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A Mystical Take on Masks, Racism, & the 4th of July

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As always, I have arrived at my family home in New Hampshire happily laden with books and full of dreams of writing. I intend to post here on Writing with Spirit more often, I’m working on a draft of my memoir, and I’ll begin a month-long online writing class next week. You will likely hear about some or all of these pursuits. Meanwhile, I have finished my first book of the trip, Richard Rohr’s “What The Mystics Know: Seven Pathways to Your Deeper Self.” I thought I’d share a short review because it’s rare that a “spiritual” book so completely jives with what we call “reality.”

And what a reality! As if things weren’t surreal enough lately, the President just celebrated Independence Day with a speech attacking what polls show is a majority of Americans who support the removal of confederate statues from places of honor. He aggressively stoked fear and hatred and division. But all this is nothing new. As he tries to distract us from the deadly pandemic that worsens daily, there will no doubt be more race-baiting and ugliness emanating from the White House.

Orange Fireworks

But back to the book:

I liked this little book. If you’ve read much Richard Rohr, you will find it familiar, with good reason: it’s a book of excerpts from his other writings. I could quibble with the structure of “Mystics;” the “seven pathways” seem forced and kind of random. This is probably because the editor who came up with the idea died part way through the writing, so I think the big picture may have been lost. But since the readings are in small bites, and the book doesn’t pretend to be a straight narrative, the structure isn’t too distracting, and there are plenty of wonderful Rohr nuggets throughout. This makes a fine daily reader for meditation and journaling, and I think I’ll be using it for years to come.

If you haven’t read Rohr, I recommend “Everything Belongs,” my favorite. But “Mystics” is a decent summary of his beliefs about spiritual growth and enlightenment, including growing out of our egoic self-preoccupations and into more compassionate non-dualistic thinking, less “othering” and judging.

It’s unusual for a “mystical” book to track so directly with the day’s headlines, but it’s impossible not to think about my fellow Americans refusing to wear masks because it “infringes on their freedom” when doing so would literally save the lives of others — talk about sick egos! Or about millions of white people yammering about their their precious “heritage” of slave-holding while demonizing black people being murdered in our streets and jails by law enforcement officials. Some seem more concerned about statues made of stone than their fellow citizens made of flesh and blood. Wrong color flesh, it seems.

Also timely, the last section of Father Rohr’s book centers on transforming others and society, and is hopeful but realistic. He recognizes that in North America, “our economy, our self-image, our very psyche have lived in a triumphalist and paranoid stance for so long that it will be hard to change to a positive and creative mode . . . a new way of living based on faith instead of fear, peacemaking instead of moneymaking, community instead of competition.”

May it be so!

 

Lenten “Silent Saturday” in the Time of COVID-19

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I’ve never quite known what to do with the “Silent Saturday” in between Good Friday and Easter. The day between the darkness of unspeakable evil and the dawn of a new life and hope for humanity. In the time of Jesus, his friends and family gathered together in grief, fear, uncertainty, and confusion. This wasn’t how it was supposed to end. Jesus was supposed to lead a revolution against the oppressive power of the Roman Empire, he was supposed to usher in an era of justice and peace for all. And instead, he was dead and here they were, huddled together, hiding out from the authorities and praying desperately for — what? They didn’t even know.

The followers of Jesus didn’t know what was to come, and it wasn’t looking good.

Not Looking Good

This whole COVID-19 period feels like a long, drawn-out Silent Saturday. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. We can’t trust our government, and it even seems to be working against us. We can’t trust their numbers, their plans, or their motives. We huddle together on Zoom, uncertain and powerless, some of us grieving, some of us afraid. Some of us pray; some of us simply hope because we can’t believe in prayer. We know this is an in-between time, but we don’t know what’s next.

During Silent Saturday, we wait.

In the Christian tradition, after that desperate Saturday came redemption and resurrection on Easter Sunday. I have faith that now as then, the love of God is too great to allow darkness and death to prevail, that love will win. I don’t think that the means or the timeline are always God’s will — I won’t get into theology — but I do believe that love is stronger than all the excrement the world can throw at it.

