The temple.

Tonight, I told my daughter that God is alive

In her body.

 

No one ever said that to me.

 

Instead, people told me all about the Commandments,

Ten of them.

Also, Seven –

deadly sins.

Some handful of Beatitudes

And what a fuck-up Eve could be.

 

God breathed God’s breath into the human body,

in order to make a living being.

Genesis says so.

 

It’s the first written words about human beings

in my own tradition.

This gorgeous scene.

 

A man and a woman, made from dust.

Through their nostrils, they are filled

With God’s breath.

 

And when the breath of God leaves

them,

and each of us,

we are returned again

to dust.

 

But what of the time between?

While God’s breath is breathing Itself in us,

how holy can we be?

 

You’ve heard it said, “mercies are new each morning”,

but I tell you,

New mercies ride in on each breath.

 

God’s breath,

In each of us.

 

No one knows what to do next.

 

Me neither.

But, I told my daughter what I wish

someone had told me.

 

Listen for God in your body, sighing softly.

Sometimes rattling.

Feel God, too.

That rhythm, the movement in and out,

filling up and letting go.

 

Rupture and repair.

Expansion and contraction.

Life, Death,

Re-birth.

 

Every cell and atom in the universe is dancing like this.

 

Later, I will tell her even more subversive things.

 

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Heaven

My grandmother’s spirit left her body one year ago today.

I was there with her when it happened, and despite the steady stream of visitors she had most hours of most days during the final week of her life, it happened shortly after 2AM, and I was the only person in the room with her at the time.

Around 1AM, I fell asleep on a hospital cot that had been pulled up next to her hospice bed. Before lying down and closing my eyes, I said out loud, “wake me up if you need anything”.

She had been unconscious and unresponsive for a week.

Shortly after 2AM I had a dream of a glass cookie jar with nothing in it. When I reached my hand out towards it, it shattered into thousands of pieces. It hurt me to watch the jar shatter, but the glass shards themselves were beautiful and did not injure my skin as they passed through my hand.

Suddenly I was awake.

I looked over at my grandma, and listened for the sounds of her breathing. I didn’t hear anything for a long moment, and bolted right out of bed.

The moment I got my face near hers, she exhaled.

And then did not inhale ever again.

I walked into the hallway to tell the hospice nurse that my grandma was gone. She followed me back into the room and put her stethoscope on the soft, bare skin of my grandmother’s back.

“Her heart is still fluttering a little bit”, she said to me. “I’ll give you another minute alone together”.

And then she walked out of the room.

I held my grandmother’s hand, and looked at her for signs of life.

Her face was still so soft and sweet as if she were peacefully sleeping, but her hands felt a bit colder than they had a few hours before. I didn’t know what to say or do, or how to be with someone while their heart was still fluttering, but their breath had already left their body.

My grandma was one of the greatest loves of my life, and my own heart felt like it was breaking.

Just as I was about to let myself surrender into the mess of feelings I had been holding back since I first learned of her stroke 7 days before, I felt something I can only now describe as a shimmering, sparkling, tingling, pulsing wave of the most exquisite joy and tenderness move from her, and fill the whole room, including my own body.

I’ve never felt anything like this before or since.

It was like those luminous glass shards from my dream had turned into the finest dust, and I could feel both their luminosity and their former sharpness all at once. It hurt in the way it hurts to feel something so gorgeous that you can’t believe it’s true.

I would try to compare it to something like seeing the sunset over cliffs and water, or looking at your baby’s face for the first time, or falling in love, or reconciling with an estranged friend, as all of those things remind me of this feeling a little bit. But all of those experiences pale in comparison, truthfully.

This feeling was so stunning and impossible, that it was very hard for me to breathe while it was happening.

As the intensity of that tenderness began to subside a little, I told myself I should stay in the room and linger in it’s fading presence, but I couldn’t. I felt like I needed to step outside of the room in order to catch my breath and slow my heart down to a functional rhythm again.

I walked outside the room and told the nurse that she was indeed gone now.

The nurse came in, listened for my grandmother’s now silent heartbeat, looked at her watch, and then turned her attention on me.

“Are you alright?”, she asked.

“My chest hurts, and it’s very hard for me to take a full breath. I’m going to call my family, and then I think I need to be outdoors for a bit”.

“Do you need medical attention?”, she seemed really concerned for moment.

“No, no. It’s not like that. I don’t know. I’m okay”.

