” At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of things that save us. Sometimes salvation can come as much from freedom and letting go as from creation. What pent up wildness have you released? How has that saved you or someone else” -Order of Service, Christmas Eve
Solstice, Christmas, New Years. All of these holidays turn my introspective self even deeper inwards. As I sat in the service Christmas Eve and contemplated the questions above, I was filled with gratitude. I was overwhelmed by gratitude. I’m not going to lie, it’s been a hard year. It’s been a year of feeling everything from despair to ecstasy. It’s been a year of giving up things that once were life giving. It’s been a year of opening my hands to let things fall apart, flow through and disintegrate. And it has been the restructuring and nurturing the new wild imagination that has been ignited in my heart. It has been a year of healing. It has been a year of reunion and connection. It has been a year of reaching far outside of myself and deep into myself at the same time.
I had a difficult conversation once with my father; one in a string of difficult conversations about faith. He wanted to know what I believed about Jesus. He wanted to know if I believed Jesus saved me, was the Savior. The answer was true for me then and now, but unsatisfying for my father. I believe that if we take the teachings and actions of Jesus seriously and model our lives after it, we are saved from many many things. Above all, this year has been about bringing myself into greater alignment with the Source of All. I have been working and praying and acting with intention to bring forth the unique work that I have been put on earth to carry out. It saves me every day, this work. It saves my hope and vision for the world, for my children. It saves me from giving up in the face of violence, hatred and division. I have released my heart into the world and this saves me every day. And it breaks me open over and over. It brings me to tears in the face of horror and the face of beauty. It changes the whole world. It changes everything.
What is that?!
I had a discussion with a friend about the creative process and the idea that Life comes in all forms, even if at first it looks ugly or unsettling. Sometimes what we turn away from holds a profound gift that we never get to if we are unwilling to look deeply, look past appearances and see what might be there for us. The process of choosing Life is a parallel to the creative process as our engagement with Spirit can quickly move from what we thought we knew into a more complicated, wilder, more dangerous feeling arena. Holding with grief, pain and sorrow is uncomfortable. We would rather get their gifts of wisdom without actually having to touch them, feel them or hear their stories. But they don’t give their wisdom so freely. You have to be present to win. And not just in the room either. They demand our complete attention at least for a time.
This is also true of those beautiful versions of Life that we say yes to. At first it may feel easy to say yes. There is at least some enticement or attraction. But even this may feel just as terrifying as facing sorrow. The beauty too comes in inexplicable and unexpected forms. It can be profoundly disruptive. One session with my healer, we worked on the pericardium energy channel. We talked about what my pericardium might look like (This is the essential sac around the heart that keeps out infection). I imagined mine as more of a masonry wall then a flexible membrane and part of my work was to dismantle that wall and free up the beautiful and soft covering that kept my heart safe, but would allow me to feel everything pressed up against it.
This was something I could say yes to! What a beautiful and lovely vision.
And then there was the gritty work breaking up the wall; piece by piece with a heavy maul, and my bare hands, and my broken fingernails.
And then there was the terrifying prospect of feeling decades of pain I had shut out.
And then the even more terrifying prospect of feeling a new sense of ecstasy and belovedness.
This is what I was totally unprepared for. This shocking and familiar sense of belonging that I have experienced in brief transforming bursts before is beyond my ability to explain. But now…. now it was infused with a deeper, more profound love than I had ever felt or imagined. It came wrapped in a form I was totally confused by. I had no idea even how to say yes and to tell you the truth, the power of that ecstasy probably said the yes for me. It was a baffling, stumbling and clumsy yes. But worth staying engaged with, worth sitting in the middle of disbelief and anguish with, worth the risk of my life falling apart. It felt like the only Truth and the way Home. It takes that much to move completely into the process…to give yourself over in surrender to what makes no logical sense, what feels impossible, to what Spirit is moving through you. It takes everything. What is calling you to surrender? Are you brave enough to engage it and say yes?
Dawn was obscured this morning by thick clouds. The world lightened, but still the day is so short. The cold is coming, the after effect of the dark. When the light comes, even in increments, even in a dull gray instead of a full golden burst it changes everything.
