A Coddiwomple for Two, Please

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Brits are known for many things. Damn the torpedoes orthodontics. A right saucy sense of humour. Screw-you driving habits. Heavy, beige food. Winsomeness. Fierce loyalty. They’re at their best however as purveyors of tasty wordplay. Oh, to have the presence of mind to adjure someone with the following Shakespearean finery: “thine face is not worth sunburning” from Henry V. Or, perhaps, “Methink’st thou art a general offence and every man should beat thee” from All’s Well That Ends Well.

Given God’s calling on our lives it seems the title word is particularly appropriate. To coddiwomple is to “travel purposefully toward an as-yet-unknown destination.” A coddiwomple is a cute, polite way of expressing the often anxiety-inducing path of faith outside of all peripheral comforts, a kind of Abraham out of Ur thing (read Genesis 12 which recounts Abram and Sarai’s exodus out of wealthy, middle East suburban life). It captures well our overall venture of pursuing life and ministry in the UK. Specifically however it offers a rather fun snapshot of our recent fact-finding mission.

This journey took us first to France for the Serve Globally Euro Retreat and then to Britain for countless meetings and conversations. We landed in Paris where we were met by Francisco, the quintessential French man (although Portuguese by birth). He and his Minnesota-born wife, Stephanie, would become our soul-friends in minutes and were our hosts, guides, and interpreters throughout our brief time in France.

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Francisco and Stephanie Ramos

Francisco would use these skills well a couple days after our arrival while trying to help me file a report for my missing computer bag (an embarrassing story for another time).

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Ain’t she perdy?

 The Ramoses live mere blocks from the iconic Eiffel Tower, her long, bedazzled neck stiffly projecting into the French sky. This took a back seat to an even more pressing fun fact: they lived across the street from a chocolate bakery, “Chocolate Boulanger.” Our son’s insistence to the sonic similarity to chocolate lingerie makes the mind boggle. Let’s take a moment to catch our breath and move on______________.

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There were two primary reasons for this trip. First, it was an exploration of possible ministry partners for me. Before I can begin the formal process of fundraising, I need to secure a partner who will effectively invite me to join them in ministry. This is crucial given the fact that our denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church, (well, and most foreign countries), don’t simply welcome self-proclaimed evangelists helicoptered in to cultural environments, not unlike the U.S., already drenched in religious chicanery, charlatans, and cross-talk! 

Secondly, Rae hopes to secure a job in her field of expertise, digital mapping. She’s good at what she does but, in weaker moments, squints her eyes at her chances given our place in the mid-fifties club. Thankfully, heaven cares less for these things than potential employers!

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Rae’s dream job is with ESRI UK, the “Microsoft of digital mapping” as she calls it

Although at times a bit scattershot, the journey was purposeful in every way. We believe it was highly successful in establishing much-needed relationships – just the right conversations with just the right people at just the right times. Some of the best of those conversations began at a 150 year-old retreat centre in Sète, at the bottom of France. As in, the Mediterranean.

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I muscled through…somehow.

There is the lovely Serve Globally Europe team, all of them doing incredible work in a post-Christian Europe among artists, the poor, refugees, and/or victims of sex-slavery and violence; in spiritual formation, leadership training, and much more. They are as dedicated a group of servants as we’ve yet seen. The place these folks have in our hearts is now forever secure. It will be an honour to be counted among them.

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Serve Globally’s Euro Team

There is Kayla, a vibrant young woman from Manitoba sporting a Julia Roberts smile. She serves in London with G.E.M. (Greater Europe Mission) establishing bakeries as a means of moving women out of the sex trade and into meaningful employment. The week before our visit, Meghan Markle, wife of Prince Harry, officially opened their most recent location.

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Kayla, wise and brave beyond her years

 

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Meghan Markle officially opens The Luminary Bakery

There is the talented Elizabeth, an ordained Covenant pastor living in Edinburgh but working in Stirling where she teaches music to under-served children and youth. She brings discipline, hope, self-esteem, and structure to those with precious little of either and does so through music. While in Edinburgh we had lunch with retired pastor Andy Scarcliffe with whom we worked back in 1989. His wit, wisdom, presence, and insights helped immeasurably toward focussing our thoughts and efforts.

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Old school 60s rocker and devoted holy man, Andy Scarcliffe. Edinburgh.

Among the more “serious” conversations were numerous others directed at family members and friends, all of whom shared their own fascination with the adventure. We coddiwomple on as we share these stories with friends, family, interested onlookers and, of course, all of you!

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Cousin Jill and her daughter, Sally. Newcastle

*  *  *

The best stories, like good wine or tea, steep over time. Bits get added or embellished. Other bits become the conquest of interlopers wanting in or rolling their eyes at the bad jokes; insiders peddling their forbidden commentary over too much Guinness and too little honesty. Most bits are known by heart and fiercely guarded for veracity and tone.

Predictably, stories are a shared phenomenon. They’re a personal and communal catalogue, timeless performance art, and living anthropology all rolled into one. They recount as they redeem, review as they reconcile, astound as they amuse. A well told tale is both invitation into the domain of another and initiation ritual into the shared experiences that challenge and change us all.

