Home

The Focus of Desire

3 Comments

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.

Values Collide

2 Comments

I went to the Quaker meeting in Putney, Vermont this morning. As much as I treasure my church family at home in Maryland, there is something about a Quaker meeting that reaches deep down inside me and makes me . . . me.

I’m stripped, gently, to my essence. All pretense and self-centeredness, agendas and plans, self-importance and neediness melt away during forty-five minutes of silent worship which is sometimes enhanced by a statement from someone who feels moved to share. I’ve never encountered anything else like it.

An older fellow named Parker, all wooly and flannelly in forest green and brown, started off the meeting with a brief reading. A “query,” as the Quakers call them — food for thought to be used in worship meetings and personal reflection. I can’t find it online, but the query Parker read had to do with vocation and valuing work, whether paid or unpaid, in the home or out of it.

It’s a timely question for me, as I gear up to get back into the world of paid work. It was good to be reminded that I already work my butt off most days, and I should value and honor my work and do it as well as I can. I always feel small and not good enough when I “admit” to someone that my pastoral and writing work is unpaid. Do I really value money that much? Is that where I get my worth? I hope not.

During the silence, my mind wandered from vocation to the general question of exactly what do I value?

Then I noticed that many people around me had slipped off their shoes when they sat down to worship, as Moses did when he encountered the burning bush and God told him, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” I found their act deeply profound, expressing humility, gentleness, and openness. Shoes are noisy, they announce our coming, they leave our marks in the world, and they protect us from fully experiencing the world.

As I contemplated why I was so moved by this simple, reverent gesture, I realized that these are some of my core values. Humility, gentleness, and an openness marked by honesty and authenticity.

humility star

“. . . clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” — Colossians 3:12

I also realized, at long last, why I am so deeply troubled by Donald J. Trump — I mean aside from the obvious devastation he would wreak on our country and the world. His very existence causes turmoil in my gut, deep upset at a visceral, personal level. He’s in my dreams. And now I understand why. His arrogance, viciousness, and lying are the very antithesis of everything I treasure; the qualities I hope to see and represent in the world, he sucks up and spits out. And he’s got millions of people thinking his behavior is something to emulate.

Thank God for Quaker meetings, is all I can say. They may keep me sane until November 8th.

Breathe. Just breathe.

So anyway — what do you value?

Day five in my efforts to blog daily.

In What Do We Trust?

2 Comments

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/

Looking for Clues

2 Comments

“The unexpected sound of your name on somebody’s lips. The good dream. The odd coincidence. The moment that brings tears to your eyes. The person who brings life to your life. Maybe even the smallest events hold the greatest clues. If it is God we are looking for, as I suspect we all of us are, even if we don’t think of it that way and wouldn’t use such language on a bet, maybe the reason we haven’t ‘found God’ is that we are not looking in the right places.”

I read this little excerpt from Frederick Buechner this morning on one of the spiritual email lists I subscribe to but don’t usually read. The little blurbs have nice inspirational titles like A Pause for Beauty and Inward/Outward and Contemplative Living, but they mostly just look like clutter in my inbox. When I bother to click, though, they often contain gems like Buechner’s.

I suspect Buechner’s quote resonated with me because I’ve been having a lot of these moments lately, these “clues” that make me feel as if I’m in the flow of life, rather than fighting against the current as I often seem to be. Sometimes I recognize them as clues, sometimes I don’t.

If you’re one of those people who “don’t think of it that way and wouldn’t use such language on a bet,” perhaps you wouldn’t see these as clues. I get that. The world is an effed up place in many ways, and I can see why some people don’t believe in a loving God.

10710767_822306654486538_2495828300254846523_n (1)

Here’s why I think Buechner’s “clues” point to God:

  • “The unexpected sound of your name on somebody’s lips.” I experienced this the other night at a gathering of old environmental lobbyist friends, many of whom I worked with for twenty-plus years. Since I retired six years ago, I rarely connect with any of them except for an occasional Facebook comment. I find this odd, since I had felt so integrally connected with them all. I know how it is, though — I remember the busyness and how Capitol Hill eats your life so that nothing else seems to matter. And part of the separation is my own choice — I haven’t had much time to connect, being so busy with school and taking care of my sick brother. At any rate, as I passed through the crowd the other night, I heard my name over and over. “Melanie’s here . . . did you see Melanie? Remember how Mel used to say . . . ?” Every time I heard my name, I could feel my spirit-self relaxing into a warm, comforting bubblebath, a bubblebath of belonging. They know me, they remember me, I belong here. I think the magic word belonging is one clue to God: we were created as one spiritual whole; we just get disconnected. God puts the longing in our hearts for the unity, the oneness, the belonging. Sadly, it is often organized and compartmentalized religion that causes the disconnect.
  • “The good dream . . .” Oh yes, please. We often remember scary dreams and dreams of loss and fear, and although these can be great teachers if we take the time to work with them, it’s such a gift and a blessing when a “good dream” comes along. These dreams, I think, are a sign that there’s a spirit of goodness floating around in the ether and it communicates with our subconscious. I remember when my older sister, who is vehemently anti-God, told me that she had discovered that the Universe is Good. This filled me with joy because she’s a serious introvert with few connections, so the fact that she ran across this lovely truth through her private meditations meant to me that the good spirit in the ether had taken the initiative to connect with her.
  • “The odd coincidence.” These are the strangest, because the exact same thing could happen to a God-believer and a non-God-believer and their conclusions would be completely different. I love coincidences because they remind me that there’s a plan. That when I’m in the flow, weird little things happen that I could never have dreamed up on my own, like lovely sun-warmed boulders in the river of life on which I can rest for a short time and get a better view of the journey.
  • “The moment that brings tears to your eyes,” reminding us that we are all human and we all share emotional bonds that buoy us up and carry us through the hard times. I tear up a lot, whether it’s sharing someone else’s pain, watching a little girl bang a tambourine and dance at church, or laughing with my friends till we cry and then our eyes connect and we know that we are blessed to be in each other’s lives. Through our tears, God reminds us that we are not alone, that joy and grief are universal. Plus, I think it’s awesome that our creator made tears to lower stress, elevate mood, and carry away toxins from our bodies. How cool is that?
  • “The person who brings life to your life.” Hmmm. I suppose this line could make me sad, since I don’t have one particular person that “brings life to my life” at the moment. No lover, no kids. And it makes me miss my brother, who was also my best buddy. But somehow it doesn’t make me feel sad — I feel like I have a huge community of people who bring life into my life. Different ages, different races, different backgrounds, different interests. I love my life. I’m crazy-blessed. I suppose Buechner’s point here is larger — it’s about love. Unconditional, absurdly generous love. And that, my friends, is the biggest clue to God. We’re swimming in it, if we “look in the right places.”

 

Changing Your Mind?

2 Comments

This week is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. And I think it’s downright sinful that non-Christians should be excluded from one of my favorite seasons. It’s like Christmas – I celebrate the birth of Jesus, but that doesn’t mean others can’t enjoy a season of giving and celebration.

OK, so forty days of self-denial, sacrifice, and penitence might not be as much fun as a season of presents and parties and spiked eggnog. But bear with me.

The Burden of Shame

Judging from the stats and comments on my blog, people are very interested in the issues of shame, guilt, and making amends. I got more comments from friends about my post Imagine Apologizing than anything else I’ve written, and you would be surprised how often people Google the phrase “What Color is Shame?” and end up at my post by that name. I get several every week.

Weird, right? What’s that about?

I’m glad you asked.

I think that even the non-God-inclined sense that the burdens of shame and guilt call for something beyond our brains. They seek relief in something deeper — maybe in something sensory, like color?

By their very nature, shame and guilt are things that people don’t talk about easily. That’s why they weigh so much. We try to carry them all by ourselves. We trip about on the internet, looking for answers in stranger’s blogs.

Sacks of Shame

Turning Around

It makes sense that with this kind of human longing for relief or redemption – whatever you want to call it – most major religions include a season of self-examination and repentance.

(By the way, the concept of repentance isn’t as burdensome as it sounds, all sackcloth and ashy. It basically means to turn around or to change your mind.)

We need to deal with our mistakes and regrets before we can be at peace and move on, but that’s not too easy if we intend to commit the same offense again. That’s where a change of mind comes in – repentance.

My point here is that whether you are religious or not, you could probably benefit from an intentional season of repentance. Set aside some time, perhaps getting away by yourself for a day or two, to reflect on the ways you fall short of who you would like to be. Take along a journal so you don’t conveniently forget any commitments you make to yourself.

