Wednesday, August 31, 2016

One of Another

I don't remember how old I was, probably early adolescence, when I overheard a conversation between two adults, in which one stated they were a registered Democrat. I remember being utterly dumbstruck and completely horrified. I could not reconcile the good person I knew them to be with the evil that was the Democratic Party. It didn't even matter that they said they had registered that way years ago, mostly voted Republican now, and just hadn't gotten around to switching registration. I could not imagine why on God's earth this person would continue to be associated with such a depraved, godless group of people.

To be fair, I don't remember anyone specifically telling me "Democrats are evil and depraved," but that was what I had inferred from the conversations, messages, and media I was exposed to during my upbringing in a conservative, Evangelical, homeschooling environment. (Before anyone not raised in that environment gets too indignant, I encourage you to remember this demonization of those on "the other side" is certainly not exclusive to those groups.)

I like to think I've grown a lot since then. I've certainly explored a wider range of conversations, messages, and media. I do not think a person's voter registration is the determining factor in their morality or goodness or even their standing with God.

However. I'm increasingly aware of how often I still get that sinking feeling when I encounter views of family, friends, or acquaintances that are strikingly different from my own. Especially if those people profess to be Christians. Even though my beliefs are vastly different now than those I held as an adolescent, the sentiment behind my disappointment and dissent is the same: how can you call yourself a Christian when you believe that or support that candidate or hold that position?

I keep wondering how I can move past that. How can I think I've actually come very far if I'm presenting the exact same argument or having the same reaction, just from a different position.

I don't think I am alone here. From what I can tell, there is no shortage of people asking "how could you?" of those in their circles, be it only in their own thoughts or outright. If this is true, then I can hardly be alone in wondering about another way. I don't have any easy answers, but I can share what I'm learning from my wondering.

A few weeks ago, the book of Romans was the New Testament reading in the Daily Office. One passage in particular stood out to me and I keep coming back to it every time I wonder how to move past the 'how could you" to a different way:
For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor...
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12)

Two things stand out to me: The first is that this passage contains so many things to do and not do that just focusing on those could prevent me from having time to even think about who you or anyone else may be supporting for president. But what I really want to focus on is the phrase "we are all members one of another." That phase comes back to me every time I catch myself baffled by a friend's statement or Facebook post. I don't fully understand it, but "we are all members one of another" seems to be doing a slow work in me.

I'm starting see that in the mystical Body of Christ, there is something I'm not supposed to so readily dismiss in anything that brings out my 'how-could-yous.' And, more importantly, I'm coming to understand that the person holding those views is somehow part of me, as we are each part of Christ.

To be clear, I'm not suggesting we stay idle or silent in the face of actual wrong or evil. What I'm wrestling with and trying to express is a dissatisfaction with the way most of us have learned to engage with people on the other side. What I'm looking for is a different way.

I'm seeing that when we disagree, if I begin from "how could you?" then the last thing I'm going to remember is that we are "one of another." I will forget that we belong to each other (to summarize Mother Teresa). I will recoil or become defensive and cut myself off from you, which means I'm also cutting myself off from who I'm called to be.

It can be baffling how two people who profess a belief in the same God and read the same Holy Words can have such vastly different views. It is so easy to use these differences to harm to each other and our relationships by approaching those opposing views with accusations and incredulity. But what if we could transform these interactions? What if we could learn from and love each other, even if we never agree?

If we want to, we could start by remembering that we are members one of another, and go from there.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Part of My Story


“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid.” ― Frederick Buechner

For years I have been in the process of healing from a terrible thing. There were times this process was more fits and starts than anything, but in hindsight, I can see it as a journey I’ve been navigating for much of my life. I’m writing about it now because I believe hope and healing and blessing in our own lives are meant to be shared with others.

