On Mystery & Wisdom

I’ve been wanting to write a “Where Are We Now?” post for a while but 2020 was, well, 2020. Well, this is an attempt at that. It will be long. It’s mostly for me. But if you choose to read, linger, and hold your questions for the end. This is simply another chapter in my story.


As chaotic and, dare I say, transformative (ugh I hate that word ew gross) as it has been on a geopolitical level, it has coincided with some deep motions of growth and expansion in my own life, too.

For one, I was diagnosed this year with combined ADD/OCD, with diagnostic suggestions that I am also autistic. That’s a whole other article; suffice to say that learning that piece of information was like being given the solution to a 31-year-running logic puzzle. I’ve also undergone some deep, profound healing of old wounds from my previous marriage—that entire area of my life is lighter than I ever imagined it being able to be (though, now being the father to a daughter in the throes of tweenhood is its own peculiar crucible).

Additionally, I learned that I had mistyped myself on the Enneagram, and that I am in fact a 6 with a 5 wing, who struggles mightily with perfectionism, achievement, and belonging, the shadow of 6 moving to 3 in stress.

The enneagram six story describes my reality in stunning detail: I have always wanted to belong, and to be secure in that belonging; but because I am, at the very least, neurodivergent, as well as inhabiting a male body wired principally for homoerotic sexual expression, well, it’s made “belonging” kind of difficult. The other challenge baked into this is that my particular brand of six-ness, the counterphobic six, is the kind of person who always finds themselves in the position of contrarian.

All of this was within the context of having moved to a new city for a new job at a new church where I had two days of normalcy before COVID-19 shut the planet down. I love my new city, I just wish I could actually, you know, experience it. And it was a job where, going into it, my congregation would know that I was not someone who had followed a “typical” Christian journey. In fact, I was adamant about it in the process: I would be fully myself, fully present, unashamed of any aspect of my personhood as I stepped into this new call.

Which meant that I would have to step into the hazardous position of being “open” about publicly being an astrologer, about having one foot squarely in the world of the weird and wild and woolly. (Of course, that’s who I’ve been my entire life; I’m finally just now allowing it to come together in my public image and storytelling.)


An interesting thing that has happened to me recently is that, as I’ve become more and more public about being an astrologer (in the strange position I occupy as I am simultaneously a pastor in a mainline Protestant tradition) the more I recognize that I am, in my spiritual orientation, becoming more intensely Christian my thought and practice have become than I had previously realized—or expected, with as many times as I’ve complained to my husband, “I’m about 98% done with being a Christian.”

Indeed; over the last twelve years or so (beginning with my entry into seminary at Jupiter’s last transit of sidereal Capricorn, interestingly enough), I have deconstructed, and then reconstructed, my entire identity in faith through a consistent devotion to the pursuit of God through pursuing truth itself. That pursuit includes the kinds of truth one finds tucked away in the recesses, toward the margins, in the realm of the mysterious and unknowable and uncontainable—and sometimes scandalous. (For the astrologers in the audience, my natal Saturn rules my ascendant and occupies the 11th house in Sagittarius).

But for my part, the real joy has always been in the journey towards truth, not in the actual discovery of it. Often when we find we’ve grasped a bit of truth it turns out that we’ve just pulled off a handful of feathers and fur from the real beast. Instead of grasping, the call is to observe and to let “truth” be what it is without trying to master it (much more on this notion to follow).

My own lived experience as a gay man within a Christian holiness context was enough to tell me that I had not been given the entire story in my upbringing, and indeed, finding safe harbor as I sorted things out required me to draw a wide circle from the center of what was considered “Christian orthodoxy.”

And yet, I remained Christian, such to the point of now being, for all intents and purposes, “a professional Christian.” My work in this life feels deeply tied to the process of learning how to fully inhabit one’s inherited or inculturated religious identity in a way that is liberating for the individual and their community alike. (For the astrologers that are reading this, my natal Jupiter is conjoined the 4th house cusp, in sidereal Taurus, in an applying sextile to Mars in Pisces, who is received, and is the ruler of the midheaven.) That means that part of my work in this lifetime, as I understand it, is to turn the blade of truth-telling on the first truths I was told, the tradition of my forebears—but not in a clunky, scientific materialist rationalizing, reducing all the miracles to tall tales and the myths as nothing but fables.


I am an an astrologer, raised in the Christian West in the twilight of the second millennium CE, raised within the hegemony of materialist reductionism, who values the hard sciences and shares, in one sense, the studied skepticism of my materialist peers. I, however, am that counterphobic six, and so I come into this life bringing “not peace but a sword.” I am willfully someone who spends time, energy, and effort into deriving narrative meaning from a collection of algorithmic data that, in general, has no known mechanism of physical causation and is nevertheless meaningful to those who seek it out as a storytelling technology, (gosh, what a mouthful). I believe that my own skepticism points itself toward hegemonic worldviews that suggest that the lived experiences of individuals are invalid if they do not square with the overarching cultural narrative. And when I show up in a space that has deeply entrenched expectations that seem to be preventing its participants from fully flourishing, well…

I ain’t got time for that shit.

I have never claimed that astrological reasoning is a hard science, nor have I claimed it as a path of ultimate truth. It is simply another language to describe reality—but it is a deep and powerful one, with stories so deep within human consciousness that they’ve been around as long as we’ve been able to curl our heads up toward heaven and wonder at the slowly wheeling stars. These myths take on the names of planets: “Saturn,” the myth of senescence, of rigidity, of strangeness; “Jupiter,” the myth of expansion and fecundity, the principle of self-transcendence; and so on.

