a “lastly” to such things), be vulnerable. As Brene Brown so aptly says, we have to leave the wound open to get to the deep places. That’s where the grieving happens. Don’t give in to the “get over it” mentality. Don’t think that it will ever go away if you don’t address it. If you do dare to sit with it, though, you’ll find that it’s not so scary and the pain isn’t in control. You’ll gain new perspective, you’ll find peace, and things will be ok, even when they’re not. This is serenity.

 

War and the Corporate True Self

Posted in ego, peace, service, true self, war with tags , , , , , , on November 9, 2018 by thecrossingchicago

Another Veterans Day is upon us and, as I do every year, I ask myself what it’s all about.  There is a cynical side of me that says we are glorifying something that should never happen under any circumstance.  The idea of exterminating human beings for the sake of being right seems appalling to me and to celebrate those who have participated in them in any way causes me to feel the mournful disdain of glorifying violence.  But, after much contemplation, I can see that, as in all things, there is another side of the coin.

Of course I realize that we are celebrating valor and the courage of those who were willing to risk (and sometimes lose) their lives for a cause greater than themselves.  Sure, some may have entered military service to avoid jail time, some to kill, and some to enforce their ideals.  It is sometimes, however, those very ideals that perpetuate the violence in the first place.  Our addiction to being right all the time can lead to the reinforcement of a false truth.

On the way to the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, NC this year, I was listening to a podcast with Fr. Richard Rohr.  He said that we know we are operating from the False Self, or the ego, when we are individually offended by some action or words.  As I drove on, with much time to ponder, I came to the conclusion that the opposite is also true: Any time we are offended on behalf of humankind, we are operating from our True Self.

So what does this have to do with war?  We have been called to defend and empower the least of these.  If someone is marginalized and oppressed, it is our duty to lend our voice to stopping the oppression and even to joining a revolution against it.  As we know, sometimes revolutions require force.

In his New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton calls the church to being in a constant state of revolution.  He says that the church must return to tradition, which seems like an oxymoron when placing tradition and revolution next to each other in synonymous relationship.  For most, tradition is the very enemy of reform as we do things “the way we have always done them.”  For Merton, though, the tradition is the revolution: “[T]his tradition must always be a revolution because by its very nature it denies the values and standards to which human passion is so powerfully attached” (143).

In other words, tradition is the outward manifestation, in practice, of the church’s True Self.  If individuals have a True Self and organizations are living organisms comprised of individuals, then they too must have a corporate True Self.  Too many churches and organizations have not only lost sight of who they are, but likely have never cared to know.

This is no less true for entire countries who allow or even create structures that lead to systemic oppression.  When it comes time to upend these systems, we hope that the revolution can be a peaceful one from the inside with the death of the individual and corporate False Selves.  According to Merton, “all the others demand the extermination of somebody else” (144).

If violence is the only means of insurrection and not an internal death of False Self giving birth to what is True, then indeed

There will be violence, and power will pass from one party to another, but when the smoke clears and the bodies of the dead men are underground, the situation will be essentially the same as it was before: there will be a minority of strong men in power exploiting all the others for their own ends.  There will be the same greed and cruelty and lust and ambition and avarice and hypocrisy as before (144).

It is arguable, and likely a fact that more wars have been started over religion than any other issue.  Dogmatic absolute “truths” lead humans to carry their ideologies on their backs into battle with sword and gun in hand. If we can hold our own created beliefs at arm’s length where they are visible to us and see them for the “dry formula of a dogmatic definition” that they are, then perhaps we can approach our ideas with humility, grace, and a fair reflection of our True Selves.  Instead of creating individual “truths” from a False Self that only leads to the extermination of human lives, let us find our oneness in the source of all being, the one in whom we find the image of who we really are.

Wearing Another’s Mask

Posted in true self, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on August 14, 2018 by thecrossingchicago

Everything was perfect – theoretically anyway.  I had finished an MBA and a Masters in Geriatrics and the world was my oyster.  I had a consulting business, a care management business and was working in sales while I continued to grow my companies.  But I hated it.  I just absolutely could not stand going out and trying to sell machinery that I could not possibly care less about.  Because of my lack of interest I completely sucked at selling.  I didn’t have the drive to market my own businesses and was utterly miserable.  So, I went to seminary.

This is not to say that seminary is for everyone.  Ministry happens to be my vocation and passion, so it works for me.  If it wasn’t, I would merely be continuing to feed into my False Self – the ego that led me to go to law school and business school in Japan.  If I was a lawyer or a businessperson, surely people would approve of me and I would have the status that I needed.  Of course this all only served to feed the fears of inadequacy that I was trying to quell in the first place.  As the cognitive dissonance grew, so did my misery and the awareness that there was another “me” that was being ignored.

That self is the True Self.  Richard Rohr defines this self as “the mask that I wore before I was born.”

In his New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton warns for himself that if he puts on the mask of another and tries to be someone that he isn’t, then, “I shall spend eternity contradicting myself by being at once something and nothing, a life that wants to live and is dead, a death that wants to be dead and cannot quite achieve its own death because it still has to exist.”

When I was four, my dad put me up on the kitchen counter in our small apartment in Rochelle, IL and told me that he was moving out.  He said something along the lines of things weren’t working out with my mom and it wasn’t my nor my brother’s fault that he had to go.  He failed to convince me because I did think it was my fault.

A year later, he asked me if I wanted to go to preschool or stay with him at his girlfriend’s house where he was living.  I knew he would just sleep all day and get upset if I woke him for anything because he worked third shift at the Delmonte can plant.  So, I decided to go to preschool.  That was the last time I would see him for 12 years.  He took his girlfriend’s luggage and left for Florida, Alaska, Arizona, and eventually back to his birthplace in Utah where I would meet up with him years later.  I often wonder how things would have went if I would have elected to stay with him.

For much of the years to come, I would have a sense of inadequacy.  An impostor syndrome coupled with the perceived need to be good enough for those around me followed me wherever I went.  I had a recurring dream that I ran into my dad at a truck stop.  Pumping my gas, I saw him on the other side of the pump, usually with one of my half brothers.  I would tell him to wait there while I go in and pay for my gas, and invariably I would come back out to find him gone, again.  I’m not sure if the likeness of the dad in my dreams was accurate or not because by then I had probably forgotten his face.

I can’t fully blame the insecurities that would follow on my dad as I was responsible for dealing with my own issues.  I had to initiate the healing and for a long time, my failure to do so only resulted in me hurting others.  It’s true what they say: hurt people, hurt people.

I finally realized that I had created a False Self to protect me from my fears who usually just hurt myself and others.  Like Merton, I finally had an awakening, noticing that to be seen I would “wind experiences around myself and cover myself with pleasures and glory like bandages in order to make myself perceptible to myself.”

When these bandages finally come off, however, (and they always do), we see that there is no substance.  There is only a hollowness temporarily filled with things that never have and never will exist.  Merton says that these things are “all destined to be destroyed.  And when they are gone there will be nothing left of me but my own nakedness and emptiness and hollowness, to tell me that I am my own mistake.”

While our stories are our own, we rarely own them.  Instead, we see ourselves as the culmination of mistakes – our own and those of others.  We spend a life time trying to cover the hollowness with things that are no more real than the void we wish to hide.  Deep inside that void, however, is the real us, the True Self.

The Self that is us in God and God in us is the point at which we are all interconnected.  At this point, there is redemption, there is forgiveness, and there is at-one-ment.  Far beyond the sins of our fathers lies a reality that is more real than the stories we tell ourselves.  It’s a point in time, space, being, and all that is.  When we awaken to our True Self and decide to do the inner work required to find the real me and the real you, we not only find ourselves, but we find God.  As usual, Merton said it best: “At that moment the point of our contact with [God] opens out and we pass through the center of our own nothingness and enter into infinite reality, where we awaken as our true self.”

Who Are You, O Prometheus?

Posted in Uncategorized on August 2, 2018 by thecrossingchicago

My five year-old daughter Selah and I were recently driving to her preschool and listening to Japanese children’s songs as we often do.  One particular song was about a kitten who lost her way and ends up going to a police station to inquire of the police officer dog how to get home.  The police officer dog asked the kitten where she lived.  The kitten replied that she did not know.  The police officer dog then asked her what her name was.  She again replied that she did not know.

At that point my daughter shot up in her booster seat and said, “Wait!  Pause it!”  When I did she asked me, “How come she doesn’t know who she is?  How is it possible for someone not to know who they are?  That doesn’t make any sense.”

Good question, Selah.

Such existential questions have been posed by philosophers throughout antiquity.  Plato wondered about the true nature of man.  Camus pondered the meaning of life and said in his Myth of Sisyphus that this was the ultimate question.  He asked if our only way to make sense of the absurdity of life and to have some modicum of control was suicide, only to find that perspective is ultimately what mattered.