The power of narrative, especially when it is one’s own, is the constancy of its message and the insistence of its formative qualities. We tell our stories to be moved and changed by them. Ironically, we are often blind to that very change in the midst of our own journeys. We’re tempted to gaze into the rearview mirror of our lives a bit askance given our propensity for self-doubt, or worse.

Don’t believe me? Go back and read old journals. You’ll be struck immediately by how much and how little you’ve changed! 

Friends and family, as dangerous as their proximity can be to our sense of autonomy and safety, are still best poised to see what we cannot about ourselves. The friends and family to whom I owe much of our recent and ongoing coddiwomple will understand what I mean!

Our story is changing. Evolving perhaps. But, a new page is turning, one thirty years in the making. It is in many ways the crest of a wave of long-held yearnings, discernings, considerations, conversations, tears, laughs, and a whole ton of writing.

If I’ve prattled on endlessly about anything (and prattling is how I roll) it has been about home and belonging, coupled with the spirituality of longing. The hiraeth of disaffection that keep those two separated from so many for so long has been where we have lived much of the past thirty years.

What happens when these actually begin to merge, however? There are key scenes in our unfolding drama wherein what we long for most meets the object of that longing and the possibility of ‘home’ emerges. Although this tale is one that will require more space to tell than I can allot here, it begins its forward life in this telling.

In these Advent days, just after Thanksgiving, I am reminded of how grateful we are to be included among such good and gratuitous souls. We’ve been loved and supported by many folks for many years. Our story continues to unfold. That story involves all of you. More of the story is still to be written. But, I promise to keep you informed along the way of God’s penmanship of it.

Come, fellow sojourners, let us coddiwomple together.

From Grateful to Giving

It might seem predictable, a little banal even, to prattle on about those things for which we’re most grateful on a Hallmark holiday. Be that as it may, the spiritual fruit of joy and humility find their taproot in the spiritual discipline of gratitude.

Therefore, along with so many others, I add my voice of thanks for all things bright and beautiful, great and small – the Lord God made them all (thank you, Cecil Alexander). The Lord God has indeed made them all and designed us favourably so as to create in kind and be grateful in so doing.

If there is a time given for gratitude, take it, no matter how manufactured or marketed. Perhaps in our giving thanks we can be open to hear about how we came to have what we have at others’ expense. Perhaps in our gratitude may be birthed genuine honesty, compassion, and sense of justice for those who live in squalour, darkness, fear, and despair who help create our Norman Rockwell illusions.

More than anything else, true thankfulness of necessity aims itself at true justice. They walk the same road. They must. If they do not, what we’re experiencing is not gratitude, but gloating; not thanksgiving, but a dull acquiescence to the prevailing culture of excess, entitlement, and acquisition. If our intake of good things doesn’t lead to intentionality to provide the same for others, we’re missing the point.

Let us strive to enter into sacred gratitude this year, a deeply rooted praise to God whose heart ever pounds most for those who have least. Only then does Thanksgiving become more than a national holiday, feast to St. More, ghost of Granny Gluttony – prelude to the biggest parade in honour of covetousness: Black Friday.

Instead, may it become something transformative, awakening us, through gratitude, to the plight of others more than happy to lick the leftover gravy from our china plates.

“Lord of all good things, in all things we give you thanks. But, in our gratitude, open our eyes and hearts to our neighbours, forced to live with less because we have demanded more. We offer ourselves as vessels of love and justice by means of the very gratitude we feel. Let our gratitude lead to giving. Amen.”

Coming soon…A Coddiwomplers’ Tale

Dear friends, we find ourselves in the midst of a most effervescent time in our journey. It is a white-knuckle, white-water experience of unstoppable force to which we can only close our eyes and hang on. And it’s wonderful. It’s a tale I’ve been longing to tell.

Just not yet.

I’ve only just recently replaced a lost computer, the one upon which I presently type. Therefore, dear reader, I pray patience as I hoist the riggings on this puppy sufficient to the task of bringing you more of…A Coddiwomplers’ Tale.

Until then, peace and laughter, dear souls!

A Coddiwomple for Two, Please

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On the eve of a departure, likely the most significant one we’ve yet taken, we stick out our necks and push our faces into the unknown. Eyes are open but unsure what they’re meant to see. In that “light” I give you the perfect word for our upcoming explorations in France and the UK: “coddiwomple.” 

The first time I ever prayed a labyrinth was many years ago now. It was with good friends of ours in a concert hall on the Linfield College campus. He had made it himself from fabric not unlike a painter’s drop sheet. He laid it out carefully on the stage, being careful to smooth out any unsightly wrinkles (a rather good picture of what we seek to do, often with little success, in our own lives!)

Candles dotted our prayer landscape like a fisherman had caught the Milky Way in his net and simply repurposed his catch of stars for our purposes. Quiet, contemplative music of Taizé aurally framed our time. Then, with only the briefest introduction, we slowly set upon our inner pilgrimage.

I had my journal with me that I might capture my impressions, however fleeting, and return to them as needed or desired. An amateur, I simply followed my more experienced friends around the simple concentricity, ever pushing toward the center, meant to represent union with Christ. 

