Sunday, March 31, 2013

Forgiveness: What Would Jesus Do

a wonderful essay on spirituality and forgiveness ...

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Outside of the Church Yard: Suicide and Me

Outside of the Church Yard: Suicide and Me

We have a complicated relationship, and we go way back.  

Suicide and the way to early death of young men and women have hit me hard in my life, and I still haven't found a way to work through it very well, or to make much sense of it, either.

I've sat with a young man who was a son to me, when he was suicidal, spending the night holding him, and talking to him, and working through his pain and his hopelessness.  When dawn finally came, he was better, and decided he wanted to live.  That night took everything out of me, as I used every bit of love and compassion and reason and faith and hope to get him to decide to live, and to tell him that he mattered, that he was important and that life was sacred and good.

I've had long talks with a close friend in high school, as he raged about his father beating him, and neglecting him, and not loving him, and how angry he was about all that, and how he just wanted to end it all.  Long talks by the camp fire, where truth was spoken and the meaning of life was discussed, and I thought we'd really gotten to the core of it all.

But, we didn't.  And, years later, he came out to me, telling me he was gay and that his sexuality was at the core of his rage with his father, and feeling unloved by his father just made life all the more unbearable.  

I learned you never know how deep the wound is that people have to deal with, and struggle with, what the real reasons are that people finally decide that life may not be worth living.

I like to think that if I had known all of the worries, and all of the doubts, we’d been able to figure it all out and “fix” it, around that campfire when we were seventeen.  But, probably not.  I can’t seem to do that at sixty, and hopefully I’m a bit wiser and smarter now.  I’m left with wondering, and not knowing.  A lot of the not knowing. 

Maybe if we’d been able to say “I don’t know, but walk with me a bit,” that would have been enough.   

People ending their lives is not all that rare, but there is a code of silence. We have rarely honestly talked about this part of life, these holes that suddenly open up in our social fabric.  Yet, we dance around it, not really speaking truth, not dealing with this subject. Perhaps there are no words to say.  That silence is part of the craziness.

In our culture and not too long in the past, a person who ended their own life couldn’t be buried in the church cemetery, which was inside of the fenced in church yard.  Their grave was outside of the fence, their lives literally rejected and separated from their spiritual community, and from God.

The code of silence, and shame, and guilt was there for all to see, those feelings literally fenced out of where we were supposed to experience God in our lives, where our pain and our humanity were respected, where we could be embraced by unconditional love.  

That rule, that law of our culture is still there for all to see, the graves of the “saved” souls, the children of God, and then, outside of the fence, there are the graves of the suicides, the “eternally damned”.  

Oh, we aren’t so explicit now, using the fence around the church yard to make our judgements.  Yet, we do judge, and we express our adjudications of shame and guilt.  

We follow this rule, this law in so many other ways. We stigmatize and shame, and often ignore depression, other mental illness, and addiction, and the impact of violence and not loving our kids enough, or soldiers trying to come back from war.  We make sure people can self medicate with booze, and dope, and lots of prescription meds, and we judge those “solutions” as OK, but when people can’t seem to “get it together”, we put them outside of the fence, and get quiet about it all.  
And, when a pop star or other public figure commits suicide, we are quick to pounce, looking for flaws and defects.  We are quick to find the defining reason: drugs, love, or the microscope of public infatuation with their lives.  We like the simple, quick, and not so very truthful answers.  Real life is messier than that, but it doesn’t sell tabloids and it doesn’t draw a television audience.  We also don”t have to look at our own doubts, our own actions, and how we as a culture still use that fence.

I held a teenager in my arms one morning, in his bedroom, as he told me about shooting himself in the head, as his father held him, trying to talk him out of it.  He showed me the scar on his cheek, and the three missing teeth, and the place on his skull where the bullet came out.  

It was a miracle he lived, and it was a miracle we could talk about it in his bedroom, sitting on the bed where his dad had begged him not to do it, and couldn't pry the rifle out of his hands, until he had pulled the trigger.   

We gave voice to all those feelings, and all that pain that morning, dealt with the poison, and did some healing.  We moved on, not forgetting, but dealing with the feelings he had; we had some honesty, and dealt with his pain and doubts.  We went deep, talking about life and love and who we really are, and what really goes on when we are at the bottom and can’t see the light above us, or the hand reaching out to us.

