Saturday, March 27, 2010

Joy - who knew?

This past week it has occurred to me that save a cranky moment here and there - the primary emotion I feel lately is joy. Not contentment or satisfaction or good...but a real and heightened sense of joy and aliveness and amazement.

When Blaise Pascal had his "moment" - his experience of God, he cried out, "Joy, joy, joy...not the god of philosophers and scholars...the god of Abraham, Jacob and Isaac." He was reading in the book of John, and it just came to him, in the moment. I get that. That overwhelming sense of connection to something greater than myself - that brings a sheer sense of joy.

I find myself without words to describe just how good I feel (although apparently I'm trying). I've started exercising again - and perhaps it's the endorphins...but I almost feel as if I've fallen in love. With life. I'm laughing, smiling and loving everyday. Rather than feel weighed down by all of the responsibility of my life...I just feel joy. As I observe the world around me, I see so much light and love. In the people I know, in the places I visit and in the simple, everyday stuff of life. I have no logical explanations why or why now - but I feel it. And it brings me back to the faith again and again. I feel a sense of the holy in and around and through me that is at once incredible and moving.

On the lighter side, I have been contemplating piercing my nose...which at nearly 35 sounds a little crazy, even to me. It's something I've wanted for a long time, but for reasons of timing and my station in life (read: employers who would've fired me over it), I've never been willing to do it. The funny thing is all the laughter I've had from thinking about this, and the folks that I love who have weighed in on the subject...many years ago I made a proclamation in front of witnesses that I would either pierce my nose or love a man who wore earrings (and I meant more than one) before I died. It was a statement made on a beach surrounded by the love of my friends, and after a few glasses of Chardonnay. At the time I was admiring from afar a man who was serious, conservative (not politically, but socially I think) and who likely would never have worn an earring of any kind. When news of my pending nose piercing circulated among my friends, they've gently reminded of my long-ago statement made on the beach - and I'm laughing still. And perhaps I'm going to have work on one of those options soon. Although I don't know that I'm ready to offer my love to a man right now, with or without earrings, I do feel as if the cloud of my divorce and relationship turmoil is lifting, and I can see a day when I will want to be in relationship again with a man. I'm not against a guy with earrings coming along, but it's not my top priority at this point in my life.

To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what to do with this new sense of happiness. It seems foreign to me. My heart has hurt for a long time - and to feel a new sense of wholeness - of healing - well it's almost a shock to my system.

I think I've spent an inordinate amount of time on self-reflection and contemplation this past year, and it all seems worth it in this moment. To feel the joy of a new knowledge of myself and the love of God. To feel at peace with who I am and who I am becoming. While I know my journey is nowhere near completion, I am enjoying the view these days. I feel the words of Pascal, "O righteous father, the world has not known you, but I have known you. Joy, joy, joy...tears of joy."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


There are days when I am left with a sense that regardless what I do in this lifetime, it will never be enough. That somehow I will never be enough. Ultimately none of what we can do to save ourselves or one another is enough.

I realize this is fatalist thinking to some degree, and that some of it started back when I was a teenager/young 20's adult. When I was in college I took a lot of theology/philosophy and a lot of political science. And the thing that used to set me over the edge was the political science. Because ultimately there is no perfect system or way of doing things. We can theorize all day long, and we can work for justice and peace our entire lives, and ultimately maybe not make more than a small ripple, that is felt in our own ponds only. Part of me still wants heaven on earth. I'm worn of this world and all of it's craziness. Where the hell is the kingdom of God and when it is going to arrive?!

I want a life for the kids I work with that is full of the things they need and all the love they can hold. I want peace on the planet for those ravaged by war and strife. I want life, and I want abundant life for those who live with doubts, fears and pain. I want justice for those who have been harmed by others. I want simpler things too. I want some semblance of control over my body and my fluctuating weight (which happens to be up at this moment). I want my children to grow up in a loving environment free of the harsh criticism I endured. I want a partner in this life who loves me completely and without reservation. I want healing for myself and for those who need it. I want the happy ending...where all the struggle and strife and pain ends up being worth something in the end, perhaps turned into healing and unconditional love and peace.

