Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Some thoughts about the church

I wrote this post 7 years ago but just realize that I never published it...here it is.

So, that Saturday was a day of hopeless for me.  As I have thought back on it I have come to realize that it was more than feeling stranded and not having enough money, it was a complete lack of intimacy.  I was craving it and couldn't have it.  I am not talking about physical intimacy so much...really, but more the emotional intimacy that I take for granted most of the time.  I am surrounded by people who know and love me...often in spite of myself.

It wasn't that the people around me in Lexington weren't giving the appropriate level of care, they were.  Everyone was gracious and extended a great deal of care, its just that no one really knew me and I didn't know them.  So, I did what I was learning to do but did it with a sense of searching that I have never experienced, I prayed the prayer:  "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."  I prayed that prayer, known as the Jesus prayer to the Church Fathers, hundreds of times through the day on Saturday.  I began to pray as Father Thomas taught me to pray.

It had been a four year journey learning how to pray this prayer.  I began saying the prayer audibly with a prayer rope in 2006.  It began when Fr. Thomas, my spiritual director began by introducing me to the prayer in a book called "The Way of a Pilgrim"  I started to pray the prayer.  There are 100 knots on my rope and I would pray the prayer while counting the knots, usually 100 or maybe 200 at a time.

Later I stumbled on a book called "Nowhere Fast" a book about a man on a motorcycle trip that saved his life...funny.  I don't remember where I heard of that book, maybe from my brother David.  Anyway the Protagonists spiritual director tells him to pray this prayer.  Now it was coming from three places and I began to pray it.  I got good at it and could do it quickly and then one day a couple years later Thomas told me to begin to pray the prayer timed with my breathing.  He said that this was dangerous and I had to be careful and he showed me how to do it when we both did it together.  He finally gave me permission to begin to read the Philokalia, something that he told me I couldn't do before that time, and things began to fall into a place. 

That day in our direction about a year or so ago, he showed me how to say the prayer in my mind but not with my lips...I thought I understood it and practiced it sometimes faithfully sometimes not.

On Saturday July 24th I began to pray it in a new way.  The CD's that I was listening to used the prayer as well.  Metropolitan Jonah talked about descending from the head into the heart and that Saturday it happened.  I have always read about these things happening to people.  I have always read things like, "my heart was strangely warmed" or "the room felt as if it had been filled with light." but I had never experienced anything remotely close to these things.  Until that Saturday.

I woke up feeling isolated and afraid...lonely for the first time, and I began to pray the prayer.  As I moved from my head down into my heart it felt like I was in an elevator or glass and my thoughts were flying by, mostly self talk but also things that I thought I should do, or should have done..."if you were really on top of things you wouldn't be in this place." I thought, while my head was repeating, "Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, Have mercy on me a sinner."  "You will never experience anything like these other people experience, they are special and you are not." I thought while my mind repeated,  "Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy on me a Sinner."  "you should never have bought that bike, you don't really know about bikes like you think you do."  "Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on me a Sinner."  I didn't stop praying the prayer and the thoughts went flying by.

Jonah taught me something in the CD's that I never realized before, you can't battle these kinds of thoughts, you have to learn to ignore them.  At some point on Saturday mid morning, I left my head and my heart began to pray that prayer.  When that happened it felt as if I had descended into Eden.  I was with God, I was not lonely, or isolated at all.  I was walking with the one who knew the truth about me and who loved me in spite of it, or maybe because of it.  I was with the one who knew my real name and who was speaking it to me as we walked.

While my heart continued to pray the prayer my mind began to be filled with wonderful new thoughts from the Father.  "you should text your friend Todd, he can help you."  "Ask Lyn's mom for help, it won't be easy but it will be good for you."  My heart continued to prayer the prayer and my mind began thinking differently about God, my situation and myself.

When I stopped praying on Saturday morning I immediately texted my friend Todd.  He lives in Indiana and I wasn't sure how he could help but I told him that I was in trouble and needed help.  "where are you?" he asked, "Lexington KY" I replied.  "I am in Lexington too he responded."  "What I said, you are WHERE?"  I am in Lexington he said.  I disovered that he was about 30 minutes away that in that time he dropped off all the cash that he had on him and I began to weep.   My mind immediately began to accuse me, "see if you would have listened to God like this all along imagine how different life would have been."  I ignored it and embraced my friend in the parking lot of the hotel there in Lexington.  He was in town for a softball tournament that his daughter was playing in.

