Monday, April 4, 2011

The Welcoming Prayer

This is directly from Cynthia Bourgeault's Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening. It's from the chapter on The Welcoming Prayer toward the end of the book.  I'm finding it to be a powerful spiritual practice.

The three step process of the Welcoming Prayer

1. Focus and sink in
2. Welcome
3. Let go

Focus and sink in

To focus means to sink in to the feeling in your body. If it’s a physical pain, like a toothache you become very present to it, putting your full attention inside it. Exactly the same is true for emotions. If you are angry, see if you can be present to how anger is manifesting in your body—is your jaw clenched? Stomach in knots? If fear is present, what is the sensation of it? Is your breath short? Is there a sense of vertigo, or a stampede of ‘fight or flight’ adrenaline?

Don’t try to change anything. Just stay present.

Focusing doesn’t mean psychoanalyzing. This is not about trying to discover why you feel the way you do, or justifying your feelings.

This first step is the key to whole practice. By becoming physically aware of this energy as sensation in your body, you can stay in the present, welcoming it.

Now comes the most inscrutable and counterintuitive instruction in the whole of Welcoming Prayer. Sitting there, steeped in the feeling, you begin to say, ever so gently, ”Welcome, anger” or “Welcome pain, welcome.”

How’s that again? If this emotion is what necessitated the practice in the first place, why are we welcoming it? Isn’t the goal to get rid of it?

Actually, no. The goal is not to let it chase you out of presence.

Admittedly, this is paradoxical. Common sense tells you that the emotion is the problem and the solution is to eliminate it. But by welcoming it instead, you create an atmosphere of inner hospitality. By embracing the thing you once defended yourself against, or ran from, you are actually disarming it, removing its power to hurt you or chase you back into our smaller self.

There’s a wonderful novel by Ursula Le Guin called A Wizard of Earthsea, which is actually an extended meditation on exactly this point. A young wizard named Ged is in training to become a sorcerer. One day, horsing around with his friends, he inadvertently conjures up a minor demon. The demon proceeds to haunt him throughout the book. As he grows in power and influence, it grows right along with him. Gradually it turns very dark and begins to stalk him; he flees in terror. He runs to a city by the sea, but it follows him there. He hires a boat and rows out into the sea, but it follows him there. Finally, he jumps into the water, but the thing is still right on his back. Finally, with all escape routes blocked, he does the only thing left to him: he turns to the demon and embraces it! At which point it vanishes, integrated back inside him as the shadow he’s finally willing to own.
Ged’s experience of liberation is the practical wisdom behind this mysterious second step of the Welcoming Prayer process. This moment can always be endured, the well-known spiritual writer Gerald May reminds us, and the act of welcoming anchors us firmly in the Now. This is the moment where those two great streams, awareness and surrender, converge. The small self is surrendered into the authentic self, connected to the divine within. In this configuration, you are able to stay present in the Now regardless of its physical or psychological content. It’s something the great saints and mystics have always known.

So have the small birds perched on an electric wire. No matter how high the voltage, the energy will do you no harm as long as you don’t give it a pathway to the ground (i.e., as long as we don’t identify with it, attach ourselves to it).

A couple of important points: First, what you are welcoming is the physical or psychological content of the moment only, not a general blanket condoning of a situation. I’m frequently asked by people with abuse histories, “But incest shouldn’t be welcomed, should it?” This misses the whole point. What you are welcoming in this moment is not incest, but the feelings the experience triggers for you: the fear or the rage or shame on your plate right now.

This is a very important mistake to nip in the bud, because if uncorrected it can lead to the assumption that surrender means to roll over and play dead, or that the purpose of the practice is to teach you to passively acquiesce to situations that are in fact intolerable. This is not so at all. There’s a crucial distinction between surrender as an inner attitude and as an outer practice, and we are concerned only with the former here. From the point of view of inner work, the situation is straightforward: anything done in a state of interior bracing will throw you immediately into your small self, with its familiar repertoire of defense mechanisms. Surrender understood as an interior act will place you in alignment with [your authentic self, your imago dei, that part of you that is connected to God]. Once you’re in right alignment, you can decide [freely] what you are going to do in the outer world. Sometimes this is a spirited fight; other times it is acquiescence. But whichever way, you’ll be doing it from consciousness, not reactivity.

