Friday, February 12, 2010

Labour of Love ~ An Anthem

So, after a full and busy day more unsettling correspondence comes our way.

I hate how unsettled I get when I feel willfully misunderstood. I should know by now that there is no reason for another person to understand the hows and whys of my thoughts. I should expect to be misunderstood and thus operate from a position of expecting to have to clarify. However, this ceases to work for me when there is no opportunity to clarify, no opportunity to answer the charges, no opportunity to turn away wrath, no opportunity to heal wounds...

As I try to process all alone on a cold winter's night, my heart and mind returns to this song that I have been recently reflecting on it. On a weekly basis, I have found myself able to sit and bask in the sentiment expressed by Stephen Hatfield's Labour of Love. In my mind, I think that it's a bit of an anthem for a mystic... ...not that I consider myself a mystic but if it's true, in the words of Bruce Chatwin, that: '..the search for the divine turns people into nomads...' Maybe the search for connectedness to the divine turns us all onto the path of the mystic.

Let me set the scene for this lovely choral piece.
The tune is based out of a Irish/Scottish song called Fear an Bhata (The Boatman).

Think celtic, the sea and longing...

Labour of Love (Stephen Hatfield)

Take me, somewhere. Take me somewhere. Take me somewhere. Carry me on.
Carry me to somewhere, where ever, carry me to somewhere, where ever, carry me to somewhere, where ever, carry me on to where there are people like me.

Verse 1:
They brought me to the doctor. She said, "It's the clearest case I've ever seen. This kid needs a ransom, (s)he needs a genie, (s)he needs a ship sailing where (s)he was always meant to be.

Verse 2:
They brought me next to the altar. Know how you feel said the voice behind the screen. This world needs a ransom, we need a genie, we need a ship sailing where we were always meant to be.

Verse 3:
We're standing here in our order. The chords in our voice hoist the sails into the breeze. We'll give you our heart, give you our breathing, give you the ship that could sail Abelard to Eloise.

And you know I'll be looking for someone, and I'll be looking for someone, and I'll be looking our for you there, somewhere there are people like me... somewhere there are people like me... somewhere there are people like me. Somewhere there are people like me.

I think that the longing for depth of connectedness both to God and the world leaves me a bit raw sometimes. And we all know when we are raw we feel more deeply the pain of the world that we live in.

Maybe sleep will yet come...

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Bone Weary

A Bone-Weary Truth by Attiya Dawood

Truth is the basis of my creation.
No matter how many times in the name of truth
My being was chopped and cut,
Each time like the amoebae,
Every piece of the portioned-off being
Has become a being by itself.
Whenever I was put on the scaffold in the name of truth
Each time I have taken a new birth,
But this dying and being born every minute
Has made me bone-weary.
I want you, my friend
To take away my being from the cross.
Come in front of me,
Whisper sweet nothings in my ears,
Turn the shackles of hypocrisy
into bangles for my hands,
Love me with such a crushing deceit
That my soul not be able to bear it
And free itself
From my tired being.

(Painting of Lazarus at the Gate by Frank Wesley)

Some days just seem to drain life. Not every day. Not all the time. But sometimes the weight of life becomes tiring. I think that there is comfort in knowing that I am not alone in this, comfort in knowing that everyday does not take, and comfort in remembering it won't always be this way.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Shelved, Lost or just Ignored?

So, as you might have noticed I have been on a bit of a hiatus. The past half a year has been a reminder that anything you say 'can and will be used against you'. So I have written a number of posts and just left them as drafts in hopes that there was a possibility of positive outcomes... ...alas, that is not to be the case. I am still unsure if I will re-visit the last few months of thoughts and posts. However, today, as I vacuumed the place I was thinking about part of a sermon I heard on Sunday. It's been so long since I have heard anything so very life-giving.

Our girls pounced on us Sunday morning... ...not very early but with the demand that we needed to go to church. So in 15 minutes we have to achieve some semblance of normalcy and were out the door. Interestingly, we ended up at a service where there was an unexpected guest speaker... ...what a blessing! He mostly spoke on the 'Lost Chapter', that would be Luke chapter 15, where Jesus shares 3 stories about lost things: a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son.