Lyn called the Harley dealer with her mom's credit card number and the bill was to be paid as soon as it was finished.  The dealer called me and told me that the parts hadn't come in but that they felt badly about it and would like to cover my room costs and also loan me a brand new Road King for the weekend.

Funny, all I wanted to do was to get quiet and go back to that garden.  I did.  I had a brand new Harley from Saturday about 2:00pm to Monday at about the same time and I only put about 75 miles on it...I didn't want to ride, I wanted to descend back to the place where I found the Father walking in the cool of the evening.  He is still there and I joined him there all weekend.  Time really became irrelevant for me after that.  I listened to the CD's, read, prayed and on Sunday I got up and went to Michael The Archangel Episcopal Church in Lexington.  It was a remarkable day.

I think that the Jesus prayer redeemed something deep inside me that weekend and I had to be forced into trusting it by the feelings that I couldn't shake.  "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have Mercy on Me a Sinner."  the prayer really isn't begging for something that God has already given, it is an affirmation of the truth.  The biggest truth, an affirmation of who God is and an affirmation of who I am.  These two big revelations come together in this prayer and they are amazing.

Things began to change on that Saturday and through Sunday afternoon I was being completely overhauled....and come to think of it, so was the Harley! 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

I am experiencing technical difficulties...

Ok, I get it.  For some reason I stopped blogging about my experience while I was away this summer.  Not only did I stop but I stopped in a very important place.  I was just about to have an experience that would change many things about me.  Why did I stop.

This morning I realized that I stopped because I couldn't remember what actually happened that weekend and what has been added to the experience since then.  I was looking back at the weekend through the days that followed and I knew that some of what I learned and experienced in the days that followed colored my memories of that weekend. 

So, I will begin once again to chronicle my journey with God and I want you to know that some of it may be colored by things that I experienced after the time that I am describing.  As long as you are ok with that and I acknowledge it I will continue. 

Thanks for being patient with me.  

Friday, September 3, 2010

Sabbatical Fruits #7 "God doesn't spend much on gift wrap"

I have been thinking about the gifts that God gives us vs. the things that we normally think of as gifts. God's doesn't spend much money on wrapping paper or cards, in fact, when you are getting a gift from God it appears at first glance as if it has been sent by an enemy.  He often wraps them in difficult circumstances. Difficult isn't really the word I am looking for here, He often wraps them in what appears to be the worst circumstances.  I have found that when these gifts come we have a choice, we can either embrace the package, open it and call it reality or we can push it to the side and begin to live just a little bit more in the fantasy life that we are creating for ourselves.  There are obvious dangers to each.

On one hand there is a grave danger that if you begin to open the package you will be consumed by it and lose your footing with God and those around you who love you, it is important never to open such a package alone.  If you begin to open the package with good intentions and then lose your nerve, I have found that the Father and our friends will come and help to continue the unwrapping if we allow it.  The gift from God has one intention really, its purpose is to chisel off a part of you that was never real.  Now, to be sure, we think it is real, in fact, we don't think that we can live without it (Here I am reminded of C.S. Lewis's brilliant metaphor of the Lizard on the man's shoulder in The Great Divorce.  If you haven't read it, do so immediately) but in reality we really can't continue our journey with it. I can't be more emphatic here.  God is in the business of chiseling away at you until you begin to resemble your self. 

Soren Kierkegaard said it this way, "And now with God's help, I shall become myself."  This is what God does.  He doesn't have any interest in communicating with your false self, in fact many of us are so wrapped up in our false selves that we have had to create a God to communicate with, a God that looks suspiciously like a human being, suspiciously like the evangelical God of the last 75 years.   Jesus said that entering the Kingdom of God would often take radical amputation, Matthew 6...you know gouge out your eye, cut off your hand...and this is what he was referring to.  Some parts of me were about to be chiseled off and like a statue that just lost an important piece, I didn't think I could lose those parts and still be myself. 

