Thursday, May 31, 2007

Returning?

Giving birth has always been a powerful metaphor for me. Not that I relate it to physical pregnancy, but since I started awakening, 20 years ago now, in my early thirties, I could feel the creative element in life moving within me, making me something new.


I'm listening to Jennifer Berezan's CD, "Returning." She chants throughout: returning, returning, returning to the Mother of us all... This music is haunting, smoky, with rhythms that sink to the beginning of time itself.

She recorded the music is a subterranean temple/tomb used by the Neolithic people of Malta. The 3-level labyrinth has 33 chambers, stairs, passageways, all carved out of the limestone with flint and antler tools. Some of the chambers, 5.25 meters beneath the surface, are egg shaped. Maybe now you can begin to imagine the haunting quality of this elegant sound.

Our local public radio station aired an interview yesterday with a scientist who is using DNA markers to track human populations movements on the earth back from the beginning of our existence on this planet. The rhythms in this CD are like that...ancient, fundamental, like oceans and molten earth flowing together. This scientist said he can track all humanity back to one place on the earth and then reconstruct how groups broke off and spread across the globe. But the point is that we emerged from one, we are all connected, we are one family with so little variation in our DNA that it is easy to see the truth of how gender and race are truly constructed categories of difference. Not differences that should matter much or cause such destruction. Well, I digress.

The idea and experience of giving birth, moving into and creating the new, is so freeing, so simultaneously powerful and humbling. Yet listening to this CD I realize how moving into the new is also a return, a return to the mother of us all. I first heard this CD during a spiritual direction group about 3 weeks ago. As I listened, the image of a cave came to me, a cave with water lapping up against it, and you can hear someone breathing, rhythmically. Womb-like, it feels . . . not sure exactly.

In his Journey of the Magi, T.S. Eliot asked, Is it birth or is it death?

The threat of non-being has sent existential jolts of terror through me in recent years. The possibility of consciousness not surviving has, for short moments in my life, paralyzed me. But then I read Eliot, or I listen to this CD, and I sense the truth of birth and death being of a piece, interwoven such that only the most crass and shallow questioning can separate them.

Returning...returning...returning to the Mother of Us All.

May it be so.




Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Empathy--Yes!

A Harvard psychologist is claiming that humanity is becoming less and less violent. His article was in the New Republic, and www.edge.org, where I found it at
http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/pinker07/pinker07_index.html


Really interesting article. Toward the end he provides some possible reasons:

1. The decreasing sense that life is cheap. "As technology and economic efficiency lengthen and improve our lives, we place a higher value on life."

2. The more we realize that two people can come out ahead if they cooperate (trade, division of labor, sharing peace), the more we'll want the other person to stay alive.

3. Evolution bequeathed us a bit of empathy. Let me quote this part:

"Through the centuries people's moral circles have expanded to encompass larger and larger polities: the clan, the tribe, the nation, both sexes, other races, and even animals. The circle may have been pushed outward by expanding networks of reciprocity,...but it might also be inflated by the inexorable logic of the golden rule: The more one knows and thinks about other living things, the harder it is to privilege one's own interests over theirs. The empathy escalator may also be powered by cosmopolitanism, in which journalism, memoir, and realistic fiction make the inner lives of other people, and the contingent nature of one's own station, more palpable. "

What do you think?

Monday, May 28, 2007

Holy pauses

My dear friend A. was suppose to come over for lunch today, but I called her to say I didn't think I was quite up to it. Asthma's a bummer. Although I miss seeing her, it's probably just as well it didn't work out because it sounds like she needs a day at home without an agenda. A. is a business executive, and her job keeps her going at a frantic pace. I know she longs for a time of rest and renewal, and I wish that for her with all my heart.

Our phone conversation, plus being cooped up here in the house all week, prompts me to wonder about my own pace. There are weeks when I work too many hours, but that's not really the problem. The problem is what I'm doing with the hours--I'm being productive and not taking the time to reflect. When I don't pause and think about the meaning of my work and relationships, it feels like life is passing me by.

