Skin in the Game

I have been thinking about getting older recently, how I am ultimately more out of touch with the times. I am having a harder time speaking the language of current culture.

Paradoxically there is also a stronger longing to reach the next generation, but my ideas seem too traditional, to “deep” or intellectual for the times.

I have thought of late maybe I need to eschew this way of being to have more skin in the game.

Maybe it is like that moment when God decided to descend to earth to reach humanity, in an act of great humility and humiliation.

Paul explains the act of God descending to earth as Jesus in Philippians.

5-8 Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

9-11 Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.

I think of the evangelical pastor who buys hipster jeans and fashionable clothing so the ancient message of Christ can be made known to a younger generation. Reaching the lost through whatever means.

Other things come to mind like a story about an Orthodox monastic that dispensed chocolate to young kids as a gift of love, it rotted their teeth, but it was the only way to get their attention.

Or a father who takes a job as an engineer at the refinery, really an artist at heart, he puts it aside his passions to keep his family afloat financially.

Tonight I will watch the Bachelor because it is one of the few opportunities I get to spend one on one with my wife.

What is this common idea here?

The culture of frivolousness, the vanity of vanities, used as a means to share time with one another.

Skin in the game.

Jesus could have easily presented ultimate truth in one final blow. But instead, he steeped himself in the essence of the culture, the simplistic forms of life on life’s terms.

He offered a cold glass of water to someone with a parched throat.

Broke bread and ate fish to commune with his best friend Peter.

It is like the time I offered a dirty Halls lozenge in my pocket to an elderly woman having a coughing fit at the airport.

Or when my friend who was a celebrity pastor got into a horrible car accident and was laid up in bed, unemployed and without purpose. He told me it was an agnostic heroin addict that came over consistently and played video games with him, that ultimately led to his emotional healing. His congregation flooded him with platitudes and theological propositions, but none knew how to simply pass the time with him.

It also happens to be the clearest indication of mastery for most of the great filmmakers. The aim of my greatest vocational aspirations. Concealing ultimate truth and subtext, the art of subversive communication through symbolism, metaphor and common storylines.

One could easily stand justified, separated and purified from such a lower existence, but then they might miss the connection with others.

How does one do this without becoming convoluted, trite, insincere? Corrupted by the corrosive secular materialism of our time.

Especially when the current postmodern agenda and everything 'of the moment' seems to be antithetical to God, almost apocalyptic.

Stand on the outside and throw stones? Surely as great prophets have done in the past...

But what about love, the love the meets people where they are in the mundanity of their everyday lives, the place they spend most of their time?

This is the realm of communion and connection.

People are not transformed by truth bombs, it is usually slow and nuanced, they experience healing inside of relational dynamics.

When they are being helped with simple things, frivolous things one might presume.

Today I was getting coffee at a hipster boutique intelligentsia spot. I felt like crawling out of my skin, the absurdity of it all, a whole community of people working, carrying on and dialoguing around an 8 dollar cup of caffeine. But again, it was a community of people, vibrant, connected, I was on the outside, partaking reclusively, casting stones.

This thought ultimately brings me to the connection with my own children. At the moment they are watching looney toons, Disney’s best, mindless simplistic distraction… one could argue it is their teacher in this season of life. It is essential as a father I find a way to experience what they are experiencing, to understand the stories they are absorbing. Otherwise, I will remain on the outside of their lives. I must learn the sports they love, the songs they sing and the things that keep their attention.

So I can love them fully.

So I can have skin in the game.

I still loath Disneyland but they love it.

The humility of God descending to earth as Jesus is striking.

I pray one day I might experience a peace with it.

For now I am struggling to find a way in.


Sacred Ugly Power Lines

Father,

It seems to me that it would be easier to perceive that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” if I didn’t encounter such constant suburban sprawl on a daily basis. When I see the visual beauty of nature, or of our Church buildings, or of Buddhist temples in foreign lands, or in primitive settings like I might see in a National Geographic magazine- then such a declaration in the Psalms makes sense; the world is perceptively symbolic. In such settings, it is as though Christ can be felt invisibly present, standing within the material world, making an offering before the Father.

But here I sit in a grey cubicle at work, in front of a computer monitor. And to get here, I drove past miles of suspended power lines, and some pretty run-down parts of town. Maybe, with some difficulty, I might be able to come to perceive that this part of “the earth [where I live] is the Lord’s”- but it sure feels like I just have to take such a statement on ‘blind faith’. The whole suburban way of life feels like a barrier- not only choking off awareness of God’s presence but a barrier to just simply being alive.