The weird part is watching these myths unfold in time and imbue time with a particular mythic quality. Identifying the mythic quality of a particular moment in time and space—such a moment as an astrological birth chart represents—is what this storytelling technology endeavors to do. This core stands in opposition to neither science nor faith; it has always accompanied us; it is simply part of who we are as humans to look at the stars and find meaning therein. Every culture has an astrology.

As a result of marinating in this mythic complex, one which is in resonance (but not caused by) observable physical phenomena within our solar system, I have discovered anew the power of story, and the importance of the particular language we use.

I have learned that the myths in which we swim, the stories we tell to keep ourselves together, and the empirical processes with which we describe the cosmos in finer and finer detail all serve an important function for human wellbeing. They matter. They are all true, in a manner of speaking, and they all belong as part of the complete lived human experience.

This realization has deepened by virtue of my recent plunge into a philosophical tradition known as Integral Theory, perhaps one of the best models of reality I have ever encountered (and it is not without its issues, and Ken Wilber himself is only human, too). The whole field of integral theory would require much too long to go through here, but I commend to you not only the very readable “Brief History of Everything” by Ken Wilber, but also Wilber’s predecessor, Jean Gebser, and the lovely engagement with his work, Seeing Through the World: Jean Gebser and Integral Consciousness, by Jeremy Johnson. I have also been deeply aided as of late by the work of several voices I first encountered about eight years ago, in the aftermath of having come out, namely, Richard Rohr, Thomas Keating, and Cynthia Bourgeault.


One of the essential principles of integral theory is the idea that everyone is at least a little bit right. And because everyone is at least a little bit right, everyone has a grasp on an aspect of truth that I, from my Western post-modern perspective, might not necessarily have. I need insight from traditions that maintain their connection with mythic consciousness, from the tribal identity given to me by Christianity, to the imaginal workings of psychology and esotericism, to the hard science of materiality that gives us a solid footing on which to stand.

Coloring outside the lines of the faith of my youth has given me the necessary perspective and language I needed in order to be able to “jailbreak,” so to speak, the cultural and theological language of Christianity, allowing me to find a way to inhabit it more intensely and more committedly than in the past. Understanding Christianity to be, fundamentally, a wisdom tradition, not just an illegal chthonic mystery cult-cum-social reform movement that we typically understand the Early Church to be. Christianity is a tradition of living wisdom. When I say “living wisdom,” what I mean is that at its core, Christianity has an experience of unitive consciousness, a lived experience of, “oh, hey, God and I are one with each other, and Consciousness is the supreme reality.”

That first lived experience in this tradition, the story of which we as Christians in 2021 CE are the inheritors of, was to be found in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, whom, I think, was the first brilliant teacher of nondual consciousness in the West—and what made him especially popular and powerful was that his life was such a strong testimony against, and critique of, the way that imperial violence had become the main way of “safeguarding human welfare” in the West. It was time for humans to grow out of that (which is why we got the Buddha and the development of the Krishna tradition right around the same time historically, too, around the time of the exile of the Israelites to Babylon).

And someone at the margins woke up. Someone at the margins had a lived experience of unitive consciousness that popped them open so deeply that they were able to see the entire planet aflame with the presence of God. This is someone whose very way of living and being, because of their openness to the presence of God in all things, was so free that it was a threat to people whose sense of security and safety depended on maintaining a particular social order, a particular structure of consciousness. So the hammer tends to fall on these kinds of people.

And what we see in the life of Christ is the world’s rejection of someone who had every right in the world to lead a violent resistance against his people’s imperial dominators, someone who had every right in the world to fight back against his captors and executors, someone who chose instead to live a life of committed, aggressive nonviolence. Someone who forgave the mob lynching him. “Tetelestai,” he is reported to have said, “I’ve done it. I’ve loved them all, up to the very end.” And he bowed his head and gave up the ghost, so the story goes.


So as my study deepens, I find myself spiraling ever more deeply into this story, and that continues to intensify my commitment to Christian identity, quite in spite of myself—and not just Christian identity in general. I specifically am feeling more and more explicitly “Wesleyan,” the tradition in which I was formed as a seminarian, the tradition that this very blog emerged from, and the tradition at the heart of the faith I inherited from my parents and godparents. Thanks to this exploration “outside the lines,” I finally have language for John Wesley’s fundamental theological principle that makes sense to me, namely, “entire sanctification,” which he also called, “Christian perfection.”

I’ve come to recognize that what Wesley called “entire sanctification” is a state of consciousness that other traditions would recognize as “nondual.” It is the state of consciousness spoken of by the Eastern traditions and demonstrated in the expression of masters from those traditions. God uses all available vehicles to speak, after all.

Nonduality is what I believe Wesley experienced at Aldersgate, as filtered through his religious vocabulary of 18th century Anglicanism, ripe as it was with memory of the English Wars of Religion. Nonduality is not simply a state of consciousness, neither is it simply the result of mental gymnastics that allow us to reconcile opposites (and that’s a good way to approach it, but not the only way). Nonduality is a structure of consciousness itself, following Jean Gebser, who describes an “aperspectival [or nondual] consciousness” that allows one to view other structures of consciousness—archaic, magic, mythic, and rational—through the lens of their mutuality.

