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.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


I am a survivor. When someone uses this phrase a couple possibilities jump to mind immediately. First one - a cancer survivor. To go through that particular valley and come out with life and hope, yes, I doff my hat and raise my applause. You are a survivor. Amazing.Then there are trauma survivors, and survivors of abuse. All these are testimonies to the strength God has given the human spirit.

But I am none of those. I am a survivor of despair. Despair wears many outfits - fear, hopelessness, heart sickness, depression. Despair was sown into me early, but in the mid nineties it became full blown clinical depression along with all the attendant darkness. If you have not met this demon of the black, you cannot picture the pain it inflicts.

There was a time when I longed to die. I saw not one glimmer of hope for the future. The best I could do was to breathe, one breath at a time. In the frozen solid winter of Alberta I would lay on the floor in the ray of sunlight coming in the window, and as it moved I would move with it to keep my face in the sun. Somehow that kept me on earth for one more day.

I shifted to the guest room because when I woke up at night with a start and a knife through my heart, unable to breath, I would disturb Steve. There in the guest room I lit a tea light in a blue glass bowl beside my bed and it would burn til morning. When I woke with agony I would look at the light and say, "God is here."

I didn't actually cry much - if crying has to do with sound and moaning. But my eyes didn't know I wasn't crying. Tears began pouring in the morning and sometimes flooded my face while I did the dishes or cleaned bedrooms. I couldn't stop them. I would drive to pick up my son from quizzing and I would have tears running down my face. He would say to his friend, "Don't worry about mom. She will be okay." And they would carry on like boys.

My friend, Joy, would take me for long drives into the mountains and listen to me try to untwist what my mind was doing to my theology, my self knowledge, my memory. Once she left me high on a rock in the mountains with a CD player and a CD and came back an hour later after I listened to the music, echoing over the canyons and back to my rocky bed. That experience was like my soul - raw and frozen and full of grandeur and beauty.

I cleaned out a small paint closet in the basement of my home and put a pillow and a lamp in it and would stay for an hour, morning and night, praying. My prayers were often wordless, mostly just clinging to God, or letting God cling to me. Sighs. Tears. I heard about what the mystics called the baptism of tears. They said you could collect your tears and when the valley was over have them poured over your head like a baptism. I could have done that if I had kept a mason jar nearby.

Because I felt so fragilely tied to this earth I wanted to hold someone's hand all the time. I would sit on the couch and just hold a hand. Old people must feel this way - they long to sit and hold a hand. We are impatient with them. But I understand that comfort. It was better than the best planned words.

Recently I woke up and realized that I don't live anywhere near this darkness anymore. I forget sometimes to remember what a miracle of LIFE it is to be hopeful, joyful, at peace. There was a day when I was certain the future held nothing for me.

I was wrong. So wrong. A friend took his life in Calgary, and all I could think of was, "if you had waited til tomorrow you would have changed your mind." Sometimes the present moment is unlivable.

So here's to all my friends and companions who are survivors, like me. We survive different things, but the grace of making it through our valley of the shadow of death is no small grace. We lose and find our minds. We lose and find our faith. We lose and find our hope.

Thank you to everyone who held those things for me when I lost my own. Such is love. Very small. Very practical. Love is about staying and letting someone survive.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

I got fired today.

No not at my job. I got fired from my doctor. Can they even do that? A couple months ago I had an issue with the doctor where I felt I didn't have sovereignty over my body. I was so unhappy I actually talked to her about it and it didn't go well. No shouting or anything, or name calling, but I pushed the issue that she had 'done me wrong' and that she had 'all the power' in the relationship. I cried finally and maybe kindof stormed out. Not stormed really, but left sobbing and saying, 'Whatever!' Which I hate about myself. I do conflict so badly.

Anyway, I even sent her a note that didn't grovel, but said I knew it had gone badly and she had been a help to me and I was sorry how it went. If I look back on my life one of the few things I regret are times I didn't stand up for myself or walk out on something that was abusive. This was me trying to own my own life. I couldn't just beg for forgiveness to make it right. It would have made it wrong. There was error on both sides.

