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At 3:30 A.M., three glimpses into my psyche woke me: Christmas, Jane Schaberg, and ghettos. I had no recall of the dream story associated with these images, but chose to work with them.

Christmas, not in the sense of holidays with parties, gifts, and family gatherings, has always evoked rich associations with the Sacred, recognized and revered as a child. The Son-of-God-made-Man has companioned my efforts to incarnate in this existence, given my reluctance, from the womb, to do so. Gospel teachings, hidden within Twelve Step living, have opened me further to my humanness and still contributes to “the joy of living,” the result of practicing Step Twelve. When my end time comes, I will have substantive gifts to surrender to the Sacred. Today’s Christmas heartens me deeply.

My surprise in seeing Jane Schaberg (1938 – 2012) in my psyche also stirred me. I still remember her astounding insight of loving God with her whole mind, a passion that led her to advanced theological studies and worldwide attention for her biblical articles and books, all the while teaching at Detroit-Mercy University. I still hear the roar of her laughter as I write these lines. Another companion to help me along …

And ghettos, the third image that visited me in my dream—For decades, my work with home care elderly patients exposed me with ghetto living in New Orleans, Houston, and St. Louis where I had lived. From these spirits seasoned by poverty, poor health, backbreaking work, and other hardships, I leaned about acceptance, humility, and faith in God. Yet, my learning is far from finished as my impoverishment still rankles. This is working out …

It feels like the ragged edges of January’s grief, disjointed, bent: like spent grains blooming florals at the bottom of a china tea cup. Yet, look again. See what’s there.

Rawness clings to soggy branches sweeping the barren meadow with spectral fingers. Mist dulls perspective, blanches color, and clouds skylines—There seems no wholeness. Yet, something keeps the components together. Bereft of apparent life, it speaks to the listening heart, floods the eye with satisfying dissonance.

A strange fare is afoot inviting our imaginations to feast upon what many call, the unsavory, but it is anything but that.

Do look again … Beauty has many flavors …

“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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