Wednesday, September 28, 2016

There are far more theologians in the world than we might think there are. The requirements to be a theologian are simply an effort of the head and heart to make sense of life. Some do so by saying there is a divine essence behind the curtain of what we can see and know and experience; some say there is no Creator and what we call spiritual is nothing more than our consciousness reaching beyond its limitations, imagining the unimaginable in order to bring order and explain what is beyond the mind to comprehend.  No matter which approach or which perspective, or anywhere along the continuum between the two, there are a lot of theologians. 
Even children are theologians, perhaps the best because of their natural wonder and acceptance of things that are beyond their capacity to explain rationally. Children innately are theologians because their hearts are usually still wide open to trust—unless they have experienced some reason to be distrustful already, something tragic and terrible, and unfortunately too common. For those children who are still trusting, they are remarkably profound in their insights and acceptance of the holy and sacred that sparkles in everything and everywhere. According to words identified as Jesus’, this child-like faith is even identified as necessary for entering the kingdom of heaven. Child-like is different than childish. Childishness has nothing to do with entering the kingdom. Child-like points to the willingness to accept something rich and necessary for living life fully, without earning it or even being able to comprehend or explain it; child-like is the inherent necessity of trusting—like the infant that is fed at the mother’s breast or the toddler that reaches to the parent knowing they will be lifted and embraced.
For those who are identified as theologians—those who have earned degrees or some form of credential that the world accepts as necessary for being a theologian, then words and descriptions and explanations are well-honed and crafted. Being a theologian, however, is not the same thing as being faithful. A theologian can be fluent in theology and capable of expressing in words truths that are teased out of ancient and contemporary texts and experience, but faith is the practice, sometimes unknowingly, of what theology only points toward.
Essentially, theology is the practice of explaining the inexplicable; creating containers for that which cannot be contained; describing that which is beyond description. In essence, it points us toward that which cannot be reached, but also lets us know that the mystery of that which cannot be reached is that it does what we cannot do: it reaches out to us and holds us. In this, we understand in a way that explanations can never explain, just as any definition of love falls short of the experience of being loved and out of that, loving.

© 2016 Stephen R. Carl

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

There are mysterious moments when by some power beyond ourselves the ordinary becomes extraordinary, the profane becomes sacred, the common becomes a sacrament through which we glimpse the glimmer and radiance of everything as it and we shine in glory. It may be when holding an infant or watching an act of kindness or walking through a forest or standing at a street corner in the rain  with strangers or anywhere we may be, since this glory is not tame or limited by our mood, beliefs, or attitude. This shining glory is always there, we simply do not see it because we have lost our eyes of wonder. What restores our sight is miraculous and generous, but not remote or infrequent. We simply do not seek it with any earnestness or attention. Despite our lacking the eyes to see or the heart to pursue, we are brought to the threshold of the doorway and given a glimpse into the Grand Canyon of splendor. This glimpse is a seed planted in a crevice, a crack in the hard pavement of our consciousness. It begins to grow and scatter more seeds that wedge themselves into the crack and widen the fertile space where joy and love take root and the moments begin to eclipse our awareness and attention until heaven resides in us as much as we reside in it. And then the greatest honor we may receive is thrust upon us: we become doorkeepers of this glory for others who are still blind to it.

© 2016 Stephen Carl

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Most of us know what its like to stand between two mirrors.  When I was a child I had a suspicion that a mirror facing a mirror might be a portal to a magical world.  I never found that it is, but it is a sort of echo of images as our reflection curves out of sight, sight, sight…
When I was a kid I used to have moments when I’d ponder the notion of being conscious and why I knew I was conscious, why I knew anything and was aware of knowing, why I knew I was, just was.  Being conscious of consciousness is kind of like standing between two mirrors, eventually the idea echoes out of sight.
In college I recall the Philosophy class in which I read about Rene’ Descartes and his “I think, therefore I am” claim—that thinking (or consciousness about thinking) is the basis of knowing that one exists.
There are undoubtedly many facets of consciousness like having a conscience—the ability to know right from wrong and that one has a choice between the two—or feeling guilty when one chooses the wrong or having an understanding of ethics, which arises from the question “how would I feel if I were in this person’s shoes and I was treated that way?”  Remember that this is the premise of the story of Pinocchio, that if he was to be a real boy then he needed a conscience.
Ultimately, I think consciousness is the gift that helps me know that I can and do make a difference and the difference I make can be good or not so good and that I can choose; that I am aware that I can, with what little I may have, influence my little sphere in a positive way; that I can take whatever comes my way and not simply react with instinct, but respond with insight.
I like all of the seasons of the Church year, but something about the season of Epiphany, that follows Christmastide, really captures my attention.  It is the Eureka! season.  Eureka is from a Greek word that means, of course, “I found it!”  My consciousness, however, whispers to me that when it comes to the big Epiphanies of life, it’s really not me finding anything, but me being found.  That’s a humbling epiphany.  And if there's a magic portal, then that's it.
And if the universe has taught me anything, then it can be summed up as: Pay attention!

