Abraham’s beard

beard

Abraham started growing a beard just like every other boy turning into a man. His Papa taught him to shave just like his own Papa taught him. Every few days the razor came out of its leather pouch ready to do its job. In winter, when he got older, he let it grow out to keep his face warm in those biting Wisconsin winters. It didn’t matter if he had an outside job that year or not, even ten minutes outside putting groceries in his car was too much cold for him. Abraham, never “Abe”, had thought about moving to warmer climes many times, but that all changed when he became a monk.
His first vow was of stability – to stay right where he was and make the world right around him better instead of traveling to some far-off place where they might not speak his language or even have flush toilets. He figured that the good Lord put him here for a reason, so here was where he’d stay.
His second vow was to not cut any of his hair. Every day he washed and combed and oiled his beard and the hair in his head. This went fine until it all grew so long that he started sitting on it, or it got caught in dresser drawers. Then he started wrapping his hair up in a piece of linen, wound about and about until it was up out of the way. This worked for about a year.
After that, he started tucking his beard into his shirt pocket, just like it was a pocket watch or a handkerchief. A decade later he took to putting it over his shoulder. Sometimes he’d wear an old military jacket with a shoulder strap. It was never anything so fancy as an epaulette, just a plain piece of cloth the same color as the jacket with a button to open and close it. While the button was helpful, it had caused a snag a time or two.
The only odd thing was that Abraham was a monastery of one. Nobody else even knew he was a monk. He never dropped so much as a hint to his friends, who never would’ve suspected and wouldn’t have believed him if he had said anything. The day after his parents died he made his vows and never swerved from them.
His third vow was to not speak about his spirituality unless he was asked. He agreed with the Lord that it was rude to brag about your holy walk, yet he also was careful not to appear as if he was denying the Lord either. It was a tight spot to be in. He figured he could tell people about his faith only if he was asked. That to him was a sign from the Lord. It was only when the traveling photographer asked him about his beard that he told, and he was the first to ask in 20 years.
Sure, people wondered about his long hair and his refusal to travel even to the next town over, but they never asked him about it. They thought that was rude to ask. That didn’t prevent them from talking amongst themselves, however.
The vow of stability was a tough one. Abraham had a bear of a time getting good shoes until the Payless store opened up a franchise just three streets away from his house. His vow to stay in his town was not up for alteration. For nearly eight years he had to wear the same pair of brown Oxfords because there was no place to buy new ones – and he certainly wasn’t going to buy them used. Used shirts and pants, certainly, but shoes? Never. No amount of Lysol could convince him they were clean enough. Even a monk has standards.
The city of Two Creeks, Wisconsin had never seen a traveling photographer until that bitterly cold Thursday in May. Even if it hadn’t been so unusual for a photographer to appear almost overnight like a ring of mushrooms in the lawn, the cold snap would certainly have fixed the date in the minds of most of the nearly 450 people who lived there.
Abraham had walked down Zander road where his house was and turned right along Lakeshore to get to the county park. Even though it wasn’t officially legal to fish there, it wasn’t actually illegal either, and Abraham often took advantage of these gray areas in life. It saved him a lot of money to fish for his supper. He was just preparing his fishing lures when he heard a booming voice behind him. “Hello there, young man! Would you be interested in a free portrait of yourself this fine day?”
Abraham turned around and looked at the man for a full minute before he answered. The photographer thought that maybe he was deaf, so he began his spiel again, but Abraham held up a hand to stop him. He was trying to figure out how to answer. His first problem was being hailed as “young man” since it was as clear as the silvery hairs on his head that he was far from being a spring chicken. Either the man was trying to butter him up or he was crazy. Neither one was good.
“Why would you want to do something like that?” Abraham asked. He liked a deal, same as the next person, but he knew that “free” meant that there was a cost down the line somewhere. Nothing was ever really free, it just meant that you didn’t pay for it. Someone did. That meant you were beholden, and beholden was a string. He was opposed to strings. They ended up being nooses more often than not.
The photographer explained that he worked for a national film developer who wanted to get more customers. Every person got a free 8 x 10 color glossy and eight wallet size portraits. The company figured that once folks saw how good the quality was, they’d order more. Suddenly the photographer stopped, looked at Abraham, and said “I never told anyone that before. That’s the company policy, but I was given a script and trained to recite it word for word as if it were mine. Why ever did I tell you all that? Come to think of it, why am I telling you this right now? Who are you?”
And Abraham told him his story, all of it. Truth for truth, since he asked. Told him how he was a born confessor. People all over, those he knew and those he just met, told him nothing but the truth all the live long day. They felt relieved, all their guilt and shame off their chests.
It started early on, as soon as he entered kindergarten. The other children just knew and came up to him. The teachers did too. It was overwhelming at first but he got used to it – well, as much as you can get used to people telling you all their secrets. Abraham thought this was normal, because it was normal to him. He had nothing to compare it to so he never told his parents about it.
Funny thing was though, it was like a superpower. The fact that people told him all their business meant that he could handle it. It was like God gave him extra strength to be able to carry all those secrets. Maybe he didn’t even carry them. Maybe it was more like he was a telephone booth, and people used him to speak to God. He figured that some people chose to dial direct, praying in their own words on their own, but then there were some who needed a person to be with them when they did it. Something about praying in an empty room made them feel like they were talking to themselves, and that bordered on crazy. Abraham was just the sort of safe person they needed.
After he told his story to the photographer, Abraham moved the very next day and left no forwarding address. It wouldn’t do to let it get out that this is who he was. Soon everybody would be beating a path to his door to unburden themselves. It was enough that people did it anyway, without even knowing that was what they were doing. It seemed honest, even pure, that way. This knowledge would turn that inside out. He might even have to set up office hours, maybe even go so far as to charge. Just the shock of thinking about the mess that would start as soon as word got out decided his mind for him.
So he shaved his beard and his head so nobody could identify him, and he started walking west, taking nothing with him. His neighbors didn’t suspect a thing because he walked all the time and he never caused a fuss. It was a week later that the word of his abilities got to them, and by then his mailbox was full and the grass needed cutting. By then he had found a new life for himself and started to regrow his hair again.

