Sunday, November 3, 2013

Working in the Dark

It is surely men who design hotel rooms. Or young women. One thing a hotel room, even a five star, does not often have is a magnifying makeup mirror. Now some of you might think this to be trivial, but I find it quite essential.

This past weekend in Washington DC I was in just such a difficulty.  The best I could do was to put makeup on blind and then put my glasses on and check it out. The first attempt and my right eyebrow was raised in a look of surprise.  The second attempt and I looked like I had been crying.  The third attempt I poked the mascara brush into my eyeball and I was crying!

Thinking about this on the plane home I realized how much of life is working in the dark. We say things that are misinterpreted, we give advice when we don't have all the facts, we have to love before we know we will be loved back.

The only way this interferes with happiness is if we have a sick need for everything to be perfect. If we can deal with the inevitable raggedness of our humanity and learn to laugh at ourselves a bit more we will be ok.

Friday, August 9, 2013

This is marriage

In our culture marriage is a fantasy of romance and bliss.  In the Christian subculture we make it even more unreachable ... Soul mates, perfect union of agape love and all. I think the mark of the BEST possible marriage is kindness. That is the summary of almost 40 years of monogamy.

I once sat through a two hour ceremony with a pastor and two "prophets" who spoke all kinds of words over the couple, including that their marriage would be a sign to the nations, would touch the whole world etc.  I knew the couple. I sat there thinking, just tell them to be kind to one another.  Please! Within two months the couple were at war, calling down curses on each other, phoning the police and reporting alternate abuses, etc. So much for being a sign to the nations.

I am  practicing yoga these days. Say what you like, it is a practice that helps my body and also engages my mind and life intention and fits very well with what deep spirituality I may have. The problem I have with it is that I have poor balance. It will get better.

The other day I was standing in the kitchen with my right foot against my left calf and my hands above my head, working on concentrated balance. Big Steve came into the kitchen carrying a large pair of scissors. I laughed, fell out of balance and said to him, " You missed your moment! You could have stabbed me! "

He did not smile or joke with me. This is what he said.  " Marilyn, the very last thing I could or would ever do, after I had done the absolutely most impossible thing I could think of - ( pause) like kissing satan! - would be to hurt you." Then he turned and put the scissors in the drawer and walked out of the room.

That, my friends, is the best marriage vow or declaration of love I have ever heard. Maybe we need to change our marriage ceremonies and say things like that instead of grand declarations of love. Just saying.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What the Pope said about women

From the Washington Post, "on Religion"

While everyone was freaking out yesterday about the pope’s actually un-novel and uninteresting re-assertion of longstanding church teaching that homosexuals should not be marginalized, they missed what he said about women, which was in fact, totally fresh.
Specifically, he said:
 A church without women would be like the apostolic college without Mary. The Madonna is more important than the apostles, and the church herself is feminine, the spouse of Christ and a mother. The role of women doesn’t end just with being a mother and with housework …we don’t yet have a truly deep theology of women in the church. We talk about whether they can do this or that, can they be altar boys, can they be lectors, about a woman as president of Caritas, but we don’t have a deep theology of women in the Church. On the ordination of women, the church has spoken and said no. John Paul II, in a definitive formulation, said that door is closed.
A lot of Catholic women yesterday read these words, looked out the window, and mouthed the words, THANK YOU.
Don’t get me wrong – the media wouldn’t let you believe it–but the church is teeming with women who love their faith, love their church, love priests like brothers, love their bishops, and especially love the pope. We don’t sit around and wring our hands about “female ordination” or wish we could use birth control or wonder why the church tells us not to sleep around.

That being said, this is a difficult and confusing time to be a woman living against the cultural grain. Many of us feel authentically torn between professional goals and vocational aspirations to be loving and present wives and mothers reigning over stable and happy homes. And many of us want to play a role in the church but just aren’t quite sure how. We can find a smattering of contradicting perspectives on these topics, but when we look to the church herself, we can feel a bit lost.


It is not only Catholic women, but good, loving Christian women who find the church's view of women confusing and discouraging. Is it possible that the protestant church could join with the Catholic body to develop a deep theology of women and God, one based not just on what we may or may not do.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Hints of Me

Ever wonder where the kid inside you has gone? Ever feel like "you" are missing?

The other night Steve reheated a few bits of steak that had been kept, left over. They came off the grill hot and peppery and I picked one up in my fingers and savored its soft texture and delicious taste. I did the same to the second piece. Standing there by the BBQ I had a flashback.

Growing up was a solid but humble experience for me. My mother fed her large family with plain, wholesome food, few spices and a cookie now and then. Meals were planned around the piece of meat, with a starch and vegetable. We counted out meatballs to make sure they were delivered evenly, passed the large bowl of mashed potatos around and ate lots of peas and corn.

When I started dating Steve at the tender age of 15 he gave me many of my 'firsts.' First submarine sandwhich, corned beef with onions and mustard, heated. That was the first. And my first piece of pizza. We went out every Friday night after he got paid at the grocery store and found fun.

