Sunday – 2/7/16: (SEE PICS BELOW)
San Damiano Mission: 85 N. 15th St, Greenpoint
Thursday – 2/11/16 – Field Trip!
Open Studio Night – 6pm
Libby Creative Arts – 67 West St. #317A, Greenpoint
Contact: Kate L.
122 West Street, Greenpoint, BK
Contact: Ken K.
Sunday – 2/21/16:
San Damiano Mission: 85 N. 15th St, Greenpoint
85 N. 15th Street,
Brooklyn NY 11211
PO Box 220416
Brooklyn NY 11222-0416
– by Robin B. – 12/6/2015
Transformation. Transformative events happen to us or transformative ideas occur to us at one point or another throughout our lives. Adolescence, college, career, marriage, divorce, children, no children to name a few moments of great decision and change. Sometimes they fundamentally change us and sometimes they don’t. What is the difference between transformation and simply change?
The writer Phoebe Eng writes: “The day comes when remaining the same becomes more painful than the risk to grow. And when that happens there are many goodbyes. We leave old patterns, old friends, old lovers, old ideas, and some cherished beliefs. Loss and growth are so often one and the same.”
Transformation is growth. Since many will be celebrating the birth of a famous prophet soon, I thought I’d see what he had to say about transformation. Personally, I don’t consider him the messiah and I’m not not too sure about his Holy Father neither, but I am in awe of Jesus as a disruptor and radical thinker.
Jesus doesn’t come out and say transformation is x, y and z and here’s how you do it. We wouldn’t be studying him two thousand years later if he was just the Tony Robbins of his time. Rather he tells a parable, an obtuse, disturbingly simple parable that gives us the feeling of what transformation is like. He doesn’t even use the word transformation. Instead, he calls it the Kingdom of Heaven, which he has said is within us. According to Matthew Jesus said:
“The Kingdom of Heaven is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”
That’s it. He could have tweeted that! It’s less than 140 characters. What is he talking about? He makes us uncomfortable and work to understand. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” I think he is saying transformation is not a big, noisy thing with trumpets and fireworks and choruses of angels singing. It is a feminine thing, a gestation, hidden, starting with something insignificant like yeast. It is a slow almost imperceptible process where the original catalyst actually disappears in the final product. And it changes everything. The catalyst in our lives is some small shift in our lives that changes everything.
Some of you might be thinking, can’t transformation come as a thunderbolt of an idea and suddenly we are transformed. Some of us wake from a dream that is so powerful it inspires us to action. This time of year we are reminded of Scrouge who was transformed by a series of nightmares. Yes, those transformative moments can happen but what follows is seldom, if ever, like what happens in the movies or fiction. That revelatory moment is just the beginning, it is the easy part. Our imagination, is always far ahead of the rest of our body. And it is the hard work of getting all the rest of our molecules to change, to become the bread, that is the challenge.
The hard part doesn’t necessarily take hard work, it does take patience and persistence. That’s what I call faith, patience and persistence. Waiting for the bread to rise, we often lose patience and we find ourselves falling back into old patterns, returning to old lovers. We are not the superheroes of the movies where our new powers replace old habits instantaneously and completely.
It’s fitting to be thinking about transformation this time of year, the loss of light, loss of warmth, the saying goodbye to the year. It is a time of re-evaluation, taking inventory and thinking about how we want to refocus or redirect our lives next year.
But transformation isn’t easy. We don’t like the prospect of change. So we come here to a place of worship, to gain the strength and support we will need as we contemplate changing our patterns, may be changing our friends, or dealing with conflict with our family members and their long practiced beliefs.
Of course, we also come here to contemplate the meaning of life, to find purpose, and comfort and connection. But ultimately we are here to be transformed into better people in order to create a better world. It is where the better angels of our nature come to practice playing a better tune.
My story of transformation started at the most painful moment in my life, when my marriage was falling apart. I couldn’t bare the idea of leaving my son so I went into therapy to save my marriage. I struggled for years to remain the same. To remain the same. Birthdays and holidays were the most excruciating and yet I couldn’t make that leap. It compromised my health, my weight, my relationships or lack there of, and my livelihood. Finally on my 40th birthday I looked around the room and said life is not a rehearsal, I have to start living my life. It was a transformational moment.
But you know what? After the initial relief and energy that came with freedom, ultimately, it didn’t feel good. I had a lump in my throat and butterflies in my stomach for a very long time. Slowly I crawled my way out from under the covers and started the journey to becoming a more complete person. I joined a gym, not because I planned to improve my health, I used to say that exercise was hazardous to your health, but since I was living in my office, it was the only place to take a shower. Exercise was a lucky by-product. Then out of boredom on weekends I joined a hike club to get out of the city, then a ski club to get through winter. There were a lot of goodbyes after divorce and I was still isolated and in pain so I joined my first church ever. My non-religious family were at best patronizing at worst not interested.
