Sunday, January 18, 2015

Moving On

I know I have been angry, and I've hated it. Anger is an emotion I've never been comfortable with. I hate to generalize, but I do think most women have been trained to avoid anger...or at least to avoid looking angry. Anger is not sweet, submissive, or beautiful-- which is what we are told women should be. We may master annoyance, or feeling "hurt"; neither of which can contain true rage. That emotion is too powerful and scary, and speaking for myself, I have had no idea how to deal with it. Recently though, I find my bitter and accusatory voice has quieted itself substantially. I don't know if I can say I've come to accept my anger, or if I've made peace with it, or what exactly has happened. Though it seems I'm finally at a place to move past it, which has been my prayer all along. 

I will say this though, I don't know if I could have made it to where I am without the help of anger. That's the power of it, right? It gives us energy we didn't know we had and gives us the strength to fight. But it can be a dangerous fire, as we all know, that can do more damage than good. The Bible warns that "the wrath of man works not the righteousness of God" (James 1:20) because I think usually our ego is it's driving force. But not always. The love of God can be a wrathful fire as well, and that Spirit of God is within us. How do we operate using that Spirit, instead of our flesh? I want with all my heart to learn, and I hope with all my heart that I am.

"The Church", (or maybe religion?) has been the focus of my angry and accusatory thoughts and judgments for the last several years. The problem is, any church and every religion consists of people--real people I love and shouldn't judge. It's been a conundrum. Something that has been so helpful and soothing is to find a group of people (a FB private group of Christian moms with gay kids) that feel my pain.They get it, because they are in the same boat. I was fortunate enough to meet a handful of them in person at the Gay Christian Network's conference that was held in Portland earlier this month.The spirit of that conference, and the beautiful example of so many who are living in grace, forgiveness, and acceptance in the midst of the worst circumstances, has given me so much hope. 

The other major factor in helping me move forward is the wise writings of Richard Rohr. (along with others, of course, but I think he is my favorite) With their help, I am learning to meditate. I talk about this with almost no one; not just because it's deeply personal, but also because I'm embarrassed. I know what many Christians think about meditation, and I don't want to be judged. That's why I am so thankful for Richard Rohr and others like him, because without them I would not have dared ventured into those terrifying waters.The spirit of love, wisdom, and compassion that shines through their words helps me let go of fear, and I am deeply grateful.

I am going to end this post with quotes from the book I am reading now. These are the words that are helping me see that the steps I have taken through religion were important steps, and shouldn't be looked down on or despised. These words are healing my soul. I quote them also with the hope that the wonderful ladies from my group will also read them, as I want so badly for us all to move forward in a positive way and not get stuck in yet another group mentality that just perpetuates the divisions of "us" and "them". 

(From "Dancing Standing Still" by Richard Rohr):

"...we have to begin our spiritual journey where Jewish revelation begins, and that is with Torah: law, structure, identity, boundaries, certitude, order, authority, and clarity...this is how religion must begin. It keeps us inside the right boxing ring until we know what the real issues are and what is worth fighting for...however, there must be something more than Law, or we have no need to go on any journey at all, much less a journey of faith"

"Once we move to stage two, there is an emergence of inner authority. The first level relies almost exclusively on outer authority. Once you begin to know for yourself, once you've gone deep and have met the Holy One, you find that your reliance upon outer authority lessons...Many people are so angry and disillusioned with where outer authority has led history, governments, and churches that they pull all authority inside themselves: 'I won't trust any tradition, any big explanation, anything except my experiences. I will personally create meaning'.

"If you stay in stage one (conformity) or stage two (criticism) you are in no way ready for mystery, paradox, the collision of opposites that is the Cross, or, quite simply, you are not ready for adult faith...the movement from stage one to stage two is experienced as a major dying...This is why there is so little transformative religion; much religion is either a belonging and belief system that asks almost nothing of you, or a reward/punishment system that, of course, doesn't really invite you to fall in love with God at all, but relies upon conformity, along with disguised threat, shame, and fear."

"However, everyone gets tired of critique after a while. We can only build on life and what we are for, not what we are against...mere critique and analysis are not salvation; they are not liberation, nor are they spacious...We only become enlightened as the ego dies to its pretenses, and we begin to be led by soul and Spirit. That dying is something we are led through by the grace of God and by confronting our own shadow."

"It took me a long time to recognize that my need to judge was not really a desire for truth, as I had convinced myself it was. My need to judge was a desire for control and to be right. That's what is taken away from us in meditation, and that's why many will never go on the inner journey. It gives us some kind of comfort to feel superior and secure; momentary comfort that 'I am right' takes away our anxiety. Don't believe me? Watch your own behavior. Control is the first need of the ego."