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Smoking as a silencer

Smoking represents an inability to speak your truth. When you smoke, you are literally burning the back of your throat. You are also making it impossible to speak because your mouth is closed.

People smoke because they feel that they are not able to say how they feel. They feel that someone is working against them or there’s an injustice. They feel that they don’t have the power or the authority to speak up for themselves. So they silence themselves by smoking.

It is difficult to speak up for yourself. There’s a lot of anxiety and tension that comes from it. But just like with smoking you feel pain at first and then it feels better. When you smoke, the nicotine gets into your blood system and you start to feel more relaxed. But you don’t feel relaxed right off at first. The smoke tastes bad and the burning in the back of your throat is unpleasant. But eventually you start to feel calmer. The same is true with speaking your truth.

Circle – truth

The Circle process is about a lot of things. One of those things is truth. It is about speaking your own truth, and listening to every other person speak their truth. It is about knowing your truth. It is about being OK with the idea that your truth may change. It is about being OK with the idea that somebody else’s truth may be radically different from yours.

It is about listening to yourself and to others.

It is about sitting in that space, in that circle, and really being open to what is happening.

It is about understanding that we all want to be heard and seen.

Part of the Circle process is to create a sort of group mind. It is understanding that what you see and what I see are different sides of the same thing. Just like in the story of the five blind men and the elephant, we all are groping towards an understanding of “what is”. When we share our viewpoints and our understandings in Circle, we are opening ourselves up to a bigger understanding. We are essentially creating new eyes for ourselves.

But in order to have new eyes, we have to have new ears.

We have to listen, really listen, deeply.

And we have to know our own truths in order to share them.

And those are both really hard.

We come from a culture that teaches debate, not dialogue. We come from a culture that teaches us to sit down and shut up. We come from a culture that says you have to give up your own ideas in order to get along with others. The group is more important than the individual.

Consensus sometimes means that one person yells the loudest and everybody else goes quiet. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, after all. If you stick your neck out, it might get chopped off.

We are taught that if we are all leaders, then we are going to go nowhere.

