Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Future Firebreather

John the Baptist
As I journeyed through Advent this year I found myself with one of my favorite friends, John the Baptist. This man is a continual inspiration for me. The light of God was so tangible within him. In fact, the image of fire is so intimately connected in my mind with John the Baptist that I imagine him literally breathing fire when he preached.

If I had been alive in those days I would have lived in the desert and eaten locusts just to be near him.

I have not felt on fire this Advent. Not that I have not felt God’s presence at all, I have. But I truly have felt the reality that I am in a desert time in my life, a time where God is working on me.

This Advent as I sit in the desert feeling as dry as the parched land beneath me, I look to one of the readings from Isaiah that was read at Mass this season:

Then the LORD will guide you always
and satisfy your thirst in parched places,
will give strength to your bones
And you shall be like a watered garden,
like a flowing spring whose waters never fail.

It is interesting to me that God does not assure us in this passage that he will never lead us to these parched places. But rather, he tells us that he will satisfy our thirst in these places. God knows that if we are going to be led to Him, we must enter the desert. We must leave our carefully tended gardens of life and enter desolate places to get closer to God.

Home Sweet Home
In the desert we empty ourselves of everything, dry ourselves out in a sense, so that God can set us on fire with His love.

Many people live in fear of the desert. They see it beyond the edges of their landscaped backyards but they never venture out. Instead they sit inside the safe confines of their yard, always feeling unsatisfied, thirsty for something they do not know. “Life must be more than this,” they think. But they have no way of knowing how or why they should walk out into land that looks so dry and uninviting.

I remember feeling this way before my conversion. One day, the feeling inside of me was so intense I felt like I was dying. I sat under a tree crying, not really sure why I was crying, but I knew I wanted something that I did not have. I put my hand on the rough bark of a tree and violently rubbed my skin against it. It was as if I felt that my life was not real and I wanted something, anything, even pain to help me feel alive.

Now I am in the desert and I feel alive. It is painful for sure, but it is not like scratching my hand on the bark of a tree. The pain of God's desert feels purposeful, like a gardener’s trowel digging a hole in the earth.

And so I ask God for the grace to sit in these parched places, while he tends my interior garden. I know that if my interior garden is well-tended, then God can lead me to whatever desert will lead me closer to Him.

So I end this Advent with a prayer:

I turn all areas of my life over to you, 
Master of the Universe.

You will never abandon me in the desert.

The Master Gardener knows what is best for me, 
and will lead me through dry lands to Him.

Jesus, you planted the kingdom of God, 
when you came to earth 
as a small, helpless child.

Help me to see your kingdom 
in a world that looks lost.

Help me to see the power in weakness, 
the only way evil can be overcome.

Plant the seed of your kingdom in my heart, 
and fill me with your Living Water.

Make the desert of my soul 
a watered garden.

Come Lord Jesus.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Only Good Addiction

A World of Addicts
We love our habits more than our 
income, often more than our life.
- Bertrand Russell

We are all addicts. We all surrender ourselves to one thing, or many things, habitually or obsessively. Our dependencies range from the big to the small. For some people it may be TV, caffeine, an iPhone, another person, pornography, alcohol, or drugs. 

Other people may have tight control on their exterior actions, but are addicted to anger, self righteous judging and other destructive patterns of thinking.

Our addictions can be interior and exterior.

Religion and Addiction

Belief in God and religious practice does not automatically rid a person of their addictions. This is evident in the behavior of all Christians who profess a faith in God but continue to engage in behavior harmful to themselves and to others.

In Christianity, we call this destructive behavior sin and from a psychological standpoint, if the sinful behavior is repetitive and compulsive, it also could be called an addiction, (I know I am not the only one confessing the same sins over and over in the confessional....)

United States of Addiction

Our sinfulness comes from our wounded human nature. We all have a natural tendency to do the bad that we do not want to do, as St. Paul says in Romans 7:19. But in addition to original sin, we also have the added difficulty of living in a culture and a time that encourages addictive behavior.

In the US particularly, people find happiness in fulfilling every whim, at every moment. Everything is immediate for us. Convenience is a way of life. Everything takes fraction of the time it used to take: cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, and even communicating. These advances free up our time to devote to other things. But our focus on immediate satisfaction leads us to begin to live according to our superficial feelings.

Of course, feelings are not bad; they are given to us by God. But if we live purely by our immediate feelings, they become our gods. And if we indulge certain feelings over and over, we develop addictive, but depthless desires around these feelings. Who we are becomes about what we feel, rather than something deeper.

What Lies Beneath?

What is deeper than our superficial desires? Under our disordered desires, that are harmful for us, and our ordered desires, that are normal and healthy, there is one desire that is foundational to our very existence. It is a feeling everyone has buried inside of them. It is the root of all human desires -the desire for God.

Some may call their deepest desire a desire for Love, Justice, Truth, or Happiness but our desire for God is really all of these things. It is in God that we can find our deepest happiness and where our deepest values and self identity are fulfilled. But even if we get in touch with our deepest, most foundational desire for God, it requires hard work, discipline and most of all grace from God to actually live out of this desire.

Resting in a deep desire is painful.We have to let go of our other self-made desires, the good and the bad. We must let go of our dreams, our ambitions and our addictions. We feel emptiness. We experience want. But if we want to live for God, we cannot clamor to fill the pain with exterior things; otherwise we will again replace our deeper desires with superficial ones. Instead, we can only sit in the pain and ask God to give us the grace to grow into a place where all we want is God.

Advent and Addiction

Even though many of us know we should live from our desire for God, we still engage in mindless activity and a myriad of little addictions. I frequently end up filling my entire day with these activities and successfully dodge aesthetic living, aesthetic thinking, (even harder), and communion with God in prayer. 

But if I make my mind, my body, and my heart slow down, I begin to feel the emptiness within me – all of the space within that is meant to be filled with God. With God's grace I am able to resist the temptation to flee from this gnaw of desire. Instead I sit, like an empty cup, and ask God to fill me. I know that God is much bigger than me, but I ask anyway. I ask out of love, a crazy love for a God who I know is listening to me.

So this Advent, let us rest in our desire for God. Let us let go of all of our dreams, and embrace God’s dream for us. Let us acknowledge that we need to be filled, and the only thing that can fill us is God. Let us cast off all of the small and big addictions that are keeping us from the only addiction that is good for us - God. 

God, please become my only addiction.