Friday, July 30, 2010

One big growling belly

I had a really strange flash at an intersection the other day that was more than the light change. It was about consumption and that we, as humans, are all about depletion from dining on animals and plants to using up everything on the planet.

It was a terrible revelation: basically, we're takers and we're not independent (though we pretend to be). One of the few physical things we give is birth.

Yet, I don't think it's a terrible concept. It's the truth of who we are, why we are and, possibly, a reflective path for intentionally being more gentle and grateful in the world.

If you believe in a higher power then you may wonder for what purpose we are created in this way. Death is a part of the cycle of life in the literal and figurative senses and we do need to eat to survive. But must we gorge ourselves with little thought to life-sustaining creatures, grains, fruits and vegetables? This is where gratitude comes into play. Native Americans usually thanked their food source for giving itself up. I try to do the same when I remember.

Must we gorge ourself on the world's resources, gobbling them up so there's little left for others currently on this planet, let alone our children and grandchildren?

So many of our man-made constructs – cars, planes, buildings, machinery, etc – are at odds with nature, feasting on or contaminating what naturally occurs. It's arrogant of us not to recognize our usage, let alone offset it somehow. Just because we CAN, doesn't mean we should if its directly or indirectly detrimental. I'm afraid we lose sight of that with all the technology and advancement promises of speed and ease. These constructs also keep us busier taking care of them, doing more things because we CAN perform more quickly, thinking up more ways to be busier and faster.

What a vicious cycle.

I want off that roller-coaster. But our society moves on such a fast current, it takes an awful lot of intention and energy to paddle the other direction or merely jump off.

The good news is, we CAN.

And in the good news of what we can do, loving is the primary reason, I believe, we are here. It's one of the few things only humans can do. When we do it right, it really works.

What if we CAN focus on more minimally consuming and impacting AND loving. What kind of difference would that make?

• How have I considered the role of humans in the world?
• What personal measures I can take to be here more gentle and grateful?
• How can those actions encourage others?
• How tied am I to my stuff and the promise of easy and speed?
• How can I counteract that current for myself and globally?

one big
to a very
piercing teeth

we humans

we can

that very

if we
may discover
that belly
is already
too full

our hearts
after all 

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Jesus, the madwoman and the game

What on earth can these have in common?

– Jesus' parable about the vineyard owner who hired workers throughout the day, then paid the last-arrived first the same wage much to the disgruntlement of those who completed a full shift.
                                                                                            [Matthew 20:1-16]

– A book entitled Meeting the Madwoman* that practically jumped off a friend's shelf at me and describes the inner anger that surfaces in the midst of a suppressive society.

– Competitive water games today at the pool won by any means.

I am searching for that thread and, when I unearth it, believe it will be a huge lesson for me. HUGE. I think they illustrate a concept with which I have been barely grasping for a very long time and will address how to survive this world with an intact soul.

I reflected on the Biblical passage last week during a retreat. It's one that's always troubled me because I could never deeply understand its meaning. Yes, I know Jesus was radical, contrary and issuing some wisdom about our monetary system. But it wasn't until this week, in this particular group, that the ah-ha moment arrived. Grace opened such newness and meaning for me. I struggle with the Bible being rote from childhood, so opportuities like this are rich gifts.

Thursday the message for me was to substitute love for money in the story. Then, I could fathom that all of God/Spirit's love is available to anyone, anytime PERIOD. It wasn't at all about money. Then I wondered why Jesus would use money as the metaphor. It haunted me until today in worship after our minister talked about her experience in the same group. He used money because it is the exact opposite of love.

Money is an arbitrary source of power and, I believe, Jesus meant this message to really teach us about how to be in the world.

Money is everything love is not.

[unconditional] love is given freely

love is
     not earned

love is
     knows no boundaries

So the madwoman lies in each and all of us, a rebellious creature responding to judgment, confinement and dominance. She lusts for the freedom to be herself according to her nature (inner wisdom/Spirit/God/True Self) and not a legalistic society structured by and favoring educated, white male control.

I know this madwoman. I have seen her in my dreams. I have been her. It is she who often fans my inner creative fire causing eruptions against a society with little room for decisions based on love (not lust or sex – those have their place and power in our culture).

What she calls for is not that different from what Jesus demands: creative freedom emanating from unconditional love.

After meeting (church), the girls and head to the pool to meet Tad, my husband. He arrives ahead of us and calls to warn me it's family game day and if I had been expecting peace and quiet to plan for something else or drive home. It's hot and the water beacons, so we go.

