Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Holy wholeness

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I love it when single concepts, phrases or thoughts that haunt me, eventually intersect and intertwine, given enough time, to illuminate me. Take these, for example:

• The Bishop Desmond Tutu quote a Bloomington Quaker said had stuck with him.
There is no peace without reconciliation. There is no reconciliation without forgiveness. There is no forgiveness without giving up hope for a better past.*

That simple. salient idea is mind boggling – to me. In my dis-ease, that's really where I've been living. It seems natural in our woundedness to focus, even obsess, on changing what harmed us ... in the past. No wonder healing is so illusive. I just think I'm looking forward when I'm truly stuck wallowing in the unalterable. What if I let go?

• The words on the page of the intriguingly unfamiliar Jewish prayer book that reached into my soul during my daughter's and my first bat-mitzvah ceremony:

We become what we worship.
So if we worship the past, that's the only place we'll ever be. The same holds true for fixating on the cause of our wounds. However, there's great hope for transformation in opening our attention to what is mutable. Mostly, our attitudes and thoughts, eventually, surrendering them.

• My Quaker minister's message that the original (Greek) definition of sin means missing and, in another portion of her homily, that all of our parts are holy.

I would run from the word sin until I read Quaker author John Punshon's explanation as being out of sync with God. The idea of missing something rings true to me in the same sense. And the fact that all of the parts of ourselves are holy is a concept I am only lately learning to embrace. I have withheld my imperfection from God, but now understand surrender requires turning everything over.

• An insightful friend's response in ministry to that message of her veteran patient only coming to terms with a second amputation after hugging the "missing part" and sobbing. The spirit and soul of this broken body were glowing and powerful, she said.

When surrendered, God shows us holiness in our imperfection.

Together, this string of singly profound wisdom pushed out something deeper, which has been working in me for weeks:

If we worship
the brokenness
of the past,

We are missing
the mark
and not living
into our
holiness, wholeness

• How can I let go of the places I live in the past?
• What have I become as the result of what I truly worship?
• How does the idea of sin as missing change my perceptions?
• In surrendering to God the parts of myself I have withheld, how have I experienced my imperfection, my humanness, as holy?
• How can I live more fully into holiness, wholeness?

* In trying to verify that specific quote, I stumbled upon many attributions for the phrase "giving up hope for a better past," including Lily Tomlin and Anne Lamott

Friday, June 24, 2011

Murdering the martyred-mother mantra

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Two epiphanies entered me on the massage table yesterday. Two biggies and all I really expected was for my body to relax, deeply.

The first came as my therapist/counselor was suggesting I think about the "the light" illuminating the darkness. OMG, I internalized, that's all I seem to have wrestled with lately and it's so much work. I'm tired of feeling heavy and then it hit. Conceive of the lightness as transforming the heaviness, not as working on the darkness. BINGO. Uncoincidentally, or maybe not, I began a cleansing diet this week and there's, hopefully, literal lightness there as well. I want summer to be weightless and playful, so this suits me just fine.

When in Bloomington, IN, recently on a writing retreat, I visited the local Quaker meeting for the second time and was compelled to speak, once again. As I uttered the words, responding to another worshipper's ministry about the evil darkness the parents of a missing coed must be facing, I realized that I don't necessarily view darkness as evil. I said something along the lines of:

I live in the darkness
and have realized the
difference of evil darkness and
the darkness of unknowing.
The place I surrender, recognize
I am not in control. There's
only one thing to do: trust.

As those words rolled off my tongue, I recalled that I had spoken about darkness in some context last time. And a kindly Friend approached me afterward, thanking me for my words and also remembering. "I guess I have the space [luxury] to enter the darkness when I am on retreat," I responded.

But now, summer is in swing and I want to enjoy it by putting the hard work aside and basking in the lazier, sunnier days.

And then, in the throes of deep body work and relaxation, a voice called out: "Put yourself first PERIOD." I haven't been in trying to be all things to all people and I burned out big time. I taunt myself into self care under the guise of having the energy to do something for the next person to ask. How out of whack is that?  What is my ego keeping me from? 

Several years ago during a School-of-the-Spirit [a Quaker nurture ministry program] session, I read Jesus' version of the golden rule and understood my version had been: "Do better unto others than yourself." Ego tells me that's selfish and my helper enneagram feeds right into that.

