Tag Archives: Gerald May

Love’s pure light, radiant, beams from thy holy face

On Christmas Eve we will sing the mystery again with the song everyone knows and no one knows completely: Silent Night. A later verse that needs some concentration includes this line sung to the child Mary is holding: “Son of God, love’s pure light, radiant, beams from thy holy face  with the dawn of redeeming grace.”

That line reminds me of a couple of lines from William Blake that have meant a lot to me:

And we are put on earth a little space
That we might learn to bear the beams of love. William Blake

Bear the Beams of Love — Mary Southard

Awaken our hearts, Lord

Gerald May talks about Blake and the radiant beams of love in a book that has been important to me:

“I think William Blake was right about the purpose of humanity; we are here to learn to bear the beams of love. There are three meanings of bearing love: to endure it, to carry it, and to bring it forth. In the first, we are meant to grow in our capacity to endure love’s beauty and pain. In the second, we are meant to carry love and spread it around, as children carry laughter and measles. And in the third we are meant to bring new love into the world, to be birthers of love. This is the threefold nature of our longing….

Choosing love will open spaces of immense beauty and joy for you, but you will be hurt. You already know this. You have retreated from love countless times in your life because of it. We all have. We have been and will be hurt by the loss of loved ones, by what they have done to us and we to them. Even in the bliss of love there is a certain exquisite pain: the pain of too much beauty, of overwhelming magnificence. Further, no matter how perfect a love may be, it is never really satisfied. The very fulfillment of a desire sparks our passion for more; sooner or later we discover a deepened yearning within what felt like satisfaction. Even in their beauty, the beams of love can often seem too much to bear.” Gerald May in The Awakened Heart

Advent has me signing up for getting hurt again. Who’s with me?

Love is a lot to bear

I will have a lot of resolutions on my list, again, for 2015. Some of them will be the same as last year. But at the top of the list, I think I might put, “Suffer.” I mean, suffer with Jesus, the Son of God who is love.

I don’t mean that in some grandiose way, as if I were Jesus. I just want to use the capability I have, born of the capacity the Lord has patiently enlarged in my heart over years of loving me.

Oh yes, I want our church to operate effectively. I want to be successful in all the great plans we have made. I want to make good investments in buildings and business. I want to use our money efficiently. I don’t want to waste a minute. But we can do most of that and just get tired and irritable. We can do a lot of that with further arguments about justice. We can do a lot of that by exercising power and leveraging guilt and fear.

I want to act out of my heart connected to the heart of it all. I want to stay vulnerable to what Gerald May called “our passion for more…a deepened yearning within what felt like satisfaction.” That will cost us. But, at the end of the year, I want to have invested the year in eternity and to have experienced eternity invested in the year. The beams of love are shining. I want to bear them.

Disentangling from Addiction

When Jesus spent his “Lent” in the desert, I think he went into the wilderness to face the utter absence of anything that was familiar, to experience being saved in his vulnerability before he went back into a world fraught with attachments.

Old Foss Cemetery
Old Foss Cemetery

When I was pondering this after Ash Wednesday, I had a surprising image come up in my mind. I remembered visiting western Oklahoma with my family, the very towns in which my father grew up. Receiving that image was almost like the Holy Spirit drawing me back into the wilderness of my father’s life and the emptiness from which I came. My mind went back to the time we stood in Old Foss Cemetery. Our steps on the brittle grass invaded the hush as we explored. My father found a family plot enclosed by an old iron fence. The rusty gate creaked in the wind as big black storm clouds blew in. The place was silent, desolate, and I felt the ache of my silent, desolate  father. I felt his unmet yearning. I still feel his yearning like I felt my unmet yearning for him. I think Jesus was feeling that absence and yearning in the desert.

I think Jesus was in the wilderness to experience the yearning all people feel and to enter the ache of their wilderness, the pain of their emptiness. And in that vulnerable place he was tempted by the devil like we all are. He went there to do battle, like we all are doing battle in our most vulnerable places where we long to attach, to be loved and to love. Most of us will do almost anything to avoid going to that hurting place, so the devil often wins the battle because we don’t even show up.

Cross at St. Andrew's Abbey, Valyermo
Cross at St. Andrew’s Abbey, Valyermo

I have been to the geographic desert many times to try to show up, to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Not too long ago Gwen and I made a return visit to St. Andrews Abbey in Valyermo where Gwen, especially, had some significant experiences of grace as she battled her temptations with Jesus.  For most of us, spending time in the geographic desert can be rare. Our geographic deserts mostly take the form of temporary, silent, solitude in a simple yet comfortable retreat center or hermitage. For everyone, however, the desert of the heart remains unchanged. And we can visit it anytime we dare. It is not comfortable. I have visited parts in me that are like a desolate, abandoned graveyard in Oklahoma.

