Be Very Wary When You Feel You’re Well and Good

As an initial aside, what does the Reader think about capitalizing every word (except the small and common ones) in a blog post? It feels a tad grandiose and also aesthetically awkward. I am considering dropping capitals altogether, but I probably won’t.


I just said something unkind to my best friend, and am now hiding in my(our) room in shame. It was not a horrid thing, but petty and unnecessary. How though can a person ever know when something they have said or done that is hurtful to someone else isn’t actually a horrid thing to have been heard by that person, in that moment?

The statement came from a hurt place somewhere right under the surface of me, but I should be better than that, by now. She is most often right and I am most often wrong – but I only figure this out after some new damage has been done between us.

I actually worry that I am a narcissist fairly often these days. I found the blog of Dr. Eric Perry a while back – a blog that talks about Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and other things – and being a typical Internet hypochondriac, had my suspicions about my own lack of self-worth given fresh new life and direction. Am I hollow? What am I doing here? Can I be repaired?

I sometimes look for evidence that I have no core; that all of my words – every single one – are just attempts to shore up a good story about myself. When I read about some of the abusive traits of narcissists, I thankfully don’t see myself in the worst of them… but then every mistake I make in putting my feelings before those of others can feel like a deeper manipulation, if I’m willing to imagine that might be what’s going on. And so I am left to wonder.

Does a narcissist worry about being a narcissist? A quick search of the Internet suggests that I might not be a narcissist, if I am asking myself if I might be a Narcissist (at least, if I’m asking it of the Internet).

It would seem as though I am more likely to just be an occasional jerk sometimes. I am obviously happier to think that this is likely true. I still wonder and worry though at the extent of my selfishness, and whether I am redeemable, and whether I am therefore a healthy presence in the lives of others. All of this worry about me leads me back to wondering what narcissism is, and worrying that I might someday find out that I am one. And so the cycle goes.

I pray a lot for guidance for myself, as well as others. This is objectively true – I’ve been there many times as it has happened. My best self comes out though when otherwise unchallenged by the immediate messiness of direct human relationships. I let my guard down when I’ve become happy. I think that because I had a good walk and a conversation with nature, that my day will then certainly go smoothly – that things are good in my world.

Beware! That’s when life decides to remind you that your work here is never done, but only just begun, anew. When things seem to be going well, that’s exactly when you need to get ready for some test. Getting “well” is just getting up some energy for a new test.

That’s what I believe today, anyhow – one might only speculate what I’ll believe tomorrow.

To Dream and to Talk Too Much

Yesterday, I wrote a mild diatribe at my uncertainty over God’s gender. I’ve written about this elsewhere in the past. This morning I worried I had said too much about something I really can’t understand. Well, that would probably mean I’m always guilty of that, whenever I open my mouth to speak at all. One can only worry so much that they’ve done a bad thing rather than the good thing they were hoping to have done.

Many mornings, I go for a walk in my neighbourhood. My favourite, mildly challenging route takes me down the road, up a hill into a neighbouring hilltop suburb, then down the other side and eventually to the local coffee shop. This coffee shop is about 10 minutes walk from here, but I like to take 30 to get there, by putting a hill in the way. It gives me more time to think, and lets my body burn a calorie or three.

The very top of the hill – that part where I’m done with most of the climbing, and am now on my way mostly back down again – is the apex where I feel closest to whatever it is I’m praying to on that journey. It’s become symbolic to me, and so it’s an important part of my routine.

Yesterday, as I crested the hill, I felt connected to something – perhaps just a permission to dream big, on behalf of those in my life who might benefit, if not for my own self. I don’t know if it’s hubris to imagine your own self as potentially important in the lives of others… and that is probably a problem of mine I should consider addressing. Of course people matter to each other, and I am people too. I deserve my dreams, but more importantly, so do they. It brought me to tears, at the top of that small hill: It was the feminine face of God that told me there that it was really, really ok to dream that way, and to dream big. I came home and wrote a blog post about it. There you go.

This morning, as I crested the hill, I asked myself (or was asked) what was important to my heart. I was now thinking about my heart as a separate thing – and not just the same thing that did my dreaming – because of something I read last night, in A Year With C.S. Lewis. It is an anthology of clippings from his various books.

The passage in question – the one that got me to thinking about my heart, rather than my dreams, was the one for Sept 28, called Fantasy Virtues. It is from Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters (which I haven’t read completely, only passages from A Year With…).

