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.

Ignorance vs. Malice

Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’  (John 8: 2-12, NRSV)

Between 2000 and 2004, I worked as a senior consultant for Mercer Human Resource Consulting. One of our clients was Option One Mortgage Company (OOMC). We had been hired to conduct their employee survey. The survey helped OOMC measure and track employee satisfaction and engagement. In addition, we conducted statistical analyses to help them know what to do to retain their employees.

ForeclosureOne day in 2010, not too long after the height of the financial crisis, I realized that I had participated in that debacle. The financial crisis had been precipitated by the housing crisis and OOMC had been one of the mortgage companies selling risky home loans and foreclosing on people who couldn’t pay. I had assisted OOMC through my work as a consultant.

I didn’t have any intention of hurting anyone. I was ignorant. I was just doing my job. However, unwittingly, I had been participating in systemic injustice. I had inadvertently helped a mortgage company take advantage of consumers and precipitate global recession. While without intent, I had participated in unintentional evil.

Malice is intentional evil. Some of the prisoners that I met with this past week have probably committed malicious crimes. They have most likely killed another person, stolen what was not theirs, and/or intentional harmed themselves or others. While some of their actions were not planned, others may have been.

This past Thursday, in our discussion, we wrestled with how we can be sure God is real or trustworthy given the extent of evil in the world. I got the sense that some of the men had come to prison, albeit indirectly, because they weren’t sure that God was real or that God loved them. Some of them shared that when they were children they had experienced the untimely death of a family member. Others conveyed that they had grown up in poverty. Due to these types of events, they may be more likely to think that they don’t need to follow the rules because there isn’t a God that is going to hold them accountable or because they don’t feel that God cares about them.

As I reflected this past week, I came to wonder which is greater, unintentional evil, the evil that grows out of ignorance, or intentional evil, the evil comes out of malice. My sense is that more harm comes out of unintentional evil, the injustice that arises out of living in a broken world.

I believe that this reality requires us to be willing to allow God to examine our hearts and to purify us from those things that keep us from knowing God’s love. When we know we are loved of God, we are less inclined to do things like work for large corporations, where impersonal cultures keep people from understanding the impact of their work on other people, and to commit criminal acts.

The scripture text above suggests to me that we need to be deeply circumspect before deciding that we are justified in hurting people who have engaged in immoral or illegal acts. We have all participated in evil. We would do well to examine our own lives and attempt to discover first if we are without sin, without separation from God and God’s love.