Reigning Fists

hazelnut

Photo from Into the Expectation blog

 

“In this vision he showed me a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, and it
was round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and
thought “What may this be?” And it was generally answered thus: “It is all that is
made.” I marvelled how it might last, for it seemed it might suddenly have
sunk into nothing because of its littleness. And I was answered in my
understanding: “It lasts and ever shall, because God loves it.”    
— Julian of Norwich

Punishment is easier to preach than grace.  Well, punishment is more available in the theological vocabulary of my life and that of my parishioners.  We understand the concept. Steal a piece of candy, get caught, shamefully confess, work hard to do better and be satisfied without candy. Yell at your kids for some inconsequential infraction, see the humiliation dawn in their eyes, feel the recriminating glare as you look in the mirror, skulk to the bedroom to cry out the pain you were yelling at them.  Hear a joking, yet critical, remark about how you handle the impending deadline at work.  Snap back a much too hasty and sarcastic remark.  Realize your mistake after reacting poorly to your haggard co-worker.  Spend hours wondering what causes you to be so sensitive and flagellate the little bit of God-image left after years of self-righteous indignation over how ineptly you have learned the “God-way.”  You poor little human, you deserve no less than punishment.  How you wish and hope that one day you can leave behind this human shell and get the “God-thing” right.

But on Christ the King Sunday, we see the error of this way.  Julian saw the crucified and risen Christ not inflicting punishment, rather cradling “all that is made” with tender protective love.  In the shelter of Christ the King’s palm, Julian saw the littleness of the universe and the littleness of our often misguided hearts held by crucified hands.  The hands of One impaled because he refused to fight the system of oppression in the same way that system fought him.  The hands of One pierced because he saw in every outcast the circumstances of her heart and the root of pain that had grown into self-serving action.  The crucified hands that hold the hazelnut of our existence, these hands were dead and now live, these hands knew suffering and pain and have risen again sharing the conquering healing of God with all who have known death and destruction.  The scarred hands of a crucified and kingly Christ reign over the universe with tender compassion for those who have been blinded by ignorance, self-pity, and hatred.  These wounded reigning palms reach out to set us free from the tyranny of self-doubt and self-hatred.  These hands coax us into a grace that is harder to accept than punishment.  The crucified and living Christ who sits enthroned over all that has been made does so as one who gave himself up to suffering in this world, not because he had to, not because God made him, not because some old human debt had to be settled by a divine blood-letting [punishment].  The crucified reigning Christ entered into our human existence not to “teach us a lesson” but to invite us into a new way, a way that acknowledges and accepts a brokenness in creation that will not be fixed by punishment, a way that accepts and surrenders to death which shall be overcome by the power of Unrequited Life in God.  Hear the invitation to participate in the reign of a Kingdom unfettered by our need to do anything other than accept our inheritance in it and to see the royalty of straw and rags in an humble stable and to be embraced in the mighty and impenetrable grasp of One whose reigning fists are closed tightly around the wounds of the cosmos.

© Amy Persons Parkes 2014

The Prodigal Pain

“And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.”                          Mark 14:35

Walk toward the pain, and you will find life.  Swallow the shallow thinking that bids you turn and run.  Refute the fear that declares you are not strong enough to endure the crucible of this moment.

Walk toward the pain and let it unveil the particulars of your life so you may see with clarity and dignity the reality of this moment.  Walk toward the pain and offer it your attentive ear as it relates what you most need to hear.

Pain is merely a messenger of the Spirit of God who wishes to convey wisdom.  Pain is a child of your heart which can be held and comforted and healed under the gaze of God’s love within you.  Pain, attended to, will be transformed.  Pain bathed in grace can be an instrument to resurrect what lies putridly decaying in your soul.

So, Friend, look to the Pain of your heart, comforted and guided by the life of a suffering Christ.  Listen to the Pain of your existence; and as he comes down the long road home to you, call out to him, “Welcome!”

In compassion, run with open arms toward him and embrace him.  Bring out the finest robe of your acceptance and clothe him.  Adorn him with the splendor of surrender.  And in celebration of what he has to teach, feast at the table of Pain’s wisdom.  Once Pain has disclosed the whole sordid, aching story, how will you respond?

For you had lost him, and now he has been found.

© Amy Persons Parkes 2013

*photo from Makezine.com 

The Dark is Me, Too

SONY DSC

I don’t know when or where or how or from whom I learned not to look at the dark side of myself.  It’s not like I don’t have a dark side.  I have plenty of dark side.  And I don’t mean that I  learned to pretend that I didn’t have a dark side.  I knew I had a dark side; I simply learned not to look at it.  I didn’t look at my dark side like I managed not to look at someone who had spoken unjustly to me.  I didn’t look at my dark side like I both recognized and avoided the person I was embarrassed or ashamed to talk to.  I didn’t look at my dark side like I haven’t looked at some of the buskers near the subway stairs.  I know they are there; I hear them; I see them.  I just don’t have the time and money to spare, right now.  Nope, not right now.