The character Screwtape, being a devil, considers God to be the Enemy, and is concerned with the corruption and downfall of a human subject (the patient), and here, describes this human as a series of concentric circles:

“…his will being the innermost, his intellect coming next, and finally his fantasy. You can hardly hope, at once, to exclude from all the circles everything that smells of the Enemy: but you must keep on shoving all the virtues outward till they are finally located in the circle of fantasy, and all the desirable qualities inward into the Will. It is only in so far as they reach the Will and are there embodied in habits that the virtues are really fatal to us. (I don’t, of course, mean what the patient mistakes for his Will, the conscious fume and fret of resolutions and clenched teeth, but the real centre, what the Enemy calls the Heart).”

C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

This got me thinking differently, so my morning prayer-walk involved asking this: where do my dreams come from, if not my heart, and are they alone able to make me a good person? What if my best dreams and inspirations are simply a God or Goddess giving me the gift of sound advice? This is often how dreams and inspirations seem to be. Is it my own good quality to have something else inspire me toward better things?

The word inspiration is about receiving something from some other source, more than it is about producing that thing oneself; inspiration is not exactly a product to which the inspired can lay claim for having created. My dreams, in other words, are not where my true virtue rests, though they form a good map, when at their best.

Likewise, to recognize, assess, comprehend, agree with, prioritize, choose, and even announce my dreams aloud – those things which the intellect does – are only first steps. I can only consider myself blessed to be able to consider dreams and inspirations in the context of this life: what they might mean for those around me, how they might come about, which ones are most worth pursuing, given current circumstances… the planning and contemplation phase. Undeniably important, and, as far as I can tell, within myself to choose to think, or to not think.

But inward thought is only the beginning of outward action, and so my true virtue only begins there, but is not yet fully realized into the world – it may in fact be in even greater peril of never coming to fruition, having taken real time and energy to almost-manifest-but-not-quite-yet. A trophy for the Screwtapes of the world to prize – and a threat to them as well, should they become a matter of my will.

All the good thinking in the world does not resolve something good into being, except in one’s own imagination. If thinking and even deciding good things was all that was needed to be a good person, we would only need to be brains, without hands, feet, and mouths (the tools of change we have been given to actually do things while here). Even blogging about what I dream for this world is only manifesting something good up to a point, though it is certainly better than keeping thoughts and ideals entirely to myself.

Of course, many people “only” write, but do it well, and with great heart, conviction, and purpose, that this is more than enough to manifest something worthwhile of their own best selves. Recall that not everybody has full use of all of their parts at all times, and so the parts we do have use of are where our true worth can always be found.

So what is my heart, then, according to Screwtape, according to C.S. Lewis (and according to whatever inspired him to write those words)? My heart and will are the engine, I think, that brings dreams and inspirations into fruition, in the best way I can manage. It is about effort, and intention, and sticking with something good to a proper completion, even when new inspirations (and their resulting patterns in my over-thinking noggin) pop up and demand that I drop the good things I’m doing, in order to stare at these shiny, novel notions.

My heart needs to be engaged. A heart is never at rest – it beats until it doesn’t want to anymore. The body (its servant and extension), must do things too. Real things. This is where I become the good person I am here to be. The virtues feared by Screwtape must find their way to the centre of who I am – these, formed into daily habits of the heart and its extended body, are the essence of walking well in the world as a verifiably, demonstrably good person. I think this is why Jesus walked around so damn much. He was never long at rest – his heart was too busy manifesting good things all over the place. He knew he had to move – not just pray and ponder, not just always preach from the same mount.

That is my belief today, in any case. Who knows what I may be led to believe tomorrow?

So today’s hilltop visit posed to me this question: what does your heart want? What does your will want? What does it mean for your will and your heart to want something, anyway? Your dreams and your thoughts are what they are: you can dream a great dream, and then recognize its value. Your dreams are given you – or perhaps invoked – and your thoughts are formulated… but things wanted in both these places are abstractly so. This is fantasy and thought just doing their bit. But the heart and the will and the body (hands, fingers, feet, tongue… whatever you have that you’re able to make change with) want by doing, not by receiving, or thinking. That is how the heart wants, I think. It needs that spark, it needs a spark to make it go somewhere. It always goes where its spark leads it.

How do you spark your heart in an intentional way, tangibly toward a dream you are given to acknowledge and love, in your mind’s eye? Your heart is here, in the world – if it is to want something, it must bring that thing to itself, here.

I think that takes a kind of practice. I am still unsure what kind – but probably just regular practice of the day-by-day kind. All I know is that my heart wanted to write about this, and share it somehow, in case it might matter. And so my feet brought me back home, my hands opened this laptop, and my mind and fingers then formed and shared these words, to you. My heart got what it wanted. Had it not wanted to do these things, we’d not be here together right now.

As I ascended the hill this morning – before the question about my heart’s desire (and exactly how a heart manages to effectively desire) – I thought about how this physical world is where the “rubber meets the road”. My walk up the hill confirmed this: I wore rubber on my feet, and I was walking the road – not just dreaming of it, or thinking about it, or telling somebody I was going to go for a walk one day. I was walking, which was what my heart had decided to do with the early part of its day. I chose to spark it that way. I wanted it to be, and then wanted it into being so.

There are places I’m sure where dreams alone come from – and maybe where they exist as a primary reality, unbound by time and space and gravity and all the mess that is here. The mind, somewhere between Here and There, then seems to be where thoughts live, and then plans, and also memories… all symbols for trying to make sense of what it is we dream about and are inspired by while here.

The world of matter though is where we are given a chance to turn some of those things into solid manifestations – though for what reason, I can’t say. It feels like school here; we have ideas and assignments and the freedom to choose to read them over, and then do them and hand them in, or not. Our call, our way.

That is, I think, the homework of the heart.

Pray to the Right God

Sometimes when I catch myself caught up in anger (at somebody, myself or otherwise), or anxiety, or self-pity, I will manage to recover enough to say, “You’re praying to the wrong God”. I mean that I can make a God out of any belief system; if my firm belief is that I have something to be angry about – somebody deserving of my ire – then that belief, and its expression, become the God I am praying to. Prayers always go toward a God. Thoughts and intentions and words and aspirations and actions are all prayers.

I have made some words here about my Catholic upbringing, either directly or indirectly. I was not hammered with biblical notions when I was young – simply brought to witness them playing out most (though not all) Sundays, and then during the special events: Easter, Christmas, my own Confirmation, and miscellany. I had a Catholic-Lite upbringing. My parents believe what they believe, and simply wanted me to be exposed to belief. I think that was wise of them. They chose Catholicism for me, because that’s what had been chosen for them. I think that was practical and also respectful of them. I have no complaints.

I ventured soon into agnosticism (as far as I understand it), and then called myself atheist for a requisite amount of time as a younger person. This seemed reasonable, and I (now) believe God approved of my leaving home, so that I could find my own way back again. The front door waiting for me was any door to any temple I might choose. Books too can be doors, as can doors themselves – they even look the same, with hinges of their own kinds. The Christian door (like many) happens to lead back to a book, and then a multitude of books written about it, from every possible point of view. All the more appropriate. Things coming home, and always about a Word (or more).

What I appreciate about Christianity (the teeny, tiny bit that I have seen), is that, with some very notable and numerous exceptions, it seems to welcome the constant, curious questioning of itself. The Christianity that I seek is really just about what Jesus was trying to say, and why it impacted so many people, and led to so, so many other things. You can continue to vilify The Church for all of its many sins, but that’s not the God I seek, and so I say, have at it. I am a fan of Jesus, the man. He’s made me think hard about why I’m here. He will continue to do so until the day I am here no longer. Many other speakers and writers have joined him of course, in an effort to assist me to grow – but everybody needs some kind of constant compass, and given that Jesus was given to be mine, I am happy to call him just that.

The issue I’ve now found myself in is the lack of a feminine figure in all of this. Christianity is rightly called out for being highly patriarchal, at least in its language and main characters – notably excepting some Marys and other women, named and otherwise. I do not wish to gloss over those, just to mention that they were not presented to me as being quite as important as the Father and the Son. These are unambiguously male monikers.

I am not trying to be a feminist about this for male reasons – but I suspect I have to fail in having reasons that are not male; I am male, I seem to think and feel like one. There is a spectrum of course, so I get that we all reside upon it together (though at different places, and at different times)… and I know my relationship to the feminine is not yours. But to not have a relationship to the divine feminine (as I have heard it called) is to be essentially incomplete. My greatest recent existential fear is that the male God I have been led to pray to up to this point would not approve of my seeking His feminine side – or more blasphemous still, considering that He might, on any given day, be a divine She instead (or in addition).

This conundrum is a quality of Christianity, as far as I can tell, and quite likely also an artifact of history, being what it was. Many in this world have a much easier time simply grasping this and moving forward than I have seemed to, so far. My cross to bear is anxiety over nearly everything, in spite of having every reason to be full of hope and joy. One small, first-world problem of the soul: How dare I think that God might also hold women up as examples of Himself? What if I’m sent to Hell for even thinking such a thing?

What the hell and the f*ck have I been thinking? This is small-mindedness and a waste of good spirit time. God Him/Herself is poking me in the ribs, and telling me so. Get over yourself – I am infinitely big, and so yes, I have a feminine side too. I have all the sides. Are you going to believe me, or believe the mortal men who tried to capture what I sought to tell them, back when men were the self-proclaimed centre of things?

This is what I fear I am not permitted to think, much less say to myself… and much less write to others. What if they are sent to Hell for reading this, and then considering it might be true? That God might have no gender, or else all of the genders? That God could at once have a Father’s righteous anger (when his children are hurting each other or themselves), but also a Mother’s gracious and unbreakable love? How dare I. How dare you for continuing to read this. We’re all Hell-bound. Right?