I often meditate in the spring on the bulbs in the ground. They are nestled in the cold and dark. Every year the new season comes and coaxes them out of the ground. What must it feel like to be immersed in the darkness and find yourself changing…your body changing from starch to sugar, the ground around you softening and somewhere beyond you, far beyond you is an irresistible force that draws you out into a new form of yourself. Does it take courage for the flower to blindly reach out or is it a kind of delightful self giving? I often ponder in this season of returning light, the things that draw me out of myself. What are the ways I am stretching toward that presence? Why does the move toward that simultaneously feel terrifying and inherently right? The spiritual journey always moves us through this reflection. What is life? Where do I feel it’s presence? How do I say yes and no to it’s invitation? And once we have journeyed into that knowing, it moves beyond us and leaves us with the questions again. When we set out to grow into more love and life, we are seeking to be defeated by greater and greater things. We are seeking the next more complicated level of experience, surrender and being.
Today we celebrate and welcome back the light even as we add another layer of winter clothing to sustain us till spring. Today we are being imperceptibly drawn into something more that we likely won’t even see in ourselves for quite some time. Our task as always is to be compassionate and gentle with ourselves when we say no. To say yes where we can. To let life and spirit move in, through and beyond us for the increase of all.
The light returns. The Light is in you. The Light is you. Yes!
It is the holy of holy days. It is the day we wish would never come. It is the long night we wish we didn’t have to sit through. The light is in short supply.
I sit through this darkness, and lose track of my daytime senses. I let myself dissolve into the void. It is the coming apart before creation. It is the letting go of everything I know or thought I knew. It is the absolute blindness of not knowing what may happen next, or if, really, there is anything next. To trust in this moment is a stretch, feels scary, feels like dying. And I choose to nestle further into this womb space that feels like a grave which it is; both. This is when practice is essential. This time when I lose myself to the darkness is the exact time when all my hours of meditation, all my yearning prayers, all my striving and hoping come into a still and profound silence. In this space may the practice meditate me, the prayers pray me, and the stillness hold this present infinity…ever moving and motionless between the breath.
In the middle of this darkness I choose my own undoing. I unravel my self. I don’t need it here in the middle of this breath or the whole Universe breathing. I need only the emptiness which is the fullness of everything. It is here encircling me, nurturing me like the fertile soil, like the fecund sea. I give my self into that liminal space. The darkness is my mother. She gently destroys all that I cling to. She strips me and prepares me for birth, for creation. I can’t take anything with me but this soul force and so I open my hands ready for everything I can never be prepared for. I let go.
Sit with me tonight and be undone. Sit with me tonight and wait for the darkest of the dark to envelop us. Sit with me through the hours stretched out seemingly endlessly. Sit until the darkness turns, the earth turns, my heart turns. Until the dawn, which has always come, proves herself trustworthy again. I cannot see her from here. The darkness is all there is. How will you open to the darkness? How will you wait for the turning?
As I wandered more fully into my work to release old pain and open myself to joy, things slowly began to shift. Over months I filled my journal, paid attention to my dreaming, walked and practiced yoga and saw my healer and my Spiritual Director. It was like tracing a line back into the shadows or down into deep waters. How far down would we go? Where would it take me? Would I be able to find my way back out? Did I really want to do this? I mean, I had lived without a full experience of joy for a long time. Was it worth the level of work that I felt was waiting here for me? Ultimately, in the wondering and the fear of this, I had to choose yes, choose life again and again and again. The only way through the dark is through. If you skip it, or run backwards and change your mind, you will never know and you will never get to the other side of this moment. And let me tell you, it’s terrifying. As a Spiritual Director myself, I can tell you that the journey of transformation has a cycle like the seasons. One must surrender to the dying in order for the new birth to come. Things must fully decay before their energy is available to grow anything new. I know this. And I know that the law of impermanence means that everything, whether coming into life or letting things go, will shift and change and be something else quite soon. Nothing lasts….not pain, nor joy. To be available to both requires a certain flow or flexibility.
I know all that. But when it’s me going through the dying, I forget as fast as anyone and think that if I walk into pain, that I might get stuck there forever. And when it’s me going through the joy, I always forget and hope it will last forever. In this case I started entering my own surrendering to death…the death of a certain way of being that kept me unavailable to joy. Except that being immersed in that process I found out that I actually wasn’t available to pain either. There was a day when I realized that this was a choice to feel everything or to feel nothing. There isn’t a filter where you get to say I’m only going to experience purely joy and sorrow and broken heartedness are a thing of the past. The more you feel the joy, the more you can feel everything else. Saying yes to this…to more life, this is risky. This opens you up, to yourself, to others, to Spirit and these relationships are almost always disruptive eventually.
I met someone who was telling me about her fiancé. She had been in an abusive relationship before because she thought she needed that kind of protection to be safe. She said that this partnership wasn’t safe, but it was fully alive. Safety is its own kind of death. For me, choosing relationships and allies who could hold some perspective for me as I went further into darkness was vital. A beacon in the confusion of walking blind, a safety line as I sank down further and further into the unknown. Small moments of connection, of love, care and concern were my fuel and my inspiration in the descent. They gave me the courage to keep saying yes. Who are the allies who give you the courage to say yes to life? What gifts have they given you? How do you express gratitude for their presence?
So what to do when you realize that you aren’t so great at compassion…in fact that you have a big problem choosing to drink when you are thirsty? Since I am someone who wants to be better at choosing love and life, I sat with my Spiritual Director and subsequently with my journal to try to listen to the message my body was trying to send me. The choice not to drink, to not meet the need of my body was not just a matter of making sure I had my water bottle with me or filling my cup at meals and not leaving till I finished. This was a harmful habit. When I wrote about it, the voice in my head revealed a familiar script. “You can have water later. Right now you need to get something done. If you do this next thing, then you can have the water.” And then, “Great job getting that done, but it wasn’t really that hard and there is much more to do. After this next task, then, maybe if there is time, you can have the water.” Except I never gave myself the water. Sub in whatever life giving experience or nourishment you want. When you can’t choose to at least occasionally give yourself something good, there is a big problem.
So I found myself thinking about what I wanted to choose and I realized that in many places I was carrying around old pain and I felt ready to set it down. I wanted to open my hands to joy instead of clinging to old bad habits. I returned to my regular yoga practice with a wise teacher. I made my way back to a place where I had worked specifically on this water issue before.
I had been to see a healer/shaman/Chinese Medicine person when I was ready to get pregnant with my second child. I had seen him till I became pregnant and then went on my way. The thing is, the space he worked in had totally intrigued me. I came in fairly soon after we started working together saying I realized that I hadn’t been in a healing space before quite like this. In my experience of western medicine, practitioners will touch you anywhere, but not talk to you about your experience/feelings/soul and you can go to therapy to talk, but they won’t really touch you. My healer would do dream work and body work with me as I explored and moved toward opening to receive another baby. It was a profoundly whole space and when I became pregnant, I left reluctantly. I felt like I was on the verge of learning something that I really needed to know.
When I returned to my healer, I did have a tight shoulder that wouldn’t release for weeks, but really I went back to finish learning wholeness and to let go of old pain so I could be open to joy. This sounds great, and it was, but any time we make a choice like this…if we are serious about doing our work, we have no idea what we’re in for. When you say yes to Life, sometimes what it demands back from you is death the of something else. In those first moments of choice I didn’t know what I was asking for. I just wanted to find some internal kindness, to drink freely. What do you say yes to? When have you said yes and it took you out beyond what you could imagine? As you look back on your own journey, what yes sparked you to set out into this path?