And my dark side, let me clarify.  I’m not talking about illegal activities or heinous omissions of ethical behavior.  It’s pretending that I am listening when I am really forming a judgment about why you should be listening to me.  It’s believing I am calm and peaceful and forgiving while I am in an all-out brawl with anger and resentment, refusing to acknowledge their presence and throwing them out the back door of the “I’m So Good” Club hoping no one else ever saw them come into the place.  My dark side is the place where I know I could see (if I took a good hard look) the full reality of my brokenness, my humanness,  and my incompleteness.  My dark side is the part of me that is me, the part of me I wish weren’t me, that I was hoping would somehow change, disappear, or mature if only I could put enough distance between us.

And here’s what caught me, the question of attention.  Would it be okay to give my dark side a thorough gaze?  Or would this serve to fuel the darkness residing therein?  If I looked at the darkness, would I be swallowed up within it, rendering me incapable of ever leaning out toward the light again?

“But,” I sang to my Self, “attention need not be laced with shame nor approval.  Attention may be clarifying while gentle, humble yet accountable.”

May the light of my eyes, cast a luminescent glow, one encompassing net, about my dark side.  May the gift of a sacred attention irradiate what I have been unwilling to fully acknowledge.  May I learn to love my darkness, for that is me, too; and may the Light which has never been overcome by darkness be my guide.

***

What have you learned about yourself and God when you turned your attention to your darkness?

© Amy Persons Parkes 2013

Practicing Dying

Hair flipping outside her helmet, knees narrowly missing the silver handlebars, with a fierce  yet wobbly determination, my daughter gripped the handles of her bubblegum-pink bicycle freshly shorn of its training wheels.  “Don’t get ahead of yourself,” I said.  “No need to worry about whether or not you are going to fall because you are definitely going to fall.  So first, let’s practice falling.  When you get the hang of falling, maybe you will be less afraid of riding your bike.”

I don’t remember all the details about how I was taught to ride a bike.  I don’t remember if someone tried to steady my shoulders as I balanced on the hefty banana seat.  I don’t remember if I was coached to look out, not down.  But I am fairly certain no one helped me learn how to fall, and no one assured me that I would fall before I had even tried to ride.

I don’t remember being taught about falling, but I have been hearing all of my life about the fact that I will die someday.  Mostly, I heard this in church and from church people.  Sunday school lessons and a fair number of sermons were primarily concerned with my death (and anybody else’s who happened to be present).  All of us will die.  I was encouraged to live with my death before me.  Would I be ready when the time came?

“Give your heart to Jesus because when you die you want to go to heaven and not burn in the fiery pit of hell,” they said.

“On the day of judgement, when you stand before the throne of God, having left behind this earthly life, you will have to account for all that you have done and all that you have left undone.  Live today as if it is your last,” they said.

“If you leave this place tonight, if you die in a car wreck on the way home, will your soul be in eternal peace with Jesus?” they asked.

I believe these statements, and others like them, were intended to help me live a more full and loving life.  If I could be free of the fear of dying and death, I would be free to live as a person motivated by agape love, a person characterized by faith, a person grounded in hope.  I think these admonitions were supposed to encourage me and provide a foundation of perseverance when I found doing the “right” thing too hard or too loathsome or too boring.  In a way, the church was saying, “You are going to fall.  Maybe you won’t be afraid of falling if you know how to do it well.”

I am born to die.  You are born to die.  We are all going to die because life encompasses death.  As a person of Christian faith, how I proceed to my death, how I recognize and negotiate the terms of my death, how I incorporate the eventuality of my “falling” into death has the potential to give balance to my wobbly life and to serve as a reminder to look out, not down.  The problem is that the primary ways I was taught to practice dying were built on fear – fear of failing to return God’s love, fear of God’s disapproval, fear that I (or anyone else) would be too weak to choose the leading of God’s Spirit if the punishment and reward failed to be utterly persuasive.  The problem is that focusing solely on this system of punishment and reward seems to disregard prevenient grace, the grace of God at work in us before we are able to respond, the divine spark within human beings that longs to be united with the All Consuming Fire of God’s love.  This emphasis on the reward and punishment which accompanies death seems to belittle God’s ability to woo us as God’s Beloved and to demean the capability of God’s Spirit within us to reciprocate God’s love.  Cannot God’s love do more than we can ask or imagine?  Cannot God’s love defeat the power of death?

