The wonder of humbling surprises...

One of the totally  unexpected encounters of this sabbatical involves Lucie. She is a dear friend, a totally neurotic whack-job, an unintentional spiritual mentor, a bright and playful dog and the source of great delight and distress often all too close to one another. Yes, she is oh so slowly adjusting to the urban groove of Montreal. Of course, she continues to follow our cues and rhythms re: life and engagement with the world (read: she likes to sleep late and take the morning hours slowly, too.) And without a doubt, I am glad she is part of this adventure. 

What I wasn't prepared for, however, are my reactions to her "freak-outs!" She is so strong and wild when startled - and so easily wigged-out - that she can knock you down, pull you out into on-coming traffic or worse all in the wink of an eye.  Now, having emerged from within the chaos and violence of a family afflicted with alcoholism, I've done my share of work when it comes to "letting go and letting God." My default position when I feel threatened, you see, is stark, irrational and overwhelming panic. My chosen path of resolving this terror was to use whatever tools were necessary - my strength, my words, my imagination, my voice, my position or my anger - to beat the chaos into submission. In those moments, I would fight my way into some measure of quiet and control as quickly as possible. 

As they say in the 12 Step movement, there was probably a good reason why at one point in time we learned our particular ways of regaining a measure of stability from within the chaos. They served us well in their time, but now they have lost their usefulness. Now they have become part of the pain we bring to others and ourselves. Like Bob Dylan sang: Oh, you can read out your Bible, you can fall down on your knees, pretty mama and pray to the Lord but it ain’t gonna do no good. You’re gonna need, you’re gonna need my help someday. So if you can’t quit your sinnin’ won't you please quit your low down ways!

The only problem is that we can't quit our low down ways without God's help. Once we've grown sick and tired of being sick and tired, once we've grown weary of exhausting ourselves and wounding those we love over and over, once we've discovered we need the love and grace of God to restore sanity and health to our lives because our best efforts keep failing: THEN we are ready to have God remove our "defects of character." But we have to let God take her own sweet and sacred time with this healing process. Otherwise, we're just trying to clean ourselves up by our own efforts like in the past. And... if you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got. God's ways - and time table - are not ours; they are true and right, but they do not correspond to anything linear or rushed.

Working the steps for the past 15 years has taught me a lot. God's grace in my life has done
much to cleanse and renew my wounds, too. I dare say, much of my fear of chaos has been diminished - especially when it comes to those I love or those I serve in my community of faith - and for the most part I know a measure of inner peace. But apparently part of that old demon is still within me - and Lucie not only exposes my inner terror but evokes it when she freaks out. Clearly, God is neither finished with me yet nor fully ready to remove this defect. Richard Rohr puts it like this:

Nothing just goes away in the spiritual world; al must be reconciled and accounted for. All healers are wounded healers as Henri Nouwen said so well. There is no other kind. In fact, you are often most gifted to heal others precisely where you yourself were wounded or wounded others... You learn to salve the wounds of others by knowing and remembering how much it hurts to hurt. Often this memory comes from the realization of your past smallness and immaturity, your selfishness, your false victimhood and your cruel victimization of others. It is painful to recall and admit, yet this is also the grace of lamenting and grieving over how we have hurt others.

To see and feel Lucie's terror is heart-breaking. To know she can do nothing about it - yet - is unnerving. And to know that she triggers my inner fear and rage is revolting to me in the most humbling way. Without a doubt, the time has come to renew my prayers to God to remove this defect within me so that I can be compassionate and helpful to her. Rohr reminds me of something important:  You have to let God reveal your real faults to you (usually by failing and falling many times!); and then allow God to removed those faults from his side and in God's way. For if you go after them with an angry stick, all you will be left with is just an angry stick - and the same faults at a deeper level of disguise and denial.

For years I was ashamed of my fears. A lot of men are saturated with shame and must learn to both open themselves to another trusted helper about this shame and let God and others love them through it. That has certainly been my reality. Like the young Buddha in Herman Hesse's Siddhartha, over and over again we find ourselves back at the same place in front of the same river. We've changed - we've ripened, healed, resisted and matured - and yet we still find ourselves standing if from of that same damn wound again. Only this time, we face it at a deeper level. Surrender and letting go becomes a way of life, yes?

And so it begins again for me - at another level - as we both learn to face and embrace her anxiety and my fear. Right now Lucie needs to be distracted about every two steps - it is a constant discipline - because other wise she flips out. She is not aggressive or harsh; she is terrified. And I know what that feels like within myself. She cowers and I want to go on the offensive. What a pair! But it is clear to me that in God's own time, God has brought us together so that together we might become a little more sane and loving. "All religion must become flesh," Rohr writes, "otherwise it is merely Platonic idealism instead of Jesus' radicalism." 

For the past few days we've been walking quietly - with tons of verbal distractions for her as part of my walking meditation - and she's done reasonably well. She still HATES buses and motorcycles - and we've discovered that 9:30 pm is a most excellent time for an uninterrupted stroll - but we're both starting to get the hang of this as we learn from one another. Maybe by the time three months has passed, we'll be a little more at peace.
On another front, we've been in  la merveilleuse ville de Montréal for a full week and I dare say we're starting to find a rhythm. We walk a lot. We get up late. We eat way less than before. And we walk Lucie as often as we can. Tomorrow, Sunday, I am hoping we get to worship in St. James United Church of Canada. It is a massive building on Ste. Catherine close to La Place des Arts that I've wanted to visit for eight years. If not tomorrow, soon n'est-ce pas? And next week, we'll start a more "ordered" way of being with bass practice, morning Psalms, heading out into our various disciplines (me to the archives at the Jazz Festival; Di to a photo shoot) and walking through new and as yet undiscovered neighborhoods. 

Last night we spent three hours schlepping through a street fair on Mount Royal. I found two
gorgeous children's books for Louie - and a new leather wrist bracelet for me. Three street dancers on in-line roller skates were a highlight as they "ice danced on the concrete" to the improvised sound of their accompanist on cello. Di got some sweet shots of street art, too. And then we slept until nearly 11:30 am! As you might imagine, we are moving oh so slowly today and won't do much besides buy some dog food, take Lucie on another walk and stop by the grocery store. 

As we were getting ready to call it a day, I mentioned that "It is starting to dawn on me that we are really NOT here on vacation. This is a lengthy sabbatical." For the past eight years we've headed to Montreal each summer for varying lengths: sometimes it was a week for the Francofolies (French songfest), once it was for a long weekend to see Cinematic Orchestra and often it has been for 2-3 weeks around the time of the Jazz Festival. During those times, just as earlier at the start of the sabbatical in NYC, I felt like I had to DO everything I could. I didn't want to waste what little time we had. So, I often stayed out too late, went to too many places and while I had a ball, I didn't rest. This is different. This is ALL about rest... (and maybe the bass, too.)

So we don't have to rush about. Or stay out too late. Or cram 100 things into a week. We can nap. And walk, wander and wonder as the Spirit moves us. And that is starting to take root. Last night I had the strangest dream: I was invited into a large room, given a Jewish prayer shawl and asked to join in a conversation about one passage of the Babylonian Talmud. (NOTE: Ok, I've been reading a LOT of Amy-Jill Levine of late...) The passage - something just of my sleeping mind, ok? - had something to do with a goat and being surprised. (I mean no offense.) 

As the Talmudic rabbis - male and female - discussed this, they started to tell each other ancient stories about when surprises took place in the Scriptures:  the birth of Issac, the tragedy of exile, the wonder of Exodus and the truth that G-d's ways are not our ways. I was fascinated by the depth and detail of their creativity - and memory. I was humbled to be welcomed into this intimate Biblical conversation. And I was eager to learn. This morning I googled "goat" in the Jewish tradition because I wasn't making any connections and came up with:  shofar, sacrifice, scapegoat, Rosh haShanah and Yom Kippur, teshuvah and repentance.

Hmmmm... this is going to be a time of many surprises



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