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 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…


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