A few weeks ago, I wrote about Fr. Christian Mondor, ofm, a man who played an important role in my spiritual development. I was happy to share my private reflections on my blog, but yesterday I had the privilege of speaking publicly about Fr. Christian’s life and legacy at a paddle out held at the Huntington Beach pier.
As soon as Tim and I heard of Fr. Christian’s passing, we immediately texted Terry, a mutual friend. Though he’s not in the surf industry, he is the epitome of a “surf turkey,” always up-to-date on wave and water conditions and happy to talk shop. We knew there would be a paddle out to honor Christian’s life and we wanted to participate, but we didn’t expect Terry to ask me to speak. (In Catholic circles, women aren’t often given the microphone at “priestly” functions.) However, Terry knows my love of the ocean and my passion for Franciscan spirituality.
I guess as a Huntington Beach native, former lifeguard, surf shop owner, student of Franciscan theology and friend of Fr. Christian’s, it just made sense.
It was a pleasure and honor to share my thoughts with a gathered community of like-minded people and I wanted to share them with all of you. Tim was able to capture it on video, but you can also read the transcript below.
Terry Thein asked me to say a few words today, not just because I was lucky enough to be raised here in Huntington Beach, where I come from a family of lifeguards – two of us here at city and two at state, but more importantly because I was raised at Sts. Simon and Jude by the Franciscans, including Fr. Christian who was one of those sandal-wearing, brown-robed padres of the Catholic church.
Everyone knew and loved Fr. Christian, but not everyone knows that much about the theology and spirituality that animated his soul and directed his life.
Professionally and personally, Fr. Christian followed the teachings and example of St. Francis of Assisi, a 12thcentury Italian saint. St. Francis lived a 1,000 years ago in medieval Europe, in a time not unlike our own, a time plagued by war and violence and economic and cultural upheaval. But instead of getting swept up in the fear or anxiety, or engage in the violence like so many other young men were doing, St. Francis’ mystical experience of God and Jesus allowed him to take a step back from what everyone was doing and double down on living in Radical Simplicity and Loving Community with all of the created world – human, animal and natural. And I know Fr. Christian tried to live his life that way as well.
Fr. Christian lived simply, unimpressed by titles and success – his own or others – and unattached to objects, except for maybe his banjo and longboard. And he lived In Radical Community – loving his own family, his Franciscan brothers, his church members, his banjo players, his fellow surfers, his swimming friends, his Jewish, Muslim, and Protestant sisters and brothers and he loved this place, Huntington Beach, and everyone he met here.
Fr. Christian also took to heart St. Francis respect for the natural world. In one of the few writings that have survived, St. Francis thanked God for his Brother Sun, and Sister Moon. He honored his Brothers Fire, Wind and Air. He thanked God for Sister Earth,our Mother. Most poignantly for our surfing padre, St. Francis specifically praised our “Sister Water, useful to us, humble, precious and pure.”
Fr Christian’s love of the ocean wasn’t separate from his Christian faith; it was an integral part of it.
In the Franciscan tradition, the physical presence of the Divine is everywhere in this world. We call it the “First Incarnation.” God first showed up in the world as the world. We live in a sacred universe. We just have to wake up and see it. And Fr Christian saw it! He saw it in the waves and the water, in dolphins leaping, and whales breaching. Those are the easy places, where most of us see it too. But St. Francis and Fr. Christian kept going, until they saw the face of God, not just in every friend, but in the face of their enemies as well, until there were no enemies.
Perhaps most importantly, Fr. Christian lived by the words St. Francis reportedly said to his followers: “Preach always! And if necessary, use words.” Fr. Christian rarely used words, except in church on Sundays, which was part of his job description. But he couldn’t help but preach!
His life was a living sermon. He could not hide the love he felt for this fiercely beautiful world, or disguise what a blessing he thought it was to be in it. He was rarely without a smile on his face. Like the water he so loved, Fr. Christian’s goodness poured out of him and along with it came joy, peace, compassion, mercy, hope, intelligence, gentleness, and finally attentiveness.