When I was a child, I was molested by someone who was older than me, but not quite a teenager. I didn't tell anyone, even though it happened multiple times, because he told me I’d be the one in trouble if I did. Instead of telling, I tried subtle ways to get out of being alone with him. If that didn’t work, I’d end up crying, insisting that I didn't want to play with him, but my tears were dismissed and I was told to stop being rude and go play.

I spent years trying to minimize this experience or rationalize it away. I made excuses for all the reasons no one stopped it from happening. I told myself that a kid who would do that was clearly troubled, that something bad had likely happened to him, too.  I told myself the adults didn’t know what was really taking place and that they'd been taught “acting out” was defiance. I reminded myself that far worse has happened to many other people. None of this helped.

What happened is a true and terrible thing about my life.

Neither minimizing nor rationalizing creates a magical path to healing. What I told myself about those involved is probably true. It is also true that far worse has happened to many other people. But I now understand that I can only heal by dealing directly with my own experience – an experience that has influenced the way I see myself, how I relate to people I'm supposed to trust, and how I parent my own children.

Part of dealing with my experience has been realizing that what happened to me was made worse by unhealthy fears created in a culture of fear. My fear of punishment made me afraid to tell anyone what was happening. The adults who dismissed my tears feared what others might think of my behavior.  They also feared that taking the time to try to understand my “acting out” would be an indulgence that would lead me to even more defiant behavior.

When we succumb to a culture of fear, we have trouble distinguishing healthy fear that is an appropriate response to real danger from unhealthy fears that create more fear, harm, and secrets.

I'm learning, however, that we can learn to identify and break free from the unhealthy fear that causes us to react in hurtful, controlling, or dismissive ways with ourselves and with others. Pema Chödrön writes, “Interrupting our destructive habits and awakening our heart is the work of a lifetime.” While it's true that healing from living in unhealthy fear is a process that takes a lifetime of work, each step we take in that process brings us closer to wholeness and freedom.

For me, the process took physically separating myself, as best I could, from places and people dominated by unhealthy fear. It took stumbling my way into a daily practice of contemplative prayer. It took (after much searching) finding a church where the voices of women and children are valued and heard. It took letting go of most of what I’d been taught about relationships and parenting in order to find new understandings. It took finding life-giving friendship where I could be true to my process in a safe and accepting dynamic. It took finding a good therapist. And it is still taking time.

It's true that it has not been easy. I've struggled and doubted and second-guessed. It's taken a lot of hard work and tears and reevaluating. There are times I still worry over the possibility of terrible things happening. I'm still affected by terrible things that did happen. I still have a long way to go and lot to learn.

But I've also discovered it is possible to own my story and choose how to move forward, that I can choose love over unhealthy fear. 'Love is kind' (1 Corinthians 13) and 'Love casts out fear' (1 John 4) have become deeply held truths for me. If you’re needing to find a way to heal from your own terrible thing or simply realizing you need stop living in unhealthy fear, don’t give up. Love can be a lifeline for you, too.

If it seems too overwhelming, start small. Start one new practice – meditation, mindfulness, hiking, biking, walking, setting a loving intention every morning, taking a few deep intentional breaths every night, appreciating one beautiful thing every day – anything that can help you start to separate yourself from the habits of unhealthy fear. Find a way to get help, from a professional if you can, or from a trusted friend. Work on one relationship. I started with my kids, convinced that since love is kind then my interactions with them must come from a place of kindness rather than fear. None of us are able to change the past, but we can choose a brave and loving way to live now.

I know that love can't always stop terrible things from happening. I know that love can't necessarily make other people respond the way we hope they will. But choosing love changes us. Each time we make a conscious choice for love over unhealthy fear, we become less afraid. We open ourselves to growth and to healing and to new understandings. We become people who can be a safe, life-giving, loving space for ourselves and for others.

And that is beautiful.

Note: I know that sexual abuse and trauma varies in degree and each survivor will have his or her own journey to healing. If you are traveling this journey, please reach out to those who are qualified to support you. Many areas have excellent local organizations or you can contact a national organization like RAINN at or 800-656-HOPE(4673). You are loved and worth the effort it takes to find hope and healing.