I am very seriously considering exiting the whole American scene- taking the family to live somewhere remote and quiet. If it were up to me, I might choose the middle of a jungle somewhere, I think, but my wife does have her limits. But what I am wondering is whether such a drastic move toward a primitive life is just escapism- maybe it would be more beneficial in the long run to keep grinding along here, hoping to one day come to perceive the true symbolic character of this modern world (which is presently hidden from me), a world that does seem to me to be mostly secular or profane.

Todd,

A few thoughts. What you are describing (and I understand the frequent ugliness of our landscape), is essentially an aesthetic judgment. Not an incorrect one. But to perceive that the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof is not an aesthetic experience – it is “theoria” – contemplation – the perception of what is true. The faculty of judgment (rationality) gets in the way of such perception. It is done from the heart (nous).

I had such an experience recently. I was on my morning walk, and was praying as I walked along. I purposely opened myself up to perception, rather than judging. The streets of my neighborhood have a certain beauty, but the housing is not so good in many places, and people are not always that careful about things. But I did not see things that way. Even the wiring – which runs everywhere in the upper storey of the streets didn’t bother me. Instead, I began to think of the wiring as relationships – the connectedness of our shared existence. They were a community that is often not expressed in any other way. And I began to pray for the neighborhood, seen in this new way. It didn’t make the wiring prettier or pleasing. But just that slight “side-step” a small adjustment in my viewing, allowed me to see something I had missed.

Beauty – the beauty perceived in theoria – is present everywhere at all times. It is only occasionally present aesthetically. If we live in an aesthetic mode – we will find peace nowhere, for sin will manifest itself as ugliness and will find us out. For sin is present everywhere. Theoria is not only for the few, but, can be, on some level, a normative part of the Christian life. (From a private confession between Father Stephen Freeman and a layman.)


Heaven bound but no Earthly good

“Do you thirst for a heavenly realm, a place beyond the hard, brutal existence of life on earth? Have you encountered glimpses of the other side through deep meditation, prayer, near-death experiences, ayahuasca, dmt, lsd or other out of body experiences? Do you assume it is a kind of 2 story universe we are living in, only passing through, heaven up there and us down here? What if you found out it was a one story universe, heaven on earth, and your unquenchable thirst for another reality was merely escapism? Would it change how you were showing up and committing your life to the relationships, responsibilities, and hardships that besiege you? After years of struggling to become more spiritual so I could transcend the material world and all of its illusions I nearly lost my marriage and my job. The disembodied experience had lead to a type of reclusive disassociation with all of reality and ultimately non-being. I was heaven bound but no longer any earthly good.” From a recovering @hyperspiritualhobo 


The Kingdom of Mint Juleps and Sugary Beignets

A few days ago we attended Disneyland for the fourteenth time this year with my 2 kids and my wives parents. Earlier in the year, my wife was adamant that I buy a $350 season pass in an attempt to save us some money. "Fuck," I thought, "Really?" I remember feeling the same agitation when Carlos at Circle Audi was manipulating me into an extended warranty on new brake pads for our leased vehicle. "Well sir, if you don't get the extra coverage you will end up paying twice as much after you return the vehicle." It was one of those lose-lose situations when there is neither fight nor flight but a silent defeated resignation. "Where do I sign, here is my credit card, take my soul now, why don't you…" The kids were screaming and the depression set in, the heavy eyes, the longing to want to roll over and go nap somewhere. "Is this our life now, is this where it is all headed, honey?" I asked my wife, in a not so Disneyland ‘honey' kind of way. "People are starting to look at you, just give the woman your credit card." She loved to use that ‘people are looking at you’. 

I have watched my son and wife thoroughly enjoy the luxury of a swinging door at Disneyland. From a yearly tradition, it has now become a place of consistent respite and rejuvenation for them. I tag along when I can because I don't want my family to think any less of me. That scrooge, anti-fun disorder has been a heavy weight around my neck since I can remember and I want to shake it off for the sake of my kids and seasons to come when I will have to participate in other horrible mythological adventures like celebrating Coka Cola’s version of St. Nicholas..look it up if you don't believe me, its the birth of Santa Clause. But if I am being really honest, maybe I kept showing up at Disneyland to find some kind of spiritual breakthrough or renewed innocence of my own. 

