love letter for a friend

(for 2-27-16)
We sit around this corner table in your favorite Memphis brewery, the four of us, you and your love and me and mine. A few hours ago we were down by the riverside, balancing on a log, balancing each other on a log. Down by the riverside, arm in arm in arm in arm, watching the sun set on the mighty Mississippi. I just want you to know how full my heart was in that moment. Full to bursting. Even when we are a 7.5 hour drive apart, I know I am as much a part of your life as you are mine, even when we don’t talk but every month or two or three. But I love you and you love me, and we are each reflected, in some strange way, in the love we’ve found with these other people, and we all share each other’s stories.

We sit around this corner table with a rickety Jenga tower in front of us, we beat Jenga! we declare, but I know that you and I will keep on going higher and longer, higher than Jenga towers, longer than weekend visits that last 24 hours. We play silly games and laugh so hard we cry and drink rich dark beer that’s the best I ever tasted, almost at least, and I maybe wish I could stay safe in this presence forever. But part of the beauty of what we have is that it can be picked up whenever we need it, and maybe it is best this way, to have highlight moments but share souls from afar, I don’t know…

We sit around this corner table and share the hours and laugh so hard we cry and talk about nothing in particular but I am with you and that is what matters, and this is just my way of saying I love you –

how we worship

This small congregation of 12, the ones K. tears up for when preaching about them in sermons, the ones who have to close their doors in too few days, too few to allow K. to be ordained in the church building he was raised up in. Where is the line between thriving and surviving? What happens to a church that once split because it was growing so much and now, can seat everyone comfortably around a long foldout table?
Sitting with them, I film a movie in my head, a beautiful tragedy of a once-bustling church. A scene of this very conversation, zooming in on the confirming question: we still want to keep meeting, right? – yes. Camera pans out to a wide shot of the whole table discussing how much money to sell the building for, face shots of people giving out numbers in earnest, putting numeric values on a place that has housed the growing up of children, the building of community, the maturation of their own souls. I watch the fierce commitment of people who have spent years and years together, without a question in their minds of whether or not they will continue to be church with each other, only wondering where.
I imagine a future scene in my head, the keys being handed over to the new owners, the wooden doors closing one last time, the last truck loaded with folding chairs and a chalice, driving out of the parking lot. A tear streaking slowly down the cheek of the churchgoer, maybe the movie watcher. A beautiful tragic drama, or as K. reminds me, There is joy; it’s an opportunity for a new beginning.

 

*****

Early morning pre-dawn, best time for running. We’re getting so much in before most people are even thinking about rolling out of bed. The moon is just showing off with an incredible set like this, playing hide-and-seek between the clouds, sinking large and low on the horizon. K. and I tread cautiously on frozen snow, paths lit by the shine of the moon and the occasional car beam, until we reach the stillness of the canal path. I breathe deeper there and relax – my home. There is something about the joy of the cold air, the bare tree branches, the night sky, and running beside my love that alchemies into a mixture of joyous exuberance. Words burst from my mouth, story after story after random detail, but I am safe and know I am loved, and K. finds it all charming. At this easy pace, I could run forever, and almost wish to. Just keep going til you run out of path, out of time, out of darkness. Run until dawn, until the secret of night ends. That is what I love about night runs, I tell K. — it is as though the canal and I hold a secret that nobody else knows about, that there is beauty so strange and glorious and wonderful and I revel to share in it. Oh you beautiful world, you. Light feet, light body, light heart.

Moonset CTS night sky

last of Gethsemani

I may already be back at home, but here are two last shorts about Gethsemani, my friends.

Kentucky countryside

I have noticed when I do the things I think I “should” do but do not really want to do, I feel stifled; I want to climb out of my skin.
I sit, squirmy, through Christmas Eve mass, having forgotten everyone else here is Catholic and these things mean more to them than to me. I count down to when they will go forward for the Eucharist and I will leave to go have a snack, to go outside in my blanket and look at the moon. Finally. When will I learn to listen to myself and stop obeying all the things that I think “should” be done and rather listen to the One deep inside me who knows what I need? When will I stop allowing guilt to run my life?
I already am on this path.
I go on a Christmas hike instead of a church service, and it is the best Christmas morning I could give myself.

 

I finally sat down and meditated today. I did not fall asleep once. I sat with the sense of Self inside me that I’m trying to learn to listen to. Maybe it was because I was actually alert. Maybe because I had read enough Thomas Merton to get in the contemplative mood. Maybe because I ran out of running away.

 Stone houseThis little house is named Enoch’s Stone House. It’s a little meditation shack. Inside are cobwebs, a pitcher of water, a cross and rosary, a beautiful psalm book, and notebooks where people write down their prayers.
I rarely write in such books, but today I decided that my words, too, were worth being heard.

homelessness, political action, and prayer

This morning, I just wrote emails to about 25 council members on Indy’s city council to ask them to support Prop 291 and 41. The proposals are intended to help protect the rights of homeless individuals. You might think of it as a parallel to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — even if they are “supposed” to have the same rights, sometimes they need special protection to ACTUALLY be protected. The proposals are also supposed to provide support / wraparound services when they are moved from encampments (generally due to private business owners wanted to build and make some $$$).

I was doing this sort of hurriedly, copy-paste-copy-paste and change a name, trying to get through the list. Then I thought of what I was doing, and all the people behind this. Afterward, I slowed back down and went to the list of email addresses, reading each of their names and trying to spend just a moment on them.

This was harder than copy-paste-copy-paste.

And I thought of how we’re each just trying to do our best, and our firmly held political beliefs are held for a reason. I tried to be compassionate even for the people who don’t think like me (who could be anyone or no one, as I do change my mind often!). And I admit I wanted to rush through this, too.

I wondered which was more important: taking the action or taking the moment to pause, to hover mentally, maybe even prayerfully, over each name. I wondered if the question mattered.

My wish is for the best possible thing to happen, though I don’t know how it may come about. And it’s heartbreaking that people freeze and die in the meantime, and it is perplexing why it is that way, and I hope that I will do my part. I hope we will all do our parts.

Amen.

Enneagram crash course, Quakers, and type 9’s

Lately I have been wondering about the kinds of people who fit best into the Christian church, but also pondering the chicken-and-egg scenario: do those who fit best do that because they were naturally that way, or does the church change people-modify people- so that their personality fits better within the church? Since I’m me, I’ve been thinking about this within the context of the Enneagram.

Crash course on the Enneagram (look it up if you’re interested for more info at www.enneagraminstitute.com), though I intend to write more posts later on the types: The Enneagram is a personality typing system with spiritual roots and a whole lot of complexity. There are 9 basic types that are mapped out in a circle with complex lines between them. Each type has a core “sin”/ “passion”/ “issue that it gets stuck on” (if we’re avoiding religious language). This issue can be its greatest weakness, but it also its greatest source of strength once it is worked out. I put the passions in bold so that they stand out. If you recognize your type easily, the passion can definitely have an “ouch” feel to it… but you may also feel very confused about why that passion would result from that type. Don’t worry, I intend to have later posts getting more into that!! (Also, to cite my sources: I use Wisdom of the Enneagram by Riso & Hudson, Personality Types by Riso & Hudson, and reference an Enneagram workshop I went to a couple of years ago that was super informative- if you start to get into the Enneagram, I recommend going to a workshop if you can!) The 9 types are divided into three different instinct centers:

  • The Gut / Body / Instinctive Center (Types 8, 9, and 1): underlying feeling is anger
  • The Heart / Feeling Center (Types 2, 3, and 4): underlying feeling is shame
  • The Mind / Head Center (Types 5, 6, and 7): underlying feeling is fear

Here is a picture so you can see how the types connect. (yes, the lines mean something, but that’s for another day!).

