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The 11th sept retreat

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11th step retreat

(Sought through prayer and mediation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.)

We carry our past with us, well perhaps it is best to say, that I carry my past with me. My relationship with my parents and brothers and sister, my childhood friends and experiences and yes, also what I was taught about God. As I look back, I can see, how more often than not, God is often portrayed not much different from the old gods of Roman and Greek mythology as well as from other faith systems that have many gods in their pantheon. I suppose that the way I was taught (though I don’t think it was intentional), God was more like Zeus, sitting on his throne, ready at any time to zap me if I were to fall into any kind of serious sin. Being small, I had no way to questions this image that I believe was not intentionally taught. I believe that adults more often than not, do not appreciate the intelligence of those that they teach, nor do they understand the power of ‘words’ to create an inner barrier to actually wanting to have a relationship to what has been put before them. So God is presented as a ‘being’, just like us, though bigger with the power to hurt and punish that goes far beyond what our parents or even what law enforcement can do. So many, perhaps most, if not all, do carry around with them a lot of baggage that has to do with God, even if it is repressed by some. I remember an image I had of God one day. I guess I was about eight, and the image I had was far from comforting. I saw God as having nothing but eyes, formed at the end of long tentacles, looking everywhere for anything that was done wrong; and this was before I read any of Lovecraft’s novels. So on a primitive rational level, God can be seen as a threat and understandable because he is just like us, just bigger, meaner, and impossible to hide from. This is often reinforced by those who teach us about God, for they can also be mean, narrow and perhaps fearful of any thinking outside the box. I used to have nightmares every night, and while I think I know the reason for the nightmares, I also think that believing that God can’t be trusted but only feared, may have helped to feed these dreams. They stopped when I was Ten, and I have very few now, perhaps we all have a quota and I used mine up.

In spite of this, I was devout. Perhaps on an intuitive level I knew there was more, and that the God I was taught about was just another idol that needed to be outgrown. I did this by study and by also by keeping up a relationship with God. Relationships are not stable if communication (prayer when it comes to God) is left open. I think God constantly invites us to deepen our understanding and also in overcoming our fears and false images that have been presented to us when young. I also studied. I have my mother to thank for that. She was not overly fond of the Catholic Church and she would say something about the church and its teachings that were a bit biased. So I would go off to the library and study what the church really taught. Then I would come back, and she would say something else. So over the years, I slowly began to see the Church in a different way than I would have if I did not study and ponder what was presented.

So, I have been able to stay within the Catholic tradition and find spiritual nourishment there. Any religious tradition, which has survived for any length of time, has done so because those who follow it find nourishment and an ever deeper relationship with God. This in spite of the failures, chaos and yes, the downright evil that is also present, there for all to see, no one has to look too far. The church or any religious tradition reflects the same struggles and failures that are present also in our political parties, families and work places. All human intuitions reflect back to us our own inner fragmentation, with the good and bad being a part of it. How we respond is perhaps one of the major hurdles that we have to overcome. I stayed because I studied for myself, and trusted in my own intuitions in helping me deepen my faith and did not allow those who without meaning to presenting God and my spiritual tradition in such a way that made it look very unattractive.

For some, it may be good for them to find another faith path, one from which they can start clean and move forward. However if there is anger or rage that lingers, then they will never be free from the power of the twisted faith that was presented to them. Again, best to study ones faith tradition; then decide after ones knowledge is expanded if it is for them. If not, they can leave with a clean slate and free from anger and rage. The more one knows, the easier it is to move on and also to forgive those who without meaning to, cause pain and suffering to those that they taught. Mercy is always needed to cut the chains that keep us bound to the past.

I feel called and pursued by God and I don’t think that is something rare. The reason I feel that people (who believe) have trouble with their relationship with God is that they don’t understand (well who does?) the nature of infinite love, that is given freely, without any unstated needs, it is unconditional. People will often speak of unconditional love, but human love, no matter how powerful, even that of a loving mother and father (which is probably the most powerful love), is still finite and can (though perhaps rarely), if pushed or hurt too much, come to an end. Human love is always mixed with need and instinct. God’s love, well it is something other, which is both consoling as well as terrifying. How is God’s love manifested in our lives, in my life.

Below is a quote from a piece I wrote called “The quality of mercy?”

“Often when I am in the emergency room with a charge, I will often hear a sound that truly tears at the human heart. It is the wailing of incomprehension, of a very small child, having some kind of medical intervention done. I would think there are few people in the world who are not affected by such a sound. Here is a child, not understanding why its parents are allowing something truly horrible and painful being done to it, and doing nothing to help. No matter how deeply it screams and looks to its parents for assistance, they do nothing. They just sit there and allow the nightmare to play out. Being adults, we know what is going on. The parents are in reality, because of their love and compassion, having mercy on the child. Doing what is necessary for its well being and physical health. Also because of the youth of the child, it may have little or no understanding of the pain that it is causing the parents, to have to watch and bear the suffering of their beloved child. Yet they would do nothing to stop it, would not want to in fact. Such is mercy, doing what is necessary for the well being of another, not matter what the cost.”

