Masked Marvels

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I haven’t gotten used to it. I haven’t met anyone who has. It is somewhat of an obstruction like none other as we now find ourselves masked in public. I have struggled with why it seems so unusual, beyond the obvious reality of it being new for most of us. When I think of masked people, my mind, first and foremost, goes directly to superheroes, Marvel Comics, and even wrestling commercials which flash by while watching television. It is, more often than not, primarily men who are trying to hide something about their identity. The mask is a way of entering into character, releasing their invincibility against their human opponent, making them, in one sense, like “gods”.

There are many reasons why it feels uncomfortable to us but, quite pointedly, it has become a barrier to our own humanity. From the time we are kids we learn to react to the facial and body expression of other people, from parents, siblings, teachers, and the rest. We come to rely on others to express how we should feel or how to react in different situations based on the other person. We know when someone is happy, sad, excited, angry, and downright outraged and we react to their human expression. It becomes so habitual for most people we aren’t even aware it’s happening. When people are happy, we react by being happy for them. When people are angry, especially at us, we do what it takes to eliminate and diffuse the situation. As kids, it tends to be a great way because they haven’t quite fully grasped the wide array of feelings and emotions within us. Most have not been taught how to handle the feelings and emotions or at least their varying nuances.

However, as adults, things change. It wasn’t until I started going out wearing a mask to stores and such which something just didn’t seem right. A friend had pointed out to me, then, how the mask has taken away the facial expression to which we learn to react. Quite frankly, sometimes this is a good thing, especially when you find yourself around grumpy people in stores! However, I couldn’t help but notice the sense of shame and guilt I had been experiencing when I went to stores, as if I had done something wrong, and I had no one to affirm otherwise through smiles or nods. It felt almost criminal. It was like confronting a void, of sorts, something which had been stripped of us for which I, like many, come to rely upon. For some it feels like a stripping of their humanity and freedom, whatever that means. But there’s more to it.

For some this may be the first time in life reckoning with their own life. It may be the first time where we have no one else to tell us how to react, now finding ourselves as masked marvels. We become so reliant on “outside authority” to tell us how to think, feel, react, we become void of our own humanity, literally separating ourselves from our interior life. Not many can argue we lack depth as a culture and society. We can see it just in how our leaders act and react to one another. We’ve become so dependent upon others we’re left not knowing how to feel or think on our own. Is it any wonder why so many would protest placing something over their face? How will they know how to feel and what emotions emerge? How will I know how to react to varying situations? It’s revealing just how bound we are by our own darkness and why we want to fight for “freedom”.

Here’s the gift to the mask. The mask has simply turned the mirror inward. We know longer have the external “mirrors” allowing us to react and so we’re being given a lesson in self-discovery. It’s why I was so conscious of the feeling of guilt and shame when I entered the store. There was no one there wronging me in any way. It was my shame and guilt I was confronting. When I encountered others in the store not wearing masks, it was my anger staring at me. When I had run into a teacher from my childhood it was both my joy to see her but at the same time my own sadness not being able to stand in the store and catch up in any way. The mask, whether we know it or not, is giving us a great gift but like some gifts we don’t always know what to do with them, or for that matter, don’t even want the gift in the first place, feeling no need for it.

Like the masked marvels from comic books and the big screen, they both disclose and conceal something about ourselves. They may, in some ways, conceal our own humanity from others, but they are inviting our own feelings and emotions to disclose themselves to us. All it takes is a little awareness on our part as to what’s arising as we find ourselves wandering and meandering with this new reality of masks. It’s an opportunity to be happy and joyful for ourselves, not just because it’s a reaction to someone else telling us how to feel. Most importantly, it’s a time to confront so many of the negative feeling we tend to push onto other people through blame and victimhood and surrounding ourselves with others in the same way. If you’re angry, mean-spirited, feeling shamed or malice, welcome them home as the poet Rumi writes in the Guest House. They are yours and acceptance moves you to being more fully human.

I’d imagine we’ll spend years if not decades ahead questioning and learning all of which this time is trying to teach us about our humanity, revealing our selfishness, our values, or even lack thereof, but maybe most importantly growing into the person we often seem to know the least, ourselves. It’s too easy to react to the seething anger, the belief of rights being trampled, and the backlash towards leaders, but all of it is revealing something about ourselves and who ever would have thought it would be mirrored through a mask? Rather than digging into being the “gods” we think we are, a simple piece of cloth is inviting us to lean into what has lied dormant and hidden, our own humanity, teaching us to love the other and empathize with all who are truly hurting in this time, including ourselves.

Softening Gorge

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“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”     Norman Maclean

I have spent a great deal of time sitting, walking, and hiking along the Lehigh River and the endless paths of the Lehigh Gorge these two months of distancing. I’ve watched it from a variety of angles, different times of the day, even in differing weather conditions. There’s something quite captivating about listening to the running water as it washes over the rocks. During this time, I could only imagine the chill of it as it rushes along, always seeming like it has somewhere to be and yet nowhere to go all at the same time. The rocks, although we know otherwise, are rather ill-phased by the rush of the water, as if they stand as a stabilizing force against the youthful nature of the water. Maybe it is part of the attraction of the water, knowing there were days earlier in life when I felt invincible against it and now relate more to the grounding rocks than the rage of the water, as if I have learned there’s more to life.

The draw to the water, though, is something internal. It’s the youthfulness of the heart that draws back. I suppose over our lives we fight this spirit, thinking the rocks know better and are going to outdo the waters. We become jaded, hard-hearted, and bitter before life, fighting this youthfulness. However, in these days and weeks sitting there listening to the waters flow, it’s as if my heart leaps for joy, as if it has returned to its home and natural state. Isn’t it always the heart which takes the brunt of our rigidness, fighting off its natural capacity to soften our edges, as if we know better than the heart? We don’t. I don’t. The heart, like the waters, are relentless in their pursuit of our attention.

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Glistening waters along the Lehigh in Rockport

Sure, at times it seems to subside to nearly no movement and even stagnant, but never arid enough to quiet the possibility. The water always seems to make its presence known even when it slows to nearly nothing. Our anger, hurt, pain, seem as if it’s going to do everything to kill the spirit and, of course, at times it does. It often takes something radical or an abrupt change before it once again is awakened and movement becomes unstoppable. The amount of energy it takes to hold onto and to try to control the contours of the water is unbearable. I can try all I want. However, the force of the water far outweighs the grounded dams we construct for ourselves. We are surrounded by plenty of Wonders which remind us of the relentlessness of the spirit of water and its ability to change a landscape, even if over centuries. It is the tireless pursuit of the spirit of the waters keeping it so young and glittering against the spring sun. It is the same relentless spirit determined to change the landscape of my heart.

As Maclean writes, I am haunted by the waters. The waters, at times, have wreaked havoc in my life. The haunting isn’t as much a hallows eve scare as much as it is a deep respect for its nature and ability. However, now in retrospect, it was a fear of the spirit coursing itself through me. It was the edges of my own mind and ego which thought it always knew better than the spirit, and did all it could to suppress it and change its course in order to avoid spilling over the edges. Think about it, when water forces you to confront your own mortality, won’t you do anything you can to avoid such pain again? Little did I know, at such times, of how relentless it would be in vying for my attention, to the point of nearly feeling like I’m drowning on a daily basis, of fear, hurt, pain, and grief. The cleansing power it carries seemed all but a theory in those moments, but now, a recognition of my own self avoiding such a cleanse as if all which stood so firmly was my deepest identity, yet always coming up short. It is this spirit, after all, which defines me and you. It is the heart which claims our deepest self, where waters run freely and consistently.

