It’s Holy Week in Belgium

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“Thinking of Brussels and all of Belgium,” courtesy of Flavia Pennetta on Twitter.

I woke this morning, like all of you, to the news of the terrorist attacks in Belgium. I thought, as surely all of you did, “What can I do?”

What can any of us do?

As a practicing Catholic Christian, Holy Week gives me an answer.

I attended mass on Palm Sunday, just two days ago, where I heard the gospel writer Luke report that Jesus saw the city of Jerusalem and wept, saying, “If this day you only knew what makes for peace, but now it is hidden from your eyes…” Jerusalem was a stand-in for God’s chosen people, which Jesus knew included everyone.

Surely Jesus is weeping today – for Brussels, for Belgium, for the world, the victims and the perpetrators.

We do not know how to make peace. It eludes us at every turn. We have tried more sanctions and surveillance, anger, revenge, violence, and profiling to no avail. We have won individual battles, but we are losing the war. We have to find another way forward – at least in our own hearts, because that is where all lasting change comes – from the inside out and the bottom up. And I think about how Jesus acted during the final days of his life and it gives me a clue about where to begin.

The Buddhists have a term for individuals who act as Jesus did in the world, especially as he entered Jerusalem, knowing he was going to his death. They are called SPIRITUAL WARRIORS. 

A spiritual warrior is “one who combats the universal enemy; a heroic being with a brave mind and ethical impulse.” The spiritual warrior’s “only complete and right practice is that which compassionately helps other beings with wisdom.”

I believe that is how Jesus entered Jerusalem. He went, full of compassion for the brokenness of our world, in order to teach us another, wiser, way to be.

While some Christians cling to the idea that Jesus’ death paid our debt to God, I don’t see it that way. Honoring a divine blood price and human sacrifice sounds far more like something the Islamic terrorists would embrace than the God that Jesus’ humble, loving, and merciful life revealed.

Theologian Ronald Rolheiser wrote a beautiful alternative metaphor of how Jesus’ willing, sacrificial death might have accomplished the same purpose of universal love and salvation, but through an entirely different mechanism.

Jesus took away our sins in the same way a filter purifies water. A filter takes in impure water, holds the impurities inside of itself and gives back only the pure water. It transforms rather than transmits. We see this in Jesus. Like the ultimate cleaning filter, he purifies life itself. He takes in hatred, holds it, transforms it, and gives back Love. He takes in chaos, holds it, transforms it, and gives back order. He takes in fear, holds it, transforms it and gives back freedom. He takes in jealousy, holds it, transforms it and gives back affirmation. He takes in Satan and murder, holds them, transforms them and gives back only God and forgiveness.

This is it friends! This is how we can live like Jesus, no matter what our faith, or belief system, or even if we have none at all.

 In fact, I guarantee you are already doing it! Every time you act, instead of react; every time you hold your child’s fear, your friend’s anger, your life’s chaos, and give back something better, you are the holding tank and the filter of Love.

But in these difficult times, we have to crank up our internal filtering systems and start working overtime. We have to pay attention to what’s coming in and be intentional about what we are putting back out, because that is what a spiritual warrior does and that is what we are all called to be! Of course, some of us are called to be military warriors as well, to work on the front lines of defense against terror and violence, but we are still called first and foremost to be spiritual warriors, especially if we call ourselves Christians. Only by holding and transforming hate into Love as Jesus did will we meet the evil of this world with a more powerful force than itself. Remember what Paul affirms for us: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love NEVER fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:7. If Love appears to be failing, it is because we haven’t really tried it yet.

Mark Nepo says that the spiritual warrior is “someone who is committed to a life of transformation not knowing where it will take them, or what it looks like,” but that you can be sure “they have a crack in their heart, because that’s how the mysteries get in.” Jesus wept because his heart was full of cracks; it was broken open for all of humanity and we must allow the same to happen to us if we have any hope of being a part of the peace-making process in the world. I don’t know what it will look like, but I know we must begin there.

I had plans to commemorate Holy Week in church settings: to share Jesus’ last meal, recall his final words to his family and friends, and observe his persecution and death, but my piety has evaporated in the face of tragic reality. This week instead, I’m going to learn all I can about the victims of today’s bombings, the ones who ate their last meals and spoke their final words and walked to their deaths, not willingly, but betrayed, as Jesus was, by the worst of blind, ignorant, and fearful humanity. My faith demands that I hold them, as I would hold Jesus this week, in Love. I don’t know what difference it will make, but it is what the cracks in my heart ask me to do.

