Tag Archives: spirituality

a hole in a flute

Image: by nibujohn

Image: by nibujohn

Screen Shot 2014-07-09 at 8.00.48 AM

Seized by this.
Watching for more from Hafiz.

I think we aspire to be the instrument
when we are only the hole
through which his breath moves.
Most religious efforts seem directed at plugging holes
in the world
in ours or others’ morals
in ours or others’ belief systems
more interested in filling and being filled
than in being hollowed out.
Beautifully puts into perspective those harsh passages
“Deny yourself, hate your father, mother, son, daughter,
and your own life also
take up your cross and follow me.”
What is the cross but the ultimate hole
into which we are invited to fall?

Which takes me to Alice
and to Gabriel’s Oboe…

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Posted by on July 12, 2014 in haverings, Quotations


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king of pain: adagio spirituality

“How do you live with the pain?” he asked.

I introduced him to another climbing companion.
I read him another Psalm:

God, you’re my last chance of the day.
I spend the night on my knees before you.

Put me on your salvation agenda;
take notes on the trouble I’m in.

I’ve had my fill of trouble;
I’m camped on the edge of hell.

I’m written off as a lost cause,
one more statistic,
a hopeless case.

Abandoned as already dead,
one more body in a stack of corpses,

and not so much as a gravestone—
I’m a black hole in oblivion.

You’ve dropped me into a bottomless pit,
sunk me in a pitch-black abyss.

I’m battered senseless by your rage,
relentlessly pounded by your waves of anger.

You turned my friends against me,
made me horrible to them.

I’m caught in a maze and can’t find my way out,
blinded by tears of pain and frustration. 

I call to you, God; all day I call.
I wring my hands,
I plead for help.

Are the dead a live audience for your miracles?
Do ghosts ever join the choirs that praise you?

Does your love make any difference in a graveyard?
Is your faithful presence noticed in the corridors of hell?

Are your marvelous wonders ever seen in the dark,
your righteous ways noticed in the Land of No Memory?

I’m standing my ground, God, shouting for help,
at my prayers every morning,
on my knees each daybreak.

Why, God, do you turn a deaf ear?
Why do you make yourself scarce?

For as long as I remember I’ve been hurting;
I’ve taken the worst you can hand out, and I’ve had it.

Your wildfire anger has blazed through my life;
I’m bleeding, black-and-blue.

You’ve attacked me fiercely from every side,
raining down blows till I’m nearly dead.

You made lover and neighbor alike dump me;
the only friend I have left is Darkness. 

The end.

No upbeat turn at the end to make us feel better.
No triumphant, defiant flourish of praise despite it all.

Just darkness.

Psalm 88.

How did that one get in there?

And if it is in there, then why doesn’t it make it on our contemporary worship song list? The Psalms honor the three great movements of human life under the sun: order (when life is good and “the boundary lines have fallen to me in pleasant places, O God”) then disorder (when life goes to hell and we’re left wondering out loud to ourselves, “Where is God?”) and then new order (we find ourselves experiencing a new place and pace, a new season – knowing that the next disruption is around the corner; our address hasn’t changed, after all).

Yes, the Psalms honor all three movements of life, which is why we need them.

Much of our church culture in America only recognizes the first and third. The painful middle is conveniently excised as our church services become more evangelical pep rallies than worship. We are stuck in one mode – we rejoice with those who rejoice and we rejoice with those who weep – because those who weep really should be rejoicing, anyway.

We forget the ancient wisdom:

Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on a wound, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.

Vinegar poured upon a wound is a readily winceable expression. Not sure, however, how “wound” was derived from the Hebrew נָתֶר (nought-ter) which is just transliterated in the KJV “nitre” and in other translations “soda.” It seems it was a substance which, when vinegar was poured upon it, effervesces and crackles just like, well, soda. Carbonated, caffeinated songs that only crackle in the ear of the “heavy heart” – which translates the Hebrew לֶב־רָֽע (lave-rah), literally the “evil (troubled) heart”, the “raw soul.”

Raw souls don’t need singers of songs.

When under the weight of pain, the tempo of your own worship rhythms change.