Fr. Christian was fully present to the Presence of the Divine in each and every person he met, every note of music he played, and every wave he surfed.
Another Franciscan author and teacher, Richard Rohr, said it this way. He said, “saved” people always feel beloved, chosen, and favored by God. And by all accounts, Fr. Christian was “saved” in the Christian sense of the word, but the beauty of Fr. Christian was that he “saved” so many of us, not by prayer, but by his presence in our lives. When he looked at us, we too were beloved, chosen, favored and hopefully, empowered to live and to love others as he did, as St. Francis did, as Jesus did.
Surfing was Fr. Christian’s hobby. Loving was his way of life. May we be inspired to go and do likewise.
Honoring Fr. Christian’s memory in the water with his fellow surfers.
It meant the world to me to share the morning with Finn who currently lives, works and surfs in Huntington Beach. At 19, I moved to San Diego to start my adult life and at 19, he moved back to my hometown to start his own.
Normally, we’d have a family dinner and I’d get to tell you ALL THE THINGS.
All the things…
About how to be brave and kind and helpful.
About how to give your teachers a chance.
About how to say hi to a kid who looks lonely.
About how NOT to gossip, or believe the things other people tell you.
About how to work hard and expect the unexpected and do your best.
Normally, we’d have a family dinner and I’d get to hold your hands while we say grace and I’d close with my favorite reminder that our hands create a circle of Love and how that makes us pretty darn lucky and so the least we can do is spread some of that Love around.
Normally, I’d get to kiss and hug you goodnight and make sure there were Lucky Charms in the pantry (our traditional good luck breakfast). I’d get to wake up early and pack your lunches and make you take a picture with the neighbor kids as we have for the past fifteen years.
But tomorrow isn’t normal, because two of the three of you aren’t here to do them!
Tomorrow is your first day of school at COLLEGE and you aren’t living here anymore. Molly alone will suffer through (or bask in) all my attention. Molly alone in the morning pictures. Molly alone with a big box of marshmallow goodness.
Will she survive? Will I?
It’s all good, just weird, which is probably why I’m writing. It’s how I work out what’s weird at any given time.
So, here’s a rundown of your mom’s past week.
Wednesday, Finn and I drove up the coast and started moving him in.
Thursday, we visited Keara at Cal State Long Beach.
Friday, we played.
Saturday, I left.
And I’m not going to lie, I cried. I held Finn in my arms for one giant last hug and I felt my heart ache, just like it did when your dad and I left Keara at college for the first time.
Why? I thought. Why is something so exciting, so natural, and so good, so hard to do? What is it about that final moment that tears me apart?
I listened to sad music for a while on my drive home, but it was getting hard (and dangerous) to see through the tears, so I put on one of my favorite episodes of On Being – the one with Richard Rohr. (I know, I know, kids! Big surprise!) But this time, I heard him explain those final moments we shared and why they were so surreal.
“In the Greek, in the New Testament, there’s two words for time. Chronos is chronological time, time as duration, one moment after another, and that’s what most of us think of as time.”
Chronos: Those were my first eighteen years with you guys – day in and day out. The chronos of diaper changes and playgroups and skinned knees and teacher conferences. The chronos of school days and carpools, casseroles and soccer teams. The chronos of homework and dishes and bed-making. The chronos of the lives we’ve shared.
And then he goes on to say:
“But there was another word in Greek, kairos. And kairos was deep time. It was when you have those moments where you say, “Oh my god, this is it. I get it,” or, “This is as perfect as it can be,” or, “It doesn’t get any better than this,” or, “This moment is summing up the last five years of my life,” things like that where time comes to a fullness, and the dots connect, when we can learn how to more easily go back to those kind of moments or to live in that kind of space.”
I listened and I thought, Kairos. That’s it, Keara and Finn! That’s why hugging you goodbye was such an out of body experience for me. That day, even up until that very moment, was chronos – the final touches on your new room, the twenty dollars snuck into your wallet, the walking out to the car. It was sad, but normal, until it wasn’t.