So, I sit here, simply listening to the movement, as if it aligns itself with the movement of the heart. While here there is a oneness like none other, kids playing together without a care in the world and the rocks sit quietly and patiently no longer needing to control but allowing the waters to flow freely. It’s like the elders and icons of the natural world enjoying the moment for what it is. There’s something quite captivating about the glittering evoked, like the sparkle in the eye of child, a return to innocence. It’s not there to reminisce of who I once was but rather to remind me of who I always am and how easily it is to let the sparkle go. Rocks can be just as relentless, trying to tell us to be something or someone other than. Not these rocks, though. They simply allow the waters to flow where they will, reaching every crevice and crack to reignite an aging earth and for the first time capture the aged truth where all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.

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Summoned Home

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Welcome Home! Anyone who has been to Bethlehem Farm will silently smile when they read those words. For anyone who has never been there before, it can be a bit unnerving. I still remember being greeted by Farmer Tim upon my arrival on a balmy April afternoon with a welcome home and a huge bear hug. Having never been before, it seemed rather odd but became a source of joy as I watched countless faces over the months give the same reaction, wondering, where the hell am I and what have I gotten myself into?!?

It was at one of the most turbulent times in my life. As my health had declined, I had stepped away from ministry. I had just resigned, packed up my belongings after dumping a lot of it, felt quasi-homeless, my dad was admitted to the hospital, and there I was venturing hours away to a place I had never been. It was so outside my comfort zone but at the time needed something to keep me engaged, even if it was for a month. It’s only in retrospect I can see just how much my foundation had, with each given choice, falling apart, at least what I believed to be my foundation as a person. It seemed as if everything I had known was slipping through my fingers and I was doing something absolutely ridiculous, heading to a farm in the middle of nowhere West Virginia. Just about the only thing Alderson, WV is known for is the prison which housed Martha Stewart, and well, The Big Wheel! You really have to go to truly appreciate the milk shakes there!

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After leaving the Farm (even though I’ve returned a few times since), Colleen asked me if I’d be willing to put a few thoughts down on paper describing my experience, as a man who had planned on staying a month and extended it to include the second half of 2019, as someone searching for meaning in a life seemed void of it, someone learning to trust on a much deeper level than ever before. I still believe the words to be true today as when I wrote them a few months back.

“I believe the novelty of the Farm, when it comes to faith and trust, is that it assists in revealing a deeper part of yourself that has always been in existence. As you well know, the act of simplicity, which so many speak about when they arrive, for me is central. As you begin to let go of the trappings of life, which are often reduced to phones and electronics, the deeper parts finally have space to surface. I believe, in my experience, the trappings include what others think, outside authorities, comforts of home, routine, etc. They are what I found myself trapped in when I arrived. If the Farm is truly of the Spirit, and I do believe it is, it simply begins to reveal the deeper truths and you begin to trust that instinct, that voice, that Spirit (whatever you call it) and your deepest identity (in God) is not only revealed but you learn to live by and through it. It would explain the change from restlessness to peace that I learned to live.”

If I had to sum it up, the extended time at the farm was about finding this sense of home in myself. It’s not just a cute little saying mentioned to pilgrims as they arrive for their experience. No, it’s an invitation into something much deeper than a mere welcome to a property. More often than not we are unfamiliar with the vast landscape of our interior home. We live in a world with so many distractions and ways to avoid the deeper crevices of ourselves where we seem like a foreigner, and even a fugitive, in some sense, from our own selves. We do everything to avoid and are often convinced of others they know what’s best for us and can define us in their way, we lose sense of ourselves.

It’s not until we can begin to silence the voices of the “authorities” around us when we can finally begin to hear our own voice, silently waiting for us to listen and consistently inviting us home. Whether we can admit it or not, we all wander beyond ourselves looking for answers to many of life’s complex questions. However, the answers to our deepest values and the meaning we thirst for have always existed deep within us. Like any of us who travel to the ocean for recreation, from the time we are kids we’re told to stay in the shallow waters. However, shallow waters will never fulfill this thirst. We eventually need to go out into the depths of the ocean, confronting our fears, or dig into the deepest part of the earth, in order to find what we’re looking for most in life. We eventually need to be called “home” to begin to accept and settle into our own skin for who we are, not who others want us or expect us to be.

The wayward path varies for all of us and some choose over and over to never engage it. We see the negative energy within many people who have been unwilling, and sometimes, unable, to enter into the journey “home”. We refuse and shut down rather than dealing with the necessary pain we confront along the way. We, as a society, have lost our larger story of this journey in order for personal gain and short-term success. However, this time of pandemic is inviting us into the deeper journey, the long-term journey, through the recesses of our hearts and souls beckoning us home, maybe for the first time in our lives. Beyond basic needs, if there is a push within you to return too quickly to a life which was, that restlessness is a summons you’re being invited into. You may ask the same questions, “Where the hell am I and what have I gotten myself into?”, but this is only natural arriving at an unknown place in yourself. Somewhere, deep within you, there is a voice saying “welcome home” wishing to embrace you with a bear hug reminding you of the value you are not by what you do but because of who you are.

 

Leaning Into Life

Although not discussed in great detail, I was watching an interview this week from a representative from WebMD about trends on searches during this time of pandemic. It was interesting to note the shift taking place in what people feel they need during this time, first on how long the virus survives on surfaces, when it first began, to now loneliness and depression. It seems like a radical shift as a majority of us quickly approach the second month of quarantine and social distancing and what it’s doing to us psychologically and spiritually. It may be true this pandemic is making us somewhat “stir-crazy”, understandable knowing what it’s been like together and individually. However, what we fail to recognize is the pandemic, in many ways, is simply allowing what has been for some time to rise to the surface and making sure we have nowhere to run, giving us the opportunity to no longer run from our own shadow, scaring us half to death. It begins to rear itself in our dreams and other means demanding our attention.

I’ve been depressed and experienced a deep moral loneliness, as so many readers’ have experienced in their lives or may be for the first time during this pandemic. I have had to take medication along the way in order to assist me in the process, giving the necessary bump to deal with the shadow of my own life in which I was running. If we stop simply at meds, though, we never actually deal with the problem of loneliness and moments like we find ourselves begin to feel excruciating. It truly is an invisible enemy easily masked until we are forced to stop or tragedy strikes, no longer making logical sense of the lives we’ve learned to box up and wrap neatly. It leads, unfortunately, to living a double-life which deepens the loneliness. Now, though, we find ourselves no longer able to run.

I’m not saying there’s an easy answer to any of it. However, most of us have had the experience of living double-lives, growing the gulf within us leading to this sense of darkness. Our identities have a tendency to be wrapped up in what we do, in our work, so when we find ourselves at home, week after week, our ability to run from the pain associated with this loneliness seems nearly impossible. It’s no wonder places selling alcohol become “essential” places because it so often is used as a numbing drug in order to take away the pain, when in reality, only deepens the pain to the point where it feels like there’s an abyss within our soul and we find ourselves freefalling into the darkness. There is a reason many need to go back to work. Certainly, there is the financial element for millions of people right now, but on a human side, so many do not know who they are without working, and working to the point of addiction. If we’re not producing then there must be something wrong with us.

