Jim: Extroverted Gay Mystic

Ms. Beatrice

We arrived in Berkeley in September 1978, young theology students, eager to change the world.  I was, anyway.  Jim wanted to play.  He was so full of life and passion for all things beautiful.  Years later he would admit to being more immature than anything at that time.  So was I.

A month later all hell broke loose.  Harvey Milk was murdered across the Bay, and Jim’s life was never the same.  Along with several other priests in our program he claimed his identity and joined the march for gay rights in San Francisco.  The intensity of his rage frightened me for a long time, until he found peace and I found courage.  We left Berkeley, and our former selves, and continued 32 years of friendship.

Not likely to be branded as a mystic by strangers, Jim was, nevertheless, an extroverted mystic extraordinaire.  He was like King David, life spilling over in love and sin; joined at the hip to the God he so passionately loved.  At age thirty- six he wrote an essay entitled, “My Life in the Good God balloon.”  He described how he pushed, pulled and recoiled off the balloon’s boundaries, always moving closer to the center.  He said that the shape is God, and that his destiny was to always move to the limits of the shape.  He felt called to always love the shape, himself, the testing and pushing, and his fellow testers.  I am deeply grateful to live in that balloon with him and with our soul-sister Cynthia, in a new way now that Jim has died.  The balloon has expanded to massive dimensions!

Blinded by stereotypical concepts of mystics, strangers would not have readily seen the deep waters of Carmelite mysticism running through Jim.  They expected, instead, to see prayer beads, and lowered eyes.  With Jim, I got his alter-ego, Beatrice, an elephant gallivanting in a dazzling tutu, shouting to me, “Live, Reet, Live!”  I miss Jim’s irreverent humor, and even the tirades he rained down on me when fear convinced me to stand down in the face of injustice.  To honor his courage and expansive love, I stand for the rights of all those who experience injustice because of their sexual identity.  Not because it’s politically correct but because it’s right.  Here is the poem he wrote on the occasion of the Gay Pride Parade in New York in 1987.  Perhaps you too will re-frame your portrait of a mystic:

balloons

Corpus Christi: New York “87”

Sunny Sunday in late June.
Thousands march.
Joyous and free.
I joined.

Searchers and seekers
Walking with dignity and pride.
Approaching the Cathedral:
A contradiction!

Blue barricades, blue flashing lights
On cop cars and paddy wagons;
Blue shirted police arm to arm
Protecting the Cathedral.

A Crucifixion?
The front steps blocked by
A blue Army in blue berets
(looking psychotic)
Shaking rosaries, thumping Bibles
Yelling “Sinners Sinners” as we passed by.

“Shame, shame, shame,” we murmured
Softly in reply.
I looked for Jesus beyond the barricades.
Not there!
“Thank God,” I said.

At 3 o’clock the parade stopped.
Silence
A city fell silent.
Bells tolled.

From the Village up Fifth Avenue.
Coming closer and closer
Passing over us
Until the whole sky was filled with
Colored balloons.

My heart burned within,
I remembered all who died of AIDS.
Gazing at the heavens,
I watched a great loving God
Gather balloons, holding them high
In God’s bright blue sky
Above the blue baracades, blue lights
Blue armies & blue shirted cops.

My God gathered these children,
Sons & daughters into a peace-filled
Eternal embrace.

I wept.
Turning, I saw two older women,
Pioneers and witnesses of the movement,
Weeping and holding each other as they
Too gazed upward.

EASTER and ASCENSION.
CHRIST HAD COME AGAIN.  GLORY TO GOD!
Peace to you and me!
Birthday

Jim's signature

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The Ice Holds A Year Later

Stepping Out  Jpeg double sized

For Mary

One year after the unexpected death of my sister I still step gingerly.  When we grieve we learn that all we CAN do is step out.  If we step in harmony with the pain, we become sure-footed.  The pain transforms from foe to friend, and we endure in spite of the loss.

My spiritual practice has been intentionality.  I ask for the grace to stay conscious, to recognize each wave of grief and to honor my humanity by feeling it.  It has also helped me to be aware of my sister’s continued presence in a new way.  I have prayed for her spirit as she transitions into this new and unknown existance.  And I have practiced letting her go.

Two gifts have emerged from this experience:  reinforcement that the ice holds, and realization that we are not in control.  Now I try to live into these truths, and to be in solidarity with others who grieve.

2006, poss, Mary feeding lambs

“Lost in the Sauce”

lost in the sauce 5

When I was too young to have developed psychological tools for protection, I was offered up on the altar of experimental psychology by a group which deemed me unacceptable, and who abandoned me emotionally.  I felt so lost that I feared I would lose my mind- really, not metaphorically.  From somewhere deep within I begged, “God help me! I don’t know what to do.”  A resolution presented itself, and the beginning of equilibrium returned.  Until then I hadn’t known about the safe room in my soul.

“Lost in the Sauce” seems to mean what you want it to mean: drunk, stoned, utterly confused, living outside of reality.  At age twenty seven I was lost in the sauce, and that experience has become my salvation.  Those three powerful words, God-Help-Me, pulled me into a place where I was safe and not alone.  How had that place come to be?

It started with the foundation:  parents and teachers who loved God.  It was a different rendering of God than the one whom I now worship, but it doesn’t matter.  They gave me a framework for my spirituality and consistent practices which drew me into God’s presence.  As a child I was already learning to go to this place when buffeted by the little storms of life.

The soul’s safe room affirms who we are and that we are lovable and passionately loved by God, no matter that a violent storm threatens outside.  It is an anchor.  I regularly visualize a room in my heart where beloved books on a shelf provide sacred nourishment.  Where mystics and prophets are invited guests, along with other spiritual guides who accompany me daily.  At least one intimate friend is welcome at my table to remind me that I am loved.  It is from this room that I instinctively cry out for God’s help when I am lost in the sauce.

