showers of blessing

Warm gentle showers – 

Waters of life freely

Given to the bad as well as good alike

With no strings attached – blocked

Personas shaped by families of

Origin, genetics, cultures,

Influences of all kinds

Carve trenches, ruts, wadis of

Preconceptions, bias,

Pragmatic naturalism, and

Skepticism of the spiritual into 

Brains and souls, so that

Loving rains of grace cannot

Penetrate the soft black loam of the

Heart where seeds of mercy wait to

Sprout into justice

Loving baths of benevolence

Wash away in ditches of self

Leaving the spirit dry and

Thirsty

Wash away, 

Only to gather again in

Oceans of belovedness

Waiting to try again 

What does it mean to be human?

What sets us apart from lichen, aspen groves, dolphins, and chimpanzees? In the past, we have tended to define humanness with attributes such as speech, the ability for altruistic action, or empathy. We said that humans are the only creatures who can reason, who can observe themselves. One by one, what we thought were distinctions disappear. Trees communicate with one another. Chimpanzees display unselfish behaviors. Many of us are convinced that our pets love us. How do we know other species can’t observe and reason? 

And yet, it also seems self-evident that humans are different. Humans discover the quantum universe and build computers and robots, send telescopes into space, and work for justice. We are also responsible for massive environmental destruction, create weapons that threaten to exterminate the planet, and are capable of cruelty unmatched in the animal kingdom. Is our uniqueness to be found simply in the size of our brains? Are we headed for planet of the apes? 

The biblical response is that we humans are created in God’ image. The imago Dei. But, what does that mean? It’s not that we physically resemble God, for God is Spirit. It’s not that we can reason like God, for God’s ways are high above ours. 

Genesis is a temple story. In the ancient Neareast, virtually every society had a creation story. Those stories all had things in common. In them, the gods created humans to be their slaves. If humans are good slaves, the gods protect them – they are victorious in war; their crops flourish. If they are unfaithful slaves, the gods punish them with plagues, disaster, and defeat. 

The job of the human slaves is to build houses for the gods, feed the gods, and in deference tell the gods how wonderful they are. So, humans build temples – vacation homes for the gods. They build ziggurats, staircases so the gods can come down into their temples. In each temple, the human slaves place an image of the god. At the temple’s dedication, the high priest of that particular god breathes into the statue and everyone now believes that the spirit of the god is in it. From then on, the human slaves dutifully offer animal and vegetable sacrifices to feed the gods, and they worship in rituals to keep the gods happy so the harvest will be a good one and enemies will be defeated.

Genesis uses that common story and turns it on its head. In Genesis, there is only one God. His name is YHWH. God created God’s own temple. It’s not a building made by human hands. The entire cosmos is God’s temple. Then, God placed his own image in his temple – humans, male and female. Unlike the pagan temples made of stone, God’s temple is living – oceans teeming with marine life, mountains draped in snow, forests filled with creatures, stars living and dying, exploding and scattering the building blocks of life as we know it. The humans God created are not slaves; they are God’s beloved children. Their task is to care for the living temple, to take care of nature.

We humans are special objects of God’s love. We are God’s beloved children. God loves all of nature. God loves Perrigin falcons and opossums, cutworms and puppies. But humans are special objects of divine love, created with the capacity to love and be loved, charged with the care of all the rest of the planet, given the awesome responsibility of stewardship. Those who pollute, kill, coerce, and hate are not reflecting the imago Dei. Those who wash feet are.

Everything in the Universe Changed. Audio on Mark 15:38-47

a memory

That miracle-working rabbi is near

Quick! Bring your baby

Perhaps he will condescend to touch

Even an insignificant child.

Insignificant!? Not to me

For this child is the light of my life.

This way to Messiah.

Blocked. By his disciples.

Too busy. Don’t bother.

But he comes, indignant at them,

A stern rebuke then a gentle smile as

He takes this precious babe from my arms

And not only touches, but

Holds, hugs, cuddles, coos, smiles, laughs.

