I have dedicated my life to serving adolescents and adults who suffer from the effects of childhood abuse and addictions. This work manifested in the creation or co-creation of seven outpatient treatment centers around the southeast. I studied at The School of Servant Leadership, Jubilee Center, in Washington, DC with Gordon Cosby and have been a retreat leader and faith formation director. My wife, Bonita and I live in Memphis, TN.
In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt offered us his four basic freedoms. The fourth being freedom from fear. It is fear which keeps us from experiencing life to the fullest. We withdraw into the places of safety that shut out the rest of the world.
We retreat from the things that threaten us. The intensity of fear, as it increases, draws us back further and further until we are known only to ourselves. Finally, we are not engaged at all. We are only surviving.
“All hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and openhearted vision of people who embrace life.” ~ John Lennon
Fear can be overcome in the presence of a passionate mission. With such a mission we reject the notion of survival and thrive despite fear. Passion is fueled by love which is the antithesis of fear. And passion is at the very heart of excitement. We can be so excited about the present moment with all of its possibilities that fear is pushed aside. We move through it and beyond it because our mission is more important than anything else.
Lou Gehrig and Jim Valvano are wonderful models of what it means to face certain death and ruthless pain with fearlessness. One had ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and the other had cancer. Both continued to thrive and overcome every day to the very end. Gehrig’s ‘Luckiest Man’ speech at Yankee Stadium, and his baseball clinics for kids being treated at Mayo in Rochester, Minnesota shine for us decades after his death. Jim Valvano’s ESPY speech inspires young and old alike. It serves to fund cancer research efforts through the V Foundation. He simply tells us; “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” These are words to guide us. They are examples of great passion. They direct us to live it well and to live it without succumbing to fear.
Part Two of Contributing Editor Bob Jones’ conversation with Rabbi Moshe Scheiner of the Palm Beach Synagogue in Florida.
In this second part of our conversation, Rabbi Scheiner explores fear as the basis for anger, envy, and hatred.
Bob Jones: On Thursday, The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution condemning “hateful expressions of intolerance.” This resolution was originally designed to condemn anti-Semitism but expanded to include all who are victimized by bigotry. Though I applaud the effort, it seems to have watered down the initial intent to singularly call out and condemn anti-Semitism.
Rabbi Scheiner: Yes. I couldn’t agree with you more. I think they lacked the courage to do the right thing, and for political purposes they chose to water it down and not to name the person they were really responding to, and identify what the issue is.
You know, one of the reasons behind the anti-Semitism, or for that matter all hatred, is envy. Usually when people hate other people there’s very often an element of envy involved which creates a sense of insecurity in the person whose envy is of another person, and therefore chooses to hate the person. And surely that’s true with anti-Semitism directed at us Jews, but in many other forms of interpersonal relationships, the hatred and the anger comes from a sense of envy.
What we have to learn is that there is negative envy and positive envy. The negative envy is when you envy someone’s material possessions like the Tenth Commandment: ‘Do not covet your neighbors’ material things’…his wife, his house, his donkey, whatever it may be…and to translate that into today’s modern terms whatever the material thing is.
And there’s no question that a lot of anti-Semitism comes from the fact that Jewish people obviously have outlived all their enemies despite countless attempts to destroy us.
There’s something about the Jewish people and their resilience and their perseverance and their connection to their heritage to God.
And instead of hating the Jews for that success, for that ability to overcome so many powers of nations, of tyranny, of oppression, of persecution, holocaust, programs, inquisitions…I mean you name it. It’s an opportunity to those who are hating to say, ‘What could the Jewish people teach us? What could they share with us? What wisdom do they have? What knowledge? What experience?
What is it that makes them the way they are?’ And I would say that’s true in any envy in interpersonal relationships. Translate envy into something positive rather than turning to hate.
Use it to love the person to say thank you for being an inspiration for me because we all are influenced by others for better or for worse. And so when we encounter people that are good, that rubs off on us.
We have a big holiday coming up in less than two weeks called Purim. It is a story that happened some two and a half thousand years ago. It’s a story about Haman and you would think; okay that was two and a half thousand years ago we were in a primitive world, but today we’re sophisticated, we’re advanced, we’re knowledgeable, we’re educated. But, we have Hitler who comes along in 1930’s and tries to do what Haman did two and a half thousand years ago.