Time to reverse some flawed thinking, which, I believe, flows right into the message of lightness. I'm murdering the martyred-mother mantra, replacing it with the new, improved and lighter to-thine-own-self-be-true slogan.

• What effect can I let this summer have on me?
• What's my conception of "the light?"
• How can I push, refine or redefine that in a manner that's more nurturing?
• What's a negative personal mantra I carry?
• What more beneficial one I can replace it with?

the voicemail
e-mails and
personal encounters
weigh me down

when I feel
the heaviness of
duty dictates that
they come first

when, however,
I come first,
the needs of others
are a joy to hear
and answer

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A ravishing tigger

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It’s day four of my solitary summer adventure, soon to not be so monastic as my family joins me tomorrow. The Amstel beer and bottle of Valpolicella, eating well and meeting a lot of interesting folks, definitely, disqualify this as monastic. Nevertheless, it’s always wonderful to regain a sense of who I am and a more playful rhythm when I am alone.

It helps me remember myself separate from the identities I take on when around people I love and know well. It’s that enneagram #2/helper thing I do and it’s sure a vacation to leave that behind.

I have been working, though not as intensely as I was last January when I visited for a week. It was easier in the bitter coldness and bulging white blanket to remain inside with a fire lit internally and externally and write. This community was almost vacant and lakeside walks turned up little more than birdcalls, deer tracks and crumbled geodes as company.

Right off the bat, I met am amazing woman who is this cul-de-sac’s go-to person. She shares her recreation key with me and we’ve had some nice conversations poolside. She’s a five-year breast-cancer survivor, who takes none of this natural beauty here for granted. Everyone seems to know Donna.

Yesterday, I wore a bright orange skirt and matching scarf, ready to cheerfully greet the day. It was quite the conversation starter and I reverted to just being me, Rosie. Brenda is a costumer who runs a jammed closet-like vintage shop on Bloomington’s square. Her concoctions of new and old are divine. Around the corner, the young guy running the shoe store made me feel like a queen trying on $150 shoes that I did not buy. I can’t remember the last time I was waited on in that manner. I sat on the comfy couch and pretended, knowing full well I would not get this pair. He didn’t seem to care, yet treated me as if I were his best customer.

I had a nice chat with the IU (Indiana University) student in the fair-trade shop, exchanged pleasantries in words and energy with the guy in the holistic space next door and generally enjoyed the day, paying attention to most all I met. Usually I’m in too big of a rush. The cashier in the department store where I did buy a pair of shoes, for $25, had the most stunning aqua eyes and I told her so. I was noticing and noticed.

I ended my outing with an iced coffee, meeting five-month-old Mohammed and his father, who was tending him while his wife was at the nearby salon.

Today, not physically dressed in orange but still feeling swept up, I made my way to the famous Saturday farmer’s market and was not disappointed: brown eggs, fresh cheese, organic meat, Indiana sweet cherries, garlic skeins, lush bouquets, Amish farmers, the guy who sold me black and raspberry bushes, students, starving artists (one from whom I bought a painting), intellectuals, upscale bakers, klezmer musicians and a woman in Laura-Ingalls-Wilder dress doling out just-popped corn from a bloated copper kettle. What a melting pot (ok, so maybe predominantly a white melting pot).

I am beginning to see everyday can be this way: a feast for the senses with many connections. Some deep, others for the moment only. It’s about experiencing each moment joyfully, with an eagerness and openness that so often get left behind in our hurry to the next task.

• When was the last time I really enjoyed being myself?
• What were my interactions like then?
• Was I noticing and being noticed?
• How can I remember that place in myself?
• How can I greet the day as myself, with eagerness and openness, instead of feeling bombarded by my to-do list?
the short orange skirt
and matching beaded shawl
made me feel like a ravishing tigger
I was
the princess trying on the glass slipper
the activist concerned about workers in Ghana
the seamstress interested in vintage costuming
the gardener learning about berries
the artist supporting another
the foodie who bought the local cheese
the visitor who felt welcomed
I was me and
all those I encountered

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Abandoned Shell

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The day did not start out well. I awoke tired and hot, remembering that I could not get the internet running last night and I didn’t have a current pool key. So much for working and swimming. Alone in the woods. Perhaps I don’t need my computer or the pool today.