Adagio spirituality.

In addition to slower rhythms, I find that in the midst of pain, I need fewer words, cheerful or otherwise. I find frequently that the last thing I need is a singer of songs – at least a singer of fast, upbeat songs. I need a strummer of chords.

Slow, melodious, mournful chords.

Or nothing at all.


And then I took one more breath…

this really should make it into our worship liturgy…

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Posted by on May 15, 2014 in haverings, Suffering


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if religion is a box it really should be more like the TARDIS

I’ve been bombarded with “box” imagery of

A friend sent me a poem about personally becoming “unboxed.”

I just listened to a commencement speech urging the graduates to think outside the box.poke-the-box

I recently stumbled across Seth Godin’s Poke the Box. Again.

And I keep seeing boxes of various sorts when I’m talking with people or just listening.

During that commencement speech, one of the examples of “out of the box” thinking and living was Noah in his willingness to buck the culture and endure the ridicule of his contemporaries. I couldn’t help but savor the irony of Noah thinking outside by box by building one very large seaworthy box. It was evidently a box that took him a century to build, a box he lived in for a year. noahs_arkBut then, significantly, after the box had served its purpose by conveying him to a new world, Noah stepped out, walked away, and evidently never looked back. And we’re still looking for that box. Interesting that he didn’t turn that box into his home or into a hotel, a museum, or a temple. He walked away and now we must simply imagine the box.

In another conversation, the image of the Old Testament tabernacle and temple was evoked – and what was tabernacle and temple but a box within a box within a box like the ultimate set of holy Russian nesting dolls? Holy Place, Holy of Holies, and Holy Box of the Covenant. Interestingly enough, God nor heaven was contained in that Holy Box. God said he dwelt above the box. And when God’s presence showed up there in the form of a disorienting, foggy cloud, everyone had to step out of the box. Hmmmm…

And now, it’s the TARDIS.Time And Relative Dimension in Space

It took a bit of time, but my daughter has succeeded in sucking me into the world (or worlds) of Doctor Who, though I don’t know if I have yet attained to full official Whovian status.

But if religion is a box, it should be like the TARDIS.


Bigger on the inside. And that’s an understatement.Tardis_inside

Not just a thing, a holy relic or museum display, but alive and sentient and mysterious.

And it takes you places – and the real question: is it where you want to go, or is it really where the TARDIS wants to go? Who really is driving the TARDIS?

When you get to where it takes you, you are supposed to step out of the box.

Though archaic in its outer dimensions and clearly out of this world, it blends in anywhere.

And it provides a universal translator.

Now there’s a box I can get into.

And out of.


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nice wins

It’s a popular thing to say in some religious circles:nice_5

“Nice” is not a fruit of the Spirit.
“Niceness” is not a Christian virtue.
Anyone can be nice.
Nice people “nice” other people straight to hell.
God is not nice. God is tough. He is harsh. He’s a consuming fire of meanness! (for maximum effect use Monster Truck voice here).
Ranting is next to godliness, not niceness.

This is then followed by copious references to John the Baptist screaming “brood of vipers” (note, at religious people) or Jesus yelling, “Hypocrites!” (once again, at religious folks).

Someone forwarded me a blog post by a pastor with the latest example of slamming “niceness,” shredding in the process a few prominent opponents he regards as too “nice.” He has a point. But he got me thinking (which may or may not have been his point) and realizing, that, well, God is nice (at least he can be). Niceness is even a fruit of the Spirit. We just don’t usually translate the pertinent family of Greek words with our “nice” one, even though that would be, well, a nice translation.

Consider the definition of our word “nice.”nice definition

“Showing or requiring great precision or sensitive discernment. Subtle.”

So that’s what we mean when we say “nice sermon” or “nice post.”

“Respectable. Virtuous. Friendly. Attractive.” An “intense, extreme” to the nth degree, even.

Antonyms: “vague, insensitive, blunt, indecent, unfriendly, unattractive, unbecoming, inappropriate.”

Now, I look at those antonyms, and yes, I can see all of those fitting the Bible at one point or another and the nice (1)portrait of God captured there at one point or another, particularly the further back we go. Actually, we don’t have to go any further back than the Old Testament prophets.

