Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Unmoored

I am a word person. There are words I love simply for how they look in written form. There are others I love for how they sound, and still others I love for what they mean or who they remind me of. Sometimes I think about situations for much longer than necessary, for the sole purpose of figuring out a single word to describe how I feel about or perceive it.

I am also a writer. Not the kind who is gifted with words crying out to become books or columns or academic papers. No, I'm the kind of writer who uses writing as a way to work through things in her head, regardless of how many people may or may not read it. For as long as I can remember, when I have things I need to process, I write them out.

But I'm currently finding elusive both words and the ability to write things out.

I want to write more about Silence, and maybe I will at some point. Right now, however, I feel too fragile to try to put words around where it is taking me. I can't even seem to write about it privately without feeling a sense of betrayal, as though I need to only hold the experience and let it be what it is without analyzing or searching for explanation.

And when it comes to trying to share any of this with people I know, words may as well not exist. There is almost no one who seems safe enough for me to attempt an explanation of what is going on or how vulnerable and exposed I am. I feel disconnected from just about everyone at present.

By habit, I was contemplating this experience and attempting to come up with a word for it. Maybe I can’t write about all the details or explain myself out loud, but if I could at least identify a single word to encompass it all, I’d be able to put this phenomenon into that word and hold that word in the midst of what is unfolding.
 
Unmoored.

That’s the word I kept coming back to every time, even though I wasn't entirely sure what it meant. Sure, I knew it was a nautical term and I had an impression of its meaning, but had never looked it up in the dictionary. In my mind I associated “unmoored” with “adrift,” but "adrift" didn't entirely fit. So I looked it up.

un·moor  [uhn-moor]
1. to loose from moorings or anchorage.
2. to bring to the state of riding with a single anchor after being moored by two or more.

That's all I have at this point. I’m not even going to attempt to explain how entirely accurate the definition is for what I’m experiencing. Perhaps someday I will have more words and be able to write a beautiful reflection on my unmooring season. Maybe, but not today.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Inexplicable

This is a short reflection on some of the words I've encountered and have been sitting with as I explore what silence means for me this year. I use "sitting with" because stating I'm "learning" or "understanding" could give the impression that I have a better grasp on any of this than I actually do. The following may not seem to scream "silence," but it's there.

In a series of talks with Fr. Thomas Keating, Fr. Richard Rohr speaks of how our ego or "false self" is what causes us to define ourselves in terms of what we dislike or what we are against. This "contrariness," as Julian of Norwich terms it, closes us off from experiencing deeper levels of faith and life, "because it’s always defining itself in terms of analysis, critique, judgment, labeling, or positioning, and this game of positioning is a mind game." Rohr says this mind game is "entirely an inner system that makes [us] feel important," but actually leads us into conflict with ourselves and others. It is necessary to let go of our false self in order to be who we truly are, but he explains that letting go of how we've learned to define ourselves can be incredibly distressing:
It’s all about letting go... It’s not about controlling or achieving or promoting or attaining…  it feels like dying in the first instance, because you've spent so much time living out of this mind and this ego that you think is you.... It will feel, in the first instance, like losing and like dying…these “little dyings” that have to become an art form and that you have to go through once, twice, several significant times to know, as the poet said, “What did I ever lose by dying?”
As I'm sitting with these words and others from Keating and Merton, what I'm experiencing does seem, at the risk of sounding a bit dramatic, "like losing and like dying."

In the midst of that, however, I think I might also be just beginning to catch infinitesimal glimpses that I am someone aside from all the ways I've previously defined myself - aside from what I do or don't do, what I like or dislike, how others approve of or disapprove of me - and apart from any labels or judgement that could be applied to me by myself or others.

I don't know how else to explain or define any of this. I know that it feels quite humbling and somewhat lonely.

And yet, inexplicably, also like becoming known.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

OneWord 2014: Silence

"We work out our salvation in silence and in hope. Silence is the strength of our interior life....Without this silence, our virtues are sound only, only an outward noise, a manifestation of nothing..." - Thomas Merton


What words do I use to explain why "silence" is my word for 2014? I've been trying for weeks to write this post, but I realize I must rely heavily on the wisdom of others to communicate why I chose Silence this year.