I called my family then, and when I did, I wanted to say, “I’m so sorry you weren’t here for this. I wish I had woken up 20 minutes before and called each of you then. Being here at the end, it was like receiving a holy blessing. I will never be the same”.

But I didn’t say that. Who can say that? I was so disoriented.

Then I stepped outside into the courtyard of the hospice center. There was a light breeze, and a hundred twinkling stars in the sky. The plants were swaying softly, and there was a sweet smell in the air. For a brief moment, I felt that luminous glass dust in everything all around me.

“I’m everywhere now”, she whispered. It was her voice, but it was coming from my own heart.

The Kingdom of Heaven is in your midst. (Luke 17:21).

For the first time in my whole life, I stopped worrying about what happens to us when we die.

I haven’t worried about it ever since.

I AM.

The day Moses met God, he asked,

“What is your name?”,

 

“I have no name”, comes the reply,

From a Source now unnamed.

 

All alone atop that Holy Mountain,

Moses worries after those waiting down below.

 

“Without a name”, he pleads, “How will my people come to know

You from all the other gods

Belonging to these poor, lost, wandering men?”

 

Was it courageous, or cowardice to stand there in that place,

And so boldly ask God for the Grace –

To become small enough for them?

 

“This, not that” was the first and only Law given

By God to those two humans in the Garden.

 

An instruction for an era lost,

The Garden now invisible,

And yet –

 

Just like Moses and his people, most of us here

Are still believing “this, not that” will save us

From the pain of our uncertainty.

 

Shaped by years of wandering through deserts

Of our own,

Are we not guilty of thirsting after the image

Of arriving –

Somewhere, each one of us a beggar.

 

“This, not that, black or white, Please Lord, make it simple”.

 

Moses could have said that.

I hear it in his question.

 

Yet, God, unchanged and ever changing, always sets the tone –

A riddle for an answer.

Or perhaps, an Answer for minds too riddled to hear it:

 

“I AM”.

 

Do you ever wonder what that sound was like in the ears of the man who heard it first?

 

Could it have been pronounced “A-UM”?

 

I’ve heard that sound fall from the mouths of people

Perched atop holy mountains of their own.

Spandex on their bodies,

Twenty dollars for enlightenment.

 

Do they know the Holy mountain upon which they are standing?

They’ve at least removed their shoes.

 

“OM”, it is written, but as it moves from breath, to throat, to tongue, to lips

It sounds

More like this:

“Ahhhhhhhhhh—Ummmmmmm”.

 

The Beginning and The End.

The Alpha and The Omega.

The Atman and The Brahman.

Or can we say, The Ego and The Soul?

 

That which can perceive That which Is.

 

It’s strange and clear and merciful –

Each ancient tradition tells a story

Of this sound.

 

Do you recognize it yet?

 

It’s unclear whether Moses or his people could,

And most days it seems the same for you, and for me –

 

Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when he bothered once again

To tell us,

“I AM”.

 

The way, the truth, and the light.

 

I think we needed someone to show us,

In the flesh.

I AM.

 

“Stick your finger in my side”, he says,

To his dear doubting friend.

 

But that’s not what I was taught.

Were you?

Instead, instructed over and over to literalize,

To flatten it down.

 

But, didn’t God warn Moses?

Oh wait, I mean,

I AM.

 

Jesus may have been the flesh and bone and blood encounter

With a God

We can’t nail down.

 

Genesis tells us of Creation from No thing.

Science claims the heart begins as a null-point,

A Zero at the center.

No thing.

 

Then a twist, and a spin, and suddenly a beat:

I AM.

 

And while our riddled minds are grasping yet again

After a Name

For the magic happening here,

 

The temple curtain gets torn straight down the middle,

From top to bottom, falling away in two –

Pieces.

 

Holy of Holies now unveiled,

Each one of us bracing to be blinded

By a glimpse

Of what’s inside.

 

Yet, those among us brave or crazy enough

To look

And see –

Will find

No thing is there.

 

No name.

No nails.

 

No thing.

 

Only

I AM.

 

Did not Siddhartha while sitting under the Bodhi tree

Find

No thing too?

Once named, then unnamed, and renamed:

Awakened one.

One who sees.

 

Would you look for yourself?

 

Try Within.

 

Each one of us already knows this Place,

It’s Only human

Beings who could mistake that inner space

 

For alienation.

 

Instead of what it truly is –

Our own Holy ordination.

 

— Whitney Logan, 5.8.17

Nothing is wrong with you: an Easter message.

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to hear Anne Lamott speak about her new book, “Hallelujah Anyway”. The conversation was so honest, and soul-stirring that I followed it up with a couple days of binge-listening to several different interviews Anne has done in the last few years. During one of these interviews, she mentioned something a Jesuit priest once said to her about what he called the “5 rules on how to be a Good American”, which we are all forced to learn as early as possible.

1. Don’t have anything wrong with you.
2. If there is something wrong with you, fix it immediately.
3. If you can’t fix it, hide it.
4. If you can’t hide it, stay home—just don’t show up or you’ll make other people uncomfortable.
5. If you insist on showing up anyway, at least have the decency to feel ashamed.

Some of my earliest, earliest memories involve a growing, nagging, sweat-inducing certainty that something was terribly wrong with me. One of the primary reasons I fell so completely head-over-heels into the psychological refuge of Christianity was that it seemed to possess the answer to this precise problem.

“Yes”, Christianity said to me, “there is indeed something very wrong with you. Of course, this will continue to be painful for you and everyone who knows you for as long as you live. But, BUT: if you believe in exactly precisely this one thing, in exactly precisely this one way, and try your best to imitate exactly precisely the attitudes and actions prescribed by this one thing, your reward will be this: immediately AFTER you DIE, you will then finally become perfect”.

What a relief.

So, naturally, I swan-dove into this ideology at 12 years old, and really didn’t start to look underneath the hood of any of it until I was about 22 years old.

Eleven whole years of messy, beautiful, clumsy, miraculous, painful, healing, mentally ill, and spiritually sublime moments later, I have decided that this is not at all what Jesus tried to teach us. In fact, I now believe that to the degree with which we have confused his actual message with the nonsense described above is the degree to which we will wind up abusing ourselves and everyone around us.

So then, if not that painful personal pretzeling our way to salvation, what do I think Jesus did try to teach us?

Well, when I read the gospels now, I hear – over and over – a message that sounds more like this: “Oh, you beloved over-anxious, grasping, clinging children. I need you to try really hard to put your listening ears on for a whole minute while I explain this to you again. Heaven is not somewhere else, it’s right here. Communion with God is not later, it’s now. The Holy Spirit is not behind a curtain in the temple, it’s in your own body”. (Paraphrasing, hi).

Don’t believe me? Read it all over again for yourself. Start with Matthew, finish with the first part of Acts. Consider setting aside your preconceived or previously conceived interpretations, and going very slowly through the story again. Because it’s all right there – every beautiful, relieving, grace-soaked word – hidden in plain-sight.

Loving one’s self.

Several months ago, I attended a church service in which the senior pastor decided to tackle the issue of “health care in America”. He spoke thoughtfully about how the bulk of Jesus’ ministry involved healing sick people, and instructing his followers to care for the vulnerable members of society. During this part of his sermon, I felt that kind of uneasy feeling then that I really like – the kind of feeling that reminds me how far my own head can get lodged up my own ass, and then empowers me to think about practical ways I could be caring for my community.

Towards the end of the sermon, however, the pastor tried to drive home his point by reminding his audience that when asked which was the “greatest commandment”, Jesus answered,

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength”, and then immediately went on to say,”The second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these”. (Mark 12:30-31).

My immediate reaction to this sermon’s meant-to-be-powerful conclusion was to wonder whether or not church-going folks are any good at loving themselves, and whether or not the church does a good-enough job of teaching people how to love themselves. Because, I thought, without a basic capacity to love oneself, part 2 of the ‘greatest commandment’ doesn’t carry much weight or power.

Since then, I have checked in with several handfuls of my church-going friends and asked them if they feel like the church is good at teaching people how to love themselves.

I’ll let you guess what their answers may have been.

And here’s the thing: it’s a pretty big deal if the church and church-goers are missing the mark re: the ‘loving oneself’ target. Reading the gospels, I find a considerable amount of evidence to suggest that A) Jesus loved himself – i.e. received God’s love – without reservation and B) that he extended this same whole-hearted love to every person he met. In fact, this was a big part of what made him so controversial during his time on earth. The religious leaders of his time did not appreciate the unbounded enormity of his love for himself or for others.

Somehow (and grievously), while I was growing up in church, I got the impression that I was supposed to first accept how fundamentally bad I was – you know, that whole original sin drama – before I could authentically and earnestly beseech Jesus to lobotomize those bad parts of myself, and finally become more pleasing to him.

