November 30, 2012

An Open Message to Anti-Abortionists

Dear friends:

I don’t consider abortion an ideal solution, seeing it as something to be avoided if possible. I do not, however, share the anti-abortion zeal of the folks who picket here, at the end of the street that I live on. I am a Quaker and semi-retired therapist, and I see clients in my home office. Some of your signs have been traumatizing for these people, many of whom are already trying to recover from emotional trauma. Here are some thoughts about the way in which you are exercising your protest.

  1. You say you are pro-life. Then please behave that way in the world. Don’t just picket and pray. Put some flesh on your pronouncements that actually demonstrates you value life. Now that would be transformative! Are you personally providing significant financial assistance to women who are seeking abortions for economic reasons? Are you personally adopting children of mothers who would otherwise seek abortion? Are your churches opening clinics that include prenatal care and adoption services? Are you consistently pro-life? Are you also opposed to the death penalty, excessive use of force, and war?
  2. When you picket, make sure your signs represent your truth without judgment and blame. “Abortion Kills Children” is as violent to the mind and spirit as you believe abortion to be to the body. It implies that the woman seeking abortion, and the medical providers who assist her, are murderers. This is not a message that most people passing by on the highway consider convincing. Abortion is legal under certain circumstances; murder is not. Murder is obviously not the experience of the women or medical providers. In fact, women’s inward experience as they consider abortion is one almost universally of pain, fear, grief, loss, confusion, shame, and sometimes anger. It is your own inward violence that causes you to heap the judgment of “murderer” on them. I saw a sign today, for the first time, that approached what I think of as a respectful and compassionate message: “Pregnant women need support, not abortion.” IF you are providing that kind of support – that is, if you are willing to stand behind your pronouncement – this is both a respectful and compassionate message, and one that nearly everyone driving by could identify with and even be persuaded by. If you are not providing support, then it is just another empty pronouncement about belief.
  3. Please leave your children out of it. Please do not bring them with you to picket and confront.  I cringe with pain for the children present when I see signs like the killing sign above. Believe me when I say that this is not good for their psychological development or their spiritual development. Children need a gentle, loving environment, however firm the family values. Using children and babies as a reproach to the women and providers at the clinic demonstrates that you are neither loving nor forgiving toward those people, places the children in a very pressured situation, and can propel them into a deep conflict about obedience, punishment, and God.  
  4.  Get over being self-righteous. Do not pray on your knees facing the traffic. Do not face your signs at particular people or cars. Do not make a righteous spectacle of yourselves. Self-righteousness actually creates feelings of disgust, pity, and/or anger in many people. (And Jesus was particularly opposed to it.) Instead, pray for humility, for loving hearts, for solutions that respect the goodness within all of God’s children, including the ones you oppose. Work at creating more space for God’s love to flow into, rather than using fear to squeeze out the hope and love of those who feel desperate and alone.
I wish you peace. I offer these suggestions in the spirit of love. I will pray for all of us.

June 13, 2012

Help Thou My Lack of Trust

I felt agitated in our silent Meeting for Worship this morning. My mind kept going to the ways in which I am not satisfied in my life, the mistakes I have made, and the anxiety I can feel about “getting it right.” As I sat with the agitation – I have learned that it is not helpful to try to tame it or replace it with more comfortable feelings, like peacefulness or calm – I became aware of the presence of Jesus.

This doesn’t happen to me often. Although I like Jesus a lot, and feel that he is definitely my Friend, it has been quite some time since he stepped into the picture without being asked. But there he was, standing before me in Spirit, inviting my spirit to lean on him.

As Jesus is standing there before me, I inwardly hear the words of an ancient hymn that is in our Quaker hymnal, Worship in Song, though I’ve never heard anyone sing this hymn in a Meeting for Worship or a choral event. It is set to a familiar tune by Thomas Tallis, circa 1567:
I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Come unto me and rest;
Lay down, thou weary one, lay down
Thy head upon my breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was,
Weary, worn and sad;
La-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la-la,
And he has made me glad.
I cannot remember the second-to-last line! The verse is going through my head, over and over again, with a missing la-la-la line, one that I know is critical to the meaning of the song. I work with it, trying to remember. I sing the song inwardly several times, hoping that my associative memory will click in and supply the missing words. No luck. I think of walking over to the stack of hymnals and bringing one back to my chair. I will have to cross the entire width of the meeting room, however, which could be somewhat disturbing to the other worshippers. Our worship dog, Dalva, is able to be still and silent during worship, even during ministry. But if I were to rise and walk across the meeting room, I think, she might think it is the end of worship and bound toward me for her after-worship hug. And that would disturb the other Friends present even more. I think of all sorts of excuses to not get the hymnal. I stay in my seat.