© 2016 Stephen Carl

Monday, September 5, 2016

To be yourself, genuine and without airs, no need to perform or pretend to be what one isn't--especially the pretending that even you don't realize is pretend, until the ache in your heart becomes too great to bear--to be the real you stripped of all pretense and masks, is far beyond comfortable, far beyond a relief, far beyond serene. It is salvation, deliverance, an atmosphere of pure air to breathe rather than the stuffy air that suffocates one who anxiously desires approval but never really receives it because it isn't you who is approved, it's the role you're playing, the character in the unreal skit of your pseudo-life.
Heck, we learn at a very early age that we must mask ourselves, hide our identity. And we learn to do it so well that we often don't realize that we are unreal. There are signs of it, like the hollow echo in the relationships we establish, or the despair that is like a faint stain we can't remove from our thoughts, or the appetite for something richer and deeper that makes us feel alive. It makes perfect sense to perform for acceptance since if you experience rejection, then it isn't the real you that has been turned away. Whereas if you are to be vulnerable and expose who you are and others turn away, then where do you go from there? Of course, all the while the fake you is out there, the real you is hiding in the dark.
That's why truly being loved for yourself--blessings and blemishes--is a foretaste of heaven. And such vulnerable authenticity in you is a doorway through which others glimpse their freedom too.

For me, that's the Gospel. Yes, the Gospel is more than that too, but think about all the encounters Jesus had with the folk who were not approved. These stories described in the four Gospel accounts tell how prostitutes, tax collectors, the diseased and disabled, adulterers, Samaritans, and sinners (that's all inclusive) all were offered and some experienced a liberation from the burden of their disapproval. They were freed through the generosity of being loved as they were, not as they were expected to be. Their social context didn't necessarily change, but their hearts experienced a transformation. In many cases there understandably was an overwhelming gratitude. Think about Zacheus, or the leper, or the man born blind, or the prostitute, or Mary Magdalene, or the Samaritan woman at the well, and all the others whose hearts he freed from the tiny cages. The irony of this is how often the church requires people to be untrue to who God created them to be, in order to fit some ideal fabricated out of self-righteousness.
We can tie our hearts and bodies into Gordian knots trying to be who we think will be approved. It's a lousy way to live, trying to receive the awards of approval. It's a violent way to live--for ourselves and anyone we require to participate in the game, if they want our approval. On occasion we get glimpses of who we are when we feel joy and contentment, but these too quickly disappear. They are hints, nudges, whispers, whiffs of the aroma of peace and love.
At some point, by some mysterious power, some people loosen their grip and let go of the charade, drop the act, and in the process are released by an incredible love that goes far beyond the field of competitive approval. This deep love is a gift that gives us ourselves again.

© 2016 Stephen Carl

Thursday, September 1, 2016

At the back edge of the yard where I grew up there was a creek.  It was a magical thing for me. Now, as I think of it, I cannot imagine not having such a ribbon of glory as a child.  It was there that I discovered snails and crawdads and minnows and turtles and snakes.  The greatest gift from that creek, however, was wonder.  It has been a treasure I have carried with me for the past several decades.
One of the activities I recall in this creek was the industrious effort of constructing dams.  These were always made with natural and readily available resources: rocks, mud, silt, moss.  The design of these dams improved through the years as experience, combined with increased cognitive powers were gained.  The motive behind dam building was whimsical. Sometimes it arose out of the excess energy of childhood that needed something to do along with the brain's innate need for the reward of completing a task, of having accomplished some goal--no matter how pointless.  At other times the dam building was for the purpose of creating a deeper reservoir in which to wade, splash, and play; perhaps also to trap larger fish or other assorted creek abiding critters.
The dams never lasted long.  With the first rainfall the creek would swell and the power and force of tiny raindrops collected into hundreds of thousands of gallons of water would wash away the work.  The loss of each dam was part of the wonder as I came to recognize the strength of accumulation.
Sometimes there is a dam in my heart and mind as I consider the terrible things happening in our world.  It is a tiny dam that arises from fear and reaction to threat.  It holds back the waters of hope, forgiveness, and generosity in a punitive effort.  As I pray for peace to rain down, for the weather system to shift and flood the world with reconciliation, my tiny dam is overwhelmed and washed away.  It is a foolish little dam that is as capricious as the rock and mud and moss dams I built as a child.
You and I are rain-makers and each act of kindness, each insult returned with forgiveness, each threat overcome with compassion is a drop of rain falling from heaven, the accumulation of which is far more powerful than the tiny dams behind which fear becomes a reservoir of violence and hatred.  It is no less a wonder to behold the accumulated force of generosity and compassion than to be a child on the banks of a creek after a storm watching the water wash away that which cannot last.

© 2016 Stephen Carl