I have but a faint memory of that time

It was so long ago and I was so small

Perhaps no memory

Perhaps only memory of the story

And yet

I can feel those arms,

See that smile,

Hear that gentle voice

Sense that heart throbbing

I can see those eyes even now.

Nothing has ever been the same.

One

Singularity

Infinitely dense

Infinitely small

Containing all the

Energy, matter 

All the potential of

Exploding star-factories

Manufacturing the fundamental

Building blocks of life.

Interconnected

Made of star dust

Birthed from the heavens

Incubated in the sea’s womb

Each part of all 

ex uno multis 

Rather than e pluribus unum

Focus

Bring together your senses

Concentrate, connect,

Eyes, ears, pencil to

See all that is there

Under the scope

Gentle fine tune 

Up and down

Layer upon layer reveal

A world of microscopic

Creatures emerges

Martha, Martha

Distracted with doing

Achiever, go-getter, ambitious 

There is need of only one thing 

Sit, stop, contemplate with Mary

Purity of heart is to will one thing

One Thing that contains all things

In Whom we live and move and

Have our being

Gently Drawn By Love

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any wish to come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24 NRSVUE)

I hear the gentleness of the call. “If you wish to follow me…” No pressure. No coercion. No psychological or emotional manipulation. The call to spiritual formation, to discipleship, to true worship (which is simply doing what Jesus said to do, as unpopular as that may be) is given in freedom.

Deny yourself – I think Jesus means the false, egocentric self, the false personas, the superficial images we try so hard to maintain so others will accept us and so we can feel good about ourselves. Deny, set aside, the ego-driven self that cares about success, achievement, reputation, legacy, and honor.

Denying ourselves feels like a pouring out. At first, the pouring out feels like loss, a death, a loss of identity, but it actually makes space for to embrace the true self, which is who I am as defined by God. 

The true self is soul-drawn. It is not driven. It is beckoned by grace. It is invited into wholeness by Love. It is free. It cares nothing for accomplishments or prestige. Drawn by divine love, it loves to serve, to take up the banner of justice, to be identified with the weak, rejected people on the margins. It cannot be offended because it has no ego to offend. It joyfully takes up the way of the cross, the way of cruciform self-sacrificial love. 

Healing the Child Within

Being Reparented by Abba

We all have a wounded little child within. We are not wounded beyond repair, but we are wounded nonetheless.

Reparenting involves replacing the negativity and the hurtful experiences of childhood with the unconditional love of God. Much of the depression, negativity, anger, hostility, rage, addiction, abuse, and anxiety we experience has its roots in the family of origin. Something went wrong in the formative years; negative influences now plague us as adults. 

No parent is perfect. Some are worse than others. The alcoholic or abusive parent damages children. So does the emotionally distant parent.

Even loving parents inadvertently wound their children. No judgement. Most parents do their best and have no intention of hurting anyone. Some of us were raised in fundamentalist homes where we got the message that we were worthless worms. Others of us were doted on, told we were wonderful, and are ill-prepared to face adversity. Some of us had mentally ill parents. Some of us didn’t have parents. 

Parents and caregivers aren’t the only ones who wound. Teachers, coaches, peers, neighbors, extended family members, even the culture can also. We live in a fallen world, so we’re wounded.

God is love. God created us to be whole. God wants to help us break the bonds of the past, snap the negative cycles that weigh us down, and set us free. Doing so involves a gradual process; it does not come quickly, easily, or magically. Transformation and inner healing take time. We are not actualized, we do not become fully human and fully alive, overnight. It took a long time to mess us up. It takes a long time to be reparented. Maybe a lifetime.

God wants to heal the wounded child within us.

Do I really want inner healing? We are used to being wounded. We are comfortable wounded. What are our particular psychological infirmities are accomplishing for us? Have they come to define who we are so that without them we would feel nonexistent? Do we fear annihilation if the negativity, depression, or anxiety is removed? Does the infirmity of heart or mind bring us needed attention or sympathy? Are we afraid that without it we might not be loved?  Would the giving up of an intergenerational family trait be subconsciously viewed as betrayal? What happens if we refuse to join the family dance? 

Some of us would rather stay wounded than uncover what (and who) caused the wound. Recognizing that my parents or caregivers wounded me will necessitate the hard work of facing truth and working through forgiveness. Owning my woundedness may involve facing truths about myself I would rather avoid.

With the help of a spiritual director, we face truth about God, ourselves, and our families. 

Spiritual health may involve a shift in our basic perceptions of who we are – no longer can we be defined by the personas placed upon us by parents, society, teachers, and peers. That can feel like annihilation, nonexistence, unless it is replaced with a new and richer definition of self as Beloved of God. Knowing the truth is the precursor to freedom – “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free”.

So, I begin by praying something like, 

“God, I want to want to be healed, help my unbelief and conquer my fear of nonexistence, help me to trust that you will replace the life I perceive to be losing with one far richer and greater, exchanging my narrow hemmed in bondage for the expanse of age-abiding life in the fullest. Help me to face the hard truths about who I am, knowing that I do so in the shadow of your unconditional love. Help me to be willing to betray that which deserves to be betrayed because it is unworthy of loyalty, and accept my adoption into your family. And, Lord, if I don’t mean this prayer, make me mean it.” 

Then the healing can begin. 

The next step is to use our imaginations to replace those who wounded us with Abba. (Not the band – Abba is a term of endearment for God, kind of like “mommy” or “daddy.”)

We must learn who God really is, not based on early experiences with our own parental figures, nor our encounters with churches, but by stripping away all our preconceived ideas and approaching the scriptures with open eyes and hearts. 

Gradually, with the help of good spiritual directors, pastors, scholars, teachers, and mentors, who God really is comes into focus.

As we contemplatively pray, meditate, read scripture, and learn, we discover that God entirely loves, unconditionally forgives, universally accepts, always understands, ever embraces, and is kind, compassionate, wise and wonderful. As we steep ourselves in the reality of the true and living God, we gradually come to trust God enough to let go of our fears and our need to be loyal to that which is subhuman. Convinced at our core that God loves us unconditionally and eternally, we can then allow God to become the parents we need.

Being reparented by Abba involves revisiting our childhood experiences, especially the hurtful ones, as they would be if Jesus had been our parent. We replay the tape of our memories, slowly, one at a time, substituting Jesus in our imaginations for those who hurt us. 

But painful memories are often repressed. It takes contemplation, mindfulness, and deep prayer for them to surface. God loves you and will not allow memories to surface that you are not strong enough to handle. 

Rather than the caregiver who yelled, “You can’t do anything right; you’re worthless!” we see Poppa/Momma-Jesus smiling; we feel God’s warm embrace and hear our Abba say, “Don’t worry, we all make mistakes, it’s no big deal; I love you and I always will, no matter what.” We bask in the newly created memory and return to it often.

As each memory naturally arises, we replace the negative with Jesus – we see ourselves introducing him to our friends – “This is my poppa, Yeshua, he’s a carpenter and cabinet maker, he attends all my events, recitals and sports and cheers me on, he takes me places and spends time with me, and never has a harsh word to say. I love him so much because he loves me more than I can imagine.” (Or, if father images trigger you, substitute a female image that feels right, like Mary, for example.)

The slow wonderful process of being reparented by Abba transforms us, little by little, from fearful, depressed, addicted, abusive, angry people into people alive with the love of God. My goal is to accompany wounded people to the Great Physician, the Source of Perfect Love.

© 2023

Lawrence R. Taylor, PhD

https://www.theunstuckspirit.com

Christ-centered spiritual direction

Insight

May I lead you outside of town?

Away from expectations,

Opinions and well-meaning advice?

Away from the “you shoulds,” and 

“You ought to”?