Brené Brown's wisdom has been invaluable to me on this journey. 
I encourage you to read her books or visit her website here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Knowing Without Grasping

Silent Saturday is held the first Saturday of every month at St. Patrick's. A few of us gather and someone reads aloud one of the passages for the next morning or shares a short meditation. We then observe three sessions of silent prayer, in increasing duration, followed by walking meditation around the perimeter of the sanctuary. The two ladies who started it have faithfully held this ritual for years, and I've been joining them since summer.

This month, they were both out of town and I agreed to lead the session. The first Saturday of February dawned a glorious, unseasonably warm day. No one else showed up for Silent Saturday, but one of our Altar Guild members was at the church to set up for Sunday's service. I asked her if she'd like to join me, but she politely declined, explaining that she only had time that morning for set-up.

Not wanting to delay her from her other Saturday commitments, I encouraged her to go about her work and to not mind me. I'd just carry on as usual from one of the pews.

She was incredibly gracious, obviously careful to make as little noise as possible. Even so, it was somewhat difficult to settle in to silence with the sounds of preparation echoing occasionally in the space.

But then something happened. The Eucharistic words "Body of Christ, Bread of Heaven" began surfacing in my thoughts as I sat with my eyes closed and hands open. For someone like me who wrestles with the idea of Christ -- simultaneously drawn to The Word Made Flesh and skeptical of the assertion that Jesus Christ is the only way to God -- this was a bit unexpected. No matter how I tried to detach from the words and simply be present in silence, I kept returning to them. And somewhere in the space between her activity and my stillness, I knew and participated in the Body of Christ.

Knew, yet still couldn't grasp.

It was an experience like stretching my hand out the window of a moving car, feeling the air slip over the surface of each finger, over my palm, permeating each pore. Leaning my head so the rush of wind envelops my face and teases my hair. Breathing deep. The current around me and inside me... and yet. I can't hold on to it. I can't close my fist around it and put it in my pocket. Can't hold a single breath.

I have to exhale.

I'm obviously reaching to wrap words around the experience. I know I can only give an approximation. But I think it has something to do with balance and being present in the moment. Sometimes we are the ones in silence, whose hands are still and open. Creating space. Waiting. Sometimes we are the ones in motion, whose hands are moving and serving. Setting a table. Preparing bread. Some of us do one more than the other.

But we can all eat the bread of angels. Taste an incomprehensible mystery. Open ourselves to glimpse what we cannot grasp. The body of Christ. One Body, many parts. An inhale. An exhale.

We balance each other.

We are each other.

And maybe, sometimes, if only for a single breath, we know it.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Buffy and Winter

I had high hopes the new year. I was going to have a renewed sense of purpose and focus on establishing some new practices. Only, that's not what happened. I just couldn't seem to muster up the motivation or the discipline.

Instead of focusing on practices and purpose, I spent the better part of January binge-watching the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which I had never seen before. I spent any time I had to myself watching Buffy save the world a lot. After spending most of 2015 hardly watching any television, this was... well... a change from that.

I'm not saying it's good or bad. It's just what happened.

I did manage to stay with a couple of my old daily practices. I continued Morning Prayer, and, thanks to an overly-energetic puppy who joined our family in June, I still took walks in the woods every day. I admit I probably would've foregone the walks if the dog would have let me get away with it.

Since I couldn't find my way to starting any new practices, I placated my conscience by trying to use the time in the woods to be present and notice what was going on around me as the seasons made their way through the woods. Even as I experienced a growing sense of general disconnection due to my lack of motivation and discipline, I determined to look for what was still beautiful as the green of Summer and the colors of Fall gave way to the short, cold, gray days of Winter.

I always try to take at least a minute in the woods to close my eyes and breathe deeply, to make myself aware of my connection to the earth beneath my feet and the trees surrounding me. Right now, most of the trees are empty. Just trunks, really, with bare branches sticking out in angles.