The first thing that impacted me was the call Randy issued to the church about her responsibility to the lost. All the other stuff is well and good, but her primary purpose needs to be about people: redeemed for, restored to, re-invested in the kingdom of God. He focused on the state of the lost and the motivation to find. We need to be motivation first by love, by compassion for those who do not know they are lost. We also need to be motivated by the knowledge of what we lack with the absence of those who know they are lost and those who grieve for them. And finally we need to be motivated by blessing that will come from the lost being brought back into purposeful action.

But, today as I cleaned I thought more about the lost coin than I had just a few days ago. Of course, I knew the story, but I hadn't considered all the implications of the events.

A woman had 10 coins and lost one. She thoroughly searched her house to find that missing coin. When she finds the missing coin she celebrates by calling her friends and neighbours over to her house.

A party to celebrate finding a coin. The coin was probably about a days wages for the average worker in the field. Celebrating likely cost all, more or the majority of that coin. But that coin was put back into circulation, it served the purpose for which it was created. A coin is made to be spent, that's the point of it's existence; on the ground, under a table, in a crack in the floor keeps the coin from achieving it's purpose, it's useless.

I wonder if people, even within the church, are like that coin. They are lost to their purpose, unintentionally or intentionally. For what ever reason we may find ourselves in a place where we are not useful; we might have been shelved for later use, we might be put in a safe place and forgotten, we might have been brushed off the table and rolled into an unknown location. I think then we might consider ourselves 'lost'. What possible assurance could come from this realization?

Someone is looking for you. Someone is looking for you to put you back in circulation, to use you for the purpose for which you have been created. Although, today you might be on a shelf, in a corner or swept off the table, you have been created for a purpose and the one who knows that purpose is looking for you to put you back in circulation.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Mystic Monday #4

I have been stuck in with Teresa of Avila... ...she lived into her sixties and wrote a number of very dense works.  Her attitude towards her writing is funny to read; as she writes she is very self-depreciating and often refers to the fact that she has been compelled to write by others in authority over her.  And yet the writing is so insightful that it seems every time I return to a passage I am drawn deeper into the imagery.
I appreciate the fact that Teresa continues throughout her writing to say that prayer is work, in fact all spiritual disciplines take work and one should expect to have to grow into a deeper experience with time and labour.

One of the earlier images Teresa uses is that of watering a garden.  As Teresa travelled through Spain she established new convents.  Generally, she accepted whatever accommodations she was could acquire.  However, one of the first places she established with her newly founded order of nuns was in San Jose and it had garden space for flowers and vegetables as well as space for hermitages where a nun could retreat to for respite from the demands of the world.  The stone walled retreats were simple with very little adornment save a window with a view and occasionally paintings with religious themes.

From this place she wrote a short teaching on prayer.  

In the beginning we all start with a barren landscape, with a plot rife with weeds.  So the work starts with turning up the soil, pulling up weeds and digging up roots.  The Master aids us with removing the undesirable plants and choosing viable and healthy plants to put in.  The chosen plants are in place;  the soul has decided to pursue the practice of prayer.  Only the Creator can make a plant grow, but we too have a job, our responsibility is to water, to keep the weeds at bay.  

And Lord comes into the garden to meet us, and to enjoy the beauty of life emerging from the barren spaces.  But the work is not finished.  Diligence is required to maintain the budding life amidst the hostile landscape.  Our primary task is to water the garden.  That watering happens in a number of ways... ...each of these ways can teach us something about the stages of prayer.'

In the early stages water is carried by hand drawn up from a well.  Then we construct machinery to help us; a water wheel and buckets cranked by hand.  We are still labouring, but less intensely and more effectively.  If you have good fortune you might find a spring or stream that can be diverted to water your garden; after the initial work of implementing a system you are rewarded by more regular and thorough watering for your garden.  Finally, the ideal situation is when the Rain Maker does the watering for us; there is no work by us, just the pleasure of knowing our garden is provided for by the One who we cultivate it for.

Teresa goes on to explain in detail what the characteristics of each stage looks like.  She consistently encourages the reader to continue even when the well seems dry:  "This is how He tests the people who love Him.  First He shows them how useless they are, so that when they receive divine favors, they won't get puffed up with their own importance... ...The problem arises when people think that favors should come quickly."

Thursday, February 26, 2009

When avoiding cognitive dissonance beware of cultural dissonance!

Let's begin with a few definitions...

