The bear and the monkey.

There is a part of the Hindu epic Ramayana that I like very much. Rama, the blue-skinned human incarnation of the god Vishnu is searching for Sita, his wife. She has been kidnapped by the demon Ravana. On his quest he comes across a white monkey named Hanuman and a black bear named Jambavan.

The two animals join in the quest and they enlist the aid of the entire monkey and bear clans. After a month of searching they still haven’t found Ravana’s lair or Sita, and they are at the end of the Indian continent.

Jambavan knows a secret about Hanuman that he himself does not know. Hanuman is the son of the wind god and has immense powers. This information was hidden from him to keep him from annoying the meditating sages. Jambavan breaks his promise to the gods and Hanuman wakes up to his true self, grows immense and is able to see the island where Ravana’s fortress is, thus leading the group of searchers in Sita’s rescue.

How many years did Hanuman go before he was told of his birthright and his power?

How many of us are similarly asleep?

I am that bear.

I am here to tell you a secret.

You are more powerful than you know.
You have within you the light of God.
You are made from stardust.
You were put here because you are needed and necessary.

You are beautiful.
You are powerful.
You are eternal.

Act accordingly.
Use your powers for good.

(If you are interested in an especially readable and enjoyable version of this tale, please go to your library and get “Ramayana: Divine Loophole” by Sanjay Patel. It is illustrated in “Samurai Jack” style.)

On doorways – real and imagined.

There were several exercises in the deacon discernment program that I went through that were useful. One is to imagine that you are facing a doorway. Do you go through it? What do you feel like once you have gone through? What is on the other side?

Stop and ponder this for a moment. Feel how this feels. What is your answer?

My answer was to imagine not that I was walking through a doorway, but that the doorway was coming towards me. It wasn’t a conscious action on my part. I was there, simply acknowledging that the transition was coming. When I was through it was as if I was bathed in light. It was warm and soothing and welcoming. It was a “finally I’m here” moment.

There are moments in our lives that when they finally happen you are relieved that you are there. You’ve waited a long time. You’ve arrived.

Doorways are simply transitions. They mark a difference between here and there. They don’t have to be physical to be doorways. There is a doorway between being a child and being an adult. There is a doorway you cross when you graduate college, or when you get married, or when your parents die.

I’ve always loved the Japanese idea of the torii gate. They aren’t doorways so much as markers. You can walk around them and still get to the other side. There is no door. It is three pieces of wood – two up, and one across. Anybody can walk through. But the torii gate indicates that something different is past this line. Often you are being informed that this is holy ground.

The Celts would say it is one of the thin places, where the worlds brush up against each other. You could call it Heaven and Earth, but in most cases with the Celts it is the idea of here and the otherworld, the world of the fae.

When you get to the thin places, the rules change. You change.

There is always a risk going through doorways. Who will you meet on the other side? Will you know what to do? Do you have the right equipment or training? You are in foreign territory.

Remember what it was like to finally graduate college or to get married? You were different. The rules changed. Everything that you had done up to that point lead you to that point, but now you were wondering if you could go backwards, go home, quit. Things are scary on the other sides of doorways.

Some doorways you can go back through. Some you can’t. When your parents die, you know you can never go home again. You can’t ask for a loan when you get short on cash. You can’t move back in with them when you get a divorce or a pink slip. You have to either look for other people to help you or you have to take care of yourself.

What if your image of a doorway in the exercise had included one with a lock, and you didn’t have the key? What if your image had included no lock, but a knocker, and nobody answered your knock? Both images imply that you need someone else to open that door.

Jesus tells us that the kingdom of heaven lies within us. The doorway is inside. It is within you. There is only you, and it. Ask and it shall be given unto you. Seek and ye shall find. Knock and the door shall be opened unto you. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

White is white – on blind obedience to the Church, and going it alone.

Some of you will remember that I was in the deacon discernment process for the Episcopal Church. This means that I believe (and the priest believed) that I was being called by God to serve “the least of these” – the poor, the homeless – those who have no one to serve them. Some of you have been reading along since April of this year, when I stopped going to church. The part that is interesting to me is that only a handful of people have even seemed to notice I’m gone.

I’ve recently written to the team that was involved in the process. It took me this long to get over my anger at and sense of betrayal by the priest. I didn’t want to write an angry letter. There are/were (what tense do I use?) nine people on that team, all trying to “listen” with me to see if it was a call from God. None of them have written back. I then sent a copy of the letter to the Bishop. Nothing, again. I feel like I’m standing at the front of an auditorium and the microphone isn’t on so nobody can hear me. Or maybe they are ignoring me, hoping I’ll go away. But the weirdest part is that more people from a church that prides itself on being welcoming and friendly hasn’t contacted me.

I was very active in this church. I was there every week. I was the leader of the team of lectors and chalice bearers. I was also an acolyte. I served up front as part of the worship team nearly every week. It is a small church. I’m hard to miss.

To be a deacon in the Episcopal Church is a big crazy process. It takes years. It takes homework and meetings. You have to submit your transcripts. You have to submit your baptism and confirmation records. You have to submit to a physical and psychological exam. Basically, you have to submit. They want to make sure that you are hearing from God, sure, but they also want to make sure they can control you. They want to make sure that the Church is safe by not signing off on a wacko, sure, but they also want to find out if the priest or the Bishop tell you to do something, you’ll do it.

The odd part is that you have to go through all this for an unpaid position. You are expected to keep your day job. You have to do more at church and in the community, but you don’t get paid for it. They have this whole multi-year process to shape you into a deacon. The process is arduous.

But it turns out that they don’t really have a framework to teach you how to follow God when the Church isn’t. That’s the scary part. There’s a group in the Catholic Church that embodies this blind faith in the Church. The Jesuits say that if they see that something is white, and the Pope says it is black, they are to say it is black.

I’m not about that kind of obedience. I understand it, somewhat. We humans are fallible. I entered into this process because I know of my weakness. I’m bipolar. So I wanted training and oversight. I wanted to make sure that if I thought I was seeing white, it was indeed white. It is my greatest hope that I not deceive or mislead anybody. I think it is really important to make sure it is God’s voice I’m hearing and not my own imagining.

I left church because I could see white and everybody else was doing black. The more I read of the Gospels, the more I realized that what we, collectively as a Church, are doing, is wrong. It isn’t about building church buildings or having ordained ministers. It is about building up the Body of Christ – by teaching every person who is called to be a Christian how to be a loving servant of God and how to hear the voice of God. Everybody. Not the elect, not ordained people – everybody.

I think everybody needs to go to Cursillo and be woken up to the Holy Spirit. I think the homework assignments for the deacon process are very helpful for helping people “hear” their calling. I think small groups where people “listen” to each other and keep each other accountable are useful. I think reading books by progressive Christian authors about their struggle to integrate the ways of God with the ways of the world are helpful. I think we all need to work on our faith rather than take it for granted.

Perhaps this is what they are afraid of. Perhaps this is why they haven’t contacted me. I represent a total upheaval of the way things have always been done. No more church buildings. No more vestry. No more priests. Church isn’t a social club but a way of life – and that life is service. Perhaps this frightens them.

It is like the early Christians, who knew in their hearts that what they were doing was right, was in fulfillment of all the promises that they as Jews had been told. They knew that Jesus was the Messiah. But everybody else railed against them. How dare you upset the way we’ve always done things? How dare you tell us that we are doing it wrong?

I get that. People are like that.

But white is white, and black is black, and the blinders are off now.

On stained glass windows – part one.

I read a meditation recently that said that stained glass windows are made of broken and imperfect pieces, that when put together make a beautiful picture. The meditation went on to express that this is the same as us in the hands of God – that we are broken and imperfect, but when we join together, God makes us into something beautiful.

Except it doesn’t work like that. Stained glass windows aren’t made from broken and imperfect pieces. There is nothing random about what happens. Each piece is specially cut for the job. The entire picture is known at the beginning, and each piece is planned out by a master craftperson. The pieces aren’t broken. There are no accidents. They may look irregular, and only make sense once they are assembled into the whole, but there is nothing random about the pieces. They were cut into that shape for a reason.

Each one of us is odd, and has irregular edges. We are sharp in places, emotionally and mentally. We are round in places too. We are weird and random sometimes. But we are made that way. We were created, each of us, to be exactly the way we are. When God joins us together we can be shaped into something pretty amazing.

But then there is more to stained glass windows. They come alive when light is shining through them. This, metaphorically, is the light of God. The windows can have a beautiful picture of an instructive scene, but it doesn’t catch your eye and inspire you until it is lit up with sunlight. We too are the same. We transform when we are lit up by God.

When we allow God to get involved in our lives we are changed. We are stronger, better, brighter. We can join together to defeat hunger, cure diseases, and make the world better. We can join together to stop war. God (or the Creator, or Spirit) is the light that sparks us as individuals, and the glue that holds us individuals together.

So sure – go with that stained glass image. But know that there is nothing accidental, and that the pieces aren’t irregular or broken. We are made the way we are because that is the way we are needed.

Art Attack

I want to get my art started. It isn’t beating very well. I forget to take time to exercise it, to keep it healthy.
It isn’t due to lack of materials. I’ve got paint and canvas and decoupage goop and brushes and watercolor pencils and watercolor paper. The list goes on. Trust me, I’ve got stuff. I even have a cute little bin that looks a bit like a small attaché case that I’ve put the words “Art Attack” on it using my label maker. I figure if it is portable, then I’ll do it more. Nope. Rarely works.
I’ve seen books that I like the style of. A little bit of words, and a painting or three to a page. Sometimes they are travel books, sometimes they are children’s books. The illustrations are irregularly sized, mostly rectangles though. Some people can make watercolor look so simple.
I’ve decided that I’m making this too hard. Just like with writing, I need to set aside time to do this. Once a week? Once a day? Whatever I pick, I’m going to have to stick to it. If I wait for the muse, she’ll never come. Sometimes you have to go find her.
Part of the issue that I’m having is I like to be free with my art. I like to get immersed when I’m creating. I don’t want to have to suddenly stop and have to get ready to go to work. Art, when done well, is transformative. It is like a soul-journey. It is like getting stoned, but without the illegal part. So I don’t really want to work on my art first thing in the morning. But then I don’t have time when I get home, and the light is bad.
Another issue is that I don’t want to waste the materials. I want to use them well, to make good art. Paint and canvas can’t be re-used in the same way that beads can. You can’t move stuff around to make it look better in the way that you can with words, either. I feel a need to think it through and get it right. So instead of potentially making a mistake, I make nothing. Talk about wasting materials.
I need to follow my own advice. Something is better than nothing, and if I make up too many rules about this then I’ll never do it. If I think that it has to be perfect, to look like the illustrations in the books I enjoy, then I’ll never do it. So I have to commit to this, and just create. I need to create for the sake of creating, with no editing or self-censoring. I need to remember that it isn’t the end product that is the point, and to just enjoy the process.
There is nothing like drawing something to make you really SEE it. There is this concept called closure – we see what we think we are seeing, most of the time. We see what we expect to see. But when we slow down and try to draw something, we notice all the things we’ve missed. By making art, I learn to really use my eyes to see, not just to look.

Blue

The holy spirit is a tricky one. It is flashy and showy.

Sometimes it is depicted with the color red. Red is fire and transformation. It means stop. It is action. It is blood. It is part of why there are prohibitions against eating meat that still has blood in it. Blood is part of the Spirit. A body that has no blood in it is dead. The blood moves. It gives life and sends nutrients to the cells.

