Whether you turn to the right or to the left,

your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying,

“This is the way; walk in it.”

Isaiah 30:21

We have lost our way

I have been writing about self-compassion in this new year and I will continue to do so.

But not today.

Today I am compelled, after the events of this past week, to stop and acknowledge our current reality.

We have lost our way.

We have turned on each other.

We have turned on ourselves.

And those who claim to follow Jesus - in ways large and small - have turned on Jesus.

Jesus is not about rage.

Jesus is not about hatred or fomenting hatred, in any form.

Jesus is not about violence or threats of violence.

Jesus is not about lies.

Jesus is not about destruction or desecration or diabolocal plans to harm others.

Jesus is neither Republican nor Democrat.

Jesus is not "with" one political party or another.

The church is not to be aligned with any political party. And when the church forgets that the church loses her way.

Jesus is about peace.

Jesus is about love. And most pointedly, love for enemies.

Jesus is about truth and reality and honesty.

Jesus is about justice and integrity.

Jesus is about resurrection and reconstruction and human flourishing.

Jesus is about the orphan, the fatherless, the widow and the stranger.

Jesus is about God's good kingdom -

A kingdom defined by what the apostle Paul called the fruit of the Spirit:

Love

Joy

Peace

Patience

Kindness

Goodness

Self-control.

These are the marks we watch for as signs of God's presence and power. There are no other marks.

Some of my dearest friends have declared this weekend a weekend of kindness.

Because they feel so powerless against the negative forces that are wreaking havoc at the governmental level they are taking the most powerful counter-action they know to take.

Acts of pure kindness carried out with deep love and intention.

The great subversive power of love, kindness and mercy cannot be stopped.

We have lost our way, this is true.

The One many called "the way" can lead us back.

But only if we follow him ... and live in his ways.

Amen.

 

The Inner Critic ...

The great TS Eliot - in his play The Elder Statesman - puts it best:

What is this self inside us, this silent observer,

Severe and speechless critic, who can terrorize us

And urge us on to futile activity

And in the end, judge us still more severely

For the errors into which his own reproaches drove us?

Ah, The Inner Critic ... Hello, old friend!

This voice lives inside our heads, exists to call out our flaws, flagellates us for having them and drives us onward in a never-ending quest to perfect ourselves.

For some, the voice is loud; others soft. For the rare few, non-existent.

Mine is pretty loud - squawking at me for minor infractions like snoozing a few times past my alarm, not exercising hard enough, wasting time reading the news or letting the home get dirty, dusty and generally um ... lived-in.

As I've gotten older, I've learned to quiet it a bit. I hear it, I recognize it and I tell it that it can take the day off. That I can handle things on my own, thank you very much.

But as I've been pondering my resolution of "less self-aggression; more self-compassion" (see last post) I have been wondering how my Christian faith is tied up with my Inner Critic.

Where does this inner critical voice come from? 

Is it of God? Is it part of what it means to be aware of my own sin? Is it a voice the kindly leads me to repentance - to changing my mind about how I want to live and turning toward better ways? 

Or is its origin elsewhere? And does it lead - if we let it -  somewhere darker, more sinister?

Does this voice of indictment come from the source Christians call "The accuser?" 

If so, how do I respond to it?

Is it some strange hybrid of both light and darkness?

And is part of my job to untangle the sources?

More questions than answers today.

Curious about your thoughts, though. Have you ever wondered about these things?

How loud is your inner critic?

Have you learned to quiet him or her at all?

To what or whom do you attribute the criticizing statements in your own head?

What is their source?

 

Radical self-compassion ...

Here it is - the end of 2020.

Last year at this time none of us could have imagined what this year would bring.

Truth is, none of us know what lies ahead this year, either.

Uncertainty is the nature of life.

Rather than leaning into this reality many of us try to reduce uncertainty by controlling the one thing we think we can control.

Ourselves.

Typically, this looks like the good ol' New Year's Resolutions deal.  We take a look at ourselves, at our lives, we find what's wrong and we set our mind on fixing it. Fixing ourselves. Getting control over all that feels out of control. Our eating, our drinking, our spending, our speeding, our talking, our sleeping, our watching, our playing, our working, our yelling.

Nothing terrible about this, BTW.

If this floats your boat, go ahead and set sail.

This year - for me - is going to look different. 

This year I am going to choose only one thing to focus on, to work on, to try harder at.

Less self-aggression; more self-compassion.

Just writing it makes my shoulders drop, my jaw relax, my neck feel less rigid.

You see, resolutions tap into my inner critic. They tap into a sense of shame about who I am and what I'm like. They rely on guilt and willpower for energy. And truth be told, they almost always fail. And that creates a vicious cycle ...

And I am tired of running in circles.

So, this year I am giving myself a gift. And by doing so, I hope to give the rest of the world a gift, as well.

Because a less self-aggressive Alice means a kinder Alice. And boy oh boy, this world could use a kinder Alice.

And a more self-compassionate Alice means a gentler Alice. And man oh man, this world could use a  gentler Alice.

So as 2020 silently morphs into 2021, I will look back. I will think through this last year. I will attend to where I've succeeded as well as where I've stumbled.

And I will take a deep breath and I will whisper to myself: "You did the best you could, sweetheart. You survived, even thrived in a few areas. You mostly tried to pay attention to what matters. You got sidetracked here and there and you've got some habits that don't serve you. But - thanks be to God - you did the best you could."

And I will whisper a prayer of gratitude for another chance to be alive in this amazing and confounding world.

And I will practice kindness, gentleness and compassion. 

And I will start with myself.

And I will let that be enough.

Don't surrender your loneliness ...

Sometimes, amidst the holiday hustle and bustle, I feel lonely.

Do you?

I don't quite know why and maybe that doesn't matter.

What matters - I am learning - is that I pay attention to the loneliness, even learn from it.

Becoming a student of loneliness demands I sink down into it. That I feel it, all the way down. That I don't try to deny it, push it away, or seek to get out from under it.

I am discovering - often painfully - that loneliness has much to say to me, much wisdom to offer, even a gentle kind of friendship.

Hafiz - a Persian poet from the 14th century - writes eloquently about our misunderstood friend in this lovely, haunting poem.

"Don't surrender your loneliness
So quickly.
Let it cut more deep.
Let it ferment and season you
As few human
Or even divine ingredients can.
Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft,
My voice
So tender,
My need of God
Absolutely
Clear."

Hafiz, 1320 – 1389