It is true that a whole lot of people are going to die, especially if the president is stupid enough to “open up America” in the middle of this pandemic and send his true-believers out into the streets to spread infection.

But how’s this for a resurrection story? Most sensible people will continue to stay home. Competent governors and health officials will work with civic-minded businesses to pull together a reality-based plan and non-mythical resources that gradually turn around the infection and death rates.

Then there’s an election in November. The majority of Americans were not fooled by the misinformation in trump’s daily “press conference” rallies and hold him responsible for the testing/resources fiasco. He loses, bigly.

With the economy and our health care system in shambles, President Joe Biden and Vice President Michelle Obama (I know, I know, but just imagine!) have a clean slate. Together with younger progressive leaders, they end voter suppression so this never happens again, and we build a more just, equitable America from the ground up. A Green New Deal creates a massive jobs program, and we become a world leader in climate solutions.

Happy Easter, a day early!

Light in the Darkness

What To Do On A Rainy Monday In The Time of COVID-19

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A rainy Monday in the time of COVID-19. The perfect day for some quiet reflection. I’m finding a lot of comfort in nature and try to get outside a bit every day. Being under the open sky and listening to bird song reminds me that life goes on, that God’s other creatures are carrying on, and that this current crisis will pass. Please, if you’re hunkering down and think you can’t step outside the house, think again. It just might save your mental health. Simply stay six feet from other people.

I’ve been sharing nature-based contemplative practices with some of my church friends, and today’s is an inside activity because it’s raining where we are. I’ve adapted it so it’s more accessible to people who don’t connect with God.

Today I’m considering fire, one of the most attention-grabbing creations. Even if you’re not spiritually inclined, it’s not hard to see the powerful and divine nature of fire: If you’ve ever lost track of time staring into a fire, you know how compelling it can be — and if you’ve ever been around an out-of-control fire, you know how frightening it can be. A famous Bible story says that when God seriously needed Moses to listen up, he set a bush on fire!

At some point today, set aside time to reflect on fire. Grab your journal or some writing paper, and light a candle. You may want to take off your shoes, signifying that you are coming as you are and that you’re willing to be honest with yourself.

Sit quietly, take a few deep breaths, slowly breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. As you breathe, watch the flame of your candle, and consider:

Fire is essential to the natural world. It kills diseases and insects that damage trees, clears away undergrowth, and provides nutrients to enrich soil. Fire purifies the landscape and makes way for new growth and diversity. Reflect and journal about what needs to be cleared out of your mind and heart, what needs purifying. What needs to be stripped away to allow for new growth and diversity? Write about this as long as you like.

Now consider the pine cone. There are certain pine cones (like the lodgepole pine) that literally cannot reproduce without fire. You’ve probably seen them — the kind that are closed up tight, almost glued together. Such cones can hang in a tree for fifty years, just waiting for a passing fire to melt the resin that glues them shut and release their seeds. Journal some more, considering what parts of you are “glued shut.” What beliefs or fears keep you closed up tight to the world, never releasing your energy to new ways of being?

After you’ve finished journaling, if you are the hearty type, why not grab a raincoat and umbrella and go out for short walk in the rain? Don’t forget to blow out your candle! Maybe you can find a pine cone to bring home to remind you to keep your heart and mind open to the flame of purification and new growth.

Be safe, be well, be open.

The Wearing of the Green During COVID-19

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Happy Saint Patty’s Day!! It feels wrong to use the word “happy” or “!!” marks during these stressful and uncertain times. The COVID 19 virus seems to have zapped our happiness and enthusiasm. It surely has mine. I’m working on another post about that, but I’m going to share this in the meantime because it’s ready to go.

I wrote this reflection for a church group that’s been meeting outside during Lent to connect with God through nature. Since “social distancing” dictates that we can’t meet together anymore, we are doing daily outdoor practices like this instead. Because social distancing doesn’t mean you have to stay inside!

As we keep away from other people, it’s also good time to come closer to a Higher Power, “whom some of us choose to call God,” as they say in the Twelve Step program.

Natural Spirits

Sometimes when we think of the “natural world,” we leave ourselves out of it, as if we are somehow separate from the rest of nature. Yet our bodies are made of the same stardust as the rest of creation, and we need air and water to live just as the other creatures do. Likewise, we may think of our bodies and spirits as separate from each other. Yet our bodies are the vessels in which we carry our little sparks of the divine, and they are instruments of service to the world.

The Celtic Christians of Saint Patrick’s time understood these connections and made them an important part of their worship. Today’s spiritual practice is inspired by the Celtic “breastplate prayer” of St. Patrick, but I’ve changed the word “Christ” to “Love,” in order to make it more accessible and inclusive. After all, the Bible tells us that God is Love. Feel free to adapt it any way you like.

This body prayer is meant to be done outside where you can stretch out and breathe deeply. Don’t worry, your neighbors will just think you’re doing yoga 🙂

Welcoming Love

Take your time, stretching your arms up over your head, to the sides, bending over, tip-toeing — however seems fitting for each phrase. Say the words out loud. Afterwards, go for a nice walk, remembering that Love is all around you and in you, just waiting to be recognized and welcomed. Make your whole walk a prayer and end it with a hearty, “Amen!”

Love be with me – (open your hands)

Love within me – (hands on heart)

Love behind me

Love before me

Love beside me

Love beneath me

Love above me

Love in my mind

Love in my mouth

Love in my hands

Love in my heart                

Amen and amen!

 

Questioning Christianity

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I continually struggle with the term “Christian,” as I know many of us do these days. For a religion that has framed itself as having all the answers, it surely has some questions to answer.

 

These days, of course, the main question I hear from Christians and non-Christians alike is how on God’s green earth could millions of Christians *still* be supporting trump? Heck of a good question, one that this particular Christ-follower struggles with and prays about daily.

A closely related but more important question for me is this: how, how, HOW did a religion that began with (and is ostensibly still aligned with) a leader who preached love, compassion, and radical inclusion end up preaching wrath, judgment, and exclusion?

Perfect Love Drives Out Fear

How did fear of a place called “hell” become the driving force in the effort to recruit followers to a religion whose God is Love, according to their holy book? Here’s a news flash: To most humans, a wrathful God who will banish you to a fiery place of eternal conscious torment if you dare question “Him” doesn’t sound like good news. At all.

Will the “Christian Church” as a body ever grow out of their fear-fueled need for answers, certainty, & control, and open their collective minds and hearts to the deepest truths in their sacred book? Can they overcome their fear of not having all the answers and instead allow God’s mysterious love and endless grace to have the last word?

“The opposite of faith is not doubt, it is certainty.” — Anne Lamott

New Year’s Reflections of an Extremely Eclectic Blogger

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Happy new year, friends! I especially want to greet all you readers who’ve just recently wandered into my little patch of the virtual world, which I call Writing With Spirit. My guess is that you newbies followed WWS because of my travel/photo entries from New Zealand, my weight loss posts, or my musings in the Twitter #WritingCommunity.

I’d love to give you an introduction or overview of some sort, but like any semi-spiritual endeavor, Writing With Spirit is not linear and it’s not easy to characterize. Let’s just call it eclectic.

Psychology, Politics, and the Planet

It won’t take you long to discern that focus is not my forte. I originally intended to write about the spiritual & psychological aspects of de-cluttering, but since I’ve done very little decluttering in the eight years since I started blogging, that kind of fell by the wayside. Plus, it was an election year, and I quickly fell into politics, which I’m addicted to, for better or worse. Mostly worse, since the traumatic events of November 2016.

Those traumatic events also transformed my peaceful poems about mother nature into rants about environmental policy and the evils of greed and corporate power. OK, I probably ranted about those before trump, but now it’s, it’s . . . I mean, what can I say? Everything I worked for in my thirty years as a Sierra Club lobbyist in D.C. is being decimated. Who knew how fast all that progress could be reversed? Oh, and incidentally, the survival of humankind and countless other species is now under serious question.

This is what climate change looks like; Australia 2020

Addiction, Grief, and Pretty Pictures

But let’s talk about something more pleasant, like addiction and mental health. My Dad was an alcoholic, and some of my friends struggle as well. I used to have quite a taste for cocaine, myself. I spent eight years in therapy, and even more in twelve-step groups for people who love people with addictions. So sometimes I write about addiction or recovery or mental and emotional health.

Then there’s death. I lost my Mom, my brother, and several good friends in recent years, so there’s a lot of grief processing in this blog (though praise God, less than there used to be). As far as edification and practicality go, I think those blog posts are some of my best. You might want to use the search function to explore my musings on grief if you are in a dark place.

On a lighter note, I’m a writer and I love words, so sometimes I’ll do an entire post about one word that captures my attention. I’m currently wrestling with my memoir, so I write about writing (or not writing). I also lost forty pounds in 2019 by using the Noom weight-loss plan, and I’ve started to share about that experience. I love traveling and taking pictures, so my followers journey along with me. Last year we went to Seattle, British Columbia, New Mexico, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and New Zealand.

Shell Shadow on Himatangi Beach, New Zealand

 

Tree Art near Seattle, Washington

 

Rose, Hamilton Gardens New Zealand

 

Cat Greets the Dawn in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Let Us Not Talk Falsely Now

At my core, I’m a God-seeker and a Jesus follower, hence the name Writing With Spirit. That is my center, because like the French philoshper-priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, I believe “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

I suppose you would call me a progressive Christian, though I don’t care for the tag Christian, since it’s generally come to mean judgmental, mean-spirited, exclusionary, and not particularly thoughtful. My faith moves me to care deeply about social justice and the poor and especially dismantling racism. So I write about that stuff, too.

Because all that I hold dear is under attack, I often take jabs at the current president. I can’t help it. I try to be nice, but let’s be real.

“Let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.”

–Bob Dylan

So there you have it. An introduction and overview. Sort of. It’s not what I meant to write when I sat down. That was just supposed to be the first sentence or two. Anyway, various posts may or may not appeal to you, but I hope you’ll stick with me on this journey. And if you have any friends who might want to accompany us, please invite them. Cause check it out! I’m only two followers away from 5,000, and even though it’s only a number, and recognition and affirmation and all that rot isn’t important (and we’ve seen what happens when it reaches pathological levels), still — it’s kinda cool.

Thanks for your support for my ramblings in 2019!

Oh, have I mentioned I have Attention Deficit Disorder? Do I need to at this point? Sometimes I write about that, too.

Happy 2020!!

Giving Thanks for Things Growing in New Zealand

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This evening I’m camped next to a Horse Chestnut tree, a being I’m not sure I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting before. Very solid vibes.

The Horse Chestnut is the little round fellow to the right of my camper

New Zealand knows how to do trees, no doubt about that! It’s easy to see why people might see trees as objects of worship. I’ve fallen for any number of the lovelies and made more than a few u-turns to capture photos.

Tree with friends

 

The vegetation here is remarkably diverse, from cactus to moss to eucalyptus, from temperate rainforests to tiny alpine daisies to towering tree ferns, one of which — the Silver Fern — is the national symbol that graces their rugby uniforms and their airplanes. The Silver Fern gives off a majestic but humble vibe, if you can imagine. Strong and formidable, yet with growing centers that are vulnerable and gentle. Much the way I imagine the person of Jesus to have been. 

 

Silver Fern Fiddleheads

I think my favorite plant is the Red Tussock grass, and its proper name is almost as cute as it is: Chionochloa rubra. I can’t decide if these little guys belong more to the Star Trek genre or to Dr. Seuss, but I love how they just march up hillsides and take over entire landscapes. They wave enthusiastically in the wind, and the sun brings out the red in them. They are native to New Zealand and the country has created a preserve for them on the South Island — one of the few places I did not see sheep or cows!

 

One of the more ubiquitous plants is flax, which you see along the roadsides and also growing as an ornamental in many gardens. It’s not at all like what we call flax in the northern hemisphere, the plant that produces seeds for our backyard finches. The Maori traditionally used fibers from the sword-like leaves of the flax plant to make everything from coats and sandals to river rafts and eel traps. Our Maori tour guide at New Zealand’s national Te Papa museum spoke about working with flax the way African American elders in the southern U.S. speak about braiding sweetgrass. It’s as if the flax fibers are woven into their very beings.

Since I’m in New Zealand, there will be no Thanksgiving for me this year. However, I am in a constant state of thankfulness as I “live and move and have my being” among the green beings of this glorious landscape. Have yourself a blessed Thanksgiving stateside!

Courageous Middle Age

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I never call myself “middle-aged,” I hate the term. I don’t like getting older, even if I am getting wiser (here’s hoping). But let’s face it, unless I’m going to live to be well past the century mark, I am there. In middle age and a teensy bit more.

Change is Afoot

Recently, though, something has clicked, or is in the process of clicking. I am rather suddenly learning to appreciate middle age! I’ve always loved those transition periods in life when you know you’re  evolving, but you aren’t sure what’s happening or where you’re going to end up. I’ve noted periods of passage in my journals since I was sixteen, and today was jotting about my latest one while soaking up the late summer sun at my place in New Hampshire, sipping tea on my deck and feeling entirely retired and entirely blessed.

In contrast to my past inner transitions, I can see this one has a direct cause, and it’s my recent weight loss. Not the actual shedding of pounds, but more the Noom weight loss program itself. It’s a whole mind, body, spirit thing and I’ve never come across anything like it. It’s put together by psychologists and while it’s relatively “simple” (ha!), it’s having a profound effect on the way I think and consequently behave. It seems my ability to lose weight after years of telling myself I’d never have the power to do so has allowed me to see myself and my life journey in a whole new light. I have been examining my past beliefs and behaviors with a curious but not overly critical eye, challenging the age-old pesky negative voices in my head, and allowing myself to dream a little.

Growing Up is Hard to Do

One of Noom’s “psych lessons” talks about goal orientations and how they can be either performance-based or mastery-based. As we get older, our less-ego-driven selves generally shift from an orientation of performance (What do others think? How do I compare? ) to mastery (What am I learning? Is this helping me grow, making me a better person?). This has been a hard transition for me. For most of my life, I’ve cared way too much what others think of me and have craved recognition and affirmation. That’s a draining and frustrating way to live because it gives others control over your well-being and serenity.

This idea — I’ll call it ego versus spirit — isn’t new for me; it’s not some epiphany. I was in therapy for eight years, have done related twelve-step work around growing up with an alcoholic parent, and have read several books on the topic. (Two good ones, if you’re interested, are Father Richard Rohr’s “Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life” and “Living an Examined Life: Wisdom for the Second Half of the Journey” by James Hollis.) Well, through Noom I’m finally getting it, and it’s changing everything. You know how sometimes it’s just time?

Fear No More!

I’m banishing ingrained habits of thinking and feeling, like powerlessness and fearfulness. I learned to be risk-averse and overly cautious from my mother, and the river of fear runs deep. New things are dangerous, period. Laying low is always safest.

Noom to the rescue. They urged me to create a morning affirmation, and I’ve done so (don’t laugh, it’s working): “I have the ability to do whatever I choose because I am strong, determined, courageous, and wise.” At first I used “smart,” but smart is for younger people trying to impress others. By affirming my “wisdom” instead, I give myself permission to embrace what comes with middle age. I’ve been through a boatload of painful crap and I’ve learned some stuff! I’m owning it, along with the lines in my face and the sunspots on my arms. (Well, sort of.)

COURAGE
Courage is armor
A blind man wears;
That calloused scar
Of outlived despairs;
Courage is Fear
That has said its prayers.
— KARLE WILSON BAKER

So guess what? I’M GOING TO NEW ZEALAND!! Just like that. By myself. In a camper van. Don’t care what anyone thinks. So there, fear! I bought my (first) NZ travel book this week, read, researched, and emailed camper van companies and travel bloggers late into the night, and I’ve decided! Am I scared? Sure. But I’m also tingly excited. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt like this. Time to get over the idea that middle-aged women can’t get tingly excited!

Milford Sound, New Zealand (Photo by my cousin, Richard Boyter)

 

A Touch of Beauty

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The hardest part of coming back from the Wild Goose Spirit & Justice Festival is facing reality — getting back on social media and seeing the news and being reminded in a concrete way of the evil that’s blatantly running amuck in America.

So today I’ve been fretting. I’ve been forgetting to breathe, forgetting to do my contemplative journaling, forgetting my meditative centering prayer. I even neglected the new body/chanting prayer I learned at the Goose this year.

As if in response (and who knows, maybe they do monitor my stress levels), Facebook chose to share a lovely photo from a simpler time, a time when white privilege and basic denial allowed me to wander amongst the flowers without the knowledge that nearly 40% of my fellow Americans are OK with straight-up racism and state-sponsored child abuse.

Thanks, Facebook. I need to practice seeing beauty again, in nature and in people. Because the world is both/and. Beauty and racism, peace and cruelty. God, please open my eyes to both.

Beauty in Putney, Vermont. 2015

Holy Spirit Hangover: Wild Goose Festival

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Returning from my annual pilgrimage to the Wild Goose Festival is never easy, but this year seems weirder than usual. I feel as if I’ve had an overdose of Spirit and am in the midst of a complicated recovery.

If you are new to my blog, I’ll just say that the Goose is a progressive Christian celebration of spirit, justice, music, and art, which takes place every July in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina. The Wild Goose is an ancient Celtic symbol for God’s Holy Spirit, and She shows up every year. Use this blog’s search function to find stories from past festivals. This year was more political than usual, given the evil and violence that’s being done in the name of Jesus. We think he’s pretty annoyed about it and that his followers should be, too.

Anyway, reentry: Yesterday I was agitated, my mind racing, my body needing to do something — like go protest the racist venom spewing from the White House or at least dive in to the Twitter mud pit to fight with “Christian” racists. (Now there’s an oxymoron for you.)

Twenty-four hours later, all I want to do is sleep. I’ve been having crazy-profound dreams, as if the wall between spirit and mind has been breached and my subconscious is having to work overtime to translate between the two. It’s not bothersome at all, in fact it’s quite pleasant. I feel so much healing happening and wisdom being birthed through no effort of my own. There aren’t words for any of this yet, but perhaps there will be.

As one of my friends said during the festival, “God has troubled my waters.” I knew exactly what he meant. We had just been in the Beer & Hymns tent, singing the old Negro Spiritual, “Wade in the water, children, wade in the water, God’s a gonna trouble the water,” and were now listening to a powerful African-American preacher talking about finding our unique purpose in these dangerous times.

“You were born with your purpose on purpose,” Bishop Yvette Flunder assured us, “and you can only find your purpose through the one who sent you on assignment.”

Humankind’s purpose according to the Hebrew prophet Micah. How do you think we’re doing?

Over a four-day period, my mind grappled with concepts like the “oceanic consciousness” and questions like “How do you prepare to be dead?” My body sang, danced, chanted, laughed & cried, walked a labyrinth, and sweated. And sweated. My heart grieved over what we do to each other and our planet. And my soul soared to be among a diverse crowd of people owning their crap and healing from what life has thrown at them so that they can join together to make the world better.

No wonder I’m tired.

Over the next few weeks, I imagine I’ll continue to process and dream. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, here’s an article that Religion News Service did on the festival this year: In Remote Appalachia, Liberal Christians Gather to Pray and Plan 

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