Tuesday, March 31, 2009

what an interesting guy

I've been thinking recently about what an interesting man I married. Here's why. Recently David....

All that, and the guy still won't fold his own clothes! Sheesh!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

the broad view of spirituality

Many people don’t consider themselves to be “spiritual.” We hear it all the time, don't we?—Oh, I’m not a spiritual person. Well, news flash! No one is not spiritual, or to put it in the positive: We all have a spiritual dimension to our existence. The difference is in the use of the word, I think. “Spiritual” conjures up a limited set of images—images of people who dedicate some time each day to prayer, people who can talk about their relationship with God, people who seem to be more aware of God than others, etc.

I take a much broader view, especially after reading Ron Rolheiser's book The Holy Longing several years ago. Spirit is the life-force within us—it is that which animates and energizes us. And “spiritual” is simply what we do with that life-force, all that energy and passion within us. We can focus it in healthy (and difficult) ways, ways that help us as Christians move ever more toward the imago Christi, the image of Christ within us. Or we can focus it in unhealthy (and probably easier) ways, like being a couch potato, avoiding intimacy, or giving in to addictive temptations like alcohol, sex, food, shopping, drugs, etc.

Make no mistake: healthy spirituality, the kind that really transforms us, takes a heavy dose of courage. More about that below. My main point here is that spirituality is more than our culturally limited view of it. You don’t have to be introvert, or an intuitive, or a ‘feeling’ person to have a healthy, robust spiritual life. I know people who spend time with God while riding bicycles...One friend of mine expresses her devotion to God by living a good life, behaving in ways that are upright and moral...Other folks have transformative experiences of the Divine through the life of the mind—intellectual development, reading and learning, attending lectures, etc.... And then there are those who are more suited to meditation and specific times set aside for prayer each day......Much of my own spirituality comes through intimate relationships—soul friends. I can’t tell you how many times Christ has been incarnated for me through other people, people who have simply been there for me when I was hurting, people who somehow how found the right words to say, people who care.

Let me return for a moment to the difficulty inherent in a healthy spirituality. It’s not that God’s influence can’t come upon us suddenly—many people have surprisingly abrupt experiences that transform them forever. But God is always influencing us, always there calling us toward that which is good, just, true, kind, beautiful, peaceful, etc. Unless we are working to remove the obstacles to God’s influence, then more often than not we ignore that influence and go about our lives as if we are in control! :-) Working at some kind of spiritual discipline—one that makes sense for our personality type and life experience—makes it more likely that we’ll be able to sense God’s influence in our lives, hear that “still small voice,” see the Divine in other people, know which way to turn when we have a major decision facing us, bear with grace whatever suffering life might throw our way…

Lenten activities

Hard to believe that Lent is almost over. Having missed a week of it (attending a Five Day Academy), it seems like it just began.

All my Lenten activities at church have been good, but attendance has been light. I remarked to our youth minister today that I wasn't sure I'd try anything like this again next year, but her response was to pass along a compliment from one of our parishioners who was telling her how much she appreciated all the emphasis on spiritual formation that I'm bringing to the church. That was nice to hear...the parishioner said she couldn't come to everything I've offered, but she likes it that it's available. And that's true. It's available, and I suppose that counts for something.

Tonight I spent a couple of hours shopping for the Lenten activity we're doing tomorrow. After Evening Prayer then a soup supper, we'll be filling 60 "TAAS Survival Bags" for the 3rd graders at the elementary school next door to our church. TAAS is the standardized test that children have to pass here in Texas, and there is always much angst surrounding it. In fact, as I was standing in line at Party City this evening, a woman in front of me, eyeing everything in my shopping cart, asked whether I was a teacher. I said no, I'm a minister, and I told her about the Survival Bags we're doing tomorrow. Turns out she's a 3rd grade teacher herself, and she actually got all teary-eyed as I told her what we're doing. She says it's awful how much stress and pressure these little children feel about this testing.

That helped me feel good about what I'm doing. ~~Sixty bags, and we're going to fill them with a pencil, a fun little eraser, piece of peppermint, fun stickers, a Hershey's Kiss, lots and lots of little gold stars (confetti type things), little package of Kleenex, and a little card that I just finished making (using MSPublisher and then laminating) that says "You can do it! Yes! Go for it! Your friends next door at First Congregational Believe in YOU!" Pretty cute, huh?

Next week we're writing letters for our Lenten Activity. It'll take me hours and hours to get all that ready...I want to have letters ready for folks to just sign if they want to...letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience identified by Amnesty International, letters in support of Obama's budget proposal (and some not in support of it, I suppose, but most of our congregation would be in favor of it), things like that.

And then after that, Lent is pretty much over and it's on to Easter. Hooray!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Battlestar Galactica and the Mystery of Humanity

Well, we're watching the final episode of Battlestar Galactica. Believe me, my family is going to miss this television show. David downloads it on Friday from somewhere on the internet (HuLu, I think), then Young Man with Integrity, J and Little M come over on Saturday and watch it with us that evening, although today they are in City to the South celebrating his birthday with his mom and stepdad, and Lovely Passionate Feminist is watching it with us tonight. She goes back to her university tomorrow.

It's a terrific show, Battlestar. I remember the first season I was enthralled with the music--those DRUMS! WOW.

Then the character development began to grab me. The father/son tension between Adama and Apollo. The sexual tension between Kara and Apollo. The strange behavior of Sharon a.k.a. Boomer a.k.a. Athena a.k.a. Eight.

Of course, as the years have gone on, the plot go so complicated that it's been hard to follow. David and the others watch the episodes more than once, so they can usually explain to me what's going on!

So now the Cylons (machines) are attacking Galactica in an epic last battle. Of course, the reason the Cylons have a chance to attack Galactica is because Adama has thrown in with the "good" Cylons (who had a civil war) and is after the Cylon homebase. It's a kind of sacrificial last act, after have learned the ultimate lesson that what it means to be human is nothing if not mysterious. We all have something of the 'machine' in us, after all.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

God feels so close

It’s wonderful how centered one feels after a retreat like The Five Day Academy for Spiritual Formation.

God feels so close.

Nothing seems to bother.

I’m aware of my desire for the Divine.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Knowing God through Spiritual Friends

I'm back from a wonderful Five-Day Academy for Spiritual Formation (an Upper Room ministry).

Although they have all been good, including the Two-Year, I think this might have been the best one I've ever attended. The topic was Spiritual Friendship, and the faculty was Dr. Loyd Allen and Sister Kathleen Floyd. Wow. Both were excellent.

The local team that put the week together was excellent. We worship three times a day at Academies, and each time we entered the worship space, the team had created something of exquisite beauty. I just love that. So enriching.

Plus I just felt good being there. I was so ready for a break.

What made the week so outstanding, though, was how events served as a living testimony to the topic of spiritual friendship! I've been to so many Academies that I know a lot of attendees, and this week I had some special friends there, including The Author. Tuesday morning started out with a bang. I woke up from a terrible dream--the kind that it took a moment or two for me to realize it was just a dream, and then to feel this incredible relief. It was jarring, and I couldn't stop thinking about it. As I left my room that morning, CB was in the hall about to knock on my door--she wanted to let me know that The Author had taken a bad fall and was at the Emergency Room. Another jarring event. (She returned from the ER around lunch time and was okay, but on crutches the rest of the week.)

I told CB about my dream and her comment helped put to words the feeling of the dream.

Wednesday night is always a Healing and Wholeness Service at the Academy. I considered not going at all, but decided to make an appearance and then find a way to slip out. I just didn't want to be there...I wanted to be back in my room by myself. As the service began, I sat there, trying to devise my escape, when I suddenly rose and walked over to one of the healing stations, staffed by two other dear friends, DB and SW. I have NO IDEA why I did that. Honestly, I was sitting there thinking about how to leave when suddenly I found my feet heading in a direction I did not attend. Strange.

I sat down and started crying. I could barely talk, I was so confused, but managed to say something about this awful dream I'd had. SW prayed for me. They both hugged me tight and said we'd talk more tomorrow.

Which we did. And both affirmed what needed to be affirmed in me the next day. And they did that through sharing with me their own painful experiences. Oh, talk about powerful, and helpful.

By that day The Author was doing pretty well, and she and I decided to find a place to talk after lunch. She, too, said exactly what I needed to hear...profound balm for my troubled soul.

And each of these friends could not have spoken to me as they did without a firm foundation of love and trust. Without that, I could not have heard them--I would have rejected their words.

I spent some time during the week trying to think about what spiritual friendship really means. This is a work in progress, but it seems to me that it includes:
  • Trust. An ability to be vulnerable, to self-reveal, to get angry and talk it through, to bear the friend's confrontations/critiques in love.
  • Equality. At our core we are all children of God and equal. But equality is not sameness. These friends are wiser than I in different areas. They have different gifts.
  • Love. This is where respect lives. And I also realized that spiritual friends have given part of themselves to each other. When The Author fell and, upon her return, needed extra help, I wasn't "doing a good deed" when I brought her lunch to her, etc., for she is part of me. And love also includes commitment: I am committed to my spiritual friends' well being, to their flourishing.

Finally, though, a spiritual friendship means a Mysterious Connection that cannot be explained. When I sit with a spiritual friend talking, or in silence, or laughing hysterically (that's another story), there are moments in which, in some mysterious way, we touch the Divine.

Dr. Allen said that "Some people are given to know God through their friends."

Oh, yes.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Goodness will prevail--I know it.

"Ministers need a well thought-out view of what it means to be human."

This simple sentence came to me while I was talking to our youth director and student assistant pastor this week (who also reminded me that assigning 150 pages to read each week is too much! Thank you, M.). Simple, yes, but it gave me a foundation upon which to hang "Spirituality and Psychotherapy," my class in the Fall. Funny how, with something so simple, lots of disparate thoughts can fall into place.

At least I think they'll fall into place. I HOPE they'll fall into place. After I finish this post I'm going to work on the Prospectus again and hopefully get it into shape to send to the associate dean. This is such a huge subject--I've had some difficulty winnowing everything down. Another friend who is currntly getting her Ph.D. in this field also gave me some sage advice: Just teach what you know, Katherine. Teach what you know. I'm thinking that a lot of what I know is out of date and the faculty will want me to do some new research, but I'm not sure, so I think I'll just let them tell me that after I submit this prospectus. I probably will use some of Ken Wilber's stuff, though--I've always been interested in his thinking but have never read him. Other than that, I'm going with what I already know.

I'm loving this work! It's reminding me of why I loved being in that Ph.D. program. It's just SO gall-darned fascinating!!! Woo-Hoo!

In other news of the week in Katherine's world: only my minister colleague and his wife came to Morning Prayer yesterday. Disappointing, but also understandable. It takes me an hour to set up the sanctuary the way I want it, so I definitely need to "market" this service more than I have! ... The other Lenten activities went very well. We had about 16 people in Evening Prayer (which is a lot for this little church), even more--about 20--for our Soup Supper, and 8 stayed for Praying with Mandalas. (The others dispersed to other meetings going on.)

I need to remind myself, of course, that this work is not about numbers. As I sat there yesterday morning, realizing that no one else was going to show up after all my hard work, part of me felt like I'd thrown a party and no one showed! Ugh. But then it didn't take long for another feeling to arise within me....I sat there and just looked at the breathtakingly beautiful light from all those candles, and the stained glass of Jesus kneeling in the Garden of Gethsemane, and I decided it was all okay. Heck! I set this up for myself! Because I needed to pray and be there for God! That thought/feeling was in tension with the disappointment all day, but as I type this, I'm smiling. I think the tension has broken into that which is more creative and good.

Next week, while I'm away, they are going to dedicate the new Welcome Garden (with a labyrinth and an oak tree filled with wind chimes in the center) on Wednesday evening. Really sorry to miss that.

