On Saturday morning, I sat down to meditate for the first time in a long time and for the first time in an even longer time, I wanted to sit down and write.

Since Molly’s surgery for scoliosis on February 22, there has been a lot of doing, but not a lot of “sitting,” thinking, writing or anything else really. I have been “in the moment,” instead of worrying about it. And in that way, almost a month had flown by and I found myself wondering where it had gone.

It seems like it just went.

It went into the maze-like halls of the hospital with its fluorescent lighting, and the beeps, whirs and humming sounds that create an otherworldly time and space.

It went into hours of doing simple things that under normal circumstances take only minutes, things like showering, or eating a meal, or going to bed (by which I mean how one spends the night-time hours, not that you actually stay in bed).

It went into days on end of holding hands with a child, who was trying to lose herself in mindless TV, so she wouldn’t have to be present to the pain and anxiety that was present in her body.

It went into afternoons of reading out loud, coloring pictures, telling family stories, listening to music, or imagining the adventure we will go on when all this was over – somewhere warm and sunny and on the water.

In other words, this last month went by just loving Molly Grace.

But finally last Saturday morning, I sat alone, quietly and gratefully, for a full thirty minutes. The house was still asleep; there were no pills to organize, or meals to prepare. There was no place to be. There was just me and a Divine invitation to “be still.”

I sank into my favorite chair with a cup of coffee. From years of habit, my sacred phrase welled up from deep within.

“I am Yours,” my heart sighed and along with it came the reminder, “So is she.”

That was the phrase that came to me, during the long days and nights in the hospital, when I could not stop Molly’s pain, her vomiting, her hot flashes, or her tears. There was no time for formal meditation, but I would find myself sitting at her bedside, breathing deeply and intentionally.

Without a conscious thought, “I am Yours” became “She is Yours.” I would inhale and exhale those words, over and over again: “She is Yours. She is Yours. She is Yours,” a rhythmic prayer of Love and surrender, belonging and grace.

She is not (just) mine. She is not (in any way) alone. She belongs to God and God was holding her more closely in Love than I ever could. But in that prayer of letting go, I also recognized how intimately I was getting to hold on.

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My hands were the ones washing her face, spooning her ice chips, adjusting her pillows. My lips were the ones kissing her forehead as she slept. My voice was the one lulling her to sleep, telling her it was all going to be okay. My heart was the one beating next to hers. What a privilege it was to just be there, Loving her, however the need manifested itself. Though sometimes tired, or scared, or frustrated, my overwhelming emotion was deep, deep gratitude.

We would walk the halls and see children who would be there for weeks and months on end, whose injuries and illnesses were not some temporary disruption from their normal life; it was their normal life. I was grateful we were in the right place for a while and that soon enough, the right place would be home. I was grateful we had such compassionate, gentle nurses there with us and such loving and generous friends and family supporting us nearby.

I can’t tell you how many people were praying for Molly, but I can tell you how much we felt the power of their prayers. We might not have gotten what they asked, or hoped for, but we got exactly what we needed. We felt loved; we felt brave; we had the energy to face the challenges of each day and when we didn’t, we had a soft place to land and a shoulder to cry on. Though we saw only a handful of people in those weeks, we were never alone.

At a difficult time in my life, “I am Yours,” began as a plea to God to not forget me, but it has become a reminder to myself of who and whose I am. When distractions and difficulties arise during my sit (or in my life), “I am Yours” sets me free to return my attention to what I was made for – what we are all made for –to be in Loving relationship.¹ “She is Yours” became my prayer for Molly this past month, but “We are Yours” is my prayer for all of us, not because God has forgotten, but because we have.

While I was finishing this blog, I heard about the attack in London and it brought to mind the wise words of Mother Theresa: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

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We are Yours, God, and we are each other’s. Help us to remember.

Amen

  1. My favorite book about the Trinity and how the Divine relationship is the model for all relationship is The Divine Dance by Richard Rohr and Mike Morrell. It’s insightful, accessible and I highly recommend it!

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Graduation night with Richard Rohr, my teacher and hero

Disclaimer:

It’s been difficult for me to write after my last post about “The Conspiracy of the Universe,” about Sarah, adoption, and family. Those ideas are so big that writing about anything else feels small. My fear is that you’ll open this post thinking, “How’s she going to top that?”

The answer? I’m not.