I know I quote Richard Rohr way too often, but he is so good and as always, he gave me a path forward just this week. In his daily meditation on Saturday, he wrote, “True spirituality is about keeping your heart space open. It is daily, constant work. The temptation is to close down: to judge and dismiss and hate and fear.” But if we are training to be spiritual warriors, we have to resist that temptation, because giving into it means deserting the work of God in the world, which is Love, mercy, reconciliation and healing. Richard goes on: “You have to work to live in Love, to have a generosity of spirit, a readiness to smile, a willingness to serve… Love is a choice. You have to deliberately, consciously, intentionally choose to stay connected through your practice to the Source of Love, which is the heart of God.”

Practice, warriors, practice! This week especially! Every time you remember, every moment you have to spare, let the cracks in your heart be a filter for Love. Breathe in the pain of the world and breathe out healing and wholeness. Breathe in the hate and breathe out forgiveness. Breathe in the judgment and breathe out compassion and mercy. Breathe in the toxicity, pain, and fear of humanity and breathe out Divine Love. And although I know we cannot bring new life to Belgium at the end of this Holy Week, we will be bringing new life to the world from the inside out.

In the words of one of my heroes, Carry On Warriors!

P.S. The list of the victims is very sketchy still, so I can not name any as of yet, but when I am able to find more information, I will try to update the blog, so perhaps you can hold them in your hearts with me during this Holy Week.

IT’S GOING TO BE OKAY

 

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Any day now, many of my friends here in California will be getting some big news. The UC acceptance and rejection letters go out in the next week and the ensuing cheers and tears will be heard across Tierrasanta and the state. I imagine it’s just the beginning as the private universities send their letters in the weeks that follow. We got to be a party to the big reveal last year and next year will bring another round for us, but as the nerves build over the next week, this is what I would like to say to all the parents who are waiting…

IT’S GOING TO BE OKAY.

No matter where your kids go to school next fall, IT’S GOING TO BE OKAY.

But I’ll admit, it’s really easy to forget that.

When Keara was figuring out where she would go to school, I had so many hang ups. I was disappointed that we couldn’t afford to send her where she really wanted to go. I felt like I was limiting the potential trajectory of her life by putting parameters on her applications. I felt like a failure as a mom for our financial limitations. I second-guessed every free-thinking decision we had ever made. Maybe some of you will agree with my self-assessment, but Tim didn’t. He reminded me that there is little connection between where you start the fall of your freshman year and where you end up in life! There are no guarantees. I just have to look at my own life to be reminded of that fact.

When Keara began the college search process, I wanted to give her exactly what I had – every opportunity – academically, socially, financially – to go to the school she wanted. My parents said, “Pick out a school and go!” so I picked out a great school and I went, but within a year and a half, I was homesick and partying and pregnant. The “best” school simply turned out to be the “best” place for me to learn some really hard lessons about who I was and how I wanted to be in the world. I still finished my degree in four years by attending summer school, intercession and every semester I could, at five different universities. I graduated at 21, was in grad school at 22 and carried on to get my dream job at a local university as an adjunct professor before 25. But you know what? That didn’t turn out to be “the best thing” for me either.

Ultimately, I have found the “best” place within myself by integrating my body, mind and soul. I ended up in the “best” place of my life, through trial and error, love and commitment, through facing hard things with all the courage I could muster and the skills I had at the time. I created the “best” place I could by surrounding myself with people I could trust and striving to be that for them as well. My “best” place continues to be wherever I find myself fully engaged in meaningful work, surrounded by people I care about.

Friends, this isn’t just my story. It’s your story too. Look at the life you’ve created! Your college experience was a part of it, but only one part. You might have great memories of those years, but you probably could have created them at ten different campuses across the country, or even a hundred. They are specific in details, but not content. You might have gone to one school or three. It might have taken you four years or seven. You might have had starts and stops, dramas and things that derailed you for a while. You probably changed course, at least a couple times and IT’S OKAY. That’s life!

No life is protected, or perfect. We know that, so let’s be clear with our kids about what we most appreciate about our own lives. It might help them know what to aim for.

Aim for wholeness. Aim for goodness. Aim for meaning, purpose and impact. Aim for independence, in the context of loving, healthy relationships. Aim for respect and wisdom. Aim to learn continually and to use that knowledge compassionately and effectively.