In our final embrace, my heart touched yours and then I time-traveled into kairos. I felt the “summing up” of our last eighteen years together, from the moment I first held you in my arms until the very moment when I symbolically let you go. If it were a movie, it would have flashed on your sandy blonde hair, your chubby cheeks and gap-toothed grins, the way you would both squeeze me tight each night and beg for one more hug, story, or song. It would have covered the slammed doors and raised voices and moments of tearful reconciliation. It would have covered your moments of greatest bliss and greatest heartache, when your dad and I were the first ones you looked to for assurance, because we were the way you made sense of the world.
So many years have passed since those things were true. Chronos marched on, but kairos preserved it in my memory and gave it to me as a gift when we left you. And that’s the thing about kairos. It has to be recognized and welcomed, when we’d rather let it pass us by. We’re rational, cynical, linear people. The shift feels disconcerting and uncomfortable, and you can’t shut it down. You have to get past that before it can work its magic.
Kairos whispers to us: Take it all. Take the Love and the hurt, the hopes and the fears, the reality and the possibility. Experience it and then let it change your chronos, the way you live and love and look at your people day after day after day.
I don’t mean to say that this is the only kairos moment I’ve ever had, or will have with you. College drop-off isn’t the end-all-be-all by any means. It’s just an opportunity, but milestones of all sorts abound. Moments of deep joy and deep sadness are woven throughout our lives. Trust me, you will experience it, perhaps with me, but certainly with other people you will come to know and love. We often make a big fuss about the event itself, but maybe, just maybe, it’s really about the shift in time and the chance to experience the totality of Love.
So one last thing, kiddos. Here’s the piece of advice I wanted to share. It’s from an IG poet called Atticus.
Imagine me calling you to the family room tonight. You’d come out of your rooms complaining, itching to get back to your phones, or Netflix, or closets where you were deciding what to wear tomorrow. But you’d come, because you always do. You’re good sports that way.
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.
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.”
We are Yours, God, and we are each other’s. Help us to remember.
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!
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.
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:
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.
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!
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.”
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.”
“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.
Anthropologist Margaret Mead famously said that every person has three marriages in them. We marry the first time for sex, the second for security, the third for companionship. While I have great respect for the thrice-married Dr. Mead, I was grateful she added, “even if they are all to the same person.”
Three years ago, I told the story of how I met my “first” husband, in the post,“So This Guy Walks into a Bar…” I highly recommend starting there to understand my marital history, but on our wedding anniversary, I’d like to introduce you to my “second” husband. He is usually referred to in my blog as “Tim,” or “Babe,” his given and pet names respectively, but he is almost always reduced to playing the straight man in my stories. He is frequently the Ricky to my Lucy, instead of the real, flesh and blood man he is and I thought this might be a chance to improve upon that limited role, so let me tell you a story about how I met my “second” husband.
By the time Molly Grace was born, Tim and I had been married for almost ten years. The purpose of our “first marriage” had been met, as was obvious by the number of dependents we traveled with. And so as she toddled off to preschool, I was ready for a new experience and attended a religious and spirituality conference in Los Angeles. I’m sure Tim never gave a thought to the trouble I would find there, attending daily mass and singing worship music with my Catholic mother. But I found it. Speakers like Ron Rolheiser, Paula D’Arcy and Richard Rohrspoke to parts of me I thought I had lost forever in the oxytocin-fueled haze of breastfeeding and the drudge of diaper changes. They reawakened my curious mind and restless heart.
But by the third day, I was so full of new ideas that I almost skipped out early, eager to get home to Tim and the kids, but I had one more ticket to see an Irish poet named David Whyte. I had never heard of him before, but something urged me to stay and to this day, I am grateful I did. Whyte offered a piece of wisdom that would become the pattern for my life moving forward. He said,
“You must learn one thing ,
The world was made to be free in.
Anything or anyone
that does not
bring you alive
is too small for you.”
(Please don’t read the poem dualistically. Not every moment of every day, or situation can bring us to life and it doesn’t mean we leave. It just means we can start asking questions and getting curious about the situation.)
