In out-of-the-way places of the heart,Where your thoughts never think to wander,This beginning has been quietly forming,Waiting until you were ready to emerge.For a long time it has watched your desire,It watched you play with the seduction of safety,Simultaneously hearing waves of the beckoning unknown rise and relent,Wondered would you always live like this.Then the delight, when your courage kindled,And out you stepped onto new ground,Your eyes young again with energy and dream,A path of plentitude opening before you.Though your destination is not yet clearYou can trust the promise of this opening;Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginningThat is at one with your life’s desire.Awaken your spirit to adventure;Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;Soon you will be at home in a new rhythm,For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
I’ve been working out a Word in me for 2016. I’m calling it the Year of Abandon.
Ready to leave some things behind – some things that haven’t served me, and even a lot of things that have. Ready to accept loss as a part of life. Ready to commit fully to something, to completely live…and still know how to say good-bye.
Mostly it’s time to abandon who I thought I was. Leave her behind. Pack up what I can carry, take one last look at what I thought would be my home forever, prepare to travel unencumbered, and set out for the new.
Abandonment has an uneasy tone to it. And I like how uncomfortable it makes me feel. No one wants to be abandoned, nor to abandon anything.
It’s like quitting midway. A work in progress you leave sitting untouched. There’s a sense that there’s still usefulness there in what remains…but nevertheless, something urgent calls you on. You must go. You must leave it. You must.
The call to abandon starts out softly, but everyday becomes more urgent….steady, consistent, obvious. Something is uneasy. A longing to be whole. The awareness of feeling incomplete. No…divided is a better word. Something old and familiar lingers heavy, threatening the resignation.This growing sense that somehow the joy that has always seemed so elusive suddenly feels attainable, but demanding something of you as well.
Then a loud whisper, “Joy is in honoring her.” Not this her you are abandoning, the other her, she who calls you to set out into the unknown. She tells you, there is a light on the path, and all you must do is walk. And you feel you must heed this voice. It sounds wise, like Presence, like a forgotten companion, like a dear friend to your weary soul. Weary of trying, desperate to be. You go.
She tells you, “Joy is in honoring the gifts you’ve been given…nurture them in winter, and give them away in the spring.” She tells you that your tendency to cling, to hold on, your refusal to let go, this is what can wreck a soul.
There is irony is this. Because there is a recklessness about abandon. It gives everything up. It lets everything go. It forsakes what it knows. It holds nothing captive. It takes no ownership. It is under no influence. It insists upon being unhindered.
It is a higher-self freedom. A sustained “Yes” in my soul. An abandoning to something…
And up there, in that thin air, Joy unfolds itself.
“Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans; that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.”
The illustration above is of the magi, or Three Wise Men. They mark the season of Advent for me. Advent being, this journey, (or really)…a willingness to embark on a journey towards some light that calls us. Like the magi, who saw a star and began to follow it towards what they believed, Advent invites us to ask many questions – about what we believe and where we might be going.
The Gospel of Matthew tells this story of wise men from the east who came to Jerusalem asking, “Where is the child who has been born…? For we observed his star at its rising and have come to pay him honor.” These men of wisdom, knowledge and science…were also believers.They had certain facts, based on observations, but their knowledge of science didn’t seem to limit their faith…it initiated it.
I think of how often we allow science, facts, logic to interfere with belief. To know, is a guiding principle in our lives. We are educated to be critical thinkers and ascertain truth based on the analysis we undertake. We form thesis based on careful research of life and experience. 2+2 equals 4. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. These are more than observations, they become proven facts – mathematical and physical laws. If asked to believe that 2+2 just may indeed equal 5, our rational minds could not easily travel to this absurd place of impossibility. It is simply wrong. Our rational minds could not, but perhaps our more childlike wonder-filled spirits may begin to imagine, a world that was not limited by knowledge, but a world excited by miracles and magic.
This is why I love Advent and the Christmas season. It’s an invitation to imagine a world. This world is more than a place where a child was born to a virgin teenage girl. It’s a place where a child was born to be a perfect light in a dark world. A child come to light the way for us to find our own way back to the divinity inherent in us all. The rational mind will say, “Impossible…if there ever was such a light, it’s surely gone out now…I’ve seen too much, and done too much to believe such a simple fairytale.” But the fairytale is not the story…the story that remains is, we are all this light. All little lights born in a manger, into a dark world full of fear and violence. And as life goes on, our lights grow dimmer, eventually overshadowed by the dark spots that slowly and persistently mar and cover us. We make observations along the way from our own experiences – a violent childhood, a broken heart, a dream deferred, a secret shame – these become our facts of life that only belief in a miracle can undo.