You might consider doing without something for a period of time – fasting from food, television, social media, caffeine, gossip, or alcohol. Stripping away some of the things you think are oh-so-important can remind you of what actually *is* important.

What’s Lent, Anyway?

I won’t go into the details of Lent as a Christian practice. There is plenty written on that – here is one interesting history. The forty-day season of self-sacrifice and fasting leading up to Easter Sunday has been around longer than any denomination, since near the beginning of the faith. The concept of a season of repentance, teshuva, is deeply rooted in the Hebrew faith, from which Christianity sprang.

Personally, I never observed Lent until about ten years ago. I wasn’t raised in a religious tradition, and my only childhood experience of Lent was feeling left out when certain kids would come to school with smudges on their foreheads.

I became a Christian in my late thirties when I discovered that, unlike the nasty, judgmental TV preachers, the historical Jesus was a rabble rouser who confronted systems of economic injustice and religious oppression and liked to hang out and drink good wine with imperfect people like me.

I liked the idea of spiritual practices to help me focus on God during the forty days leading up to Easter. Over the years, I’ve given up eating after sundown, drinking alcohol (during which time I found my friends to be a lot less entertaining), saturated fat (I nearly starved — did you know a BANANA contains saturated fat?), and driving above the speed limit.

The speed limit endeavor was the worst. The word Lent comes from lang, meaning long, because the days grow longer in the spring. And believe me, when you’re toodling along at 55 mph on the frenzied Washington Beltway, the days seem very long indeed.

So – I’m not sure what I’m doing for Lent yet this year. No doubt some fasting and more dedicated meditation, but probably something else as well. There’s a good chance I’ll write about it, because I find there is a phase during which I obsess about my “sacrifice” before I settle in and focus on deeper pursuits. But perhaps you won’t be reading those posts, as you may have given up messing about online for Lent.

Lenten blessings to you, no matter your faith or beliefs.

English: Ashes imposed on the forehead of a Ch...

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Ash Wednesday. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

God’s Work

3 Comments

Now that the U.S. election is over, perhaps we can let God get back to work. We’ve kept the Creator of the Universe very busy with ballot initiatives labeled “anti-God” or “God’s will” or “godless.” This party or that party is rejecting God or using God or ignoring God. Millions of people have been praying to God to let X win or Y lose because otherwise it will mean doom for our nation and perhaps the world.

Really?

Don’t you think God has just a wee bit bigger perspective? Sometimes people forget:

God is not a Republican. God is not a Democrat. And guess what…God is not even an American!

Gasp!

Let me step back — I am aware that quite a few people don’t believe in God — many of the people I love most do not.

In America, much wind is expended trying to justify – or nullify – the existence of God. This strikes me as highly amusing – I’m not sure why.

I mean, if there is a God, how funny is that? All these little created things running around insisting they weren’t created.

God’s existence, though, is one of the very few things of which I am certain.

I’m Not as Smart as I Used to Be

I used to be certain about lots of things. To be honest, I thought I knew best about most things. I think a lot of people do. It covers up their low self-esteem.

I inherited this “I know best” belief. I dearly love my departed parents, but recognize that my mother’s regal British nose was tilted ever so slightly upwards, and my father’s Texan roots were firmly grounded in the belief that Texans are bigger and better, period.

Her Royal Highness, Queen Victoria

Cowboy Boot And Hat Clip Art

Don’t Mess With Texas

I can still be cocky or defensive on a bad day, especially during an election. Tilted noses and Texan roots die hard. But really, why would I have more or less of “the truth” than anyone else?

What a relief: I don’t have to have all the answers or “prove” anything!

Unnecessary Extravagance

I don’t have to prove to you that God exists. I can’t. That’s God’s work. Still, I will say that the idea that there is no God, no higher spirit, no over-arching consciousness, no Creator, seems utterly absurd to me.

Here’s why I believe:

  • There are sunsets. (And sunrises, so I’ve been told.)
  • We can see colors. How astonishing!
  • I have looked through a microscope and a telescope.
  • Galaxies upon galaxies. Shooting stars and crescent moons.
  • Humans make art and appreciate beauty for no apparent reason.
  • Flowers attract pollinators with exuberant colors and soul-filling smells. Unnecessarily extravagant, wouldn’t you say?
  • Natural cycles: water, nitrogen, photosynthesis, evolution – gloriously complex, yet simple. Brilliant.
  • If I pray, I can easily LOVE someone I previously could not stand. Try it.
  • Because the longer I spend alone and in silence, the more I know I’m not alone.
  • Because the idea that all this just kinda happened  is funnier than Jon Stewart.