The New Testament accounts of Jesus’ forty days of temptation in the wilderness are an intentional parallel to the Hebrews’ forty years of exodus. Lent is an intentional parallel to both. We are led into the desert by the Holy Spirit. There, while hungry and vulnerable, we are tempted by Satan. The three temptations Satan offers Jesus are all about desire, about yearning, and we will meet those same kinds of temptations ourselves. Because everybody has an inborn desire for God, whether you are consciously religious or not. This yearning is our deepest longing and our most precious treasure. Some of us have repressed this desire under so many competing interests and fears that we are mostly unaware of it. Or we may experience it as a longing for wholeness, completion or fulfillment of our potential. Regardless of how we describe it, it is a longing for love. We hunger to love and to be loved and to move closer to the Source of love. This yearning is the essence of what people call the human spirit. It is the origin of humanity’s highest hopes and dreams.  (Read Gerald May’s Addiction and Grace, please).

We describe this desire as God given. So Paul says in Romans 5: “We boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” The Bible is full of people yearning for God and God yearning for his people. Because in an outpouring of love God created us and planted the seeds of this desire for love and loving in us. Then God nurtured this desire in us toward fulfillment of the two great commandments: Love God with all your heart soul mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.

But something gets in the way of God’s desire. We don’t fulfill the commandments even when we want to. We are usurped by forces that are not loving; we are captured. Our desires get repressed and stifled. Repression is one thing, but something even worse happens, our desire attaches to something or someone other than God, something other than true love. We get addicted.

Addiction enslaves the energy of desire to specific behaviors, things or people. The objects of attachments become preoccupations and obsessions; they come to rule our lives. They become gods. The psychological, neurological, and spiritual dynamics of addiction are actively at work in every human being. The same processes that are responsible for addiction to alcohol and narcotics are also responsible for addictions to ideas, work, relationships, power , moods, fantasies and so on.

The temptations that the devil presents to Jesus in the wilderness or to us in our wilderness, in the  emptiness we choose or the emptiness in which we are stuck, or which we inherited, all have to do with desires being attached, being nailed to something else.

Throughout these temptations, Satan was hoping Jesus’ desire in his vulnerable state would lead him to attach it to meeting his own needs, using his own power, or relying on the material world. Satan was trying to lure Jesus into the “I can handle it” trap, and Jesus could have handled it. But instead of giving in to the massive power of temptations to convince him to attach to something other than His true self in the love of God, Jesus stood firm in his own freedom, in his faith and in grace.

Jesus was truly vulnerable, but the way he responded to Satan’s temptations reveals how people attached to God get through their deserts and get home. 1) He stood firm. He met the adversary, faced the temptation, and did not run away or rationalize. 2) He acted with strength: he claimed and used his free will with dignity. 3) He did not use his freedom willfully. None of his responses to Satan were even his own autonomous creation. He relied upon the truth that had already been revealed in love by quoting from the Torah. We are all working on being that free every day.

We go off into our wilderness of Lent to keep practicing being free, because we are still tempted. What’s more, like me realizing at a very young age out on a hill in Oklahoma, I have an emptiness in me yearning to attach and I need to be careful about what it latches on to.

It is an uncomfortable process to not merely avoid the pain. We have a proverb around Circle of Hope that speaks to that: We are all recovering from the sin addiction, expect conflict.

Recovering causes problems. It puts us in conflict with the whole society, which has notable addictions, en masse. I think, in general, the nation is addicted to fear, to carbon-based everything, to narcissism, to war, to radical self-reliance — even for poor people who aren’t allowed to be self-reliant, to freedom based on earning power. We live in a wilderness we did not choose in so many ways.

There is going to be trouble every day. As if where we live was not tempatation enough, we all have our own personal drugs. Some are substances or habits like alcohol or sugar or painkillers or porn or Facebook. Some of them we don’t even see as addictions yet, because our desires are so trained by them, we are so enthralled to them, that they just seem like “us,” nothing else.

We need to get disentangled. Lent is a great time to face it all like Jesus in the wilderness, a great time to talk back and act back. Lent is a great time to exercise some freedom as members of an alterantive society by going without addicted behavior we can recognize or to exercise some freedom by taking on new habits that come from grace, not bondage. Lent is for suffering the wilderness with Jesus, for aching. It is hard to show up for that battle, but losing by default is worse.

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Emptiness as a Friendly Place

Emptiness, yearning, incompleteness: these unpleasant words hold a hope for incomprehensible beauty. It is precisely in the seemingly abhorrent qualities of ourselves — qualities that we spend most of our time trying to fix or deny — that the very thing we most long for can be found: hope for the human spirit, freedom for love.

