Sep 21, 2003

As The Ruin Falls

As the Ruin Falls

All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you.
I never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I am mercenary adn self-seeking through and through:
I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.

Peace, re-assurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek,
I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin:
I talk of love--a scholar's parrot may talk Greek--
But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.

Only that now you have taught me(but how late) my lack.
I see the chasm. And everything you are was making
My heart into a bridge by which I might get back
From exile, and grow man. And now the bridge is breaking.

For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains
You give me are more precious than all other gains.

CS Lewis

Sep 15, 2003

A Divine Romance

A Divine Romance

I heard a pastor say that our relationship with God is like romance. A love story. After all God pursues us; He makes a commitment to love and protect us for forever. And He promises us a live filled with purpose and meaning. In short, this relationship with God is like a marriage.

Well in that case, God and I need to go to couples counseling. Because we are not getting along. He's been acting remote and giving me the silent treatment. He treats me like I'm invisible, when He's the one who's invisible. And He always has to be right. If ever there is a problem. I am the one who has to change.

If this were a real marriage it would be on the rocks. Only I can't divorce him. It's like being in the Mafia. Once you're in you can't get out. Once you've experienced God, you can't go back to not believing He's there. Like the same way AA ruined drinking for me.

I'm in three 12-step programs so I've heard all the stuff about "fire your God and hire another." Or, "make a list of what you want in a God, and look for a God like that." Look, if finding God was like a dating service, there would only be one profile on line. His.

I still believe in God. I just don't know if He really cares about me. And that's worse than not believing in God at all, is to believe He is there, and He doesn't care. That's a faith I cannot live without.

I should clarify. I was raised Lutheran. I did the rock and roll for Jesus thing (got sick of the "Just trust the Lord" slackers), flirted with Episcopal mysticism; then said fuck-it, became a drunk, got sober and got into AA, where God can be the doorknob. I was lurking about a hair-gel church, but when the pastor referred to Jesus as an "awesome dude," I had to flee. I guess I've given up. I'm just a Jesus orphan with a load of Al Anon issues.

Maybe this is a romance. Because this is about love. What drew me to God in the first place was love: the promise of love.

"Jesus loves me this I know," I sang in Sunday School. I read about Jesus in the Bible. How He defended the poor and the outcast. He loved the unlovable. And Jesus was human, He had arms to hold me when I was sad, and robes to hide in when I was scared.

I remember seeing paintings of him on the wall in Sunday school. There's one where He's knocking on a door. Well it was kind of a farmhouse door; it looked like a yellowed Thomas Kinkaid painting. But it was to represent him knocking on the door of my heart. I saw the love and concern in his face as He knocked. And that got to me. Because I wanted to be loved.

My first spiritual experience was at communion. My mom took us to church every week. When communion came my mom would go up as they sang beautiful, woeful songs.

Mom would kneel, she'd receive that little plasticky wafer and a shot of grape juice. Sometimes the pastor would lay his hand on her head and pray for her, sometimes not. But every time she would walk back with tears in her eyes.

What's wrong Mom?
Nothing Susie
But you're crying. Are you sad?
No. I’m not sad.

I knew she was sad. She was always sad. But at communion she was sad and joyful too. Like there was a place for her sadness to be heard, and a place for it to end. A place where she felt longing and the longing met. Mom wasn't getting love or communion from my father. None of us were.

I wonder now: was her need for God was just a psychological reaction to not getting love from my father? Or can that loneliness never be filled from the best human love? Is the longing for human love just the beginning, and God is always the end?

All I knew was I wanted to cry tears I couldn't cry anywhere else. I wanted to feel loved and close to something. To someone. And it was wrapped up in that mystery.

In high school, I "cheated" on Jesus. Not with other religions like Buddhism or Eckankar. But with things like sarcasm and irony, and John Lennon. Hey, as long as we're dealing with invisible boyfriends, why not pick a cultural icon? John was sexy and smart and funny. No one at church was sexy, smart or funny. No one in the Bible was. I have never found a reference to a joke, or the disciples are yukking it up. Not even a fart joke. Though there is a passage about King David climbing the Hill of Foreskins. But I think that was unintentionally funny. No, at church I only found polyseter nerds in front of the jello molds. Anything smart, sexy or funny, was way, way far away from the Lutherans. Then I met my high school sweetheart. He was sexy, smart, funny. He loved John Lennon. He was a Jew.

