Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Stranger

Over the weekend, while everyone and their mother was out playing softball, tennis, basketball, catch, I made a comment to Debbie about how absurd our time on earth is--this throwing of a ball back and forth--given the fact that we are all going to die, how arbitrary it seemed...that the configuration and running around of colors on a pasture seemed as good a thing as any to pass the time on the way to the grave. She laughed at my fatalism and I laughed too, because I knew it was true. There is a comment in Andrew Solomon's The NoonDay Demon about the value of work--how, if nothing else, it was a distraction from the existential depression that comes with knowing our lives have little meaning other than the meaning we assign it. We may as well work, not just because we have to, but because there is satisfaction in it...satisfaction in being distracted from the inevitability of our own demise for a few hours a day.

Since being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and going on medication, there have been few days in which I have felt truly happy and grateful to be alive. I have not felt truly sad for anything either. Just awful indifference. It is like Zack Braff in Garden State waking up in a whitewashed room and going through the motions of life--pumping gas, driving to work in traffic, waiting tables--with little to no change in his emotions; it is all the same to him. Life is not bad, but it's not all that great either. The days of high and low waves seems like a dream, another time. I am more stable, but at what price? I can see this is the point when many with this illness 'accidentally' drop their meds in the toilet, saying 'to hell with stability...I want to feel, to live.' I want to care about something. I have abandoned a lot of my hobbies...building bikes, reading, writing, painting...for lack of interest; not doing them seems just as good as doing them. This feels very tragic, and maybe I would be better just to force participation in more things for the distraction, if nothing else, like they say with sex: even if you don't feel like it, do it anyway; you might end up enjoying it.

But I am considering some med changes. Things are 'good,' if goodness if judged by the lack of highs and lows. But it is an awful way to live. My sex drive, my life force, is in hibernation. I suspect that is the Zoloft doing its job. Maybe that should be the first to go? The thing about medication is there is a warranted fear in going off of them (and I'm not talking about going off all of them, just cutting down or eliminating one, for trial's sake), but the 'safe bet' is to be content with feeling 'okay'--not good, not bad, just ok--should be equally feared. Thankfully I have a good relationship with my doctor, who listens to my concerns and takes them seriously, and isn't afraid to step out of the box and try new things, as long as they are closely supervised and monitored. With the sun and the spring weather here in full swing, I would just like a little bit of color back in my day. Life still may seem absurd...but at least the absurdity would be a little easier to laugh at.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Little Things

This morning I decided to kill three birds with one stone: I would meditate, whiten my teeth, and start to learn self-discipline. I sat down and the LORD said to me: "You have not yet learned to suffer (for my sake)." He was right. So I said, "baby steps." I would set my alarm for 10 minutes, sit on my cushion, and not move until the alarm went off.

I put some teeth whitener in a tray and put it in my mouth. It got all foamy after a few minutes and I was uncomfortable. I don't like being uncomfortable. But here I was, 9 minutes left on the clock, and I'm hurting. But I said, "don't move." I so wanted to check the clock...just to make sure I set the alarm right, I rationalized. After what seemed like a long time, everything was still quiet. Why hadn't the alarm gone off yet? I felt like a dog with rabies with the tray in my mouth getting all foamy, and it was starting to burn a little. I took little swallows and some of the teeth whitening jawn slipped down my throat.

I kept second guessing whether or not I had set the alarm right. I wanted to check it so badly. I tried to pay attention to my breathing. This was pathetic. I couldn't even sit still for ten minutes without whining. But this was not the place for chastising. Whatever I did here, whatever effort I made, it was all good, and acceptable to God, because I was trying to learn to suffer for his sake, to endure discomfort, and learn how to be patient. It was all I could do not to check the alarm. Just the other day I got impatient with my bean and pepper seedlings for not shooting up fast enough, and I dug them up just to make sure the seeds were good. Oi. I think about Zorba and the butterfly.

