Thursday, November 16, 2017

I live in a Cave and Visit with God on the Margins

Bophal and I live in a small, humid cave on the half floor of the “House of Peace.” Bophal doesn’t mind it at all but I tend to suffer from a bit of cabin fever. A third of the cave is our bedroom, a third serves as a very small kitchen area, and remaining third is Bophal’s office. At night the kitchen and office are converted into a sleeping area for my adopted daughter Miss Yorean (10), and her friend, Miss Srey Noich (10). They sleep together like two peas in a pod on the floor. The two girls knock off about 9:30 pm, and before they doze off, Yorean shouts out in English: “Good night daddy, have good dreams.” Srey Noich keeps it short and sweet because she does not know much English; “Good night, Brian.” Srey Noich has become part of my life - I see her waking up, going off to school, and I see her going to sleep. I can feel God’s love for Srey Noich which is so thick, I can cut it with a knife. When I come home for lunch or from work in the evening, she is always waiting to hug me or grab my hand to escort me to the stairs leading to my cave. This is if my daughter Yorean doesn’t get to me first. Anyway, Srey Noich’s father has decided to have us send her home, and that will make my cave a less hospitable place for me, and I am left feeling like a piece of my soul is being ripped out. She will return to Battambang province and live in a small thatched roofed hut. She will be able to continue her schooling while her dad ekes out a living farming. Bophal took her in when her father sent her across the country to live with her aging grandmother who could not properly care for her. 

So, what’s the point?  So what?  This is life.

Since my crash ‘n burn, time spent in the Belly of the Whale, and my release, I was truly “Born Again” in real sense of the often misused, trivialized, and cliché-sounding biblical metaphor,  a great metaphor that was hijacked and domesticated. When I was ‘born again’ the first time in 1979, I burned my Playboys and rock cassettes. I stopped drinking and carousing and learned church culture and bible doctrine, but remained largely unconscious and placed my trust in the system of belief I was taught. Through my recent Belly of the Whale experience, I have become conscious in so many new ways, ways that I never experienced before (would need to write a book to explain). Each day, many times a day, I experience a patch of heaven on earth, and God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven. I do not have to wait for that “Pie in the Sky,” as I get to take some rather significant bites of that pie each day on this terrestrial globe. My relationship of being a father type to Srey Noich and to my adopted daughter Yorean is an example of that. My heart just floods with love both for them and from them when they grab my hand or rush to greet me. I am more than conscious of the presence of God in and through that love dynamic. I am aware of the great change in my soul because in the past, I would have never been conscious of the gift of such relationships as a vital way to experience God on a daily basis – especially through children and teenagers. This consciousness of God’s presence through love in my daily life happens on different levels with the waiters of the noodle shop where I have my coffee each morning, the staff at the Dove office, the children in Dove’s drop in center, kids at House of Peace, the children who play noisily in front of my house, some young adults in ONYX program and Men’s group, the teenagers at youth coffee house, and with the Peace Bridges Staff (Dove’s partner). God energizes and shares his presence and love with me foremost in nature and through relationships with children/teens/young adults who have tagged unworthy by society. Being conscious, I was able to find and access God’s greatest resource to the church, the poor, and the marginalized.

I recently read this in an email devotional I get by psychologist John Welwood:

“A conscious relationship is one that calls forth who you really are. . . . Instead of looking to a relationship for shelter, we could welcome its power to wake us up in areas of life where we are asleep and where we avoid naked, direct contact with life. This approach puts us on a path. It commits us to movement and change, providing forward direction by showing us where we most need to grow.”

All the relationships I cite above, on one hand, do indeed call forth who I really am in an affirming way, and on the other hand, different types of relationships like the ones I have with my son Johnathan, or Jordan, etc., that also reflect God’s presence, serve as God directly speaking me to as a wake up call to seek transformation in other areas of my life, areas that I want to avoid thinking about.

In other words, I have been given a great gift - the ability to see and be conscious much more than ever before.  And only because of this, I have become thoroughly grateful for all those things I was unable to see as great gifts throughout my life. My priorities have been turned upside down as God meets me so blatantly through the lives of traumatized, unwanted and marginalized children, teens and young adults. I think these are some of the key reasons Jesus came to earth, to teach us how to see, to help us become conscious, and to demonstrate to us what is like to be fully human and just how go about getting that done.   

The Mystics and Desert Fathers identified two ways of really being ‘born again’ (meaning a total paradigm shift in perspective and practice or totally new ways of thinking and being). One was through a life crisis such as a great moral failure, divorce, death of spouse, crash of a career/ business, or a great, undeniable experience of God’s outpouring of love on an individual. William James concurs with this as well in his book, The Varieties of Religious Experience.  

Richard Rohr in many of his books explains that in mid-life it is necessary to climb down from the tower of success and achievement to intentionally focus on the most valuable aspects of life, or the tower is likely to crash on its own. If you intentionally descend, you learn a new way of life in the process of descending that brings a life paradigm shift. Those whose towers crash either learn to practice a new ‘way of life’ that transforms as you rebuild your life in a new direction, or you choose to build the same tower and continue on the same upward ascent, only to end up as a bitter old hag or bitter old coot. 

Thomas Merton said; "Too many people when they get to the top of the ladder realize that it is leaning on the wrong wall."

My hope is that I would be able to help wounded people along on their journey to healing and freedom, which begins with learning a ‘way of life’ that is really transformative – a way of that teaches how we can love God, self, neighbor and enemy in practical ways.   

I recently attended a meeting of 70 or so people, a very diverse group of people of all ages and sexes - some with Christian backgrounds, some from other religions, and others with no religious background at all.  All of their towers had crashed and each person was somewhere on the continuum of rebuilding a whole different structure with the help of other people in the group. At the end of the meeting we all made a circle and clasped our hands together and the leader led us in reciting the Lord’s Prayer in unison. I was moved to tears and felt incredibly privileged to be a part of a group of people who found a way to do life that actually works to bring healing, peace and transformation into their lives and the lives others around them

All I can say is that I am grateful.

Peace for the journey,