The miracle says what reality cannot. The miracle tells a story that is beyond the mind. The miracle asks that we commit to believing a divine truth, even when the facts undoubtedly prove our terrible, more present reality.
The wise men had all the facts too. Then they observed this star. They were astronomers, who’d likely seen thousands of stars, but this star they chose to Follow. They followed this star beyond science, beyond knowledge, beyond experience, and found themselves on a spiritual journey.
The alternative to believing what violence, brokenness and shame has told us we are, is to trust that everything we’ve experienced has occurred, and is occurring, to compel us towards a deeper understanding of who we truly are and who God is for us and for this world. Yet, trust, is the very thing that most often holds us back from belief. How can we trust something that doesn’t make sense? In a world that says we get what we deserve, how can we trust a miracle that says, regardless of what we’ve done or what has been done to us, we are all called children of the light?
The wise men set their hearts to trust that what they knew WAS. There was no conflict between knowledge and belief in the impossible. They were astronomers and believers. And they let a star lead them into a foreign city and asked, “Where is the child?”
“Where are you, child, this Advent season?”
“What do you know?”
“Can you believe in the miracle that you are?”
“Will you commit to the possibility that you too are on a journey towards a new light?”
“Can you recognize the light that seems to beckon you?”
“Can you get in touch with your deepest desire at this moment in your life?”
“How can you be be faithful to the light that calls you?”
“What movement or inner direction does this Advent season suggest to you?”
The wise men chose to move towards honoring what they observed.
My advent prayer is to honor what I observe within myself and commit to showing up to honor the light that calls me, to respect this star, to be faithful to the woman I see becoming in me.
Won’t you join me?
Vision and purpose are revealed. Plans are made once you get the revelation. Being a goal-oriented, to-do-list-happy people, we often confuse the process. If anything, plans are the work we must do to live into the potential of what has been revealed; to live into the potential of who we now know we are.
I’m all for vision boards. But at a point, there’s a concrete distinction between what we identify as what we want (ie. What I put on my vision board are my ideas and I’m telling God, the universe, myself…what I want) vs. the type of vision that is revealed, the sort of vision you weren’t even thinking about, can’t even imagine. This kind of vision hadn’t even crossed your mind until it was placed there. Or, it had always been there, in your mind, but only visible to your mind’s seeing eye in a state of consciousness you hadn’t the practice to be aware of. This is the kind of vision I speak of. It’s more of a revelation. And it’s such a revelation that it often cannot even be spoken of. You can’t manifest this kind of vision. IT will manifest you.
The word revelation comes from the Latin revelare or the English, reveal. Revelare is to lay bare, it’s origin is ‘re’ + ‘velum’ ….the ‘re’ expresses a reversal, meaning again. The ‘velum’ is veil. To reveal…is the bringing to light of something that’s gone unnoticed to you. Something that was once known, but somehow became unknown to you, is now being laid bare…uncovered. It already existed…so it’s more like a re-sharing of knowledge. It’s now knowledge for everyone, but you’ve been chosen, selected to be privy to this information. So revelation comes like a whispered secret. It’s not shouted…it’s not Facebook messaged…it’s not casually mentioned. And you can’t force the holder of the information to tell you. It will be revealed, in their own time, when they are ready…when you are ready. But stillness, silence, and solitude (I call them the Three S’s)…they are postures for receiving revelation. This posture signals to the teller, that you are ready for the hidden facts, that you will honor these secrets.
We’re always looking for something to do. Being still is a daily challenge even for me, who is one not overly inclined to being active or busy-ness. And being still as I am of late, I do think there is some truth to the old saying, “Idle minds are the devils workshop” so I understand every word of advise and inner resistance we have to what feels like doing nothing. Yet every day, despite “warnings,” I choose to notice the gentle urging for me to remain in this quiet rest of contemplation. Maybe having an intention, to put all of this stillness and waiting in context, helps.
If you desire to know something – Who am I? What am I doing? When will it come? Where am I going? Why am I here?