Slowly, I built a new life with a few bumps and slips along the way. Ultimately, what I found was that people, all kinds of people, and action, physical activity, doing stuff with people was transforming me. By learning to turn down that voice in my head that judges people, that puts them in categories that keeps me from engaging with them, with life itself, I was growing into a significantly different person than I’d been for over 40 years. So that’s what transformation has meant for me.
Here are three quotes I love on the subject. The first is by the great theologian Paul Tillich he writes:
Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when we feel our separation is deeper than usual, because we have violated another life, a life which we love, or from which we were estranged. It strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, and our lack of direction and composure has become intolerable to us. It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: “You are accepted. You are accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know….” If that happens to us, we experience grace. After such an experience, we may not be better than before, and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed.
“At that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness.” It’s a time of advent of anticipation. Waiting for that light to break through. A child will be born. Yet this anticipation brings anxiety. Who here gets butterflies in your belly just thinking about the holidays?
Now let’s find out how the pragmatic Rick Warren, Founder of mega church Saddleback, approaches transformation. He writes:
“When you’ve identified what it is that you would like to change, know that you can’t change it by yourself. Will power will not do it. You need others. Church would call it the spirit or God, but I know it as simply just others in communion. I love the word communion which has taken on the baggage of fealty or obedience to a religious doctrine or authority when it simply means being in community, the act of sharing, or holding in common.”
Surprising. And here’s one final quote and I remember where I got it but I love it. “The seeds of new life are the dreams we have in our slumber. That transforming thought or image or realization that sparks our imagination waking us from our hibernation. Suddenly we need to go collect wood to start the fire. But our energy fades as the labor of the day reminds us that our body does not share the enthusiasm of our mind.
“And once we’ve stoaked our fire and prepared our meal our family and friends may not come to the table. They may not like our cooking or the fact that we didn’t take a shower first. We may seem foreign yet familiar to them and somehow threatening.
“So we may eat in solitude until we find our community. Transformation truly comes in community. Before we find communion we will quench our thirst for company with our faith. Faith that we will learn what we need to learn and overcome our fear of the new.”
Now, let’s take a moment to meditate. Sit in silence and I will say a few short phrases to ponder.
Transformation entails loss and risk of isolation.
It takes Faith, patience and persistence.
It starts and continues imperceptibly
We cannot do it alone.
When we become an integral, active part of a community then transformation is no longer a solitary task, no longer a project to fix a broken self. With commitment to community we start fixing a broken world which in turn helps us say goodbye to broken habits and relationships while building better ones for ourselves.
And that’s why we are here. In communion with one another. To transform ourselves, to be the leaven that will transform the world.
“When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability … To be alive is to be vulnerable.” – Madeleine L’Engle
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.” – C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
When we read these two quotations as part of our Small Group Ministry session on the theme of “vulnerability” this past Thursday evening, they hit me like a ton of bricks. For two reasons. First, they’re both from noted authors, masters of science fiction and fantasy whose works, though largely regarded as written for children and teenagers, actually address very adult questions and themes. These include the nature of good and evil, spirituality, growth, love and hate, freedom, responsibility and the quest for purpose and meaning in life. I love both of these authors. Both L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” series and Lewis’ Narnia books were constant companions of mine in my youth, treasured and read and re-read again and again. So it was good Thursday night to hear a little bit more from my two old friends.
These quotations struck me, also, because – eerily – they seemed to speak directly to me, to where I happen to find myself at this point in my life. I seem to be having some issues with being vulnerable of late. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the matter. Well, specifically about romantic vulnerability. I don’t think I really have a problem with putting myself out there, making myself vulnerable, in most situations. In fact, I think I’ve been hard at work opening up and admitting my weaknesses and needs, courting advice and aid, and trying to make space for others to do so in my presence, for almost three years now – ever since I began my current journey into sobriety and an exploration of spirituality.
In recovery meetings, I open up regularly about my urges, my worries, my stumbles, my hopes and my struggles. Here at Original Blessing, I’ve shared intimate and personal memories and experiences as part of my ongoing service as a lay minister. I think I’ve cultivated and nurtured wonderful relationships with family members and friends where I’m open and as honest as I can be, respectfully laying it all out there and trusting for the best.
In my career, I’ve come to realize that if I don’t know how to do something, or I don’t understand something, it’s best to admit it and ask for help and learn … so I can do correctly and better going forward. I find when I swallow my so-called “pride,” I get better results. So, so far, job well enough done…mostly.
But there’s one area where I’ve thrown up defensive walls, refused to open up and, well, frankly, completely closed up shop. And that’s in romance and sexuality. For me – just me — where I’m at now in my life, the two are inextricably linked …. In theory. It’s a theoretical connection, because I’ve virtually had neither in my life since getting sober in late 2012. But when I ponder a hypothetical scenario where I’m being intimate with another person, that person is someone I care about deeply. The days of casual sex are, for me, over. That’s fine for others; I do not judge. I’ve just come to believe, to learn through trial and error, that for me, my sexuality is a God-given gift not to be taken or given, deployed basically, lightly.
