Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010.12.31 "December" by Garrison Keillor

I can’t imagine a more lovely way to end 2010 and prepare to enter 2011 than this beautiful poem by Garrison Keillor. It was posted on his Writers Almanac site, an inspirational way to begin or end each day with a poem and some story of people whose lives have been transformed and who tell it in word. Check it out. Google knows about it and it’s free! With Mr. Keillors’ permission I share his poem with you.

Grab a hand, sing, and walk into the darkness listening for angels.


DECEMBER

A little girl is singing for the faithful to come ye
Joyful and triumphant, a song she loves,
And also the partridge in a pear tree
And the golden rings and the turtle doves.
In the dark streets, red lights and green and blue
Where the faithful live, some joyful, some troubled,
Enduring the cold and also the flu,
Taking the garbage out and keeping the sidewalks shoveled.
Not much triumph going on here—and yet
There is much we do not understand.
And my hopes and fears are met
In this small singer holding onto my hand.
Onward we go, faithfully, into the dark
And are there angels hovering overhead? Hark.

Garrison Keillor

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2011.12.28 God's Midwife

This poem was sent to me at Christmas by an old friend, spiritual director and poet. I think it a lovely image of the feminine face of Divine Love. With love.


God’s Midwife

On a cold night
in a cold uncaring world
The Word becomes flesh.

In unselfconscious gratitude
A hungry infant
suckles contented at his mother’s breast,
Apprehending love
foreshadowed in
her womb’s deep darkness,
Now substantial
in light and air,
warmth and milk,
desire and satisfaction.

The midwife, also satisfied –
Her ministrations over,
the cord severed and knotted,
the afterbirth removed -
gazes upon this stranger and her child,
Savoring their new attachment,
intentional and tender,
Suffused with mother’s joy and
conscious gratitude,
Flush with the courage
of successful labor
and the remembrance
of caring, skillful hands
in an uncaring world.

She always takes this moment,
in quiet wonder
to contemplate the mystery of God
enfolding every birth -
And feels herself enfolded.

But it is time to go.
Softly she kisses Mary’s cheek,
the baby’s head,
And disappears into the dark.

Wendy Lyons
December, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

2010.12.22 Peace by Faithful Talk

I dedicate this review to the one Christians call the Prince of Peace born on Christmas day

I offer this review with prayers for peace worldwide in all religions and all cultures.

I remember a time when I had trouble understanding what felt to me like quite a severe rigidity in a good Jewish woman friend about Jesus. I didn’t expect her to believe in him but thought maybe he was prophet. “We don’t even consider him a prophet,” she firmly said. To my own astonishment I burst into tears.

We talked about it, even cried together. We shared our feelings. We are still friends—as women of faith. Our friendship transcended our religious differences. Why? We talked. That’s what women do.

The Faith Club, authored by three women, Ranya Idliby a Muslim, Suaznne Oliver a Christian, and Priscilla Warner a Jew, in the wake of 9/11, is a peace document as well as an engaging and accessible memoir, an effective blend of personal spiritual experience and objective information about each religion.

Imagine three women writing one memoir. That is feat enough.

But these three are all: accomplished women, academically and professionally, writers, and mothers, two centered in New York City and one in a nearby suburb.

Seeking to enlighten their children about connections among their three religions, they collided with their own differences. Before they could talk about points of connection they had to get honest about their own disagreements, assumptions, and fears.

Their process illustrates, it seems to me, one way women learn, a way they come to resolution and peace through conflict and without abandonment around an issue that has a high personal and spiritual value for each participant and is also an issue that takes nations to war.

Jean Baker Miller in her 1976 book Toward A New Psychology of Women opened a wide door to the understanding of how women grow emotionally and spiritually toward wholeness. Miller’s research revealed that women derived their selfhood not from developing an autonomous self but from developing a relational self. Women derive their selfhood and well being from relationships, from being in connections that were mutually growth-fostering.

Of course we all need autonomy but we survive and thrive best in mutual relationships, including intimacy with self, other and God. In relationships we do our most effective work to cooperate with divine grace to a world full of love, justice and peace come about.

It seems to me that this model of development toward emotional health is not exclusive to women, but may also be God’s preferred mode of operations.

Good relationships for peace are very hard work. Sacrifices of opinions, precious values, and even your pet idol must be made. Prayer undergirds the process. Abundant forgiveness, not in the moral sense of debt but in the spiritual sense of acceptance for the sake of love, flows. Mutuality is about respect and needs, not equality. You are mutual with a small child when you listen.

The Faith Club authors make no direct claim that their works provides a model for peace through understanding. They just act it out.

This book reveals the process of building relationships that grow into friendships. It also serves as the vehicle for a professional project with political potential beyond the personal. Readers learn a way of dialogue that cuts through tension for those willing to invest the time. The model could be useful in any group where conflict threatens.

I would suggest it as a book for religious groups to read, especially religious politicians. Who are they? Start with Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, all lovers of people but not naive about how hard politics for peace are.

Like "Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson, The Faith Club offers a way toward peaceful relations— one through action involving all kinds of politics, the other through the active practice of intimacy, deep listening and sharing. One begins with the kindness of strangers who save one life; the other with an act or terrorism that threatens a beloved city and a whole country.

The structure is what keeps "The Faith Club" together and coherent. It is organized with short chapters each dealing with a topic about which each and all have concern and passions. Each topic has universal emotional implications.

Shared rituals, food, and prayers help connect. Each woman grows in her own faith. Each one realizes that she may dislike or not care about the ways of another’s religion, but that she now has a friend who does care, a flesh and blood fact that blunts opposition, indifference—and fear.

Catchy chapter titles like “In the Beginning,” “Stop Stereotyping Me!” “Could You Convert?” “Awakenings,” and “Faltering Faith,” highlight the process by which the women deepen their relationships and also write a book that may help others to understand rather than fight, flee, or freeze.

Chapters are not long. Most have a snippet of actual dialogue that highlights the tension in the subject. Then each author writes her own thoughts on the matter. Along the way each woman does some research and consults her Imam, Priest, and Rabbi.

Peace is accomplished through knowledge combined with understanding. Knowledge is helpful but does not require the compassion that understanding does. It takes both to make true peace. This book has both.

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND PEACE IN 2011—AND FOR EVER.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

2010.12.15 Biology of Goodness and Love

It’s nice to see that the secular world of science is catching up with one of most religions’ major platforms: love your neighbor as yourself or what you hate do not do to others.

The vocabulary come from the Bible but every religion has as its moral base: COMPASSION.

Too bad we have to organize a Choosing Greater Good project. And thank God we are.

It is now affirmed by American scientists and German scientific research that being big hearted and generous may trigger the brain’s pleasure centers. Giving feels good.

It is the giving season. Science says that “evolution has wired the human brain to promote helpfulness.” (Boston Globe, Nov. 29, 2010, G) The brain responds to cooperative behavior by releasing the feel-good chemical dopamine.

Evolution is another new name for God aka creative force for ongoing good. We get more and more innovative seeking names for a transcendent, mystical, benevolent phenomenon (energy) no one really wants to give up. A divine name change is called for— probably because of years of bad publicity in the church advertising God as monarch, judge, voyeur, failed Mr. Fix-it, and more. I stick with God, often spelled Godde, because that is the name by which I was introduced.

We project all our control issues onto God, then blame God for everything. Easy fix.

It is not biologically possible to be extremely anxious and very giving at the same time. It’s also not possible to carry your body with your head hung down and your eyes downcast and your step shuffling and feel happy. (The “let us pray” posture should be changed!) Giving helps with anxiety, lifts depression and can be a powerful “medicine” for those who suffer from obsessive compulsive disorders. I bet giving also helps people with addictions as long as they don’t celebrate the good feeling with a drink, a snort, pill, or a drag.

If the mall packed with shoppers is even a partial indicator science and religion are right. People plan to shop and give even in a shaky economy. Foolish, greedy or excessive it is still giving. There are unemployed people, people without homes, who will find a way to give.

Empathy is catching. It travels with Spirit.

Give yourself by volunteering, making a phone call or three, writing a letter (yes in your actual handwriting) take a child to see a show.

Look what happens in the wake of natural disaster or an accident or catastrophic illness. Cooperation and love. Yes, but why doesn’t it last?

And why does it take a catastrophe to get us to do what we were made to do?

My dopamine is released just by seeing that science and religion are on the same page about Love and Gift.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

2010.12.08 A Poem a Day

A poem a day is as good as a prayer a day, an apple a day, a great work of art or a cartoon a day to keep you centered, laughing and dizzy with awe.

These are the sensory nourishments that keep our hearts alive and deliver faith, hope and love, the staples of spirituality and open-circled religion.


CHARTRES
by Glenn Shea

There among the aisles and chapels

it still goes on, the old life,

amidst the medieval racket

of post cards and sacred crockery,

the gabbled cloud of foreign tongues

and people peering at dark corners;

the old life persists, mostly among the old;

the woman leaning to kiss the Virgin's brocaded hem;

the murmur of the devout; white candles

and the clink of francs in the mission box.

A boy of eighteen knelt before the altar,

his face hid in his hands, the muddle

of the life outside pursuing him here as well.



For gems, the painted glass, and for choirs

the figures carved in stone;

Chartres stood their sketch of Paradise,

the place where, as best it could on earth,

time stopped. It was to be,
as an arch gives stone the power of flight,

the place where faith would give

the clay of flesh its flight,
a semblance 
whose stones would tug the heart towards prayer,

build in it the desiring of heaven.



I saw the boy again. At the west door,

beneath the rose of the Judgment,

he met a friend and took him to the font.

He put his fingertips in the holy water

and with them dripping made the sign of the cross

on the body of his friend:

touched his forehead first, the flat of his chest,

the left shoulder, then the right, and last

the slight swell of his belly.



The other in turn, fingers wetted,

touched the forehead of his friend,
the chest,
left shoulder and right shoulder

and belly. They turned to go,

the bead mark of water on their brows.



