Sunday, June 26, 2011

Trey's Days No. 14


I had known for a long time from experience that to stay on the beam, to stay clean and sober, to maintain constant contact with a higher power, I had to be willing to follow directions and to get honest. Time and time again I had thought I was willing to do that, only to discover that at certain times making decisions in life, mostly small every day decisions, I wanted to be back in the driver's seat, to call the shots myself. And each time I did, I got myself into difficulty, into pain, a pain that is not sustainable without some relief. Well, we know what relief looks like. It looks like a drink, like a joint, like sex, like pornography, like over eating, like spending money; it looks like something that feels good for a matter of minutes and leaves a long hangover of still more pain.

This time around it had to be different. This time around, I was ready for the permanent solution, the solution that comes not from myself, but truly comes from a power greater than myself. This time around I was willing to follow directions.

I had seen (we'll call him “J.”) once several years ago at a church I was visiting. He was one of the lay people in charge around there, a trusted servant we might say, doing his work, unassuming and shy, but with a quiet authority. We never exchanged words but I knew who he was. I did not know then that he would be my way back to a way of life that demands rigorous honesty. Years later I would see him at a convention where we gather to hear people tell their stories. And I would see him at a meeting I go to, and I would see him at a different church where I had become a member. It seemed I couldn't go anywhere without him popping up. Interesting how these things work when there's Guidance involved.

So one day after I had gotten sick and tired of being sick and tired, after I had reached the end of the rope of making all my own decisions, I saw him at my church, and during the Passing of the Peace he said my name. Then later when I got myself to a meeting, I saw him there, exuding that quiet power that comes from years of following directions and surrendering to a power greater than oneself. I looked him up and called him. We got to talking.

I had finished school for the time being and it was abundantly clear that I was not going to seminary. The churchman I had sought out to help me with that had used me as a sounding board to share all his attempts at romantic exploits. He had listened to my theological and spiritual questions but assiduously avoided giving me the time of day on the content of my search, and each time I had broached the question, had made it clear I was not what his church was looking for. Not a squeaky clean undergraduate, not a successful second career person, no other degrees, more spiritual than religious, I was the exact opposite of what he would think of as a postulate for the discernment process. I went back to school with spiritual questions and seminary in mind. I had counciled with a minister who had helped me get to the place that at the age of 44 I was willing to go back to school and get that undergraduate degree I had abandoned to willfulness and youthful distractions. Minoring in music, philosophy and religious studies with a smattering of Spanish I was approaching a degree which looked on paper like one perfect for training for theology or ministry of some kind.

But Guidance would intervene at this point. The door I thought I had been persistently knocking on slammed suddenly with a smack. My persistent questions about spirituality and the church, my annoying comments about a church run by bankers, my demands that gay leaders, especially in the church have an obligation to be authentic and available to the struggling gay teen who is on the brink of suicide, my probing about the presence of God in our lives and the Guidance we receive through prayer, my exploration of eastern religion, had all just become too much. With the reprimand that it was obvious that the “friendship” had taken a back seat to my “other goals” he ended the relationship, soundly, suddenly and with characteristic vigor and finality.

Meanwhile Guidance had been pecking away at my brain. A friend had suggested a couple of books by Teilhard de Chardin. The Episcopal Church had celebrated the memory of Evelyn Underhill, Anglican mystic, on the day of the severing of ties with the closeted churchman, something had made me go back and reread “The Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis, and J. had insisted that I apply for a job at the bakery, with a sprinkling of words about Brother Lawrence and “Practicing the Presence of God.” I had been clean and sober again for enough months now to know that Guidance was telling me something.

. A coworker at the bakery is “one of us” doing what I do for the problem I have. The people there are so patient and kind it immediately feels like I'm suppose to be there. The Teilhard, C.S.Lewis, Evelyn Underhill, and the words about Brother Lawrence, and not to leave out the Bill W. readings, all come together to show me that the Spirit of the living God was there all along, showing me the Body of Christ is not in just in an institution run by bankers with its buildings, budgets and bureaucracy. It's in the cookie dough. It's in a coworker who is one of us. It's in a guy named J. who keeps popping up every where and suggests I go apply for a job at the bakery. It's in Teilhard's fossils, Underhill's naked awareness, Brother Lawrence's “Pressence”, C.S. Lewis' quiet intuitive thought. It's in meetings where God has skin and shares stories of recovery. It's in the slamming of a door by a closeted churchman and the opening of a bag of patent flour. It's in a dog walk by the lake on a muggy morning, in a call from a friend at church I never knew knew me, it's in the peace that comes from finally surrendering to a power greater than myself and enough willingness to follow some simple suggestions.

I don't know where this journey is going, but recent experience is making it clear beyond a shadow of a doubt; Guidance is real, unmistakable, and it frequently looks very different from what we're expecting. It requires surrender and willingness, rigorous honesty and deep trust. But when those qualities coalesce in a moment, there is the feeling of being home at last, and the weary seeker can rest in the knowledge of Guidance.

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