How much of life do we understand? What if the world were the way we say we would want. One without suffering, struggle or failure for that matter, a world were we could not do evil to ourselves or others. I suppose in such a world, we would not exist, since we are self aware creatures and we can only grow through experience. We seem to grow best when backed into a corner, when the only way out is straight forward. What is our life about? Our temporality is often forgotten, that we are moving very fast towards our destination and it is not something solid in this world. No, it is our leaving it, and because of that, if we believe that we move on to something else; what we become while alive is important, for we take that with us. It has something to do with love, compassion and empathy, both for ourselves and others. Also, about how we relate to the deep mystery we call God. Each path, no matter if surrounded by like minded souls, is unique, because our relationship with God is unique, for in it, we bring forth our whole being. God sees it all, loves us and waits patiently for us to grow, some slowly, other more rapidly into the freedom of being sons and daughters of God. The spiritual life demands that we grow in consciousness and the obstacles we are asked to step over can become more difficult as we progress. Growth is not possible without some sort of death to an older way of life and these deaths continue all the days of our lives, until the final letting go into ultimate mystery. Our paths lead us into ‘unknowing’, for the infinite is without form, so all of our ideas and images of God, as good as they can be, have to be let go of. When images no longer work, God seems to withdraw, but in reality, God is only drawing closer and deeper. The negative ideas of God also have to let go of, which can take longer, but healing grace is always at work. The longer one lives, the more that can be drawn from past experiences, which slowly lead to trust and a real death to self centeredness towards other centeredness.

Below is a quote from another piece I wrote, titled “Unknowing”.

“I suppose certainty about the meaning of life is something that I seek, though I have never found it. When young, at the beginning of my journey, I think I had all that I needed; my faith had all the answers, well faith according to my understanding at the ripe old age of 18 and in the Navy. I remember having some conversations with a man a few years older than me, perhaps 25, which then for me was old. I think I drove him crazy, for he was a free thinker (at least that is what he called himself) and would become very angry with me because I was so sure of my beliefs and also very arrogant in my assertion that he was wrong. We were both young, I wonder what would happen if we meet today, me being 60 and he 67? Being a free thinker, just like being a believer does not always mean that an expansion in the understanding of the mystery of life will happen. Some people seem to stop growing, both the free thinker and the believer, and become rigid in their beliefs as the years pass. Not necessarily bad, for we are all different and I tend to be the type that has to keep digging, which can be interrupted in different ways. For instance a hole can be dug so deep that one gets stuck, which I feel at times does happen. However often some kind of inner tunnel appears and I find my way deeper in further along the way though uncertainty also grows. Not in the way of narrowing my understanding but things get more open ended for me, which paradoxically actually deepens my faith in God. I suppose the apophatic path makes more sense to me, at least when it comes to the question of God. Which is part of my Christian tradition; the seeking to understand God by the path of saying what God is not, instead of what God is.”

A deep, trusting, loving relationship with God allows one to live in the moment and to trust in the process we call life. Faith in God does not save us from the suffering and tragedies of life but faith gives us a place to stand from in order to be able to face and work through them. Faith is not weakness, no, it allows us to face life and yes, to even embrace whatever comes before us without seeking to escape. Which is impossible anyway; addictions only lead to even more suffering and chaos. Infinite love works through the ordinary and obscure aspects of our lives, and when times seem the darkest, well it is then that God draws closer. We experiences God’s mercy in many ways, which is a pure gift, this allows us to show mercy and compassion on others. Self knowledge and free us from the burden of judging others, for in so that, we carry them within our hearts that is self wounding as well as harmful to others.

From the quality of mercy

“Perhaps in order for mercy to truly take hold, we need to learn from our experience of receiving it, and by doing so, in understanding the sheer gift that it is, learning to extend it to others. Receiving and giving, give and take, a constant stretching of the heart with grace as the seed that was first planted. So our coming and our going, our sufferings, our failures, our illness and losses, they are all mercies given to us by God. Though we can scream and look to God for a certain kind of assistance, as a child does towards it parents, yet mercy dictates that we have to drink our own chalice, empty it.”

The twelve step program is a path leading to deep humility. Humility being the virtue of being able to accept the truth about oneself no matter how painful it can be; one step at a time as the saying goes. Our relationship with “Our higher power” grows as we grow. Failure and even “falling off the wagon “is seen as sign post along the journey allowing us to begin again, not wasting time over self pity or self hatred. We swim, we don’t tread water, nor do we sink, at least not for long. For the relationship with God is a two way street, and at the beginning, when the journey consciously started with God, it was in end an answer to an invitation that has always been there.

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