Where we might begin a story is a moving target. Did it start with a particular moment? And what moments led to that moment? How does one decide where to locate the beginning or tell the story of the journey; the arrival at the next journey? Does one start with the feeling of the new, or the small ending that gave rise to that feeling? Or is there a way to speak at all what we know or who we are as the infinite present moment that is all of existence? I suppose this is the unending quest of the seeker, to place this moment in all moments and yet, to trace the journey and it’s infinite complexity and unfolding. The beginning I am thinking of tonight is a moment that lives in this moment and brought me traveling here instead of someplace else. I was tired. It seems the past 4 years have just been that. This particular weekend, I was spent. I was past my edge and the message that I engaged in was around compassion. I felt like I was a thoughtful student of compassion. I took a small inventory and felt I had it mostly covered. And as I listened to the speaker, I noticed I was thirsty. We had been specifically instructed to take care of our physical needs…even if it meant getting up in the middle of a speaker and I sat there. I looked around and located the hospitality table. I sat there. I checked my watch. I sat there. And when break came, I went on my way to my next workshop. I didn’t get a drink.
And then there was the dream. “She comes home and finds that he has joined the military. He says he needs to take his fitness goals seriously. She is enraged and confused. Will she have to move? Will he have to go to war? Is there any way out of it?” My shoulder was clenched tight for weeks and wouldn’t release. I believe it was threatening me with military action if I couldn’t pay attention to my self compassion. Oh.
It was time. It was a moment of letting go. It was a moment of decision to choose something better and more beautiful. The yes, one of the yeses began there. Yes I hear you. Yes I will care for you. Yes, I will get a drink. I will choose life over death. But it hasn’t stopped. Since then I’ve had to make this a practice. When I said yes to that, over and over, I opened the door to a kind of fantastical chaos that is billowing through my life turning everything over. The in-breaking of Spirit is always disruptive….and profoundly alive. Yes. Yes to Life.
Ordinary and Miraculous Baby Jesus
This last story of the year talks about the very old story of the birth of Jesus. It is introduced as an every day kind of story; the birth of a baby, both mundane and miraculous. The story asks us to look into the ordinary until we can find the truth and the magic within it. As I reflect on this fall semester, I wonder at my own journey taking this teaching role seriously as practice. The task itself is quite ordinary. I prepare by reading the story several times and reflecting on it myself. I show up early on Sunday morning to prepare the room. I sit on the rug as an invitation to those who come and immerse myself in the edge of experience when preparation meets living. It has been a learning curve for me to let that preparation play in the space of our classroom where it meets wiggly energy and curiosity and excitement that makes everyone want to talk all at one time. It is a joy for me to walk that edge where I choose to meet our children with my own openness and see what they offer back. Engaging with the parents and other teachers along these edges has proven to be just as opening and transforming. As the children chose to work with this story this week, I saw them blessing babies from the Celebration of New Lives story, I saw them curl up and rest in the book nook (it looked like a little manger to me). I saw them engage with each other and with the teachers and I swear I saw magic in the middle of our ordinary play. I trace the ordinary magic of my own transformation facilitated by my engagement with these children. My own opening to this practice has worked on me in surprising ways that has brought me to new places in my own heart and life. I see the comfort and community that has been created by and for these children as they come each week to class. I see our community being in relationship and creating connection with each other in and out of our classroom. The parish hall is suddenly full of more friendly faces wanting to meet me and be recognized and known. This is the beauty of church, a small miracle. It is within these connections that the holy can be found and through which it moves to bless our world. An ordinary thing, to deeply choose connection and relationship, a miraculous thing when that relationship invites us beyond ourselves and our small vision into greater integrity, service and joy.
Once there was a body. It was beautiful. It was perfect. It was made of many different parts. There were hands and feet and a heart and a mind and there was love. The body was healthy and whole; many members, one complete being. One time the body was so content that the heart thought it would be ok if it took a short nap and it went to sleep. The mind, right away thought it knew what to do next, and it started giving orders. “Right arm,” it said, ” I don’t think you are pulling your weight around here. It told the right arm to work. It told that arm that if it didn’t work, it wasn’t really a part of the body. So the right arm got to work planting food, pulling weeds. Then the mind thought, “Left arm, I think I should be enjoying some of that hard work the right arm is doing.” So as the harvest came, the left arm would grab the food and feed it to the mouth. This went on for a little while till the right arm complained, “I am tired. I need a rest.” And, “This is not fair”. And the left arm complained, “ I am tired too from only doing one thing. I feel weak and numb.” But the mind did not listen. The right arm kept working and the left arm grabbed even more food for the mouth. Then one day something terrible happened. The right arm broke because it had worked too hard and was not allowed to rest. And the left arm which had only been reduced to one motion was so shriveled and shrunken it didn’t even look like an arm any more. The body’s arms both hurt so badly that the heart finally woke up. What a mess the heart found. The heart cried tears of sorrow and pain that its beautiful body was broken. It said, “Don’t you remember that we are all one body together?” Suddenly the mind realized what it had done. So the heart and the mind decided they needed to help the arms and the whole body heal. They started by listening, so they would best know how to help the body to heal. They listened to the right arm and listened to the left so they could understand what they needed. They asked the right arm and the left arm to listen to one another. When we re-member a broken bone, bring the pieces back together, it hurts, but it’s what needs to happen in order for the bone and the whole body to heal. Our bodies can’t be well if any part of us is broken, the whole body needs to be healed for us to be well. Can we help this body to re-member itself?