Well, to hell with Hell. It might be there, in some kind of metaphor (I think it is on Earth, when we are astray, and then really behaving that way)… but I do not feel that a thinking God would expect his thinking children to act out of love, simply out of fear of eternal punishment. Sainthood with a gun to my head is no sainthood worthy of the name. God would not approve of a good deed done selfishly, like that.

And so I have continued to read about Christianity, as written about by people with greater perspectives and better ideas than I. God would approve of reading about the Bible. There are worse things.

One book I have been slowly moving through is God in All Worlds : An Anthology of Contemporary Spiritual Writing, Edited and with Introductions by Lucinda Vardey. I am currently in chapter 7: Awakening the Great Mother. This could be crudely thought of as the “token feminism” chapter (I know I first thought of it that way), but of course it would be wrong to think that. This is just how I think, which is a different thing altogether. I entered the chapter with some apprehension, as though I would be even less able to understand it – I have had trouble understanding a good portion of the book so far – as I suppose I am still looking for Jesus (and His male Father) and this chapter by its very name seemed to promise stepping further away from the scripture I’ve become comfortable not fully understanding. What direction should I be going in, here? Toward tradition (and then, whose?), or away from it (and if so, toward what?).

But I wasn’t about to skip a chapter just because I felt vaguely unworthy of it, and so in I went. I can’t tell you what affect it will have on me until long after I’m done reading the book, in all likelihood, but I can say this: I went looking for God (via Jesus, and other stories) and this book ended up in my life. By all indications, its title promised I could find God everywhere. This did not seem then and does not seem now to be a sacrilegious act – the Christian God is simply an aspect of God, claimed by Christians. Or something. God wants to be found, and wants to find us. It’s us, looking for ourselves… but a greater version. I don’t know, I’m just making words now. That’s how it goes.

What I have been now given the permission to do (I had to ask for this of myself, in prayer to the male side of God) is to consider the feminine side of God too. Maybe seek God as Heavenly Mother for some time. After all, I have been calling God Him for most of my life. Would it be a mistake (even if it were mistaken) to call God Her for awhile, just to see if I got closer, or else further away? To see if it could better guide me home? Could that possibly be any “worse” than being an atheist for years, for wanting to believe Richard Dawkins had more answers (and better ones) than generations of spiritual seekers and contemplatives? How sexist have I been, in waiting this long to pray to a white-robed woman in the sky, instead of a white-bearded man?

And so I put a toe in the water just the other day (for largely the first time in my 50 years here), and gave myself permission to pray in some new direction (but really, the exact same one): to see God as bigger than gender, altogether. What a concept. I am late to so many parties.

What I can tell you is that my hope and fortune have so far not faltered – my house has not burned, my loved ones are still healthy. I have had no inner demons gain strength, I have had no ominous feelings of having made a grave mistake. I have in fact only felt generally less interested in self-flagellation, and somewhat more forgiven and understood on a fundamental level. Maybe just a little bit. As though the creative source from which I came was at least as caring and concerned as both of my own mortal parents, collectively, have been for me. God is bigger than mortal parents, but I have made Her (and by extension, Him as well) so, so much smaller. Mean, really. What a cruel trick to have played on ourselves.

I don’t mean to invalidate the need for penance, when penance is called for – but it is not a way to wheedle oneself out of some firey judgement brought down upon us by an angry single-parent; it is a way to build character. The kind of character we are meant to strive for in our short time here.

God’s anger has a purpose, like the anger of a parent watching their beloved child almost walk into traffic. I have subtly believed though in the Cosmic Stick rather than the Cosmic Carrot for a disproportionate amount of time. I am not at all done wondering where God is, and what aspects I am supposed to conceive of, and then say my words of thanks and prayers to, but I can see that my conception of God is still very informed by the limitations of human minds – including my own of course, but those of others as well. I can imagine all of the very-human reasons this came to pass, and continues to do so.

God (or whatever one chooses to call the Source, or the Here and Now) made us into beings that could perceive, think, discern, choose, and act. That is what we are and are meant to be and do. It is no sin to consider anew what God we are to pray to on a given day, since God is all of the gods – not a small and localized one, but the One, which includes us as well. This is of course my belief system, at present. What more could it ever be, to me?

If it were a sin to think God might be able to conceive us all on Her and His very own, then there is no escaping sin. I choose to feel I have much to learn still – and I have the permission, freedom, and responsibility to do it. I will let you know if catastrophe strikes, but I’m so far inclined to report that God is still hearing my prayers, just as well if not better, for having had them addressed to His better half, with greatest respect and even greater faith.