4.6.2018 Chaos

“When God began to create the heavens and the earth— the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters— God said, “Let there be light.” And so light appeared. God saw how good the light was. God separated the light from the darkness. God named the light Day and the darkness Night.

There was evening and there was morning: the first day.”                       Genesis 1:1-5

Creation, in the cannon of the Christian church it starts everything.

God creates out of nothing–ex nihilo– matter is created, joins into formless and shapeless mass–it is chaos. The water is impossibly deep and stretches over everything, it has no edges, no limits, its boundaries have not yet been drawn. It is over this chaos that the Spirit of God opens her wings over and coos to like a hen over her nest. Into this chaos the mothering God calls forth light–a flash, a second of brilliance and stars started burning across a galaxy that was in its infancy. This first step in bring order to the created is given names. You are Day, and you are Night.

Humanity comes only after Day and Night, Moon and Sun, Land and Sea and their creatures. In this first of Genesis’ creation stories Adam is made of mud and life is breathed into this new Creature–in Adam is all human potential–all features, abilities, races, genders and gifts. Adam is clay shaped by an artisan who can see all of the possibilities before any form takes shape, and with the second creation story as commentary on this mud-divine creature, God created, birthed, shaped all humanity to come in God’s image.

Our lungs are still being filled by God’s breath and our form were seen when God picked up the first bit of dust and smiled. As God’s reflection or likeness, we are called to create to hover and console in the midst of the chaos that is still formless around us. We can call out light where illumination is scarce. We can still name and draw out the truths of creation. We can also count on the mothering God to glide over and coo–to be our nurturing guide through deep waters and the chaos.

3.31.18 lungs

I am not sure this writing ended up in the place I started it, in the dark five days ago, but I feel like it would be counter to awful first drafts not to allow it to be seen. It also doesn’t have a great ending, but maybe you all could help me?

It is 2:26 am and I am awake. My body is fighting a cold and I am frequently overcome by coughing spells, so sleep is intermittent at best. There are so many things that I simply do not think of when I am well, when everything is running as it should. I guess it’s the old sentiment that you don’t know what you have until it’s gone (or gone and got gunked up with mucus). Much like breathing, gratitude is an essential function for health, but how do we come by it if the only it seems to be to catch hold of it is in the absence of things we need and love? Perhaps the work in gratitude is just lifting our gaze? To pay attention to the ever present number of blessings that are around us? But how do you give thanks for things that are unclear until their absence? Also how do we do it with out shaming myself into feelings that I should feel? Here are my late night thoughts on gratitude and gratefulness, in no particular order.

Let your thoughts rest on the (good) small things. Meditating or internal processing  starts here for me, in the tiny permissions I give to feel what it is I am feeling and then to let that feeling run it’s course. In the practice of meditation this is acknowledged that you will have thoughts that demand your attention and just to acknowledge those thoughts and let them pass out of your awareness. When at times I have been buried under the weight of depression and anxiety, I did not have space or energy to consider any of the things and nothing seemed small. (Everything is an existential crisis when you are just trying to convince yourself that getting out of bed is worth the emotional and psychological risk.) The risk of spending time in your head is we can build false gratitude on the rocky soil of should-bes, I should be grateful-I had a good childhood, I should be grateful-I have these children/relationships/material possessions (this one is especially harsh when you are trying to convince yourself to be thankful while grieving). I have never been able to really get to gratitude through shoulding on myself. Instead when I am sad, I found I just needed to give myself permission to be sad, to grieve and to mourn.  It is important to note shame when thinking about gratitude–after all the reality of the feeling is best when a work that is not buried in our sense of obligation.

Listen to the others’ story.  Listening to others is a work in allowing the holy imprint that God has placed on all of us to reflect back to us the truest word about all humanity–that we are deeply loved, a delight to God and covered in grace. Community also is where my rough edges, bad habits and wrong beliefs can be tried and tested. When I invest in the other I find that I am given windows into my own self, my blind spots and the places I take for granted. The caution is when that the mirror that is held up, it is not used to pray the prayerthank you God that I am not [what I believe to be an undesirable person, race, social location, ability, income level]. (And before you say, “no one says that.” When was the last time that you heard someone talk about a recent time of “helping poor people” showed them just how much they have to thank God for?) I want to emphasize this exercise is not: being thankful based on the it-could-always-be-worse reasoning. Listening deeply is a practice of letting the other’s story speak for itself, not listening for validation of my own story and understandings. Gratitude should not build off what I deem undesirable in the experience of the other, but  should let the other reflect the image of God back when I have not placed my gratitude within its proper location.