When I come home, I look up the hymn. The missing line is “I found in him a resting place.” It is one that I have rememorized countless times, but always, if I haven’t thought of or sung the song in awhile, I forget that particular line. Memory is a chronic issue for me. But even so, I can remember the rest of the verse. Why does this particular line continue to elude me?
I think it is because that line, of all the lines in the verse, evokes for me the inward experience of actually consenting to rest in Jesus. The rest of the verse is either an invitation from him or the happy outcome at the end of the story. But the actual, uncomfortable, inward act of making myself vulnerable, of laying my head down, of consenting to rest in Jesus – that is the sticking point for this stiff-necked, independent, “don’t tell me what to do,” theologically multilingual Friend.

Today Jesus came to me. Today he invited me to rest in him. Nothing more. He didn’t demand that I give up my connection to Mother Earth. He didn’t ask that I believe that he, and only he, is the Son of God. He didn’t require that I believe every word of the New International Version of the Bible. He didn’t require that I treat my inward experiences of Spirit and spirits with suspicion.
He simply invited me to rest. Period. And he used my poor memory to help me remember that it is only my consent that is needed to experience the happy outcome of resting in him. Jesus is pretty brilliant.

At this moment I cannot, with a whole heart, consent to his invitation to rest in him. But I can say that I am willing to be willing. I can say that I want to be able to lean into him in this way. Like the father of the epileptic boy in the Gospel of Mark, I pray, “Help thou my lack of trust.”

June 5, 2012

Postcard from the Lip of the Void

It has been awhile since I blogged. I said in the beginning that I would blog as led - and guess what? No leading until now! So here is a new piece. Please let me know if and how it speaks to you.

I had just finished facilitating a retreat. I was tired but satisfied that I had been faithful to the leadings I had received as I prepared and met with these gentle Friends. But I also experienced a sense of disquiet. As time passed, I began to second-guess the work, and was beginning to engage in some negative self-talk: “I should have listened more deeply.” “Was I really being faithful, or just following my own egoic ideas about how things should go?” “I didn’t communicate well enough.” I was really doing a number on myself!
I went to bed acknowledging my limitation and anxiety, having come to an understanding of their origins. But I slept fitfully, struggling into the wee hours to remain groggily asleep. Then suddenly, about 4 am, I just woke up, very clear and calm, and perfectly alert. I felt as though I had been swimming under water, and had finally surfaced to get a good, long breath.

I rose for a bit, then got back into the bed with my husband.  Suddenly, still awake, I felt an infilling of energy and received a vivid visitation. Language cannot describe the impossibilities that I perceived in that bubble of timelessness. It was as if all of Life simultaneously appeared in a rush to my inward sight. The past, present, and future all existed simultaneously.
Babies were both being born and dying as the old people they had become, peacemakers were cheering in city squares while also driving the tanks that rumbled into empty, shuttered streets. I saw the kind, loving, deep pools that were the eyes of Mother God as she held me closely to her breast, while I was simultaneously uplifted by the exquisite, cold, and awful Perfection at the center of a mathematical equation. God and Not-God danced together. The seed hull burst, sent out a shoot, pierced the surface of the ground, gave forth fruit and died in exactly the same moment. The face of every animal merged with every other, but never lost their uniqueness. The world burned but was not consumed. The ocean waves leapt and crashed, receded and returned, inhaled and exhaled in the same breath. And in the waves I could see the images of all of the waves that have ever been or ever will be. Time and space stood still together and embraced. I heard, “I Am That I Am,” and knew that this was the true condition of Reality, that it described the actual reality of the world that we live in, and which we persistently misperceive.

My mind labored with the paradoxes, jumping forward into the future and backward into the past. I felt as if I might pop. My whole being felt impossibly stretched by an experience which I could not really experience, but only witness in part. I received the guidance to be content with what I could fathom, because this happening was far bigger than anything my mind and body could contain.
One would think that this would be a terrifying experience, but it was not. I wept with joy, with release. I wept to be shown that Life is far greater than anything we can comprehend, that God is far greater than anything we can understand or hang language upon. I wept knowing that the theists and nontheists are both correct. I wept knowing that love and life, birth and death, past, present and future, the cycles of seasons and paths of the planets, the Big Bang and Intelligent Design are all cut from the same cloth.