Let go
Don’t get to this step too quickly. The real work in Welcoming Prayer is actually accomplished in the first two steps. Stay with them, going back and forth between ‘focusing and sinking in,’ and ‘welcoming’ until the knot begins to dissolve of its own accord.

And yes, ‘letting go’ is also just for now. This is not a final, forever renunciation of your anger or fear; it’s simply a way of gently waving farewell as the emotion starts to recede. If you can’t quite make it to this step, that’s OK. Don’t fake it, because the bulk of the word has already been accomplished.

When you are ready to let go, there are two ways to go about it: a short way and a more complex litany. In the short way, you simply say something like “I let go of my anger,” or, if you prefer, “I give my anger to God.”

Mary Mrozowski (creator of the Welcoming Prayer) preferred a more complex and invariable litany. When it become time to proceed with the third step, she would use this:
• I let go my desire for security and survival.
• I let go my desire for affection and esteem.
• I let go my desire for control and power.
• I let go my desire to change the situation.

The would be her inevitable litany, whether dealing with physical or emotional affliction. Those first three, of course, are the three false self programs, and in naming them thusly, Mary said, “I feel like I’m sending a strong message to the unconscious.”

The last one, “I let go of my desire to change the situation,” is right between the eyeballs and a stroke of pure genius. In no uncertain terms, it removes this practice from the ballpark of “fit-it” (“I do this practice in order to correct an unpalatable situation) and back into unconditional presence.

For Mary this practice was all about inner alignment. Whether the pain went on forever was not the point; the point is that throughout this entire “forever,” an awakened and surrendered consciousness can remain fully present to God “for the duration.”

Friday, April 1, 2011

Great Video. Brene Brown

In my old age I can't remember who sent this to me.  If it was YOU, please remind me!  :-)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Misplaced Priorities

Our oldest daughter is one of three finalists for the "Top First-Year Teacher" award in her large school district. Yet she anxiously awaits word on whether she will lose her job because of budget cuts in Texas. At risk as well are people with disabilities, librarians, etc.

This article was sent to me by a friend...

Houston Chronicle - March 27, 2011, 7:32PM

Tax cut comes at 'high cost'

Imagine $1 billion vanishing overnight from the state treasury. That's essentially what happened in September — just as Texas lawmakers learned they would face a $27 billion shortfall - when the oil and gas industry reaped a windfall from legislation quietly passed in 2003. Poof! About $1.2 billion in potential tax revenues disappeared from the books, leaving less money for hospitals, schools, roads and all the other worthy things the state budget supports.

The story of the vanishing billion dollars provides some useful insight if you've been wondering why our prosperous state has a budget crisis. The state of Texas enjoys enormous bounty from "severance" taxes, paid by the oil and gas industry for the right to "sever" minerals from Texas lands.

But in 1989, the Legislature created an exemption for "high-cost" gas - as a temporary measure, mind you - to encourage expensive and technically difficult gas production.

Lawmakers extended the exemption in 1995 and 1999, when it was promoted by state Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland. Then, in 2003, when Craddick became speaker of the House, the Legislature passed a complicated bill with dozens of "technical corrections" to the state tax code. Tucked inside was a single line that struck the expiration date of the high-cost gas exemption.

As a result, the tax break became permanent, instead of expiring last September. With that tiny "technical" change, the state lost the ability to collect about $1.2 billion a year in additional taxes. Why would the Legislature give such an enormous permanent tax break to a single industry?

No one seems to know, even the bill sponsors, former State Rep. Brian McCall and former State Sen. Ken Armbrister. "I can guarantee you that nobody in the Legislature knew that was in the bill," laughed Armbrister, now a senior adviser to Gov. Rick Perry. His mirth was an acknowledgement of an open secret in the Legislature: There are some bills - particularly those relating to arcane tax minutiae - that no one reads.

The bill received even less scrutiny because of the unusual parliamentary journey it took on its path to easy passage. In the Texas House, the bill was approved with no objections by the Ways and Means committee and sent to the Local and Consent calendar.

As its name implies, the calendar is intended to quickly dispense of proposals that have only local impact, or consent of all members. A little distracted If no one objected when the Texas House passed House Bill 2424 on the Local and Consent calendar on May 16, 2003, we'll have to forgive them. They were, shall we say, a little distracted. You may recall that May 2003 was a particularly acrimonious period for the Texas House. On May 12, Democrats fled to Oklahoma to dodge a vote on a congressional redistricting plan advocated by then-U.S. Rep. Tom Delay. They returned May 16, still groggy from an overnight bus trip. "None of the Democrats were paying close enough attention," State Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, said this week.

