Saturday, January 10, 2009

Slamming Into!

Let me be clear at the outset I will give no clues about the person before whom I have had to bow low and beg forgiveness – when they see this they will know right enough!
However if you have ever been thick-headed in a relationship, or on the other hand thin-skinned in one, even to be blunt in relationship with God, then be not afraid, nor embarrassed, just read on!
A few beginning points:
1] It may be urban myth but someone said the other day Google has a system which prevents firing off ill-conceived emails if one is not in a state of sobriety. Frankly I am looking for a computer-voice that before I post, send anything would bellow: “ARE YOU SURE ABOUT THAT?”
2] About the only printable word used by others about my temperament is: volcanic!
3] Some people who have read my essays, albeit their kind words are appreciated, seem to be under the impression that living in the “Thin Place” means a life without turmoil, weakness, or, to be blunt, personal stupidity!
{ I recall a student coming for confession once who sincerely asked, without explanation, for absolution: “Because I did something stupid.” Thankfully, so far, the Vatican has not listed that as a serious sin!}
For someone contemplating the mystery and grace of the Thin Place, seeking it, finding it, or rather at least discovering the threshold and trying to crossover, I can be [frequently says he, blushing shame faced I assure you] rather thick-headed, to wit as any dictionary is quick to assert: being one who is lacking in or more bluntly is marked by a total lack of mental acuity!
Acuity of course is to have sharpness, keenness of thought and vision.
There’s more! One of the reasons my temperament is volcanic, besides my Italian heritage is my lifelong primary experience of thinness is, especially when it comes to relationships – yep even with God – I am rather thin-skinned, which if you have never encountered a thin-skinned person, we are the ones who, oh way too quickly, get offended, hurt, confused, misread signals and intentions, wallow in puddles of self-pity because no one understands, etc., etc., etc.
{So let me tell you another story – some year’s back I had been asking Jesus for something very important, at least to me. Totally convincing myself it was the Father’s will, would be absolute proof Jesus loves me, and would even make the Holy Spirit happy.
When the answer was No...Gently revealed to my heart. I absolutely exploded blathering on to the very knife edge of blasphemy and way, way past disrespect.
Eventually I calmed down, and sought out a trusted brother priest for confession who, as I am trying to repent, is laughing so hard tears are running down his face.
“You are so Italian! Relax! The Father understands, Jesus loves You, trust the Holy Spirit knows best.”}
Some decades back, in deep winter snow, I had my first tangible experience of the authentic Thin Place when I went to spend a few days in the poustinia used by the Servant of God Catherine Doherty.
She was away at the time and I had been asked to spend a few days in there, keeping a fire going, so when she returned she could resume her poustinia days in that little cabin without having to wait for the cold to be dispersed.
Now in the old Russian tradition the door to a poustinia is deliberately constructed lower than the height of the average person so that upon entering you have to bend – to bow – to at least by so doing be aware this is not just ‘any’ place you are entering.
In my youthful haste every single time I entered or left by that door I slammed into the doorframe.
Even years later after Catherine died and I would visit a beloved priest who lived in there I would invariably whack myself silly.
Interiorly I would explode because thick-headed as I am it still hurt and thin-skinned as I am clearly the door hated me!
Today I forgot in the presence of someone I love to bend low before crossing the threshold into communication [ a form of communion ] and whacked my head into them [verbally] because I was so wrapped up in my own needs and agenda I lacked the acuity, the vision, to be aware of their needs, of what they were trying to tell me.
I was pushing myself to the head of the line, ahead of God, ahead of the other and in so rushing to be first I was that youth rushing again into the Thin Place without bowing low.
As a dear friend remarked after I had begged forgiveness: “Order has been restored to the cosmos!”
Actually I shuddered because suddenly I understood the connection between the thick-headedness of warring factions, be they nations, ethnic groups, religions, neighbours, street gangs, interest groups, friends, spouses, siblings – and the thin-skinned dimension too - and my contributively making things worse unless I truly learn from, imitate and live out the meekness and humility of heart of Jesus.
