Days for Grieving

Yesterday, I went to the ocean to mix my own salty tears with that of the sea, to be surrounded by Life and forget for a moment my small one. If I lived near a forest, I would have lain down under the tallest trees. If by the mountains, next to a granite face, soaring high above me. If on a prairie, I would have gazed up at the vast blue sky and watched the clouds race from one end of my vision to the other.

I felt a need to be connected to a grandeur and beauty that remains unaffected by the crazy, painful shit we humans do to each other. It reminds me that there is something larger at work, something that does, in fact, want us to be well, not sick – not the violent, unmerciful people we so often are.

I call that something God; I also call it Love and I was grateful to the Center for Action and Contemplation for their post.

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In September, Richard Rohr spent a week teaching about non-violence. Perhaps it was prescience, or coincidence, but perhaps it just seemed practical to remind his readers that we cannot give to others what we don’t have ourselves. As much as we may want peace in our world, we ultimately have to do the even more difficult work of creating peace within – first, or at least at the same time. Otherwise, we’re just brokering a cheap truce, too easily broken when boundaries are crossed.

I’m going to offer a few highlights of his teaching here that I copied into my journal.

…..

September 22, 2017

The  reflections from Richard Rohr have been so powerful this week – deeply convicting about how nonviolence must be something that comes from our heart, an awareness of Your presence within us, God. We cannot live and behave however we want in our everyday lives and then go participate in the non-violent healing of the world. It just doesn’t work that way.

If we want make peace, we have to be peace. Our lives are our message.

……

How can we make nonviolence a way of life?

[First] Practicing nonviolence means claiming our fundamental identity as the beloved sons and daughters of the God of peace… The problem is: we don’t know who we are. . . . The challenge then is to remember who we are, and therefore be nonviolent to ourselves and others.

This alone, God, challenges me. Nonviolence has to begin in my own heart, in how I treat myself in moments of weakness, or shame, when I have not met expectations, my own, or those of others. The voice of the inner critic is rarely gentle. It yields a sharp sword and knows all my weak spots. Even this has to change? 

To create peaceful change, we must begin by remembering who we are in God.

Gandhi believed the core of our being is union with God… [and] that experiencing God’s loving presence within is central to nonviolence. This was his motivation and sustenance: “We have one thousand names to denote God, and if I did not feel the presence of God within me, I see so much of misery and disappointment every day that I would be a raving maniac.”

[Second] Nonviolence, on the other hand, comes from an awareness that I am also the enemy and my response is part of the whole moral equation. I cannot destroy the other without destroying myself. I must embrace my enemy just as much as I must welcome my own shadow. Both acts take real and lasting courage.

Practicing loving presence must become our entire way of life, or it seldom works as an occasional tactic.

From this awareness, nonviolence must flow naturally and consistently:

Non-violence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our very being. . . . If love or non-violence be not the law of our being, the whole of my argument falls to pieces. . . . Belief in non-violence is based on the assumption that human nature in its essence is one and therefore unfailingly responds to the advances of love. . . . If one does not practice non-violence in one’s personal relations with others and hopes to use it in bigger affairs, one is vastly mistaken.

….

Living a nonviolent life is no easy task; it is not simply pacifism. It requires courageous love, drawn from the very source of our being.

As Mark Kurlansky explains, “Pacifism is passive; but nonviolence is active. Pacifism is harmless and therefore easier to accept than nonviolence, which is dangerous. When Jesus said that a victim should turn the other cheek, he was preaching pacifism. But when he said that an enemy should be won over through the power of love, he was preaching nonviolence.”

One year, RR invited his staff to take this vow of nonviolence. I don’t know how many of them accepted the challenge. I only know I couldn’t, as much as I wanted to. I read and reread the vows, but my heart shied away from them. 

What does it mean to take a vow you are sure to break?

 I think I will print the vows out and put them on my nightstand. If I read them over and over again, perhaps I will move one step closer to living into them with some integrity. From RR:

Recognizing the violence in my own heart, yet trusting in the goodness and mercy of God, I vow for one year to practice the nonviolence of Jesus who taught us in the Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons and daughters of God. . . . You have learned how it was said, “You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy”; but I say to you, Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. In this way, you will be daughters and sons of your Creator in heaven. (Matthew 5:9, 43-45)

Before God the Creator and the Sanctifying Spirit, I vow to carry out in my life the love and example of Jesus

  • by striving for peace within myself and seeking to be a peacemaker in my daily life;

  • by accepting suffering rather than inflicting it;

  • by refusing to retaliate in the face of provocation and violence;

  • by persevering in nonviolence of tongue and heart;

  • by living conscientiously and simply so that I do not deprive others of the means to live;

  • by actively resisting evil and working nonviolently to abolish war and the causes of war from my own heart and from the face of the earth.

God, I trust in Your sustaining love and believe that just as You gave me the grace and desire to offer this, so You will also bestow abundant grace to fulfill it.

…..

This last line is the key, isn’t it God?

In days like these, while the world grieves so many acts of violence  –

from the hands of our fellow humans,

by the forces of nature,

in the war of words we constantly engage in,

and our slow but sure death from complacency and indifference,

do I trust in Your sustaining Love and Grace?

Most days, I say, “Yes,” with my whole heart and the entire force of my being. I believe, I trust, I want to participate in the Love and Grace that sustain the world.

This week? Not so much.

My yes is a whisper, a longing more than a reality, but I don’t want it to stay there. So I’ll head back to the sea; I’ll look up at the sky; I’ll walk in a canyon; I’ll find my center and breathe and trust that the truth of Love will rise again.

In the meantime, I am grateful for the helpers, the people who are actively participating in the Loving and healing and peacemaking that is going on today – in Las Vegas, Puerto Rico, Mexico City, Houston and around the world. I am grateful for their resounding “Yes” in the midst of tragedy.

…….

If you’d like to read the reflections from the teachings on non-violence, you can find them here. There’s a lot to explore on the page!

 

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Being Sent

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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!