Last year, I adopted a body prayer as a Lenten practice. It’s impact on me was significant, so I continued the practice long after the season was over and decided to return to it this year. It is a simple, but powerful way to bring my attention to the present moment and my purpose in it. I forget those things constantly, so I can’t do it just once a day either. Rather, I set alarms on my iPhone in loose imitation of the monastic hours: 7:00 a.m., 10:00, 1:00, 4:00 and 7:00 p.m. As soon as my “bells” chime, I step outside, (or at least aside), and complete the prayer. Sometimes I have to delay for five, or ten minutes, but one of the greatest powers of the practice is in heeding the call when it comes – prioritizing being present in mind, body and soul – over whatever else I’m doing.


Here is the prayer, step by step.

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1. I stand firmly on two feet, grounding myself. I focus on the stability of the earth beneath me, supporting me, lifting me up, and meeting me where I am. I take a deep breath and still my thoughts from wherever they’ve been, wherever I’ve been, just moments before.

My words: “Here I am, as I am, in this world, as it is.”

This position is my reality check. I came to pray, but I arrive distracted, perhaps even irritated, anxious, or tired. And the world is meeting me, full of its own pain, the never-ending cycle of human suffering. This step of the prayer acknowledges the inherent imperfection of life, but in this moment, it’s enough that I showed up. Pausing here for some deep breaths, I arrive fully. This is my response to Divine invitation to “come as you are” to experience the gifts of presence and connection. Nothing else is required.

 

2. From standing with hands at my side, I move them to “praying hands” and bow at the waist. I take a few moments to breathe deeply here (and in each position).

My words: “I bow to the wholeness and holiness of which I am a part.”

In this position, I acknowledge the perfection of the cosmos and its Creator, but also my own part in it. The universe is vast and mysterious, but I am not inconsequential to the unfolding of God’s plan. To the extent I am aware and available, I can contribute more productively to it. This is a moment of great humility and deep self-respect. I matter enormously and not at all.

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3. With another deep breath, I move my arms into a V above my head and place my feet closer together. This is a gesture of welcome and receptivity.

My words: “I open myself to receive what the Universe has waiting for me this day.”

All that is good is generously offered to me each and every day: divine energy, love, compassion, grace, mercy, growth. It may not always look, or feel “good,” especially on bad days, or in times of deep suffering, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. The very nature of God is a complete and total fountain-fullness of hesed, the Hebrew word for God’s unshakeable, steadfast, generous love. God can’t help but allow good things to rain down on the just and unjust alike.

I want hesed for myself; I want hesed for the world, but I cannot receive it without making room. A cup full of water can hold no wine, which takes me to the next words of my prayer in this position.

My words: “I empty myself of my agenda for this day.”

As I say these words, my mind brings forth all the other things I need to release to make room for God’s gifts and the possibility to love and be loved in surprising ways. My agenda is just my plan for the day, but there are also my attachments – the things I want to be true and the way I want things to go. And don’t forget my projections – who I think others should be, and how I think they should show up in the world. While we’re at it, let’s also release the fears that go around making all sorts of unconscious decisions that limit me, and the certainty that leads me to judge, reject and limit other people.

I can’t possibly welcome the mystery of God’s plan if I think I have everything figured out already, so my body takes the shape of a funnel – wide open to receive from above , while releasing anything that has its origin in my own smallest self.

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4. I place my hands over my heart in a gesture of recollection and tenderness.

My words: “I acknowledge all that I have received.”

This is a moment of deep gratitude and recognition for the gifts I have been given. I feel my heart beat. In this moment, I am alive; I have breath. I have family; I have a home. I am safe and I am loved. I have felt the grace of God in my life and I see the ways it has shaped me. I pause for a moment of peace.

 

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5. I throw my arms open wide and twist at the waist, back and forth, in a gesture of release.

My words: “I share all that I am and all that I have.”

This position seeks to balance the self-preoccupation of the previous gesture. I am not given those gifts, because I am special, or blessed, or uniquely deserving in anyway. They are not mine to hoard, but to give away, as freely and fiercely as I’m able. Honestly, when it comes to generosity, some days are better than others, but this gesture always reminds me of the poet Rilke’s plea to God: “May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back.”

Let go, let God, let goodness flow. Let me not merely be a recipient; let me be a conduit.

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6. In this final posture, I place my hands at my side, touching my legs. I ground my feet into the earth once again. I feel more deeply rooted, more aware of the energy that flows through me.

My words: “I am here. I am home. I am Yours.”

Usually at this point, I can feel my mind start to wander back to where I was before, or ahead to where I’m going next, but these words stop me in my tracks.  If I cannot be here, stay here, for one more moment, then what was the point?

I am here, as I am – in this world, as it is – and it is okay.

I am home – in my body, in this place, in this moment. Pardon the cliché, but I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.

I am Yours – I don’t have to manufacture my own purpose, or figure everything out today. I simply know I belong – to Life, to Love, to Creation and the Creator of it all.


I know it sounds like a lot of time and effort, and honestly I do rush through the steps often enough, but at least a couple times a day, I go as slowly as I can, my face to the sun. In the video, I’m moving a little quickly, since I’m in a public space and Tim’s filming me. (He does not love public displays of prayer, or New Age-y body movements.) If you’re going to give it a try, find a quiet place where you can practice without self-consciousness! The song playing is called, “Ulysses” by Josh Garrels. I love that song and after hundreds of listens, it will forever call me back to myself.

