Audio podcasts delivered at theeffect church in San Clemente, CA. theeffect is a community of imperfect people working together to find the emotional recovery and spiritual transformation that is theeffect of God’s love by unlearning limiting perceptions, beliefs, and compulsions, and engaging a first century Jesus in a non-religious and transforming way. See more at theeffect.org.
Nothing More To Ask
Dave Brisbin 10.11.20
A conversation with a friend who was just diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer rivets me. From stomach pain to hearing a doctor say that the metastasis was so extensive that she had maybe two weeks or two months with chemo, all in the space of one Covid-empty emergency room visit… Her twin sister flies in and takes her home cross-country to Pennsylvania where family surrounds. Best place she could be, but she tells me of the anger and depression. Wants to know what she did to deserve to die so young? She fears death and wants at least to make it through the holidays and see her nephew’s baby. She’s angry with God. Feels abandoned, and no amount of prayer brings a sense of his presence.
I just listen, asking questions here and there, but mostly waiting for any cue or clue as to how I could possibly help besides just being on the other end of the line. Then she begins talking about her family—her sister and her sister’s children, how much she loves them and they her. Her nephew who is expecting a first child in two months, an aunt who is like her mother and how they spend every moment they can with her. Then she tells me that her sister wants to sleep with her in bed every night so she won’t miss a moment, not even the moment of her death. And that image of her sister’s love is a turning point in our conversation. I ask what she is expecting God’s love to feel like, and she doesn’t know.
I gently suggest she’s already swimming in God’s love but she hasn’t seen it because she’s been looking up instead of across at her sister and her family. It seemed to register with her, and I thought I heard her relax a bit even over the phone. Teresa of Avila said that we are God’s hands and feet in this world, that he has no body here but ours. God’s love is shown through each of us or it isn’t shown at all, and any prayer for connection with God is answered the moment we become present enough to see God in each other. We can’t ask any more than this of God or of life. There isn’t any more to ask.
Dave Brisbin 10.4.20
Have you ever been with someone who was so fully present and focused on you that you’ll never forget the moment? Someone who made you feel at that moment that you were the only person in the world? Or the room at least? Presence is an amazing thing. We can’t easily define it; it’s even harder to practice. But we know it instantly when it is trained upon us. Maybe because it is so rare these days that we instantly know it when we experience the difference. Years ago I had an elderly friend whose presence made me feel completely seen and accepted, and from that example, I can only image what it must have been to stand in Jesus’ presence and have those eyes trained on me. What a gift we give when we give our presence to another person. Why is it so hard for us? And how do become more present? If we look at the ways we can immerse ourselves in the day-to-day areas of our lives, maybe we can find the common thread between immersing ourselves in God, each other, in nature, and in our culture. In the stories preserved for us in the gospels, we see Jesus immersing himself in each of these areas, and through him, we can begin to find our own way to practice presence and become the person who can give it all away again, leaving each person we meet better than found.
A Field Beyond
Dave Brisbin 9.27.20
The poet Rumi writes that out beyond rightdoing and wrongdoing there is a field…he’ll meet you there. When we’re thinking of right and wrong, duty and obligation, law and obedience, we’re assessing our behavior and performance against some standard, and that’s better than not doing so, but it doesn’t make us present to moment and circumstance and whoever shares them with us. Presence is the key to having law and fulfilling it too, as Jesus would say. But presence is elusive and easily misunderstood, because you can be present without being aware and aware without being focused. We need to bring human awareness to the undistracted herenowness we call presence for contemplative prayer, and we need to add focus to presence and awareness to be mindful—focusing only on the task at hand, the person in our path. Jesus said the law would remain until heaven and earth pass away. But the word he used for pass away means to cross a boundary or barrier, to merge into. That field beyond rightness and wrongness is where heaven and earth merge in pure presence, and when we arrive there, obedience is meaningless, because the sense of “other” has no more meaning in the glare of the oneness we experience with everyone in our path. I’ll meet you there.
Dave Brisbin 9.20.20
Still talking about presence as the foundation of Jesus’ Way and the contemplative prayer that will take us there. When Moses came down off the mountain with God, his face was shining, and when contemplatives and mystics come back from their experience of presence, they say strange things to try to express themselves: “Run from what’s comfortable. Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious. I have tried prudent planning long enough. From now on I’ll be mad.” (Rumi) What are we to make of such words? When Jesus says unless we hate our fathers and mothers, children and even our own lives, we can’t follow him, what are we to make of that? Truth is, trying to understand the words of those who come back from the experience of presence is like trying to understand the equations on Einstein’s blackboard—a dense wall of numbers and symbols that stops you in your tracks with its sheer incomprehensibility. It’s not until there’s enough of a change in our minds to allow the beginning of a change of habit, habitual action in the direction of the practice of presence, that we’ll get our first inklings of what Jesus, the contemplatives and mystics, and perhaps even Einstein are trying to express.
Dave Brisbin 9.13.20
We’ve been talking about presence. Presence as the foundation of Jesus’ Way. Though Jesus doesn’t use the word presence in the gospels, he’s always talking about love, and love isn’t possible without presence. Love is the effect of being present—what it feels like to be present. To be fully present is to be in love. And what is the effect of being in love? Love understood as complete identification with another is a great definition of humility, fully realizing our position as equals in relationship. And what is the effect of humility? Service, of course. Jesus is always talking about service. For him, it’s the proof of a heart inclined toward his Way, kingdom. Service can be done for all sorts of reasons: duty, honor, obligation, reward. But service done for any reason not present in the moment of connection never reflects love or humility. When service is as automatic as breathing, as essential as good food, it becomes less what we do and more who we are. We won’t need to go looking for ways to serve as much as we’ll see opportunities for service in each moment. And though no one will pin a medal on us for these every-moment acts of service that simply leave people better than we found them…when service has become who we are and how we’re present, no one will need to.
Dave Brisbin 9.6.20
I have been talking with people, so many lately, who have suffered tremendous loss. Seems almost like a flood of loss floating on top of the collective loss we’ve all been experiencing this year. Loss of parents and children to death, overdose, loss of jobs, careers and vocations due to Covid and financial downturns. Losses that fundamentally change the ground of a person’s life. Losses that ask a common question of all of us: who are we when we lose a defining part of our lives? We naturally see our identity in terms of the roles we play, the accomplishments we achieve, and the attributes we display as humans, but anything that can be taken from us is not our identity, and everything it means to be human is taken at death, which is why we fear it—who are we then? If you think about it, all our fears in life stem from the basic fear of loss of identity. When we assume we are the voice that talks to us in our heads, the egoic mind, the “false” self or small self of Thomas Merton, we are continually defining and defending ourselves. But it’s a case of mistaken identity. There is a deeper self that resides beneath our ability to describe or even think about. We can’t find it directly, because that would involve the mechanics of our minds, our small selves that limit such experience. Our true selves cannot be thought about, only experienced—because it’s only in the flow of present experience that we will connect with the ultimate reality we most often call God that reflects back who we really are. It all comes back to practicing presence. When we are truly present, the small self is finally silent, and in that silence we will find all we need to come home.