And today we see again nations like Iran. So the story of the hate and enmity towards Jews, and the desire to destroy them continues. The Jews didn’t do anything to attack Haman. They didn’t do anything to attack Hitler, and didn’t do anything to harm Iran. All these three instances are baseless hatred. It’s not a hatred I could understand…that someone’s threatening you. You may hate them because they’re trying to harm you. But Jews never try to harm the King of Persia, they never try to harm Germany. They were both citizens and contributing to the society. And surely Israel has never tried to do anything to harm Iran but you just see this irrational hatred and what else can you contribute it to accept envy.
Bob Jones: Envy, fear, and anger I suppose.
Rabbi Scheiner: Yes.
Robert Kenneth Jones
ChaplainUSA Contributing Editor
Bob Jones has dedicated his life to making people whole again. His work in helping others overcome addiction and childhood abuse spans over four decades.
Part One of Contributing Editor Bob Jones’ conversation with Rabbi Moshe Scheiner of the Palm Beach Synagogue in Florida.
It’s everywhere you look; rampant school shootings, a massacre at a synagogue, leaders spouting angry rhetoric and our own heated exchanges on social media.
America, land of the free and home of the brave, appears to be in the grip of fear and anger. The question is why and what can we do about it.
As I searched the internet for some perspective on this epidemic of fear, I happened upon a video of Rabbi Moshe Scheiner entitled Anger: Fear Announced.
Rabbi Moshe Scheiner Story
Twenty five years ago, Rabbi Scheiner and his wife Rebbetzin Dinie Scheiner founded Palm Beach Synagogue (PBS) where their mission has been one of outreach and inclusiveness. The Palm Beach Daily News recently quoted him as he affirmed that PBS is a place where “Everyone feels welcome. No one is judged for lack of knowledge or observance.”
Rabbi Moshe E. Scheiner was born and raised in Brooklyn. He holds a Masters degree of Talmudic studies and Jewish philosophy from the Rabbinical College of America. He completed a two-year internship at the Rabbinical College of Australia and New Zealand and returned to New York to receive his rabbinic ordination at the United Lubavitcher Yeshiva.
He has lectured to communities in Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Singapore, Colombia and, other communities throughout South America and the United States. In 1994 he became the founding Rabbi of the Palm Beach Synagogue. He also founded the Ethel & Eugene Joffe Maimonides Leadership Institute for post Bar and Bat Mitzvah students. Rabbi Scheiner resides in Palm Beach with his Rebbetzin, Dinie, and their six children.
After a brief introductory conversation with Rabbi Scheiner, I was convinced his was the voice of reason for which I was searching.
Offered here in four parts are segments from our conversation on fear and anger.
Rabbi Scheiner’s words and stories frame our nation’s bitter and sometimes violent crisis, while offering a spiritual tonic for our troubled times.
Part 1: In this first part of our conversation, Rabbi Scheiner explores fear and the spiritual reality of God-With-Us.
Bob Jones: Do you feel like anger and fear seem to be on the rise in your community and in the world?
Rabbi Scheiner: I do. I feel that as society drifts further away from spirituality and further towards materialism, we lose our spiritual equilibrium. And fear, as someone once told me, is F-E-A-R, which stands for False Evidence Appearing Real. The world sometimes seems like a frightening place and when we stand as individual souls, disconnected from one another and we don’t have our spiritual connection to each other, then our egos begin clashing with other people’s egos and immediately we lose.
If one has faith and true spiritual connection with others then there’s nothing to fear. As King David said in Psalm 23, “I fear no evil for you are with me.” So, I think we need to grow closer together to each other and closer together to God and that replaces fear with faith and disconnection and (God forbid) hatred or anger towards others with love and connection to one another.
Rabbi Moshe Scheiner
Bob Jones: As you were speaking I was thinking of the AA people (Alcoholics Anonymous) people who would say, “Ego is Edging God Out.”
Rabbi Scheiner: Absolutely. And one of the key teachings of Judaism is that our body is maybe different and separates from one another, but our souls are really all one because they come from one divine God. And in order for God to be our father in heaven we have to be his family here on earth. When we focus on our souls more than our physical beings and then realize that that’s the essence or our identity, we realize there’s nothing to separates us or distinguishes us from our fellow man.
We all have the same – we all know we have the same – color of blood. We all have the same feelings and joys and sorrows and pains. And when we realize our spirits are really made up of the same fabric cut from the same cloth, then we focus on our oneness rather than our separateness. And I think that our society sometimes pulls us away from that message. But the more we connect to that message and that idea, the more we are going to love and embrace others rather than fear them and reject them.