The stories that we have inherited in our religious traditions are, by and large, humanity’s fumbling attempt to put this experience of nonduality, of what Wesley calls “entire sanctification,” into language that could be understood by the people with whom they trafficked, and understood within the general structure of consciousness that predominates in a culture at a given time. But we are always growing, and as we grow, our understanding of these state-stages and structures of consciousness—the interface for our experience of Reality itself, if you like—has a tendency of outgrowing where we’re at and bringing us into deeper recognition of the still-grander story that enfolds us all.


That work requires, in some ways, shedding old stories like a snakeskin if they have become too toxic, and yes, there is much within Christianity that has become toxic and deadly.

But there is another path, too, and it is the path that I willfully choose: I believe that part of the work can be done by inhabiting a Christian identity fully and justly. That is made infinitely easier by having experiences of nonduality, experiences that pop us out of our understanding of the way this material world of paradoxes and conditions manifests, and allows us to see reality from the perspective God sees: the reality being experienced and the one experiencing it of a piece; they are the same thing, a single motion, a single gesture, like the flow of electromagnetic current through a magnet.

And that full and just inhabitation of Christian identity has been massively, massively assisted by people who made a practice of moving towards this realization that we are already fully enfolded in the presence of God, and nothing can separate us from it. It is those individuals whose likeness we find painted on wood boards in egg tempera and glued to the outside of Dollar Tree novena candles, people who make love manifest because they know they are love made manifest before anything else.

So Jesus says, “I and my Father are one.”

How do we get there? How do we get to that particular state of sublime oneness and stay on that razor’s edge long enough to “wake up?” Well, fortunately, the Christian identity, when fully realized and fully inhabited, gives us a way to do that, and a way to conceptualize it: it is the gesture of willful self-emptying.


Kenosis is derived from Paul’s rapturous poetry in the letter to the Philippians (and you could tell he really liked the church at Philippi because he was willing to give them this heavy duty theology, the fruit of his own crucible). Paul writes,

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
    and gave him the name
    that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
    every knee should bend,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
    that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2.5-11

Kenosis is the primary gesture of Christ—and if John is right in identifying Christ as the Logos [spermatikos], the reasoning principle of the entire universe, then, the fundamental nature of existence is fruitful, it is abundant, and that offering-up is the primary gesture of the ground of existence itself. Consciousness gives itself away. Now, bring this down to the level of humans, who are, perhaps, the most “conscious” entities we know of to date, leaving all paranormal possibilities aside: kenosis, for a human, is the gesture of holding whatever it is that you have, or whatever it is that has come into your life—people, places, things, ideas, experiences, bodies of knowledge, sexual partners, material earnings, status and image, family ties, and our very life itself—with an open hand, offering it up, not clinging to it, not getting obsessed with it.

Living from that place is tremendous. It is also dangerous, because someone who lives from a center of kenosis, fully and gently, is someone who cannot be contained or silenced or stopped in their giving by any force invented by human beings. Nor, as Paul goes on to say, can even the silently turning heavens themselves thwart the unfolding of a person’s kenosis, and Christ’s kenosis on our behalf, and the whole of Godhead’s mutually-emptying interbeing. And it is this being swallowed-up in the infinite kenosis of the Supreme Reality that Paul is speaking to in language that could be understood by his peers, by his hearers. He was truly a revolutionary in his first century context. And yet, he, too, is not without his problems.

I believe that kenosis is the principal theological innovation of the Pauline tradition. But because old habits die hard, and we are so keen on “having a brand,” what we got was a body of knowledge that built up because most of us weren’t ready for the real deal, we weren’t ready to live kenosis fully and completely. Accordingly, we got much of it completely, spectacularly wrong because it flies in the face of common knowledge and offends the very sensibilities that have allowed our species to evolve to this level of consciousness in the first place. (I shouldn’t have to invoke the various ways that Christians have “gotten it wrong” throughout history).

But I do think that Jesus spoke to that kind of reality, too, in his ethical teaching—but once you’ve started to read Jesus’ parables through the lens of kenosis, you start to see it everywhere. It’s constantly staring you in the face, never violently, but it stares at you and challenges you. “This is the full height of God made manifest in humanity. This is the path to the life of the ages,” as Jesus called it, and as Paul interpreted it. And I think there is a particular warning here as well: if we are focused on “getting it right,” if we are focused on “achieving the life of the ages,” we run the risk of missing the point entirely, because we become attached to achieving nonattachment.

And this is where the language of grace comes in, and later on for John Wesley, where the language of “a second work of grace” hits: in his view, yes, you were definitely “okay” if you were a Christian, if you were baptized, but you would not be able to enter fully into what Wesley understood as “the kingdom of heaven on Earth” unless you were also seeking after this gift of God’s “second work of grace.”


What Wesley did was he figured out what the Desert Mothers and Fathers in their cells figured out, and what monastics throughout history figured out, and what, Martin Luther started to get (but I believe his hatred of Jewish people sullied his vision, as did that of other reformers), that the Supreme Reality is the one who catches up with us, not the other way around. God finds Us.

Consciousness is the initiator in the dance of us waking up to who we are. And part of the work of being “fully a Christian” is to put ourselves in such a state of mind as that we’re most prepared to receive the gift, even if it’s still a gift that must be received.

(We’ve all received a peach candle in our lives—we’re never ready to receive it, we don’t really want it, and we just pawn it off on the next person. But what if that gift is something vital to us that we know we need and immediately resonate with? Then, yes, then—that’s when a gift truly becomes a gift—a gift actually worth giving away, ironically. Such is kenosis.)

