The Artist’s Way is doing its thing, percolating ideas and bringing its surprises and non-surprises. Things you’d like to tell people are surprises but you know deep in the depths of your heart, they don’t surprise you.

At the end of each chapter are exercises to get creative juices going, to help you to know yourself better and to bring you, the real you, to life. Sometimes I find them a lot of work and sometimes they are a lot of fun. Last week was a lot of fun as a picture that I’ve had of myself in my shadowy thoughts came out of the dimness and into the light.

The exercise was to list 3 careers that you would love to do (in my case, if you had a do-over, for someone in their 20’s or 30’s this might make for a career change). I actually have fun thinking about these things. I sometimes feel like I’m preparing for my next life, just in case there is one. If there is, I’ll be ready.

This was interesting to me for a few reasons. One is the careers (none of them a complete surprise, I’ve thought about this a lot), the other is the length to which I described each (quite telling) and lastly the challenge of what to do with the information.

So they are in order and length they came to me:

Journalist/radio broadcaster

I’d love to follow stories about all kinds of people in all walks of life. I’d like to ask questions (I have so many questions), learn about ways of life, what gives meaning, different perspectives. Also, I tend to love to be where stuff is happening. I love when history is being made. When most people’s inclination is to run from danger I am oddly drawn. I like to paint a picture and tell a story to frame it for others and to bring new light to different areas of life/people/stories/events. I would have loved to do this.

Priest

I’ve been asked before what I’d like to be if I had life to do over. I often have a fleeting glimpse of me walking down a busy Toronto street in a priest’s robes. Strange eh? I’ve never really shared that with anyone (you heard it hear first!). But it’s true, I want to be a robe-wearing-priest. I heard a friend once say that they’d like to see all of religion stripped of things like robes and symbols, that they are images of power that separate one person from the others, elevating them to a higher stature. Interesting. I’ve never felt that. I’ve never felt myself less than a person in a robe, or a uniform of any sort. I just see it as a different function. To me it’s almost like a name tag identifying who is available and willing to do certain jobs in the community.

Oh, you need a hug? You want someone to lay their hand on your child’s head and bless them? Pray for healing? You need someone to talk to? See the woman over there wearing the robe? She is a safe place, a place of blessing and love. She’s ready to help however you need. I want to do that. I want to be at births to pray a prayer of welcome and protection and health over a new life. I want to be there for the sick and be nearby when a loved one is dying. I want to do funerals and speak words of comfort and healing and peace to those left behind. I want to officiate at celebrations of love and marry people. Gay, straight, old, young. I want to dance and drink with everyone at the party after.

I want to go to interfaith events and tell the Imam and the Rabbi what I appreciate about them and their traditions. I want to take people away on a meditation retreat by the sea and do yoga and tai chi and watch the sun come up and return home together refreshed and rested.

I want to climb behind a podium every week and deliver the salt filled healing words that have been seasoning my thoughts in my quiet study during the week. I want to talk to the community about what we have wrong and what we have right and what we can do better, about what I’m still confused about and the answers I don’t have and about how that’s ok. I’ll tell them that the important thing is that we journey together, that we value love above all else and that we hold onto hope and foster peace and build bridges and stay on the path.

I want to observe liturgies and traditions. I want to light candles and swing incense (…and the freak flag flies) I want to craft juicy, thought provoking words that inspire the bread and wine and wonder.

I want the homeless to be there in all their smelly glory, keeping it real, representing Jesus, taking our stuff and making us dig deeper in love.

I want to create a safe place for kids and questioners, old people and the young people you want to bust out and do something different. I want a beautiful space for spirituality and art to be active and free and forward thinking.

Pilot

I want to be an airline pilot. To rise above the earth everyday and enjoy the perspective that brings. To feel gravity defied. To go somewhere new. To be in the clouds. To laugh as I do when I’m in the air.

*So…this is hilarious to me. I’ll give some thought as to what this might be indicating for me. Some thoughts and themes are immediately evident but I’ll ruminate on it and of course I’ll share what I find. So fun.

I’ve started, for the 3rd time, working my way through the book “The Artist’s Way” with a group of friends. If you’re not familiar with it, let me first tell you, it’s not about Artist’s. It’s about living your life with creativity. It’s about freedom. It’s about paying attention.

At the end of each chapter there are exercises, things to do that bring the chapter’s topic home to the reader in a meaningful way. There are two exercises that the author hopes you’ll implement for the rest of your life. In her view these are non-negotiable.

The first is called the Morning Pages (MP). Each morning upon waking you are to write (the old fashioned way, with pen and paper) three pages, non-stop, of whatever comes to mind. No overthinking it. No editing. Stream-of-consciousness blather. The idea is that whatever negativity, insecurity, or distraction you are stuck on gets splatter all over the pages and clears the way for the rest of your day to be more or less free of those things, more creative and hopefully more productive. What happens though, is that you get a front row seat to the circular thinking that keeps you stuck. You can’t escape yourself. You can’t escape your weaknesses and faults but you also can’t escape your hopes and dreams and THAT my friends is what’ll scare the ever living daylights out of you! Why? Good question. I’m sure it’s complicated. I’m sure there are childhood issues, issues of worth, issues of courage, issues of fear of failure…but that’s why the MP’s must continue.