I can’t top that story, but I can’t stop writing either, so I’m going to ask you to bear with me while I get this one, the one after the “good one,” out of the way.

 

“Being Sent”

 

Before the kids went back to school (8/24), before my 45th birthday (9/11), before the cosmically-engineered beach day (9/18), I celebrated another major milestone. On August 25, I was “sent” from The Living School for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, NM. While a graduation implies some kind of mastery over content, a “sending” is something else entirely. My “Sending Certificate” says it all:

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These words perfectly reflect the essence of my last two years of (in)formal education. As a cohort, we studied church history, the mystics, the ascetics, the prophets, cosmology, theology, spiral dynamics and non-dual consciousness. We read a lot; we wrote a little; we discussed much and I loved it all. I found friends and perhaps most importantly, I found a deeper, truer version of myself. It was liberating to know that I was going “all in” and that nothing else would be coming out. It freed me from the need to impress, or excel. I could just show up, do the work and trust that it would be enough.

But a lot of people have asked me why I did it, or what it was “for,” so I thought this might be a good place to try to explain.

From the time I was young, I had a sense that there was “something more” to faith than my religion teachers were telling me, more to it than the priests were letting on. I looked around at the people in the pews, just going through the motions, and I thought, “What’s the point if you don’t really mean it?” By the time I was a teenager, finding that “something more” and making it matter became a constant call in my life. I was always searching for meaning through books, at retreats and conferences, and in church communities. And each step of the way I found something deeper and truer about God and myself, so I just kept going.

One of my most transformative experiences was a retreat led by Paula D’Arcy, where she challenged me to get out of my head. As forty approached, she assured me, it was time to start working on transformation and integration, not just on the level of information. With her encouragement, I started my early morning walking meditations, body prayers and conversations with a spiritual director. I started sitting in silence, not always using my words to make sense of everything. (Believe it or not, I actually write far less now that I used to.)

When I applied to The Living School in 2013, I had other choices, including a traditional Catholic seminary, but my major criterion for deciding was this: I wanted to make it count. I was and continue to be a wife, mother, part-time teacher, volunteer and writer. The calling and curiosity were my own, but the resources I was going to be using were not. So whatever I did, I wanted it to work for all of us. Even if I was the only one overtly seeking “something more,” I wanted all of us to experience it.

So there was really only one place I could go and that was The Living School, because they promised not just an education, but transformation. According to their website, you should only apply if you “are willing to receive the lessons of darkness and suffering, and are open to profound transformation and change of consciousness.” And even better, despite your commitment, “formal degrees or certification are not offered. The reward is the experience itself—the learning and practices that will support your continued growth as a fully human, God-indwelled being.”

I was attracted and terrified by the prospect, which is a pretty compelling reason to move forward with just about anything in my mind. Of course, my ego screamed at me to head for the high holy ground of a traditional seminary, but my heart told me I was finally home – that I had found the place and the people who would offer me “the more” I had been looking for my whole life. The core faculty Fr. Richard Rohr,  James Finley and Cynthia Bourgeualt didn’t disappoint. They not only showed me “the more” in their teachings, but they showed me how to find “the more” for myself – in ancient texts, like Bonaventure, John of the Cross, and Meister Eckhart to name just a few, as well as in modern teachers, like Ilia Delio, Raimon Pannikar, Ken Wilbur, Thomas Merton and Teillhard de Chardin. They showed me how to access “something more” through personal practices, like centering prayer and chanting.

Most significantly, they showed me how to recognize the “something more” in my every day life. For me, that is where “the more” matters the most – in how I respond to the people I love, as well as the people I don’t.

I’ve always thought that what we do matters more than what we believe. But through the Living School, I have also come to see that what we do is not more important than who we are and how we show up in our lives. Our actions matter, but so does our energy. Our presence makes an impact, but so do our intentions, (something our Buddhist sisters and brothers have been trying to tell us all along).

To quote one of Richard Rohr’s favorite lines, “How you do anything is how you do everything,” and so for the past two years, I have been learning to do “everything” in a whole new way – from a contemplative stance – not led first and foremost by my own agenda, or my ego’s need to be right or successful, or even on the timetable I set for myself. Of course, this “(un)learning” was and continues to be a dismal failure much of the time, but the Living School accounted for that too.