P.S.    Fr. Richard Rohr says that people ask him how long they should pray. “Pray until you get to YES,” he tells them, “That’s what I do.”
I’ve found this to be a really helpful version of a YES prayer. In each position, I’m invited to come to an authentic YES. I can hurry past it in any one step, but usually by the end, I have come to an acceptance of some truth about myself and how I’m showing up. Then I can decide what to do about it.

At its core, YES is humility.

YES is freedom and choice.

YES is an act of Love.

I want to thank Cynthia Bourgeault and the Wisdom Way of Knowing for teaching me their version of this prayer and their encouragement to “practice my practice” in my own way.

One of the texts I’ve been working my way through this past month (and am committed to completing this Lent) is this

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As you can imagine, it’s super uplifting stuff.

It’s one of those books you plan to read sooner or later, but somehow never get around to. Instead it sits on your bookshelf for years, pages yellowing in the afternoon sunlight… That probably sounds oddly specific, but that’s what happens to the books I feel like I should read, but don’t actually want to. However, a few months ago I finally wanted to and pulled it off the shelf. While visiting us from Montana, my eighty-one-year-old mother-in-law was rushed to the hospital in respiratory failure. There is nothing like the chaos of a near-death experience (even if not your own) to make you seek out “a Message of Hope, Comfort and Spiritual Transformation.”

Whatever the title led me to believe I was getting, it’s not what I’ve gotten out of this book. I’d heard the author described as a hospice worker, author and public speaker, but cracking open the first page, I was immediately struck by her other qualities, namely a PhD, with an expertise in transpersonal psychology, Sufi cartography, integral theory, and the evolution of human consciousness. Reading this text on death and dying is no Chicken Soup for the Soul, no pabulum to ease the bitterness of death; it’s hard work, but I’m grinding my way through it. And not only is it helping me understand what my mother-in-law may be experiencing, but what we will all experience at some point – the death, not only of our body, which is painful enough, but of our ego, our individuality and our ability to control anything at all, which is excruciating. We know how to medicate and manage physical trauma; it’s often the psychological and spiritual pain that is our undoing. Despite that hard truth, or perhaps because of it, I’ve found some good news in here. She says we can actually start taking some preventative measures now to reduce the psychic pain later.

Here’s one. Our life is full of opportunities to die to some parts of our “selves” we’ve (over)identified with. Every disappointment, every failure, every injury and illness, every break-up with a friend, or partner, every stumble along the way offers us the chance to ask the critical question, “Who am I?”

The best way to prepare for our eventual death is a “perpetual stance of exploration… the continual asking of the question, ‘Who am I?’… At first the answers to the question are the easy and automatic responses memorized during the decades of the mental ego’s identity project.” For example, for the last two decades and more, I have been able to say I am a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, freckle-faced cis-gender, heterosexual woman, wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, neighbor, reader, writer, student, teacher, runner, swimmer, walker, weightlifter, surfer, snowboarder, baker, seeker, volunteer. Sorry for rambling, but you get the point. I can identify as a lot of things. We all can!

But here’s the kicker. I have failed at virtually each and every one of those things. I have been found lacking and had to die to who I thought I was, or more specifically, who I dreamed I could be in my lifetime in that role. My “self” sometimes really sucks. But in that space of confusion and disappointment in myself and the situation, am I courageous enough to ask myself: “Who am I if I am no longer this?” and the even more piercing and existential question: “Will they love who am I now enough to stay with me?”

When we don’t know the answer to those questions, we get confused and anxious, but in fact, according to the book, “not knowing is good. Not knowing is ‘beginner’s mind.’ Not knowing allows openness to the possibilities inherent in each moment. It is the only space in which wisdom can arise, because it has no preconceptions,” no pre-judgments about what could or should happen. In those moments when we are pierced by the sword of reality that “Reality shines through the holes left by the piercing.” In that crisis of self, a deeper and truer Self can fill in the gaps, preparing us for the final moment when the Self is all we have left. With any luck, and a lot of grace, it just might make the transition a little easier on us and those we love.

A final thought –

It is because you believe that you are born that you fear death.

Who is it that was born?

Who is it that dies?

Look within.

What was your face before you were born?

Who you are, in reality, was never born and never dies.

Let go of who you think you are and become who you have always been.

  – Stephen Levine

The quotes from The Grace in Dying are taken from a section called “Self-Inquiry,” pages 160-165.

On a personal note –

My mother-in-law has steadily improved over the last ten weeks. She has worked hard to be well again, with a kindness and determination that is much commented on by the staff everywhere she’s been. And while this situation has been difficult, it has also allowed her family to come together with love and mutual support. She will be released on Monday to her daughter’s home in Northern California for a few more months of recovery before she returns to her own home in the early summer. This is her hand in Molly’s last week as we visited over dinner.

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Though it has been far too long since I last wrote here, I couldn’t let Ash Wednesday come and go without having a word. Though I had no idea what I wanted to say, I woke this morning with a gravitational pull on my heart to be present here as this holy season begins.

