Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Discerning God's Will

It seems ironic, cruel almost, that the times when I feel most stressed and overwhelmed, when I am forced by circumstance and necessity to make potentially life-altering decisions, these are the very times when I feel the most distant and removed from God. As I've said many times before--when I don't feel close to God, I know it is me who has drifted, that God is consistent and remains waiting and this, I am sure, is certainly true for me right now. I have a series of Very Important Decisions to make very soon which will impact my life and the lives of my children for years to come. These are the kind of decisions best made with deep discernment and the loving and intimate guidance of God and yet, The Chihuahua in my brain is yapping so loudly that I can't begin to discern much of anything beyond "children hungry...prepare food". I'm guessing this is when community needs to come into the picture. I think I need to pull one or two groups of friends and Friends around me to listen to me, help me identify my options and find clarity and direction. And yet, even this seems a daunting task.

Life feels like a row of dominoes right now. Everything is contingent on everything else and it's all lined up so that one move in any direction will set off movement in all directions. How do I plan for all those directions at once when I don't have any clear understanding of how the dominoes all fit together nor the potential repercussions of their falling this way or that?

Making decisions out of fear or pressure is never a good thing and yet decisions must be made, some of them quickly.

I will soon be in a position to reinvent my life and to make it as I want it to be (be careful what you wish for). I've done a lot of exploring of what I want but how can I know if this is truly how God is calling me? It's really easy to convince myself that my will and God's will for me are aligned. How do I discern what is NOT ego when The Chihuahua is so convincing? And honestly, it's not like my wants are not very simple so it would be easy to believe that what I want is aligned with what God wants for me. I mean, if I began thinking I need to indulge in "retail therapy" and get my belly-button pierces (eeewww!) it might seem obvious that I'm not really heeding God's will for me. However, I'm not a person overly enamoured of a lot of our cultural trappings so I can really struggle with how much of what I think God's calling me to do is actually about me, me, me.

This is what I think I know to be true:
  • I am being called to live car-free. I feel, and have felt for 3+ years, a strong need to live as close to earth as possible. For me, this means to not own a car but to scoot, walk, bus and (eventually--after I, like, learn to ride one again after having not done so for HALF my life), ride a bike everywhere I need and want to go.
  • I think I am being called to live more immediately in community, and more directly engaged and involved with others.
  • I am pretty darn sure I'm being called to simplify my work obligations which sort of seems easy (just quit!) except for the fact that income is directly tied to work and, um, money is a necessity in this world.
  • I know I'm called to live with more awareness of how my actions impact others and the world around us. This would include buying locally grown food as often as is possible/practical, cooking from scratch more, far less "canned" entertainment, hanging laundry out to dry & etc.
  • I know I'm being called to closer communion with Spirit with a more consistent prayer life and by engaging in a variety of forms of worship with a broader and more diverse group of people.

What I don't know is anything else. Many decisions could facilitate some of the above things; few would accommodate all. What are the options? What are the implications for each of those? How would each impact each of my children today and in 5 years? What's best, what's good & what's neutral? And where is God in each? How do I submit myself to God's will for me when I'm so unsure what that is?

Sunday, June 20, 2010


A few months ago, I participated in an exploratory gathering with the theme of Quaker outreach at Nashville Friends Meeting. Prior to the event, another Friend and I volunteered to be the local presenters working with the Friends General Conference traveling educators who facilitated the event. We were told we would each be giving two five minute talks about one of the Quaker Testimonies; the first talk would be about how I came to that Testimony and the second was to be how my life reflects that testimony now. "No problem", thought I. I'm used to speaking before Friends and leading things and exploring and sharing about my spiritual process. That was, however, moments before my confidence crashed to the ground when the Testimony of Simplicity was announced.

Simplicity sounds simple. My life used to be simple, back when my kids were young and we had so little that things were very uncomplicated. Currently, I'm not even sure what Simplicity means.

To me, the Testimony of Integrity undergirds and informs all the other Testimonies. For you non or new-to Quakers, the Testimonies are: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community and Equality or SPICE. Integrity, in this Quaker spiritual context, is a substitute for Truth (a word which apparently causes more confusion and conflict than clarity). To me, as I wrote in yesterday's blog, Integrity is about all the parts being in harmony to make the whole. So Integrity is the foundation of each of the other Testimonies.

Ah, but Simplicity. What about that? We've had many, many discussions about Simplicity at Nashville Friends Meeting: Simplicity and money, and time, and stuff. Also, Simplicity in work, in relationships with others, in commitments and obligations.

The workshop we did was several months ago so I've had a while to think about this and gather my thoughts and ideas. At the time, I could not find any clearness about this Testimony. None. I couldn't write about it, I couldn't articulate anything that in any way reflected Simplicity. I was stuck. So that's what I talked about.

My first talk about how I came to Simplicity was about how I had been car-free for a year and a half, how right it felt and how I was forced to explore the privileges we all take for granted about being able to go wherever I want whenever I want and how eye-opening and centering that was for me. How my choice to be car-free forced me to live more simply.

My second talk was about how far I am from living in Simplicity now. I talked about what a confusing, overwhelming Testimony this is for me now and how I am so far from it that my life does not reflect Simplicity in any way. I talked about how Simplicity used to always be easy for me because I've never been an acquisitive person who needs a lot of stuff to feel successful but how I took a full-time job and put my kids in school and Simplicity was tossed out and I don't even know how to begin to go about creating a more Simple, Integrated life. I spoke from my center, my Truth.

I think some people responded positively and some people were overwhelmed. Later in the day, a long-time Quaker said she is afraid that having perspectives like mine shared may put people off of Quakerism because they may think they have to aspire to live without a car in order to be Quaker. I do hope I inspire other folks to think about their choices and maybe ride their bikes or take the bus more often but I certainly don't offer myself up as a model for much of anything. I'm wallowing in confusion and struggling with where I'm supposed to be and what I'm supposed to do every day. I don't recommend this to anyone. Or maybe I do when I think that this struggle is really about trying to find the way to align my life with God's intentions for me. Yes, of course, everyone should struggle with that for him or herself.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Integrity and My Dis-integrated Life

I've been pondering the meaning of the word "integrity". I thought recently of "disintegrate" and how it should mean the opposite of integrity but I take it to mean to dissolve or to crumble or fall apart which didn't immediately seem to be an antonym. The more I thought about integrity, the more the two words do seem to contrast one another. To me, integrity is all the parts being in accord to define a whole. At this point in my life and in my understanding, integrity means that all aspects of my life work in accord to reflect God; that the many varied selves I am (mother, wife, employee, boss, friend, Friend, citizen, daughter & etc.) are all rooted in the same Source and all reflect God's will for me, more or less in harmony.

I'm a long way off from this. My life does not feel harmonious. My work self has been the defining self, usurping the time and energy from all the other selves I am, disallowing me to nurture and sometimes even be very aware of my other selves. It's not that I don't bring my values to my work--I do--it's that I become so enmeshed in my work that I am not able to step away from it to be fully engaged as most of those other selves. My life is dis-integrated right now.

Which returns me to the question of how I am being called to re-integrate my life so I can live centered on God's will for me. The first step is to define where I am feeling called, followed by the questions and concerns or perceived obstacles.

1. Be car-free
-We live in an area of town with insufficient bus service
-We live too far from most of our daily destinations to be able to walk and/or ride bikes.
-Our schedule is far too tight to be able to allow in the extra 1+ hour each direction that would be required if we were to try to take buses.
+For instance, we live 10 miles from Carmac's school and the drive takes 25 minutes in rush hour traffic. To get him to school by 8:00, we would have to leave at 6:00 am. That, of course, does not include the time it would take to return home/to another location.

2. Less stressful and consuming employment
-Without any formal higher education, it is very difficult to find work that pays well and contributes positively to the world. I work for the most respected university sociology company in the world. I make very good money (unless you figure out what I'm paid hourly for the actual time I work).
+Some of this argument seems to have a lot of ego in it.
-Tuition and potential tuition payments for 3 children.

3. More time for prayer/spiritual practice
4. More time to offer myself in service
-These are both affected by #2 more than anything. If work assumes the proper place in my life, I can have more time and energy for these important facets.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Discernment for What I Bring Into My Life

(Please read my blogpost, "Everything Added Means Something Else Is Lost" as the preface to this post.)