Unlike the formal religious education I had previously received, the faculty affirmed that “It all belongs” –my life, my work, my family, my gifts and especially my failings. God is the Great Recycler and so nothing is wasted. Not one poor decision, mistake or over-reaction. Not a single moment of consciousness, of freedom, of forgiveness, or letting go. God uses all of it. Every conscious act of love is a participation in the Divine economy of the Trinity, a non-stop waterwheel of selfless, generative, creative and life-giving action on behalf of the world.¹

The Living School gave me the education to know and the experience to confirm that we are not separate from that Holy Love and relationship; we are an intimate and intrinsic part of it. Like Jesus the Christ, we are also God’s beloved, God’s chosen, God’s unique manifestation in the world. And while we cannot force that recognition, or make those experiences of divine union occur (We cannot be mystics on demand!), in the words of James Finley, we can “assume the inner stance that offers the least resistance to being overtaken by those moments of graced awareness.”

I believe that “knowing” our true identity is absolutely critical to the healing of the world. If you look at the lives of the mystics, the holiest of saints, the Mother Theresas, the Gandhis, the Martin Luther King Jr.s,  it was “knowing” their chosen status, as well as their confidence in the grace of God that changed everything for them and allowed them to change the world as we know it. It was “knowing” their place in the Divine flow of Love that allowed them to be the yeast that leavened the dough, the mustard seed that created a living sanctuary for others to flourish. If we don’t get that piece right, if we don’t know who we are, then everything else falls flat.

Now, if all this sounds a little cosmic, a little too touchy-feely for you, I will admit that a different student would talk about The Living School in an entirely different way. Everyone enters the program with their own agenda and finds their own outcome.

But when it comes right down to it, what I learned through almost three years of daily contemplative study and prayer, practice and community, in the midst of my beautiful and chaotic family life, is that Love is the engine of it all.

And unless I spend time every day doing the work of unmasking my ego, its illusions of power and control, separateness and superiority, I can grind that engine of Love to a halt, and for me that is the greatest failure. And yes, I fail, but in the words of Maya Angelou, “Still, I rise” and try again each and every day.

  1. The Divine Dance is Rohr’s new book about the Trinity that just came out. If you are at all interested in changing, improving, or even destroying the traditional Christian image of God as a bearded old man, sitting on a cloud in judgment, READ THIS BOOK!

 

 

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We are finally at the end of this linguistic journey through some of the central themes of creativity. Thanks for going with me. We make so little time to explore subjects that make us uncomfortable; we’d much rather tread on familiar ground. But pushing ourselves to write these letters, (instead of just thinking about writing them) is one way to check out the terrain and see where new roads might lead. We can decide later if we want to take those roads, but if we never get a bird’s eye view of the area, we’re not likely to set out on the adventure.

And so, DIVINITY.

Liz Gilbert was really intentional about choosing this word. She didn’t want to use God, because it carries so much baggage and can also be limiting. In any given audience of real life bodies, or readers, there may be atheists, agnostics, Christians, former Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and others. We all have a different word for the Ultimate Source of Life and Love, and each word carries a different nuance. The Divine has as many manifestations as there are people on earth, birds in the sky, flowers in the field, or stars in the universe. While a mystery is something “ultimately unknowable,” the Divine Mystery might be better described as “endlessly knowable.”1 We’ve been describing it for millennia and it’s pretty clear we’re not losing steam.

Now, a mystic has a very important job. A mystic is someone who has had an intimate experience of the Divine, and it is their sacred duty to share what they learned from that experience. Some do it well and publically, while others do it quietly in their everyday lives, but no matter what time period a mystic lived in and no matter what faith tradition they came out of, virtually every one of them shares the same message. If we believed what the mystics have been saying for thousands of years, it would change everything! While I might have shot for more poetic language, Liz Gilbert nailed it.

We’re all fine! It’s going to be okay. Don’t be afraid.

Let me repeat that mystical message for the 98% of us who didn’t get it.

We’re all fine! It’s going to be okay. Don’t be afraid.

That, my friends, is the “fall out” from a Divine experience. You know you are safe; you are secure; you no longer sweat the small stuff.