Dozens of my Lents have been spent focused on self-denial and self-discipline, convinced that it was the appropriate time to overhaul who I was and all that was “wrong” with me. Sometimes the results “worked,” getting me a little healthier and humbler, but they rarely made me any holier. And this year, I don’t have it in me to work on my “self,” – not my self-image, my self-indulgences, or even the self-criticism that is my daily companion.

Tim and I have been talking for days about what practices we might adopt during these forty days, but nothing had resonated deeply yet. However, after my sit this morning, I walked over to our family message board, wrote this and sent a picture of it to my kids.

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And followed it up with this text.

It’s Ash Wednesday Team Kirks.  Just a gentle reminder from your mama that we don’t do “old school” Lent. This year, I want to do these things – not sacrificing in ways that don’t bring help and healing to the world in some small way. If Easter is the universal message that out of death comes new life, out of despair hope, out of darkness light, then these last weeks of winter can prepare us to be open to that new life, light and hope. Be brave and be kind today and know deep in your bones that the depth and passion with which I love you is just a fraction of the cosmic Love that Loves us all and has given us this life and chance to be together on the journey.

Fasting, prayer and almsgiving?

Okay, if you insist… but only if they make me more like the Christ who comes, not just on Easter, but each and every day. Giving up Diet Coke hasn’t done the trick and neither has sacrificing that second glass of wine. But some of those reminders on my message board just might  – in my own home, at work, or on the street.

 

I hope to share a few of the things I’m reading and practices I’m engaging with over the course of the next six weeks. Thanks for welcoming me back into your inbox!

 

 

 

March 1, 2018

Dear Readers,

I’ve always loved newsletters, but I must be in the minority, since they seem to have gone the way of magazine subscriptions, to be replaced by tweets, status updates and email “blasts,” whenever something noteworthy happens. But I love the reflective tone of a newsletter, its way of looking back at the last month or quarter and assessing what was actually significant, successful, or transformative, instead of just “advertising” about it in real time.

In that vein, I thought I’d offer a “Newsletter from a Fool” as the month of February comes to a close. (I’ll get to the “fool” part a little later.)

February was a big month for our family.

Keara Moses turned 21 on the 18th and happened to be in town on her birthday, so we took her to the Station Tavern in Southpark, one of her favorite restaurants. She started with a coffee stout and after a veggie burger and tater tots, she finished up with two mixed drinks.  She didn’t even seem buzzed, which is strange since they were her first drinks ever (I’m pretty sure). But we all had a good time and raised our glasses of beer, lemonade and Dr. Pepper to the woman we love, who challenges us and makes us laugh and wonder and worry all at the same time, which is pretty much the job description of a 21-year-old college student, as far as I’m concerned.

 

In other news, Molly Grace celebrated the one year anniversary of her spinal surgery on February 22. Though she had begged to take the day off school, we sent her anyway, since we had taken a three-day snowboarding break in Mammoth earlier in the month. But she was greeted that afternoon with flowers, went thrifting with me at the Buffalo Exchange, enjoyed a hot tub session at the YMCA, a sushi dinner out and finally was surprised at Dairy Queen by her two best friends and their families, who have been with her every step of the way for the past fifteen years. This past month, we reflected on her amazing recovery and how she has finally done everything post-surgery that she did pre-surgery. Grateful doesn’t even begin to cut it.

 

On a sadder note, we lost a wonderful woman and friend, Gretchen Kelly, to cancer this past month. Tim had known Gretchen for over thirty years; our kids thought of her as their local grandma, calling her “Nana Gretch” all their lives. We loved her homemade carrot cake, her “Sunday ‘do,” her full-bodied hugs and full-throated laughter. She was a legend and her memorial service was a testament to that. Friends from all generations and family from all over the country gathered to honor a woman who lived her life with passion, generosity, loyalty and faith. Gretchen is truly an example of how open-hearted living and loving extends the circle of connection and compassion, making the world a better place. Gretchen is seated on the far right in these photos, which hold pride of place in our kitchen, right next to my mother-in-law Ruth and their friend Patsy.

 

I found this poem by Mary Oliver on the day of Gretchen’s service and I think it could have been written just for her.

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from Evidence, 2009

Finally, on a more foolish note…

I always think of February as the month of Love and try to do something a little special for my family. Since there are so many miles between us this year, I had to get a little creative, which wasn’t a problem, because I have discovered SNAPCHAT and my kids created a FAMILY GROUP, so now I can torture them all hours of the day and night while endlessly entertaining myself. Instead of love notes on their pillow, they received a daily love song.

untitled-1_158I’m going to admit it: filters are my friend. Stickers speak to my soul. Bitmojis are totally bitchin’ and voice changers are game changers for people like me who don’t have musical talent.

Am I sounding foolish enough yet? Is your respect for me leaking away, slowly but surely?

Stay tuned. There’s more.

I was inspired to take my foolishness to this next level by my church community’s theme for Lent: “Holy Fools for Love, Holy Fools for Christ.” I don’t know how many times I have shown up as the latter, but the former? Any day of the week! I’m your gal, especially when it comes to my kids.

As I’ve dug into this theme, proposed first by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians and later practiced by my favorite saint of all time, Francis of Assisi, I’m more convinced than ever that foolishness is something to be cultivated and cherished, not condemned. I’m not talking about run-of-the-mill stupidity, immaturity, or thoughtlessness. I’m talking about the foolishness on the other side of seriousness, or as Rob Bell likes to say, the simplicity on the other side of complexity.