Find a location for gratitude that is outside of material possessions or transient ‘good.’ I will admit to my own struggle with this: I know intellectually and theologically that God’s blessing is not equivalent to my creature comforts. When I have been particularly depressed I have wondered why God is doing this to me, but conversely I am not sure I blame God for promotions at work or unexpected gifts. If I am ill it does not mean that God has struck me down, if I am well it does not mean that God is so very pleased with me to reward me with clear lungs. But this reward/punishment understanding is centuries older than I am and is supported by fire-insurance evangelism, prosperity theology and commercialism–Jesus’ disciples even asked, “who sinned–this man or his parents?” Religion is in the business of making sense out of the world, but God’s name has been given to somethings that are no better than dumb luck, genetic predisposition and socioeconomic loci. Likewise marketing’s business is to make any of us nearly religious in our gaining of markers of material status. Everything ages and wears out–bodies start to fail and iPhones get replaced–and my gratitude cannot rest in the things or the markers of normalized human existence.

Now, just to also address a couple of semi-related things. I do confess that God is good and working for good, because of this I think prayer about health or our needs is appropriate, even biblically recommended. And I do believe that I should give thanks for the things I have–I just can’t use them as indications of God’s merit or the reason to be grateful–the location of gratitude is in the confession of God’s goodness–even when circumstances in my life change.

3.24.18 Lament to Levity

“When all the world appears to be in a tumult, and nature itself is feeling the assault of climate change, the seasons retain their essential rhythm. Yes, fall gives us a premonition of winter, but then, winter, will be forced to relent, once again, to the new beginnings of soft greens, longer light, and the sweet air of spring.”                                    Madeleine M. Kunin

I often hear people say that they continue to live in the upper prairie states because, “I love being where there are four seasons.” The fact that this is easy to argue against–on March 24th we got like 6 inches of snow and I have spent more Easters in flannel and fleece than pastel dresses. We may have 2 seasons–a hot one and a cold one, but I don’t live here for the weather anyway. I live here because I have people here I could not really thrive without (and for some reason we haven’t just all made a pact to move to temperate places together). It was on back-to-back weekends with some of these important people that I stumbled across seeing the edges on one of my own seasons–book ends.

I have struggled with depression and anxiety for most of my life–the first time I was medicated was in seventh grade–but the last half of my twenties and the first half of my thirties have been some of the darkest and deepest dives into the black pit. In the midst of the darkness faith has still been a constant. I believe that some of the perspective on the matter that I now have has been because of God’s consistent and unwavering love for me throughout depression.

So dread and sorrow and disappointment and anger and sadness have been emotions that I have gotten really used to feeling while in the pit–and these are not the emotions that “good Christian girls” feel. We are supposed to count all things as joy and rejoice–again I say rejoice! (why does that still sound like it is through gritted teeth in my head?) There is this pervasive thought that because of what Christ did, humans are supposed to be filled with gratitude and be happy (dammit!). Well if you have ever tried to will yourself any other emotion than the one you are feeling you know this goes one of two ways: instead of the emotion you are trying to tamp down–say, sadness, it pops out as anger (or eating an entire bag of mini peanut butter cups), or you get good at shutting down emotions and you are just numb.

I don’t think God wants numb over tears. I don’t think God wants happy masks over sorrow–I think God wants us to be fully alive, free from unhealthy social expectations and  fully to be a beautiful broken and mended us. Mending and healing take time, and God was kind not to demand my tears stop in one instant and here is where my first bookend of this journey began: Lament. Lament (as I know it) is the spiritual practice of telling God that the current circumstances failed to meet your expectations and that you are expecting something different. Lament as spiritual practice can feel foreign to us, as we have been told that our joy is equal to how saved we feel, but this is biblical. Below is a favorite lament of mine, Psalm 13:1-4

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

Here the poem is short but direct–I feel forgotten. I feel like I am fighting within myself. I am in the dark, and no one, not even you God seems to know. Now if your internal response to my last statement is, No, you can’t say that! God is always with you and always knows! don’t stop reading–and lean into that discomfort. Laments are honest prayers written from the place of the pit–and God seems OK with the feelings as Jesus quoted another lament psalm from the cross, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Psalm 22:1a). God showed me through lament that my darkness did not scare God, instead God could hold all of my feelings and sit with me in the darkness.

