Dessert and difficulty

Remember these words from Psalm 23? “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” and “You prepare a table for me in the midst of my enemies.”

This doesn’t sound like a great deal does it? Rod and staff? Those sound like weapons. We have to eat surrounded by enemies? This is a good thing?

These words let us know that following God isn’t about a life of ease and plenty. It is a life of work and hardship. But it’s also a life of being refined. We are being improved through the difficulties that God gives us. They aren’t tests or punishments. They are how God shapes us and molds us into being better people. This way when it comes time for the separation of the wheat and the chaff, we will be the wheat. God is refining us into gold.

God chooses us, but then we have to choose God. And when we choose God we’re choosing this life of being shaped by God. When the psalmist tells us “You prepare a table for me in the midst of my enemies”, it means that in the middle of a bad situation you will flourish and be well provided for. But you have to be in a bad situation. It doesn’t mean that you get the feast without the fight. You don’t get the desert without the difficulty.

Know that whenever you’re in a bad situation, one that feels impossible, know that God is with you and that God is cheering you on. God wants you to rise above it and get stronger because of that bad situation, not in spite of it. God is using it to strengthen you in the same way that anyone who wants to get stronger muscles has to pick up heavier and heavier weights.

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Crone

I’m celebrating the fact that I’m now a crone. Not an old, withered, ugly woman. Crone in the sense of a elder woman of the tribe. Crone in the sense that I’ve successfully navigated “the Change”.

We don’t talk a lot about our bodies in this culture, and we certainly don’t talk a lot about our emotions. Well, sure, we talk about our bodies in the sense that we say we are too tall, too short, too fat, too skinny – we never are just right. Goldilocks would be right at home in our society, where the majority of things aren’t enough. We talk about the external parts of our bodies, but nothing about what really matters. We certainly don’t talk about menopause or menstruation.

Some cultures have such taboos about the natural rhythms of women’s bodies that they force women to behave differently when they are menstruating. Men won’t touch them, even to shake hands. This includes their husbands. If they are married, they sleep in separate beds during that time. Some societies force young girls to stop going to school the minute they hit puberty. Some are forced to marry so that they don’t become pregnant without the benefit of a man to support them. Somehow they forget that it was a “man” who would have gotten the unmarried girl pregnant in the first place. But that is a post for another day.

No, we don’t talk about menstruation at all. We call it by other names – “Aunt Flo is visiting”, “The Curse”, “my monthly visitor”… the list of euphemisms is endless. We don’t want to talk about it because we don’t want to deal with it. We’d like it to just go away.

Except we don’t know what to do when it starts going away, either. We start to think that something is wrong. Some women try to medicate it, by tricking their bodies with artificial hormones. Some women will get a hysterectomy to stop having to deal with it at all. The only thing is that the cessation of periods is natural. It isn’t a disease. It doesn’t have to be treated with medicine.

But, we are part of a culture that doesn’t like change, and it doesn’t like any sign of getting older. Women dye their hair rather than let their silver crown shine. We’ll get botox injections rather than have wrinkles. We’ll put powder on our faces to fill in lines. We hide the facts of time. In our desperate efforts to keep everything the same, we miss the valuable gifts that change can offer us.

Menopause is the complete cessation of periods. A woman is not in menopause until she has not had a period for a year. In the years before that, she is in perimenopause, where the body is adjusting to the changes.

I like to think of is as being similar to a caterpillar evolving into a butterfly.

It really is more than just a physical change. It is a transformation. The more I tried to hold on to old ways of being, the harder it was. I am grateful for drums, writing, painting and collage for being the tools I used to navigate the new terrain. I suspect learning to cook, eating better, and exercising helped a lot too.

I didn’t have a guide for this journey. My mother died when I was 25, and her response to dealing with this life event was to not deal with it. She took hormones, so she didn’t have any of the sensations that come along with this stage in life.

Note that I said “sensations”, not “symptoms”. “Symptoms” indicates disease. Do we think of puberty as a disease? Do we try to treat it with drugs? No. We get through it, transforming from one part of our lives to another. Our “growing pains” are seen as normal when we are young, but abnormal, even pathological, when we are older.

Changing into a crone is like trying to walk across a quickly moving stream. The steps are not easily visible, and they can be treacherous. Sometimes you have to stand still for a while to see what the next step is. Sometimes you have to take a different path than you intended. The terrain is constantly shifting and uncertain. The goal is to get to the other side safely. The trick is that the only way to do that is to become someone else.

I learned that certain foods I always loved were suddenly bad for me. Foods that caused me joy now turn me into a raging meanie. I learned that other foods that I never liked are now very tasty. I learned that my body and my spirit work much better the more fresh vegetables I eat, rather than processed or fried foods. I learned that I need a lot less meat than society tells me I do. I learned that a strictly vegetarian diet isn’t for me.

I learned that I need less sleep. Related to that, I learned that if I don’t make time to write, the ideas will well up inside me and force me to get up to write them down. I learned that I have to make time to be creative every day.

The creative energy is the main part here. The body is no longer able to create – to reproduce. But that need to create is still there. That force is just transforming into a different form. Consider water – it is still the same atoms whether it is ice, steam, or water. But it looks and acts different in these different states.

The trick about becoming a crone is that it is your path, and you must navigate it yourself. I celebrate it, because it was a chance to reinvent, rediscover who I am.

It reminds me of when I went to college. I initially went to college in a different state than I had grown up in. Nobody knew me there. I had the opportunity to be anybody I wanted. I chose to be myself.

The time right before menopause gives you that same opportunity. Who are you? Who are you really? What do you want to be when you grow up? Is what you are doing now leading towards or away from that goal? Are the things you are doing with your time supporting or taking away from who you are called to be? If not, why not?

Use this time as an opportunity to become the person you truly are, rather than the person you’ve always been told you were. Use this time to reexamine everything – hobbies, job, relationships… Do they build up, or tear down?

This is your path. Celebrate it.

The Dragonfly

Once, in a little pond, in the muddy water under the lily pads, there lived a little water beetle in a community of water beetles. They lived a simple and comfortable life in the pond with few disturbances and interruptions.

Once in a while, sadness would come to the community when one of their brother or sister beetles would climb the stem of a lily pad and would never be seen again. They knew when this happened that their friend was dead, gone forever.

Then, one day, one little water beetle felt an irresistible urge to climb up that stem. However, she was determined that she would not leave forever. She would come back and tell her friends what she had found at the top.

When she reached the top and climbed out of the water onto the surface of the lily pad, she was so tired, and the sun felt so warm, that she decided she must take a nap. As she slept, her body changed and when she woke up, she had turned into a beautiful blue-tailed dragonfly with four broad wings and a body designed for flying.

So, fly she did! As she soared she saw the beauty of a whole new world – and a far better way of life than what she had ever known existed.

Then she remembered her beetle friends, and how they were thinking that by now she was dead. She wanted to go back to tell them, and explain to them that she was now more alive than she had ever been before. Her life had been fulfilled rather than ended.

But her new body couldn’t not go back into the water. She could not get back to tell her friends the good news. Then she understood that the time would come when they, too, would know what she now knew. So, she raised her wings and flew off into her joyous new life.

-author unknown-

(This was read at my Mother-in-law’s memorial service, and I think it is worthy of passing on)

Burial chamber

I was looking at the “Lakeland Cam” website today and came across this picture.

14051318carn_llidi (1)

The author describes it as “burial chamber”. He is in Pembrokeshire, Wales. On the picture’s metadata, it is labeled as Carn Llidi.

I know, in my heart, that it isn’t a burial chamber, in the sense that we mean it. Sure, there are burials there. But not in a physical sense. There are no bodies there.

It is a place for shedding off skin, like a snake. It is a place of building a cocoon if you are a caterpillar. But the snakes and the caterpillars are human, in this case.

These are deaths, sure. These are most certainly deaths, but also rebirths. These are transformations from one state to another. This is a place where people go to become human, to evolve.

It is a place to let go of old selves. It is a place to smooth off the rough bits.

It is a shelter and yet a danger. Look how it is a lean-to. If you sit under it, you’ll be protected from the sun and the rain, but you can still see and hear. You aren’t sheltered like you are if you go into a cave. But it is also a danger. Look at the size of that top rock, and how small that supporting rock is. There is a risk of death there. The rocks could shift and it is all over.

The same is true with transformation. It isn’t always easy, and it isn’t always good. Sometimes bad things happen when we go from one thing to another. Sometimes it isn’t how we planned it would be.

We transform all the time. We transform when we graduate from high school or college. We transform when we marry, have children, get that promotion. We transform when we publish a book or start a band or a business. We transform when we retire. We transform when we die.

There are often ceremonies and rituals for these transformations, these gateways. There are often special places we go to mark them.

This is one of those places.

So sure, it is a burial chamber. But it is also a nursery. It is a place to lay down the old self and pick up the new self. And there is just enough room in there for you. You bury yourself, and midwife yourself here too.

What is this thing?

Halfway into the second day of Circle facilitator training, one of the three ladies who were there involuntarily finally said “What is this thing we are doing?” They were sent there by their boss. They’d never been through the Circle process. They had no idea what it was all about, and they were sent to learn how to do it.

Learning how to do it when you already have been through it is still crazy-making. It is hard enough for me and I’ve been in a lot of Circle experiences. I feel like I’ve just been given my driver’s license and now I’m expected to take a vanload of kids to Memphis to see Graceland. I don’t have a map. I don’t have a van. I don’t even know where to get gas. But I’ve taken a class, and I have a certificate – so off we go, right?

No, not really. But it is a start. Just like with driving, you really can’t learn how to do it until you do it. And then you do it some more. And you’ll probably get into an accident on the way. You might have a fender bender. You might run over a curb. You might hit a squirrel.

Hopefully nobody gets taken to the hospital – and that includes you.

But part of the Circle process is trusting it, and staying with it. Part of it is not rescuing other people either. Part of that was, for me, not explaining it to them in their frustration and confusion. They had to figure it out for themselves.

We kept coming back to a Guideline – “Trust the Process”. How can you trust something you don’t understand?

The process is about listening and speaking, and being real. It is an entirely different way to communicate – not only with other people, but with yourself.

It is really hard.

I felt I couldn’t tell them what was going on. I remember what it was like for me for my first Circle. It wasn’t called that. It was a Dialogue in Diversity class, and the topic was religion. Turns out, the topic was just an excuse. The topic was something to get us to learn how to listen to each other. We were there to learn dialogue versus debate. We were there to speak our truths, and listen to others speak their truths, and be OK with the fact that those truths didn’t match up. It wasn’t about consensus. It was about listening, really listening.

Maybe three classes in, I wanted out. I was so overwhelmed with the changes going on inside me. They hadn’t prepared me for this shift in my consciousness. They hadn’t told me it was going to happen at all. It was a big unspoken thing, and I thought I was losing my mind.

Maybe I was. Maybe I needed to lose my mind.

If I tell you how to do the Circle process then I’m shortchanging you on the Circle process. I’m making it easier for you to shortchange yourself by telling you how to do the Circle process.

It is like I’m unwrapping a present for you. In fact I’m keeping you from the present. I’m keeping you from discovering for yourself that just being present is the present.

That feeling uncomfortable and still staying with it is the whole process. That not knowing and being angry and confused is part of it too. It is a shift, an evolution.

The caterpillar doesn’t know when he is going to become a butterfly. It is a painful thing. And when he emerges, different, sticky, cramped, how does he learn how to fly, when all he has ever done is crawl? How does he know?

How do we know when it happens to us?

The fact that you don’t know what is going on when you are in Circle is part of it. It can’t be taught in a book and it can’t be explained. I can just let you do Circle with me and then the next thing we know you have that moment when you go “Oh, this is what we are doing. Now I get it”.

And then you don’t get it again, because you are still holding on to that chrysalis, and your wings are still wet, and your legs are wobbly and you have knees for God’s sake, what am I doing with knees –

And that is part of it too.

Boat – on an anchorless faith.

I’m starting to think that the Episcopal church is better off without me. The whole deacon discernment process was put on hold a year ago. I understand now that there is no way I could speak freely and have them put their stamp of approval on me.

Because how dare I say that God is talking to me?

As Christians, our goal is to be connected with God. How can we possibly do the will of God if we can’t hear God?

Oh, right, I forget. We are supposed to trust that the priest/minister/pastor is hearing from God, and telling us what to do.

Yet, this isn’t what Jesus wanted.

So I’m on my own now. I’m non denominational. I’ve been without a church home for half a year, and it is a bit terrifying. There isn’t a road map for this. I keep wanting to go back to the old way, but then I feel a pain in my gut every time I think about it. I know that I can’t. I know that isn’t my path.

I’ll go to a Christmas Eve service. I’ll take communion in a gym. I’ll celebrate Christ in the pool at the Y. I’ll go to my spiritual director. I’ll go to a friend’s house where we share what the Spirit leads us to share. I’ll host events at my house. I’ll pray over my meal in silence at a buffet. I’ll make healing jewelry for a grieving friend. I’ll write.

God is connecting with me in new ways.

It is like I’m on a boat, sailing far away at sea. I’m no longer following the coastline or the man-made lights along the shore. The lights I’m following are the same lights that sailors have followed for thousands of years.

I’m going backwards to go forwards.

The radio doesn’t work here, this far out. There’s no map on the sea either. I have no way of knowing if I’m headed the right way. I have no way of knowing if I’m lost.

I’m pushed along by the breath of God, and that suits me just fine.

This is the same breath that created the world, that gave life to Adam.

I feel safe in this boat, this ark, the ark of Noah, the ark of Moses as a baby. Both went out on trust, went out in wooden boat on the ocean, adrift. Both were there because all was lost and the old ways didn’t work anymore. Both were there because to stay where they were meant certain death.

The Covenant has an ark too. So do Torah scrolls.

The main body, the sanctuary of a traditional church building is known as a nave. It is from naval, from ship. It is an ark for people. It looks like a ship, upside down. The sharp pointed roof is the hull of the ship, pointed towards the sky.

I don’t want that ship anymore. I want to take it and turn it all upside down and set it afloat again.

I don’t think that God wants us to be grounded or set in our ways, or stuck in one place. I think God wants us to be forever trusting in God’s ways, and the only way to do that is to set sail, rudderless, anchorless, free. God wants us to take us further than we’ve ever gone and right where we need to be.

God is, was, and shall be. The Hebrew YHWH is a contraction of these words. It is a good name for God, the infinite, the forever, the now and always is. God is endless and eternal.

We can’t understand this, we humans. We invented time. We invented the idea that tomorrow follows today and each day has a separate name and that time takes place. Perhaps that is why we are confused. We don’t understand God because we can’t limit God. We can’t define God because God is indefinable.

Wake up. Hear the gulls. The day is dawning here.
There’s no shore, but we are not alone.
The beings of the sea and sky keep us company.
Wake up, and smell the salt in the air.
We are safe.
We are home.

“I’m sorry” – on forgiveness.

There is a difference in saying

“I’m sorry.”
or

“I’d like to apologize for…”
or

“I’m sorry that you felt hurt when I….”

They reflect different degrees of admitting responsibility. They reflect different degrees of accepting how the other person has been hurt by your actions.

There is the true sincere apology statement, and then there is the one where the person understands the social obligation of at least acting sorry. One is real, the other is fake. Don’t be mislead. Even saying “I’d like to apologize for” doesn’t mean anything. The person would like to apologize, but isn’t actually doing so.

And worse, saying sorry doesn’t really even mean anything. If you hammer nails into a tree, and then pull them out, there are still holes there.

Expecting the victim to forgive can actually revictimize her. It puts the burden on her, instead of the abuser. It minimizes her feelings. It glosses over the reality of her pain and loss.

If there has been no apology, no restitution, then there is no closure or healing. Even if there has been an apology or restitution, then is no guarantee that closure or healing has taken place. Once a person has been harmed by another person, sometimes saying “sorry” won’t fix it, and the damage is permanent, especially if the offender has a habit of repeatedly hurting people.

It isn’t fair to the victim to expect her to forgive at all.

Sure, Buddha says that holding on to anger is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will die. Sometimes you have to forgive so you can go on with your life. But forgiveness comes when it comes, and no sooner.

Saying “Aren’t you over that by now?” isn’t kind, or helpful.

Saying “But have you forgiven him in your heart?” makes no sense. What about the liver? Is it OK to still hold some resentment there?

It is the same as getting frustrated with someone who is grieving. Grief takes time, and there isn’t a fixed amount. It takes as long as it takes.

I think people are nervous around grief, or unforgiveness, or anger, because it frightens them. They want to rush right ahead to the happy bit, where all is good and everybody is loving and kind. That Hollywood ending isn’t real. That’s why it is in the movies.

Movies don’t show reality. Sadly, a lot of us have used movies as our role models. This is why a lot of us are in pain. A lot. Our reality never matches up to that reality, and we feel like we are doing something wrong.

Working through feelings is a long process, and our society doesn’t give a lot of help along the way. You have to process your pain, just like how a cow chews its cud. You have to work on it, and wait, and work on it a little more, and wait. You have to transform it into something else. Cows transform grass into energy for their muscles, and then milk.

There is a sort of alchemy here.

Trying to take shortcuts on the process only results in it not really being processed. It will come out half way, unfinished, lumpy. It will come out sideways, if it comes out at all. Sometimes it will get stuck inside, with little jagged bits poking into your soft parts, just causing more pain.

Take as long as you need.

You don’t have to forgive to the extent that you let the abuser hurt you again. You don’t have to forget.

It helps if you can move on, where this rock of grief and pain doesn’t define you, doesn’t limit you, doesn’t keep you stuck in one place.

Work on it. Chew on it. Draw. Paint. Write. Go for a walk. Take your anger with you.

You aren’t running away from your anger and pain and loss, you’re using it as fuel. You’re transforming it into something useful and necessary. It takes a while. It takes as long as it needs to take.