After many hours that day, staring at hundreds of women's asses in black yoga pants to spike my serotonin and shoving oversized corn dogs down my throat I realized my irreconcilable despair around all of it was leading me to the edge. I couldn't carry the untruth of it uphill anymore. My existential pain surrounding the blind unconsciousness of it all was unruly. It was disgusting to think Walt Disney and Monsanto were pandering, advertising and campaigning their way into the hearts of young innocent children. Forcing an allegiance and manipulating them into sold out consumers for the rest of their lives. 

After a father wearing a Captain Hook hat almost ran over me, pushing his leashed son one step closer to a Buzz Lightyear statue, I had had enough. I think I had been on my phone trying to figure out more important things like the reason Brazil voted a right-wing homophobic nationalist into office. I wanted to bring it up to my wife and passive-aggressively punish her for not attending to more important apocalyptic things in the world. But first to handle this fucking unconscious idiot who hit my leg. My fist was clenched. It was then my three-year-old son suddenly looked up at me "Papa, I love you, Buzz Lightyear, Buzz Light Year…" It was painful, like when your dying grandmother attempting to use your iPhone notices your porn search history. So much evil and anger illuminated by the tender fragile presence of innocence. 

But my repentance only lasted for as long as the next ride and then I sunk back in. Angry, irritable and discontent. Internally I was conflicted, I thought maybe I should just surrender to an easier nihilistic framework and become stoic to mitigate the absurdity of our human existence, or remain somewhat Christian continuing to pray for a way through this pigpen of American delusion. It was so clear to me that neither God nor Truth nor anything redeeming existed at Disneyland. It could only be a place to simply survive.

My youngest was asleep in her stroller, my phone was dead, I flailed onto a bench to rest my feet and pout a bit. The rest of the family carried on across the park to Winnie the Pooh, surely having enough of my shit.  It was a moment to get quiet and honest with God finally. So I prayed, "You know Father, you and I haven't spoken candidly recently and you know how I feel about this place, as I am sure you feel the same way…but if there is something I am not seeing or not coming to grasps with, can you throw me a bone here, help me please?" 

In AA I did what we call a second step, I often forget it is the foundational tenet in a program that saved my life as an alcoholic. It comes after the first step of surrender and a life not working out so well on your own terms, in your own strength. Step two (Came to believe a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.) It had been a long season of my own will power not working out so well and I was ready for help. 

Suddenly, and it really was that swiftly, I felt a nudge, a kind of answer to prayer, which wasn't something dramatic but a simple idea to do the next indicated step. I had a kind of knowing that if I simply got up at that moment and walked towards Winnie the Poo, the rest of the family would be done with the ride and ready to go. So I followed the feeling and honored it. Sure enough, I turned the corner and they were right there, getting off the ride. The timing was perfect.  It was a fairly big deal because my phone had died hours previously and I had no real way of staying in touch with them. 

Next, my wife's stepmother suggested we get something sugary for my son because he was falling asleep; immediately I spoke up and resisted. My non-GMO righteousness eclipsed the state of grace… "Now that is the worst thing we could do for him right now…" I felt that seething cauldron of hate bubbling up again.  

Then suddenly that God's presence feeling happened again. Pulling me towards something else. My wife and the rest of the family headed towards the train for one last circle around the park. My eyes dashed left and I saw a kids face smeared with a sugary beignet. I beelined towards the window, bought three and doubled down with two mint juleps. Just before the train was leaving I raced with my daughter still sleeping in her stroller and delivered the sugary request. It was a little like an out of body experience, I could not tell if I had simply given up or there was something else moving me. 

There was a peace that overcame me in that moment, a kind of acceptance. I noticed another family pushing a quadriplegic girl, another overweight child who had fallen asleep in his mother's arms. There was something magical and transcendent about the moment that hadn't been there before. I thought maybe the Kingdom of God wasn't a physical place, or a thing to figure out but instead it was a way of perceiving reality when we surrender our cognitive, rational will. 

After the long day, my wife turned to me and said how highly her stepmother had spoken of me and the gracious gift…that I was a real man of God who served his family well. Now, we know the holes in that statement but all that being said, I was less angry that night leaving the park, less concerned with whether or not it was a delusional pursuit of hedonistic escapism or something to be blindly enjoyed. I was simply more interested in the joy of my kids. I felt a little more whole, a little smaller, average, and right sized knowing that maybe I had been wrong.  Knowing God had intervened and done something through me that I could not muster up in my own strength. I was happy to see my family happy; it was quite simple. Like a mustard seed. It reminded me that Jesus wasn't so concerned about the type of bread and wine at the table but was more interested in the love shared and the time spent together. More and more I'm realizing my refusal to accept life on life’s terms is just my pride, arrogance and a refusal to accept my ordinary averageness. Sometimes, rarely, I’m smart enough to rely on divine revelation, most of the time if I am being honest need to be in enough pain to truly let go. For now, what else can I say, God Bless Disneyland and the Kingdom of Mint Juleps and Sugary Beignets…. 


