Category Archives: Love

To be or not to be “Church”

“Human beings may separate things into as many piles as we wish—separating spirit from flesh, sacred from secular, church from world. But we should not be surprised when God does not recognize the distinctions we make between the two. Earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars.”
― Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith

Barbara & Karen work on Solstice mandalaWhen I was frustrated with my own lack of spiritual “progress” or evidence of growth, a wise guide said to me, “The longing you have is very important – as important as anything. Longing is good.” I have pondered this statement on and off for a year somewhere in the back of my mind.

My version of spring fever – in a climate where we don’t really get lots of new growth until mid-May or June – is spring yearning. I want, I NEED green. I need water, rain, lightening, humidity. All of the stuff that is marketed at Eastertime. Somewhere deep in my soul, I need to see a green shoot pushing up through soft earth and raindrops or dewdrops adorning the leaves, the petals. I think of ocean, fog, daffodils, tulips, almond groves. I know this stuff is out there. This is the curse of growing up in California and relocating. The body knows, the visceral memory knows: Somewhere it is spring.

When I lived in California, though, I had the same condition all times of the year. The yearning, longing for what is not quite here. Often, in some vague form, I’d be wanting connection with others, with community. In my little Central Valley home, I eventually found my Tribes. I found a church that welcomed my quirkiness. I found my sisters and brothers of the Yoga Tribe who provided weekly, sometimes bi- and tri-weekly conversation and connection. In Berkeley, I met my spiritually-questing-Tribe. Such a time! Yearning for community fulfilled!

And then we moved.

I’ve been back in yearning mode much of the time since. But the guidance I received_ACT6304 about “longing being good” turns out to have contained an unexpected wisdom. Longing turns out to be a finely honed navigational system. It overrides the mind’s chatter.

I had begun to craft a spiritual home outside of my long-beloved church, after I left my last ministry position. The other tribes I joined fit me to a “T” for that moment and place. It was a time of expansion and reunion with an even wider spiritual circle.

But after my sister passed away, in the process of grieving, I found myself longing – and actively seeking a spiritual home. I tried everything. Then John and I went to a Railroad History presentation at a small local church. There was absolutely no spiritual content or setting to the event. The talk was to be held in a less-than-beautiful, humble Fellowship Hall in a rural church. But the church members (unbeknownst to us) were offering a soup dinner before the presentation to anyone who wanted it.

I walked through the door and felt as Lucy must have felt when she passed through that wardrobe full of coats into Narnia. It bowled me over. This earthy crowd, this less than mystical group, was family. My husband didn’t want food, but by all that’s holy, I was bound and determined to eat a bowl of that soup – and did so. Heavenly.

After all of that joy, I still didn’t settle on that particular congregation. But – it being a Saturday – as soon as I got home, I looked for a church in that same town. I found the funkiest, most humble little church you can imagine. Its webpage said, “All are welcome. No exceptions.” The next morning, I drove about 8 miles up the highway. Inside, I found a warm welcome – open hearts, open minds (as the saying goes). Home.

My brain has kicked in numerous times since then. “But these people don’t get me.” “I need an Interfaith Tribe of journeyers.” It goes on and on. They don’t use the right hymnal. They use a hymnal. They don’t use the right language about God. They don’t wipe the tables right after coffee hour. They’ve had a lot of problems. I don’t know if there is anything for me to do here. There is way too much to do here.

I’m not sure if this is a church for webcasts or live feed, but perhaps that is why it feels like home. It is cozy and real.

IMG_5680They know how to host an awesome potluck. They show up at Marches and celebrate Pride. With a ragtag group, they know how to make lovely music. They know how to hold each other in prayer and love when times get hard. They forget social niceties, but love children to a fault. As humans go, our fearless leader is as kind and compassionate as I’ve ever known.

Hmmmmm. Not my Tribe? The tribe members call this place home because they love God and Jesus, love their neighbors, they love the mountains, the trees, the earth and they’re fiercely independent. They seek to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.

Sometimes, I think, my many requirements for personhood – and “how to be a good human being” or an authentic spiritual explorer get in the way of connecting. My husband never talks about it, but I know he observes me out there on my perfectionistic quest to find a truly holy Sangha. I don’t think he understands the importance of the high bar I set. (Ha!)

The day I walked into this place, I knew he’d like it. No façade. No airs.