So now two months later, I made an appointment, this morning at ll:30. I got an early call from her assistant saying they were cancelling my appointment and I was not going to be a patient of theirs anymore.

I didn't feel shattered. Really, I had been feeling a fair bit of stress about going and had prayed and composed myself to be okay, so my reaction was to be relieved. But then I thought, 'am I really a b---ch?'
Am I the only person she has fired?

So I have had to think about this a little today. About how I handle conflict and when is the time to stand up for something. In some of the women in leadership books I've read lately there is a sense that a woman in leadership in the corporate world needs to be able to fight. I am a terrible fighter. Does that mean I am weak? A failure at some level? Or is fighting bad?

Then my thoughts went to a report I've been working on the last few days. In it I am reflecting on the idea that Christian community must have room for disillusion. We are not a community because we all get along or we all know the best way to confront, or we never confront anyone - not at all. Anywhere there are people there will be strife. But "Jesus is our Peace" Ephesians 2:14.

During the day I came to a nice quiet realization that I am loved, acceptable, fully human just as I am. I don't have to figure out why someone doesn't want to be in relationship with me. My role is to be alive to people around me and not demand that they fit into my idea of 'nice' and well behaved.

Sometimes we just can't be well behaved. Sometimes we shouldn't be, for everyone's sake. And when we get it wrong, it isn't that important. Anyone know of a good doctor?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Step one and a half

I have gotten the wrong end of the stick! This morning as I read and meditated I came to a huge realization. The last blog was all about powerlessness, but I missed the point entirely. I knew it had something to do with not being able to fix my own addictions, my own crazies. But it is not really about that. Those things - the things I wrote about etc - are only a window to help me look onto the real issue.

Step one is not admitting I need help to control my eating, or to manage certain ways of being. Step one is the realization that I need transformation at the very core and then these things won't be powerful in my life.

Transformation, not expanded will power. Transformation, not support in my choices. Sheesh. This is suddenly a lot bigger.

This moves the issues from efforts to get my life to the order it needs and into invitation for my life to be a feast at the rich banquet provided by God. It is about another level of living.

I have been on a journey of transformation since 1991 and still have so much to learn and explore. As you SEE, I have also a vast array of areas where my own life is rough and dangerous. The invitation as I understand it now is simply to let go. Start with letting go.

I have a spiritual father who told me years ago, when you are at the end of your rope, let go. The whole purpose of coming to the end of our rope is to give us no more options.

Transformation. I am getting it now. Not a better a life. A whole new universe.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Step one. I am powerless.

I am doing the 12 Steps from AA. Does that surprise you? I think we should all do the 12 steps and build a recovery lifestyle together. By that I mean a lifestyle that is self aware, gentle, living in the present moment with gratitude, affirming of others etc. I am just learning all this.

The book that is taking me through the steps is Keith Miller's A Hunger For Healing. It is a Christian perspective of the 12 Steps, using them as a model for growth.

The first step is "I admit I am powerless over my sin." I have worked through the list of questions in the book - pretty pointed questions - and face that there are five areas in my life over which I truly am powerless. (I think the real insight comes when we realize that we are actually powerless to create our own blessing, to construct and control our life. All of it. But I start with five areas.)

Now here's the rub - I always thought that this idea of being powerless over my sin was really that I am powerless but with just a little help from God I am powerful and I will fix things. Nope. This is more difficult to admit - I am powerless.
Full stop. I will not ever fix it.

Take eating. (One of my five areas and not too embarrassing since so many of you are in the same predicament.) I am a compulsive eater. I don't have an eating disorder but I have disordered eating. I can, for a period of time, exercise incredible discipline and maybe lose weight. I can keep to a plan and be very firm with myself. But shortly after that I zing back to my disordered eating.