I went to the chapel on campus yesterday before class and sat before the LORD. I left my bag on the marble step behind me, knelt, and closed my eyes. Someone came and knelt next to me for a little while, then got up. I thought, 'I should check my bag.' But the LORD said, 'Trust me.' I figured it was still there, that the LORD wouldn't let anyone take it while I was with him. But you never know, you know? I had work files in there, and a half a ham sandwich! I really wanted to turn around, just to take a little peak for reassurance, but the LORD said, 'trust me.' So I did. I said, ok, and when I got up my bag was still there.

So here I am in agony all foamy-mouthed sitting on my cushion by the sofa and straining to keep my back straight and my mind from wandering and wanting to get up whether the alarm goes off or not fuck it what difference does it make anyway? And the LORD said, "If you cannot learn to endure these little things, how will you learn to die for me?" He was right. I babied myself. I said, ok, one more minute, I will trust. So I squim and squirm for another minute and feel small victory. Then another minute. Then the alarm goes off. And it was a little feeling...feeling slightly embarrassed at all my whining, but feeling the little feeling of being unashamed, and in a small way, victorious.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Prayer for the Evening

God, I feel so incompetent.
Like a dumb ox with no one to lead me.
"You gotta give 'em hope."

--Harvey Milk

Friday, April 17, 2009

Letter to Andy Jones (excerpts)

i just realized that friend in philly you were referring to was me;) i want to say a few things about writing:

the first is that writing is not about the content, whether it is boring or exciting, but (i believe) it is about intimacy. we present ourselves on blogs as we want to be seen, but when i write i try to put the ego aside and offer whatever i write as a gift to anyone who might gain something from reading it. yes, the ego weaves its way in and out in what we choose to disclose and what we choose to keep to ourselves. writing is subjective and an ego trip by nature...we think we are important and have something to say. that is ok. one of the all-time best books on writing, my #1, is 'Writing Down the Bones' by Natalie Goldberg. she is a writer and a zen buddhist, she cuts to the heart and essence of writing with these short little chapters, infusing humor, honesty, affirmation, and joy into the art. i highly suggest buying a copy. if you can't find one, i will lend you mine.

there is a zen story about a man who goes into a butchershop. he says, 'give me the best piece of meat you have.' the butcher replies, 'all my pieces of meat are the best. you will not find one piece of meat here that is not the best.' and the man was enlightened. moments are not good or bad, important or trivial. every moment comes from the hand of God. there is not one moment that is not the best for writing.

writing is more or less a practice. you get 'good' by doing it, over and over. it doesn't have to become a job. but the more you do it, the less self-conscious (or maybe not) you will become. there is another zen saying, something along the lines of 'when you are alone, act as if you were in the presence of an honored guest; when you are in the presence of others, act as if you were alone.' i try to practice this in my writing. i write for an audience, even if none exists, but in the end, i am writing for myself. it is paradoxical, but good for keeping things pure. not everyone is comfortable writing publically, and some people seem to be too open in it. i try to strike a balance. what i post on my blog is what i choose to post; i retain the right to keep my private life private. you have to find your own balance. what helps with this is practicing writing about what you see...whatever it is, nothing is too big or too small...in a way that puts your own stamp on the experience. it takes time to find your voice. it has taken me years, and i am still finding it. i have been lazy about writing lately...maybe we could spurn each other on by sending stuff to each other? i used to belong to a writer's group where we would always warm up with exercises....we would all write about an orange for ten minutes, or something like that...and it was neat to see how different everyone viewed it afterwards.

never abandon joy. you are not a writer by profession. it is not your job...so it should be your joy, or, at least, your recreation. when i taught 7th grade english, i would start each class with 10 minutes of timed stream-of-consciousness writing with the class. pencils weren't allowed to stop moving, and if they did, i would bang on their desk. if the kids were stuck and didn't know what to say, they were to keep writing the last word they were stuck on until they became unstuck. if the word was poop, they would write 'poop poop poop poop yellow balloon.' you get it. most of their stuff was crap, and the trick was learning that that was ok. we tore up what we wrote, threw it in the trash, and got started with class. it was practice. but they loved it, and wanted to 'do the writing thing' every morning. you have the right to write crap. i write it all the time.