A chagrined Burnam is sponsoring a bill to end the exemption, which he argues skews the Texas tax system to burden the middle class. He has an unlikely ally in a powerful Republican lawmaker, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden. "I don't think much of the exemption," Ogden said. "I don't think it makes a lot of difference to whether gas is drilled or not." Craddick did not respond to numerous requests for an interview. In 2010, the Permian Basin Petroleum Association awarded him its "Top Hand" award. "For the past four decades, there have been very few, if any, bills related to the oil and gas industry and passed by the Texas Legislature they don't have Tom Craddick's fingerprints," the association's magazine noted.

Kelli Way, a spokeswoman for the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners argued this week that the tax exemption "has successfully encouraged natural gas exploration and production in Texas, particularly in those areas that are difficult and expensive to develop." Definition varies Way also said that in 1990, high-cost gas production was only 5.5 percent of total statewide gas production.

However, by 2009, high-cost production accounted for 56 percent of total statewide production (in large part because of the incentives provided from the high-cost gas investment tax credit). "It was during this time Texas was the only producing state to offset production declines and increase natural gas production," she said.

But an analysis by the Legislative Budget Board suggests that the Texas Railroad Commission has applied the "high-cost" definition liberally - certifying whole regions of the state as high-cost regardless of the actual expense involved in drilling.

During 2009, the gas operations certified as high-cost actually had drilling costs ranging from $14.7 million to as low as $24,000, the report noted. Does the oil and gas industry, which creates jobs and pays other taxes, deserve this exemption? Or has it outlasted its usefulness? For whatever reason - partisan distractions or shrewd advocacy - the Legislature in 2003 chiseled the high-cost gas exemption in stone without adequate debate.

Ogden said he believed that lawmakers should examine high-cost gas, in a broader debate about the tax burden in Texas. It's a long-overdue conversation. When someone with powerful friends gets a tax break, someone else is stuck with the tab.

Monday, January 3, 2011

"Lost Christianity"

This is the beginning of the second week of my vacation. Among other things, I'm catching up on some reading--the first book I read was Jacob Needleman's Lost Christianity. If you know anything about Needleman and his ideas, I'd love to hear from you.

I found the book fascinating. His main point is that what has been "lost" in Christianity is a necessary focus on our own self-awareness. We can't become who God intends for us to be until we've confronted/celebrated what we are right now. Of course, I totally agree with that!

And for an existentialist like me there are breathtaking gems in this book. Like this:
The whole of the universe rests on the sacrifice of God. But this Christ looks directly at me. The immensity of this sacrifice, which I do not understand or even wish to understand, is directed to me, personally. For the first time, I feel that something is required of me, a response to this sacrifice. I glimpse, for the first time, what it means that Christianity demands a response. I am obliged by the fact of Reality and the fact of my existence. I have felt this before about the whole of my existence and the existence of the world. But I have never felt it with respect to Christianity. Nor have I felt it so realistically as now, regarding this face. Existence here as a human face which I did not invent or imagine; it is an objective I, as much a part of Being as stars and trees. I am obliged, but what in myself can possibly answer this obligation? Nothing. And cannot be nothing, the sacrifice could not have been made or communicated like this if there were nothing that could come from [us]...I feel on the edge of a new understanding of the greatness of Christianity.

and Needleman's talk with Anthony de Mello:
"You ask what in yourself can respond to the sacrifice of God? But this sacrifice, as you call it, is love. What is the proper response to love?" At first I thought Anthony was expecting me to answer. I had no answer. "The proper response to love," he continued, "is to accept it. There is nothing to do. The response to a gift is to accept it. Why would you wish to do anything?"

I love that. On many levels, I love that. What first grabbed me, though, was his idea that "the whole universe rests on the sacrifice of God." I remember, maybe 20 years ago now, being struck with the strangeness of the whole idea of sacrifice. That we actually live in a world in which sacrifice on behalf of others exists at all struck me viscerally. It was one of those Stop-Everything-and-Forget-to-Breathe moments.

But after my visceral response to the insight, I didn't quite know what to do with it. I had a sense that there was more to the idea than I was able to articulate. And now, 20 years later, here it is.