Unlike a maze, which is designed to confuse as it amuses, labyrinths have a single entrance. One way in. One way out. It is impossible to get lost in the labyrinth. It is designed for prayer, contemplation; all picturing a pilgrim’s journey into the magnetic center, the heart of Jesus.

One is safe there. Found. Home. The way there and the way back are equally special.

I walked away from that experience deeply satisfied. But, I cannot say in honesty that I heard any holy whisperings. No lightning. No still, small voice. No goosebumps. No angelic shoulder-taps. Not even an email address! It was just…nice. As we drove home, we did so knowing something holy had transpired, though not burning-bush or eastern-star holy.

Then, inexplicably, after a couple weeks, I began to notice things. Little things. Things so inane and banal that they hardly warranted a second thought. But, it was as if my “spidey senses” were on full alert. My antennae were set on high. When a person would speak, I would instantly hear something of God in their words.

Aha! So THIS was the gift of our labyrinth experience. Hearing. My spiritual ears had hearing aids and God’s voice suddenly showed up everywhere. Loudly. Insistently.

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As Rae and I make our way to France for the Serve Globally EuroRetreat, it is our labyrinth pilgrimage. It is a journey into a vast, cosmic mystery of “what the hell are we doing?!”

However, if what we glean from it is less immediate than we’d like, I return to the profound difference I experienced in that first labyrinth prayer journey, even if it was weeks later. We’ll take whatever direction comes our way. Or not. As long as we can hear even a little more clearly what God is saying.

Therefore, in this clumsy coddiwomple into the future, we proceed not cautiously as much as expectantly. Our ears are full-cocked to hear whatever voices may be forthcoming; voices that comprise, ultimately, The Voice.

Lord, in your mercy, as we listen for your voice, hear our prayer.

Poulsbo-ing, the Beginning

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            We’ve been addressing a particular trajectory to our lives.

Longing/Desire           Awakening/Awareness       Union/Formation

We’re going to backwards engineer the gospel. We’re going to do this in a couple ways. We’ll read a few key scriptures, lean into some key concepts and hopefully come out with a more suitable language for gospel enterprise than has typically been presented.

Something a little yummier.

Genesis 3:1-13: Original Sin Is Secondary Fixation

So, what is “original sin?”

Why do you think the serpent went first to the woman? I had a short-lived career in sales. My training was clear. Always aim for the decision-maker, the alpha in any group. The serpent needed to break the hard one first. Destroy the tougher of the two.

It well knew that Adam would cave like a frightened little boy (which, of course, he did). When approached, Eve perfectly parrots what God had just told them. She remembered word for word God’s explicit instructions.

Women listen. They remember. Best of all, they fight well when cornered. She puts up a good struggle against the serpent’s clever quips and subtleties. She dodges and weaves with a sense of duty and obligation. Responsibility.

But, alas, in the end she succumbs.

But she fought well first! Adam, dumb shit-head that he was, says not a word when she hands him the fruit. Drooling and hungry, he says not a word. He just eats. One can hear the serpent thinking to itself, “hmm, no challenge there.”

Sin entered the world when lesser longings became enshrined as fully satisfactory to the human experience. We would forever experience a distance between what we long for, struggle for, and our actual experience. It’s really more about idolatry than pride. When anything less than simple communion with God is the object of our affections, we will remain disaffected, distant, sick, unhappy.

There’s much unhelpful language floating about with regard to the process of our becoming. I want to address some of that.

In this process, there are some bible words that we need to reclaim from the smelly hallways of fundamentalism, in order to make them once again winsome and helpful. And, just before we do that, let me ask your thoughts on something. What is original sin? Choosing as the object of your affection and adoration anything less than God. It’s really more about idolatry.

I want to get at this by means of a picture. I call it the concentric circles of longing:

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Sin. There are numerous terms in the scriptures that speak of those thoughts, intentions, or actions which separate us from God and our truest selves. Can we name a few of them? (Hint: there are 33!).

Sin. Trespass. Offence. Iniquity. Transgression. Wrong-doing.

I want to address the most common one: sin. In Greek, it is: Αμαρτία (Hamartia).

It occurs 174 times in the New Testament! It is an archery term. It means essentially to “miss the mark.” This is actually a positive term in many ways. It is less dismissive of our humanity than we’ve made it to be. In fact, it suggests that in our longing for union, we often shoot awry. The arrows of our longing are misspent on wrong or insufficient targets.

But at least we’re aiming at something! God comes to improve our aim by shooting the arrows for us!

Temptation. The Greek for temptation is, πειρασμός (peirasmós). It means “to prove” or “test,” or “try.” It has both negative and positive usage throughout the scriptures. To be tempted is to be presented with options that fulfill desire. Choosing those options determines the course and quality of life thereafter.

Salvation. The word salvation comes from the Latin salvare, “to save.”  The Greek equivalent is “soteria.” Salvation doesn’t always have to do with theology. Salvation is the act of saving from sin or evil, or even just from an unpleasant or harmful situation. It is a much broader term in Greek than we often think of in English. Inherent in soteria are a restoration to a state of safety, soundness, health and well-being as well as preservation from danger or destruction. It carries with it the ideas of deliverance, rescue, redemption.