I've been feeling a lot like those trees.

I began 2015 with anticipation. I'd been told my career was about to be upended, so I thought it would be a year of big, exciting, scary change. But then it wasn't. And now it's 2016 and I'm in seemingly the same place with nothing temporal to show for the transformation I thought was inevitable. Like a tree in winter, whatever shelter or beauty I had in former seasons is gone, carried away in the biting, Autumn wind. I have nothing to offer.

But surely something happened or is happening. Trees don't cease to exist in winter. Things are happening under the ground, right? I tried to reassure myself with those thoughts. But I've since learned that trees are dormant in winter. Almost nothing is happening. They wait out the season, drawing on resources they saved in the other seasons, trying to stay alive. Not especially encouraging to my analogy. But then I found this:

"It is possible to force a tree to evade dormancy if you keep it inside and with a stable temperature and light pattern. However, this is usually bad for the tree. It's natural for trees to go through dormancy cycles, and the lifespan of the plant is dramatically decreased if the tree is not allowed to go dormant for a few months. Trees have winter dormancy for a reason, and it's best to just let them run their course as nature intended."

I know I'm not a tree, but something about those words is reassuring. Seasons of dormancy are natural and healthy. I remembered that Parker J. Palmer uses the seasons a metaphor for exploring selfhood and vocation in his book 'Let Your Life Speak.'

Palmer writes that winter is a reminder that "times of dormancy and deep rest are essential to all living things. Despite all appearances, of course, nature is not dead in winter-it has gone underground to renew itself and prepare for spring. Winter is a time when we are admonished, and even inclined, to do the same for ourselves....Winter clears the landscape, however brutally, giving us a chance to see ourselves and each other more clearly, to see the very ground of our being."

Maybe I stumbled into this dormant season and maybe binge-watching an old TV series isn't the best way to renew myself and prepare for what's next. A part of me is a bit terrified that nothing is next. Terrified that the trees will soon be filled with leaves and new life and I'll still be dormant, with nothing to offer.

I guess that could happen.

But maybe recognizing the necessity of an occasional time of dormancy can bring me the perspective I need. I hope it will help me be more understanding of myself and others. And I pray I can now try to look clearly at the ground of my being and at least open myself to the possibility of a new season.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Love is Kind

If you’ve attended more than one wedding in your life, there is a chance you are at least vaguely familiar with chapter 13 from 1 Corinthians in the Christian Bible. It's the one with all those beautiful words about love. Even couples who aren’t especially religious often include these verses in their ceremony:
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
I don't know about you, but a lot of what I see called “love” seems nothing like this. There are probably countless reasons for that, but one I’ve been thinking about specific to the Church is our tendency to idealize a passage for a singular situation or relationship, and in the process, hinder our ability to be transformed by it. It is one thing to parade out beautiful, poetic words for a day of celebration with a joy-filled couple. It is quite another to take those words down from a pedestal and give ourselves over to their life-altering truth.

My new appreciation for 1 Corinthians 13 began when I came upon these words in Psalm 69 some time ago: “Answer me, O LORD, for your love is kind; in your great compassion, turn to me." The phrase for your love is kind captured my attention.

Throughout my life, I’ve heard God’s love described many ways, but “kind” is not one I remember. Kindness as a general concept isn't especially revolutionary, but this was completely new way for me to understand God’s love. I've spent a lot of time reflecting on the idea and asking myself what it means to profess faith in a God whose love is kind. What beliefs do I hold that are incongruent with this concept? What are the practical implications for my life?

In light of 1 Corinthians 13, I’ve come to understand that it’s not only God’s love that is kind. Real love is kind. My love needs to be kind.