The second non-negotiable is the Artist’s Date. Once a week you are to take your inner artist out for a couple of hours to feed her soul. Just her. Alone. This is not my favourite thing. I drag my feet every single week. An Artist’s Date could be…a visit to a museum or an art gallery, it could be sitting on the beach building sand castles, it could be a walk in a park paying particular attention to the sights and sounds, it could be going out for an ice cream sundae and tasting every single bite. Last week for me, I took a drive (because it was about 45 degrees!) around our island and took pictures of all the flowers. Next week I might try to paint some of those pictures. Whatever stretches or fuels your creative playful side.

What is emerging from my pages….

There is a perfect storm brewing. There are themes colliding, ideas rushing, reconciliation with some things in my past, frustration with endless cycles of…well of me. You know the saying ‘where you go there you are’? Here I am. I look back in my pages from the other two times I’ve done this and it’s shocking that I’m still struggling with the same things. This time, I won’t stop. This time I’ll push through. All of this feels a little like the unearthing of the soul. I feel tilled. Insides turned out. Just plain emotional. I’m trying my best not to back away but to just let it be and keep going.

Here is the most inescapable theme. I’m feeling very motherly about everything/one. This isn’t a natural feeling for me. Before I had children I was completely happy to never be a mother. I married someone who was very much looking forward to being a father so I knew when I got married that children were likely in my future. I wasn’t that opposed but if it were just up to me…I may have opted out. I didn’t feel very maternal. I had no younger siblings. I didn’t particularly enjoy being a child. As an adult, I didn’t understand children and didn’t relate very well to them. I was awkward with them. I’m not a very playful person which doesn’t help me in my relation to kids. Nothing drew me to motherhood.

Thankfully that very first gaze into my firstborn’s eyes and I was smitten. It changed me in ways I could not have imagined. Becoming a mother unlocked caverns of compassion that I likely would not have had access to otherwise. I didn’t know I was capable of loving someone so intensely. Honestly, it felt dangerous. With the entrance of this tiny being came the potential for pain in equal measures, like the opposite side of a see-saw teetering precariously on the fulcrum of life’s events. Such pleasure, such potential for unrecoverable disaster. Nevertheless this monumental change in my life was a change for good and touched so many areas of my life and others. Children that would normally have bothered me I could now cut some slack because I could imagine being their mother. I had more patience for people’s faults, even for my own.

Now, at the ripe old age of 50, having seen little people become big people, I can see a child in almost everyone. Everyone was once a tiny person protected and cheered on by an older version of themselves. Inside every person still resides that little person who occasionally needs protecting and often needs to know they are loved.

This has been such an intense emotion brewing in me lately that I feel my soul is being tenderized. It’s not particularly pleasant. I’m feeling emotional about many things and a little beaten up by life. (Note to family and friends…don’t panic, there is nothing wrong, really, this is all internal). From the aggressive driver’s on the road who I want to plead with to not play fast and loose with the sacredness that is our lives, to teachers who are feeling (understandably) tired of children and loosing patience and the solitary child standing on the edge of the football field wanting to be included, to the plight of women around the world, children sold into slavery and people doing unimaginable things because of poverty. Every harsh word (I’ve stopped reading the comment sections of blogs), every aggressive act feels like a blow to my mother’s heart. Day by day I become a little more shredded.

Why don’t I just toughen up and shake it off? Here’s why. I don’t know what the purpose of life is, I really don’t, which means that I’m a little foggy on what my goals are or should be. I’ve eliminated some things. I don’t think it’s to make a ton of money (I never have). I don’t think it’s to become famous. I’m not even sure it’s to become the best fill-in-the-blank that you can be. I don’t think it’s to be tough and independent. I don’t think it’s to conquer over others. I really don’t know what it is. But I’m going to trust this, I’m going to trust that Someone knows what I should be doing and who I should be becoming. I’m going to trust that greater love and greater compassion are never wrong and won’t destroy me and I’m going to give myself to that.

I will set my whole will to push back at the self preservation that is as innate an instinct as fight or flight. I will choose to stay open. I will give myself over to Openness and if need be Brokenness and trust that there is purpose. I will seek the Light. I will hold on to Hope. I’m going to rest when I need it and run when I need it and pull away from the crowd of many voices when I need it. I’m going to keep feeding the inner artist and I’m going to keep writing because incredible things are in front of us and all around us, if we’ll just pay attention.

I leaned my head back on the seat and listened to the baby cry as we sat on the runway. There were delays for our flight to Dubai because of the unusually heavy fog that had settled in over Doha. We were 45 minutes late in boarding and now we waited for our turn to take off. The two little Indian boys across the aisle had been struggling to be patient. They looked about 3 and not quite 1 years old. The father strapped the one year old in on his lap and waited for take off. When that didn’t happen and the baby fussed they switched to the Mom. I realized after take off that they were keeping him hungry so when take off finally happened he could nurse, a common way to keep babies from suffering ear popping on take off. Until then, the adorable little guy cried and fussed.

I closed my eyes and decided that this was a good time to do my meditating. We’d been up since 4:30 so it hadn’t happened yet. I learned to meditate in the midst of noise when I’d joined the United church a few years ago for an experiment in Advent. I was looking for a way to make advent more meaningful, to raise the spiritual side of Christmas and dwarf the commercial side. They’d decided to open the church every morning of advent, have a short little service and then tea and cookies. They expected this to meet the needs of the elderly women in the church. To their surprise the attendees were mostly homeless, two elderly ladies, a non-practicing medical doctor and of course…me, a realtor.

The little 30 minute service consisted of 15 minutes of silence, music was playing and the screen at the front ran a loop of gorgeous pictures of nature. Some watched. Some closed their eyes. And some, who didn’t really get this part chatted with each other (annoying at first), coughed and hacked and sniffed loudly clearing the night air out of their lungs and some came in late laughing etc. At the beginning it would break my chain of thought but after a while I settled into it. Be in the moment. This was the moment. Accept it for what it is. Don’t control it.

I brought those skills back into play while we sat waiting on the runway. Baby crying. Parents apologetically trying to console. I heard the baby cry. As I sunk into meditation, I really heard him cry. I hear the pain in his wordless moans. I pictured myself taking him in my arms and him settling down, snuggling into me and resting. Comforting a child is such a wonderful feeling. There is such a feeling of satisfaction, maybe you’ve had it, when a fussy baby is being passed around, and for some reason when it lands in your arms, all fight and wiggle, it settles down and the miracle of peace is finally present.

Alleviating suffering is one of those acts that I believe brings us into alignment with God. It’s holy. Alleviating suffering allows us to participate in what the Spirit of Love is doing or wants to do. It’s like being the conduit of a miracle. We can only show up. We can’t control the outcome. That’s the work of the Divine.

Sometimes I find myself hesitant to go where the suffering is. I have worked hard to cultivate a place of peace in my own soul and often, especially if we’re really empathetic, that peace can dissipate when we move toward someone’s crisis. It doesn’t even have to be crisis really. I find myself less inclined to hang out with people who aren’t comfortable in their own skin, who are insecure, who carry around anger and don’t even know it. It can unsettle my own peaceful state.

I’ve worked really hard over the years to cultivate inner peace, to work through the issues of childhood, or ministry or whatever threatened to lodge itself in my soul and create pain, or a chip on my shoulder, or prejudice or fear. For a number of years this was especially intense as I worked hard to acknowledge and forgive those who’d hurt or neglected me. I doubt I was good company at the time. I was a mess. I was sensitive, weepy, sometimes angry and depressed. I’m grateful for those who walked with me and showed me patience and compassion.

So I found myself challenged as I sunk into my 10 minutes of holding health at the forefront of my mind and being present in the moment with the crying baby. The baby became a powerful illustration to me. In order to participate in healing, whether it’s the healing of a situation, a person, a memory, or the earth, I need to be willing to go where the pain is. I need to risk some of my own peace. Of course I could maintain my peace in someone else’s crises, but it’s a risk. I might not.

Here’s an example. Many times in real estate (I estimate about half of the time) I was dealing with a situation where the marriage had broken down and now the house had to be sold. Parties were often hostile. The pain around the negotiating table was often just below the surface. I was mediating, not only between prospective buyers and sellers but also between the husband and wife. It was often an extended time of walking on eggshells. If things didn’t go well, for any number of reasons, the just-below-the-surface-anger would spill over. I was often the brunt of that anger. I wasn’t at fault. I knew that.  I was often very sympathetic to them and really wanted to bring resolution. Many times I was tempted to walk. Who needed it? There is so much peace making involved in being a Realtor. Did you know that?

In my meditation I began to see the crying baby as so many things. Angry people who can negatively affect my daily life and the pain that lies beneath their anger, teenagers trying to find their way, lonely people, hungry people, someone with a diagnosis of cancer, people who misunderstand and are afraid of Islam or other cultures or religions, the earth as it groans because of our over consumption, an unhealed part of my soul.

Going to the “crying baby” is hard work. I’m challenged to listen for the cries in and around my life, for the cry of pain wherever it comes from and to be unafraid. To walk toward it, maintaining as best I can my inner peace but at the same time not holding it too dearly, it can always be restored later. There are many things we can’t change, especially for other people, but we can be present and our presence is an act of love.

“Love hopes all things, believes all things and bears all things.

Love never fails.” ~ The Bible

To bring peace, you have be willing, to acknowledge, to reach out and to hold the crying baby.

I’m not sure how I feel about my 50th birthday being on the first day of lent. I’m not sure how I feel about my 50th birthday. Somehow being the launching day of deprivation and sacrifice and the long 40 day walk to Easter doesn’t help any.

Actually, I’m pretty ok with turning 50. Now. I’ve never really struggled with birthdays. The last one that threw me for a loop (and I’m talking a dark tail spin of oh-no-my-life-is-almost-over depression) was when I turned 18. Yep. It was pretty irrational. All I could think was, in 12 years I’ll be 30!!! Whoa! My life is zooming by! I didn’t say it made sense and honestly I haven’t had a birthday since that has been hard to take.

This one, well, the weight of this one has been coming for several months. I’ve been mulling it over and wondering where the time has gone, taking stock, finding some regrets (not something I usually do) and recalibrating goals and possibilities. I’m glad I’ve been doing it for months because today I’m just fine. Today I can celebrate the great life I’m living and just be thankful. I’m still pondering when exactly am I going to feel my age. In my mind I’m about 32 (which to my 18 year old self means past my expiration date).

Lent. Normally lent for me is like hitting the reset button regarding diet. I have many times gone overboard and bit off more than I could chew (pun not intended but certainly acknowledged).  No chocolate, no wine, no sugar, no wheat, no meat….ya, that was one year. I always envied the people who could give up popcorn or something and call that a sacrifice. On the years when I was too aggressive I often quit in the middle somewhere. Usually for philosophical reasons – sure, ya, that’s right. Usually because I couldn’t remember anymore why we give up things for lent. Usually…because I was starving and cranky.

This year however I’m eating so very healthy that it’s just not necessary. If I tightened up what I’m already doing it might wreck the balance I have going and be the end of healthy eating altogether.

So this is what I’m doing this year. Inspired by this TED talk I am taking 3 ten minute time outs each day for meditation and mindfulness. If we have to frame this in ‘giving up’ language, I guess I’m giving up 30 minutes of my day. I’m giving up the constant running dialogue in my head. I’m giving up doing. I’m giving up mental clutter. That’s the hope anyhow.

I know the classical way to meditate is to pick a word to focus on, or something like that. I’m picking three different feelings. I’ll try to describe them.

In the morning I’m going to clear my mind and feel the feeling of health. I’m going to do my best not to compartmentalize into body, soul and spirit, rather to see them all as a whole and envision myself doing and being healthy.

In the afternoon I’m going to clear my mind and feel sheer and abandoned joy. You know the kind of night with friends that ends with you laughing so hard your makeup is all over and all barriers are down and basically all caution is thrown to the wind and you’re free and euphoric and grateful and so very well? Or, for me, when I fly. Especially in a small plane or parasailing or something. I giggle involuntarily the whole time. I can’t help it. It rises up and won’t be stopped. That feeling is the feeling I’m going to meditate on in the afternoon.

In the evening I’m going to clear my mind and think of Love. Love flowing into me and love flowing out. Open channels of love. Nothing specific, no visualizing things to do, no specific words. Just the feeling of love flowing freely.

That’s how my lent is shaping up.

Are you observing lent in anyway this year? Did you make any New Year’s resolutions? How are they going?

We might not be perfect at following through on all we set out to do, but if we keep aiming and keep trying, and don’t get discouraged, surely we keep improving. Sometimes improving means letting go of those things too. Perfection is overrated. It’s all ready broken, so what are you trying?

 

 

Growing up in the evangelical scene the word salvation had a very specific meaning. I don’t think I need to spell that out to this crowd. I think we are all acquainted with how lost and depraved we are until we say the magic prayer that takes us from the road to hell and puts us on the road to heaven. One little, heartfelt prayer can do all that.  This happens a lot when the lost and depraved one is a five year old who just wants to do the right thing and be good and…oh ya…not go to hell!

Inherent in this understanding of salvation is exclusivity, superiority and the need for some serious denial. I told a very evangelical minister once that I didn’t think he really believed in hell (in the classical definition of eternal conscious torment) because if he did he’d have to be on the verge of insanity trying to do whatever he could every minute of every day to save every possible person from going there. He assured me that he did.

So salvation has been troublesome for me, until one day, another Minister friend of mine spoke about it in a sermon. She talked about the root word being salve. That’s right, an ointment, a balm, something that soothes a wound, cleanses it and brings healing.

Salvation can of course mean deliverance from enemies who seek to harm us (think inner demons, ourselves, those around us who do not have our best interests in mind). This could be personal or communal or global salvation.

I can think of salvation in these terms. It’s so positive and healing. When the Spirit of Love and Peace is applied, healing happens. When Forgiveness and Light and Grace are applied, healing happens. This doesn’t require a specific understanding of theology, it doesn’t require being part of a small exclusive club. On the contrary, it’s so inclusive and the principles for healing are so universal. It’s not a secret code it’s the backbone of many religions. Forgiveness, love, peace, taking care of the poor, loving your neighbor, justice, kindness, humility, are not only the basis of many religions but also ring true in our conscience. The salve for healing is within us.

I’d like to see our planet saved/healed/delivered from the harm we’ve inflicted on it. I’d like to see multitudes saved from poverty, from lives that are reduced to survival-at-any-cost. I’d like to see gang-ridden neighbourhoods saved. I’d like to see relationships healed/saved. I’d like to see those suffering from mental illness saved/healed/delivered.

When I pulled up some old bible verses that are about salvation and read them with this new understanding it changed everything. For example, repent (turn from your harmful ways) and be saved now means something completely different and actually seems so obvious. It’s also not about a prayer, or about a belief. Stop doing what is hurtful and harmful and be healed.

Once again, I began to see that my qualms might not be with Christianity but with what we’ve done to it. Having said that, I still think there’s a lot I can’t be reconciled with but then, before my friend preached her sermon I thought I had a big issue with the idea of salvation. Turns out, maybe I don’t.

I wonder how many other things that I think I can’t swallow are just epiphanies waiting to happen.

Thanks Rose Ann. You saved the word salvation for me.

I can’t wait until I get to writing about where I see the spirit of Love in my everyday life and how I think that spirit just might be God.

But right now, there are a few things I still have to get off my chest. Or maybe this is the last one (but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you).

I think the notion that gets flippantly bandied about, that God is in control, is one of the most confusing and often cruel beliefs going. What does it even mean? God is in control of what exactly? How do we know?

I’m not going to get into the philosophical debate about the sovereignty of God and free will of man. Throw a dart and you can find volumes about that anywhere. Read them all and you still won’t know. I’m more interested in how we live because of what we believe. Do we abdicate responsibility in our lives or social responsibility because we believe that we are not in control but God is? Do we short circuit the process of wrestling with thoughts or situations and just throw our hands up and say ‘God is in control’? Do we feel guilty grieving because it seems to lack faith in the God who is in control?

I worry about people who face really tough situations, like life threatening illness, or that of their children or spouse, when they look like they have a secret magic card in their pocket and they say ‘it’s ok, God is in control.’ I’m not saying that he isn’t (because I don’t know) or that he won’t miraculously cure them…or whatever…I’m saying that often it seems like a form of denial of what is presently happening. Even more worrying is the underlying, often coupled thought, that if I deny it, if I pretend it isn’t there and that they’re already healed, then the disease won’t actually have any power.

Whatever the tough spot being faced, it seems to me that the first reaction of ‘God is in control’ is a form of denial. When that fades, if it does, what comes next? We’re all telling ourselves a story about what happens to us and how. We’re all framing our lives and the purpose and meaning of life in some way and I know that we all employ denial as a good, sometimes healthy, coping mechanism.

What would you tell people who’ve watched most of their family die of starvation about God’s control of everything? How can we possibly maintain this idea like it’s an orthodox tenet of our faith?

Seatbelt use here in Qatar is a new idea. Many do not use them. Daily we see children standing in the car, playing, jumping over seats, mothers holding their standing infants on their laps in the front seats. I was told that there is a pervasive thought among the Qataris that God is in control of your life and your death and it basically lacks faith to feel such a strong need to use a seatbelt. We (non-Muslims) live in fear of death and we’re not submitted to the will of God; that’s why we fretfully put our seatbelts on.

A good friend recently had major heart surgery. I was telling someone else about this and they said, “Well, God is in control. Ours is not to question ‘why’.”

Really? It isn’t? And where did that idea come from? Is believing in the laws of nature an affront to our faith in God? Is God offended by our questioning? Is he in control of every little thing?

I believe that there are consequences for our actions, both personal (health, relationships, lifestyle, sowing and reaping – known by some as karma) and global (pollution, politics, tolerance, charity). I believe we are all affected by these things and we all live under the same natural laws.

I believe there are some things we can affect and change. I believe we can make a difference. I believe, for example, that if I take care of my health I have a better chance of living a long healthy life. It’s not a guarantee because I live in the same polluted world as everyone else and I have genetics that I’m not in control of but good choices make for better chances.

I believe that if I help someone in need it makes a difference to them and if I don’t help them they suffer more. Can I eradicate poverty and suffering? Of course not. If I help one person, is that a meaningless drop in the bucket? Not to them!

In yesterday’s post I talked about doing what we can do with regard to the inner workings of our lives. Forgiving and loving and dealing with our ego etc. and watching what God does with it.  The question of who is in control is likely the wrong question. It’s too simplistic. We’re too self-serving to really think clearly about that. We want to know what’s in it for us, how does it benefit us, how does it get us off the hook or does it give us the secret magic card.

My husband thinks that rather than draw comparisons of kings and subjects, commanders and troops or puppets and puppeteers, our relationship with God should be viewed more like a dance. Two willing partners, one moves and the other responds and vice versa. (I realize there should be a leader in the dance but then you’ve never danced with me…that line is kind of fuzzy and we’ll just let my husband think that sometimes one person leads and sometimes the other person leads…also it works better with the point I’m trying to make).

I believe that God is with us. He doesn’t necessarily manipulate things so that we never feel pain, but he’s with us. He grieves with us and celebrates with us, he holds us when we hurt or feel lonely, he listens when we question.

I believe he prefers honesty to pretending even if the truth is that we’re not remarkable; we’re scared and angry and confused. I believe that when we’re genuine to our vulnerable cores that he informs our souls and our paths.

I believe that when we let our souls be informed by Love and we are finally quiet, all the way to our centre quiet, that he is there and that’s what matters.

My friend Darren sent me the image below. It reminds him of the journey I’m trying to talk about in this blog. Most of us have had trying experiences in our lives that have left us feeling at least depleted, if not completely broken. Most of us rise from the ashes in some form or another. How we rise is a story that I find fascinating. I never tire of hearing recovery stories.

kintsukuroi image

Kinturkuroi. This is the Japanese art of repairing a broken vessel. I think it’s even more beautiful after restoration than it was before it was broken, in its unscathed state. In its broken state it is without function or beauty. The gold lines that pull the pieces back together actually make the bowl stronger than it was before. What a beautiful image.

In the Christian narrative there seem to be many images of God to choose from. None of them, on their own, are complete or accurate but we keep trying to find an analogy from the human experience to help us understand God or parts of God’s character.

I’m uncomfortable with some of the analogies but in most of them I can find some meaning. For example, I’m not that excited about warfare imagery. God as warrior, conqueror, makes me bristle. You may say, and you’d be right, that this is because I’m not a fan of war. You might accuse me of being a wuss and a bleeding heart liberal. To that I would say, thank you. Yes I am. However, I can make peace with this imagery in some cases. If the warrior God is one who comes to the defense of those without hope and those who are powerless to the injustice of the powerful and selfish, then yes, I’m all for God the warrior.

The problem is that when we start to apply terms that we mostly reserve for severe acts of aggression or force it takes us a step closer to where the Tea Party finds itself. It’s an insidious trail down a path that starts with Defender of the Victims and ends up some sort of Christian Militant God-is-on-our-side-as-we-employ-whatever-means-necessary-to-erraticate-the-heretic-of-the-day. The warrior God is on our side because we are on the side of Good. Right?

Then there’s the CEO God. He’s the one who rationally and coolly runs the universe (yes, the pronoun was intentional). Doling out big jobs, little tasks, blessings and curses, life and death, decisions about where miracles will be granted and where they will not. He’s the one in control and depending on who you speak to, he is either a distant CEO who doesn’t have time for us and our little problems or a micromanager who wants us to consult him with every single decision.

There’s the hippie God, the one who sent his hippie Son. He wears robes and is guru-like. There’s always a confounding wise word on his lips, often a riddle.  He loves everyone and walks around blessing people and making them happy and whole. The children love him. Prostitutes, thieves, drunks and sinners of all kinds love him. The religious people who like their answers neat and tidy and their beliefs all squared up nicely, not so much. For the record…I love this one. I know, you’re shocked.

I think there are likely as many images of God as there are people. Loving, angry, powerful, weak, holy, righteous, personable, indifferent, near and far. We have a way of creating God in our image or in the image of our fathers, or in the image we’d like to believe in or the image we’d like blame. We have no other choice. We’re a mixed bag of memories, experiences, training and indoctrination and we’re left to the devices of our thoughts and imagination to sort it out. I know some (Christians) will say that we’re not left to those devices because we have the bible to tell us what God is like but most of the images I played with above can be nicely supported…and refuted…by that same bible. To me that means, we’re back to our mixed bag of humanness and imagination. None of the images above are complete of course, not even my Hippie friend.

One image of God I can wholeheartedly embrace is Redeemer. I don’t believe that following the path of God means that nothing bad will ever happen to us. That may seem obvious and you may think ‘no one believes that!’ But many do. That’s why when something bad happens to them, they are shocked and ask God ‘why is this happening to me? Why did you let it happen to me?’ The best time to have some rational thoughts about God’s involvement in our lives is not during a crisis. Clarity is not easy to come by when we’re in a pressure cooker. I do have to wonder though if our true thoughts bubble to the surface when life has us at boiling point.

God the redeemer. This one doesn’t take any theological gymnastics. I think the bible is full of examples and themes of redemption. We can’t control the bad things. They’re part of life. I don’t know if God can control them but if you try to make a case that He does then you’re into some real theological gymnastics. Let’s just say, I can’t change whatever the truth is about whether God is in control or not. (This means I need to do a post on prayer right? Is that the wall I just slammed into?)

After the bad thing has happened, after life has eroded our joy or dealt us some blows, what then?

What happens next is the interesting part. Our responses and the magic of employing spiritual principles are what I find amazing.

The transforming power of Spirit to put us back together, to heal our souls, to redeem the situation, to make good things come from bad, to make us deeper and more compassionate, this I believe is one of God’s specialties.

It requires our full cooperation. We need to do our part. Yielding instead of fighting, forgiving instead of holding grudges, getting our ego out of the way and choosing love instead of hate. Doing the inner work is like preparing a greenhouse in winter. Covering the structure, laying the beds and preparing the soil, removing rocks, ignoring the harsh winds and cold temperatures, resisting discouragement and hopelessness and clinging to hope. Having faith enough to put seeds in the ground when it looks like there’s a very real possibility they’ll die there. That’s what faith is. That’s what faith in Goodness and the tenacity of Life looks like.

We can’t control life though. We can’t control growth. We can’t control other people (the ones we forgive and what they do with that). The life that grows from there is a mystery. To continue with my analogy, whether the sun comes out or not is not up to us, whether the seeds germinate or not is not up to us, if the plants become strong and healthy and beautiful…we cannot control. That’s the mystery and the wonder of Life. That’s the part where we sit back and wait, in peace, with faith, watching and hoping for a miracle. The time the seeds spend under the ground in darkness takes time and tries our faith.

In the meantime we keep waking up in the morning, making coffee, and dinner and cleaning the toilet and going to work and doing the best we can, and wait.

In my experience what is planted grows. By some miracle of Nature it grows. Sometimes it even grows quickly. Sometimes it’s even better than what was planted. It’s part human input and part Divine infusion. Or, in the case of our vessel analogy, Divine Fusion.

May the God of the miracle of spiritual Kinturkuroi hold you together today.

As most of you likely know, I added a blog post today at tracieonthego about National Day and my experience wearing an abaya. Here are my feelings, a  little more in depth and a little more personal.

Wearing an abaya, especially the shayla or hijab, and having my hair completely covered was a surprising experience. Ironically, I felt more exposed than I do when I don’t have a tent draped over me. In a way, I felt stripped bare. No bangs for distraction, no hairstyle that softens the harsh features that are now ‘gracing’ my face. My drooping eyes do not hide the fact that while I’ve seen many beautiful and happy days, I’ve also seen my share of loss and pain. The lines, wrinkles, aging and tired skin that I’m still too immature to view as wisdom and experience but see only as fading strength were just…out there, for all to see. Exposed. There’s nowhere to hide in an abaya. All of my flaws felt highlighted, even though they weren’t, they just weren’t masked.

I’m not a very style conscious person but I realized that even my clothes are carefully planned to distract, to minimize flaws (if that’s possible) and to highlight features I don’t hate (if I wear a bright blue scarf around my neck do you think people will look at my eyes and be distracted from the caboose?) Whether we pride ourselves in our great taste in clothing or we display our disdain for fashion by wearing the simplest of clothes and thereby showing people we’re interested in more important things, deeper things, than clothes…it’s still a show.

The abaya eliminates most expression. Here in Qatar there are some really gorgeous abayas, so there is some expression and individuality being expressed. Across the Middle East there are a wide variety of head coverings. I don’t have it all figured out yet but women from Jordan wear very colourful hijabs and women from Palestine have some of my favourite abayas. Even here in Qatar where the women wear black abayas and hijabs, there are many personal details that make them look unique and very beautiful. However, none of this takes away from the fact that their hair is covered. Dress it up like you will…your face is still very exposed. If I lived here, I mean, if I were Qatari, I might be the kind that only have their eyes showing.

And yes, clothes are, at best, a good means of expression. I like that my clothes are usually colourful and my jewelry pretty darn cool. I like that this draws attention to the parts of me I like. I like being a colourful person. I hope it points to other parts of my character that I’m happy to highlight, like my need for adventure, my willingness to put myself out there and take risks, my love of liveliness in others, in art, in the written word, in my cooking.

I have been considering if wearing colourful clothes, having colourful hairstyles (those who know me, know there have been a rainbow of colours) becomes a poor excuse for actually doing and being all those things? If it’s the cover on a book, so to speak, that I intend to write, but never fully engage in. I wonder if it fulfills something that it shouldn’t. An inoculation of sorts.

I can’t imagine being destined to wear a black robe everyday. One that leaves nothing to the imagination on my face and one that covers all imagination in my clothing. I can’t imagine having only my actions to speak for my character. To be stripped bare of everything superficial and to be left only with what I do and what I say to speak for the character that lies beneath the surface. In that way I would be laid bare as well.

It reminds me of a couple of bible verses:

1 Peter 3:3,4

3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. 4 Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.

Colossians 3:12

The Message (MSG)

12-14 So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.

This all has me thinking about changes I want to make in my life. Changes that involve at least as much intention given to good works as to what I wear every day, what makeup I wear, what colour my hair is and what kind of shoes and jewelry I’m sporting.

I’m coming up on a big birthday and I’ll admit I’m taking stock. If I were to be stripped of all the things I externally use to point to who I am, who would I really be?

I really love when Islam inspires me to be a better Christian.

Thanks Mohammed. (PBUH)

First of all, thank you for the comments of encouragement you’ve sent me and for asking to pass this on to your friends because you think it will help them. I do not mind one little bit that most of you feel more comfortable sending me emailed messages. Talking about these things is very personal and not everyone feels compelled to bare their souls so openly. The important thing is, we’re talking, and thinking and hopefully growing.

One person said something like ‘I hope this is cathartic for you and that it comes quickly and easily.’ No such luck. I can honestly say that my expectation was that this was going to be liberating and invigorating but I will tell you that it has been hard work. Each post so far (except for this one…I’m determined) has taken 4 or 5 days of walking away and coming back. I’m not sure why. It feels very worthwhile though. Like broccoli or spinach is worthwhile to the body, this feels like the healthy thing for me to do.

Also, so far I haven’t put anything out without having Dave edit it. This one will go out unedited (maybe) as it feels a little like a nervous tic and the whole point of this blog, for me, is to wriggle free.

Lessons from the last post

When Dave read the last post he changed the beginning sentence to “Let’s assume…” rather than “Let’s pretend….” He didn’t even ask. He just, well, assumed that it was a clearer depiction of what I really meant. He’s never made a change before, only suggested changes, but he was so sure I’d agree with this one that he just went ahead and made the change. But it bothered me. We moved on to other things, grammar, meaning, content etc but the assumed/pretend change continued to pester me. I finally said, “I think I really mean pretend.” Now, to be clear the paragraph said other things that are not there now and that he took more offense to me saying I was pretending about. This was discovered after a long talk, a long walk and your basic marital. There were no tears involved. Just some very mature dialogue that included things like ‘you don’t really think that’ ‘do to’ ‘do not’ do to’….and ultimately, ‘it’s my blog not yours.’ Oh, and of course, then some reasonable changes and a reasonable amount of resolve.

I received a couple of comments about that post with regard to Oh Holy Night, apparently a holy cow of sorts. Sorry for the ruffled feathers. And then one friend, after telling me what she loved and about the post nonchalantly ended her message with this, “As an aside, I think it’s interesting that you began your post “Let’s pretend it’s true”, not “let’s assume it’s true.” Interesting.”  I gasped right out loud.

So, here’s how these two read it, in the words of my friend, “Assume says I doubt, pretend says (to me) I disagree wholeheartedly with this ridiculous notion.” That’s what Dave heard too and maybe you did as well.

There are so many questions that I have about the truth of these stories, about the details and events but sometimes, for the sake of deeper truth, those things would be better put aside and left for another time.

For example, was it a virgin birth? Was/is Jesus actually the Son of God, or God himself (and what’s the difference?) Were there angels? Was there a huge guiding star? Big questions, small questions and lots of questions, this is the stuff of spiritual paralysis. I can get caught up in trying to find proof of something one way or another, to questions like that, that really, are unanswerable. For the sake of deeper spiritual truths I sometimes take a break from my neurotic question asking self and dig deeper.

For example I think the depiction of God making himself a baby human in order to be with us points us in the direction of beautiful truths. Humility creates a space for connection. Humility and risk forge the way for love to break through and bring healing. No matter how great you are (truly are) it doesn’t mean anything if those you love are disconnected from you.

If the stories are pointing to truths they are spiritual ones most importantly. I have no problem setting aside the technical questions of the story to get to the take away. If the point is a spiritual lesson then the importance of the accuracy of the actual events pale in comparison.

Back to ‘pretend’ and ‘assume’ for a moment. My friend also said, “I think there’s nothing wrong with saying lets pretend, but it didn’t seem to match your previous tone. Almost like you we’re trying to distance yourself further from the story. And maybe you were, and maybe that’s what you needed to do….” It was very astute of her to pick that up on that. I do feel like my initial posts sounded more Christian than I feel most of the time. But I’m also starting this blog at a decidedly changing time in my life. I have walked away. I could still walk away. I feel no pressure to stay. And yet, I feel oddly drawn again.