The whole of the universe rests on the sacrifice of God. So utterly amazing. The Cosmos Itself, in all its immensity, all its' glory, stunning beauty, relentless pain, energy, chemicals, forces the human mind still cannot grasp...all of it brought into being from the sacrifice of God. Big Bang or one tiny atom, doesn't matter. That the universe exists at all--the old question of why there is something rather than nothing--necessarily entails a sacrifice from the Creator. And yes, once one understands this wholistically, then of course, this sacrifice invites a response.

The existentialist in me marvels and is filled with gratitude. That I am a Christian entails the same response. This is what Jesus invites me to know. This sacrifice, as Needleman says, has a face! -- the face of Jesus the Christ.

And "the face" is such a potent image, for I, too, have/am a face. Yes, the "proper response" is to accept the gift of love, but I think there's even more to it. That this cosmic sacrifice has become personal also invites me, like Jesus, to sacrifice my self as well.

The false self. All that separates me from this love that is the gift of the Creator. All that separates me from others. All that separates me from the authentic self I am meant to be and become.

What I am invited to sacrifice throughout my life is, as Thomas Keating puts it, are those emotional centers that LIE to me, i.e., those false messages that tell me I "need" and must have --
  • affection/esteem/approval
  • power/control
  • survival/security

These things are not intrinsically wrong or hurtful, but the fact is that now, as an adult, I do not actually need them--in the sense that to cling to them, to attach myself to them, is death. To let them go in order to place my TRUST in God, to live into Julian of Norwich's insight that All Shall Be Well, is life.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

"KK! Look! Santa's on top of the house!"

"Oh wow," she said again and again as we drove through our neighborhood looking at the homes decorated for Christmas. I hear her sharp intake of breath as we turn the corner. "KK! Look! Santa's on top of the house!"

This is life with our four-year-old granddaughter Morgan. Excitement bubbles up in her with absolutely zero false social filters to block its display. When she says "wow," the word is airy, long and drawn out, and something within me wants it to go on forever. As we drove around the neighborhood that evening I sensed that Morgan was inviting me back to a time when I experienced Christmas, too, with that kind of awe and wonder.

One of my mentors, Ruben Habito, relates this story in his book Healing Breath:

A young father and his little three-year-old daughter, taking a Sunday stroll hand in hand through a meadow one day in spring. They came upon a clearing where there were clusters of flowers, and the little girl broke loose from the father's hand and began to prance about, dancing among the flowers. "Look, Daddy, look!"

"Yes, dear, those are violets," the father replied.

The little girl continued dancing and prancing, singing the new word: "Violets! Violets!"

The point here is the difference between the modes of awareness of the little girl and her father. The little girl, wide-eyed and full of wonder at everything around her, saw the flowers in their pristine beauty before she could name what they were. This beauty right before her simply moved her to dance and prance about in joy and celebration, unsullied by any dualistic frame of mind. It is an awareness of being filled with mystery and wonder at beholding the simply beauty of nature.

The father, on the other hand, having come to adulthood and now wise in the ways of the world, "knew" what those flowers were over there--violets--and in so knowing, lost the ability to see them in their freshness and mystery of their being. "Those are
violets." The human capacity to name things, giving us a certain sense of being in control over the things we can name, takes its toll on us, and we lose that sense of mystery and wonder that anything is there at all in the first place. [end quote]

The difficulty we adults have in seeing the wonder and beauty of everything around us is a huge loss for the world. It’s the first step necessary in acts violence, in pollution, and in the killing off of millions of species on the planet. When we can’t even see the beautiful Mystery of life itself, then, of course, we don’t respect it.

I know that “mystery” is a scary word for some of us. We have no power over a mystery; we can’t control it, so we try to take it apart and apply the scientific method to it! Understandable, but sometimes simply letting go and allowing a mystery to “be” is the better course.

It’s always struck me as a bit amusing that for all the violent arguing amongst the theologians of the early church – heresies! error! truth defined once and for all! excommunication! – what they finally declared as “dogma” was total mystery.

The Council of Chalcedon in 451 declared that Jesus Christ was “perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity.” The Council said that Jesus Christ possessed two natures which were “not intermingled, not changed, not divisible, not separable.”

Same with the Trinity. If Jesus is God, does that mean there are two Gods? No. “Substance” unites the three aspects; “person” is what distinguishes them, said Tertullian.