This truth is not just for a wedding day and is not only for a person’s relationship with their spouse, as important as kindness is for those partnerships. There are also no qualifiers such as “Love for fill-in-the-blank is kind” or “Love is kind unless….” I’m made uncomfortably aware of all the times I’ve acted in an unkind way in the name of “tough love” or “speaking the truth in love” when what I was really doing was reacting out of anger, judgement, fear, or self-righteousness.

The first way I began to incorporate “love is kind” into my life is in my relationship with my children. It has changed the way I parent. When I struggle over how to respond to new challenges, I do my best to ask, “What is a kind response?” Lately I’ve even added in, “Am I being patient? Am I insisting on my own way?” My kids are different people from me. They have different perspectives, ways of understanding, and getting things done.  It is loving (and kind!) to be patient and not always insist they see or do things my way. Of course I still have moments when I give in to irritation, impatience, and rudeness. I’m human. But the words “love is kind” have forever altered the way I experience parenthood.

And what of Jesus telling us to love our enemies and to love our neighbors as ourselves? No matter how I try to spin it, I can’t free myself from the realization that this includes kindness.

When I’m facing conflict, when I feel deep dislike, or when I’m baffled at the actions of another, I often struggle with an urge to react. What I’m coming to see is that when I react with judgement, blame, disgust, shaming, or self-righteousness – anything other than love and kindness – I still have work to do.

Others have had different lives and experiences from mine. I can rarely know why people do or say things I find baffling or appalling. I admit I have a hard time not being rude or resentful if someone dismisses my idea in a meeting or insults me for a belief I hold, so I'm still wrestling with how to experience true loving kindness toward someone who does far worse. I am learning to see that even even when I feel incredulity or outrage or fear, I'm not exempt from the truth that love is kind. That has to be what I’m working toward, even when I fall short.

I cannot change other people. What I can do is allow the truth that love is kind to transform me and pray that I will continually learn to live it better. I can recognize unkind, unloving behavior for what it is. I can purpose to learn how to better respond in the face of all that I don’t understand. I can ask questions. I can offer kindness. I can be love.

Love is kind.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Gifts of Silence

My word for 2014 was Silence. I practiced this mainly in daily centering prayer (which is basically time in stillness and silence dedicated to being totally present with God), but I practiced it in other ways as well. There are few things I can write that will convey my experience with Silence, because it was so much more difficult and beautiful and isolating and connecting than I could have possibly imagined. What I can do is share with you some of the gifts I discovered in Silence. These are not gifts to me only, but are gifts I've come to understand are waiting for anyone who is able to make space and time in their life to practice Silence regularly. I imagine each of us would experience these gifts in a different way and that these gifts I'm writing about now may not be the gifts others would recognize most from Silence. Yet I do believe that in a regular practice of silence, most of us would find these and other gifts in one way or another.

One gift is a growing realization of connection with others--past and present--who have made a practice of silence part of their lives. I see now that over the past few years, I had been striving to express all my thoughts and ideas and experiences and inner turmoil, but could not find sufficient words. Through my previous experience and resources, I tried to flesh it out, but always fell short. I felt increasingly frustrated by a complete lack of my own understanding of the faith crisis I was experiencing and the void in my vocabulary preventing me from explaining myself.

Becoming comfortable with silence allowed me to spend necessary time listening and finding others who were expressing what I was experiencing in words that meant all the things I'd been longing to explain. I’ve discovered in books and lectures the wisdom of a host of teachers and guides far ahead of me on the Spiritual journey and more in-tune with the process. I've also connected with a few beautiful souls whose journeys have allowed us to meet and support each other as we walk new paths.

Another gift is the acceptance that change in relationships is part of life and that growing apart isn't always someone's "fault." I’m coming to understand that some connections with others are for a season, when our paths intersect and are aligned in some way. When our paths diverge, the love and support shared in those close times still exists as part of the beauty of our lives, albeit in a different way than before. It’s still difficult for me to see this as a gift, because the pain of accepting change is hard, but I know that it is a gift. I know that the love I received while I was walking closer with some people was a balm to my heart when I was floundering, and I pray that the love I offered was the same for them. I pray that somehow our paths will bring us to a new closeness in the future, yet whether or not that happens, I hope with all my heart that they find just what and who they need in all the transitions and intersections that lie ahead.