Cognitive dissonance:  The discomfort caused by the awareness of holding two or more contradictory ideas.

Cultural dissonance:  The discomfort experienced by people in the midst of changing cultural dynamics; most often characterized by changes which are unexpected, unexplained or not understood.

I think that one of the most important aspects of cognitive dissonance is that one needs to have an awareness of discomfort before one can identify those thoughts which are being held in tension.  Self-awareness is an experience that is often sought out as we age.  We grow in understanding ourselves different and separate from those around us; we seek to inventory those things which we hold that are truly of us and those things we have embraced as default.

In the process of this often we come across contradictory ideas, thoughts or values.  We are then faced with a choice...  ...can both be held onto at the same time...  ...if not then which value do we go with and why.  

But here is the aspect that I wish to mull over.  What happens if in the process of self-examination and increasing self-awareness I decide to embrace a value that is not held or endorsed by the dominant culture in which I find myself?  I do not spare myself discomfiture.   The attempts to ease the unease of finding myself in the throes of cognitive dissonance I am thrust into a dissonance of another variety.

Leaving and coming back home has opened my eyes to cultural 'concerns' about my hometown.  I think that is likely a very 'normal' experience.  But as I wandered through my time back I realized that I was not at ease at home.  As I explore the reasons for my dis-ease; I find myself having shed some of the normalcy of home for another normal.  And I don't want to give up what I have received... I weigh out the values I hold, I find more reasons to hold on to that which I experience as more real.   But that reality is uncomfortable and darker than expected.

I came to this as I watched a documentary this week.  Cognitive dissonance came up... ...those who have heard the truth yet do nothing with it... ...those who believe the truth yet do nothing with it...   That's most people when they count the cost of change and decide it's too much to pay with no guarantee that the reward will make it worth it; besides they will tell themselves no one else is moving towards change.  One insightful commentator said that we are living in make-belief.  

Actually, I believe that many of us know that we are living in make-belief.  And that is what leads to the very normal condition of the human mind to live in cognitive dissonance.  At the same time we want to avoid the pain of the dissonance so we increase the pretense making excuses for the reasons why we can wait or why what we know isn't as serious as it is... This phenomena is evident in many arenas of life often resulting from a simplistic view of the issue in question.  A simplistic perspective, leads to a simplistic approach resulting in a potentially detrimental solution.

From a global perspective, our attitude towards caring for the world in which we live will likely begin with a measure of cognitive dissonance and then gently lead us into the depths of cultural dissonance.  We all have a list as long as our arms for the reasons why we continue unabated with a lifestyle of consumption.  We know that the natural resources that we extract from the earth are not being replenished.  But we do not treat these resources as if they are finite.  Take petrochemicals...they are all pervasive on a global scale.  We know that oil is harvested and not being replenished.  We know that whatever we take is being processed and burned and detrimentally affecting the health of ourselves, our children and our 'home'.  But we continue.

... dissonance ...

So as I try to live more consciously I find myself trying to live as if what is true is really true.  Then I become very aware of the luxury of a strawberry in the wintertime... ...a lawn in the summer... ...a dryer during the rainy season... ...a car any time...  But I struggle to live accordingly.  Should I not buy my children fresh fruit in the winter because the carbon footprint may eventually cause them more damage?  Should I avoid olive oil because I know it is being transported to me emitting air and noise pollution every mile of the way?  Should I avoid: rice, avocados, tuna, coffee, black teas, bananas, coconuts, black pepper, sea salt, seaweed... because they are not responsible choices once I begin to consider the impact of getting them to my table?  According to one set of statistics the average that a food item travels before it lands on our table is 1500 miles.  That is not acceptable.  But,...

And this is where I become dissonant... I live in a climate where the ground is frozen for almost as many months as it is not frozen.  I have growing children whose nutritional needs are important to their long-term well-being.  And here is the one that is the most difficult to deal with... I can not always afford to purchase the locally grown, the organically grown, the responsibly packaged, the environmentally sustainable...  So I live with disappointment and disapproval of my own decisions.

Who wants to hear that they shouldn't buy new clothes every season, they don't need a new "insert item of choice', smaller is better, less is more, if it's yellow let it mellow, your clothes were stitched by a child, your toilet paper is made of trees, your neighbor is everyone who is connected to you via your home, your clothes, your food, your pollution, your consumption...

In fact, sometimes my oldest child doesn't even want to hear it... she is aware of the dissonant sound.  Sometimes I become overwhelmed trying to make a decision on a food purchase.  Other times I simply harden myself against my own judgement.  

But the challenging part is that we, as a family, are trying to move towards a lifestyle this is responsible, sustainable, healthful, justice centered, grace filled and love imbued; and so we oft find ourselves in the realm of the culturally dissonant.  We need to find meaningful action... choices and priorities... ...plan for the future... because sometimes the loudest sound is a lone voice in a lonely place.

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Saturday, February 07, 2009

My Partner and I walking through life

It's odd that I have been so sporadic in my posting.  I realized that I have a good number of draft posts that have never been finished... ...I wonder if they ever will be.  And recently, I have been using a journal more... ...the kind full of blank paper that fit in whatever bag I carry out the door.  Maybe if I began to use a laptop I would post more regularly... ...or maybe not.  You see I am a seriously unscheduled person.  I really struggle with time tables, time management and time perception.  At some point in my years you would think that I would have come to terms with the fact that time needs to be dealt with; yet I continue in denial.

What has helped is being married to my DH.  He does not struggle with time, in any way shape or form.  In fact, I am convinced that he knows the time without needing a timekeeper.  He knows how much time passes, how much time passed or how much time is likely to be required for any given task.  It dumbfounds me.  However, as a consequence I am more likely to arrive at appointments on time these days than ever before.  I may 'flap' as I exit the house to reach the required destination; but I generally reach it at the moment required.  This said I still find time limits stressful.  If I need to leave somewhere or arrive somewhere at a particular time I have learned that vigilance is necessary; of course, this vigilance is distracting to the task at hand and leaves me feeling like I enjoyed the event less than I might have had time not been an issue.

However, back to the title of my post... My partner.  I was just thinking today of the reasons why I appreciate him.  Part of it is the fact that I can say anything to him... today I was wondering out loud about the workings of our spiritual bodies in the next life.  Of course DH replies that the Docetists wondered that about Jesus; they developed the idea that Jesus' physical body was an illusion therefore he wouldn't have been subjected to the 'lower' bodily functions.  However, I assume that the body he was born with was like ours and his resurrection body is like the one we will be getting.  Of course, this is just a side discussion to the fact that DH willingly engages me as I speak out random thoughts even if they remind him of some teachings that are generally accepted as heresy.

We sat this week with dear friends as talked about church for hours.  Seriously, twice staff came up to us to ask if we were done our meal... ...we were, but as we were at the Chipotle in the MOA we didn't have anywhere to go so we smiled and continued.  The thing is that DH and I have been imagining church in new ways... bigger ways ...fuller ways and we haven't really had the time to test out our thoughts.  So we sat, shared and heard back from friends, who are both like us and unlike us.  Good conversation over good food is like nourishment for the body and soul.

So if conversation is an aspect of community that is  essential to the wellness of our soup then one of our current challenges is getting enough sleep.  As our wee ones are not so wee, they are not heading to bed as early as before.  That takes time from the end of the day for them and leaves less for us.  Both of us tend to process life at the end of it, so we stay up later reviewing and sharing all the 'stuff' that there was no time for earlier.  It would be alright if we were both caught sleep the same way, but we don't.  Just like we deal with time differently we also deal with sleep differently.  DH likes to explain it this way:  For him sleep is like catching a train, you have to catch it when it comes or sit and wait for the next one; however for me sleep is like driving a car, I just hop in whenever I want and away I go.

So we need to find more ways to carve out time in our days.  This week we drove a long way with no small people in the vehicle.  So we had hours to talk... ...a friend lent me a CD to listen to and there just wasn't the space for it...we talked, I slept and then we talked some more ...I know that it's cliched to talk about marrying a best friend, but there it is.  Walking through life together has helped us grow together in a way that I don't think we ever imagined.  I have learned how to experience the world as he does and he as I do.  Interestingly, I think it makes us more compassionate than we otherwise would be; because we still approach the world from different starting places.  He is much more intellectual, thinking, conceptual, whereas his current favourite word for me is 'visceral'; that just goes to show how intellectual he really is.  Visceral connotes instinct, but as I am human and the professional verdict on whether or not a human is truly subject to instinct is out; it would be more appropriate to define visceral in terms of gut-level responses.