I can recall days in my own life, when, upon finishing working, I dreaded going home. I dreaded the pain which would begin to surface within me because I was feeding an identity not my own. I can recall the level of pain I experienced at times in my life because of the gulf existing between work and home. Home became a place to fear and dread because I couldn’t outrun the pain. All I could ever do was numb it with whatever was available, often food for myself. I feel for the people who find themselves in this position today, after nearly decades of their lives working and being able to leave home to escape themselves. As ridiculous as it seems, I can even feel for people protesting. In the various images I have seen, you can literally see the pain in their faces as they arm themselves with guns and such, giving them a sense of power, in which has felt lost. They’ve lost their outlet and can no longer avoid themselves. Unfortunately, though, there’s always someone ready to capitalize on the pain of others. I remember needing to deal with the regrets in my life, the resentments I was holding onto, all aimed at myself, blaming myself, living out of my own victimhood. It was a feeling as if the world was consistently working against me and I allowed it. Anything to avoid the inevitable flip of the mirror of me staring back at myself, unable to run from my own hurt and pain. I will say, in my experience, men are much more susceptible to this type because they are driven by work.

We have a tendency to limit the pain of loneliness to elements of this pandemic, such as social distancing and the absence of physical touch. This may be true to a point and we can allow ourselves to feel the pain of separation in this way. However, I don’t believe it’s the deep loneliness and darkness some are experiencing these days. There is certainly a level of grief connected to the pandemic. I too am living in the same way, at the house I grew up in, but I by no means feel lonely. I don’t feel the sense of separation from myself. If, though, our identity isn’t wrapped up in our work and what we produce, it can also be tied to what others tell us we are, dependent upon what others think and believe about us. This too leads to a separation from ourselves. As shallow as our culture can be, generally speaking, we’ve lost the sense of transformation and even how to go about doing it and so we live in a perpetual state of anxiousness because of this gulf within ourselves.

There is nothing easy about loneliness, which can lead to depression for many. There is also no quick fix in dealing with it. The rush to normalcy calls to mind just how much we loathe the necessity to allow things to die, especially our thinking and mindset. The rush to normalcy is fed by the fear and anxiety we face in having no where to run from ourselves. Although I don’t know statistics, it would be interesting to see numbers on domestic abuse, alcoholism, increased addiction to pain meds, and all the other numbing elements occurring during this time. It comes down to this very basic principle of knowing ourselves and beginning to close the gap between the persona we present at work, in relationships, etc. and the person who lays his or her head on the pillow at night, the one time when we are truly alone. Our economy, our politics, religion, job, all want to define us in one way or another and slowly we take on their identity as consumer, party affiliate, winner, loser, sinner, hard-worker, and we begin to believe this is finally the identity which defines me.

However, none of them do. None of them. As all of these identities have slowly been stripped of us the past month, we are left with our own poverty, our own sense of abyss within ourselves which doesn’t need to be feared but rather which we surrender to the voice calling us to enter into our own darkness, our loneliness, not to be consumed by it, but to feel our way through the darkened corners of our hearts and souls and to claim it. We need not fear the terror of the night! I have written it in all these posts these weeks, we are all being given a golden opportunity! In an addictive and co-dependent culture within so many of our institutions and organizations, we have been set free from what has bound us most. It’s no wonder they rush to get us back! We help in feeding these masters, these ghouls, decorating us with lavish identities, hiding our poverty and making us feel rich!

My friends, and all who read this day, what is your relationship with the ghouls which have identified you? With your religion, your work, newsfeeds, your political affiliation, your whatever? Most especially, though, what is your relationship like with yourself? Welcome reality as it is and not the way any of them tell you. Recognize what you actually have control over, the choices and decisions you make for yourself and not much else. Become aware of how you feel the world has worked against you and begin to shift the mindset where it works for you. Don’t sit around and simply wait for this to pass, even though it will. Allow yourself to be empowered to change what you can in your life and begin to close the gap causing such deep loneliness. This ultimately leads to the freedom we truly desire in our lives, a freedom which doesn’t come through some official document nor from carrying a weapon.

Think about people like Saint Paul, Martin Luther King, Jr, Anne Frank, and so many others who were imprisoned in their own right and still spoke from a place of freedom. They had the mindset of a world working for them and no need to blame. Trust me, there’s still a loneliness which accompanies such darkness when you feel you stand alone and being crucified. However, they were true to themselves, dealt with their darkness, and learned to be empowered through and with it rather than running away. The wisdom figures of ancient past all point to the same deeply held truth, what appears to be our greatest fear and obstacle, the thorn in our side, is often our greatest gift. Don’t run from the loneliness of these days. Rather, lean into it and allow it to teach by welcoming it in, allow it to be healed, and offer it back to a hurting and often lonely world.

Caught In Between

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I’ve been thinking a lot about Browning, Montana. Now for most people this means absolutely nothing. Unless traveling through Glacier National Park, most would have no reason to know Browning let alone even hear of it! Browning sits at the base of the mountains, and when visiting during the winter months, you’d think you were going to be blown back to Kansas as the wind whips down the side of the mountain amidst blowing snow into this small town. Browning sits within the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and is neighbor to one of the most beautiful and spectacular national parks around, even during the dead of winter.

I never knew much about life on a Reservation until I had the opportunity to visit on three different occasions, chaperoning with high school students. It’s a rather unique experience because much of life is contained to the particular space, not only because of the heritage, but also practically there is nothing in sight for hours All you see are endless fields.  Needless to say, groceries are quite expensive since there’s no competition and requires more to import into town, addictions run rampant, education is less than stellar, poverty only continues to escalate, and opportunity for long-term work and success has all but vanished beyond any visitors from Glacier who straggle through during the summer months.

So why has it been on my mind? Well, I’ve been spending this time of pandemic back at the town I grew up in and spent more than half my life. Since then I’ve not only visited Browning, but Third World countries, various places around this country, as well as Europe and Israel, so I’ve had the chance to see and experience many places over the course of my life. Yet, here I am, back where I began. I have seen, though, many similarities to some of the places I have visited, like Browning, and this town which I now find myself writing. No, it’s not an Indian Reservation, but has become similar to many other small, more rural towns in America. Like Browning there is but one grocery store with high prices. At a normal time, it’s much cheaper to drive to the Wal Mart fifteen minutes away. Most industries have all but left, and driving through the “downtown” area, a place I spent hanging out with friends in all types of weather, is vacant, dilapidated, and mirrors a war zone much more than the booming feel it had as a kid and teenager. Unless you hit the one red light in town now, there isn’t much reason to stop anymore.

Just like ourselves, when life simply becomes about survival, rather than thriving and booming, as many small towns have become, we begin to attract people who are like-minded. We begin to become depleted without much vision or purpose along with a lack of funds. Learning begins to falter in education systems unable to keep up with current trends, even more glaring during this time. Creativity seems to be all but lost as to how to move forward. We literally become stuck between two worlds, seemingly at odds with one another, when in reality we’re at odds with ourselves, more often than not. It is, after all, a small town with a big heart. However, it’s a hurting heart which doesn’t beat as quick as it used to in days past, weighed down. Like most things, it has a lifespan, but it doesn’t mean it has to end.