Seems like innocuous fun. I encourage my oldest to participate in an inner-tube race. I recognize the look of defeat on her face as she struggles to finish. She perseveres as those that make it first rejoice LOUDLY. Thankfully ALL participants get a prize. I enter the next race to kick with my younger daughter in the inner tube. I swim almost everyday and figure it should be easy. It's not and I see dads doing whatever they have to (walking, half swimming ... anything) to win. Like a cartoon of caricatured men, where pushing their kid ahead with as much machismo as they can muster is THE game. Take no prisoners.

Makes me sick and laugh all at the same time.

I share a quick conversation with my oldest about how we're not competitive. We agree winning has no place in our vocabulary or hearts.

Yet I suspect it does for the majority of people because it's what we're taught to do. What we're groomed for. Educated for. Honored for. Paid for.

It's a comparison. A weeding out of those who don't excel. Our entire culture is built on nothing but comparison and I've been thinking all these years that it's my inner critic. It's a giant OUTER critic.

Winning, money, comparison and segregation are all tied up into the same messy ball of dominance, control and suppression that continues to roll over all of us.

Well, I want to unravel that ball – maybe just burn it, but that's too violent – and create something gentler, less aggressive and motivated by love. Something that cares for those kicked to the curbs on the same level as those with CEO status.

I want a new system. One where the last will be first and the first last.

Barring that, I want to live as minimally as possible in the current system becoming an example of what we really can be. Really are meant to be.

– How do I live with the elements of society that bother me?
– What personal changes can I make to live in a more loving way?
– Who or what speaks to me about how to truly live?
– How can I translate those messages into action in my own life?
– How do I live in this world, but not be of it?

*Meeting the Madwoman, Linda Schierse Leonard

Friday, July 23, 2010

Naked walk

So summer is always a challenge kidwise. Also a blessing, but in the messiness of dealing with transitions, strong personalities, bright minds that like to create drama when they are bored and sibling rivalry intensified with more togetherness, I lose the joy part. I am improving and trying to take this on as a spiritual practice.

One step we took was more family meeting time and resolving issues together. The latest was centered on identifying (mis)behaviors and appropriate consequences. Somewhere I read the punishment should fit the crime and we're a creative bunch. so I figured it could work. I think my favorite is the naked walk. It's the payback for stealing another person's privacy. What could be less private than that. So far, no one has suffered that consequence and I think no one will. It may sound screwy, but we all agreed and laughed about it. Maybe that was the point.

The concept of the naked walk was been dancing around in my head. What's it like, really, to walk around naked; I mean really stripped. Showing your True Self to not only God but the rest of the world. How would they react? How would I be freed? Or feel guilty?

I have periods where I wear little in front of others and I know as I age, my identity is less wrapped in those external perceptions and more in my calling. Becoming more of who I am, I like to muse.

What, exactly, does that look like?

For starters, not saying an automatic yes because it will somehow ingratiate me with others and feed my identity as the constant helper, the one for which everybody holds a high opinion. In a convoluted way, that IS ego speaking and calling the shots. But that's how I constructed an early persona: being the good girl, earning brownie points [in whatever book I'm not certain], not causing waves.

That has been freeing. I do say no, often with an extended explanation. But it's a step. As someone recently reminded me, I can just so no and not feel obligated to explain.

I think this yes-person mentality is very wrapped up in my fibromyalgia. Like I am living at more than one level. The real me that suppresses my deep needs and desires for the superficial me that wants the acknowledgment, approval and pat on the head. So I have exhausted myself trying to meet external standards. Our culture seduces us – particularly as women – to this place of busying our bodies and minds, while neglecting the soul.

The naked walk is letting the soul shine without encumbrances. What a concept, huh?

• How well or often do I bare myself?
• How has that freed me?
• What has that freed me for?
• Is there a deep desire or longing I have not fulfilled?
• Can I name that?


is steep

oh so very

my spirit


the deep
my body

I almost
it  was

I began
the layers

the wheat
from the

my motives

and claiming
Real Self

the one
to be

and not

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Dialogue with the soul

A dear friend recently introduced me to Carl Jung's The Red Book, journals in words and images he kept over 16 years, that she describes as a "dialogue with the soul." Though created between 1914 and 1930, it's only recently been published.

Just the name and concept enraptured me. Then, Friday, I actually got to see, touch and look through a copy of the $200 (well spent) reproduction. It was like living all of my best, most interesting and provocative dreams, thoughts and insights. Too intense to process in one couple-hour sitting. Striking that the images that surfaced for him, have also captured my attention, separately. Like the serpent, the broken egg, tree of life and rooting branches of the cross. It's an odyssey inside.

I also find it extremely fascinating that Jung and I have the same Myers-Briggs type, INFJ, which may be another reason I feel connected. Also affirmed. I read somewhere about him and his journey that turning inside was an introvert's dream. I have wondered, even here, about spending too much time inside. Guess it's just who I am right now.