So, if you’re up to it, it might be a back and forth kind of journey. I’m not sure how different I am than anyone else on this. Even people who are SO sure must have some doubts. But I would say I’m trying to figure something out here and if I’m honest, it’s a work in progress.

And if you’re going to be honest with me you need to know that by ‘pretend’ I did not say or even think that believing the Christian story is a ‘ridiculous notion’. Not at all. I believe in the unexplained and the miraculous and things beyond what we can touch and see, so for me, it’s possible. (Did I just open the ‘possible’ ‘probable’ door?)

I’m hoping for another post tomorrow. I’ve been freshly inspired today. If you haven’t felt the boat rock yet…come again tomorrow.

I go bravely….

Let’s pretend for a moment that it’s all true. That the biblical account of human history goes like this: the world was created by God, Adam and Eve messed up and that messed it up for all of the rest of us, we needed rescuing and Jesus, sent by God, came to do the rescuing. I hear a lot of ”but, but, but” ringing in my ears with that simplistic statement but that’s why I say, ‘let’s pretend’. Not because I think you have to pretend but because if you’re not sure about all those bits and pieces, you might have to put them aside for the purpose of the point I’d like to make.

One of my favourite Christmas carol lyrics has the phrase “and the soul felt its worth.” The phrase tumbles around in my head long after the song is over. It’s embedded in one of my least favourite Christmas carols, Oh Holy Night.

“Long lay the world, in sin and error pining, ‘til he appeared and the soul felt its worth.” (Unitarian Minister John Sullivan)

I feel nervous the whole time this song is being sung because of the high note. Very few people have the ability to sing the range of this song and I’ve heard it cracked and screeched too many times. I’m not a big fan of Celine Dion but she sings about the best version of it I know.

On another note, Honour has had me watching X-factor and Britian’s Got Talent. “Watch this one Mom! It’s amazing!” She’s hard to say ‘no’ to. So I watch. And inevitably it ends in tears. Mine.

She especially loves to show me the ones where the contestants are a complete surprise to the judges. I remember the first time I saw Susan Boyle completely floor everyone. (Really, if you don’t know what I’m talking about please click on the link, the rest will make more sense). The sassy, quirky woman in all her frumpy middle aged glory, being laughed at by the audience and judges alike. Until she opens her mouth and sings, and the mood of the room shifts instantaneously. Suddenly she is adored. The faces of the judges say it all. She is accepted and loved. They are wrong about what they thought about her – she’s incredible. They humbly admit the error of their ways. They are sorry.  She is now a highly valued member of the ‘club’ when just moments ago she was an outsider to be mocked.

We all fall into this trap at times.  I suspect that everyone reading this blog believes in theory that every soul has value, equal value even. But we often hold off our approval of people don’t we? We wait to see what they’re all about before we give them too high praise or accept them too fully. I wonder if it’s self-preservation? I wonder if we’re afraid that if we wholeheartedly accept (or even associate with) the misfit/geek/angry person/depressed person/too exuberant person/too naïve person/too smart/too dumb/too off balance/too flakey/too dull…that it will somehow lump us in with them? It will reflect on us somehow.

I love the transformation of the singer when she realizes that she has done well. She walks off the stage with a different gait, head held high. After a few levels of the competition she become more confident and gracious. Her insecure soul begins to heal by the sheer power of love and acceptance.

Why do these clips move me to tears? I don’t know these people? What difference does it make to me that Simon Cowell (whom I don’t know) now loves Susan Doyle (whom I don’t know)? Why do I cry? Do they move you?

I suspect we all see something of ourselves in them and the hope for something more. Meaning, I know we feel the insecurity and uncertainty of our acceptance among this pack of humans, but I think we can all imagine what that feeling of utter adoration might be like as well. We all want that. Who wouldn’t?

Picture the judges wandering around in our midst with their glowing faces saying things like, ‘Wow! You breathed, you’re alive, way to go!’, ‘How incredible, your first word!’, ‘You’re amazing! Despite everything you still got up and went to work today! You’re awesome!’

A friend and I compared notes about our jobs a few years ago. He got applause about every three minutes for his work, but no one ever applauded my work. I was a Realtor and no one ever said ‘Wow, you’re amazing, nice clause in that contract! Way to seal that deal up tight for your clients! Nice explanation of complicated legalities. Round of applause everyone.’ He, on the other hand, was a drummer in a band. Love and adoration every three minutes.

Long lay the world, in sin and error pining….

What if our insecure mess of human selves were valued by the Ultimate Loving Being who created the Universe?  Not a judge in a contrived reality show, not your boss, not the Prime Minister/President/Emir/Queen of England, but by the Creative Maker of those wild and crazy fish in the sea, the Artist who decided that stars and moon would be a gorgeous backdrop for life, the Brilliant Mind that thought up photosynthesis, biology, anatomy, math and music.  What if that Being was so in love with you that he/she decided to take on the risk of Being with us, rescuing us, not in all his/her strength and power and brilliance but strangely and humbly in the form of a Baby that would change the course of history?

What an incredible rescue mission the incarnation was.

If it is true, and we can grasp even a bit of it, I suspect we’ll approach life and the other messed up humans with more confidence and graciousness. I suspect we’ll be able to love more freely. Our Love tank will be filled to overflowing and we won’t need to be the expert self-preservationists that we are because we will be altered. We will be healed.

Because the soul will have felt its worth.

 

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