So here I stand, thigh-deep in the work of figuring out how to fully inhabit my Christian identity with the full knowledge that I do not have any claim to being “right,” and that my articulation of my own experiences is mine. I also recognize that there are those in this world for whom I am a veritable devil, besodden as I am with witchery and sodomy and mixed poly-cotton blends and pepperoni pizzas, jealousy, envy, strife, sadness, sins and abominations one and all. But here I am. I can do no other; because I am baptized. I am beloved.

(Martin Luther, problematic as he is, was right on when he coined the phrase, simul iustus et peccator, and that’s the great gift of Lutheranism to the world wisdom traditions—something Wesley himself picked up on at Herrnhut).

It is Wesley’s method that “entrains the faculties” to receive the gift of contemplation. That was the point of Methodism from the outset: setting oneself up to receive the gift of contemplation. Yet Wesley’s method was not principally about being holy, though it certainly has that tendency; it was principally about surrendering, consenting to the presence of the Supreme Reality [God] moving in you and acting through you. You just get out of the way. And when you get out of the way, fully open to love, well, that’s where real holiness spills out into the world.

The monastics have always known this. And the eastern traditions never forgot, developing highly refined skills for achieving, and maintaining, this particular state of consciousness over the centuries. We mess this up when we grasp, when we cling to method or identity or whatever tool we think will “save us.”

And so it goes.


Where am I today, then? If someone were to ask, what would I say that I believed?

I am madly, madly in love with the Supreme Reality, whom I know by the ancestral name my parents and godparents taught me, the name Jesus Christ, Yeshua bin-Miryam. He is my All-things-in-All, he is my nothing-in-any. “At the sight of this, [his] shape stupendous,” full of reality in all its virtue, “all my peace is gone, all my heart is troubled,” stirred up for want of union, of a return to Christ as the one “in whom I live and move and have my being.”

(As an aside, Hindus have some of the most mellifluous religious language on the planet, by the way—and, if I were to hazard a guess, our name “Christ” and their name “Vishnu” are articulating the same experience of mystery.)

Yet, I come home to my mother tongue. I am Christ’s own. And, in the words of some of my very favorite monastics, “I will follow Him, follow Him wherever he may go. And near him I always will be, for nothing can keep me away—He is my destiny.”

And my birth chart shows it. (And, I believe, so might yours.)

Incidentally, where is Yeshua to be found? Where is the living Christ to be found today, and where might we see him? You know the answer: he is always to be found at the margins, at those crucified on the fringes of society, within those excluded and diminished for their difference. That is where my forebears found him following their Star to a distant land. That is where my ancestors found him in the life of their Teacher, who was ever and always with the wrong kind of people, eating and drinking. “He has a demon,” they said. Why? Simply because he dared to pour himself out for those incorrect people.

And so my following Yeshua has taken me to the fringes of Christianity itself, into distant lands, seeking for Christ, pursuing him like a dog chasing its game, like my dog running after snacks. Chasing him has taken me into the fellowship of people and life-ways that are not necessarily “good Christian fun.” But, incredibly, and without fail, there he is, and there joy is found, and there the Church springs up a new shoot even though it’s now growing wildly outside the garden. It might not even look like Church at all. And it certainly might not be evangelical. But nevertheless, it spreads.

And I am not talking about the spread of institutional Christianity; may God prevent us from bearing any more toxic fruit, at least. Nor am I talking about the Christian language. I am talking about the lived, embodied experience of unconditional love that stems from realization that one is One with the Supreme Reality. That we are all en Christō, as Paul puts it. That we all share ancestors, as others put it. That we are actors in the līla of Creation, the play of existence, as still others put it. And that changes everything.

As far as my practice, as far as the language I’m using to express my pursuit of this Supreme Reality, well, I’ll say this: my steps into Vedic philosophy and the world of astrology have not been fruitless. After all, one of the best ways to improve your English is by learning another language, and I offer gratitude to those teachers who have helped me to seek truth in other tongues over the last several years. But I have finally found a way through the practice of Centering Prayer, through the art and practice of an astrological model of reality for myth-making, and the gift of contemplation as transmitted by the Western Christian mystical tradition to bring this reality back into my mother tongue, the language of the Christian story.

We will continue to need to find new ways of articulating this experience as our ability to perceive the imaginal realm through our deepening tools psychology and spirituality. We will need to find new words as our understanding of the physical realm continues to press up against the limits of what is mechanically observable.

And we will continue to need to inherit, inhabit, and interpret the stories that we steward in this moment in history. After all, life is short; we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who walk the way alongside us. So, may I be swift to love, and make haste to be kind.

Coming Out of Good Earth

Today is National Coming Out Day.


One may wonder why LGBTQ people have to “come out” in the first place—well, think of it as a kind of proclamation. There is something different about us that is good and holy in its own right and it is not up to the norms of the prevailing society to give us intrinsic value. That value is inestimably and ineffably given to each of us at the moment of our entrance into this life by the One who calls us out of the dust of the earth and names us.

To come out is to name that we too, with our different ways of loving and walking and seeing in this world, are of good earth. We give voice to the fire in our bones and name the goodness of creation. We claim our blessing: “out of good earth were we made, and good we are.”


For those who would accuse us of celebrating and identifying with “sinfulness,” perhaps studied consideration of what “sin” actually is would be a worthwhile endeavor—so often we call “sin” that which doesn’t jive with our societal norms. Pepperoni pizza remains an abomination, after all.

Yet I’ve grown completely tired of engaging in any conversations around the so-called “clobber passages;” any number of qualified scholarly luminaries have shown time and again that these passages do not provide the right to exclude and “reprove in the Lord” that many so desperately want. I won’t countenance this particular conversation because it’s so boring. Instead I have decided to take the posture of demanding of people the reasons they would seek to exclude and eliminate with the same vigor with which I have been asked to defend my own existence and my own insistence in being part of my faith tradition.

My existence, my belovedness-in-God, my walking in the Jesus pilgrimage is not up for discussion. Nor are my inalienable rights to life, liberty, and equality. Nor are the inalienable rights of those who, for accident of birth into different race or class or nation or way-of-being, have had their rights called into question. My freedom as a gay man is bound up in my black neighbor’s freedom, in my woman neighbor’s freedom, in my immigrant neighbor’s freedom, in my white cis-het neighbor’s freedom (from the fetters of privilege and prejudice!). Until we are all free, none of us is—for we are all made of the same Good Earth by a Good Maker.


To come out is not cheap for many, if not all of us. While I am grateful for the privilege I enjoy of having a supportive family, a network of ride-or-die friends, and connections to faith communities that understand the mystery of the Good Earth, those came part and parcel of walking through a journey of loss. Others are not so fortunate and have either lost everything, including their lives, or are forced into silence and shame by the ungrounded fear that others have of them.

And so today my heart is with those who cannot name the goodness of the soil from which God called them for fear of silencing, rejection, loss of social and financial support, and the very present threat of psycho-spiritual and physical violence; moreover my heart is with those who have come out at great cost to their security and safety. May we all be so brave and so willing to let go of those things that tether us in order to show forth God’s handiwork.

A postscript.

To my ally friends: thank you. Know well that today is -not- the day to come out as an ally. If you must act, do so tacitly by lifting up the stories of LGBTQ people and succoring those for whom coming out has come at great cost.

simmering silences

My lenten practice this year is to be kind to myself, and in so, to better know God.

God is unknowable in God’s essence, but only in God’s energies. That is a tenet to which I have ascribed for not a short time—ultimately to say that one can “know God” is any unfiltered, unmodulated way is flatly wrong (since any of our thoughts, our filters, our metaphors, are ultimately created things). God is knowable only in the darkness between the things that God is clearly not.

In other words, God is audible silence and visible darkness.

I’m not sure why I’m on about this; I think perhaps that the cognitive and emotional effort with which I’ve been pressing into my pastoral, professional, and creative endeavors have been causing me again to ask “where is God in this?” It’s certainly not as though I am making the kind of harried “I MUST FIGURE THIS OUT” attempts at coming to know God that characterized my adolescence, and to be sure I’m quite comfortable with silence and darkness.

I want to be connected to the ground of being in a way that brings me into inner quiet and the balance that the intensity of my personality—a flamboyant enneagram Four with a strong 3 wing, a romantic achiever, a pursuer of ego projects—needs in order to be healthy. I angst a lot, and frequently I try to pass off my groundless angsting as prayer. To be sure it can be that, but I think my rambling and railing can ever-so-gently mutate into a kind of self-flagellation which has precious little to do with communing with the Uncreated Ground of Being and more in common with working myself into an emotional froth so I can feel everything, that is, so I can feel special.

This is the Four’s modus operandi, after all.

This isn’t bad; it too belongs, and it’s part of me, but it is without a locus of immaturity and an opportunity for me to grow. To wit, I want to pray well, and to pray honestly, and to pray in such a way that I am not demanding things of God—although the last time I ‘prayed extemporaneously’ it was as though I was God’s HR manager and I was giving the Divine a gentle but firm talking-to about areas for improvement. I think we have a precedent for this in the Psalms, at any rate, and I believe God can handle it.

But I want to cultivate a spirit of silence, a spirit of “integrity, humility, patience, and love,” as St. Ephraim the Syrian beseeches, “and let me see my own sins and not those of my brother.” I pray the daily office (not faithfully), I receive the Eucharist (not regularly), and I do my best to live at peace with my neighbor—though my loveable-yet-culpable pettiness shines through more often than not.

I’m attempting centering prayer, known better in the secular world as “mindfulness meditation.” I’m still too new at it to even pretend like I know what I’m doing, and I won’t even bother to rehash the practice here when the term be-Googled yields more information than one could possibly assimilate in several sittings, but my initial inclination is that it is cultivating kindness, in the very least to myself.

I learned the practice first from a seminar led by an Orthodox monk in my pre-death-and-resurrection days, but the practice has come back into my view through my recent quiet exploration of the mystics—Merton (via Richard Rohr) and Julian of Norwich, especially. It’s called the “prayer of the heart,” or “contemplation,” depending on who you ask, but the point is the same: to find silence and to be present therein.

Because the spirit of “integrity, humility, patience, and love” which I’m seeking is in as much to help be humble, patient, and loving toward my own person inasmuch as it is toward God and my neighbor. I can be phenomenally cruel to myself; I can say things to myself with ease which I would never dream of saying to another human being.

Can I love myself as God does? Most likely not. But to be able to be as gentle, patient, and kind towards myself—for I too am an icon of God—may be within my ken, inasmuch as I am called at obligated by my baptism to strive to be gentle, patent, and kind toward my neighbor. I will fail, and failure belongs as well.

