Saturday, April 30, 2011

The wheel of love

I'm sitting in a classroom, waiting for a meeting to start, and thinking about that old Blood Sweat and Tears song, Spinning Wheel -- which begins, "What goes up, must come down.  Spinning wheel, got to go round..."

I thought of that one often when my girls were growing up -- especially when they hit puberty.  Any time one of them was feeling extremely positive and bouncy, it was inevitable she was heading for a fall and there would be tears before 24 hours were up.

So -- having been so cheery yesterday, it shouldn't have surprised me that my mood shifted back today.
It's just a gentle reminder that all those waves of moodiness happen up on the surface of things; that down below it all there's a strong and steady current of love...

... which needs to be shared -- especially with the folks we find hardest to love.  And with that thought in mind, I want to share this wonderful Ted Talk from Elizabeth Lesser, author of The Seekers Guide and founder of the Omega Institute:

Friday, April 29, 2011

Of colors and sunshine

What's bubbling up for you today?

I am feeling a delicious lightness of being: the sun is out, I have the house to myself (except for the animals; 2 cats and a dog) for the first time in months, and I am still loving playing with this new image process.

I decided to put off my meditation until my husband left on the ferry this morning, and so spent my first hour or so creating this image -- which means, not surprisingly, that it pervaded my thoughts when I sat down to meditate -- a process that (sadly) only lasted ten minutes, as the cat decided he DESPERATELY needed to come in for his morning snack.

But I love the colors in this -- they're absolutely delicious for me -- and I spent what little meditation time I had luxuriating in them, imagining them printed on a soft knit fabric which I could then make into a dress...

So I came back to the computer (once the cat was put out again; he still prefers to sleep on my wrists as I'm typing) and created this alternative version of the image -- thinking, ooh, wouldn't I like to wear this -- and now, stepping back from it a bit, I am reminded of those goddesses that I was doing last winter...

What is it about color that is so extraordinarily satisfying for me?  I can't really answer that question; I only know that it's been true since I was really really young, and seems all the richer now because I am exploring it more consciously instead of just reacting to it.

Perhaps that's the learning here: now that I am immersing myself in a mix of therapy (Internal Family Systems), Buddhism, and Christianity, it feels like I am exploring LOTS of things more consciously; that I'm awake at lots of levels that have been hibernating and dark for a very long time.  I am learning that all the parts of me no longer need to be either/or -- I am either Buddhist or Christian, an artist or a writer, an individualist or at one with all creation -- but rather both/and.  And I have to say -- accepting all those parts of me, consciously respecting and appreciating each for what it has to bring to my awareness and understanding, is both freeing and exhilarating.  Yum!

... which makes me think of the poem I wrote for Logion 69 of the Gospel of Thomas:

Deep in your heart --
below the taste of despair,
the brutal lash of circumstances,
and the ache of defeat --
there lies a fount of blessings.

Let your hunger
draw you inward,
and know this: abundance
beyond your wildest imagination
is waiting for you there.

And how, you ask, will I be spending the REST of my day?  What will I do with all that exhilarating freedom, and the energy it brings? 

The answer is this: I'm going to put on my Putumayo CD of  Cuban music (so energizing!), do some laundry, and clean my daughter's room, then take a break and edit a book of poetry I'm working on, and hopefully spend some time walking on the beach, enjoying the sunlight.  Doesn't that sound like fun?  I wish you sunshine and a wonderful day --

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Beyond the wave of judgment

"Alan Wallace, a leading Western teacher of Tibetan Buddhism, puts it like this: "Imagine walking along a sidewalk with your arms full of groceries, and someone roughly bumps into you so that you fall and your groceries are strewn over the ground.  

As you rise up from the puddle of broken eggs and tomato juice, you are ready to shout out, 'You idiot!  What's wrong with you?  Are you blind?'  

But just before you can catch your breath to speak, you see that the person who bumped into you is actually blind.  He, too is sprawled in the spilled groceries, and your anger vanishes in an instant, to be replaced by sympathetic concern: 'Are you hurt?  Can I help you up?'  

Our situation is like that.  When we clearly realize that the source of disharmony and misery in the world is ignorance, we can open the door of wisdom and compassion."  -- Kornfield, The Wise Heart

If we could but see through our own filters -- the rage, the sense of betrayal, the frustration, the sadness, the grief -- all that keeps us caught in ourselves -- we might detect the divine oneness that lies buried within each human heart.  Who would you treat differently today, if you could just see beyond the wave of judgment; see through to their Buddha-nature?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

On maintaining a sense of balance

This series of images has been an interesting adventure: I get caught up in the shapes and colors, and layer in what seems to work with what's already there, and I don't give much thought to what the image might be attempting to communicate.  "Emergence" is the word we'd use for it at Antioch, but today I'm a little stymied. 

Here's Seattle, all sunny and bright, viewed from across the water through a veil of what looks a bit like Spanish Moss, and somewhere underneath there's some sort of implosion happening...

Maybe this has to do with the sense of impending doom -- Seattle sits on a major faultline, so of course after the Earthquake in Japan we're all feeling a bit anxious.  There's all the strange weather patterns we've been seeing lately.  There's the ongoing awareness of the terrorist threat (whenever you're in the ferry line, the police are going up and down the rows of cars with bomb-sniffing dogs).  And there's the economy, which continues to drag people under: all these things have been subjects of recent conversations, though I don't tend to bring them up myself.

But this image could also be about reaction formation -- a concept I learned about yesterday.  The Wiki tells us that reaction formation is a defensive process (defense mechanism) in which anxiety-producing or unacceptable emotions and impulses are mastered by exaggeration (hypertrophy) of the directly opposing tendency.  So if you're angry, or sad, or frightened, you might be smiling a lot and talking about how pleased you are with everything: a sunny facade, hiding volcanic undercurrents of anger, sadness, or fear -- hmm.  That does sound like a good description of this image; I think of that old saying, "fiddling while Rome burns."

There's a certain wisdom in staying calm in a crisis, of course.  And we are taught to keep those big emotions under wraps as much as possible so as not to disturb those around us.  So how can we walk that delicate shoreline between being aware of our emotions and potential faultlines while at the same time continuing to function?

I think this is another reminder of the blessings inherent in maintaining a regular meditation practice -- and, in particular, of the gifts of Centering Prayer.  Centering Prayer is a constant act of releasing whatever is rising to consciousness: we release the worries, the distractions, the challenges and the constant nattering of the ego and return to the center, the source, the Divine Within.  Practicing that for 20 minutes or so, every day, can make it easier to stay calm and centered during the rest of the day, whatever subterranean pressures may be building.  It's really, I think, a matter of balance.

"The goal in Centering Prayer," says Cynthia Bourgeault in her book, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening,  "is not to stop the thoughts, but simply to develop a detached attitude toward them."  I can't -- and probably shouldn't -- lose sight of the challenges I face at the various levels of my life.  But with the help of Centering Prayer I can also stay in touch with the deeper reality that lies at the root of my being.  With the help of Centering Prayer, I can learn to strike a social balance: to stay connected with and attuned to the value and concerns of those around me without losing my own objectivity.