Bob Jones: Yeah, that reminds of your response to the horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, when you said “The response to evil is increased goodness, the response to hatred is increased love, and the response to death is to help save the lives of others.
Rabbi Scheiner: Absolutely.
Bob Jones: When we respond to fear with anger what happens to us and to the other?
Rabbi Scheiner: So we become much smaller.
King Solomon said it best when he said in the book of Proverbs ‘a little bit of light expels a great deal of darkness’. The answer to darkness in the world is to just create light and then the darkness is driven out by itself.
When we respond with malice and with anger we become a captive prisoner of our own anger, and it enslaves us to become subservient to a power which is very destructive, and harmful to our own physical, emotional and psychological and spiritual well-being.
As I pointed out on the video the word “DANGER” is one letter, just add a letter D to anger and you have DANGER. Because in our tradition it is said that the one trait that you shouldn’t take is the middle path, but you should go to an extreme which is anger. A person should never get angry. The only time it says you can get angry is when you need to discipline a child and you need to act like you’re angry. But a person should never get angry because anger is just desperate and multiplies the problem, increases the problem, and doesn’t solve anything.
Someone gave me the analogy that it’s like your car in Park and you floor the gas pedal it makes a lot of noise, but it doesn’t move anywhere. A person who’s angry is like a brain that is in park. He can’t move and he’s just making a lot of noise, but it’s not going to get him anywhere because he’s locked – in a lock position. Emotionally he’s locked. He can’t hear. He can’t receive. He can’t grow. You can’t evolve in that state.
Rabbis take it so far in the Talmud that they say that anger is equivalent to idolatry. And you may say how could you equate anger with idolatry? I mean, idolatry is denying God’s existence. And the answer is because if you truly believe everything in this world comes from God and everything that happens…every circumstance…is ordained from above, then you have no one to fear and no circumstance with fear because whatever circumstance you’re in, God put you in that circumstance.
And so it’s like, I use the analogy of a mother going on a journey and that she’s going from one country to the next and getting in and out of taxis, and going in to airports, and boarding planes and de-boarding. And in every leg of the journey if you ask the mother where are you? She’ll say, “Well, I’m in this country, I’m traveling to this city, I’m going to this town, I’m going on to this country.” But if the mother is carrying an infant baby and you ask the baby throughout the journey where are you? The baby says, “I’m in the same place I always was they always was…in my mother’s loving arms.”
If you go the journey of life feeling like you’re controlling your destiny (and yes of course God gives us free will) but ultimately there’s a Higher Power that decides the direction of our lives. And when you know it’s coming from a loving father in heaven then you could accept it and say, ‘Well, this is a test. God’s putting me through a challenge because it’s for my benefit’. You know sometimes a parent gives a child a sweet medicine, sometimes it’s a bitter medicine. But the parent gives the medicine for the benefit of the child.
For every circumstance in life is there is a reason…and God put it there…and we have to find the reason God gave us that challenge and turn the darkness into light, or the stumbling stone into a stepping stone.
Bob Jones: It reminds me to the when you talked about the golden path, that middle way. That’s so accurate and so true.
Rabbi Scheiner: Thank you.
Robert Kenneth Jones
ChaplainUSA Contributing Editor
Bob Jones has dedicated his life to making people whole again. His work in helping others overcome addiction and childhood abuse spans over four decades.
“Men of power sat around him. . . all struggling with their tears — great hearts sorrowing with the president as a stricken man and a brother.” Nathan Parker Willis on the Death of Lincoln
On February 20, 1862, William Wallace Lincoln, the 11-year-old son of President and Mrs. Lincoln, died of typhoid fever. The openly mourning president would become a symbol of our nation’s grief as the Civil War began to take the lives of 620,000 soldiers over what remains the bloodiest four years in U.S. history.
Upon first seeing his dead son, President Lincoln murmured, “My poor boy. He was too good for this earth. God has called him home. I know that he is much better off in heaven, but then we loved him so. It is hard, hard to have him die!” Willie was interred in a borrowed crypt at Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown.
His coffin would accompany the president’s on a funeral train to Springfield, Illinois in 1865. This is a story of such profound grief that we can still feel the pain and suffering upon hearing it. Lincoln continues to teach us how to cope with tragic loss…not with a stiff upper lip, but with an unashamed embrace.