Moms and dads, I know you are nervous; I know you are anxious for your kids. I know you feel like you have a lot riding on the decisions these schools make and that a lot is riding on the decisions you make. I know your kiddos have put a lot of time and effort into these applications and into their last twelve years of school. But no matter what happens, no matter where your child goes to school in the fall…

IT’S GOING TO BE OKAY.

I keep writing IT’S GOING TO BE OKAY in ALL CAPS, over and over again, because that’s how I reminded myself to believe it last year, as Keara worked her way through the application process. It’s how I am preparing myself for next year when Finn is waiting for the news. But just because I have to remind myself of something doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Our fears (especially those we share culturally) can sometimes outweigh the facts, make us reactive and get in the way of good decision-making. (Look no further than the success of Donald Trump to see the truth of that.)

At 18, our kids are in process – they are figuring out who they are, what they want to do and what they are capable of. We need to let them figure that out and remember that they can and will figure those things out virtually anywhere. What we’ve given them over the last 18 years of their life is a far greater indicator of their future success than the name on their college degree.

P.S. Whatever happens next fall, CONGRATULATIONS! You’ve successfully raised decent, well-educated, productive members of society, who have a strong desire to continue their education and contribute the world in a significant way.  That is truly good news!

P.P. S. Keara ultimately ended up in an excellent program for her major at CSULB, a school about 100 miles away from home. She loves it and has admitted that although she longed to go back east, she doesn’t think she would have lasted for that long that far away from home. Despite my anxiety, it really has turned out even better than OKAY.

To the Women I’m Raising

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I wanted to write a blog today, on International Women’s Day, to honor the women I love the most in this world. Although I have incredible sisters, cousins, teachers, pastors, and friends, these laughing ladies have my heart. They are my heart.

As I was looking for a photo to go with this blog, I realized that I don’t take nearly enough pictures of the women in our family together. I have lots of the whole and lots of the parts, individually and in different combinations, but of the three of us together, very few. I know why that is, but it saddens me that I haven’t made it more of a priority. Being sisters, “sitsering” each other, standing together – creating that bond for them is one of my greatest desires as a mother and one of the most difficult to fulfill. Keara and Molly are so different from each other. The gap of five years between them is nothing compared to the gap in the way they see and experience the world. In a simple binary way, one is athletic, while the other is artistic. One is petite, while the other is zaftig. One is a night owl, the other an early bird. One wants to compete, the other wants to create. One likes romance movies, the other art house films. Raised in the same home, by the same set of parents, our girls have turned out completely different – at least on the surface.

I know my two girls better than probably any one and so I feel like I can say with confidence that despite their obvious differences, they have the same heart. They may show it differently, but their motivations are the same. They want to make the world a better place; they ache for the pain of others. They aren’t afraid to stand up for justice and say what they believe when it comes to right and wrong. They value family, big and small, by blood and choice. They value adventure and travel and education and loyalty. That is the big picture, but that shared heart doesn’t always come through though, particularly in their interactions with each other. I guess that’s why I’m writing this.

In addition to what I hope they see they have in common, I also want Keara and Molly to see in one another the legacy their mother left behind. Someday, I will be gone and I pray that removing me from the picture will not remove the maternal tie that binds them.

In Keara, I hope Molly will see my legacy of creativity. I use words, most of the time, but Keara has taken that desire to create to a whole new level. She uses her head and heart, her hands and body. From her makeup to her cross stitch, her music to her humor, Keara always finds new ways to express what is inside of her. I hope Molly will witness Keara’s engagement with stories, ones she’s read and heard and watched, as a legacy of my love of stories, from my time as an English graduate student to my obsession with reading good books. I hope she will respect Keara’s fierce originality and independence and find its genesis in my own quirky style and desire not to be like everyone else.

In Molly, I pray that Keara will come to appreciate how she has always wanted to be a ‘mother,’ to others. Like her own mother, Molly wants to heal people with her touch and presence. She wants to lift others up and make them see themselves as whole, beautiful and special. Like me, Molly is disciplined about her practices – with sports, academics, food. Although it might seem strange to Keara, we work better on a schedule and we know it. Like me, Molly seems to want traditional things – a home and family and career and there is nothing limited or prosaic about that. Within those confines, beautiful things flourish.

I don’t know that my girls will need this pep talk. I don’t know that this pep talk will even work, if or when they read it. I only know that when I look at this picture of the three of us, my heart is broken open with joy for the connection these momentary laughter and smiles represent and I hope continues for the rest of their lives.

