Friday, February 26, 2010

keepin' it real

Over the past few months I've had the opportunity to reconnect with a variety of old friends--some I haven't spoken with in almost 30 years (how can I be that old?!). I also have a couple of friends from high school and from when-I-didn't-go-to-but-nonetheless-lived-in-family-housing-at college that I keep in touch with. One of them I talk with pretty much every week, the other about once a year. Reconnecting, for me, is more than just "hi. howareyou? whatareyouupto?" To me, the whole point of this facebook thing, is to use it to actually find a connection--something I have in common with this person who was once a good friend. Those of you who know me, and those who read this blog could figure out that I'm not a fan of the superficial. I don't want or need more shallow in my life. If I'm going to have friends, I want those friendships to have meaning and some depth. Which isn't to say that these connections must be a heavy burden or require any particular thing. I just want to keep it real.

(Dang. I've noticed that my essays seem to take on the form of a sermon, sometimes. I'm not preachin' I'm just writing out my ideas.)

I feel the same about my relationship with God. Not that God is superficial and all like "So Mary. What have you been up to? Married? Any kids? Me? I've been busy with work. I'm the Deity, you know. Yeah...oh I've done this since time began. Didn't you know that? I didn't like to talk about it but I'da thought you'da figured it out when I knew all the answers in Biology. You totally got that answer right about evolution, by the way. Mr. Jones was so off with that creationism bs. People-get a clue. I am GOD, the CREATOR. Hello? You don't think that I could create the world and create a set of circumstances which would allow everything to evolve?! Anyway, I know how you are but how are you?"

No, I think God remains consistently with me and it's me who doesn't take the time to make the connection and listen. Oftentimes, my relationship with God is very superficial. First thing in the morning: "Hey God. Help me to be aware of you throughout my day. Please help guide me so that I reflect you. Thanks." and that's the last time I think about God for hours. To truly have the intimate, deep, sincere relationship requires more than a 30 second check-in once or twice a day. As I've said before, my strongest yearning is for my life to be a prayer; for my every thought and action to be done with conscious service to God. "Not my will but thine". But that takes so much work and so much effort at awareness. I'm so far from there. I do have a job that currently seems to be taking up about 10 hours of my day and I have children to drive around and feed and laundry to wash and friends to keep in touch with and on and on. What can I do to bring awareness of God into more of my day-to-day day?
First step: Make time for writing. Think of this as letters about myself to be read by God and everybody. Get up 30 minutes before everyone else, if necessary.
Second: Hey! I like music! Play whatever it is that will inspire me. Today I'm thinking Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers to begin.
Third: Try to remember to take occasional breaks from work to center myself and reconnect.

Cock-a-doodle-do! It's 6:30 on this Friday morning. I need to be getting my youngest up and packing lunch and preparing to sit down and work. All for the glory of God.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Who I'd Be if I Weren't Who I Am

If I had married my first serious boyfriend, I would, obviously, be a very different person than I am today. Being married and having a family was the plan my parents had for me from birth. My mother was raised by a divorced mother who worked very hard putting food on the table for her children. Understandably, being able to stay at home and care for her children was my mother's idea of fulfillment. She was also a newly born-again Christian when I was born and there is nothing more fervent than a convert. The fundamentalist Christian church is all about every person having his and her own proper role and for a married woman, that role is to be the helpmeet of her husband, who is the head of the household. My mother met my father when she was 14 and they married when she was 19. She and my father wanted nothing more for me than to fall in love with and marry a good man who would cherish and care for me. And no, I wasn't a spoiled "princess" so don't even think that--they also taught me to work hard, especially caring for children and encouraged me to earn my own money. What they didn't particularly encourage was education. I mean, they wanted me to get good grades and succeed in school but they didn't really stress the idea of college or having a career. So, when I met a kind, good and mature young man when I was 16, they were supportive.

He was a great boyfriend and we had a very intense and committed relationship. We dated for a year and a half and I had every intention of marrying him but he matured more quickly than I and needed emotional support from me that I didn't understand and couldn't provide and he eventually broke up with me. I was devastated. I felt wed to him and his not wanting to be with me felt like divorce.

But here's the thing: Breaking up with me was the best thing he could ever have done for me. Not because of who he was but because of who I was. If we had continued on the track we were on, I very well may have become a rigid, controlling "church lady". You see, I knew God only as "THOU SHALT NOT". My only understanding of God came to me through my church and my parents. Other than a few fleeting moments when I was a child, I did not know God directly; I only knew God through the intermediaries of church service, Sunday school, youth group & etc. I did not know God experientially. So, what I knew of God was completely informed by rules and regulations about sinfulness and righteousness.

(I own that same outfit.
Where did I get it?
Could it be...


Because I didn't know God as an immediate Presence, I could not know God's loving guidance. All I could know was what I was told was right and wrong. I did not know to be quiet and listen for that Still, Small Voice. I could not know God as my soul's Intimate Guide to lead me on my right path so I prayed empty words and followed rote teachings and believed that what I was taught was sinful would truly damn me unless I prayed for forgiveness even though, and this is so important, even though I knew my "heart" (my intuition, that Voice) oftentimes said something very different.

Let's talk sex, as an example. There have been times in my life when that Still, Small Voice was very clearly telling me that it was not a wise decision to become physically intimate with a particular person, in a particular situation or at a particular stage in my life. But, there have been other times when the rightness of a relationship was communicated lovingly to me, regardless of the legal status nor sanctioning by church or community of the relationship. In other words--sometimes it was right and sometimes it was wrong and this was often pretty clearly communicated to me by God, even if I didn't understand at the time that it was God "talking".

This leads me to sin. Before I came to know That of God within, all I knew of sin was that there were things, actions, even thoughts, that were bad, wrong and sinful and required my acceptance of the intermediary act of Jesus' death on the cross and subsequent resurrection to reconcile my full-of-sin self with God. What I understand now is that sin is whatever I allow to interfere with my right relationship with God. So, using the example of sex again, if an intimate relationship with another person nourishes me, helps me realize my potential and helps me grow in a way pleasing to God, it is good. But, if I am in a relationship with another person--and this can even be with a partner within the bonds of "holy matrimony"--and I or the relationship is dysfunctional and unhealthy to the point at which the expression of sexuality becomes disruptive to my connection with God, then I would say it's a sin.

I would also say that there may be times when an action is not a sin but the guilt feelings about that action can be the sin. Sometimes the message given about things, ideas, acts is that they are intrinsically bad, wrong and sinful. Again, they may be and they may not be, depending on the intention we bring to them. But, because we've been given the "rule" that they're bad, wrong and sinful, when we do them, we feel tremendous guilt for them. Sometimes, I think, the guilt about the act is the sin, not the act itself, because the guilt is what separates us from God.

I've read that the word sin comes from an archaic archery term meaning "to fall short of the target". I've never been able to confirm this but I like the definition, anyway. That's how I view sin: To not live up to what you know to be the right thing in your relationship with God, or as olden day Quakers would put it, "not living up to the Light thou hast".

I am so grateful that I was dumped by my wonderful first boyfriend. If I hadn't been, if we would have proceeded with our relationship as planned and gotten married and the whole picket fence thing, I think I maybe would be living my life according to other people's ideas, understandings and interpretations of God. I think I maybe would have become a stickler for the "Thou Shall Not" way of thinking that closes us off from one another and keeps us in fear of doing the wrong thing and being judged for it. Having my expectations shattered and discovering who I was outside of those expectations was the gift that allowed me to not only learn myself but, most importantly, allowed me to discover God for myself. I now know God to be a Loving Parent who is disappointed when we fail to live up to our potential but who always forgives and rejoices when we begin again. I now know that God is the Love that Unites us.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Friends Care

Please forgive me in advance. This post will almost certainly be very disjointed. I'm going to attempt to write as I'm waiting for things to load while working. I've begun working 40 hours a week on my new gig. I've got a huge amount I'm trying to learn and the internet networking is very slow today and my outlook is very jumpy so I'm spending a lot of waiting time which I can use to write here.

Thais' School of the Spirit care committee met last night. Bill had invited us over to his house for "low tea". I love Bill and not only because he takes tea very seriously! The repast was delightful with rich butter and cucumber sandwiches and fresh strawberries in winter. The company was a delight, as well. Caroline, Kit, Bill and Thais (Lynda is out of town, I think).

The way our these meetings generally unfold is that Thais tells us about the logistics and agenda for her most recent School of the Spirit retreat. She shared with us some about the Benedictine Sister who had been a speaker at the retreat from which she had just returned. I will not share anything that would breach the confidentiality of our time together but I do want to write about some of what we spoke about.