When I need to do something that hurts in order to get better, it always helps me to start from a place of love. Today with the body of our church, we may hear some hard things that wake our hearts up to the pain of our own broken places. But we need to listen the best we can if we want to change the brokenness and re-member our larger body back together. We need each other. We belong to each other. So I wonder if we can all get ready to listen. Can we start from a place of love? I’m going to ask our whole church body to help us too. If you don’t want to share a touch with your neighbor, or if you are sitting out of reach, can you put your hand on your own heart? If you want to share a touch of love, can you put your hand on your neighbor’s back. I wonder if we can imagine the hand touching us as the hand of love? Can you feel that love calling you to re-member the story of our belonging? I wonder if we can listen well enough with our hand, our hearts and our minds and our whole selves to hear a beating heart? Can you listen well enough to hear breathing, in and out? I wonder if we really really listen if we can hear the heartbeat of our whole church body today, can you hear us all breathing? I wonder if we listen even more deeply if we can hear the heartbeat of our whole city or state or country? Can you hear us all breathe together? Let’s try to keep this feeling in our hearts and bodies as we try to listen with our whole selves to the story of our broken body. Then let’s try to hold on to each other in love and belonging till we can heal together. May it be so.
Absence and Presence
For the first time this year I missed a scheduled Spirit Play class. I traveled over the weekend to see family and wondered how class would go in my absence. I felt very fortunate that a wonderful sub was found and felt a lot of gratitude that my spirit play friends were being held in the capable hands of others in our community. And the last few weeks of holidays and breaks meant that I have been out of the classroom for several weeks in a row. In our classroom I strive to connect with each person who comes, greeting them as they enter and engaging them in conversation. The quality of my presence is very important to me. During our peace greeting I try to make eye contact with each adult and child in our room. I want them to know that I see their beauty, hear their needs and honor their wisdom. What I am doing is trying to facilitate a relationship of love which, of course, doesn’t end when I leave the classroom. If you see me in the parish hall on Sundays chances are you may miss me as I greet one of my spirit play friends down at their eye level. This act of coming down to meet them, to listen to them and to hear them is beautiful. The children light up. An adult is interested in them. They are seen and heard in a way that shows them that I have stopped my own agenda and am present to them where they are. This fall our children had a few Sundays where they sold flowers and produce from our garden in the parish hall. One young boy was standing just in the doorway directing the influx of people to the table with their garden stand ready. I observed the adults as they walked right by without seeing him. I observed the adults who looked at this boy and nodded their head without really listening and walked right by. I did what I do with my young friends and knelt down to ask about the garden and the sale. The animated and proud answers to my questions lit up both of our hearts. It was a brief moment, but a moment of connection. It makes me think about how I am present, crouching down to meet the eyes of a child, or how I’m absent, even when I’m right there, but too distracted to stop. It also makes me wonder about how I interact with the other adults at church. I try to be present too and listen to others, but I notice that I am sometimes absent when asked to give voice to my own heart. It takes courage and vulnerability to engage in mutual presence. It can take us to unexpected places when we choose to be present and give voice to what is true and real in us and allow another to witness our words and respond in kind. This is the best of church, when we can choose to show up to each other in all the risk and delight that entails and listen each other into speech and love.