According to the United Nations World Population Prospects report, approximately 7,452 people die every day in the United States. Annually, some 37,000 people are killed in automobile accidents, another 45,000 commit suicide and 17,250 more are victims of homicide. There is no doubt that each of us will encounter, and deal with death on a fairly regular basis.
Chaplains & Grief
For Chaplains and First Responders, the chance of frequently facing such tragedy is imminent. It is so important for all of us to open ourselves to the reality that we will be called upon as intimate comforters for family, friends and others.
“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”
If we are to abandon the stages of denial and impatience in the process of grieving, we must also be able to embrace the darkness of loss. This is not supposed to be easy. It requires a listening ear open to suffering with those in pain. It also requires sharing and experiencing personal sadness when grief comes to our own door.
Resource For Chaplains Continuing Education:
The Association for Death Education and Counseling is an organization dedicated to the study of death and dying. They provide a place for professionals from diverse backgrounds to advance knowledge and promote practical applications to research and theory. Their 41st annual conference will be held in Atlanta this April. Continuing Education Credits are available. This would be a great opportunity for Chaplains and others. Here is a pdf link to the conference overview. An online webinar, Working with Continuing Bonds in Grief Therapy and Counsellingis coming up on Wednesday, March 13, 2019 (12:00-1: 30 pm EDT).
It seems to me that we might have lost our ability to grieve and mourn. Most people spend a lot of time trying to get over tragic or difficult things that have happened.
Common counsel from friends and family who have tired of our grieving and sadness is to ‘get over it and move on’. There is a real problem with this notion. Getting over a significant loss connotes forgetting.
It means that we should go on with life as if nothing was wrong, shoving our anguish and broken hearts into the dark night, and burying it in denial. This inability to allow grief to process is a powerful force playing a major role in much of the depression and chemical dependence that surrounds us. It lies at the bottom of unresolved emotions and unfulfilled expectations that have been repressed in a desire to make people believe that everything is okay.
“Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak whispers the o’er fraught heart, and bids it break.” William Shakespeare (on the death of his son)
It is impossible for wounds to heal by saying that things are fine when they are not. Sometimes we have to be allowed to wail. The harsh reality of pain, loss, and suffering must be experienced. Lincoln understood this as he gave his address at Gettysburg. Whitman grasped it as he wrote “O Captain! My Captain!”
Embracing sadness and loss, becoming acquainted with the night, and understanding that life will never be the same are the means for moving through grief toward acceptance. And the goal is acceptance.
I have relied on it ever since and passed it on to dozens of my clients and associates. It helped me understand that, in time, grief will soften. We will recognize that life goes on. Almost unbelievably we move through the sadness into a glimmer of light. Hope will return as surely as dawn gives way to a new day.
There are many people in our lives who have good intentions and sage advice for us. A famous scene in the 1967 movie The Graduate plays out this dynamic well. Benjamin Braddock, portrayed by Dustin Hoffman, is at a party after his graduation from college. Everyone is fascinated by what he might do next in life. A friend of the family, Mr. McGuire, corners Benjamin and the following exchange occurs;
Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word. Benjamin: Yes, sir. Mr. McGuire: Are you listening? Benjamin: Yes, I am. Mr. McGuire: Plastics. Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean? Mr. McGuire: There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?
Mr. McGuire was probably right. Benjamin would have made a fortune in the plastic business. The problem was that Ben had another idea. He tells his father that he just wants to be different.
We do not have to follow a path that has been prescribed for us by well-meaning family members, friends, and mentors. Their expectations, experiences, and visions for our path are barely relevant to the one that we must forge on our own. We can be led to the crossroad but, in the final analysis, must travel on alone.
Our personal passions and dreams are unique unto us. When we take the road that was traveled by others and fail to follow ours, life will not be satisfying. As Joseph Campbell would say, ‘follow your bliss’. It might be scary but your own adventure is perfectly fit just for you.
Where is God? This is the universal question of our minds, hearts, and souls. We look for God in all the right places, but often come up without a sense of true encounter. Emptiness, loneliness, and feeling of abandonment follows us as we search and search. I am reminded of the haunting, sad song “Where is Love” from the musical Oliver. But maybe all the right places are not so right after all. Perhaps we will meet God most authentically in the faces of those who suffer. After all, this is just where Jesus points us.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta found and recognized God best in the faces of every orphan, invalid, leper, and impoverished sufferer. It was from them that her infectious joy and boundless compassion came. Mother Teresa was following the directive of Jesus who said; “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
My own search took me from church to church, and from tradition to tradition. But I best found God in the boys, girls, and adults who came to me suffering from horrible abuse, often with chronic substance use disorders. They were at the end of their ropes. The people closest to them usually had given up all hope. And sure enough, there was God in disguise. The pain in their eyes reflected the pain of Jesus. They carried the weight of a cross I never had to carry. It soon became clear that those I had come to serve were actually serving me.