I don't think this is the best place to do it but at some point I would like to chat about identity.  One of the things that happens when we begin to see and hear is that God tells us who we really are.  There is a great passsage in the Book of Revelation about a white rock with a name written on it known only to us and to Jesus, this is our real identity.  He will hand us that rock on the last day and my hope is that I will say, "Yes, I know, remember we talked about this before."  It would truly be awful if I had to say, "Really, this is who I was supposed to be?"  That is the definition of one who tried to save his life but lost it. 

If you will hang out int he presence of God he will tell you who you are.  "Blessed are you Simon, Son of John...I say to you that you are PETER and upon this rock I will build my church."  Sorry for the lousy translation but I am going by memory.  Simon certainly hadn't acted much like a rock but that is who is really was...Jesus told him who he was and then gradually that is what he became.  Same is true for us. 

Just as we can see it happen in  Peter's life, these gifts from God, though they seem like horrors, will chip away everything that doesn't look like us. 

On the other hand there is a much more perilous danger in pushing the gift to the side and acting as if we had never seen the package.  We will add another layer to our false selves, we will be on a journey to becoming less and less who we really are instead of more and more ourselves.  I have seen this happen often.  I want to say 100's of times but that seems unreasonably high.  A person is confronted with this kind of gift, perhaps it is a failed marriage or the death of a child, or some other unspeakable pain, and rather than really opening the gift, rather than embracing it all and processing it through, they push it aside and at that moment something happens to them spiritually and emotionally that is hard to describe.  They seem to continue with their lives but they seem to be less than themselves, or they seem to be locked into that time of their lives never to move on.

When you see one of these gifts from God you have a choice.  An interesting side note is that the gifts of the enemy (some would call this enemy satan, some The Satan figure, some would simply refer to these things as an evil force without personifying it) the gifts that come from the enemy are often wrapped in lovely packages but have decay and death inside of them.  In this case you can almost always tell a gift but its wrappings.  To be sure sometimes the father gives us lovely gifts with remarkable wrappings, but often His best gifts are wrapped in some of our worst fears.

The gift I was getting was not wrapped in my worst fear, it certainly doesn't compare with the loss of a loved one or a failed marriage but to me at that moment this gift didn't feel like a gift at all.  What it did for me was open doors to my heart that could not be opened in any other way and so it was a wonderful gift. However it came wrapped in the paper of another break down and a growing lack of resources. 

More on this later.  I really don't have any pictures at this point, I wasn't in the mood to snap any shots of this dark cloud that began growing in my mind.  Again, I want to close sooner than I thought I would.  This story may be getting longer than I thought it would. 

Regret installment #1

I was thinking today about some things about my trip that I regret. I will mention them from time to time as they come up for me.  

I regret not going to the Shipwreck museum in Sault Saint Marie MI.  I have always been fascinated with the Edmund Fitzgerald...you know, "the dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait, as the waves turned the minutes to hours..." I was right there and could have stopped.  I wish I would have.    I think I didn't stop because I wanted to get someplace, but I would have been in a perfectly good place if I had stopped. 

I am thinking about what comes next less and less these days.  I am learning to be where I am.  I think that if the trip began today I would know more about that "good ship and true."  At least I can thank Gordon Lightfoot for telling me about it in his own way.  I don't really care that I "missed something" but I do care that I am not more easily moved aside by God.  I read these words from Anthony Bloom recently:  "You remember how you were taught to write when you were small. Your mother put a pencil in your hand, took your hand in hers and began to move it. Since you did not know at all what she meant to do, you left your hand completely free in hers." 

I wonder how many things and people I have passed up because of my plans and not relaxing my hand...

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Sabbatical Fruits #6 "I am not supposed to be Here!"

It was quite convenient to check in the Homewood Suites in Lexington.  The gentleman at the front desk was amazing, he gave me a "good Samaritan" rate.  He gave me this rate because that is what I needed...  It was July 22nd and I was stopped for the day and checked into the Homewood Suites in Lexington.  It was too early to be stopped for the day and although the room was wonderful and the people at the front desk gave me a great rate, I wasn't happy.  I did enjoy the complimentary evening meal catered in by a great Italian restaurant in town and I ate, drank, and then did some reading and listened to the CD's for a while before I went to sleep. 