Corporate discernment is one of the unique aspects of Religious Society of Friends. Our Meetings for Worship for the Conduct of Business are just that: Conducting our business and making business decisions with an attitude of prayerful concern as a spiritual community. Incorporating Monthly Meeting into Meeting for Worship in this way speaks clearly of business concerns being a normal part of the spiritual life of the meeting. Committees present reports: sometimes asking for support or guidance, sometimes offering suggestions and sometimes bringing concerns; we, Nashville Friends Monthly Meeting, then hold these in prayerful consideration until a clear understanding of the direction we’re being led is given to us. Sometimes this is immediate. Sometimes there are many questions and a great deal of discussion occurs. Sometimes we ask that more information be found and that we reconsider the question at the next month’s meeting or suggest a Called Meeting be held when more information is found. Sometimes a person will ask a question that leads to clearness for us. Sometimes we discuss things for a long, long time and realize we’re all getting too personally involved and someone will ask for silence while we hold the concern, and our role with it, in the Light. We rely on the most centered of us to help the rest of us learn to let go of attachment to a specific outcome and let God’s will for us as a corporate body unite and guide us. In doing so, we all deepen our awareness and trust in God’s direction for us, individual and as a unified body.
Which brings me back to discernment for what I bring into my life. You know how it is: You see this…thing. It catches your eye and you think it’s pretty neat. It seems to actually be exactly what you’d been needing, although you didn’t really even know you’d been needing it. It’s just right, the right color, size, price. It’s perfect. You can justify it by saying if you have this thing, it will replace several other things you don’t use so often anymore because they’re outdated. But you’re not an extravagant person so you go home and sleep on it and think about it and maybe even (but probably not) pray about it. But you know you were sold the first time you laid eyes on it so, utterly convinced this thing will fill a void, you return to the store, lay down your cash or card, and walk out with the thing. And guess what? Well, the thing serves it’s purpose for a while and you are very happy with it at first and then you don’t use it so often and other things come along that are more up-to-date and the thing gets set aside and your eye lights upon another thing and: Repeat. The cycle of stuff. It’s really, really easy to convince ourselves that what we want is what we need so there’s really no discernment at all that comes into it about acquiring stuff. We have it and we want>need more of it. There are some of us who don’t have as much discretionary income as others of us so can’t buy so much stuff but we all wind up with lots and lots (and lots). There really is no process of discernment. There are no standards for what we have in our lives. There are no guides for us other than our vague feelings of unease and discomfort around the Simplicity and a little teensy wee bit around the Equality testimonies. We’re like big greedy children who’ve never been taught that we shouldn’t, always, just because we can.
So I think about the segregated religious sects like the Amish and Mennonites who have community rules and standards and while I don’t want to be in an Old Order kind of community, I have to say that the corporate/communal discernment around what is gained and what is lost by bringing new things into our lives and into our communities is very appealing. All of y’all who know me know I’m not a particularly humble, self-less kind of person. I have a fairly robust self-esteem and enjoy the me-ness of me. On the other hand, what an egocentric sentence that was! I mean—really! There was certainly no “Thy will” happening there, at all. And there I go. I find great, well sometimes great and sometimes just a little appeal, in the idea of being a member of a community with whom I would gather to discern standards for living. Not hard and fast rules: Not “our way or we shun you” rules. Not, “oooh, did you see the way Mary (fill in the blank)?!” kind of community rules. But loving standards that help me live up to the highest standards God sets for me. ‘Cause, you know, I don’t seem to be able to live up to ‘em on my own very well. I can’t even seem to figure out what they are on my own very well except in hindsight.
I feel some attraction to the idea of submitting myself to some authority larger than myself. Of course, there’s God. But I don’t seem to be able to do that very well on my own. I can’t get my shit together enough to listen and really hear what God’s calling me to do. Sometimes I hear (like, right now I’m really struggling) but often I’m so busy and distracted and single-minded about work or some other thing that is not what God is saying to me that I am totally, unhappily oblivious to God in my life. If I were part of a larger community of (what even to call it: Believers? Disciples? Followers? Listeners? Heeders?) whom I trust to not be all ego-tripped out and with whom I spent daily time in prayerful worship and corporate discernment, I could, maybe, learn to be more faithful, to daily live as I am being called: To live every moment as a prayer.
But alas, I don’t have this. I have my dear Nashville Friends Meeting which meets once a week and every other week my Friendly Women’s group. I have F/friends with whom I communicate via facebook and email and occasionally by phone and even more rarely in person. I have blogs I read and books and novels. I have prayer, for a moment or two a couple of times a day and I have writing like this, when I can find/make the time. I do not live my life as a prayer. I do not discern much of anything excepting once a month in Monthly Meeting. I do not prayerfully consider the repercussions of what I bring into my life. I do not think about what I may be letting go of when I accept something new. I not only don’t heed God’s will for me, I don’t even hear it most of the time.
What am I asking here? To have ears and to hear. To learn to submit to God. To have a community that holds me in prayer and holds me up to help me live up to my light. To let go of me and live for God. A little bit of wisdom; just enough to find my way out of this wrong place and into the right place I’m supposed to be, whatever it is God’s calling me to.

Monday, June 14, 2010

BP Did It for ME

I am vegetarian--in large part, because I could not slaughter an animal in order to eat it's flesh and it seems very wrong to me to pay someone else to do this for me. What right do I have to cause suffering for my own pleasure? (In this modern life of easily accessed protein, meat, I think, is pleasure and not necessity.)

I feel the same way about the environmental disaster of the oil continually pouring into the gulf waters. BP held the weapon that caused the terrible wound but they did it at my behest. They did it because I insist on the right to drive my car. They did it because I refuse to alter my life sufficiently to access the buses or walk or get my body healthy enough to ride a bike. They did it because "It's not just my car, it's my freedom". They raped our Earth because I demanded they provide me with cheap fuel so I can do whatever I want, whenever I want. And not to get too "new agey", but Mother Earth is bleeding and her children are dying and we're watching the news and seeing the pictures and getting angry at BP and big oil companies and maybe sending money to the WWF and then turning our heads from the terrible suffering and then going out in our cars for ice cream. WHAT IS WRONG WITH US? what is wrong with me?

What is wrong with me? What is wrong with me that I can see my own culpability and know what I'm being called to do and yet be unable to do it? What is wrong that I can't make my own life be the life I know I am being called to live? What is wrong that I allow external forces to dictate what I do and how I act? WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME that I keep driving, driving, driving, driving,driving as if I AM THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE AND NOTHING ELSE MATTERS MORE THAN FUCKING ICE CREAM RIGHT NOW.