so i hope you will keep writing. try some stream-of-consciousness stuff. remove the inner censor and just write from brain to hand without editing about what you see, feel, etc.without erasing, without stopping to think. spill the words, the nonsense. i'll do it right now for one minute:

in the essence of perpetual gray and pink flowered coated fishcakes, the computer screen flashing like a traffic light in moon lit glow of summer sands and the stopping power of those brakes you used to have on your 68 chevette, the smell of grass and dripping things, frogs and animals and things of nature croaking and groaning in twilight, runining water and making you pee your pants, insomnia, middle age, the time it passes so quickly...

there you go. crap on a stick for your licking pleasure.

alright man, clock-out time approaches. hope to hear from you soon. you have something to say, blogged or otherwise...

"I chose, consciously and willingly, to abandon myself to God's will, to let go completely of every last reservation. I knew I was crossing a boundary I had always hesitated and feared to cross before. Yet this time I chose to cross it--and the result was a feeling not of fear but of liberation, not of danger or of despair but a fresh new wave of confidence and of happiness." --Fr. Walter J. Ciszek, S.J., He Leadeth Me

Poem for the Day

He is breaking my bones;
he is lavishing his hesed on me.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

"This tendency to set acceptable conditions upon God, to seek unconsciously to make his will for us coincide with our desires, is a very human trait. And the more important the situation is, the more totally we are committed to it or the more completely our future depends upon it, then the easier it becomes for us to blind ourselves into thinking that what we want is surely what God must also want. We can see but one solution only, and naturally we assume that God will help us reach it." --Fr. Walter J. Ciszek, S.J.

Prayer for the Morning

"In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:

'My son, do not make light of the lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and punishes everyone he accepts as a son.'

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.

Moreover, we have all had human fathers who discipline us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplines us for a little while as they thought best; but God dsiciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 'Make level paths for your feet' so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed." (Heb 12:4-13)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Dialogue, 4 AM

Rob: "I waited patiently for the Lord..."
The LORD: You have been waiting, but not patiently.
Rob: *!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

letter to D (excerpts)

hey there,

i am proud of you $weety:) way to take charge of your finances.

today was a better day at work. i put in notes from yesterday into the computer and had some things to keep me busy. i am starting to be more comfortable at my job. i also substitute tutored at the learning lab and met up with a friend from college who also tutors there, we had tea at my place afterwards and had good talk.

one thing i realized today is that i really have been making an idol out of rosemont. nothing is promised, and i need to stop living in the future, but in the hear-and-now...at my hum-drum job, in germantown, with being unsettled, and to be 'content in all things.' reading the book by fr. walter ciszek that lindsay gave me also has been affirming in this. listen to what he says:

"Our dilemma at Teplaya-Gora came from our frustration at not being able to do what we thought the will of God ought to be in this situation, at our inability to work as we thought God would surely want us to work, instead of accepting the situation itself as his will. It is a mistake easily made by every man, saint or scholar, Church leader or day laborer. Ultimately, we come to expect God to accept our understanding of what his will ought to be and to help us fulfill that, instead of learning to see and accept his will in the real situations in which he places us daily.

The simple soul who each day makes a morning offering of 'all the prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day'--and who then acts upon it be accepting unquestioningly and responding lovingly to all the situations of the day as truly sent by God--has perceived with an almost childlike faith the profound truth about the will of God. To predict what God's will is going to be, to rationalize about what his will must be, is at once a work of human folly and yet the subtlest of all temptations. The plain and simple truth is that his will is what he actually wills to send us each day, in the way of circumstances, places, people, and problems."

That really spoke to me. Accepting where I am--not where I might be--is what God is really calling me to right now. So I am letting Rosemont go. If it comes back to me then I'll know. Your coffee cup told me so;)


Reaching for a coffee cup this morning,
I see a cup I've never seen.