There is this other thing, too. The “spiritual but not religious” voice in me. The part that sees that Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, loving Muslims, Sikhs, Wiccans, Native People, other New Agers – they are generally not the ones out there shouting hateful, racist, woman-hating, immigrant-hating, abusive stuff in our country these days. No, those screaming, fearful ones are my peeps. Those are the voices of Christians. Even though I love Church in a big, deep way, and love Jesus in a bigger, deeper way, there is a longing to be clearly Other than my fellow Christians who don’t have a clue what Jesus was up to (or so it seems from my totally non-judgmental vantage point). It’s easier to feel good about being part of a tribe versus part of a church.

Unfortunately, for those who do have a clue what Jesus was doing, we oh-so-enlightened  (and self proclaimed) ones don’t get to draw that line. We don’t get to be Other. We have to stay in the same boat and figure out how to get along and love folks. Even those who sound so very hateful and who support a guy who…well…it doesn’t really matter. We’ve got to get back to the drawing board and figure out how in the world to love that guy, too. We have to get ourselves ready for understanding to break through between us – for compassion and wisdom to light the way to embracing each other again. (I’m not sure we ever did get there in the past, but it was easier to imagine it – to get glimpses of it anyway.)

We do have to keep longing for Truth and putting ourselves on the line for the well-being of the vulnerable. We have to insist, with love, that all of God’s children are welcome and treated justly.  Luckily, we have little homes, tribes, covens, congregations and sanghas to yearn with us and support us in this effort.

After all of my wandering – and my highly creative Bay Area and south Minneapolis leanings – I thought my Home or my Tribe was going to be way cooler. It was gonna be frickin’ awesome. I thought it would be fancier, more polished, or at least more Feng Shui. For sure, I assumed there would be organic and vegan options. But I guess that’s not what I was really longing for. Here I am: A happy wanderer, home at last.

There is a labyrinth out there behind the weeds, after all. And we do have free-range chicken and duck eggs, and gluten-free options.

Y’all come visit. You’ll be most welcome.

Wichita 2017

Sifting and Seeking Truth

“This above all: to thine own self be true…”
 William Shakespeare, Hamlet

But strive first for the realm of God and God’s righteousness,
and all these things will be given to you as well.

– Jesus’ Teaching, Matthew 6:33

Above Palisades 3How can we talk to each other about what we know to be Sacred? I’m often at a loss for knowing how to connect with others because our spiritual understandings vary so widely.

Perhaps we have a particular tradition in common or spiritual teacher, master, guru, or writer whom we may reference and point towards. We may point to inspirational stories, words that have offered comfort, or a moral guideline which we feel is essential and then we can discuss our similarities and differences, doubts and confusion. More often, though, we have widely varying beliefs and have few people to talk to about these things. The teachings we bump into are all over the map.

Each of us has our own way of “knowing” and understanding, we each have different life experiences, different levels of openness to new thought and differing barriers or obstacles. At a certain point we reach an impasse with, well, everyone – unless we value unquestioning faith and blind trust. There is probably no one person who believes exactly as we do.

My ultimate Guide is an internal one, connected to Spirit. We each are born with a sort of inner GPS which helps us to navigate and find our way. Another metaphor that might be more helpful is that of an “inner filter.”

We take a particular story, lesson, or belief and pass it through the interior filter. For instance, though I have studied religion, philosophy, and spirituality in great depth, all of those classes and each of those teachings have to first pass through this filtration system before any material makes it into my archive of Truth (and truth today is not always truth for tomorrow). Words, beliefs, moral standards must pass through the following filters:

  • Who is telling me this story, experience, belief, or moral teaching? Are they a person of wisdom and integrity? Or innocence and truth? Are they without guile, self-interest or bias? The scriptural phrase that comes to mind is, “By their fruits you shall know them.” Is the source of the information a truly good/wise/truthful one?
  • How does this story, experience, belief, or moral teaching interact with my foundational beliefs? (Beliefs such as, “Love God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.” Or “Do no harm to yourself or others.” Or “Treat others as you would wish to be treated.”) Does it promote goodwill and well-being for all or does it promote harm/oppression/injustice/rigidity/ selfishness/fear (etc.)? Note: Some of our ancient religious teachings don’t meet this standard. Just because it made sense in one time and setting, does not mean it unquestioningly applies today. The Sacred calls us to keep filtering.
  • Then – perhaps the most subjective of filters – does this story, experience, belief, or moral teaching contain an essence of Living Spirit, God, Highest Consciousness or my Higher Power as I define that Power? Does it resonate with my experience of that Spirit/God/Consciousness/Power in my life? Perhaps we are presented with dogma or rules or beliefs that are part of a religious, moral or political tradition that don’t meet the highest values or truth of this same tradition. We must set those inferior or untrue teachings aside. Perhaps there is a layer of truth, but other false teachings have been added to it, then we must sort this out. Does it align with the One we seek prayerful guidance from?