That's a heck of a Christmas list I suppose. And yet I feel as if there is just not enough to go around. While I believe in God, and know more so now than ever that God desires relationship with me, I wonder where all this other stuff fits in. Is it too much to ask for? To hope for? To desire? It seems so. I've had Archbishop Romero on the brain today. It's the anniversary of his death - the day he was shot while celebrating mass in El Salvador. Romero has been someone I've studied for many years, and a sort of folk hero to me. Yet, for all of his passionate preaching and love for the Salvadoran people, he was gunned down. He died. He is not here now, the dream was never realized for him. King faced the same end - he worked to see the end of racism and classism, and yet, he too was killed before he ever got to be "enough." For all of the work so many do, it doesn't seem to be enough ultimately.

For every one happy ending I get to see in juvenile court, there are 5 crappy ones. So 1 kid gets the dream, and the other 5 get shit on. It just seems wrong. Unfair. Unjust. Hopeless.

The better angels of my nature reassure me that the one child would not have gotten that ending but for the same systems I rail against. That even if it is only one, it is someone. And that one should be celebrated and I should be thankful for the one. I guess I'm just at a cyncial juncture. I'm more caught up with the other 5.

Perhaps it's my own life - that I feel too close to - or identify too much with - the other 5. I know what it's like to face some of what they face - to never feel the warmth of unconditional love as a child. And to still long for it now decades later. To still want still hope that love wins in the end - that love really does conquer all. And despite all my desire as a kid to please God and to be acceptable, I just never could quite get the hang of it. I never could actually *feel* it.

More than anything else today, I desire to still have a spark of hope that what I'm doing is serving a higher good, even when it seems dismal. I so want to believe that God waits for me, wanting to share in both my despair and my joy. That even in the darkest hour of the darkest night, there is a loving Father, only too ready to shoulder some of my burden, to lighten my load.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Happy Anniversary

Today is the 21st anniversary of my confirmation into the Lutheran church. I was a 13 year old girl. I studied with the pastor of my childhood church for 3 years to prepare, and then on a Palm Sunday in 1989 I was accepted into the Lutheran church. Back in those days you underwent an examination in front of the church to be sure that you knew the catechism, commandments, etc. It was a little nerve-wracking/intimidating for a 13 year old. There were four of us that year - which was a small class - so we found ourselves having to memorize more than classes before or after us. Four girls - now 34/35 year old women. I remember fear as the primary emotion of that day. Fear I would screw up the stuff I was supposed to remember to say. Fear I would trip over the robe/vestments we had to wear. Fear I was somehow not worthy of this event. My confirmation was a big deal for me. I was very into church at 13. It was my stability in the midst of my chaos. I felt drawn there. I wanted so badly to please God - who in my mind was waiting for me to screw it up. A god who didn't have much faith in me at all, but demanded a sacrifical faith of me.

How life changes! These past few months have been about letting go of fear for me. Releasing the notion that God somehow wants my fear or seeks to make me scared of Him/Her. As I struggle to understand now where I go from here, or how I move forward, I wonder why I ever bought into the religion of fear and dominance. What are the roots? How do I pull them up so that I don't give them to my children? When i was 13 I had to choose a Bible verse to be "my verse" for my confirmation day. I chose Psalms 118:14. "The Lord is my strength and my song. He has become my salvation." Today I would likely choose other verses in the same psalm..."O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever...Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place. With the Lord at my side I do not fear...I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation."

This is what life is about. The love of God which endures forever. Steadfast means unwavering. In other words there is nothing so bad or so sad that I can do that would ever mean a loss of that love. That God has become my salvation. Not because I did anything spectacular, but because God so wants a relationship that He goes to the ends of the earth to find me. With God, therefore I do not need any fear in my life. Fear only stunts my growth, and makes me react with violence.

Back in 1989 there was an Amy Grant song that I listened to often (I still love me some Amy) called 1974 where she talks about the day she was confirmed.

"We were young. None of us knew quite what to say. But the feeling moved among us in silence anyway. Slowly we had made...quite a change. Somewhere we had crossed a big line. Down upon our knees we had tasted holy wine. No one could sway us in a lifetime."

That faith is my history. But perhaps it is not my future. And that is somewhat painful. That sense of loss. In 1989 faith was easy, comfortable and made simple sense. This new faith is tougher to come to, complicated and at times makes me uneasy. It is the grey, fringe areas - there is no black and white.

I was reading a book by a woman I have really come to love, and she said that when your experience and your religion clash or conflict, you have three choices. You can deny your experience and conform to the religion. You can leave the religion because you cannot deny your experience. Or you can become a theologian. While I see now clearly my call to the third option, the third option is not easy. While it makes room for experience and religion to co-exist, it still seems complicated, messy.

21 years later...and I feel good and holy and loved and that perhaps all I ever really needed was to let go of fear. The steadfast love of God endures forever. I know that much is true.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Signs, Symbols and Smells

So, we're midway through Lent, and I'm sitting at my desk at work drinking a Diet Coke...hmmm. Well, that discipline isn't working out as well as planned...! As for the other things I was hoping for...well i seem to be right on track.

I read a book recently called Proverbs of Ashes. It was the book i was moved to pick up while at a bookstore that reminded me of Lent. It was a painful read in a lot of ways. The book confronts the notions of violence as it relates to God, the cross and Lent. Two women share their life experiences and reflect on how they fit into the church (universal), theology and christology. Some of it was heady, but most of it was pretty raw. You could feel their pain and alienation in the words on the pages. I had to put it down a few times so as not to become overwhelmed by it all. It confirmed for me though, that my childhood belief that Jesus died for my sins is ...well...a childhood belief, and not one I currently hold. I cannot love a God who would require his own son to die for my salvation. This idea just doesn't make any sense to me anymore. Part of me is liberated by releasing my old beliefs and part of me is unnerved by it.

This symbol of my childhood - that Jesus had to die for me - was one I held on to tightly. Perhaps it was the idea that I was important enough for such a sacrifice. Or maybe it was that I needed something to hold onto. I think at least part of it was that I indeed felt dirty and sinful in some ways, and so a theology that affirmed that made some sense to me. Regardless I clung to that idea, and was in some ways molded by it. Letting it go has taken me some time.

I have this thing about smells. I relate my life and events to smells oftentimes. In the same way some people relate a song to an event, I more often relate smells to big events. For example, if you took me into my childhood church blindfolded, I could identify it by its smell. Same thing goes for my dad. He has a smell to him. (Not in a bad way) In the same way, I have certain smells branded into my memory in not such a good way. The smell of mud reminds me of a traumatic moment in my life, and to this day a strong whiff of mud turns my stomach over. Recently, while thinking, praying, meditating (not sure how to define it)...the smell of mud overwhelmed me. I wasn't sure how to react. It caught me by surprise.

With it though, came a new clarity. That oft repeated phrase from not be afraid. And I recalled that the reason that Jesus had to be the ransom for my sin as a child and young adult was because of my own fear. I was afraid of a vengeful god, and felt that if perhaps Jesus did my time for me, it would be ok. I just knew I was a big sinner, and hopefully god would accept me if Jesus came first. My own fear of hell on earth, hell in the after life was enough to motivate me to cry out to Jesus to forgive me. Even when I wasn't sure what I had done wrong. I think I was also afraid of what it would mean to be in relationship with rather than subordinate to. I was speaking with a new friend recently and he was questioning why people are not more inclined to seek out God or a holy place that represents God. My answer, which sprung to my lips before I could think it through was that people are fearful. I am fearful. If you choose to live in relationship to God, life changes. You cannot stop the trajectory. If you surrender to it, the rug seems to be pulled out from under you. Not in a punitive way, but in a new and beautiful way. It doesn't mean there isn't still pain at moments. But it does mean you have to make choices that make sense to you in the moment as opposed to continuing to stumble along through life as if you don't know any better. It means you have to value yourself as a creation of God, holy and beloved from the start, as opposed to a fallen sinner who has no worth and carries the age old sin of Adam (or Eve) around until Jesus's blood cleanses us. It means risking a life of passion and love as opposed to a life that appears to be safe and good enough.

The sign is clear to me now. Clearer than perhaps ever before. I choose relationship. I choose understanding, compassion, and ultimately joy. The choice is not easy. It's not a cop out. But it is one without fear, without apologies.

20 days if I could just give up Diet Coke.