"Good morning," it says
this is God!
I will be handling all your problems today.
I will not need your help.
So have a good day.
I love you.

Funny, the coffee seemed to taste especially good.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday (excerpts)


thanks, i just need some reassurance every now and then. it is kind of hard because i feel like i never left my old job since i am at the same place, but don't know anything. you know, i catch myself thinking sometimes, 'why did i even leave in the first place?' i had a comfy position, a nice apartment in a nice neighborhood, etc...and then i realized, 'i am talking like an israelite, post-exodus:

In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, "If only we had died by the LORD's hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death." (ex 16:3)

i honestly felt that when i left the comforts of my comfortable situation, that God was calling me out of it. i had gotten too comfortable. Jean Pierre de Caussade wrote: "God's plans, disguised as they are, reveal themselves to us through our intuition rather than through our reason. They disclose themselves in various ways: by chance or by what seems to be a compulsive thrust which allows no choice of action, by a sudden impulse, by some supernatural rapture, or very often by something which attracts or repels us." In this way i felt God was calling me 'out of egypt' and into the unknown, which i am definitely not comfortable with. He was asking me to trust Him in the not-knowing.

The Lord also said to Moses, "I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions."

God's instructions for me now are: be patient. wait. don't worry. I will provide for you. and i catch myself grumbling, doubting, regretting. you know, it is a Good Friday meditation. This is the beginning of the Three Days. Jesus' disciples...they scattered like sheep when he was arrested. After he was crucified, they were in doubt about everything Jesus stood for, didn't know what was going to happen to the mission, would Jesus ever come back, etc. Peter was ashamed of what/who he had committed himself to. For three days, EVERYTHING was uncertain. Jesus was dead. We know he would come back, but at the time, the disciples and those who trusted in him didn't know. As far as they knew, they threw their chips down and lost big. But we know that's not how the story ends.

And so it is with me. This is my Three Days (3 weeks? 3 months?) of waiting for a resurrection. It is a painful, tense, uncertain time. Then again, it is natural that it should be. There is no future. There is no past. There is only now...

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Letter to Andy Jones

9 April, 2009

"God's plans, disguised as they are, reveal themselves to us through our intuition rather than through our reason. They disclose themselves in various ways: by chance or by what seems to be a compulsive thrust which allows no choice of action, by a sudden impulse, by some supernatural rapture, or very often by something which attracts or repels us."

–Jean Pierre de Caussade


I was so glad to hear about what's been happening in your letter. I will open my own in the words of Paul to the Philippians, because I think it speaks in the same spirit as I would write myself:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you. For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ.

There were some things that stood out for me in your letter. First, it is clear that God is working in you. If I would show you a letter you wrote me a few years ago and hold it up to the one I am reading now, there is real growth there. Faith grows like a beard man...rough little stubs at first, agitations on the skin; then some juvenile scrub, like, 'yah, I got a beard, girl.' If you watch it one day in the mirror, and then check to see how much its grown the next day, you can't see any difference. Then you get filled with Beard Envy, cause you want to be using the little comb, picking and brushing them scraggly curls mountain man suave-like, three-finger stroking in the spring sun. But your beard is still growing. Soon, though, it will fill out, and you will see how far your beard has come.

You know, I was driving on 95 the other day and passed a billboard of St. Michael the Archangel stepping on Satan's head and putting a sword to his neck, with the prayer in big white letters against a black backdrop: "St. Michael, Archangel, defend us in spiritual battle." That was it. No idea who would have spent all that money to erect something like that, because it didn't say. And I thought, it's true: We are at war! Jesus said, 'I have not come to bring peace, but the sword.' I took seeing that billboard as a sign, and it was only a few days after I had read your letter. We are both at war against the flesh and against the devil. One thing you can be sure of...the more the fight intensifies, the closer we are to approaching perfection.

It's funny, too, because we both have backgrounds in Buddhism...this idea of perfection. In Buddhism, a Perfect Mind is one free from craving. In Christianity, a Perfect Heart is one completely broken, in which power is turned over from the self to the Selfless, that is, God. Jesus said, 'unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains a grain of wheat.' It is clear from your letter: your old self is dying!

The other thing I wanted to mention is that I don’t know if you realize that leading a group of people through the fucking jungles of Bolivia, being in charge of their welfare, trying to get them to do a job, all of that, despite your perceived failings…shit. You the man.

* * *

Ok, so I just got your email, your correspondence with Kiva, as I was writing you. Ah, what a godsend. I am so bored at work. I just started this new job in drug & alcohol case management a couple weeks ago (it’s a job, which I’m grateful for, but not esp. excited about) and they haven't assigned me a caseload yet, so I am basically like George in that Seinfield episode where he gets a job when the boss is on vacation and he basically sits at a desk for eight hours doing nothing. I'm trying to enjoy it while it lasts, but I am bored off my tail. I liked when you wrote: “I contemplated changing careers at more than one point through it all,” because it drives home to me that no matter what you are doing, there are always going to be ups and downs, and that the grass is not always greener. (That being said, please pray I get a job at ROSEMONT COLLEGE in CAMPUS MINISTRY. I should hear about that in a month or so, and the waiting is killing me). So, thanks for the good reading. And no, it is not too personal, come on now;) Ah, I am proud of you boy, and you are proud of you too, which is even more important.

Getting back to the last thing I was talking about, you wrote:

I built my
> spiritual life for many years around the idea that I could find happiness on
> my own if I did enough good, if I meditated enough, if I calmed my mind
> enough, if I opened my heart wide enough. That’s all great and I’ll continue
> to do those things, but I know now that I can’t achieve those things by
> force of will. I know now that I’m not in control.

I had the same revelation years ago...it was the backbone, the impetus of my conversion in the wilderness--that my will was not enough. My being in control was an illusion, and I still believe we are in control to a degree, but ultimately, not. This way of thinking is a break from Buddhism. The nice overlaps have cracked and spread, and now you are being forced to jump to one landmass or the other. That is, if you are committing yourself to something. You might not be there yet, but it sounds like you are approaching it, that things are shifting beneath your feet. Buddha himself would say he is not a Savior, that there is no need for Salvation, but for Emancipation. If you are a Buddhist, this is what you believe. The thing you need to confront in yourself and ask is whether you believe this to be true; do I need to be saved from something? There is a war in me, and I am not strong enough to fight alone. I AM hampered by something in me that causes me, as Paul says, to "do that which I don't want to do." (Read Romans 7 for more on this). This is the Christian presupposition...that there is something in us that needs healing. And it is Jesus Christ who is the healer.

I posted this on my blog, so you may read it, but the following is from St. Augustine's Confessions (which I would highly suggest reading, you can find it online too). It really strikes home this struggle we have within ourselves to give up that which keeps us from evolving spiritually. That tension, the draw of the "old ways" that Augustine portrays has been especially poignant for me as I struggle to free myself from addictions and the flesh, and speaks to me personally:

"It was, in fact, my old mistresses, trifles of trifles and vanities of vanities, who still enthralled me. They tugged at my fleshly garments and softly whispered: "Are you going to part with us? And from that moment will we never be with you any more? And from that moment will not this and that be forbidden you forever?" What were they suggesting to me in those words "this or that"? What is it they suggested, O my God? Let thy mercy guard the soul of thy servant from the vileness and the shame they did suggest! And now I scarcely heard them, for they were not openly showing themselves and opposing me face to face; but muttering, as it were, behind my back; and furtively plucking at me as I was leaving, trying to make me look back at them. Still they delayed me, so that I hesitated to break loose and shake myself free of them and leap over to the place to which I was being called--for unruly habit kept saying to me, "Do you think you can live without them?"