At the very least, I feel zen’d-out, and by millimeters less dependent on my go-to coping skills of stuffing my feelings with drink and food while wallowing self-loathing because of the drink and food. And that’s a kindness, and a mercy.


in the indicative

I’m just past the threshold on the opposite end of a long, dark tunnel. The light hurts my eyes. And like a puppy who was abused freshly brought to a caring home at last, I find myself learning to trust, learning to not be afraid of the passing shadows or sudden noises that pervade typical life. When will the other shoe drop in this newfound place of peace and comfort? More terrifying, what if it doesn’t?

For once I am not in crisis mode, as I have been since, oh, 2009. Part of this is simply growing up and entering into a deeper sense of self. Part of this is abandoning the toxicity of a religious imagination that only valued me inasmuch as I could be something I wasn’t. And still part of this was getting out of the situations that held me in thrall to crisis-as-normative.

But there is now a new normal, and the task before me is to learn how to live not out of fear of an imagined shoe-drop but rather to live in contentment and contemplation of the way things have turned out, aware and open to deep joy and acceptance of the things that are. To no longer live in the subjunctive. To give my poor beleaguered limbic system a break.

To wit, I stand on the other side of a series of difficult interactions, decisions, and circumstances that have consumed the bulk of my twenties. Before me there’s a vast expanse of an open field-forest-mountain-range-vineyard laying before me (oh Shenandoah!) and now there are four demesnes that beg my attention—I would lavish it upon them.

I will lavish it upon them, given that I’m now living in the indicative.

I. Relationships. To myself, to the divine, to my family first and foremost. Renewing, strengthening, and propelling my bond to my daughter as she becomes more and more an individual (six going on sixteen, help Lordt). Forging deeper and tighter cables of love for my partner as we prepare for marriage. Cultivating understanding and growth with members of my family system. Inviting friends to dinner. Deploying periphrastic phrases will-he nill-he to make a rhetorical point.

But these chains of love and friendship are the very backbone of my existence as a functioning adult, or so I proclaim. It’s time to square proclamation with the reality of things.

II. Household. Frankly, it’s time to get my financial shit together. I have a pipe dream of somehow, some way, completing an additional graduate degree in the human services—because I’m a masochist, that’s why—and I can’t responsibly do that until, at the very least, my consumer debts and other financial obligations as they stand now are taken care of. I’m working a dream job with phenomenal opportunities for growth, so I have no reason not to do this. I’m even more beholden to the stewardship piece of spiritual development given that I now actually have something to, you know, steward.

III. Creativity. Not only have I neglected this space for too long, I’ve also been neglecting a major part of my soul, to wit, music. Ideas for this opera or that sonata or this dance suite have been kicking around in my head unabated but I’ve lacked either the presence of mind or the energy or the sheer chutzpah to make those ideas become a reality as I hammer away at the block of silence in my workspace.

At the same time, too, words make their way to the fore and fall unrealized into the fulminating abyss of ever-present distraction. Oh Blog, how I love thee! And yet how I have drawn distant, or worse, navel-gazey (and I’m doing that right now, flagrantly). I’d been starving Euterpe* and Erato** for the sake of paying too much attention to Melpomene’s*** call to self-loathing and self-limiting. Such shouldn’t be the case, given the need to practice creation is as much a part of my existence as the need to breathe oxygen. Forgive me, muses.

Though, admittedly there is space for grace here—there’s good reason one in constant crisis can’t be creative. Now my muses can breathe again.

IV. Contemplation. This is perhaps the most crucial to the whole process: learning not to live in the future or the past, but simply in the present, aware of how the world is throwing itself at me, screaming to be observed and appreciated and contributed to in the sheer raw realness of the moment.

For this is not something to be tacked on as an addendum, but a modality through which everything else must be filtered. All exists because in the loving inclination of the Universe’s engine of joy, everything belongs.

And in that I claim that while I cannot live in the future, I am shaped by its unbounded goodness; by the same token, I am not beholden to my past despite having been brought to this place by my very journey through it.

Indicative. Present. Presence. And all is yet grace.

*the muse of music
**the muse of lyric poetry
***the muse of tragedy and emo MySpace pics


What phenomenal power is there in the sacred practice of naming the goodness of something? To bless it? After all, blessing—benedicere, bendecir, bénir, evlogeo—at least in the languages I know—literally means “good-saying.”

Goodness is not perfection, goodness is not spotlessness or the meeting of expectations. “Good,” is an earthy, visceral quality: “good” is what one calls the bloody, screaming mess of birth. Good is an orientation towards further creation, further life, further love.

And “good” is what God called each part of existence as God made it. In the way that the poet who put down the Hebrews’ creation myth, it’s as if God is taken aback with the goodness of that which the Word produced: God sees it and reflects, “oh, hey, this is good.”

God names goodness throughout the creation poem, always with a note of surprise, and yet always noting creation’s goodness while it remains unfinished—light without celestial bodies, seas without land, land without life, life without sapience, sapience without wholeness, humanity without community.

To wit, the whole creation is good, even in its imperfections. And that God is constantly improving God’s own handiwork is a comfort, because it frees us from the need to get everything right on the first go, to have everything nailed down. It’s work.

So the poem goes—the divine works at creation in an exhausting process that requires God, upon its completion, to rest, having named the goodness in all God’s work, blessing it, calling it “very good,” turning “tohu wa-bohu” into “tov ma’od” and leaving it in the hands of those bearing the divine image to continue to work.

