I attended a community gratitude ritual last weekend. I've been going to this ritual on and off for years. It's so sweet to reconnect with loving people who have been there for me over the years.
I was struck on Saturday morning how the sharing turned to the losses in our lives and how many people spoke of the loss of a mother or father and the grief they were experiencing in the midst of a weekend dedicated to gratitude. This sharing dropped the room down into a soulful, sacred space and people supported each other with compassionate eyes or a gentle hand on a shoulder.
Grief and gratitude walk hand in hand. Our lives are complex and our souls hold many dichotomies simultaneously. Life is rarely all one or the other and actually, our work is to hold the seeming polarities and see the whole; love and power, light and dark, joy and sorrow, grief and gratitude.
Which brings me to a particular piece which has been working in me. The loss of my father. Not just his death many years ago, but the absence in my life as he struggled with his own alcohol fueled demons. Fatherloss - the absence of that father energy and archetype in our lives as we grow up. The absence of a strong, loving, guiding, mentoring, wise man in a child's life. Some of us had this presence and some did not.
I think there is a particular grounding afforded to a person when this energy has been imprinted on our psyche. A sense of a north star, a trust in myself, a rudder to sail on life's turbulent oceans is gifted to us.
In the absence of the father, a wound is formed around belonging around a right sense of who I am. I know for my own situation, I have searched for my own north star, my own rudder, too many times deferring to others to define who I am. A recent awareness has been the shame I felt for wanting things to turn out right as the child longed for his father to stop drinking. The drinking didn't stop, so what the child wanted did not turn out and a shame crept in and stuck to the longing for connection. The adult in me knows that was then and now, a different path can open up.
I have been blessed by wise mentors, Francis Weller being at the top of the list. As well as my clan brothers who alternate between brother and father. Through their love and wisdom I have started to put the pieces together.
Since my Father's death, I've had conversations with him, offered apologies for the anger I held towards him and have tried to reclaim what was lost. This is rich territory.
I've used poetry to work this terrain. I offer the two poems below as part of my own healing and perhaps a piece for you.
Father and Son
Abrazan (Reaching Out)
In Confessions, The Making of a Post-Denominational Priest, we discover a man deeply committed to listening to Spirit and responding to Spirit’s call as a powerful advocate for justice. We encounter Matthew Fox initially trying to lay low and be an obedient priest, yet unable to turn a deaf ear to the hunger of the spiritual and marginalized poor. Instead of laying low, Matthew Fox responds to the hunger he encounters, be it in disenfranchised youth seeking relevancy in their spiritual quests, women subjugated within a highly misogynistic and patriarchal church, homosexuals shunned and shamed, or spiritual seekers of all faiths demonized by the political-religious amalgam of right-wing Christianity and the entrenched powerful elite. His response comes from a grounding in the roots of Christian mysticism, the works of great theologians, Fox’s own decades-long scholarship as a theologian himself and personal, embodied spiritual contemplation. Jesus said, “feed my sheep.” Matthew Fox has dedicated his life to spiritually feeding the people and in so doing, has angered many who benefit by keeping the people hungry. The book, Confessions, The Making of a Post-Denominational Priest, takes us into a journey of discovery, faith, challenge, great joys and deep sorrows, all in service and response to life breathing herself into being.
Listening, for Matthew Fox, is listening across the centuries in his study of history and spiritual thought, listening to the people in his immediate surroundings and listening to the voice of Spirit within the silence of contemplation. Yet television evangelists and popes also claim to hear the voice of God. How can we trust anyone who claims such insights? I would look to the fruits of the tree. Are fear, mistrust and harm created or connection, empowerment and dignity imparted? I would say the fruits of Matthew Fox’s labor shine above the fruits of his detractors.
Listening without a response is only a half measure. Listening with an earnest response can lead to justice. Justice in Matthew Fox’s life is advocating for women’s rights: the right to the priesthood, the right to education, the right to lead. Justice is the dismantling of homophobia within the community, moving from the harm created by an “us vs them” mentality to a “we are all in god and god is in all of us” awareness. Justice is advocating for the earth, for all creation, for she is who we are, inseparable from creation. Justice is standing by all spiritual traditions for the gifts they bring. Justice takes strength, faith and the willingness to be knocked down, and then get back up again. Matthew Fox’s life is a study in standing for justice despite the cost. This cost has been harrowing for Matthew Fox and worth the subject of a whole other blog (read the book :-) ).