Ah yes, the inscrutability of official doctrine.

I’m not denigrating these early church controversies – making fun of them a bit, I suppose, but in many ways I have great respect for them and find the questions they were addressing fascinating. And most importantly to me, where they finally landed (however ironically!) left the door wide open for Mystery.

That’s important because our experience of the divine is just as important as parsing the difference between homoiousios and homoousios. (That was a huge argument.) To experience the divine we have to allow ourselves to welcome the mystery. In fact, we have to move into it! – move into the mystery of the Incarnation as well as the mystery at the center of our own lives. Yes, it can be a bit scary, disorienting, disturbing, but moving into mystery may also empower our respect for other beings. What I mean is that standing in the center of mystery pushes us to acknowledge that we’re not in control, that we don’t know. Standing in that place of not knowing makes it much easier to acknowledge the inherent dignity of other beings and of creation itself. And standing in that place also brings us closer to our own childlike gift for wonder and awe, hidden for years, perhaps, but still there.

To actually experience Christmas this year, that’s not a bad place to stand.

Advent: awakening to a season of anticipation

The first Sunday of Advent is November 28th – can you believe that? Talk about time flying by. Cindy and I were talking this morning about how “busy-busy” we’ve been with church business lately. Since Dave’s announcement it seems that most of our time and energy has been taken up with “what to do,” “how to do,” “when to do,” “who needs this right now,” and “we need that by tomorrow.” It’s been a mad rush, and now, suddenly, Advent is stepping out from around the corner and holding up its hand in greeting.

On second look, perhaps Advent’s hand is not greeting us, but holding up a Stop Sign to our faces!

Stop!, says Advent. Look around and really see what’s whizzing by as you run 90 miles a minute. Open up your ears; hear the beauty.

I think there’s an art to seeing Advent. In my training as a pastoral theologian I encountered the whole idea of what’s called “phenomenology,” a big word with multiple meanings and multiple nuances within those meanings. I finally landed on thinking of it mostly as simply a way of seeing. Phenomenologically, if you really want to see something deeply, down to its very essence, then you must “bracket” your ‘normal’ way of seeing—you have to let go of ‘normal’ assumptions about what our vision brings us.

If we bracketed our assumptions about Advent, with what would that leave us?
Personally, I assume Advent will be shopping, Christmas lights and trees, winter jackets, hot chocolate, annoying commercials, green and red everywhere, Salvation Army bell-ringers, presents, family-time…all that.

If I bracketed those assumptions, what would Advent be?

For me I think “awakening to a season of anticipation” is a lovely description of the essence of Advent. Beneath the hubbub and clamor, Advent is about the excitement of waiting. Remember as a child how we just couldn’t wait! for Christmas morning? Or how we just couldn’t wait for … whatever is was. That sense of thrill and exhilaration and jumping up and down! The essence of Advent for me is like that, for I know that what comes at the fulfillment of Advent will be amazing, beautiful, full of wonderment and awe. What comes at the fulfillment of Advent is the absolute miracle, the miracle of the ordinary. A baby. Born in obscurity to struggling parents. Happens all the time. And with the eyes to really see it, we know it’s happening all the time. With the eyes to really see it, all of life becomes the miracle it is.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Interim Pastor

Update: Here's the letter I wrote to the congregation when it was announced late last week that I've been contracted to be the Interim Minister:

I’m so excited and grateful to be serving First Congregational as your Interim Minister for the next year while the cabinet moves forward with finding a settled/called pastor. I love this church and I love what it stands for and does in the community. As I told the cabinet at one point in this process, I believe strongly that the whole notion of extravagant welcome is very close to the heart of the Gospel. It’s an energizing and inspiring thing to see that played out with commitment and faithfulness by all of you.
In the interest of transparency, let me share with you that as things progressed after Dave’s resignation announcement, I began to wonder what my role here would be. And I saw the members of the cabinet struggle with that question as well; they were suddenly faced with genuinely wanting to do the best thing both for the church as a whole and for me as an individual. My own personal discernment process was rocky until I began to sense that perhaps God was nudging me toward the interim position. When someone on the cabinet said that she was sensing that very same thing, I felt something inside me shift and the possibility became more and more affirmed in my heart. The future feels very bright to me.
Although I won’t be a candidate for the settled/called position, there are so many wonderful things we can do together in the coming year. And because I’ve been here and worked with you, I believe I have a feel for how to proceed both from knowing what specific responsibilities interim ministers are called to do for churches in transition and from the kind of knowing that comes from spending time with, and
loving, you—the members and friends of First Congregational.
I want everyone to know with what amazingly care-filled diligence your leaders on the cabinet have been working since Dave’s announcement. They have not only given of their time (extra meeting upon extra meeting), but they have given their hearts to this process. Leadership in any capacity, but perhaps especially so in the church, requires courage and authenticity. You walk a tightrope between sometimes competing interests, between the present situation and the unknown future, between wanting to do the exactly right thing in circumstances that simply do not lend themselves to exactitude. Members of this cabinet love this church and have given themselves heart and soul to this process. Next time you see them, I hope you’ll thank Josh, Carol, Ann, Dennis, Katie, Linda, Bob, Phil, Malcolm, Sarah, Mike, Claudia, Sue, and Paige—at one point or another each of them has been present.
Several of you have already expressed concern for what will happen to me after the interim time is over. Well, of course, the future is open-ended, and who knows? What I can tell you is that ministry has always provided lots of options for me. The truth is I’m not worried; I’m excited about this next year. I’m excited about how we’ll continue doing ministry in the name of Jesus Christ in this world, and about how God will work in our lives to clear the obstacles to becoming the people and church God wants us to become. Being a Christian isn’t always easy; but it’s hugely important and deeply meaningful. The world needs what we have to give.
With you on this amazing journey,

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Bridge-Time between Pastorates

It's been a wild ride recently at my church. Our senior pastor resigned just four weeks ago; his last day is this coming Sunday. After he leaves I'll be the "bridge pastor" at least through December. After that, well, I'm still in limbo about what my role will be, but I remain confident that All Shall Be Well, All Shall Be Well, and All Manner of Thing Shall Be Well.

The Welcoming Prayer is helping, that's for sure.

....................................It's always about trust, isn't it?
Here's what I wrote for our November newsletter:

As we enter together this “bridge-time” after our much-loved Dave’s departure, we enter a time both of sadness at the end of his steady leadership and, hopefully, some excitement about this new era in the life of First Congregational.

“Bridge” is an engaging metaphor. Unlike “interim” or “transition,” a bridge is concrete. Remember those images of the collapsed portion of I-35 in Minneapolis/St. Paul a few years ago? I kept thinking how similar to an earthquake that must have been. What a terror to feel those tons of solid, unmovable steel and concrete start to give way.

Of course, unlike a highway bridge, this bridge-time in our community is upheld by something more than concrete, steel, and human engineering. We cross over knowing that God is with us, in fact, leading us to this new era. Holding on to that awareness of God’s presence will certainly steady us on a journey that will probably feel a bit rocky at times.

Theologically, bridges remind me of liminal space, a term often used in describing worship and rituals. When we worship and somehow sense an encounter with the divine, we allow ourselves to suspend our involvement in “normal” time and space and move into God’s time and space. We inhabit a threshold during those moments, a threshold between what’s familiar and not-familiar, between the ‘old’ which we know and the ‘new’ which is not yet clear to us.

Liminality is said to dissolve the boundaries of one’s sense of identity. College years, for instance, can be a liminal space in which one moves from adolescence to the first stages of independent adulthood. Although I think our identity here at First Congregational is secure—we’re one of the few churches in this city that truly strives to embody the Gospel as ‘radical hospitality’ to all persons—it’s also true that one’s identity is never fixed. A hardened identity only squashes the movement of the Spirit. Perhaps this bridge-time can be a moment in which we further explore our self-understanding.

bell hooks ia a feminist, author, and social critic. She makes an important point about liminality:

“It's interesting—the way in which one has to balance life—because you have to know when to let go and when to pull back.... There's always some liminal space…in between which is harder to inhabit because it never feels as safe as moving from one extreme to another.”
And she’s right, of course. Liminal space, like standing on a high bridge, can be unnerving. What resources do we call upon to endure the tension between the old and new? What do we want to accomplish during this difficult time on this steady, and perhaps at times unsteady, bridge? How do we know when the time is right to move forward? and how do we access the courage required for that movement?