I am still practicing dying but in a way more akin to falling or maybe sky-diving.  My practice of dying is less rooted in imagining a certain home in a Revelation kind of heaven (though many times I find great comfort seeing my loved ones walking streets of gold or strolling in peaceful green pastures).  Instead, my practice of dying is unveiled in a daily acknowledgement of my limited self and an awareness of the cosmic nature of God in Christ.  I practice dying by letting go into the unknown, immeasurable, immense nature of God’s presence that has known me before I was born, that knit me together in my mother’s womb, and that will receive me in death – though I do not know exactly how.  I practice dying by trust-falling into the presence of God when I am still and quiet and simply breathing, an experimental existing non-existence.

Why do I practice dying?  Because I believe I will live a fuller, richer, more abundant life if I see my death as part of my life.  I practice dying because I believe that the fear of death, in its many forms, is the cause of most human suffering.  Afraid of the death of a relationship, we manipulate and control the other or ourselves.  Afraid of the death of a way of life, we seek any and all means to prop up failing circumstances never counting the cost of greed and an unquenchable thirst for power.  Fearing the death of our influence, we fail to give ourselves in service to others or to promote a way of living which mirrors a wounded and suffering Christ.  Fearing the death of another’s approval, perceptions, or affirmation of us as “good people,” we fail to expose weakness, vulnerability, and struggle and so keep up the pretense (in cooperation with many around us) that we aren’t “one of those people,” all the while forgetting that healing is  undeniably tied to our willingness to uncover our wounds before the loving gaze of Grace.  I practice dying because I believe that fear and unconditional love exist at cross purposes to one another.  I John 4:18 says it much better than I can.  “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” 

So, if you were to ask me to give you some tips on learning how to live well, I would say, “It’s like riding a bike.  Learn how to fall, and maybe you will be less afraid.  Maybe you will then be able to look out, not down.”

bike riding

How have you practiced being less afraid of death?

© Amy Persons Parkes 2013

Healing

When the blister heals, water stings the opening.
I itch after the sunburn eases.
As the scrape on my right foot heals,
I feel bumpy scabs tighten across my skin.
And I’m wondering, Healing God,
about the pink and purple
and yellow and green
dyeing my healing bruise.

By what change, what beauty
what discomfort, what surprise,
will you heal me, God?

On second thought,
like the vaccination needle
maybe it’s better
if I don’t know
what’s coming next.

Great Physician,
Compassionate Nurse,
Ever-present Attendant,
do what you think is best.
Comfort the fever of my resistance.
Dress the wound of my pride,
And cover the nakedness of my deepest pain.
In and through Christ, I pray.  Amen.

© Amy Persons Parkes 2011

Written as part of my final project for the Two Year Academy of Spiritual Formation #30

Forgiveness: A Prayer

Loyola House Feb 2012 007

The trouble is,
I don’t know if I want to forgive.
I’m afraid I’m all out of discernment
when it comes to this problem.

The trouble is, God,
I’m not sure I know what it means
to let go all that has passed between us.
The list of offenses is piled so high,
and the piles are so numerous;
the site of the injury reminds me
of the dumping grounds in India.

The trouble is, God,
I don’t think you understand
what I’m dealing with here.
The orphans of my heart
are starved for reconciliation
and healing.
But I only know to let them roam
among the piles of offenses
in search of any morsel to keep them alive.
Because alive is better… right, God?

The trouble is, God,
I can’t pray a little harder
or believe with more sincerity
or act with more kindness than I already have.
I am stuck in this wasteland of garbage
and while part of me searches for some nourishment here
another part of me keeps pushing the piles around
believing that rearranging the memories might
provide some opening for escape.

The trouble is, God,
I can’t imagine the beauty and freedom
of a life apart from this dump.
And no matter how hard I try
I cannot envision another possibility.
I am not able to set myself free.

The trouble is, God,
I need some help —
when you are available,
when you have some time.
I don’t want to be a bother.

© Amy Persons Parkes 2011

Written as part of my final project for the Two Year Academy of Spiritual Formation.

What is Your Emotional Equator?

flat map ocean

What if the world is not flat?

What if the North Star’s dive below the horizon as you make your way south of the equator is not an indicator that the end of all things is near?

What if the truth everyone believes, isn’t really True?

What if the most important aspect of your life is only an emotional boundary that you can’t bring yourself to cross for fear of what monsters and end of time horrors await on the other side?

What if the edge of the only world you can imagine is only a passage to another world you never even dreamed existed?

What if speaking the truth of who you are and what you know does not have the power to crush another person?  What if, instead, the speaking of this truth has the power to set you free, to set the other free?

What if the expectations you think God has of you are really the expectations of your people that have been handed down from generation to generation, and what if they have nothing at all to do with God?

I devoured the first chapter of Edwin Friedman’s book A Failure of Nerve, and I am setting sail on an adventure toward my emotional equator.  Like the early explorers of the late 15th century, I wonder what will appear on the horizon when I stretch out into the boundaries of my fears and press into the deeper unknowable presence of God.

What is your emotional equator?

© Amy Persons Parkes 2013