new year new me

January 1, 2016

In a wood-floor room with huge windows that look upon the meandering river below, the dancers make a circle. Everybody has a partner and we will progress around the circle, switching partners; no eye will be unlooked upon. I have been coming to these dances long enough that I finally feel comfortable, happy, at home while dancing. The energy is palpable and we are joyful to start a new year. I start off with my love, making eye contact in the ways we already have been all weekend, sharing our divine selves with each other. I feel so present.

I honor the place in you where the entire universe dwells
I honor the place in me where the entire universe dwells
Namaste

I look people in the eye, holding each and every person’s gaze who will hold mine. I wonder if they know that this used to be out of the question for me. I wonder if they can see my soul’s expansion.

January 2, 2016

Richard Rohr tells me that there are many paths toward contemplation and Love, not just meditation, yoga, and chanting, but even poetry. This makes me feel better, because even though what I am doing is not exactly poetry, maybe if I
created new lines
every once in
a while,
it would look like poetry and we could call it contemplation. Because what I do when I sit down to write is pick a moment that I’ve held on to from the day, or maybe the day before, and let it bubble up from within and see how it is speaking to me. Sometimes it seems profound to me, but usually just a word or three. Sometimes it’s not, but who says the human experience always feels profound? Isn’t the daily hum and beauty of living profundity enough?

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.

a mosaic of self

I have been doing a lot of traveling over break, visiting old friends that I haven’t seen in ages. I’m not the best at regular phone calls and keeping up with people, so it’s a good thing these friendships are the kind where you can pick up wherever you left off and things feel just like last time. This sense of comfort and familiarity is a lovely thing. Particularly in today’s culture, when so many people move around to totally new places: for work, for love, for scenery, for fun: it is nice to be back with people who have known you longer than the year or two you’ve been living in a new place. However, those same friends have also missed some of the latest things in your life, in your growth. I often don’t realize what they’ve missed because in that time of reuniting, we are transported back to the times we were together. Sometimes it’s directly, through the “Remember When?” game, or indirectly, through the patterns that the two of us have established together. Kind of like couples, friends can develop “scripts” and “roles” together. You act this way, and I act this way. When you say that sort of thing, this is how I respond. We generally don’t even realize we do this.

However, this has caused me to reflect on whether or not I feel like my real “self” in my old friendships. Perhaps it’s just my rosy backward-looking glasses, but didn’t I used to be so much more silly and carefree in college? Now I feel more serious, more thoughtful. Didn’t I laugh so easily back then? Wasn’t I so adventurous that year I lived in Boston, when the city was my oyster and the T could take me almost anywhere I wanted to be? Where did that girl go? And who am I now?

Likewise, I see myself “be” different people when I am talking to different people. With my roommates, I can be goofy, using silly voices and talking about ridiculous things. Is that me? With one friend, I am slowly drawn to excitability, feeling like a contrast to her animation until it finally infects me too. With another, I am steadfast and hardworking, stable and consistent. Is that me? With another, my more nurturing, but also sensitive and emotional, and easily hurt, side comes out. Can that be me, too?

In my current life, I often feel “overly responsible”: the type of person willing to do not only their own tasks, but probably other people’s tasks as well, if need be. (By the way, this is not ideal for me nor for the other person, whose own sense of agency I can take away when I do things for them). With my family, I sometimes feel “under responsible”: fuzzy-minded, letting them decide what’s going to happen, just going along for the ride. Is it just regression when you return home after being away?

I realize I’m not an open book. I share certain information with certain people. Some people are for discussing romantic relationships, but only as far in as I allow. Some people are for politics, or science. Some for daily life happenings. Some for religion. Some people I allow in to hear my real thoughts on spirituality. I am a fragmented glass, a mosaic of color. My colors look different depending what part you focus on. A different light reflects depending what angle you stand away from me. I seem to be divided, yet I am one person.

Who am I? I wondered today, feeling almost deceptive with the many faces I can wear, even though I’m not trying to intentionally deceive anyone, yet genuinely confused as to which is my “true” self. Then the phrase “true self” rang a bell, and I suddenly realized: it’s just personality. Who are YOU? My personality is like my exterior, my shell. It’s the way that I interact with the world. There are a lot of protective and defensive mechanisms I use to feel secure, and I developed certain habits in order to win praise, affection, or a sense of okay-ness from other people. That’s not my real self. My real, true self is not my personality. My personality is not all bad – I can be funny, sweet, helpful, kind – but it’s also not everything I am. And sometimes, the sharp edges of my mosaic-piece personality cut my own, or others’, fingers. I am beyond the faces you see. I am beyond the faces I see, the things I know about me that other people don’t, the contradictions that don’t even make sense to me. I am beyond the attachments that lead to hurt feelings or joy, jealousy or security. My core essence is rooted in something far beyond the way I always think about myself.

Think of it this way. Through a glass mosaic, or a stained glass, the colors are mixed and beautiful. But the colors only do their thing because of the light that is behind it. The true self is like that white light (which is really all the colors on the spectrum) that shines and illuminates all else. The mosaic is made of disparate glass pieces that can be beautiful, but are not in themselves illuminative. I need to stop confusing the glass with the light. It’s just personality. My true self is like that illuminating light.

Splash Image

http://artglassmosaics.com/home.html

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?