We’ve made a term aimed at our wholeness into a transactional matter between an angry, tribal god and the sinners he can’t wait to destroy. Sadly, the gospel has become as simple as, “You’re horrible. Jesus isn’t. Believe that and get to go somewhere nice forever. Don’t, and you’re doomed. Forever.” That’s how much we’ve diminished the term. It’s latin root, salve, aims more at healing than anything. It pictures the broader healing ministry of Jesus whose touch brings healing, physically and otherwise.

Holiness. In Hebrew, qedesh. A word that biblically speaking is a concept of beauty has become anathema because of being coopted by those who, one, are anything but and two, have wed the term to certain unbiblical litmus tests: social conservatism or progressivism, nationalism, talking point politics, and political position and power, good manners, etc. It’s the exact issue Jesus faced in the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes. It has once again become a stultifying term with little to recommend it.

I admit that, for many of these reasons, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the word for many years. It so reeks of theological condescension and smugness that there’s little life left in it.

I had the opportunity to work alongside Dallas Willard a few years ago. He was fond of saying that holiness is the idea that we’ve become so Christlike in our thoughts and behaviours that God can trust us to be good. In fact, he said that true biblical holiness, wherein our total person was being brought under the loving captivity of Christ, made us responsible / response-able to act in ways that shine the light of Christ into the lives of others.

Now THAT’S an idea I can live with! Augustine said that the sum total of our lives is to love God and do whatever we want. Holiness, where our longings are being recaptured, redirected, and reoriented toward God. Holiness equals freedom.

Heaven. Does anyone know the Greek word for ‘heaven?’ It’s παράδεισος (paradeisos), or paradise. We’ve taken this term meant to convey the abode of God; the incorporeal, incommunicable, ineffable nature of God into one of mere geography. We live now on earth. We’re gonna live then either in heaven or hell. It’s an extremely limited, linear way of seeing God. It places God on a simple timeline and in a certain place.

Do you wanna know what “paradise” actually means? It’s originally a Persian word used for an orchard or park, and it means with/alongside God, or the gods!

Heaven is less a “place” than it is a “mode of being.” It is not a “where” as much as it is a “how.” We become eternal inasmuch as we hang out with one who is eternal: God. That God lives both in and outside of the time/space continuum. God is not tethered as we are to our geography and our clocks.

Taken together, these four terms form a rather alluring invitation to look into our deepest longing and let the Spirit address it in meaningful, life-changing ways! Sin becomes the failure of even our best efforts to find union outside of God’s intervention on our behalf. As we learn to humbly acquiesce to God in that endeavour, we find rescue: salvation. In turn, that leads us gradually forward to a place in which we more readily aim at what is best, and find it in God’s name, to the end that we live increasingly as God does: eternally. We live as God does, in paradise. In union with God and everyone else.

John 3:16-17

16 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

17 ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

This is a hinge of scripture. It is the fulcrum in the balance of eternity. Much of western Christianity, which is squarely built on shame/guilt motif, spends all its time trying to escape our sinfulness into our sainthood. The resurrection has become the central doctrine and everything serves it. Increasingly, I believe the Incarnation to be the lynch pin.

We long for union with God, but not before God longed for the same. Ours is predicated on God’s. We wouldn’t know desire unless it wasn’t first birthed in the heart of the God whose desire for us risked the destruction of God’s only son.

We must see our desire for love, for community, for wholeness against the backdrop of the God whose longing heart makes such longings possible and gives them context.

Our deepest longings are met in God’s longing for us. It’s that simple.

There’s one more word that makes me cringe a little. It’s a word we love in our culture: obedience. In our own spiritual development, many of us get stuck right here. In fact, much of American Christianity is solidly stuck in the very elementary language of ownership, authority, rulership, and the expectations of obedience.

            Friends, obedience, as important and biblical as it is, is almost the lowest form of relationship we can have with anybody, let alone God! When two people have formed an indissoluble bond of love and trust, when would it ever be appropriate to use the language of obedience? Instead, we would use the language of sacrificial self-giving, of loving acquiescence, of complete surrender, of mutuality and reciprocity. There is no quid pro quo. There is no ledger of benefits or liabilities of disobedience. There is only love and respect and the longing to protect that longing in the other.

Obedience is easy next to longing. One can grit one’s teeth and obey. But, to face one’s deepest fears and desires, uncertain of how God will come to us, is costly. It is risky and requires energy and vulnerability, faith, hope.

Longing – Awakening – Union. It is the basis for all true spirituality, whatever its religious underpinnings. In each of these three posts from our CFDM retreat, I’ve included a typically glorious poem by John O’Donohue, Irish mystic. One of the lines says this: “May the one you long for long for you.”

In our Christian journey, this is a statement for which there need never be uncertainty. For God so longed for the world, that he gave…

May we learn to do the same.

Poulsbo-ing, part 2

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My first installment involving Poulsbo-ing introduced the trajectory seen and experienced in all true spirituality: Longing – Awakening – Union and back again. There, I remarked on what I believe to be my existential preparedness to speak on the topic of longing. Not because I’m the most learned guy on the subject. I can’t readily quote all the heavy weights. Largely because I can speak from my own experience of how longing and its fulfillment (or not) has helped me find some good tools for navigating its heavy currents.

