Today’s readings focus on the value of silence.
1. Contemplate whether or not you are comfortable with silence and solitude.
Yes and no. There are times it is welcome. There are other times when it is painful and uncomfortable. I was thinking about that last night. One of my best friends is leaving pretty much for good tomorrow. A lot of our time last night was sitting together in silence. She even remarked, “Isn’t it weird that at a time we probably need to be telling each other a lot of things, we’re just sitting here saying nothing? I said, “That’s because talking hurts worse. Saying nothing and just being seems to feel better.”
On the other hand, there are times that silence seems awkward. There are times you are dying to “hear an answer” whether it is from someone in your life, or God, and you are hearing nothing. That silence is tough.
2. Do you bring yourself to silence in order for God to be brought to consciousness? If so, write about how you foster silence in your life. If not, what would you need to do to foster silence in your life? Are you ready to do it?
There are times I have “Silent Saturdays.” Usually once every couple of months. Since I’m a fairly loquacious person, I’m sure some people would find this odd. But on Silent Saturday, I just don’t talk till noon. Of course, living alone makes this easier, but I don’t even talk to the dogs. What is kind of neat, though, is I don’t seem to HAVE to talk to the dogs...we seem to get our messages across! But what I have found is when I shut down my voice, my brain really kicks into gear. It is a good time for me to sit and write on the keyboard because my fingers seem to be able to “talk” with a different voice.
3. In what ways do you “listen to the cacophony” within you? What do you learn by listening to the cacophony? As you “listen” does the noise lessen?
This is a tough question. We’re back to my issues with “compartmentalization”. I have a tendency to view the “cacophony inside me” as a distraction separate from the silence inside me rather than the location of the silence inside me. It is very hard for me to sit still with my own disarray. I have described it before as “bumper cars inside my head.” There are times, though, I can sit still long enough and the bumper cars start to move in a counterclockwise circle.
The other thing I can do when I am not able to sit still long enough to deal with my own cacophony is to absorb myself in noise around me. For instance, one night I was sitting outside and I noticed the cicadas were making a ton of noise. I was able to crawl inside THEIR noise and mentally be in a peaceful place. I have always been able to sleep in the middle of noise. In fact, I have problems falling asleep in silence. Crawling inside the noise of others or other things? No problem! Crawling inside my own noise? Not so easy! I am not sure why my own noise is so unnerving; usually it is not as “noisy” as the outside noise. But I need to learn to crawl inside my own noise better without help of other “outside noises.”
Today’s readings focus on the value of silence.
I have had more than my share of "Christian Twilight Zone" moments in the past couple of weeks--those moments when you and someone else come up with almost the same sort of profound spiritual thought or realization within 24 hours of each other, and you discover it "after the fact."
I have a theory how this happens. Now some of these friends are Episcopalian, some are not, but we all have one thing in common...we all belong to a church that uses the Revised Common Lectionary and we all tend to do a certain amount of study in the same texts each week, independently. I have an idea that using a common set of Scripture texts sort of "molds" all of our collective thoughts in a certain direction, and the end result is a little like female college roommates who all have their menses within a few days of each other. This "molding" gets us to thinking about similar topics but with the background of our own experiences. This ups the chances we might all have a similar profound near-simultaneous thought.
It makes me realize that a lectionary is not just about standardizing worship between Christian denominations. It is about creating a rhythm among God's people of a certain general persuasion, and an "instinct". It makes me wonder if this is how the collective memory of things like migration patterns of birds happens.
What happens in a "energy and power" sense when you literally have millions of people on the same Gospel text? I realize you have some variations from holiday to holiday, "Track I vs. Track II" etc. but it's still a fascinating thought, isn't it?
Today’s readings question whether “encountering God” requires withdrawing from the world or immersing one’s self in it. She describes the story of Jesus’ travels and encounters in the Gospels as “creative immersion”. She says, “We must learn that life itself is of God, that the natural is sacred, and that an inward life and immersion in life are all of one piece.”
1. Do you consider yourself someone who withdraws from the world to encounter God or someone who engages the world to encounter God? Why?
I think I am am some of both. Historically more of the latter, but of late, understanding the value of the former a little better. But even my ability to engage the world to encounter God has a tad of apprehension. It is a little more like walking the edge of the pool repeatedly, jumping in, but getting out pretty quickly. Part of my journey has been to stay in the pool longer. Part of it is I jump in when no one is looking and get out before anyone shows up. I am trying to improve on that, too. In my “withdraw” mode, I am slowly learning the value of using this as a “recharging period” rather than a “hiding period.” My withdrawals, now, I think are more to gear me up to “send me out into the world in peace and grant me strength and courage to love and serve” God, to borrow from the Post-Communion Prayer!
2. What could you do to better integrate your “inward life and your immersion in life?”
This is slow going for me; I am a “compartmentalizer” by nature and by training. In my job, things all have to be given names—compound nevus, chronic cholecystitis, adenocarcinoma, etc. I like this part of my job b/c it fits my nature. I have always loved to sort and classify things since childhood, which is why my favorite books growing up were nature books about animals, plants, etc.--field guides. One of my favorite childhood memories is working in my grandpa’s shop. He had a route of pinball machines/jukeboxes/coin operated pool tables and later, video games, and he would often “give” me an old pinball machine that no longer worked, to tear apart. I loved sorting the screws, bumpers, etc. into piles. (He got the benefit or pre-sorted spare parts!)
So it is no secret that I have problems seeing in inward life and the things in which I immerse myself in life as “two separate things.” I have a problem with seeing peace in the middle of chaos, seeing God in the middle of distraction. I think it all boils down to that last part—learning to see God’s peace In the middle of distraction and chaos. Learning to first see it, then let the inward drive the outward, then let the outward feed the inward...sort of a “spiritual perpetual motion machine.” In my quiet times, I am trying to see this; in my outward times I am trying to stand still and look for the “peace in the center”. But it is a slow process b/c I have to fight my inward desire to compartmentalize!
3. Are you able to “see the world through God’s eyes?” If so, what does it look like? If not, what do you think is blinding you?
I think I can see it a little, but it is like how Paul describes it...”Through a glass, but darkly.” What glimpses I get are so radiant, so brilliant, I can’t look long. It feels a little like peeking under the tent at a tent revival. It took me a long time to accept the Bible for “what it is” vs. “the specific details of the stories.” I have talked many times that the “details” of things like the Resurrection, the Ascension, the Transfiguration can really bug me. I wanted a plausible scientific answer for the longest time, and I could not move my faith forward without one. But then one day, something happened, I’m not exactly sure what—but the details no longer mattered. I recognized that something was there in this story that was bigger than the details and I got the “heretical” thought that, “You know, I don’t give a rip about whether this stuff I don’t understand isn’t exactly true, the power of it is very real and therefore, the outcome is more important than the details.” It is like the day you realize the exact dermatopathic term for a given skin rash is not so important if the same steroid cream makes it better, same as if it were another specific rash in that category!
So, a lot of what blinds me to seeing the world through God’s eyes are my own obsessions, compulsions, etc. of “how the world is supposed to be and how God’s world is supposed to be.”
Today’s discussion revolves around “Developing a Benedictine spirituality.” She defines this as plunging into human relations that reveals the will of God, to call forth the best in us, and to be a source of support to others while at the same time taking measure of one’s personal responsibility. We are able to respond to “The God of the woods and highways, of gentle breeze and cataclysm, of privacy and crowds—however the Spirit comes.
1. List your key human relationships. In what ways do these relationships reveal the will of God in you, and call forth the best in you?
As I sort of go down the list of “my inner circle”, there are similarities and differences in my “role” with these people. But a commonality in how “the will of God is revealed in me” seems to be my ability to perceive a portion of each of their hearts that is not always apparent. Every one of these people, there is something I know about them that is part of their “inner” self—a part that does not come up in polite company—that hooks them into joy or angst, that can be a “sub-plot” in things that either go well or badly in their lives. My ability to reach out, to “be there when it matters” seems to be an important bond between their hearts and my hearts.
The commonality that seems to be “the best that gets called forth in me” is a quiet loyalty. Sure, I struggle with the part of me that “grabs onto problems by the neck and shakes them”--that “terrier attack mode” I can get into—but there is the flip side of being a “terrier” that is one of the best and truest parts of my personality. It’s the ability to simply emotionally “Lie by the door in the other room” when they are hurting—part guard, part companion. It’s my ability when they are lonesome and hurting to occasionally come back into the room and put my chin on their feet and quietly look up at them. I like to joke that “everything I learned about life, I learned from my dogs,” but in this instance, it’s pretty accurate!
2. In the last three things that bothered you, who did you blame and was it worth the emotional energy you gave it?
I almost always ultimately end up blaming myself, but not until I have created some “collateral damage” by flaring up. Even when I make it clear that the one I’m flaring up in front of, that is isn’t “their fault”, I am slowly starting to learn that this still can harm people inside. It’s not worth the energy and the cost of the collateral damage, but I still need to learn how to do this better, especially at work. I have to depend on a lot of people for my job to work correctly, and when things are not going well, I can get very aggravated at my inability to correct the problem. It is hard to explain to people, for instance, that patient info on surgical path specimen containers that is not correct eventually becomes MY responsibility. I ultimately have to take responsibility for one or more screwups beneath me in the process of how I get specimens. Part of this frustration is justified (good patient care and patient safety) but where my anger and irritation breaks down is that people responsible for the process are not going to care about the effect on me, so being upset that “they are sticking me with this problem” is not helpful. I have to learn how to get people to understand better that “this is not about me, this is about the patient.” That’s hard when it directly also reflects on you, and your reputation!
3. Mediate on some of the unexpected ways God came to life before you and been born within you. How might you make yourself more open to such experiences?
This is going to sound funny because I recently got teased about how I “don’t like surprises, even good ones”, but a lot of the unexpected ways that my God becomes a living God to me is through a “surprise event” where someone did something good for me and I was not even expecting it. I think back to when two of my church friends painted the sacristy porch without my asking them to do it, and I had come to church, planning to do it by myself in a slightly grumpy mood. Or maybe it is in the act of being given a little trinket or something that someone saw that “looked like it and I go together.” Or maybe it’s when I get together with a friend, and the friend tells me a joke that he/she has been saving up all day, or something that happened that was funny or something, just KNOWING it would make me laugh. I really like those moments!
Part of being more open to such moments, I think, is for, as hard as this is for me, to begin to give up a little bit of the white-knuckle grip I have on “Never mind, I’ll do it myself.” Historically, I am sooooo not in the mood to wait on others when I need to do something, and the something needs to get done, that I can steamroller people in the name of expediency. It’s not intentional, I just want to “get the damn thing finished!” I think part of how to get better at this is to realize just how “not that important” some of this stuff is.
Ok, my wireless internet is acting up this morning so things have been a little slow on my web surfing... (What’s the deal? Is it too much to ask for “full rural living” but with “full internet privileges?”
Today’s material talks about the three methods Confucius taught that we could learn wisdom: Through thought, through imitation, and through experience. She also discusses the concept that choice without thought is blind. Choice with thought chooses altruism over profit, depth of soul over hoarding, emptiness over a glut of superficial distractions. Imitation gives us a window into our own value system. Experience guides us through “life at the dregs.”
1. What might be the value of applying these three methods to your own life? Do you find “thought, imitation, experience” to be cornerstones of your own spiritual development? If so, in what ways? If not, why not?
I believe I have applied all three of these to my life and to my spirituality, but probably in unequal amounts and the amounts depended on what time of my life I was in. Obviously, when I was younger I had no “experience” and I more frequently relied on “imitation”. The problem with relying too heavily on “imitation without experience” is it often puts you in a situation where you are going to rely heavily on the integrity of the person you are imitating and that can have its moments of disillusionment. However, as I’ve gotten older, experience tempers that somewhat. I’ve learned its ok for the people I am imitating to have “feet of clay” and that is just part of their own humanity, same as mine.
I sort of see “thought” as the “wild card” in this scenario for me. Thought was never a constant in this process for me until recently. I was more sporadic about the “thought” part of it, given the fact I am a person who works off of “instinct” a lot. I wasn’t disciplined about my thought, but more or less had bursts of intense thought when my instincts told me “it’s time to think about this.” What I am discovering is that part of the disciplines of my faith is to think more constantly, slowly, in little bites rather than gorge myself.
2. Contemplate the spiritual importance of choosing “altruism over profit, depth of soul over hoarding of things, and emptiness rather than a glut of superficial distractions.”
All of the “good” choices in this question are, to some degree, counterintuitive to the world’s interests in me. It is to my benefit to be prosperous, to make a good living, to pay my bills, to pay my employees, etc. and in one sense, being prosperous is good for God, too, because it means more money for his church. However, I have made choices that seem “lazy” or “not industrious” in the eyes of the world. I willingly moved back to Kirksville for FAR less money. My goal was to have more time for myself, and frankly, not work as hard as I was at my previous position. But that was not free. It came at the price of “less money” and “more responsibility” since I am in a two person group, not a 16 person one.
I am starting to work on that “depth of soul” part. I admit it; I am a hoarder. My house, truck, and garage show it. I hoard material things of modest value because I don’t like being “caught without” and I don’t like being “dependent.” Now, I don’t think I’ll ever stop being a cluttered pack rat. But I think I am realizing that my spiritual self does not have to have clutter and that “hoarding” in a spiritual sense is counterproductive. I had to hoard my spiritual self when I was younger b/c it was at a much more real risk of destruction. I don’t have to do that now. This sounds incredibly Pollyanna-ish for me, but I think that little cache of spiritual stuff I had in me grew, slowly and quietly. Then somewhere in middle age, I looked up and said, “Shit! I have quite a bit of this stuff here! Ya know, I could afford to give some of this away!” But, in typical “hoarder” fashion, I had to be pretty slow and careful about how I was going to hand this stuff out, and to whom. I am maybe just now getting on the first phase of the “exponential vs. the linear” portion of the “giving away yourself in abundance” learning curve.
The other shift is I was perfectly happy for many years to be distracted by the superficial. It is a little like being addicted to “buying a lot of cheap shit at Wal-Mart, just because you can.” Choosing emptiness seemed kind of boring. Why choose nothing over something? I finally have realized that kind of thinking is fear-based. Buying your way to happiness, or relying on a spouse to provide your sense of worth, or constantly needing to alleviate boredom is basically a big spiritual fear of the dark. You use all these things to occupy your time so you never have to ask the hard questions of yourself. When I realized this, all of a sudden it turned my “brave vs. cowardly” switch on. I suddenly realized that what I THOUGHT was bravery, to go out into the world boldly and do, do, do—was actually spiritual cowardice. It was this big, “Aw, you afraid of the dark, you big wuss? Wah,” thing. Being a person who dislikes being a coward, of course, I went and jumped into this concept. It’s not that I haven’t had some pretty scary moments in it. It’s not that emptiness can be...well, empty...bare, naked...but wow, is it ever real. It’s way more real than all the cheap distractions of life. Being a person who reveres “real”, it has slowly become a more attractive choice.
3. Write about an experience of pain and loss. What was learned as a result of the experience? Were you a better person because of it?
Well, again, I’m going to go back to that year of 1995 to 1996 when I had to deal with having failed my specialty boards. That seemed to cut to the center of me more than anything I had experienced prior to it, and is still a bit of a scar. That experience tore into every notion of my self worth.
Let’s back way up. I never had a bit of trouble with anything academic in my whole life. I could have been jumped not just one, but TWO grades in school had my parents allowed it but they didn’t for “social reasons.” I graduated 4th in a class of 113 from high school and probably the reason I was 4th was because I took as challenging classes as I could, so I did occasionally have to work. College was a breeze. I think I only had a half dozen classes I ever really had to crack a book and study hard for. I had a 3.79 GPA and could have been better there except I got a real case of “Senioritis” as I already had a job lined out and was in a significant “marriage-bound” relationship.
Well, when I went to medical school I had been out in the work world almost 6 years. My study skills had atrophied a little, and the first two years of medical school—the academic years—challenged me in a new way. I was only “average” the first two years. But I didn’t worry about it, because I knew the real test of being a “good doctor” was to succeed in the clinical years, the second two years, which I did with flying colors, because I had a good work ethic and I had good integrative skills.
Residency was the same way. I was a “hard worker” but not a “bookworm”. I also realized by then that despite all my “smarts” I actually have a bit of a learning disability—but it never showed its face until I was forced to have to read literally hundreds and thousands of pages of material. I have a tracking disorder. It makes it hard for me to keep my attention on sequential lines of words; my tendency is to skip all over the page. It is great for recreational reading—it’s like I’m a self taught speed reader—but it is not so great with retention of large amounts of material that has to be learned in a iinear, sequential fashion.
What happened is I should have realized that I would have to study for my specialty boards in a way different than my peers. I did not, instead I took their advice, and could never bring myself to study enough in the way I knew that “worked” for me b/c I was also showing off my work ethic—I was not considered the brightest resident in the program, and was not the one they wanted to keep on staff but I was the one they got, and it made a few people mad “at me” because they did not get what they wanted, so the tendency was to treat me as “subpar” in the hopes I’d just be uncomfortable and leave.
Well, basically, when I failed my boards I became a self-fulfilling prophecy for my detractors. They made it clear to me that I was in the wrong line of work, and why don’t I do another residency in something “more suited for me” or that maybe even I should not be in medicine...”Maybe medicine just isn’t your thing, you should go home and do something else.” A lot of people, even the ones who liked me, started believing that maybe they were right, maybe I was just the poor pathetic thing that will never pass the specialty boards. Even my best professional friend began to have doubts, although they never quite tipped him over. But they swayed him enough I become incredibly angry with him.
But I realized with time and doing it the way I knew I could learn, it could be done. It was just so incredibly lonely to think maybe you were the only person who thought you belonged. Some days it was just “me n’ God.” I had even contemplated ending my own life but thought better of it simply because I did not want the story to end in such a pathetic fashion. It was too victim-like for my taste.
It all worked out for the best. I passed on the second try. But I never forgot how easy it was for people to marginalize me and not think twice of it. But I learned a lot. I knew I would never let people make me feel that way for very long. I learned that God did not abandon me. It might even had put the seeds of thought that maybe I needed to consider working more closely with my relationship with God, but that was still ten years away. That’s how long it took for me to have that kind of courage. I learned a lot of the “givens” in my life could be turned upside down in a moment. I learned I had to develop a trust that was bigger than just me and my ability. I am a better person now, this experience has changed the way I see dealing with those in academic difficulty. It taught me to believe beyond my abilities to help them. But at the time, it felt like hell, for a long time.
I was thinking, as I was looking at the stars tonight, and contemplating how our knowledge of astronomy had changed so much since Biblical times, and how Galileo and Copernicus were branded as heretics, "You know, as people get more intelligent, the more we realize we are not as much the center of the universe as we thought we were."
This set of readings deals with loss and grief—when it seems the “will of God” is for us to suffer loss.
1. Meditate on your experiences of loss. Have you ever shared your grief with those who seem to be responsible for it? If so, write about the experience. If not, image what the experience would be like.
Sharing my grief in my grieving times with the person who was possibly responsible for it would be about as close to “next to impossible” as you could get for me. I am envisioning one of those scenes where the victim’s family is talking to the killer on Death Row. As far as I’ve come in the last couple of years, that is a place I could not yet get within 100 yards , let alone “image what the experience would be like.” I would just shut down.
I realize much of this is because I don’t do well in the “victim of loss” stuff. I avoid being victimized to the point of engating in blatant denial. I am still into kind of clinging to the illusion of “if I don’t appear hurt, or to be suffering from loss...well, then, I’m NOT grieving. “ But I realize that is an illusion that protects my own imagination from myself.
2. Write about how your own grief or pain has brought you to a greater understanding of another’s suffering.
I can talk about this a little. The best example is when I failed my specialty boards in 1995, but later re-took them and passed with flying colors in 1996. I felt humilated in a way I’d never felt, before or since. I contemplated ending my own life. I was a person who essentially had never failed at anything academic—and I was 35 years old when this happened! I was totally caught off guard by it. It took a long time to work my way through the loss and the stigma.
But the “reward” to this (if you can even imagine a reward existing in such a fiasco) is that I gained an empathy for medical students and residents who get in academic difficulty that I didn’t have before. I used to thing their pain and carrying on was so dramatic, so overblown. I learned otherwise. Now I have gotten through it enough tht is is at the place where it became a strength of my character. Other small failures did not look so looming. Failures yet to come were handled differently. I had to re-envision my “fit” in God’s world. I am still working on that!
3. Write about the ways in which feeling another’s pain as your own brought about peace and healing to a relationship.
I hate to say it, but I’m not exactly sure I’ve had that experience. I have felt other’s pain as my own, but it seems this has a tendency to eventually result in me getting MY heart broken in some way, which might set up a situation in which I eventually might get to a sense of reconciliation, but not exactly “peace and healing.” Now, with that said, I don’t know the minds of others, and I suppose it’s possible that my experience of allowing my heart to break open can be a force for someone else’s peace and healing and my never knowing it.
A lot of the time, when I am feeling someone else’s pain, that “someone else” and I already have a good relationship so it’s not like anything needed to be fixed in a big way. I am not able, at this point in time, if someone hurt me, to feel THEIR pain much, because of my tendency to “kick everyone to the curb” when they have hurt me. I can eventually resign myself to some form of reconciliation if it is possible but that takes a looooooong time. What I do know now that I didn’t know a few years ago, is that this is actually a weak spot in me and probably an avenue in which I need to make some improvement.
Today’s readings are about basic human rights and how in many cultures, the human rights of women are exploited or nonexistent.
1. Do you feel that any of your rights as a human being are being ignored or blatantly disregarded? If so, what does it feel like? If not, can you imagine what it might feel like to others?
Personally, no, not really. Not compared to what is happening around the world. I don’t think we have much room to complain in America. I was following some Facebook threads last night on one of my student’s pages. She was sparring a little on her “Facebook wall” with her classmates who are more of the conservative or libertarian bend. This young lady is from Nigeria, she joined the U.S. Army when she came here to get on a fast track for citizenship. Her father makes $1500 a YEAR in Nigeria. This young woman, half my age, young enough to be my child, already has had a lifetime of knowing what “the denial of basic human rights” is, and what “extreme poverty” is. I cannot believe the insensitivity of her classmates in dissing “welfare people” and clinging to the stereotypes we all sort of want to embrace about the poor. Even the best of us wants to think we are smarter than “those people” and we at times have a strange need to dehumanize them in order to make ourself feel better.
I think about the fact I sort of grew up “working poor” by U.S. standards and that “U.S. working poor” is not even a piss in the ocean compared to “world poor”. I may have had some fairly shabby sparse meals growing up, but we always had some sort of meat, and I never missed a meal b/c it wasn’t there, that’s for sure.
I think about another friend who grew up in a lot of places in the world where everyone around him had nothing, and people literally were dying of disease in the streets of India and Pakistan. I can tell that this experience, in a quiet way, shaped his own life in that he does not surround himself with creature comforts and extravagance.
2. Would you consider the freedom to lead a full spiritual life to be a human right? Do men and women have equal freedom in this area? Do you have this freedom? Why or why not?
Freedom to worship the way we please, to reach for the promise of a full spiritual life, is as American as America and the Constitution. To me, that is part of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Again, in America, I have so much freedom compared to other places in the world. I can get aggravated that many churches do not fully include women in leadership roles—very aggravated—not just because it’s a basic right to me, it’s not “the American way”--a double whammy! It makes me incredibly angry that people use their own interpretations of Scripture to justify it, just as they used it to justify slavery prior to 1863. Well, if you get right down to it, you could use the Bible to justify having a concubine, or stoning your children to death, or a whole host of things we would find reprehensible.
I get angry that people in Africa who call themselves “Anglicans” use God and Scripture to persecute homosexuals and women. I get angry that some so-called Anglicans here in the US are using Scripture to hijack the Episcopal Church all because they got their nose out of joint about Gene Robinson’s ordination as a bishop. I have to be careful about all this anger, because it has the risk of alienating my OWN feelings with God. I remember the line that has been floating around a lot of the “Episcoblogs”--we have to remember we are on the welcoming committee, not the selection committee. When we start acting like we are on the selection committee against the bigots, we are behaving in EXACTLY the same way as the bigots, and we are behaving in a way, turned around, we would find reprehensible in others. Oh, man, this bit of “respecting the dignity and worth of every human being” as defined in our Baptismal Covenant can be soooooooo incredibly complex at times!
3. Whether you are a woman or a man, have you witnessed (or participated in) the denial of basic human rights to women and girls? If so, what did you do (or what might you do in the future)?
Yes, I see it in some of the silly conclusions some churches make with regard to women and leadership roles in the church. I silently accepted it when I was a member in another denomination (cough,grunt, LCMS). That denomination’s attitude that the altar was a “boy’s club” actually scarred me in a way that did not hit me until I became an acolyte in the Episcopal Church and learned the Eucharist works just the same no matter what combination of gender made up the “people on the altar.”
I always am a little hedgy about the “what might you do?” questions. I never know what I’m going to do till I’ve done it, half the time! I only know how to live. All I can “do” is continue to try to live in a way that is “inclusive” and to work upon the parts of my soul where my heart can become dull or hardened. I don’t take stands or engage much in “out front do-gooder stuff.” The introvert in me is not good at that. But the extrovert in me can “be.” So I see myself as simply trying to “be” in these situations!
From the website http://www.sept25.org:
"The Provinces of the Communion call for a day of prayer and fasting and witness on 25th September 2008 when there is a special session of the United Nations to discuss the Millennium Development Goals." (2008 Lambeth Conference Reflections Document)
In solidarity with people of faith throughout the world and in response to the Anglican Communion's call, Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation invites you to commit on Thursday, September 25 to:
+Pray. Say prayers with special intention for the extreme poor throughout the world.
+Fast. Skip at least one meal in solidarity with the nearly 1 billion people who go to bed hungry each night. (As possible depending on health ... consult your doctor if in doubt)
+Witness. Participate in an online advocacy action promoting our government's fulfilling its promises to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
Additionally, you can blog: If you read the blogs or have a blog, Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation is asking all bloggers to post about the Millennium Development Goals and our nation's moral imperative to meet its promises to help achieve them.
Roughly one billion people in the world go to bed hungry each night. Think about it.
Today’s discussion revolves around 2 Cor. 12:10 when Paul says, “In my weakness is my strength.”
1. Reflect on how weakness is celebrated in this passage. Write about your own experiences of weakness and what strength you found in them.
Even backing up, in verse 9, Paul says that God told him “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” The power of Christ, to me, is that Christ willingly CHOSE to be “not in control of his destiny.” He CHOSE to take the “weak position” for the greater glory of all of God’s kingdom, including us. That is a hard choice for me to even ponder, because it is definitely not in my nature to “choose the weak position”.
In my own life, when I have been in the “weak position”, when I have felt weak or cowardly or in a situation where I have no control, I never wanted to be in that position. The problem of course, is that I’m there anyway, and I have two choices—continue to resist and be bitter and upset, or finally give in and decide I will learn from it. What I have learned, as much as I resist that moment, as much as I avoid “giving in”, is when I finally give in, over time, I will learn something that ultimately makes me stronger and wiser. I really HATE admitting that!
2. Meditate on the ways in which your own weaknesses have led you closer to, or further from, the affirmation of life.
For the most part, they have led me closer to affirming my life and my place in God’s kingdom, but this is not an easy thing to admit. My moments of weakness have given me an awareness of “how I present my inner self to God”, because all pretense is stripped from me in my moments of weakness. I am presenting myself to God at those times in as much of a “what you see is what you get” position as I can. These moments with God, in the beginning, feel naked, revealing, and lonely at first, but I have found if I just sit still and BE there with God, I will walk away feeling fed and clothed. These moments really hurt in the beginning but by the time I get to the end, I feel more comforted. It’s just hard as hell to go forward and PRESENT myself to God when I feel weak, I’d rather hide!
3. List the gifts provided to you by people, the natural world, and the Spirit. Write about your essential need for, and interdependence with these gifts.
Most of my gifts involve an openness with accepting the quirky parts of other people, and a very non-judgmental nature when I am one-on-one despite the fact I have very strong opinions! I am sure this comes from the pain of rejection I felt in my moments of weakness. I also have an incredible sense of humor and a sharp wit, and I am positive this is from the old adage “Comedy = tragedy + time.” I love giving away these gifts. People seem to really love the unique way I can provide them at the right time. Giving these gifts makes both of us happy!
The discussion today is about “change” as it applies to our spiritual lives. She uses Ecclesiastes as an example: “A time for tearing down and a time for building up.” She cites the “problem with change” is that it means the “undoing of what went before it.”
1. Meditate on the passage from Ecclesiastes: “There is a time for tearing down and a time for building up.” From the standpoint of your faith, what “time” are you in now? What are you doing about it?
I actually think both are going on with me sequentially right now. If I were to imagine my faith as a house, I really don’t think I’m demolishing the house and building a new one. It is more like a giant rehabbing...more like tearing it down to the walls and studs, reconfiguring the rooms, adding on to the structure, and making the foundation more sound. I am making my faith more “live-able” with God’s help. It reminds me a little of what I was physically doing to the flood-damaged houses in Iowa City—ripping out wet moldy insulation and drywall, disinfecting what’s left, getting it down to the bare studs so it can be inspected.
What I am “doing” is I am mostly being faithful at practicing the disciplines of my faith...regular prayer and study...just like doing this exercise for 40 days! A lot of this “soulwork” is incredibly exposing and revealing. There is a little bit of “I told you so” in this. I was told over a year ago, that part of the journey I was on would require me to “throw out a lot of things you know to be true,” and at the time I was told this I just gave the person who told me this what we joke about as the “Ok, if you say so” look, where I am trusting totally on his expertise and experience but at the same time I am thinking he’s incredibly full of shit...but agree to ride along b/c he’s my friend and this kind of advice is in his job description. At the time I thought, “Why the hell would you throw out something you know to be true? Don’t you want to embrace the truth? What kind of circular bullshit is this?”
Over time, though, I am discovering the meaning of this. The truths that were necessary to sustain us in certain phases of our lives, perhaps even SAVED our lives, may have outlived their shelf life, or have gotten moldy because they are not as important for this part of our life’s journey. So they sit, and get moldy and wet, and can even become toxic. I think part of my journey in the last year, in particular, has been to assure myself that the spiritual frame of my “house” is sound so more can be done to it. To do this, I have had to remove a lot of moldy truths, but I do have trouble now and then actually taking them to the garbage!
2. Do you tend to resist change or welcome it? Why?
I wish I could say I welcomed it, but I think certain people in my life would be yelling “Liar, liar pants on fire!” to that one if I did! So I will qualify that by saying, “Ultimately, I welcome it...but only after I have exhausted myself with my last gasp of resistance...and I have been told I have an above average capacity for resistance, so that can take a while.” I have to be shown good reason to change. Even then, I have to consider every reason NOT to change. I think “resisting to the point of exhaustion” is part of my process, because by then, I’m like, “Ok, ok, whatever, I’m so damn weary, anything will feel better than this.”
3. Have you experienced the difficulty of the “undoing what went before?” If so, describe the experience and its outcome.
The hardest one for me is to give up my tendency to fight instead of discuss and work things out. When conflict occurs, my tendency is to fortify the walls of “my turf,” flare up and “defend my borders.” There was a time I HAD to do that literally to physically protect myself. My natural reaction when I cannot do that is to pull in my ears and hide in my cave. Standing and talking about it is not in the equation. I am slowly learning how to do this, but I’ll be honest, I don’t enjoy this process, it hurts, and there is a part of me that says if I don’t fight, I’m a wuss, and I struggle with that. But since I cheated and peeked ahead and I see “weakness” is the topic tomorrow, I’ll hold that thought! But in this situation, the “outcome” is still a work in progress.
Today’s readings are about hospitality...how hospitality changes things one person at a time, even things like racism. She cites the Rule of Benedict, where all are taken in and welcomed—the poor, the pilgrim, the rich, the deprived, the young, the old.
1. Would you describe yourself as a hospitable person? Why or why not?
Mostly I would say I am fairly hospitable, but sometimes I would say that some of that is the 55% extrovert in me and that I might actually APPEAR more hospitable than I really FEEL. The 45% introvert side of me kind of wants to not be bothered. However, I do think I for the most part, try to create an atmosphere of “acceptance” for people because I know what it feels like to feel marginalized. One of my friends tells me “I treat people like they are the most important person in the room.” He says that is why I’m open to diversity in ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc., simply because I see one person who is “the most important person in the room.” But I admit I struggle between that side of me that is easy to be hospitable vs. the part of me that wants to be left alone. I can only handle being any extroverted activity so long before I have to back out a while.
2. Reflect on those times in your life when you were received with true hospitality. How did it make you feel?
I am thinking about my recent trip to Iowa City to help with the floods. The group they put me with, they took me right in. I was “one of the gang.” They made me feel “at home”--like I had known them forever. I’d best describe it as a “comfortable” feeling.
3. Meditate on receiving every person—rich and deprived, young and old, with “the same warmth and the same care, the same dignity and the same attention.” In what ways would this change your life?
Wow, tough question!
I think in some ways it would make me feel “less bound up in myself.” I have a tendency to feel, for lack of a better term, “spiritually constipated.” it is literally a sense that something inside of me WANTS to come out, and my guts are rumbling like it NEEDS to come out, but “nothin’s movin’!”
I say this because when I give in other ways—financially, or give the gift of my time and energy—those forms of “giving” have a real sense of “release”, not just of my soul, but physically. I think if I could be more hospitable, this would also create another form of “release.”
What I am discovering in middle age, is that I have bottled up a lot of stuff for many years and measured my strength in terms of how well I could “keep it all in”. It became a wrestling match, where “winning” = control. I am seeing now that a person cannot keep all that stuff in forever and expect the bottle it’s kept in to have any sort of reliable integrity. There has to be release. There has to be a sense of “what needs to be released somehow.” I am just now getting on the learning curve about such things!
In the middle of an "It's not fair!" Gospel text today (the story in Matt. 20:1-16 where "the last shall be first, and the first shall be last), well...it's important to know those times when you are getting the good end of the deal, as well as the raw end, and figure they even out now and then! I got a little taste today of what it was like to be one of those workers who worked for an hour.
I have to tell you a story about one of the youngsters at Trinity, little Erica. She's five going on 25--incredibly precocious little kid, very much an active busy little girl, but also with this very spooky "adult" demeanor to her now and then. She is VERY in tune with the cadence of services, and one of the high points of Sunday morning is hearing her sing "Lamb of God" right before the Eucharist, her little kid voice just shattering the "adultness" of the moment and really making me feel like I AM a lamb of God!
Well, every Sunday, Erica goes over to one of the older ladies in our congregation, recently widowed, takes her hand, and goes up with her to the communion rail. This is our weekly dose of "Aw, ain't that cute." It is like she intuitively knows that this woman NEEDS a five year old buddy at this moment.
This week, the elderly lady in particular was visiting her daughter in the KC area and was not at church for our usual "Erica moment." Imagine my shock and awe when she came over to ME and said, "Can I go up front with you?" Definitely an offer I could not refuse.
Now, you have to realize I am not incredibly doting with other people's kids. I razz them a little, play with them a little, but having been raised in a fairly strict fashion with regards to "behaving in public," I tend to be more likely to be the one who glares at them for misbehaving than being anything close to laid back. I'm a wild person when it comes to playing with kids, but it is very clear that is PLAY time, and I'm a curmudgeonly grump when it comes to behaving in public.
Now, Erica and I get along well, but that is because I sort of connect with that precocious seriousness she displays. But to be "the person who goes up with her" this week, well...my heart was like the Grinch's at "little Cindy Lou Who who was only two." I guess that kid has an amazing "curmudgeonly BS filter" for age five!
Everyone in church was grinning at me, and I was sort of grinning in a sheepish kind of way because EVERYONE was noticing, and little Erica was just so nonchalant about it like this is just the way it is. When I got up front close enough where Fr. Wallace was spotting me, he just gave me this "You've been owned" glance. The Eucharist felt better than usual, that's for sure.
That is definitely a "the last shall be first" moment. I am the person most people would vote least likely to accompany a five year old to the altar rail, but I got the job anyway!
Today’s discussion is about humility. Humility comes from the same root word as “humus”--earth and “human.” She says that “Humility is the admission of God’s gifts to me and the acknowledgment that I have been given them for others.”
1. Do you consider yourself a humble person? Why or why not?
In some ways yes, in some ways no. My humble ways are characterized by the fact I “don’t put on airs,” I am comfortable in all sorts of settings, I am pretty good at making people feel good about themselves. Yeah, there is a little bluster and braggadocio to my external persona, but it doesn’t take too long to see that is a veneer, more or less designed to mask my own discomfort.
Where my humility breaks down is in two ways. Sometimes I can be a little on the um...pigheaded side. I have a capacity for resistance that is pretty strong. The other way it breaks down is in that first part of Joan Chittister’s statement. I am not very good at admitting and accepting the gifts that God has given to me. There are times I feel “not worthy.” That is not humility, that is false modesty in the form of feeling browbeaten and unworthy and in a sense, it is a form of arrogance. It sounds weird to call it “arrogance,” but if I am not displaying an accepting attitude of these gifts, I am saying I know better than God what it is I need...and that’s arrogance.
The real “back and forth” in my life is the dance between browbeaten and cocky. I am a person whose moods and attitudes are like a sine wave, cycling to the edges and shifting the other way almost rhythmically. The problem is, I live on the edges (browbeaten and cocky) for longer periods of time than I live in the middle. I can’t do much about the amplitude of the sine wave but I can stretch that wave out and make the slope from browbeaten to cocky and vice versa gentler, so I get more time in the middle. That’s my challenge!
2. Contemplate God’s gifts to you that might be used to others. Do you use them for others? If so, in what ways? If not, what stops you?
I do “better’n fair” at using my gifts but I am not terribly skilled at it. People tend to like to use me as a “sounding board.” People seem to sense I am a person of real affection coupled with a penchant for the direct. In other words, they trust I will call it as I see it even if it hurts them or me, yet I can mostly retain some degree of compassion and affection most of the time. (and the notable exceptions are, well, quite notable!) The other problem is, being a rural person through and through, there is that real business of “not calling attention to yourself” or “never really giving yourself your due, because it’s not polite” thing.
I enjoy the simple tasks of doing physical work at church. I display humility in that way b/c you generally don’t expect to see a physician mowing the grass, shoveling the sidewalk, or fixing the toilet...and having a good time with it! I do have one bugaboo with that, though—I sometimes get on my high horse when other people use it as a venue to “lord it over me like I’m the hired help.” There is one person in the church that I would like to clobber sometimes—starts talking to me like I’m the janitor, and it does get my nose out of joint because I think, “Well, who the hell are you to boss me around this way?” Some of that is my sense of humility being self-violated by me; but some of it is the realization that this IS how that person “talks to hired help” and I think I am not the only one who needs an attitude adjustment! That is one of those times I resort to the “Bless so-and-so; change me” prayer!
3. List people you know that are genuinely humble. What is it about them that you find attractive? What can you learn from them?
When I look at my list of “humble people”, I realize that, although they are markedly different personalities and have different skills and traits, they have some important commonalities. Each of them has lived through at least one “trial by fire” in his/her life that became a defining moment. The trial or trials shaped these people in a way that they could never have done themselves but had to be sheer grace. Each of them had to make a conscious decision to make a major attitude adjustment in his/herself. Each had to accept the fullness of God’s grace and each shows a degree of gratitude that is over and beyond “typical.” Each of them has been open with me in the sharing of our hearts, and despite there are characteristics of these people I would never want to take on (they all are a little strange in their own way—but then again, so am I!), there is a piece of their hearts that I look at and say, “Wow...I want me one of those.” It is a piece that I realize complements or supports my own.
But the flip side of this is that in each of those people, I also recognize there is a piece of my own heart that is a gift to THEM in some way. Some are very good at expressing this; some are not, but even in the ones that are not, their actions cause me to feel it. But it always strikes me as amazing that in these people who have a piece of their heart that I find lacking in myself, they find a piece of mine that makes THEM more whole. That is an incredibly...well...humbling thought!
From The Ongoing Adventures of ASBO Jesus...(Click on the cartoon to enlarge it)
I like how in the second picture the "strings" are visible. They can be reached FOR but not expected to handle it all for the little guy!
Hey, I'm halfway through this! Day 20 of 40!
The readings are about women’s inferior status through history and in religion.
1. Meditate on the subtle and overt ways that your religious community and/or social relations endorse oppression. How does this make your heart and soul feel?
This sounds a little like a cop-out but I don’t like to think about this much. Yeah, there is oppression out there...the double standard of expectations for men and women in the workplace. The willingness of women by and large, to work for less money than men b/c they accept “intangibles” as part of the big picture in a different way. The subtle and not so subtle ways God is referred to in a male persona in the English language. I don’t like to get very close to that pain simply because I have to exist in all these worlds and I can’t get things done if I hang out in that painful place too long. That pain can be a sharp deep pain and it is so sharp my default mechanism is to “shut down” rather than get close to it. So I can only get close to it in tiny jumps.
2. Contemplate the ways in which the feminine spirit is damaged or subjugated in you, whether you are male or female. Write about steps you can take to change this.
It is that business I talked about in an earlier reflection. My life, because of the nature of my job, has to cross over from “male” to “female” in so many parameters. My growing up as an only child and the only grandchild of grandparents who had lost a son put me in a weird spot where I had to be both the “son and the daughter”. I have gotten so many mixed gender messages in my life, and I have to respond to so many of them in BOTH male and female ways, it is easy to push the female components of it aside as the “weak” ones, the “intangible” ones, the “soft” ones, because society rewards male ways over female ones. Yet the catch 22 is they make the rules of these “rewards” very complicated for females. Men are “assertive,” women are “bitchy.” “Dolling up” in manner of female appearance makes people suspicious you are trying to get ahead with sex, dress too casually, and you are at risk of being considered “butch” (just another way to be marginalized). It is VERY complicated.
Steps? I don’t know any steps except to just continue to be me, and to be as true of a “me” as I can be. Most of what has to change has to change inside of me. The change is for these slings and arrows not to matter. The problem is, for them truly not to matter, I have to get closer to them, not “react to them” or “pretend not to react by ignoring them.” That is hard b/c I can only get close to it in tiny increments, and then often jump back even further afterwards. It is definitely the “two-step” or even the “cha cha cha....”
3. Do you feel you harbor a consciousness of oppression? Meditate on ways to free your consciousness from old patterns of reaction and behavior.
It is incredibly easy for females to diss other females as being “too soft”, “too feminine.” Women who had to fight also tend to harbor anger at women who appear to “have slept their way to the top.” Women making their way in the world often simply “use what they have.” I do not always appreciate the ways other women live their lives b/c their way is not “my way” and there is always that part of “my way” that I feel just a tad superior about “because it worked for me.” That attitude makes me mad at men sometimes—even men who are near and dear to me—for one set of reasons, and it makes me mad at women for a different set of reasons. Men because they are so damn blind to soft squishy female manipulation, women because they resort to manipulation. I suppose one could argue I’m just jealous because I wasn’t born with that toolbox or developed it, but it’s not that simple.
Why am I even bringing this up? Because eventually, those attitudes get around to how I feel about God. I can find myself wanting to be distant from the “male parts of him” on some days, and “the female parts of him” on some days. What I need to do, I think, is cogitate on the fact my own life has moments where the “male thing to do” is the best thing, and other moments where the “female thing to do” is the best thing, and give God his due for having to handle things sometimes in the same way. We are also back to the business of “I want to have an adult relationship with God.” Well, if I get in a snit and treat him like I’m his jealous jilted girlfriend, well...that is not exactly an “adult” relationship. That’s pretty teenaged!
I need to be more open and tell God my hurts in an honest adult fashion instead of a fitful teenaged outburst if I am serious about this “adult relationship with God” stuff.
Today’s readings discuss “the posture of our soul” when we are “immersed in God.” She writes, “To be immersed in God implies an accommodation with life that is less than perfect, acceptance of a world that is not organized around my ego, satisfaction with a self that is not measured by its ascendancy over others.”
1. Describe the “posture of your soul before God.” In what way do you foster time for prayer and reflection, for meeting God in your own heart?
I try for my “posture” to be one of receptiveness. I do not want my relationship to God to be one of an obedient child and God as a doting daddy for the most part. I prefer to have an adult relationship with God, one where I am respectful of his position and of who he is, but at the same time, I can feel the dynamics of a relationship that “cuts both ways.” I want to believe it makes God feel good, also, when we are connected. If it’s all one way, it’s not much of a relationship. But when I try to “be with God” I try to do in in a spirit devoid of “expectations” (I don’t expect God to “make me feel good on command” or “distract me from my cares” or “entertain me” like you would a cranky child), and in a spirit of being aware and receptive to “whatever happens.”
I am learning the value of “sacred space” whether it is physical space, like my yard, or being alone at church, or whether the sacred space is in my head. I am not good at creating it in my head yet. I would like to become better at this. I am fairly tied to “physical” like how I can tie into God by holding things that seem holy to me.
2. Meditate on your soul’s needs at this time. What might you do to meet those needs that you are not already doing?
Wow. It’s hard to put a finger on “my soul’s needs.” I haven’t really thought about that...or maybe more accurately, “I don’t usually allow myself the luxury of fantasizing about what my soul’s needs really are.” I really hate it when my words come back and bite me in the ass. Just a couple days ago, I was telling a friend, “You need to fantasize more...imagine your life a few years down the road when you are retired, imagine winning Powerball, just see what realities pop out of your fantasies.” Ow, that kind of bite in the ass hurts!
There is something inside of me that is not ready to accept even wishing my soul’s needs for itself. I think that is another manifestation of something that a friend recently pointed out to me. It comes from being raised in a family where one’s deepest feelings could be used as an emotional weapon, a knife or club at the wrong moment...so I became afraid to share, even sometimes in the safest of environments. I think part of how to overcome that for me is to realize “my deepest needs” are not so strange or unique, perhaps they are universal in a lot of ways. Perhaps there could be a little comfort in that realization and maybe that is a way I could sit with it.
I can figure out a tiny bit. My soul needs a certain amount of solitude. Yet it also needs a certain level of connectivity with others. That dance is not easy, because I tend to be close to other people who crave solitude and getting all our “solitude schedules” and “connectivity schedules” to mesh is not easy! But I do know the connectivity I like, it has to be deep. The people whom I’m closest to, we have our own “unspoken language” and we have the ability to read cues in each other, and we have the level of trust in the relationship that we can work our way through the rough spots. This is not easy b/c it is rare for people who are not a “couple” to even come close to this level of emotional intimacy...yet I have close to a half dozen people in my world in which I feel this way! Wow, making all that “fit” can be tough! No wonder most people just settle on one partner to fulfill most of their emotional needs, “my way” is a helluva lot of work! (But damn, the rewards are good...and worth the price of admission!)
3. Do you have a soul mate or spiritual friend? If so in what way is she or he helpful in your spiritual life and you in theirs? If not, would you like one? What might you do to build such a relationship?
I have more than one, actually, (probably 3 or 4) and they all are helpful in their respective ways. Then I also have another 3 or 4 people that are just at “the next level out” where we can at least spiritually mesh at a certain level.
But the best thing about having “a spiritual friend” is simply having “a safe space to share” for the both of you. Sometimes what you want to share is not such a big deal. Sometimes what you want to share IS a big deal. But all that interchange can be done in a safe place emotionally. It’s nice to realize if you dropped dead, your spiritual friend would miss you in a way unlike the rest of the world. What is incredibly addicting about a spiritual friend is that “magic nanosecond”--it is a moment when you look at each other just a little longer, just a little more intently, hold that connection just a hair longer than a casual friend—and in that fleeting little nanosecond you recognize there is a real and true love between you that is deep and pure and mostly unspoken but often felt. This love comes because you hold the touchiest parts of each other’s souls in your hands now and then and hold them with care and gentleness, not trapping them nor squeezing them too hard..the love is based in the gratitude for this gentle handling.
Sometimes this feels a little bit like the elephant under the rug because our society and culture tends to only assign those feelings to romantic relationships. That can be a little spooky when you are straight and you have these fleeting moments of feelings for a spiritual friend of the same sex—but at the same time it is a reminder that God’s love has no gender. In fact, this is a conversation I could not have with 97.5% of people because they would dismiss it as some sort of sexual voyeuristic thing or they would run off and tell people you have some gender identity problems! It irks me that people can’t allow things that are pure and good forms of love in the world other than a cookie cutter formula...but I’ll save that rant for another day!
Hola, Señorita Chompita Wiggletail of Padre Mickey fame. I want to show you sumtin' neat you could do if you ever get to Missouri. I haf a swimmin' pool you could use here. Ok, so it not a real swimmin' pool. It a dish for piggies fum Farm n' Home. But itz rubber and very nice. Kirk likes dem for dog water dishes cuz dey are rubbery and you can stomp on them in the winter when da water freezes.
You said your baño is in da park. Mine is allllll out here in da country. Well, today, me n' Boomie went for a long walk down da dirt road with Kirk and our friend Sue and our cousin Shadow. I was awl hot at da end of da walk. I is pretty furry, you see. So I got in my pool to cool off after my walk. Kirk n' Sue laff at me but I don' care. Boomie wuz jelus cuz he too big to make a pool out of a piggie food dish.
Anyway, my sweet Chompita, if you come here, I will share my pool wif u. Just soze you know in advance.
Today’s readings are about female images of God and the repression of them in conventional Christianity. She postulates that suppressing female images of God is like suppressing half of God’s creation.
1. Meditate on how God celebrates differences in creation.
Well, the biggest thing I realize is that there are at least 70some ways in Hebrew, in the Old Testament, to describe or name God. Some of these are masculine, some feminine, some neuter. I believe there has always been a sense among people that God is both genderless and of all genders. However, societies tend to muck with this in their traditions and in how their rules of grammar work.
However, when you examine God’s creation, you realize it would not exist without the inclusiveness that both sexes in nature have to offer. It also becomes evident that so much of what we deem “masculine” or “feminine” in society has far less to do with biology than we’d like to believe. I have a feeling God worries far less about sex and gender than we do, because we are born a particular sex and dance through the intricacies of our own gender identities and sexual preferences. God, being all and neither at the same time, probably just doesn’t give a rip.
2. Write about the ways females and the feminine have been suppressed in your own life; in societies, religions, and nations.
This is tricky. I work in what still might be traditionally considered “a man’s world” because traits that we still mostly consider “masculine” are the “success traits” in my line of work, yet the ultimate job of my work (healing and health) are more “feminine” traits. To be really committed to a healing profession requires one to embrace the masculine “do something” notion of “healing someone” yet it also requires the female trait of “nurturing.” So we get so many mixed messages in my profession and I get many in my head.
Also, we all struggle with our own personal gender baggage. Mine is that I must have been hiding behind the barn smoking a corn silk cigarette when all the superficial traits of “traditional femininity” were being handed out. That has caused me to be marginalized by both men and women at times, but it really hurts when men do it. Men who “get to know me”, I think, learn that a huge nurturing heart beats in my chest, but it’s just not obvious on the surface and it’s just not packaged in a “sugar and spice” package.
But that feeling of marginalization is very very hard at times. I have always had a lot of male friends and have had good and close relationships with them, but even they, once in a while, can break my heart like that, because they are so used to interacting with me at one level they sort of forget that even the toughest of women, once in a while, needs to be nurtured like she’s a scared little girl. One of my best friends from about 20 years ago used to be just plain awful in his obliviousness about that, and he used to cut me to the quick over how he would be so gullible about “traditional feminine wiles” and my heart could be breaking over something and he was dumber than a rock over my distress because it wasn’t in a “sweet little package!” I can mostly laugh about it now, but I sure hate to think of all the tears I shed over his sorry oblivious ass when we weren’t even a romantic item!
Because it happens with human men, and we have this tendency to think of God as male even when we know “it ain’t exactly so,” it can make me feel that God could marginalize me in the same way. That is a thing I often have to overcome when I feel separated from God. In my most separated feelings from God, I feel like God is treating me like the ugly little fat girl who can’t get a date. This is odd, because I’m neither ugly nor fat, never have been, but I pick up on that level of pain and marginalization. It’s that feeling of “being picked last on the playground” with a gender twist added! I realize that is MY brain working overtime, not anything God is doing, but it’s funny how we can twist that stuff around.
This marginalization also occurs in the female sides of spirituality, also. God, in the bulk of American Christian mindsets, is decidedly male. We use “he” to talk about him. Even if we don’t really believe God is a “he” we are still forced to use “he” b/c of grammar rules and the common mindset. In moving from Hebrew to Greek to Latin we often took the female words for God and “neutered” them.
Some people like to use Paul’s letters as “proof” that women are not to lead in the church. Many conservative theologies limit the roles of women in religion. But the hardest thing for me to put up with is that 50% of humankind has to try to come to grips with God in the middle of the mindset that God is not the same gender as them. It puts up a wall at times to have a “total connection.” As we say in rural Missouri, “That just ain’t right.”
3. Contemplate your “degree of commitment to the emergence of feminist spirituality.”
I think the bulk of my commitment has been to be strongly aware of the sides of God that are expressed by female Hebrew words, like Shekinah, and Ruach. The part of God that resides in holy objects and the part of God that blows as the “divine wind” (the Holy Spirit?) I have spent the last two years getting more in touch with that side, which helps me realize the “paternal side of God” as we see God in society is mostly illusion...just as our own gender role expectations are mostly illusion. This has been a good help for me, because I could not become close to a paternal notion of God. Because I don’t know what a “loving father” is supposed to be like, identifying with that part of God is next to impossible. I am glad I have 70some or more notions of God to mix and match to see “one I can understand, and be drawn to in love!”
Today’s discussion is about “inner peace”. She writes, “When I finally plumb my own depths, take measure of myself, find the world within me that is spirit and light and truth, what is outside of me can never destroy my centered self.”
1. Contemplate how and in what way inner peace comes to you. Write about what brings greater peace to you and what takes peace away?
At this point in my journey, it’s fleeting enough that I don’t have a regular “pattern” I just have some places and spaces where, to say in “LOLcat speak”--”inur peas—I haz it.”
Actually, what “takes it away” is ME. Me when I get bound up in the cares of the world or the petty BS of life or get fearful about something. When I am trying to sit and let it come to me, if I am bound up, I can’t “release”. I pace, I fret, I can’t sit still. I have been a little that way the last few nights in my sacred space. Sit there a while, then have to get up and walk a little. Hell, inner peace could be right there on my lap on those days and I would not see it!
2. Choose one of your life experiences in which you believe the Spirit was teaching you. What did you learn? Has the learning stayed with you? How have you experienced greater inner peace as a result?
Last summer, when I was refinishing the pews, was probably a very formative part of this, if not THE catalyst for it. When I started it, in my mind it started as an “activity”; a “do” thing. By the time I had finished, I realized the “do” part of it was only the vehicle for the “be” part of it. I would never have done the “be” had the “do” not been there. I would have never sat still for the “be”. But as I worked alone in the church, I became very wrapped up in the “shekinah” of the place—the glory of the Lord in holy objects—and it is only in the past 24 hours that I have figured out a big piece of the “why”.
I spent so many years in “solo Christianity”. Part of my journey, it appears, is to inch my way into expanding this to include “community Christianity.” It is so incredibly easy for me to see God in nature, but not in a church. In fact, because of my negative experiences, a church building itself can have a negative effect on me. I have even been known to say, “I can find God anywhere BUT in a church,” in the past. My time alone working in there let me, safely, and alone, feel God’s presence how it works in a church.
I think now that was the first step for me being ok with stepping in a community of worshippers...just to be ok being in the building and feeling something. I also think losing myself in my work was the first step in how to “lose myself in prayerful thought.” So these lessons have not only “stayed with me,” they have been expanded upon. It was my first taste for my NEED to feed a sense of inner peace.
3. Joan Chittister encourages us to “Plumb our own depths, take measure of ourselves, find the world within us that is spirit and light and truth.” Reflect on your own spiritual life. Where are you on this journey? Have you found your “centered self?”
I am not far at all on this journey. If I imagine the center of God’s peace as the center of a vast desert, I am about 100 yards in, over the first dune, and I am still so close to the green edge of the desert I can backtrack my footprints and look back over the hill and see the green edge and go, “Whew!” I am still not ready to walk so far in the wind blows my footprints away and I have to find my way back totally alone in comfort. I have walked in a little, but when the footprints blow away behind me it does make me a little panicked, similar to how I have to sit still and get my bearings in my deer woods when it swallows me up.
I honestly am not sure I have found my “centered self.” How do you know what you have found when you never had it before? I know I have found something new. I know the “newness” of it and the unfamiliarity of it bugs me and attracts me at the same time. It is addictive enough I stick with it. That’s the best I can describe or sense anything about a “centered self.”
Today’s readings discuss the value of weeping—that “what we weep for” measures what we are, what others expect of us, and exposes the deepest, neediest, most private selves. She discusses “we cry about what we care about,” and “what we have no tears for hardens our hearts”.
1. Make a list of people, things, events that you weep over.
Without going into the gory details of “the list”, and the realization that I am a person who does not weep often, and the fact I am taking a mildly irritating attitude about the statement about my heart being hard about things I don’t have tears over (more on that later), what I will say is that everything on my list falls into two categories. The things I’ve wept over are either things in which I am feeling huge acute amounts of loss, or finally hit the bottom of a chronic sense of loss, or moments when I realize I have no clue as to “what’s next” and the worst case scenario seems so awful I don’t think I have the strength for it. I have a habit of putting too much stock in my own strength and “bravery” (I still think part of me clings to the notion of “Norse/Teutonic heaven” where the brave are rewarded and the weak are consigned to Hell) and when the “brave” thing to do is “take it up the butt and get past it” it can make me weep because of my own powerlessness and sense of impotence.
I think the absolute worst emotion for me is “feeling totally impotent.” It’s even worse than fear of death, if you can imagine that. All of the things on the list that can make me weep eventually all intersect at “I am impotent in this scenario.”
2. Reflect on how and to whom you reveal your “deepest, neediest, most private” self. What feelings arise in allowing yourself to cry and lay bare your soul?
Right now, I think there are about five people (maybe six) that I would reveal my “deepest, neediest, most private” self, and even then, the tendency is that I was “discovered” weeping rather than my actively gone to them and wept in their presence. The last time this happened to me is probably as good an example as any. I was discovered weeping. On a large scale, it was ok, because it was by someone I’d be ok with this discovery in a global sense. But in the moment, it was very hard. Part of the discomfort was there was a disconnect between our words and our body language. Our words were trying to bring closeness and reassurance but I am sure both of our body language cues yelled, “Let me out of here.” He was embarrassed to have discovered me; I was embarrassed to have been discovered. I truly so seldom weep (I don’t mean “cry”, I mean “weep”) that when I do, it’s fairly spectacular and fairly “Old Testament,” short of ripping my clothes apart! I mean we are talking sobbing till my collar is wet and babbling incoherently.
It took me clear into the next day to reconcile myself that my having been discovered was “ok by him and ok by me.” I have thought about why that was in the couple months or so since it happened. I realize in retrospect that much what embarrassed me in this situation is based in illusion. At the time this happened my embarrassment was based in these aspects:
A. I was weeping at the time over the continuing loss I am experiencing over one of the dearest friends I’ve ever had in this world. I was discovered by another good friend, and I did not want him to see how much this person I’m losing means to me because it is at a level that may appear “strange” or “weird”. (In retrospect, I realize the friend that discovered me probably knew I felt this way over the friend I was weeping over, anyway, and in reality, it may well be one of the parts of me that actually strengthens, rather than distances, our friendship.)
B. I like to believe that part of the image the friend that discovered me has of me is that I can “handle anything” (and I frequently DO!). I like to believe that he always knows he can count on me when he feels unsure and insecure. I like him to think I would protect him from any harm of which I possibly could protect him. Catching me weeping pretty much blew the image I wanted him to see of me out of the water all to hell. I thought, “How can he ever believe in my ability to protect him when I can’t even protect myself?” (In retrospect, I am starting to understand that what makes your closest friends “close” is that there are parts of them that have a need to nurture and protect YOU, too, and it can’t all be a one-way exchange if you want that friendship to be as real as it can be.)
C. I realize there are dynamics to being caught weeping by guys vs. girls. I do not like to be caught weeping by my friends who are guys because, going back to my original reason for weeping (emotional impotence)...well...I just don’t want any of my friends who are guys to ever think I suffer from any make, shape or form of “impotence” even if we are only talking about “emotional impotence”! Also, there are women out there who use tears and weeping as a way of manipulating men sexually, playing up on the male tendency to “rescue” (and damn effectively, at that.) That’s not me, and I would never want this friend to think that was what I was up to, especially since I sort of see that as something that might have been used against him in the past. (In retrospect, I think we honor the honesty in each other, for lack of a better reason, “He just would not think that about me, at least not beyond a fleeting thought, anyway”, and as far as the “impotence” thing goes, really, I don’t think my impotent moments scare him, it’s more about “my illusion that my impotence would make him think less of me.”)