In answer to the question posed at the beginning of this journal; God is hiding in plain sight. If we are open to becoming vulnerable and are willing to risk suffering with those in pain, we will find God and Jesus everywhere.
Verna J. Dozier was a leading African American theologian and prophet who touched countless lives and transformed hearts. Her work and service were prolific. As a teacher and Board Member of Examining Chaplains, she often spoke and wrote about the dream of God.
She believed that we have the capacity to bring forth the realization of Howard Thurman’s vision of ‘a friendly world of friendly folk beneath a friendly sky’. She believed that God wants all creation to live together in peace, harmony, and fulfillment. She believed that we are called to restore that dream together. I believe she was right. In truth, how could it be otherwise?
The wounds and struggles of the past have the power to separate and destroy us. But they also have the power to move us forward to new life, a new identity, and universal oneness.
Our suffering is what we all have in common. It’s not single-mindedness and strength that will overcome, but acceptance and shared vulnerability. The Dream of God is attainable if we are willing to let go of our chokehold on yesterday by engaging in healing here and now. We can start by loving where we once hated.
I think this is about the best starting point for building up the Dream of God; A boy named Camden asked New England Patriot quarterback Tom Brady at a press Q&A in Atlanta what we should do about haters. “What do we do about the haters? We love ‘em,” said Brady. “We love them back because we don’t hate back.” There it is…a glimmer of a friendly world of friendly folk beneath a friendly sky.
“We become what we love and who we love shapes what we become”
St. Clare of Assisi
Self-help teachers have been floating the clichés that we need to ‘love ourselves first’ and ‘take care of ourselves first’ before we can love or help others. This easy wisdom is just too easy. And perhaps it is more a symptom of our tendency to narcissism rather than a guide to furthering compassionate action.
St. Clare and St. Francis might guide us to the mirror for a closer yet wider second look. In so doing, we could possibly discover that Self-help and helping-the-Other are inseparable.
The false self would like for us to follow trendy wisdom of taking care of ourselves first. It seems to make so much sense. But the false self is never really interested in extending compassion to anybody other than number one.
It shuns a deep look into the mirror because it will lead us to the discovery that we are one with our true self, with everyone else, with God and all of creation. The false self begins to dissolve when we take that risk of accepting and embracing our absolute vulnerability and inseparable unity.
You are totally loved and totally accepted just the way you are. So am I and so is everyone else. Two great commandments are retold in the gospels of Matthew and Mark which record Jesus as telling us to love God, neighbor, and self equally with our whole hearts, souls and minds.
Likewise, the beautiful song “Let There Be Peace on Earth” gives us a simple directive to walk with each other in perfect harmony. The roadmap to compassionate action is clear. Take the risk. Look in the mirror. Then, let it begin with me.
It is so easy to slip into the doldrums. This seems easy to understand when cabin fever sets in during bleak midwinter, but can also happen for most people on a sunny summer day.
Negative thoughts are seductive. In fact, scientific research tells us that the brain has an automatic survival default to negative over positive. We have a kind of bad news bias built into our DNA that keeps us out of harm’s way.
Studies show that we need almost a five-to-one ratio of positive over negative in order to hang onto joy. With the easily accessible barrage of negativity available, it seems like a long-shot that we would be able to resist the depressive lure of distressing and grim conditions. But perhaps our powerlessness holds the key to joy after all.
In order to crack the five-to-one negativity code, we must accept that we are emotionally powerless over the way our brain is constructed and let go of trying to out-think it.
Like the folks who practice 12 Step Recovery, we must come to believe that a power greater than ourselves will hold us in loving arms regardless of our shortcomings. Then we have to engage in the work of changing our bad news bias into something positive.
The same research which identifies our default brain confirms that we can tip the scales towards happiness and override the tilt to negativity with frequent small positive acts of kindness and compassion…again with a ratio of about five-to-one. In other words, we need to be actively engaged in being nice if we want to have a life of sustained peace, joy, and love. It sounds like we better get busy.