Marriage as Martyrdom

Someone recently said of marriage that it is the only martyrdom in which you get to pick the instrument of your death. Of course it is not so much a physical death, though your physicality is a part of your sacrifice, but it is also the laying down of your ego, your self will, your time, your passions, your selfish desires… all the things that are ultimately harder to give up for the long haul than your physical life in a split second.

I (like most of us I suspect) chose marriage before I knew the true meaning of the sacrifice required. And being deluded by passion, I also didn’t know the depth of my self-centeredness nor my true capacity to make that sacrifice. I look back now on more than half my life that I’ve shared a house, a bed, and children with someone I chose (and who chose me.)

I think of all the things I have seen and done and shared with someone within marriage. I think of the things I accomplished at too great an expense. I remember all the secret self-indulgences, the wastes of time, the compromises I made and the lies I told that barely covered them. I think about the things I have failed at, the times I didn’t show up when I needed to be there physically or spiritually. I think about all the ways I’ve fallen and caused grief and pain to those I’ve loved and fallen out of love with. I think of the unforeseen twists of fate and the turns I’ve taken that took everyone around me down dark paths. I think of the joys mingled with sorrows, the regrets, and the grace of happiness unsought and undeserved. I think of the decades of day to day monotonous sacrifices I’ve endured and all the ways I’ve sinned to ease the pain. I think of all the nights staring into the darkness dragged down by the weight of things that could have been, but I know will never be, my unfulfilled goals, the hopes unrealized, the things that might have been “if only…” If only I had been wiser if only I had been stronger if only I had been more spiritual or even something as mundane as just wealthier. Ultimately these things are evidence that what I was I brought into my marriage, and what I am becoming is the hard work of love within it.

I wake up, I come home from work, I go to sleep and my wife is there with me. I look upon the woman I love, my chosen martyrdom, who shares our children, my table, my couch, my bed.

I think of the deaths we’ve shared, the passing of best friends and of parents. I think of the people we’ve drifted away from, and of the conflicted loss of the respect and trust of old friends. I think of the friends we’ve gathered in our joint history. Together we are facing the impending death of friends, and we know we continue to face the death of friends and family that will come out of season and in unimaginable ways. Together we’ll share the anxious joy of our children’s new lives apart from us.

I see my wife both in my memories and in the present moment. The years have etched their indelible marks upon her skin. I see the lines of her face radiant in the morning sun. In the night as we lay together and no words are needed nor hoped for, I hold her aging hand in mine. I know the history of her skin, the silken beauty of her youth lost, the silent frailties now overtaking her bones. Time has done us both irreparable harm, neither of us are as young as we used to be.

But I have no desire to hold a hand that has not touched death, nor do I wish to look into glittering, hopeful, shallow eyes that have not seen my world. I have no longing for the false comfort and the old man’s lies of an embrace of a smooth body. I want to face the remaining days of my life with the one whose body, soul and spirit have been my faithful companion in all I’ve revealed in, longed for, ruined, loved and failed at in life.

I love you, Maggie. I still don’t know why you are the one in my bed, and I still love looking up and seeing you across the dinner table… I pray I never cease to be amazed.


Certificate of Recognition

I had always been troubled by the statement Jesus made to Peter out on the sea of Galilee, after his first recorded miracle. The story goes that two average nobody fisherman, Simon, and Peter, were out there fishing an empty lake, no fish on the line, nothing to bring home for dinner. It had probably been a few days and the weary nobody fishermen were ready to throw in the towel. Jesus strolls up, tells them to cast their nets again, and suddenly they pull up an overwhelming, jaw-dropping bounty of fish. In Luke and Matthew, it suggests they dropped to their knees in awe. Jesus then says something to the effect of…"Good, now that you trust my power, drop those raggedy useless old nets and become a fisher of men.." In Luke, it says "So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him." Even post Resurrection, Jesus comes back to find Peter, his main man, back fishing upon the lake, and calls him off that dead-end job for good. Jesus was only satisfied with Peter when his chips were all in.

It had always troubled me that this similar moment might one day pop up on me. God showing up in my dry and barren desert of existence with a sudden miracle, and then a call to leave the dismal domesticated American life I so dearly cling to. I imagined it as a call out into the world, away from the small town where I grew up, the place of comfort and security, my nagging wife and ungrateful children. It lined up with every hero's journey: the call to adventure and real purpose with high stakes, and the spirit of God filling your sails.  