We began discussing what it means to be obedient to God through our community and how being faithful to community undergirded the spiritual lives of our Quaker antecedents. We spoke a bit of eldering and how we do not know one another nor have sufficient trust relationships built through daily intimacy to help guide one another with loving support through Spirit. We all spoke of some longing to know one another more deeply and to center our lives, individually and collectively, in God. We talked about what it means to be Christian versus Christocentric and what those words mean to us and to other people. Most, if not all of us expressed interest in and a desire for a Bible study group. Most of us have a history with the Bible from the faith traditions of our youth and have studied around the Bible by doing informal scholarship via authors like Bart Ehrman and the Gnostics and other sources. As a group, we feel ready to re-visit the Bible with an open mind and fresh Quaker eyes (listening with tongues).

I can't express how much this group of f/Friends means to me. My heart overflows to be able to speak about my desires, frustrations and yearnings to have my beautiful community truly support and sustain and facilitate and encourage and challenge my awareness of God in my life. The support committee was supposed to be for Thais but I feel like the one benefiting.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

my discomfort is my lack of discomfort

Please don't get me wrong here--I'm very happy to be a Friend. I find comfort and community, spiritual guidance and support in Nashville Friends Meeting and through the Quaker blog-o-sphere. I know I sound critical of Friends a lot. I am, because I don't believe we are living up to our potential. I think too many of us want our meetings for worship to be a place of comfort, not challenge. Too many of us hide behind our sensitivity with religion in general and don't want to be part of anything that seems might force us out of what we perceive to be safe; we don't want our spiritual life to be directed or our motives and actions to be questioned. Our messages inspire, rarely challenge.
My discomfort is my lack of discomfort. I need to be challenged. I need to grow in Christ and I don't think that's gonna happen when the only messages are the "rah, rah we're enlighten Quakers" and "save the trees" and "I listened to a story on NPR this morning" kind of messages. Obviously, I don't want folks going all hells-fire-and-brimstone on everybody but I do need a spiritual community that KNOWS me and holds me accountable and challenges me to live according to the Light given me.
One thing is that I think a lot of us are Quakers first and Christians second (or whatever we call our connection with God. I don't mean to imply that all Quakers must be Christian). We "worship" together in the manner of Quakers in the comfort of the silence almost as if we worship the silence. We come together and sit and pray or meditate or fidget or whatever and once in a while the silence deepens and there is a true sense of Spirit in our midst but mostly it seems we're happy with an hour of quiet. We don't seem to really be expecting Spirit to show up, like the word worship is a token.
I think partly, this is because we let the comfort of the least, um, rooted of us set the overall depth for everyone. Being spiritually centered takes work. The few times I was really in a state of being aware of living in God, I wasn't working at a job, I was writing these kinds of essays regularly and I was part of a small group of people meeting regularly to check in with one another about where God was in our lives. It takes constancy and discipline and, to some extent, a community of people who support one another in order for any of us to have the spiritual energy to support and spiritually motivate the rest of us.

Dang. So how do we light a fire when we all have jobs and responsibilities that pour water on our longing toward God? How do we allow ourselves to grow in Christ when we don't have the time to really live as we are called to do? Jesus said to drop everything and follow. But I've got kids and a mortgage. If I were part of a more mainstream religious tradition, maybe I'd be called to be a missionary and my church would finance my life for me but I'm not. Maybe my disappointment is with myself that I have never seemed to be able to balance my spiritual life with working well at a full-time job. I don't know how to change that. These are the householder years and I have responsibilities of family that I must attend to. I know God will wait until I'm ready but I need more than putting my spiritual self on hold until Carmac's an adult or until I learn to balance life/work/spirit. Again, if my spiritual community were larger and more dynamic, maybe there'd be better support. But that support is often hierarchical which runs counter to what is right for me. What's this friendlymama to do?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Sarasvati Smiles

It's a rainy day, cold and clammy. Zed needed me to bring him his stage-hand clothes so I stopped by the coffee shop in the library for chai and jazz for the time until I retrieve Carmac from school. The library god (who would that be? Sarasvati? Seshat? Wen-Chang?) was smiling down on me; I walked through the new releases and found not one but two unexpected books: Roland Merullo's latest, "Fidel's Last Days" (new genre-political thriller) and Anita Diamant's (who wrote "The Red Tent") new book "Day After Night". I'm so excited to read them! I also found "A Great and Terrible Love: A spiritual journey into the attributes of God" by Mark Galli and Julia Cameron's "Faith and Will: Weathering the storms in our spiritual lives" (she's the author of "The Artist's Way" so this might be very good).

