Tag Archives: Christianity

Isolation Journal: Week Four (I think that’s right…maybe….)

Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing.
We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem,
but the truth is that things don’t really get solved.
They come together and they fall apart.
Then they come together again and fall apart again.
It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room
for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.

– Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart

Things do seem to have fallen apart and there is still room to fall some more. We feel like we’re on one of those elevators that begins to fall, stops, then falls some more and stops again. We don’t know if we’re at the bottom yet. I look around at this precarious juncture, feel terrified, and think, “Maybe it’s time for a cup of coffee” or “Time for another Hallmark movie or Britcom.”

Often, during this roller coaster ride (yes, mixing metaphors is allowed during lockdowns) it is easier to distract oneself, to find tiny avenues of comfort (coffee, movies, blankets, showers, food, walking) rather than to stop, sit still, and take in this moment’s reality. This week, with the support of some of my favorite people* – online and by telephone – I’ve had the opportunity to sit still and take in the moment. Despite my internal resistance and intense addiction to distraction right now, I’ve had moments of collective stillness and illumination with these folks, moments of deep peace.

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from Sufi Scribe, Facebook

On this day, there is global heaviness unrelated to the pandemic – it is both Good Friday and the third evening of Passover. Humans will take themselves through very painful memories concerning suffering, human failings and cruelty, and will recall those few women and men who found a way to be compassionate and present even during such times.

Moments of illumination, where we can find them, help us to shake off the cosmic heaviness and the “briefings,” “summaries” and alerts coming through the news media. One part of us takes in the data, the news, while the moments of stillness, acceptance, groundedness, and turning toward the Sacred help us to take in something else.

This morning the Friday Summary that popped up in my email was very grim – illness, death tolls, lack of resources, potential food shortages, economic meltdown, political stalemate and so on. As I took my shower following that mental jolt, the phrase that popped into my head was from Byron Katie’s “Four Questions” – “Can you absolutely know that it’s True?”

Katie points to the same reality as Pema Chodron – but she arrives there using a different set of tools. Katie suggests that you identify your stressful thoughts using her “Judge your neighbor” worksheet. Once you’ve written out your fears, stressors, and bald faced complaints, you apply the four questions to what you’ve written. The first question: “Is it true?” The second question sometimes brings one up short, “Can you absolutely know that it’s true?”

For example: If I write, “The world is falling apart. Everything is horrible.” Is it true? Yes. From my perspective, this is true and the news says it’s true. But can I absolutely know it is true? Hmmm…. Well…I suppose not. People are being extraordinarily heroic, sharing resources, sharing their lives and livelihoods. The earth and its creatures are having a IMG-0376hay day. Mountaintops are visible, waters are running more clear. Goats, deer, and sheep (even javelinas) are romping through towns unobstructed by traffic. And actually, now that I think of it and look around, it is a sunny day, flowers are blooming, I have fresh water to drink, I have adequate food, I have shelter, I even have enough TP for the next week or so – and chocolate. So, maybe I can’t absolutely say it is true that everything is horrible. (There are two more questions and interesting turnarounds on the worksheet. Check it out.)

But for the time it took us to write this stuff down, to apply the questions and sit with them, we have held our fears and faced them. We’ve looked at them from one side and another. And we’ve come out in another place. Even in much more dire circumstances, there is some miraculous transformation which can take place as one applies these questions – to any and all situations.

Pema Chodron writes:

“Fear is a universal experience. Even the smallest insect feels it. We wade in the tidal pools and put our finger near the soft, open bodies of sea anemones and they close up. Everything spontaneously does that. It’s not a terrible thing that we feel fear when faced with the unknown. It is part of being alive, something we all share. We react against the possibility of loneliness, of death, of not having anything to hold on to. Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.
“If we commit ourselves to staying right where we are, then our experience becomes very vivid. Things become very clear when there is nowhere to escape.”

So, my summary of Week Four of my journal is that:

  • I’ve had moments of mindlessness – distraction to the point of forgetting which way I was going and why more than once (I also found my measuring tape in a most unlikely place).
  • I’ve had some very low moments of grief. The overwhelming death toll numbers in New York City, illness numbers here in the Navaho Nation, and the death of John Prine was an individual low point – he has been one of the sensitive and accurate narrators of life during my time – and I have just always liked his melodies, humility, hope, humor and grit.
  • IMG-0335I’ve had irrational fears (Do I feel odd? Am I getting sick? Did I remember to bleach the door handle after I washed and bathed the groceries?) including a dream about bugs and worms getting into the house, the food.
  • And I’ve had moments of joy – phone calls from grandkids, kids, friends, and walks with Johnny. I’ve even had some moments of enlightenment – thanks to my favorite shamans, gurus, ministers, and friends.

Several years ago, when I was really grieving and struggling with my sister’s cancer, my daughter sent me this quote from Pema:

Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation
can that which is indestructible be found in us.

I cried and cried and was deeply comforted by this truth. We can’t get to the core of things by floating around carefree. We find the indestructible connection, we find the eternal by coming face to face with our own impermanence.

As a collective, we have the opportunity to face this together. I am so grateful for taking this journey with all of you.

Love,
Karen

P.S. Another unlikely “winner” we’ve noticed during all of this. Trampoline sales appear to be skyrocketing.

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* Some favorites this week (in no particular order):

Contemplative Monk on Facebook (Bob Holmes)

The Four Winds Society (Alberto Villodo) on Facebook – livestream shaman updates

-The Psychology Babes on Facebook

Rumi, Saadi, Hafiz (Poems & Quotes) on Facebook

Netoflight.org (website)and Facebook (Sharon McErlane) – have enjoyed livestream events

Isolation Journal: Week Three (needing some Love)

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from your presence
and take not your holy Spirit from me.

