In the Heat of the Moment

Last week, as part of our Centering Prayer group, we talked about feelings, especially our most powerful feelings: Hate, rage, shame…. Sometimes the overwhelming power of these feelings separate us from ourselves, especially when they’ve arisen from abuse and neglect. They can also create the perception that we’re separate from God.

I wasn’t going to post about our last meeting, but this morning I remembered a poem I had written a few years ago. It seems to speak to our conversation. Here it is:


The Danger of Love

No human can walk naked on Pluto or the Sun.
No human can walk naked in Antarctica or in the Sahara.
No human can walk naked on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange or Ground Zero.

Who is this God that created Pluto and the Sun?
Who is this God that inhabits Antarctica and the Sahara?
Who is this God that aches on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and at Ground Zero?

Where is God in the cold that kills? In the heat that kills?
Is this a God of Neglect? A God of Anger?

God is One. God is Pathos.

God reveals Herself in Passion.
God is the Heart of Anguish. She is the Body of Pain.

God created a cold so cold it kills and a hot so hot it kills to remind us of the depth of God’s love.
Nothing is beyond God’s Power of Redemption.

There is no place on this earth, no place in this universe, that hasn’t known the heat of God’s Love.
There is no person on this earth, no body in the universe, that hasn’t felt the heat of God’s Passion.
This fire lies in our hearts.

No person… a mother who neglects her son, a father who assaults his daughter… is separate from God.
The heat of our passions don’t separate us from God; they point us to God.

Sin in not our feeling or even our violence.
Sin is numbness, the inability to discern heat.
The absence of passion.

God cannot heal those who choose not to feel.
God returns God to God when pathos knows Pathos.

Cut from the Same Cloth

man leaving-1Recently, I learned that one of the men in our Centering Prayer group is leaving. He will be released from prison before the next meeting of our group. I felt sad to see him go and told him so. I was surprised that he would be moving on so quickly, but I was not surprised that I was sad.

The first day that I visited the prison, he was one of the men who got my attention. As he talked about why he was participating in the program, he mentioned that he had previously followed a spiritual path that would be considered controversial, if not risky or even an anathema to most Christians. But I don’t think it was the controversial nature of what he was saying that got my attention. I think it was his earnestness. I could sense that he held a deep truth. He hadn’t had the opportunity to live it out, but I think he knew something that some people never learn… that love saves.

While he would not admit it, I deduced from the stories that he told me that he had the gift of generosity. He gave to others knowing that he wouldn’t get anything in return. He gave because he knew he couldn’t be the person that he wanted to be if he didn’t. He gave so that the people he loved would have a better life. He gave to them hoping that they would recognize that he loved them, but anticipating that they wouldn’t. He also gave because he trusted that God would reward him.

Sometimes our hearts are too big for our bodies. Sometimes our life experiences break our hearts and restrict our ability to live as we intend. From what I know of this man, he was not able to grow up with his parents nor in a loving home. He did not receive love when he had needed it. But that didn’t keep him from trying to give it away.

boltsIn some way, every man in the group is my brother. But this man felt even more like kin to me. We are all cut from the same cloth, but it seemed to me that we were cut from the same bolt of fabric.

While all of us are human and have experienced the pain associated with living in this world, some of us end up with more similar personalities. While I am not as generous as this man, we have come to orient to life in the same way. We’ve experienced in our early years that love is in short supply. But rather than turn greedy or mean, we’ve realized that love is precious and that the best way to make more is to give it away.

Finding Our Way Back to God

I’m telling you it’ll be just like this in heaven: there’ll be more celebrating over one sinner who has a change of heart than over ninety-nine virtuous people who have no need to change their hearts.

“Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.
(Luke 15: 7, 21b – 23, NRSV)

During our last meeting in the prison, one man shared that he believed that sin separated us from God. His sense was that when someone did something wrong he or she needed to do something to return to God’s favor. While I believe God never leaves anyone, we sometimes need to find our way back to God.

Another man shared that the assigned reading had conveyed to him that God would forgive him for what he’d done. He hadn’t known that God would forgive him. He had believed “an eye for an eye,” that what he’d done to someone else should be done to him. Finding out that God would forgive him was allowing him to consider forgiving himself.

I believe that part of the reason why the men I pray with have committed crimes is because someone mistreated them as children. Like them, whether we have committed a crime or not, most of us need to forgive our parents. I don’t think many natural parents care for their children as they should. I don’t think it’s intentional. I believe it’s because they didn’t have what we needed and so couldn’t give it to us.

Given our experience of material reality, many of us are afraid to trust our supernatural parent. Trusting God is particularly challenging for those of us who have been neglected, abused and/or cast out. If our conscious experience has been shaped by harmful rather than beneficial relationships, we have a more difficult time believing that the creator of all reality, material and otherwise, is truly loving.

Perhaps this is why there is so much celebration in heaven when a person who has lived foolishly or has hurt others returns to God. That person has likely had to dig into the depths of their conscious experience and then go beyond it. They have had to risk re-living the shame and rejection experienced during their childhood to trust that there is another possibility, a chance to live in God’s eternal house. Through their diligence, this courageous person breaks the chain of violence, the chain of trauma and neglect, and comes to learn that spiritual reality is real and that hope is rightfully grounded in faith.

I believe that this One, the God that Jesus called Abba, loves us, especially those of us who received less care than we needed. This is the God I choose. This God waits for, calls for and is most joyous about our return.