But I’m an adult man; I do have all the normal drives and urges. So have I opened myself up to the romantic possibilities out there? No. For the first year of my newfound sobriety, I took the advice of the fellowship I was healing in, and put off, as recommended, any major changes in life for the first 12 months. As I was single, that included, for me, any new romantic or sexual entanglements. The decision came as a relief, as I really needed to focus on myself, and really didn’t know what I wanted out of life anyway. I also didn’t have anything, at the time, to bring to the partnership table. I was learning in sobriety, you see, that a romance, and coupling, is really two whole people agreeing to share themselves with one another in a partnership of equals – not a dependency, not a reliance, not a search for completeness. As I was financially broke, spiritually broken, unable to feed or fend for myself, the worst possible idea would be to try to connect with another human being on the romantic level. I’d seen others do it, hell, I’d done it myself, and the results were most often disastrous. So I put romance on the back burner.
But it’s hard, in this society, to stay single. We’re constantly barraged with the message that we need to pair off. That there’s something wrong with you if you don’t, or don’t want to. I mean, a break is okay – but long-term? What do they call women who never marry? Spinsters? Not a good thing. There’s not similar epithet for single men – “bachelor” or “singleton” doesn’t have the same derogatory bite – but I think they’re still regarded as flawed, or only half-grown. I’ll admit I’ve over-corrected in the opposite direction, blithely disparaging – sometimes vocally – people who rush into relationships, or can’t seem to break away from unhealthy ones, or pine over unrequited loves. When I see someone hurting from a damaged or broken romance, all I want to do is take the pain from them. And at the same time I congratulate myself that I’ve shielded myself from similar nonsense. (“I mean, how stupid can you be?”)
To be honest, I don’t think you need a romantic partner to be complete, to be whole. In fact, I believe that if you rely on another – anyone but your Higher Power, whatever that might be – to complete you, you’re in big trouble. What happens if and when they’re not there anymore? A romance should be a choice, not a requirement. A want, not a need. But, I’m starting to feel, it’s a crucial choice. A brave choice. To open yourself up to the potential joys of true partnership, and risk the pain of losing it.
I’ll admit, I’m not being very brave these days. If I even sniff a hint of anything more than platonic interest from another, I shut things down immediately – either by ignoring the signals and “playing dumb,” making light of the situation, disparaging myself to counter and discourage the interest or even just plain running for the door. In the sober communities I choose to be a part of, I’m surrounded mainly by unavailable people, either already paired off, or of an incompatible gender or orientation. I avoid other gay men like the plague. And those I do permit through the chinks in my wall, I keep at arm’s length. Gay functions are a no-go zone. I mean, if I went, I might end up meeting the right guy. That terrifies me.
But I do, deep in my heart, know better. When I started getting sober again nearly three years back, I began poring through recovery literature. Many sober people refer to what’s called the Alcholics Anonymous “Big Book.” In it, I fell in love with a story called “The Man Who Mastered Fear.” I completely identified with this tale of an alcoholic who, as the book puts it, “spent 18 years running away, and then found he didn’t have to run.”
Having lost everything to his addiction, this man begins to rebuild his life, step by step, but, like me, puts off the thing that he fears the most. At the end of the short story, he finally addresses his fears. Here is what he has to say:
“Twenty odd years ago I made a mess out of my own and only marriage. It was therefore not extraordinary that I should shy away from any serious thought of marriage for a great many years after joining A.A. Here was something requiring a greater willingness to assume responsibility and a larger degree of cooperation and give and take than even business requires of one. However, I must have felt, deep down inside myself, that living the selfish life of a bachelor was only half living. By living alone you can pretty much eliminate grief in your life, but you also eliminate joy. At any rate, the last great step toward a well-rounded life lay before me.” – Alcoholics Anonymous
The author eventually does marry a sober woman also in recovery, depending upon God and their recovery program “to help us make a success of this joint undertaking.”
Wow. So there you have it. Now, I first read this more than two years ago, when I was safely wrapped in the security of my self-imposed 12 months of solitude. In two dozen months since, I’ve rebuilt every other aspect of my life. Yet I still remain resistant to even the remote possibility of a romantic partnership. “I’ve got my friends. I’ve got my family. I’ve got my work,” I tell myself. I do … and that’s all good. And maybe I’m meant to remain single. Perhaps my destiny lies in being of service in celibacy and singlehood. But I can’t be sure until I make myself vulnerable to the alternative. The ultimate answer remains in God’s hands. But I am beginning to suspect I must do my part by being vulnerable to falling in love. To keep an open mind. I’m sharing this not to drone on about my self but to spur us all to consider where in life we’re refusing to be vulnerable. Where we’re proactively, defensively and, yes, selfishly avoiding the possibility that we’ll get hurt. Even at the price of missing the chance at something ultimately better. Something potentially sublime.
Are we willing to be vulnerable? Are we willing to become the masters of our fears?