Merton and other contemplatives like Thomas Keating and Richard Rohr write of silence as the place within each of us where we discard our false-selves and the external props we often depend on to "prove" ourselves or our faith. By embracing and fully experiencing our inner silence, we learn to be who we truly are. I've been re-reading portions of Thomas Merton's No Man is an Island, and keep returning to this excerpt:
It is useless to try to make peace with ourselves by being pleased with everything we have done. In order to settle down in the quiet of our own being we must learn to be detached from the results of our own activity. We must withdraw ourselves, to some extent, from effects that are beyond our control and be content with the good will and the work that are the quiet expression of our inner life. We must be content to live without watching ourselves live, to work without expecting an immediate reward, to love without an instantaneous satisfaction, and to exist without any special recognition. 
We cannot experience this making "peace with ourselves" or "quiet expression of our inner life," without becoming well-acquainted with our interior silence.

I often feel a compulsion to react to what is going on around me and to fill silence with outward noise. Yet I've realized in the past weeks that I need to withdraw from the impulse to react, so I can explore the true motivations for my reactions. When I am filling space with my own noise, I am not making room for what God may be trying to speak to me in silence, nor what I may need to hear from others speaking out of the silence of their interior life.

Practicing silence doesn't mean always being silent, but it does mean honoring my own silence and the silence of others by not giving in to the discomfort that seeks to fill it without purpose. Practicing silence is one way in which I can learn to detach myself from a desire for others to hear and understand me, in order that I will hear myself and others more clearly and with understanding.

I'm not going to preemptively limit this experience by trying to create a detailed plan. I intend to explore more deeply the practice of contemplative prayer and I may attend some religious services where silence is practiced in community. I hope to go on a spiritual retreat that cultivates silence if I can, but I'm not making that a requirement. I am open to the possibility (read: probability) that my year with silence will be nothing like I'm envisioning right now.

Here is a final excerpt from Merton that I've been meditating on and which influenced me to choose Silence for 2014:
If we fill our lives with silence, then we live in hope, and Christ lives in us and gives our virtues much substance. Then, when the time comes, we confess Him openly before men, and our confession has much meaning because it is rooted in deep silence. It awakens the silence of Christ in the hearts of those who hear us, so that they themselves fall silent and begin to wonder and to listen. For they have begun to discover their true selves. If our life is poured out in useless words we will never hear anything in the depths of our hearts, where Christ lives and speaks in silence. 
I want to fill my life with silence, so that when I speak I am not pouring out useless words, but rather speaking hope to the silence in the hearts of those who hear.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

OneWord 2013

At the beginning of the year, I wrote an awkward post about how the word "weave" was going to be my word for 2013. I had a vague idea of how it was going to go: I would figure out how to put myself back together and I would write about it. I wasn't so naive to think I completely knew what I was doing, but I figured that was okay because I would work it out as I went.

I was wrong.

I managed to write about my word several times, but I did not figure out how to put myself back together. I have not figured out much of anything.  All I did was begin the year with a certain thought in mind and take a few steps I thought might support it. From the outside looking in, my life probably seems the same now as it was in January.

And yet, I feel as though nothing is the same at all.

I cannot possibly view the world, other people, or even myself. the way I did a year ago.  I've started grasping the hem of writings on incarnation and intersectionality and prayer and true self and peace and so much wisdom from those whose life experience is vastly different from mine, and yet still connected to mine through shared faith. At this point, I can offer you neither proof nor a coherent explanation of how this wisdom is weaving together in my life.  All I can offer is that my spirit feels different - both restless and at rest, both filled with doubts and grounded in truths, both tangled in questions and buoyed by hope.

I've found a home in the Episcopal Church. I've discovered that I better engage with the mystery of Christ through the seasons of the liturgy and I've found people with whom I feel an inexplicable kinship.  In many ways I feel like a refugee seeking solace in that tradition, yet I also feel like a person born in exile, who has finally been welcomed home.

I know I should be attempting to summarize my OneWord experience, but I simply cannot.  I feel this year has been a gift in ways I completely do not understand, but I hesitate to name it thus because I'm still trying to figure out how it has come about. I longed for these changes, but I did not know they were what I was longing for, nor did I cause them to happen. The weaving, the peace, the hope - it has happened and is happening as I read the words of monks and prophets and saints, and as I discover new insights that I am only beginning to comprehend.  I am at once thankful and in awe and humbled and borderline incredulous.