Give me the joy of you saving help again
and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.
–     from Psalm 51

IMG-0220I am in a religious-y mood today, which probably makes sense. In two days it will be Palm Sunday which marks the beginning of Holy Week, the most solemn week in the Christian tradition. Passover begins next Wednesday – the Jewish celebration of the Exodus from slavery in Egypt and God’s sparing of the children of Israel from a deadly plague. It is a religious-y time. Undoubtedly, much will be made of the experience of suffering and the ultimately hopeful messages in these traditions in the week to come and parallels to our current situation will be drawn.

I am no longer tasked, though, with helping to make sense of such things for others (as I was in my ministry). I am, like many others who are now mostly retired, left instead to simply live the experiences life brings me from day to day. Primarily, the task for me now is to find meaning in the rhythms of the day. This is a challenge for those of us who have found our worth in serving others, or just in doing.

IMG-0266Most of this week has been quiet, with moments of true contentment in our sweet little life. We putter around, we clean and cook, we chat, we go for our walk. We had one joyful delivery of food and one mildly frustrating delivery (the frustration lies in the lack of control over things). Spring – nearly summer here in Arizona – brings beauty and new life. John and I are also celebrating 10 years of being back in contact with each other in just over a week – a reunion for which we are grateful each day.

We are all also living under stress and new circumstances – which change somewhat every hour. We have new rules, new routines. We have new challenges and fears. And we are bombarded with numbers, stories, theories, and fears by the dozens. We see people rising to heroics and people hoarding and buying handguns. We wonder where to look for wisdom and leadership.

So, today, I am sad. There’s no one particular reason. Mortality and the exhausting efforts to stay healthy have worn me down a bit. The world’s grief is palpable, loss is palpable. Danger lurks around every turn.

IMG-0248Oddly, I think part of it is also that my birthday is coming up, too. In adulthood, I have often had an emotional “dip” around my birthday. I don’t think I’m sad about getting older at birthday time. It feels like a grief about how life and gifts and things aren’t able to soothe the soul. Grief that stuff like food, presents, activities don’t deliver joy or healing.

When melancholy sets in like this, I’ve found only the most basic steps will help.

  • Being gentle with oneself. Curling up with a blanket and a book or movie, taking a hot bath, having a cry as needed, then a nap. Sometimes writing helps, music helps.
  • Subtle, real nourishment. Comfort food helps only a bit, but real nourishing food – like soup or stew – seems to help the healing along.
  • It helps to tell a friend that you’re feeling blue, feeling low. It especially helps to talk to a friend who won’t try to fix us, who will just walk with us and be with us as we find our way.
  • Words and prayers like the ones in the psalm, above, help me. This psalm has been one I have resonated with since my early 12 Step days. The words recognize that the one speaking them is off kilter – perhaps based on actions, or perhaps based on attitude – but they remind us that the Sacred is waiting, in fact invites us, to reunite and get back on track. Divine Love is waiting for each of us (as needed) with open arms. And I have learned again and again and again that there is nothing (yes, nothing) that can separate us from this Love.

I think we all need to give ourselves a little break right now. A break from high expectations. At least a momentary break from the rigors we are putting ourselves through. Spiritually and emotionally, we each need to be held for a moment in this divine Love and Compassion.

This reality brings to mind a chapter in a beloved book, Traveling Mercies, by Anne Lamott. In this memoir, Anne tells of the death of a beloved friend in her eighties and how it had really brought her to a low point. It was springtime and had been rainy, but her friend, Nashama, suggested that they go for a walk – so they did. Lamott writes:

Suddenly…the ground and vegetation at our feet began to get a little watery, and then we began to hear sucking noises, swampy quicksandy sucking noises, and pretty soon my overpriced walking sandals had been swallowed up by mud…

“Let me help you there, little lady,” I said. “I’ll go up first and then give you a hand.”
        …
“Is this a good idea?” she asked. “Are you braced?”

“Yes,” I insisted, and pulled her toward me, and she lifted up off the ground and moved upward a couple of feet, until I started sliding back down toward her and we both landed noisily on our butts in the mud….

I was laughing so hard that I felt maniacal and not at all sure that I wasn’t about to cry. But I felt like air was bubbling into a place inside me that hadn’t been getting much lately….

Against the sparkly black screen behind my eyes, all these people appeared, like people in a come-as-you-are fashion show, strangers to each but beloved by me. There were all the sick little kids we know, and all the friends who had died…and the old people in my family and church who had grown so suddenly frail.… And I thought to myself, “Well, no wonder you’re this sad.” The silence of the marsh was…profound….

When Neshama and I finally got up to go, I was still sad, but better. This is the most profound spiritual truth I know: that even when we’re most sure that love can’t conquer all, it seems to anyway. It goes down into the rat hole with us, in the guise of our friends, and there it swells and comforts. It gives us second winds, third winds, hundredth winds. It struck me that I have spent so much time trying to pump my way into feeling…solace.… The truth is that your spirits don’t rise until you get way down. Maybe it’s because this – the mud, the bottom – is where it all rises from…. At the marsh, all that mud and one old friend worked like a tenderizing mallet. Where before there had been tough fibers, hardness, and held breath, now there were mud, dirt, water, air, mess – and I felt soft and clean.   (Traveling Mercies, Pantheon Books, NY, 1999, pages 257-265.)

Go easy on yourself and your loved ones right now. We are all raw and hurting. No wonder we are all so sad underneath it all. Life is tough in a big, real way. But love – human or divine – can bring us through. Turn toward love, turn toward the Source of solace, and you will find that you are held.

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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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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.

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