Isaiah walking around naked for three years? So not nice. Point taken.

But now consider the definition of the word translated “kindness” in Paul’s famous “fruit of the Spirit” listing (Galatians 5:22-23). χρηστότης (cray-stow-tace) from the root word χρηστός (cray-stows) – just one letter off from “Christ” in Greek. Definition?

“Fit, fit for use, useful; virtuous, good; manageable; mild, pleasant (as opposed to harsh, hard, sharp, bitter); of things: more pleasant; of people: kind, benevolent.”

Gosh, that sounds nice.

Now for a quick tour of biblical niceness

nice_3“Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for my yoke is χρηστός (easy, kind, nice) and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

“Love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is χρηστός (easy, kind, nice) unto the unthankful and to the evil.” (Yes, I’m just in a KJV mood today, what can I say! Luke 6:35)

“Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the χρηστός (easy, kind, niceness) of God leadeth thee to repentance?” (Romans 2:4)

All together now: God is nice. And his niceness is the definitive divine draw into the ultimate paradigm shift that is “repentance.”

And another: “And be ye χρηστός (easy, kind, nice) to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

Yes, we are commanded to be nice. χρηστότης (cray-stow-tace) niceness is the fifth of the nine listed fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 – which puts nice right. in. the. middle.


Is nice the whole picture? No. I know this may be a bit more Bible than some of you are used to, but bear with me, just one more: “Behold therefore the χρηστότης (niceness) and severity of God; on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, χρηστότης (niceness), if thou continue in [his] χρηστότης (niceness).” (Romans 11:22)

Niceness and abruptness in alternating rhythms – with the charge for us to continue in the rhythm of niceness.  And for the most part we are told to leave abrupt and blunt severity to God, probably because if it were left up to us we’d end up nuking everyone.

Think about that.

play nice

So play nice

Why are we so eager to embrace anger and ranting as Jesus values and dismiss “nice” as a work of the devil? We talk about people leading others smilingly to hell – but isn’t it just as absurd to imagine leading others sneeringly and snarkily to heaven? And does anyone really want that heaven? Aren’t we inundated with enough of that here?

Perhaps this is a simple way to determine which rhythm is the best choice: which do we want back? – not just from each other, but when it matters most: as we stand naked before the Source of all Reality (which is, if we could only see it, where we all are right now)?

“Judgment will be without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy; but mercy triumphs over judgment.”

Nice wins.



Posted by on April 23, 2013 in Mercy, musings


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the essential vice

In the discussion of sexual morals, homosexuality, gay marriage, et al, I find C.S. Lewis’ comments in Mere cslewisChristianity to be highly appropriate and intensely relevant on all sides. It seems quite evident that when we think of the word “vice” the wrong pictures come to mind – pictures, of course, that always highlight the activities of others out there rather than the activities taking place right now in this mind, this heart, this soul. So easy to target the sins of the flesh – especially when it’s others’ flesh. But it’s the sins of the spirit, sins that constitute the center and bulk of what Paul terms the “works of the flesh” in Galatians 5, that are the real killers, taking down the sexually/morally pure and impure alike. We can talk about legalizing or outlawing a vast array of sexual practices. Too bad we can’t outlaw the essential vice of pride.

And, of course, if we did, it would make us so very proud…

Here’s Lewis. One more note. Perhaps I’m not the only one that hears a tinge of sad irony in his observation of Christians being those with a heightened sensitivity to the presence of this essential vice in themselves…

There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves. I have heard people admit that they are bad-tempered, or that they cannot keep their heads about girls or drink, or even that they are cowards. I do not think I have ever heard anyone who was not a Christian accuse himself of this vice. And at the same time I have very seldom met anyone, who was not a Christian, who showed the slightest mercy to it in others. There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.

The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit: and the virtue opposite to it, in Christian morals, is called Humility. You may remember, when I was talking about sexual morality, I warned you that the centre of Christian morals did not lie there. Well, now, we have come to the centre. According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.


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Posted by on April 16, 2013 in Galatians, musings


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