Rest, my loves. Let vision come. You cannot force its hand. Let purpose be revealed. God works slow. We have to slow down. We have to slow down if we ever want to see…
IT COMES FROM the Latin vocare, to call, and means the work a man is called to by God. There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of Society, say, or the Super-ego, or Self-interest. By and large a good rule for finding out is this. The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing TV deodorant commercials, the chances are you’ve missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a) but probably aren’t helping your patients much either. Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do.
The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.
Last weekend I spent Saturday at a retreat/lecture with one of my Christian Mystic teachers, Jim Finley. He’s amazing. Wise and profound. But what moved me more than his godly insight was the presence of several other teachers I saw there. My very first ever, spiritual director, Ravi. A woman named Carolyn who counseled me during a challenging post-seminary transition. And my current spiritual director, Greta. They were all thrilled to see me. They are the kind of teachers I’ve always been blessed with throughout my life. The ones who look at me and think I’m just amazing, and see my future as so big and bright. I cherish their vision of me, especially at times when seeing my own potential is clouded by doubts and fear.
During a break, I chatted with Carolyn about how things were going in my life. I told her I’m still on the journey. For a moment as I talked with her, I looked around the room, at a sea of mostly Caucasian faces, mostly 50 years old and up, and I found myself telling Carolyn, that sometimes I feel like an outcast. But it’s not here at events like these that I feel like I don’t belong, here where it may seem obvious I was out of place. No, I told her. It’s out there…amongst my peers, my friends in their thirties, living life, working jobs, starting families, having fun. Out there, this spiritual life isn’t a popular course of life to undertake. “Maybe, to be fair,” I ask her, “it’s not an easy undertaking any age?” Carolyn listened, and when she spoke she told me, “Remember what Jim said at the beginning of the day…the mystic way is like making a U-turn on the freeway in the middle of rush hour.” “Yes,” I told her, “I remember.”
I am one of those wild ones who dared enough to make the U-turn on the freeway…but now I’m sitting here, facing traffic head on, thinking I’m now actually going to get somewhere.
The foolishness of it all. The audacity to believe.
When doubt sets in, you need something to stand on. You need to remember that you’ve made moves like this before and you did in fact get somewhere. You need vision. You need to be able to look back, and look ahead all the while staying present to the now.
One month away from my 35th birthday I find myself excited. Sitting in rush hour traffic, excited. Now I’m five years closer to the big 4-0, which I know many women dread, but I have always had this strange fascination with turning 40. Because when I look ahead, I can see myself there. The same me, just a little wiser, a bit more content, a lot less concerned with what others think of me. I can see her there. Stronger, more convinced that this path she’s chosen is actually trustworthy.
Because I’ll be honest, even as I write and share, the more I write and share, the more people encourage me and thank me for sharing, the more convinced I am I know nothing! Nothing at all. Some days, to be honest, I’m not even sure there is a God, truly. And on those days the peace and the joy that are the promised fruits of the spiritual life, elude me.
So that’s when I look back.
25 was real, wasn’t it? I was just getting set to move to California. I had no idea what was ahead of me, but I had enough money saved to drive cross-country and pay a little rent. I entered seminary, graduated 3 years later with NO MONEY. But I kept following whispers. God kept favoring me. Every turn I took there was a teacher, a minister, a wise counselor. My whole life people have committed themselves to helping me make it through, seen something special in me, walked with me for a season, taught me the way. Taught me to notice God. So now I notice my life seems to follow a pattern. This isn’t my first U-turn on the freeway, and it won’t be my last. Taught me to pay attention to the unfolding. Taught me to embrace my becoming. Taught me to see that if here is good, next is better. Taught me to trust, that I’ve never gone backwards and I won’t go backwards now.
But believe me, when you make that first U-turn…it certainly feels like you’re going nowhere slow. Just breathe. Remember where you’re going, and remember where you’ve come from.
I call myself a contemplative. And lately, as I take rest to reconnect with my spiritual practice, I realize not only had I lost touch with the core of my contemplative self, but that many others do not understand the nature of contemplation or what it means to be a contemplative.
I’ve always been a thinker, even a self-confessed over-thinker. It’s kind of a pre-requisite for being a writer. Always ideas, always an active imagination, always an ongoing dialogue in my head, always a propensity to being still, because after all, you must be still enough to capture an idea when it comes. But being a contemplative doesn’t just suggest that one spends hours on end mulling over the meaning of life. Contemplation is a practice of cultivating an attitude of listening and responding to the movement of God in our lives. William J. Barry, who has written a lot about the practice of spiritual direction and contemplation says that, contemplation begins “when a person stops being totally preoccupied with his own concerns and lets another person, event, or object take his attention.” Contemplation then means a movement away from self-absorption towards becoming absorbed in a Being beyond oneself.
Contemplative prayer, more recognizably known as meditation, is the practice of going beyond oneself. And it is very challenging. As I sat in meditation this morning, my thoughts were going a mile a minute. The goal of contemplative prayer is not having no thoughts, rather it is allowing thoughts to come and pass, without latching onto them and being carried away by the stream of thoughts that pass constantly. That’s what makes the practice of meditation so difficult. Training the mind not follow its every whim is daily exercise and it can be a frustrating, never-ending journey. But this is the spiritual life. And at its core, a commitment to the spiritual life is a commitment to the work of freeing oneself from self-absorption and self-preoccupation. And when we are free from our self-determined ideas about who we are and what we must do, we are open to the movement of God and able to hear more clearly the activity to which God invites us to.
It’s easy to be busy doing, not so easy to get busy being. But the truth we all confront at some point in our lives, and the source of most all discontent is coming to terms with the reality that what we are doing does not wholly satisfy us. The question of the contemplative is always, “Who am I being?” And the answer to that question lay not in the doing, but always in the being. It can be a scary place to live, in the being of who we are, and we will always come up with every good reason not to stop and rest there.
I just took a big risk and forfeited a great paying job…two of them actually. Although I have a decent amount of money saved, choosing not to work right now is totally illogical.
But I have dreams. And in some downtime between a job that ended and another that was to begin, those dreams began to recur. Rest realigns your purpose. And that rest in between jobs gave me the space to remember what makes me happy, remember who I am, remember what I was born to do, who I was created to be. And all of that rest and remembering served me well. I remembered so well, and so vividly, that saying yes to another well paying job became more and more difficult.
What struck me most as I was making my decision, was how difficult it was for me to actually act on what I knew I wanted to do. I knew I didn’t want to take the jobs, I knew I had the financial freedom to say no to them, but the paralyzing crisis of freedom perplexed me. Why is it so difficult to actually do what you want, to say yes to yourself?
Trusting yourself is one of life’s greatest challenges. It takes practice. It requires a daily commitment to affirming yourself. Trusting yourself forces you to ask yourself everyday – Do I believe my potential? Are my dreams supported by the universe, God? Am I determined enough to make what exists in my imagination a reality?
Saying yes to yourself demands courage. You have to be daring enough to take a risk. Wild enough to follow your heart. Audacious enough to believe it is possible. And as I get older, my fearlessness in the face of the unknown is threatened with every obligation, every financial commitment, every idea that I must be, do, or have this or that, and everybody else’s better idea of who I am supposed to be according to them.
In the end, it all came down to a matter of the heart. When I lived out of my heart in the reality of working those jobs, I felt anxious. When I lived out of my heart in the reality of having the freedom to take time for myself and work towards executing my ideas and my vision, I felt peace. So, I chose peace. But I also learned that choosing peace doesn’t always mean you won’t be uncomfortable. There is always discomfort in the gray…in the space between black and white…that certainty of knowing, there is always discomfort. We prefer to be certain, we prefer to have answers, we prefer to have a plan clearly outlined, to follow a map. But there is also a map of the heart. And the only way to follow it is to rest in the peace of knowing that our hearts desires will in fact lead us somewhere. To some place where freedom and joy meet. Some place far off in the distance that even with perfect vision we can barely see. But it is there. We can glimpse it. And it can be felt, deep in our soul. It can be heard in the quietest of moments. It is a God whisper, saying to our soul…Yes. And we have to listen for that whisper of a feeling every day. We have to practice hearing it, practice saying yes to the unknown. Like a child who jumps in a pool for the first time, or takes her first ride on a bike. Children see other people do what they cannot yet and trust and believe they too will be able to swim and ride and be free. It just takes practice.
I struggle to be outraged or shocked at the events shaking our nation over the past year. I always prefer to see truth come to light. The current and recurring events reveal who we are as a nation, and that revelation gives me more comfort than any pretense of good or better than.