So what drew me back to Jesus? Again, love. Or the loss of it. The Jew broke my heart. John Lennon got shot. And I got lost. I remembered that portrait. Jesus knocking on the door, with that concern and love in his face. So I opened the door. And, I did feel Him come in. And I did feel peace and hope and a presence.

But that was 20 years ago. It's gotten so far away from that simplicity. I can chart the history of that slide through the various ad campaigns the church has used to make God marketable.

"God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life." God as my Franklin Covey day planner

"The Healing Father heart of God." God as your therapist. Great when you're working on your father abuse issues.

Then there was, "Developing a Personal History with Jesus," "The purpose driven life," "The Prayer of Jabez," Amy Grant and Creed, and the What Would Jesus Do jewelry.

Today, I'm no more healed, organized or accessorized than I was when I was 12. I still love Jesus, but I can't stand his friends.

How do you get back to the basic thing? Love? What's drawing me back to God now is grief.

This past year, my father died, my mother had a stroke, f freind got a TV series, two more got writing gigs. And Grief is like a dust bunny lurking under your couch. You go get the Swifter to fish it out, but run that swifter under and out comes these huge tumbleweeds filled with dust and hair and dead skin and soot. And loose change and pen caps, and all sorts of things you had long forgotten, like a stray earring or a notebook of secrets. This was my year for Loss. This was my year of the Swifter.

Well, I did come back. What drew me back to God again was love. The loss of everything I loved. This past year, my father died, my mother had a massive stroke, one friend got a TV series and I went bankrupt. My five best friends got married the same month I wen through a painful breakup. Wait, hold on...

SELF TO SELF: Get over it! “Poor me, I don’t have a boyfriend ... Poor me, I’m not a movie star.” Know what your ancestors’ asked themselves every day? “Do we have enough potatoes to survive winter, and “Who died?"

I know. I want to be grateful. I have a roof over my head, a data entry job and I live close to a Trader Joe's. I don't want to be shallow. I just don't want my sister to be the one to remind me. This is the kind of thing she would say:

SISTER: "It could be worse. You could be living in Somalia."

SELF: I know ... but I'm not!

SISTER: What do you think the Lord is trying to tell you?
SELF That He doesn't like me.

See, my ex-boyfriend used to get angry when I said that. he'd say, come on, Susan. God isn’t personal. God isn’t good or bad. God just is. God is like science. But I'd think, no. Even with science ... Look at the stars. You see such beauty and order, and you sense the Thought that went into their making. But if that thoughtfulness is not extended to me, then all that order and beauty is cold and sterile space that mocks me, because I’ve been excluded from it.

And my ex would say, "you really think God doens't have enough to do all day that he sits around looking for ways to make your life miserable?" I hate it when he'd say that. Because it was true. But that's another argument. I'm still arguing with my sister here.

SISTER: Susie. You're in the desert. When the Lord led people out in the desert, do you know what He did?
SELF: Killed ‘em.
SISTER: NO. God brought his people into the desert so that they could experience intimacy with him.

SELF: Know what else I hate? She's right too. I hate all these know it alls around me. Especially when they know more than I do. Because, when I think of the people whose characters I admire, they've all walked through deserts or hells far worse than mine. And when they get to the other side - the ones who DO get to the other side -- they always say God got them through it. They have a peace and a friendship with God that I want. But the problem is, the man who's stuck in the desert because God put him there, looks exactly like the man who's stuck in the desert because he's lost. And I don't know which one I am. I don't know if I'm here to find friendship with God, or I've been left to die.

My sister would say, "When you're walking through Hell, keep walking. But I can't keep walking, not for nothing. I gotta know: those promises for a future and a hope: do they end here? Do my longings for love, purpose, artistic fulfillment, rent money even ... Are they going to met? Or is God's answer, "Oh well. ... Sucks to be you."

But what’s the alternative? If I stay in the desert, my soul’s gonna fry. I have no choice BUT to keep walking. If I can know that's where I am, that it's for a reason, that God's reasons are good. And, that this darkness has an end. Then maybe I can be here.

I guess I'm in my dark Night of the Soul. I'm just waiting for the sun to come up.