I clearly remember the moment when I understood the gift of my parents' lives to me.* I'd been reading some new-age book about how we choose our parents. I don't believe that's true, but the idea did get me thinking about ME being raised in THEIR household, exposed to years of their worldview, attitudes, hopes, fears, expectations...all that. I looked at a photograph of my parents that I'd hung on my bedroom wall, staring at their faces staring back at me. It suddenly struck me how their lives seemed incomplete. And in that moment I remembered how my father once told me that he had "never been the captain of his own ship." And in that moment I felt once again my mother's pull, her insistence that I be like her, shielding her from all difference, from everything "other." They were stuck, I thought. Stuck in self-deception and fear.

I felt the horror of it.

And that's their gift to me. Their gift is that, in a sense, I can choose to complete their lives by completing my own. Life will NOT pass me by! Their gift is the realization that I can choose to live a "stuck" life, a life that's never quite "here" or "now" because I'm deceiving myself in some way, or I can choose to live in the present moment. And that means pausing during my days to reflect and give thanks and take a breath.

Those 'holy' pauses will pace my days in such a way that I'll have more energy. (I have to smile at myself...if that's true, which I think it is, then why the hell don't I do it more often? Instead, I work at such a pace that I get sick. Sheesh!)


*I know that their gifts to my siblings were very different. We're the same and not-the-same. Our temperaments, neurobiology, independent experiences--all serve to make that truism "we all grew up in the same house" rather nonsensical!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

A mirror not an expert

I was taught so WELL in my Ph.D. program. I'm thinking now especially of the emphasis that was always placed on the profound respect that we owe our clients. The postmodern emphasis on not-knowing, on allowing the human being sitting before us, trusting us, to teach us about who they are, and are becoming--it's just so right in so many ways. Although the temptation to play "expert" was and remains a temptation for me (arising mostly when I feel insecure), the program's postmodern emphasis on mutuality was a good fit for me overall.

As a pastoral counselor, minister, and spiritual director, I'm reminded of this almost every week. I'm simply in partnership with people--a mirror for them--as God's Spirit does the work of nudging them toward health and abundant life.

It's the most exciting thing to see that happening! And each time, I am changed for the better.

Gratitude for the years

As I write, D and Lovely Passionate Feminist stepdaughter are driving to Waco; they probably won't be home until 11 pm or so. But Young Man with Integrity stepson is here. As I write from my sick-bed, I can hear the low-rumblings from the television in the living room.

I find it's not so bad being sick now that I no longer live alone.

Getting married has brought so much joy to my life. The joy of feeling cared for when I'm sick. The joy of nearly-always having someone to go to dinner with. The joy of touch and intimacy. The joy of D's three children who are now in my life, enriching it beyond measure. The joy of being deeply known. The joy of working through who I am, and am becoming, as a married person.

Yet I am also grateful for having been single for so long (until I was 48, three years ago now). It was time and space to begin to know myself, and to like and even love myself. Loneliness motivated me to seek out good friends--so many wonderful friends who have nourished my soul , taught me generosity, and led me to love what is Divine. With the loss of both parents, the increase in loneliness that threatened was mitigated by coming to better know and love my siblings and their families. The time I spent alone with myself was time in which I came to know God, or at least something of God.

Yes, I am grateful for those years as well.

No death for what the heart has known...

Whispers Late at Night
"Death is more than parting, but it can't annul a marriage, nor can it revise the terms of an impassioned covenant or teach you how with scalpel to excise your former self from you that still persists. Without your lover, you are emptied of yourself, it seems, and nothing true exists anywhere, and yet you keep your love. There is an end to kissing and an end to whispers late at night, but never shall there be an end to heartache lovers send across the greatest barrier of all. Though lovers into deepest night are blown, there is no death for what the heart has known."
Robert Daseler

Existentialist that I am, death is a subject/idea (sometimes even an experience, if only emotional) that is never far from my awareness.

Authenticity 2

"This is what connects you to who you are. What you love. What you caress. Whatever it is that leaves you and in its absence makes you lonelier than Loneliness itself. When it returns, it becomes holy. When it returns, you see the sacred in the profane. You do not fall prostrate before it.
You hold it close. You let it go.
You live with it.
You live. "
Parabola magazine

We are indeed relational creatures. That probably accounts for how that sense of coming-to-myself increased so much when I married. And earlier, when I became a minister.