Circle isn’t about anybody being the leader, and about anybody being a follower. We all contribute. We all share. We all listen, and we all talk.

One at a time.

And that is hard. It is hard because we aren’t taught this. It is hard because we are taught to just go along with the flow. It is hard because we aren’t allowed to have our own voice in our culture.

It is uncomfortable and unusual to be in a space where people listen to us for minutes at a time.

Half the time we don’t even know what our own truth is. Sometimes our truth changes from moment to moment, with every new voice that is added.

Sometimes the hardest thing is being able to say that something is black when everybody else sees it as white.

Circle is about staying in that process, even in the awkward bits, when you feel that nobody is listening to you and nobody understands you. Circle is about staying in that process, even when you feel like you aren’t listening to everybody else. Circle is about staying in that process even when you think that everybody else is wrong, or crazy, or just plain blind. Circle is about staying even when you want to run away, even if it is only in your mind.

It is about coming back, and staying, moment by moment.

It is really hard. It is really beautiful. It is a whole different way of thinking and being.

And it could save the world.

On Light Language, and uncovering myself.

For years I’ve suppressed who I am. This may not seem like a true statement to people who know me. They see me as a free spirit, an artist, a creator. They see me as someone who isn’t afraid to speak her truth.

This is true, but there’s more. In this past year of writing I’ve opened up more. I’ve gotten looser. I’ve stretched far enough to reach parts of myself I’d forgotten, or chosen to forget. I’ve suppressed my true nature because it isn’t socially acceptable. It’s weird. I’ve feared I’ll be looked at strangely – more than I already am.

However, in these last few years I’ve found new people who see the world like I do. I’ve found visionaries, seers, misfits all. I’ve found folks who hear a call that others don’t, or won’t admit that they do. We are finding strength in our friendships. When we share our stories, we know we aren’t alone, we aren’t crazy.

If others hear the same call, you know you aren’t making it up. Part of being different is being brave enough to speak your truth, in part so that others can speak their truth. When one person admits that they see the world differently, it gives others permission to admit that they see it that way too.

It is as if the rest of world is colorblind. I’ve tried to speak of other colors, of the vibrant fire of red and the cool healing of green, and the world just looks at me like I’m a sweet little child to be humored. They can only see yellow and blue. They don’t know what I’m talking about. They’ve patted me on the head and said “That’s nice” and gone on their way.

For years I thought I wasn’t seeing correctly. Now I know better. I’ve met others who see these colors too, and paint in them, sing in them, dance in them. I know, that we know, that this is a reality.

This painting is speaking to that.

This is the final version. Fortunately I’d taken a picture of a previous version to share with you.

light3
(I apologize for the dark corner – I’ve included a better picture of it later.)

It started off as an accident, but we know there are no accidents. Accidents are just events that we didn’t plan for. It doesn’t mean that they aren’t meant to happen.

I was painting something else and had a lot of paint left over. These days, I paint by putting blobs of paint right on the canvas and mixing it with my fingers. It is very fun, but very messy. I didn’t want to waste the paint that was still on my fingers. There was a lot, and it had swirled in really interesting ways. I’d hoped to keep the project going in a new way.

I took another canvas out and wiped the rest of the paint off my fingers onto it. There wasn’t enough paint to cover the canvas and I’d already put up most of my paint tubes. I then decided to paint over it with white so I could use the canvas for something else later. Then, after covering it with white, I scribbled on it. I did something that I’ve done for years but not known what I was doing.

It looks like shorthand, but it isn’t. It doesn’t look like any language I know. It is quick, and free, and it just feels like it needs to be this way. There is a rhythm, a pattern that happens when I write like this. It isn’t really scribbling. It feels like writing, but I don’t know what it says.

One of my new friends has introduced me to a term for this. It is called “light language.” It is like speaking in tongues, but it is visual. The fact that she is writing a book about it using information from many other people who do this too makes me feel better. It makes me not feel like a weirdo. There are YouTube videos of people speaking and signing in light language as well.

It looked like this.

light1

I really liked how the color from the first application of paint showed through the white. I didn’t like how the canvas showed through though. I decided to let it dry and think about it.