A teenager close to me died, choosing a gun to deal with his worries, and his doubts.  People close to him had a lot of theories and there were a lot of stories, a lot of explanations, and a bit of blaming others.  There were the usual suspects: drugs, love, anger, rage of not being loved, not having a safe, respected place to be in, not getting enough love.  

Those popular stories might be true, or several of them, or maybe there was something else, too.  I'll never know. He is gone and didn't tell us why he left us.  Perhaps it all hurt too much to talk about and to stay around and muck through it all.
We will never know his truth, and where he was at when he pulled the trigger.    

Suicide takes away the answers and the conversations and just dealing with stuff, with family and with friends, and people who love you.  We are left with just the questions, and the guilt and the wondering, the "coulda, woulda, shouldas".  

Two other teenaged boys, boys I was close to, and they so very close to their buddy who shot himself, lived in the same town.  It came my job to be with them in the next week, and maybe keep them away from the guns and the drug dealers and killing themselves.  I took them to the funeral home to see the body and to pray and say goodbyes. I held them and sat with them at night in the park, the park they’d played in with their buddy, where we shivered on a snowy bench talking about life and crying.  

Some folks thought it was part of making sense of it all, but there was no sense to be made of any of it.  

And, as some families do, no one talks about him anymore.  It is like he disappeared forever, and wasn't part of our lives. But he was and he is.  A lot of people put him in the ground outside of the church yard. 

I will always miss him and I will always think of the insanity of a sixteen year old boy kicked out of his house on a snowy night, and finding a gun and blowing his brains out, all alone and cold and feeling unloved.

I've stood on that same street corner, where he died, in the cold and the night, and the answers don't come.  Even after nearly thirty years, they don't come, and the wind still blows cold, cold and lonely.  


“His death was a single moment for him, but an endless, unforgiving moment for me, for us, for every encounter from then forward with others --- and every encounter with myself.” (Kim Stafford, 100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do: How My Brother Disappeared, p 165).

I know of that loneliness, that pain, that unanswerable, unconsolable ache that fills one's chest.   And, all the questions and the not so good answers that people say.  Suicide is craziness, about the biggest kind of craziness there is.  

Suicide is just craziness, without any real answers and without any magic wand that makes all the crap of that go away.  

I think I know, and yet I don’t.  Not really.  

We still bury people outside of the fence, at least mentally, separate and distant from the “rest of us”, away from community.  Perhaps, in that distance, there is safety, there is the sense of not having to confront those painful, ugly questions about despair, and hopelessness, and death.  

If we ignore it, it will go away.  

But, it doesn’t.  Life isn’t that simple, and when depression and suicide slam down on us, in its ugly suddenness, we don’t have good answers.

When I lose a friend, a relative, or anyone who has been a part of of my life, I need to grieve, too, for they have been in my life and then then they are gone.  A person’s death and the grief I feel when someone near to me dies is part of the hole that I have in my heart.  We all have holes, you know.  We all struggle in life to figure out our holes, and to try to fill them up with goodness and love, and to find some sort of peace and meaning in our lives.  Life is messy and awkward, and the work with our holes is sweaty, hard work.  

We all have holes, we all have hard, dirty work we are doing to sort through things, to move ahead, and live our lives.  

And we need to keep everyone we love inside of the church yard, so we can remember them and hold them close.  And, they need to hold us close, too.


Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Curious Place

The Curious Place

This is the third place for these books
I have known in this town,
where all are welcome, all are invited in
to explore, to savor
what the world can offer ---
All I have to do is come here
and roam.

Quiet on their shelves, letting me discover
the worlds they offer all
who come here;
in the quiet
the embrace of what others have said
about the world, and about life.

Welcome, they murmur, and be curious ---
we are always here, until you take us home
and get to really know us,
while you sip your tea, in a comfy chair,
going wherever we can take you.

Everyone comes here, everyone is welcome
to look around, to flip through pages, or maybe
something electronic, or something in pictures,
or music, or to just look at some art,
whatever I want, whatever I desire,
curiosity is the rule here, always curious.

My first grade class walked to the books one spring day
we, all hand in hand, came to look, to hear a story
as we sat on the carpet, going on a trip
by the sound of a voice, and pictures shown all around.