As you can imagine, this makes mystics difficult to live with. They come back fearless, taking on their culture and traditions, theologians and authority figures. They don’t want to destroy those things; they just know those things are beside the point! Religious leaders believe it will all be okay too, at least for some of us, at some point, but they believe the only way to get there is through rule-keeping and discipline. Mystics just jump ahead to the finish line. They want to share the gospel, the good news, that it’s all going to be okay and since it’s going to be okay, IT’S ALL OKAY RIGHT NOW!

See what I mean about changing everything?

What would you do? How would you behave? What risks would you take if you knew that the story ends with you in Love, existing happily ever after?

Despite what you might be thinking, this isn’t pie in the sky, airy-fairy stuff! Knowing that it’s all going to be okay doesn’t let us off the hook from trying to change things in this world. Rather, it inspires the mystics to work harder to make what is Ultimately True more true in the here and now. If I believe the mystics and I see my sister struggling, I can’t just say “Chin up; it’s going to be okay!” Rather, I have to engage in her life in such a way that it actually becomes more okay. If my brother is oppressed, I want to get down under that pressure with him and help lift his burden. When it is all said and done, the mystics inspire us to act in ways that make our current reality a greater reflection of the Divine Reality, (which they experienced as the Ultimate Reality during their mystical experience).

So in the final moments of this really special day, LG asked us to consider:

What would you do if you knew it was all going to be okay?

Holy Crap! That’s a big question!

While it might be nice, most of us will never have a mystical experience. We probably won’t levitate, have visions, or experience “union with all that is.” But that’s okay! The mystics can be TRUSTED, Rob and Liz insist, because they never change their story! We are all going to be okay!

If we were willing to go with that idea, then we were ready to write our final letter to our FEAR from the DIVINE. The first letter we wrote in this series was from our FEAR, telling us all the reasons we shouldn’t live and respond from our hearts, whether it was in art, work, or life. This final letter was an antidote to that narrative.

Yes, FEAR is right. We might fail; we might screw up and get our ass kicked, but you know what?

We’re fine! It’s going to be okay. Don’t be afraid.

We might lose a job, get our heart broken, be disappointed, but you know what?

We’re fine! It’s going to be okay. Don’t be afraid.

I like that message. I like how it made me feel. My heart simultaneously swelled with hope and shrank with dread, but that’s a paradox I can live with. That is the kind of creative tension that leads to evolution, to change and growth, inspiration and COURAGE.

And so, finally, from the DIVINE:

Dear FEAR,

I see you. I hear you. I feel your pain and I know you are doing your best to protect Ali. But let me tell you, it’s going to be okay. FEAR, dear one, I’ve got her and I’ve got you too. There is no place she can go that is separate from Me, outside my care, or Love. What Ali does best is Love people and when you are in charge, she stops Loving others and starts trying to protect herself. That’s not good for her, or anyone else for that matter. So FEAR, please remember, Ali wasn’t an ugly duckling. That’s what you called her. She was a swan all along; she just didn’t know it and she doesn’t need your Chicken Little shtick amplifying the drama. The sky isn’t falling! Let her remember what she knows deep down anyway:

We’re fine. It’s all going to be okay. Don’t be afraid.

DIVINE.

 

  1. Richard Rohr spoke about this nuance recently at a Living School Symposia and I found the distinction really helpful.

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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.

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.

 

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My Catholic readers know that tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent. For my non-Catholic readers, which is most of you, Lent is the 40 day period before Easter, the pivotal moment of our Christian faith when we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus. During Lent, Catholics (and some other denominations) try to focus their energy on preparing themselves to celebrate the Easter season. Technically, this is done through fasting, prayer and almsgiving, but mostly, people focus on the fasting. If you ask a Catholic, or even a non-Catholic, what Lent is about, they will probably say it’s about giving something up – a favorite food, or drink, indulgence, or bad habit. I was raised to think that way and it’s taken me a very long time to move beyond emphasizing that one practice.

Looking back at my childhood, I’m trying to remember the theology behind the fasting – why we were asked to sacrifice something. I don’t think the priests actually said this, but in my mind, I thought it was for one of two reasons.

#1 – Jesus gave up his life for me, so the least I could do is give up candy (it was always candy growing up!) for him during Lent. You know, tit for tat. Fair is fair after all.

Or #2 – You aren’t worthy for Jesus to have died for you – so your candy sacrifice is your way of becoming more worthy of Jesus’ death.

As if that were possible, as if anything we could do in a lifetime, much less forty days, could make us worthy of Jesus’ life.