It is not enough to feel the pain of my brothers and sisters in Gaza, Israel, Darfur, cold and homeless on the street, suffering alone in a hospital if I lack the acuity, the keenness of vision to see the pain, the need for love, of the person right beside me.
It is not enough to pray and fast for an end to the holocaust of abortion or for an end to the war in the Holy Land if I am quick to take offense at not being the priority of those around me.
Only when I live the real connection, not between my actions and some cosmic chaos theory but between how I do or do not love, humbly serve, and nations waging war, or any other aspect of suffering humanity, will I truly be allowed, frankly, to cross the threshold and dwell here on earth in the Thin Place.
The poustinia [urban or deep in some forest] being the Thin Place is the place of meekness and humility, of other being the priority.
Pray [ even before my headache is gone! ] I re-enter the right cosmic and human order: God first, my neighbour second and I am third!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Stepping Across!

Back in November I promised the next posting on living in the Thin Place would be about stepping across the threshold.
Since then there have been, clearly, other posts.
Today, when in some countries the Solemnity of the Epiphany is anticipated, I have been contemplating the mystery of light, of Epiphany and Theophany, thinness and war!
Herein is the promised stepping across!
I sat a long while in silence with two chapters from a book I have turned to time and time again for inspiration and meditation: CIRCILING THE SUN by Robert D. Pelton, specifically today the chapters entitled: The Feast of Enlightenment: Epiphany and Theophany; The Gift the Magi Received. {For copies of this splendid book contact: noting in the text the title of the book/to the attention of Fr. Pelton.}
Because of the meditation based on the above chapters, an experience of the thinness of light at dawn the other morning, the thickness of the darkness when the invasion of Gaza began, in many ways this essay might be titled: THINNESS OF LIGHT!
At this time of year this far north with temperatures hovering so close to the minus 40 mark it matters not if you mean Fahrenheit or Celsius!
Cold air is thinner than the muggy thickness of July afternoon heat.
Freezing morning air often is filled with tiny ice crystals. They are so thin that when the rising sunlight touches them, caresses them as it were, each becomes a little prism, a floating diamond from which flows the colours of rainbows!
They dance upon the air!
The lavishness of light and colour is glorious!
Most of us as little children at some point became aware of the thickness and weight of the absence of light, usually at bedtime and may even, for a time, have been so fearful of not only being ‘alone’ in the dark but of surrendering to the imperative-apparent darkness of eyelids heavy with sleep, we cried out in the dark.
Nowadays little nightlights can reassure – while our cities are ablaze with light originally intended to convey safety but now garishly proclaims that if we step past the light into the darkened places of movies or dance or worse, what we believe is external darkness causing fear or shame or confusion or loneliness, will be supplanted by the reassuring false light of pleasure, distraction.
This seduction of false light can dampen, even virtually snuff out what real light may still be within us until that light itself becomes as darkness.
Something happened towards the middle of the second millennia a few centuries after the Church was wounded and rent asunder into East and West.
The East became unceasingly fractured into ‘national’ churches and in the West a mere secular king decided he was greater than Christ’s own Vicar. Soon others from ‘the Continent’ would exacerbate the divisions within Christendom; nation states began to emerge and devour the earth with imperialist adventures, while the followers of Christ waged war upon each other. Out of this chaos emerged that collection of ‘forgetters’ who declared they had discovered the Enlightenment, and in the pools of revolutionary blood sowed the seeds which grew into such disorders as the Wagnerian division between music and the voice of God, art divorced from beauty, reason from faith, and chaos stampeded into the 2oth century of blood wherein the prophets of the new age gave us the bile of Marx, the blood of Lenin, Stalin, the ovens of Hitler, the split between heart and soul of Freud, the arrogance and greed of unbridled capitalism, the crushing darkness of the culture of death with its ultimate self-devouring and dead-dark-weight of abortion.
Anger, hatred, famine, epidemics, sexual disorder, war, addictions, loneliness, fear, economic chaos – when will we cry out from under the weight of darkness for light?
For my heart there is a direct link between the suicidal holocaust of abortion and the suicidal lobbing of rockets against a people whose nostrils and hearts are filled with the smoke of the ovens and a parallel suicidal amnesia seems to overtake when someone has decided more tanks and bombs will defeat aspirations for homeland, silence the rockets and lead to peace!
Darkness is the thick and heavy cloak of hatred, a darkened mind in the extreme is psychological depression, spiritual despair darkens the heart, weighs down with exhaustion.
The ubiquitous fog of war, of deliberate forgetting of who I am and other is, seeps into mind and heart, engulfs reason and hope, like a poisonous cloud, as if the individual person, a whole people, are grasped by the cold hand of death.
We have become blind because we choose blindness.
We have become darkness because we distrust that which seems too thin, so fragile: light.
The dark into which we have chosen to walk terrifies us and knowing we have chosen the dark we become enraged in our fear.
Rather than curse the darkness itself we curse the other whom we blame for the darkness – but NOT the real dark creature who tricks us.
Him we choose to pretend does not exist.
So we curse one another, the person we label in our enlightened understanding of the ways of the world as one, not like us, because he is of different race or religion or failed as parent or friend or...well does it really matter?
Quite simply he is not one of us, therefore he is enemy, source of all our pain and fear, wounds and loneliness.
Herod’s real challenge to the Magi was not to find “The Word made flesh, dwelling among us.”, not to find God the baby human being, but to find the enemy, the usurper of darkness by being born as Light!
Herod was so enamoured of darkness the light must be snuffed out.
The Magi, being seekers and trusting of light simply turned their backs on that agent of darkness and followed the ever guiding star to Light Himself.
Unless we begin as individuals and as Christian communities to remember and yearn for the fullness of faith and common-unity before divisions, unless we begin as individuals and nations to remember when music was beauty and beauty sang, when reason feasted on faith seeking understanding, indeed unless we remember every human being is child of the one Father, redeemed by the one Son, in-lightened by the one Spirit we shall remain cold and terrified, alone and grief stricken in a darkness, ever more engulfing the entire world: a darkness of our own choosing.
The thinness of light is its greatest strength, the darkness cannot overcome it; the newborn smallness of light is its very grandeur, darkness cannot over shadow it.
Since time immemorial, our ancestors sought the light, yearned to become immersed in the ultimate light they assumed was ‘the ‘ light, the sun.
However the stark reality is the sun is too big, too hot, too bright, too far away, actually too dangerously thick, heavy, spoiled by dark spots, for it is neither pure, nor pure light.
Even if we could approach like Icarus, our egos would prove insufficient to the task and we would plunge deeper, and harder, back into the darkness.
Only the pure, spotless, Son, the child in the manger, Divine Fire-Light-Love is small enough, close enough to be-hold because He embraces us, fills us with His radiance, making us light!
We need a healing of memories, that is we need to remember what we have forgotten, Whom we have ignored.
We need to remember as Fr. Pelton writes: “....the light of the world, the promised one, the radiant Lord, standing with splendid face, not just in the presence of your pain or mine, but in the midst of every agony our race has ever experienced since the first sin.....everywhere he stands, glory pours from his face, touching all, blessing all, healing all. “ [p.38 op.cit.]
In the darkness of bunkers in Gaza or Israel, in the darkness of needle filled alleys, in the darkness of jungles where child soldiers lay in wait, in the darkness of depressed hearts, in the darkness where children are enslaved, sold, abused, in the darkness of the soup lines where homeless huddle, even in the incomprehensible darkness of a northern home where the newly unemployed parents, victims of the darkness of an economy gone insane, made a pact to kill their children and themselves, even there, wherever there is darkness He stands, Light pouring from His Heart so lavishly the darkness cannot overcome it.
In that thin place, that thin moment, in the deepest and darkest of moments when a little family lies in pools of blood, when it seems the darkness is impenetrable, because frankly we have not asked for eyes to see, the Light of Divine Mercy is greater than the darkness of evil.
Because satan rejected for all eternity the smallness of newborn Light, because he was too big and strong to kneel before a baby, there is no light within satan and the fires of hell smoulder darkly and are absolute zero cold.
At sunrise, just as in each moment of each life, there is a very thin place.
It is that incredibly thin and seemingly porous line between the opening edge of light and the retreating wall of darkness.
A thin threshold.
Will you be stepping over into the Light already in your midst?