This leads me to another stream of thought that I have been tossing around.  Is it really a good idea to meet a partner through a service that matches personality and interests?  I am certain that DH and I would not have been matched in our late teens and early twenties... ...I suppose we would be more compatible now, I think partly because of the influence we have had on each other.  Maybe that means that match-making services that use questionnaires filled out by the person looking are more useful for older adults, who know themselves well.  At the same time I think that there is place in a partnership for growth because of differences; although I am aware that those some differences may drive a partnership apart.

So I am wondering how to wrap this all up... ...maybe if unity in diversity is possible on a small scale like in a marriage or family then we should have hope that it is possible in to be manifest is a wider context.  But that also means that the lessons (compromise, understanding, compassion) that make our marriage strong can also make our friendships strong, our communities strong and our nations strong.

What are the things that make your partnerships work well?  What are the things that challenge the stability of it?

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Monday, December 01, 2008

Mystic Monday #3

This could be properly labeled Theresa of Avila~part 1.

I am in the process of finishing a biography on Theresa of Avila by Cathleen Medwick.  It's a lovely read.  She references a number of writers, both contemporary to Theresa up to the present.  It yields a fascinating picture of a woman in pursuit of God.

In order to present a fuller picture of one of my heroes, I thought I'd spend a little more time sharing the aspects of her life and writing I find so compelling.  But first let's give you a sense of when and where.

She was born in Spain, March 28th, 1515.  Theresa was born into a Castilian family, with a shadow of the inquisition over them.  In the late 1400's Jews were expelled form Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella.  Then the inquisitors took over ferreting out those who did not truely convert...  Theresa's grandfather decided to avoid being exposed as a non-converted Jew; so he came forward and accused himself of crimes that undermined the church.  After a fairly light, although humiliating punishment, Juan relocated his family to Avila where he earned the status of hidalgo or gentleman.  Theresa's father, Alonso, was a very devout Castilian, who worked hard to secure his family's honour.  When he married Theresa's mother, Beatriz, he was then part of a Old Christian family; then he fought for his country, and returned home after a successful outcome.

It doesn't seem that the shadow of the past affected Theresa.  It seems that  Theresa respected her father, although initially he forbade her to enter the convent.  He also had her stay in the family home during a lengthy illness.  All believed Theresa would soon be dead...her coffin was ready, she was wrapped in a shroud and her eyes were sealed shut with wax in preparation.  Alonso faithfully and repeatedly said "Esta hija no es para enterrar." (This daughter is not for burying.)  Slowly Theresa recovered.  Only to lose her father a few years later; however since he spent his final years in the business of 'saving his own soul', she was comforted.

Following this Theresa pursued spiritual counsel at every opportunity.  She worked hard to pray and held herself to a high standard.  Often those around her felt like the things she confessed were so trivial, but to Theresa any short-coming, any attraction the world held, any distraction, was worth dragging into the light and exposing.  

I appreciate how Cathleen Medwick ends one chapter on the beginnings of Theresa's maturing sprituality:

The woman who came back was no longer of two minds about the world and God.  But inside the convent and out, people were of two minds about her.

This would be the defining feature of the rest of her life.  And even after her death varied and opposing thought continued and continues about her life, teaching and experiences with God.  

Her writings, particularly her accounts of ecstatic experiences, have been oft surrounded by controversy.  It is interesting to me that the sculpture, The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa by Gian Lorenzo Bernini has been a source of contention regarding Theresa... ...too beautiful, too sensual, too intimate...  They did not live at the same time, so all Bernini could go on was Theresa's writings, and the testimony of her contemporaries.  When you read her description of her experience with God you see that Bernini faithfully brought that to life in his sculpture.

She writes in Vida (Theresa's account of her life story):

...very close to me, on my left, an angel appeared in human form... ... In his hands I saw a large golden spear, and at it's iron tip there seemed to be a point of fire.  I felt as if he plunged this into my heart several times, so that it penetrated all the way to my entrails.  When he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out with it, and left me totally inflamed with  a great love for God.  The pain was so severe... ...and the soul isn't satisfied with anything less than God.  This pain is not physical, but spiritual, even thought the body has a share in it--...  So delicate is this exchange between God and the soul that I pray God, in his goodness, to give a taste of it to anyone who thinks I am lying.

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