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My mind keeps turning away from spirituality to the world of politics as I’m writing because this filtering process obviously applies there, too. But my primary purpose today is to talk about our spiritual growth process – mine and yours. This bright light of spiritual truth, once filtered, is the beacon we need to shine on social, political, relational situations as we seek the right path.

I don’t know about you, but I am easily distracted from spiritual growth. That’s not a problem though, because if the distraction grows and I ignore my path, I become so miserable that I’m forced to return. This has been the basic road map of my spiritual walk. Hopefully, you’re not as easily set off-course as I am.

Once we are on our path, here are some basics:

  • Spend time connecting to Living Spirit every day, and seek to sustain that connection throughout the day.
  • See everything that comes your way as an avenue of spiritual learning and growth, whether you’re cleaning the kitchen, fixing the car, meditating on a mountaintop, listening to an upsetting political speech, or sitting in a dull meeting.
  • Stay with those deep Truths, the ones that have lifted you again and again from the muck and mire of life. Stay with what you know from your own experience to be true. When it becomes blurry, seek the guidance of Spirit and of trusted friends and mentors.
  • Send everything (including your own beliefs) through the filtration system.
  • Soak in the Love and Light of Spirit as often as you can – through whatever avenues lift you (silence, music, nature, prayer, writing, companionship, play, creativity, and so on).
  • Give thanks for every small or large miracle, gift or grace in your life. Share these stories with yourself and others again and again. Gratitude and joy are close companions.
  • When all else fails, start over with the first step (return to your Source).

P.S. Moving out of the purely spiritual realm and going back to politics – to be clear and not vague: If all of this light, love and filtration is applied to the teachings of Neo-Nazis (or traditional Nazis), or to the teachings of the KKK, obviously these land in the “rejected beliefs” pile. Right??? I’ve been reminded again lately that it is our job to share love and light AND to speak up for others who are the objects of hatred or injustice, even when it seems too obvious to need articulating. To be passive is to passively agree or accept the words of haters. In the process above LOVE WINS everytime!

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Learning how to shine in dark times

“The world today is challenging and life so confusing that sometimes you feel overwhelmed by its seeming craziness. This is the Kali Yuga; you are living through the depth of negativity foretold in scripture thousands of years ago. It is true that you are living in difficult times, and… it is also true that you signed up for these times. You signed up because you wanted to serve the light. You wanted to perform work of great value
and so your being alive at this time is no accident.

You were called to earth to hold light steady in an unsteady world. You answered the call. And once you responded to the call, there was nothing more for you to do.
From The Circle of Grandmothers, netoflight.org, “December 12, 2016 Newsletter”

Circle of Light“You were called to earth to hold light steady in an unsteady world.” That task is both awe-inspiring and a daunting. Right? It is so easy, these days, to be swept into reacting, into darkness instead of holding steady and radiating light. I react every time I open my Twitter feed and read the latest news in the world of politics. Ugh. I allow myself to indulge in this for a limited period of time – and some days not at all. If I am feeling depleted, it is far better if I focus on what I love and the beauty I am surrounded by, and try to be of some help to my fellow humans on this planet.

Most days, though, a primary reason for allowing myself to RT on Twitter and voice my daily opinion, is to be of support to those who are out there doing the hard work of keeping a close eye on things – investigating, planning strategies, and basically seeking Truth and justice. I’m not one who is called to be on the front lines of that process these days, but I do my small part to say “thank you” to those who are so called.

Pasque FlowerI’ve been loving my spiritual path as it unfolds lately – lots of light has been streaming through – gathering “sisters” in a circle at my home, venturing out to meditate with mindful Buddhists, drumming Kirtan-style down near Denver, playing with profound, wise and crazy grandkids, reflecting and hiking (soaking in earth energy) with my soul mate and chatting with soul friends. When I am engaged in this way, it feels like I’m doing my bit to channel the Light.

Some reassuring words from the Circle of Grandmothers state, “As soon as you said ‘Yes’ to us, you became an instrument for light. So now, at every moment, light and love are flooding through you. Unfortunately sometimes you become so distracted by the drama surrounding you that you lose awareness of this. But the truth is, you are channeling light – you are always channeling light. Even when you feel tired, discouraged, and lost, you aren’t really lost. As soon as you answered, ‘Yes,’ we stepped in to fill you, to guide and direct you, so that now you are never alone. Never! We are as close to you as your breath.” (From The Circle of Grandmothers, Sharon McErlane, netoflight.org, “December 12, 2016 Newsletter”)

I love this reminder. Our connection to the universal powers-that-be is greater than the strength of the earthly ones who seek to spread darkness. Thank goodness. The forces of Love and Light uphold us always – whether we can see or feel them or not.

