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?


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


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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!



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?