And more on authenticity...from A. Come, a Kierkegaard scholar:

"In the crisis-moment of confrontation, I must learn and accept the fact that God’s judgment is God’s love, because only by coming to see transparently that I dwell in untruth, in unrighteousness, in non-being can I be transformed into the authentic being of goodness and so become my authentic personhood."

I just see that as so true. Self-deception is the danger.

Creative Transformation

"In each and every negative, life-diminishing situation in life, without fail—each situation of pain, injustice, terror, grief, abandonment, rejection, etc.—God is there. And in God’s presence is an invitation toward transformation of that fear and hurt into that which is good. This way of transformation is always available. The opportunity to accept God’s invitation toward wisdom, love, freedom, truth, compassion, joy, beauty, kindness, and justice never fails. "

I wrote that a few years ago, and I have never been the same since. Wish I could remember it more quickly at times, though!

I've been sick all week and instead of opening myself to the possibility of God's creative transformation for some kind of good in the midst of it, I've let guilt get in the way. That little voice (my father's) that nags: Your employer won't like this....you must EARN what you're paid! Buttressed no doubt by that old John Houseman ad for SmithBarney, remember?: "They EARN it." showing my age here

On second thought, perhaps deciding to start a blog has been the creative good that's come from being at home. :-)

Friday, May 25, 2007

Abundancy Mentality, Trust and Fear

I've been writing about fear and trust for our church newsletter recently--I edited some, but this is basically what I said:

Abundancy Mentality
Once a month I lead an additional worship service, in the emerging-church style. Last time we created a diner atmosphere, complete with red checkered tablecloths, gum-smacking waitresses, and short-order cooks. The theme was the Community in Christ that we can create anywhere we are. The idea came from Carrie Newcomer's song, "Betty's Diner" (see www.carrienewcomer.com), one line in which is "eggs and toast like bread and wine." So, of course we served eggs and toast.
I was in the kitchen when I heard that we had run out of scrambled eggs. Oh, no, I thought. Moments later one of our ‘waitresses’ came up to the ‘short-order window’ to return a plate of food because it wasn’t needed—everyone had been served. I felt relieved, obviously, but as the evening continued I realized I also felt joy. In a tiny way I had been reminded of God’s abundance.

Henri Nouwen writes: “The opposite of a scarcity mentality is an abundancy mentality. With an abundancy mentality we say: ‘There is enough for everyone, more than enough: food, knowledge, love ... everything.’ With this mind-set we give away whatever we have, to whomever we meet. When we see hungry people we give them food. When we meet ignorant people we share our knowledge; when we encounter people in need of love, we offer them friendship and affection and hospitality and introduce them to our family and friends. When we live with this mind-set, we will see the miracle that what we give away multiplies: food, knowledge, love ... everything. There will even be many leftovers.”

What keeps us from living from an abundancy mentality? Fear. Deep down we believe that if we give away what we have there won’t be enough left for us, for our family, for our community, for our nation. Fear. And the antidote to fear? In this case, the antidote is Trust.

Trusting in God that there is more than enough money, knowledge, food, or love is not about some sort of formula—it’s not an “if-then” kind of thing that “works” if you trust correctly. Mystery abounds with the abundancy mentality—as Nouwen wrote, it is a miracle. But of course the results are not mysterious: in my experience, practicing an abundancy mentality means an increasing ability to live our lives with a sense of freedom and joy. (And neither are the results of a scarcity mentality mysterious. Look around—a scarcity mentality manifests in homelessness, poverty, slavery, gated communities . . . )

If we had run out of eggs, would that mean, then, that our trust in God was lacking? —or— Because we did have enough eggs to feed everyone, were we trusting God? Framing it either way puts it in the context of a narrow and limiting formula; it puts God in a box. Perhaps the better response would simply be gratitude that everyone was fed and continuance of the difficult practice of trusting God.