One of the most profound gifts I found in Silence is summed up in this quote:
"With grace I am led to see that the only person I can judge, with God's help, is myself. I slowly come to understand that part of what is keeping my community from being all that it can be is my own lack of love, my own carelessness with God's love and the love and struggles of [others]. Seeing us in process and being able to value our incompleteness has been for me a great means of grace." - Macrina Wiederkehr
This reminder that we are all in process is a beautiful, beautiful gift. We are all incomplete. We are all at various stages on our journey. Of course I still experience my own ego and self-righteous judgment welling up when others react or respond in ways I disagree with or when they make choices I don't understand. Yet from my time in silence I sense that I am becoming more in-tune to the knowledge that many of my own actions, choices, and responses may bother or confound others. I can recognize this and soften my heart. I can accept that there is only so much change and progress humans can make in a single day or interaction, so I must be patient with myself and with others. I can work to set aside judgment, to be a peaceful and loving presence even in the midst of what causes me confusion, hurt, and anger.

Silence is a gift, which opens our hearts to many other gifts. I am so thankful for the gifts of Silence. I am so grateful for the transforming work continuing in my life, which has its roots in one word in 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. - Thomas Merton

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Meditation on Psalm 63

"O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you." Psalm 63:1

Psalm 63:1 has become a bit of a mantra for me. I say it silently each morning as I quiet my thoughts before I begin my Centering Prayer, and I find that I return to it throughout the day. I don't always repeat the full verse; sometimes "O God, you are my God" is all I need to re-focus my thoughts.

Several months ago, I realized that as I focused on the words, I would hear "O God, you are my God" as "O God, you are *my* God." I know this may seem minor, but as I considered what it means that I was emphasizing the word "my," I determined there may be a better way than subconsciously putting the focus on my own thoughts or feelings of God.

I realized the better way to hear the phrase was: "O God, you are my God." As in, God IS my God, not God is MY God. God -- who is so intimately present to each of us every second, who created each of us in God's image, who is "being" itself and yet who exists so completely other and separate from anything we can think or project on that Being -- that God is my God.

I've also come to see that if God is my God, then nothing else can be. Of course I would have said this, but it struck me that if I truly, in the depths of my being believe "O God, you are my God," then I need to be consciously aware that:

My loved-ones are not my god.

My roles of daughter, sister, friend, wife, and mother are not my god.

My hopes and dreams and wants and wishes are not my god.

My religion is not my god.

My nation is not my god.

My political views are not my god.

My identity not my god.

My social status is not my god.

My physical appearance is not my god.

My reputation is not my god.

My thoughts are not my god.

My earthly possessions are not my god.

My ideas are not my god.

My opinions are not my god.

My self-worth is not my god.

My life is not my god.

Only God is my God.

I've even begun to insert these sentiments into my mantra when I feel myself identifying too deeply with a thought or emotion that distracts me from a better way to handle everyday situations. For example, I will try to pause and think, "God, YOU are my God. The results of this effort are not my God. You are my God." Or "God, YOU are my God. This person's approval or esteem is not my God. You are my God." Sometimes just the act of stating both who should be my focus, along with who-or-what should not be, is enough to help me navigate frustrating situations with grace.

It has only been a few months, and I'm not perfect at remembering every time, but I'm thankful this is becoming a practice for me. God is my God. Everything thing else is simply part of life, to either be enjoyed or endured.

It really is as simple and beautiful as that.

All I have to do is keep practicing.

Note: for more resources and information on Centering Prayer, I encourage you to check out the  Contemplative Outreach website and/or listen to some of Thomas Keating's work on Audible. Another resource I've discovered recently is Gravity Center, which lists several wonderful resources and offers some excellent videos on contemplation.