It seems impossibly paradoxical. But, standing momentarily on the lip of a great Void that was dark and warm and bright and cold, I knew that my human perception was just too short sighted to see the true condition of Reality. Were I able to rise far enough above that Great Void, and hold its impossible dimensions in my mind, I would see the face of God – and I would know Unity.
I wondered again why it seems that these visitations come in the company of suffering. For me, the willingness to be impeccably authentic seems to help create the conditions that allow God's spirit to break in.  In my case, authenticity usually involves some suffering. I stand in the Light, and see myself as I really am, warts, beauty, and all. So I have renewed my commitment to being as authentic as possible, as I stand before people and God. And I have renewed my commitment to work on behalf of the Unity that includes all diversity, which I name God. I invite you to join me in that commitment, if you have not already done so. And I pray that one day our world shall know the Unity that passeth understanding.

January 2, 2012

"Praise God, All You Worms and Spiderman!"

I woke up three hours early this morning. God’s to blame. She always uses the early morning to nudge me about the things that are good for me. The trouble is, I wake with the nudge, and then have to work at figuring out what the nudge is telling me. That’s why I’m writing now – to figure out this morning’s nudge.

I woke with worried thoughts about my children. My kids, of course, think I worry too much. All kids think their mothers worry too much. They don’t know the half of it, because for a good portion of the time I have spent worrying about these particular children, they were too young to know any better. Then, when they were old enough to understand my worry, they were unconscious – figuratively and/or literally – in bars or hospital beds. Now they are grown up, living wonderful and meaningful lives, and my responsibility for their safety is long over. But still I worry. Because there is so much life still ahead of them, and I know – deeply – that neither I nor anyone else can protect them from the hard parts.

I can’t protect them from making questionable choices that lead to hardship. I can’t protect them from money troubles. I can’t protect them from disappointments in love or work. I can’t protect them from catastrophe, loss, temptation, ruin, or grief.
“Whoa,” says God. “What about me?”

And that pulls me up short. In spite of the fact that both of my sons are sensitive to the moving of the heart and the spirit, neither of them are religious. They don’t attend Quaker meeting or any other church on anything approaching a regular basis. When he was a teenager, one of them used to have zealously emotional rants at me about what a fool I was to believe in anything or anyone called “God.” Through the years, in order to bear the heartache of not being able to share this most beautiful of relationships with them, and treading into that borderless land where mothers inappropriately try to mold their adult children, I carefully dissociated my relationship with them from my relationship with the Divine. So I don’t talk with them about God, the still, small Voice within, the Inward Teacher, the Creator, the Light, the Power at the Center of All. I have taught myself to just let them be.
This was the accomplishment of a mother who used to chant God’s praises with her young son sitting in her lap each morning. We would each supply some of the words of the prayer: “Praise God, all you dewdrops and maple leaves! Praise God, all you bumblebees and dragonflies! Praise God, all you worms and Spiderman!” I didn’t think God would mind too much about Spiderman, since this beautiful, innocent, bright-faced little boy was learning to love singing to God.

This was the accomplishment of a mother who knew in the depth of her soul, looking at her sleeping baby in the crib, that this child would have his own relationship with God, that God would lead him by the hand on his own path to Life and Love. That it didn’t matter what I wanted for him. What mattered was what God wanted for him.
So to leave God out of my conversations with my teen and young adult sons was no easy task. But I managed it. I continued to pray for them. But I have made a terrible error. I haven’t understood how important conversation was to tending the relationship between my sons and their own Inner Light. I have been shown that it doesn’t matter where the conversation happens, but happen it must. When I stopped talking to them about God, I could have intensified my talking to God about them. But I didn’t. As a result, my prayers about my sons became fewer, further between, and less juicy.  It became a matter of going to God when they were in real trouble, but otherwise not really thinking of God and them together in the same thought, as if they inhabited different lands within my fractured psyche.

So when God said, “What about me?” it pulled me up short. And I knew, in the multiverse of that one, simple question, that my worry was needless. That these lives my sons are living – in goodness, grace, and challenge – are full of the opportunity of blessing and learning. And that God holds them in the palm of Her hand just as surely as She holds me.
And I also knew without doubt that I could no longer hold them separate from God within my mind and heart. That, for my own sake and for theirs, I needed to hold them together with the Light that surpasses understanding, and to hold them often, with their partners and their children, so that we can be whole. And so that my blood lineage, so fractured through the generations before me, can be made whole.

I thank you, Creator, Beloved, my dear and deep Inward Teacher. I thank you for waking me up in body and soul. I thank you for using my worry to lead me back to You. I thank you for turning every willing part of me back to the Light. I thank you for sharing the power of creation with me, and with all of us. I thank you for the power of laughter and love, for the healing innocence of children, for this lovely world of earth, air, fire and water. I thank you for all of your children. And I thank you for mine.
I thank you for my sons, for their partners, and for their children, the ones who are here and the ones who will come. I thank you for our ancestors, who did their best and got us this far. I thank you for our descendants, the future generations, who will carry us further. I thank you for pulling me up short, and for reminding me: “What about You?”