"The False Self will always need to win, be right, and, if possible, defeat the other...The soul defines itself by expansion and inclusion--not by saying "no," but by offering a kind of courageous, risky "yes"; "Yes, I am like everybody else, capable of the same good and the same bad. They are all my brothers and sisters." The soul knows we are all equally naked underneath our clothes."

"If your whole identity is being a Republican or Democrat, you had better not pray (meditate) you really had better not, because your Republican/Democrat identity just isn't going to mean a great deal. Nor will your black/white, gay/straight, rich/poor, American/Asian, or even Christian/non-Christian identity be your rallying cry. You are an utterly new creation, and finally "Christ is all in all".

Amen; let it be!!!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

My Caterpillar Anti-Miracle

"My caterpillar died"...that was the reason I gave my pastor for why I was having a complete crisis of faith. I did a terrible job of explaining it then, (almost a year ago) and I've been hoping ever since that somehow God would make sense of it. And when I got that clarity, I would write an inspiring essay summing it all up with a neatly bundled conclusion as to why everything's going to be alright. 

Oh, how I wish I was sitting here with those answers. I want signs and wonders; I think they will give me certainty. But I think I understand now, that no matter how clear the sign or marvelous the wonders; life will bring us a reason to doubt...and sometimes more than doubt.

So, back to the caterpillar story. Caterpillars are nature's testament of resurrection. We've all used the caterpillar as a sign of hope for our future transformation, right? Except when my daughter and I stopped at a bug museum in Bremerton, I did not buy a caterpillar with any of that in mind. (I actually wanted to torment a friend of mine who is terrified of butterflies--but that's another story)

As that little jar sat on my windowsill, I don't know when it started to represent hope to me; but it did. I needed that butterfly; I needed a sign from God so I could keep hanging on. At the point when the caterpillar stopped moving, and just laid on the bottom like a rotting lump, it felt like God giving up on me. Actually, not just me, but US. That stupid caterpillar was despair on display, and every time I walked through the kitchen I wanted to weep. But I couldn't throw it away.

It was Easter time. I kept thinking about how hopeless things had looked for Jesus' disciples. Jesus was dead; it was over. None of them believed he was coming back. They were not encouraging each other to just "hang onto faith". Their only question must have been "what now?". Whether you believe Jesus rose from the dead or not, one thing is clear--it was not the faith of his followers that brought it about. So I kept thinking...even though I was certain that caterpillar was dead, it could still be alive, regardless of my thoughts towards it. 

Would you believe that on Easter morning, I found that caterpillar hanging from the top of the jar and in the process of forming his cocoon?  It's true; and it was nothing short of a miracle to me. In the following week, I shared my story of hope to my husband and daughter in the midst of their own crises, bringing even more meaning and joy to this wondrous sign that had been given to me. We all watched over that jar as if it contained the future of the universe. 

After two weeks, and even after the cocoon fell and turned into what looked like a raisin, I still could not throw it away. I put it in another room so I wouldn't have to look at it, but I still hoped with all the hope I could muster every time I dared peek that I would see a butterfly. I think it was another two weeks before I decided to bury it. I had a little funeral for that butterfly that never came to be--with just myself, and a God I feared truly might be mocking me. 

"Faith is a gift from God"--this is what the Bible tells us, and I've experienced it as true. I still have hope. In all my doubting, anger, worry, and crippling despair, God sustains me. I have no answer for it. And though I can't end this story with a tidy assurance filled image of setting my butterfly free, we know there are still butterflies in the world. I can even say I'm thankful, because my anti-miracle experience has given me a tiny comradeship with the millions upon millions of others with crushing disappointments and lack of answers. The other night on Dateline I listened to the story of a man falsely imprisoned for years. He prayed, he believed, and after many attempts he was miraculously released and granted a second trail. While awaiting his court date he basked in his freedom and lived fully, believing with all his heart he would be acquitted. I mean, how could God bring him this far, just to take it all away? I don't think I need to tell you the end of that story, and I still have more. With prayer and faith a friend's son is brought back home after being on the streets for nearly two years, only to die of a drug over dose after being clean for 10 months. How do we not cry out, "WTF God?!", or as Job so eloquently phrased the question, "Does it please you to oppress me?" Yet somehow, both these people hang on to hope in God, and they are just the tip of the iceberg. I don't mean to sum this up with anything neat and tidy, but I really think this faith in the face of all that is horrific is the real miracle...and like every miracle, it comes to us all by the grace of God. 

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
--Emily Dickinson