And there was plenty of darkness.

Until there was a little more light,

then a little more,

and then some more still.

Until my lament could start to turn and I could pray with full feeling the last two verses of Psalm 13:

 

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

 

When you have spent years blinking in the darkness you don’t always know what to do in the sun–you don’t always know how to be in spaces where you used to cry and mourn and slog your way through. And that is where I was two Fridays ago. Sitting in a chapel, with a small grin on my face and a question in my head, “what do I do in these spaces now that I am not feeling dread or sorrow or disappointment or anger or sadness? What do I do when lament isn’t quite fitting? And I heard in my head, “Learn Levity.” And just like that I was introduced to the closing of this season of depression–my other bookend.

Levity–lightness or humor, if you go to extremes it is irreverent and fickleness, but in that moment what I heard in it was, “I taught you lament, now I am going to teach you to be light.” God again is not scared of our feelings–either ones that are full of weight or of those that are feather light. And I imagine that it may take God another decade to love me to an understanding of how light life can be as well.

I am happy to close the bookends on this space in my life, to move on toward the “soft greens, longer light, and the sweet air of spring.”

He has Risen. Let the world be filled with the Light.

Like the bookends pictured? You can get them here. I do not receive any compensation for the link and I am not trying to promote their products, I am just grateful for the use of their picture.

3rd Draft 2.20.18

If you want to read the First Draft of this look here and if you want to see the 2nd Draft here. Please comment below on what is missing, what is unclear, what is great, or what needs refining? I am looking to be better in all areas of writing and your assistance would be much appreciated.

 

I am asking that you take a close look at me. You will see that my light brown hair is colored to hide the ever increasing number of grey hairs. I tell myself that I am not ashamed of the aging, but I wrinkle my nose up in disgust as another breaks through my scalp. The skin of my face is pale, marked with sun damage, large pores and freckles and rises over high cheek bones.  I like it–it’s mine and it’s not likely to get ‘better’ or more youthful no matter what my skincare line promises. I have earned all of the fine lines by lost and misplaced sunglasses. I have been gifted the acne, in various stages of healing, by my ovaries. I have hazel eyes–those are a gift, too from my grandma through my dad. If your gaze was to drop to my shoulders, on the right is a large tattoo. It covers most of my shoulder blade and is a twisted pine clinging to a rock cliff with the sunrise or sunset behind.

Scars are always stories, and tattoos are the scars you choose. So the story goes like this:

In the land of Michigan, where a young man and a young woman met, fell in love and married, not long after they welcomed their first child. A girl with hazel eyes and big feet (she grew into them). After four short months into this little girls life, this new father and new mother and new baby moved from the land of Michigan to the plains. And then they would move in another year, three after that, six there, seven in another, and to another until this little girl with hazel eyes found herself a girl with average sized feet (I told you she grew into them) and a high school diploma. She set out in a economy car and moved and moved and moved and moved again until she was 27 she didn’t have the same zip code for longer than six months. Now if you imagine that this kind of moving sounds bohemian and adventurous, good on you—in fact stop reading, just go on thinking that I am some charmed roving soul. If your thought was, “that sounds exhausting” then please continue and perhaps put on the kettle, we may need the tea.

Migrancy or nomadic life is no blemish on my parents, they followed their own Divine path and it lead them from prairie town to seminary back to prairie towns. So hear me when I say that what they did was not wrong, but it did leave me with scars. That is the thing about scars, about pain and about memory–in them is not always the easy labels of “right” or “wrong,” they don’t have villains with evil at the core of their being, or heroes with hearts of gold.

I explore this idea more in: I hope to Never see you

Moving left me with the inability to settle in and start sending out the oh-so-necessary-shoots from my soul, so that my roots could tangle and mingle with the souls that shared it’s location. All of us are organisms that thrive when we are strong in our own understanding of self and strong in our connections with others who are also strong in their understanding of self. Like aspen groves we grow up lifting our life gathering leaves toward the heavens and below supporting each other in a network that feeds and sustains all. Well, that is the ideal sense, I think, we may act more like gnarled old oaks and grow tight in our grains and lonely in our post.