We left that day, each with a book, and each with a card,
the key to come back, again and again, and find another.

And, so, I did, time and again, and again, and again,
finding new treasures, and new things to learn,
and books and knowledge to help me write a paper for school,
and to find out more about what I wanted to know;
to go out in the world and find myself--
me, always hungry now for more, still more.

The books moved across the street, and stayed a long while,
until my hair started to turn gray, and then they moved again,
to still a better place, another block away,
a new place, built just for books and for this town
so more could come, and more could be welcomed here.

This third place is the best yet, a place even for kids
all their own, animals and trees and flowers, and
bright colors everywhere, inviting them in again, and

I'm still a kid here, always wanting to skip up to the door
and wander in, seeing what is new, and what I might like
to take home and read by the fire, a cat on my lap,
a cup of tea, and the world mine to explore.

A big room now filled with people reading, thinking, writing a bit,
and reading some more, even people meeting in small rooms,
to talk, to focus on learning, and being in community
with each other, being stronger to be in the world.

Again, in this curious place,
another library day,
a spring in my step,
again for the first time,

Neal Lemery 3/23/2013.

Thursday, March 21, 2013



Not in the yelling of the crows,
or the fights of the macaws in their cage by the road,
and not in the street noise,
or the late night revelers' shouts,
or in the dramas and hyped up tragedies
that slither into our living room via satellite from New York
or wherever that mind junk is stirred up.

But in the bird song in the trees,
and the scent of midnight rain,
in the waves kissing the beach at dawn,
and the conversation on the deck over coffee,
my still warm cup clinking the table next to my book.
It is in the wake of the fishing boat bobbing its way out to sea,
and it is in the turning onto the last page, where the author hugs me tight,
and I cry.

--- Neal Lemery 3/19/2013

The Mysticism of my Soul

The Mysticism of My Soul

--by Neal Lemery

I search.  I search for a relationship with God, for knowledge, for understanding, for being.

Intellectually, I have searched.  And, intuitively, I have searched for that experience, to be on a full and complete journey for an understanding, for becoming closer, to find my place in this world, for answers to my deepest questions.

This is my latest experience, in reading and contemplating this book.  I was referred by a friend, a spiritual advisor and guide, and have taken myself on a richer path towards understanding.
Here are my notes, my gleanings, from this experience.

Yet, this experience is not yet complete, and perhaps just begun.

How this all plays out will be an experience.  I am at the beginnings of being transformed, which is, I believe, the purpose of this book, and why it came into my hands.  Nothing happens by chance.  This experience, this now, was simply meant to be for me, at this time and place.

Travel with me.  I hope you will find this a rich, and ultimately disturbing and rewarding experience.

It is part of where I am at now.  Looking inward, and outward, and now, more of a searching experientially, more mystically.  I look for the mystery in all of this, and in that, find meaning, and spiritual peace.

        The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See, by Richard Rohr.

Religion and spirituality should be transformative, not mechanical, not form over substance, not structured by reason and logic.  Modern Christianity lacks the mysterious, experiential aspects of faith, hope, and love that were essential aspects of the spiritual experience, the spiritual essence of Jesus.

True religion is an experience of paradox, of mystery, not dogma, not rules and forms, not an "us vs. them", "right vs wrong" view of the world and of our experiences.

The spiritual experience is not found in "churchianity" but in the mystical, the unknowing, the mysterious.  When we are in awe, when reason and logic do not provide us with answers, then we are truly having a spiritual experience and living a spiritual life.

Read the Gospels as a celebration of the paradoxes of the spiritual experience
Fear and distraction are not part of religion.  Spiritual masters urge us to go inward, to experience the wonder and awe of God in ourselves, and in our world, and to be simply amazed, confounded, perplexed, and being OK with not having certainty in our experiences.  And, to view our fellow humans in the same light, as beings seeking unity with God, and to be in awe of what we do not know, to let that wonderment and uncertainty invigorate us, and ignite our spark of creativity, compassion, and service to others.

Our Western, modernistic, logical thinking has led us into dual thinking: us vs them, right vs wrong, good vs bad, etc.  "Maybe" is also an answer, a solution.  A literal reading of scripture is not gaining a sense of the message of scripture.

Religion is not science, it is not logic.  It is experiential, it is being one with nature, with the amazing, awe inspiring, mysteriousness of what we cannot understand, what we cannot fully explain.