It’s an uncertain time at First Congregational. Writing about the liminal time of twilight, in-between day and night, poet and philosopher John O’Donohue put it this way:

When near the end of day, life has drained
out of light, and it is too soon
for the mind of night to have darkened things,
no place looks like itself, loss of outline
makes everything look strangely in-between,
unsure of what has been, or what might come.
In this wan light, even trees seem groundless.

Too true. As someone on the Cabinet recently remarked, to some extent we seem “muddled.” Well, perhaps “muddled” isn’t such a bad place to be for now. Perhaps it’s the perfect place to be—for a season, anyway, for as O’Donohue continues:

As far as you can, hold your confidence.
Do not allow your confusion to squander
this call which is loosening your roots in false ground,
that you might come free from all you have outgrown.
What is being transfigured here is your mind,
and it is difficult and slow to become new.
The more faithfully you can endure here,
the more refined your heart
will become for your arrival in the new dawn.

While I certainly don’t think for one moment that our ground has been “false” or even that we need to “outgrow” anything, I do think it’s usually true that bridge-time between pastorates can energize a “loosening” movement that can free us for the “new thing” [Is. 43] that God is always doing in our midst.

Liminality can be a time for seeking further clarity regarding our mission—how might our mission evolve organically from who we are? In the coming weeks and months, perhaps what’s called for is some intentional time for discerning God’s voice in the midst of this risky and quite beautiful bridge-time.

With you on this new adventure,


Sunday, October 17, 2010

My freedom to choose to love is undiminished

How to love others recklessly, consuming, unabashed, risking everything, gambling away every gift...?

This is the poem that our Sacred Conversations read last week. It's by Rumi.

Love is reckless; not reason.
Reason seeks a profit.
Love comes on strong,
consuming herself, unabashed.

Yet, in the midst of suffering,
Love proceeds like a millstone,
hard surfaced and straightforward.

Having died of self-interest,
she risks everything and asks for nothing.
Love gambles away every gift God bestows.

As much as I long to be loved in such a way--indeed, there are days when I'm acutely aware of the ache inside me for this kind of love--I know the 'secret' is to first love others in this way. Not because that will guarantee I'll get the love I desire, in some kind of cosmic end-around, but because to love others, to freely love others with wild abandon, is the only -- no, not only -- the best thing for an aching heart.

Instead of closing myself off in a natural desire to protect my heart, it's actually opening myself in a strangely trusting manner that allows God to work that divine alchemy within me, the transformation of my very being into love itself.

But of course only saints experience that kind of powerful alchemy, right? As long as I've been "doing" spiritual formation, so often, still, when the opportunity to risk loving presents itself I choose to protect my heart.

I'm in a situation now in which such opportunity presents itself almost daily. Present day reality easily tempts old wounds to resurface, and before I know what's happening, fear/insecurity is in control of my reactions. I behave as if hiding is my best option, or as if it's best to assume I'm at a disadvantage.

My best self knows that present day reality is NOT the same as those old situations in which I was so hurt and beaten down. My authentic self knows that in this present day reality I can be as free and as loving as I choose.

I can't really blog about the situation itself yet. It's nothing hugely dramatic, just different from the norm and full of unknowns. But then, the future is always open-ended, isn't it? Despite a low level of instability right now, my freedom to choose to love is undiminished.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

We lack nothing

"When you feel stressed you know that the false ego is in control."

Can't remember who said that, but I wrote it down one day recently on a post-it note and put it on my desk.

That false ego is a tricky little thing, isn't he? The false ego wants us to believe that we don't have everything we need, that we lack something important -- so it spurs us to think we need to compete, we need to play some zero-sum game, we need to make up what we lack by doing, doing, doing, more, more, more. Which matches up pretty well with our American culture's messages of work, work, work, no play (or very little), make the big bucks, keep up with the Jones.

When we get on the other side of the false ego and are living our lives from the authentic self, then we can see how ridiculous those claims are. Truly ridiculous. Utterly bizarre.

But getting on the other side isn't easy...sometimes it feels like moving a mountain.

Ah...but Jesus said with God all things are possible.

And I know he's right about that! The peace that comes from living an authentic life, the life God calls us to live, is available...closer than the air we breathe...We have all we need; we lack nothing at all. Simply breathe. Welcome All that Is.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

"Go to the Limits of Your Longing"

Isn't this beautiful?
Hat Tip to Robin at Metanoia for the link to this:

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don't let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

"Go to the Limits of Your Longing"
by Rainer Maria Rilke; translation by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows