Reflections by Jerry Webber

Friday, March 30, 2012

Standing Apart or Engaging the Mess?

When I read Psalm 26 this week for prayer, I immediately labeled it as a psalm of separation. In my mind, that was the first thing that came to me.

It was prayed by someone who felt they lived in connection to God. They felt themselves to have integrity, living a life that trusted God, and "not faltering." In their self-description, they have "walked faithfully" with God.

Yet, most of the psalm is filled with the language of separation and division. Read it for yourself.

Vindicate me, LORD,
for I have led a blameless life;
I have trusted in the LORD
and have not faltered.
Test me, LORD, and try me,
examine my heart and my mind;
for I have always been mindful of your unfailing love
and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness.

I do not sit with the deceitful,
nor do I associate with hypocrites.
I abhor the assembly of evildoers
and refuse to sit with the wicked.
I wash my hands in innocence,
and go about your altar, LORD,
proclaiming aloud your praise
and telling of all your wonderful deeds.

LORD, I love the house where you live,
the place where your glory dwells.
Do not take away my soul along with sinners,
my life with those who are bloodthirsty,
in whose hands are wicked schemes,
whose right hands are full of bribes.
I lead a blameless life;
redeem me and be merciful to me.

My feet stand on level ground;
in the great congregation I will praise the LORD.

I know where the impulse for separation comes from. The Hebrew word for holiness is kadosh, and the root meanings of kadosh imply to be set apart or to be different. In my Old Testament seminary class, I researched and wrote a lengthy term paper on the Hebrew notion of holiness (kadosh). I found this idea of separation all through the Hebrew Scriptures . . . Holiness Codes and admonitions/instructions for how to live a holy life. Most all of them had to do with keeping separate from others who were deemed "unclean" or "evil." Many of them were about separation from "foreigners" or those who worshiped other gods. The message was, "Stay away from anyone except those who worship Yahweh."

Psalm 26 comes to us out of that tradition.

"I do not sit with the deceitful, nor do I associate with hypocrites."

"I abhor the assembly of evildoers and refuse to sit with the wicked."

What God wants, according to this view of holiness, is that we separate ourselves from "the deceitful and the hypocrites" . . . from the "evildoers and the wicked" . . . from the "sinners and the bloodthirsty."

[It's amazing to me that in the many references to this kind of separation in the Old Testament, there is never a hint that the pray-er considers that he/she might also have deceitfulness or hypocrisy, sinfulness or scheming within his/her heart. Apparently it never occurs to them that it could be "in here;" rather, the evil and wickedness is always "out there."]

For many years I carried around this idea of holiness. I thought this is what God wanted from people, that we be separated from the world, that we "stand apart" from the "real world," that a holy life was a life that was pure and clean and completely unassociated with anything impure.

To be sure, there was a significant period of my life when I needed to have this view of life. There was a season when, for my own spiritual, mental and emotional health, I had to stop going into certain situations and I had to stop spending time with the people I had been spending time with. I was not strong enough to say my, "No!" to self-destruction and to the ways I would then destroy others. And that season lasted quite a long time for me.

So I cannot say that this view of holiness is completely misguided. There are times when we must be separate or set apart, or else we'll get eaten alive by all the destructive forces that live within us and in the world. Psalm 26 has its place.

BUT . . . but this is not the final stopping place of spirituality and life with God. Ultimately, holiness is not determined by how clean and morally pure and separate you remain from the world. The goal of the spiritual life is not separation from the world (as I once believed), but engaging the world from a new Center, with a heart that is being shaped by God's Spirit.

It may be one part of the path to stand apart from that which keeps us blind, that which keeps us mired in self-deceit. The movement of the spiritual life, though, does not necessarily lead us to cloister ourselves away from the world. It leads us to be in the world, living from a God-center, pouring into the world the healing, mercy and redeeming work with which God is shaping us.

In an introductory class on spiritual formation, I've offered this basic definition of spirituality: a deepening connection with God that makes a difference in our relationships with God, self, others, and the world. We make a difference by engagement, not separation.

After all, the goal of life with God is union, the coming together of the human person and the entire human family with God . . . and in the process, the coming together of all people and all of creation.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What It Takes To Be Happy

As the season of Lent came this year, I didn't have any strong impressions about a Lenten discipline to follow. Many years ago I would engage in some kind of fast through the season, by not eating certain foods or by a total fast for certain days of each week.

In more recent years, I've taken to fasting emotional reactions and personal quirks . . . one year I tried to fast anger, another year I fasted judging others. While I found that those emotional responses arose so quickly and unimpeded within me that I couldn't completely govern them, I came to see that God's invitation to me through those "fasts" was to notice the anger or the judgment when it rose up within me. So the fasting became an exercise in awareness, paying attention more closely to my interior landscape. Those were humbling fasts. I saw that I couldn't go without anger or judgment, for example, but could pray for the grace to notice them when they arose.

This year I came to Ash Wednesday not feeling strongly invited into any particular practice. About a week into Lent, I heard the word, "patience."

"Oh no," was my first thought. Well, truthfully, my reaction was quite a bit stronger than that, but I won't put it out there in this blogpost.

I know from experience that prayers for patience most always are accompanied by life-circumstances designed to stretch and test patience. A wise elder said to me one time, "Don't ever pray for patience unless you are really sure you want it, and you're willing to go through what is necessary to have it." I've never forgotten her counsel. After 80-plus years, she knew from experience the difficult road to patience.

For me last month, though, "patience" was just the first invitation I heard. Within a couple of days, what started as "patience" had become "perseverance" and "endurance." Yep, I know . . . even worse than patience!

But I had the clear impression that for Lent I was to live with perseverance and endurance. The words literally suggest bearing up underneath a heavy weight, or remaining under a weight without trying to run away or escape.

These were challenging words for me. I like to keep options open. I like to know there are escape hatches if things get too heavy or too difficult. If things aren't going well in one place, I like having the freedom to move to something else. Perhaps I'm not alone there.

For this season, though, I felt invited to bear up under the difficulties and tensions, to hold them and bear their weight, rather than run away from them. These were not words I was thrilled to hear, but it was what I felt was offered to me through Lent.

In the weeks since that invitation first unfolded for me, the words have continued to evolve. For example, it has become apparent that often I have made my well-being dependent on fixing the difficult or trying things in my outer world . . . or else, escaping them.

The corollary is that if things aren't fixed or healed or righted as I would like, I convince myself that life cannot be good. It's really faulty thinking, and it makes me want all the brokenness fixed and the dysfunction healed . . . or else I will run away and escape it somehow.

Perseverance and endurance are my invitations to live underneath difficult circumstances, and to engage life so that my well-being is not dependent on the difficulty going away or being fixed.

For instance, my well-being is not dependent on my health clearing up and the lymphoma going away. That healing may happen, but it also may not happen.

So the questions for me are not, "How can I fix this?" or "How can I make this right or better?" or "Where will I escape to if this doesn't turn around?"

Rather, the questions are, "How can I stay faithfully engaged with God and life while in this place?" and "In what ways am I invited to live my God-designed life even in these difficulties?"

It is now the fifth week of Lent . . . and these things are still unfolding for me. I don't sense that they will be completely resolved by Easter . . . this feels like ongoing work.

So for now I try to hold the questions, and to do so with endurance and perseverance.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Survival in a Spiritual Wilderness

I was asked to give a talk last weekend on surviving in a spiritual wilderness. While I was able to lean into a couple of biblical stories related to wilderness, much of what I had to say came out of my own experience of God in the wilderness.

It may be appropriate to lean into the post-Exodus wandering of Moses and the children of Israel through the wilderness . . . a wandering that included God's provision of manna and quail, water from a rock, and the Ten Words (Decalogue or Ten Commandments) . . . but a wandering that also included complaining and grumbling (literally, "murmuring") to God about their situation in the desert. This wilderness period of the children of Israel lasted 40 years before they entered the Promised Land.

Also, it may be appropriate to lean into Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness immediately after his baptism, those days of fasting and prayer and going through the refining of wilderness. Note that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness (find it in Luke 4:1 - 13), so this was not some evil machination that was contrary to God's design for him. Wilderness is a time to engage God and to find resources for life, and it was in the wilderness that Jesus experienced the depths of his identity in God as the beloved of God, the delight of God's heart.

Spiritual wilderness is a fact of life for those who undertake the spiritual journey. In fact, journey can be a helpful metaphor for the spiritual life, as it suggests movement and change. And that movement will lead us -- most often unwillingly -- into wilderness. There are some things that happen to us in the wilderness that we keep at arms length the rest of the time.

The idea of wilderness may seem foreign to you, but if we used some other words for it, you might more easily find your connection . . . dry, arid, lost, lack of resources, scarcity, sparse . . . you see what I mean. Who among us has not described their spiritual state as "dry" or "arid"? If you have never used those words, at some point you will.

We need, then, to demystify the wilderness and to consider how we might survive -- and thrive -- in it. Last weekend I offered five touchpoints for discovering the wisdom offered in spiritual wilderness.

1. The goal in a spiritual wilderness is not to escape the wilderness, but to be faithful in it.

"Escape" is the first thing that comes to most of us. We experience dryness or the feeling of being disoriented. The spiritual practices that at one time brought good feelings and consolations no longer produce those same feelings. We sense that we are in a desert, and we want to be fruitful again. We want out of the wilderness.

But God did not let Moses and the children of Israel out of the wilderness until they were ready for the Promised Land.

Jesus in the wilderness did not try to escape from his 40-day experience. In fact, that he was led into this experience by the Spirit suggests that there was a larger, divine plan in it.

In the wilderness, the songs that used to move you no longer move you.

You worship and feel nothing.

Sermons are stale and dry.

Your prayer is monotonous.

The things you've done in the past are no longer "working".

Your "felt experience of God" has shriveled up.

The first impulse is to escape, to return things to the way they used to be. Instead, the wilderness invites us to engage God where we are, to stay connected to God in a way that helps us stay open to whatever God is doing within us in the wilderness.

2. Our honest speech about the wilderness is the groundwork of prayer.

The beginning place of prayer is dialogue with God about how life really is with us, not how it should be or how we think it is with someone else. We tell God how we really feel.

"This is where I am, God," and, "This is how I feel about it."

Prayer begins in honesty. "God, I'm dry right now." "God, I don't feel a thing." "God, I don't know where I am right now." "God, I don't want to be here."

Remember, the goal is not to change the situation, but to stay engaged with God in the midst of the situation. To be sure, the way we feel is not necessarily reality, but the beginning of prayer is honesty about what we feel.

3. To survive in the wilderness, you have to be willing to let go of extra baggage you are carrying.

In a literal desert, you can't pack heavy and survive. You cannot carry enough in your backpack to cover every contingency. If you do pack heavy, you'll have to jettison some things to survive.

If that is truth in the literal wilderness, it is also true in the spiritual wilderness. It's why Jesus' time in the wilderness was a time for fasting. Fasting is literally a time for letting go of some things we've carried into the wilderness.

In fact, one of the gifts of spiritual wilderness is that you see there are some things that do you no good there. You learn to hold onto what is necessary, to what is essential, and to let go of the rest.

For example, in a literal wilderness your checkbook does you no good. It doesn't matter how many accolades you've received, or how much education you have . . . how much stock you have or what your retirement account looks like . . . how much you've achieved or what other people think about you. None of that will help you survive the stark conditions of wilderness.

In my own experience of spiritual wilderness, I've found that some of the things I've believed about myself don't really work. Some of the things I've believed about God don't help me survive. Some of my assumptions about life and what it takes to be happy really aren't relevant.

The wilderness is a time to see what is essential and let go of what is not.

4. There is no such thing as "lost" in the wilderness.

You may not know where you are, and you may not be comfortable not knowing where you are, and you may not be able to find yourself on a map, but wherever you are is a place, too. Wilderness does not give in to your "need-to-know."

My poetry from times of personal wilderness reflects this. During one time of wilderness dryness and lostness a few years ago, I wrote these lines:

lost is a place, too
the place from which
you take the next risky steps
into your life

From that same period of my life, I wrote this in another poem:

sometimes you have to get off the map
to find your way
through cloud and darkness

We may not be where we planned to be, or where we would like to be, but what feels like "lost" to us is actually working something much larger and significant in us. It may feel terrible, but we are learning that we are somewhere, and that where we are right now is the only place in which we can encounter God.

5. Most of what you need to survive in the wilderness is already inside you.

This, I believe, is the essence of what happened with Jesus when he went into the wilderness directly from his baptism. In baptism his identity was confirmed by God, the heavens opened and he experienced the coming together of his vocation with everything around him. The world and his calling all merged in his identity. Then he went directly into the wilderness, where the fasting and temptations were the contexts in which he began to live out of and into his own deepest truth and reality. This is who he was in God, who God had created him to be.

Wherever you are, at a soul-level you are already connected deeply to God. No matter what life feels like around you, you are tethered to God. At crucial times in the wilderness, the wisdom is: “You already know what to do.” You simply have to learn to uncover and listen to the wisdom that God’s Spirit speaks within you.

We might call this the work of God's Spirit within us. Quaker spirituality calls it the Inner Voice, Inner Light, Inner Wisdom, or Inner Truth . . . all ways Quakers speak of the Holy Spirit mingling with our souls. In the Quaker's language, then, our challenge in the wilderness is learning to “listen to our life” or to “let our life speak.”

As we learn to listen for this wisdom and to trust it, we will allow God to use the spiritual wilderness to shape us.

The wilderness is essential to experience the fullness of who God created us to be.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Feast of St. Patrick . . . A Day Later

March 17 is the traditional feast day for St. Patrick, the 5th-century priest known for shamrocks and evangelizing the Irish. Many folks find his feast day, coming in the middle of Lent, a welcome break from the rigors of the penitential season. For example, traditionally the Church has discouraged consumption of alcohol during the observance of Lent; yet, those restrictions are typically lifted for the Feast of St. Patrick. His day is cause for celebration far beyond Ireland, where he has come to be recognized as the patron saint.

His story, in over-simplified form, is extraordinary. As a British youth, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and held captive in Ireland. After escaping to a boat bound for Britain, he returned home and studied for the priesthood. Later as a bishop, he heard God ask him to return to Ireland as a missionary to bring Christ to the Irish people. So in a remarkable turn-around, he took Christ to the very people who had enslaved him.

Philip Newell has written often and well of Celtic spirituality. He is the former warden of Iona Abbey on the Isle of Iona in Scotland.

[Iona is the place where, a few years after Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland, St. Columba is said to have landed in his small coracle, bringing Christianity from Ireland to Scotland.]

In his book, Christ of the Celts, Newell tells an intriguing story about Patrick that comes from Irish tradition.

This is how Newell writes the story:

There is the wonderful story of Saint Patrick on the Day of Judgment that comes down to us in the oral tradition of ancient Irish legend. Patrick is summoned to the One, in whose presence the sound of all living things can be heard and whose voice is like the flowing waters of every river. When the message is conveyed to Patrick, he responds by saying, "I will not come unless all my people may come with me." Again Patrick is summoned, and again he responds, "I will not come unless all my people may come with me." A third time Patrick is summoned, and a third time he declines. So finally the One seated on the throne at the heart of the universe says, "Tell Patrick to come, and he may come with all his people, but there is one thing Patrick must do." And there the story ends. We are not told what Patrick must do, but we know that whatever it is, he will do it so that all his people may come with him.

[J. Philip Newell, Christ of the Celts: The Healing of Creation (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008), 26 - 27.]

I am drawn to the story. I don't know why yet. I've read it a number of times over the last few weeks. I've imagined it in different ways.

Most difficult of all, I've tried to imagine myself in Patrick's place. What would I have said and done? I don't yet know.

But as the Patrick offered himself to the Irish in forgiveness and love, and as the Irish have shared the life and legend of Patrick with the world, and as Philip Newell has shared this extraordinary story with his readers, now I share it with you.

I hope you'll receive it as the gift of St. Patrick.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Fixed Points

Everyone believes something. And we all have belief systems in things that are vast and beyond us. Even those who claim not to believe in God have some kind of belief-system in something that functions for them as god. Everyone gives the authority of a god to something or someone. In that sense, there really are no a-theists, that is, those who are without a god.

Whatever our ideas about God (or gods), and how the world is ordered, and what life is really all about, these things we believe tend to get firmly fixed within us. Especially the really big matters in life tend to get settled in our minds. After all, we couldn't stand to live day-to-day with a whole lot of life shifting like sand.

You can often notice what these fixed points are by paying attention to what a person resists. Even more, if you'll notice what makes a person angry, you can get even closer to what someone holds close in their belief.

[It's pretty interesting that most of us can see this in others much more clearly than we can see it in ourselves. We can notice the resistance of a friend or family member to a certain idea, but never see that same resistance within ourselves. Or we can notice their anger when a certain topic is mentioned, but never connect the dots in our own lives. I'm just sayin' . . .]

Very often our anger flares up when something or someone challenges these fixed points within us. It must be one of our human methods for defending our inner territory, the sacred ground of our fixed points.

In Luke 4:24 - 30, when Jesus reminded the people of the synagogue of two accounts in the Hebrew Scriptures in which God extended mercy, generosity and healing to foreigners (non-Israelites), the crowd flew up in a rage. They became so furious at how closely his words touched them, that they wanted to kill him.

Luke 4:24 - 30

“Truly I tell you,” he continued, “prophets are not accepted in their hometowns. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

One of their fixed points (a national value, it seems) was that, "God loves us and takes care of us, but isn't on the side of the foreigner (Gentile)." By using the examples of the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian, Jesus challenged their fixed beliefs. In anger, they sought to kill him.

I am concerned that too much of contemporary religious expression is about having more and more fixed points. That is, we tend to think of spiritual maturity as having more and more of life -- and God -- nailed down to where a person knows the answers and eliminates any mystery or ambiguity from life. We settle all the issues. We don't allow for any questions to be unanswered. We want to be sure to speak about certainties. And we imagine that this is "spiritual growth."

Actually, it's a very juvenile spirituality.

A growing spirituality does not settle more and more of the issues -- a "settler" is someone who stops moving, stops exploring, stops walking the path in favor of "settling down" in one place, fixating who he or she is in that single space -- but rather is able to live with open hands. A growing spirituality does not need to have all the questions and issues resolved. The person who is growing in faith can live with mystery and not-knowing. After all, if it is "knowing with certainty" we're about, then we have very little faith. Faith is not "what we know;" rather, it is what we trust, even as we live in a cloud or in the darkness of not-knowing.

And besides, the consistent testimony of the Bible is that God's ways and God's mind are far beyond ours.

This sort of open-handed spiritual presence recognizes that my ideas about life and God and Reality are simply that . . . my ideas. They may be my final answer, but they are not THE FINAL ANSWER. As I experience God at ever-deeper levels of my being, then I can shift how I perceive God, how I enter more fully into life. I don't need to cling to some fixed point and get angry when someone challenges it. I can be open to new revelations of God, new understandings of God that stretch me and grow me. Clinging to my fixed points in anger simply keeps me in the small space where I currently live.

I think of it this way: God may not be evolving . . . but my understanding, comprehension, and experience of God is always evolving.

For me, the corollary involves the institutional Church, or organized religious expression. The job of the Institution is not to tell you what is true and then be sure you adhere to it. The role of the Church is not to provide you with a list of fixed points to believe conceptually -- though that's what the Church has most often done all throughout her history.

The role of the body of Christ is to provide a safe setting in which you can explore and grow and come into your God-designed wholeness, so that your life can be about the wholeness of the world. You have to explore for yourself and discover for yourself Who God is . . . and What is at the Heart of the world. You should not simply believe me, or anyone else. You have to make this your own journey, your own exploration.

Sadly, in her history the Church has rarely provided this kind of setting. More often, she has given us a list of fixed points, then said to us, "Here you go. Now, go and believe these." That may be the single largest reason the Church has had so little healing impact on the world.

Thankfully -- and gladly -- some dissenting, mystical voices have arisen through the centuries, to give us another message, encouraging us on in our exploration, admonishing us to not "settle" too soon, giving us another vision of life and God that may yet transform the world.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Yesterday's Leftovers

I'm posting a daily thought for Lent at another blogsite that I call A Daily Lent:

I read and pray with the scripture passage for the day, notice which verse or two draws my attention, then write a brief reflection about it. On some days, it means drawing out a single verse from the eight verses or so of the primary text.

The reading for yesterday was Luke 6:36 - 38. I posted a meditation based on verse 36 at A Daily Lent. I was also drawn to verse 38, so I offer those thoughts to you here as "Yesterday's Leftovers":

Luke 6:38

The measure you give will be the measure you get back.

Jesus did not advocate a tit-for-tat, quid pro quo relationship with God, in which we give from the motivation that we'll get more back in return. That may fit the technical definition of giving, but it is really a disguised self-interest. It feels like manipulation or "working the system."

In the city where I grew up, a noted television evangelist came up with a plan to both raise money for his ministry, and to bless people who gave the money. He called it "Seed Faith Giving," and the premise was that if you gave to his ministry (and thus to God), God would multiply that amount back to you. In short, for people young and old who followed the evangelist, it became a method for getting rich. If you gave sacrificially of your wealth, God would return to you many times over the amount you gave.

The plan appealed to folks who wanted to get ahead. It included elements of faith and belief and sacrifice . . . but mostly, the plan appealed to the desire of people for wealth, health and prosperity. It was a religious-sounding strategy for increasing wealth.

I don't think Jesus was interested in the way we twist the scriptures to make them about our pleasure or success. It is certainly not the spirit of this passage. Jesus was simply stating a spiritual truth, a fact-of-life in the realm of Spirit.

This fact-of-life is that God's nature is to spend God's Self on the world, to give and give and give . . . and in all that giving, to never be depleted. In the economy of God, giving does not diminish; rather, it replenishes.

To change the image, it's as if God spend and spends and spends out of a vast reservoir of goodness, yet the "water-level" of that reservoir never goes down. The reservoir is always full. That's how it is with God.

So when one gives or spends what one has, there is always more to spend or give. Those who are connected to God, who draw their life from God, are also connected to this endless Source. It has nothing to do with money, wealth and prosperity. It has everything to do with spending God-seed on the world . . . love, mercy, graciousness, forgiveness. When we spend, we always have more to spend.

This is how God is. This is what God's people are like.

At the moment we keep or hoard what we have, the cycle is broken, and that person ceases to be a conduit into which goodness can be given. But if you spend, you'll have even more to spend.

This is a spiritual principle. It's not economics. It's Spirit.

Friday, March 2, 2012

I, the Pursued: From Psalm 7

Psalm 7:1 - 10

LORD my God, I take refuge in you;
save and deliver me from all who pursue me,
or they will tear me apart like a lion
and rip me to pieces with no one to rescue me.

LORD my God, if I have done this
and there is guilt on my hands—
if I have repaid my ally with evil
or without cause have robbed my foe—
then let my enemy pursue and overtake me;
let him trample my life to the ground
and make me sleep in the dust.

Arise, LORD, in your anger;
rise up against the rage of my enemies.
Awake, my God; decree justice.
Let the assembled peoples gather around you,
while you sit enthroned over them on high.
Let the LORD judge the peoples.
Vindicate me, LORD, according to my righteousness,
according to my integrity, O Most High.
Bring to an end the violence of the wicked
and make the righteous secure—
you, the righteous God
who probes minds and hearts.

My shield is God Most High,
who saves the upright in heart.

As in many of the Hebrew Psalms, Psalm 7 has a clear-cut idea about good and bad, about who is righteous and who is evil. It is attributed to David, who apparently is praying about one of his adversaries. As such, it is what I would call a "warrior prayer," that is, a prayer that God would "take up the cause of right" and "slay those who are enemies."

I wonder if Cush, the Benjamite who apparently was the object of David's prayer here, was praying this same kind of prayer about David? You see, don't you, how round and round it can go.

When I prayed through the psalm today, my first questions were, "And what battles am I engaged in? What pursues me, threatening to overtake me? What waits to tear me into pieces, to dismember my soul and separate me from my self?"

My prayer was aimed a little differently than David's. I'm not in the kind of physical battle that seeks to "slay the wicked" -- or whoever opposes me. The battle that I wage is spiritual, much more interior.

So I began to pray about those things within me that "pursue" me, the interior "enemies" that chase me and want to have all of me. As I prayed, I wrote in my journal about them . . .

**the starving ego that manifests as an inner voice that will not stand being deprived of attention;

**a relentless perfectionism that makes even small projects and tasks massive undertakings;

**the ongoing guilt of having others give good gifts to me, and then the compulsion to try to "repay" in some form -- usually by over-extending myself;

**flimsy boundaries and an unrealistic appraisal of my own limitations;

**the false names and deceiving images that I live into without question; the many roles and identities that I take to be my life apart from the real essence that lives at my core.

Later in the psalm, David asks God to slay his enemies, to take a whet sword to them, to bend a bow toward them, to shoot flaming arrows at them.

I wondered if that is really what I want . . . for God to obliterate them, to wipe them out from within me.

I decided that complete annihilation is not what I want. Certainly, I don't want these pursuing enemies to have free reign over me, but I also acknowledge that they are a part of my humanity, a part of my "dust pocket," a part of what it means for me to be "not-God". I didn't ask God to judge them or kill them or do any of the things David wanted done to Cush.

I did ask God to love them, and to love me in them. I asked God to love my starving ego and my relentless perfectionism and my ongoing guilt and my limitations and my false names. I want God to love them into wholeness. I don't need violence done to these parts of me. These parts of Jerry need to be saturated in God's love. They need to experience the intimacy of mercy. They need to know the self-giving of generosity.

And further, I need to be able to stand on the dust, with all these flaws and enemies pursuing me, and know that even as they live within me, I'm still loved through and through by a Source and a Generosity and a Mercy more expansive than I can possibly comprehend.

The psalm was a good one today. I'm glad to have found myself in it.