Monday, November 7, 2011

surrender, god, and letting go

I am back from my workshop weekend and faced again with theology, or rather theological writing, here in this space. I can get a handle on step two as I discussed Friday - I came to believe that a power greater than myself can restore me to sanity. I believe that. I believe that nature can balance me, that nature, or the universe, or whatever it is out there that makes gravity work and the tides do their thing is certainly more powerful than me and can restore me to balance (sanity). I'm good with that.

Step three is a bigger, scarier step. "Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of god as we understood god."

That's not exactly how it reads in conference-approved literature, but I think it'll be ok. Conference-approved literature capitalizes "God" and uses the male pronoun "Him" at the end of the sentence. My gut is the conference folks who oversee this stuff won't mind if I change the language to reflect my theology and gender issues.

The biggest issue here is made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of god as we understood god, not idiosyncratic language. Can I do that? Can I turn my will and my life over to the care of god as I understand god? It's a big, scary step. And actually, it does not require me to do the turning over, but merely make a mindful decision to do so. 'Made a decision to turn..." does NOT say "turned our wills and lives..."

So now the question is: can I make a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of my higher power, however I envision that higher power to be? In the course of this workshop weekend, I found myself a couple of times in a position to choose a partner or join/form a group for one exercise or another. Sometimes I was purposeful and pro-active in the selecting process, and sometimes I was more passive, allowing myself to be open (while still at choice to refuse) to what opportunities might present themselves. When I was open to what might present itself to me, I found that the experience provided me with surprising richness of experience, and when I chose, with some agenda in mind, or some idea of what I might or could or should learn from a particular grouping, it never went quite as well. Now this might all be coincidence, and it may be Monday morning hindsight/quarterbacking, but it seems to be true now as I look back at my experience and assess how it all went.

I am faced now with a decision. Can I make the decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of my higher power? Can I turn my will and my life over to something so nebulous? Can I trust that great force of energy and love that has no name, no face, no form? Can I even address it with a request for help? This is where Unitarian Universalists are said to run onto problems when we pray. "To whom it may concern: There are some things in my life here that would benefit from your attention..." How do I do that? And can I do it every day?

The idea, I think, is to try to stop running things, to let go of the ego and step into the mystery and trust that the world will keep spinning without my supervision. I don't know how successful I am at such a letting go, or even at making a decision to do so. I guess maybe I can decide to give it my best shot. I can decide to do my best to turn my will and my life over to the care of god as I understand god. I can decide to trust the universe. I'm ok with that. Not sure about the whole letting go thing right now -- that's still pretty scary -- but I think I can lean back into the mystery of things and trust that the universe won't drop me.

Today I make the decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of god as I understand god. The details of what that letting go will look like will become apparent as I move through the next steps. This is a decision step. The following steps are how that decision becomes action and reality. Today I can make that decision. I can decide to turn my will and my life over. I can do that. Today, I decide. Yes. Tomorrow, I may have to decide again, but that's ok. I'll get there as I get there. Today I set the intention. Yes.

Friday, November 4, 2011

came to believe

I am discussing the divine, how I understand god and how it fits with my 12-step recovery and spirituality program. In recent months, my theology has developed to a place where I do not believe in God as a person, a guy, an entity with human personal traits like wants, desires, an agenda, arms, etc. I see god as that divine that lives in the relationship of beings, the hope in a hopeless situation, the kindness in hell. That to me is god. So how does that work in my steps? I'm not sure.

Step two says "Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity."

Now the funny part is that I had the words mixed a little in my memory, and when I checked my book for accuracy, I found that there is nothing here that requires me to have a god that is a person or that looks like one. When I got sober, I had a pretty firm belief in God. Now, almost three decades later, my beliefs are not so sure or so simple. But the bottom line question here is this: do I believe that a power greater than myself can restore me to sanity? And my answer to that is a qualified yes. Yes, I believe that a power greater than myself can restore me to sanity. I believe that nature seeks balance and balance to me represents the sanity I seek, the place where I feel personally, emotionally, spiritually secure, where I am able to approach my day from a place of abundance seeking to share instead of from a place of scarcity where I feel the need to get my share and a little extra just in case.

I need to be mindful here not to get ahead of myself. This is step two, not any other step. There is no call for submission or action, merely coming to believe that a power greater than myself can restore me to sanity. I can do that.

Now I am heading off for a weekend. One of those HAI things again. I am looking forward to it enormously. I will post again come Monday, hopefully about step 3 at that time. See you then.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

getting personal

For the past week or better, I have been doing some theological reflection about how I understand the divine. I came to the conclusion that I don't seem to have a god that has a personality or personhood. That seemed fine until Friday night when I was lying on the deliciously cool tile floor of my bathroom, wishing I had a god I could pray to who would ease my suffering. When the realization struck me, I did giggle. But only briefly, cause it hurt.

Now in my 12-step program, there is a very clear concept of a higher power, and that higher power is very much a person-type entity. God is someone to be prayed to who can and will relieve our suffering. So how does this new theology of mine mesh with that concept? In conversations with some folks this week, it came to me to explore that notion here, and in particular to go through the steps as a way to do it. So let's start at step one. I'll do the others in order as we go.

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol -- that our lives had become unmanageable.

Sounds easy enough. No mention of god, the divine or anything holy there. There is surrender, but it is surrender to a reality, to an understanding, more than to a deity. We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol. Some people get tweaked about the powerless part. I don't have much trouble with it these days. I didn't like it much when I first came into meetings, but after clearing my head a bit and taking a look at my behavior when I was drinking ... well, let's just say it's not a point I am willing to argue any more. I am powerless over alcohol. And my life is unmanageable, or at least it was when I was drinking. I planned things that never happened. I vowed not to do things that I always ended up doing, screw-ups followed me around. It was rough. And messy.