Thursday, February 4, 2010

(not very) Friendlymama

After yesterday's post I'm wondering exactly what "Friendly" means to me 'cause the post certainly wasn't. Yeah, honest, but geez. I give lipservice to that Quaker thing: "Walk cheerfully over the Earth answering that of God in everyone I meet" or whatever but then I'm all "Jesus with the moneychangers" when it comes to actually interacting with people as if I somehow have the right to judge what's in anyone else's heart. I'll be cheerful with you if you reflect my worldview, if not, shut up and don't trouble me.

What does it mean to be a Friend? I am a member of the Religious Society of Friends; what does that mean? Are we just Friends with one another--like our own little club? If that's the case, then I'm doing alright religiously but spiritually...that's another thing. Foremost, before being Quaker, I am a follower (disciple, student) of Jesus. He did have his own posse but he seems to have been frequently reaching out to folks outside his network, sometimes to share his unique perspective on spiritual life with the larger world, but mostly just helping people; and he encouraged his followers to do the same. I'm not okay with being part of the Religious Society of Friends With People Just Like Us. Originally, the name was "Religious Society of Friends of Truth": What Truth? Who's Truth? Are those questions why we stopped referring to ourselves in that way? What does it mean to answer that of God in everyone?

I think the first thing is for me to be aware of that of God in me. If I'm not aware of that, anything else I do will be based on my own ego rather than what connects me with the Eternal. The further I get from that awareness, the less, um, centered, aligned, harmonious my life feels--like I'm living outside of the Light. When I am able to be aware of Spirit in me, there's a rightness and a sense of flow (words are so inadequate). Even when I have that agitated, liminal disquiet, there's still a feeling that God's got the plan down and, when I can trust and follow that still, soft Voice, I'll get where I'm supposed to be.
When I am aware of that of God in me and am living in accord with that awareness, the differences don't matter quite so much. I have found myself to be a little more tolerant and accepting, a little less often in a hurry to judge and condemn. Which is not to say that I will ever willingly talk politics nor religion with my Uncle Carl. But I may be less dismissive of his necessity to have the worldview that he does.
A sunbeam, a sunbeam,
Jesus wants me for a sunbeam.
A sunbeam, a sunbeam,
I'll be a sunbeam for him.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

taking a look at my own prejudices

I'm ok with homeless guys. Even in groups. I've (mostly) gotten past that "bless your heart" smile and am pretty comfortable making eye contact and speaking person-to-person.

I'm not terribly uncomfortable with young black men, even in groups. Unless they're being particularly loud and rowdy but that's mainly only my auditory sensibilities rather than emotional comfort. I actually am more fearful of groups of white young men because I think black men would have sense enough to leave me alone (me being a white middle class woman) while I don't have that same level of comfort about groups of white men.

I used to regularly go into the area prisons delivering things like books and toys. It was impossible for me to not feel like a steak on display before starving people but dealing individually with the incarcerated guys was never a problem.

People I have a lot of discomfort dealing with:
  • Folks who dress up to go to church (some--not all)
  • Those who think Sara Palin is the answer to our country's problems
  • Polyamorists with children
  • Good ol' boys/people who identify as "rednecks"
  • Folks who act like saying "it's all good" allows them to disregard good manners
  • Individuals who think the government is too big but who want to use it to regulate the behavior of other people
I am a total hypocrite. I believe in diversity and that every voice has equal merit but only if that voice says that every voice has equal merit. People who believe that everybody should believe exactly as they do are wrong. And yet that's exactly the way I believe because I believe they're wrong. I judge people based on where they stand on certain political/social litmus questions and decide whether I want them in my life. A person may get a "pass" with me if they are socially conservative but follow what I deem to be sincere faith--it doesn't matter much which religious system as long as they are deeply engaged.

