Saturday, June 19, 2010

Spiritual Koyaanisqatsi?

The following random thoughts are for the Contemplative Service. They are based out of a tale from the book 'Tales From the Magic Monastery' which I'm not gonna type out here because it would be breaking copyright.

I think the internal debate of 'I am somebody', 'I am nobody' is one that most of us carry around. The apostle Paul wrote 'Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst' - that's definitely the 'I am nobody' side.

Paul also lays out his criteria for the other side of the debate - 'If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.'

This story is very appealing to those of us who tend towards the Nobody side - there is something compelling about a community that calls us forth out of the room of our own unworthiness. The danger is that we just shut the door on that room and let the other people's words paint over the door and seal it shut. The community helps us 'Put on Christ', but our new identity is a fragile veneer.

There is another danger however. In any community there are people who feel like they are “Somebody,” who are confirmed in what they believe, who are assured that they have found the path. These persons may have found religion to be a path to ascendancy, a way to get ahead, a tool for having their lives “confirmed.”
Consider what Dr. Jerry Webber says about this:

True humility and balance in Christianity spirituality lies in holding the balance between the two extremes. We are Nobody and we are Somebody at the same time. The error is in falling down on either side to the exclusion of the other. We are invited to hold the paradox in tension, to hold both our earthy fragility (we are the dust of the earth and our days on earth are numbered) and our divine birthright (we are created by and for God, and the cosmos was created for us).

A spirituality that considers only one or the other is not balanced, and neither is it centered around God. The obsessive feeling that, “I am Nobody” is just as ego-compulsive (I am) as the statement, “I am Somebody.” In both, the “I” stands at the center. Unworthiness or “nobodiness” can become just as obsessive when we remain in it as narcissism, and can manifest itself in thoughts like, “There is nobody as bad as I am bad” (which only makes me the best in the world at being bad . . . the Grand Champion of being Nobody).

It can be easy to use spirituality as a tool for 'self annihilation' or 'self inflation'. The Hopi tribe have a word 'Koyaanisqatsi', which means crazy life, life in turmoil, life out of balance, life disintegrating, a state of life that calls for another way of living. I know I have gone through stages of my life where it feels like I am living in a tug of war contest where I am the rope.

The healthiest thing is the hardest thing, to allow the two sides of ourselves to talk with one another. To bring everything that makes us feel like we are Somebody into the light of day and see if it crumbles, and to listen to the voices that tell us we are Nobody and see who's voice they are. Are their words legitimate or not?
Let us give God permission to remove 'I' from the center of our lives.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Quote of the Day

When a child is frightened in the night, mother goes and lifts the child and says,

'It's all right,'

and the child gradually quietens. But if she has a prodigy on her hands who replies,

'But mother, what epistemological and metaphysical assumptions are you making in that statement and what empirical evidence can you adduce in support of your contention?'

then the mother really has a problem in her arms.

In prayer we act like that impossible child if we refuse to listen to God until he has measured up to whatever criteria we may care to lay down. We communicate with him first in our hearts. The heart is not mindless: it has reasons, deeper that we can see at first with our conscious minds.

God of Surprises - Gerard W. Hughes

Monday, June 07, 2010

A Story and a Poem

While searching through some old files on my computer I came across a service I had planned that featured the following story and poem. I wrote the poem many years ago, I'm glad I'm not that person anymore.

A monk came to Abba Sisoes and said: “What should I do, Abba, for I have fallen from grace?” And he replied, “Get up again.” The monk came back shortly after and said: “What shall I do now, for I have fallen again?” And the old man said to him, “Just get up again. Never cease getting back up again!”
–Sayings of the Elders

Today, I Sinned.

Today, I sinned.
It wasn’t ‘an accident’
I don’t believe ‘the devil made me do it’
And it definitely didn’t ‘just happen’
It was planned meticulously.

Today, I sinned.
I lied to cover my tracks
And then I went out looking to indulge.
Lie begat lie
And so I began to build –
A temple; an edifice
A complex structure all dedicated to one obsession

Today, I sinned
I walked brazenly into my shrine
And placed myself on the throne
I insisted that the world was there for my pleasure
I raised my voice and cried out in arrogance
“Come to me! What I want is all-important!
My delight is everything!”

Today, I sinned
I feasted deeply
I drank my fill
I denied myself nothing

And now?

(Now that my hunger is sated and my thirst quenched
Now I have surrendered myself to the craving of desire
Now I have satisfied myself in the temple of my own pleasure)

Do I feel guilty?
Do I feel repentant?
I know I should

My brain cries out “Repent! Ask for forgiveness! Beg for mercy!”
But my heart feels no shame
Only faint echoes of a voice
A whisper that accuses and murmurs
“If you were a good Christian you would feel guilty”

Today, I sinned
And now I feel guilty because I don’t feel guilty
How crazy is that!
My brain teases me with memories on constant replay
My heart whispers that my cry of arrogance was one of ignorance
And painfully I admit I am not the center of the world.

Today, I sinned
My brain schemed, implemented and eventually repented
But my actions didn’t stop the ache in my heart
It just rubbed it raw

Today, I sinned
Tonight, I learned my lesson
But I am afraid
Afraid I will forget tomorrow
Because I sinned yesterday too.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

The Writing on the Wall

I am currently in rehearsal of a production of 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood', a musical based on Charles Dickens' uncompleted novel of the same name. (How do you make a musical out of an incomplete novel? You ask the audience to vote on the ending.)

In the show there is a song entitled 'The Writing On The Wall'. In rehearsal last night we discussed what the writing might be for the character who sings the song (who I'm not going to reveal here!) The discussion made me think of the origins of the story from the book of Daniel.

'Belshazzar's Feast' by Rembrandt

The story is accounted in the book of Daniel. During a drunken feast King Belshazzar orders the sacred Gold and Silver vessels (which his predecessor Nebuchadnezzar had stolen from Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem) brought to him. He proceeds to use them to praise 'the gods of gold and silver, brass, iron, wood, and stone'. Immediately a hand appears a writes a sentence on the wall that nobody can interpret. Belshazzar sends for Daniel who warns him of his arrogant blasphemy before interpreting the text.

'Mene Mene Tekel u-Pharsin' - God has numbered your days brought your kingdom to an end. You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.

That very night the kingdom is invaded, Belshazzar is killed and Darius becomes the new king.

As I was heading to the store this morning I saw 2 young Mormon missionaries witnessing to a man at the bus stop. I found some anger rising within me because of some of the recent political machinations of the Mormon church.

Suddenly I thought of Belshazzar desecrating the vessels - taking something that God declared holy, and reducing it to something 'less than'. I was guilty of doing the same thing. Here were two people who were created in God's image, that I was dehumanizing. I devalued them because of what I assumed they represented.

I disagree with many people about many things, but for me 'The Writing on the Wall' is a warning to not reduce anyone to less than their sacred worth. Differences of Culture, Religion, Politics, Sexuality, Race, Theology exist, but we are not to denigrate someone who holds different views, even if they espouse ideas we despise. The writing on the wall reminds us that all of us fall short of who we can be. We are all lacking and wanting.

I hate being judged, being reduced to 'less than'. I need to extend the same love to others that I want people to extend to me...

...and so I stopped and said a quick prayer for those 2 missionaries, that God would bless them. When we see everyone as a precious child, as God sees them, then our judgements dissolve in the warm light of His love.

A little nerd humor :)

If this is too small to read just click on the pic. The original is here.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The May Game Update - a Month of Surprises

I played 33 games in May of 20 different titles.

In a surprise resurgence last year's top game reappeared in May and had the top number of plays with 5.

Dominion is still one of those games that I will not refuse and it makes a welcome return to the leader board. Interestingly the game that has been in the lead for 2010 Hive only got played twice in May...this means an interesting race could be on for Most Played Game of the Year.

No other games really stood out this month in terms of quantity played but a few unexpected games made the list.

Uruk: Wiege der Zivilisation is a civilization game that plays in about 60 minutes. I generally don't enjoy these that much, but this one captured my attention, maybe because I don't feel like I have to invest a large portion of my life to play it.

Having said that I also played Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization again this month. A game that generally takes about 4 hours to play, again not my usual style of game, but remarkably enjoyable.

And rounding out the list of games that I didn't expect to like is Tinner's Trail by Martin Wallace. Martin's games have a reputation for complexity, fiddly rules and a long playing time. The only other game that I remember playing is Brass. I've played one game of that with the board and then we switched to playing online as the computer took care of a lot of the confusing management of the game.

Tinner's Trail surprised me because all the elements combined in a very logical way that created a very elegant game about mining Tin and Copper in Cornwall. The game plays in about an hour and doesn't feel like it outstays its welcome in any way.