If you don’t know the history of Reservations, the long-term intent was an extinction of Natives. It was not some kind of gift to them but rather a way of ridding the country of a problem. They too become trapped between tradition/heritage and the guilt of losing it or sacrificing it for a new way of life, or better yet, thinking. Like most of our problems as a society, we’d rather try to get rid of it than to deal with it, but unfortunately in the process of trying to be rid of it only tends to deepen it, including the resentment and anger associated with it. We’ve seen some of the problems rear their head during this time of pandemic, consistently finding ourselves stuck and reacting, as if playing a game of whack-a-mole all with a silo mentality in a global world. It was Einstein who’s quoted saying, “Problems cannot be solved with the same mindset that created them.” There’s much truth to the statement. Yet, we try and it moves us to the place of confinement, unable to let go despite a wanting to move forward. We see it not only in small towns but in cities and in the country as well.

I’ve only had the experience of living in the city of Baltimore in my life so it’s the only one in which I can speak. Like small towns, it lacks a vision and is always behind the eight ball in dealing with issues. The number of lives lost to murder and homicide is staggering. There is, though, also a tension which exists. With the lack of vision on a larger scale for a city like Baltimore, neighborhoods take it upon themselves to change. You can see it driving through various locations. For those of us wanting to see a bigger picture for such a place, it looks like an experience of gentrification, and is on some level. It’s pushing the problem to other locations and often feeding into the level of crime existent in the neighborhoods. Like minds gravitate to like minds. If life is about survival, it’s about survival and we’ll go to a place where we can simply hang on for dear life but it’s not a mindset which will bring about change because it’s not even possible when in triage. Parts of cities, small towns, Reservations, end up becoming about extinction than about booming and thriving, a place to die. It feels rather hopeless.

Yet, it doesn’t need to be about blame or feeling hopeless. We often settle for a victim mindset because we’re comfortable there. There’s a sense of safety there because I can avoid looking at my own life and actions as to how they have contributed to the problem. It’s easy to blame the federal government for creating Reservations. It’s easy to blame suburbanites for fleeing cities for a “better way of life”. It’s easy to blame outsiders coming into small towns and destroying them and making them unsafe. But when looked at through the lens of a mindset, it should not come as a surprise. Rather than being in the uncomfortable place of change and letting go of what no longer works, we’d often rather settle for one or the other, past over present, tradition over change, the way it was over the way it could be. We don’t have to choose, in this regard, but rather take the wisdom of the past, the learned experiences, and allow them to be the framework for the future. Sure, there is a letting go needing to take place, even if it’s our anger and resentment for a life which hasn’t necessarily turned out the way we wanted it to be or the feeling of being overwhelmed by all which needs to be done. Change isn’t a leap but rather a step-by-step process, and before you know it, you’re on the other side of the river, once again booming and thriving.

It takes a will and desire for change, an acceptance of our present reality as it is, not in the illusion we often create it to be, and a heart freed of the hurt which has held you back. Whether it’s individuals, towns, cities, countries, or even companies, if they cling too tightly to what was and not wanting to change, you’ll always be playing from behind because life has become too cluttered. We become victims and do what we’re so good at, blame. It’s not to say we don’t take responsibility for problems which exist. If it is a problem plaguing any part of humanity or this world, we all have a responsibility. It’s not just the neighbor, the mayor, the president, Congress-men and women, or anyone else. It’s a mindset and mindset is the hardest to change. It can only be changed by a higher consciousness and this time is providing us the space to move to a deeper and yet higher place in our lives and society. We have a responsibility to one another, not just to ourselves. We mustn’t create a safe space for ourselves and forget about everyone else; that’s selfish. We must create a world which seeks the common good of humanity.

It is a daunting task but it’s step by step. In order to become unstuck we must make the conscious choice to do so, to have the desire to be free in order to move forward. This place of tension in which we find ourselves, between pre-pandemic and post-pandemic, will either paralyze us or free us and our imaginations for a better world. I’ve seen both at play daily. Hunkering down in great fear will only continue to paralyze you and deepen the anger and resentment which already existed. Yet, being cautious and using time wisely, as we used to say back in the day, can bring about great change in the future. It’s a time for self-reflection for all of us as to what world we will choose to live in as we move forward and begins with not only a vision for our own lives but for our towns, cities, nation, and world.

Unknown Truth

It’s not wrong to go without, even if it means confronting some of our deepest demons of safety and security or even the “warm fuzzies” we often come to rely upon in our lives. It has become too easy for any of us to go and get what we need or want when we want or need it. I wouldn’t think twice about running to the store, the computer, Amazon, a church or place of worship, whatever it may be to satisfy often the unease I desperately try to avoid within myself, as if I’m somehow lacking. If there’s anything about this pandemic experience we can learn, it’s just how convenience has ruled our lives. It’s not until we’re forced to stop, shops close, churches lock doors, sports shut-down, where we begin to see just how easy our lives have been and how uncomfortable we are with unease. We begin to “see” how much we’ve been able to avoid the acute pain within ourselves by running and avoiding the darkness, the hell, which has loomed. Quite frankly, more often than not we don’t stop until we’re forced to and are left with nowhere to run, hit square on by our own darkness.

There are more examples than I can write of here how we have projected this darkness onto society and the world rather than confronting our own demons. We simply want life to return to “normal”, one for the sake of routine and ease, but also because of our uncomfortableness with the unspoken and the “virus” which has hovered below the surface of our own lives and society at large. This may very well be the first time for many having to confront the “stuff” lingering below the surface, unable to know where to turn or who is going to understand since it is so new and the natural inclination is to “stuff” it. I don’t know about anyone else, but there are moments, in particular around the sleeping hours, where I’ll awaken in the darkness of night feeling short of breath. It seems impossible to distance ourselves from stories of respiratory failure wondering when it’s going to be my turn. As someone who’s dealt with respiratory issues in the past, including pneumonia, it’s easy to say I’m not going to worry but another to actually believe. There are so many unknown factors at play since it really is, novel. It isn’t, though, a respiratory condition, but rather a deeper reality trying to emerge from the drowning waters of the subconscious.

It may be one of the greatest factors at play in all of this. Living with the sense of ease and convenience, we’ve become accustomed to certain degrees of certainty and now trying to navigate without. As litigious as we are, or were, as a society, we tend to thrive on certainty. The more knowledge, facts, knows we have, the more comfortable we are as people. As it is with avoiding pain, we avoid the uncertain and the unknown out of fear. Yet, much of this experience has been about the unknown. As a matter of fact, it seems as if the more we know by watching news and reading about the pandemic, the greater the degree of fear and anxiety becomes attached to us. If we can extrapolate anything from the experience, it should be the degree of trust we place on what we believe to be certain, what makes us feel safe and secure. We want answers! The level of blame going on, and not simply on the political level, points to how much trust we place in something which is merely an illusion in the first place and how much we lack in faith and the deeper sense of trust which defines it.

We tend to associate experiences of the “dark night” as moments of depression, and it can be, or bad days and weeks, also can true. There would certainly be many stories of such an experience going on in people’s lives at this moment. However, there is a deeper sense of the dark night unfolding within and beyond us at the moment and an invitation to a new way of living rooted in faith and trust. It doesn’t necessarily come in the form of depression or despair or the unsettlement of our lives. Rather, the invitation lies within the experience of the unknown and this sense of aloneness and lack of meaning we find ourselves in during these days and weeks. Even our faith traditions have fallen prey to the illusions of safety and security over the years and the certainty the illusions provide. “If I do all the right things and follow all the rules, I’ll ‘go to’ heaven.” Unfortunately, this isn’t faith. However, when it begins to fall apart, and I question, and life doesn’t seem so ‘black and white’, there is the beginning of what can be a dark night, something truly to be grateful for! Otherwise “faith” is simply a means of control, who’s in and who’s out, especially when the world around us feels out of control. When it begins to feel as if we’re drowning in our own pain and grief, we will find anything to give us this sense of certainty, as if something in our lives is controllable.

Yet, now we even find ourselves in the absence of this version of faith. Doors of churches, mosques, synagogues, places of worship have been closed and locked. It alone can be seen as a dark night, but I would add at this moment of history, a necessary one for the future relevance of religion on our lives and society. The codependent relationship of religion and politics has done nothing to further the rich traditions of the contemplative and meditative natures a dark night like we are experiencing demands. The relationship has clung to safety and security and the demand for certainty which only something like a pandemic can begin to unfurl. We can almost expect the thirst for power to exist in politics; it always has. However, more is to be demanded of our faith traditions than mere fabrications of certainty when the only truth we can cling to in moments of unknown is Trust and learning to accept it in the unknown, in the darkness.

I could understand wanting churches to be packed on Easter Sunday, even if it was a highly unlikely goal. However, in a time of pandemic and utter darkness for so many, maybe the best gift we can give is to delay Easter for a later day. I mean, there really is no reason why it can’t be delayed. If there is a greater need for us as a society, it’s to know what suffering is and learning to trust within these moments. Instead we’ll fabricate an Easter in the absence of people, who not unlike the disciples, found themselves hunkered down, isolated, questioning, fearful, within the upper room, trying to make sense and meaning out of the events of suffering and death. Even after resurrection Easter could not be fabricated for the followers. They had to come to the place in time and it often didn’t happen until they allowed themselves to get out of the way, enter deeply into the sense of “going without”, and learn to trust in their own very darkness, unseen by the naked eye throughout the unfolding story and not made visible until life and death intersected.

We’ve settled for so little and often because of our inability to go without, sacrifice, and to feel the “pinch” so many other previous generations learned to live. We’ve settled more often than not for fabricated Easter’s, saying we no longer need to live with the suffering and darkness. However, this is not faith and trust. It’s living with the illusion of truth and certainty all while closing a blind eye to the suffering of our brothers and sisters around the world. We’ve settled for a fabricated Easter by throwing money at problems, always having heady and pious answers, clear definitions, blaming others for problems, weaponizing and polticizing scripture, and spiritualizing real problems. It’s all a fabrication of our collective ego in order to protect what we believe to be most important, but it’s not faith nor trusting. It’s believing a truth we can live with one and without the other. Faith, however, is learning to live with both and feeling the tension between life and death, light and darkness, suffering and joy.

What’s dying is the illusory ego. How do we know? We know because of the lack of certainty, no quick answers or fixes, no foreseeable return to “normal” (nor should we), confusion, darkness, death. It’s all there fixed on our screens not unlike the scenes of 9/11. We were given an invitation then and we let it pass us by, trying to consume our ways out of it. We are now given another invitation to understand our complexity as humans, the truth of life and death are all of us, when we have nothing to consume as doors remain locked, where all we can do is sit in the darkness of the moment and feel. It’s a painful feel, as if I can’t breathe, a sense of isolation, lacking purpose and meaning, trapped in the upper room, fearful of an unseen virus and maybe the unknown of my own life. We are given a dark night at a time when we need it the most. We are given time to “go without” so many ways of life we have become accustomed. I’m not saying it’s easy. As a matter of fact, it’s growing old quickly. However, there’s more to learn. Even as I write I can feel it within myself.

Are we going to continue to settle for mere fabrications of safety and security? Are we going to use this time to grow exponentially as humans, learning to see each other as ourselves, understanding the suffering of others? Are we going to continue to settle for a faith rooted in certainty rather than trust and truth? Are we, as a society, going to finally deal with a broken heart of a life which hasn’t been as expected and finally allowing ourselves to be led by a healed heart rather than an injured ego? Are we going to continue to allow ourselves to be victims and blame “the world” for all of our problems rather than take responsibility for our lives? These are questions we ask in the darkest of nights we are living in this pandemic.

It’s not a moment to sulk, even if I feel it at times, but rather to find glimmers of light within the confusion, chaos, darkness, fear, uncertainty for we are both and not one or the other. It’s a moment to accept our own mortality and commit to living life differently as we go forward, day by day and choice by choice, to live from a deeper level, a higher consciousness, filled with faith and trust. It’s a moment to learn to live without, without certainty, safety, security, knowns, facts, ins and outs, convenience, ease, and to leap into the unknown. The great promise and truth I can give is it’s the best thing you can do for yourself, we can all do for ourselves. It’s uncomfortable, there’s grieving, it’s dark, and all the rest, but it’s the hero’s journey, a faithful journey, and truthful journey, one leading to meaning and purpose and a faith rooted not in certainty but in the darkest night of the soul, wandering lost, where life no longer makes sense, only desiring and wanting nothing more than to feel the “presence of the Soul” once again.

Hopeful Grief

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There are times where I just can’t work. I feel like I don’t have the energy to do much of anything and push myself to go outside for a walk, get fresh air, escape the confines of “stay at home” orders. It can be quite depressing and with very little purpose. The saving grace is some arts and crafts time with the kids which focuses me on their youthful energy, despite the feeling of wanting to go right back into hibernation when they leave. These are hard days, even for an introvert. Sure, it may be my natural inclination to find time for self-reflection, but I’m also a person who loves making connections, not only with others, but within myself and even assisting others to do the same. There is, if I could ever admit it, a grief unlike any other I find myself going through right now, after a year of tremendous moments of grief, all seemingly to be different than the one before.

As I stand on the proverbial threshold of another year of life, my 48th birthday and the beginning of my 49th year, I am mindful of this grief. Although there’s often a grief on such thresholds, this one seems very different, one coupled with hope. It was a year ago at this moment in which I officially resigned my position of pastor and found myself, what I like to call quasi-homeless, and searching for a place to land and land quickly. I think back to such moments now and wonder how I had the muster within me to do what I was doing, stepping away from a life I knew well and yet was killing me on another. There I was, on the threshold not quite knowing what was lying ahead but willing to take a step, and it is just one step at a time, to a healthier life. It is a threshold, as I didn’t know then, leading me to the “home” within myself and not necessarily needing to know a street address I could call my own because somehow this home would give me all I needed.

Thresholds and transitions are always staged within grief. It always marks the end of one chapter or book and the beginning of another. I didn’t know when I stepped through how it would look, and at times, still do not. We can never fully know what we are getting ourselves into at any given moment. The threshold we find ourselves standing at these days seems only to vastly grow wider. It seems as if there’s no end in sight to the confinement of our homes and lives. It explains the lack of energy at times of simply wanting to lie on the couch, slide the screen of my computer, and every other distraction I manage to find during the day, all because I know there’s no crossing this threshold at the moment. All any of us really can do is stand and dream of what lies on the other side and begin to tap into the creative energy which seems to have laid dormant in our society for all too long.

We can’t seem to run from the “stuckness” we’ve found ourselves and the lack of creativity associated with it. It feels all the more visible these days, unable to outrun. When we’ve allowed ourselves to create and recreate reality television programming, sequels to endless movies, is it any wonder we’d be somewhat drawn to movies like Groundhog Day when it’s the life we’ve often settle for before we’ve reached this threshold. It has been about doing the same thing over and over again, insanely believing it will somehow be better the next time around. It never is and yet we try. I’m reminded of the words of a therapist who had told me the trick with eating a delicious slice of cake. There is nothing like the first bite when we can taste all the succulent flavors hitting the various parts of our tongue. However, we’re never satisfied with the first bite. I know I’m not. We immediately live with this false sense of hope each bite following the first will not only compare but outdo the first. It never does. Yet we try, over and over and over again, believing if I try just one more time somehow this will work and be the best. Take it from me who loved to jump around, it doesn’t. It has nothing to do with the cake in the first place. It was the lack of satisfaction and creativity in my own life, numbing the grief rather than confronting my own pride, filled with arrogance and ignorance as if I knew what was best. I didn’t. It wasn’t about the cake. It was about me. It’s hard, packing up, nowhere to go, quasi-homeless, looking to land, standing at thresholds, wondering what’s next, a new year beginning, confined to home. Who wouldn’t be grieving? It appears we are now unable to avoid it.

Grieving, though, can easily turn into depression. We see it everywhere around us. Whenever the cruel parts of this world catch up with us and force us to slow down and even stop, we’re simply left with ourselves. Sure, there have been other moments but not in my life do I remember being confined in such a way. I’m not who likes this feeling to begin with, knowing my own anxiety as I wrote in the previous post. It has led to restless nights, questioning in ways I haven’t before, and lots and lots of writing, trying to make sense out of things beyond the rational mind. It’s hard to listen to reports knowing there’s nothing I can do. I suppose some of the grief comes from feeling helpless in these moments, when we know there is greater risk in venturing out than there is staying home.

There is, though, hope. We see it in the world around us as pollution decreases in these days, crime has fallen, people are finding ways to connect and assist, it is a moment when we can all empathize with one another. The place we call is getting a much-needed rest from our utter destruction out of our own selfishness. I was struck on Friday watching Pope Francis walking alone in the darkened square facing out to a quieted and rainy city of Rome. There was simply a light in the midst of it all, guiding him along his way. We have been blinded not by light but by our darkness, our grief. We have believed what has led to darkness to be the light. We seek something and someone beyond ourselves to give us the answers to our difficult questions. It’s not to say we can’t find answers through our relationships and connections, but it is only deep within ourselves, our home, where we find what it is we seek for in life. We can’t help ourselves to be mesmerized by the darkness and its lure of artificial light. We’ve settled for superficial, less than, the loudest voices, glitz and lights, an impossible dream, and so on. We have not sought the light; we’ve wandered in the darkness, and whether we can admit it or not, we’ve liked it despite its ability to fulfill us.

This is the threshold in which we now stand. It feels even more relevant for me as I embark on another year of life following a year of tremendous upheaval and yet great peace and fulfillment. I’m not sure I’d even be in the place I am today, standing on such a profound threshold, if it wasn’t for the year which has passed, resigning, months living and working at Bethlehem Farm, countless miles traveling back and forth as my father was dying and his inevitable death, questioning what’s next, quasi-homeless, do I start my own business, and so forth. Is it any wonder there’s grief? Is it any wonder the threshold carries such magnitude? I know, though, I don’t stand there alone right now. A year ago, I felt it was a crossing I had to do on my own. Little did I know a pandemic would close out an already unusual year for me, and for that matter, welcome a new year. Yet, it’s what is reality at the moment, the one thing we try most to bypass. It’s a time for creativity, questioning, grieving, self-reflection, wandering in a darkness and seeking what really matters, our deepest values. We mustn’t fear the darkness of our own lives; it carries many of the answers in which we seek.

The grief we experience right now is real and profound. It contains all we have become and all we can be. It contains all our regrets and our dreams. It contains all our fears and hopes. We need not pass up the moment being given to us. We are given the time to do, individually and as a society, an examen of who we have become and question what we take beyond the threshold. As vast and wide as the threshold appears, it’s as narrow as the “eye of a needle” and so we only take what really matters now. It feels like tremendous loss, as if we can’t live without so much, and yet it’s the path towards the freedom we love to tout and the meaning and purpose we really desire. If moments like this don’t lead to deeper questions, we may never move to a place of deeper consciousness and continue to settle for our selfish ways, feeding a pain shared by one another and a tired earth. It doesn’t undermine the loss of life, the great suffering, and the utter darkness some experience in these days, but it is only hope and courage allowing us to take the next step for ourselves into the next year of our lives. For myself it comes in the form of a birthday, but for all of us it comes in the form of a new birth and a new world in a post-pandemic world, but first we grieve a world we can’t and mustn’t take with us beyond this threshold.

Terror of the Dark Night

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It comes in the form of feeling trapped. For anyone who knows my story, you know I nearly lost my life whitewater rafting more than fifteen years ago now. I will never forget the feeling, the feeling of being trapped. For me, it’s the experience of anxiety. Sure, there are many other manifestations of anxiety in people’s lives. I can simply speak of my own experience. It’s the feeling of drowning, for others, death, still others, trapped in a confined place, a closet, the sense of losing it all, things falling apart around me, the loss of control. The way it becomes embodied in our lives, because it does take shape in the body, are far too numerous to spell out here. Anyone who is at least somewhat self-aware knows and understands, to some degree, how it becomes manifest.

I still remember being called by a funeral director asking if I could come to a cemetery while a body is being transferred from underground into a mausoleum. As I began talking to the daughter of the one being exhumed, I began to understand its link to anxiety and an irrational fear. Here she was, making an expensive decision, based on her own fear. This was not the first, but now going to be the third burial place for her mother’s burial. To the rational mind we’d automatically deduce she’s crazy, and on some level, it is a madness or an insanity knowing we make decisions all the time out of irrational fears. She insisted to me her mother was claustrophobic and needed to be exhumed from the ground while never recognizing a mausoleum isn’t much different, going from one enclosed “resting” place to another. It was clear the daughter was not getting much rest herself.

It is a real problem for many, even on a societal level and begins to become all the more evident the further we embark on unchartered, or as we like to define everything, unprecedented, territory with the coronavirus pandemic. Very little is spoken of about mental health during this crisis but all seems to be surfacing the longer we find ourselves confined to a particular place. Again, there is the feeling of being trapped, cornered, confined, loss of control, aggressively moving itself to the surface. Unfortunately, we all find ways to keep it locked inside, but in some ways, now being confined to places, the external world has met up with the internal world we learned to avoid. We do it through overwork, eating, drinking, gluing ourselves to phones and pads, all to take “the edge” off in order to relax. It’s always been there but the pandemic is forcing us to slow ourselves and no longer run from our own pain and fear finding themselves bubbling to the surface.

Now I am not a mental health professional but I am a self-aware individual who’s done a lot of work on himself and understands the interior landscape. I, too, like many still run at times from my own pain. More often than not it’s because I’m just not ready to look at it but know it’s there. The easiest way we learn to deal with it is blame everyone else for our problems. It’s a good indicator of someone who has not done the hard, interior work. We even see this played out on a large scale when we blame, ridicule, put down, others because of our own inability to take responsibility for where are lives are at and an underlying resentment also feeding into our anxiousness. Most successful corporations are aware of the human condition and even hire psychologists to assist in their success. Steve Jobs never hid the fact of the inception of Apple coming from biblical reference and the unsettlement within human beings to want more.

Now we find ourselves at this crossroad, however, when we can begin to turn the system on its head because it has taken advantage of the weakness of our humanity. It’s one thing as an individual to tackle our own uneasiness, angst, or anxiety which remains the great “invisible enemy” in which we are at “war” with on a daily basis. It’s there and now is beginning to surface. We need to keep ourselves busy, it appears, get back to normal and work, so we can avoid the interior reality all the more. What we seem to fail to see is the energy required to blame, to remain victim, as if someone else is still responsible for our lives. Why on earth would we want to go to our grave miserable having never lived the life we wanted to live? There is a great freedom when we finally recognize the war we fight is against ourselves and no one else.