Spiritual renewal or spiritual awakening is accessed through the arts. Spirituality as the recognition and relationship of Life and Spirit indwelling and simultaneously surrounding us cannot be properly described or understood with words alone and by necessity needs the language of art. Matthew Fox recognizes the vital importance of art, poetry, song, dance, and clowning to enliven our relationship with creation and feed our longing for spiritual awakening. Art as the soul’s language is key to making the spiritual experience relevant and alive. The use of art to reinvigorate liturgy as expressed in The Cosmic Mass, a beautiful spiritual ritual midwifed into being by Michael Fox and some other great spiritual visionaries, also deserves a whole blog post.
Somehow in my own experience growing up Catholic, I was exposed to the inclusive mystical Jesus. The Jesus who welcomed women and outcasts, the Jesus who fostered love rather than blind adherence to the rules, the counter-cultural Jesus. I owe a debt of gratitude to Matthew Fox and the women and men of the 60's and 70's who rediscovered and articulated this Jewish mystical Jesus and then evolved the theology of the Cosmic Christ, the expression of the creator in all of creation (us included). Reading Confessions, I reflect on my own, less dramatic spiritual journey, from flirting with the Jesuits at Fordham, to seeking spiritual awaking, to embracing a cosmic, incarnate, creation-based spirituality. I continue to ponder my response, the praxis of my life. I am grateful for the language and guidance offered through reflection on Matthew Fox’s life. His autobiography is truly a spiritual resource for my own journey.
An autobiography traces the formative events in one’s life and the rich mosaic which creates who we express in this world. Hopefully, our true self, our soul shines through in this expression and not the restrictions, shackles, and stories fashioned by others out of fear, ignorance and control. Matthew Fox has listened all his life in an attempt to bring forth a genuine, Spirit-led response, to uplift the young and bring true healing and connection in a world desperately needing community. I would like to close with a famous quote from Thomas Merton who was one of Matthew Fox’s spiritual angels. This quote speaks of faithfulness and humility, both present with me as I read Confessions. Matthew Fox’s life is a testament to listening deeply and responding with courage and faith in service of all creation.
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
Our voracious technology appetite is a response to a deep hunger which things will never satisfy. This is a hunger for connection with each other and the natural world, Yet we are told to consume in order to feed our hunger. Advertising tells us we are lacking and in order to feel better we should buy stuff. We are programmed with an insatiable addictive consumer drive to acquire the latest iPhone or Android, or buy the big/bigger/biggest wide screen TV. Feeding these gadgets is content, the vast set of entertainment, misogynistic porn, gambling and mental titillation which washes over us almost 24x7, distracting us, temporarily soothing us, briefly making the pain go away. Where is this tidal wave of information leading us to? For all the stories of the internet building community (admittedly this is how you are reading this blog) consumerism and becoming lost in the sea of content is driving us apart and further disconnecting one from the other. When we mainline soul absent "entertainment" we become addicts who ignore their loved ones and only focus on the next fix.
Consumerism has two components in this addictive, connection wrecking cycle; the purchasing of products created at an almost inconceivable and tuning into the thousands of channels of largely useless, mindless, heartless content. These two aspects of consumerism substitute for actual human to human and human to nature connections.
Consider what it takes to create the all the products we consume. The atrocities done to the planet and her people to mine raw materials, to transport the materials, to fuel the factories, to transform the raw materials into electronics, to assemble electronics into finished products and then transport these products to our shores for distribution are staggering (see Conflict Minerals - this deserves a post of its own),
And what are we doing with all that content? We spend more and more time in front of a screen rather than in nature or in conversation with each other (face to face, without someone texting or reading the latest FB post).