This journey requires opening out hearts and our minds to mystery, to the infinity of the Universe, to the experiences of finding God within ourselves, and within our world, and just experience that.  Some things are not explainable, and are not analyzed with our problem solving and logical thought processes.  Being in awe is a natural state of existence and of spiritual life.

We find God in disorder and imperfection, in chaos.  We don't have the answers to our questions.  We stumble and we fall, but it is our journey in this that we have our relationship with God.
In hope is also unity with God.

Mysticism is moving from belief and belonging systems to actual inner experience.

Greek Logic:
The law of identity: A = A.  A thing is the same as itself.  No two things are exactly the same.
The law of contradiction:  If A = A, then A cannot be B.  B cannot be A.
The law of the extended middle or third:  A cannot be both A and B at the same time.

Such thinking is the foundation of Western thought, and of our science, technology, and education.
Yet, mystical spirituality does not follow these "rules" and this way of thinking.  This is "duality" thinking, and mysticism calls us to be open to the paradoxes of experience, and to be in awe of the mysterious, and the unknown.

If we read scripture outside of our Greek Logic thinking, and see spirituality as having mystery and "illogical" reasoning, then we are closer to a full spiritual experience and a richer spiritual life.
Joy can simply be joy.  It doesn't have be be explained, or be either "right or wrong".  It can simply just be.

Prayer is not a petition for gifts or answers, it is being open to the mystical, the spiritual, to see with one's third eye.  It is to be in a state of transformation with God.  Jesus prayed alone.  It is not a ritualized experience, but a heartfelt, heart opening experience.

A relationship with God does not require an intermediary.

One can lead people only as far as you yourself has gone.

Christians do not pray "to" Christ, they pray "through" Christ.  Christ is a paradox, a mystery.  The experience is not subject to our logic, our Western analysis and problem solving methods.

Our culture, and certainly our politics, are now caught up into dualistic, "right or wrong" thinking and analysis.  We are missing the point.  Life is paradoxical, and mystical.  We should strive to embrace that.  It is a journey, not an answer, not a "solution" we are after.  We are human beings, not human doings.

Non-duality, being present.  There is a lack of control.

"A large percentage of religious people become and remain quite rigid thinkers because their religion taught them that to be faithful and stalwart in the ways of God, they had to create order."  (p. 36)
Instead, the focus is on spiritual transformation.  We all have access to God.

We stand in disbelief, we stand in the question itself, we stand in awe before something.  We are "in process", in transformation.  We are present in all of this.  The question is more important than the answer.

Judgements.  We like to make judgements.  We are analyzers, problem solvers, practitioners of Greek logic.  Yet, we see what we are ready to see.  Pure experience is always non dualistic.

Fundamentalism "is a love affair with words and ideas about God instead of God himself or herself.  But you cannot really love words; you can only think about them." (p. 50)

For many people, their religion has been a tribal experience rather than a transformative experience.  This shift is called contemplation (early Christianity), meditation or the practice (Buddhism), ecstasy (Sufi Islam), living from the divine spark within (Hasidic Judaism).

The major change in our thinking: how we do the moment. Wisdom is the freedom to do the present.
"All great spirituality is somehow about letting go." (p 64).

Prayer is returning the gaze of God.

If God is everywhere, then God is not anywhere exclusively, is the message of Jesus.
The imitation of God: to love one another and ourselves exactly the way God loves us.

"We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are."  (p. 82).

The three levels of conversion: intellectual, moral, religious (a being in love).  God is love.
Accepting ongoing change as a central program for yourself.

Organized religion has historically attached itself to the political and social regime in power.  Christianity was invited into the Roman Emperor's palace in 313 A.D. and hasn't left.

The ego hates change.  The ego self is the unobserved self. Once you see yourself, then you will see the need to change.

Most of the prophets were killed by their own followers.
Inertia resists change.

"If your religious practice is nothing more than to remain sincerely open to the ongoing challenges of life and love, you will find God." (p. 96).

Healthy religion is always about seeing and knowing something now.

Prayer is resonance with God.  Once you are "tuned", you will receive. Prayer is about changing you, not about changing God.

