Friday, February 03, 2006

Of Mice and Mustard Seeds:
Even Thomas Merton felt lost every once and a while...

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Faith, as it represents to billions of people around the world, is something very near and dear to my heart. It is something more beautiful than a million perfect sunsets; it is a power, when wielded by the unjust, more destructive than a million nuclear weapons.

Last night, I talked to an old friend about a difficult choice she now must make. It is not so much about choosing the path towards continued emotional abuse and torment - for anybody that has been a victim of such things, that path leads to nowhere.

Choosing the path towards a better life, free of such torment, is always the hardest choice in the world. Anyone who says otherwise has obviously never had to make such a choice.

I'm a huge fan of clergy like Thomas Merton, one of the 20th century's great peacemakers and preligious thinkers. I posted this once or twice a while ago, but a few years ago I actually contemplated going to seminary and becoming an Episcopal priest. Sometimes, I think the fact that I do have faith in something beyond myself scares the crap out of people.

In 1998, I was in an extremely bad relationship, a relationship that fed two things. First, my girlfriend at the time, an extremely abusive alcoholic and addict, fed my desire to feel loved back by someone I loved. Secondly, being involved with a stripper who also had a drug problem fed my need for more and more cocaine, angel dust, and other substances.

That's right, kids. I said cocaine. I said angel dust. If there are colleagues reading this who want to huff and puff about a professional admitting they once had a substance abuse problem, fee free. I refuse to be embarrassed about it.

I'm proud to say I've been clean for eight years this August. Going cold turkey, a la Trainspotting, is probably the single greatest accomplishment of my life, if for no other reason than the fact that it gave me my life back.

On a hot August afternoon in 1998, I was sitting on a curb outside of my apartment. My then-fiance was sitting in the back of a police cruiser for trying to kill me. The officer taking my statement asked me if there were any other narcotics in the apartment, other than the stuff they had found under the mattress.

He told me I could come clean or he's search for me. So we walked back into the apartment, took the back off of the toilet, and I proceeded to flush about $2,000 worth of narcotics down the drain. The officer asked if I was a Christian; I said no, yet he insisted on praying with me anyway.

While waiting for the domestic violence couselor to show up, he explained why he'd let me flush and why he'd insisted on praying. The officer explained, in detail, about how an abusive alcoholic father had called him fat fuck as a term of endearment, how he'd started drinking beer as a kid, married an emotionally abusive woman, and finally hit rock bottom himself and reclaimed his own life.

When he showed me his Al-Anon sobriety pin, 20 years dry, I wanted to cry. But I just promised to consider changing my life. That was all it took.

After I talked with the DV counselor, I paged my best friend. He decided - for me - that I could no longer live like I lived. Within 48 hours, he'd found about 15 people to come move me out of my place, convinced me to move a thousand miles away to California, and moved me temporarily into his apartent.

Faith is, in the end, a powerful thing. It was the officer's faith in the power of a simple choice that kept me out of jail. It was my friend Chewie's faith in me that forced me to make those hard, simple choices.

But it was having the faith of a mustard seed, a little faith in myself, that kept me going. It's what forced me to address the fact that, in 2003, I'd fallen in another abusive, potentially fatal relationship. It's what forced me to finally begin to get comfortable in my own skin again.

A little faith goes a long way.

To the friend in question (and I know she reads and I know she'll know who I'm talking about) Miz Bohemia, Kendra (hope work has been going better, chica), and anybody else out there who may need a pick-me-up, the Thomas Merton prayer is one of my favorite reads when times get tough.

Its a reminder that even 20th century Trappist monks needed to do some soul-searching to figure out their own whos, whats, whys, and hows. Religious stuff aside, it's a pleasant reminder of how human everybody is, even in the cold, dark void of cyberspace.


Anonymous said...

A cross-cultural presepective on faith:

Just as a flower is made only of non-flower elements [sun, earth, rain, etc.], Buddhism is made only of non-Buddhist elements, including Christian ones, and Christianity is made of non-Christian elements, including Buddhist ones.

We have different roots, traditions, and ways of seeing, but we share the common qualities of love, understanding, and acceptance. For our dialogue to be open, we need to open our hearts, set aside our prejudices, listen deeply, and represent truthfully what we know and understand.

To do this, we need a certain amount of faith. In Buddhism, faith means confidence in our and others' abilities to wake up to our deepest capacity of loving and understanding. In Christianity, faith means trust in God, the One who represents love, understanding, dignity, and truth. When we are still, looking deeply, and touching the source of our true wisdom, we touch the living Buddha and the living Christ in ourselves and in each person we meet.

From: Living Buddha, Living Christ, by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Anonymous said...

Hi! It's me again!

More interesting cross-cultural perspectives

It's kind of long, but packed with insight

Alice: In Wonderland or Not said...