And when I knelt before the altar,

I prayed: abject as any man is

in the weight of his faults, scanted

of hope, but who had seen at least the image

of what he desired: another like himself,

whose flesh he might inscribe 

with the water of blessing.

"Chartres" by Glenn Shea, from Find a Place That Could Pass for Home. © Salmon Poetry, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

Subscribe to The Writers Almanac to get a free"apple"—forbidden fruit turned savior.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

2010.12.01 Pregnant With Boobs

It is well to begin the Advent season pregnant, willing to labor for something you have long wanted to birth.

What is your "baby" right now? Mine happens to be Jesus as his is the chapter of my memoir I’m at work to birth.

I first met Jesus, one Christmas in fact. My mother saved the evidence, a Christmas Eve church bulletin of 1946 with my eight year old small neat printing in its corner: Where did he come from? Some days I wish I had photographic evidence for Jesus. Some days I long to see what he really looked like. Some days I wish I could put him neatly between the pages of a scrapbook, saved forever. Men were short then. Maybe he looked more like Danny DeVito, chunky with a swinging perky gait, than El Greco’s long lean bearded version. One thing I’m pretty sure of is he wasn’t blonde! But maybe he looked like my Jewish grandfather I never met.

Thank God I am not pregnant for real. Only spiritually so. Pregnant with curiosity and wonder and a nagging occasional desire for proof.

But in the real world I am led back to remembering my own child birthings, not just the pain of labor and delivery but the thrill of giving it a big push and seeing a tiny bulge of slicked hair begin to emerge, followed by a squished up squinty-eyed little face, then a whole body about the size of a vole, naked and ugly except to parental beholders. A first draft.

In spite of your relief that it’s all over you can’t wait for it to begin, this new life you will love and share, hate and fight, worship and grieve. I have four children, now adults of wonder who belong to their own families and the world, not me.

The only grace birth doesn’t bear is beauty. There is nothing beautiful except in the eye of Love. It’s not a photo op beauty. The moment deserves to be spared advertisement. It deserves modesty. It’s a manger moment, but you don’t think the historical natural scene really looked like the icon do you? But that’s why we have icons to serve as windows into mystery, not reality shows.

So I am aghast that women in this process are being asked to smile for the little handheld devices pointed in their direction when they are sweaty, hair all stringed out, face stripped of all cosmetics. There is nothing glamorous about it, but everyone wants it on record.

Why? Because technology has provided a way that it can be.

Why not? Because this moment goes on record in the heart, not the camera.

What will we not trivialize next in 140 Twitter characters? What is sacrosanct from the eye of the touch screen? Where are the boundaries on techie addiction?

Leave the poor woman and her newborn alone please. Do not try to take away the holy from this picture by sending it out to 100,000 of your “friends” on Facebook. The kid doesn’t even have a real face yet? And his Mommy’s is streaked with strain and puffed with exhaustion.

And the same thing goes for breast cancer. There is nothing glamorous about it. OK so we’ve seen Demi More’s swollen belly and we’ve seen someone else’s noble scarred breastless space. Isn’t that enough showing off? Now we have to wear pink rubber bracelets that say I “heart” boobies, pretend that we are somehow proud to have survived the amputation or to still have intact nipples.

Ok, but only if all this display raises tons of money for research for cures and better treatments. Breast cancer is NOT a women's issue (not meant to be sarcastic)and deserves a campaign that is dignified, not tainted with sexist voyeurism.

Scandal of overexposure, immodest at best, exhibitionist at worst.

A woman priest friend would say, “Jesus would puke!” (Adult Jesus. Baby is entitled.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

2010.11.25 Thanksgiving for Life

When I think of the end of my life tears immediately spring to my eyes. I am completely in love with life and the thought of leaving it behind with all its glories and all its pains is sorrowful.I would have it no other way for I have learned that each pain and each joy provides us opportunity for love and connection.

This blog is a repeat of one I posted on Thanksgiving, 2008 about the Engage with Grace (www.engagewithgrace.org) project.

The project invites us all to begin conversations with friends, family, at a book club or online about how to end your life with the same purpose and love with which you have lived it.

The Boston Globe front page story, "Talking Turkey about Death" November 26.2008 was about Rosaria who at 32 was dying of a malignant brain tumor. As she lay motionless, unconscious in her hospital bed, at home her beloved two year old daughter languished without Mommy. The child was afraid to touch her mother in the hospital setting, so the family went against medical advice about better more comfortable care in the hospital and took Rosaria home.

For the first time in a week Rosaria opened her eyes as her daughter snuggled in beside her mother. She died the next night at home.

Did this courageous family make the right decision? It seems so but they had to do it by guesswork. They had never talked about dying wishes. Have you?

I have a living will, health care proxy and other written directives, but at 72 I have never talked face to face with myself, my children or even my spouse about my feelings.Or if I have attempted it the topic has been evaded, changed or openly rejected.

It's not time? When is it time? When I am too ill or weak or disabled to talk intelligently and with grace about what I want? Everyone knows or can guess what I don't want. Its what everyone doesn't want, extreme measures, machines that keep me alive but not living.

What makes each of us unique is what we do want. Often these are very simple things. I want to be able to pray receive Eucharist and a blessing, or hear the Psalms, behold and touch the faces of my loved ones, hear them laugh, eat peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies, hold my tiny puff of a stuffed owl, listen to The Moonlght Sonata,and see the moon. Not all at once but at least once.


As a priest I have sat with many a family engaged in agony and argument over what a loved one would want. They care but they're not sure. Believe me the discomfort of that struggle is far worse than any discomfort one may feel talking about all this NOW.

And this isn't a one way conversation: from the old to the young. We all need to think, talk, and love each other into and out of ignorance.

Rosaria was only 32! Her sister-in-law Alexandra Drane started the Engage with Grace initiative and the word has spread throughout the healthcare community and beyond thanks to the internet. The website suggests ways to engage yourself and others in such conversations.

Begin by asking yourself: On a scale of 1 to 5 where do you fall on this continuum, 1 being let me die in my own bed without medical intervention and 5:Don't give up on me no matter what. Try any proven or unproven intervention possible. I'm on the cusp of 2.5/3. (Other questions, links, resources and more information can be found on the site.)

But after that keep it simple and positive and you will get better responses when you introduce the topic.

Spiritually, is this taking your life in your own hands? Playing god? Of course not.

A loving creator has given us minds, hearts, bodies and souls with which to discern how best to love ourselves and others right up to the final intake of breath. This effort is all about fulfilling the essential word of all the world's major religions: do to and for others what you would want done to and for yourself.

I love life enough to talk about its end with gratitude, grace and tears. Death may just be one of those spiritual lemons that you think is too sour to taste, but it could deepen your relationships right NOW, as well as in your last hours.

And I'll bet the youngest child among you will have very clear ideas about what she or he would want for ever and no matter what.

I know one boy who would want Teddy, his best friend, much more and no matter what than the latest Wii game.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

2010.11.17 Profile in Courage

A woman recently told me a moving story—hers. It’s a story of mother/daughter love that comes from womb and know no bounds even when a painful relationship break happens.

Once upon a time a woman gave birth to a daughter, dearly beloved. Every day she loved this child with all her heart and did the best she could living with a difficult marriage and trying to manage her own decisions.

Every day the woman prepared meals for her daughter and other siblings, and every day the children ate well and grew up strong and healthy, until something began to go wrong. The daughter started the torturous route of addiction. It began slowly as it does with experimentation, adolescent stuff, maybe hanging out with friends that supported her growing habit rather than her health.

The mother’s response began slowly as it does with the usual parental warnings, hand wringings, and setting limits moving on to more desperate measures to try to control the uncontrollable. She offered advice, rescue and in time money, all good and obvious things to offer.

The daughter got sicker and sicker moving beyond alcohol. The drugs stole her personality, her sweetness, her intelligence, and her conscience. She became hard, unloving, a walled impenetrable brick house, containing terror.

The mother experienced about the same symptoms without the drugs—sick from worry, helplessness, grief, rage. All her way weren’t working to help her daughter. She didn’t stop loving her daughter.

The daughter was losing her life to addictions and the mother was losing her life to her daughter.

One day someone told the mother about AlAnon and she went. At meetings, as well as in therapy and with ongoing support from a steadfast and wise sister (not a nun sister) and her other children, the mother managed slowly to take back her own life and selfhood, which by now she had deeded to her daughter who occupied her mind,heart, soul, and body, leaving no room for herself.

The mother started to love herself as much as she loved her daughter. Years passed. The mother got well but couldn’t quite get the lost daughter off her mind. She wasn’t free.

It happened one day. It happened inspirationally. It happened because of a community of support and because of the grace of what 12-step recovery programs call Higher Power and some people call God, Buddha, Jesus, Allah,Universe, and many other names, all meaning Loving Mystery.

We pray for a rescuer and we got a lover.

Such Love has power in impotence. How odd. The woman connected with her own internal power fueled by her love for her daughter and drove unannounced to her daughter’s house where she encountered a cold hard woman she hardly could recognize, a woman facing a trial and a prison sentence, a much bigger limitation than her mother could ever manage.

Neither God nor mothers are very good jailers.

The woman made a simple statement to her daughter, one that told the daughter about her hurt. She told her “It hurts when........”

She didn’t tell her daughter “You hurt me when you......” The difference in language is subtle but the honest message is the same.

The mother told her daughter she had come to say good bye. I can’t imagine a more painful moment.

She also told the daughter she always had and always would love her.

Then she left. The door closed behind her and she drove away feeling free and weeping, the kind of tears you cry when you have labored long and finally a child pushes through to grab her own separate life. The umbilicus is severed usually by a doctor. This mother had to sever her own to give birth to herself.

Love, human or divine, is never severed however. Its power takes a long long slow time but one day it will show up.

Maybe, as it did for St. Paul, in jail .

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

2010.11.10 The Waltz

Today is one of my granddaughters’ eleventh birthday. I remember being eleven, right on the cusp teetering between adolescence and girlhood. At eleven you balance the universe on your small shoulders and you do it with grace—until you fall over.