I pry a kindly woman from her condo, who offers to show me how to open the pool gate: maybe I didn’t turn the oversized key just half way. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t budge, but am grateful someone wants to help. As we leave the pavement for the grass, as she walks her small, fluffy dog to the pool and I follow, I spy an abandoned turtle shell by the dumpster. “Hey, think I could take this for my kids?” I ask knowing full well I intend it for myself. “Sure,” the woman says with a smile.

Not a half hour earlier I was writing about turtle shells, trying to craft the tightest summary of my book Turtlebox Stories I could manage.

About seven years ago when discerning how best to present a research paper for a session of School of the Spirit* I was attending, I hit on the idea of a turtlebox [yes one word]. It had an interesting ring because the ear is more accustomed to hearing box turtle. I had collected, mostly in person, the precious stories of people’s experiences of the divine and a boring, old paper did not seem appropriate for something so special. These personal and sacred stories cried for a container that matched their uniqueness. Thus, the turlebox was hatched.

I used a nine-a-and-half-inch, oval paper-mache´ box as the basis, painting it a myriad of bright colors. I knew the lid would be even more special: the shape of a turtle’s shell, head and legs, also painted, but with layers of pastel, loved trinkets, Mod-Podge and my signature squiggles. The top was attached to the first turtlebox with Velcro, to make sure it would be protected in flight. As it sat in our large classroom at the convent, it drew a lot of attention.

So much so, that when I returned four months later, the mother turtle was accompanied by 25 babies: one for each classmate and instructor. Honestly, making those that summer was my sanity. It was a dark time and the project lifted me from that place.

Somewhere along the way, a friend clued me into what Native Americans believe about turtles: that they are the meeting place between Heaven and Earth. The shell is the dome, pointing upward and the body touches earth. I had no idea, yet was immediately struck with the “rightness” to hold those stories. Eastern cultures also share that view.

So here I am NOW with a real turtle shell to examine, admire and wonder what happened to its owner. Somehow, it feels like a gift for me. A tangible sign that I need to forge ahead with the book that’s been 12 years in the making [ok, I wasn’t so aware that’s what was happening the whole time] and never seems to get done. Maybe it’s time for me to take off my shell and share it, not hord and refine the life out of it.

And all I could think of this morning was being unplugged and not wet. This is far better!

• What made me cranky today?
• Did I let that cloud any gifts or thoughtfulness from others?
• If I didn’t, what shifted in me?
• If I did, how can I shift myself next time?
• What stories lay in my personal turtlebox?

PS My key did not work, but the kindly woman is letting me use hers and I am still struggling to get inet access; this will get posted when I do …

*School of the Spirit is a two-year Quaker program of spiritual-nurture ministry that, at the time, met four times a year. For more information, visit www.quakerinfo.com/sos.shtml

You can see the stories I collected at www.turtleboxstories.com. I am re-vamping the site to make it more interactive, but you can still read the current offerings.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Playing in my heart

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A long day all ‘round.

Just could not get out of the house and on the road. The kids’ first day home for summer. A sick friend needed an ear and another, a chat. The packing waited. 

The GPS was missing and I forgot the Google map, but I took the back way anyhow and, when lost, winged it, mostly. I do have a sense of direction, often bypassed with all of the high-tech toys. I like listening to my own voice rather than the GPS we not-so affectionately call blabber-mouth.

I took US Route 50 out of Milford to within a half hour of my condo destination, just south of Bloomington, IN. It’s funny how perceptions and realities shift when crossing a border – any border. Indiana just seems different than Ohio and, as I swayed along country roads, I tried to articulate why. This Hoosier state knows who it is and is comfortable in that skin. It’s the heartland of America, middle-of-the-road, crossroads, country, comfortable as a pair of faded jeans and unconcerned about appearances. There’s a consistency of life here: solid, small-town and what-you-see-is-what-you-get.

When I could get a radio station – my antenna broke long before I ever noticed – I had the choice of country or country. I settled on country and decided I could write my own song – about this trip.