A few days later I painted over it with a lot of beautiful dark colors. I loved the swirls and whorls. One side effect is that the first example of light language showed through. I’d not planned on that. I’d hoped it would be filled in and covered up by the paint. This is deeply meaningful. Once again I’m trying to suppress myself, my true nature.

I almost didn’t want to go on with the second part of the project because I liked the color paths I’d created. But, it is just paint. Part of my practice these days is learning to accept change and that I can’t keep everything to myself. I’ve got to let some things go.

Part of my practice is also learning that some things can’t be done in a day, or a week, or a month, or a year. Some things take a while. You have to let something dry. You have to wait until you have the right part. You have to wait until you learn a new technique. You have to wait until you are ready for the art to be created through you.

I’m learning the balance between action and inaction, and that inaction doesn’t always mean sloth.

I painted over this but left the bottom right corner exposed. I wanted to show the beauty underneath. I didn’t want it all hidden. I also like that you can see the light language I covered up when I painted over it.

light4

This piece speaks to my years of hiding myself and my abilities. It speaks to self-censorship and of fear of ridicule. It speaks of finally finding my voice and delighting in it. It speaks of the joy of knowing that I’m heard in a compassionate way. It speaks of a new community of people who see in full color and aren’t afraid to admit it.

I’ve dated it, because the day I finished it is St. Brigid’s feast day, and the day before Imbolc. It is a day of new beginnings, and of the new and the old merging. It is a day of unveiling. This bodes well for a new year of new discoveries.

light2

Eve was framed.

So many denominations teach that women are evil. They teach that all sin came from Eve. They teach that she ate from the forbidden tree and dragged Adam down with her. They use this twisted version of the story to justify not allowing women to be ministers, as well as justifying husbands being abusive to their wives.

Read the story for yourself, and then walk along with me here. Eve was framed. If you don’t have a Bible nearby, you can follow along with the website biblegateway.com. That is where I’m copying all these verses from, and I’ll be using the New International Version, partly because it is the default translation on that page. Feel free to use other translations. You’ll see the same story.

In Genesis 2:9 we learn that there are two trees in the center of the Garden of Eden. “In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” There isn’t just one tree in the center, like we are often told when others do the explaining for us. Already we learn that something might be different here. Maybe we have been deceived.

The Lord God created Adam first, in Genesis 2:7, and in Genesis 2: 16-17 we read “16 And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

Then Eve is created. In Genesis 2: 18-22 we hear the story of how Eve was created from Adam’s rib. Please note that she wasn’t in existence when the rule to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We are left to presume that Adam told her that rule. The rule is not repeated to her in the text. But we will soon see that something went wrong in the transmission. Just like in the game of “telephone” when we are children, the story changes a bit when it is shared from person to person.

In Genesis 3:1-3 we read “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

Wait. Let’s compare that with what God told Adam. Yes, He said to not eat of the tree of knowledge. He didn’t say anything about not touching it. There is our proof that something went wrong in the transmission, and that Eve wasn’t told this by God. Eve got this secondhand from Adam. Some might use this as an excuse that women should listen to what their husbands say as if it came from God. If that is true, then the husband needs to repeat what God said exactly and not start changing it.

And, let us remember that neither of them had yet eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They were innocents. They had no way of knowing right from wrong. They didn’t have the capacity to understand their actions at that point.

Then it gets really interesting. In Genesis 3:6 we hear this – “6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.”

Look at that last sentence. Adam was with her. He was standing right there the whole time that the serpent was tempting Eve. He didn’t speak up. He didn’t counter the serpent. He didn’t say anything. He let his wife do something that he knew to be wrong. He was fully aware of what was going on.

They eat the fruit together. Then the jig is up. They’ve become self-aware. They realize they are naked and they hide. God goes out to find them and asks what happened. Adam says to God in Genesis 3:12 “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” How passive can you get? He sounds like she forced it on him. He knew what tree the fruit came from. He had the direct knowledge from God that he shouldn’t eat from that tree. He was standing right there with her when the serpent was trying to deceive her, and said nothing. And then he blamed her and acted like she forced the fruit on him.

Eve was framed.