As a young adult I felt like an exile with no physical anchor.  As I age, the image of a nomad rings true.  It seems to me that nomads must have a strong internal anchor which grounds them.  Unlike exiles, they choose their vocation.  If we regularly practice going to our soul’s safe room, even when no storm rages outside, we become spiritual nomads who are strong and ready to roam wherever the Spirit leads us.

(Enjoy Vanessa’s blog post, “Why We Need Nomads,” at http://www.vanessaruns.wordpress.com)

Geography of the Soul

Geography of the Soul

In an effort to protect our egos, we leave in our wake, a destructive landscape of regret.  Our acts of protection are as much an animal response as protecting their physical lives is for other animals.  The difference, of course, is that we can strengthen our egos sufficiently to withstand attacks and move beyond them for the sake of the common good.  The process of moving beyond ego creates a soul-landscape rich in variety.  Remnants of ego caught on jagged crags, conjure memories of lies to self and others; charred skeletons of timber stand in witness to courageous suffering endured, and hopeless suffering self-inflected.

Our soul’s geography resembles the terrain of active volcanoes years after they have exploded. Destructive lava flow has given way to affluent bursts of bold, bright, wildflowers- the acts of justice and compassion sown as seeds alongside germs of ego.  Patches of green miraculously inch their way through the bowl of impenetrable metamorphic rock.

Just as rock can be intrinsically altered by the flow of hot lava, so is the soul dramatically altered by the movement of the Spirit, and our response to her. If we trust the Spirit, and trust ourselves to grapple with our instinct to protect our egos, seedlings will dot the horizon.  Wildflowers, once extirpated by fear, will burst forth like fireworks on Independence Day.

I recommend frequent road trips through the terrain of our souls.

Disarmament of the Heart

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When all is said and done our call in this life is simple: Love God, Love Self, Love Others. Love is born through a rigorous process of disarming the heart. it is an act of unparalleled trust. It frightens us, so we fiercely protect our center like petals protecting the heart of a flower . The choice to unveil the beauty of the center leaves us vulnerable, so we resist and protect it. I am deeply grateful for the witness of many prophets who faithfully do the hard work of disarming so that they can preach the truth from a clean place. Because they are doing it, I believe that it is possible.

The practice of disarming the heart is so important, that without it, we have no moral authority to do justice. Our call to do justice presupposes the call to let go of the ego entrapments that motivate us: unbridled power, arrogance, addictive control, unfocused fear, selfish competition, resentment. The more these attitudes motivate us, the more we stifle dialogue with an adversary; however, knowledge and acceptance of our entrapments create openness and opportunity for dialogue. Paradoxically, this is a very strong place from which to do justice. When we are committed to disarming the heart, we are truly “walking the talk.”

Although the practice of disarming the heart is difficult, we can do it in simple and practical ways. Foremost, the process necessitates a degree of solitude and silence in which we have the space to allow peace to germinate. Without peace we cannot bore through the clamor of ego enough to see and recognize the needs of one another, much less the needs of the world. We unconsciously allow the clamor to persist because it throws a safe cloak around our inner core. We fear the power of our deepest self because if that gift is acknowledged, life becomes dangerous and demanding. It’s easier to hide the prophet in us. But we must do the work, and expose the prophet, because unconscious “peace” only plays at doing justice.

Within the moments of silence and solitude which we carve out, saying mantras can be a powerful spiritual tool.  For four years I leafleted weekly at a nuclear submarine base in Puget Sound.  To stay alert and focused at 6:00 A.M. I recited, “Come Lord Jesus, set us free.”  It was a plea to let go of the fear and prejudice which blocked leafleters and workers from honest dialogue.  Sometimes preoccupied by angry challenges, or still half asleep, I forgot to say the mantra.  A frequent traveler into the base came in a pickup truck with a rifle on a rack.  I would think, “Oh, does this guy hate me.”  One day I was able to pay attention when the truck came through.  The driver looked depressed, and from some place in me I blurted, “How are you this morning?”  He responded, “How am I?  I’m terrible.  How else would I be, having to go in there every day and do the work I have to do?”  We were connected from that moment on, because We both had allowed the Spirit to disarm our egos.

We are sometimes unable to dialogue peacefully because we cache resentment and blame, finger tip-ready to call up on queue. Such arming of the heart causes violence and blocks progress toward achieving justice. Buddhists have a practice of forgiveness in which they pray to forgive self and others for all conscious and unconscious harmful acts. I think this prayer should be a part of every training for nonviolent action, and a daily practice for anyone serious about falling in love with God, self, and others.

Finally, I want to say something on behalf of ego. I embrace it, because it’s in the mix of being human. Like the petals which surround the heart of the flower, it has a purpose. When strong and focused, it keeps us safe and gives us the courage to love. The goal is to harness the ego, not annihilate it. We want to have a sense of humor about it all, lest we become zealots to whom no one wants to listen. Meister Eckhart says that “God laughs and plays,” and that works for me! The more fear we have of exposing our own complicity in injustice, the more inclined we are to set up protective barriers; however, if we hold our own flawed natures lightly, we are less likely to attack our adversaries for their flawed natures. Disarming in this way doesn’t mean we have to condone the unjust action. It simply means that we accept our commonality as human beings.

In his poem, “Peace,” Gerard Manley Hopkins offers a unique description of heart-disarmament: “And when peace here does house, he comes with work to do. He does not come to coo, he comes to brood and sit.” May our brooding create a peace which births justice.

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“Disarmament of the Heart” was first published in AMOS, a journal of the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center, Seattle: ipjc.org