Happy Birthday Isabella, Izzy Bizzy, whom I sometimes call Isa la Bella. This story is for you.

When I was at Smith college they used to have father/daughter weekends. They don’t do it any more and it was probably a sentimental but not too thoughtful idea even back in the ‘50s because some girls didn’t have fathers or were estranged for different reasons from their fathers. Luckily uncles sometimes filled in.

I was lucky to have a father who wanted to escort me on this weekend. One of the events, another goofy ‘50s thing, was a waltz contest. In a moment of foolhardiness Dad and I decided to enter the contest.

We started out in a clumsy way, each of us stepping on the other’s toes as we jerked around the floor. Finally, Dad said, “Look, I know how to do this better than you. So hang on and let me lead.” He was right about my dancing prowess.

My mother, a good dancer, had always told me I couldn’t dance so I stopped trying.

But my father thought WE could do it together. He grabbed me so tightly I could hardly breathe and began to move about the floor. Of course I resisted but he held on until I gave up trying to control the movements, mostly because I couldn’t anyway.

At first it was awkward but suddenly we got the rhythm, the waltz beat 1 2 3, 1 2 3. And off we went—actually with grace. We were waltzing. We were gliding as one.

And guess what? We won the darn contest!! Who knew? We were brilliant.

The reason I tell this story is because it’s an image of God for me. Not that my dad was anything like God, but the waltz was. It gave me an experience of what spirituality can be—a partnership with God, a dance that flows in balance to give you faith and to empower you to live life with compassion and goodness. Jesus and other gurus waltz well with Divinity, but so can we all.

The waltz is what it feels like when you and God are in union. You can tell because you feel powerful and humble all at once inside.

I learned to trust someone who actually did know more than I did, but I didn’t quit. I stayed in the dance, gradually letting go of total control—and fear.

Waltz on, Izz!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

2010.11.03 Halloween Dreams

The day I write this is All Saints Day on the Christian calendar.

Who is a saint? Start by looking in the mirror, then think of someone, human or animal, dead or alive, who has shown you deep kindness, believed in you, and loved you no matter what. Name that person your saint. Bring her or him into your imagination whenever you feel blue or get down on yourself. This spiritual practice will change your mood, give you hope.

The night before All Saints, the night we know as Halloween, the night of haunts, I had two strange back to back dreams. Dreams I remember are the seminal ones, ones that wow me. I pay attention even if I don’t understand them.

Dream 1: I’m in a large crowd of people gathered to await the appearance of some kind of guru, a spiritual teacher. Everyone is eager jockeying for position around some kind of arena. We all have devices and can push buttons to tune into the action. Media types are there with notepads and cameras. I push my buttons. There are also horses about. I squeeze up front and find a place where I can see. The air is electric. Someone in dark clothing but not a negative force introduces the guru. The teacher appears. She is an elderly woman, handsome but not beautiful, part semitic and part oriental. A hush falls on the crowd. She speaks and says: “We need a new hero in literature, film and........... Her voice fades out and I push buttons frantically. Then I hear

“. . . a new hero. He is a 46 year old bisexual man.”

Dream 2: I am in Poland. (I’ve never been to Poland.) I see minarets and churchy-looking structures. I get the idea that the Polish National Catholic Church has separated from the Pope. A question comes up on my dream screen.

Can you be a Catholic without a pope?

( There is some history I’d forgotten or didn’t know behind the second dream. My husband was ordained priest in 1966 in Buffalo (E. Aurora) New York by Thaddeus Zielinski, Polish National Catholic Church (PNCC) bishop of the Buffalo/ Pittsburgh diocese since 1958. In 1971 Zielinski was elected PNCC Prime Bishop. The PNCC was established in 1904 when it broke with the Roman Catholic church. No pope! In 1946 they established intercommunion with the Episcopal church but terminated the connection in 1978 over the ordination of women. )

I offer no interpretations but welcome your thoughts or feelings. Please don’t try dream analysis or a rant. The only thing I’m pretty sure of is that the meaning of dreams is plural/multilayered and that my three muses, spirituality, religion and feminism collaborated in my dreams to hint at some wisdom that is and will unfold in the process of the Spirit.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

2010. 10.27 Countercultural Spirituality

I went to get my free pass during open house week, a short five days, at a women’s healthworks fitness “club.” The word club at first turned me off. I thought of the infamous country club, source of my father’s worst binges and my mother’s worst anxieties. But I knew that was irrational. So I headed off.

This club was exclusive. It was for me, for all women. I had heard of it from a colleague so it must be good. I told myself all these things and ignored my body’s inner twitch of resistance.

I had been looking for a good yoga class and also maybe some place to go that had treadmills, bikes and the like for when the weather became unwalkably cold.

The women at the front desk were welcoming and smiled. I filled out a lengthy form swearing to hold them harmless in case I dropped dead and wondering if I needed a physician’s permission if I told them I had asthma—or my age. They wanted all of it so I was honest.

The apparent director came bustling over, perused my form, asked a few questions about my experience, then told me what I should be taking and the fee to join the club. It was open house week so I didn’t have to make a commitment. Then she gave me a whirlwind tour and showed me all the amenities, lockers, showers, sauna and machines. Nice.

I decided to stay and,needing better definition myself, take Body Defined because my friend was in that class—and it was only an hour. How could lifting a few weights, some of which I do at home and stretching hurt.

When I got to the class I had no idea what to do. The teacher didn’t seem to remember she’d just met me and I was new. Women were scurrying about picking out their weights, their mats and a platform apparatus. thank God my friend was there.

The class was just not my style—too fast, too breathless, too noisy. The director barked out the instructions, a voiceover competing with the loud, incessant, and absolutely unvarying beat of rock and roll. I thought of the boom box cars that drum down the street driven by young bobble-heads and wondered if people in this culture ever sat still.

This club had minimal relational hospitality and stressful pacing of motility in class. It seemed like the culture we live in today that keeps a pace so exhaustive, frenzied, and draining that you’d think life itself was a race. For what?

I need something countercultural. A seminary professor of mine once warned us that sound religion and spirituality was always countercultural. For Christians he put it this way: “Look for Christ in the margins.” Don’t know about Jesus but clubs like this and I don’t mix.

People crab about religions being a danger to yours soul’s health. Culture can be too.

If you immerse and saturate yourself in the pace of this culture you might get sick, and what you think is healthy might not be.

I’m headed for the margins.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

2010.10.20 Inner LIght by John T. Brakeman

INNER LIGHT
by John T. Brakeman


John Brakeman, my son and fourth child, teaches fifth grade. He wrote this meditation in 2008 to share with his students after he had been through extensive surgeries and had lived with pain and in fear for his life.

Paradoxically, the more pain and suffering he endured the stronger his faith in prayer and Higher Power/God became.

Paradoxically as well, the more spiritual his self-expression became the less welcome it was in school the principal of which told him he couldn't share this with his students because, although it was entirely personal in nature, it might rouse parental ire.

Today the meditation is framed and hangs above my home altar. It reminds me of John's courage, and also of the ultimate fragility of the one small sweet life each of us has and that humanity is by nature spiritual.

INNER LIGHT

A bond with light signals so much change.

A light is used to see so many things.

With just a fleeting thought we think of light as a way for us to see in the dark.

This is to secure us for the things that we might run into.

Light bends and can be made into many different colors.

Its flexibility shows us that change is possible.

The human spirit has light and possesses almost the same properties.

What do we want the light to show us and what do we want the dark to open up to us?

It’s those things that are opened to us that allow us to see ourselves.

How do we want to exist for the rest of our lives?

Life challenges or God’s plate allows us to see our light.

When the light presents itself it will ask you one question—What have you learned?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Overbrimming Cup:Yale Divinity School, October 2010

This decade is my reunion decade. I’m not a reunion person, preferring I guess to leave the sanctity of the original experience in sanctity, but now I’m gathering together the many fragments of my life for my memoir—and reunions re-member.

I did my high school 50th in 2006. Turned out I liked the same people I’d liked 50 years earlier. And I got to spend a whole day of uninterrupted conversation with my oldest, dearest, most intimate friend Annie before she died the next year leaving me wanting more.

Did college 50th in May, 2010. Missed some friends and re-loved others. I was still enchanted with the things that had brought me there in the first place: the beauty of the campus, the continuity of the institutional commitment to women’ education, and the alluring mystique of women together— learning without fear. I felt proud of my women’s college.

My seminary reunion at Yale Divinity School (YDS) October, 2010, was my 28th, not even an official reunion year. It was also my first reunion there. But it turned out to be the most exhilarating of all my reunions—and the most exhausting.

I wrote to a friend earlier today: “Just got back myself from 3 days of reunion at my div. school. My cup runs over.  Exhilarating and exhausting.  Is there such a thing as TMS (too much stimulation)?  Not if it's real Spirit juice I’d say.  It just keeps going on giving life. The 80-90 year olds were the most inspirational.  “Celebrating 8 decades of women at Yale Divinity School” was the reunion’s focus. All my memories fell into the deep bowl of history where they felt nurtured not swamped. One at a time we women have done it starting from the first four woman enrolled in 1932 with 204 men (YDS founded in 1871) to 2010 when the school is 50/50 male/female. I am grateful for my big fat broad ecumenical education—different from the strictures of a denominational seminary whose graces are the bestowal of ecclesial identity plus. And........ we got a baseball cap marked with Yale Divinity School. Also one more carry bag for my collection. Faith and excellent worship, preaching, intellectual papers on the latest theological developments, and the arts. Did miss Eucharist but they do that in their regular chapel worship. I saw the rota. I’m flying.”

My friend wrote back that she had wished she’d gone to my reunion instead of hers where the men were all old and bald and the women frumpy and full of shit.

