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It seems that unquenchable fires besmirch social media, crisp psyches of world leaders, and incinerate trusted values, that planet Earth is afire. Dulled by decades of saber rattling, of “limited” wars, of police in riot gear and protesters hitting the streets, of arrests and imprisonments and torture, these clashes seldom shock—just more of the same. Yet, violence continues stalking the unaware, sucks them into the security of the humdrum within which addictions proliferate and jam emergency rooms.

No amount of intelligence gathering seems to stem this escalation. No amount of special committees, with more than ample funding, produce effective strategies. No amount of prayer vigils with tears, flickering candles, flowers, and Teddy bears stay God’s hand over this mayhem. Always, there’s more.

But there’s another way to look at this deadly scenario. We know that firefighters fight fire with fire. We must do similarly, but first we must uncover our instinctual fires, burning within shit-piles, hidden within our unconscious; then name them: pride, anger, greed, sloth, envy, gluttony, lust, and envy; then, own their domination over our thoughts and choices; and then, practice restraint—a tall order, to be sure.

Despite this malady endemic to the human condition, there is help.

Jesus cried, I have come to cast fire upon the earth and what would I but that it be enkindled (Luke 12:49). This purifying fire requires clamping firefighters’ protective gear around our spirits and consciously setting to work on our stuff. That’s the rub. It’s a rough discipline, but the only path toward harmonious living with others. It works. It just takes practice…

 

 

Unless the Lord build the house, in vain do the laborers build it. (Psalm 127:1)

This verse came to mind while meditating this morning. It speaks to my efforts to make sense of the terminal illness that is shortening my life, a life I frankly love and don’t want to leave, a reversal from yesterday’s attitude.

The symbol house as understood in Jungian psychology represents the entire psyche in its varied stages of development. In my childhood experience of the world as cold and hostile, my house collapsed. I retreated into fantasy, and with it, further stagnation: Nothing lived. Robot-like, I meandered around the known corners of my life, feigning interest but often bored. The enveloping pain dis-eased my body.

Only through 12-Step work, begun in 1991, did I discover my voice and a friendly world in which to breathe. But decades of barricaded rooms in my house had to be interfaced with the discipline of the 12 Steps, their rubbish cleared out. From the outset, I recognized the enormity of this task. On my own, this was impossible.

The Step III Prayer conceives the Lord as a Master Builder: “I offer myself to Thee, to build with, to do with me as Thou wilt …” with the mandate to let go of the outcome. For decades, such has been my practice, with much stuff carted away. But there’s still more.

Time constraints press upon me now. I’d rather fix the remaining disorders than let the Lord continue building my house. It’s all about surrendering, again and again. I know I’ll be surprised. I always am.

 

 

“No! Not that! No way! I’ve no time for this! I’m outa here!”

Most squirm in the face of suffering as denial stomps with one-hundred-pound boots. Heart racing, breathing labored, shoulders tensed, the escape into palliatives, of whatever kind, is underway, until the distress is dulled within a soporific. Few are the individuals who explore their setbacks and learn from them.

One of these is Karen Armstrong, British author, world lecturer, and winner of the 2008 TED Prize. Her memoir, The Spiral Staircase – My Climb out of Darkness (2004) weaves thirteen years of daunting reversals within the first verse of T. S. Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday:” it reveals the paradox of progress from circular stairs that appear to go nowhere.

What seemed like missteps in Karen’s beginnings—leaving the convent, failing her doctoral orals at Oxford, researching and writing scripts on Christianity and Islam and interviewing notables for BBC television in the Holy Land, teaching college and high school students, flipping out with an undiagnosed frontal lobe epilepsy—were, in fact, priming her psyche toward compassion, a discovery that wrought her conversion to the God of her understanding. It became the lens through which she viewed her God, inherent within all religions.

So she took to her writing desk and produced A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (1993). Its publication changed her life. Her clipped voice, heard in lecture halls and YouTube, still carries the incisive ring for God’s compassion in our world. The question remains, is anyone listening?

 

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