I'm not exactly sure how to move beyond this. I'm not sure I want to. I don't LIKE people who are judgmental and conservative. People who get their information from Fox News disturb me beyond words and when I have to interact with them I find few topics about which we can interact. And yet, I'm dismayed at the division in our society. And I'm a big part of that division. I think in dichotomy: right/wrong, good/bad, with us/against us. If I can't find the middle in my own mind, how in the world can I begin to find it in my life?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

I Shouted the Right Slogans and I'm a Splendid 40 Year-Old

I watched Caro Diario last night and have fallen in love with Italy, music, sunshine and the character Nanni Moretti (who is the filmmaker and main character). And, in the middle of winter on a foggy, clammy morning, in love with scooter riding all over again. What a sweet, sublime film. The movie doesn't go anywhere in particular but it moves confidently with an attitude of "why not?" and wanders around in the moment without angst or any particular self-awareness.

There's a scene in the first section, In Vespa, in which he is riding a beachside road. It's a scooter-speed scene, not fast and not slow, in which he is exploring. I don't know the piano song playing but it's so perfect for the mood that I almost cried at the loveliness of it.

I grinned through parts of this film even though it's not a comedy and not really funny but so good humoured and openly good natured. Even the scenes in which a criticism is made, it's still done gently and with kindness (including the scene in which the movie critic is crying over his mistakes).

Nanni Moretti lives in his own world in this film but it's an interesting world full of sound, shapes, color--and, although this is my own sensual, scooter-rider presumption, smells. He meanders through it discovering simple wonders, creating his own narrative and dancing to his own internal soundtrack. When I had the luxury of time to do this on foot I'd call it be-bopping along. Now that my time is mostly always spoken for and even on my scooter my travel is, by necessity, point A to point B, I don't have much opportunity to wander and wonder so I'm utterly delighted to have found a film to perfectly remind me of it.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Grace of Returning

It's certainly been awhile. I'm embarrassed to say that I forgot the log-in for google and haven't been able to access my account (I have created a couple of accounts over the years for various activities and was trying to log-in with the wrong one. In the middle of the night I remembered which password I needed for this one. Duh.)

A lot's changed. Honestly, I hadn't written for a long time because I was pretty intensely depressed. My job had become intolerable and I was miserable. Long story short, my former boss is a very dysfunctional person and a really terrible boss. I really loved almost everything about my job except anything that dealt with her. Just when I was to the point of accepting the idea that I would rather quit and be unemployed than continue to work in that environment, my former Regional Manager at the university social sciences research company I used to work for called me to offer me a job as a Field Manager. I said yes, filled out the paperwork and did a phone interview with 4 VPs and turned in my two week's notice. My last day at Vandy was a couple of weeks ago and I'm sorta just waiting for some notice about what work I can do until a project comes up that I can work on. I think I'll be working on a project beginning in March. Until then, I'm checking email several times a day hoping my Regional Manager finds something I can do to be helpful.

I'll be working from home so I've set up the workshop in the backyard to be my office. I had a phone line run out there. The building is unheated but I've got a little electric space heater and a kerosene heater and it's working out ok. Once the project begins I'll be salaried and will probably work 60-70 hours a week for the first month or more. The good thing is that I'm a morning person so I can get up at 5:00 and begin working, if I want to, so it won't cut into my time with the kids too much. I figure I'll work until 2:00, pick Carmac up, come home and supervise homework and make dinner, then go back to work for a couple of hours. I'll also probably work at least a couple of hours 7 days of the week.

As for "how does Spirit go in your life": I found depression and stress kept me in a state of emotional crisis in which I had little awareness of that of God within myself or in others (particularly my boss). I had no extra energy for much of anything beyond what was absolutely required--caring for my children, interacting positively with Hammy, family. I had no energy to be with friends or even to email or call people. If I hadn't been on Ministry and Council and a care committee at Nashville Friends Meeting, I probably wouldn't have gone to meeting much at all. As it has been, on weeks in which I didn't have a meeting I had to be at, I often didn't attend Meeting for Worship. I'd never thought of my relationship with God as being something extraneous to daily survival but it seems that spirituality is pretty high on Maslows hierarchy of needs, up there in the "self-actualization" point, for me anyway. A few weeks ago, reading a blog post on QuakerQuaker about the mysticism of connecting with God, I remembered the sense of "falling into" a gathered Meeting for Worship--that letting go and uniting with God and that of God in that state of expectant waiting. I remember but I'm far from there. But remembering creates the stir of longing, so maybe I'll be able to find my way back. I thank God for the grace of returning.