I have never believed the glorification of the foundation of our great nation America. At our core, we are a country born out of resentment and discontent. The founding fathers left a system of government that didn’t serve them, revolted and set sail for new land, stumbled upon America and stole her from native people through intentional acts of genocide, violently went to war against their brethren for their rights, formed a new government that better served their own interests, and build our nation’s economy on the backs of injustice.
This is our country. And it’s not a judgment, just a reality. I am American too, and suffer her freedoms and her wounds just the same.
The truth is, we are a proud and entitled people. We fight for what we feel we deserve. We look out for our own. We fashion our own truths to reflect what benefits us the most. (This is how our great Declaration of Independence could be written, signed, and still celebrated despite originating amidst all manner of immorality and wrongdoing.) We form our own beliefs, and with our freedom to create whatever philosophy or religion that serves us best and makes us the least uncomfortable, we have a created a world for ourselves that makes Justice impossible to be upheld. Justice fails to be a reality when we see the world through a self-serving and self-protective lens. If the very essence of justice is fairness, to stand for it requires a seeing beyond your Self.
The self-evident truths our nation are founded on infect us all and need to be replaced with the only Truth that will set us free… that we are all ONE. Our neighbor is our sister, and our enemy is our brother. The oppressed and the oppressors are one. The cops and the criminals are one. The news reporters and the activists are one. The murderers and the victims are one. The government and the people are one. The rich and the poor are one. The prosecutors and the defendants are one. The young and the old are one. You. And. I. Are. One.
But we cannot see this truth, and there will be no justice and there will be no peace…until we experience a revolution of the heart and the way we see.
So when we cry for Justice, what we are really crying for is Revolution. Because a people whose nation’s founding principles are rooted in self-interest, can never be rightly concerned with equity, fairness…Justice. And that is why there will be no justice until there is peace. Because there can never be justice without, until there is peace within.
I retranslated the classic gospel of Luke passage where Jesus is teaching about loving your enemies. I took this on recently after a spiritual teacher I greatly admire suggested the practice of transcribing sacred or profound writings as meditation. The daily exercise over the course of a week’s time, verse by verse, one or two a day, proved very revealing. Because really, this love your enemies talk isn’t as much to do with how we treat others, as it is to do with how we treat ourselves, and how we respond to the parts of ourselves that we find unlovable.
Seems Jesus knew the extremes to which we are willing to go to protect ourselves against the emergence of our true selves, and how easy it is to keep hidden from ourselves the parts we’d rather not admit. Our True Self – our whole integrated selves – demand that we take account for all parts of our selves. Otherwise we are fragmented, not whole, incomplete in our understanding of ourselves, and subsequently our understanding of others. Self-examination is the hardest part of spiritual work. But in order to connect with one another and love despite the flaws we find in them, we must be willing and able to connect with our own flaws.
It’s not a new question, (many a philosopher, theologian, analyst have explored this) but it felt new to my soul to ask, What if all this time, my “enemy” has been myself? So the following is transcribed accordingly….
Love My Enemy
(a retranslation of the Gospel of Luke 6:27-36)
27 “But I say to you who listen, love yourself, do good to yourself (don’t hate yourself), 28 bless yourself (don’t curse yourself), pray for yourself (don’t abuse yourself) 29 If you strike yourself on the cheek, offer the other also, and if you take off your coat, take off your shirt as well (expose yourself, be vulnerable, do not hide or withhold from yourself for fear that you will be in lack), give it all 30 Give to yourself when your soul demands it, and if doing so sheds a layer, and you find yourself stripped of familiar goods (treasures, habits, attachments) do not ask for them back 31 Do to yourself as you would do to others.
32 “If you love only the things you love about yourself, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love themselves, and only see and embrace the good parts of themselves 33 If you treat well only the parts of yourself that are good, what credit is that to you? For this is your ego, your false self at work – embracing only the positive, ignoring the negative shadow self for fear it will be dethroned if light is shed on it 34 If you lend (regard, give time and attention) to only the parts of yourself from which you hope will gain praise, what credit is that to you? The ego loves to be admired, to glory in itself 35 But love every part of yourself (the good, the bad, and the ugly), do good to yourself (don’t hate yourself because of what you discover about yourself), and examine yourself truthfully, expecting nothing in return (for there is little praise in this world for those willing to shed light on things). But your spiritual reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for God is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish, even you. 36 Be merciful towards yourself, just as a Mother or Father is merciful towards their child.