I'm glad you got your self together, so many people don’t it seems, in any way you know how. I'm not a big subscriber to religious faith as I do not believe in any organized type of religion or a son of god. I do however believe that everyone is unto themselves the be all or end all and that whatever deity there is has given us only ourselves and we are responsible for that for whatever time we have . The faith for me is in myself and as with everyone I am sure if often waivers in one direction or the other.
Nice post Jason.

Miz BoheMia said...

Beautiful post Jason. And thank you for the post. After your comment on my site, I wondered if you had already addressed all the questions that were arising within me about you in a previous post. I was going to start diggin through them and then saw this here post which answered all my questions!

I am sooo happy you pulled through and congratulations with all my heart on your 8 years of being clean. How proud you must be! I am just getting to know you but am quite proud of you as I'm sure are your other readers and friends...

As for faith, I have friends of all different faiths but as far as how I function, more like Alice. I do have my own personal set of beliefs but not so much in a God or son of God etc... dabbled in Tibetan Buddhism, have a lot of monk friends and their philosophy was one that rang true with me... but then it goes back to Ms. Monkeythong's words and I agree with them, that when not used on a fanatical level, when kept personal, when viewed as a philosophy that is linked with others essentially making us all one, then the true beauty of it all can be seen, lived and appreciated...

I am glad you have a path that works for you and has helped you so much. The quote is indeed beautiful.

And thank you for thinking of me, for the mention and for including me as a fellow, I guess, addict (I still feel weird calling myself that so openly with regards to laxatives, not because I don't think I am but because other addictions are so much more serious and hard to get over that maybe mine is not "serious enough" to be considered one... even though hey, if it starts to mess with my body it could eventually off me!). :-0 ----> ;-P I am actually touched by that as it validates it for me and makes fighting the fight a more tangible thing to do, you know?

This has turned out to be a mini post! Sorry! Just thank you and I am very glad to have met you and look forward to many years of bloggin' contact!

Be well always,

Miz B.

The ZenFo Pro said...

That's exactly what I was thinking when I posted the Merton prayer. Merton sort of happened to be a monk - Seeds of Contempation, his first major work, was very dogmatic. The revised New Seeds acknowledges the complexity of all spiritual belief.

Love the Thich link!

Yeah, I'm glad, too. After talking to my friend last night, I realized how strange of a journey its been. I've never been embarrassed by my past but I've never really been proud of the accomplishments of surviving. Faith is very individual, and, yeah, I think you have faith in something. I don't call myself a Christian for the same reasons I didn't go to seminary - the quest for truth is so much more rewarding than simply accepting somebody else's. Hell, I read tarot cards and swear like a sailor.

Don't sweat the waivers. Just the spirit catching up with the brilliance, hon ;)

Mini-posts are always welcome, chica :)

As forthinking of ya, no problem. All addictions are serious and we all have them. I sought psychological counseling for an "addiction" to bad relationships. As a guy, it was so embarrassing, esp. after going clean, to have to fight the root. Part of why that whole fling thing hitme so hard, why I wrote so much about it, was because it was the closest to a normal relationship I've ever had.

Seriously. It sounds so silly, still, to be a 27-year old guy who's idea of a perfect date involves nothing more than a decent conversation. I've dated women who've I've been afraid to trust them with sharp objects; to be able to sleep , to realize that, yeah, maybe I'm finally allowed to date somebody...well...sane is refreshing.

Lol...I'm actually more of a philosopher than anything else. Iread Merton, the Dalai Llama, and the Stoics. Keeps the Missionaries from banging on my door...

Anytime! As for meeting, well, fate works strange things sometimes :) Thanks for the inspiration!

Let said...

Wow. I enjoyed reading your post and appreciate your candor. I found your blog because you are linked to Library Tavern and I was curious to see who she networked with. I am so glad that I stumbled upon you and want to thank you for sharing your thoughts on this rough period in your life.

Frankly, I would not be ashamed either. Love makes people do very stupid things.. (Can I get an AMEN?!) But I assure you anyone who reads your open-book style of writing will reflect on their own lives, and thus your impact on them may even mitigate the pain you went through. Maybe.. maybe not. But know you touched at least one person out here.

Smurf said...

Jason, as I read your post, I cried. It touched me deeply. Thank you so much for sharing that with us. I love you so much my dear sweet TRUE friend. I saw this quote and found it appropriate for this post. Enjoy! ;)From weakness to strength.
"When you admit to yourself that you have a particular weakness, you have taken an important step in getting beyond it. For once you see the weakness clearly, you will come up with many ways to work on it. When you've discovered a weakness, you've identified a pathway to strength. Working to get just a single weakness out of the way you can add increased power and effectiveness to everything you do. For every weakness that you have, there is a strength with which you can replace it. From every weakness, there is something of value to be learned. Weakness is nothing to be ashamed of. Rather, it is something to be worked on. What if the very same factors that now work against you could be changed into forces that propel you forward? By having the courage to face your own weaknesses, you can make that happen. See your weaknesses for what they are. You'll see that they are filled with oppurtunity."- Ralph Marston

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