Whyte postulated that we were not created to stay the same over the course of our lifetimes. We do not hit thirty, or forty, or fifty and stop growing. We are a product of evolution, and as such, it is our God-given gift and responsibility to evolve ourselves, to stay on the creative edge of life, always adapting to survive and thrive in the new situations and habitats we find ourselves in.
I loved Whyte’s deep, Irish brogue, but as I listened, anxiety churned in my belly for he was naming the very sense of discomfort that had been creeping into my life during that time. Though I had told my “first” husband that I all I ever wanted to be was a stay-at-home mom, I realized that wasn’t true anymore. Although I loved my life, some part of me was buried underground and I wanted to go digging. I wasn’t looking for Tim’s permission exactly, but I certainly wanted his support.
After tucking the kids into bed that Sunday night, Tim and I crawled into a hot bubble bath, our favorite place for long conversations on winter nights, and I began to unpack my ideas. He was a great listener. He didn’t get defensive, even though it couldn’t have been easy to hear that after providing everything I’d ever wanted, I now found it “small,” and limiting in some crucial way. I looked at the discomfort in his eyes, and plowed ahead. (Since then, I’ve learned the art of greater conversational subtlety and patience and how to apologize when I push too hard.)
David Whyte had echoed Mead’s insights on marriage – that marriage is about freedom, not limitation. Being married doesn’t mean you can’t change; in fact, it means you both have a safe place to do so. You’ve made a commitment to be just that. When you say, “I do” at the altar, you don’t marry just one person. You are vowing to love and honor every version the person standing in front of you will become over the course of your lifetime together. I told Tim that my intentions were good, that I didn’t want to become someone he wouldn’t know. I just wanted to look in a mirror and see beyond the roles I played, to the ME I might become if I explored the depths of my heart and the possibilities of my life. And then I asked him, “Do you trust me?”
He looked at me in my excitement and pain and longing and he said, “Yes,” knowing it was going to cost him something, and praying it wouldn’t cost him everything.
And in that moment, I met my “second” husband.
My “first” husband rescued me, made me feel like a beautiful princess, and set about delivering my happily ever after. My “second” husband stepped back and let me rescue myself, knowing that true happiness could only come from within.
Brené Brown has developed a kind of litmus test for the maturity of partners in a marriage, or any deep relationship. She writes, “If you show me a man who can sit with a woman in deep struggle and vulnerability and not try to fix it, but just hear her and be with her and hold space for it, I’ll show you a guy who’s done his work and doesn’t derive his power from controlling and fixing everything and if you show me a woman who can sit with a man in real vulnerability, in deep fear, and be with him in it, I will show you a woman who has done her work and does not derive her power from that man.”
Like any young couple, Tim and I spent years trying to shore up our power by attempting to fix each other, the faults and annoying habits obviously, but also the friendships and foes that caused our loved ones pain. When you’re young, you think everything can be improved with just a little more effort and care, but when you’re older, you know life is more about keeping vigil than keeping it all in line. Tim showed me how that night and in the years that followed by walking and talking with me, listening to my prayers and holding me in my pain as I discovered who I wanted to be. A few years later, he let me return the favor when the economy tanked and his business was on the line. I couldn’t fix a damn thing when it came to the Great Recession, but I could do what he had done for me.
Over the years, we have become successively new versions of ourselves, transformed by our personal and professional successes and failures, as well as those of our children, families, communities and the world at large. If one of us is feeling “small,” we both try to show up to do the work it takes to set them free. To be clear, it is hard work and we often fail. Like any couple, we fight and bicker; we fall in and out of love (but never out of Love); our tempers get the best of us, though we are quick to apologize. That is the humility of marriage; the mirror is always there in front of you, reflecting your best and worst qualities, if you dare to look.
On our 15th anniversary, a few years after we embarked on our “second” marriage, Tim and I renewed our vows. We invited couples who had supported us over the years and also modeled the kind of marriage we were trying to practice ourselves: a loving, respectful partnerships of equals. Tim and I recommitted to supporting each other in what Carl Jung called “the privilege of a lifetime: to become who you truly are.”
I am so grateful for having experienced a “first” marriage that was so full of romance and intimacy. I am still blessed with a “second” marriage that transformed my still-lovely lover into a safe house for growth and experimentation and finally, we look forward to our “third” marriage, whenever it arrives, but we’re in no hurry. It feels like we’re living the three marriages of a lifetime already. We have a lover, a safety net and a best friend at our sides every day.
So when I make cracks about Tim tuning out my stories, or mocking my attempts to try something new, know all this about him too. Though I may write about him as my sidekick, he is so much more than that. I am only me, because I have been loved by him.
Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Cheers to the Winter Solstice!
For the last five years, our family has chosen to send out a Christmas video in lieu of a traditional card. It always seems like a good idea until I start receiving beautiful pictures and messages from across the country. The cards communicate so much joy and holiday perfection that it makes me want to disseminate pretty pictures of my family too, instead of posting a bizarre video on Youtube. As long as the Internet exists, so too does our foray into absurdity. However, as C.S. Lewis once said, “We are embarked” and for the other four members of my family, there is no going back. Every year, it takes patience, creativity, humor and teamwork. This year, it also took a little more trust, at least on my part.
As I age, I tend to feel ever more foolish during the filming process and critical of how I look in the final product. This year, it’s more ridiculous than ever. But as Tim wrapped up the editing process, and I began to fret about what people would think, I read a reflection from Richard Rohr, O.F.M., one of our favorite spiritual writers and advisors. It was about being a “holy fool.”
According to legend, every once in a while, St. Francis would do something really ridiculous to embarrass himself in front of the people of Assisi. He paraded down the street in nothing but his underwear. He played seesaw on the town fountain all day long. He spoke to animals loudly and without shame. He never wanted people to see him as “more” than he really was.
Obviously, I’m no saint, but I can learn from the quest of the “holy fool.”
When you are a “holy fool” you’ve stopped trying to look like something more than you really are. That’s when you know, as you eventually have to know, that we are all naked underneath our clothes, and we don’t need to pretend to be better than we are. I am who I am, who I am, who I am; and that creation, for some unbelievable reason, is who God loves, precisely in its uniqueness. My true identity and my deepest freedom comes from God’s infinite love for me, not from what people think of me or say about me….
If you watch this year’s Christmas video, or scroll through the past years, the characters in the videos aren’t the “real me,” but they aren’t any less me than the woman I am sweating at the gym, studying theology, or cooking dinner. The videos are simply the most embarrassing versions currently on film.
The real me is who I am as I am held by God in Love. When I remember that, it doesn’t matter what kind of “fool” people take me to be and I have the courage to hit the Send button to my Christmas card list (and ultimately to all of you).
If I were going to say anything about my family, beyond what you can see in the video, it is this: I am proud they have the confidence to be “fools” for at least one more year. From Tim to Molly, they know who they are and they know they are loved. What more could a mom ask for?
I hope that over the next two weeks, there are more times of joy and peace than sadness and stress and that somehow, at some time, you get to play the “holy fool” and experience the freedom it brings.
Since it’s been six weeks since I last posted a blog, this confession might come as no surprise to you.
Sometimes, I forget I’m a writer.
Summer is not an ideal time for writing. It’s a time for being and doing. Whether I like it or not, it’s time to be with my children. Without school, they are simply around more. It’s also a time for doing, since they need more rides, more meals, more entertainment, more money, more looking after. So between all my doing and being, there has not been a lot of time for writing.
But summer’s end is quickly approaching and my thoughts have turned to writing again.
A few months ago, I wrote a piece called, “Standing on the Threshold,” about how a far off dream of going to seminary was going to become a reality this fall.
I blinked; summer passed. It’s fall.
I leave for school on Sunday and I can hardly believe it’s here. Though I will only be gone for a week, it’s the start of something new. It felt like an important time to write again, to mark where I am, where I plan to go and what I hope to do along the way.
I heard a sermon yesterday at Keara’s back-to-school mass at the Academy of Our Lady of Peace. The gospel was the story of how Jesus cured the blind man. The priest himself looked like he could relate. He wore thick glasses and without them, I’m not sure he could see at all. He shared that growing up, he was called “Four Eyes” by many of his classmates. They meant it as an insult, but today he takes it as a compliment.
The priest told the story of watching a young, blind boy go to communion. He used a cane to check what was in front of him, but his mother walked behind him with her hands on his shoulders to guide and protect him. The priest admitted that if someone asked him to describe his mother, he would say that she is 5’7,” with blue eyes and brown hair. If someone asked that little boy, he would talk about his mother’s demeanor, her voice, the feel of her hands, her care. The boy, out of necessity, moved beyond his first vision.
Too often, the priest mused, we see only with the two eyes in our head. We take in what we see; we judge it, process it and put everything in its proper place. But how much are we really seeing if we only use our two eyes? We stay on the surface of things, like physical appearance and condition, but miss the essence. We stop short, not plumbing the depths and complexities of people and situations. We see quickly and partially, but unfortunately, we assume we are seeing all.
If left to our own devices, we think the first set of eyes are all we have, when in fact “Four Eyes” applies to us all.
I am a pro at using my first set of eyes. I’ve always been adept at learning anything and everything (except complex math) and spitting it back at the appropriate time – when needed, or when needed to impress someone. And though going to seminary has always been a dream of mine, one of the reasons I’ve held back for so long is because the ones I’ve encountered seemed to focus on the first set of eyes.
What do you know? What can you learn? What can you prove? What can you write, explain, or deduce from what you’ve seen?
I jumped through all those hoops in graduate school. I cared passionately about the subject matter, but it was all words, and head knowledge. It was learning for it’s own sake, instead of the greater good. I couldn’t imagine learning about God, Love, forgiveness, compassion and mercy in that way, with my first set of eyes. They simply don’t see enough.
I want to develop my second set of eyes, the eyes of the heart, and that is what The Living School offers.
At one point in his sermon, the priest held up a mirror to one of the girls in the assembly and asked her what she saw. “Myself,” she said simply. He turned the mirror to his own face and said, “That’s funny. When I look in the mirror, I see beauty.” The girls giggled, but he was serious. He countered that when they look in the mirror with their first set of eyes, they judge the surface that is reflected back at them, and usually they will find a flaw (or many), but if they can look at themselves with their second set of eyes, they will see beauty and goodness and infinite possibility.
The eyes of the heart are the eyes of God.
The eyes of the heart see past the surface, beyond the masks, the posturing, the pain and scars of this world. They know that everything belongs. They may not understand how, or why, or when all things will be reconciled, but they know it is true.
There are many ways to nurture our second set of eyes, but first we must acknowledge they exist. Many of us deny it, clinging to Rousseau’s folly that “I think, therefore I am,” or else living a kind of practical (and pragmatic) atheism, even if we claim a religious tradition. We follow the letter of the law we see, rather than the spirit of the law, which takes longer to discern and requires a comfort with ambiguity.
But when we acknowledge our second set of eyes, we also need to start using them, all the time. We can’t leave them at home on the shelf, or tucked away in our coat pocket for when we are feeling particularly brave. We can’t just pull them out for an hour on Sundays. We have to wear them whenever the need arises, whenever our ego hastens to judge, categorize, or dismiss something, or someone that makes us uncomfortable.
When I was a little girl and got my first pair of glasses, I remember the doctor telling my mom that I should only wear them for about an hour. I could wear them a little longer each day, but if I tried to wear them for too long, too soon, I might get a headache, feel nauseous, and even disoriented.
I have to admit that seeing through the eyes of the heart can make me feel that way too. It’s like the things I knew to be true – about what was good and bad, helpful and hurtful, successful, or a failure – aren’t just that anymore. Most events bring both good and bad; they hurt me and help me; they break my heart, but when it heals, it leaves all sorts of little cracks that let the light in. When I keep the eyes of my heart open, I am more able to see the beauty in everything.
Over the next two years, I am going to try to see all that I can with my double vision.
Thanks for reading and joining me on my journey.
“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift. The rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant, and has almost totally forgotten the gift.” –Albert Einstein, who I’m pretty sure had four eyes
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.
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.
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.”