In one of my earlier posts about my OneWord, I wrote:
There was a time when.... I tried to believe that God was up there directing every detail of my life – from the grade I got on a test to finding a pair of shoes in my size on sale.  But I just don’t believe that now.  I do believe we are created in God’s image and I do believe that God is there, but I also think many things just happen. 
I still don't believe that God is directing every single detail of my life like some kind of cosmic puppeteer, but I can't deny that there seems to be no logical explanation for how how certain things have come together this year. I have to admit that in the past twelve months I've seen glimpses of what, despite all my doubts, I can only attribute to the Divine.

Considering my life as a weaving-together instead of an unraveling has made me more open to the ordering of what had previously been a tangled, unraveled mess.  It has caused me to look for connections where I never would have before. I know I'm not done. I can't wrap up this word and put it on a shelf on December 31st as though it were a completed project and all the pieces of my life are now woven into a finished product.

The weaving will continue at its own pace and in its own time. I have no idea how different or similar my life will look next year at this time, but right now, in this moment, I'm so very thankful for whatever or whomever promoted me choose the word weave.

It's been quite a year.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

An Advent Reflection: Hope

O come, O Come Thou Day-spring bright
Pour on our souls Thy healing light
Dispel the long night's lingering gloom
And pierce the shadows of the tomb
 - From 'O Come, O Come Emmanuel,' origin unknown

Every year I dread when the days turn cold. The weight of darkness seems to increase as the daylight hours decrease. The chill and the gloom close in all around, and even inhaling deeply or lifting my eyes to look for beauty seems difficult.

Everything feels too heavy. Everything feels too cold. Everything feels too dark.

Yet in this, my first year observing Advent, there is a barely perceptible shift. I can sense moments of peace when I call to mind that I am intentionally observing this low time—that I've embraced this waiting in the dark, this participation in an age-old and sacred longing.

I am merely one of multitudes who have defied the gloom and shadows with hopeful expectation.

Being present to this yearning does not make me continually cheerful or warm or bright, but it does increase my awareness of the presence of Hope. I know Hope is pressing in close, right along with the heaviness and the chill and the darkness.

This Hope calls to mind the love and compassion of God. This Hope whispers reassurance that the darkness will not consume.

Hope waits with us, unfailing, as we anticipate the moment when Divine Light pierces the darkness and heals our souls with Love.


Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
    to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.
Lamentations 3: 21-26

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

I Am Not a Fighter of Giants

I keep hearing people talk about having a place at the table. I’m not arguing that they shouldn't pursue a seat.  I know that a lot of good could come from more diversity at that table and I know some people have a calling to face off against giants.

But I don’t think that table is where I want to be.

I am not a fighter of giants.

I hate being in any situation where I don’t feel welcome. I’m not going to spend my days trying to get the attention of someone who ignores me when I extend my hand. I will let people exclude me, because I know I cannot make someone see me if they refuse to look or hear me if they refuse to listen.

I also hate to be in a place where I am welcome, but others are not. Even at a table where everyone is allowed a seat, if some of those seats are offered grudgingly, with averted eyes or conditions or shying away, I don’t want to sit at that table. That kind of table will not feel like home. I don’t to be where I know anyone else feels unwanted or where I am only welcome if I close ranks and ignore others who are still standing, unwelcome. 

want to sit at a table where we see and honor all the ways we are different, as well as all the things we have in common.

I want to sit at a table where we see each other’s identities and bodies as reminders of Incarnation, without designating any single type or expression as the norm from which others vary.  

I want to sit at a table where pain can be spoken of freely and is heard without hostility or excuses, where we truly listen to each other and value each other as individuals. I want us to celebrate each other's joys and triumphs as though they were our own.

I want to sit at a table where we see the world as it could be, should be, as a beautiful tapestry with all of us woven together to make something strong and breathtaking out of whatever expression of God’s image we experience in our embodied selves.

I want to sit at a table where we are siblings in humanity and love is our language, where even if our names for God are different or even if people join us who don’t believe in things like Incarnation or the Imago Dei, they still feel welcome to pull up a chair.

I want to sit at a table where there is always more room for people who want to experience family and speak to each other with love.

Yes, I know many will scoff and say it is impossible. I will be called an idealist and a dreamer for wanting that table to exist and thinking people might join each other there. 

I don't care. 

I know there are others who also want that table and are already showing up, making connections, doing the work to try to make it reality.

