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Meddlesome Voices

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MEDDLESOME VOICES

I know a few folks for whom meddling in other’s lives is a full-time endeavor. They are certain that they know best, and they become frustrated or angry when their targets don’t follow their wise guidance on everything from the best butter substitute to a choice of careers to what one’s relationship with the Divine should look like.

You know these people, too. Perhaps you are one them. You may think you are being helpful or kind or even a martyr on someone else’s behalf. But if you are doing for someone else what they could do for themselves or trying to influence choices that are not yours to make, you are meddling.

Manipulating, even.

Ouch! Isn’t that an awful word? When I discovered that many of my interactions with others could easily fall under the category of manipulation — trying to get someone to believe or act in a way that might make me more comfortable — I cringed. I’ve worked hard to overcome this trait, which I learned from my family. I now have a permanent groove in my tongue where I bite it. This practice will remain necessary unless and until I finally believe that I do not, in fact, know best.

I have enough challenges managing my own life. I do not need “extra credit” for managing the lives of others. Even if they seem willing or eager for me to make their decisions for them.

Which brings me to something that can be even more destructive than those who meddle in other people’s lives: those who allow others to meddle in their own lives.

Letting Your Life Speak

I’m in the midst of making an important decision that could affect me heavily for the next few years at least. It’s a vocational type of decision: how do I spend my daily-dwindling time here on earth? Where do I invest my emotional energy? How do I employ the expertise and experience I’ve garnered thus far?

As Quaker author and activist Parker Palmer writes, “The deepest vocational question is not ‘What ought I to do with my life?’ It is the more elemental and demanding, ‘Who am I? What is my nature?’”

Whenever I’m faced with a major decision in this realm, I re-read Parker’s book Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. There’s an astonishing amount of wisdom in this little hundred-page book, and it’s one of those reads that offers deeper and different wisdom with each visit.

One of Parker’s main points is that we are all born with a true self, a true nature, and then sadly, “From our first days in school, we are taught to listen to everything and everybody but ourselves,” gleaning who we are  “. . . from the people and powers around us.” Meddlesome voices. 

All of our institutions train us “away from true self towards images of acceptability . . . we ourselves, driven by fear, too often betray true self to gain the approval of others.”

This is a great weakness of mine, a painful “thorn in my flesh.” I know I’m not the only one with this need to please and a burdensome desire for recognition and esteem. Millions of true selves are being trampled by stampeding egos chasing the values of others rather than discerning and honoring their own.

My first inclination when faced with a big decision is to read books, talk to friends, and ponder possible scenarios to imagine how they might appear to others. In other words, to look outside myself. That’s all fine. It’s raw material.

But I must be careful that I don’t end up using another’s navigational system rather than my own inner compass. My “inner light,” as the Quakers call it. I need to get down to the business of prayer, meditation, journaling, and connecting with God in nature, because those are my channels for a voice that is “different than the ‘I’ of daily consciousness, a life that is trying to live through the ‘I’ who is its vessel,” as Parker describes it.

This means tuning out all the well-meaning (or not) meddlesome voices — past, present, and imagined future — and letting your own life speak.

 

“Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.”  — Parker Palmer

America’s Soul Sickness

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AMERICA’S SOUL SICKNESS

I have said before that what is wrong with America is a spiritual illness, a soul sickness. Most of us watched in horror in 2016 as the last remnants of civility and compassion were pummeled into the ground during the presidential election. When Donald Trump made fun of a disabled man, threatened to punch another man in the face, bragged about the size of his genitalia and his power to grab women’s genitalia — well, you don’t need me to go on.

Nobody believed he could win. Because we are better than that.

My contention is that this is where we were inevitably headed. Our national psyche is now firmly centered upon greed, getting  your own, and winning, winning, winning at any cost . . . well, ladies and gentlemen, behold your leader. This is who you are. At least this is who 38% of you are. “He got rich, right? He must be great.”

It’s no wonder that white supremacists are murdering people on trains, congressional candidates are beating up reporters (and winning anyway) and GOP state legislators are threatening to shoot their colleagues in the head. Again, you don’t need me to go on.

America spends $597 BILLION each year on weapons and war — as much as the next seven largest national military budgets *combined.* And the new president wants to increase that. Is this who we are?

Our greed and excesses have quite possibly already pushed our planetary systems beyond the point where humans will be able to adapt. And the new president is OK with that, wants to roll back even minimal protections. Is this who we are?