The pioneer women were brave and they can still laugh about it. Margaret Farley, RSM, first full time woman on the faculty and first tenured professor in Ethics, gave the key note address. She reminded us that there had been amazing advances and still women do not have a lasting home in ministry. Perhaps the journey is the home, she suggested, as women keep forging new roads to full inclusion that will help other women find homes when they come knocking.

Many women it’s true have laid down their lives for the love of the right and to make sure other women benefit. A Jesus-y thing to do. It’s a great and lengthy love story that goes on. Every great love, Margaret reminded us, is tried by love and not destroyed. The point of the cross of Christ is that relationship can hold— no matter what.

It’s amazing how the truth of something you have known and know can again illumine and stun.

My own memory of Margaret Farley from an ethics class back in the ‘70s is small but I never forgot it. She was talking about faith and saying not to assume or presume. “After all,” she’d said, “Peter thought he had faith and found out he didn’t. And Judas thought he didn’t have faith and found out he did.” (I was flipping back and forth being Judas and Peter.)

Bits of humor, wisdom, and challenge to remember our love story at YDS and take it forward.

In the 1950s women had one bathroom across campus. They called it “The Women’s Room” after Marilyn French’s book title. It was YDS’s first unofficial women’s center.

The Dean in 1950 lamented to the 10 new women students what a serious thing it was that they (all 10 of them) were here, because they kept out all those men. Your pictures were the deciders the dean told them. We picked the ten who looked as if they could stay the course. (Good thing they weren’t posture pictures or centerfolds!)

Fueled by the fervor of the ‘60s, women flooded into the seminaries. Recruiting wasn’t allowed. Joan Forsberg, 1953 graduate was then dean of students and affectionately remembered by many as a steadfast encourager, really savior, of women’s vocations, said “I’m not recruiting. The Holy Spirit is just blowing them in the doors.” (By the time I blew in (1978) there were 185 women to 418 men.)

Believe in your gifts with humility but without apology!

Education in some denominations is suspect. One woman told us she wanted the “halo effect” of a Yale education and now makes it her ministry to use her privilege to help women see that education has value and doesn’t threaten spirituality or charismatic holiness. (Being at YDS opened my mind, also opened my heart and soul to the Holy.)

A 2007 graduate, with her generation’s charming uptilt of voice, told how they brought the Vagina Monologues to YDS, only getting backlash because they performed it in the chapel. (I did a monologue script with my collar on and brought 2 astounded young women to our parish. Who knew vaginas could do evangelism.)

To balance the personal and the professional remains a challenge for most women, and many men now too. (The surety that I couldn’t balance these two was a chief reason for my being turned down in the ordination process in the Episcopal church. “Dual vocation” they’d called it. Now I lobby the church to recognize bivocational ministry ie. serve as a priest in a parish and in another setting too. So far bishops don’t favor this but as always economics and failing parish endowments will drive the part-time agenda home to roost.)

“I came to YDS a devout Roman Catholic and left a pagan,” one woman said. The late Professor Letty Russell a much revered feminist, author and advocate for GLBT inclusion told her, “You don’t have to be in the church to do ministry.” (Letty once told me that inclusive language was more about God than it was about humanity.)

Wives who had helped their husbands get through school were honored, remembered, and applauded.

Beloved mentor the late William Sloane Coffin, some time chaplain at Yale, told women, "Faith is reckless. First you leap, then you grow wings.” (I did that.)

Nancy Jo Kemper, ’67, recipient of the William Sloane Coffin award for peace and justice, is famous for her response to the KY.law that allowed guns (loaded I presume) to be brought into churches, “Jesus would puke!”

The presence of female students in the early days didn’t stop professors from addressing their classes, “Gentlemen.”

Don’t listen to the noise of dismissal and silencing or shut down difficult conversations or confrontations in the name of reconciliation!

Encourage a different perception of religion. Go beyond, like Jesus did.

The Alumni Award for Distinction in Congregational Ministry went to Lillian Daniels, ’93, who was told by her committee she had “no discernible gifts for parish ministry.” (A certain trinitarian committee of Three overthrew that judgment as the same Three overthrew the dual vocation judgment on my behalf.)

“You can’t help others be comfortable with you being powerful!” (It took me years to get that and still I can demure and recede from my authority.)

In a NYC city Methodist church a parishioner said to the woman pastor when the congregation had hired another pastor, “Pastor, we’re getting a woman!” (Reminds me of the parishioner who said as I was standing there, “I better ask the priest”—the priest being male.)

One women chose interim ministry to expose congregations to women leaders so they might call a woman pastor. Desensitization works.

A woman got an A in Old Testament, scandalizing the school. The professor surprised himself. “I don’t usually give my A’s to women. What will they do with them?”

A humble award recipient Nai-Wang Kwok ’66 thanked YDS for its report card with the A-, saying he’d done some things right and there was more to go.

A 70s wife remembered the “irregular” ordinations of women in 1974 and ‘75 and called them “astonishing” and a new vision. “The Altar Guild was the ultimate and you had to be invited to be on it by a male clergy,” she remembered.

What made this reunion so special for me was of course the history and the remembrances and seeing how far women had come. Yet one can celebrate awards and hear great memories at lots of reunion gatherings. At seminary reunions, however, all energy, study, and song is devoted to Divinity. Worship punctuates the round of events, and it’s not just token worship. There is praise for the assembly, yes, but the praise that shines most brightly shines on God. Halleluia. (In Hebrew that means shine your praises on God.)

I am grateful to have gone to a school that is not denominational. Diversity is what makes growth and creativity. Too much homogeneity can stunt growth, suck the soul right out of faith.

In 1971 The Berkeley Divinity School (BDS) an Episcopal seminary merged with Yale Divinity School. When I was a student there BDS had a building a dean and offered some prayer book services. It was a non-demanding presence for Episcopalians who felt like orphans and/or needed support from the "mother" church.

Now there seems to be an effort to make the BDS presence more visible, give it its own curriculum, require more worship attendance of Episcopal students.

At one of the worship services I noticed a little “army” of Episcopal women clergy, sitting together, all collared up looking quite stiff. They all crossed themselves at the same time. It looked odd, even ominous to me. It smelled of regression, a kind of elitism. They stood out like sore thumbs, and their presence didn’t look like a proud act of witness or resistance. They were there for the BDS graduate society luncheon that followed.

I thought of the bright white clerical collar I once lusted after, the collar that signified belonging, authority, vocation, inclusion. At first I wore it a lot; then it got stiff; now it has a ring around it. How do you join with the people, advocate for the ministry of all the baptized when you stick out like a sore thumb?

I remembered my spiritual director Madeleine L’Engle in the 80s said to me, “Now, my dear, when you get ordained do not turn into a little man.” When she said that she meant be a woman priest in my own style, not imitate the current model, march to my own, and on good days, the beat of Sophia’s drum.

Luke Timothy Johnson, New Testament professor when I was a student, consoled me as I lamented having been turned down for ordination. “Lyn,” he’d said jerking his thumb toward the office down the hall and lowering his voice, “look at the model.” The “model” was an Episcopal priest, a dear professor who lived with his dog and his pipe, a man who we all swore slept in his mile high collar.

Dr. Marcia Riggs ’53 had just preached on the gospel story of the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15. This unnamed woman had confronted Jesus, called him up short when he displayed exclusive attitudes about the dispensation of healing miracles. A woman who took risks, a woman not of the Jewish heritage, a woman who told Jesus off, who refused to allow him to limit the mission of God’s gospel. A woman model for us today.

I went to the BDS luncheon and felt as if I didn’t belong, being one of the few clergy out of uniform. The collar that had meant I belonged now by its absence meant, or felt as if it meant, I didn’t belong. What counts for belonging?

I wondered about separatism and thought it painful. I am proud of my tradition and its breadth of spirituality. I would hate to see it make of itself an end in itself. I would love to see BDS grieve its former identity, accept the new creation the merger had effected, give its money to YDS, and encourage Episcopal students to celebrate the rich diversity that will grow their souls and yes enrich the beauties of their own tradition as well.
* * * *
I had gone to YDS in the ‘70s because I could commute. At the time I had wondered if an Episcopal school would have been more formational in the tradition I’d chosen and loved. Would I be Anglicanized enough? Would I fit in? I struggled many years to get ordained a woman Episcopal priest. I still rejoice in my vocation and love my tradition and church.

AND.............

I would choose again to go to YDS and would recommend it to anyone wanting a theological education, whether they aspired to ordination or not. I would recommend it for its academic excellence but also for the experience of belonging it offers today in a church that is softening denominational boundaries and being de-institutionalized for its own good—and for the sake of its own spiritual belonging in the evolution of God’s mission of peace, justice and love for all.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Can We Divorce Spirituality From the Transcendent, Divinity?

I read an interview some weeks ago (New York Times Magazine, September 6, 2010) that shocked me.

The author Deborah Solomon questioned Deepak Chopra the man from India raised a Hindu and turned California guru of alternative wellness. Chopra is the founder of a wellness center in California.

I have read some of his work on meditation as a health practice. I confess I have not studied it, because I was not drawn into his thought save for his insistence on a holistic view of wellness.

I detected, however, a subtle suggestion that we could actually take control of our moments, days, even lives by meditative thought. We could almost MAKE or WILL ourselves well by this practice. Too much me and not enough God.

Where was there room for Divinity, for Spirituality meaning that transcendent mystery some call grace, others coincidence. Where was the Holy? Where was the divine/human relationship? Where human trust, faith, hope?

I suspected idolatry, worship of temporality with the expectation that would be enough.

If meditation became your god then what if a day came when you couldn’t do it?

If self-reliance your god on whom or what would you rely when resources dried up?

If science were your god and it had no cure or you couldn’t afford it, then what would you trust, where turn for healing?

Or...if your work was your god what happened when you couldn’t work or lost your job?

Where would meaning be found at the end of your rope?

I am not against meditation, know of its benefits myself, and often suggest it to people as a way to draw energy back from the distractions of a high speed culture and into the self or soul, a way to focus and center on Divinity, to bring together the transcendent dimension we call Divinity with the immanent dimension we call soul.