And so I’m giving thanks today for earthly sisters and brothers, near and far – you are each bright lights as you anchor your point on the net of light. Thank you for being out there! Love you.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes

 

“My love is on the high seas”

On a quiet evening at the beginning of May,
When the bat was in the skies,
I heard a tearful young maiden

Singing beneath the shadow of the green branches…”
– “
Tha Mo Ghaol Air Àird A’ Chuain,”
as arranged by Julie Fowlis, Kris Drever & Iain MacDonald

img_2209Julie Fowlis performs a traditional Gaelic tune about being parted, lost love, fear, grief, and joy. It has a magical, mystical quality to it.

My daughter, a mom, visual artist and illustrator (who is often at home caring for her daughters as her partner – and true love – travels), was inspired. She collaborated with Julie to create this video – “Tha mo ghaol air àird a’ chuain” or “My love is on the high seas.”

img_2203I love the air of mysteriousness and both the fear and love of this woman set side-by-side. It captures the longing we feel when our hearts are reaching out to what is most dear for us…but still we can’t quite “touch” it. Finally, the love and longing manifest into reality – from darkness, joy emerges. Her true love touches her hand and the spells of grief and longing are broken at last. Joyful reunion begins.

Life is like that sometimes and we treasure the miracles that are beyond words. These are the tales that only music and art can help us to capture and even then only partially.

img_2206Most of us know the feeling. Some reunions we experience in full now, others we still long and wait for – holding vigil in our hearts. But hope continues. We can feel the presence and connection that love provides in life and beyond. We know the truth: though we can’t always see it, love abides and lives.

Hope you enjoy it. Share it if you do!

(Shared with permission of Julie Fowlis and Courtney O’Connell Carlson.)
“Tha Mo Ghaol Air Àird A’ Chuain” English/Gaelic Lyrics and information

Courtney O’Connell Carlson illustration website

Back to Basics: Who do we stand with?

“Speak for those who cannot speak;
seek justice for all those on the verge of destruction.”
– Proverbs 31:8 (ISV)

interfaith-symbols

Everybody has their point of reference – a family, a community from which they discover their perspective. Sometimes we stay the same as our original family or group; other times, our perspectives are reactions against the way we’ve been raised; and sometimes we take what our families have given us and put our own spin on it. For the most part, I’m in the latter category. (Image source: http://www.peacemonger.org)

Lately, the world has been dividing itself into categories. So, who do you identify with? What categories do you fall in? Mine are:

+ Progressive Christian
+ Interfaith spirituality/eclectic Universalist beliefs
+ According to a conservative definition, I think I fall into the “hippie” category (which is somewhat hilarious – a truly boring hippie)
+ Feminist (prayerfully, peacefully, lovingly)
+ Nature lover/environmentalist (with some realism, some idealism)
+ Celebrate diverse humanity – I believe we are better humans when we embrace lots of differences – racial diversity, age diversity, ethnic diversity, diverse expressions of gender and sexual preferences, diversity of body size/shape, religious diversity and so on and so forth….

I could go on, but you get the picture. So, when certain groups are targeted and under fire, who do you stand up with and for?  What kind of oppression and persecution gets you so riled up that you get off your couch and march/make a phone call/write a letter/join a group?

As a long-time person of faith, a progressive Christian minister, the go-to phrases that come to mind during times of crisis are well known: “Love your neighbor as yourself,” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The Judeo-Christian tradition is filled with reminders to never oppress, always to welcome “foreigners” or strangers, because we were once strangers ourselves. And there is that lovely passage from the old King James bible, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Hebrews 13:2) I believe this is reminding us that there is God-light in every person and we dare not turn away people based on our own fear of differences – we have no idea how precious that person is to the Divine (or how sacred to others).

So, I guess I arrive at a place where my job is to stand up to oppressors for any human being who is being unjustly treated. Of all the values taught in each world religion and for anyone claiming to be Christian, the highest value is Love. To use the words of Jesus or Buddha or Mohammed or any of our great spiritual leaders to do harm or to persecute is the greatest perversion of the Truth. So, we must revive an old saying and, “Speak the Truth to Power with Love.” Say it, sing it, paint it, dance it, mail it, phone it, sculpt it, shout it. But do it for love (not anger or hate). Stand up.

we-all-belong-here-poster

Note: Downloadable poster or coloring book may be found here.