I was in this particular Homewood suites because it was next door to the Harley Davidson Dealer in Lexington, Man O War Harley Davidson.  It was called Man O War because of the famous race horse that was birthed on the farm on which this whole little development of business was sitting.  I was at the Harley Davidson Dealer because I was trailered there, I was trailered there because My Harley stopped on highway 64 right outside of Lexington.  It stopped because the clutch was burned to a crisp, largely, I was told, because of a terrible clutch adjustment.  That brings me back to the Harley dealer in Morgantown, WV....but we better not go there. 

Yes, I had only put on about 200 miles when I stopped moving right near a horse farm along the side of the highway.  I knew the drill and I called.  I told them I was right next to a large horse farm, the guy laughed and said that everyone in Lexington was at that moment sitting next to a large horse farm.  We finally figured out where I was, they came and then they told me that the clutch was completely burned out and that they didn't have the parts that were needed for the repair.  Not to worry, they would be air freighted in the next day and I would be on my way. 

The next day dawned and found me by the pool, doing some more writing and reading, watching the sun rise and then packing my bags for the day's ride.  I went over to the dealer but they told me the parts didn't make it because the Milwaukee airport was closed becasue  of a big storm that put the whole place under water.  I went back to the room and took out my journal and wrote, "I am not supposed to be here!"  That is when I realized that God had showed up and began asking me "book of Job" like questions. 

What did you really want from this trip?  I thought you said that you wanted some solitude and a place to go to be alone and think and pray...you mentioned that you wanted to find a monastery where you could get away and be left alone to do the work that you wanted to do...you mentioned that you wanted to let me into some places in your heart that have been closed to me."  Funny thing happens when God asks you questions, he doesn't give you answers, he just asks questions, good questions that put you in a place where you almost always have to reply, "oh yeah." 

The thing was that I wanted to a place to do these things on my own terms, I wanted to be in control of the time and the place.  I wanted to pick the place and not to have to worry about another repair bill and my schedule and all of the things that were swirling around in my head.  God had some more questions for me, "you like control don't you?" "You tell other people that 'control is a myth' but you rarely put yourself in a place where you are not in it." I tried to listen more to this quiet questioning voice but the other voices in my head were drowning it out. 

What I wrote in my journal was my conclusion: "I guess I am supposed to be right where I am but...." and then I couldn't finish the sentence...there were no "buts" really.  No but's.  I still wasn't really convinced.  Now, looking back I can see that the fact is that you are always supposed to be right where you are and if it doesn't fit into your plan or if you think something had gone wrong in the divine scheme you are simply wrong.  I didn't like to be wrong and I didn't want to be here, but I now know that "there" was precisely where I was supposed to be. 

This was Friday and the shop told me that the parts would be in by Saturday morning at about 10:00.  I called my wife and texted my friend in San Antonio, telling them both that I had no idea when I would leave and what would happen next...that uncertainity as to my next move opened a place in my heart into which God would move and clear out some things that I didn't even know where there. 

I have to stop now becasue the memory of that day...especially the next morning is a little overwhelming for me.  It was one of those times, the 24 hours between Friday afternoon and Saturday afternoon that changed the course of my life with God and everyone else that I know.  It was a hinge of history in my life and, I think, one of the most merciful things  that God has ever done for me.  It all revolves around some feelings that I had never felt before, loneliness and abandonment.  I was discouraged and for the first time on this trip I admitted it to John, my friend in San Antonio. 

I have to say to set up my next post that I was now out of money.  I meant to stop an automatic payment of a large sum of money from my checking account the day before but I had forgotten to do it.  The payment was based on a budget that seemed to be fine before I spent the money that I had left at different shops around the country, now about $1600.00.  I had some cash in my pocket but no cash machine was going to give me more, I only had my debit card, no credit cards and no one was near to help me. 

I didn't sleep well and wondered what I would do the next day when the bill needed to be paid. 

This is Man O'War Harleydavidson in Lexington KY and the shop is aptly named considering what would happen in my heart in a hotel just two doors down. 

Monday, August 30, 2010

Sabbatical Fruits 5 "A Bad Biker Bar Movie"

Once I got turned around on highway 68 and got the shifter jury rigged (I used the Old Stip of Aluminum from a beer can around the shaft trick)  I thought I would make some time and was excited to be coming into the mountains of West Virginia.  The last time I was riding in the Smokeys was a few years ago when I picked up a bike in Jacksonville Florida and went though Virgina.  I had stopped in at Monticello and was amazed at the history.  I was so moved by what I learned in Monticello I took the Lewis and Clarke route across the country. Glorious. 

The Smokey's are amazing...again, mornings are perfect.  Fog hangs in the valleys like foam on a latte.  This time rather than morning, it's afternoon and I wasn't in West Virginia yet but after stopping at McDonald's in Frostburg MD for a coffee I was on my way.  Note:  McDonald's is selling stuff that they they call Lattes and Mochas etc...don't believe it.  A McDonald's latte is just like a McDonald's hamburger...enough said. 

The terrain had changed quite a bit and climbing out of Frostburg on 68 the bike just stopped moving on a long hill.  It didn't stop running, just stopped moving.  No shaking, no funny noises or intuitive sounds, it just slowed and stopped.  The clutch had stopped doing what it was supposed to do.  It was funny, really because I had just spend a lot of money getting the power from the transmission to the rear wheel by replacing all the things that were replaced in Batavia, and now I was having trouble with the bit of engineering that gets the power from the engine to the transmission.  Funny what goes through your mind when you are coasting to a stop in a light drizzle on a long uphill climb in MD.  I'd rather not share that here. 

I thought I would check the adjustment of the clutch and wasn't quite sure how to do it on this bike.  I got off the bike and dug out the owners manual.  I always carry tools on these trips and so after finding the right section I thought that I could handle the procedure.  When I knelt  down to take off the derby cover I realized that the last guy that worked on the bike changed the Allen head bolts to Torx head  bolts...I didn't bring any torx head tools.  I put the stuff back and consulted the Harley Davidson Atlas for the nearest dealer.  This time the shop was 65 miles away and they were busy with some big rally that was taking place over the weekend.  I sat down and got out the CD's and my new personal CD player.

The CD's are from a retreat given by Metropolitan Jonah Paffhausen.  I have heard of him from my spiritual director, Father Thomas Brindley, but I had never heard him teach.  Metropolitan Jonah begins and then it seems like I get lost in my attention to what he is saying until a very large RV pulls off the road and stops about 50 yards in front of me.  I pull out the ear buds and walk up to see who the good Samaritan might be.  Fun.

He came out of the RV and met me along the highway.  He was probably 60 and he said that he had a garage in the back of his RV and said he was heading to Morgantown for the big bike event and would be happy to drop me off at the Harley Dealer there.  The problem was that my bike wouldn't move and he didn't want to try to push it in.  Apparently the ramp was too steep and he had tried it before.

What he did do was give me a map of the event with a circle around where he was staying in the campsite and an invitation to join him and his friends there.  He also dug around in his fridge and handed me two cans of Coors Lite, "to make the time pass a little faster."  I walked back to the bike and put the beer in one of the saddlebags.  I didn't drink Coors Lite for one thing, and for another the last thing I wanted was to be sitting along side of the road after two beers if a state trooper showed up.  Time passed, the CD player gave me a dose of Metropolitan Jonah and I began to think that the tow truck wouldn't arrive.  I called the Harley Dealer and they assured me he was on his way, and then there he was he honked at me from the East bound lane and then went to the next exit and turned around.

There was something liberating about sitting alongside of the road in the middle of nowhere in the rain.  I had given into it and when the truck arrived I wasn't disappointed but I had finally made peace with my situation and now it was changing.  

The man who climbed out of the new Ford pickup truck was a complete stereo type.  I don't have the imagination to make him up.  I am afraid that I don't remember his name and I wish I could forget the conversation that we had in the pickup on the way to Triple S Harley in Morgantown.  I found out that he was in the Klan, yes, the KKK and that his grandfather was a Grand Wizard.  He liked young women and didn't like African Americans.  That became apparent whenever we passed a car carrying either.  He did not care much for our President and he told me what his grandfather would do if he was still alive...it wasn't good.  He showed me a flyer from the dealer with several beautiful young ladies on it and told me I should look forward to spending some time at the shop and that they would "take good care of me."  I wan't sure what he meant.

The rain wasn't a factor any more and the bike was safe on the back of the pickup.  He had an amazing bike lift on his truck, you will be able to see it from the picture at the end of this post.  He drove and talked and the more he talked the more I thought that I was in a John Steinbeck novel, and that he was one of the people the Joad's had the misfortune of running into.  Does this person actually exist or is he some kind of weird compilation of dysfunctions my brain had constructed?  Did I drink that Coors Lite?    He was about 5'10" tall and probably weighed about 150lbs.  He had on jeans that were a little greasy a t-shirt and a black leather Harley vest with a lot of pins and other Harley patches on it.  His har was long, gray and a bit stringy.  He had some interesting Tats.  The tatoos that he had were the kind that you got before it became a fad to get a tatoo.  They were not from the military and I later found out that he had done them himself.  I actually thought they were pretty good, even if you wouldn't want to show them to mother.

He told me about his family and how "strangers" would often disappear in the hills around there because people would shoot first and ask questions later, he wasn't kidding.  After he talked for 30 minutes I began to see that he had actually come a long way from where he had started.  He was born in the hills of WV and most of his people were still there.  Back in those hills people still lived like they did 75 years ago.  Nothing wrong with that way of life, but the thinking that went with it for his family was disturbing.  He came from a place that was characterized by fear.  He had never left the area but he had left that way of life.  He was good at what he did and when we pulled up the the dealership he had the bike off the truck and into the shop before I knew what was going on.  I told him thanks a lot and he told me he was just doing his job and then he was off again.  People are amazing.  There are a lot of people in a lot of places who are afraid.  Change, the unknown, what other people think, these are all fears that can paralyze a person and twist them into something less than human. 

The boys in the service department hadn't done a lot of work on older Harley's.  They did get the primary off and checked out the clutch, to my amazement they said that it only needed an adjustment and when I got on it everything seemed to work.  I gave them $100.00 and they gave me a receipt and I was off in about an hour.  

The shop there in Morgantown was a different kind of place.  Harley's were not a hobby for the people that I saw there.  They seemed to be disciples of Mr. Harley and Mr. Davidson.  They were followers.  The women fit into a place that was foreign to me.  They were like the chrome that people bolted on to their bikes, they were there to look good and didn't really serve any practical purpose.  They were dressed in a "Hey, you all want to hang around a while and maybe buy sumthin" kind of way.  The men seemed almost like actors out of a poorly done biker bar movie.  This place really didn't seem real to me but it was and people were arriving for the big weekend event, Charlie Daniels was coming, and so was CCR...I was on my way out of town before the leather halter tops started coming off.

I wondered what place Christianity had in that place and whether the people in the hills would say that they followed Jesus.  I knew that my brand was different than theirs but I also knew that I must have some blind spots that were just as glaring as theirs.  I wanted to find out what they might be.  

I dodged the bullet, got out of the rain and was off again riding down the highway towards Memphis.  I was going to Graceland.  All in all the day was a bust really from a traveling standpoint.  I hadn't gone far, only about 190 miles, about half of that in the pick up truck, and I was wanting to do some 500-600 mile days.  I wanted to get back into that rhythm so that I could think.  It was getting late and I just wanted a nice place to spend the night.  I was envisioning a cheap motel along a deserted two lane but that's not what I found.  I had to pull off the road in Charleston about 150 miles later for gas and after I filled up I had to do more work on the shifter.  It was not good and getting worse.  My fear was that the stripped shifter lever would begin to do damage on the shift rod itself which was not easy to replace.

I found a dollar store in Charleston, bought a hammer and some needles and when I was finished it was not much better but would work for for the time being.  I was getting the feeling that you get when you do something half way, that although it was working for the moment you just did something that would actually make the problem worse.  I stopped for the night  in Barboursville, mostly because there was an Outback by a Best Western and I needed a cool, dark place to drink a draft beer and a steak that was done medium rare.

I ate and drank and didn't sleep well.  I kept wondering about the people that I met and how they were thinking.  I prayed the Jesus prayer and tried to sleep.  I did a few laps around my prayer rope and felt a little more centered.  I got up and took a walk.  There was a strip club down the street and it seemed to fit.  I went into Taco Bell and then went back to the room and fell asleep.  I woke up the next morning early and filled up with gas and was on my way towards Lexington Kentucky.