January 11, 2011

Here I Sit - annual confession - Stephen Berg

I often live with a sense of abandonment...yet with a keen anticipation of epiphany. I live with the idea that natural life is a miracle and a mystery; but that it is also the arena of science and reason which may at any moment curb my understanding of miracle and mystery.

I believe that we are beings suited for contemplation, meditation and prayer. But I'm not always sure what prayer does or doesn't do.

I revere the self-gift of Jesus, but don’t believe in Anselm’s satisfaction theory of atonement. I'm deeply attracted to the Eucharist, what I used to call the Lord's supper; I consider it a dramatic enigma.

I'm never far from asking for guidance but I can’t tell if God guides my life, let alone has a detailed plan for me. (I have great regard for those who know God's plan for their lives.) It seems that time and chance happen to us all. But when I'm in a crisis I jettison every fatalistic cell and plead for light.

I often dislike myself and at these times I do one of two things: I sink into a deep funk, or I emotionally preen myself beyond recognition while going out of my way to solicit praise, surreptitiously of course. But too, I often find myself to be a fair friend and good company. And when in this way, I am pleasant to be around.

I hate sickness, violence, seeing people I love hurt, seeing anyone hurt; I hate the loss that chronic pain forces upon lives, the inevitability of decay, the death of friends and relatives. I used to think, and was given to believe, that God allowed of these things and I called this, God's unsearchable wisdom. But even as I regurgitated this theodicy, I really didn't know what to make of it. And now I believe the idea and the language to be unhelpful if not harmful.

Learning to let go of loss, pain or anger, seems the healthy thing to do; but I don't think it's always possible. And I have arm-loads of mercy for those who can't let go and let god. Insanity, or drink, or drugs, or the many other possible addictions are not unreasonable options in the face of some forms of personal suffering. Oddly enough, an untroubled life may also court addiction.

I'm a distracted, but just as often a captivated reader of the Psalms and gospels. I've pretty much left off reading the rest of the bible except where I intuit a reference.

Once a month as I lurch along through the Psalms, by way of morning lectio divina, I come upon this coordinate: Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part, thou shalt make me to know wisdom. And while I have no hope of arriving at anything like untarnished inner truth before my three score and ten, I'm figuring here that the spirit of Love, the spirit of the maker of the cosmos, the spirit of Jesus, the spirit of the mysterium tremendum is as patient as a desert, and fancies my liberation from every form of distortion and self-delusion. As it is, I believe that the I Am has no issue with my doubts or my ravings (consider the ancient Hebrew  poets), but is concerned primarily about pulling me toward personal verity and inner integrity (well, I guess I do believe in guidance).

And what I've found, dear reader, is that when I stray from this inner compass, I place myself in peril of living life without breath, of living a life of fantasy, dead directionless fantasy at that. I may as well exhume the corpse of Dean Martin and ask it the secret of sobriety.

So this coming year, I will continue doing what I do: I will listen, watch, wait, doubt, believe, chronicle and so perhaps fashion a few true sentences. And if that should happen—about the sentences—I will try as best I can to see that my life catches up to them.



  1. Stephen, I love your honesty and transparency in this post. You raise so many issues and questions, from deep theological understandings to how to navigate the day (which are all really interconnected, aren't they?).

    My "inner compass" tells me to be simple in my faith, bringing my questions and the things that trouble me to my Abba Father and, childlike, trust that He has it figured out and will let me in on His secrets as I study His word (all of it).

  2. So refreshing to hear someone who admits we don't have all the answers--perhaps don't have all the questions!

    All we have in the last analysis is faith--raw faith sometimes. Even the atheist needs faith in his assumptions.

    I'm always amazed at the comfort the Bible brings, mostly I think as a result of its commanding authority.

    I recently recommended the psalms to someone in crisis. There's comfort in hearing of those godly people who also spent much of their lives in adversity.

  3. Thank you Bryan and Violet. Both for your encouragement and wisdom.

  4. I like this even better the second time. It gives me the strength to admit that I have doubts too, and the comfort in knowing that I'm in good company.
    Pam M.


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