Thursday, January 29, 2009
Tomorrow I'm up super early...seeing someone for spiritual direction in City to the East at 8:00 a.m. Leading the HeartPaths group--we're praying according to different functions of the Meyers-Briggs this month. Last week was "Feeling," tomorrow is "Thinking." Then another spiritual direction session, a doctor's appointment, and a couple of counseling clients.
The doctor's appointment is a "pre-op" appointment. I'm having surgery on my left wrist Monday to alievate this pain from carpal tunnel. It's just gotten way too painful, waking me up at night, etc. Ugh.
All of a sudden, I feel like I'm up against a wall with everything I have to do. I found out that this class I've been asked to teach on "Spirituality and Psychotherapy" is just a title that one of the faculty members at the seminary came up with--she knew the Dean was going to ask me, and she knows of my interest in these subjects, so she suggested this title. Which I very much appreciate--I am passionate about this kind of thing and am looking forward to the whole process here. But the class is brand new; I have to create it from scratch. So I have a TON of research and creative thinking to do in order to get the Prospectus ready by mid-March. I have some good ideas already, I think, but I'm just wondering....
If you saw this class listed, what would you want it to be?
What are your ideas?
This blessing from John O'Donohue goes out to both of them.
Light cannot see inside things.
In the glare of neon times,
That our thoughts may be true light,
That we never place our trust
When we look into the heart,
That the searching of our minds
When we are confined inside
When we become false and lost
When we love, that dawn-light
As we grow old, that twilight
And when we come to search for God,
~ John O'Donohue ~
(To Bless the Space Between Us)
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Freezing rain. Icy roads. YIPPEE! A FREE DAY!Time today to do some work on my United Church of Christ History paper--I need to get that into the Committee on Ministry so that the UCC can make my ordination one of theirs (so to speak).
Time today also (I hope) to do some initial planning on the class I've been asked to teach at the university seminary from which I graduated. Guess you'll be able to call me an "Adjunct Professor" in the Fall. I'm pretty excited about being asked to do that. They want me to teach "Spirituality and Psychotherapy" for the Fall, and either the "Intro to Pastoral Care" class or an elective class next Spring.
I'm looking forward to the experience of teaching as an extension of my ministry. I'm even looking forward to preparing the classes--I'll learn a lot, I'm sure!
It's not a sure-thing yet. I suppose that if we can't work out a time in which the class will meet that fits my schedule, the whole thing could go ka-put! But my church is pretty flexible, and I can get my part-time hours in by working on Thursdays (my normal day off) if need be.
Friday, January 23, 2009
There are crises banging on the door right now, pawing at us, trying to draw us off our ethical center - crises that tempt us to feed the wolf of vengefulness and fear.
One evening a grandfather was teaching his young grandson about the internal battle that each person faces. "There are two wolves struggling inside ]each of us," the old man said. "One wolf is vengefulness, anger, resentment, self-pity, fear... "
The other wolf is compassion, faithfulness, hope, truth, love..."
The grandson sat, thinking, then asked: "Which wolf wins, Grandfather?"
His grandfather replied, "The one you feed."
Emma Lazarus' poetry is spelled out further by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr,: "As long as there is poverty in the world I can never be rich, even if I have a billion dollars. As long as diseases are rampant and millions of people in this world cannot expect to live more than twenty-eight or thirty years, I can never be totally healthy... I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way our world is made."
A land of abundance guided by a God of abundance, generosity, and hope - This is our heritage. This is America's promise which we fulfill when we reach out to each other.
Till earth and heaven ring,...
Keep us... in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand.
True to our God,
True to our native land.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
In the interview and in Tippett's subsequent comments, this is likened to American's current economic downturn.
Monday, January 19, 2009
O secret Christ,
Lord of the rose of dawn,
within thy silent peace,
that, through the turmoil of the day,
I may abide within the quiet of the daybreak.
(From a compilation by Angela Ashwin. Used in the chapel at Laude Abbey. Source unknown.)
Saturday, January 17, 2009
I didn't think about that experience again for 30 years--not until I took a philosophy class in seminary, and we read about epistemology. Whew! Suddenly that memory hit me like a ton of bricks!
How do we know things? How do we know anything?
Modernist thinking would say that we can know what really exists -- the table is real. Scientifically I can tell you what it's made of. Scientifically, we know what the human body is made of, and how we're put together. Freud said we are a combination of ego, id, superego and we function in certain ways because of certain drives inside of us. With modern thought, there's a certainty about the world, about reality itself.
Postmodern thought, on the other hand, would remind us that, after all, the ideas we have about the world, the language we use to communicate our ideas about the world, are not actually the world. They are merely our interpretations of what's real. Epistemology, that question of how I can know anything, begins with the fact that we are embodied creatures, with physical senses and a brain--a brain that takes in the raw data of experience from our eyes, ears, etc. and interprets it. We interpret everything.
We tend to not even be aware that we are interpreting, but a story from Oliver Sacks is a great reminder. Here's my version of Sacks' story:
This story illustrates how this construction process is going on all the time. We have various pieces of raw data coming into our brains from our five senses, and we take all of that data in and then have to interpret them. We construct our reality.
It's the story of a man named Virgil. Virgil was in his 50's, and he'd been blind since he was a toddler. He and Amy were about to be married, and she convinced him to see her doctor, a surgeon who told Virgil that he could restore his sight. So, the day came, he had the surgery. He goes back the next day to have the bandages removed, and what do you think happened? It was a successful operation! Do you assume, as I did, that Virgil's eyes were opened, the scales fell from them, and the blind man received his sight?. Amy write in her journal about that great day: "Virgil can SEE! The entire office was in tears, first time Virgil has seen in 50 years! Miracle of sight restored! Incredible!"
But the following day, she wrote about certain problems: "Virgil's trying to adjust to seeing. He has to think faster. He's unsure of what seeing means."
In that first moment, when the bandages were removed, Virgil later said he had no idea what he was seeing. There was light, there was movement, there was color, all mixed up, all meaningless, a blur. Then out of the blue came a voice that said, "Well?" Only then did he realize that this chaos of light and shadow was a face, the face of his surgeon, bending over him, wanting to know if he could see!
When WE open our eyes each morning, it is upon a world we've spent a lifetime learning to see. We are not given the world -- we construct our world through incessant experience, categorization, memory. When Virgil opened his eyes, there were no visual memories to support a perception. He saw, but what he saw had no coherence. His retina and optic nerve were active, transmitting impulses, but his brain could make no sense of them.
He would get confused by his own shadow. The whole concept of shadows, of objects blocking light, was puzzling to him.
Steps posed a special hazard, because all he could see was a confusion, a flat surface of parallel and criss-crossing lines. He could not see them as solid objects going up or coming down in 3-dimensional space. There was a step at the end of his porch, which he knew occurred after a certain period of time. He had to coordinate both vision and the time necessary to cover the distance; if he walked too fast or too slow, he stumbled.
He had a hard time distinguishing between his cat and dog, both of whom happened to be black and white. He'd look at the cat carefully, looking at its head, its ears, its paws, its tail, and touching each part gently as he did so…correlating, correlating…He could see each part, but could not see them all together; he couldn't connect them as a whole. Amy wrote that "you'd think once would be enough," but the visual recognitions kept slipping from his mind.
As Virgil explored and investigated the visual constructions of the world, he was like an infant moving his hand to and fro before his eyes, turning it this way and that in his primal construction of the world. Most of us have no sense of the immensity of the construction because we perform it unconsciously thousands of times a day, at a glance. But for Virgil (and for us as babies) this construction was a huge task of synthesizing, correlating varying appearances -- disconnected perceptions -- into a unified whole.
This construction is part of the narrative task. When we tell a story, we select from among a wide variety of data. There's always more involved in any human action than can be told, after all. And we construct the pieces into a story that has order and provides meaning. Narrative theory says that consciousness itself imposes a narrative structure on the 'flow of our experience.' And this structure is, of course, interwoven with temporality:
- Beginning, middle, end
- Past, present, future
- Memory, attention, anticipation
- We were, we are, we will be
- We're born, we live, we will die.
- The birth of all life on the planet, the present historical situation, the end/death of history
- The already, the present moment, the not yet.
So we set our experience inside this narrative structure that gives the experience some coherence and moves it through time.
Narrative theory says also that we maintain our sense of self, our sense of being a self, mostly through interpreting our lives as stories. Each of us has a story that is 'the story of my life.' That story embodies at least two things:
- The givens of our situation: we were born in the 20th century…these are our parents, our family, this is the genetic makeup we have…
- How we have interpreted and continue to reinterpret those givens, i.e., the meaning we bestow upon the givens, and on our experience
Several years ago I was an associate minister in a church in D_____. During the July Cabinet meeting we were talking about how the air conditioning in the church kept breaking. I was talking about how the Day Care Center at the church had lots of parents complaining. Next thing I know, one of the elders of the church verbally attacked me. Oh, he lit into me like there was no tomorrow. I was so shocked that I don't remember exactly what he said, but I do remember that he used the word "stupid." To me, it was completely out of the blue--a mean, ugly, angry outburst. I was devastated.In terms of narrative theory and how we impose a narrative structure on the flow of experience, in the present I am sitting there at this Cabinet meeting, and I'm seeing and hearing this man's angry outburst directed at me. I interpret what's happening through a previously-constructed core narrative about anger. Core narratives are stories we have about certain aspects of the human condition.
As a little girl, I learned that I had to 'earn' the love of my parents by being 'good' and not doing anything that would bring down their anger on me. If my parents expressed anger, love was withdrawn, and I might not survive it. My future was threatened when my parents expressed anger at me. Basically anger was a kind of death to me. So, in the face of that kind of anger, even as an adult, the future closed down and I became what one of my seminary professors describes as "a quivering mass of protoplasm spread out on the floor." It took every ounce of energy I had just to hold myself together for the remainder of the meeting.
Let's just say that's a difficult place from which to see the future.
As it happened I was leaving the next day for a conference in Denver, and a friend of mine, Kathy S____ was there. Kathy's a counselor. I told her what happened and we had several conversations about it.
So, here are two people--Kathy and myself--people who in some sense are constantly constructing their sense of self and their sense of what's objectively real. Each of us has our own core narratives about anger. My story about anger is that 'Anger is Death.' The way Kathy has constructed her story about anger differs from mine. In the conversation, through our language, our narratives collide; they meet. She's wondering how my story about anger was constructed, what it means to me now, and the effect it has on my future. And interspered in that conversation are a few comments about her own story of anger. In the meeting of narratives my story of anger begins to loosen up a bit. There's the beginning of an Alternative Story of anger. My 'Anger is Death' story slowly starts to become an 'Anger is Survivable' story for me.
In this collision of narratives healing began. The future opened up for me in a new way. I picked up from the floor my quivering mass of protoplasm and eventually became a person who moves into the future a bit more confidently now that part of her identity is that "Anger is Survivable."
This story illustrates social construction and narrative theory which both hold that as we move through the world, we build up our ideas about our world in conversation with other people. These ideas can and do change as we encounter people with different narratives.
One more thing about this: In reflecting on what happened and how Kathy helped me remember how my story about anger had been constructed from past experiences, I was able to apply that broader perspective to the man who verbally attacked me. Through that narrative conversation with Kathy I remembered that there's a complex, 75-year-old story to this man's life. Kathy wondered about his future story -- is there a sense in which his future was closed down? What's his story about women in ministry? This broader narrative perspective eventually helped me be open to restoring relationship with him.
Just some thoughts on this Saturday night. (ha! not really. just kidding. I was going through some old files and found this. It was a lecture I gave a while back to a Pastoral Care Intro class, although I've rewritten it here. Still a fascinating thing to me, how we go through life constructing our own reality, and how malleable that reality can be. It's really all about Freedom, I think.)
Sacks image from GoogleImages
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
KC and are met at the oil company that I worked at for 14 years. She was the IT person assigned to support my department, and we just became fast friends. I can't remember how long she stayed with this company. She met GC and they married, and then moved to Austin where she worked for Dell. He had a great job, too and they were able to retire early and have now built a fabulous home in the Texas hill country. Wow.
I remember going to visit them once in Austin. We went to see a movie, Dead Poets Society--a movie which is always at the top of my list when the talk turns to favorite movies. That visit was so much fun; I remember talking politics and religion and music and movies--KC is one of those people who is just totally interested in life. I love that.
KC, I can tell from your emails that you still have that incredible "taking in" of life. So great. Your life just sounds wonderful--and I'd love to see your home someday.
KC's email reminded me of the importance of relationships. And the great vehicle afforded by blogging for renewing and making friends. For most of my blogging 'career,' so to speak, Jan and Linda were my only IRL friends...now I have several others, and I tell ya, it's so much fun! Anyway, here is the Friends Award info:
The Friends Award isn't about being the most popular blogger or having the most read blog. It is just because you consider the author a friend. These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind of bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers. Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this cleverly-written text into the body of their award.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Thursday, January 8, 2009
I think we need to be very careful about this kind of thinking. God is found in our resistence, too. Yes, we must learn to trust God, but we must learn to trust ourselves, too.
Oh, I didn't want to do it, but God kept at me. God was pulling me along, but I didn’t want to go, I really didn’t, but God just kept bugging me and wouldn't let me alone.
Discernment is not really about making a decision or solving a problem. Discernment is living a life that moves toward authenticity. It's all about learning to love ourselves~the true self, that is. It's a process of developing self awareness such that we can finally see how our deepest desire is also God's desire for us. God's will for us does not differ from our own deepest desire. And I believe that our deepest desires always come down to Love.
Most every advance in discernment carries with it a cost, the cross of self-knowledge. As we learn who we truly are, so much of who we thought we were must die, and that is often quite painful. Developing self-awareness is a waking up process, a birthing process, a movement from what is small and dark and prison-like to that which is terrifyingly enormous, vibrantly light, and freeing.
To discern we must identify the obstacles to the Image of God within us, and then take action to remove them so that we can increasingly become the authentic beings that God created. It's the imago Dei that truly knows, actually sees.
I think we can liken the process of removing the obstacles to the imago Dei within us to learning to love. Love and fear cannot stand together. Love casts out our fears and anxieties so that we can be transformed and ever more receptive to love. The more we’re receptive, the more we can change. It is in being LOVED (not loving, although that's a natural consequence of allowing ourselves to be loved) that the imago Dei is clarified, enlivened, and empowered. We are desirable because we were created by desire, God's perfect desire.
It's difficult, allowing ourselves to be completely loved. It's both passive and active--we simply allow it, we let go, surrender to this great power of love. But there's also some active discernment necessary, some real agency involved in this surrender. In my experience it doesn't just happen~we must work at it, practice listening and being receptive and trusting. Oh my. It's not easy.
And ALL this transformation is for the sole purpose of LOVE – to LOVE the world.
Just some thoughts this Thursday night.