D. In my family, the classic way to “fight dirty” was to catch you at a weak moment, then ram the knife in your soft underbelly, so you’d really be “taught a lesson”. It taught me to avoid exposing my weaknesses whenever possible. Consequently, it taught me to make it hard to weep, so when I do, it’s VERY vulnerable to me. I don’t like being caught with my soft underbelly laid bare. (In retrospect, I was discovered by the last person in the world who would ever exploit me in this way, so that was a non-issue except between my own ears.)
What I am realizing about weeping is the terribly equalizing and leveling thing about it is that it shatters every single illusion we want to imagine is “our image of us” to others. It forces us to have to deal with those in our world in the most bare and honest of ways. Even someone like me, who prefers “bare and honest” doesn’t always want to do “bare and honest” at our most vulnerable moments!
3. If “what we cry about is what we care about,” and “what we have no tears for hardens our hearts,” what do you care about and where has your heart been hardened?
I have a problem with this question. “Hardening our hearts” sounds pretty dramatic and harsh here. Many of us were TRAINED not to weep because of reason “D” I put down in #2. I think a lot of us have tears, they are just locked inside a semi-impervious coating and we yearn for them to come out but they are sometimes bound up and trapped inside this coating. Sometimes, over time, they just dry up, but the salt and the residue of those tears still remain inside of us. I think the problem is that those salts and residue can become toxic and somewhere, sometime, there has to be release. So I will take some amount of exception to the question.
But I care the most about that whole “loss/abandonment” struggle. I don’t think my heart has been permanently “hardened” by the things I could not cry about, but more like there is this “desiccated powder” in there that all it would take is a little water to re-hydrate it and release it. Maybe part of my spiritual journey at this point is about “re-hydrating some of my dried tears and getting rid of them—just not all at once.” I am not sure about that, though, and I need to think about that one some more.
Today’s readings center on “developing a passion for the truth.” She discusses that the only way we become free is to embrace truth, despite the fact it can be painful.
1. Meditate on the ways you have cultivated personally a passion for the truth. Do you feel that your quest for truth has strengthened your character and deepened your soul?
Well, at least in the secular sense, I have almost always chosen “real” over “fake,” “substance” over “shadow,” and “raw” over “dolled up.” I have been told that I have a natural inclination to orient myself and go towards the meat of “what’s right and true and good.” I have a “plain-ness and simplicity” about my spirit. I often choose to deal with the truth, even if it is painful or difficult, maybe sometimes simply “to get it over with.” I have a natural curiosity and desire to pack as much knowledge into my head in my lifetime in a wide variety of topics, and I think this is a helpful trait, also.
As I move this quest to a more spiritual and metaphysical sense, I think I have carried this orientation with me. It is slower going, though, because it does not base itself, necessarily, on the same suppositions and assumptions the physical world does. My journey is slower, more difficult at times, and more bewildering at times. I do, however, feel some sense of a deepening in my soul as a result of it.
2. Reflect on how your own search for freedom and self-respect has affected your relationships and community. What aspects of this search have been most difficult; most rewarding?
One of the hardest parts for me is to do some of this work in a way different than my natural inclination to explore things, because my natural inclination is not helpful in this regard, and at times is even harmful to the process. My natural way of exploring the world is to take everything apart down to the screws and springs, look at all the pieces, and put it back together. The problem is, in spiritual matters, the sum total of the spiritual entity is greater than the sum of the parts, there is a synergistic aspect to understanding God and how the life of Christ fits into it, and how we are to honor this through our Baptismal Covenant. You can take it apart down to the pieces and the pieces don’t tell the whole story. In fact, it’s a mistake to think you can figure out the story from the pieces.
Likewise, as I carry this to my relationships with others, this method doesn’t work. No one can stand still and let you rip them open and explore their parts and put them back. Everyone is going to have a place (and it’s different for everyone) where that feels “violating.” Yet when people have mutual trust and respect, and honor the best parts of each other, they often “hand their parts over” to another and allow them to be inspected a little. But no one is going to “hand their parts over” unless the other one does the same. This is very hard for me because as much as I want to explore THEIR parts, handing over MY parts can be incredibly hard!
My reward for sticking with attempting to do that kind of sharing is that it deepens my sense of connection with others. Some of it is “scary deep” and I don’t handle it well yet.
3. Write a list of the experiences that (1) fostered or (2) taken away your freedom and self-respect. How has your soul reacted to these experiences? What have you learned from them?
Without going into the details of the list in this discussion, the experiences that have fostered it almost always involve when someone has moved beyond themselves and saw something in me that they saw needed cultivating, and took the time and energy to do it. In the instances that took away my self-respect and freedom, they almost always involved a need for them to feel superior by putting me down.
The former experience has almost always imbued me with a sense of gratitude (the same kind of gratitude I feel towards God as I learn to become more connected with him); the latter experience has almost always left me feeling drained, parasitized, used, distant from everything, much the same way I feel distanced from God at times over my “I’m not good enough” schtick. What I notice is it becomes a parallel for feelings I have for God, and they can be either a catalyst to draw closer to God or a stumbling block to hide from him. That’s a powerful piece of information; I need to recognize that “the cares of the world” DO affect my relationship with God, as much as I want to delude myself into thinking I can compartmentalize it and keep it all out of the picture. Learning to “leave my cares of the world at the altar” becomes more important in this respect.
Today’s readings are about the burden of the delusion of “perfection” and the paradox that it is precisely our IM-perfections that are “our claim to the best of the human condition”--that it is our vulnerability that entitles us to love.
1. Do you have a tendency towards perfectionism? If so, how does it affect your spiritual health?
Asking me, “Do you have a tendency towards perfectionism?” is like asking, “Do you breathe?”!!!!!!
It’s funny...there are some things in which I have no perfectionistic tendencies, but the two things where I can drive myself (and others) to distraction are with my job, and in my closer relationships. The problem is, that in both, a LITTLE bit of it is good and a LOT of it is detrimental. My “attention to the little details” can mean everything in a diagnosis, and it can also make those close to me feel I pay attention and listen to them in a way that makes them feel special.
But taken to excess, it can lead to those feelings of “I didn’t do enough/I didn’t do it right/I’m NOT enough.” That can be damaging spiritually because that is precisely the attitude that starts to get me to self-separate from God or hide from him.
2. In what ways might acknowledging imperfection and/or vulnerability help you to open yourself to others and receive their gifts of love? Meditate on the ways in which lack of self-sufficiency becomes a crucible for spiritual wisdom.
Being with my own vulnerabilities helps with the delusion that “I can take care of everything myself” is just that—a delusion. One of the hardest things for me literally and figuratively it to “let myself be held” with no expectation that I have to DO something to “earn it”. That even comes out in just the simple affection of the way I hug people. It is far FAR easier for me to grab onto my friends and “squeeze the stuffin’ out of ‘em” when I hug them than it is for me, when I feel sad or angry or upset, to let THEM hold onto me and for me to be the passive recipient of their affection, when they want to show me that they’re willing to care for and protect ME instead of vice versa.
I have thought about that—if that is so hard for me to do with humans even in a simple physical expression of care and affection, imagine how hard that is MENTALLY for me to do with people, and how hard it is to do with God, who would at times seem even more unapproachable!
My crucible is to develop the mental capacity to be able to stand still and “be held” by God. It is a chicken and egg issue for me. Do I learn to stand still and “be held” by God by learning to let others carry ME once in a while? Or do I try to let God hold me and see if it rubs off on people? Or both? This is still a process in progress for me....
3. Mediate on whether you feel most loved and accepted when you acknowledge your vulnerability and all it means or when you resist it.
This is still not in a stage for me where I have a complete answer. The question feels a little “loaded” for me. The implication is that you won’t feel loved and accepted when you resist your vulnerability. I’m not sure that is always true. I think sometimes (as a person who probably resists my vulnerability more than most) there are times I feel loved and accepted DESPITE my resistance. I also think at this point, when I choose to feel vulnerable, the sense of feeling exposed as a result of it can override my awareness of “feeling loved and accepted.”
I am still on the shallow end of the pool on this learning curve. I am still having to get used to allowing myself to feel vulnerable and not feel exposed. Right now I think there may only be about 4 or 5 people in which I feel okay enough about to test out “allowing my vulnerabilities to show through.” I was recently in a situation where I allowed myself to be more vulnerable and I ended having my vulnerabilities exploited because of someone’s own issues. She used my own feelings of vulnerability to assume I was enlisted in her agenda, which was an agenda I’d never have been on board with. I am still smarting a little from this experience. It doesn’t really promote me to be very eager in this pursuit. But the thing that is new for me is I still did not totally back off from this task, despite being hurt.
There will be a time, I think, when I can actually answer this question without my own fears of “exposure” being in the way, but right now, I am still getting used to “being exposed!”