"Security is mostly a Superstition"
One of the major messages of my childhood was: “grow up and get a good job with a good retirement plan.” My parents were both depression-era-babies, so that message is understandable. And I did what I was told. The company I worked for had a great salary and retirement plan. When I left there in 1994 to go to seminary it was like jumping off a cliff, and I clearly remember telling a couple of people of my fear of becoming a bag lady. (sounds ridiculous, but true)

In Helen Keller's "Let Us Have Faith," she writes: “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature. . . . Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.”

She is saying what the senior minister at my church said recently in a sermon: “I find that the best protected tend to be the most fearful and the most unhappy. They have closed themselves off to lots of surprising good news from God. For all of us who have that terrible feeling that we just can’t figure out what it is that God wants us to do—with our lives, with our calling, with our church, with our family, as a country—it just might be because we have so protected ourselves that we are not ever outside the gate down by the river [like Lydia, Acts 16: 9-15] where the stuff of God is being talked about.”

My fear of becoming a bag lady did not materialize, obviously. For 10 years I was without a ‘real’ job or regular income, but somehow (a word heavily freighted with theological significance!) things always worked out. Although I still need frequent reminders, those are the years when I began to understand, a little, what trust is about. As I've written before, this is not about living from a formula: if we do [whatever] then God will bless us with money or success or [whatever]. That kind of theology conveniently ignores the manifold examples of failure, rejection, destitution, and broken dreams that all of God’s people experience. It’s about "choosing to turn our backs on oppressive and ubiquitous fear and instead choosing to practice generosity and hospitality." That’s the security of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and it’s a choice we can make as individuals and corporately as a community of faith.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The War

I wish I could see as clearly as so many others regarding this wretched war. My husband and stepchildren (23 y.o. Young Man with Integrity, 19 y.o. Lovely Passionate Feminist, and 16 y.o. Genuine and Beautiful Drummer Girl) all agree that we should pull out immediately. But the mess that Iraq is in is our fault...no one else's, and shouldn't we stay there until we see whether perhaps, miracle of miracles, the troop escalation does some good? I can't stand the thought that we invade a country that was NOT a threat to us, wreak havoc and unleash these ungodly forces of sectarian violence, and then we just say, "OK, you people have to fix this yourselves now." I know Pres. Bush and Sec. Rumsfeld should have -- oh, better not get started on THAT! Suffice it to say that when we started to lose control, they should have sent in 300,000 soldiers to regain order. My heart aches with what we, in our blind arrogance, have done. There are days when I simply cannot listen to the news, although I live in a house with political junkies, so I usually hear it through them anyway. Even so, there are days when the waste of human lives is so painful that I feel I can hardly bear it.

Goodling

My husband D and I disagree about Monica's testimony yesterday. He thinks she's lying through her teeth, but I'm not so sure. From what I've read (TPM by Josh Marshall points to a story of her refusing to attend a baby shower for a fellow DOJ-employee because this employee was unwed), Monica is a true-believer. D points out that "true-believers" from the Falwell-Robertson-Dobson school can lie as well as anyone, which I don't doubt. But something tells me that Monica's fervent idealism would make that more difficult for her. Her body language indicated that she was uptight (who wouldn't be?), but I don't think that necessarily means she was lying.

Of course, I could be wrong. Even intuition can be influenced by projections and cultural "truths."

When she said, "I know I crossed the line, but I didn't mean to," I wish someone had set her straight right then and there. Her fervor for her religious beliefs makes her certain that she is right. Monica, certainty is not the same as faith. Faith carries a seed of doubt within it. Certainty is dangerous. Certainty closes us down. It blinds and deafens us, which leads to all kinds of sins/problems/wrong-headed decisions, including crossing this particular line.

Of course, I could be wrong. . . . Despite that possibility, this belief about certainty and faith is how I choose to live my life as a Christian.

Uncovering the Real

Woke up this morning thinking, Life is a series of uncovering what's real. (I've always been a Platonist at heart, I suppose.)

*Now we see through a glass darkly.

*When mourning and death shall be no more.

--All of that.

I've been down with bronchitis this week, but part of waking up this morning was also the sense that my lungs are clearer. Maybe there's a mind-body connection here: Uncover my lungs, so I can breathe again.

Hmm, that's a stretch, perhaps, but it always feels significant to me when I'm thinking something powerful like this when I awake. (No doubt part of my ongoing awakening.)