Sunday, March 1, 2020

Call to the Deep

I found in my spiritual journey that it was so easy for my spirituality to be "above ground" as it were. I followed the rules, I’d adhered to the doctrines, I submitted to authority. I believed that this was what I needed to do to be faithful, right?

But in my reading of the Gospels, Jesus had issues with this kind of "faithfulness" even to the point of calling those who promoted it as "whitewashed coffins with dead bones in them"(not a direct quote).

When I look back, I see how this faithfulness seemed to work in the beginning. I imagined myself becoming holy, acceptable to God, on my way to perfection.

Then I stumbled. Instead of sustaining me, it judged me, condemned me for struggling, accused me of unfaithfulness, and then dismissed me.

I felt abandoned by those I thought were supposed to support and encourage me. I found the quotes from scripture that I'd adhered to, such as "God will not give you more than you can carry" and "If you want God's will, you will always be happy" no longer feed my soul. In fact, they, too, felt accusatory.

And so, I had to dig deeper. It took time, as I was so wedded to the doctrine that was given to me that seeking my own truth seemed heretical. I kept searching. I had to. As I did, my search gradually revealed a different God, one who didn't send out trite sayings, or demand adherence to a doctrine that kept changing, or punished me because I was human and failed.

Instead, I found a God so big and broad and kind as to defy any human capacity to contain or understand or interpret.

I wonder about my former "faith" now. Was my problem not being able to deal with the unknown? Did I need a tidy God I could understand because my faith found ways to  humanize God? Maybe I liked the security of having doctrines that became my anchor, when God was asking me to swim freely. Maybe the trust I needed to face so many unknowns required me to go so deep that I left it for what seemed more secure. 

Whatever the reason, I’ve moved on from security. I walk the tightrope of trust, which accepts my humanness, my inability to read God's mind. I've replaced it with an openness to questioning, to unknowing, and to seeking.

That’s my faith story. What is yours?

Thursday, December 5, 2019

An Appointment with Myself

Many of my clients admit that making the decision to come to therapy is a hard one, often forced upon them when they realize they can no longer manage. I tell them, yes it is scary. 

Therapy is about meeting the true you. And sometimes that is scary. We fear we will hear that we are in the wrong, or we have some dysfunctional diagnosis, or we have acted badly, or any of the other fearful words.

What usually happens is, you find your true self, and that is actually liberating, empowering, and healing. The real you is not the one you imagine, the one you fear. The real you is the one who had somehow gotten confused by gas-lighting, or lost because she took care of everyone else, or filled with fear due to some past trauma. I help you find that person by first helping you feel safe, checking out all of your tools so that you are taking time for self-care, learning how to self-sooth, and working on reframing the negative messages that keep you from knowing your true self. I walk with you, but you do the hard work.

The work is demanding. The work is rewarding. And it is possible, as I see with clients who come through their dark times into a new, lighter, more balanced life.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Mistaking Action for Intentions

I crashed through the towering pines, heedless of the thickets. I didn't watch for snakes. I didn't even notice which direction I was headed. I was only aware of the pain in my soul, the repeated actions that made me feel I was expendable, the feeling of being overwhelmed by so many criticisms. As I rushed, tears came. I pushed on. "How can they?" I questioned. "How can they care so little? Treat me like I don't matter? How can they dismiss my concerns, tell me I fabricate things looking for attention. Who wants their attention when it is always critical?"

When I look back on those years of my life and see the struggles I endured, the pain I suffered at feeling uncared for or misunderstood or judged unkindly, I also see where I needed to grow. I see I sometimes took things personally, or had unrealistic expectations of others, even as I suffered because I was not trusted or valued or approved. 

I don't blame myself now for not seeing this clearly. I was very young at the time, and needed guidance on how to be emotionally mature. I needed someone to model for me how you step back and see the bigger picture. But that guidance was missing. I realize now, it was because the individuals themselves did not know how to be emotionally mature. Instead, they blamed it all on me. And so the cycle of abuse, the trauma and turmoil was perpetrated. 

I realize now how often we look at things personally, and mistake an individual's actions as their intentions. Emotional Maturity teaches us to step back, see the bigger picture, and realize my interpretation is only one interpretation. There are at least two interpretations to every interchange, mine and the intentions of the person acting. And there are many things affecting that situation. The person could have just gotten bad news, or suffering some mishap themselves, or just plain tired. It is not always me.

The ability to step back and see the bigger picture can change our lives. It can take the sting out of things said or done that sound disrespectful.

The bigger picture will help you see that we often mistake a person's actions because we add intentions to it. And the intentions we assign are our intentions, what we would mean if we had said or done such a thing. 

We help ourselves when we give ourselves time for calming after being upset. Then, when we have calmed ourselves, we need to step back and think of other interpretations of the words or actions.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

My Thoughts on Pain and Darkness

Embracing Darkness

I do not like darkness any more than anyone else. But I find that my concept of darkness has changed over the years. Like most, I too have felt anxious and confused when darkness came into my life in the form of doubts, insecurity, pain, suffering and loss. But in those periods without light or answers, I learned things I didn’t learn in the light. I came to realize that darkness can sometimes be a period of peace and quiet, a chance for inner growth and enlightenment. I used to fear darkness, and believe that when one truly loves God, one no longer experiences darkness. I no longer think that way.
A sermon by Abbot Paul mentions how the most important events in the history of Judeo/Christian religion happened in darkness: the creation of the world, the birth of Jesus, and the death of Jesus.
Think about it. I am sure you, too, can remember something good that came from the darkness of night: restful sleep, rejuvenation, growth. A child is in darkness for 9 months as it prepares to experience light and air. Seeds often need a dormancy period before they have the energy to sprout and grow. Darkness need not be a damaging event. 
I am working on looking at my periods of darkness as a symbol of times of wonder, of deeper trust, of risking. Perhaps darkness is our time of gestation, when we grow and nurture and prepare our soul for a new birth.
As much as I dislike darkness, I am working to remember the good things it brought me. I find I appreciate light and grace and growth more because of the journey through I had to learn to experienced, but had not seen before due to grief and loss. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Believe in Your Journey

You just never know.