But this day in my own life never came, well at least I hadn't recognized it or I didn't want to. I often thought maybe I was too much of a coward, always one foot in and one foot out, too filled with fear to leap. I had passively attempted it a couple of times but always found myself having to return to the mundane old shitty fish-less net, you know the dismal day-to-day stacked up pressures of modern life. 

I had seen others attempt it, some struck with a call from God; many with sudden great missional exuberance. Some left for monasteries; others headed for ashrams in India, and the more virtuous of the bunch hunkered down in Mother Teresa type situations, long-suffering with the poor. It would be those that had left their security, comfort and illusionary constructed American life that I deemed Godly, Holy and brave enough to live the real Christian life. 

I am 37 now, two kids, a wife, a big home in a suburban enclave, a little extra fat around the waist, and a private yearly craving for the new season of The Bachelor. When I get a second to myself which isn’t often I try to burn off the extra twenty-five pounds with a walk around the block, often passing the Greek Orthodox Church where I was baptized, doing my cross in hopes that God forgives my apathy. 

It would be on one of these walks a few months ago that Jesus would finally show up with the miracle. A small car approached me from behind: inside an old friend, one of those mystics that had gone to India years ago, found enlightenment, yoga, came back to lose everything to drugs and alcohol, escaped death, became sober, found God again, and was now living out of his car on a new mission. I thought of the other friends that had dropped their nets; some lasted but most didn't, one ended up walking away from the monastery in the desert, got lost, and died from dehydration. Another went completely broke and started selling drugs, shot his mom in a cocaine-induced psychosis and is spending many years in prison. Others moved back in with family and are now seeking steady work. But here, here in front me was the possibility that one man had finally figured it out.  His eyes were large, filled with empathetic tears; his hug was long. He sat on his old 70's Toyota. I imagined it like the donkey Jesus rode into Jerusalem, showing his great humility. We spoke of his escapades, his revelations, his new commitment to the poor in downtown LA. He was living out of his car but believed God would sustain his mission. When I asked about his wife and his two teenage daughters he mentioned they weren't really on good terms anymore; she had moved them back in with her mother because of financial difficulties. 

There was something eager in him to skim over all of that domestic baggage and get back to the work he was doing for God out on the fringe, with the lepers and the nobodies of our world. His Instagram revealed evidence of countless lives touched and saved. Fishing for men who needed haircuts, clothing, and food, he was filled with a final sense of purpose and calling. He invited me out that day but my commitment to picking up my kids from school superseded the bubbling up of spiritual revelation I was having. As he left my presence in a rush to get back ‘to the fishing for men', I felt great despair setting in as the moment of courage escaped me. Crossing myself, I asked for forgiveness. 

A few weeks later The Bachelor was on. My son was sick with a bad cold; my daughter was puking violently from a stomach bug and my wife and I argued about whether or not to take another trip to Disney Hawaii. The crushing blow of my Godless inadequacies had sharpened, the feeling of fruitless, never-ending consumeristic endeavors overwhelmed me. Stuck in the throes of providing for my family without any real recognition or overwhelming zeal I sat that night ruminating on my fatalistic apathy. How could I have missed the call, the action, why couldn't I just drop this heavy tattered domestic burden and get to the real work of God? 

As the poisonous self-loathing bubbled up, I received a text message: an image of a Certificate of Recognition my friend had just received from the mayor of the city we live in.

I stared at it for a long while. I thought about my friend out there living in the cold harsh Los Angeles homeless camps, the momentum he was creating online, the esteem he was building with every soul he was saving. The overwhelming despair consumed me. 

And then suddenly like that, the miracle came.  Well, at least the call from God that I had been waiting for. As I turned from looking at the Certificate of Recognition back to my wife.  In her very social worker, pragmatic, German way, she was looking sharply into my eyes. As if God finally spoke, dispelling my eternal longing for spiritual grandeur once and for all, she leaned in intensely and said…"Tell your friend to go get a job and pay back all of his overdue child support. Then and only then will I believe it's from God and it isn't just about his longing for recognition and escaping the responsibilities of adult life." 

The pillows on the couch were suddenly softer that night, my sleep was deeper than usual. I had a sense that maybe my interpretation of Peter dropping his net was more skewed by the modern myths of wanderlust and hero journeys.  It made me think that maybe there were other stories and characters in the long list of virtuous long-suffering men that I hadn't considered and that maybe, just maybe, I was exactly where I was supposed to be.  