Having read many books on this particular topic, I have to say that my personal favourite is the pivotal work by Catholic theologian, Ronald Rolheiser, entitled The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality. At the beginning of chapter one he implants the following poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:

“The Holy Longing”

Tell a wise person, or else keep silent,

Because the massman will mock it right away.

I praise what is truly alive,

what longs to be burned to death.

 

In the calm water of the love-nights,

where you were begotten, where you have begotten,

a strange feeling comes over you

when you see the silent candle burning.

 

Now you are no longer caught

in the obsession with darkness,

and a desire for higher love-making

sweeps you upward.

 

Distance does not make you falter,

now, arriving in magic, flying,

and finally, insane for the light,

you are the butterfly and you are gone.

 

And so long as you haven’t experienced

this: to die and so to grow,

you are only a troubled guest

on the dark earth.

Rolheiser makes the astounding claim that everyone has a spirituality of some kind. It is either constructive or destructive. But, we have one all the same. And, long before we do anything explicitly religious at all, we have to do something about the fire that burns within us.

What we do with that fire, how we channel it, is our spirituality.

What shapes, motivates, and inspires our actions is our spirituality. And what shapes our actions is basically what shapes our desire. Spirituality concerns what we do with desire, how we channel our eros, our animus; our innermost being. Anytime we begin to wake up to the fire that burns in us, we come in contact with that which holds the key to our (dis)content. We begin to awaken to something in us beyond our understanding and control.

What we do with that discontent is our spirituality.

Rolheiser calls desire our fundamental dis-ease. Danish philosopher, Soren Kirkegaard once defined a saint as someone who can “will the one thing.” Have you heard that before? Such a beautiful, succinct definition. Rolheiser goes on to compare the spiritualities of Mother Teresa and Janis Joplin. One managed to capture and focus her eros into a place of integration: the one thing. The other never did. She fell apart, dissipated, and her eros ended up killing her at age 27.

Most of us fall somewhere in between: Princess Diana. Both erotic and spiritual mixed together in a constant battle between the two. 

All things speak to our desire. Some more than others. I’ve often wondered why I’m more readily drawn to movies, books, or stand-up comedy than I am to a bible study or lecture? I wonder if it has anything to do with our topic?

The latter typically (and rather sadly I should add) appeals to our heads, our duty. The former tends to speak more quickly and directly to our passions, our desire; to our life. I believe Eldredge, in his book, The Journey of Desire: Searching for the Life We’ve Always Dreamed of reminds us that “Hollywood has mastered the art of speaking to the human predicament.”

In fact, I think movies and art in general speak gospel much more forcefully and accurately to us than those self-proclaimed prophets of the good news, many of whom are basically just peddling one more idea in a saturated marketplace of ideas. Just more information, rather than inspiration leading to transformation.

Longing is costly. It is risky and requires energy and vulnerability, faith, hope. Sometimes we can fool ourselves and others that we live in contentment. More often, it is the mute resignation in the face of muted desire. Our hopes have been dashed so often, that we’ve given up hope but called it contentment.

Either way, our invitation is to awaken to the fire that burns within us. It is a fire burning in hope of union with God and all others. It is the root of all genuine spirituality. 

An exercise in awakening: A Visio Divina of The Return of the Prodigal Son.

Longing – Awakening – Union: the story of the Prodigal Son is a gorgeous microcosm of this process. A young man, impetuous, head-strong, very like many of us were when we were younger (or not!), seeks to satisfy his desires in less than helpful ways. In short order he begins to struggle and finds himself in dire straits. What is it that convinces him to return? Not repentance! That happens later.

Desperation.

Few stories are as emblematic of misappropriation of the heart’s desires as this one. It is found in the fifteenth chapter of Luke’s gospel. A veritable cavalcade of longings, the immediate, abused, misunderstood, and immature desires of a younger son; the unrequited, unspoken, hidden, forgotten, ignored desires of an older son; and the aching, bewildered, vulnerable, yearning desires of a doting father. This story has it all. 

It is a tale of awakening. Awakening to the many levels of longing to which the heart is privy. The entanglements of those levels, and the deepest longing of all, aroused in different ways in different people – for union with God and others.

As many have before, gaze deeply, slowly, prayerfully into it.

What do the characters tell us about themselves?

How does spiritual longing reveal itself in each one?

Where are you in relation to the father?

Do you feel yourself moving in a particular direction? Toward or away from a particular character in the drama?

What stands in the way of your becoming the father? 

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The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt van Rijn. Created 1663-1669

Closing Prayer

“Holy One, our Abba, in all our comings and goings, be alone, our deepest longing.”

Poulsbo-ing, part 1

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What follows in this series of posts are in fact my notes from a retreat I recently co-led for a delightful bunch of kindred spirits.

I suppose I should have had a more to-the-point title. But, I would have had to produce something innocuous like “CFDM 2019 Retreat Notes.”

Mmm, sexy.

Failing that, I could have gone with my basic premise: Longing – Awakening – Union. 

Too academy.

Instead, I decided to aim at something less high school journal or quarterback mystics club. A collection of family cabins cuddling an inlet in Poulsbo, Washington was where we did our holy business together. We spent an enriching few days Poulsbo-ing, and loved it!