Enneagram-TypesName

Type 1: The “Reformer.” Need to be perfect, right, morally upstanding, self-controlled; can be moralizing and want to impose their superego’s standards on others. Resentment

Type 2: The “Helper.” Need to be needed, to be loving, giving, generous, try to earn love by giving love. Have a hard time letting others take care of them. Pride

Type 3: The “Achiever.” Image-oriented, want to be successful, doers, driven, ladder-climbers. Need to look good / achieve (in any given field, including homemaking!). Vanity

Type 4: The “Individualist.” Introspective, self-absorbed, moody, trying to self-actualize and be true to themselves; amplifies feelings and bases identity on feeling states. Envy

Type 5: The “Investigator.” Need to know (they try to gain security through the knowledge they gain), inquisitive, intellectual, withdrawn, limited energy for others. Avarice (similar to hoarding, greediness)

Type 6: The “Loyalist.” Seek belonging, being part of something bigger than themselves, very committed, anxious/worry about the future, can be either phobic/contra-phobic (acting recklessly to prove to themselves they’re not afraid). Anxiety

Type 7: The “Enthusiast.” Seek to fully experience life through lots of experiences/ keeping busy, avoiding pain, always looking toward what’s next, fun-loving but have trouble settling into the moment. Gluttony

Type 8: The “Challenger.” Need to be in control/ not be controlled, independent / reluctant to rely on others, forceful personality, confident. Lust (not sexual, but lust for control or power)

Type 9: The “Peacemaker.” Need to not make waves, easy-going, self-effacing, doesn’t want to bother others, find peace within through having peace outside, can ignore uncomfortable truths. Sloth  (not the same as laziness… see below)

To not exclude myself from this exploration of religion and personality types, I will start with my own type 9, the “Peacemaker.” 9’s “passion” is slothfulness- not to be confused with laziness like we think of it, though that can be part of it, but more a reluctance to take your life by the horns and realize that only YOU are the person who can fully live your life. 9’s, I’ve noticed, tend to be interested in peacemaking endeavors and politics. At their best, they stand up strongly for what they believe in, bringing people together, doing reconciling and mediating work. They are often interested in spirituality, but as the Wisdom of the Enneagram (an EXCELLENT book!) put it, they are too eager to go towards the “white light” and try to skip past all the difficult, yucky parts involved in really deep spirituality.

Sometimes, to be honest, I question if that’s what I’m doing. The white light thing. I like my spiritual practices of journaling with my mug of coffee, of meditating. Of getting out into nature, of noticing the ducks and the muskrats, of thanking God for sunsets and sunrises. My spiritual practices that can be so intellectual, seminarian-style reading books about the Bible or Jesus or Buddhism or centering prayer, finding ways in my mind to tie these things together. Am I just being slothful? Am I doing what comes easy, what is comfortable? What are the ways in which I stretch myself? And the big questions: is this wrong? Is this right? Is this just who I was created to be? What is the balance between stretching and contracting that will allow me to be my fullest self?

The first time I went to a Quaker church, where the service was spent in silence punctuated by comments and stories from people who had clearly thought deeply about what they were about to say, but were completely content with the stillness and quiet, I said to my partner: “I think I found a church with my personality type!!” It was such a lovely, exciting feeling; this sense of belongingness (even with strangers). “Others think like I do? I thought I was the only one!” I’ve only spent half a year with the Quakers so far, but I hope to spend more time there. I want to see Quakers at their 9-ish best, working for peace, reconciling, mediating. Deeply centered in themselves, with a strong identity that calms and guides others.

Quakers are famous for being against slavery when it wasn’t cool, for being anti-war when it seemed all others were for the war. But that aside, in what ways do Quakers, if we are still comparing them with 9s, settle into slothfulness? Of not fully taking on their calling in this world? Of slipping into a comfortable silence every week and going home, content enough with the way they contacted God and happy to keep that inside? I don’t know enough yet about Quakers to say much about what the average Quaker does… but I hope to learn, to observe myself and them, with clear, unflinching, nonjudgmental eyes.

I want to be aware of the ways that they, or any spiritual group or denomination, are blinded by the hums and rhythms of their natural personality.The way that we can start to assume, when we are surrounded by people who think and act just like us, that this is the right way to be, or sometimes even the only way to be.

So that is some of what this series on the Enneagram and denominations is going to be about. Maybe you’ll see yourself in a type. Maybe you’ll see your church in a type (or multiple types). Are those the same type (that is, do you “fit in”)? Different types? What are the ways that your church or your spiritual practice enclose you in a safe way, and what are the ways that are limiting or blinding? I’d love to hear your continuing thoughts!

are you there, God? What do I call you?

Who is God? Or the better question may be, who do you imagine God to be?

I have a new favorite book, and luckily for me, it is required for my class, so I will most likely finish reading it. It is called Primary Speech: A Psychology of Prayer, by Ann and Barry Ulanov. It’s possibly the most personally impacting book I’ll read all semester. One idea I’ve been chewing on is that we all have “god-images” based on our early experiences. I know, I know: many people could rattle off a list of adjectives for what God is “supposed” to be like, or what they have been taught in church that God is like. God is merciful, God is just, God is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient. God is good. God is loving. But what is your gut reaction, your first instinct, when you think about God? When you start to become aware of that, you can start to look your God (or perhaps I should be saying god) -image in the face and see if that’s really a true image of God.

So I started thinking. What do I really think about God?

Granted, I’m still trying to figure that out, and being in seminary sort of compounds the problem (though I was already good at compounding it before). I am theistic. I believe in a personal God who is still connected with people in their day-to-day lives. I believe God answers prayers. I don’t know why he doesn’t answer all prayers. I would like to know why, but I believe that there is an answer somewhere even if I am never given access to it, and even if the answer does not play itself out in this lifetime. These are things I must believe to try and hold the idea of suffering in this world together with the concept of a loving God who can interact with humans.

So with these nice mental ideas about God packaged up, I should be all set. But then why do my emotions betray me?

I don’t think I was spanked much as a child, but I have a clear memory of being afraid that I would get an unexpected spanking once when my dad walked by my backside. I still experience that feeling of wincing and dread sometimes when I think about God.

For instance, if things are going well for me, I rejoice but I also dread the moment that the other shoe is going to drop and my happiness will come crashing down. As if God was sitting up there plotting new ways to take away my joy.

When I pray for something, I still think I need to do something to deserve it. And I experience the feeling of “why would God want to give something to you?” Especially when I consider all the suffering in the world, where I wonder why God – whoever God is- is not giving relief and happiness to those people.

Apparently, buried beneath my beliefs that God is all good and loving, lies a belief- or a feeling- that secretly, God would really like to trip me up and see what happens. And that God either doesn’t like to or can’t remove suffering from others. The idea of that God scares me.

What do I do with these ideas about God? Does believing them in my gut really make them true?

My reading has been stirring and shaking my thoughts, with some productive ideas resulting. I would like to share:

“In prayer we must begin where we are, with the images of the divine that we project and find ourselves projecting onto the unknown… One of the first tasks in prayer is to face the process openly, to notice what images we have of God and to welcome them into our awareness.” (p. 29)

STOP PRETENDING. I really do not have it all together with my images of God. But God, whoever God is, already knows that, and God knows that my human limitations make me unable to really know God. And that somehow, that which makes me so human and limited also makes me so lovely in God’s eyes.

The beautiful thing about recognizing our projections– the images and faces that we put on God– is that in doing so, we are discovering more of our own core. There is less that separates us and the divine, because we start to see past the false images and walls between us. “Those images and names that entrap us will be loosened… [we will] bring our primary selves right up to God’s presence” (p. 33).

Wow. What an amazing idea. That by simply owning up to part of who I am, I can become closer to God.

Can I trust that if I face my questions openly and without fear, an answer may begin to emerge that I couldn’t even imagine before?

Care to join me in this? What are some of the ways that you think of God, if fear, shame, or denial did not keep you from expressing your real thoughts?