This is a secret known by those who have had the courage to face their own emptiness. The secret of being in love, of falling in love with life as it is meant to be, is to befriend our yearning instead of avoiding it, to live into our longing rather than trying to resolve it, to enter the spaciousness of our emptiness instead of trying to fill it up. — Gerald May in the Awakened Heart.

It is hard to see emptiness as a friendly place. Our whole quest as a society is going the exact opposite direction — filling up our houses and storage units with stuff and our schedules with activities. I think a lot of us have sex in a vain attempt to fill and be filled. Gerald May is talking about something with which we are not very familiar.

I was struck with my own fear of that empty place in me when I reflected on our meetings last Saturday. At the monthly training I was surrounded by 50-plus loving people; then at the Leadership Team meeting I was with dear comrades, among whom are some of my closest friends. Yet I still came away feeling distant and fearful of my emptiness. I expected something from the meetings I did not get. I wanted to leave with joy, motivation and faith. There was so much joy, motivation and faith in the room, one would think it was hard to resist! I’m not saying I did completely resist. But the meetings did not satisfy my yearning. In fact, they seemed to heighten it.

I thought it might be helpful to name what we often feel in the middle of the sea of goodness and grace in which we swim.

As I said at the meetings, I seemed to meet a series of seriously empty people looking for fullness last week. They were making careful assessment of Circle of Hope (and me!) to see if we were likely candidates to meet their need. I resented being assessed like that. And I was sure I did not meet the test, which made me feel inadequate and guilty. But I relate to the search. I feel sorry for the seekers like I feel sorry for myself. When you’ve been hollowed out by drugs or other addictions, when you went to your parents and found them wanting or neglectful, when your mate broke your heart, the emptiness can feel desperate. We certainly don’t want to look somewhere that is going to injure us again! Our insides make definite demands, even if we don’t want them to!

I am often in a quandary as to what to do with myself. Much more do I wonder how to talk to someone else who appears at the door empty and ravenous and yet picky about the food served, even resistant to being fed. If we do not lose ourselves to find ourselves in Jesus, we are just full of it — that is, we are full of impossible expectation. I don’t always have a good solution for people who haven’t gotten to the end of thinking they can fill themselves up, or that they will be filled up if they just hook up with the right person, if they find the right community, of if they get a few friends. It will not all be better.

I know my life is not better until I enter the spaciousness of my emptiness and meet God there. The wide plains of our loneliness is the homeland of the Holy Spirit. Let’s be kind to ourselves as we realize this. As obvious as the thought might seem, the reality of moving that direction is excruciating. Rather than being merely irritated with the hungry packs sniffing the air around us for connection or running away from the fear of lack of it, let’s stay near each other and help one another with the terrors of life in the Spirit.

Bearing the Beams of Love in 2011

And we are put on earth a little space
That we might learn to bear the beams of love. William Blake

“I think William Blake was right about the purpose of humanity; we are here to learn to bear the beams of love. There are three meanings of bearing love: to endure it, to carry it, and to bring it forth. In the first, we are meant to grow in our capacity to endure love’s beauty and pain. In the second, we are meant to carry love and spread it around, as children carry laughter and measles. And in the third we are meant to bring new love into the world, to be birthers of love. This is the threefold nature of our longing….

Choosing love will open spaces of immense beauty and joy for you, but you will be hurt. You already know this. You have retreated from love countless times in your life because of it. We all have. We have been and will be hurt by the loss of loved ones, by what they have done to us and we to them. Even in the bliss of love there is a certain exquisite pain: the pain of too much beauty, of overwhelming magnificence. Further, no matter how perfect a love may be, it is never really satisfied. The very fulfillment of a desire sparks our passion for more; sooner or later we discover a deepened yearning within what felt like satisfaction. Even in their beauty, the beams of love can often seem too much to bear.” Gerald May in The Awakened Heart

I am signing up for getting hurt again this year. Who’s with me?

I have a lot of resolutions on my list, again. Some of them are the same as last year. But at the top, I am putting, “Suffer.” I mean, suffer with Jesus, the Son of God who is love.

I don’t mean that in some grandiose way, as if I were Jesus. I just want to use the capability I have, born of the capacity the Lord has patiently enlarged in my heart over years of loving me.

Oh yes, I want our network to operate efficiently and productively. I want to meet all the modest goals we have set. I want to make good investments in buildings and business. I want to use our money efficiently and effectively. I don’t want to waste a minute. But we can do most of that and just get tired and irritable. We can do a lot of that with further arguments about justice. We can do a lot of that by exercising power and leveraging guilt and fear.

I want to act out of my heart connected to the heart of it all. I want to stay vulnerable to what Gerald May called “our passion for more…a deepened yearning within what felt like satisfaction.” That will cost us. But, at the end of 2011, I want to have invested the year in eternity and to have experienced eternity invested in the year. The beams of love are shining. I want to bear them.