They are alumni of Christian Formation and Direction Ministries Northwest. A more fun and authentic bunch would be hard to find. They’re about as representative of the kaleidoscope of spiritual seekers as any group can be. All of them thirsty for waters of abundance, hungry for food both spiritual and otherwise, and ready to party.

Bible study “disciples” always take themselves far too seriously. Mystics are better at belly laughs any day. Anyhoo, here’s part one.

Introduction                                                                                                           

All of us are in the process of learning how to pursue the spiritual life; how to discover, nurture, sustain, and propagate a Christian spirituality that is life-giving for us and, hopefully, for others. We’re on the significant journey of learning about our own souls, how they relate to God and to one another, for the distinct purpose of guiding others into those same discoveries.

Of the many ways to articulate this, one might be: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” It is a high calling indeed! Let’s look a bit at this thing we call our “spirituality”.

The entire spiritual enterprise can be summed up in this way:

Longing (Desire)                 Awakening (Awareness)             Union (Formation)

Webster’s dictionary defines desire in the following way.

desire

verb

de·​sire | \ di-ˈzī(-ə)r  dē-\
desireddesiring

As a verb, it is to long or hope for something, to exhibit or feel such longing. For example, to desire an immediate answer. It conveys the potential for one to feel the loss of the same as in “she was sad that men no longer desired her.” As a noun, it reveals something longed for, hoped for; or a conscious impulse toward something that promises enjoyment or satisfaction in its attainment. Or, the opposite, ridding oneself of desire in pursuit of some other goal.

Everything we’re about in the process of personal/spiritual evolution and growth hinges on these three things. And, as followers of Father Richard Rohr, or indeed the entire Christian mystical tradition, one would see this formula at work absolutely everywhere in every corner of Christian spirituality. And, not just Christian spirituality, but in most major religions as well. Some iteration of this formula is always at work. We shall discuss this a little more in session two.

It is why mysticism, not theology, will ultimately unite us and bring healing to the world.

The theme of the retreat is formally, desire. However, as an overly melodramatic Enneagram 4, let’s go with the more evocative term, longing. 

I have numerous reasons why this is a happy venture for me to pursue. In a sense, I feel uniquely “qualified” to speak on this particular topic. Certainly not because I have any kind of book learnin’ thereto, although I’ve read dozens on the subject. More because of my particular construction as an individual.

I’m the oldest of three adopted siblings. I have known that powerful longing for one’s first and truest validation of a birth mother who gave me up. It has affected everything I am and do to this very moment. I have struggled to deal with what the psychologists call “the primal wound.” That is, in utero rejection (although she would never say this and I’m happy with how things turned out!), and the process of learning to find the embrace of one’s own mother, and “the breast” elsewhere.

Trust me, I have known longing.

I’m a Scots-Canadian living in the United States. As I’ve discovered over the years, my ancestors were almost entirely English and Scottish, with some deep roots in Canada as well. But, as an adopted child, I grew up never really understanding any of those profundities to which one normally ascribes a sense of belonging. The most elusive concept for me has always been that of “home.”

Trust me, I have known longing.

A thorough going pluviophile, I’ve always yearned for rain. I grew up in Calgary, where rain comes just a few times a year, usually in the form of hail. And, for thirteen years we’ve lived in semi-arrid Yakima.

Trust me, I have known longing.

I longed for the sea but grew up in the foothills of Alberta’s Rocky Mountains. Any time we have lived close to the sea, Vancouver, B.C. or McMinnville, Oregon, we’ve been happy as clams (since we’d be closer to their experience).

Trust me, I have known longing.

I ached for all things ancient. I grew up in a very wealthy oil town in a constant state of construction to build all things new; glass and steel monstrosities in place of wood and stone, which much better house our collective memory.

Trust me, I have known longing.

I’m a mystic at heart in a world where such silliness is hardly tolerated. Alberta cowboy culture has precious little appreciation for anything that doesn’t git ‘r done or earn a buck, quickly. “Just get to the frickin’ point, will ya!” I got tired of hearing it when I was more interested in the way to the point more than whatever point they thought needed making.

Trust me, I have known longing.

As a progressive, it’s been a challenge trying to live my Christian story in the good, but oftentimes, stultifying waters of evangelicalism. The mechanistic framework of it didn’t lend itself well to the contemplative endeavour. Nor did it ever have enough room to ask “unacceptable” questions for “unvetted” reasons. I consider myself a moderately progressive contemplative, post-evangelical of Celtic persuasion.

Trust me, I have known longing.

I’m a curious, armchair intellectual who loves rigorous conversation around difficult and challenging topics. I’m an expert in no topic whatsoever. But they all fascinate me. I grew up with family, friends and associates who felt alienated by it. It made for a lonely upbringing.

Trust me, I have known longing.

I’m a recovering alcoholic. That’s a story in itself as you can imagine. But, if there’s one thing alcoholics know well, it’s desire. Crooked, misplaced, askew, but desire, nonetheless. We learn how to coax it, feed it, protect it, and lie about it. And, if anyone knows anything about alcoholics: we’re the best liars in the business. We experience deep longing but understand it least. Why? Because we’ve effectively hid from it rather than turning to face its immensity.