Merton, more like Selah, contemplated the True Self of humankind.  In his book, The New Man, Merton compares the human plight to that of Prometheus.  Stealing the flame from the gods, Prometheus merely takes “his own uncommunicable reality, his own spirit.”  Merton goes on to say that it is “the affirmation and vindication of his own being.  Yet this being is a gift of God, and it does not have to be stolen.  It can only be had by a free gift – the very hope of gaining it by theft is pure illusion.”

For Merton, Prometheus had certain ideas about the nature of things and particularly about the gods.  Prometheus saw the gods as being in competition with himself and something that needed to be bested.  It was a fear-hate relationship that only ended up with Prometheus back where he started: before the gods with fire in hand preparing to accept his self-inflicted torment.  So the question remains: Why steal the fire in the first place?

Had Prometheus had more of a sense of wonder, than such a surety, I feel things would have been very different.  If merely he had the mind of a five year-old that pondered the things of life without a self-induced heard-headedness that prevents one from seeing things as they really are, then he would have had the awareness to not only have the right answers, but more importantly, to ask the right questions.  Prometheus would have been able to not only see the gods differently, but he would have seen himself differently.

I’m quick to both pity and fault Prometheus for his foolish delusion.  But, if I am to have the contemplative spirit that I criticize him for not having, then I have to ask how I and modern humans do the same thing.  I have to consider that the unexamined life may actually not be worth living.

So, back to Merton we go.  The True Self.  The real me.  If only we, as well as Prometheus, could figure out who we really are, then we can live intentionally as the people we were meant to be in our most genuine state of being.  Instead, we devote our lives to becoming someone we are not (our False Self) to protect ourselves from fears and perceived inadequacies.  We think this is the best way to save ourselves with the least amount of pain – existential or otherwise – but mostly what we get is a stolen fire that we some day have to return with all of the guilt and shame that awareness can sometimes bring.  Hopefully, then, at least, we will realize the fire was ours to begin with instead of wasting a life in perpetual futility wasting a life otherwise well lived.

Slow Time and the Pursuit of Happiness

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on May 16, 2018 by thecrossingchicago

I had a chat with a friend the other day about happiness.  She asked me about the pursuit and if it really comes to any meaning.  Perhaps it’s just futile and only leads us on a goose chase that leaves us feeling tired and bitter.  It was a great conversation and it gave me a lot of insights as I pondered it.

I once heard an author say that all of his writing comes from a question.  In other words, he doesn’t write because he thinks he’s an expert about something.  Instead, he is processing out loud as he writes.  That’s exactly what I am doing here.  I’m wondering as a wander, so to speak.

In such a conversation, it seems that we have to start with the semantics.  What is happiness?  Is it really something to be “attained”?  In my own definition, happiness is merely the emotional reaction to what we perceive another is doing to or for us.  While I’m probably just being over-analytical, I would venture that what we are really looking for is joy or contentment.  Or better yet – serenity.

If we stick with the word “happy,”  I have my doubts that it is something that can be pursued and caught up with.  It appears to be a futile chase toward something that is ethereal and can never fully be grasped.  Rather, it would be more like Thoreau’s estimation that it is something akin to a butterfly that will come and land on our shoulder if we would just stop and smell the roses.

Regardless of the right term – happiness, joy, contentment – I find myself more and more seeing it as a state of being rather than a condition to be attained.  In all of its elusiveness, we are shooting at a moving target.  It is nearly impossible to hit something that is constantly changing.  As I was considering this idea, it occurred to me: we are also moving.  If both the target and the source are in motion, then how can we expect to ever make contact!?

What I mean is this: when we aren’t centered and mindful, how do we really even know what we want?  How can we ever come to a place that we can be assured is genuine joy?  It is like hoping that two atoms from opposite sides of the world will eventually make contact.  It’s nearly impossible and only guaranteed to leave us worn out and hopeless.

So what would it look like if we did the inner work to truly know ourselves?  How would it be to slow time and actually live in the moment with complete awareness and intentionality?  Not multitasking, not running, not chasing.  Instead – breathing, sitting, being.

I’m talking to myself as much as anyone, but I would be willing to bet that, if we would stop and smell the roses, we would experience a great shift.  Not only would happiness not seem like an elusive ideal, but we would likely realize that, in that moment, we already have all that we need.  For the first time, we will experience joy and contentment.  Finally, we will have what we ask for in the old prayer: courage, wisdom, and the ultimate peace of mind: serenity.