I knew there was something about those theological constructs didn’t sound quite right, but I couldn’t quite move past those child-like assumptions for a really long time. But of course, as I grew and matured, my Lenten practices did as well. And so what I ‘gave up’ changed, but I was still doing it for the same reason – to somehow become more worthy of God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice.

The fasting habit fell apart for me a couple years ago, which you can read about here, and it came about as most failures do, through a confluence of good intentions and misguided execution. Of course, it was my husband, who had the words to help me see the light. After suffering through a Lent that left me feeling deeply saddened and discouraged, Tim gently called me out. He reminded me that he loves me “as is,” and that God does too.

God always loves us ‘as is,’ not ‘when,’ not ‘whether,’ not ‘if,” we get our act together during Lent, or at any time. If God is the Abba that Jesus taught us about, then we are loved beyond measure already and it is knowing and experiencing that Divine Love that inspires any changes we make. It is never, “First you are worthy and then you are loved.” Contrary to most of our cultural conditioning and human reasoning, with God, you are always loved first and that Love makes you worthy. What you do with that Love is up to you, but personally, I have never once in my life been loved unconditionally and taken it for granted. True Love has never turned me against myself, or another person. Being Loved deeply has always inspired me to become a better version of myself, a truer reflection of the woman God created me to be.

Through that conversation, I finally got it: Lent is never a question of worthiness; Lent is a question of mindfulness, of bringing to our minds the Mind of Christ, which is compassionate, loving, and tender to all human beings and absolutely faithful to the Love of God, which he experienced first hand in the Trinity.

At the end of our talk, Tim reminded me of this bit of wisdom from my own teacher, Richard Rohr, who often says, “Don’t try to engineer your own death; it will be done unto you!” The scriptures are full of this imagery about the death of our ego, the part of ourselves that we keep separate from God and each other. We read over and over again that we must die to ourselves. I know the truth that unless a grain of wheat dies, it remains alone, a simple grain of wheat; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. But the point I had missed in my Lenten fervor was the fact that life itself will take care of death, both literally and metaphorically. Life is already full of losses – of the people we love, of seasons and situations we cherish, of dreams, hopes, plans, and health. And we don’t have to manufacture those losses on purpose; they happen as an inevitable course of our lives, but what we can do, during Lent, and every day of our lives, is prepare ourselves to face them.

And that is what I plan to focus on this Lenten season. Last year, I committed to just keep practicing my practice and that is what I plan to do this Lent as well and what I’ve tried to do almost every day in between.

I’m going to meditate and walk, read and write.

I’m going to hug my family members whenever they get within arm’s length.

I’m going to smile at friends and strangers alike.

I’m going to find Love and pass it on whenever and however I can.

Whatever I am already doing that opens me up to God’s Loving presence in the world, I’m going to keep doing. Whatever shuts me down, I’m going to forgive and move on.

I may hold a different intention, or pick up alternate readings to begin my meditation. I may find a special focus for my journal, but I will not fool myself into thinking I need to be different than I am to celebrate the new life that is constantly before me.

In my last post on “Seasons,” I wrote:

Death is inevitable, but so too is resurrection as long as we have a deep commitment to Love and Faith and Life. Only in that soil is there an invitation and a space for the Divine to work in us. Life and Love will win if we want them to and if we release our preconceived notions of what that life looks like!

We are all moving through a season. Some are observing Lent; others are experiencing the transition from winter to spring, in nature, or in their own lives. Though we are in different parts of the cycle, we are all participating in the eternal movement from death to new life. As gardeners of our own soul, the only thing we can do is prepare the soil and trust that God will do the rest.

We can aerate our egos, poking holes in the outer shells that protect us from each other. We can soften the hardness of our hearts with the holy water of tears (you too guys!). We can let the things that have died over the past year become fertilizer for the new life to come. I cannot think of a more difficult practice for Lent, or any time of year.