You just never know how much you can touch another's life. You never know how your own struggle can inspire others to be true to themselves.

I know someone who has an unusual life. She spent almost 30 years settled, in a profession she loved, and thought that was it for her life. Then a drastic incident caused a huge change, one that threw her into a situation where she had neither security or roots. She accepted that change, and spent ten years on the move. Just when things seemed to be settling down, she again got the call of God in her heart. To follow it required that she leave her job, sell her home, and move out of state. In the midst of that change, she stumbled upon a program that answered the deepest desires of her heart. She accepted the challenge of going back to Graduate school to get a new degree to fulfill her dream. When she failed to find full employment during that time, she accepted little part time jobs to support herself. Lack of funds required five moves in three years. When she graduated, she got her dream job.

The story sounds surreal, but it is true. And in the midst of all of this, she admitted she couldn't help but wonder about herself and her journey. Shouldn't one seek to be settled, secure, and rooted after a time? Why did her journey never seem to end, and what was "wrong" with her life that she couldn't seem to find peace in what she has done, but felt drawn to continue the search?

Just about this time she received a Christmas card from a former co-worker. In part, it read: It is so important to be true to yourself, and you have done this all along. I admire your courage and strength. Believe that you can have peace of mind and freedom to live the life you want. Believe that you will not only survive but you will thrive. I am excited for you. I can see the sparkle in your eyes and your beautiful smile. Your loving spirit stays in this place. You have touched many lives and you will continue to do so. Your path is as special as you are.

This person found the affirmation encouraging. It reminded her that even while she was questioning her own journey,  she was touching hearts and souls and spirits.

Believe in your ability to inspire others. Believe enough to be true to yourself, your calling, and your dream. Even if this causes you to wonder and question, go forth following your truth. By so doing, you will inspire.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Are you Getting it Right?

The longer I live, the more I meditate, the more I see that my past spirituality got so much of "it" wrong. What do I mean? Well, I was taught the merit system. I was taught that I must toil my way toward paradise, fearing hell all the way. I was taught heaven was hard to attain, and God was hard to please. 
And then life happened. The merit system did not bring me the peace and security it was supposed to. The neat answers I was given did not work in real life. And so I sought more. I came upon authors like Hans Urs von Balthasar, Richard Rohr, Henri Nouwen and Paulo Coelho, who challenged my concepts and my training in spirituality. I learned that challenging my spirituality actually helped me find good, solid ground. I accepted that challenge. Searching helped me shake out the dross of opinions and trite sayings, and arrive at a more solid ground. It grew my way of thinking. 
When I stop to ponder now, I really I was taught to be afraid, to see God as hard to please. I now wonder, do we as humans promote this concept of the merit system because it gives us some sense of control? Do we do so because we want to be able to differentiate between those who qualify, and those who don't? Are we making spirituality a "club" where all the members abide by the rules or else are banned?
It would seem so. 
But as I am learning, God does not operate like that. God does not keep a check list, counting our deeds and planning punishment. When God watches over us, God wants to defend us, forgive us, and transform us. We are the ones who put up barriers, live by fear, let our faulty understanding halt God’s love.
So I need to put fear aside. For God is not hard to please. Humans are. And God is not human. 
God is Divine.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

The Problem of Unanswered Prayers

This morning's scripture passage is from the first letter of John, and I quote: "We receive from God whatever we ask..."

I wonder what John is speaking of, as I know of no one who receives from God whatever she asks.

I, for one, have lived with many unanswered prayers. Not just from today, but from yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. In fact, I have a lifetime of unanswered prayers. From years and years of asking. From years and years of needs.

I look at all of these unanswered prayers and think, what does it say about me? What does it say about my God?

I have come to believe that it says life is full of mystery. When confronted with unanswered prayer, I have to rethink my faith, and my prayer. I am reminded that life is full of unknowning.

Take unanswered prayer. It taught me a new kind of silence. 

I learned silence in the monastic life. In the beginning, I only practiced the silence imposed by the rule. I thought that kind of silence would bring me to contemplative prayer.

Then came difficult times, and a series of unanswered prayer. When you are a cloistered nun, and your whole life is given over to prayer, to experience unanswered prayer is to question everything you say you believe in. It challenges the very value you have in the life you live.

I came to a point where I had to give up asking. One can endure unanswered prayer for only so long. So, I stopped asking. I became silent. A silence imposed by God's silence. A silence that came from darkness. My unanswered prayers evolved into not knowing what to say.

In that darkness, in that silence, I learned a new kind of prayer. I learned mystery. I learned the prayer that listens.

Sitting before God in a stance of listening gave me a new relationship with God. I accepted my unknowing and accepted uncertainty. I recognized that some darkness is really mist from the clouds I walk through as I reach a new horizon. I learned to be happy with less. I found inner peace because I was not placing demands upon myself and on God. Demands made through my prayers. 

And so, I learned not to be so concerned about unanswered prayer and be more concerned with listening. Because as we reach new horizons, we find we need less. And in the spiritual world, less really is more. More peace. More contentment. More mystery. 

Call to the Deep

I found in my spiritual journey that it was so easy for my spirituality to be "above ground" as it were. I followed the rule...