Is this who we are?? Photo: Dallas Morning News

Somewhere along the line, we lost our souls. Our souls tell us to love one another, to care for one another, to care for our fellow creatures. We have forgotten who we are at heart. We are soul-sick.

The Simple Truth

One of my favorite authors, Father Richard Rohr, writes about this soul sickness. He speaks the truth.

For what it’s worth, an excerpt:

“Most of us have grown up with a capitalist worldview which makes a virtue and goal out of accumulation, consumption, and collecting. It’s hard for us to see this as an unsustainable and unhappy trap because all of our rooms are decorated in this same color. It is the only obvious story line that our children see. “I produce therefore I am” and “I consume therefore I am” might be today’s answers to Descartes’ “I think therefore I am.” These identities are all terribly mistaken.

This foundational way of seeing has blinded us so that we now tend to falsely assume more is better. The course we are on assures us of a predictable future of strained individualism, severe competition as resources dwindle for a growing population, and perpetual war. Our culture ingrains in us the belief that there isn’t enough to go around. This determines much if not most of our politics. In the United States there is never enough for health care, education, the arts, or basic infrastructure. The largest budget is always for war, bombs, and military gadgets.

E. F. Schumacher said years ago, “Small is beautiful,” and many other wise people have come to know that less stuff invariably leaves room for more soul. In fact, possessions and soul seem to operate in inverse proportion to one another. Only through simplicity can we find deep contentment instead of perpetually striving and living unsatisfied. Simple living is the foundational social justice teaching of Jesus, Francis of Assisi, Gandhi, Pope Francis, and all hermits, mystics, prophets, and seers since time immemorial.

Franciscan alternative orthodoxy asks us to let go, to recognize that there is enough to go around and meet everyone’s need but not everyone’s greed. A worldview of enoughness will predictably emerge in an individual as they move toward naked being instead of thinking that more of anything or more frenetic doing can fill up our longing and restlessness.”

Your Tiny Part in Saving the World

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“But how am I going to save the world??” I wailed.

My friends and I had just watched Michael Moore’s movie, Where To Invade Next, a thought-provoking and unsettling film about  . . . well, what is it not about? Consumerism and greed, stress, sex, militarism, racism, education policy, nutrition, prison reform, women’s health, basic human dignity.

All the ways my beloved country doesn’t quite live up to its promise.

One thing about the horror that is Donald Trump — it has awakened my long-dormant patriotism which was badly damaged by decades of slogging through the political sewage on Capitol Hill. I’ve been reminded that this country and its ideals are worth fighting for, not in the sense of drones and tanks, but in the sense of loving your neighbors, speaking out against systemic oppression, protecting our air, land and water, and seeking dignity for our seniors and hope for our kids.

This country cannot afford to be derailed by an orange demagogic purveyor of fear and hate.

Broken Systems

But what’s my part? Where does one start? So much needs to be done, and it all seems urgent. When I left my lobbying job at the Sierra Club, I vowed I would never go back to political work unless there was a serious effort to overturn Citizens United, in which case I would dedicate the rest of my life to that. Thanks to Bernie Sanders, that might now be a possibility.

But I fear that even extensive corporate and electoral reform would be piecemeal. Don’t misunderstand me, Citizens United is a huge problem from which many other problems stem. As is capitalism, which is based on self-interest and greed, pure and simple.

No, the real problem isn’t policies or court decisions or economic systems. The real problem is a heart problem. It’s the fear and insecurity that lead to anger and hate and then violence. It’s the need we seem to have to divide ourselves — to create categories of “others” to fight or compete with or disdain or oppress. It’s the greed.

It’s the me, me, me. Protect me, enrich me, admire me, entertain me.

I believe this is a spiritual crisis we’ve got going on here, and if it’s not addressed as such, we’re toast.

Broken Hearts

Our hearts are broken. They aren’t working right. They’ve been cracked or punched or shattered or rotted away or maybe numbed out. We’ve seen too much. Too much war, too much rage, too many school shootings, too many religious leaders preaching hate, too many black people being shot or beaten by officers with broken hearts.

I had to close my eyes multiple times during Moore’s film, because nowadays it is too painful to have a soft heart. Many of us have been left all but paralyzed by the ascendancy of Donald Trump’s aggressive arrogance and vitriol.

We have been left wailing, “But how am I going to save the world??”

My friends are good to me. They say, “You do what you’re doing . . . you do your tiny part . . . you preach your sermon on gentleness . . . you write . . . you pray and listen . . . and yes, making casseroles for sick or sad people counts.”

But, but! That just doesn’t seem enough in the face of the world’s ills.

Casseroles

I wonder: could it be my ego that wants to do something “bigger” and “more important?” What if I have a touch of the egomaniacal disease that has taken over the heart of Donald Trump?

What if Jesus actually meant it when he said that our Big Job is to love God as best we possibly can, love our neighbors and love ourselves? What if that really is the answer?

What if we each attended to our own emotional and physical and psychological needs, supported and encouraged our neighbors from a place of strength and love rather than a place of neediness, and humbled ourselves enough to acknowledge that perhaps there is a power in the universe greater than ourselves — one that might just have a heart even softer than our own? What if that’s the way to save the world?

I know that when I’m loving God as hard as I can, I am open to holy promptings, and I’m unafraid to step up to whatever I’m called to do, be it large or small. I have clarity, I feel confident, and circumstances fall into place at the proper time.

And in the meantime, I suppose casseroles are enough.

Casseroles Count

Casseroles Count

Waiting for Willa

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Today I’m headed to Jaffrey, New Hampshire to wait for my muse. She often visits me at the grave of author Willa Cather.

Willa never meant much to me growing up, just a writer that my father liked, but I’ve developed a deep appreciation for her since writing an odd bit of memoir/biography about her in grad school. Our lives meshed in my mind. I tried to understand who she was, what motivated her, what she feared, why she wrote. I think she appreciated my respect and curiosity — bordering on obsession — and she has since come to live in my heart with my Dad.

So I’m off on my pilgrimage. The forty-five minute drive is glorious in the fall, even on a dreary day like today. I will sit on the stone wall that surrounds Willa’s grave and talk to her about my life, about my writing, about my aspirations, about my frustrations.

She listens. So does Edith, her life partner who is buried next to her.

And I’ll wait. Because Willa usually answers me. No kidding. And I need talking to, most especially about my writing and where it’s going. Or not going.

Here is the story of my first visit to her grave, taken from the grad school essay that I have yet to publish:

As I step into the Old Burying Ground and pull the gate closed behind me, I am completely alone. There must be a thousand monuments covering the hillside, and I wonder how Ill find Cathers grave. I begin wandering among the granite slabs, some standing askew, others lying broken in pieces. Small American flags flutter in a slight breeze, and a few polished stone obelisks reflect the setting sun. I read the worn names underneath patches of gray and green lichen: Spofford, Pierce, Worster, Brigham. A large square stone marker standing in the lowest corner of the cemetery catches my eye, and somehow, I feel certain its hers. As I walk toward it, I can see dozens of small rocks lining the top of the gray marker, and I know Ive found it. Admirers have left talismans to honor her. I realize its quite possible that my father made his own pilgrimage to this simple shrine during one of our stays at the farmhouse down the road.

Her grave is next to a low stone wall that marks the southwestern corner of the cemetery. Just outside the wall grow gnarled rhododendron bushes and towering pine, beech, and maple trees. The marker itself is about three feet tall and the same across. Around it is a small garden of impatiens, encircled by rectangles of cut granite. The sun casts shadow branches on the face of the gravestone, and I have to lean in close to read the words:

WILLA CATHER

December 7, 1876 April 24, 1947

THE TRUTH AND CHARITY OF HER GREAT

SPIRIT WILL LIVE ON IN THE WORK

WHICH IS HER ENDURING GIFT TO HER

COUNTRY AND ALL ITS PEOPLE

“…that is happiness, to be dissolved

into something complete and great.

From My Antonia

254

251

273

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.  

Graceful Grace

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Grace is one of my favorite words. Just the sound of it is lovely, let alone the meaning. I wouldn’t say the word itself is graceful — it doesn’t have enough syllables. For something to be graceful, it must have moving parts, it must be coordinated and flowing. Like the flower name, Lisianthus. Now that’s graceful. Also, “grace” starts with a hard “G” and that never sounds graceful to me.

Graceful Lisianthus (common name for Eustoma)

Graceful Lisianthus (common name for Eustoma)

On the other hand, that hard G melts into a gentle, caressing S, so I’ve changed my mind. The word grace itself is graceful. It recognizes and owns hardness, but moves past it easily and into beauty and peace, like a stream flowing over rocks before moving into a calm stretch.

It’s a pretty word. But the meaning — could there be a more gracious word, gracious being defined as “courteous, kind, and pleasant?”

Grace can be used as a verb, meaning to show favor, as in “I have been graced with an amazing house in New Hampshire where I can rest, read, and take the time to blog every day for a month,” or as in the sarcastic, “Oh, thank you Mr. Trump, for gracing us with your 3 a.m. tweets about Miss Universe.” (I know, I know — that wasn’t very gracious of me.)

We throw the word around, at least I do, but it is truly a precious commodity, which I guess means we’ve moved into noun territory.

Grace as a noun means “unmerited favor, love, or help,” and is usually associated with divine favor. The part I like is “unmerited.” Because I’m a mess, I really am, and yet my divine source just flows right over the rocky parts of my personality and showers me with blessed grace.

Religious people sometimes tie the idea of grace to forgiveness, but that doesn’t feel quite right to me. Forgiveness assumes some judgement, and grace bypasses judgement. There is such a rushing flow of love that any obstacles or hurdles we may put in the way of this divine unmerited giving might as well not exist. Grace is clean and pure and doesn’t pause to judge or even notice worthiness or the lack thereof.

It is a gift, an unconditional, extravagant gift, like an armload of Lisianthus delivered on a drab and rainy day.

Day four in my month of daily blogging: from the word prompt, graceful.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The Way That You See

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Today is all about seeing, apparently. I didn’t choose this theme for the day, the universe did. Or God. Depending on how you look at it.

photo (78)

First, I read today’s entry from Frederick Buechner’s Listening to Your Life, my hands-down favorite of the dozen-plus “daily readers” that I own. He says you can learn a lot from “religious observances” like weddings, bar mitzvahs, and christenings if you are in a receptive state of mind:

“The word ‘observance’ itself suggests what is perhaps the most important thing about them . . . It is life going on. It is always going on, and it is always precious. It is God that is going on. It is you who are there that is going on. As Henry James advised writers, ‘be one on whom nothing is lost.’ OBSERVE!! There are few things as important, as religious, as that.”

Then I turn on my computer and in my inbox is a daily meditation from Father Richard Rohr called “Nondual Consciousness.” This is his favorite subject, but it’s not as wonky as it sounds. It’s really about how we see ourselves and each other. Which is to say, it’s about love. Here’s an excerpt:

“You give a piece of yourself to the other. You see a piece of yourself in the other (usually unconsciously). This allows the other to do the same in return. You do not need or demand anything back from them, because you know that you are both participating in a single, Bigger Gazing and Loving  . . . You accept being accepted — for no reason and by no criteria whatsoever! . . .

To put it another way, what I let God see and accept in me also becomes what I can see and accept in myself. And even more, it becomes that whereby I see everything else. This is why it is crucial to allow God, and at least one other person, to see us in our imperfection and nakedness, as we are — rather than as we ideally wish to be. It is also why we must give others this same experience of being looked upon in their imperfection; otherwise, they will never know the essential and utterly transformative mystery of grace. This is the glue that binds the universe of persons together.

Such utterly free and gratuitous love is the only love that validates, transforms, and changes us at the deepest levels of consciousness. It is what we all desire and what we were created for. Once you allow and accept God’s love for yourself, you will almost naturally become a conduit of the same for others.”

Richard Rohr is best in small doses, like rich chocolate cake. If you liked that bit, I highly recommend reading his book, Everything Belongs. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say it changed my life. It certainly changed how I see.

The Eyes of the Heart

Then I pick up my bible, which has been ever by my side lately as I work on two sermons simultaneously — remind me never to do that again! My head is a complete muddle and I have two messes on my hands, one of which is to be delivered in a week. Anyway, I come across a wonderful prayer from the apostle Paul to his friends in Ephesus, present-day Turkey. He prays that “the eyes of their hearts” would be enlightened so that they can see the hope and abundance in which they’re living. What a timely prayer for today!

Also a good reminder not spend too much time watching or reading about Donald Trump, lest my heart be filled with negativity and darkness — lest his anger and contempt seep into my heart and fill me with hate and fear. Elsewhere in the Bible, you’ll read: “Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness.”

Watch what you see!

Back in my email, I find the daily word prompt from WordPress is “Eyes.” Of course it is.

eye

I leave you with the words of one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite songsters, Bruce Cockburn.

It’s a verse from Child of the Wind:

Little round planet

In a big universe

Sometimes it looks blessed

Sometimes it looks cursed

Depends on what you look at obviously

But even more it depends on the way that you see

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