There’s a word for what I'm experiencing today: odontophobia. Dentist fear. A jagged-edged tooth has rubbed raw the inside of my lower lip, and I've a dentist appointment tomorrow.

As an adolescent I endured three years of braces, sharp as razor wire, to straighten teeth that were a jumbled, protruding mess. It's possible I’m now feeling the fear and loathing that I suppressed years ago.

But maybe there’s more to it than that. An article in Discover Magazine suggests that - in certain circumstances - we may be experiencing the emotional trauma of our forebearers, a genetic legacy:

“According to the new insights of behavioral epigenetics, traumatic experiences in our past, or in our recent ancestors’ past, leave molecular scars adhering to our DNA. Jews whose great-grandparents were chased from their Russian shtetls; Chinese whose grandparents lived through the ravages of the Cultural Revolution; young immigrants from Africa whose parents survived massacres; adults of every ethnicity who grew up with alcoholic or abusive parents — all carry with them more than just memories."

"Like silt deposited on the cogs of a finely tuned machine after the seawater of a tsunami recedes, our experiences, and those of our forebears, are never gone, even if they have been forgotten. They become a part of us, a molecular residue holding fast to our genetic scaffolding. (Dan Healy, Discover Magazine, May, 2013)

Whether these scientific insights prove valid over time or not, I do know this. My mother, who's ninety-four years old, hasn't been to a dentist since she was a child. She once vaguely mentioned she'd had a bad experience there. I've also recently learned that my oldest sister’s teeth are in serious need of repair. She refuses her son's offer of free dental care.

All of which leads me to believe my odontophobia might be partly inherited.

Those who believe that they believe in God,
but without passion in their hearts,
without anguish in mind,
without uncertainty, 
without doubt,
without an element of despair even in their consolation,
believe only in the God idea, not God Himself.
                                                       - Unamuno

Paradox of fog

Fog can obscure, yet it can also make visible the invisible.
Like fog, faith enables us to see things that are normally not visible to the naked eye.

The Mystery that's God

It seems the more I think, pray, study and experience,
the more unknowable God becomes. This, I suppose, is
what is meant by the mystery of God. I love that God is 
so much more than I’ll ever be able to comprehend. Yet 
it’s frustrating for someone like me -- who loves to figure 
things out, to have things add up and make sense -- that 
I’ll never know God completely.

Whenever I think I’ve gotten a “fix” on God, whenever 
I begin to think or believe I know what God is up to, God 
throws me a curveball, cautioning me that I'm becoming
a spiritual know-it-all. 

So it's out of necessity, as well as choice, that I turn to 
Jesus for help in connecting with the Great Unknown. 
I listen to what he has to say about God, I relate to his 
struggle to discern God’s will, and I learn the wisdom 
of humility: to surrender without knowing the outcome.

Such is the spiritual life. 

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
― Albert Einstein

Jesus vs. Religion

What is the kind of religion that Jesus opposed? Any religion that is proud of its virtue, like the boastful Pharisee. Any that is self-righteous, quick to judge and condemn, ready to impose burdens rather than share or lift them. Any that exalts its own officers, proud of its trappings, building expensive monuments to itself. Any that neglects the poor and cultivates the rich, any that scorns outcasts and flatters the rulers of this world. If that sounds like just about every form of religion we know, then we can see how far from religion Jesus stood.
- Gary Wills

There's no such thing as NOT worshipping...

"In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.

 If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clich├ęs, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness."

– This is Water (David Foster Wallace) 

I Am Torn

O God, I am torn.
Do I rant or praise?
This world is so magnificent,
so flawed,
and I cannot divert
my gaze,
my heart,
from either. 

-author unknown


In the October 18, 2012 issue of Newsweek a neurosurgeon writes about his journey to the afterlife. Dr. Eben Alexander chronicles in vivid, sensory detail his near-death experience after his cortex shut down for seven days due to a rare bacterial meningitis. While in a deep coma, Alexander experienced the universe as "the same one both Einstein and Jesus were speaking of in their very different ways."  He is so convinced this experience is "Proof of Heaven" (title of his forthcoming book) that he's willing to put his name and professional credentials on the line.

Alexander received a three-part message from a being he encountered while on his journey:

"You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever."
"You have nothing to fear."
"There is nothing you can do wrong."

In addition to seeing "big, puffy, pink-white clouds," Alexander speaks of "entering an immense void, completely dark, infinite in size, yet also infinitely comforting." He quotes the 17th century poet Henry Vaughan who described "this vast, inky-black core that was the home of the Divine itself."

"There is, some say, in God a deep but dazzling darkness." (Vaughan)

Medieval mystics knew and wrote about the Void, the Abyss, the no-thingness of God. God is everywhere and nowhere, in the dark as well as the light.

Something for us to ponder in our hearts.


Resurrection was the subject of endless late-night discussions in seminary. “You don’t really believe in resurrection, do you?”  
“Are you kidding? If Jesus wasn’t resurrected, my faith has no meaning.” 
“Resurrection is a myth.”

At this time of the year -- every year -- flower heads die, yielding seeds that are capable of producing new growth. It's the end of the old, the beginning of the new. We accept this natural cycle without question.  In fact, our lives depend upon it.

When we welcome Christ into our lives, we’re made new. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!"

I can't prove if or how Jesus’s resurrection happened. But I am willing to trust that God – the creator of all that we know and all that we don’t know – could make it happen. Because I know my resurrected life doesn't look anything like it did B(efore) C(hrist). 

The Courage to Change

So often in our willingness to surrender, to hand things over to God, we forget that we also prayed for "the courage to change the things that we can."  Who doesn't want God to step in, to wave some kind of supranatural wand and have the source of our disquiet disappear? It's so much easier than doing the hard work that transforms change from a prayer into a reality.

Change calls us to move from where we are, from where we've been hiding, from where we've felt most comfortable. For some, it may mean speaking up for the first time on behalf of ourselves, or stop trying to "make peace," or walking away. For others, it may mean stepping into a space that feels very, very uncomfortable.  We forget that God, bent down on one knee -- like an encouraging, loving parent -- arms stretched out toward us, is calling us forward. Only we can move our feet.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

- Wendell Berry

A way where there is no way; 

that is something God, 

and only God, can provide.

Responsive prayer for our world

Lord, sometimes the world feels like it’s spinning out of control.
     We no longer believe what we hear or read.
We’ve grown cynical about everything from climate change 
to the number of American children who are hungry.
     We don’t want to know what we know.
We feel powerless in the face of painful realities; 
we pretend they don’t exist.
     You call us to do what we can; to live life with honesty and integrity.
To make a difference; to not sit back and think only of ourselves.
     Lord, let our lives be a witness to your love and concern for the world.
     Help us begin anew today.  Amen.