That compulsion to travel to the interior is so at odds with our culture. We're supposed to be busy accumulating, doing, going, experiencing, taking, yadda, yadda, yadda.

So just why is the 80-plus-year-old journal from someone of another era (Jung died in 1961) flying off bookshelves, in its fifth printing and back ordered? What's the fascination?

It is the timeless search for Self, I believe. Self could also be interpreted as wholeness, God, Spirit, Truth, ... whatever is bigger than the self.

The madness of running and accumulating does not deeply satisfy nor does it seem like a healthful place: mentally, spiritually physically or emotionally. It may be why there are so many addictions in our society, avenues to dull or cope with the constant motion and the aloneness and isolation that ensue.

If I understand correctly, this series of journals began as a response to horrific visions and dreams Jung had of bloody rivers, death and destruction. It made him question his sanity and launched him on a journey away from the academic success and notoriety he was enjoying. Less than a year after the dream, WWI broke out and Jung realized the dream had been a portent, answering his sanity doubt.

Perhaps the chaos in our culture cries out for something like The Red Book. A real, true conversation with ourselves and what lies in and beneath the surface. Looking beyond the man-made reality to the true Reality.

The Red Book is just such a glimpse.

• What does a dialogue with the soul mean to me?
• What has my interior journey encompassed?
• How could I benefit from the deep exploration of another?
• For what does our spirit cry out for comfort from our culture?
• What deeply comforts me?

as a modern
there's so
much emphasis
on the light,
the sacred

as if
the dark

or should
not be

yet, I

things brew
and form

a rich,

one to
I am more
than invited

to investigate

to find
my whole

not just
the one

what is

but an
for enlightenment

not an
but the
of so

talked about
by the light

I think
dark spaces

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Surgery of surrender

Sunday on my drive to Meeting (church), this phrase ran through my head seemingly out of nowhere:

Cut it loose

It's still with me and I wondered if it was something I was meant to say in worship, but it didn't feel like it then.

Tuesday and Wednesday, I hosted an overnight guest, a very good friend from my School of the Spirit days. That's when I spent two years commuting to Philadelphia while participating in a Quaker program of spiritual-nurture ministry. A chunk of that time was spent in an assigned small group charged with developing deep community. Mine was totally dysfunctional for a variety of reasons and a VERY difficult period in my life. However, I learned that sometimes the nurture is not where you expect, but it IS there. This overnight visitor was one of the people who nurtured me outside of that group. She and several others kept me going when the small community was draining, even damaging, at times. I have reached a place where I am grateful to that group and carry each person fondly. There were great lessons from that trying experience. I have cut the resentment loose.

My traveling friend, as she often does, challenged me with a workshop she'd just led on discipleship. I asked her what that meant and she said letting God direct your life. Surrender, I thought. I keep hearing the same thing from my mother, who says it's easier to put that into practice as we age and gain a different perspective.

Isn't that the same as cutting it loose, I  ruminate.

Here's what I think I am being called to cut loose:
– Any expectation (mine or others') about publishing my book and just charging ahead.
– Attempts to convince others this IS my ministry. I KNOW it is and that's enough.
– Comparisons to anything else I or others may make. This book is uniquely MY message and one Spirit drives me to share.
– Worry PERIOD.
– Self doubt.
– Things and people that are not energyzing.
– Anything that's not creative or joyful.
– Feeling obligated to say yes.
– My need to control.
– My need to feel in charge.
– Being anything other than who I am.
– Ego.

Wow, that lists calls for an awfully large knife and I know of only one place that's available: surrender. I pray I can tolerate losing the burdens I heap on myself in this surgery.

• What am I called to cut loose in my life?
• What do I need for that?
 • How can I be prayerful and ask others to support me?
• What will my life look like after that emptying?
• What can that free me for?

I carry
so much

it bears
on me



I have
so much

a persona,
a label,
a mask

that is
no longer
to wear

I ache
to discover
the freedom
of  what lies

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Dark shadows or golden daylight

Last summer, when I crashed and burned, my husband took charge of the girls for a couple of weeks while I just focused on myself. Yes, it was a blessing though I was such a mess, I didn’t realize it at the time. Then, it was survival.

One of the things I did to chillax – chill/relax as my girls call it – was watch episodes of my favorite childhood TV show: Dark Shadows. It was a later re-make, but one of the few things I did that required nothing of me. There were 12 episodes and the eight I watched slowly brought me back to some form of life. Ironic, since the main character is a vampire. I realized then that some things and even people in my life were energy suckers.

Last night, I rediscovered the last four episodes I had forgotten last summer and had a blast viewing #9 and 10.

Dark shadows – wasn’t my last blog entry about emerging from the shadows? The irony or synchronicity (whichever it is) is not lost on me.

What is it with me, vampires, old horror movies and Dark Shadows? I love the stuff. Maybe because it pays attention to those murky places … where I feel I have been lurking most of my recent life. It’s hard for me to emerge into the brightness of daylight sometimes when I’d rather be resting [in my coffin].

For several years, I did product development and corporate marketing at Batesville Casket Company. My mother told me I’d finally found the perfect job. It wasn’t, but I did enjoy aspects of the funeral industry.

And yet, I am also drawn to the light, to Spirit and finding my True Self. Much of that search has happened alone, in my studio with a pen and journal or piece of chalk and paper, wrestling with my interior and also God. I usually have no idea what is happening in the moment. But it’s often a trip of sorts into the murkiness, where things are seething – a kind of soup. When I journey there, I am not alone, the light (Spirit/God) accompanies me, prodding me to the encounter, shedding illumination and even occasional grace. Understanding can be ephemeral, very slow in arriving or ineffable. Assuredly a lot has been lost on me.

I do keep a record and that has been so powerful in claiming my authenticity. It verbalizes, makes it concrete and teaches me reality. And yet, I fear sharing this reality. Afraid some won’t “get” it, label me looney tunes, or suggest I’m not this or that, including Christian.

I have begun to share because I am called to do so more widely. I am learning that even though it does not speak to everyone, I am surely called here nevertheless. To this path. My path. Not someone’s else’s. Whether it be the dark shadows or golden daylight.

• What’s the deeper lesson of my idiosyncratic likes/interests – ones I may often discount?
• Where do I prefer to live: the light or dark?
• Where am I being called to live?
• How do I transition if it is from one to the other?
• What keeps me steady on my path, even if I feel misunderstood?

red-eyed demons,
gnashing teeth
all muddled

and reality

and exterior

do I deny
their existence
to feel


my guide

the internal
the eternal,

self discovery
even grace?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Called from the shadows

My 12-year-old and I recently returned from four days at a Quaker retreat hosted by Conservative Friends, the branch that employs plain speech (thee and thou) and simple dress (similar to the Amish). It's held in the rolling farmland of Eastern Ohio, almost to Wheeling, W. VA, on the campus of Olney Friends School and Stillwater Meeting (church).

This is the sixth time I've visited this place for some form of retreat and something magical always happens.

It's the richness of the old meetinghouse, where the patina of decades of worship is palpable. The Bible study on the porch. The intermingling with Friends across all divisions. The living in community daily, where trust builds and hearts and hurts are able to spill in safety. The meeting for healing when some are called to the middle chair, others to lay on hands and still others to hold it all in prayer. The deep conversations I long for in my everyday life. And the seed to bring that all back with me ... for myself, my family, my home meeting and those I encounter.

So, right now I am still flying on that magic carpet, living on another plane. Thankfully, gracefully, we returned home to a holiday weekend, where the daily nitty gritty is at bay for a few more hours. And I have the chance to slip more easily, peacefully back into regular life as a changed person.

One of the biggest revelations I had this time was during a discussion of elders and ministers. The contemporary take on Quaker elders is more of spiritual nurturers and not those from the past who trolled for personal misdeeds and missteps. Today elders are typically in the background, less visible and, often, holding events and people in prayer. They are divinely tapped – sometimes without recognizing what this is – and usually without human acknowledgment or a naming of this gift. Ministers are more public and typically encouraged by elders. Elders must find their support – beyond God's – in other elders.

I have happily served as an elder for a long time, content behind the scenes, quietly nurturing others. I think women, especially mothers, easily fall into this.

And yet, I have been struggling so over publishing my journals and artwork, finding it hard to put it out there, harder to put myself out there. I am certain of my calling to do so.

And, in the midst of this retreat conversation, I realized it is because I am shifting from the invisible elder to the more visible minister. A place I fear.

I am being asked to put my heart and myself on view. Everything on the line. It means I have to quell those self doubts and claim this authority. New territory. Not just me alone with my perfectionism. I dread the rejection, however, sense I am my own worst critic and a part of this work is to conquer that. Be my own advocate and elder. To trust that I can do what I have been given and do it well and joyfully. To ask and let God help.

• Am I more comfortable behind the scenes or in public in the work to which God calls?
• How does that make me grow?
• Have I been called sometimes as minister, sometimes as elder?
• How do I make that transition?
• What are those lessons?

quickly and quietly
serving behind
the scenes –
where I have
lived most
of my life

sometimes, I
would like the
the pat on
the head 

I prefer
the obscurity
of the shadows
that mask
my imperfections

out in the light
I am more

I am
called there

I fear
I will not
like what I

on the other
hand, maybe
I'll love it

as God does