“As you awaken to your Divine nature, you’ll begin to appreciate beauty in everything you see, touch and experience.” ~ Wayne Dyer
Winter snows have come with a vengeance once again to folks who live up North. I remember how tired we used to get of scooping, scraping and being trapped inside. My daughter and I have never been big fans, though I liked it more than she. Then there are people like my son who never weary of it. His Michigan childhood comes back to life when it snows and just delights in it. He reminds me that there is always something magical about snow. It has elements of surprise and beauty that we should explore rather than shun. Within each snowfall are thousands and thousands of unique snowflakes which serve to remind us of who we are.
Our unique self, like a snowflake, will never be duplicated. The evidence of this is everywhere. Our DNA is comprised of markers that are arranged only for one person. It never has been and never will be again. Only you! Even twins don’t have the same DNA. Combination of parents, grandparents and countless generations of ancestors each give us a gift of themselves in the pattern that becomes you. It took thousands of years to come up with the design for each individual. Our uniqueness also can be found in fingerprints. Each time we touch something we leave a stamp of our existence behind. We are here and we are one of a kind. The mold has been broken.
We have an individual and divine purpose in our uniqueness. The odds of your random creation are so small that it is incomprehensible. Wayne Dyer talks about the fact that a great wind sweeping through a garbage dump, gathering up all of the pieces and setting them down as a fully assembled Boeing 747 is more likely than the exclusive collection of cells and tissue that is you. Your importance cannot be understated. The incredible love story of our Creator is at work here. Such a miracle can have no other explanation. You are God’s beloved child. Look at that beautiful snowfall and remember.
“Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves…regret for the past and fear of the future.” ~ Fulton Ourslear
When the end of life comes we will not regret the business deals that didn’t work out, sales that weren’t made, or final exams we didn’t ace. We will regret the squandered opportunities. We will suffer the most from our failure to devote enough time to our loved ones. We will regret our lack of attention to a skinned knee. We will long to have the moment back when our words of criticism bruised a heart.
I have found that healing begins when we take action here and now. The way to eliminate regrets from the past and to dispel the fear of the future is to fully evaluate what really matters and pay attention to it. We will put an end to the endless repetition of mistakes by unshackling ourselves from the past and freeing ourselves from the future. We can start by putting first things first.
The present moment is when to make that extra effort. All we have to do is more fully avail ourselves to those important people in our lives. Another phone call, a written card, or any added gesture that proclaims our love will wash away fear and regret as we go forward. By making time and freely giving our gifts of love, we will discover that our resources are unlimited. This is the next right thing to do. Nothing is more important.
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
The night before he was murdered in Memphis, Tennessee, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. warned us that violence was threatening our very existence. If we are to confront this reality, there must come a deep joy which springs up in the face of hatred and injustice. The beauty is that this kind of joy exists within each and every one of us. Discovering it can be achieved in prayer along with contemplative practice and outreach. For it is in stillness and silence that the voice of God will direct our actions.
Years ago, I was engaged in a whirlwind of activity with self-designed goals to have more…more of everything. I thought that happiness could be found through obtaining lots of money and all the best material things it could provide. I would do whatever was necessary to get it, often at the expense of anyone or anything standing in my path. I was ‘on the way up’ and those left behind were regretfully collateral damage.
This is not to say that I was a mean person. On the contrary, I was jovial and popular. And I wanted more of that too. It was all intoxicating. In fact, intoxication became part of the equation. Cocaine and alcohol were perfect running mates as my personal wealth neared a million dollars just prior to my thirtieth birthday. Then the bottom fell out and I lost all of the people and things I treasured so much.
Surprisingly, it was during the following years of descent, desperation, and sadness that I discovered inner peace and joy. My path of personal poverty led me to a different kind of richness through centering prayer and contemplation I never imagined. Faith and hope were restored as God’s unconditional love and forgiveness washed over me. I came alive.
For the past four decades, my world has been filled with an inner joy founded in contemplation and action. Not that there has been an absence of bumps and obstacles. I have had more than a few stumbles. But I have dedicated my life to what unceasingly makes me come alive. My work with wounded kids and those who suffer from addiction has been my way of confronting suffering, injustice, and hatred.
We are all called to action in this chaotic world. It has never been more important for us to work for social, political, economic and environmental justice and peace. We have to come alive now. Our existence depends on it.
