Monday, December 28, 2015


There is a sense of timelessness about Christmas. Our daughter lives in Seattle and one her goals in life appears to be, spoiling her two nephews, especially on Christmas Day. She loves them dearly. Cole, our oldest grandson will be four in February and Zane just turned one. Last week, a few days before Christmas, Cole told Cathy that he saw gifts under the tree. She told him that on Christmas Day there would be presents under the tree for him. With innocence and wonderment he said, “Gifts for me?”

For not being four-years-old, Cole knows everything about construction equipment. He knows all the about frontend loaders, backhoes, excavators, and cranes. He knows the brand name of the equipment by color. He knows the difference between a John Deere, a Caterpillar, and a Mack. So, for Christmas, our daughter bought him his own riding frontend loader with a backhoe attachment. She had it shipped to our house. When it arrived, looking at the picture on the box, I realized it had to be put together. I didn’t want our grandson to have to wait on Christmas Day for his dad and I to put it together. And for our daughter, I wanted to take a video of Cole when he saw this amazing gift she had bought him. So, I dumped out the nearly 100 pieces and four sets on instructions on the garage floor.

Honestly, I’m not very good at this kind of thing. But, being a grandpa, I started in. Truthfully, I lost track of time. After awhile, I was taken back in time to when I put gifts together for our children. And then, I began thinking about the Christmas when I was nine and my dad bought a basketball goal for our driveway. The day after Christmas being outside with him while he put it on the house. And then I found myself thinking about the Christmas’ I had spent time with my granddad, riding in his truck and listening to his stories. And that took me back to when I was Cole’s age, being with my great grandfather at Christmas. He was an enigma, a mysterious man.

While I was putting Cole’s little tractor together, I was caught up in a thin space of timelessness. I felt a connection with everything past. At that moment, everything past felt like it was present to me in that space. My great grandfather, my grandfather, my dad surrounded me while I was working on Cole’s gift. There was a deep sense of being fully present to the moment. There was no longer any past or any future. Everything was now. It was as if I was meant for that moment in time—that present moment was my purpose. Upon reflection, I realized that day in our garage was a very contemplative experience for me.

Today’s reading is from the opening of the Gospel of John; such beautiful, mystical poetry. I think John is sharing with us one of those holy present contemplative moments in his life when he was with Jesus Christ. John’s vision appears to be one those moments when he was caught up in the timelessness of his experience.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5)

I can imagine John’s words were inspired by his contemplation on the scripture. The words from John sound like Proverbs, the Wisdom book of the Hebrew Bible.

“The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth…When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep…I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.” (Proverbs 8:22-31)

And the words from Proverbs sound a like the opening of Genesis, words I am sure he had memorized.

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness Night.” (Genesis 1:1-5)

I think John was sharing his contemplation of the scripture with us. John was seeing the Wisdom of Jesus in the Word of the Hebrew Scripture. John had learned from Jesus how to be caught up in timeless moment of the now…the moment when we are connected to the Divine.

In the moments of being caught up in the timelessness of God, there is no past and there is no future. There is only the present moment. We lose track of time. What happened in the past—is now—and now is the future—because we are here—now in this moment and time. In God’s time, “in the beginning” is now.

This means we can let go of the expectations and anxiety we have about tomorrow. This is the season of Christmas, the twelve days of Christmas. We are suspended in God’s season of timelessness. The season of “now.” We are not waiting any longer. We don’t have to fret about tomorrow. Twelve days of Divine completeness. “Twelve” is used 187 times in the Bible as a symbol of completeness; the 12 tribes Israel, the 12 disciples, the first recorded words of Jesus was when he was 12, the 12 gates of New Jerusalem are guarded by 12 angels—the Trinitarian number times the number of completeness. We are in the season of God’s complete act—we are in a season of timelessness—where there is no past and there is no tomorrow—there is only now. Jesus came to teach us to live in the authentic, raw, naked now of every moment of life.

The season of Christmas lasts until January 6. Until then, just for these few days, focus on the now, the very presence of being present to every moment. Live for this moment of time of being One with the Holy Living God

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Adventures in Soulmaking, a book review

Adventures in Soulmaking, a book by Troy Caldwell
Review by Gil Stafford

Troy Caldwell has presented an excellent entre into the world of spiritual direction from a Jungian perspective for his intended audience. He makes it very clear on the first page that he is writing his book for orthodox evangelicals who are mental health care providers, spiritual directors, and pastors.

Caldwell is a psychiatrist and spiritual director. His book contains countless interesting anecdotes about his life and those of his clients. Chapter 5 “From Fragmentation to Higher Things,” is the story of Caldwell’s psychiatric treatment of Andrea, a woman with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). I found the story fascinating. But, the story would be out of place for anyone who is not a mental health care provider. Caldwell does not make this point clear in his book. Instead, Caldwell uses the story to “illustrate the fragmentation that can occur as we grow up in a fallen world.”

What drew me to Caldwell’s book was my curiosity as to whether someone could bring together Jungian depth psychology with orthodox evangelical theology. For example, his view of a fallen world and original sin are clearly orthodox. Then, Caldwell quotes liberally from Carl Jung, Evelyn Underhill, and Charles Williams. He includes information about archetypes, dreams, and the Tarot. I found his presentation intriguing. Caldwell says, “I am convinced from scripture, convinced from empirical observation of patients, and convinced from personal experience that the opening to the ‘spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of (Jesus Christ)’ involves activating the symbolic mind.”

I applaud Caldwell’s valiant attempt to convince orthodox evangelicals that Jung, Underhill, Williams, and the many others he quotes have something valuable to offer them. However, as someone who reads those authors and is not an orthodox evangelical, I take issue with some of Caldwell’s interpretation of Jung as a way of supporting the author’s orthodox theology. For example, Caldwell equates the “shadow” with “sin.” On this issue, Mary Ann Matton in her book Jungian Psychology in Perspective writes that Jung’s view is that, “although ‘sin’ and ‘shadow’ are identical to some people, the designation of ‘shadow’ implies the possibility of embracing the dark side for the sake of wholeness while ‘sin’ suggest rejection of the dark side in pursuit of perfection.” In this regard, Caldwell falls short of Jung’s goal of the non-duality of individuation, in other words, the union of opposites. Instead, he chooses to maintain the orthodox view of Christian dualism. At this point, and some others, in my opinion, I think Caldwell misinterprets Jung and maybe Jesus as well.

One last point, in reviewing books I have chosen to read several self-published authors. I think self-publishing has an important place in our world of independent authors. My humble opinion is that self-published books fall into two categories: authors who invest in an excellent editor and those who don’t. Unfortunately, Caldwell must have done the later. Caldwell’s writing is, at times folksy, clumsy, and rambling. A good editor could have challenged him to move beyond those possible stopping points for his reader.

I would, though, still recommend Caldwell’s book for his intended audience. Adventures in Soulmaking has much to offer. For those outside the realm of Christian evangelical orthodoxy, just know Caldwell has not written this book with you in mind.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Longest Night

Winter Solstice 2015

“Hello, from the other side.” Adele’s haunting lyrics are dripping with possibility. She grants me permission to include my story in the next line; like pure alchemical poetry.

On the longest night of darkness,
I wait in the charcoal hues
for the full moon of Mother’s morning.
Hello, from the other side not yet light;
for there is no bright Morning Star
without the dark of the Brother’s Night.
No bridegroom Sol without bride Luna.

There is pleasure
still in the pit of the cold
of starlit shadow.
Oddly, I can find rest in night’s bosom of love.
Plenty of light shines out
from Sister Moon’s near full crescent.
The leafless tree casts her shadow
across my pilgrim soul’s journal.
Writing in the dark is no metaphor. And
neither is the owl
that flies like my shadow across weary brow.

A voice…
from the other side of my reality;
Ancient bards and
Poets Romantic past,
still present in eternal timelessness.
Words with souls tumbling
through the Solstice
Winter night.
Listening to the rhythm,
the rhymelessness,
the pace,
the gravel in the heart.
Adieu. Tears to—night.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Only Forgiveness Will Heal the Fear of Terror

John the Baptist would never get ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church. I mean, just imagine John the Baptist as your pastor. He had a gnarly untrimmed beard and he hadn’t had a haircut in years. He would refuse to wear vestments. His clothes were dirty and torn. He didn’t wear shoes. He looked more like a homeless person than he did a priest. I’m very confident that by today’s standards, John the Baptist couldn’t get a job as pastor at any church, Episcopal of otherwise. He wasn’t interested in church growth. It’s pretty obvious he didn’t care if people gave money to the church or not. And he was critical of most everyone around him, the government, religious leaders, and even those who wanted to be his followers.

When people showed up at the Jordan River, did he put out his hand and say, “Welcome to the Jordan River Episcopal Church?” No. He yelled at them. “You snakes! Why did you come out here?”

When John the Baptist preached, his message was often hard to understand. “The ax is at the root of the tree.” What could that mean? He was saying that we need to change our way of thinking. The tree John is talking about is the Tree of Life referred to in Genesis. In biblical mythology, the Tree of Life had two components; the first, the tree you could see above ground, which was mirrored by the second, the tree you couldn’t see because it was below ground. John was saying this Tree of Life you now see, our current way of thinking, is going to be cut down. What will then grow in its place is the tree below ground, which will be the new Tree of Life. And this new Tree of Life will be a cross.
On this cross will be a man, a unique man, a new Adam. This new Adam will be the Messiah. He will tell us that we will see him when he is raised up on this new Tree of Life, the cross, just like when Moses raised up the serpent on his staff. This Messiah will be the image of both innocence and evil. This new Adam will look like the old Adam. But, the new Adam will tell us that we need to take up our own cross. And that no matter how innocent we think are—we must crucify the serpent that lives within each of us on our own cross. How do we do that? Pray like the Messiah prayed. Like Jesus, the Messiah, the new Adam, taught us to pray. Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Then Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” This type of prayer brings God graced humility into our life.

When I heard about the shooting in San Bernardino, I was stunned. Then when I heard that it happened at a center for people with development disabilities, I got angry. All I could think of was what if that happened at the center that supports my sister. What if her beloved caregivers had been shot? Now, when I look at the faces of the fourteen people who were killed, all I can see is the faces of the two women who take care of my sister on a daily basis. My anger came right to the surface. At that moment, I realized I could kill.

What do I do with this anger? I own it. I say—that’s me. I could kill. By owning the fact that I could be just as violent as the two people who killed fourteen people in San Bernardino, I see myself for who I am. I put my sin of anger on the cross and I crucify it. And then I can pray, “Father forgive the terrorists for they know not what they do. Father, forgive me of my willingness to kill, as I forgive those who sin against me.

When any kind of injustice, any act that does not show love to another human being, is done—I must search in myself to find that sin in my own life. Then place that sin in my life on the cross and crucify it.

John the Baptist was teaching the people that came out to the Jordan River to be baptized into a new way of thinking. That way of thinking would be to think like the man Jesus, who was raised up on the new Tree of Life.

We must think like Jesus. As Saint Paul said, we must put on the mind of Christ, humble ourselves, empty ourselves, and be willing to crucify the things in our life that prevent us from being the love of Christ into this world.

What stops us from crucifying our own sins? We’re afraid. We’re afraid of terror—the terror created within us when we recognize we are no different than the two people that killed fourteen other people in San Bernardino. Fear and terror bring death—physical death a death of the soul. Only forgiveness will heal the fear of death and terror.

The ax is at the root of the Tree of Life. Are we ready for a new way of thinking? Can we pray, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Can we pray “Father, forgive me my sins, as I forgive those who sin against me.” Only forgive can bring healing.

I know this all sounds weird. But if we seriously pray for forgiveness, for others and for our selves, it will change everything. It will change what we eat, what we buy, how we think, how we treat people, and how we vote.