I started and repeated, so I wouldn’t forget, then made a pit stop at McDonald’s, skipping the food to sit at a table and write the lyrics on the back of a gas receipt. I also used the video function on my camera, photographing the symbolic parked train parallel to the highway for a good distance. Upon playing it back, I realized the microphone was in the front, so I used just the audio. I think I have the beginnings of something:

A woman alone
got a journey to make,
Choosin’ the long way ‘round                  
with somethin’ to be found
Life’s been demanding,
but no reprimanding
The solitude calls from within her walls
Been singing her song for ever so long
But the ears can’t receive
what the heart has to grieve
Bit of dying happens ‘long this path
so something grows from the aftermath …

Not so terrible for a first song.

And the day was perfect Midwest summer: so hot it stifles your insides like steamy, unbaked cake batter and taps the memories of childhood when the heat was secondary. The day is open to playful possibilities.

The three-hour trip took five, but who’s counting? I only minded the 40-minute traffic jam around Lawrenceburg. Gave me time to wonder what, exactly, the casinos have done for the town … except snarl movement.

So NOW, I am here … alone and on retreat for a few days, Maybe I’ll be able to finish my song. [No promises of singing it, however!]

• How often do I recognize that the interruptions are part of the journey, maybe even the journey?
• When I do, what shift occurs within me?
• How can it turn a bother into a gift?
• What song is currently playing in my heart?
• What title can I give it?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Watering the desert of loneliness

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When I shared the current iteration of the book I am finishing – it seems I'll never be done – I was disappointed by the strong reaction of a friend to the first chapter entitled "Pain as teacher." I had struggled with that title and it, finally, seemed such an apt fit. "I'd choose another word, people don't want to read that. I know I don't want to think about the pain of chemo again," she told me.

I stopped in my tracks and yet I've had to consider her suggestion because I value her experience and opinion. In sitting with that episode, I have realized that I probably can't change the title because it has been my reality.

Then, last night in desperation to get to sleep and away from my non-drowsy ten-year-old, I picked up a book from the spirituality pile sitting on my bedside table. It was Henry Nouwen's Reaching Out: Three Movements of the Spiritual Life. I have no idea how it came to be there; it's not my book. Anyway, he, too, gets right to the heart of matters in addressing the uinversally individual condition of loneliness, suggesting that one can not be engaged in a spiritual life without recognizing the poles between which we vacillate. The first movement is loneliness and solitude and our constant movement between them is our spiritual life.

In that loneliness lives the pain that no one cares for or understands us. Pain, he calls it. Pain.

It's pain our culture anesthetizes and that we personally avoid by busying ourselves. I know that it calls to us anyway and, when unaddressed, clamors for our attention. And there's really only one way to deal with it: dead on by looking deeply into ourselves. I don't doubt that anyone goes there unless forced. No one else can do this work for us. Nouwen calls that the "false expectation that we are called to take each other's lon[e]liness away ... by burdening others with these divine expectations ... we inhibit the expression of free friendship and love and evoke instead feelings of inadequacy and weakness."

He's not messing around here. However, he does offer a path: "find the courage to enter into the desert of our lon[e]liness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude."

When I muster that courage, I have been gracefully rewarded. Two weeks ago, during Quaker worship, I was able to sink pretty deeply pretty quickly, which is not always the case. I was so rooted, I had a waking dream of Jesus standing behind me moving me with love, not words, toward an ancient, stone wash basin. It was a baptism: a cleansing of my heart of all that is not love. An act I did for myself motivated by love: from Jesus, for me, from me and for all others.

"The real spiritual guide," according to Nouwen, "is the one who, instead of advising us what to do or to whom to go, offers us a chance to stay alone and take the risk of entering into our own experience. He makes us see that pouring little bits of water on our dry land does not help, but that we will find a living well if we reach deep enough under the surface of our complaints.

I recently found my well. I pray I have the courage and trust to return.

• When have I felt lonely?
• What does it feel like, exactly?
• What happens when I open to it?
• How does it direct me spiritually?
• How have I experienced my inner well?

hurrying off to worship
probably a cross word or two
muttered to the kids in the car

... opening the large
wood-and-glass doors
and something begins to happen

I feel my heart again

its beat vibrates more strongly
as I sense the presence of others

soon, I'm not there anymore
but in a room of stone
Jesus, moving me forward
without words

to an ancient basin,
where I cleanse my heart,
leaving room only for