Never question the truth of that which you fail to understand. For the world is filled with wonders.
L. Frank Baum (‘Rinkitink In Oz’ from Land of Oz series)
One of the many drawbacks to this easy-access, instant-information era, in which we can ‘Google’ almost anything, is that the lure and luster of wonder have drastically diminished. While it may seem delightfully practical to have all the facts at our fingertips, the problem is that faith, wisdom, and ideas might be on the chopping block along with actual research.
I remember the wonder, awe and the excitement of discovering whole hidden worlds when I was a boy. The woods and lake in Danville, Illinois, where I spent countless hours with my friends were so much more than places or destinations. We were eager and able to focus up and down with magnificent dexterity when we were children. At one moment our eyes were microscopes that found tiny crawling things in the grass, under rocks, and in the water.
Life was teeming beneath our feet. Small hands explored every detail without concern for time. At another moment our eyes were binoculars or telescopes which identified clouds that looked like dinosaurs or monsters or any other imaginable thing. Life was exploding just above our heads. We created forts and trails that were home to wild adventures. Play came naturally and was unsupervised by incredulous or judgmental adults. But the hidden worlds gave way to demands of another reality too soon.
The wonders of life and capacity for spiritual growth spring forth from those things which we don’t understand. When presented with new experiences, problems that seem unsolvable, challenges beyond tested limits, and unexplored beliefs, we expand our ideas to become someone who is changed. The fact that we can’t fix a meaning to what is happening is pivotal. It is the birth of wonder. God is speaking to us in such moments.
“All journeys have secret destination of which the traveler is unaware.”
The experience of being lost is bewildering and can be frightening. We find ourselves in unfamiliar places without a good frame of reference. There is an overwhelming desire to get information and regain our bearings. Fear can intensify to such a point that even the directional cues such as the position of the sun are confusing. You wander so far off the path that you have no idea where you might be. The fear and disorientation turn into panic. We pray that someone will find us. Where is that GPS when I need it!
There is seldom a time when being lost is a pleasant experience for most of us. Some people, however, seem to relish the whole thing. My Dad and his brother Bob were two of those people. They loved to “take the scenic route” and were delighted when the adventure resulted in getting (what seemed to be) hopelessly lost. The announcement from the front seat of the car that we were veering off to the road less traveled was not usually well received. Highways gave way two-lane roads which ultimately led to dirt roads in the country, one lane mountain byways. We found remote villages that no stranger had visited for several million years.
These guys were undeterred by protests from helpless wives and children. Their enthusiasm only became greater as we dropped deeper into the abyss. Dad and Uncle Bob didn’t believe that there was any such thing as being lost. We always found our way back home or to our ultimate destination. We were never eaten by wild animals, nor did we freeze, nor were we found starved to death in our car. They taught us a valuable life lesson. Being lost is a state of mind. It is one that my cousins and I have assimilated pretty well.
There is so much to learn and so much to see. We can take the safe road and move from destination to destination if we want. But in so doing, we will miss all the great things that are off the beaten path. Life deals us plenty of blows. We are often windswept and thrown off course. We can choose to be lost and helpless or we can embrace the experience and dive into the excitement of the “scenic route”.
“Stay true to your deepest intuition that an extraordinary and miraculous life is possible.” ~ Craig Hamilton
I have a hunch that each of us struggles with a sense of emptiness when considering how seldom our dreams and present situation match up. Life has a way of leading us in directions that are far from what we had planned or for which we had hoped. When that emptiness descends, a bleak truth is laid bare. But this somber reality actually contains a guiding light through dense fog. It is a touchstone.
The fact that an extraordinary and miraculous life is possible cannot be denied. It is not only possible…but is a certainty if fully embraced. This doesn’t mean an easier climb on the ladder which we are enticed to believe brings happiness. Rather than a linear measurement of success and failure, it is a promise that there is an ongoing dance and celebration we are invited to join. Life is not about beginnings and endings, wins and losses,or scorecards to be kept. It is circular and full of promise.
“The only things that can keep you out of this divine dance are fear, doubt or self-hatred. What would happen in your life -right now- if you accepted being fully accepted?” ~ Richard Rohr
This chapter of your story is being written in the very moment we are experiencing here and now. How it evolves is up to you. The miraculous and extraordinary are revealed when it is understood that you are never alone. We are one in all of our magnificent diversity. Nothing is so dark that it might extinguish this truth. God is with us and we are with God. We dance this dance together.