I daresay that the naming of the goodness of each thing created is integral to its creation, and with that, it is integral to our continued obligation of creating our world. The poem gives us the model: as God names unfinished, unperfected works “good,” so are we given license to name as “good” those parts of our lives that we are yet collaborating with God and with each other to create, even when they are dark or unfinished.

It could be that in those spaces that are imperfect or unfinished we have an opportunity as co-creators with God to be taken aback, saying, “oh, hey, this is good.” And the hard, imperfect, unfinished spaces are work. They take it out of us. They are exhausting. Yet deep down there is, below everything, an engine of surprised joy and self-giving love driving the whole operation, between each of us, in the midst of wale and waste so overwhelming that it pulls our attention from the task at hand.

I say all this to say that the practice of blessing is crucial to our ongoing collaborative work with God in creating the world, because when we are in the midst of imperfection and unfinishedness, there is yet goodness there, because goodness is inherent to the unfolding work.

Though the wale and waste threaten to overwhelm, when we are exhausted from the work of creation, we can look to those unfinished spaces and bless them, saying, “darkness, you are good, and I commend you away from nothingness and towards creation, to the goodness that drives the universe.”

Mother, Make Me

A broken and resolute Florence Welch sings,

Mother, make me
Make me a bird of prey
So I can rise above this, let it fall away
Mother, make me
Make me a song so sweet
Heaven trembles, fallen at our feet

When I was a teenager I used to pray over and over again as I floundered in the throes of hormones and fear, “make me something different, or leave me like this and leave.”

Years later prayers are, “make me more me than ever.” I no longer fear who I am, but rather stand in awe of it.

In the slow, agonizing throes of resurrection I am becoming who I am. That is the only possible way to exist with any shred of authenticity in a world that demands we wear masks, binding ourselves in the shrouds we use to protect ourselves from one another’s wills, demands, expectations, insults, and prejudices.

We hide because the world demands it, telling us who we can and who we can’t be if we expect to live under the world’s bankrupt conception of “peace.” We case ourselves in layer upon layer of falsehood as we pray and pretend, “God, make me successful; God, make me at peace with my body; God, make me straight; God, change me to make me acceptable; God, don’t abandon me in my worthlessness.” The prayers echo in silence.

But we take that silence to mean that God doesn’t care, or isn’t there at all. Can that be true at the end of the day? I say no—I scream it; God is desirous, voluptuous, persistent and perplexing, who, even as we wait in silence, is making all things new, including a core deep within each of us that must be dug out and fanned into brilliant flame. That is who God makes each of us, that part of us that will be raised from the dead in spite of the death of our egos and wrongdoings and defense mechanisms, to make us one with God.

It’s only when we die that we can be raised from the dead. Something will break us, and only when that crack is there and we lay in shards on the floor can we be pieced together again radiant with light and gold.

The frenzied love of a God in the business of raising the dead will have nothing to do with anything but our truest selves. To wit, no one was ever saved by pretending; it could be that the Advocate who leads us into all truth does so by showing us who we are, by showing us how God sees us: of infinite worth, no longer dead but alive. Because this is the only reason I understand humans to exist: to radiate with love, dancing with God, and pulling all the world into the dance alongside us.

A month of Pride is celebrated by people who have lived this poetry—people who have been broken and come back to life, who have torn their shrouds off and experienced what it is like to be wholly, arrestingly real. We, dappled things, are desired, are beloved, are sustained and sanctified by the Ground of All that Is. Queers and Christians alike should know this: we are a people undergoing resurrection, even if we don’t know it is Christ raising us, making us who we were meant to be all along and had lost in the fray. And heaven trembles with joy at the sight.

Mother, make us—make us a song so sweet
Heaven trembles, falling at our feet.

Craving Ashes

A single Facebook status from a friend encapsulated so well why I love today. “Ash Wednesday is great,” she said, “because we look at each other and admit, ‘Yeah, we’re f*cked.’”

I crave Ash Wednesday. I crave it all year, it seems, but especially so when winter is taking final, ferocious swipes at the mid-atlantic as the world wheels away from it and into spring. And I sat at my desk most of the day both begrudging the fact that I’d missed helping out with Ashes-to-Go given a wicked head cold, while waiting for the day to end so I could go get that precious smudge of ash, to pray all those delicious psalms of penitence and confession, and to eat the family dinner again.

I think I needed it more than normal this year, though. Having endured so much in the past few months, in the midst of wrestling with questions of discernment and career and housing—now, today, right this second, rattled by these questions, is why I need to be reminded that I’m dust. And you with me. We’re but dust.

Dust and water, really—the smudged thumbprints on our foreheads are as much remembrances of our baptisms as they are our mortality. Either way, death is inescapable. But if death is inescapable, new life is even less so, because we are dust and living water.

During mass tonight I put the ashes on the rector’s forehead: “Hey, you’re gonna die.” And she turned right back around and did the same to me. Just a couple of sinners, we.

It’s kind of gauche to talk about sin in progressive circles; surely we’ve evolved beyond that. Well, I should hope that we’ve moved beyond the rhetoric of “you’re a sinner and sin is bad and you should feel bad” that roots sin in basic misbehavior, as if the Cross and Resurrection were some kind of cosmic behavioral therapy. Stop being bad, pay the toll, get into heaven, the usual.