So maybe, at least in some moments, it already is.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Book Club: Telling God's Story

I'm part of a group reading through the book Telling God's Story (by Peter Enns), in effort to gain some insight around how to teach our kids about our faith in a way that (we hope) avoids some of the misconceptions we grew up with.  If you are interested in following along, you can find the group Facebook page here, and you can find links to some of the other members' thoughts here.  I didn't write anything about chapter one, but I finished chapter two this weekend, and below are my thoughts. 




Recently Luke was filling out an activity-book survey.  He asked each of us if we believe in ghosts, then tallied our answers: I don't. Ryan and Luke aren't sure. Owen does. He looked at the page for a few minutes, before saying that the dog probably believes in ghosts, so his mark would be with Owen. Owen responded, "And if he does, then mom loses! Two, against two, against one."

I know it was an innocent comment, but I still questioned his statement that just because more people think something, that makes it right. We discussed it and agreed that the only way I would really "lose" in that scenario is if we had a way to prove that ghosts exist. And if we could prove that, then yes, I would lose because I would be wrong. Conversely, if we could prove ghosts do not exist, but then he and the dog would "lose," and I would "win," even though a larger group thought the wrong thing.

And don't many of us often make that type of mistake, thinking we must be right when more people agree with us? We look around at the people we interact with and when we discover areas where we agree, we feel like we win, and we feel like those who disagree with us lose.

Even though, realistically, we know that being in the majority doesn't automatically make a person right.

When I was growing up in the midst of Conservative, Evangelical, Homeschooling families, I saw this "majority is right" thinking often. Whatever was the new darling book or speaker or conference or curriculum, seemed to work its way through most of the families -- the families who were "right."  And while some of those things may have been right for some of those people, I now think that some of those things were wrong, or at least wrong for some of us.

This probably contributes to why I am so very skeptical of bandwagons.

So when I found myself rather enthusiastically agreeing to join a book study on teaching the Bible to one's children, I started questioning myself. Even when the book arrived and I started reading the introduction, I couldn't quite shake the anxious feeling that I was treading a little too close to that line of joining in with other like-minded people and jumping on a bandwagon.  And despite that I appreciated the first chapter, I still had my doubts -- not specifically because of the content, but because I was concerned about following a majority of people I respect and setting aside any reservations I had about doing so.

Then I got to the second chapter and read this:
The Bible is not a book on how to invest your money, which political party to join, whether to homeschool, where to go to college, whom to marry, where to live, whether you should buy that car, America as God's chosen people, or a blueprint for present-day world events. It is not, in other words, a "Christian owner's manual." Too many Christians assume that the Bible is the guidebook to address all of life's questions. But that is not what the Bible is designed to do.... 
In this light, I want to introduce what I think is the single most important biblical concept for living a Christian life, not only today, but during any era: wisdom.
When we get down to it, much of our lives as Christians requires us... to "wing it." I don't mean that the Christian life is haphazard with no guidance. I mean that many of the decisions we are called to upon to make every day we make, not because of a verse here or there, but because of the wisdom we have accumulated over the years. That wisdom is acquired through the study of Scripture, prayer, life in a Christian community (not just "going to church"), and plain old life experiences...
And there it is. Wisdom. That is what I want my kids to see in the Bible, to see in Jesus, to see in my faith, and learn for their own lives. Peter Enns is not advocating in this book a blanket set of moral codes or a checklist of behaviors. He even acknowledges that what wisdom might allow for one child or family, it may not for another.

This is so refreshing.

Enns is not asking me to jump on a bandwagon, but rather to use the means available to me to do the reading, research, living, asking, observing, and praying necessary to understand my faith, and then to apply all of those in my interactions with my children as I strive to share God's story with them.  This doesn't mean that I will simply go along with whatever I hear from a popular speaker or automatically go wherever the majority is headed.

I must use wisdom to determine what to do for my own life, majority or not, and I must use wisdom to teach my kids wisdom and discernment for their own lives.

I'm still overwhelmed at the thought of being primarily responsible for teaching my children about God and the Bible.  I still have so many questions and I still ask myself all the time if I'm getting things wrong.  Most of this stuff cannot be proven, only lived and experienced for ourselves, so there are no clear winners or losers when it comes to all the ways Christians can disagree over the Bible.

In light of this, I'm thankful for this book and this group and I'm looking forward to what other insights I can glean from it in the coming chapters and from the others who are reading them.  We may not entirely agree, but we are seeking to gain and share wisdom.

That's really the best any of us can do.