... At least -- that's the hope!  Judging from what this image seems to reveal, I would guess it's a bit more challenging lately to retain the sunny facade...

All of which brings to mind this wonderful classic poem by Rudyard Kipling:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Behind the caricature

I am reading this morning about innate value, and inherent goodness, and thinking about all the ways our self-images become caricatures of the true self we really are...

Which, of course, is ably aided by those around us -- I'm thinking of my husband (bless his dear sweet honest soul) who, when I made a face at him yesterday, was reminded of (and went and found and presented to me) a birthday card he had apparently purchased but never given me (my birthday is some 9 months behind us). 

The card features a seal's head, resting on an ever-widening neck made of many folds of fat, and the message inside is "I love every wrinkle." Oy.  SO not flattering!

Yet this is the same husband who tells me fairly often that he thinks I'm aging beautifully.  Sometimes the disconnect is a little challenging -- it helps me understand some of my daughter's ex-boyfriend's complaints about the strange (to him) combination of brutal honesty and praise that characterizes many of our family's interactions.  To him the praise felt fake (it wasn't) and the honesty WAY too brutal (yeah, sometimes it can be).  

So why was that a problem for him -- and why is it sometimes a problem for me, too?  I think it's because we have that internal caricature of ourselves, which is rather painfully 2-dimensional.  We tend, I think, to be both unaware of our innate goodness and reluctant to look at our shadows, so the picture we carry of ourselves is rather flat, and not particularly robust -- which means that when people try to round it out a bit we feel uncomfortably stretched...

For me this has been one of the blessings of establishing a regular meditation practice.  When you spend time everyday watching your mind and releasing its incessant activity, you get a much better, much more rounded, more three-dimensional, more accurate picture of your strengths and weaknesses.  Which doesn't mean you're totally conscious, but it does at least mean that the observations of others don't come as a total surprise.

That internal caricature we carry can be quite a work of art -- but it is, nonetheless, a caricature.  Even if we can't quite bear to peel it away, meditation at least reminds us that there is a rich, full-bodied being that lies beneath.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Stepping back onto the path

Now that Lent has passed, I've decided it's time to shift focus back to Buddhism for a bit.  It's partly, I think, a resistance to (or distaste for) the high drama of Holy Week.

Not that I don't find meaning and symbolism there, but Christianity for me is no longer about the death and resurrection of Jesus; it's about the steadiness of his teachings; that consistent message that the Kingdom of Heaven is here, and now.  So a shift to Buddhism is a way of getting back to that central message, a way of stepping back onto the path that feels most central for me.

So I'm re-reading -- at least, until something convinces me otherwise -- Jack Kornfield's classic, The Wise Heart.  And already, just a few pages in, I am feeling calmer, more centered -- and hearing echoes of Desmond Tutu's Made for Goodness.  Kornfield is telling the story of the giant clay buddha statue -- ancient and revered -- that cracked to reveal "one of the largest and most luminous gold images of Buddha ever created in Southeast Asia.... this shining work of art had been covered in plaster and clay to protect it during times of conflict and unrest.  In much the same way, each of us has encountered threatening situations that lead us to cover our innate nobility.  

Just as the people of Sukotai had forgotten about the golden Buddha, we too have forgotten our essential nature.  Much of the time we operate from the protective layer.  The primary aim of Buddhist psychology is to help us see beneath this armoring and bring out our original goodness, called our Buddha nature."

That's the path, I think -- at least the one that lures me today: I want it to lead me to my original goodness, my Buddha nature: the me I was born to be, so that I can also see and honor the you that you were born to be.

And as I look at this image I created yesterday, I'm amused to see that blush of gold at the end of this long walkway -- must be that golden Buddha nature!  It looks a bit far away at the moment, but I suspect the path is shorter than it looks; it's all a matter of perspective.  However far away it is -- I'm looking forward to the journey.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

In the garden

I think you can tell I created this yesterday, not this morning; it has a definite feel of vigil about it -- either that vigil in the garden on the night of Maundy Thursday, or just that sense of waiting from yesterday...

It would be easy, I think, to sit on that bench and stare pensively at that rock, waiting for something, some truth, to emerge, or for the tree to burst into bloom. But when I look at it, I keep hearing that old Baptist song:

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.

Refrain: And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

He speaks, and the sound of His voice,
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.
.. (refrain)

Yeah -- it's hokey, I know...  But now that I look at the words (and hear my grandmother singing), I think of my neighbors, who have just enlarged their garden, and set up a table and chair in the corner.  "It's wonderful," she told me last night -- "I can just sit there and watch the sun move over the plants, read my gardening books..."  Lovely, peaceful -- such a simple thing, and yet it brings such pleasure.  And isn't that often the way?  However low we may be feeling, a taste of sunshine, birdsong, and flowers can definitely brighten your day.  Simple gifts...

I hope you find (despite the gray and rain which have surfaced again this morning here) some simple gifts of your own today -- and I wish you a Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A liminal Saturday

It's Holy Saturday, that day in the Christian tradition that sits quietly waiting between the violence of Good Friday and the celebratory exuberance of Easter. 

This is the day when we don't know yet: it's the essence of  liminal space, and it's a place all too familiar to me.  In many ways I feel I've lived here for years, having lost the confident faith of my childhood somewhere in the 90's and never quite having replaced it with some other kind of assurance.

Some part of me stands at the door of the courtyard and watches as the church passes through its liturgical year even as other parts of me occasionally sit in the pews or read -- and re-read -- the Buddhist literature that was such a comfort to me the last time I went through one of these periods, back in my twenties. 

I understand now that even with all my Buddhist leanings I have way too much hope and trust to ever be anything but a Christian: not a hope that there might be heaven, but a hope and trust that there is something Divine that exists both in and outside us, that loves and guides and mourns and comforts as we struggle along the path; a hope and trust that forgiveness is not only possible but already ours, if we can but sense it.

It's a rich place -- this liminal space -- full of promise and sadness; blessed with moments of bright delight and enlivened with deep shadows of loss and foreboding... so perhaps that explains why the one ritual of Easter that I miss the most is the Great Vigil -- a service not all that many churches actually hold, but which -- done well -- contains the darkness and the joy, the somber history of failings and losses and the bright effervescent dance of liberation.

I don't have many plans for the day -- a meeting in the morning, a trip to Seattle to deliver an Easter Basket and help my daughter get some more shelving... but somewhere in there I want to take the time to listen to Cynthia Bourgeault's Palm Sunday sermon, which came to me in email a few days back, and was recommended again yesterday by one of my readers.  Cynthia's teachings on the Wisdom Jesus and Contemplative Prayer, like Lynn Bauman's work with the Gospel of Thomas, have been a huge comfort for me during these liminal years, and it seems to me -- having heard her recently speak of her learnings about Mary Magdalene -- that her essence is more radiant these days, perhaps because of what she's learning about Christianity at the feet of Mary Magdalene.  I like that; I could use a little radiance.