I have a picture in my mind of M.S., one of our members, with his shovel and wheelbarrel, yesterday, working in the Welcome Garden, getting it ready for this dedication next week. MS is the one who has done the vast majority of work on this thing. It's truly a labor of love for him. It amazes me---his (and so many others, including myself, although mine is not physical labor) willingness to do for others. To work so hard and so long for other people. Not solely for others, of course, but mostly. And it's endemic. All over the world. Every moment of every day. People are laboring for other people.

There's a goodness in this world that will not die, as Carrie Newcomer sings. And that goodness, I know, is stronger than hate--any kind of hate. The Holy Spirit that motivates all this goodness will prevail. I know it.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Five Day Academy -- SOON!!!!

It's Five-Day Academy time again. Next week I'm off to Prothro Retreat Center near Lake Texoma.

Thank goodness!

I'm so ready for a change of scenery, to be able to take long walks, naps in the afternoon, sit and look at the lovely lake, walk the labyrinth, be with some dear soul-friends, learn something new about Christian history and Christian spiritual discernment, worship three times a day. Oh, I am ready!

Feeling pretty grateful that we have the money for me to do this. I wish everyone did. This economy just keeps getting worse and worse.
Feel like I need to fast from NPR for a while.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Saying Yes to a Cat's Life

I'm trying to do a Lenten study with this book, 40-Day Journey with Parker Palmer. Today's entry began with the Loren Eiseley story called "The Star Thrower." It seems that Eiseley once spent some time in a seaside town.

Insomnia drove him in the early morning hours to walk along the beach where he saw townspeople killing starfish that had washed up on the shore overnight. They killed them every day for commercial purposes. One morning, he woke up even earlier than usual, and this time as he walked the beach he noticed a solitary figure. This man was gathering starfish as well, but each time he found one alive, he'd pick it up and throw it as far as he could out beyond the breaking surf, back to the ocean where it could live. Eiseley named this man 'the star thrower.' He realized that the star thrower's predawn work contradicted everything Eiseley had been taught about evolution and the survival of the fittest. Here on the beach the strong reached down to save, not crush, the weak. And Eisely wonders: Is there a star thrower at work in the universe, a God who contradicts death, a God whose nature is 'mercy within mercy within mercy?' (to quote Thomas Merton).

The lesson made me think of a couple of things. Carrie Newcomer's song, There's a Mean Kind of Justice Coming Down floated in my mind, especially that part where she sings "There's a goodness on this earth that will not die. It bares all; it's seen it all, and still it survives. I know we have failed, but I've seen that we can fly. There' a goodness on this earth that will not die."

That "goodness on the earth that will not die" is the goodness of saying Yes to life.
Like my friend Seeker Executive who continues to say Yes to life despite having lost her mother and several dear friends in the recent past. Blows, all. People hugely important in her life, and now they're gone. But she's responded by going to meditation and renewing her efforts to live in the present. She says Yes to life every day. I thought of her his morning and gave thanks for her energy on this earth.

And I thought of Hobbes, the cat that came with David when we married. My exact thought was "Hobbes is Life as well, and I should say Yes to that Life."

Lately this cat, who was fixed years ago, has been driving me crazy. After two years of being married to David, and two years of living here in our home, Hobbes started to pee on the carpet. We've tried everything. Locking him up in the laundry room. Making sure his litter box is clean. David finally took him to the vet who pronounced him in good health and gave us some female hormones to give him weekly. Didn't help. He's still peeing on the carpet. Not every day, not even every week, but enough so that it stresses me out. Every time I come home and we let him out, I keep thinking, OK, where is he? is he behaving himself? When I get up in the morning I think, OK, did he pee in the laundry room again? (He likes to pee on the door to the garage, not in his litter box which is inches away.) I don't know. I really don't want to live with this cat anymore, but no one else would take him, and David loves him like a child. Ugh.

I know there are some real cat lovers out there: What is your advice?

I want to say Yes to life, to reach down and say Yes to a life weaker than my own, but this cat is making it difficult for me!!