On days when I am particularly wistful I think, “I want to be a stream planted tree, I want deep roots and to be supported by my neighbors and to support them.” But moving made root dropping difficult. I whined and bucked at the fact no one gladly turned over the soil of the community and let me push my self down through dark and fertile  silt to nourish  my soul. I spent a fair amount of acrylic painting disterra’d trees, floating with no earth, but also no sky to look to for Life. I dated boys with families that cling to the land that their ancestors had turned over with pride and plow, but I could not even graft myself to their rootstock. Each move felt like another scar raised against my soul. Until my thirties I thought very little about what was necessary  to ‘be planted,’ I just wish that I had been. What great effort those around would have had to exert to allow me an easy planting, until I wrestled with my scars I resented them and their deep local roots.

Scars are stories and tattoos are the scars you choose. And I found myself at 30 years old faced with a thought and an image. A tree gnarled by the work of digging in, and growing where theirs is little soil, but the wonder of seeing so much of the heavens. I made the choice to have that image inked forever in my flesh, to remind me that home is not always given easily to us, but home is available when we invest in the world at the end of our fingertips–the people, the communities, the environment that is all around us. Those gnarled trees and the plants that cling to rocks do the centuries long work  of making a place habitable for others by breaking the barriers micro cracks at a time. I had this sense that as a person without planting in easy places, I have been tasked with making the way for others. My work is not to be a solitary tree in a rocky place, but to reach out to the company of other misfit trees whose seeds have also been blown to this high place and then the work becomes ours. We do not get the ease of the Michigan climate or the wideness of the plains. We are made by wind and journey and the rocks that we wind our strong roots around, slowly but surely making way for others to be planted and to flourish.

I carry the shape of my journey, and I would not push any to follow it themselves. I can tell you when you stop trying to be easily planted and instead dig in, you will find the sunrise and sunset is sweet at these elevations.

1st Draft 3.8.18

I have been known in my life to grab a hold of a definition that has been given to me by someone else and owning it. Told once that I looked good in hats, I took as an official edict of my attractiveness in headgear for all time. (but just to be clear, I do look amazing in hats) So, I know it is a delicate balance to wish some sort of definition on myself. But I have really want to be a mystic.

I read an article on female saints today. Uncompromising women who took oaths and saw visions. I want to be like that sometimes– to sit in contemplation of the Love of all loves, to see visions dance across my walls and to write great works for generations to unravel. Also, as far as I can tell all of them wore something on their heads. It seems like the perfect fit.

I am not a mystic saint, and certainly not one that will be canonized, or would fit any of the terms. Besides the obvious lack of Catholic devotion and still being alive and all, I have never performed a miracle and I have never been in a trance where I was wed to Christ or pierced through with arrows of holiness. Clearly, I am writing okay-works for instant consumption on the internet, so even that’s off the list. I did have a period of ecstasy with some queso and chips recently, but I digress. Mysticism has a place in nearly every world religion, it is a leading gift and yet a solitary one. It is a deep inward dive that listens for the voice of the Divine Love and through those images and experiences leads others toward Love–and who wouldn’t want that?

Mostly, I am not a mystic because, despite the fact that I am a very emotional person, my faith primarily runs through my intellect. I have studied Christian theology, I have read tomes from crusty scholars and written countless papers. (Plus this quiz online told me I am a sage, not a mystic, and clearly 15 questions can really get to the heart of my true self.) I think deeply about my faith, about how to explain to others how a multi-millennia old book has anything to say to actual millennials (and those other generations too), and to marry the deep rhythms of faith practice with work that makes faith alive.

I am exactly the woman I was created to be. I like to explore the ethics of why Jesus might have an opinion on your recycling or how your personal theology impacts the way you spend money, participate in your community, or treat your neighbor. I am not a mystic despite my best efforts to be silent and contemplative–and quite honestly when I engage in those practices I get twitchy or sleepy. Each person is called to live into the self we have been created as, and there is no shame in the kind of self we are. Not to say that sages, prophets or others should not engage in introspection and listening for the voice of God–we just don’t have to feel bad about it when we drift in thought to tacos or dancing or nod off to sleep. Sometimes, despite my best efforts, God interacts with me in a mystical way–but it is all God then and it is amazing–in those moments I am held in the hand of the Divine and clothed from head to toe in Love.

I know that there is a place in the universe for sages, plus if you do a quick perusal of google images brings up quite a few sages in hats.

via Daily Prompt: Uncompromising