What makes it disordered? I eat when I am lonely or stressed to cover my pain. I don't stop eating when I am full. Sometimes when I am eating a plate of something tasty I am already planning the second helping and ignoring the experience of the food I am eating. I also eat when I need a reward.

I seldom eat because I am hungry, and then eat only to a reasonable and thankful fullness. Nope.

I also eat to make people happy. Instead of saying "no thanks," I eat because I want them to be happy (with me.) So I lie in my eating. Basically I eat to cover my pain, to make people happy and like me, and I eat without enjoying or thinking about the experience. That is disordered eating. I have done this all my life. I am apparently powerless to change.

It is a really radical thing to pray this - "I am powerless to change," instead of "help me stay on my diet tomorrow" (which means, 'with a little help I can do this.')

My friend works at a clinic in a poor area and she had an obese ten year old girl in her office. The girl's health is severely compromised and not helped at all by a sneering, sarcastic step-father who goads her about her unattractiveness. When my friend was with the child alone, the girl tearfully spoke, "I just eat to feel better." Sheesh. Isn't that what we all do?

Step one. I am powerless to get life right. I am powerless to manage this (and other) part(s) of my life. I cannot manage life with will or character or good training. I am powerless.

"We can't have joy because we can't stand pain, but pain evidently comes into the heart through the same doorway as joy. When we use something, from a vacation, to buying new clothes, to tranquilizers, [to food] - to blot out the pain of life, we block the joy as well. We are therefore often numb people, who have plenty of everything but can't feel the love for or from [our] people..." (Keith Miller, page 20)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Awful Grace of God

He who learns must suffer.
And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget,
Falls drop by drop upon the heart,
And in our own despair, against our own will,
Comes wisdom to us, by the awful grace of God.
(Aeschylus, 525 - 456 BC)

Richard Rohr wrote this: Suffering opens the channel through which all of Life flows and by which all creation breathes, and I still do not know why. Yet it is somehow beautiful, even if it is a sad and tragic beauty.

I am less and less afraid of suffering. Of course, I am not actually in any serious suffering right now. And I also fear that writing those words will "tempt fate" - which of course I don't actually believe in. See how conflicted I am?

But somehow in my view of life I know that suffering must be abide with us, in large and small doses. Maybe it is that our level of tears must stay high enough that they can pour out over someone else's heart.

I am not suggesting that suffering in itself is noble. I just know that in the dark places we do gain wisdom, we do find our souls. I have no idea how it works.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Conversation in a van

Six couples sit in the darkness of the van as it swerves left and right, up and down through the Kentucky countryside approaching Midway where dinner waits at the Holly Hill Inn. Stories pour out of acts of generosity: kids who have chosen brave sacrifice; businessmen and women who expend energy finding ways to give generously. The stories cross the globe. During a pause, someone comments that in this world, where so much is dark, there is still so much beauty.

Dinner behind and the logi of good food making the atmosphere in the van feel meditative and gentle, stories of pain emerge: a child who has died; a suicide; the bombing of community center. A sigh. 'The world really is a horror,' someone says.

Here's the thing - life is 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows. The darkness will never totally go away. The darkness will not not disappear no matter what we do. We cannot create the kingdom of God here on earth. But John's gospel says, "The light shines on the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it."

Part of maturity is realizing that the darkness will always be present in our lives. We are never exempt from pain, and just when we think we have life under control a lightening bolt may hit and shatter our well constructed walls. Darkness comes in many shades, and by several means. We see the darkness, we touch and feel it, we lose our way in it. And candles are lit. We see. We hope. There is darkness and there is light. We live with both.

Richard Rohr says that if our posture with the darkness is to 'stand angrily, obsessively against it, ... we will become mirror images of it.' A mature posture in life is to be honest in naming the darkness - and liberal in shining the light. Everything is not beautiful. But some things are beautiful. Our job is to shine light, even if we can only manage the tiniest flicker.

Our acts of justice, sacrifices of love, and ministry projects are light in the darkness, a sign of a greater Light remains with us always. And in a mysterious way we will find life's gifts, which sometimes hide in the darkness. Isaiah 45:3 says, "I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places."