Take my hand and let us walk to

Where we are alone, apart from the

Crowd to where we can hear the breeze.

Do not be afraid if I touch your eyes

Once, twice, again.

At first all may be blurry – 

It is for all of us – but focus as

Best you can, look closely at

Yourself; study the trees and the

Ants that crawl up their bark.

Listen deeply to the inner voice of love.

Notice how gradually, slowly, 

Meanings

Purpose

Truth

Understanding

Self

Others

Creation and the

Divine

Are coming into focus.

Don’t go back into town.

The Most Important Prayer in the Old Testament

Shema Yisrael is the most important and central prayer in the Hebrew Bible.

·      Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 

·      (Or, The Lord our God is one Lord; or, The Lord our God, the Lord is one; or, The Lord is our God, the Lord is one)

·      Hebrew: YHWH ‘elohenu YHWH ekhad

·      English: Lord our God, Lord one.

There is no verb “is” in the original. It must be supplied by the context.

Deuteronomy 6:5: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

Leviticus 19:18b: you shall love your neighbor as yourself

Which commandment is the most important, the one that ties together all others?

Mark 12:29-31: Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Love YHWH our God with all your:

·      Heart = kardia = center of being, that which controls everything, the drive behind all thoughts, feelings, and actions

·      Soul = psyche = breath, life-force

·      Mind = dianoias = thinking, reasoning, logic

·      Strength = ischuos = anything that gives us agency, free-will, power, choice, such as physical ability, talent, position, privilege, reputation

In other words, love in four directions:

1.     Love the God of Israel with your whole being

2.     Love others, all others

3.     Love yourself

4.     And, from Genesis 1, Love creation

Love is cruciform, self-sacrificial, altruistic. It involves loyalty, justice, doing what is right and best for others. It looks like Jesus on the cross forgiving his enemies as they were torturing him to death. 

I came across a sermon recently in which the preacher was giving examples of loving. Among them, mow your lawn, go to church, be on a church committee, use whatever skills you have in a church.

That kind of preaching makes me want to scream. There were no church buildings for the first 300 years of church history. Christians loved God and others by taking in orphans, tending to the sick, visiting and advocating for the incarcerated, refusing military service, eschewing weaponry and violence, and forgiving their enemies. 

As a result of their cruciform love, multitudes were attracted to Jesus, and through Jesus they came to know and love YHWH, the God of Israel. They loved God with all their beings. They loved others – all others, no exceptions – with self-sacrificial love. They loved themselves, not egotistically, but by recognizing their belovedness to God. They loved creation by caring for natural world.

There are a lot of such folks around today. You can find them in hospitals, nursing homes, hospice in-patient units, prisons, among the homeless, in soup kitchens, shelters, mental health agencies, visiting the sick, frail, elderly, and broken. You can find them standing firmly against racism, antisemitism, homophobia, xenophobia, and misogyny. You find them adopting babies, welcoming immigrants into their homes, and disobeying unjust laws. 

You’ll find them caring for the environment, never exploiting it.

These people come from all backgrounds, are of all nationalities, and speak every language. They identify as citizens of the Kingdom of God, not any particular earthly nation or kingdom. They are pro-life, opposing war and capital punishment. They fight poverty, disease, and addiction. They see every person as created in God’s image and deeply loved by God.

There’s a lot of good in church history. Christians invented hospitals, science, charity, hospice programs, care for widows, orphans, poor, the marginalized and displaced, etc.

There’s a lot of bad in church history (empire-embracing nationalism, violence, wars, crusades, inquisitions, support for despots, greed, etc.)

I choose to identify with those, then and now, whose lives reflect the self-sacrificial, cruciform love of Jesus, regardless of denominational affiliation, ethnicity, culture, gender, nationality, or sexual orientation.

Historically, they were the Christians persecuted by other “Christians.”

The Day That Changed Everything in the Entire Cosmos. An audio teaching on Mark 15:1-37

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