But now it said this very faintly; for in the direction I had set my face, and yet toward which I still trembled to go, the chaste dignity of continence appeared to me--cheerful but not wanton, modestly alluring me to come and doubt nothing, extending her holy hands, full of a multitude of good examples--to receive and embrace me. There were there so many young men and maidens, a multitude of youth and every age, grave widows and ancient virgins; and continence herself in their midst: not barren, but a fruitful mother of children--her joys--by thee, O Lord, her husband. And she smiled on me with a challenging smile as if to say: "Can you not do what these young men and maidens can? Or can any of them do it of themselves, and not rather in the Lord their God? The Lord their God gave me to them. Why do you stand in your own strength, and so stand not? Cast yourself on him; fear not. He will not flinch and you will not fall. Cast yourself on him without fear, for he will receive and heal you." And I blushed violently, for I still heard the muttering of those "trifles" and hung suspended. Again she seemed to speak: "Stop your ears against those unclean members of yours, that they may be mortified. They tell you of delights, but not according to the law of the Lord thy God." This struggle raging in my heart was nothing but the contest of self against self. And Alypius kept close beside me, and awaited in silence the outcome of my extraordinary agitation." (XI.26-27)

I’m not going to say much about Kiva, because I think you will know what to do with this situation as it unfolds; it will work itself out. A story, though: I had not really dated too many spiritual or religious people in the past, and up until recently, I was considering just relaxing that standard just to be in a relationship. My friends were telling me to do the same, that I was ‘limiting’ myself. I went out with a few people from a Catholic dating site, and nothing clicked, so I was considering their suggestions. I went to the chapel in Manayunk and prayed to meet a godly woman, or at least someone who was trying to live their faith. I prayed for months. And God delivered with Debbie. I’m glad I didn’t relax those standards. God took his time, but He came through. So, meeting someone who is at least not against your faith in the way Kiva is is worth a try. You never know what might happen. God knows what you need.

Hit me back when you can. I hope your visa stuff gets worked out. This is a great time for you man. The beard is growing…


Thursday, April 2, 2009

PM Lectio

"Fear Him, do not sin;
ponder on your bed and be still.
Make justice your sacrifice and
trust in the Lord."

AM Lectio

"He set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand."

--Ps 40:2

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Wide Path to Hell

Last week I started working for a public health program called Forensic Intensive Recovery (FIR) which offers court assigned treatment alternatives to incarceration. We work with offenders, probation offers, recovery houses, and other agents involved in the criminal justice system. Yesterday I was downtown at the Criminal Justice Center sitting in on court cases, most being PWID (posession with intent to deliver), and Monday I spent the day at a Methadone Maintenance Center in Germantown. While there was a lot going on in both places, the main thing I took away was that nothing good comes from drug use. Nothing.

In Debbie's bible study they were recently discussing the "cycle of defeat" which comes when one tries to live in obedience to the precepts of God. Nowhere is the cycle of defeat more apparent than in drug addiction and alcoholism. I don't want to go on and on about this, but I will say that being in the throws of addiction to crack or heroin or alcohol is like a modern day possession by evil spirits--it makes you into someone else. I don't know if I necessarily agree with our country's War on Drugs and how it is being enforced, or our cultural acceptance of alcohol and the double standard in marijuana prohibition; but I do know that drug addiction is a scourge of humanity, and if you are looking at it theologically, there is something demonic about it.

Reading the intake evaluations is sobering: clients reporting use of marijuana, alcohol since as young as 9 years old; $50, $100, $300 per day cocaine, crack, and heroin habits; some guys in treatment for abuse of things as benign as cough syrup and OTC medications. Men and women with children and no education. It goes on and on. And I can't help but wonder: if drugs did not exist, where would we be as a society? It certainly wouldn't be here...

19. On Who Is Truly Patient

"Be ready for battle, therefore, if you would have victory. Without battle you cannot come to the crown of patience, and if you will not suffer, you refuse to be crowned. Wherefore, if you desire to be crowned, resist strongly and suffer patiently, for without labor no man can come to rest, and without battle no man can come to victory."

--Thomas A Kempis, The Imitation of Christ