Wednesday, March 28, 2012

2012.03.28 Stand Out Moments Are Spiritual

Some things stand out.

I remember Tinker Bell. When I saw Peter Pan, starring Mary Martin as Peter “herself” in New York City, I loved all of it, however the moment that stood out—clunked my head and twanged my heart— was the moment when the audience was asked to save Tinker Bell’s life.

Tinker Bell was the guiding fairy, a beautiful tiny female fairy with wings and a magic wand. She was the tale’s version of a guardian angel. Tinker was omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent—most of the time. She flitted about the scene shedding her bright light on the best path, warning of dangers, and protecting Peter and the children he shepherded through the hazards of Never Never Land.

Tinker was so good at her vocation that she chose to risk her life for its integrity. She knew that the villain Captain Hook had put poison into a drink that Peter or one of his band would soon imbibe. To save him she drank it herself and soon the poison took its hold.

I watched breathless as Tink slowly, dramatically, lost her energy. The light of her life dimmed to near extinction.

A shudder and a collective gasp gripped the moment.

Tinker Bell was the real hero of the story— and could not die I thought. But she was dying.

The audience was told that if we clapped and hoped hard enough we could save Tink’s little life. I clapped my hands off and wished my whole heart into the scene.

The energy of love and hope worked to save Tinker Bell, I think. However I can honestly say I had to ask what the outcome was.

What remains etched into my flesh and bones is the moment in which I participated for all my worth with a whole community in trying to save one small life, keep a single light alive.

If Tinker Bell had died I’d have cried buckets, but I’d still remember and cherish the stand out moment.

Friday, March 23, 2012

2012.03.25 An Annunciation aka Big Fat Holy Announcement

Most days faith just plods along uninspired and rotely robotic. I’d be completely sincere if I could muster it at will, but most times I just do it—pray that is.

Two days ago I was writing a sticky note when an “annunciation” came. I considered this announcement holy because it shot through me uninvited but welcome and exhilarating.

I was penning a note to a friend who is in treatment for cancer. She is a writer too; I've been sending her a poem a week while she undergoes cancer treatment. She is suffering grand humiliations to female vanity. Vanity can be a virtue because it keeps you on your elegant toes. The chemotherapy is supposed to kill the bad and leave the good to thrive—by hope and love alone. Also prayer.

Dear Friend, I wrote. I’ve always thought that prayer, just talking and feeling to yourself and God (by whatever name) with naked honesty, was the common denominator of spirituality. Religion, important piece of the spiritual pie, is how you practice or what you do because you pray.

No one is unable to pray even if they are unconscious, because Godde prays in them anyway. And no one has never not prayed. (How’s that for a triple negative, dear writer friend?:)

love and spring…………..

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

2102.03.21 Roger Haight, a BOTH/AND Hero

Last year I heard a talk I'll never forget: “If God Can Be Found In the Soul, Who needs Church?” by Roger Haight, S.J., author and theologian.

Haight offered radically new views for a Church of the future, things like full equality of men and women in church, de-clericalization and collegial exercise of authority, getting modest, being ecumenical and open to other faiths, letting go of control from the center.

AND, scandal of scandals: spiritual truth and sanctification can happen outside the Church.

Such things could be sweet or toxic to Roman Catholic ears.

The lecture hall was packed, mostly with older people like me, most of them women like me, and most of them Roman Catholics, like I once thought I wanted to be but, because of moral politics unfriendly to women,changed my mind. Nevertheless we all were hungry to hear new ideas, new images of our shared God.

Can we be one for Christ’s sake?

(I read “one” to mean mutually respectful and deliciously diverse.)

Haight, a mild-mannered, bespectacled, not bombastic, let's say Wally Peepers type, is scholar in residence at Union Theological School in New York City. He has lost his mandatum (papal authorization) to teach theology in Roman Catholic institutions. Ya think he’s teaching theology?

But he hasn’t lost his voice. His theology is dangerous; for example he titles one of his books “Jesus Symbol of God.”

Symbol? OR Very God of Very God? True God from True God, as our Nicene creed states? Obviously Jesus Christ for Christians is BOTH /AND and to separate divine from human is the big temptation, impossible to avoid and impossible not to avoid.

I sat rapt and wrote lots of notes. What I took away and will never forget came from the Q & A time. One woman asked Haight, “What shall we do? The Church isn’t listening?”

A: “Spiritual nourishment is a higher value than institutional loyalty. If you’re not fed feel free to move. Talk back.”

Whoever heard of a Catholic authority figure suggesting such things—in public? But he did and he is preaching a religion of BOTH/AND.