Saved By A Mental Breakdown

My throat suddenly clenched closed, it was hard to breathe, the first thought was that I was having a panic attack. I was no stranger to the sudden strike of impending doom or a ferocious wave of a death mongering adrenaline. But never a clenched throat. I struggled to swallow, I checked my pulse, I planted my feet on the ground, I went through the checklist the psychiatrist had once given me. "Alright panic if you're here, then bring it on, I am ready." I had learned early in my formative years of getting sober that fighting the wave of impending doom only gives it more steam. So there I was, ready, surrendered to the terror, letting it have its way. The next day at the doctor's provided little relief, "…Well, sir, I think it might just be anxiety, go home and get some rest, maybe stick with liquids for now." That evening the anxiety turned into what felt like a total collapse of my psyche, it was hard to focus, hard to breathe, I became trapped in a thought that I couldn't shake. I pulled off the freeway. "Am I supposed to keep myself breathing or is my breathing on autopilot?" Suddenly I was hyperventilating, I had just made it into my garage and closed the door, the confusion and fear were unbearable. An all-engulfing flame of terror had overwhelmed me, it would soon incinerate the life I was desperately holding onto. 

To back up, a few weeks earlier I had just finished a year-long journey through the St. Ignatius spiritual exercises. A deep contemplative imaginative meditation on the life of Christ, forty minutes of silence every day. A recommendation from a dear friend after I expressed a feeling of being overworked, numb and distant from God. During the last session with my spiritual director, a wonderfully intuitive woman, she warned me that in my mediations she noticed I was never going to the cross with Jesus but instead watching it from afar, as a kind of bystander. She advised me to be careful on the other side of the work we had done because it was not finished. She spoke frankly, "It's interesting how much you avoided the cross, be careful this coming year…". I understood there was some death or surrender I was consciously or unconsciously avoiding but figured because I had worked the 12 steps of alcoholics anonymous, surrendered a whole bunch of power over there, I was surrendered enough. It was during this year of spiritual exercises my prolific career as a director also hit a slump, I lost several jobs in a row, my wife had gone to get her masters degree, and I was suddenly alone with myself and my pain. Hindsight I think that repressed fear or whatever that darkness was that grabbed ahold of my throat that day and sent me on a tailspin, I think somehow it had been suppressed my entire life. Busyness, distraction, over-eating, drinking, you name it helped fend it off for a season but it was always there lurking. 

But back to the everlasting panic attack. It was after a week of not being able to eat, sweating profusely at night, and feeling like real death was upon me, my wife God bless her, had had enough. I finally called my spiritual director who was also a psychiatrist. I remember it as clear as day: "…We can get you on medication if it becomes unbearable but I recommend staying the course." That simple, as if she knew something I didn't. It was after that I would face the collapse of my mind and journey into the darkest night of my soul. The agony and terror were inarticulable. I finally understood why some men take their own lives. I held onto my sponsor in AA, I would lay on his couch often barely able to keep my head up as he took me back through the 12 steps. The more I worked with him the more I realized how truly un-surrendered my life was. It was clear I had somehow white-knuckled my way through early sobriety, eventually taking all of my self-reliance and willpower back. It would be over four months later that the horror of this prolonged panic finally subsided. I was forty pounds lighter, laying on my back in our backyard looking up at the sky. I told God that I give up. I said it with the core of my being like a dying person's last breath. "Into your hands, I commit my spirit," I remember my sense of smell coming back, my ears kind of opening, I tasted what someone was cooking in the distance. I cried, I wasn't afraid and I wasn't numb. Later that day I waited to surprise my wife on the USC campus, I was perched up high on a grass hill. As I overlooked the body of students I felt a sort of weightlessness as if I was one with the grass and trees. I was translucent, the students were a part of me and I was part of them. I knew it deeply. It all sounds airy-fairy now but there was a golden hue to everything as if I was seeing another dimension, another kingdom. The moment felt like grace or a gift on the other side of a kind of ego death.  As much as I tried to hold onto the feeling into the night it disappeared like a gentle breeze. I missed it. It was heavenly and I felt free for the first time in my life, I knew I would never be the same after that. Some friends since have tried to explain similar experiences through the use of DMT, ayahuasca, or kundalini exercises, but it never really sounds the same. The boy that finally died on that cross was dead. That death has given the words of that murderous Apostle Paul to the church of Galatians a new meaning: "It is no longer I who live…"