Maybe you can listen, too, and we'll see how we feel when Easter rolls around.

Friday, April 22, 2011

I don't have to like it

It's Good Friday, and in Richard Rohr's Wondrous Encounters this morning he was rather adamantly reminding us that "It is indeed a 'good' Friday."

Is it sacreligious of me to say I'm sorry, I'm not buying?  I really find it hard -- although I get the whole "no pain, no gain" thing and the "you have to die to be born again" thing -- to be forced to walk through, yet again, Jesus' agony on the cross.

Rohr says "the central issue at work is the human inclination to kill others, in any multitude of ways, instead of dying ourselves -- to our own illusions, pretenses, narcissism, and self-defeating  behaviors."

Jesus, says Rohr, dies for us, "not in the sense of " in place of" but "in solidarity with,"  and that death serves "as an icon of utter divine solidarity with our pain and our problems... On the cross, the veil between the Holy and the unholy is 'torn from top to bottom' (Matthew 27:51), the 'curtain of his body' becomes a 'living opening' (Hebrews 10:20) through which we all can now walk into the Holy of Holies... the curtain is, and always has been, wide open," he says, and all of that is dramatized in the events we celebrate -- if you can call it that -- today.

I suppose that  bit about the curtain ties in nicely with yesterday's image.  But this piece I did for today -- though I think it has some power, some impact -- well, I don't like it much.  I see it seems to be about confronting death, the numbering of our days, the inevitable rust and decay that must consume.  And while I get that the events of Good Friday are symbolic, and I get that we, too, need to die to -- or maybe kill off -- certain unfortunate and destructive aspects of our psychological make-up ... well... I don't have to like it; I feel like there ought to be a better way.  I accept that there is violence in the world, but I don't have to like it.  And I've never been quite sure I'm comfortable with a faith which has at its dark core this central act of violence; this thirst for blood.  It's kind of like a violent movie; I don't really want to watch.

I'll be glad when Easter comes.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Time to roll away the shoulds...

Everywhere I look these days I seem to see instances of disagreement leading to division and demonization; it seems very much to be a signal aspect of the human condition.

But I suspect it's a bit like being pregnant: you know the phenomenon -- when you're pregnant, you see pregnant women everywhere, but when you're not pregnant they're apparently invisible?

What I'm trying to say is that my seeing of this disagreement/division/demonization is most likely a projection of what's going on in my own spirit.  When we finally see how parts of us -- the judging parts, also known as "the shoulds"-- seem to dominate our thinking and derail some of our best efforts, the temptation is to argue with them, to disengage, and to demonize.

But now I'm thinking it's not so different from the advice a dog whisperer gave me not long ago when I was complaining about my dog's overprotectiveness.  "That's his job," she said.  "You need to thank him for performing it well, and give him another job."

I'm coming to realize (thanks to therapy) that those shoulds, those parental voices that keep me stuck and insecure, are actually protecting some other extremely vulnerable part of me.  Which means, I suspect, that if I continue to attack them and hate and demonize and argue with them, they'll just get bigger and more defensive.

What I really need to do is appreciate them, work with them, let them know I'm grateful for their protection, and teach them to trust me enough to reveal what lies beneath; maybe even give them another job -- or, ultimately, pension them off.   Because the truth is -- if we're feeling trapped and victimized by our own self-defeating voices, it really is a cave of our own making, and (she said, moving into an Easter metaphor) it may be time to begin rolling away the stone.

And how do we roll away the stone?  By embracing it, wrapping our arms around it, and moving with it as a way of setting it aside so we can move into the deep rich parts of ourselves.  The stone is there to keep out the robbers and the bandits, but we can choose to offer to take over that job more consciously... And that's the trick, of course: it only works if we're conscious -- awake, aware, present, engaged.. and that's a hard promise to make.  No wonder the shoulds are working overtime: they just don't quite trust us to be as attentive in the moment...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

When the spirit intercedes

This image is actually a further variation on yesterday's piece: I suspect it was strongly influenced by the fact that we had sunshine almost all day yesterday (for the first time in what seems like forever!)

The tide was low, the moon was magnificent, the tulips, daffodils, and cherry trees are all in bloom... somehow all those things together put me in a softer mood, and so the colors in this image are more like Easter eggs; more like the colors I surrounded myself with when my girls were just babies.

Somewhere recently I ran into a quiz that asked what are some things my brain seems to just know, and my answer was song lyrics, editing/proofreading, Bible verses, and color. 

It's not that I take pride in any of these things -- they're just a part of me, and have been ever since I can remember; the kind of knowledge you can't articulate -- it just sort of springs up when you least expect (or sometimes even want) it -- as if "the heart knows what it wants."

So there I was, yesterday, creating this image, and instead of a song lyric popping into my head (as often happens), it was instead a Bible verse: "The spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words."  (and, no, I never know what chapter and verse they are, it's just the words, almost always RSV or King James).

So I think perhaps the heart of this image is just that spirit interceding, with a longing for Easter, for the sense of freedom and rebirth that arises as new life finally begins again to emerge from the Earth and the long trial of Lenten introspection draws to a close.  It's a sigh: a sigh of anticipation, of release from a long dark winter, of hope for joy and light to come.  These are not colors I would necessarily choose to live with (though that dull purple in the background looks very like my bathroom and closet) but today... well... they just make my eyes feel good!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Diving into the pool of possibility

When I began working on this image yesterday, it was much darker, and harsher.  There was no netting over it, just the sense of a paintbrush coming down from the top, a finger coming up from the bottom, and a bright wash of paint spilling off to the left.

I called it creative tension, and it set me on edge just to look at it.  So when I came to it this morning, I wasn't at all sure it had a future.  But I kept thinking about the poem for yesterday in Coleman Barks' book, A Year With Rumi:

"There is a small green island
where one white cow lives alone, a meadow of an island.

The cow grazes till nightfall full and fat,
but during the night she panics and grows thin as a single hair.
What shall I eat tomorrow?  There is nothing left.
By dawn the grass has grown up again, waist-high.
The cow starts eating and by dark
the meadow is clipped short.

She is full of strength and energy, but she panics
in the dark as before and grows abnormally thin overnight.
The cow does this over and over,
and this is all she does.

She never thinks, This meadow has never failed 
to grow back.  Why should I be afraid every night
that it won't.  The cow is the bodily soul.
The island field is this world where that that grows
lean with fear and fat with blessing, lean and fat.

White cow, don't make yourself miserable
with what's to come, or not to come."

And then I read Parker Palmer's Let Your Life Speak this morning, and he says, "Even in writing this essay, I have had to struggle with the scarcity assumption.  It is easy to stare at the blank page and despair of ever having another idea, another image, another illustration.  It is easy to look back at what one has written and say, 'That's not very good, but I'd better keep it, because nothing better will come along.'  It is difficult to trust that the pool of possibilities is bottomless, that one can keep diving in and finding more."

I decided to trust that the possibilities were bottomless.  And so I kept working with it, bringing more and more light into it, softening the edges, until I arrived at something I could love.  And I do love it -- all the more for the work that went into it, and the struggle, and the promise: that in all we do there is this marvelous potential for wonder -- we just need to stay open to possibility, to lighten, and to soften; to blur the boundaries between us and not-us and allow the light to flow through...

Monday, April 18, 2011

On finding our way home: a walk into Art Angst

I'm reading this morning, in Soul Without Shame, about self-betrayal: the inner judge's efforts to keep you from your essential self.  It's pretty murky stuff, and hard to really put your finger on. 

But reading about it helps me realize that I've been experiencing some attacks:  I've been having so much fun playing with this series of images that I haven't been putting out my usual soothing pieces (I'm thinking of one I shot last night, in a friend's garden).  And some part of me worries that I will lose my readers if I don't get back to showing you "pretty pictures."

This new series is fun, certainly, but it doesn't have the clarity of my usual work: the colors are satisfying, but the end result is busy and confusing, and some part of me thinks that's not okay; wants everything clear and nice.  But I'm not sure that's what's driving the concern.  I think that what's driving the concern is something a little deeper; something that sees that clarity and niceness as my job, my responsibility.  Or -- maybe it's just the gallery's lukewarm response to this work: they're not excited about it, so it won't sell, so it has no value, so why stick with it...

... as in, it's not enough for me to be enjoying it and having fun: I must have a marketable result at the end in order to justify the time spent playing.  Ah.  Now I see what derails me when I go to art classes and workshops: the pressure to produce something beautiful and saleable undermines the urge to experiment, so when I'm NOT seeing immediate "good" results I get all panicky. 

And can you see?  That's me feeling I'm not good enough as I am; something in me feels I have to justify my existence and earn approval.


This makes me really grateful for my friend Max's words to me last night after our Contemplative Worship Service.  We'd been talking about what we pray for, and I had mentioned that I'd been longing for -- and not feeling -- a sense of connection with the Divine.

He sat me down and told me he'd been in a Bible study earlier in the week where they were looking at the passage about "My yoke is easy and my burden is light."  He wanted to share two insights that had emerged from the session. 

First of all, he said, if you are yoked, you are not alone: there is someone else pulling with you.

Okay, I thought, good to know, and I sat there imagining that I don't have to do it all myself, that there is a fellow being who pulls when I don't have the strength.  Of course, my brain kicks in and says "Who is that?  Jesus?  The Holy Spirit? What?  I need some definitions here!"

Second of all, he said, if you are yoked, someone else has the reins.  You don't have to provide guidance; it's being provided for you.

There was, at first, a huge sense of relief in hearing that.  But my brain still kept getting hung up on "who are you yoked with?"

But does it really matter?  Isn't the message here that I don't have to know where this is going?  I just need to take it a step at a time.  If this is what I want to do -- feel called to do -- right now, in this moment, isn't that enough?  When will I learn to trust that instinct without second-guessing it?  And weren't those Goddesses I was working on last winter a lovely example of the good stuff that comes with just following my instincts?  I did them, and then they were done, and then together we created a lovely book, and that's the end of it...

And there it is: my father's voice, saying, "You always were a maven: you get all excited about doing one thing, you do it for a while, and then you're done.  You never stick with anything."

You always.  You never.  That box others create for us.  And then we can spend our whole lives trying to break out of the box.  It reminds me of the story of the turtle (have I told you this one before?)  My boyfriend and I were out canoeing, and we caught a turtle, which I brought back to my dorm room, thinking I could keep it as a pet.  I had a lovely box set up for it, with all kinds of stuff I thought it would like to nest in.  But the turtle kept me awake all night, making a slow circuit around the room, bumping against the walls, trying to find a way out, a way back home.  It couldn't rest because this was not its native environment.

Hmm.  I always thought the point of that story was that humans are always pushing boundaries.  But maybe it was really that there is something in us that knows when we are not in our authentic space; that keeps trying to find a way out of the boxes we -- and society -- construct for ourselves. 

In which case, I can be doubly thankful for Max's insights: how nice to think I can stop beating my head (or my shell) against the walls and just trust that I will be guided home.

Funny.  This image looks a lot like that turtle's home to me.  Guess I'll just keep going with this.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The lonely seed

Hmm.  The theme today seems to be seeds.  Our contemplative worship group is meeting tonight, and as part of the service we'll be inviting people to think about what is looking to bloom in them.  And then this morning I read this wonderful piece in Parker Palmer's Let Your Life Speak:

"Autumn is a season of great beauty, but it is also a season of decline...Faced with this inevitable winter, what does nature do in autumn?  It scatters the seeds that will bring new growth in the spring -- and scatters them with amazing abandon... I explore autumn's paradox of dying and seeding, I feel the power of metaphor.  In the autumnal events of my own experience, I am easily fixated on surface appearances -- on the decline of meaning, the decay of relationships, the death of a work  And yet if I look more deeply, I may see the myriad possibilities being planted to bear fruit in some season yet to come... how losses that felt irredeemable forced me to discern meanings I needed to know.

...In the visible world of nature, a great truth is concealed in plain sight: diminishment and beauty, darkness and light, death and life are not opposites.  They are held together in the paradox of hidden wholeness...a mysterious unity at the heart of reality.

But in a culture that prefers the ease of either-or thinking to the complexities of paradox, we have a hard time holding opposites together.  We want light without darkness, the glories of spring and summer without the demands of autumn and winter...When we so fear the dark that we demand light around the clock, there can be only one result: artificial light that is glaring and graceless and, beyond its borders, a darkness that grows ever more terrifying as we try to hold it off."

Reading that, and then looking at this image which somehow evolved over the course of last night and this morning, I see that there is a seed at the top that looks lonely and isolated and dark.  But just below the surface all kinds of light and life are bubbling up, even focused on the seed, ready to use it as a vehicle to spring forth from the darkness.

And somehow I also see in that lonely seed Jesus on his donkey, heading into Jerusalem, hearing all the noise and color and jubilation and yet knowing that for all of that to bear fruit the husk will need to be broken open.  Yes, new life is coming, but there needs to be a dying first -- and in that dying all the seeds that could possibly be scattered, more abundance than we can imagine, will be sown for life to come.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Who's driving?

The course I took on Metaphor last term did an amazing job of opening my eyes to the prevalence of metaphor in our daily lives, in our language, in our society, and in our views of the world.  But of course, once a class is done, we have a way of setting our learnings aside and either returning to previous thought patterns or giving our energy to whatever it is we're learning next. 

So it was fun to reopen the question of metaphor this morning, when I read what Parker Palmer had to say about it in Let Your Life Speak.  

"If we lived close to nature in an agricultural society, the seasons as metaphor and fact would continually frame our lives.  But the master metaphor of our era does not come from agriculture -- it comes from manufacturing.  We do not believe that we "grow" our lives -- we believe that we "make" them.  Just listen to how we use the word in everyday speech: we make time, make friends, make meaning, make money, make a living, make love.

I once heard Alan Watts observe that a Chinese child will ask, "How does a baby grow?"  But an American child will ask, "How do you make a baby?"  From an early age, we absorb our culture's arrogant conviction that ... we can make whatever kind of life we want, whenever we want it."

"Transformation is difficult," he goes on to say, "so it is good to know that there is comfort as well as challenge in the metaphor of life as a cycle of seasons.  Illumined by that image, we see that we are not alone in the universe.  We are participants in a vast communion of being, and if we open ourselves to its guidance, we can learn anew how to live in this great and gracious community of truth.  We can, and we must -- if we want our sciences to be humane, our institutions to be sustaining, our healings to be deep, our lives to be true."

So how does this relate to this image that emerged yesterday?  I'm thinking that it is our illusion that we are in charge that is driving the most difficult and challenging aspects of life on this planet -- war, hunger, poverty, pollution, the growing water shortages...  And perhaps the most important message of the recent earthquake and tsunami is that, in fact, we are NOT in charge.  Perhaps if we could fully grasp that concept, stop the car, step away from this constant push to move forward, and awaken within us a sense of responsibility for and union with the rest of creation, we could begin to alleviate all that suffering and find our way to humanity, sustainability, healing and truth...

Friday, April 15, 2011

Failure's siren song

Mild panic last night, when I sat down to play with more of these images and hit a series of fails.  It's not all that amusing, actually, when that fail voice kicks in.  I'm sure you've heard it; its song goes something like this:

Okay, kiddo;
you've blown it now --
foolish of you,
to have assumed you'd finally found something
you might actually be good at,
because really
that was just a fluke
and you don't actually have
any gifts, or any vision at all;
more like one of those monkeys
who just happened to get lucky
and type up a Shakespeare play...

It was, therefore, reassuring, to try again this morning and find there might still be something there...

The good thing (and there's always a good thing) is that the failure voice can keep you humble, and grateful; can remind you of the blessings in each gift, and the fragility of all our expectations.

The bad thing is that it can so quickly derail you.  But I'm made of tougher stuff now; I don't cave at the first recitation...

A friend sent me this marvelous example of failure's siren song: enjoy! (Warning; some offensive language ahead)

Thursday, April 14, 2011


There was a wonderfully optimistic book that came out in the late 80's, entitled "Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow." 

I haven't actually seen signs that that's true for me, though I do know a few people who have found a lot of joy -- and enough money to live on -- by stepping off the treadmill of "normal" jobs.

But I am definitely doing what I love -- having enormous fun exploring a new art medium and writing poetry -- and, though money is tight, we have enough to live on for a while, so I suppose you could say it's coming true...

Maybe what really happens is this: when you're doing what you love, the money doesn't matter quite as much?  It would be lovely to have the affirmation money can bring; the sense that "I must be on the right track because people are willing to pay me to do this!"

But really -- when you're doing what you love, that external affirmation loses some of its impact.  Does this help all the people I know who have incredible gifts in the spiritual arena, but due to divorce and the current economy are barely scraping by?  No, not really -- it would be incredibly helpful if society rewarded spiritual directors and clergy and artists and church secretaries as lavishly as it rewards corporate executives.  It would be even MORE helpful if our current congress weren't so determined to add to the rewards of those who already have more than they need at the expense of those who are struggling.

But humans who are in positions of power have always done this; always leapt to the assumption that they have what they have because they have earned and deserve it.  And people of faith who struggle monetarily have probably always wondered why God isn't quicker to reward their faithfulness. 

I don't have answers to any of that.  I only know that I'm doing what I love, and I'm loving what I'm doing.  And the joy that brings -- for now, at least -- is enough.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Listening to the Deep

As you can see, I've been having enormous amounts of fun playing with this new series of images!  This one is somewhat improbably titled "Hedgehog Blues," partly because there's a sort of hedgehog shape to it, and partly because there's even a sort of hedgehog-like face there in the yellow on the right. 

It seemed determined to appear here this morning; and at first I thought that had something to do with the splits in it -- the widening crack at the bottom, and the colorless section in the middle -- which might echo the Thomas Merton quotation from Monday's poem, "What can we gain by sailing to the moon, if we cannot cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves?"

But the more I look at it, the more I see the section on the right as surface activity, the social self, and the section on the left as the rich well of being that comprises the True Self; the cracks then do indeed become "the abyss that separates us from ourselves."

... which resonates beautifully with my reading this morning in Parker Palmer's Let Your Life Speak.  First there is an excerpt from Vaclav Havel's speech to our own joint session of Congress:  "Consciousness precedes Being, and not the other way around, as Marxists claim.  For this reason, the salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human modesty, and in human responsibility.  Without a global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness, nothing will change for the better."

We must be willing to cross that abyss within ourselves; to look into the deep well of being that fuels so much of our thinking and actions.  "In the deeps," Palmer says, quoting Annie Dillard, "are the violence and terror of which psychology has warned us.  But if you ride these monsters down, if you drop with them farther over the world's rim, you find what our sciences cannot locate or name, the substrate, the ocean or matrix or ether which buoys the rest, which gives goodness its power for good, and evil its power for evil, the unified field; our complex and inexplicable caring for each other, and for our life together here."

We have no choice but to go inward and downward; to cross the abyss and face into the hardest realities of our lives.  If we insist on always operating outward and upward, we will never discover that the shadows we are so determined to project on others are our own; that the enemy is within, that it is our determined deafness to our own inner entreaties for attention that keeps us from tapping into the rich well of joy that lies beneath.  We really, desperately, need to make time and create space to become more fully conscious, more present, more mindful, more aware.

"The spiritual traditions," says Palmer, "do not deny the reality of the outer world.  They simply claim that we help make that world by projecting our spirit on it, for better or for worse.  If our institutions are rigid, it is because our hearts fear change; if they set us in mindless competition with each other, it is because we value victory over all else; if they are heedless of human well-being, it is because something in us is heartless as well...Consciousness precedes being: consciousness, yours and mine, can form, deform, or reform our world.  Our complicity in world making is a source of awesome and sometimes painful responsibility -- and a source of profound hope for change.  It is the ground of our common call to leadership, the truth that makes leaders of us all."

If we cannot learn to venture into the space within; to be attentive to ourselves, to listen to our own thoughts and feelings, to dance on that unified field with the shadows of memory, then we will never be able to become fully compassionate beings: our own unexpressed longings will continue to fill our ears and drive us, and we will find ourselves unable to hear above the din of our own ignored and unintelligible hungers.

... which seems to tie in beautifully with Richard Rohr's prayer for today from Wondrous Encounters

"God of perfect freedom, open spaces inside of our minds, our hearts, and our memories, so we can just begin to be free.  Do not let us be hardened against any one of your creatures [including ourselves], so that we cannot hear and respect their truth."

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

From harrowing to spaciousness

I was reading again this morning about the spaciousness within and between our cells, and about how freeing it can be to allow ourselves to feel that.  "To experience your own spaciousness is to recognize the true nature of your soul, a felt sense that has nothing to do with personal history, ideas, behavior, or accomplishments...When you stop looking for something to fill the space, you can begin to see the space where you always are.  You can feel and embrace your own spacious nature." (from Byron Brown's Soul Without Shame)

It seemed to fit well with the sort of cellular look of this image I built yesterday -- the image had the feel of things opening up within, and of life flowing into and through the open spaces -- a bit like the crack from yesterday's post, the one that lets the light in.

But then I went back to Parker Palmer's Let Your Life Speak, and he shared this lovely poem he'd written as he was emerging from a deep depression.  And somehow, though it's a different image, it also seems to tie in:


The plow has savaged this sweet field
Misshapen clods of earth kicked up
Rocks and twisted roots exposed to view
Last year's growth demolished by the blade.
I have plowed my life this way
Turned over a whole history
Looking for the roots of what went wrong
Until my face is ravaged, furrowed, scarred.
Enough.  The job is done.
Whatever's been uprooted, let it be
Seedbed for the growing that's to come
I plowed to unearth last year's reasons --
The farmer plows to plant a greening season.

I think what lies at the root of my response to the poem, to the spaciousness, and to this image is a sense that spring, though winter hovers still, is finally on its way.  There was sun for a while this morning -- however briefly -- and the harrowing I've been doing internally seems to be settling down; I can begin to stand in my own internal field and feel the scent of the dogwoods and the cherry trees again.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The cracks at the root of being

A dear friend wrote, after yesterday's post, to say that it reminded her of that Leonard Cohen song, Anthem.  It seemed important to follow up on that, given that just before I got her note the song had played on the radio -- first time I'd ever heard it...

"The birds they sang
at the break of day
Start again, I heard them say;
Don't dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be. 

Ah the wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in

Sunday, April 10, 2011

It's Lent -- and it's not pretty

And so today begins the last countdown, the last Sunday before Palm Sunday.  These are the dark days of Lent, and it's no wonder this odd photo called to me this morning.  Because it's not pretty.

By now most of us have forgotten or betrayed the promises we made at the beginning of Lent, and all that's left of our fine visions of ourselves and what we might be capable of are the dry bones of broken intentions.  And it's not pretty.

We cannot bear to open our hearts to God, and all we hear when we try to quiet our restless souls is the litany of penitence: all the ways we have not loved, all the ways we have not served, all the false judgments, uncharitable thoughts, self-indulgences and waste, temper, envy, impatience...  It's serious burnout -- and it's not pretty.

And into the ashes I walk this morning, thirsting for insight and longing for hope.  It comes, in a way, but in unexpected guises.  The first is in the words of Parker Palmer, from Let Your Life Speak.  It's an indictment of sorts, but a kind one:  the trouble, he says, is that those broken promises result from our attempts to be noble, trying to give something we don't have to begin with.

"When I give something I do not possess, I give a false and dangerous gift, a gift that looks like love but is, in reality, loveless -- a gift given more from my need to prove myself than from the other's need to be cared for.  That kind of giving is not only loveless but faithless, based on the arrogant and mistaken notion that God has no way of channeling love to to the other except through me... 

Though usually regarded as the result to trying to give too much, burnout in my experience results from trying to give what I do not possess.. Burnout is a state of emptiness, to be sure, but it does not result from giving all I have: it merely reveals the nothingness from which I was trying to give in the first place."

I get a little more clarification of this from Martha Beck's book, Finding Your Own North Star.  She's talking about the social self -- the one that makes all those promises and holds out all those high ideals -- and the essential self, the one that knows exactly who we are, what we're capable of, and what we were born to do.  And she reminds us of the terrible twos: that time in our lives when we learn the power of the word NO.

"We call this behavioral stage the "terrible twos" because our job is to socialize children, and socialization does not work well when individuals run around screaming 'no' all the time.  In fact, socialization basically consists of learning to say 'yes' to all cultural demands, whether you want to or not.... and if you were forced to say 'yes' when you meant 'no' time after time, you stopped even feeling your inner resistance.  Your social self no longer knows what you want; it's fully focused on forcing you to fit in."

But the good news is that "your essential self cannot be corrupted.  It knows from 'no,' honey, and it will fight you like a trapped tiger -- or a trapped two-year-old -- every time you make a decision that takes you farther from your North Star."  Beck then lists all the ways our essential selves have of derailing contracts our social selves have made that are actually not consistent with our true path: energy decline, sickness, forgetting, making stupid mistakes, social faux pas, fight or flight, addiction, depression...

Sound familiar?  What's your essential self's way of saying no?  And have you been embarrassed by that lately?

I think the message in all this is that we just have to sit with it.  We have to walk into this picture, and look at ourselves, stripped of all the promises and good behaviors, and understand that it's not that we're bad.  We've just gotten off track.  And until we can hear that, see that, feel that, and see through to the good essential-self bones that lie at the heart of being, we've little hope of getting back to that which nourishes and feeds us, puts meat on the bones of our good intentions and clothes us in righteousness and purpose.

Really.  You just have to stop and take stock.  No, it may not be pretty.  But they're good bones -- really they are.  We just have to see them for what they are.  Only then can we begin to put our lives back together and move forward.

Yup.  It's Lent.

And it's not pretty.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Depths of possibility

This photograph is actually the wall of an abandoned house on Shaw, superimposed over a photo of the edge of our lagoon.  I love the suggestion of marshes and fishes, those little eddies of light in the middle section of the picture...

Why bother to explain?  Perhaps becausee we humans are so desperate to know what we are looking at.  Yes, we like surprises -- good ones, anyway -- but generally speaking we prefer to know exactly what we're getting into, what we're seeing, what we're hearing...

It 's fun to solve a puzzle -- we like the challenge -- but no one wants it to be too difficult.  No one wants to feel like a failure. And yet those of us who are reluctant to fail are often also reluctant to experiment -- and so, refusing to risk failure, we get stuck in one mode of being and never get to see the richness and depth of possibility that surrounds us.

When will we come to realize that it is our failures that so often tend to be the most productive lessons?  And when will we finally accept that failure is a necessary -- even desirable -- part of the gifts life has to offer?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Embracing the child within

No, tonight's sunset didn't look this good; this photo was taken a couple of days ago.  But it does convey a certain lightness of being, which is what I'm feeling after a day in class.

Even though I still have my daughter's cold, it was a joy to be back in school, re-connecting with old friends and making new ones.

The day also started off well: I was reading (in the latest issue of Shambhala Sun) an article about our inner wounded child, written by Thich Nhat Hahn.  He believes that if we feel anger rising within us, or some other destructive or constrictive emotion, we have only to also call forth mindfulness of that emotion.  Mindfulness, he says, is not there to suppress or fight against the emotion, but "to recognize and take care of it -- like a big brother helping a younger brother... so the energy is recognized and embraced tenderly by the energy of mindfulness."

Because mindfulness and the troublesome emotion are both part of us, in embracing the emotion we are embracing nonduality; refusing to demonize parts of ourselves.  In embracing the emotion, we are also embracing the wounded child from whom the emotion spills; "the energy of mindfulness is the salve that will recognize and heal the child within."

It's truly amazing how freeing these practices are when we take them to heart... It really helps me realize how much of the suffering in our lives is our own creation.

The beauty, though -- well, that's God's great gift to us...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The long winter

It's been raining here for days on end -- for weeks and months, actually, and everyone I meet is tired of it, desperate for sun.  It still feels so much like winter -- heck, it was 35 degrees in the middle of the afternoon yesterday, and there was snow on the back of the car in front of me as I was driving across the bridge; we even had a frost last night, despite the cloud cover (thanks to the north wind that was pounding our beach again). 

This is just so NOT April in the Northwest, though we are awash in daffodils and (sadly) downed cherry blossoms, and the tulips are starting to raise their heads.  It's hard to believe Easter's only a few weeks away... harder, still, for many of us to keep our spirits up when sunshine and warmth seem only a distant memory.

But joy is there, I'm certain, as ready and eager to bloom in our hearts as those bright yellow lilac buds at the bottom of this photo.  The potential is always there; we just have a tendency to forget  how lovely life can be when the slog through the darkness gets overly long.

I love the opening lines of Joyce Rupp's "Springtime Prayer", from her book, Prayers to Sophia:

"O Dancer of Creation,
the earth awakens to an urgent call to grow.
In the hidden recesses of my wintered spirit
I, too, hear the humming of your voice,
calling me, wooing my deadness back to life."

I'm just not quite hearing the humming yet.  If I could command it, I'd say -- in the immortal words of Star Trek's Captain Picard -- Make it so!  But instead I just need to be patient and wait; to trust that change is in the wind... 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

On mixing shoulds and vocation

The two layers in this image are from San Francisco; The "sails" are a piece of fabric that I found draped at the top of the stairwell in an Asian mini-mall; the sea and sky are the view from the Bay Bridge.

It felt, when I started, like they should go together, but just because they should doesn't mean they actually do, or that they have any particular value as a unit.

It reminds me a bit of something a nun said to me a long time ago, when I went in for spiritual direction about a very demanding job.  "Just because you're good at something, that doesn't mean you're supposed to be doing it."

She's the same nun who asked (when I complained about the demands of my job) how many hours I was being paid to work a week (35) and how many hours I was actually working (80) and then said, "Those other hours are all volunteer hours.  You can choose not to work those hours.  It's your choice."

It's all about the shoulds, isn't it.  These images should go together, but there's no passion in the combined result, so it doesn't really have much to offer.  When I was working, I thought because I COULD do something I SHOULD do it, but there was no passion in it, so it drained me.  And there were so many SHOULDS in the job, and they took so many hours to complete, that I was burning myself out and cheating my family.  But of course, I was working for the church at the time, so the shoulds were compounded by that old religious burden of trying to please and "serving the Lord."

But the truth is we aren't really serving the Lord -- or any higher purpose, for that matter -- if we are working out of shoulds and a sense of duty.  Which takes me to a note I received from one of my readers in response to last Saturday's post.  He said, "most of us spend too much time in trying to find "who I really am" than in giving God "what he really wants."

The challenge, of course, lies in figuring out what it IS that God "really wants."  And I don't have an easy answer to how you discern that path for yourself.  What I do know is that the first commandment is to LOVE God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.  Which suggests that God is looking, not for a dutiful response, but a passionate response.

Yes, when we love, we take on tasks that we might not necessarily enjoy -- housekeeping and diaper-changing come to mind as clear examples of that.  But when we love, we are blessed, I think, with a deep desire to give the best of ourselves -- which I think, given my understanding of God, is what God really wants.  Because here's the thing: God loves us, too.  Passionately.

If in loving our own children, we wish the best for them -- love, health, happiness; jobs that are both challenging and fufilling... wouldn't it make sense that God would want that the same for us?

I was reading Parker Palmer's Let Your Life Speak a few days ago, and now that I see where this post is going it seems entirely appropriate to quote what he has to say about this very subject:

"The human self has a nature, limits as well as potentials.  If you seek vocation without understanding the material you are working with, what you buildd with your life will be ungainly..."Faking it" in the service of high values is no virtue and has nothing to do with vocation.  It is an ignorant, sometimes arrogant, attempt to override one's nature, and it will always fail.

Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic self-hood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be.  As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks -- we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.  True vocation joins self and service, as Frederick Buechner asserts when he defines vocation as 'the place where your deep gladness meets the world's deep need.' "

So.  Where is that place for you?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Deeper waters to visit

I was doing some other reading for class this morning; hadn't yet tackled Richard Rohr's words for today when I came to my computer.

This was the image that caught my eye this morning; I confess I'm curious as to why.  But I opened Richard Rohr's Wondrous Encounters, and the heading for today's reading is this: "The Soul Needs Images and Imaging to "Know" Things."

And doesn't THAT sound promising!  So here I am reading Richard Rohr, and he talks about the healing power of imagery, and then water as a healing metaphor for divine abundance, and then he talks about Jesus mirroring a man's best self -- and how "such perfect mirroring also carries further relationship and responsibilities with it."

So how does any of that relate to this image?  Certainly there's water here.  And it's mirroring what appear to be two sticks.  But those numbers feel ominous to me; like those serial numbers tattooed onto the wrists of concentration camp survivors.  And the two sticks become cuts on another wrist I've seen, of a self-destructive teen...  But what is that red leaf?  And I see someone has taken the time to patch what must have been a broken place...

Why did I stop to photograph this, and why am I still staring at it?  Perhaps the image is to reassure us: that though there will always be cruelty and pain in the world, it can become the ground on which we stand and move to higher aspirations?  Perhaps it is an invitation to step beyond past hurts and betrayals into a brighter future? 

Back to Richard Rohr, after staring at this for a bit, I see his prayer for today is also an invitation:

"Healing God, give me the courage to move forward, and help me to see that my deepest sin might be my unwillingness to keep growing."

We could stop here.  We could get all caught up in ruminating on the challenges we've faced, or patting ourselves on the back for having come so far, for having patched things up, for having survived.  It's good, indeed, to take some time to breathe; to pause for a moment of rest and restoration.  But don't assume the journey's done: there are more paths to walk and deeper waters to visit...

Monday, April 4, 2011

Echoes of love

I'm pretty distracted this morning; having a little trouble staying on task.  My thoughts keep drifting off to my older daughter, who moved out over the weekend.  She just spent her first night in her new apartment in Seattle, and this morning she starts her new job.

It's kind of incredible, really -- that such huge transitions don't feel more seismic when they're happening.  It all seems sort of simple: she packed up her stuff, loaded up 3 cars worth, we made a couple of runs, carried things up a few stairs, took her out to dinner... and that's it.  After 24 years, the last 10 months living with us, she's off into the world, ready to support herself.

And as I sit here, staring at this picture of her playing with a neighbor's cat so long ago (a cat who looks remarkably like Alex, the cat she and I love so much now), I find myself haunted by a steady procession of images from her childhood...

There was a lovely bit in the Prayers of the People yesterday about caring for our children; knowing when to love and when to let go; when to hold them safe and when to release them into the world.  There's such an interesting tension there, and such a mix of feelings -- and so much love.  So much joy.  And I'm sure it's only an echo of how God feels watching us...

Which took me immediately to this ancient Doobie Brothers song, recorded before she was even born (ignore the comments, please):

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Seeing with God's eyes

There's a wonderful line from First Corinthians that's been haunting me lately: "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known."

I finished Desmond and Mpho Tutu's book, Made for Goodness, today, and I think I interpret that Corinthians passage differently now.  Today it feels like we see ourselves, and our relationship to God, only dimly; we do not realize the intensity of the love and affection God feels for us.  And those aspects of ourselves which are dimmed by societal pressures -- or internal pressures -- to be other than who we are; those aspects, those gifts are so clear in God's eyes...

The Tutus ask us to imagine being looked at with love.  Even if we've never experienced that look, we've seen it on other faces -- mothers looking at their adored children; young lovers gazing into each others' eyes... 

Now imagine that God looks at us that way ALL THE TIME.  That is how precious we are.

And now ask yourself: if I knew I was THAT PRECIOUS; if I could feel the intensity of that love, a love that sees into the very heart of me and knows me and knows what I am capable of -- both good and bad -- what would I do differently today?

The book ends with a long and wonderful poem:

You are my child,
My beloved.
With you I am well pleased.
Stand beside me and see yourself,
Borrow my eyes so you can see perfectly.
When you look with my eyes then you will see
That the wrong you have done
and the good left undone,
The words you have said that should not have been spoken
The words you should have spoken but left unsaid,
The hurs you have caused,
Teh help you've not given
Are not the whole of the story of you.
You are not defined by what you did not achieve.
Your worth is not determined by success.
You were priceless before you drew your first breath,
Beautiful before dress or artifice,
Good at the core.

And now is time for unveiling
The goodness that is hidden behind the fear of failing.
You shout down your impulse to kindness
in case it is shunned,
You suck in your smile,
You smother your laughter,
You hold back the hand that would help.
You crush your indignation
When you see people wronged or in pain
In case all you can do is not enough,
In case you cannot fix the fault,
In case you cannot soothe the searing, 
In case you cannot make it right.
What does it matter if you do not make it right?
What does it matter
if your efforts move no mountains?
It matters not at all.
It only matters that you live the truth of you.
It only matters that you push back the veil
to let your goodness shine through.
It only matters that you live as I have made you.
It only matters that you are made for me,
Made like me,
Made for goodness.

Listen, my friends.  And believe.

And -- knowing and believing you are this good and this loved, what will you do differently today?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Some days it's not all that clear

There's something about this series of images -- which I've been working on for a couple of years now -- that still really appeals to me; something about the way they are both stark and subtle; crisp and still a bit mystical...

Which is probably a metaphor for how I approach... faith? Religion? Spirituality?  I am uncomfortable with all of those words, which just don't seem to describe what is real for me about that mystical presence that inspires my readings and writings in the realm of Buddhism and Christianity.

And then there's the language around prayer, centering prayer, and meditation, which also seems fraught with pre-conceptions.

And here I am: it's Lent, and I've vowed to spend this time exploring Desmond Tutu and Richard Rohr, and the language they both use is very, well... Christian.  And even though I love what they have to say, I feel it pulling me from my own center, which, though I clearly operate from a Christian perspective, is somewhere a little less... defined.

So my writings here have been feeling a little preachy.  And the images have been more consciously chosen.  Which feels like I'm being more cerebral than usual, and I'd prefer to be operating out of a more intuitive space.

But just when I think, this stuff is throwing me off, I need to steep myself in some Jack Kornfield or something, I read something like this from Desmond Tutu:  "When we listen to the voice of God in prayer... we hear the voice of one who sees and loves the already of us.  We hear the voice of one who knows and loves the not yet of our being."

I can't say I've heard this voice all that often.  But I have heard it, and I know how it makes me feel.  That voice he is describing is unquestionably that same mystical presence that informs my work.  It seems very clear at times, and yet mostly... well, fuzzy; hard to see, or hear, or define...

And so I'm learning to trust that it's all okay: okay sometimes to be preachy, okay to drift back and forth across the line between these two extraordinary faiths, okay to be Christian one month and Buddhist the next, to be clear one minute and utterly confused in the next.  It's all good -- the important thing is to stay mindful and keep honoring the presence, however defined or undefined it proves to be from one day to the next.

And of course Richard Rohr's prayer for today is a perfect response to all of this:

"Merciful God, all I can give you, and all you ever want, is who I really am."

... and if some days that's not all that clear, well, that's okay, too.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Rooted in fear, grounded in love

This morning Desmond Tutu confirmed something I have long suspected: most everything negative we humans are capable of -- greed, laziness, rage, jealousy -- is rooted in fear.  "We hoard and overspend against the fear we will not have enough... we procrastinate lest we prove to be incapable... We get enraged rather than admit that we are confused, hurt, worried, inadequate.

Next time you are angry with your spouse or partner," he goes on, "ask yourself, "What am I afraid of?

Why is it important that we understand this notion?  Because as long as we can't face those fears, they have a way of looming over us.  If we can name them, though, they have a way of becoming manageable.  Not only that, but we get better at recognizing them in others -- which makes it easier to understand and forgive.

The truth, he says, is that there will always be enough: enough love, enough material things, enough applause -- more than enough to go around for all of us to flourish.    "But for us to engage in the practices that will ensure that we all prosper, we must come to know that each of us is linked in the chain of our common humanity.  God dwells in each of us."

Which is the lesson at the heart of our Lenten readings for today in Richard Rohr's Wondrous Encounters:  "'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. And the second is like unto this: Love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no commandment greater than these." (Mark 12: 29 - 31)

If we understand that chain of humanity; if we can comprehend that God dwells in each of us, then we know that to honor and love God is to love and honor one another; that the two commandments are truly inseparable.  When on hearing the commandments a student responds, "To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices,"  Jesus affirms the importance of his understanding, saying, "You are not far from the kingdom of God."

That fear which drives us to hurt one another: I believe it could actually go away if we could really grasp this concept; if we could finally and completely understand that God's uniting presence resides permanently in each of us; that nothing can separate us from that empowering and fulfilling love.

I'm not there yet.  But I can at least begin to comprehend the awe expressed in Rohr's prayer for today:

"One God, you make all things one.  Even my own heart, and even one with the hearts of others, and most unbelievably one with yours."

I am coming to know this -- at least in part.  I pray that someday this understanding will be more deeply rooted in me; more deeply rooted even than fear.  Actually, maybe that means I'm working toward becoming grounded: grounded in love.