Well, it’s pretty near-to-impossible to love yourself if you you’ve been taught – explicitly or implicitly – that you are basically evil. It’s equally near-to-impossible to love others when you assume that, like you, they are also basically evil. And because of this unfortunate assumption about human nature, you are then psychologically primed to start searching for people who appear to have “conquered” their evil impulses, in order to reassure yourself that it can be done.

Public Service Announcement number 1: no one conquers “evil” (please click that link); we simply have an opportunity to become more and more psychologically and spiritually honest, which allows us to make wiser, and healthier choices.

Let me briefly explain why it is 100% impossible to love others well if we don’t first love ourselves well. I will use myself as an example:

When I am critical and intolerant towards myself, I am critical and intolerant towards others. If I notice some unacceptable aspect of myself – those shadowy, hard to admit parts of my psychology – parading around in someone else’s skin, my first defensive instinct is often to judge that person harshly, or perhaps to reject them entirely. Somehow allowing myself to feel curiosity or compassion towards them becomes threatening to me, as if I’ll have to admit my own similar shortcomings if I get too close to other peoples’.

Does that make sense? Maybe it’s a bit ‘Psychology 101’ for some of you, but I find that for a lot of people this is a fairly complex idea. So let me make it even more simple:

THINGS WE DON’T WANT TO ADMIT ABOUT OURSELVES OTHER PEOPLE ACTING OUT THOSE SAME THINGS = PSYCHOLOGICAL CRISIS.

Here’s some good examples:

  • A closeted gay person expressing homophobic ideas or actions.
  • Someone that cares a great deal more than they’d like to admit about wealth and material things, who then condemns wealthy people for how they choose to spend their money.
  • Deeply felt inferiority feelings parading around as machismo, or bullying.
  • Systemically disempowered women being critical of “successful” women.
  • Someone with partisan political sentiments (who cannot admit this blind-spot to themselves) dismissing another person’s political ideas as partisan.
  • A compulsive over-eater who frowns upon compulsive [anything else].
  • Someone who feels insecure about their romantic relationship (or lack thereof) being critical of other people’s romances.
  • Christian extremists’ hatred for Islamic extremists.
  • An arrogant person noticing someone else’s arrogance and pointing that out disdainfully (I’m real guilty of this one sometimes, ugh).

Do you get the picture? It’s impossible to be compassionate with others if we cannot first be sincerely compassionate with ourselves.

And, why do I think it’s the church’s responsibility to teach this to it’s parishioners? Because Jesus did it.

He embraced all types of culturally repugnant people, and offered them intimate counsel and friendship. Some of the religious leaders of his time found his associations very troubling, and asked his disciples why he would choose to “eat with such scum?” (Matthew 9:11). Jesus answered them by asking them to “go and learn the meaning of this scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.'” (Matthew 9:13).

I believe we have to “show mercy” both inwardly and outwardly simultaneously for mercy to be genuine. And I’m pretty sure Jesus said almost exactly this in his own cryptic, ancient semitc way:

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.

Love each other in the same way I have loved you.”

– (John 15:9, 12)

In a sense, I believe he’s saying “my ability to receive (accept, or believe in) love is directly correlated to my ability to give love. Now, follow my lead: open yourselves up to the divine love that’s always available to you, and then give it away in exactly the same limitless way you have received it”.

To boil it down further: if we can’t embrace the darkest, hardest aspects of our humanity, then we sure as sh*t can’t embrace other peoples’ dark parts either. And from what I can tell, the whole entire ministry of Jesus was about embracing others, especially those willing to stand humbly in own their humanity.

So, Church leaders: if you don’t know how to teach this kind of love, and especially if you don’t know how to genuinely receive this kind of love for yourself, you need to hire people that do. We can’t fall asleep at the wheel when it comes to loving ourselves, or we can’t love others well. And if we can’t love others well, we can’t be the church.

 

Love each other.

The invitation is exquisite:

Love each other well.

‘Here, let me show you how’, He said.

‘It’s not burdensome, it’s easy’.

It’s light.

Why then is it hard to do?

That mortally vulnerable part of ourselves is such a tyrant.

So defensive about our own well-being.

‘Consider the lilies of the field’, He said.

‘Why are you so worried’?

Our timid unbelieving hearts do tremble.

Could it be that simple?

God, wouldn’t I love to be brave enough find out.