But the sweet-sounding liberal approaches to sin—that we fear that “we are powerful beyond measure,” or that we’re simply not holding ourselves and each other in high-enough esteem–ring hollow as well. ISIS is not crucifying children because they fear their own power and aren’t letting their light shine. I’m not harboring grudges and ill-will towards others because of a failure of self-esteem.

When we come to the Ash Wednesday liturgy, there is absolutely no way around it. Sin is real. Sin is not mere misbehavior, or holding ourselves in low esteem—sin is a failure to love in the right direction, mixed with the shimmering darknesses that lie in human hearts, without any means of fixing it on our own.

The great comfort of Ash Wednesday and the whole Christian tradition of penance, ultimately, is that God is at work in us turning our turned-in love back out towards God and towards our neighbor, and rooting out those darknesses. Our slap-bracelet love is given to whip back in on itself at any second, and so left to ourselves we are constantly fighting the elasticity of our hearts. Turning our hearts back out, something that is impossible for us to do, is arrestingly possible for She who squeezed together a handful of fertile black dust and water and gave us a heart of flesh.

I need freedom to admit my own failure to love rightly, to admit my own humanness, to ask for help. And I need the promise of a God who is dealing with it by taking those failures onto Godself and inverting them once and for all in resurrection.

Nadia Bolz-Weber rightly says, “To me, there is actually great hope in admitting my mortality and brokenness because then I finally lay aside my sin management program and allow God to be God for me. Which is all any of us really need when it comes down to it.”

To be grounded in our ground-ness once again and let God be God, that’s what I needed today. Even as I’m struggling to figure out where “home” is for me among the Church, even as I’m working to live into my calling to ministry, the very basis of all of that is that I am ‘adam, a God-made earthling, a beloved sinner, who has a head cold and eats too much fried food and holds grudges and is in desperate need of bread and wine and welcome and mercy. Who forgets too often and needs to remember.

Like Totally

The greatest of my weaknesses is that I desperately want to be liked by other people. Not just chummily tolerated—genuinely liked for who I am and what I bring to the table in a relationship, professional or otherwise.

There is, floating somewhere with in me, a lingering glob of the sad and surly eighth grader who desperately, desperately wanted to have friends and to be accepted, welcomed even. I’ve since moved on from that—“well-adjusted emotionally” is a descriptor I pride myself on—but whenever I find myself faced with conflict or decisions that could possibly alienate others I tend to freeze. “What will they think of me for saying this? Will they still like me?”

This was brought to the fore by a conversation I witnessed (of all places) on Facebook between a gay friend of mine and a former pastor of his who decided to Say His Peace on my friend choosing to celebrate his committed relationship. I’ve had run-ins with folks in similar positions—you know, the guy who called me an unbeliever, the street preacher, the former boss, the single-minded activist, the ex, and so forth. I say, on one hand, who gives a shit? but the floating glob of corpulent loneliness says, I do! That’s another person! I want them to like me! I give several shits! The major difference now, as opposed to my greener days, is that I accept that feeling and lay it aside (at least, I try to).

Truth be told, I do still wonder what people from my past think about me—more than I should, in some cases. I know I’ve lost friendships, mentors, and opportunities because of my decisions, and each one of those losses seems to take a little chunk of me along with it. Here is where I would give myself the pep-talk of “those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” That is truth, but walking out that truth is a challenge for folks like me, who simply want to have their existence acknowledged as valuable and welcomed.

Is it so strange to want to be liked? Is it so rare? I think more of us than realize it want to be liked more than anything. If you’re one of those rare souls who genuinely doesn’t care what other people think of you, I envy you (and, surprise, I want you to like me).

It’s a bearable ailment for a while. It becomes problematic, however, when we start compromising beliefs and boundaries to extract more “like” from people who don’t have the time of day for us—or worse, people who are consistently abusive and have no regard for our boundaries to begin with.

The desire to be liked is an addiction—and a socially acceptable one at that. It just feels too good to get a fix, and getting it feeds that deep place of desire within us that other dependencies don’t get at (alcohol and tobacco aren’t on Maslow’s pyramid, but social needs are right there in the center). I would wager that it comes from experiences similar that have rendered us, in some ways, unable to like ourselves. The challenge is recognizing when seeking friendship and approval from others becomes destructive to one’s own self-interest, where we’d rather let people re-assemble us according to their specifications than simply taking us as we are.

Religious people are kind of terrible about this (I am one, so of course I’m preaching to the choir), and religious communities are especially risky places for those of us who suffer from like-deficiency. The criteria of welcome are frequently so extrinsic—welcome isn’t rooted in a person’s inherent worth, but rather a person’s adherence to a prescribed shape of humanity based on an external belief schema held by the community. God help us if we don’t conform entirely to expectations. Lest anyone read this as a dig at my evangelical history, it happens on the right and the left in spades.

On the other hand, religious communities that get the whole concept of “welcome” and “inclusivity” can be incredible places of integration and healing for people with this particular addiction. We are welcomed as we are into something bigger than ourselves, and the experience of welcome begins to overwhelm the need to be liked (see also: the Eucharist). It doesn’t vanish entirely—does any addiction?—but the fixes don’t seem to do as much, and we can go longer between them, and at some point the desire to be liked is eclipsed by knowledge of our own belovedness. It is painfully rare to find a church that does a consistent job of doing this 100% of the time. In fact, I’d say it’s completely impossible. So there remains the work those of us with this addiction need to do on our own: liking ourselves—or writ more broadly, having compassion on ourselves.

And damn, that’s hard in a culture where everything has a “like” button on it.