Sunday, January 6, 2013

the littlest birds sing the prettiest songs

star date: january 6, 2013

I have four bird feeders with three food options in a little corner of my yard. It is wise to keep the feeders together because the grass will be ruined and one must not care.

By happenstance I glanced out the front door window and saw the most beautiful scene. There were at least fifty birds flitting around the feeders, on the ground, on the trees around. The goldfinches (which are dull this time of year) completely dominated the thistle seed feeder. House and purple finches were everywhere, and some sparrows who don't mind eating off the ground. There was a titmouse with it shiny slick backed hood like a used car salesman and cardinals, male and female, who keep their color in the winter which makes them so photogenic in the snow. A line of mourning doves sat six inches apart on the wire above the feeders looking down with disdain. (An aside...did you know that doves are like squirrels and can load up their cheeks with food? I have seen a dove fill its cheeks so full that when it flies back up to the wire or branch its head is below its body, being so heavy. Greedy greedy!)

Some of my best little friends were missing - the chickadees usually make it to any good feast. They will come later I suppose. When the birds stay all winter I am pretty much guaranteed a lot of nesting activity around the house in the early spring.

But the gift of the morning was a red bellied woodpecker going after the frozen suet. This is one of the prettiest woodpeckers, with a florescent red ball of fuzz on its head and top of its back. The belly is slightly red and the back is covered in flecks. The bird is about 10 inches long and has a real regal look.

The little birds often fly off when a big bird comes to feed but the woodpecker didn't bother them, in fact, they were almost landing on top of him (it was a brilliantly colored male) so many was the crowd. A blue jay for instance, will dominate and scare off all the small birds but they were not afraid of the woodpecker... must be a kinder personality!

This was my view of holiness today. A glorious moment of nature, of generosity, of cooperation, joyful feasting and beauty.

Friday, January 4, 2013


My son in law went into a McDonald's and with his order was given the empty cup and nod toward the fountain drink dispenser.When he got there a little boy was using a white ketchup cup to capture Sprite from the spigot, which he quickly slurped down and then refilled, again and again.

Curtis smiled at the boy and said, "You look like you are having fun."

"Yup!" said the kid. And then with a huge twinkle in his eye, "I invented this!" Curtis laughed and said, "I bet you did!"
 When my granddaughters heard the story they said, "Oh dad! You should have given him your cup!" But Curtis wisely said, "No - that would have spoiled all his fun!"

I laughed. Something about that story makes my heart happy. Very happy. Probably because the kid was beating the system. Maybe because every kid needs moments like that are ridiculously free. Certainly because Curtis entered into the joy with him.

But there is more. I think God is like that with us. He doesn't want to tame us, to make us all proper or even right. He wants us to be whole, not just holy. Sometimes our definition of holy is pretty scary - generally contained and tamped down. Rarely would we think of holiness as a wide open field, a flock of birds, or a child's laughter over a ridiculous feat!

When you have Sprite pouring down over your hand and you are slurping your drinks inappropriately, don't imagine that God wants to stand you up straight and make you more domesticated, decorous and proper. He probably just wants you to get him a little tiny drink!

Being over the limit

A friend told me today about his mom who always said to him, "Don't speed when you drive, or God will withhold His care for you."

Okay ...what kind of theology is that?

If I have to be good - on the dot perfect - careful at all times - not 'over the limit' - for God to be a positive force in my life, to be a Presence of care and goodness, well, then, I am pretty much pooched.

I am over the limit in so many places in my life. 
I try to contain myself, but I escape.

Yes, I do speed. Occasionally. But in lots of other ways. Today at lunch for instance, a woman friend and I BOTH ate a full dessert. After we ate a full lunch. I ate a piece of Carrot Cake that was obscene. I feel quite awful right now sitting here. But that is just the least of my problems.