 

P.S. My own sister and I grew up thinking we were about as different as two women could be. Ten years apart in age and at least that far in temperament, she is now my best friend. We share the same heart.

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Dinner and a Drawing

Last week, Richard Rohr published a meditation that included this line.

“Love is the source and the goal, faith is the slow process of getting there and hope is the willingness to move forward without resolution and closure.”

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This week’s chalk wall – the Wall of Fame was temporarily replaced by Month of Love in honor of Valentine’s Day.  

It blew me away and so I wrote it up on our chalk wall in the dining room. We have 4 grids: Wall of Fame, Prayer List, Quote of the Week and Do-er’s Choice. We also keep a bucket of chalk on the table. Though I conceived of it as a place for family expression, probably about 80% of the time, I am the only one who expresses herself there. Occasionally the kids will chip in with a “Thanks, Mom,” or a “Way to go” on the Wall of Fame. A little more often, they will add someone’s name to the Prayer List. When they were small, they would jockey for space to draw in the Do-er’s Choice lower quadrant. When inspiration strikes, Tim will commandeer the Quote of the Week for a song lyric, usually from U2. So what I thought was a fun and inexpensive way to get the kids involved has mostly become another place for me to do my “mom-thing.” It does however, on occasion, open up some family conversation, so I just put things up and see what happens. Sometimes they ask, but mostly they ignore it.

However, I loved Richard’s words so much that I wanted to make sure they saw them. During dinner last week, I pointed out the quote and asked what they thought.

Clearly, I threw them for a loop, because they kind of nodded, said, “Uh-huh,” and moved on. Our dinnertime conversations cover topics like school, friends, our goods and bads, sometimes song lyrics, and these days, even politics, but rarely do we stray into theology. At the end of a long day, it’s just too much and on a normal night, if it were an obscure text from some 14th century mystic, I would have given up and moved on, but the idea is so central to my understanding of the world that I thought I’d try one more time.

“Let me draw you a picture.”

 

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“Love is the source and the goal.”

On the left side is our ‘source,’ the beginning of the universe, the Big Bang. It began with what the scriptures in Greek called the Alpha; what we would call God. Richard Rohr, drawing on the work of the saints and the mystics across the ages, calls it Love. That’s why it’s a heart. God’s desire to be in relationship got the whole thing started and it’s what keeps the whole thing going. NOTHING operates in isolation or solitude. On a most basic level, that’s what Love means. From the tiniest sub-atomic particle to the global population, we are drawn toward each other and we are changed and charged by those connections.

On the right side is our ‘goal,’ where we are headed. That is also God, what the Greeks called the Omega point. That is also Love, for God is Love and despite all the setbacks, the violence and injury we do to each other, the primal urge is to draw back together. What is scattered is gathered again. It is the way of life and evolution, the way of Love.

Faith is the slow process of getting there.”

The line from the left to the right is the length of our days. We go along; we live our lives. We are sure of our path and where we are headed, except when we aren’t. There are moments when our surety and safety are disrupted. Bad things happen! We get bullied; people die; we fail miserably at school, at a job, at a marriage. In those moments, we need Faith to see us through. Faith is our will to live; it is knowing where we came from and where we are headed.

“Hope is the willingness to move forward without resolution and closure.”

Even with Love and Faith, we will not move forward on that line without Hope, because things won’t be resolved as quickly as we’d like. In discouragement, it would be easy to stop, but Hope is the engine that drives us forward anyway. Life does not operate according to perfect plans, but even when we don’t know the answer, Hope allows us to trust that an answer will come eventually.

“Does that make more sense?” I asked them.

“Sure mom, we get the picture.”

Good enough, I thought. If they have the picture of Love at the beginning and end of it all, that’s good enough for me.

I sheepishly put down my pencil and the conversation moved on to other things. Sometimes, I think I overwhelm them with too many ‘big ideas,’ but I hope they will retain some of the biggest, the ones I repeat most often.

This is the truth of our lives. Love is where we came from and Love is where we are headed. Yes, we encounter circumstances every day that challenge that truth, but Faith allows us to carry on ‘as if’ it were true. And if we look for it, we can also find clear evidence to fuel our Hope. We can witness Love winning through compassionate giving, community building, truth telling, and resource sharing. I see it in my friends and my enemies. No one is exempt from the ability and desire to Love. And that truth gives me the Hope to walk further down the road in Faith toward even greater Love.

Even, and maybe even especially, during family dinners.