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Finding the Divine in Nature

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FINDING THE DIVINE IN NATURE

“Awe enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine, to sense in small things the beginning of infinite significance, to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple; to feel in the rush of the passing the stillness of the eternal,” writes theologian Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.

Perfectly said.

In less mystical language, the Message translation of the Christian Bible says, “The basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of {Her} divine being.” Romans 1:20

Ancient mystics have always felt that silence is God’s first language, which may be true, but nature is certainly a very close second. Together, they are the gateway to the Divine.

Assisi Pathway

God has always spoken to me through the natural world. I wasn’t brought up in a religious home — my sanctuaries were the woods and meadows of New Hampshire and a muddy little spot on the edge of a silty pond in southern Florida. Turtles, grasshoppers, and garter snakes served as my preachers, “intimations of the divine,” in Rabbi Heschel’s words.

Preach it, sister!

I know that many people experience a “higher power” most strongly in nature. Of course, not everyone will choose an environmental profession as I did in response to nature’s divine communication. But if you spend quiet time in a natural setting and “take a long and thoughtful look,” you cannot help feeling a sense of connection, belonging, oneness . . . awe. There are no words to capture this connection, hence silence.

Tomorrow is World Day of Prayer for Creation, which was started in 1989 by the Eastern Orthodox Church and is now celebrated worldwide by people of all faiths. Even if you don’t think of yourself as a “praying person,” why not get outside, preferably alone, and say something like, “Hello?” 

Or consider the words of 12th-century German philosopher mystic Meister Eckhart as you look up at the sky: If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” 

Amen.

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Beware trump Boredom

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BEWARE tRUMP BOREDOM

It’s finally happening, the thing I have been dreading but also secretly hoping for. I am getting bored. Bored with the chaos, crimes, and corruption in the White House. Bored with the lies, the golf, the ego, the tweets. Bored with the ludicrous nominations of trump’s unqualified buddies, the hate-filled attacks on the free press, the blatant attempts to undermine our judicial system, the straight-up cruelty towards poor people, immigrants, and future generations who will view this administration as the final nail in the climate coffin.

My boredom is absolutely not OK. Detachment is one thing; I have been intentionally learning to enjoy life even as the travesty plays out (while acknowledging this as my white privilege). But boredom and passivity? Not acceptable. They indicate that I am being lulled into normalizing a situation that is anything but normal. 

Still, it’s hard to hold all the outrage and deep sadness. It wears you down, eats at you from the inside out. As someone who spent her career promoting environmental protection, this is an especially dark time.

Holding on for dear life

What To Do With The Anger?

I recently heard Parker Palmer speak at the Festival of Faith & Writing at Calvin College. The man speaks truth. I appreciated his statement that our anger is fine, it’s good, it’s God’s own righteous anger on behalf of the oppressed, the marginalized, the earth. God’s righteous anger is splashed all over “the good book” that the evangelicals wave around at trump rallies. The question is, what does one do with the anger?

Parker Palmer at the Festival of Faith & Writing

As Parker spoke, I was abruptly overtaken by a conviction that I have not been doing my best during this national crisis. I have sometimes added to the negativity. Fear has stoked anger has stoked cynicism has stoked despair. Also panic. I try (mostly) to walk as near to God as I can manage, yet none of these emotions come from God, except my healthy anger.

No, I have not been doing my best.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. It’s why I haven’t written much lately. I’m processing. I don’t want to spew more anger and divisiveness into the atmosphere. That is precisely what the raging attacker in the White House is doing, and I hate it. But I’m not sure how to be constructive. I know I’m not alone in this — constructive voices are few, far between, and usually ignored.

Anyway, I think my recent desire to do better may have led to my boredom. If I cannot churn out a blog-blast full of anger and snarky cynicism, I have nothing to do with my emotions. I can’t let them build up or I’d explode, and so I just . . . deflate. I look at my inner turmoil and say, “Oh look, more outrage and despair. Ho-hum.”

At Present, There’s Only One Thing I Can Do

In the same good book that talks about God’s great love and Her outrage on behalf of the marginalized and the outcasts, there is the following advice:

“Have no anxiety about anything. But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” {Philippians 4: 6-7}

This is one of my favorite pieces of scripture. So in this spirit, I pray —

God thank you for this beautiful country, for this grand experiment in building a just and free society. It’s not working, God, and it’s getting scary. I am deeply grieved, and I confess I sometimes despair. My heart is broken for the dying coral reefs, the dying polar bears, the dying frogs and fish. I weep for the island people around the globe whose homes are disappearing, and for the children who will follow our folly. I weep for black teenagers dead in the street. I weep for their mothers.

God, money has become our idol. So-called leaders take millions from weapons merchants who put profits and power over the lives of school children, from prison machines that profit from incarcerating our young people, from a military addiction that feeds endless war, and from heartless corporations that intentionally spew poisons into our air and water.

God, we are sick. We are very, very sick. We really screwed up, bigly. Please. Fix. This. Amen.

“You are the light of the world.” On a good day.

Further Heresy: Sage & Crystals

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FURTHER HERESY: SAGE & CRYSTALS

I’ve been burning a sage stick lately. I just wanted to get that out there and let the “Happy Housewife” Christian lady know. After all, confession is good for the soul.

I purchased the sage stick at a rock and mineral swap in a tiny town in New Hampshire, where I also bought a lovely piece of quartz with opalescent slivers inside it. Yes, quartz is a crystal, which some Christians believe is just about as heretical as a sage stick.

They think that crystals are “new age,” or “false idols” or “occult.” Never mind that Saint Theresa of Avila’s beloved sixteenth-century spiritual classic “Interior Castle” is based on the contemplation of a crystal:

“I thought of the soul as resembling a castle, formed of a single diamond or a very transparent crystal, and containing many rooms, just as in heaven there are many mansions . . . there are many rooms in this castle, of which some are above, some below, others at the side; in the centre, in the very midst of them all, is the principal chamber in which God and the soul hold their most secret intercourse.”

Contemplating nature is a time-honored way to reflect upon and connect with the holy. Jesus was forever talking about sparrows and types of soil and grains of wheat. He found lessons about God in everything around him. I feel closer to God in nature than anywhere else, so it stands to reason that I would want to use natural elements in my prayer time.

I light my sage stick and walk around my house, asking God to fill my home with Her spirit of peace and love and joy. I ask that She fill every space with the fragrance of Christ. (I don’t do this if my cat is downstairs, because it gives her a violent sneezing fit.)

I don’t believe crystals and sage sticks are magical or contain or control spirits; I think they are relaxing and beautiful. God made the rocks and the plants, and She gave us an appreciation for rich aromas and beautiful objects. We are intimately and organically connected to the plants and to the elements, and that’s why they help us embody our spirituality and connect with the Creator.

Here’s another confession: I am still a tad annoyed at the internet assaults launched by the Happy-Housewife Christian lady. So although she has already condemned me to hell for loving gay people, I am hoping to further annoy her with my hippy prayer practices. So there.

At least I am not cozying up to power and engaging in idol worship of a political leader like some other pastor-types.

Hindered Healing

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HINDERED HEALING

Funny — I am asked to write about healing and I draw a blank, despite the fact that only a few weeks ago I gave an entire sermon on healing and prayer.

I think it must still be the Syrian bombing that has blasted my brain and made me unable to write. And perhaps the fact that President Tweet has now experienced the adrenaline rush of military aggression and couldn’t resist sending a Navy “strike force” speeding towards the Korean peninsula.

For whatever reason, I have nothing fresh to say about healing. Some days I feel as if I haven’t healed at all, even after years of spiritual practice, therapy, and support groups. The dangerous man-child in the White House has caused me to revert to a scared and desperate kindergartner hiding behind the couch while my drunken father rages around the house with his slippers on the wrong feet.

So I am going to cheat and simply share a bit of my sermon. I didn’t have to tell you that. I could have just regurgitated these words as if they were hot off the presses. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about healing, it’s that honesty and vulnerability are step one.

So:

PRAYER AND HEALING

One of the first things we discover when we begin a life of prayer in earnest is that we are not well. We need healing. As we experience God’s amazing love through prayer and worship, our eyes are opened and our hearts get softened. We see more and more the darkness in the world around us and also the brokenness and imperfection in ourselves, in comparison to God’s vision.

Prayer opens our eyes to the truth that we are unwell, that we are sinners, which is a word a lot of us don’t like because it’s been used in unhealthy shaming and controlling ways. But the word in Greek — hamartia — simply means we are missing the mark, missing the target. And because we are all missing the mark, the world is missing God’s mark.

Step one in getting back on course after prayer has shown us that we missing the mark and need healing is — more prayer. Prayer opens our eyes to our need for healing, then as we continue praying, it gives us the courage to become willing to heal, willing to change, which is what “repentance” means. Because it feels risky to change and we need to pray for courage.

Do we even want to get well? Because getting well entails honesty and vulnerability. We spend a lot of time trying to avoid the painful reality of our brokenness and our imperfections. We don’t like admitting we are unwell.

We might choose denial, we may numb our pain with food or alcohol or Facebook or TV or self- important busyness. Or — one of my personal favorites — by deciding how other people should change because we can’t bear to focus on our own need for change. We don’t want to be defenseless and vulnerable and ask for help.

Sometimes our brokenness can define us and become so much a part of our persona that we don’t even know who we would be without it.

That’s why the silence and solitude and reflection that’s so important to our prayer lives can be tortuous for some people. We don’t want to hear the call to change. We read in the Bible that God will turn us into a whole “new creation!” That’s scary!

So prayer helps us recognize that we need to heal, and prayer gives us the courage and willingness to heal. And then deeper prayer gives us the power to heal through the Holy Spirit.

And that power to heal is God’s Love. God’s love and compassion is what heals, and our faith is made real and tangible when we open ourselves to be channels of that healing love.

Assisi, Italy

He May Have the Nuclear Codes, But He Can’t Have My Brain

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HE MAY HAVE THE NUCLEAR CODES, BUT HE CAN’T HAVE MY BRAIN 

Last night I finally did something I’ve been needing to do for weeks: I turned off my computer. I looked the angry orange tweeter who lives in the big white house right in his puffy eyes and I said, “No. You may not come in to my head anymore.”

As the child of an alcoholic, I learned to be hypervigilant. The only way to feel safe when there is a wild man in the house is to always know where he is, what he’s doing, and what kind of mood he’s in. You become ultra-aware: Are his eyes read? Does his breath smell like Clorets mints? Even from upstairs, you can hear the freezer door open and the ice clink in the glass.

It’s about survival. You need to know when it’s safe to ask for lunch money or a school permission slip, and when to lock your bedroom door, crank up the Grateful Dead, and hunker down.

Survival

So of course when an impulsive wild man moved into the Oval Office last week, I automatically took it upon myself to keep an eye on him. And this time it’s quite literally about survival. Right? Planetary survival. If I’m not keeping an eye on him, who will stop him from dropping a nuclear weapon on North Korea? Or Germany, if Angela Merkel says something uncomplimentary.

It feels almost suicidal to detach and ignore him for any length of time. I wonder how Mike Pence feels? He must know how batty his boss is by now. Can he sleep?

At least a half dozen Facebook friends have posted pleas for help with detachment this week. How do I tune him out? How will I stay sane? How do I cope with the grief and fear? How will I not burn out, trying to protect Muslims and Native Americans and gay people and African American kids and the whole frickin’ planet??

I always offer helpful advice about going for walks, and laughing with friends, and meditating. And turning off the computer. But I don’t take the advice myself.

Until last night.

Just Say No

I had gone out with dear friends the night before and although we talked about the nation’s perils and our resulting emotional states, we also laughed and listened to open mic offerings and drank wine.

I confessed to staying up later and later each night, 2 a.m., then 3, then 4, monitoring @RealDonaldTrump and retweeting and posting on Facebook and looking for pictures that capture the moment.

mt-rushmore

lady-liberty-weeping

resist-banner

I can’t focus during the day, I get nothing done. Can’t write. My friends expressed concern, hugged me, sympathized.

Somehow getting away from Crazyland for an evening broke the spell. It was good to hear myself say out loud, “I stayed up until 4 a.m. tweeting to Donald Trump.” Talk about crazy! It gave me the strength to push that “off” button on my computer last night.

I pulled up the drawbridge to my psyche, slapped a big ol’ “Keep Out” sign on it, and read my novel. And today I am saying no again. No Twitter, no Facebook, no trump™.

Pray Without Ceasing

Maybe trump™ will start a nuclear war while I’m reading my novel. I saw before I exited Twitter last night that he had signed something called the Military Preparedness Order. This after signing the Muslim ban.

muslim-ban

But there is nothing I can do about it. All I can do is take care of myself so that I have the energy to take action when I can make a difference. To march, to write, to call Senators. To care for those who are hurting and afraid.

And to pray without ceasing for the Syrian children who may die because of what our nation has done.

Omran

Omran

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.

Journal Snippets: Seeking Serenity

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Journal Snippets: Seeking Serenity

I’ll keep it simple today and share a few snippets from my journal. You guys seem to enjoy that, voyeurs that you are, and I truly must wrap up my gentleness sermon.

The bizarre yin and the yang of my October consists of reading and writing about Saint Francis, the heart of gentleness and humility, and then blogging about DJ Trump. Sadly, my journal contains more of Donald than Saint Francis.

Oct 12

Today is a new day, a day in which I will not engage in Twitter wars, obsessively check political news and polling sites, Facebook, and my blog stats. It is 9:30 a.m. I have checked the Wash Post headlines and the polls — surprise! Same as they were when I checked them at midnight.

Here is something interesting: all this anxiety about the election. What appears to be happening is the dissolution of the GOP as we know it. The crazies have won . . . This could mean the Democrats taking the House and Senate for the first time since — when, Bill Clinton’s first term? Why am I not thrilled and overjoyed?

I guess because I no longer feed off of that part of myself, the competitiveness, spite, and power. At least less than I used to; it’s still in there. I worry for my nation. Having all the hate and fear and rage front & center is horrifying to see. And nothing can get done to fix our campaign system or slow climate change or stop the racial insanity and move towards any kind of reconciliation until we return to loving and caring for our fellow Americans.

Once the flag made me proud. Later, it made me mad. Now it makes me sad.

When I was in elementary school, the flag made me proud. During Vietnam, it made me mad. Now it makes me sad.

It all just makes me deeply sad. Perhaps, like Trump people, I am idealizing a past that never was. Social media makes it so much worse, though. Far from being a platform for discussion and airing of views, it is a place where like-minded people gather to mock people and policies that they disagree with and where you can occasionally make a foray into “enemy territory” and attack directly.

And I just don’t see how we fix it. If we don’t see more people centered in Love, we’re toast.

I guess I must start with me. My own centeredness and my own capacity and propensity for love. I must pray for myself to be a blessing and a part of the solution, and resist the urge to engage in negativity — something which fear makes it very hard to do. If I am open, loving, and vulnerable instead of on the attack like the rest of them, I risk hurt. But I am called to be a peacemaker. I want to channel the spirit of Jesus, not argue about his words or intent. I want to bring the fruits of the spirit into this world: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Let it begin with me.

love thy neighbor

October 13

Talking to some friends today about all this craziness and our roles in it. One of them said she was powerless to change herself, and I said if you can’t change yourself, you can’t change anything. And she said, yeah, that’s my point. How depressing.

I think she’s right, in a way. But for me, it is more that I cannot change myself *by myself.* I need to let go of my will and ask God to grant me the courage to surrender and let Spirit change me. I certainly can’t change my pettiness, my fear, my passive-aggressiveness without divine help!

Today I found out that there is a second verse to my beloved Serenity Prayer. Here is the whole thing:

“Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

the Courage to change the things I can,

and the Wisdom to know the difference.

Grant me Patience with the changes that take time,

Appreciation of all that I have,

Tolerance of those with different struggles,

and the Strength to get up and try again,

One Day at a Time.”

Amen, for sure.

Yesterday, I went for a drive in the fall colors, so I missed my daily blogging goal. Oh well. Day Seventeen, minus one.  

Advent Happens, Love Happens

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I’m happy lately, feeling as if I’m in the zone, using my gifts, and helping people. And you can’t beat that.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve rededicated myself to a regular practice of prayer and meditation over the past few months. Last week, I gave a sermon about “becoming prayer” — prayer not so much as something you do, but as a state of being.

In the interest of practicing what I preach, and having learned that pastoral work is more about being a centered, compassionate human being than it is about book learnin’ and fancy words, I am dedicating myself this Advent to truly reaching for God’s heart, opening myself to that spirit of love that comes only through prayer.

The love that keeps going through the darkness, the love that never folds in on itself even when it hurts to stay open, the love that loves even the unlovely. Especially the unlovely.

The love that breaks down our defenses and cleans out our ego-crap and prepares a place for God in our hearts. Advent love.

In our responsive prayer at church yesterday — the first Sunday in Advent — we used the phrase, “slipping from regular time into Advent.” I love this image of a gentle but certain transition. Advent happens. God happens.

The church of Jesus slips into this ancient-but-new season together, a communal season of the spirit, a season of reflection and celebration. These days everybody talks about their spirituality as if it’s an individual personal growth thing, which it is, but Jesus said that he came to empower us to be One in the spirit of Love, so Christian spirituality is also a community thing. Slipping out of “regular time” and into Advent time is something we do as a spiritual family.

To celebrate the start of Advent, I want to share this lovely but challenging prayer by Howard Thurman, an African-American theologian, educator, and civil rights leader.

“May the sounds of Advent stir a longing in your people, O God. Come again to set us free from the dullness of routine and the poverty of our imaginations. Break the patterns which bind us to small commitments and to the stale answers we have given to questions of no importance. Let the Advent trumpet blow, let the walls of our defenses crumble, and make a place in our lives for the freshness of your love, well-lived in the Spirit, and still given to all who know their need and dare receive it. Amen.”

May love happen for you this Advent!

Preparing for Advent

Preparing for Advent

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