Trust me, I have known longing.

I’m an ENFP and an Enneagram 4. Need I say more? The world likes to say they love the untamable spirit and unquenchable fire of E4s, but when it comes down to it, they prefer to keep us at arm’s length where we can entertain, be the cool, slightly aloof, friends at parties, or make things more interesting or beautiful. But, just don’t hang around too long, or you’ll bum us all out. By default or design, an E4 is the most complicated person in any room. We have a tendency to make a cottage industry of melancholy. We love to pedal brooding and morbidity. When a person of a different number shares their pain, we inwardly think it quaint or trite by comparison. We’re generally miles ahead of them in that department. Trust me, I have known longing.

As a young boy, I was a shy, escapist lad who lived amidst vast collections of all kinds of things but, primarily, his imagination. On a few occasions, I would have these existential “moments” that would only last a short time. In them, I would get a sense that all was right and good in the world. All childhood anxiety would leave, and I’d be left with a vision or picture of the world as God sees it. I’d be mesmerized…

I share a lot of poetry and writing in these things. It helps keep my thoughts moving in a single direction. I pray you’ll forgive these indulgences. Here may be found an example of one of these contemplative moments as a young boy.

As I’ve grown older and learned of my Celtic heritage, I came to see these moments as descriptive of “thin places” along the journey. How many of you have heard that term before? The Celts believed there were places, both physical and otherwise, where the divine was especially close to us and that we could move in and out of our present realities into something indefinable, effusive. I like to picture it as someone standing behind a thin, white sheet hanging on a clothesline. God’s hand and mine are touching through the thinnest of fabric separating us.

Discussion Questions:

Can you point to a moment or moments in your own life in which you simply knew God’s proximity and presence? When God was decidedly real for you?

What comes to mind for you when we say the words, “desire,” or “longing?”

What images does it conjure?

What feelings does it evoke, either good or bad?

What are the things for which you most long? That you desire most?

 

A Longing Revisited

Rob and Rae, happiest where things are oldest.

As a faith-type guy, some would consider me a bit blurry, outside-the-lines. Generally speaking, I make theologians nervous. Well, the heaven ‘n hell type ones. The most fun happens at the periphery anyway, so we’ll call it good!

As a writer, some might think me a one trick pony, writing incessantly on matters of mayhem and mystics and the marauding spirits of days gone by. Auch, a little chaos never hurt anyone. Really. Right?

I’m fairly banal, all things considered. Eccentric, yes. But harmless. I’m a fairly decent bloke with a thing or two to say about matters spiritual, the crazy conundrums of Celtica, and a harangue or two when the mood takes me. And, amid the din of voices speaking into that life can be heard a single word, rising like Charlie Brown’s enigmatic pumpkin out of the misty soil of my life.

Longing.

One cannot be a contemplative, a mystic, and certainly no Celt, without referring to it ad nauseam. It’s the fodder of our trade. The raw materials of a life lived deeply and well. The whole gospel enterprise can be said to be birthed from the longing heart of God. “For God so longed for us all, that (s)he gave….”

We Enneagram 4s can prattle on about many things. But, anything at all that touches those regions of heart and passion and the long list of indefinable wonders housed in the deep places of our souls? Yeah, that’s our wheelhouse, baby. Let me at it. Leave the how-to manuals and protocols and methodologies to the corporate types. Once they’re finished showing us how to multitask (gag), and get the most out of our days (yawn), we’ll bring the paint job, prog-hipster-coffeehouse banter and acoustic song-craft to speak life back into the emptiness they leave behind.

With that rambling, far too self-aware set up, I get to the task at hand. I want to share a new story that is unfolding. It’s actually an old story with a brand new face. My wife and I are answering a decades-long call, a longing, to move to Britain. I’ve droned on about this longing on many occasions and in different ways. But, the bottom line is that, by summer of next year, we will be making a new home somewhere in Britain.

For greater context, I include below a letter we just mailed out to my congregation. It gives a bit more detail. Thankfully, it doesn’t ramble anywhere near as much as I. (But rambling is what I do.)

                                                                                     Thursday, September 5, 2019

Dear friends,

Serve Globally is the foreign missions arm of the ECC. It partners with local churches and organizations around the world. In Europe, they’re involved in church planting and growth, engaging the arts, spiritual formation, evangelism in a post-Christian context, leadership development, ministry to exploited and/or trafficked individuals, and engagement with refugees and immigrants.

Even before Rae and I met, we both felt called to the UK. Thirty years ago, just before our first anniversary, we worked together in an under-privileged area of Edinburgh, Scotland.  The church wanted us to stay. We desperately wanted to stay. For a year afterwards we prayed and obsessed about returning, but encountered several administrative issues. So, we had a baby instead!

Last July we both knew God was calling us away to something else. We knocked on the door with the denomination to consider church planting. At mid-Winter this year, on a whim, I asked everyone, everywhere if we had any Covenant connections in the UK. At that time, I made a brief contact with Letha Kerl, one of the European coordinators. On March 23, we were supposed to meet with the director of church planting for the PNW to proceed with an evaluation. Because it took three months to arrange that meeting, a desire not to waste his time produced a check in our spirits.