I’m done writing about politics for now. (Unless you consider climate change political. I can’t seem to stay away from that topic.) Since I’m swearing off writing about politics on account of my blood pressure, I thought I’d move on to something less controversial, like religion.

Which brings me to my questions: If God were to register, do you think it would be as an Independent? And if you don’t believe in God, what’s wrong with you anyway??

 

stars

The Spirituality of Attention Deficit Disorder

1 Comment

Having a touch of Attention Deficit Disorder can be a boon for the spiritual life. It’s never easy to live fully in the present moment, to gratefully embrace all that life brings, or to balance our “being” and “doing.” But I think that ADD can be an ally in these spiritual pursuits.

Being Here, Now

Spiritual sages throughout history have urged us to live in the present moment, fully aware of the sacredness in all that surrounds us. They say this is a universal pillar of spiritual growth. Making it an intentional practice can lead to wonder, which leads to gratitude: one of my favorite fruits of spirituality.

Brother Lawrence, a simple monk who lived in the 1600’s, is recognized as having learned to fully “practice the presence of God.”

Brother Lawrence

Brother Lawrence (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“In the noise and clatter of my kitchen,” he said, “while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were on my knees.”

This tranquility is usually far from us, since our minds are often occupied with worrying about what’s just happened, or preparing for something that might happen. We can be everywhere but where we are.

For me, though, with my lively ADD mind, I can be fully present from moment to changing moment. As the moments pass by, my brain and emotions happily follow, like a bouncing ping-pong ball. I’m wired that way. I can go from despair to joy fairly easily, like a child, in some ways.

Are You In or Out?

I was talking with a friend today about the inward-outward journey and how the spiritual life consists of both serving others and also finding time for solitude and silence. We need a balance, because if you’re all service and don’t take time to re-charge, you’re going to burn out, and if you’re overly monkish, you’re not helping the world.

I suppose you could argue that – I believe that monks and nuns praying for peace are indeed adding goodness to the universe. But most of us don’t live in convents, and we need balance.

Here again, my ADD allows me to move from contemplation and prayer to calling up a depressed friend in a matter of moments. Yes, I distract myself and sometimes have trouble with staying on task (unless I get into obsessive mode — another story), but my day is usually a balance of “doing” and “being,” just by virtue of the fact that I bop back and forth.

The Yin and the Yang

Here in the compartmentalizing western world, we talk about the yin and the yang, shadow and light, while in Chinese philosophy, it’s yin-yang: a dynamic, interactive relationship.

But even in this melded Chinese word, it’s still black and white. There’s no grey in the circle.

I’ve come to believe that, while life flows, it doesn’t flow from yin to yang, from good to bad, or from easy to hard. It’s both at the same time — two rivers together.

When my mother was dying, I was desperately sad, but at the very same time, I could see that those last days were treasures. I loved her more than I ever had, and I valued her life, every day of her 91 years. It was a privilege and a joy to be with her on her journey, till we got to the door I couldn’t go through. I am so, so grateful to have experienced that profound but terribly difficult time.

Again, I think that perhaps it’s easier for someone with mild ADD to appreciate this confluence. We have to hold a number of things in dynamic, non-linear tension all the time.

The Dog Ate My Homework

ADD is not a serious condition for me, and I don’t mean to make light of it. I am aware that people’s lives can be dreadfully disrupted by it.

I am frequently frustrated at my inability to get anything done because I get distracted, or lose things, or go running off in a different direction. For instance, right now I’m supposed to be designing a writing course, but I keep changing my mind about the content of the course. So I’m blogging instead of doing my homework.

dog eating homework

(As it turns out, bouncy brain is also a help to blogging. I am interested in *everything* and enjoy bounding from subject to subject.)

At any rate, my point is that ADD is yin-yang – it might frustrate me, but I can see some spiritual advantages, and I’m grateful for that revelation.

“Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on DiscoverySchool.com”

%d bloggers like this: