Because Change Is Possible


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Truth telling

Weaving together embodied life, spirituality, herbs, yoga, nature, 

parenting, &​ human-being-ness...

Fall down 6 times, Get up 7

January 15, 2018

I am not a blogger. I am a writer, a journal-keeper, and at times, a deep thinker. It's been tough to maintain the habit* of writing on-line. I have considered whether my problem is time management, lack of discipline or simply an absence of deep thoughts with sharing. Here's the big ah-ha-- it doesn't matter. 


I am built to seek the why in pretty much any situation, and yet, the truth is, the Why is maybe a helpful flashlight on the THE issue, but the why will not resolve THE issue.


I can't remember the source of the eastern wisdom saying at the start of this entry-- basically, it doesn't matter how many times I fall down from writing or any other "good habit." What matters is getting up. It sounds trite as I type it. And, right, what's the big deal? Will the world be deprived by the lack of one more blogger? Probably not.


But, I do think the world is deprived of the many sparkly gifts of many of us who get stuck in the Why, and lose track of the What.


So, join me, and get up again, yes, you. Leave the Why questions for teatime or that walk you've been meaning to take. Do the thing, and savor the delight of doing even though you don't really know why you weren't doing it before.


*On the subject of habit, I'm dropping the word from my vocabulary. New word: orientation. It speaks of a persistent nudge in a certain direction without falling victim to perfectionism. Perfectionism LOVEs habit, and the mental beat-down one might give herself for breaking a habit is too soul crushing for this one precious life. 

Doing What's Right Doesn't Always Feel Good

February 14, 2018

This is a story about a time when doing the right thing felt particularly bad, and I wanted the right thing to be the wrong thing, if only to make my heart hurt less for a little while. 


"This is the most difficulty thing I've ever been through. Death is slow and terrible in its coming, but I thought I was okay with that until doubt about our choices started to fester."


That was my journal entry the day before my dad died in November 2011. I was sitting at his bedside on night 8 of a 9-day vigil, waiting, when I had my first willingness to acknowledge that we, as a family, might have made a mistake in choosing not to go with more invasive interventions every step of the way. Yet at night, I was haunted and bruised by shadows of imaging that I was in control of the movements of life and death, as though any of our small choices would have averted the final outcome. 


 Note to self: beware the If Sisters...


"What IF...and "IF only..." 


Doing what's right doesn't always feel good. This has been true for me in leaving jobs, leaving relationship, and leaving friendships that didn't fit anymore. Every leaving has had its sadness as well as its hope.


The curvy road of life sometimes obscures what's around the next corner, so we have to listen slow and deep for the small voice that says, "Yes, it is the right thing." And if you bear with it, the same Voice will send you more assurances... eventually.

A Month of Uncertainty (Scan Scan Biopsy)

May 15, 2018

Remember Duck Duck Goose? There is a grown up version, I’ve found, and it’s not so much fun.


Here’s how it went (in fast-forward abbreviated style):


I found a lump.

I ignored the lump.

The lump couldn’t be ignored any more.

I went to a doctor in my doctor’s practice. She was short. I was up on a high examination table and she said, with her arms stretched their full length to reach me, something like “Well, it’s too low to be a lymph node and too high to be your thyroid. We should get an ultrasound to see what it is.”


I got an ultrasound. It was a lump (a nodule) in my thyroid, which is apparently right where it’s supposed to be.

Then I had to have a radiated scan to see whether the lump was hot or cold. (You can look this up if you’re that interested.)

Then I got blood work to see if my thyroid was working well. It seems to be.

Then I saw a specialist who scared the crap out of me.

Then I had more blood work to see if I have an autoimmune disorder. I don’t seem to.

Then I got a call from someone in my doctor’s practice who left a message to call back, saying she had good news. I had no idea which test she was reporting on.

Then I talked to the crap-scaring specialist who said things appear to be fine (benign she said, though she also re-iterated how important it is for doctors to be humble about how much they can’t really understand. I don’t want a humble doctor at this time, by the way.), but get it checked out again next year.

Then I went to see my actual primary care doctor who asked me how I was. That was a very long conversation.

In the children’s game, Duck Duck Goose as I recall it, everyone sits in a circle and then one person walks around the outside of the circle tapping heads and declaring each in turn a “Duck” until suddenly she taps one person and screams “Goose!” and then runs like crazy to go around the circle and beat the person back to the empty spot without getting tagged or tackled.

I had spent a month running from a diagnosis. Every test along the way ended up being a “Duck” but still I ran from the “Goose” of possibility.

Along the way of that very scary month, a friend died. I spent a week on the west coast with family. I had to stop breastfeeding for days, and ended up patching together childcare for my not-quite-one-year-old so I could be simply the absent mom instead of the present-and-with-holding-mom. And more.

I really can’t say how much life I missed while running around in circles about this. But there were moments when I considered that THIS day, every day I thought of it, was the absolute most important one. THIS day when I held the possibility of a long life or a short one, and prayed for the long one while I lived for the short one. 

Yoga is the Door

June 1, 2018

“Yoga gives you a portal to knowledge that you have stored in your bodies but have not known how to access.” – Becky Thompson


Trauma is such loaded word. It can be off-putting, because those of us who have experienced it often have an inner scale that either makes our trouble SO big that no one could possibly help, or diminishes our trouble, saying, “Oh, it’s not a big deal really. There are much worse things than what I’ve been through.”


In its essence, trauma, like grief, is an experience that comes to us all. The difference in how we name it comes from the after effects we experience. How long does it last? How long will this loss or this pain be the primary lens through which I see myself and my life?


Two buzz words have a place in this conversation. Resilience and witness. Resilience is the capacity to return to shape after being misshapen. Bend a wire, and see if it can bend back into something resembling its previous state. Hearts, bodies, and minds also have a version of resilience that comes into play after a physical injury, an emotional loss, or a course-correction in thinking. The gap between the moment of bending out of the familiar shape (like the wire) and finding ease in a new shape can be a time of loneliness, despair and even anger.


All of those responses, and all other emotional responses are fine. Really. It’s probably even safe to say, they are normal. I didn’t say pleasant. I said normal.


Yoga and bodywork are practices I have clung to in the gap in between the trauma (or the loss, the shock, the injury) and the re-formed me. 


I cling to them like a life line to love, a commitment to hope. Both bodywork and yoga have helped me cultivate my inner witness and she has become my inner Guide. 


When crappy stuff happens, whether events that hurt in the body or in the heart, what we most need is to see someone who sees us. “Did you see that bad stuff? Did you see what things were like before? Do you see how much I long for something I’ve lost?” The witness says simply, “Yes, I see you. I see that you have been through something that has changed you.” And the witness does not look away.


A primary goal in yoga is to cultivate your inner witness, the part of you that sees, accepts and in response exercises self-compassion, without being carried away in despair and grief. The witness does not negate these feelings. She stands outside of them, seeing and allowing and loving.


“Yoga gives you a portal to knowledge that you have stored in your bodies but have not known how to access. It gives you ways to handle difficulties that may be clouding your eyes and silencing your tongue, creates a certain distilled awareness that allows you to unscramble your brain, and when the time is right, let go of the burden you have carried so long.” 


-- (Becky Thompson in Survivors on the Yoga Mat)

Curious Yoga

July 1, 2018

I can't tell you how often I find myself in that familiar awkward moment that comes when I try to explain my yoga teaching style. It’s hard to speak about hiding and freedom so plainly when are conditioned to show (only) our best parts to the world. What I’m proposing is radical, and probably a little stressful at first.


Most of the trouble I’ve gotten into in my life has been because I didn’t want some part of myself to be visible to others, or I didn’t want some true thing to be true.


So simple. I’ve run away, I’ve covered over, I’ve out and out denied, and probably I’ve lied in there somewhere. (She hedged, for the sake of irony.) I’ve certainly behaved badly in my attempts to manage your impressions of me. I’ve done addictive things from excessive exercise to binge watching TV shows to drinking alcohol too much at the wrong times to eating … pretty much everything. I have compulsively checked email and social media, looking always for distraction or better yet, some little ping from the outside to make me think I’m okay, in spite of my own uncertainty. It’s a horrible cage to live in, but we each have our very own key.


In my yoga classes, through the usual teachings of yoga, I lead students toward a handful of concrete practices to prevent hiding and all the poor choices we make while attempting to deny some part of ourselves. These practices are about creating new habits, new orientations. It’s about changing your mind in the pre-cognitive parts of it. That takes practice and repetition, and gentle encouragement.


  1. Exhaling. Extending the exhale signals to the nervous system to rest from the fight-or-flight (-or freeze) mode into rest and refresh. Fight-or-flight is unnecessarily in play for many of us because of chronic (emotional) stress and poor nutritional choices, excessive caffeine, sugar, etc. It’s a vicious cycle for stress eaters like me.
  2. Moving the whole body, sometimes powerfully and sometimes gently. And learning the names of things, or at least where they are what they do—be it sit bones or ischial tuberosities, they are the same by any name, but how do they feel when you do that?
  3. Pausing to notice. Often. Noticing thoughts and judgments, physical, emotional and energetic sensations. This is the pearl. The pause allows the noticing. The noticing opens up your inner landscape for a 360 view like no other! The pause is where decisions are made, so it’s good to have a luxurious and familiar pause space.
  4. Accepting what is noticed. Practicing interested curiosity about your inner sensations. “Close your eyes, pause, notice” is a common set of instructions in this class. Acknowledging yourself at every level is like a causal wave or head nod to say, “Yep, I see you over there.”

I was reminded in class with the amazing Angela Farmer, of a story she’s told about seeing two adults and their kids out at a party. When I’ve heard it, I imagine that the adults might have had more fun if they hadn’t brought their needy, sad, weak kids along, but that’s kind of the deal. 


We, each of us, contains sad, needy, weak “children” -- be they knee injuries, pelvic floor weakness, addictions, unhappy circumstances. And these are the very things that need to be acknowledged, loved, brought into the circle of our wholeness. Pretending they aren’t there doesn’t make is so. 


And when they come into our awareness, we know more, are more, and best of all, can truly be free of the urge to hide parts of ourself through denial, addiction, superficial living, and fearful choices.


Inner freedom can change everything, from the inside out.

The Nature Connection

August 1, 2018

I see the date coming on my calendar for the 31st annual Women's Herbal Conference, and I'm not going this year. I'm sad about that, but finding joy in remembering the last time I went, in 2016.


Before I went, I had been traveling several weekends in a row, and was quite honestly not sure that I would really enjoy a weekend camping with a few hundred women, sharing portapotties and a very few showers. I wasn’t sure that sleeping on the ground in cooling weather would “work.” I wasn’t sure that I could keep pace with attending back-to-back workshops all weekend. I simply wasn’t sure that I would feel good deep in my bones, physically, energetically or emotionally after so many weeks of travel. For so long, I “drank the koolaide” of cultural expectations for women, and would easily fall into comparative, evaluative ways of being when entering a group of powerful, beautiful, intuitive women, especially if I wasn’t feeling energized. 


“Where do I fit? Am I better, smarter, taller, thinner, … insert self-judging word… than that other person?” How many moments of my life did I completely miss because I was worried about what other people thought of me, or about where I fit? Some of those thoughts were with me in my depleted, exhausted, over-busy state as I made preparations for the trip.


But, the weekend conference was amazing. As I think about what besides the event itself was so nourishing to my spirit, I’m reminded of “Nature Deficit Disorder,” a term coined by the author of Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv, to describe the phenomenon of children (and adults too) spending more time in front of computer and television screens than out in nature. Louv attributes many behavior problems to NDD. My experience that weekend affirmed for me that even as an adult, I can miss too many doses of nature and fall into unhealthy mental patterns and bodily states, including disconnection from my body’s wisdom, my sense of vitality, and my creativity.


I have to log off now. I need to take my shoes off and stand in the grass. 

Two Months

May 13, 2020

It has been two months to the day since my mother died. Also, two months to the day since I picked my son up from his kindergarten class to tell him that she had died. That was the last day local schools were in session due to the pandemic. We have been at home, schooling, working and grieving, three of us in a confined and porous space for two months.


I witnessed my mother’s burial a week after her death, via FaceTime. My bother put me on a tripod facing the minister, and then at my request, moved the phone around to see the mourners who gathered at the last public funeral to be held at the cemetery in Virginia where both my parents are now buried. I joked with my sister two hours later, as I called her while she milled about with beloveds in my brother’s house. “Put me near the desserts. People will stop to talk to me because I’ll know how many cookies they take.” And when we ended that call a few minutes and no cookies later, I had well and truly missed the closure that I might have had on my mother’s funeral day.


I cannot adequately describe the depth of my own sense of loss at this moment. It is too far underground, under the daily pressures of time and work, fear and uncertainty. A big block of this mess is buried in me, and buried under the rubble of our shared grief of losing the normal.


Few can argue the point that this pandemic has been a leveler. We have lost both the personal comforts of “familiar” and the illusion of a shared “normal.” The effects of this leveling have also been personal and internal. I am staring at licensing requirements and certification requirements, CEUs half completed, and I am not sure I give a damn. I am mystified by the implied expectation that two full-time, remote working parents can also become proficient and confident educators, dropping everything to bring our child to a 9 am ZOOM call, twice a week. Also leveled in me— confidence, clarity, focus, trust and drive.


I was musing on discernment this morning, and the presumptive rules of the road for vocational discernment in particular. Why do I not do the things that need to be done to ease the pain of not living more into my calling? It’s one familiar that does not go away. It’s like idling at a weird intersection with blinking traffic lights. Only, there are no other vehicles waiting to proceed. Just me.


My thoughts:

Where is everyone? Did I miss the rapture?

Ok, that was irreverent. Which way do I go?

[Blinking continues]

I’m not supposed to go until the light changes.

Dear Light, are you going to change?

Am I on camera?

Maybe I should turn off the engine.

Maybe I should just go.

Right, I forgot.

Which way do I go?

Where is everyone? Did I miss the rapture?


When I decided to go to seminary in 2004, I waited until I was admitted to tell my mom. Her response: “I don’t much like women preachers. [conversational pause, which I proudly did not rush into] … I don’t like much like women doctors either.” Me: “Lucky for you, I’m not going to medical school,” and we both laughed. Never once did she say another critical word about my yielding the call to train for ministry. I moved eight hours away by car, and much further away from my childhood faith, and hers.


Nine years later when my book about prayer (written with J. Brent Bill) Finding God in the Verbs came out, I dedicated it to her. “To my mother, Kay, who taught me why to pray.” She taught me this through her willingness to be seen talking to God in whispers throughout the day, and a series of declarations about the nature of God and our sacred relationship.


The Good Lord does not give us more than we can handle. God helps those who help themselves. And two weeks before she died, I didn’t want this, but the Good Lord has other plans, so I’m going to have to accept it.


Other than meal time prayers as young children, we were never made to pray. But there was something tangible in my childhood that convinced me without words that God is real and relational, and the holy conversation between each of us and our Creator is as natural as breathing, and as necessary.


Two months is really not that long.

Not long to stay anchored to home and family.

Not long to wander in a grief like this one, losing mom.

And not long enough at all to accept that I am un-parented now.


In the mornings when I sit and pray for clarity and courage to match it, I would give so much to have mom with me in my stalled vehicle, waiting for the blinking light to change to something clear. I would ask her how she knew her path, and what it was like to doubt. I would ask her if she ever sat alone wondering about the rapture.

Stuck in Easter

May 14, 2020

I am stuck in Easter. The scary part of the first Easter, before it was Easter, and before any of us wrestled with the word Christian.


As much as I would like to be stuck in the best version of the women who proclaimed the empty tomb to the disbelievers who had stayed hidden in the upper room, the truth is I am in the attic with them.*


What were they replaying in their minds? I imagine a room of mostly men and some unmentioned women scattered around not in ease but in the discomfort of confinement. Sprawling out and brooding, self-chastising and wondering when exactly they made the mistake that got them to this moment. Was the mistake in following Jesus? On in not following him far enough?


The Jesus-loving women were not hiding. They grieved openly and committed themselves to care of the body of their beloved who had died. They did not expect that following their funeral customs would be halted, and they would be re-directed to proclaim how wrong they had all been. I try to enter in their piece of the story— trying to close the circle of life with respect and care, and being put off from it by something confusing and unbelievable, by something that changes everything.


In the story, the disciples in the attic do not believe the women when they come to say the body is gone, the stone rolled away.** Some go to the tomb to see it. They must witness something in order to accept the unthinkable.


When my mom died in March, I had the smallest inkling that my not being present at her burial put me near the front of a growing wave of people who would not have closure. In seminary, I can remember discussing technical aspects of funeral management with a pastor who did them often. He said, “I require that the casket be shut during the service. The closing of that lid on the deceased closes a door so that healing can begin.” In the human body, the best healing response to injury is a rush of blood and other healing fluids, to clean a wound and then immediately begin covering it over. As the fluids dry into a scab on the outside, a scar begins to form on the inside. If the casket is never closed from open to shut, the scar never forms, only a never-hardening mass covers the surface while the injury and infection roil beneath.


It was not COVID-19 that killed my mother. In ordinary time, her death would be in the numbers of daily deaths reported in the cancer column. On March13, 2020, the day she died, the 50th death from COVID-19 was reported in the U.S. There were 2,100 total cases on record. I had no imagination for the fact that within two months, the mortality rate from the virus would have increased to 82,246 souls in the U.S.


From my own grieving place, I wonder what is happening to the loved ones of the 82,196 (those who died after my mother). I am assuming most of them cannot access the psycho-spiritual effects of closing the caskets of their loved ones. Suffering patients die a terrible death, but I wonder if survivors will suffer a terrible life until they can close a casket somewhere and let the scab make a scar.


I am writing to close a casket.

_______________

*(Some) tradition locates the disciples post-crucifixion in the same upper room as they had last gathered with Jesus, where they ate together and Jesus washed their feet. It is this place from which Judas was dispatched by Jesus to make the betrayal that leads to resurrection.

** In Matthew 28 and Luke 24, the women leave the tomb to report their findings to the disciples. In Mark 16, they flee and tell no one because they are afraid, but in the next verse, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene who goes to tell the disciples and they do not believe her either. It leaves me wondering what part disbelief plays in transformation. 

Love you like a chicken

May 15, 2020

I spent some time yesterday laying on a beach towel on our sidewalk while my 5 year-old-child slathered himself with sunscreen. He brought out supplies to our front yard “beach” set up— two snack containers and two small rain umbrellas to hold over our heads against the sun. We are pale people, prone to sunburn, but this was the first time he has chastised me to put sunscreen on. Mothering his mother.


Given that my companion is five, I spent most of my too-short reclining time with one elbow draped over my face and the other arm propped at an uncomfortable angle, holding an umbrella over his empty seat. I could have dozed off except for the yelps coming from a nearby tree where I found him squealing that he couldn’t hold on much longer. I winced as he dropped onto my bare foot when my near-presence seemed to help him down. I had a second to remind him of daddy’s climbing rule: do not climb to heights you cannot get yourself down from, and then he was gone off toward the garden shed in search of a handsaw to build a ladder. Cue next maternal intervention regarding the use of sharp objects. Not lost on me is the unrelenting desire to build a ladder to reach a high place. So much hope, willingness and longing leaned into with confidence and enthusiasm.


Matthew 23:37-3 has Jesus speaking prophetically (calling the people back to God’s way) after chastising the religious leaders of the time, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent it it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (NRSV)


Jesus describes two important things: 1. God longs to sit on us like a mother hen with chicks, and 2. we resist. I feel so much kinship and invitation in this message on manifesting motherly love. It would be a relief to sit a spell, knowing exactly where my own child was and that he was up to nothing. I also feel kinship with resistance, and assume it is an aspect of my human being-ness which holds no surprises for the Creator.


In brief moments back on the sidewalk, after the tree rescue, crook of elbow still hiding my face, I began to sob.


“What are you laughing about?”

“I’m not laughing. I’m weeping.”

“It sounds like you are laughing.”

“I’m not. I’m crying.”

“Why are you crying?”

“I’m sad. I miss your grandma.”


The adult version is that I was thinking about a line I put to words two days ago about my mom never criticizing my decision to following a calling to seminary. I was overcome with sadness today on the sidewalk because of all the supposed, unspoken things. I absolutely believe my mother did not think women were called to be pastors, the only kind of minister she would have recognized. She called them preachers, never pastors, and sometimes just “the preach.” The emphasis on proclamation and unpacking the nuance of Scripture was not women’s work in my mother’s world. I think she may have met one female pastor ever, from a Unity Church just down the road, but so many universes away from her kind of church. She did not hold me back in any way from seminary, but neither did she launch me forward. Though she had copies of both books I’ve written (both religious/spiritual formation books), she never spoke to me about either one’s content. I don’t actually know if she ever read a page of either one. When I shared with her about guest preaching gigs, she listened. When I wanted to share my reflections on exegesis (interpreting scripture), she listened. She never talked about these things. I have only my assumptions, and my future without her.


I’m not ready to tell her story. She did not like the internet and did not want photos or her personal details shared on-line, ever. I will say that her childhood affected mine pretty significantly. The values she embraced and the ones she rejected in favor of others were so very present in the way she lived and parented, that I am (in)formed by them.


At a friend’s funeral a couple of years ago, her adult daughter praised my friend’s unfailing willingness to clean up messes that the daughter made as a curious child prone to wonder-filled experiments. The story was not at all about self-sacrifice, or servanthood. It was about supporting the child’s curiosity by following along after her. I wonder if that mother ever wanted to sit on her daughter to keep her safe. Mine did. It is a kind of love.


I have to end this. I have some messes to clean up. There’s still a beach towel outside, and some wood that may yet become a ladder to a higher place.

Message to the youngest daughter of Kay

May 16, 2020

On the porch this morning, I did a thing I haven’t done in awhile, flipping open my beloved purple-covered, Jesus-in-red-letters New Revised Standard Bible (NRSV) to see what it might say to me. I shuddered to find myself in Jeremiah, a book about a guy who preached against things like idolatry, greed, and false prophets (who might have been preaching a kind of prosperity gospel). He also has hard words about insincere worship and failure to trust God.


This particular copy of the Bible has short section headings to “title” the action that comes in the section that follows. My eye landed on Jeremiah 22:11, with it’s section heading, “Message to the Sons of Josiah,” and the opening of the prophecy, “For thus says the Lord concerning Shal’lum son of King Josiah, who succeeded his father Josi’ah, and who went away from this place: He shall return here no more, but in the place where they have carried him captive he shall die, and he shall never see this land again.”


[Big Note here: The Bible is a sacred literary work, contextualized in the history and politics of the time it describes, AND reflective of the time in which it was written. I personally believe that there is a holy Spirit that inspired it’s writing, and that this same Spirit can be invoked in our reading it. We can be reached by the Bible in our own lives, in our own context by reading with willingness to be seen and transformed. If this is too much woo for you, I understand. But when I pray before reading and something I read feels like it’s reading me (!!), I take notice. I slip eagerly into the world of extended metaphor and imagination, and I experience this as a kind of contemplative practice. A lot of prayer seems to be about talking at God. This is one way of listening for God.]


Jeremiah 22:11 is a scary bit. It is written in a context where land is everything, and being cast out or enslaved and taken away from your land — the land of your ancestors— is bad news in the short term and also the long term. Jeremiah, the prophet of God is speaking God’s judgement against the people and their leaders. But when read this passage today, I read it as a woman in 2020, and it read me.


Still thinking about the ah-ha from yesterday, about how mom neither held me back nor encouraged me forward in ministry, I sat in wonder. What if God were to say to me, in the spirit of a prophet calling me back from error, “Daughter of Kay, you shall return to the church of your mother no more. You will die in the place where you have been carried by your life, and you will never see the kind of church you came from again.” It’s actually not such bad news (to me) to never go back to the kind of church that rejected even the possibility of my gifts and calling. (My mom and her church are not the same in my mind, at all. I'm just untangling a knot here.)


My eye wandered across the open book to Jeremiah 23. Its section title in my purple Bible, is “Restoration after Exile.” It is a warning to shepherds who scatter God’s sheep, who have even driven them away. Through Jeremiah, God promises to deal with the wicked, misguided, divisive shepherds and to take on the tasks of shepherding directly until new shepherds can be raised up. The sheep will be fruitful. They will multiply. They will not go missing or be dismayed because they will be in their fold and they will be well shepherded. 


Awesome, right?


Part of this “enter the story” practice I find so fruitful (see what I did there?) is to see myself in different roles. (This is not original to me. Maybe Ignatius did it first? He certainly did it famously.) There are questions in there: In what way I am a bad shepherd? In what way am I a sheep who has been misled by unfaithful shepherds? Might I be a new shepherd being raised up?*


If you have never taken time with a meaningful or sacred text to lift up a heartfelt question and then listen to what happens next, try it. My favorite questions to hold: What do I need to know or remember right now? Or What am I being invited to do, be or consider? Soften your ears, your eyes, and your heart, and see what comes.

___

*If you are one of those people who think shepherds in biblical times were all male, please educate yourself.

Is there a Word for this Feeling OR This is not That.

May 16, 2020

Today I woke up dreaming the word lamentation. Literally, that word was in my mouth as my eyes opened. I’m not usually that kind of person, with big words in the morning. I am keeping this big word with me today, however, because it touches my inner landscape as well as the COVID-19 landscape we are living in.


The Merriam-Webster dictionary offers a helpful list of synonyms for lamentation that includes: groan, howl, keen, moan and wail. What I notice about their list is that these are all noisy things. No where does lamentation mean something unexpressed, tidy or reserved. In the Bible, there is a book called Lamentations. It’s a book of poetry which expresses grief over all that is lost because of Jerusalem’s transgressions. It paints a terribly abusive picture of a God who “gave full vent to his wrath” and “poured out his hot anger.”(NRSV Lamentations 4:11). Like Jeremiah which comes before it, it is a prophetic text intended to chastise the wicked authority figures back toward a God-serving path. It’s not unlike Jesus in the temple, upending tables and driving moneychangers out. They are messing up sacred space. The bad guys never like a prophet.*(For a giggle, see end note.)


But the lamentation in my mouth first thing this morning was nothing like that at all. It was very personal, and specific. It was just sadness.


In the wake of my mom’s death, I am replaying many things about how I was with her in the weeks leading up to our final visit. I was not present when she died. I was not even in the same state. I had left six days before to come home and be with my partner and my child, having been away from them for 12 days on this third trip south in three months. There was no clear, single deciding factor on my actual return date, which I changed twice. Many things were pressing in: too much watching pandemic news on the hospital tv, and the fact that there was a hospital tv, because we had succeeded in getting mom admitted for care knowing and praying that she would die while in medical care. (This is a complicated reality— a tangle of insurance, medicare, pain management, and love for one another. Intimate family discussions in the weeks and months before her death arrived us at a plan to seek hospital admission if and when certain physical signs became present.)


I fell under the spell of being in the already-but-not-yet bubble of waiting for the imminent but unknown timing of death. When my dad died, I had no where else to be. I was not yet a mother. When he died, I was mothering my mother, keeping her company at night in his room, and keeping watch for both of them.

In the days before I left South Carolina in March, while mom dozed, my sister kept telling me how important children were to my mom, and how being with Jasper was all she ever wanted for me. For a few years now, at least twice weekly when I would roll my eyes or groan about a parenting concern, without pause mom would say, “Jennie, you are so lucky. You just can’t see how lucky you are to have what you have. He is precious. You are so lucky.” It was a little conversational routine we had. I would complain or tell extra long, embellished stories about antics and hardships, and she would listen and remind me of my good fortune. Every once in a while, she would also invoke my brother in her response. He often said to her, deadpan, “Mom, you just don’t understand what it’s like to have four kids.” He does. She also did. Theirs was another conversational routine of complaint and encouragement and delight in the special joy of parenting that we all shared.


In her final weeks, there was a lot of pain and only a little Tylenol to ease it until hospital admission. There were two-person assists to the bathroom and then there was a bedside commode. There were popsicles and crackers and then there was just water and then nothing. There was television— Hallmark movies and then nonstop news— and then a preference for silence. It was all happening right before my eyes, and I was too close to see it. I was problem solving and praying. I was talking and listening, and then just sitting and regarding the giant woman who was really barely 100 pounds. In those midnight hours of being with her in the hospital, I sat quietly and cultivated appreciation, which I wrapped my mother in as she slept, and while she also sat quietly, waiting for the comforts of daylight and life returning.


There was also something a little bit like lamentation. I regret how poorly I have carried out this most sacred aspect of my human being ness. I could have lamented with her. I could have lamented more loudly, with more courage, and thereby left more space for making forgiveness trump affront in all things with my siblings as we labored together toward mom’s end. It’s really not the book of Lamentations that has given me anything that I need right now. It’s the gospel according to Matthew.


In Matthew 18:15, there is specific instruction on how to make peace (in worshiping communities). Go to the one who offends you. If they won’t hear your complaint, go again with a witness or two to support the confrontation. If that doesn’t work, bring it to the whole body. If that doesn’t work, then the offender is justifiably made an outsider. However, immediately after that, the teaching on forgiveness comes: do not forgive them seven times, but but 77 times. And then for an extra kick, follows a story about the unforgiving servant, who is himself forgiven by his master but does not extend that forgiveness to those in debt to him. He gets in trouble for that.


That’s my Jesus talking. Forgiveness is baseline. If there has to be a confrontation, be direct. If that doesn’t work, take someone who can hold the space with you and be direct again. And no matter what, dole out forgiveness beyond what you can imagine.


There is no outward un-forgiveness anywhere among those grieving my mom that I can see, but forgiveness of ourselves goes down deep into our own bellies, and also comes out from our hearts towards others. Does lamenting (the moaning, wailing kind) cure us from un-forgiveness of both kinds? 


I’ll let you know.

_________________

*Regarding prophets, my favorite candid line about prophets happens in 1 Kings 22:7-8 in which 400 prophets had already been consulted, and then…

“But Jehoshaphat said, ‘Is there no other prophet of the Lord here of whom we may inquire?’ The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, ‘There is still one other by whom we may inquire of the Lord, Micaiah son of Imlah; but I hate him, for he never prophesies anything favorable about me, but only disaster.” 

Proprioception in the Body of Christ

May 17, 2020

Metaphors and silence are equally important in my spiritual life. If there is a drought of either, I begin to wither ugly (think ugly cry, but it affects the entirety of whatever brightness ever comes out of me, dulling it to almost nil as I wither ugly). The last couple of days have been a little dry of metaphors as my seeking mind has settled more on grasping for knowable, or at least verifiable things.


Enter proprioception to save the day. And as it turns out, Zoom broke today, so the metaphor became real, as videoconference worship services everywhere had people asking, Is it just me or is this thing broken? Can we be in worship if we cannot see or be seen? How can I know if I cannot hear or be heard in the usual ways?


Proprioception is the ability of a body to know its own position and movements in space. The best way to deeply know one’s own proprioception is to lose it. I had a brief experience of this during pregnancy, when my senses did not keep up with the rate of growth of my body, and I was constantly bumping into things with my belly and breasts. Ear infections, vertigo, injuries to reflexes can all take away proprioception. So can the asymmetrical, asynchronous growth of adolescence. So can exhaustion and trauma. Go with me here and think about the state of the bodies you belong to. Work and co-workers, families, faith communities, clubs, etc. What injuries, traumas and exhaustion in your bodies are messing with your so-called sixth sense? (Is spiritual proprioception like groking, I wonder? https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/grok)


Under the hood of proprioception, there are sensing neurons in our muscles and connective tissues, that carry the load for gathering and transmitting to the brain the details of the whole body. This information combines with our vision and the inner ear-balance-sensing thing to give us a felt sense of where we are, for safety’s sake.


Jesus, ever fond of agricultural metaphors which were super accessible to his audience, even weighed in on the gist of proprioception. See Luke 15 if you are curious. There you’ll find:

The lost sheep

The lost coin

The lost son (the prodigal son)


I’ve read these stories looking for myself as the sheep, the coin, the “good” child and the wayward child, and also as the shepherd and the searching woman. Today, though, I’m seeing these as stories of proprioception. When something or someone is lost, the void creates a felt sense of imbalance in the bodies to which they belong. Sometimes bodies can auto-correct without thinking (when your body is tilted, your eyes automatically resume level if they can, so important is the visual input they offer to survival). But in this metaphor of bodies, is this subconscious auto-correct the best thing, or just the survival thing that causes the least disruption?


If there is a capacity to know the location, speed, movement of the body of Christ (by this I mean the people seeking to follow the teachings and present guidance of Jesus in local- and global groupings), what are the component parts? Where am I and where are you in this system of perception? Where is that guy who drives me to the outermost edge of the community, muttering to myself, It’s either him or me!? Where is that person who talks long at strange moments out of an unmet desire to be seen and heard? Where is that person who is on the outs with the Christians but very much in synch with Jesus?


I want to know how we heal from a loss of proprioception in our gathered bodies, and I don’t think rebooting Zoom is going to do the trick.