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It’s Holy Thursday, a day I’ve always loved. Holy Thursday was the day before “the bad day,” the day we captured and killed Jesus, the day before the whipping and crucifying and dying. When I was young, I used to get a migraine every Good Friday. Our mom would pull us in – from twelve to three in the afternoon, the hours Jesus hung on the cross – no TV, radio, or friends, just quiet playtime or reading, in solidarity with Jesus. It was like our own mini, pint-sized crucifixion. I used to dread that time. As the inevitable call to come home crept closer, I could feel the headache coming on. Later, there would be a church service, a dark, somber affair, with great drama, a reenactment of Jesus’ suffering and death, a time for compunction and weeping for all that we had done to put him there, followed by a simple meal at home. I don’t remember those evenings after church. I imagine they weren’t joyful, lighthearted, or boisterous, our usual routine. I imagine we slipped off to bed, each to our own quiet reverie, overwhelmed by all that we had seen and experienced.

I am grateful, however, that Good Friday was the only day of the year where the image of Jesus’ death, and our complicity in it, was emphasized. The substitutionary atonement theory existed, but not as a major theme in my life. We weren’t told daily that Jesus died to pay for our sins, that the difference between our guilt and God’s greatness could only be overcome by the blood of God’s own son. Though it was on full display once a year, it was quickly followed by beautiful, glorious Easter Sunday. Before dawn, we were up and dressed and eating candy. By 6 a.m. we were singing Alleluia en masse on the church lawn as the sun rose in the East, secure in the knowledge that death had lost its sting. The risen Jesus had gone to prepare a place for us in the dazzling glow of the glory of God.

For some readers, my Easter memories might sound similar to your own, while others might think my family sounded like religious nuts. Who exposes a child to a reenactment of an ancient death penalty and tells them (or allows them to be told) it’s at least partly their fault? It all seemed so normal at the time…

But what is normal now?

That’s the question I ask myself continually. What is the new normal? What is right for today? What have I taught my kids? What do they know, or believe? More importantly, what do their hearts tell them?

I have raised them in Church, with religious education and the Bible. They know most of the prayers, and have received the appropriate sacraments. I did these things as I felt called, honoring the tradition I was raised in, the very one that set me on my journey with God.

I pray their hearts tell them that Love is the answer, that connection and compassion are the keys to happiness, that authenticity is the only way to be a person of integrity in the world and to be authentic means that you need to know who you are. The only way to know who you are is to be still long enough to find out, to be willing to listen to the urgings of your heart, the still quiet voice inside you, and when you hear that voice, you have to be brave enough to act on it and be willing to fail, to know humbly that no one has all the answers, but that questioning the status quo, the way things are, is the only way to keep growing. If you aren’t growing, you are going backwards. And, oh yes, in case you forgot, Love is the answer.

And by Love I don’t mean that sickly, sweet, destructive emotion that is depicted in almost every TV show and movie produced in Hollywood. Love is the ability to keep your heart space open when everything in you wants to shut down and say, “No, not this.” Love is the ability to be brave when you want to run away, to do the right thing when the wrong thing or even no-thing is so much easier and safer. Love has the power to change the world, because it is the root of compassion, justice, equality, hope, humility, commitment, faithfulness, and tenderness.

Do my children know this? Probably not yet, not entirely, but I am sending them the message every chance I get, including tomorrow, Good Friday, “the bad day,” when I will ask them to attend a service with me. What I hope they see, when we commemorate the death of Jesus, is not a death that “had to happen” because we sinned. I reject that premise entirely. But rather the underlying truth of the universe it reveals:

Something has to die, so that something new can be reborn. It might be a dream, a relationship, a belief, a tradition, or even your very sense of self, but what follows can always be better than what came before if you Love. If you hold your heart space open, if you don’t shut down in bitterness, or fear, if you forgive reality for being what it is, Life will begin again. Love always wins.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin called God, “Love energy.” Love is the Alpha and the Omega point, where we came from and where we are headed, but we will get there a lot faster if we participate in the process. By choosing Love ourselves, we can live an Easter miracle each and every day.

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P.S. If you remember my Holy Thursday tradition, it continued this year. I am so grateful that at their ages and stages, my children still participate in this ritual of tenderness and blessing. You can read more about our annual foot-washing here and here.

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Last week as I began to prepare for Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent (which starts tomorrow by the way), I decided to review my previous posts on the topic, as well as my journals.

2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 … It wasn’t a pretty sight.

I discovered an unfortunate pattern of pain, struggle and personal humiliation. I set lofty goals, make myself miserable in the process and ultimately end up needing to apologize to Tim on Good Friday for taking him down with me.

This year, I’m doing something radically different.

I’m not changing a thing: I’m simply going to practice my practice.

