Paradoxes in Paradise

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Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

I needed to be held.

Difficult feelings had been arising in me well before I landed in Hawaii for a much-needed vacation last Sunday afternoon.

The previous day – Saturday, August 12 – I was driving back from Albuquerque, having spent the last four days at the Center for Action and Contemplation’s Living School. This was the beginning of my two-year journey under Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault, and Jim Finley. Master spiritual teachers, all of them. I was feeling excited and grateful.

And uncomfortable.

I had slept fitfully every night since arriving.

Encountering what was showing up in me in the lessons and meditations had not been easy.

And as I drove the four hours back home to El Paso, something else was on my mind. Charlottesville – my former home, my community, my friends.

Keenly aware of the anxiety and trepidation that had been building in that city for weeks, even months, in anticipation of the alt right march planned to descend there on that day, I knew prayers were needed.

And I had been praying. Praying for love to prevail in the face of such hate and violence.

You could say I had a lot on my mind and heart.

But in the midst of my prayer, something else arose. The violence and hatred I was praying to heal out there was also in me. I suddenly recognized the violence I was perpetrating towards myself in response to what had been showing up in me.

It may have been subtle, but it was definitely present. The self-judgment. The self-rejection. The ways I was hurting myself through my erroneous thoughts and beliefs.

In that moment, I realized that it was only in acting with nonviolence towards myself that I could even begin to help heal the violence out there.

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I needed to be with that painful realization. And to hold it with compassion.

But early the next morning I flew off to Hawaii without having the opportunity to venture into that painful place.

Yet I knew I would have to go there. One of the key teachings I’ve learned from Pathwork is that any difficult feeling must be fully felt before it can be transformed. Whether it’s hate, fear, grief, pain….

So, one morning I sit with that hate in my meditation.

As the feelings of hate increase, I feel my body grow tense and tighten up. I hear myself ask God, where were you? Where are you in this pain and hate?

And I believe that I must tense up to care for and protect myself.  The hate feels too big.

I am deep in the middle of this growing, threatening force when suddenly the image of a beautiful, white Hibiscus emerges. Its delicate blossoms are surrounded by a sea of soft, green leaves that seem to expand as they enfold all the misery and pain and hatred that had surfaced.

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And now everything is enfolded and held tenderly in the arms of this Source. A sea of Love.

Allowing this Love to hold my own hate softens my heart and, in turn, allows me to hold my darkest and most painful places with love, mercy, and compassion.

This is the place I needed to come to.

And I will need to return to again and again.

Because before I can stand against the darkness – and not come from a place of self-righteous certitude – I must be grounded in this love, vulnerable and aware of my own woundedness.

The darkness of the kind of hate we experienced in Charlottesville is, I believe, the pain of separation from this Love. Separation from the unconditional love of our Source.

As Rohr teaches, “The great illusion that we must all overcome is that of separateness.”

“Sin” is a symptom of separation, he says.

And yet the paradox is that we can never really be separated from God.

Here’s another paradox:

We are already whole and yet each of us is in need of healing.

And darkness must be revealed before it can be transformed by the light.

Before I left Hawaii, a hike at Volcanoes National Park gave me a great metaphor for what can emerge when what is percolating underground rises to the surface. Volcanic eruptions have created the most beautiful black sand beaches.

It’s just one example in nature.

All of this gives me hope that healing from the painful darkness we are seeing now is possible.

Because I know that love is trustworthy.

It is trustworthy. And it will prevail.

 

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Blinded…or How One Boy Challenges Response to National Prayer Breakfast Speech

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Once again a child  has revealed an important lesson.

As I stood on our steep hillside shaking out a rug, a mom and her three children waiting at the bus stop caught my attention. The eldest, a boy of about 7, had gathered pebbles from the rocky mound beside them and, as I watched, he whipped them at his little brother. One at a time. The younger boy turned his body away from the force of the stones. Their mother, preoccupied with removing their little sister from her stroller to prepare for the bus, either didn’t notice or chose to ignore them. The boy continued without reprimand. I stopped beating the rug, wanting to yell down at him from my perch on the hill. Suddenly he stopped and turned his attention to his sister. The toddler now stood beside him while their mother folded up her stroller. Instantly he changed from a relentless rock thrower to a tender caregiver as he enfolded his arms around his sister and pulled her against his waist, as if protecting her from an oncoming storm. His sweet actions, in stark opposition to what I had just witnessed a moment ago with his brother, rather than surprise me, resonated within me.

Maybe that’s because when I was about his age, I picked up a metal toy shovel and threw it full force at my sister’s head. She’d pissed me off, after all. That was my natural reaction.

But the boy’s actions created something stronger than that memory — a recognition of the capabilities within myself.

I am this living paradox.
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And I’m not the only one. Within each of us lies this propensity for both darkness and light — a false self and true self, lower self and higher self — whatever you choose to name them.

This recognition is particularly meaningful to me in light of the overblown negative reactions I’ve been reading in response to President Obama’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast. To tell the truth, I don’t think it matters what the president would have said at that prayer breakfast. The pundits would have pounced.

But in his remarks, the president noted that religious groups have distorted and twisted faith or used it as a weapon to justify violent acts. He warned us that these actions are “not unique to one group or one religion.”

Honestly, I think he was trying to get us to pause and look within ourselves. At our own negativity and intolerance.

But some people, most of whom I imagine are Christians or politicians — or both — took offense. They didn’t like being included in this “club.”

A former governor of my home state of Virginia, Jim Gilmore (R), even went so far as to say, “He has offended every believing Christian in the United States.”

Well, I consider myself a Christian, and I’m not offended.

Because even though I strive to follow the teachings of Jesus, I readily admit that I fail — every day. Following what Jesus taught, and how he lived is just downright difficult! And it requires humility — something I didn’t see at all in any of the negative comments I read about Obama’s remarks.

I did, however, find the word in the president’s remarks:

 “…we should assume humbly that we’re confused and don’t always know what we’re doing and we’re staggering and stumbling towards [God], and have some humility in that process.  And that means we have to speak up against those who would misuse His name to justify oppression, or violence, or hatred with that fierce certainty.”

The truth is, still today, and in this country, people say and do terrible things, justified by their version of God, or justice. And some of these people call themselves Christian.

Somehow I can’t see Jesus condoning religious intolerance, the death penalty, and torture — all of which have occurred in or by our country. Recently.

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Our president asked a legitimate question: “How do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities?” Realities of the darkness and light that exist in the world.

I think the trick is to look within ourselves first.

I’m remembering these wise words: “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own?” (Matthew 7:3)

If we continue to point to evil and darkness as being “out there,” we will never reconcile these realities. We will completely miss that log lodged right in our own eye. I almost did. Thanks to a little boy at a bus stop. Just being himself.

To read the full script of the president’s remarks, go to:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/02/05/remarks-president-national-prayer-breakfast