My family knows how much I love them and they know that my light-hearted singing is not an expression of the depths of my love, but of the lightness of my love. It is the aspect of my Love that wants to lift them up “higher and higher” in the words of Jackie Wilson. We have been to the depths together and have come out the other side: heartbreaks, betrayals, depressions, medical interventions, coming out, moving out, standing up for justice and kneeling down to ask forgiveness. We’ve gained some wisdom during our twenty-five + years of loving each other, so I gave myself the permission and pleasure of being a fool for Love this February. If you’re not familiar with Snapchat and all the good times that can be had with it, here is some evidence.

(I ask that you watch with generosity! This is amateur hour. I am fully aware I have no musical, filming, or editing ability. The talent may be weak, but the spirit of Love is strong.)

Have you ever been a fool for the sake of someone you love, not because you were weak, but because you had the strength to offer them your own vulnerability? When or where have you chosen to lose, even though you could have won? Who, or what inspires you to fall to your knees, instead of standing tall? These acts of radical foolishness are so rare. We cultivate an image, a “brand,” a level of seriousness, beauty and respect, which we vigilantly guard, but unless we are unprotected, we will not be connected.

There are so many things that keep us from “fooling” around: pride, efficiency, fear of ridicule, loss of standing, lack of practice, cultural expectations. The list goes on and on, but it doesn’t have to. We can stop it anytime, simply by looking at each of those pre-conditions and seeing if it is more important in any given situation than communicating Love, connection, humor, tenderness, grace.

Is there room to “fool” around right now, right here? 

I know the answer won’t always be yes, but it isn’t always no either.

Finally, because poetry is often the language of fools, especially the wise and holy ones, here’s a final offering from Mary Oliver.

 

I Don’t Want to be Demure or Respectable

I don’t want to be demure or respectable.

I was that way, asleep, for years.

That way, you forget too many important things.

How the little stones, even if you can’t hear them, are singing.

How the river can’t wait to get to the ocean and the sky,

it’s been there before.

What traveling is that?

It is a joy to imagine such distances.

I could skip sleep for the next hundred years.

There is a fire in the lashes of my eyes.

It doesn’t matter where I am, it could be a small room.

The glimmer of gold BÖhme saw on the kitchen pot

            Was missed by everyone else in the house.

Maybe the fire in my lashes is a reflection of that.

Why do I have so many thoughts, they are driving me crazy.

Why am I always going anywhere, instead of somewhere?

Listen to me, or not, it hardly matters.

I’m not trying to be wise, that would be foolish.

I’m just chattering.

 

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Give it a go! Get on your hands and kick up your feet! Look at the world a little upside down. The foolishness of God is wiser than we know.

 

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One of my funniest Ash Wednesday memories comes from my high school years. I was on the Mater Dei swim team and we took our workouts seriously, but we took our faith seriously too. At sixteen, we were “adults” and expected to abide by the rules of fasting on that day. My swim coach, who was also my religion teacher at the time, told us that we were exempt from fasting, but I wasn’t buying it. “Don’t fast,” he said. “Yeah right,” I thought. By the time I got out of the pool for sprints at the end of the workout, I was light-headed, nauseous, seeing stars, but I wasn’t the only one. He had kids falling down all over the pool deck! Something like that is only going to happen at a Catholic school!

One of my least favorite Ash Wednesday memories happened last year, when we spent the day at the E.R. at Rady Children’s Hospital.  Molly had to be readmitted a week after her back surgery for uncontrolled pain. By the time they finally doped her up, she was delirious on multiple doses of Valium and Atavin, which precipitated a crying, laughing, and truth-telling spell we will never forget (and she’ll never remember.) A female pastor – Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal – I can’t remember, came by the room and asked if we would like to receive ashes. Tim and I stepped out of the room and held hands as she completed the ritual: “From dust you came and to dust you shall return.” It was a poignant moment, but painful. The evidence of the fragility of life was just beyond a pane of glass.

This morning, I sat down to begin my first official “Lenten” practice – an hour of morning reading, meditation and prayer. That’s it for the most part this year, nothing too dramatic, not like in previous years, which you can read about here, here and here. I thought about how my Advent journey in December was directed by a question: “What gift do you want to receive from God for Christmas this year and what do you have to release in order to make room to receive it?” I had been hoping another question would come to me from the cosmos, something significant, or holy to ponder, but there’s been nada. Each time I tried to pose one for myself, it rang false, like I was a poser.

So I just let it go.  I’m much more trusting these days that the right thing will show up at the right time if I’m paying attention (that’s the actual trick – paying attention instead of being distracted by our iphones, Netflix, food, alcohol, shopping, do-gooding, expectations, etc.) This morning I sat down to write in my journal, where most of the entries are written as letters to God. Instead of something significant, these were the questions that came to me:

This Lent, can I be content? Can I be of service? Can I participate with your work in the world: to love, to heal, to befriend, to connect?

And as I wrote, I realized that the first two questions were for me, but that I had written the final question to Jesus, not to God. That might not stand out to you, but for me, it was really weird.  I don’t pray to Jesus. I don’t write to Jesus. I wouldn’t even claim to know Jesus, even though he’s probably my favorite person who’s ever walked on the planet and I consider myself one of his followers. I love what Jesus said and did and taught and lived. I love the Eucharist and communion tables, especially when they are open to all. But Jesus himself? Mostly unapproachable. So, I sat with that oddity for a moment, and then I kept writing to him:

Jesus,

 Rarely do I pray to you. Your humanity seems too real to deserve prayers “to,” and yet your divinity is too alienating for me to feel like we’re friends. I have been taught my whole life that you were like us in every way, but sin, which always confuses me, because then you aren’t like me at all! Most of what I am is my “sin,” though I don’t use that word any more. If you were “perfect” and “sinless,” then you have no experience at all with the ways I fall short every day, the ways I disappoint, don’t get things right, hurt feelings, speak hastily, covet something, lose my patience, fall into temptation and eat/do/watch something I probably shouldn’t. I think I’ll be trying to work out that paradox – who you are and how exactly we’re related – my whole life…

 But today, I stop and consider for a moment, that this Lenten season is wholly devoted to you: your life, your teachings and of course, your death.

You were like me, (or so they say,) but I see it here in a way I usually can’t.

You had a life, and a path (which probably didn’t work out the way you thought) and a deep Love for God, and you kept trying to be obedient to that Love, even when it led you to Jerusalem and the mob and authority figures that killed you. You didn’t hit the escape button.

How much of that I can relate to!

What if I remembered that these are your 40 days, Jesus, the last 40 of your life? In the end, you knew you were a “dead man walking,” but you didn’t walk away. How tempting it must have been! So, here’s a question: Can we be friends this Lent? It sounds so silly, but would that be a good question?

Can I be content? Can I be of service?  Can I participate with your work in the world to love, to heal, to befriend, to connect?

It is not God’s work I describe there, but your work in this world. I watch how you lived and loved and bucked the system and ate and drank and touched and taught and broke a lot of rules and through that lens, maybe I can approach you, not as a theological dilemma to be solved, but as a life to be examined, a humanity to be loved.

I’m not really sure why I’m sharing these words with you all. I guess it’s because the complete change of focus from God to Jesus was so surprising to me. It was like I knelt down before the altar to my comfortable, slightly abstract image of a lovely and loving God, and I found myself on my knees before a complicated human being, who lived in the flesh and blood and the “full catastrophe” of what this life is. I don’t know what it means yet, but I know enough to pay attention, to keep asking questions and let my Lenten prayers take me where they may.

What questions are you asking this Lent? What practice is your heart leading you towards? What has to fade away, so that something new can arise? How will you approach these 40 days with grace and intention?

As you can probably tell from my lack of posts, this Lenten season has not been a particularly devout one for me. The week before Lent was a blur after Molly’s surgery and Ash Wednesday coincided with her re-admittance to the hospital. The day made no impression on me until late that evening when a hospital chaplain stopped by and offered to pray with us and offer us ashes. Tim and I accepted gratefully, but when Molly indicated she wanted them, I almost knocked the bowl from the chaplain’s hands. Something deep inside me was repulsed by the thought of marking the body of my suffering child with a sign of her mortality. It seemed morbid and inappropriate, but I let it pass and it did Molly no harm. Still, it wasn’t an auspicious beginning to the season.

The next day, however, something my former pastor Nancy Corran preached to our community came back to me. She said, “If your life is a Lent this year, if you are suffering in a desert already – physically, mentally, emotionally, financially – whatever it is, don’t feel like you have to pile more on. Let your life be your Lent and let God Love you through it.” Those were some of the most profound and compassionate words I had ever heard a priest say, but the privilege of my life had always precluded me from taking her up on her offer. This year, however, I decided it was time. My life was Lent enough.

But Holy Week is here and Molly is back at school. She hardly needs any medication and can manage most things on her own. If you weren’t watching closely, you’d never know she was six weeks out from surgery. And so I began to wonder what I had learned during my “life as Lent” experiment. Jesus’ forty days in the desert showed us that a Lenten practice isn’t about a transaction to be completed, but a transformation to be undergone. He went in to the desert a newly baptized man, but emerged a man on a mission. What about me?

While there were no great changes of heart, my sense of mission has deepened this Lent. More than ever, Love is the ground from which I want to ”live and move and have my being.”

Last night, I read the Passion account from the Gospel of Mark and I was struck by the fact that the word “Love” is never mentioned. 1 John 16 may remind us that “God so Loved the world…” but in the eye witness accounts, Love fades away. Instead, fear, betrayal, pain, cruelty, guilt, and abandonment each take their starring turn. Love may be the motivation for Jesus’ actions, but it’s never explicitly stated and if there is one thing I have learned from all my years of study, it’s that we can’t see what we aren’t told to look for and through it all, Love is what we should be looking for. Any time I see a story about Jesus where Love is not mentioned, I know it’s not the whole story and I have to look again. God is Love and so for Jesus to be unloving, or unmotivated by Love was not possible.

Love is what sent Jesus out of the desert ready to serve humanity: Love of God, Love of self, Love of neighbor. They were all one in his heart and mind and it is that Love, that deep internal knowing of perfect relationship that allowed him to walk through the desperate time we call Holy Week. Jesus’ Love is what makes it holy, because he was wholly committed to Loving us and showing us what Divine Love looks like.

This week, it’s so easy to fall into the pattern of worshipping Jesus, for who he was and what he did. But he didn’t ask us to worship him; he asked us to follow him. He didn’t want admirers; he wanted disciples, women and men who were willing to do what he did, however imperfectly, (because that’s the only way we do can anything). Perfection is the enemy of the good and that was never something Jesus wanted to get in our way. We just have to read the post-Resurrection accounts to see that’s true.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t tell the painful and tragic story of Jesus’ death on the cross. I’m not saying we shouldn’t acknowledge our own culpability in his death and ask for forgiveness. I am saying that maybe we could use this Holy Week to try to Love as Jesus did.

On Holy Thursday, how can we humble ourselves before our friends and family as a sign of our Love for them?

On Good Friday, how can we allow ourselves to not need to be right, or defend our positions and reputations?

On Holy Saturday, how can we rest and just let things be as they imperfectly are, instead of rushing to make everything all right already?

On Easter Sunday and every day after, how can we celebrate the truth that death is not the end of the story and that Love conquers all?

Today, I’ll be washing feet. Tomorrow, I’ll be shutting up. Saturday, I’ll be unproductive and Sunday, I will be smiling and singing Alleluia. I hope you’ll join me.

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Here are some of the other posts I’ve written about Lent and Holy Week in year’s past.

“So Long Sad Lent”

“Rethinking Lent”

“The Day Before the Bad Day” 

“It’s Holy Week in Belgium” 

 

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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.

SmallThings750

 

 

 

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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.

 

Holy Saturday, 2014

Hello my friends!

It has been six long weeks since the Lenten season began. Five long weeks since I last wrote. Perhaps you thought I had added “writing my blog” to the list of distractions I was giving up for Lent. I didn’t, but it might as well have been.

Since I am banned from Facebook, this is what I had to say on Instagram last night.

Sayonara Lent 2014. I love the color purple but I won't miss you a bit.
Sayonara Lent 2014. I love the color purple but I won’t miss you a bit.

I will not miss Lent 2014, AT ALL. In fact, Sunday can’t come soon enough, because, for me, this Lenten season was a debacle.

I set out with high standards and even higher hopes, but I stayed put in the reality of my life.

Though I couldn’t articulate it when Lent began, I think I had a subconscious idea of what would happen over these six weeks. By stripping away so many of my “distractions,” I would open up more time and space for silence and contemplation. I would become more centered. My writing would flourish and so would my relationships. I would begin to attain the holy grail of sevens, what enneagram scholar Russ Hudson calls “sober joy;” joy created not by a circus of stimulation, but by the simplicity and beauty of the present moment, satisfied with and who and wherever you are.

There was nothing wrong with the vision, but the goals I set for myself are a life’s work, not something that can be attained on demand, or through a sheer force of will and self-discipline in a pre-set period of time. It took me a while and some help from Tim to see it however.

For the first several weeks of Lent, I had vivid nightmares. The details were varied, but they shared the same theme: bad things were happening and I had no control. I couldn’t fix anything, or affect a positive outcome. I simply had to experience the chaos in a visceral manner. I would begin my days in a cold sweat, mourning the losses I experienced the night before.

Though the dreams eventually abated, the days I thought would open up before me quickly filled with other challenges. I could explain them all here, but the bottom line is that they were just part an every day, ordinary life – the one I didn’t magically escape on my way to my desired “mountaintop” experience.

Last week, Tim and I needed to have a talk. After dinner, we drove to the beach and watched the sun go down and he told me what I already knew. I began this Lenten journey, hoping to become a different person. The problem was that I didn’t consult the person who always journeys with me. This Lent was not a picnic for him. He slept next to me while I tossed and turned at night. He woke with me in the morning and saw the fear in my eyes. He came home at night to someone whose stressful days were unrelieved by the innocent pleasures of a diet soda, two chapters of a good book, or a funny story on Facebook. He lived with a struggling, sadder version of his normally happy wife. The changes were largely of her own making, in the name of her God and ironically, they were intended to make her a more “joyful” person.

Tim reminded me that he loves me “as is,” not that I can’t grow and change, but that I don’t need to be different than I essentially am. Giving up one or two of my “go-to” distractions might be a healthy practice, the equivalent of a Weight Watchers plan for the soul. Giving them all up worked on me like a crash diet. Like an anorexic counts calories, I counted every distraction and every moment I wasn’t soberly joyful as a shortcoming. The guilt and sense of failure continued the downward spiral.

Don’t get me wrong. In every week, there were moments of joy, peace and laughter and I tried my best not to be legalistic about the process. When food poisoning laid me out for 36 hours, I read A Fault in Our Stars, one of Keara’s favorite novels. When Tim and I went out, I would join him in a beer. I looked over Keara’s shoulder a couple times so she could show me a great picture on Facebook.

On Thursday, I continued my Holy Thursday tradition of washing the feet of my family members, while they read a love letter I have written just for them. Here is a portion from the one I wrote to Tim:

“Dear Tim,

What a Lent it’s been! I am so grateful that this symbolic time of struggle, darkness and solitude is almost over, but of course, life isn’t over, so all those things will still be here on the other side of Sunday. But, we will get to remove the little extras we’ve been adding to it and I hope to turn a new page mentally. I look forward to Sunday, to singing “Alleluia,” to being reminded that we are an Easter people. Where there is death – of any kind – there is the possibility of new life and if we trust in and act out of Love, there is the surety of it.”

My Lenten experience is one I won’t soon forget. Like most failures, it was brought on by a confluence of good intentions and arrogance. I thought I could manufacture my own resurrection experience by knocking off some version of me who relied on little things to make her happy. On our sunset walk, Tim reminded me that the world could actually use a few more of those kinds of people; I shouldn’t be in such a hurry to get rid of her. Besides, it doesn’t really work that way. He quoted Richard Rohr who often says, “Don’t try to engineer your own death; it will be done unto you!” Starting tomorrow, I’m going to believe him.

A #Sign of Love I found and held in my hand on Good Friday.
A #Sign of Love I found and held in my hand on Good Friday.

We are just over a week in to Lent 2014, and I have to say, it’s been a rough week, a really, really rough week. Here is a reminder of what I am trying to do without:

  • My daily Diet Coke
  • My almost-daily alcohol intake
  • My multi-time-a-day Facebook check
  • My weekly novel
  • My bi-weekly bargain hunting at Target, Costco and other, mind-numbingly overstocked stores for little things I really don’t need

I knew I put a lot of things of things on that list, but I felt called to all of them, because they center on a common theme: distraction. Distraction is a dragon I have to face and I felt encouraged recently after watching an interview with Steven Pressfield, the author of The War of Art. He said that when face our dragons, our greatest fears, they go “poof.” They disappear before our very eyes and we get to the treasure on the other side.

Facing the dragon? Harder than I thought.
Facing the dragon? Harder than I thought.

Steven, you were wrong. I’m a week into facing my dragon and it hasn’t even blinked. If anything, its hot breath on my neck is starting to make me sweat.

I deleted the bookmarks for Facebook on my phone and browsers, but every time I sit down to work, I am conscious of the fact that only eight keystrokes separate me from a broken promise and the Promised Land. I think of the articles I’m missing and the information I’m having to do without, the pictures of adorable kids I don’t get to “like.” Sigh. I find myself at the market and the library (the two “stores” I’ve let myself enter), perusing each and every shelf for just the right thing, the thing I don’t need, but that would bring me joy to consume. On these unusually warm winter nights, I long for a cold glass of white wine. Finally, and perhaps funniest of all, I find myself daydreaming of Diet Coke. I have actually caught myself fantasizing about pulling through the McDonald’s drive-thru and taking my first sip through their perfectly calibrated straws.

I have felt bereft this week, mourning the loss of my first level addictions, the habits that give me the quickest highs. But I’m also saddened by how quickly and easily I’ve turned to other distractions. Instead of going deeper into my work and writing, I’ve revamped powerpoints I made for classes just weeks ago. I’ve swept and dust-bustered every room in the house.  I spent an entire evening researching a new broccoli recipe, and several hours the next day preparing it, and my family doesn’t even like broccoli. Neither do I. What am I doing?

I know exactly what I’m doing. If I want to put a positive spin on it, I’m acting on a desire to keep busy, to find something new, joyful and fun. If I want to be realistic,  I’m acting on a compulsion to get out of my own skin. Whatever you call it, it’s something I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember.

My parents, who have always been seekers, found a book in the late eighties called The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert. The enneagram is an ancient tradition that introduces nine patterns of thinking and behavior that most of us, despite all our illusions of being unique, free and mysterious, actually fall into fairly neatly.

9-ways

The Nine Personality Types of the Enneagram

1. The Reformer. The principled, idealistic type. Ones 
are conscientious and ethical, with a strong sense of right
 and wrong.  At their
 best: wise, discerning, realistic, and noble. They typically 
have problems with resentment and impatience.

2. The Helper. The caring, interpersonal type. Twos are
 empathetic, sincere, and warm-hearted. At their Best: unselfish 
and altruistic, they have unconditional love for others. They typically have problems with possessiveness and with
 acknowledging their own needs.

3. The Achiever. The adaptable, success-oriented type.
 Threes are self-assured, attractive, and charming.
 At their Best: self-accepting, authentic,
 everything they seem to be. They typically have problems with workaholism and
 competitiveness.

4. The Individualist. The introspective, romantic type.
 Fours are self-aware, sensitive, and reserved. At their Best: inspired and
 highly creative, they are able to renew themselves and
 transform their experiences. They typically have problems with melancholy,
 self-indulgence, and self-pity

5. The Investigator. The perceptive, cerebral type. Fives 
are alert, insightful, and curious. At their best:
visionary pioneers, often ahead of their time, and able to 
see the world in an entirely new way. They typically have problems with
 eccentricity, nihilism, and isolation.

6. The Loyalist. The committed, security-oriented type.
 Sixes are reliable, hard-working, responsible, and
 trustworthy. At
 their best: internally stable and self-reliant, courageously championing themselves and others. They
typically have problems with self-doubt and suspicion.

7. The Enthusiast. The busy, productive type. Sevens are 
extroverted, optimistic, versatile, and spontaneous. At their best: they focus their talents on worthwhile goals, 
becoming appreciative, joyous, and satisfied. They typically have
 problems with impatience, impulsiveness and distraction.