But today it is calling to me in blue. It is the bright blue of police lights (thankfully not pulling me over). It is a deep sky blue of the sky, of the ocean. It is catching my eye today, everywhere I look.

Mary wore blue. Mary was filled with the Holy Spirit. Mary allowed the Spirit to get as close as possible, to know her and be known by her. It is that blue, and that purpose.

I am my beloved and my beloved is mine.

Am I willing to let Jesus in that closely, that intimately?

What am I afraid of?

Even if I never jump in that ocean, he is still there. As near as I’ll let him. The closer I let him, the more he can do.

Blue. Blue of depth, of healing, of breath.

Come, Lord Jesus. Look into my eyes and see yourself.

Let me be OK with this. Let me not be afraid. And when I am afraid, fill in the gaps with your love, fill up my brokenness and my fear and my anger. The gaps are how you get in.

Celebrate them.

Blue upon blue upon blue.

The blue beyond, the drowning. Can I swim? Am I strong enough yet? Am I ready? Am I pushing too hard too fast?

That frog and his tail.

The tale of the frog.

There was a time when I was young and we’d caught some tadpoles in a pond. We brought them home in a plastic cup and put them in a big pan on the porch. I watched them grow, and saw their little legs come out. I was so eager for them to become frogs that I decided to help them – to pull on their tails to get them to come off sooner.

This didn’t work. The frogs died.

Now, perhaps they died because they weren’t getting fresh water because they were in a pail on my porch, but that isn’t the point of the story. I remember this as a lesson to be patient, and let things take their course. People don’t transition from swimming to hopping in one quick motion.

But I’m transforming. I can feel it. Maybe this is why I like salamanders so much. They are land and water creatures. Both. Not either-or.

Come, Lord Jesus,

Let it be unto me according to your will.

Even standing in the shallows you overwhelm me.

Love. Don’t resist. Let it happen. I’ve got you. I made you and I know what you can handle.

This is weird. Who is writing these words? Who is speaking with my mouth?

Yes.

(This was written just after visiting with my spiritual director.)

Sanctified (pain can be a blessing)

Pain can be a blessing. It can let us know something is wrong, so we seek treatment. This is true with physical pain as well as spiritual pain.

Anger, fear, anxiety are all names for spiritual pain. When we notice them, we have an opportunity to seek out a whole different kind of healing than our society usually offers us. Instead of taking a pill for these spiritual pains, we can choose to pray. We can ask God to come into that moment and be with us in our pain and our brokenness.

In this way we sanctify our pain. This is transformative to realize. When we do this, our pain becomes a reminder to seek God. It is like a bell, sounding the time to pray. Our pain becomes a pathway to God.

Of course this is easy to say when we are well. When we are sick, when we have pain or weakness or an unknown diagnosis it is hard to get enlightened. Every thought is about the pain and lack of well being. Everything is focused on the not-well-ness of how we feel. Our entire frame of consciousness is based on how we don’t feel like we think we should.

We have a hard time being objective about our subjective experience.

It is like being in the middle of an argument. It is easy to say that you should back off and not fight, don’t let the person bring you to their level. But when you are in the middle of an argument and the other person is yelling at you, right in your face it is hard to remain calm. All you want to do is yell right back and say what you really feel, free of all the social rules of being nice. This is true whether the fight is with a person or with a disease.

But it is worth trying. Yelling at the other person only makes the fight continue. Freaking out over pain only makes it hurt more.

Certainly, don’t let the other person walk all over you. Certainly, don’t ignore the pain because it might be a sign of something that needs treatment.

But part of being a follower of God is knowing that God is in charge. Even the “bad” stuff is part of the big plan.

We are told that every moment is the guru. Learn from everything, even your pain and suffering and doubt. Learn from the argumentative coworker. Learn from the annoying neighbor. Learn from the busybody aunt. They are all teachers. They are all pathways to God.

Resistance is indeed futile.