Thank Godde.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

20112.03.14 Roles to Real

Years ago I worked as a chaplain/counselor in an alcohol/drug rehabilitation center where I learned life lessons that allow me to be myself without judgment—well, most days.

I’m writing about this because, well, you keep writing about what matters.

I discovered that in very stressed families people took on roles to cope — and I was a “hero.” I wasn’t a hero for real, but by role. It was a relief to know that, because heroism was exhausting. It kept me striving at top speed, compulsively amassing achievement after achievement, all of them grand and applause worthy, but they never got me what I wanted: serenity and love.

Addictive systems are not about who drinks or drugs and who doesn’t, who sinned and who didn’t, though everyone will seek a culprit just as they did in Eden starting with Eve and ending up with the poor little snake. Lying, hiding and blaming behaviors arise from anxiety and keep everyone feeling just plain bad (guilty, afraid, anxious, angry, sad, and stupid) inside.

Addictive systems(family, community, religious congregation, culture) are ones that feel uncomfortable to everyone and no one knows quite why. It’s no one’s fault. Relationships just don’t work well. Emotional connections are absent or negative. Individuals feel emotionally glued together even when they also feel estranged. Most everyone pretends all is well.The system got dysfunctional over time and by habit.

Healing is possible and it begins with confessing true feelings. Something like HELP! How biblical.

I was at a workshop on family systems once in which the presenter said, “Any critical parent will do.” She meant: will do to make a whole family feel helpless. That sounded like passing the blame to me.

I’d say, any seriously chronic stress will do. Chronic.

That’s where roles come in. People in a misfunctioning system wonder: How can I help this group feel better? What can I do to make everyone truly happy?

So they fall into roles and after a while they forget who they are.

A natural leader, I took up the hero role to please and create proud feelings—attractive alternatives to shame and anger. I wanted my role to rub off so everyone would feel proud, not of me but of themselves.

A friend, by personality and temperament, took up the role of scapegoat. He tried to call attention away from the stress and uncertainty by being loud and boisterous, distracting others away from their bad feelings. It worked until the stress of the role got too much and he turned to destructive behavior—and in time got into trouble with the law.

One of the cutest roles people turn to is the comic. This person has a natural gift of humor and uses it to make others laugh and forget their troubles. In time the comic risks forgetting that there is anything sad or serious at all anymore.

Naturally caring people lie awake nights worrying about how to make things right; caring turns into caretaking for control.

And there’s always someone or ones who gets lost in the role confusion and can’t decide what’s real at all—if anything. They are quiet, obedient, intent on not making trouble, so intent that they get left out. Lonely.

It takes a long time and help from outside to move from role back to real, the way God created us. I needed everything: therapy, twelve step programs, prayer, friends and family, and Jesus. Healing was painful and involved grief. It made more trouble for me before it made less.

A young man I knew years back demeaned himself endlessly for being such a “stupid jerk” as a kid. He’d lost sleep waiting for his mother to fall asleep so he could make sure her cigarette didn’t fall from the ashtray and set the house on fire. Was that stupid or loving?

But just like the biblical folks you don’t heal without a whole helluva of a lot of commotion. It’s a process not a miracle. Hang in. There’s nothing more worthwhile.

Spiritual tips: 1) God loves you whether you’re playing a role or not; and 2) The motivation behind role-playing is spiritual. Look deep. You did it for love.

Simply so.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

2012.03.14 MIdrash as a Spiritual Practice

Midrash is a Jewish way of interpreting scripture. Put simply, midrash, meaning to seek or search, is a story about the biblical story, plummeting the text for deepening and multiple meanings over time.

Midrashic process means the ancient story continues to evolve because each generation tells its own stories about the biblical story and so its meaning expands and grows. Midrash also enable individuals to tie parts of their own stories into the biblical story.

You could say that writing or telling midrash is a way to access your connection with holy writ, find your spiritual voice, and discover your own holiness within.

At a writer’s workshop led by Madeleine L’Engle in the 90s she suggested to participants that we write a story about someone in scripture who might be angry. I wrote about the snake in the garden of Eden myth. Old and on her last skin, she grouses to her Creator about being cast in shame as the cosmic scapegoat for the wholly messy “apple” affair in the garden of Eden. The old snake at last hears a Word.

But of course I was writing my own story and listening for God in my own anger and womanly shame.

With that little story I began my practice of writing midrash stories about many biblical situations that seemed close to my own. I found my own ground, God’s compassion, and astounding spiritual insights through the process

My snake’s story “The Asp’s Lament” ended up in my first book Spiritual Lemons: Biblical Women, Irreverent Laughter and Righteous Rage. It’s a favorite of many women one of whom shed tears over the possibility of grace for the snake, and another of whom is translating it into Spanish. The little snake, grinning and beribboned, made the cover of the Italian translation of Lemons.

AND, to my delight, the Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori sought me out at a diocesan clergy gathering to tell me how much she loved the snake story.

Snakes may slither and hiss but they travel far and fast—gliding with grace.

On Sat. March 24 I’m leading a quiet day of prayer at Miramar Retreat Center in Duxbury, MA. from 10-3, includes lunch. Topic: “Spiritual Lemons: Writing Midrash as a Spiritual Practice”. If you’re free come join me for prayer and fun in a meditative setting. Call Ann at 781-585-2460 to register.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

2012.03.11 Either vs. Or—or Both

In our nation, and perhaps in the world and in our churches, we are trying to move from rigid positions of EITHER/OR to supple positions of BOTH/AND.

I think of piano playing. You can’t play music that soothes souls with rigid fingers. You also can’t make peace with inflexible minds and hard hearts.

The process of getting to BOTH/AND is painful, like any enormous world view change. It’s a time when EITHER and OR fight more vociferously, even viciously. Both are afraid.

I remember when my children would fight over who had more favor or love. They never put it that way, but if they got anxious about parental attention, which happened more than a few times (some of it through parental fault and flaw) they competed for the love they all already had in full and equal measure. Today I'm proud about how they have grown up and into each other.

On a larger scale we get war and more war in our politics, on our streets, among our religious perspectives, in our homes, and in our families—not just with foreign lands. These latter only become convenient scapegoats for looking deeply and honestly at ourselves.

The temptation is to hop on one side or the other and stay there believing yourself loyal and devoted when really you’re only a loyal-ist. Peace is a higher value than victory.

Now we hear radio talk show celebrity,chauvinist of conservative patriarchy, Rush Limbaugh curse a female college student for testifying to Congress about wanting her health care insurance to cover contraception. By Limbaugh’s rhetoric she can be EITHER a “slut/prostitute” OR a “pregnant madonna.”

The fight is on and the battle ground is a woman’s body. Once again.

Women, especially Roman Catholic women, don’t want to call this a women’s liberation issue, a feminist platform. It is politics they say. It is about health care they say. It is about religious freedom and the economy. Yes it is all that, AND......

I ask: on whose body is legislation about birth control coverage visited? Do men take contraception pills? Do men get pregnant? Not yet. So is this an EITHER/ OR fight disguised by new language? Is it a gender justice issue in essence? Certainly it’s a patriarchal power issue.

I don’t agree with some religious traditions that disallow blood transfusions for the sake of purity of creation. I also think practitioners of such faiths should have their choice even if it means their choice leads to their death. That doesn’t mean insurance companies would stop covering blood transfusions, or that you and I would stop donating our healthy blood, does it?

When will we enjoy a society and a church that is BOTH/AND, women and men together for the common good? God AND humanity cooperating for the good of all creation? Heaven-in-earth and earth-in-heaven?

In this BOTH/AND vision, Church and state institutions BOTH take their lumbering free time to make changes for justice AND individual people are free to make their own moral choices.

I guess any vision begins with one, or a few.

Wise, brave U.S. Senator, Olympia Snowe, moderate Republican of Maine fits that bill for me. Fed up with partisan politics and gridlock (EITHER/OR impasse,) Snowe walked away. She will not seek a fourth term, believing she said that she can do more good outside the halls of power, traditional change agents.

Brava Olympia Snowe. And thanks.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

2012.03.08 International Women's Day & Madeleine L'Engle

I honor the late Madeleine L’Engle, author and theologian, on this International Women’s Day. She was international in travel and cosmic in her ideas.

Madeleine L’Engle, when I was trying to get ordained priest in the Episcopal Church USA back in the late ‘70s, gave me a commandment I’ve never forgotten and still keep. She stood tall in height and put all her soul stature into this word: “Now, my dear, when you get ordained, and you will, do not become a little man.” Amen, I thought.

I’ve written about keeping Madeleine’s commandment before, but this year her classic “A Wrinkle in Time” turns 50 and I’d like to pay tribute to one of my mentors. I need a hero.

It took me a record time to get ordained at a time when the church had just voted women were “fit” to be priests. After I finally made it in 1988, Madeleine’s words rang in my ears. At one time in my 20s I thought I might like to be like a man just for power-in-the-world. But that passed quickly and gratefully for the sake of bearing wonderful children who filled my heart then—and now.