I call it contemplative prayer.

At any rate meditation is far from new to religious traditions. Neither btw is spirituality. Chopra seemed to me in this interview to calculate his thoughts in a dichotomous way; that is he offered an either/or mentality I didn’t find congruent with what he claims to represent: wellness.

For example, when queried about the Islam center in NYC and whether Sufism represented the reform branch of Islam, he responded, “Yes, traditional Islam is a mixture of obedience to Allah and if that requires militancy, so be it. Whereas Sufism exalts beauty, intuition, tenderness, affection, nurturing and love, which we associate with feminine qualities.”

Seemingly, male/female and Sufism/Islam do not easily co-exist in Chopra’s analysis.

I think growth toward wholeness, and incidentally wellness, happen when the best of tradition is supplemented rather than supplanted.

Asked if he believed in God’s existence, Chopra responded, “Yes, but not as a dead male.” I would agree if I thought the Christ spirit were dead or male. Mostly I thought it a snide slur.

Chopra defined his practice as “what I can only call a secular spirituality.” Can there be such a thing since secular still means any activity or attitude that has no spiritual or religious basis. Didn’t the idea of spirituality stem from religions’ awareness of Spirit beyond human boundaries but interacting within human process?

Or has it morphed to being just human values, nice cozy things like belonging? And aren’t humanistic values contingent, relative to culture? Perhaps Chopra means spiritual humanism?

Why try so hard to divorce spirituality from religion? Just because religion is unpopular in this age?

Spirituality and religion were also polarized in Chopras’ definitions in response to the question about how he would define spirituality as opposed to religion? “Self-awareness and awareness of other people’s needs.”

Spirituality is by this definition self-centered while religion is centered on other people. Is this another dichotomous solution? Aren’t self and other awareness part of holistic wellness?

Healthy spirituality can not be divorced from the need to be aware of the dignity of all human being and the whole created order. Equally, religion can not be sane if divorced from soul-awareness and nurture. Both/and.

The interviewer pushed on asking what religion he would say he is. “I say God gave humans the truth, and the Devil came and said, ‘Let’s organize it, we’ll call it religion.’ ”

No comment.

OK just one. Do you think meditation classes aren’t organized, that we students don’t know who the teacher/guru is and where s/he belongs in the structure? As long as no power abuses (and I know of such abuse in a meditation group in which the teacher, playing god, took physical advantage of a student’s vulnerability) occur the ordered/organized structure is in place for our wellness, just as in a functional family.

Trellis and roses make a necessary whole.

The interviewer soldiered on commenting that religion was free to worshipers and Chopra’s meditation retreats were costly. He countered with tax free donations to religions and the wealth of the Vatican. He thinks insurance companies should pay for his lifestyle management classes and they would save money.

That is a good idea and I agree we need to see, as Chopra said, “that alternatives medicine is now mainstream.” Another either/or?

I use traditional medicine and all the “alternatives.” Only I call them “complimentary.”

We need to remarry spirituality and religion—the best of both.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

2010.09.29 Liturgical Dance in the Treetops

Seeing the Holy in everything isn’t hard. You have only to release God from “his” ecclesiastical strait jacket, stretch your eye and your soul toward wonder, and be ready to laugh.

Recently at the Convent of the Sisters of St. Margaret in Boston I sat silently with the community eating Cheerios and Raisin Bran, toast with peanut butter, and sipping tea. Today’s headlines were violent, messy and full of pain.

But we were here on Sabbath to worship anyway. No one expected liturgical dance in the outdoor sanctuary of trees and garden.

I will make this ballerina masculine and call her Squirrelster He advanced slowly down the tree trunk, something only critters like him can do with ease, then sprinted out onto a slim and swingy plant holder. He had spied the prize, a beautiful and aromatic purple floral plant suspended from its flimsy hanger. Out he went undeterred by flimsiness until he took his final leap, nose first into the plant. All that was visible was his tail—wildly swinging, curling, twisting, circling round and round this way and that and back—among the purple blooms. Bottoms up!

I thought as I watched the gyrations of Squirrelster’s puffy tail of the wrist motion a thurifer makes as she censes altar, ambo, people, and sacrament, creating a haze of incense, scents of a woman. (I mean why not put perfume around to advertise our glory and God’s?)

The incense rises to the Creator, a great thanksgiving for being alive, a eucharistic offering.

The squirrel's sleight of tail might have been ecstasy of the kind that ascetics and mystics describe from time to time when they encounter the Holy and dervish about.

Squirrelster buried in the flowers was being seduced by the full fragrance of Divinity. Until Sister Mary Gabriel opened the window and gently whispered shoosh, and shoo. Squirrelster beat it fast all the way up the tree.

The dining group was entertained—everyone watching and laughing and if it weren’t retreat silence I’d have applauded. Squirrels are nature’s clowns, or one of nature’s clown groups.

But Squirrelster wasn’t done yet. Drunk with Spirit, his second act began in full view of his appreciative audience. Another more elaborate dance, a full body shimmy while perched on hind legs atop a shaky branch. His tail whirled and twirled, censing the air with his joy. All this while simultaneously bouncing his booty about like a belly dancer, or shall we say strutting his stuff.

Shaken out and loosened up he then scooted to a higher branch. He mounted the thin branch, curled his body around it horizontally so his tail hung down and his front paws embraced the branch over which his belly hung. What a sight. He then began to wiggle back and forth and up and down. Now I don’t need to tell you what went through my imagination. But can a squirrel get it off on a tree branch? Or was this just practice for when a delectable admirer might arrive and be willing?

Some rituals are universal. And they are all liturgies, works of praise for a Creator who didn’t miss a trick to provide Creation with all pleasure, all delight, all laughter, and all ecstasy.

And all to the glory of Creation itself. Simply so.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Love Those Eggs!

I just can’t help it!

Although I’m not at all in favor of a salmonella pandemic and would support with whole heart the civil rights of all hens who suffer abuse because of overwork and undercare, there is something that strikes the perversity of my funny bone about the recent great egg recall. (You can read all about it in Sept 16 Boston Globe front page and beyond, including elaborate flow charts of farms, hens and eggs.)

In spite of my health gravitas I suddenly envision a lineup. All you hens line up over here for inspection. Keep the cackle down and abandon all modesty.

You women line up behind the hens, ova in hand.

This is the largest ever egg recall. Innocence is over. It seems to be a symbol of many current trends: the good food and health vigilance epidemic, ridding the market of impurities like farmers who cheat and the rise in the sale of eyeglasses that can read the small print of every and all ingredients and the smaller print of possible sides and dangers. Who can eat? Also, it’s evidence of the power of media to stir public panic by simply reporting the facts. (Of course they do select which facts to report and how to position the data.)

Spiritually? Well, I suppose it could be a sign of the tendency toward reactivity first, reflection second. Or, a sign of good public health care. At this rate Old Testament exaggerations about the longevity of patriarchal heroes may become possibility.

Most of all I think it’s better to choose laughter over panic. Laughter creates a pause. It prevents the temptation to confuse truth with rumor. Humor gives objectivity a chance. Humor me.

But be a good egg and check your daily egg consumer reports. You wouldn’t want to be a bad egg, let alone eat one.
* * * *

In other news, Massachusetts might just be going purple. How ecclesiastical. The Church rarely makes the news unless it becomes an occasion for sin, a stumbling block for all who enter in. Bishops can wear either red-purple or blue-purple. It’s not a political statement just a vanity one.

Most bishops choose the scarlet hues, leaning red, which then takes my errant mind to the scarlet letter and the numbers of women whose lives have been deeply scarred by abandonment from on high without provision—that’s not by Divinity but by male humanity in scarlet.

Male bishops carry on with business as usual just like Senators, Judges, Corporate Executives, Coaches, Principals and power pimps. Many eggs non-chicken are invaded against their will, and many women’s bellies swell without real love, unless of course the woman decides to give real love to the child of her womb. There’s precedent for that.

Love and respect eggs of all kinds.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What is SDI?

One more acronym to figure out. Oh no!—another “stupid dumb institution.”

SDI stands for Spiritual Directors International. Not stupid. Not dumb. Not institution.

SDI is a an organization dedicated to the ministry and practice of Spiritual Direction (SD) a discipline with ancient roots and contemporary practice of guidance in deepening your relationship with divinity in your soul and divinity all around you.

SD spans all religious traditions and many secular humanists come wondering and seeking. The longing persists for something beyond human effort alone, something beyond human beings—Being itself.

SDI is a global learning community of people from many faiths and many nations who share a common concern, passion and commitment to the art and contemplative practice of spiritual direction. There are annual conferences, a monthly journal called Presence and a website where you can learn more about SDI history and purpose and locate a Spiritual Director in your area with the Seek and Find Guide.

Recently I attended a meeting of this organization at which Boston area directors gathered to network, eat cookies, pray in silence together, share our hopes and concerns, and get to know the coordinating team.

The value of this meeting was to see faces of our community. Most of us practice alone in offices or homes and only connect on line. In the age of Facebook it was inspiring to me to see real faces and hear voices too. I confess I get tired of electronic connecting that is deaf, dumb and blind even if it is convenient and quick.

SD’s don’t just sit around and pray; nor do their directees. We don’t simply go on retreats or spend time on our knees looking at icons. Nor do we seek to strengthen our personal spirituality for self betterment or happiness. We seek to transform the soul of the world.

SD is not for narcissists or the faint of heart. We talk to God about peace, justice, simplicity, love. Our lives exemplify these values.

That mission is why the SDI committee made a last minute decision to cancel the Boston accommodations for the annual conference in April, 2011 and move the conference to Atlanta. Why? The large conference had been scheduled at the Hyatt in Boston.

The Hyatt recently made some management decisions that conflict jarringly with our core spiritual values of faith, hope and love to say nothing of the common good. They trained people who would work for less money, then fired their maintenance staff and put in the new and cheaper team. I’m sure there are nuances and official excuses for the inexcusable but that’s the nutshell.