Sometime into this love story Steve took me to the Shakespeare Steak House. I don't know what to compare it to, but it was a schnitzy, expensive restaurant. We both had a glass of wine. I think I probably ate a few buns, some appetizers, pickles, salad, whatever. I have always loved to eat. And then came the steak.

I think that steak was the first and most exquisite piece of food I had ever put into my mouth. I sucked and savored the bites, the unbelievable texture, the flavor. MY! But I was silly from the glass of wine, and full from buns, so I found the steak a bit too big, and I wrapped it in the linen napkin on the table and slid it into my purse. Giggling all the way out of the restaurant, I took my half finished steak with me. (I had no idea there was such a thing as a doggy bag.)

Well... we went to the Rock Pile dance club and listened to the band and danced off the buns, and when I got hungry I took the steak out of my purse and ate it, using the napkin to wipe up the drips. You know, that steak was still a magnificent experience, even room temp and unadorned.

As I stood at the BBQ tasting my steak I realized that I am the same girl I was. I still do unconventional things, and love to eat. I remain able to savor a moment and delight in humble and ordinary blessings.

And I also realized what a big thing it must have been for Steve to take me to the Shakespeare Steak House. He made a pittance, and took me to the most expensive dinner in town. He did not chide me when the little girl in me giggled and stole a napkin to carry my best taste ever. He enjoyed the newness I was experiencing and always fed my laughing heart.

He still does all this for me. He lets me be unconventional, delights when I am free enough to suck the juices of life, fully enjoys every new humble treasure I discover, like the flavor of a tomato ripe from the vine which carries hints of every summer of my life. And because he loves me like he always did, I have been able to stay who I am.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

I know what you tell me to know.

There is a category of women that is labeled 'received knowers.' Received knowers is an academic term for people who only know what they've been told to know. They receive what they know by listening to others.There are PLENTY of 'experts' - well intentioned leaders and fool-hearty loudmouths, both - who are happy to declare what other people's thoughts should be. Women who are received knowers are present at every level in our society. And a lot of them are found in the church.

To be a received knower is to submit your life to others in such a way that you can't really acknowledge your own thoughts or find your own opinions (or you discount your own opinions as being stupid or invalid.) Bright capable women, surprisingly, are sometimes received knowers. I have a friend who was busting out of a lifetime of pleasing - her dad, her church, her husband, her authorities - and at 40-ish she said to me, "I don't even know what colors I like."

To be a received knower is to carefully scan the room and detect the opinion that is acceptable, and then take on that opinion. A woman who has had her tender ventures at self expression crushed like a fly under a swatter may have learned that opinions are not safe. And she is not safe when she has them.

To be a received knower is to feel unsafe and unsure. It is a posture of living that is careful and small. To protect oneself the voice is silenced and the heart is shut down. And in the process of thinking only what is allowed, the skills of appraisal, evaluation and reflection remain undeveloped. There comes a day when a woman desperately needs to be wise in appraisal skills to detect physical danger, seduction (of many kinds) or the cunning of evil minds. What will her defense be then? What has been used to make her feel safe renders her susceptible to social assault and inclined toward inner defenselessness.

We must think - even if we sometimes think wrong. There is risk in becoming a learner on one's own terms. Becoming a learner involves "trying on" ideas like we try on a new dress, and seeing if the thing fits our unique self. Sometimes a mistake will be made, and people might move their chair away from our table and toward a safer group. Don't worry, the space they create will be filled by someone who sees you risking and identifies with you.

Here is my advice if you find yourself in this description of received knowing. Read something new. Read "The Gift of Being Yourself" or "Surrender to Love", two little books by David Benner.  If you are daring, read Anne Lamont or Kathleen Norris, both solid women who speak from their own journey with honesty. Then talk about what you are reading. (I was friends with a woman in her sixties who wanted to start to express ideas of her own. She would make notes and tuck them in her sweater pocket and then pull them out and peek at them and make her comment. Eventually she didn't need the notes.)

Buy a pretty book with empty spaces and make a journal by writing. Even if you have to hide it in the bushes behind your house. Somewhere, somehow, let your ideas get out of your head and onto paper. ( If you are a little stuck in received learning you already are thinking, "I have nothing to write. I have nothing to say that is worth saying." Lies, all of it.)

If you are asked a question, and you start the process of thinking your idea, then worrying if it is smart enough or right, go back to your idea and actually say it. Say it in a whisper if you need to. If opinions are being tossed around don't blank out your mind and go into an inner hum of disengagement, but listen and then if you don't agree, simply say, "uh, I don't actually agree... " If you have never said that before, everyone in the room might look at you dumbfounded. Even if you can't say why you don't agree... just acknowledge that you have thoughts.

Risk it. You are going to love the vitality that comes from being fully awake and alive.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Fear and Control

Let me try and describe a downward cycle that I have been caught in, and yet not recognized for what it is until now. The cycle starts when something happens that makes me feel insecure about myself. What would do this to me might be different than what would do it to you, but for me it is usually when a person shows disapproval of me or when I feel like I have failed to please. (I seem to be more vulnerable to these feelings at some times than others.)

So, in light of bad feelings that rise in me, I decide I will draw in the reins on my life, try harder, CONTROL myself and thereby be more acceptable. My intention is to smarten up be a better person - and not draw 'fire'. I always thought this was my effort to be more holy or Godly.

Sadly this work is shame based at bottom, and doesn't help. We cannot escape ourselves. And I think God really doesn't support the whole endeavor.

I have only just now realized that the movement to 'shut up!!' or 'smarten up!!' is a move away from love. It is, at its core, disguised fear. When we 'draw fire' we hear and believe a whisper that we are not loved - or worse even, not lovable. So the effort to do better, be more careful, not offend - all these are driven by a need to become lovable.

Love brings freedom. Control is rooted in fear. Think of a new relationship. When we meet someone we are polite and well behaved because we don't know what they expect or how they will see us. When we are  known and received in love we can be as silly, undignified or ragged as we want.

Freedom is always ragged. We might, indeed, offend someone. We might laugh too hard or at the wrong thing. We might make a poor response, or a bad choice. But when we know we are loved we can risk and laugh at what goes wrong - flaws don't change our sense of self.

Control is based on fear. Our sense of self has been damaged by what we perceive other[s] think of us - what we think they think becomes what we imagine we are. So we become more controlled. Control makes it impossible to receive love because it is self protecting. We become less vulnerable but - listen to this - vulnerability is essential when it comes to being able to receive love.

We begin to control when we fear our vulnerability. If we self protect, guard ourselves, and try to eliminate risk, we might be safe but we will miss the joy of having our very real human self be loved and celebrated. And such a lifestyle choice means we become dependent on others for our sense of self. Who I am and know myself to be becomes heavily weighted on the way I fear others see me.

Bottom line - next time you feel insecure and are tempted to get inside your shell, take a minute to recognize the fear that is driving you. Remind yourself to breathe and go forth in what freedom you can muster. God is love. God is on the side of freedom.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day

The sun was shining when I first realized how much my head hurt this morning. Yesterday had been too much on top of a week that was too much and I finally took half a sleeping pill when at one o'clock in the morning I was still wide awake, but then of course, slept too hard. But the sun was shining and it is Mother's Day.

I dragged a big ol' chair into the sun on the back porch out of the wind and sat with a coffee until almost noon. I knew the caffeine was better for me, over all, than more drugs. The pain began to subside and I started to run a hot shower.

Last night when I got home from the retreat I led over the weekend it became apparent that something was missing. My phone. And then, my computer. And then, my pj's. I had packed all the retreat materials in my car and left all my personal effects in the little room at the retreat center. The only solution was to drive down highway 27 back the way I had come home and pick everything up. Of course, when I got there everyone who'd served the retreat had gone home or shopping or to a movie, and the building was locked up. Mercifully, I remembered the code for the lock and it hadn't yet been changed, so I was able to 'break in', search the office and find my room key, walk the long dark hallway and retrieve my stuff. I made sure the door locked behind me.

The thought of returning to my empty home with all the tension of the week still in me was not hopeful. So I drove past my exit and headed toward the local theatre. 'Gatsby' was the only possibility for me - I don't do Iron Man, etc. - and although I had heard the effects were overdone I took my seat and enjoyed the movie. The effects were overdone. I got home late, overstimulated.

So it was that I came to Mother's Day.

After my shower I felt fairly awful, rolled on the bed and had a nap, and finally killed the headache. And my hair. Small problem only.

Three commitments remained. The first was the Cardiff funeral home in Lexington where the visitation for a young mom from the seminary, killed in a traffic accident, was being held. I had a bit of business to do with the owner as well, and spent a little time with the family. The second commitment was a celebration at the home of a dear friend who was introducing her long lost sister (she had been born in Germany and adopted by an American family) to friends. Her sister looked so like her I had laughed right out loud. The moment was wonderful. I'm sort of partial to adoption reunions. I sat with her sister and ate crustless chicken salad sandwiches and listened to them interrupting each other with their story of being lost and found. Being there to share the miracle of discovery and love was such a privilege! From there I drove to Kerr funeral home for the visitation of a woman from our church who's inner pain had become more than she could bear. The line was long and slow. I didn't mind.

The clock on my car dash read seven o' two when I pulled out from Kerr's, driving in my bare feet because my left shoe was hurting the arthritis in my middle toe. Since I was in the city I stopped at a good Chinese restaurant and ordered a take out of chicken dumplings. Then home.

I tried to watch TV but inside I was still restless so I made a practice cake for my granddaughter, Megan, who makes cupcakes. The cake pans I got for her are shaped like a huge cupcake, and I wanted to be sure it would cook properly before I gave it to her. It did.

Then I covered all the plants with plastic bags and my scarves because the night air might sink down to freezing. Before I go to bed I will build a fire in the pit beside the wisteria to keep it from freezing.

It is Mother's Day. My daughter and sons have nudged me with loving hellos. The day was full of real moments of life. New life and death are almost the same thing, when you experience them side by side. They are small gasps in time where the walls between eternity and dailyness are thin and everything/everyone seems precious.

Happy Mother's Day.