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The Focus of Desire

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THE FOCUS OF DESIRE

One of the good things about being a cocaine addict is that it gives you focus. You’re never unclear about what you want or how to get it. You get your paycheck, you go to your dealer’s house, and you get what you desire. If you need more cocaine than you can pay for, you sell some to your friends at an inflated price and then they become better friends because you have what they want. And need. **

Later, you give up cocaine when the fact that it kills young and otherwise healthy people is made painfully clear to you. Then you have to rely on alcohol to give you what you want. It’s cheaper, but the clarity is missing. What you desire isn’t as obvious. You settle for laughing uproariously with other friends who drink too much, and you occasionally get drunk enough to have a heartfelt conversation that feels like intimacy only it’s not. You make mistakes.

Sex is always good for a quick shot of dopamine, but in my case it usually made the emptiness worse because although it satisfied for a time, it could not give me what I was really seeking. I didn’t know precisely what that was, but I was becoming dimly aware that I was a bottomless pit of desire, craving love and acceptance and belonging and meaning.

It wasn’t until I started sniffing around spirituality that I identified the deep desire that lay beneath all of my clambering needs: peace. I distinctly remember writing that in my journal, lo these thirty years ago. “What I really want is peace.”

Finding Peace

Peace is not a familiar feeling when you’ve grown up in an alcoholic household, or any other kind of dysfunctional home — which probably describes most of us! Many “adult children” of imperfect parents don’t really know who they are or what they want because they’re too busy worrying about what other people think of them. We are people-pleasers, afraid of rejection. We often don’t like ourselves; we have this chronic feeling of not being good enough. Out of fear, we work tirelessly to manage everything and everyone so that nothing feels “out of control.”

Peace is hard to come by under these circumstances, which is why so many of us numb out with sex, drugs, carbs, alcohol, social media, TV, etc., etc., etc. Oh, there’s the occasional pearly pink sunset or lazy Sunday afternoon with your lover. But I’m not talking about a peaceful feeling, I’m talking about a deep-down peaceful spirit. Being OK with the world, OK with yourself, and OK with everybody else.

beauty and darkness

I have found this deep and lasting peace through my growing belief and trust in a loving Higher Power, which I call God but I don’t call “He.” My God is Love. My God is not bound by time and assures me that my spirit is not bound by time either. My God is crazy-powerful, but often subtle, so I have to pay attention and be on the lookout for Her fingerprints.

And they are there. I’ve seen them often enough now to know for certain. I am intimately known; I am being cared for and upheld; I am part of a divine plan to bring goodness and reconciliation to the world.

I know this. But I forget. And that’s why I love Lent. It’s a time to intentionally re-enter the house of peace and linger here, not needing to rush off.

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” — Isaiah 26:3

** I apologize to nice Christians who think they are signed up to read a nice pastor-lady’s blog. This pastor has a past. And I especially apologize to my grand nieces who sometimes read this blog and who don’t know about Great Auntie Mel’s mixed up past. I am more than happy to tell you all about it if you ask, and especially to tell you why you should not emulate my journey.

Breaking Through to Peace

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BREAKING THROUGH TO PEACE

Pursuing the wisdom of the ancient Enneagram was not on my list of things to do yesterday, but I got lost in a website in the wee hours of the morning, and you know how that goes. (Hey, at least I wasn’t tweeting!)

I’ve had enough training in the Enneagram to know I’m a Type Nine – “the peacemaker,” but haven’t paid it much attention. Here’s what the Enneagram Institute has to say about Nines: “No type is more devoted to the quest for internal and external peace for themselves and others. They are typically ‘spiritual seekers’ who have a great yearning for connection with the cosmos, as well as with other people. They work to maintain their peace of mind just as they work to establish peace and harmony in their world.”

When I embarked on the most recent of my spiritual quests about twenty-five years ago, I specifically wrote that I was seeking peace. That’s all I wanted, after an alcoholic upbringing and then many years of dysfunctional relationships and adrenaline-driven workaholism. Peace.

This led me to Jesus, the “Prince of Peace,” and then specifically towards contemplative and mystical practices. I’m drawn to silence, solitude, and meditation, practices that are often associated with eastern religions, but which also date back two thousand years to the “Desert Mothers and Fathers,” very early Christian hermits and monks who lived in caves in the desert.

desert-fathers

So I like being labeled a seeker of inner and outer harmony. But then I came across this:

“Nines demonstrate the universal temptation to ignore the disturbing aspects of life and to seek some degree of peace and comfort by ‘numbing out.’ They respond to pain and suffering by attempting to live in a state of premature peacefulness, whether it is in a state of false spiritual attainment, or in more gross denial.”

Nines tend to run away from tensions “by attempting to transcend them or by seeking to find simple and painless solutions . . .”

Oh dear. Maybe I haven’t made any spiritual progress at all! Maybe I’m placebo-transcending!

Maybe all my “striving” for spiritual centeredness is just that — “striving” after an idea I have in my head, rather than surrendering to a Reality that simply IS?

Sigh. Will I never find peace? Good thing God doesn’t give exams.

The Yonder Side of Sophistication

Today I found this excerpt in the slew of inspirational emails I receive every day but don’t usually read. It’s a quote from one of my favorite spiritual books, A Testament of Devotion by Quaker missionary Thomas Kelly, and he’s talking about a “second simplicity,” a second childhood that is the goal of mature adulthood.

“It is the simplicity which lies beyond complexity. It is the naiveté which is the yonder side of sophistication. It is the beginning of spiritual maturity . . . The mark of this simplified life is radiant joy. . . . Knowing sorrow to the depths it does not agonize and fret and strain, but in serene, unhurried calm it walks in time with the joy and assurance of Eternity. Knowing fully the complexity of men’s problems it cuts through to the Love of God and ever cleaves to {Her} . . . Some of you know this holy, recreating Center of eternal peace and joy and live in it day and night. Some of you may see it over the margin and wistfully long to slip into that amazing Center where the soul is at home with God. Be very faithful to that wistful longing.”

The latter description is my experience exactly. I sense that state of being “just over the margin” where the soul is at peace with God, and I “wistfully long to slip into that amazing Center.”

This is what peace is all about. Breaking through to that Center and living there. The practices that bring true peace may take courage because the western world  generally rejects “eccentricities” such as silence, solitude, and surrendering the ego. (And an Enneagram Nine hates rejection; their biggest fear is loss and separation.) It’s scary to step outside “the norm” and into the ether. Still, don’t you think the world could use a little more peace?

” . . . the heroic first step of the journey is out of, or over the edge of, your boundaries, and it often must be taken before you know that you will be supported.” — Joseph Campbell

Day six in my effort to blog daily.  

Dreaming of Peace on Memorial Day

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Many blessings on my military friends and their families — I’m sorry our nation keeps sending you into harm’s way. As this thoughtful video from Veterans for Peace suggests, I am also remembering and honoring civilian casualties of war and their loved ones this Memorial Day:

I pray for peace on this day of all days, and I hope that world leaders will take President Obama’s words at Hiroshima to heart:

“We’re not bound by genetic code to repeat the mistakes of the past. We can learn. We can choose. We can tell our children a different story, one that describes a common humanity, one that makes war less likely and cruelty less easily accepted.”  

 

** A footnote to my politically conservative Christian friends posting articles that criticize the president’s speech as “cowardly” or “an apology”: Setting aside whether or not one thinks an apology would have been appropriate, he did not make one, FYI. And I wonder which part of his actual remarks you think Jesus would disagree with?

Related:

http://bloggers4peace.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/kozo-cheri-asks-that-you/

Bloggers for Peace

 

In What Do We Trust?

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On this day in 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a law making the statement “In God We Trust” the nation’s official motto. A few years before, he’d added “under God” to the pledge of allegiance.

President Eisenhower, courtesy Eisenhower Presidential Library

President Eisenhower, courtesy Eisenhower Presidential Library

Over the ensuing decades as the U.S. has become more secular, Eisenhower’s religious language has been the subject of an ongoing debate.  America’s founding fathers were fairly clear about the separation of church and state — on the other hand, they talked about God all the time, and “In God We Trust” has been on our coinage since the Civil War; Eisenhower simply added it to the paper currency.

I don’t have a strong opinion on the language. As a mature adult, I no longer have to have an opinion on everything, and that’s a relief. I’ll let others argue about it. Besides, what would our motto be if we re-wrote it today?

“We Trust Nothing and Nobody?”

“We’re Better Than Everyone Else?”

“Bombs R Us?”

“We Can’t Agree on a Damn Thing?”

“Shop Till Ya Drop?”

“We Want More Stuff, Screw The Planet?”

Transcending Our iPhones

So I’m not weighing in on President Eisenhower’s action on July 30, 1956. I do, however, have a strong opinion on his apparent motivations. In a Flag Day Speech in 1954, he explained that by putting “under God” in the pledge, “. . . we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource in peace and war.”

I have to agree with Ike that our nation could do with some transcendence, now more than ever. I wish that my fellow citizens had a transcendent belief in something beyond themselves, their cemented opinions, their rights, their money, their electronics, their sacred iThings.

I believe that if we spent significant time in prayer and meditation, opening our personal and collective hearts to the universal source of goodness and love, then we might learn to listen to — and even care about — our neighbors and maybe even non-Americans, and our country would not be so screwed up. Probably wouldn’t hurt to get outside and contemplate the beauty and power and order of nature, either. People are just so angry and vitriolic these days, and I think that’s a spiritual illness.

But that kind of transcendence doesn’t seem to be what Ike is getting at. No, he’s looking to “constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons” to be a “powerful resource” for our nation. Sigh. Those bombs bursting in air and that bald eagle’s sharp beak and talons.

Spirituality is Not a Weapon

Here’s the thing: spirituality is not a weapon. The Bible tells us that the fruit of true spirituality is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, self-control, all that good stuff.

Connecting with the Spirit is not about winning, it’s not about fighting. I know a lot of Christians who talk about “victory” and “battles” and “putting on armor,” but that’s a mindset and language taken from a warlike culture thousands of years ago. Of course, Christians aren’t the only religious folks who have this mindset. We’ve all had our fill of “holy wars” and beheadings.

But Christians like Eisenhower — people “under God” — ought to be able to get beyond this dualistic, divisive worldview. Jesus transcended all that self-absorption and came with a different message: Spirituality is about surrendering, relinquishing our warlike competitive egos, and relying on the strength of Love (for God is Love) to be peacemakers in the world. Jesus surrendered his very life without a fight, showing us what God is like. How very un-American of him.

“Blessed are the peacemakers,” says Jesus. “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you,” says Jesus. “Send in the drones,” says one nation under God.

flowers and Dayspring 026

A Place of Peace

Dwight Eisenhower was raised Mennonite, a peace-loving sect that he rejected when he joined the military. (He later became a Presbyterian.) It’s possible that his warlike spirituality mellowed later in life: the chapel on the grounds of the presidential library where he and his wife Mamie are buried is called an interfaith “Place of Meditation.”

Maybe America will mellow later in its life, too. Just imagine if our peacemaking budget were even the teensiest fraction of our defense budget. That’s the kind of “force” I want us to be in the world.

Maybe someday our motto will be “In Peace We Trust.” Maybe I’m delusional. But — maybe I’m not. In God I trust.

flowers and Dayspring 051

I’m a blogger for peace. Check us out:

https://bloggers4peace.wordpress.com/about/

https://bloggers4peace.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/kozo-cheri-asks-that-you/

A Quiet Response to Global Militarization

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You won’t see a press release on this. Sheila won’t be on the evening news or even tucked between commercials on late night cable. What’s the big deal? All she’s doing at age seventy-something is walking from Connecticut to Georgia in the cause of peace.

“That’s amazing,” I say, “I’d love to hear more. And I’m a writer — do you think I might interview you, or do a profile?”

“Well, maybe,” she says, looking at the floor and toying with her long grey braids. “I don’t know. I’m not really doing anything like that, you know, to . . .” She fades off, as if even talking about public attention is too much.

She just wants to have conversations about peace and thinks she will meet a lot of people to talk to along her route. She’ll be walking on secondary roads and staying in small towns where she can find people to put her up.

“I’ve done some long distance walking in the past,” she says, “but not like this. I know this is a lot.”

Yes, Sheila, one thousand miles is a lot.

Destination?

Sheila’s destination is Fort Benning, Georgia. If all goes well, she’ll be there by late November to partipate in the annual vigil and non-violent protest at the gates of the School of the Americas.

Remember them? Probably not – like Sheila, they prefer to keep a low profile, and they’ve changed their name to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation so you’ll be sure to forget them. Whatever they call themselves, they are the U.S. military outfit that uses your tax dollars to train Latin American soldiers in “counterinsurgency” techniques, and their graduates are responsible for the death, rape, torture, and “disappearance” of thousands of Latin American citizens.

Sheila thinks they should disappear.

(For more information, visit SOA Watch here.)

fort benning

Motivation?

The thing that intrigues me about Sheila isn’t so much her 1,000-mile walk, it’s her humility. After decades of experience with non-profits and advocacy groups, I’m used to folks who would trample their own elderly mothers to get to a microphone. As my boss at the Sierra Club used to say before a press event, “Well, time to set our hair on fire and see if anybody notices.”

It seems that all anybody wants these days is attention. Attention for their product, their start-up, their blog, their meme, their new profile picture, or their latest fad diet. Everybody wants to go viral. Or they connect themselves to a political candidate (I’m going with a winner!) or a celebrity (my man!) or an interest group (I’m making a difference!) and get their ego strokes vicariously through these affinities.

But not Sheila. It’s quite possible that nobody will even notice Sheila’s walk. She’s mostly going alone, though one or two folks might join her now and then. So really, if she’s not trying to get press attention, why walk? Why not fly to the protest in Georgia like the other 20,000 attendees? What’s the story?

Sheila is a Quaker, that’s the story, and Quakers are like that. From their silent worship, they sense divine leadings and they act on them, simply and without fanfare. Sheila thinks she is meant to walk, and so she’s walking. Simplicity and peacemaking are community values for them. 

The Quaker Spirit

I started going to Quaker meetings last year when I was at my place here in New England, and I liked them so much that I sometimes go to a mid-week meeting back home in Maryland, too. Their mostly silent worship fits well with my contemplative bent and Christian meditation practices.

The Quaker call to social justice is deeply ingrained in their traditions. I think they are more biblically based than most of the Bible-thumping congregations, even though Quakers aren’t necessarily Christians. You can truly see the fruits of their spiritual practices in the way they live their lives. I’ve never met another community like this “Society of Friends.”

I’ve drafted a couple of blog posts about Quakerism in the past year, but didn’t publish them — none of them said what I wanted to say. Which isn’t surprising, because how do you use words to write about people who worship in silence?

Maybe Sheila’s quiet story will give you a glimpse into what I wish I could say.

Peace and Justice in Vivid Color

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Vivid — what a fine word. I think it’s a psychomime, also a very fine word. A psychomime is a word connoting the state or condition to which it refers, like mushy or funky, and is not to be confused with a phenomime, a word which brings to mind a psychological state or emotion, like maybe giddy. Not to be confused with the more familiar onomatopoeia that you learned in school, which refers to a word that literally sounds like what it describes, like whoosh or crack.

(You know it’s a questionable blog post when the second sentence leads to a serious digression which then necessitates an apologetic parenthetical phrase. Sigh – it’s Monday.)

Believe it or not, this isn’t going to be one of my wildly popular stream-of-consciousness posts about a favorite word, though my digressive mental state might indicate that it’s almost time for one.

No, this post is simply a response to the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: the word vivid. So here is my photo:

Vivid!

Vivid!

I love, love, love this photo. It was a banner at the Wild Goose Festival last year, which is coming up again in July, and you really must come. I can almost promise it will change your life, especially if you’re feeling hopeless or sad or cynical, and who isn’t these days? The world’s about to blow up or melt down in any number of ways.

Wild Goose is a progressive (very) Christian event, but anyone might enjoy it — “the intersection of spirit, justice, music, and art.” This year’s theme is Blessed are the Peacemakers, and it fits right in with what my church has been talking about the last few months — social justice and how we as followers of Jesus can help bring light and reconciliation to a time of darkness and fear, instead of adding to the divisions and hatred as so many “Christian” politicians and media mavens sadly do. We’ve been talking about confronting and healing racism and war and violence and oppression and toxic religion.

So the word vivid resonates with me right now. I’m in the light, and I’m ready to hope again. I am coming out of my grief over my brother’s passing, beginning to de-clutter the depressing masses of stuff that somehow piled up around me while I was doing eight years of caregiving/grieving, and getting just the teensiest glimpse of the gifts I might bring to my new role as Pastor of Prayer and Healing at my church.

So yes, please: I want to “live out loud” in vivid color this summer.

Meet me at the Beer & Hymns tent at Wild Goose!

“If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, I will answer you: ‘I am here to live out loud.’”

– Emile Zola

 

 

 

My First Protest: May 6th, 1970

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I was scared, of course. We all were. Just a few days before, four kids had been shot dead and nine wounded by the National Guard on the campus of Kent State in Ohio, and nothing seemed safe anymore. Our nation and our family dinner tables were in complete chaos.

May 4th, 1970. Photo courtesy of Kent State

May 4th, 1970. Photo courtesy of Kent State

I had just turned fifteen and probably wasn’t in much danger of being shot on the steps of Kensington Junior High School, but my pulse was pounding and I felt sick as our group moved down the yellow-tiled hall. We were mostly the “good kids,” certainly not the type to walk out in the middle of a school day without permission.

But those pictures from Kent State haunted us — they looked like our older brothers and sisters. I remember wanting desperately to show solidarity with my big brother who was at college in Texas. I knew he was marching.

The Kent State students shot on May 4th had been protesting Nixon’s announcement that he was expanding the Vietnam war by sending troops into Cambodia. It was now May 6th, and we were joining thousands of college students boycotting classes in a nationwide strike to protest Kent State and the Cambodian invasion. More than 500 campuses had been shut down, including the entire university system of California.

Confronting Authority

It was lunchtime when about a dozen of us ninth graders moved uncertainly towards the big man in the black suit whose outstretched arms blocked the front doors. He looked like a buzzard with his sharp nose and cold eyes and long arms. We had not anticipated the principal’s presence when we planned our walkout.

One brave girl spoke up. “We’re leaving, Mr. Gaub. Please let us pass.”

Mr. Gaub cleared his throat but did not lower his arms.

“It is my duty to tell you that if you walk out this door, you will have an unexcused absence. This will go on your permanent record and could affect your grades.”

We stood just a few feet from him and he looked each of us in the eyes. “I know who you are; I know your names,” he said. He cleared his throat again. “And I’m proud of you.” He dropped his arms and we marched past him into the sunlight.

We milled around in the parking lot for a while chanting “Out Now” and feeling very grown up. Then we walked up to the 7-11 store for cherry cokes and red licorice. After all, we were just kids.

A "good kid" finding her voice

A “good kid” finding her voice

In memory of Stanley Eugene Gaub, February 8, 1925 – January 6, 2009. Thank you and rest in peace.

mr gaub

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