Ezekiel 18:1-4, 19-32
I was first exposed to Celtic spirituality about four years ago, and I was deeply and immediately attracted to a way of relating to the goodness of God by seeing it reflected in all of creation, even and especially in simple things, and in discovering "thin" places, those locations or moments when, for whatever reason, the immanence of the divine is palpable. Many Christians give a lot of lip service to how good God is, but focus more on the darkness of the world and the human heart.
The darkness is real; but light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it. It is perhaps good for us now and again to spend some time in the darkness, to be reminded of the healing and comforting powers of the Holy Spirit, and to help us empathize with those whose lives are very dark, indeed.
Earlier this week I was very much in that darkness; not only did I not blog, I wasn't even interested in intentional prayer, at all. I was overcome by negative thoughts and emotions, and instead of engaging with them, discerning their source and praying for wisdom, guidance and hope, I gave in to them. Last night I began to emerge from my funk, realizing that part of my problem was tremendous anxiety about all the many things I need to do in the next week or so, and deciding that the best way to combat that was to, you know, actually get some of that stuff done, and was up late crossing things off the list. By the time I woke up this morning and realized it was St Columba's day, it was too late for me to have morning prayer and still make it to work at a respectable time. However I am very glad I set aside time tonight for prayer; I feel very different now than I did an hour or so ago.
A lot of the fears and frustrations from earlier in the week are still with me. There was great temptation not to pray tonight, either, and go out and have fun instead (or at least look for it). But somehow I knew this restlessness I felt would be best addressed by some time of focused stillness; there's time this weekend for fun and certainly many opportunities in the coming week. It took some mental and spiritual effort to calm myself and enter into prayer, but the result is undeniable. With Celtic spirituality's emphasis on nature I took advantage of this warm, light and quiet evening and threw the windows wide open and listened to the birds and felt a gentle breeze as I settled in.
Today's lesson from the Hebrew scriptures is from the prophet Ezekiel. "But when the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity and do the same abominable things that the wicked do, shall they live? None of the righteous deeds that they have done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which they are guilty and the sin they have committed, they shall die." [18:24]
Oh, yeah...that's where I am. Okay, I'm not saying I want to run out and commit "abominable" actions; although I suppose the normal social life of any single gay man qualifies as "abominable" in some circles. But I have been feeling the occasional desire to give the church stuff a rest, and go be a normal gay guy and date and maybe find a boyfriend and go to parties and events and wear nicer clothes, instead of always being so freaking responsible and cautious. I found myself tonight praying for help finding a balance between a healthy faith life and a healthy social life, when suddenly I realized that the seeking of a balance is the problem, because it implies that faith and social life are separate, competing needs that need to be figured out. So I stopped in mid-thought and decided instead to ask for help in integrating them.
Somewhere along the way I picked up an unhealthy dose of Calvinist fundamentalism, this notion that fun = iniquity = death. This is where the important lessons of Celtic thinking can help; there is beauty in life, there are good, divine things to be found in laughter and the company of others, alcohol (used responsibly) is a wonderful gift, dancing is one of humanity's most ancient expressions of joy (and clearly approved of by the psalmists), and there are good, healthy, divine gifts in our sexuality. That's not a carte-blanche license for debauchery, but it is an invitation to think outside of the Augustinian box, as it were.
The chapters of the book I use for my reflections on the great Celtic saints (Holy Companions) always include a short snippet of actual quotes (or at least attributions) of the saint in question; tonight I was struck by Columba's own words, "Let me study sacred books to calm my soul....let me say my daily prayers, sometimes chanting, sometimes quiet, always thanking God," and how closely that articulation resembles my own practice.
I always say this prayer in the evening: "Most holy God, the source of all good desires, all right judgments, and all just works: give to us your servants that peace which the world cannot give, so that our minds may be fixed on the doing of your will, and that we being delivered from the fear of all enemies, may live in peace and quietness, through the mercies of Jesus Christ our Lord." Tonight I really felt that peace.