Tag Archives: religion

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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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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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.

Spiritual Journeying in Northern California

It was already late/ enough, and a wild night, / and the road full of fallen / branches and stones. / But little by little, / as you left their voices behind, / the stars began to burn / through the sheets of clouds, / and there was a new voice / which you slowly recognized as your own, / that kept you company / as you strode deeper and deeper / into the world, / determined to do / the only thing you could do – / determined to save / the only life you could save.                                            – from Mary Oliver, The Journey

Here’s a quick and somewhat disjointed reflection on my first week of study in interfaith spiritual direction at Chaplaincy Institute, Berkeley:

Last week at this time, the Campanile on the Cal Berkeley campus would be chiming 7:00 p.m. It would just be starting to turn cool and, from my “holy hill” window, I might see the marine layer of fog forming in the distance. The memory provides a stark contrast to the dry 106 degree weather-reality this evening, here in Bakersfield.

What a rich week of experience, learning and “being.” I wasn’t sure if I would love the course or hate it. My reaction to things like this tend not to be “in the middle”! Upon arriving at the funky, comfortable classroom – located in a section of a church gymnasium with a wood floor, large worn rug and numerous worn couches – I had the chance to encounter my fellow classmates for the first time.

We didn’t waste much time before sharing and listening to one another – practicing the skills of listening with open hearts and minds. We began to discover that our fellow journeyers were fascinating folks. The conversations that ensued falls under the veil of solemn sharing – so I won’t recount much in the way of anecdotes. But the diversity of my fellow students – from traditional Southern Baptist and Roman Catholic to Unitarian, Wiccan, Jewish, and Buddhist – was powerful. Not that such variety is unusual, but that such openness and respect from all these varied directions is rare indeed.

Each student was open to learning from the others and from the speakers who shared with us. During this first unit we heard from a Wiccan high priestess, a Daoist priest, and a Hindu Swami. As a group, we “sampled” some of each tradition so that spoken word became sacred experience. This, for me, is part of the wonder and excitement of being a part of this process.

We also, as I said, began to learn some of the skills we will employ as “spiritual directors” or spiritual mentors, and guides. I was glad to hear our instructor say that the historic and traditional term “spiritual direction” is problematic because what we do is largely non-directional. To me, that was great news!

Our time with clients is about “deep and mindful listening.” The spiritual (non-) director’s most important job is to hold space for the other person as he or she encounters the sacred or explores mystical energies. We are here to witness and accompany the other on the journey.

It was also affirming to discover that each of us seems to have gifts and experiences that have prepared us to do this. For many of us, our spiritual experience has been our lifeline through life’s challenges and trials.

By carefully opening doors and removing the barriers, we begin to embark upon this journey together. We get ourselves out of the way and let the mystical encounter begin.

I love being a part of a small group of people who have chosen to make this experience, study and practice a part of our growth over the next eighteen months. We are chaplains, therapists, hospice volunteers, clergy, artists and ordinary human beings on spiritual journeys. We are wise, foolish, whole, wounded, veterans and beginners. But we each share openness to experiencing the Divine, the sacred, the energy that vibrates through the universe. Who knows where it will take us?

May the unfolding begin….