I’d read L’Engle’s book “A Wrinkle in Time” more than once myself, and later to my children. It took almost as long to get published as it took me to be ordained. Madeleine submitted it to 24 publishing houses before Farrar, Straus and Giroux took a chance on it that paid off. “Wrinkle” has over 10 million copies in print and won the Newbery in 1963.

All those rejections and she already had six books to her authorial name! I have two, the first of which Madeleine, with a provocative prompt, helped me jumpstart at a writer’s workshop. I have more rejections than I can count. Madeleine never lost faith in herself, her story or her voice. I hope I don’t either.

Our connections known and unknown continue to delight me in wonder.

Like me Madeleine was graduated from Smith College, she in 1941, I in 1960, she cum laude, I phi beta kappa. We both wrote out our ideas and feelings in journals from a young age and both loved the Bible. Madeleine wrote a great blurb for my book Spiritual Lemons.

An advanced theological thinker, Madeleine was adamant that there really was no such thing as a book for children, that children had deep thoughts and questions and spiritual longing the same as adults. I can attest to that as one of those children who badgered God, and her parents, with about every mysterious question possible—and never stopped.

We both were born and grew up in New York City. We both had religious imaginations early on and our earliest views were shaped by sky scrapers beyond whose majesty we sought the heavens. She was an Episcopalian and I became one. For me that was about finding a church that had sacramental worship and more hope for being inclusive.

When Madeleine was my spiritual director she talked a lot about the silliness of religious divisions, the pretension of clerics, and the necessity of a deity fit for the cosmos. No corseted divinity, she’d say. And of course there is universal salvation. Of course, I’d agree without hesitation.

And, although Madeleine might not have called herself a feminist, I did. One of “Wrinkle’s” worst offenses, according to some critics was that the book had religious (Christian) themes (far too sophisticated for children) AND a female protagonist who isn’t sweet or pretty and loves science and curious quests. “Wrinkle” is full of insights from quantum physics, intergalactic space, and fractals—mysteries of science and of theological cosmology.

I wasn’t that good at science but I was good at being a girl, and the protagonist of my yet unpublished memoir is a woman. It’s a quest story full of mystery—grace and earthiness all together.

Meg Murry in “Wrinkle” is insecure, plain, bossy, stubborn, and compassionate. I’m four out of those five. Meg sets off on a quest into space, time traveling through the universe, to save her father who is captive on a strange planet. I once thought I could save my father from a planet called alcoholism.

Madeleine L’Engle shared many ideas with me and gave me a portion of her spirit. I am nowhere near her in talent, faith or fame. I don’t aspire to that. I’d just like one more book.

Madeleine died in 2007 and just yesterday I heard her voice on NPR reading from a section of “Wrinkle.” It gave me a boost.

Thank you Madeleine L’Engle.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

2012.03.04 Grace for "Dummies"

The first thing to say is that with grace there ARE no dummies—although I think the dummy brand is kind of a cute way to let most of us plead ignorance and still learn the basics of things we’d like to know but not be experts about, or perhaps forgot.

Because I’m a Christian priest (Episcopal) the idea of grace to me is theological, that is grace comes from Divinity aka God/Godde/Alla/Yahweh/Adonai, blah blah, yadda yadda, and etc.

Grace has a transcendent dimension but we experience it in earthly fleshly ways.

Grace has a few identifying marks.......
-it’s unconditional (you don’t ask for it, deserve it, or get to return it...
kind of like grits on your plate in the south
-it’s a surprise, unexpected, feels weird
-it offers a choice whether to receive it not knowing its worth, or turn away
-it takes time to understand
-it is usually mediated ie. comes to you through another person, your own mind,
a piece of nature, the arts, worship, music,a book, a sacrament, or, yes, your religion
-it evokes feelings of awe, wonder, and gratitude
-it lets you in on how little you know and that you are not in charge
-it’s momentary and passing
-it causes you to feel BOTH completely known and completely loved, at the
same time

This latter experience is rare in itself. Most often we think things like, “They know me but they don’t love me” or “They love me but if they only knew me they wouldn’t.”

Grace is one way Godde breaks through our compulsive ways of thinking and doing and offers new perspectives, untangles impossible knots, unsticks the stuck, or just plain delights.

Recently I felt such delightful buoying. A small curly-headed boy of about six sat at breakfast in a restaurant. He was dwarfed by about 8 adults at a long table. No one paid him much attention as he eagerly spooned his cereal and talked loudly regardless. He looked up, caught my eye, broke into a smile that could puncture the densest of cloud covers, and shouted out the good news: “We’re here with our WHOLE family.”

I grinned and gave him a thumbs up and thanked God for his little life and the grace he gave me.