We weren’t free to revisit the call until the final phase of empty-nesting ended. With our boys relocated and established in Calgary, on March 23rd we had a Skype call with Letha and her husband, John. By the end of that call, we were urged to apply to Serve Globally and deepen the discernment process. The more we delved into the paperwork, the more obvious it became that God was leading us back to the UK, and to revisit a call that has never gone away.

Born in Wales, Rae is a British citizen and plans to find a job in her field. She recently attended a worldwide Geographic Information Tech conference where she tirelessly networked and made some wonderful UK connections. Upon discerning with the Kerls, we think it best to live where Rae finds a job. My own ministry will spring from there.

In establishing a Covenant presence in the UK, we don’t go as competition with existing churches. We are invited instead to bolster and support them. One avenue I’m pursuing is working in spiritual formation and the arts with Renovaré UK.  Renovaré is a Christian non-profit organization that is ecumenical in breadth. It encourages Christians to seek continual renewal through spiritual exercises, spiritual gifts, and acts of service. I’m well acquainted with the organization having served for many years at retreats with most of their key people. My master’s degree follows the Renovaré platform.

This will be at least a year in preparing. We don’t see ourselves departing until roughly this time next year as we raise the needed support for myself, dispose of most of our possessions, and get our house ready to put on the market. As well, we have a Missions Equipping Training Event next June at North Park Seminary.

We are planning a fact-finding reconnaissance trip to France and Britain at the end of October. In Paris, we will meet with another Serve Globally couple working with arts and spiritual formation. Then, we travel with them to a retreat in Sête, France, where we will meet the rest of the Europe team. I will be leading worship and Rae has been invited to work on an online mapping product for them.  From there we have many meetings lined up in London, Aylesbury, Edinburgh, and possibly Glasgow. We hope that it will bear fruit for both Rae and I in focusing our respective call.

Thank you for your faithfulness to our family, your ongoing friendships, and for participating with us in this time of prayer, seeking, and discernment. We have deeply loved this church. I believe it has loved us. Since we’d be honoured for Yakima Covenant Church to be our official sending body, you’d not be losing an employee as much as gaining a missionary instead! We pray that as we embark on this adventure together, we will all find places of refreshing in the Spirit and renewal in our shared Christian journey.

This story map, made by my geographer wife is much more fun, interactive way of saying some of the same things.

Thanks to you, my readers, for hanging in there with me and letting me toss around my longings in your faces for these years. You’re brave souls, all.

Your friend in the mystery, R

The Saving Power of Beauty – A Navajo Blessing

You can find this gorgeous prayer here. But, innerwoven requested a special backstage pass as well. Enjoy.

Chaco-Canyon-NM-Photo-Philip-Greenspan.jpgWalking in Beauty: Closing Prayer from the Navajo Way Blessing Ceremony

In beauty I walk

With beauty before me I walk

With beauty behind me I walk

With beauty above me I walk

With beauty around me I walk

It has become beauty again

Hózhóogo naasháa doo
Shitsijí’ hózhóogo naasháa doo
Shikéédéé hózhóogo naasháa doo
Shideigi hózhóogo naasháa doo
T’áá altso shinaagóó hózhóogo naasháa doo
Hózhó náhásdlíí’
Hózhó náhásdlíí’
 Hózhó náhásdlíí’
Hózhó náhásdlíí’

Today I will walk out, today everything negative will leave me

I will be as I was before, I will have a cool breeze over my body.

I will have a light body, I will be happy forever, nothing will hinder me.

I walk with beauty before me. I walk with beauty behind me.

I walk with beauty below me. I walk with beauty above me.

I walk with beauty around me. My words will be beautiful.

In beauty all day long may I walk.

Through the returning seasons, may I walk.

On the trail marked with pollen may I walk.

With dew about my feet, may I walk.

With beauty before me may I walk.

With beauty behind me may I walk.

With beauty below me may I walk.

With beauty above me may I walk.

With beauty all around me may I walk.

In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk.

In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk.

My words will be beautiful…

_________________________________________

Linguistic Note: The word “Hozho”  in  Dine’  (roughly translated) Concept of Balance and Beauty. Consideration of the nature of the universe, the world, and man, and the nature of time and space, creation, growth, motion, order, control, and the life cycle includes all these other Navajo concepts expressed in terms quite impossible to translate into English.   Some Navajos might prefer the term: “Nizhoni” meaning  ‘just beauty.”

* * * * * *

Written by Robert S. Drake, for Tom Holm, PhD, University of Arizona American Indian Graduate Studies Program, Native American Religions and Spirituality.

From Laura Jean Truman

After Business Hours Bar.jpgOn her website she self-describes in the following way:

“Laura Jean is an Atlanta based writer, itinerant chaplain, and amateur mystic. She lives and writes in the in-between places of queerness, loving Jesus, and rediscovering the Bible after fundamentalism.”

She’s becoming a favourite blogger/human of mine. She’s smart, insightful, brave, witty, and honest. I hope you like her as much as I. 

Here’s her latest piece: “The Gospel of Being Human.” Brilliant.