I think about all the energy I expended fighting everyone else. It’s not to say there aren’t times for it, but generally speaking the damage it does to my health and well-being, including my mental health, is a toll all too expensive. I understand it’s a painful process entering into your own anxiety and pain, but it is a necessary one as individuals and as a nation. If we don’t stop the blame game soon, the anxiety will only continue to deepen, the pain widens, and the feeling as if we are suffocating ourselves, as respiratory diseases do, will only begin to intensify. As a country we have shown our pride, but pride too has a dark side. It is the avoidance of our arrogance and ignorance as if we know better than the world and everyone else and our inability to say we need help. How many avoid the care of a mental health professional simply out of pride? The price, your own well-being. Is it worth it?  Ask for help.

Anxiety and pain are real and has an impact on our lives which goes unnoticed and unrecognized. If this time of quarantine and physical distancing should teach us anything, it’s the wake up call we should have anticipated for a long time. It’s not God smiting us for some bizarre reason, that too is blame. It’s not someone trying to do us in, that’s conspiracy. It’s not the world against me, that’s pride. It is, however, the world we have created and have bought into as being “The American Way”. If you still feel you’re not responsible, well, hopefully one day you’ll move beyond the stage of denial. It is after all a grieving process we find ourselves going through these days. Denial is everywhere around us and within us, avoiding the harsh reality that life isn’t always the way we dreamed or expected. It’s only when we move to the stage of acceptance where we can finally say, “you know what, that’s ok.” I no longer need to fight or blame but rather recognize and accept we are complicated people of both great joy and pain, victim and victor, winner and loser, and all the other paradoxes which make up the human condition.

Do yourself a favor. In this time of pandemic, look at it is opportunity, even our inability to gather as faith communities. We focus too much on the inconveniences of life. There are certainly economic and personal implications. We mustn’t deny it. However, there is also plenty of opportunity. We were designed for simplicity and not just from material things, but all we hold onto. Take the time to journal and write about your own pain, where life seemed to have treated you wrongly, the incessant uneasiness within yourself, the times you can’t breathe, all of it.  Go for a walk in nature and allow it to speak and allow yourself to listen. It’s the pain often making the decisions of holding you back from the life you had wanted and desired. In the end, we aren’t much different than the daughter unearthing her mother over and over again. We all just find different ways of doing it in order to avoid the most fragile part of what makes us human, our pain, hurt, and anxieties.

Use this time to go there and then you will find hope in the midst of pandemic and see just how much you’ve allowed yourself to be bamboozled by a ruthless world not because they’re out to get you and destroy you, but rather because it’s a world which hurts and acts out of the same place as your own pain, hurt, fears, and anxiety. There is already an anchor within you waiting to hold you down in the storm rather than being swept away in despair and depression. “Do not let your hearts be troubled…” It is, after all, a matter of the heart we need to learn to deal with for it is the heart which holds the pain and our head, our ego, trying at all cost to avoid, blame, and make us victim. No one can make the decision for you, not even me, all I can do is act as a guide on this journey to self-awareness. If anything, it will change the way you see the world and yourself. In the end, it’s all we can really ask for ourselves, for we need to fear the “terror of the night”.

Counterfeited Fantasy

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There’s not a more symbolic place in the United States than Disney World & Disneyland, standing as bookmarks on the far ends of the country. You know we’re in, as we all too often like to say, unprecedented times when they shut their doors to the public due to the coronavirus outbreak. If you’ve ever been you know it can be quite the magical place, as intended. It’s a place to escape the reality of daily life and enter into, in a sense, an Eden, where all seems right with the world. Of course, it’s not true. There are still overstimulated and screaming children who become overwhelmed by the choices they have and wanting to do it all, while running on fumes for lack of sleep and endless hours of walking!

It’s not, though, the point of this post. These theme parks are symbolic of more than America’s happy place or the place to escape. They are symbolic of a culture and a society, deeply rooted in our history, of avoiding suffering and a fraudulent belief we can always be happy if we just avoid the suffering and pain. If I can live Disney all will be well. After centuries of this deeply-held belief, we have been given opportunities the confront this illusion. Just within the 21st Century alone we’ve been given the chance, the events of 9/11, the financial crisis of 2008, and now once again, the pandemic having spread across the globe.

Generally speaking, a delayed response shouldn’t be to hard to believe by any of us, knowing how we’d prefer illusions over reality. Knowing this, it should also not be hard to believe so many quickly believe “fake news”, conspiracy theories, or without a doubt, our incessant need to blame others for our problem. There is no doubt we now face a “war” against an “invisible enemy”. There’s also no doubt it’s a “virus” causing extreme hardship. Sure, it comes in the form of the corona virus, but there’s a deeper war we’re being called to combat. In time the coronavirus will be resolved in one way or another. However, the deeper war is one we oft refuse to confront and it is the illusion of our “happy place” where everything is “perfect” and we’re always “right” and often avoiding the good. As Disney closes its doors to the public, we once again find ourselves on the threshold of this same door, to claw our way back to this “happy place” where we can avoid all sense of suffering and pain or finally slam the door shut on a way of life that just is not working and is tearing us apart as people.

Our lack of preparedness for a crisis, as well, should not surprise any of us. When we do all we can to live the Disney-dream, there’s no reason to be prepared and to be pro-active. Everything becomes reactionary because we’re always trying to deflect pain and suffering. If this time offers us anything, it will hopefully be self-reflection because it’s not only ingrained in a society, it’s ingrained in everyone of us throughout our lives. It’s no one’s fault but our own and the more we project the “invisible enemy” beyond us, we will continue to avoid not only pain and suffering, but reality itself. It would be great if I can spend my life riding through the darkness of Space Mountain or dress my best in the fairytale of Cinderella’s castle, but at some point we’re all pushed to confront reality and to see it’s just that, a dream, an illusion, and unfortunately, a lie. Our eyes are opened to the regrets from chasing an illusion of culture, society, and even our own lives. There’s no “living the dream” just living reality, including the cruelty and heartlessness it can throw at us at times. Yet, all will be well.

Now I’m not here to knock Disney. I’ve been there myself. I enjoyed the experience, despite long line and outrageously expensive prices! Yet, even that is indicative of the illusion we consistently face. We believe we can buy the happiness we seek out in this fantasy world. If I just have one more item everything will be right and it will take that pain away. However, as we learn at Christmas, it may take the pain away for a day, but it seems as if the more we accumulate and feed into the illusion, the deeper the pain and anxiety. We are, after all, an anxious people. Spending years working with young men and women assures me that this won’t change any time soon. We have, after all, raised them in such an environment. If there’s any glimmer of hope, many of them choose not to feed into this illusion, seeking a simpler way of life. Sure, there is a downside to it, but it is an opening to change.

I mean, who wouldn’t want Disney if we can do it. We’re always winners, we’re always on top, we’re always the best, we never have pain and suffering. It sounds heavenly and anything else like hell. However, my own life’s experience reminds me that both are intricately intertwined within me and the more I try to avoid hell, pain, suffering, the deeper the hole and the more I need to feed the illusion of the “heaven” I’ve tried to create through Disney. Ironically, Walt Disney’s original intent was the create an experience affordable for a family. The price of “heaven” has become out of reach to many average families. All of these facets are woven into the fabric of our culture, society, and religion in America, the greatest fantasyland on Earth.