8. The Challenger. The powerful, aggressive type. Eights 
are self-confident, strong, and assertive. At their best: self-
mastering, they use their strength to improve others’ lives,
 becoming heroic, magnanimous, and inspiring. Eights
 typically have problems with their tempers and with 
allowing themselves to be vulnerable.

9. The Peacemaker. The easy-going, self-effacing type. 
Nines are accepting, trusting, and stable. At 
their best: indomitable and all-embracing, they are able to 
bring people together and heal conflicts. They 
typically have problems with inertia and stubbornness.

**These descriptions were excerpted from the Sukha Wellness Center blog in Avila Beach, CA. For longer descriptions of each type, you can go to their blog by clicking on their name. 

Although the list at first glance might seem like fodder for cocktail party conversation, or a cheesy pick up line, the enneagram is actually brilliant psychology. Rohr often says in his work that, “We don’t see things as they are; we see things as we are.” In other words, our vision is shaped by our own personal experiences, prejudices, and default settings. Two people can experience the same behavior, the same opportunity, or the same outcome and perceive it completely differently. Too often, we think that means the other is wrong. In contrast, the enneagram offers us a way to see the reactions of others more compassionately. It  doesn’t mean you give in to their wishes, or desires (unless you’re a two), but that you understand and acknowledge their position, which is simply the basis of good, interpersonal, communication skills.

My parents were immediately able to identify themselves in the numbers (my dad’s an eight and my mom’s a three) and became more conscious of the choices they were making. In some ways, they literally became different people, because they saw themselves for the first time, as they were, not how they had imagined themselves to be. I assume their conversations also included psychoanalysis of their four kids, but they didn’t project their ideas on us. Rather, they left the book open on their nightstand, which I took as a personal invitation to join in.

When I was seventeen, I thought I might be a nine, because I’m pretty easy-going and flexible. I wanted to be a four, because really, what teenage girl doesn’t think of herself as an artist? But when it came right down to it, I’m a seven at heart. I can turn any time into a good time. Bad things are never really that bad. If something is fun, my first question is, how can we make it funner? (If you need any proof that I am a seven, look no further than my use of that word. I’m an English professor, yet my lexicon would be incomplete with out the grammatically-incorrect adjectives, funner and funnest. Tim says you should look no further than me on the dance floor, our summer vacation plans, or the stash of candy in my car.)

Being a seven has brought me through some of the darkest days of my life, from my mother’s cancer, to my unplanned pregnancy and adoption, to the miscarriage of our first child together and even this long recession that has so decimated our small business. But in every dark night, I discover a patch of moonlight to dance in. I instinctively locate the pinprick of brightness and worm my way in. Once there, I push against the boundaries of the night that try to hem me in. I force back the darkness, sadness and pessimism, with hope and humor and joy, until the ones I love are standing in the light again.

That’s the bright side of being a seven.

The dark side is what I am facing this Lent. Sevens are easily distractible, frequently bored and hard to pin down. We don’t like to make decisions, or stay put for too long. We knew FOMO long before it became a “thing.” It’s in our DNA. (For readers over 40, FOMO is the Fear of Missing Out and it’s sweeping the nation.) If a seven isn’t careful, the consequence of their shadow side is a history littered with abandoned people and projects, a life that stays on the surface of everything, because depths always leads to darkness.

Enneagram teachers make it clear that there is a whole range of health and maturity for each person within their own number. An unhealthy, or unredeemed person of any type does a lot more damage (unconsciously and frequently with good intentions) simply by following their instincts, than someone with more self-awareness and control.

Giving up so many of my favorite things is not about self-denial, asceticism, or weird Catholic guilt. It’s about self-awareness and freedom. When I feel an overwhelming urge to do something new, I want to do it for the right reason, not because I am running away from something else.

One of the highlights of my past week was talking to my little sister.  I was telling her how I was trying to give up my distraction patterns for Lent. She laughed at me, since she doesn’t drink Diet Coke and hates to shop. She’s pregnant, so booze is not an option. She is not a seven, so my struggles are not hers. After she had finished teasing me, I asked her what she does when faced with Blaise Pascal’s realities of existence: boredom, inconstancy and anxiety.  She is an eight, like my father, so after a moment’s pause, she admitted that she picks a fight with her husband, not consciously of course, but she’ll see what he’s doing and find something to criticize. If nothing appears, she’ll bring up an oldie, but a goodie from the past. She’s not being mean, she’s quick to explain; she’s just looking for an “out,” a place to put her energies. Then it was my turn to laugh, because it would never occur to me to create conflict as a stress-reliever.

But we all do it.

In our own way and in our own time, we act on compulsions that are as natural to us as breathing and as unnatural to others as breathing under water.

Are you curious about yours? This is my best advice when trying to figure it out. Which type do you want to be? That’s for sure not you. Which one gives you a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach as you read about it? Bingo. You might be on to something there.

At the bottom of the blog are a couple links to websites about the enneagram if you want to learn a little more about it. I can’t recommend them highly, because I haven’t used them on my journey, but they are certainly a place to start. The names I’ve found to be helpful are Rohr, Hudson and Riso, but I am sure there are others, who have come after them. My one caveat is this: working with the enneagram isn’t a parlor trick, or something you do for a feel-good experience. As my dad likes to say, “If it doesn’t bring you to your knees, you’re not doing it right.”

The Enneagram Institute.   The 9 Types.  International Enneagram.