The decision was of course a great disappointment to Boston SD’s. SDI’s director Liz Budd Ellman told us the decision was made with much reflection and prayer.

It is impossible to discern exactly what God wants but this one wasn’t hard to guess. What the Hyatt did in the interest of their own profitable survival. I doubt they will suffer from SDI’s decision as their former employees suffered from their executive decision.

Bostonian SD’s were disappointed but affirming of the rightness of this discernment. Everyone praised and overpraised. I wondered.

Rightness can be close to righteousness.

What about the present staff, hired under such inauspicious circumstances. How do they feel? Are they ashamed of needing and having a job at whatever cost? Do they cringe at the publicity and the protests? Are they treated with respect? Did they know the circumstances?

I have no doubt about the sincerity of SDI’s decision. I know it wasn’t knee jerk bleeding heart liberal spiritual reactivity. I pose my questions to caution against any syrupy jargon that stultifies and sets us apart from the hard truth that all decisions, God or no God, are extremely complex and likely painful even for those we imagine to be haughty.

I have faith in the long slow movement of the divine Spirit in and through everyone involved.

No one can know what Holy Wisdom works in human hearts.

SDI will continue on in its fine ministry, making decisions to the best of their limited capacity, trusting that time—grace and circumstances acting on our own good will—will bring about goodness and truth.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

2010.09.08 What Is Spiritual Direction?

SO WHAT IS SPIRITUAL DIRECTION?

Spiritual Direction is a conversational process in which a gifted and trained mentor accompanies someone as s/he discern how God is acting in her/his life just now.

Unlike therapy, in which you talk about your life problems and how to solve them, you talk to a Spiritual Director about what is going on in your prayer life

WHAT IF I DON'T OR CAN'T PRAY?

A Spiritual Director will help you figure out the best spiritual practice for yourself, a means by which you stop racing around and start to listen to yourself and to the divine whisper in yourself and the world around you.

BUT I'M CATHOLIC.

Do you think God, by whatever name you choose to call that presence you think or hope is divine, is Catholic? Or Jewish? Or, of all things, Episcopalian?

Spiritual Directors are called, gifted— AND trained— to transcend, in both practice and attitude, denominational boundaries. They don’t care if you’re Catholic or pagan if you want to connect more deeply with your own soul and with Love, one of God’s many names. They will discern with you whether you are confusing Love’s voice with your own, your mother’s or, heaven forfend, the Church’s.

BUT.............

Fear not. If a director does not know enough about your particular religious concerns beyond their impact on your soul then they will be honest and refer you to someone of your brand.

WHAT IF I'M AN ATHEIST—SORT OF?

All you need is an open heart. God doesn’t believe in God. Do you think God believes in most of the pathetic and ferocious, patriarchal and exclusively masculine images humanity has projected onto the name of Love over the years?

DO I HAVE TO PRAY TO JESUS OR LOVE HIM?

Come on! Of course you might want to if you’re Christian. (Jesus can be quite nice.) If so a director will help you get to know Jesus.

I'M SCARE. I DON'T LIKE SOMEONE DIRECTING ME, CONTROLLING ME.

The director in this process is Spirit. Your director won’t direct just listen, suggest, pray only if you want, and laugh a lot with you. This is a WITH thing. Fear not, beloved.

Besides, you can interview a spiritual director ask any and all question and if you don’t like her/his manner, it’s not a sync then thanks and move on. It’s nice to do this with dignity and wordless flight.

WHERE DOES THAT NAME COME FROM THEN?

Jesuits. And........

It has ancient roots even biblical. Jesus mentored his disciples as did Moses, Paul and Mohammed. Spiritual teachers, tutors for initiates and inquirers have always been part of religious life. They listen carefully, provide wisdom, encourage deep prayer and retreat, and acknowledged always that the true director of the process was divine.

Today’s spiritual directors are called to their practice as professional ministry. They are naturally gifted listeners and discerners. They receive training and credentials to hone their gifts and qualify them to set up a practice and charge fees, usually on a sliding scale.

Directors are trained to suggest therapy or other paths to accompany direction if it seems that a person needs more that they are qualified to provide. So don’t go thinking you can go see a dear sweet spiritual director and avoid the confrontations of good therapy.

Spiritual Direction is about tuning into the direction the Spirit is moving in your life, remembering that your prayer life and your daily life do not reside on different planets!

HOW DO I FIND ONE OF THESE SPIRITUAL DIRECTORS?

Pray.

Then act: Go to the Seek and Find Guide on the website for Spiritual Directors International.

And see my next blog post: What is SDI?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

2010.08.31 Man on Beach

I’m sitting by the sea on the beach with a book, my favorite activity other than sitting at a computer with writer’s zeal.

It’s my father’s birthday today. Happy birthday Dad. If you were alive you’d be 99. How old are you in heaven’s time? I still love you. Love travels. As I post this it’s my older son’s birthday. He’s 43 and a good dad.

I can’t help hearing, seeing, observing, then riveting on a man, no a family, to my left. Dad + Mom + daughter + daughter + son + son + baby son. Breeders. it’s not an unattractive grouping though perhaps too numerous in a time we aim for zero population growth.

What catches my eye is the father-son, Dad & Tim, duo. Tim is about seven, the penultimate child so far. He plays in the sand. Dad wants Tim in the water. Dad begins the campaign coaxing “Hey Tim. Tim. C’mon in. Tim. This is great.” Tim doesn’t want to go swimming. Dad escalates from persuasion to force. He runs up on the beach. Tim runs away. The chase is on. Tim screams, screeches, No, Dad. No Dad. Dad. We know the end in this battle of wills, this legendary drama that will repeat itself over and over, day after day.

Mom sits on the beach cuddling son # 3, kissing the top of his fuzzy head. Is she trying to infuse the littlest with love enough to face his future with dad? Or is her placidity compliant? My teeth meanwhile are gnashing.

I admire Tim's determination and pluck. By day 4 he is tamed. Now he goes into the ocean, plays at its edges calling out, laughing, exclaiming how much he loves it. All is well. A good life lesson has been learned, but what lesson and who learned it?

On day 5 dad begin to call loudly to 8-10-month old Mickey (pronounced My-kee) inviting him into the water. Start’ em young, the saying goes. But mom holds fast.

I debate strategies: appeal to mom? deliver a domestic violence lecture to dad? flash my credentials to back up the obvious? call the police,? pray for divine intervention?

I do nothing. Why? My mind supports me with all kinds of cautionary tales and possible scenarios. The truth is: my fear overpowers my conscience.

The one I pray for is myself.

Later I pray for dad who likely was once a boy like Tim, coerced, violated and helpless, his will discounted along with his fear.

I do this because I know that if dad finds a healing of his ways Tim will have fewer wounds to heal, and the healing of the universe will have begun—anew.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Spiritual Bites

To readers of this blog and I hope you are enjoying and numerous! FYI: I will be on vacation and will not post again until I return September 1.

This is a test to see if I can resist the temptation. If not I shall blame Godde!


In the meantime I leave you with spiritual tidbits.

-God/Godde et al is not a product—yet! Let us resist enabling the US of Consumerism with our brands.

-Kids are natural consumers. Remember trading cards? Today they collect, then trade, little curly elastic bracelets in different multi-colored shapes, some more desirable than others. All this is done with amazingly adept advertising and bargaining skills. Plus, they can wear their products and play games with them. So perhaps the Creator endowed this survival instinct?

-Some people think that parishioners put consumerist expectations on clergy and churches who struggle to comply and live on the edge of burnout. (See, for example, NY Times August 7 op-ed “Congregations Gone Wild” by Jeffery MacDonald (http://nyti.ms/awE2ZA )It’s true to a degree BUT the responsibility for healthy spiritual community is mutual. WWJD?

-A young nun once asked her Mother Superior what she needed to be a good nun. Mother said, “You need just three things. Great creativity, great questioning, and great determination.” A wisdom tale for religious. For all others? Same.

-Snails have beautiful houses. I saw one recently—a rich brown shell with concentric green and gold swirls. Perfect. Poking out from her front door was a tiny craning dully grayish antennae’ed head, and from her back door stretched a flattened tail of sorts, “wagging.” The inside, “the real snail” was in stark contrast to her outer shell. Unprepossessing looks. Imperceptible movements. Death soon. Countercultural image.

I wonder if the hard-to-spot shining pearl of a sacred Soul/Self that lies deep within and is source of our best, some say divine, selves and our most holy efforts is really as dull-looking, simple, unprotected, and limited as the snail’s innards? Perhaps we have confused inner and outer beauty. Perhaps we assume that the “real me” the true spiritual me within LOOKS just like our glittery possessions and adornments—only brighter.

I know it’s only image and metaphor and appearance but.............. have a snail’s pace rest of summer.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Wisdom of the Psalms at Age 72

It’s my 72nd birthday. It’s also my spouse’s birthday but he’s a mere 69. I don’t know what 72 should feel like but I feel fine and glad to be alive and past the paternal death line.

My dad died when he was 71—way too soon for the length of my love.

Ours had been a love-filled but not always peaceful relationship. Dad was an alcoholic and a master putdown artist whom I loved with all my yearning heart. I remember the mix of sorrow and fear I felt. I hadn’t said everything I wanted to and it was about to be too late. Were there enough I love you’s anyway?

The psalmist gave me a birthday present, a prayer line to describe what I had felt and feel now as I age and contemporaries begin to get sick big. Some die.

“IF I WALK INTO THE THICK OF MY SORROW, YOU KEEP ME ALIVE—AGAINST THE WRATH OF MY FEARS." (Psalm 138:8)

Now how true and wise is that!? I don’t know about you but this verse as it is rendered in a new translation by Pamela Greenberg is emotionally true in general and personally.

Think of it. Think of how partnered love and fear are in your heart. Think of how intimate love and sorrow are in your breast. If you truly love someone you immediately fear loss of that love and you touch your sorrow.

Of course we don’t dwell on these feeling connections because we have the psychological capacity for denial, a gift that can hinder one’s capacity to face truth and heal, and also a gift that can shield us from truth before it demands our notice. I for example never knew about alcoholism until I had to know it was a danger. Even when I knew I resisted. I didn’t want to feel the fear and the sorrow of the death of love.

Other translations of 138:8. 1) NRSV Bible: “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies; you stretch out your hand, and your right hand delivers me.

2) Book of Common Prayer: Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe; you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies; your right hand shall save me.

3)The Psalter, Liturgy Training Publications: When I face an opponent, you keep me alive. You reach out your hand, your right hand saves me.

The difference is marked. Greenberg’s translation internalizes the prayer language. ENEMY is translated WRATH OF MY FEARS.

I find it true that when I feel injured and deeply sorrowed by something I don’t understand, something I think unjust, I feel afraid, imagine all kinds of enemies and blame externals first, then myself.

How do you cope with such times? Does Godde by whatever name keep you alive? How?

I pray volumes over days and months, often in writing. It brings me back to myself and to Godde who casts no blame but simply listens and keeps me ALIVE AGAINST THE WRATH OF MY FEARS so I can WALK INTO THE THICK OF MY SORROWS.

Friday, July 30, 2010

P.S. On Flesh

After I left the mall suitless but laughing I realized I had slipped into being compulsive about my appearance. I just HAD to LOOK good! Like all lies it enslaved me for a time.

But what looks good in Godde’s eyes? ALL flesh! There is no body suit of skin that is superior or inferior. No way of being in the flesh is better or worse to the divine heart in which and by which we all have our being.

What a difficult love to follow. What a hard breath to take. But what a vital life pulse to keep you alive.

I’m pretty sure Jesus didn’t shop (How much retail would there be in the desert for sandals and loin cloths after all?) I’m also sure I will not resort to a berkah or other tent-like coverup.

However, I do plan to petition Sophia, the feminine face of Godde, to be my personal shopper. I think she’d be good at online shopping too so would help me avoid malls, stores, and fitting rooms altogether.

Looking in my home mirror this morning was, well, as good as it gets for this flesh— a good enough good.

Then I remembered the most lovely flesh hymn I’d ever read. Baby Suggs preached it in Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved. She has no official credential but speaks power to her people in the clearing, telling them about the sacred belovedness of their black flesh.

Here is Baby Suggs’ paeon to the sacrament of human flesh.

"Here, . . . in this place, we flesh; Flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it, love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. . . . Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them, touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face, ‘cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, You! And no, they ain’t in love with your mouth. . . . You got to love it. This is flesh that I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance, backs that need support; shoulders that need strong arms. . . . More than eyes and feet. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear em now, love your heart. For this is the prize" [pp. 88-89].

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Spirituality of Swimsuit Shopping for Seniors—Women

It all started when I noticed what I thought was a spot on my old black bathing suit, the one I'd had for I can’t remember how long, the one with the little diver on its lower left side.

This swim suit has no class. It's not sexy nor is it particularly flattering. It's black, a non-color supposed to be slimming but I doubt this fashion truism. At any rate its main purpose in life right now has been to help me avoid having to buy a new swim suit.

And now my old suit was failing me, had abandoned its mission.

The spot I noticed wasn't a spot. It did not succumb to soap and water laundering or serious scrubbing or soaking. I looked more closely, held the fabric up to the light and sure enough I could see through my little spot. It wasn’t transparent but more like a veil of the kind some brides wear that hints at what’s beneath its lithe folds; or like the veil Moses put over his face so the people would be shielded and not afraid of the divine glory that shone on his face.

(Basically the veil was meant to take the edge off the fullness of the divine presence which most of us couldn’t tolerate for seconds let alone a conversation. TMI as they say today.)

My spot wasn’t this romantic. It was out of place, not supposed to have turned from concealer into partial revealer. My spot was/is a stretch mark, not the silvery kind women get from childbirth but the kind that suddenly let me know truth: elasticized fabric was/is not eternal. It doesn't stay stretchy and snapping back forever—unlike Godde, angels or, as some believe, post mortem souls. My swim suit wasn't going to hold up. I knew the small spot would multiply and....

So now the torture of trying to find a new suit had to begin soon. I thought to get it over with so I snuck  into a large department store where no one would know me (we were traveling) and located the ladies swimwear department. The selection was meager. July. The fall clothing was already on display. but at least there was no one there.

I selected too many suits to carry, none of them very alluring but ones I thought would accomplish what I wanted: not let me swim like Esther Williams but hide the emergent hanging gardens of upper thigh flesh and lower upper arm flesh.

The suits I chose had little skirts or faux skirtlets that brought the base line just over the top of my thighs. The suits I chose looked as if they’d fit tight under the arms so the shoulder straps would allow space enough for my arm to get through but not enough for anything else to hang out.

The fitting room had its usual array of sadisms: mirrors that had no veils or subtlety, soiled carpet on the floor, and pull curtains that left significant gaps on each side for viewing the victim inside. Privacy was out. Luckily no nosy sales woman came to peek asking "How're we doing in there, OK?""

The first suit had a full skirt that made me, a short mostly waistless woman of 71 look about 80. The next one as well. The third one I pulled, no hoisted, up and suddenly my boobs popped out one through each arm hole.

Every suit I tried exposed the truth: my flesh isn’t wrinkle-proof and never will be again; I am getting old; my true shape is more like an inverted pear than an hourglass; my utter self-disgust was a sin against the Christian doctrine of God-in-the-flesh, an idea I love.

All of this ugliness tumbled out in tears. I vowed I’d never eat again. I thought of my dear husband and his patience as he sat for what felt like hours outside the ladies fitting rooms. I thought of how he loved my flesh. I thought of how often I had preached about the beauty of the flesh, a house fit for the indwelling divine presence. And now I was a hypocrite.

The Old Testament prophet Elijah suddenly popped into my head. Elijah, sitting alone sulking, feeling like a failure as a prophet, fearful for his life and probably secretly thinking God was all wet as he indulged in a bit of “poor me-itis” And God quietly inquired, “What are you doing here Elijah?”

Enough said.

I laughed through my tears. Godde had not been in my tears this time, though I did hope they might attract a little consolation. Godde hadn’t been in my exasperation, nor my hatred of this foolish store and the whole abusive fashion industry. Godde arrived in my laughter; its lilting generosity lifted me up.

What in the hell WAS I doing here mooning over aging flesh?

I gathered up all my failed suits, hung each one back on its own appropriate hanger, put my flesh back in my shorts and tee, retrieved my beloved, told him my tale, got a hug and a suggestion with a grin that we go back to the motel for a swim.

Honestly I was sleek enough to be a selkie in that little pool with my old black suit!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Nurture and Challenge Your Spirit With Joan Chittister, Part III

More Joan Chittister highlights, provocative enough to keep me blogging. Besides it’s too hot to unpack more post-moving boxes.

-Christianity is the most anthropocentric and androcentric religion of the major faiths. BUT in the West....................(Christianity exiled its feminine mostly to church domestics.)

-We’ve lost touch with Incarnation: divine presence in ALL created things, animals and nature, not just humanity.
-We’ve lost the the Godde of Genesis who declares ALL of it GOOD and says ALL of it requires care, not sovereignty.
-We’ve lost the sacramentality of the universe.
-We’ve lost the awareness of human finiteness and human dependence on everything in nature‚ exclude oil! We have abused our environment with our demand for moreness and our inability to know enoughness.
-We’ve lost the wholeness of biblical story. Genesis 1, the creation story, and Genesis 2, the companionship story, must be read as a whole.
-We’ve forgotten that Adam named and included all the animals. We turned naming into ownership and control. Any of you with children? Do you name them? How much control does that give you? LOL.
-We’ve lost what science and ecofeminism have retrieved: the interrelatedness and interdependence of all people and things. The Christian Church must catch up to the fact that life is a weave not a ladder and that autonomy and rugged individualism are dangerous illusions.
-We’ve lost the omnipresence of Godde, aka the Holy One.
-We’ve lost our femininity and with it our full humanity.
-We’ve lost the Sabbath, the contemplative mind of Godde, as the crown of all creation.
-We’ve lost our Jewish roots. “If you believe that Godde build inequality into creation you are party to the gassing of the next generation of Jews.”

Chittister closed with a wrap-up parable from Buddhism. The Buddha one day asked a notorious bandit if he could pull a branch off a nearby tree. Of course said the bandit, flexing his muscles and strutting toward the tree. Snap! Now, challenged the Buddha, can you put it back? Are you crazy said the bandit. I can’t do that?

Can we do this? Can we teach it, talk it, preach it, write it, live it?

Joan Chittister nurtured us with her humor and her spiritual vitality. She challenged us with not a brand new but a restored vision, a vision in line with feminist values, common sense religious thinking, and an ethic of mutuality in league with a wholistic spirituality grounded in relationship, humility and sacramentality.

Is there hope?

Chittister says that male feminists give her hope that the dream is realizable. We are not the same but differences can be valued as contributing to the whole while we claim our sacred human lives together to build a new world view.

I strongly believe this is and has always been Godde’s work into which we join come-lately but not too lately if we wake up to the task, the ministry of transformation. And we don’t have to ask any more, Is it broken? Or rationalize saying, If it’s not broken don’t fix it? Patriarchy as mindset, domination politics, policy and practice is broken and breaking us. With Godde’s grace working in us that which is enlivening for the common good we can fix it.

I am grateful to Chittister’s prophetic mission and person for: no reference to the sexual abuse scandal in her church (too easy a scapegoat for a larger issues); no reference to denominations or any thought of one true church; taking on the risk of a celebrity status for the sake of the prophetic message.

I am grateful for: my own Episcopal Church risking rifts in the Anglican Communion of which it is a part to elect a woman, Katherine Jefferts Schori, as our Presiding Bishop, and consecrate a non-celibate gay man, Gene Robinson, as Bishop of New Hampshire; my Roman Catholic friends some of whom make home sabbaths and some of whom go to Episcopal or Lutheran churches on Sundays but still call themselves Catholic; Roman Catholic women who are getting ordained, excommunicated, and living out their vocations in a variety of non-traditional ways; my sisters and brothers in all faith traditions who are not afraid to explore new ways of telling the story and new ways of doing church; feminist theologians in all traditions.

(P.S. The title of these posts is borrowed. It is the identifying “motto” for St. John’s Episcopal Church in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Apparently in the age of marketing tyranny everyone needs a brand. I’ve seen cattle branding. Not fun. But to be serious I suppose it’s a good exercise for a community, in this case a Christian parish, to come together to attempt to sloganize its particular spirituality and charism. Thank you St. John’s.)


NEWS FLASH: We have a Rabba. She is Sara Hurwitz, the thirty-two year old mother of three children. She is the first woman ordained in American Orthodox Judaism. The ordaining Rabbi is Avi Weiss of Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, New York. In March of last year Weiss ordained Sara and dramatically proclaimed in the presence of witnesses: “The authority of Torah will rest upon your shoulders to spread the knowledge of God throughout the land.” She carries the title Rabbi or Rabba.

It give me chills and thrills. There is hope for a new world view, the story told another way.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Nurture and Challenge Your Spirit with Joan Chittister, Part II

It’s the feast of Mary Magdalene. How appropriate, a woman besmirched for centuries of Christian history as a prostitute (no where in scripture btw!) She was a woman whose reputation was scarred and still is in some circles just because of patriarchal interpretation of her healing by Jesus of “seven demons.” Maybe she had been sexually abused and suffered dissociative disorder? Apparently some male interpreters assumed she was a sexual sinner. A common projection I’d say!

BUT many in the church knew better. Mary Magdalene was declared a saint, a woman identified in John’s gospel as given the call through a vision of the risen Christ to proclaim Jesus’ resurrection to her brothers, a woman restored to dignity by Christian feminist theologians who recognize her as the apostle to the apostles—a prophet in her own right, whose day should be celebrated in all Christian churches and seldom is even if it happen to fall on a Sunday. The beat goes on.

Back to Joan Chittister: highlights.

-In 1827, public use of the microscope allowed people to see what they had always suspected was there but only as locker room talk: THE OVA. Imagine! Heretofore it was thought and taught that seed, read semen, was deposited into women and made life all by itself.

-Men make about 25 million sperm for fertility. Women make about 250 eggs. 25 million sperm to chase one little egg around. And a lot of the little sharpshooters miss the mark! No wonder they want guns.

-But if you think sperm makes life on its own just collect some—somehow— plant it in your back yard and see if anything grows.

-We struggled for years to get the male pronouns out and now they’re putting them back in. “Give ‘em pronouns and they’ll want ordination.” Is this a likely suspected rationale from male hierarchy? (In the Episcopal Church a simple italicizing of he made it inclusive of she. It all depends whose pronoun gets subsumed under whose.)

-It seems that pink and blue souls are flying round out there like balloons—but one of them leaks!

-Medical school shelves are lined with shelves and shelves of books written to prove blacks are inferior, most of it based on facial features.

-Women, made to believe in their own inferiority, have been complicit: It’s always been that way. I’m happy. My husband lets me go out alone.

-Sexism also warps male development. Under the guise of privilege and superiority men are expected to : pay, provide, produce and be perfect. If a man decides to quit his job and try something new or something of his passion, a sexist woman may remind him coyly that her sister’s husband has just bought her a “mc’mansion” somewhere. What do we still tell a boy about crying, about fear, about becoming the little man in the family after a father dies or leaves, about taking care of his sister five years older than he is, about not being in touch with feelings when he’s been trained not to be??

-Mothering became a lifelong vocation and process; fathering a one shot event.

-Philosopher John Stuart Mill said women could be educated yes but to preserve the social order and maintain social standards set by men. There went educational policy and curricula were organized for women to study tatting, scripture, homemaking and the like. Why? Because they thought/taught that too much learning could render a woman sterile. (Pedagogy designed to keep ‘em barefoot and pregnant—and powerless.)

- The transformation of patriarchal thought is not about male-bashing or even blaming. True feminism is not about male-bashing either.

-Telling the story in another way is about the reconciliation of theology, science, ecology and feminism. It is about cooperation and re-rooting ourselves in a new world view. To become wholly human must be a wholly human endeavor with each and all involved wholeheartedly.

Final installment tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Nurture and Challenge Your Spirit With Joan Chittister: Part I

Hundreds of excited, chattering women poured out of the lecture hall at Regis College last Monday, and headed like lemings for the ladies room.

Inspired by the prophetic call they had just heard from Sister Joan Chittister, O.S.B., prophet not yet martyred, the women, seeing the usual long line stretching out from the door of their gendered destination, spilled over and flooded the men’s room without hesitation.

We had been told we needed to create a new world, because patriarchy was killing all of us and our planet. And we had heard that we needed to cooperate in order to do this effectively, men and women together—no blaming or shaming.

Women flooding the men’s room made me chuckle. How many times have I stood in long lines watching men next door whip in, pee and whip out—no line? What was wrong with female bladders, or was it the hauling up and down of our clothing instead of a simple zip zip?

But this day the unabashed action of women seemed to me not to be about either bladder desperation or long-awaited revenge or even, god forbid, the famous organ envy Freud made part of the female psyche. No, this felt like a sign of spiritual empowerment—eagerness to abandon rigid and divisive categories for the sake of a gospel of interconnectedness, inclusion and mutuality.

As we all filed happily into the stalls-with-doors, one woman suddenly gave a little shriek and lifted her event program to the side of her face while gesturing with her pointy finger. I glanced over to see a man standing at a urinal. (Now who the heck invented such insults to male modesty?) The woman made a giggly half-hearted attempt to stop the territorial invasion but the women kept coming, undaunted.

Now perhaps I should tell you more about the instigator. Joan Chittister is a Benedictine nun, member of the order of the Benedictine sisters in Erie, PA. She is also a prolific author and sought after speaker. She, or better said Godde’s Spirit through her, invited this revolution. Chittister’s talk was titled “God, Women and the World: Telling the Story Another Way.”

The event was sponsored by Sacred Threads, an organization of spiritual companioning for women through programs and gatherings for education, sharing and re-imagining.

Chittister, after disclaiming a “too effulgent” introduction, requested house lights so she could see her audience:mostly women, mostly edging into aging, likely mostly Roman Catholic, and all white—alas, but why not? We whities have been both fodder, enablers, and chief benefactors of patriarchal policy, the target for Chittister’s demand for justice.

I have spelled Godde in the Christian feminist way throughout. I don’t know how Joan Chittister would spell it but I know she loves Godde by whatever name. I have put quotation marks around her own exact words and parentheses around mine where possible.

Gazing out at hundreds of faces Chittister told us that this event began as an invitation to come to a coffee break affair with about thirty women. “This is the largest coffee break in history!” I suspect, however, that the original idea inflated after the inviters heard how much this might cost and also how important it was that this message reach large crowds. (Today’s prophets may get silenced but so far their voices continue to reach droves as the, Roman Catholic at least, hierarchy implodes.) Sacred Threads responded, did the good work of promotion, and we grew.

I can not do justice to the hour and a half talk, packed with humor, resource and stats, so I will give highlights I loved. Some of them might not be absolutely correctly noted in spite of my compulsive note taking. Sacred Threads will make a DVD of this talk available for lending purposes, and it will also be available through Joan Chittister's company Benetvision.

In a way Chittister’s ideas were not new to me nor certainly is feminist theology and ecofeminism, but it was lovely to hear such a big celebrity voice in religion asking:

"How can one be a Christian and not a feminist?"

-The creativity required for big change calls for making right hand turns from the left lane—regularly.

-Saints see just what everyone else sees, but see it differently, according to Jonathan Edwards.

-It’s time to make the connections between male-dominated disciplines like theology, philosophy, science, psychology, sociology, education, et. al. that have conspired to make patriarchy successful, ie. it’s no accident that two-thirds of the world’s poor are women. IT’S POLICY.

- According to an essay by Lynn White, the Judaeo-Christian ethic justifies domination policies and thought, not just for humanity but for nature and animals. For example, water is there for my use therefore I can dam it. Animals can be used to research for cosmetics. And in Genesis, the earlier-written story about human sin and hubris in Genesis 2 was placed second, while the grand and beloved later-written Creation story in Genesis 1, “In the beginning.......”, was placed first. Why? It glorifies rank ordering. (The created order is policy disguised as poetry.) We are carefully taught to think in superior and inferior categories.

-Life is not a ladder but a weave, a process of changes. (Quakers call the process unfoldment.) But man (understood but NOT written to include woman) ends up as the crowning glory and gets to dominate nature. Now the Caribbean Sea is being raped, just like so many women in their own homes continue to be raped with the idea that the marriage bond is really bondage. (Latter is my addition as someone who has worked to try to prevent and educate about domestic violence, a clear product of a patriarchal world view. )

-On the creation of Eve: Ezer kenegdo which appears 30 times in scripture is never translated “a helpmate fit for man, Adam" except in Genesis 2:18. What a great ecclesiastical scam. The Hebrew words mean “a power equal to Adam.” How different does that sound from a helpmate FIT for Adam? (No wonder we women have trouble getting ordained!) Does no one notice that there could not have been an Adam without an Eve?

-As to the rib: Adam is ha adam, Hebrew meaning the stuff of humanity. Not until Eve is created do they become full human beings called Adam and Eve. Note!

-The patriarchal world view is sinfully partial, incomplete. “We are thinking with half the human mind and it shows.”

-”Everything written about us was written without us. And they call it theology!” The “us” would include women, Native Americans, African Americans, aborigenes, homosexuals, Iraquis, on and on.

-Science came along to support theology’s platform. Galileo wasn’t arrested for his science but for his theology. “They never even looked in his telescope!”

Read more Chittister wisdom tomorrow on this blog site.