I am over the limit in what I want. I've always wanted too much. I am over the limit in what I give away sometimes - I give away what I should protect and keep gently. I am over the limit when my anger flares up, and you don't know anything about my covetousness - sometimes I just want another life, someone else's life. (Don't get all righteous on me here... don't start lecturing me on how we don't know the pain in other people's lives. I know all that. I am just saying, I am over the limit at times, and I know it.) I sometimes go over the limit by staying under the limit - I skip things I should do, I give too little love, I get petty. And I am keeping a whole bunch of things private...none of your business!

What is this limit thing, anyway? Is it a line? Or an invisible box around our lives that sends a signal to God when we bust past? Kind of like an ankle bracelet to let the police know we've left the building.

Nope. I am happy to report, there is no limit. There is no speed limit and no slow limit. If there is a line of limits in your life you created it ... or adopted it from someone else's bondage.

Such broken ideas keep us from experiencing God's love. Instead of consciously cooperating with love, we try to consciously cooperate with obligations and laws and end up feeling fully rejectable. AA has the right idea - the beginning of wisdom is to acknowledge that we can do NOTHING about our problem. We can only be open to love. When we receive divine love, when we know God in love, we possibly become a conduit of love to the world. And when we open to love we begin to be healed.

Winners and Losers

I once gave a talk about God's love and made the point that God has no favorites. God does not have a descending scale of love. One young woman came up to me afterward, obviously distressed. "I always thought I was one of God's favorites," she told me with sadness.

What is with the inherent need to be the favorite? Why does it bug us when someone else gets the attention?

Most of us are tempted, I think, by what can be rightly called "the pride of the inner circle." We like to be the one who is needed, who is loved, who is most important. Even if we are the kind of person whose contribution is to sacrifice, we secretly have moments where we want to be noticed for sacrificing the most or the most helpful thing. "No, no - don't mention it." But we are so glad it was mentioned. If we love to humbly serve and a moment happens when thanks is given, and we are not mentioned, it is a wound. "I'm fine. I didn't do it for praise. ... But it would have been nice....!" If we are a friend, and friends are invited in, we want to be one of the first invited in. When a life is celebrated we would like to be mentioned as significant.

The pride of the inner circle is our false self wanting to be seen and separated into a category of its own - Winner!  Important! Valued! Come sit over here beside me. You are one of my closest friends. You are special.

I am not young, and I know that in almost any situation there is something of value I can give, but I also know I don't need to be in the center of things, I don't need to be in the know. I make choices to stay quietly by the side and offer to the situation what I feel God or reasonableness is requiring of me. And then ... Okay - I want to whisper this ... when I see that I am not actually IN the inner circle, I feel left out. Just a little rejected. Sad. Cheated. Unwanted just a bit.  I whisper this because it is just a whisper in me. Just a bit of me playing with a small ball of self pity. But it is there more than I care to admit! ARGH! How can this still be part of my inner self!?

We feel this way because of our human nature. It is a signal of our brokenness. But let me tell you about the relief you can feel when you accept that you are important, but you need not be the center of things. The freedom of a healthy sense of self without needing to be constantly affirmed is a moment of joyful maturity.

True spirituality connects us to our true self, the place of our belovedness and identity. It is an inward reality that lasts.

Try this when you have a moment of recognition that you are not being invited into the center of things, and if you are honest you know it bugs you - become aware of your feelings and recognize your deep need to be given a special place. You have just identified your elusive false self! That alone is a victory. Then pray a small prayer and open yourself up to the love of God. Right there. Even a small openness is enough. Maybe the size of a grain of mustard seed. Something might shift in you.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


Yesterday morning I read through all the "kingdom" parables in the book of Matthew. These are all the sayings of Jesus that mostly begin with: "The kingdom of heaven is like ..." They are not hard to locate in my Bible because it is a 'red-letter' edition with all the sayings of Jesus in red letters. Who knew? :-)

I noticed something. Jesus' earlier statements about the kingdom are gentle and lovely: The kingdom is like finding something you lost and dearly love; The kingdom is like discovering a treasure and selling all you have to get it; The kingdom is like a sower who goes out and sows seed lavishly, without regard to the soil.

As the storm swirling around Jesus intensifies, the parables take on more edge. The kingdom is like a marriage feast where all the society guests can't be bothered to attend and so the host fills the room with unsuitable guests. (There is also one man who comes without putting on decent clothes and he gets thrown out.) And the kingdom is like a man going on a journey who trusts all his servants with money and provision and the one who hides his money and doesn't do anything with it is punished. The kingdom is like a fig tree that doesn't bear fruit and so is destroyed. Etc.

As Jesus life intensifies and so do his images. Both the gentle seeking images and the stern images are kingdom pictures. They are two sides to the same coin as the old expression goes. But I am also pondering this thought:

Like Jesus,
our awareness of and participation in the kingdom of heaven 
is experienced differently during
the various seasons of our life.

Think about it. When we are young we have energy and passion: risk taking can seem almost a game and our 'sureness' is untested. Then we live through necessary and various seasons - some of which are gentle and full of mercy and joy, and others are severe and costly. We are loved and mistreated, honored and dismissed. Hearts break and bodies wear out. Our work brings fruit and joy and then sometimes just weariness.

There are seasons when it seems a forlorn hope to enter into a deeply meaningful participation in kingdom life. All that is surely in the past. 

But because the kingdom is about richness on the inside of things, it is never lost to us. And because we don't create the kingdom - thank God! way to much effort - but are invited to enter it, participate in it, watch for it, no one is too old, too tired, too broken or too lonely to live just there, inside the kingdom of heaven.

The kingdom of heaven is at once this complex collage of seemingly disparate parts inextricably bound into one thing, and also a completely unique, individual, specific set of experiences flowing through our own life and season. 

Just another grace.

New Year Ponderings

I am sitting on the couch beside the fire eating the last of the Christmas oranges. I finished off the cookies and chocolate and these must be gone before I launch back into work tomorrow. The Christmas holiday has been generously long and flown by, as all time does now for me. I remember a time in my life when days were able to crawl. Those were the baby times - when days were young.

Rachel gave me a book to read when I was with her - called Room. For the first time this fall, I think, I actually ate it eagerly and finished it with interest. I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a different book to capture your imagination. It is about a woman who is kidnapped and kept in a shed, 12 X 12, for 7 years. The twists and turns will keep you reading. What could have been horridly dark is kept lighter by the 'voice' of the writing - her five year old son, conceived, obviously, in captivity. The woman's name is never given in the whole book because it is about her life lived through her son's eyes.

Now I am reading a book called Turn of Mind. The story is a murder mystery (my favorite genre) and the 'voice' is a woman with Alzheimer's. Again, the voice makes the story. I can become so immersed in prose well written that I actually begin to experience events, feelings and impulses. I just put this book down because I started feeling, well, a creeping sense of dementia. :-) One of the best lines is from a neighbor who says he is grateful every moment 'the bottom doesn't fall out.' Interesting thought, that.

I have enough experience with anxiety to know what it is to live expecting the bottom to fall out. Such thoughts are really not paranoia. There are plenty of rotting floors beneath our feet, plenty of rubble and weakness and decay under each step: the economy, government, fragile relationships, our children's concerns, health, death, incoming weather and even the line-up on TV.

Every year since 2000 Steve and I have prayerfully chosen a word to be a window on our year. Such a word isn't magical - or even spiritual, really. The idea is to create a simple frame of reflection through which the events of the year can be understood. I believe any word will do this, just as any act of silence can reveal truth. My word this year is Kingdom.

Jesus is constantly inviting us to notice the heavenly Kingdom coming alive in our world. He is calling us to see what is inside of things, not just what is so obvious on the outside. Last night we saw Les Mis at the theatre. As I watched the story unfold through the window of Kingdom I realized I was watching the inside of things, the gospel that brings Life.

The oranges are gone. My coffee is lukewarm. Back to Turn of Mind and the fragility of life.