Today my life is far more manageable, but I notice that the less time and effort I put into managing things -- to trying to orchestrate the grand symphony of my life -- the easier my days are and the less stressful they are. But that's another discussion.

So I am powerless. I can do that. The first step does not require me to have a god or a higher power, just to admit that I'm NOT one. I'm good with that. I am powerless. Over alcohol and lots of stuff. I am powerless over how people act and feel and what they say and how they behave. I can respond or react, and I am responsible for my part in that stuff, but I am powerless over how someone else behaves. I am powerless over alcohol and drugs and what they do to others as well. I am powerless over addiction and how it beats people up. I don't like it, but I am powerless over that. I get it.

OK, now I'm going to end with something I don't often do, which is a prayer. Oh, I can pray in a group, I can lead a prayer and I can participate in a prayer, but I don't seem to spend a lot of time on my own devoted to prayer. This is the simple version of the Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; Power to change the things I can; and Wisdom to know the difference.

God, whatever that might be, please grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. That means all the people, places and things in my life that might not be running the way I like them, that I think might go better if I were in charge; those people who ought to do this or that in order to be healthy and meet a standard of life and health that I deem appropriate. God grant me the serenity to accept the world as it is, and my place in it, for today. Tomorrow I can charge the castle with pitchforks, but for this morning, I'd like to accept things as being where they are supposed to be for this moment.

God grant me the strength to change the things I can, which mostly means me: my thoughts, my behaviors, my feelings, my words. God, please make my words tender and gentle and without sharp edges, so that if I have to eat them later it won't hurt so badly. Grant me the strength to work for justice without working for my own greater glory and good. Help me to take baby steps instead of trying to find a cure for cancer before I've had breakfast. Help me to change the things I can.

And please, god, who ever or what ever form you might take, guide me to the wisdom to know the difference between what I can change and what I cannot. Grant me the wisdom to know where I can be helpful and where I'm more likely to get in the way of actual progress and healing. Help me to stay right-sized. Blessed be. Amen.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

November and more on the divine

It is November 1, beginning of that NaBloPoMo thing I've done in the past. I have not signed up to do it this year, but I have signed up to do this thing every morning, examining what I know of god and the divine and my relationship with it all and it's relationship with me. They tell me that's theology. I don't know what I call it yet.
What I mentioned only as a post script yesterday was that I spent more than 8 hours of quality time Saturday in the emergency room with some kind of gastric upset thing. I was in some pretty harsh pain on Friday afternoon/evening and it wasn't all that better by noon Saturday, so a friend took me and sat shiva while I was poked, prodded, x-rayed, scanned, drained from various places and otherwise examined. Turns out I had some kind of thing they're not sure about. It may well have been the world's most expensive nap.
This goes in with some of the discussion we've been having in my Systematic Theology course on the purpose of suffering and evil. Why does it exist? Who thought it would be a good idea for us and what kind of twisted logic came up with that notion? There are some who say that evil is not god's doing at all, but that of a bad element - Satan or the devil, and god doesn't have much to do with it. Others say it comes from human's abuse of the freedoms that the divine has given us, and others still say it serves some kind of useful purpose, either as an educational tool, or as I heard when I was growing up "it builds character."
I'm not so sure I need any more character, and I am disinclined to think there is a bad guy with horns and a pointy tail running around causing havoc in the world, nor am I inclined to think that Saturday's exploration in pain was offered to me as an educational opportunity -- a spiritual field trip, if you will. Nor am I inclined to think that it is a result of my failure to pray appropriately or recycle my tin cans. It might have something to do with my gall bladder and diet, which can be seen as an outgrowth of an abuse of freedom, I suppose, but still. All of these things speak to a god that is punitive and cruel. I can't buy that. I can accept that bad stuff happens as a part of nature and that life is unfair, but I don't see suffering as a cosmic morality tale visited upon my GI tract to impart some kind of lesson about my place in the universe and relationship to the divine.
The trip to the hospital did offer me some time to observe how people come into such a place and how they behave while there. I got to sit in my own little curtained room and hear the comings and goings of nurses and technicians and patients and loved ones. I got to hear some kind of suturing being done on a not terribly pleased person across the way, and then a cast was put on. I got to hear a guy get treated for what was probably the clap, a young woman was treated for a sprained ankle after she fell down some stairs the night before ("I was sober, really!") and a woman came in with her husband and was seeking drugs and attention. It was a microcosm cross-section of society at its most vulnerable. All walks of life come through Beth Israel's ER, and I got to listen to them all. I also got a clear idea that I am not ready for chaplaincy yet. I think I'll try for that next fall as opposed to over the summer. I am not even ready to try for this summer yet, and the application process is already underway.
So, why suffering, then? I'm not sure. When I am hale and healthy, I tend to offer a smart remark like "pain is what lets you know you're alive," but that's more bullshit than anything else. What purpose pain? What can possibly be gained by the suffering of an infant born diseased and dying in a place wracked by famine and AIDS? What purpose does that serve? To offer some kind of morality lesson to the mother? To the infant? What kind of sick fuck would set up that with a purpose? That can't be god. It can't be. But what, then? And where is god in that? Where is the divine in that situation? I am inclined to think that the doings of this earth are the doings of this earth and that suffering and what we call "evil" are the normal diseases and infections that any organism has and fights in the course of its lifespan.
It's a lame explanation, but it's what I have this morning. Perhaps more on it tomorrow.