I wonder if the greatly hyped "Virtual Reality", which is enabled by strap on head goggles fully blocking our view of the "Real Reality" will drive us closer to the dystopian view of the Matrix or other future shock movies where humans no longer interact person to person, but all connection is mediated through a machine? Will we finally disconnect ourselves from each other and, rather, plug into the nearest wall outlet?
As the news article at the end of this blog states, all this content, especially virtual reality will drive more and more demand for internet bandwidth. The race for more bits per second will continue at a blinding rate. Driving faster electronics, driving faster obsolesce, driving the hunger for more raw materials.
When does it stop? Does it stop when the Earth, the women and the children have been raped until there is nothing left?
Armed groups earn hundreds of millions of dollars every year by trading conflict minerals. These minerals are in all our electronics devices. Government troops and militias fight to control the mines, murdering and raping civilians to fracture the structure of society.
But, we don't have to hurtle into oblivion.
Walk, talk, sing and dance more.
We are the resistance.
Virtual Reality picture source: http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=32997.0
Virtual Reality article source: Sorry, lost the press source, but a similar article can be found at http://www.cablelabs.com/vr-you-have-to-experience-it/
I wrote the following about three months ago. A melancholia wraps itself around me from time to time. Feelings of overwhelm arrive, hope grows thin and I withdraw from my friends. Thankfully my friends love me and provide a safe container for whatever is present. I have come to recognize the darkness as another teacher, not to be feared or blamed, but to be curious and perhaps bring to art. Write poetry with it, dance it, engage it in loving conversation. I write this right now from a loving witness place. When I'm possessed by the darkness, it's a whole different ballgame and a post like this sounds like airy-fairy embrace your pain shit . Grace, love, small embers of faith, something - pulls me out. We all need help digging our way out. What pulls you through?
...I've hit another bottom in my life and as I look around, the thought comes - now what?
I've searched so much in my life for the answer, for purpose, to make sense of it all (or even some small part of it - life).
I gather wisdom, friendships, insights, connections and then I find myself at the bottom again. Tempted to toss it all out and declare everything I have learned as just so much bullshit.
Then something, perhaps grace, a song, a poem, a friend, a sunrise comes along and I start digging myself out of the pit.
by David Whyte
I want to write about faith,
about the way the moon rises
over cold snow, night after night,
faithful even as it fades from fullness,
slowly becoming that last curving and impossible
sliver of light before the final darkness.
But I have no faith myself,
I refuse it the smallest entry.
Let this then, my small poem,
like a new moon, slender and barely open,
be the first prayer that opens me to faith.
I like to think of my soul as a lover longing for me, inviting me, wanting me. Every time I hear Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road", its my soul calling out to me....
The screen door slams, Mary's dress waves
"So you're scared and you're thinking that maybe we ain't that young anymore" I need to know it's not too late and yes I'm scared. "Show a little faith, there's magic in the night" All of who I am is alright with my soul. So do I stay on that front porch?
You can hide 'neath your covers and study your pain
How often have I stayed stuck or looked to be rescued by a relationship, or by getting the right job or buying the right gadget? Have I wasted the summer of my life ignoring my very self?
Well now, I ain't no hero, that's understood
This culture is all about heroes, especially for men. Rise up, be heroic. Our redemption lies in the gritty, the dirty, the real.
Our souls invite us, the door is open:
And my car's out back if you're ready to take that long walk
"The ride ain't free." It takes effort and persistence, to walk away from the comfort of our addictions, the seduction of our pain. We can stay in our misery, hoping to be saved, or we can check out our soul's invitation. Maybe we'll "roll down the window and let the wind blow back [y]our hair"
So Mary, climb in
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Jose Enciso is an engineer by profession, a poet by necessity and a seeker of spirit and soul. He brings a gentle presence and deep respect for the interior journey as expressed through creative and expressive arts. Jose is a skilled group facilitator who is committed to the spiritual and psychological growth of those around him. He trained under Francis Weller to lead men’s initiation groups doing deep soul work and is equally comfortable in managing complex technical projects. Jose is devoted to the emergence of the divine feminine, supporting women and men claiming their voice and power, and rediscovering the soul of masculinity. He is currently working on multiple projects including a book which seeks to encourage everyone to write their own poetry as a discovery of their own soul's truth.