I’m going to meditate and walk, read and write.

I’m going to hug my family members whenever they get within arm’s length.

I’m going to teach my students and smile at friends and strangers alike.

I’m going to look for Love and share it whenever and however I can.

Whatever I am already doing that opens me up to God’s Loving presence in the world, I’m going to keep doing. Whatever shuts me down, I’m going to forgive and move on.

When I told Tim my plans for this Lent, he let out a huge sigh of relief and possibly even sent up a silent prayer of gratitude to a God he isn’t even sure he believes in.

If I was looking for a sign I was on the right track, that would have done it, but the peace I feel in my own heart is confirmation enough.

So whether you celebrate Lent or not, maybe six weeks in to the New Year is a good time to check in with yourself. How’s it going? How do you feel? What in your life reminds you that you are enough, you do enough, you have enough? I’m not saying you should add anything to your daily routine, but I hope there is at least one moment every day where you think, “This is exactly where I’m supposed to be.”

That, my friends, is a practice worth practicing. That, my friends, is a resurrection.

 

Author’s Note: My editor, a.k.a. my sweet husband, commented that people might not get past the treatise on theology that kicks off this post. He thought I should ask you to PLEASE stick with it and watch the video at the end. It’s worth it. Thanks!

I woke early this morning, like 4 a.m. early, and decided to tackle one of my theology chapters for the Living School. I find it much easier to get through this type of work with a well-rested mind. What looks like gibberish at 10 p.m. somehow becomes intelligible after seven hours of sleep. This particular chapter was from a book called Christophany by Raimon Pannikar. Here is a sample:

Here we see clearly delineated a twofold dimension of Christianity that a dualistic vision of reality has difficulty keeping in harmony, despite the fact that nonduality is the quintessence of Christ’s mystery – totus Deus et totus homo (“The whole God and the whole man”) according to the classical expression. An inevitable consequence of this “panhistorical” vision of Christianity would be that the eucharist cannot be Christ’s real and true presence, but only an anamnesis (“memory”) of a past fact. In other words, without a mystical vision, the Eucharistic reality disappears.

After reading it the first time, there was nothing “clearly delineated,” and no “inevitable consequence” was obvious to me. However, after several passes a modicum of understanding emerged. If his meaning is crystal clear to you, leave a comment below and we will discuss.

However, if that paragraph of theology leaves you cold, read on.

I will confess, there is some part of me that loves academic work. I love the puzzle, the working things out, the “Aha” moment when I finally grasp the author’s point. It’s even better when I have not just comprehension, but also an opinion on their argument. That is a true victory!

But as I find myself being intellectually and egoically seduced by the power of knowledge, I also know, in the pit of my stomach, that it’s “nothing but straw,” as Thomas Aquinas infamously said in the final days of his life. Ultimately, on a cold day, in the concrete reality of our lives, most of what has been written about God would be most useful as fuel for a fire to keep us warm. Theology simply falls short of experiential knowledge. Simply put, our study of the Divine has far less of an impact on us than our experience of it.

The only theology we truly need to know is that God is Love with a capital L. Jesus gave us only two commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength and Love your neighbor as yourself. That’s it. Like Hillel, he thought the rest would take care of itself. St. Augustine said simply, “Love God and do as you please.” But even this simple theology is worthless if we are not Loved in real life, in real ways, by real people, intentionally, compassionately, fiercely and unconditionally. Without the lived experience of deeply committed Love, by parent, spouse, friend or community, even this theology can be twisted and misunderstood.

I know academic studies of theology, philosophy and the like are crucially important disciplines. They elevate and animate conversations at the highest levels and shape our educational system and our vision of the world. They record the evolution of our collective consciousness. Without Plato, Socrates, Augustine, Bonaventure, Aquinas, without Descartes and Voltaire, Locke and Hobbes, and countless others, we would not be where we are today. But these subjects are not for everyone and I am grateful for the “1%ers” who study them responsibly and have an opportunity to influence our world.

I know what they’ve done is good, but I read a story about Tamika Brown today, who is the embodiment of a lived theology of Love and

I am convinced that if all the theology in the world from every culture and religion, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and every other, ceased to exist tomorrow and instead we all Loved like this, the world would be a better place.

Two years ago, Tamika’s son, Richie Knight, was stabbed to death when he was 19 years old. His killer was Ian Lorne Ellis, a 17-year-old young man from the neighborhood, who Richie had been in confrontations with in the months before the murder. Ellis pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter and will serve twenty-one years in prison. This is what Tamika had to say to him in the courtroom on the day of his sentencing.

“Only God knows why I’m not angry, or why I don’t hate you. Would it shock you to hear that I love you? I thought to myself one day a while back, ‘Don’t lock him up. Sentence him to my home. Let him be my son that he took away from me.’”

Can you imagine if we all sought justice this way? If loss opened us up and allowed us to give birth to something new and miraculous, instead of hardening our hearts, seeking retribution?

Tamika sang to her son’s killer about the source of her Love, starting with the song, “He Cares,” but changing a few words on the spot:

“So you think that you can’t make it through,/ Just remember that my God cares for you…/Don’t give up, don’t give in/ Today make Jesus Christ your number one friend.”

In suffering, Tamika knew Love, but instead of sharing it only with her friends and family, she extended it to the other, her enemy. No one can say this is soft, or easy, or wishy-washy theology. This is Love from its the deepest source, in any culture and by any name. She changed the equation. We are accused and we get defensive; we are Loved and we can be transformed.

Theology is all well and good, but it should never trump the embodied reality of Love. Think of France and Nigeria. Think of Israel and Palestine, ISIS and Iraq. Think of Leelah Alcorn. All these tragedies were based on mistaken theologies, ones that said there was a something greater than Love. We have to do better.

I may study theology, but I choose Love.

If you want to read the local news story, click here.

December 5, 2014

Christmas is only a few short weeks away. Nineteen days to prepare, shop, bake and decorate. I was blown away at how quickly everyone got their Christmas stuff out and up and displayed on Instagram and Facebook last weekend. The turkey carcass from Thanksgiving dinner was still warm by the time the lights were on the tree. I’m not criticizing! I admire an ability to work on a full stomach. It’s just not the way I work.

I tend to put the Christmas cheer on a slow burn, much to Molly’s dismay. There have been years where the tree isn’t even bought until the 20th. Presents are kept in closets and cubbyholes until I get around to wrapping them on the 23rd. Some of this delay is simply practical. December is the busiest month of the year for Tim at the surf shop. My semester ends mid-December and I am inundated with finals and papers to grade. The kids are typically in school until the third week. Throw in a couple soccer tournaments, Christmas parties and holiday events and who has the time to decorate?

This year, most of those factors still exist, but more so than ever, I find myself holding back from the Christmas “spirit.” Instead, I’m immersing myself in Advent and the mystery of the Incarnation. If I could, I would wrap my house in deep purple. It would stay dark and candle-lit and smell like pine needles. I would transport us to the top of a snowy mountain where we could sit quietly and reflect on what it means to give birth to Christ in and through our very selves. Of course, Tim and the kids would hightail it out of there the first chance they got, hopping on toboggans to the nearest gingerbread village they could find.

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My December dream house

 

Trying to keep them away from the joy of December, Christmas carols and cookies is more Grinch than Mother Mary, so decorating, baking and singing will commence tomorrow morning. I hate to hold back anybody’s good time, but in my own quiet time, in my reading, writing, and meditating, I am going to hold on to the mystery of the Incarnation that is pressing so deeply on my heart these days.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus was born from and through Mary, but the Christ is born in each of us, over and over again, throughout time and across every continent, in every gender and age, regardless of purity, sanctity or professed faith tradition. All is takes is a willing heart.

Every act of Love is an act of incarnation.

God is Love and Christ is the physical manifestation of God, so whenever we Love, truly, actively and deeply, we are bringing Christ to the world. God is incarnated through us.

Mary said Yes to giving birth to Jesus, because she Loved God. She trusted that God’s Love would sustain her through the shame and pain and instability the Incarnation would cause her. The result, she was assured, would be something wondrous, greater than anything the world had ever known. Love like this, in flesh and blood, would change everything.

Let’s be brave like Mary this time of year. Instead of going nonstop, let’s wait. Let’s sit quietly in our homes sometimes, maybe for a few minutes in the evening by the light of our tree, maybe with a cup of tea on our couch in the morning. Let’s be still and listen for where God is asking us to bring Love into the world through our own flesh and blood.

With God, who knows what that request will look like?

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