So once again we are given the opportunity to allow the illusion to finally die. Will we? Quite frankly, the rest of the world already knows it’s not real. It’s only us who choose to ignore it while others around the world use it against us to feed their own. No, it’s not a pessimistic view of the world. It’s the real reality. We can only see such reality when we enter into the reality of our own lives then we begin to see how we have fallen for it as well. We want the real Eden and we settle for Disney. We want truth and yet we settle for fake news. We want honesty, yet we settle for believing only the people who tell us what we want to hear. It’s time, not only to wake up, it’s time for us to grow up into a culture and society which can serve in the 21st Century before the world continues to quickly leap ahead of us.

So much is being revealed to us in this moment of pandemic and pandemonium. It’s revealing how little our fantasy serves us when the cruelty of reality awakens. It’s revealing how selfish we can be with a sense of immortality rooted not in faith but in fantasy. It’s revealing how easily we can succumb to fear not by a virus but at the thought of a shattering illusion we believe defines us as a people, and one in which we have allowed to define us. As long as all is “perfect” in my own little world who cares about the rest. The earth is groaning along with the people right now calling us to change and to confront our own “invisible virus” as a society and culture. Will we embrace it or do what we have done in the past, feed it, eating us away not from foreign lands but right within. Quite frankly, they may be the most foreign of all lands to us as Americans. It’s a call to go within and confront our own fantasies and finally seek healing for the “invisible enemy” eating at us for centuries, since first placing foot on Plymouth Rock and from that point forward trying to destroy anything getting in our way.

 

 

Will It Slip Us By?

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At times, some of the greatest lessons we learn come from what at the time appeared to be an inconvenience. Now I’d be the first to admit the pandemic we now face as a human race ranks higher than an inconvenience, a blip on the screen. At least it certainly feels like more knowing how it’s changing our lives, and, quite frankly, not necessarily bringing the best out of us as if we face survival of the fittest. Hopefully in the end we’ll see how irrational the fear we operate out of can be and often inhibits our ability to handle chaotic situations. When we hear stories about hoarding toilet paper and Clorox products, as if we’ve never used the products before, it should simply make us cringe, showing the little concern we have of the other in our world!

For those of us who have to consciously work at not isolating ourselves, it can be really difficult. We’re told we need to distance ourselves from one another and hunker down for the worst, similar to when growing up preparing for an impending blizzard, knowing we’d be “stuck” for possibly days. As if technology hasn’t already done a number on interpersonal relationships, we’re now told that social distancing must be the norm. All of it being fine, but are we now willing to learn the lesson of what technology has done and is doing to us. Even more so, we’re going to find our faces glued to computer screens as we’re forced to work from home and remote locations. Will we find the time to unglue ourselves long enough to renew the aged tradition of simply being with one another? There are plenty of memes out there making us laugh about not knowing the people around us because of the busyness of our lives. We laugh at the partial truth being revealed to us right now and in these moments.

We are already a consumer-driven culture and society and without a doubt it’s what we hear of the most in these days. As I write, the stock market is once again down nearly 2000 points, as if it is becoming the norm these days, businesses are closing, even Wal Mart is shutting its doors early! What’s normal is a question for another time! However, our lives seem to be driven by numbers, and in particular, these numbers. Somehow the viability, health, and resiliency of, we the people, is driven by how well our retirement plans are doing in the stock market. Maybe I’m too far away from the 59 ½ age to claim anything in mine, but it’s a daily occurrence and apparent indicator to the health of our nation. Are we just too uncomfortable with the unknowns so we cling to the numbers? This is not to say we shouldn’t be prepared for retirement, especially considering the growing lifespan of men and women. However, the almighty $$ remains our most prominent god, ingrained in our very being. There is already talk about bailouts and saving industries, quite noble of us. However, it will be simply a band-aid on a growing pandemic of our obsession with money. It shouldn’t surprise anyone we’d be hoarding toilet paper and the such knowing we’d prefer to pad wallets rather than help others in need, each wo(man) for themselves. Will we allow our own selfishness to be addressed, changing to be more grateful? Will we become conscious of the deep truth, that, in the end, it means absolutely nothing?

None of it, of course, has slowed down the insanity of conspiracy theories, an avoidance of what is, and the revealing of a dysfunctional political system. It’s amazing to believe some kind of emergency declaration was even possible! Some would say we’re overreacting, as is our nature, but it also reveals how poorly we are at being proactive and seeing beyond a decision, unable to see long-term consequences of our actions. The political system is primarily a reactionary body and whoever gets the last word, wins. It’s about winning. However, when our morality and ethical code is driven by winning and money, too many lose in the process. As we see, it is the most vulnerable of populations who become victim of our inability to plan for a future. When decisions or lack-thereof, are driven by political gain we all lose because the poor, the vulnerable, and populations we’d rather write-off lose. Will we allow this time to open our eyes to the people around us, real people who have a story not unlike our own and need us now more than ever?

Will we allow this time to slip by, getting impatient wanting to return to a life we were comfortable with prior to a pandemic? Are we already getting tired of being around the people we’re now “forced” to spend more time with? It was hard to ignore the number of posts on social media this weekend about the cancellation of religious services. It left me wondering, what are we really missing? Are we missing eucharist, the obligation, the time, the routine? There is so much wrapped up in our Sunday rituals but maybe even this time allows us to evaluate what it is we’re missing in the absence of the moments. Did we think about the people we wouldn’t see? Better yet, do we know the people we see week in and week out on Sunday? I was always amazed at the number of people who remained anonymous each week. I wonder where they are and how they’re handling all of this. Does that sense of anonymity only deepen for people who have felt invisible? It’s easy to make “church” into a tunnel-vision when it’s meant to expand our vision, to the people, the hands and feet of the other, walking in our midst.

In the end, there’s a deeper truth being revealed about us as a human race, one of which we have moved so far from it’s become unrecognizable and one we fear. It’s the fact of we really need very little. It’s about simplicity. Take it from someone who’s life had been upturned the past year, still piecing it together for the future, you need very little. We’ve complicated our lives with stuff and a rapid accumulation of it. For over a year much of my belongings have been boxed up and inaccessible but also unnecessary. The more we have the more anxious we tend to be, thinking and convincing ourselves we need more. Again, just look at the insane stories of toilet paper. The more we accumulate the more we want. It’s our deepest truth, simplicity, and our deepest fear, not having enough, as if we somehow lack. It becomes about us, as if we as people are lacking in self-worth, belief, value, etc. Will we allow ourselves to embrace the deeper truth of ourselves in we are not defined by what we have or do but by who we are?

My fear is, like too many times before, we’ll allow this time to slip by and become inconvenienced because our lives have been disrupted. It’s unsettling for everyone. We’re in this together, despite social distancing and the feeling of being isolated in our little worlds. It is a time, though, to pause and reflect about our lives as the mortality of the human race is tested. Death has a way of doing it to us more than anything else. Don’t let the time slip away as another blip on the screen. Pause, stop, reflect. What really matters in your life? Who really matters in your life? Who are the people who have become invisible in the world around you? What’s their story? My guess is, not much different than your own. Turn off the television, the anxiety, the fear of it all and ask where it’s coming from. What are the deepest fears assisting in our allowing this to slip through our fingers?

Pause, stop, reflect. Don’t let the timeless slip away without teaching the value of the time we are given.