"Immediate, unmediated contact with the moment is the clearest path to divine union; naked, undefended, and nondual presence has the best chance of encountering the Real Presence."  (p. 105).

Being present is to live without resolution, at least for a while.  It is an "opening and holding" pattern.  Dualistic Christianity is believing things to be true or false. Instead, be open to paradox, to mystery, to uncertainty.  Be open to simply being in the experience.

Allow an infilling from another source: love.

"We must move from a belief-based religion to a practice-based religion, or little with change."  (p. 108).

"When you are concerned with either attacking or defending, manipulating or resisting, pushing or pulling, you cannot be contemplative.  When you are pre-occupied with enemies, you will always be dualistic."  (p. 110).

"We are too rational... All that is best is unconscious or superconscious."
  (Thomas Merton, p. 112).

"Small people make everything small."  (p. 114)

"Dualistic people use knowledge, even religious knowledge, for the purposes of ego enhancement, shaming, and the control of others and themselves, for it works very well that way.  Non-dual people use knowledge for the transformation of persons and structures, but most especially to change themselves and to see reality with a new eye and heart."  (p. 115).

Faith is more how to believe than what to believe.  It is no longer either-or thinking, but now both-and-thinking.

Embrace the paradox.

Opening the door to this thinking, this being present.  Through great love and through great suffering.  When we are stuck, then we are challenged to change our thinking.  These are times when you are not in control, and Greek logic doesn't work for you.

"If you do not transform your pain, you will surely transmit it to those around you and even to the next generation."  (p. 125).

"Once you accept mercy, you will hand it on to others.  You will become a conduit of what you yourself have received." (p. 126).

"How you love one thing is how you love everything. ...How you love is how you have accessed love." (p. 127)

For mystics, words have become flesh and experience has gone beyond words.  Words are mere guideposts now, but some have made them hitching posts.

The challenge of a new mind:  "Christianity is to be something more than a protector of privilege, fear-based thinking, and the status quo.  We need what Paul calls a 'new mind', which is the result of a spiritual revolution."  (p. 133).

The goal: Be a living paradox.  Love what God sees in you.

"By and large Western civilization is a celebration of the illusion that good may exist without evil, light without darkness, and pleasure without pain, and this is true of both its Christian and secular technological phases."  Alan Watts, The Two Hands of God. (p. 143).

We don't live in just light, or just in dark.  We live in the shadowlands.  We need a bit of darkness and we need a bit of light.

"Most major religious teachings do not demand blind faith as must as they demand new eyes."  (p. 146)

"Western Christianity has attempted to objectify paradoxes in dogmatic statements that demand mental agreement instead of any inner experience of the mystery revealed." (p. 147).

Instead, Jesus is the template of total paradox:  heavenly, yet earthly, the son of God, yet human, killed yet alive, marginalized yet central, victim yet victor, incarnate yet cosmic, nailed yet liberated, powerless yet powerful.

Jesus is the microcosm of the macrocosm.

"Follow me" is a directive to be on Jesus' journey, to be part of the parade of walking in the paradoxes, the mysteries, to embrace the experience, yet not needing to explain the experience.

"The term 'Christ' is a field of communion that includes all of us with him.  You do not 'believe" these doctrines, you 'know' them."  (p. 148).

The concept of Trinity breaks down the dualistic thinking pattern.  The Trinity is a paradox, a recognition of paradox.

In quantum physics, physical matter is both a wave and a particle.  It is both, yet neither.  The developing science of quantum physics embraces the paradox.

"We have worshipped Jesus, instead of followed him.  We have made Jesus into a mere religion instead of a journey toward union with God.  We have created a religion of belonging rather than a religion of transformation.  Yet, we are forever drawn into the mystery graciously and in ways we cannot control."  (p. 154-155).

Leadership:  "Good leaders must have a certain capacity for non-polarity thinking and full-access knowing (prayer), a tolerance for ambiguity (faith), an ability to hold creative tensions (hope), and an ability to care (love) beyond their own personal advantage."  (p 158)

Seeing wholeness: head, heart, and body, all present and positive.

Dualistic people:  cannot accept that God objectively dwells within them.  This is a lack of forgiveness.

What you see is what you get.  What you seek is also what you get.

How you respond to something is your creation of your own reality.

You desire only what you have already partially found.

---Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See, Crossroads Publishing Co, New York, 2009.