Birthing Hope

I’ve been absent from this blog for quite a while, due to time constraints related to my current circumstances (see previous posts).  Today I’m sharing a reflection I wrote many years ago, slightly edited and updated, in recognition of Mother’s Day:

When I was growing up, there was always a controversy in my house on Mother’s Day. My dad believed that this celebration of mothers was just a ploy by “Madison Avenue” to get people who have mothers (i.e., everyone) to spend money on cards, candy, and gifts. My mother, on the other hand – the grand matriarch of a household of six active children – loved being singled out for recognition and the opportunity to be treated like “Queen for a Day.”

I admit to having inherited my father’s skepticism – and several years ago I did some research into the origins of this tradition which we celebrate every year on the second Sunday of May. I was surprised to learn that rather than being a sentimental celebration marked by candy and flowers, the seeds for the institution of Mother’s Day were sown from women’s experience of the horrible carnage of the Civil War. In 1870 Julia Ward Howe proposed an annual “Mother’s Day for Peace.” Howe and other mothers who joined her sent a message to the government, which was the original Mother’s Day Proclamation. These lines are from the beginning of her text:

Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts, whether your   baptism be that of water or of tears! Say firmly:’We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, our husbands shall not come to us reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says ‘Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.’ Blood does not wipe out dishonor nor violenc indicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace…”.
(http://www.peace.ca/mothersdayproclamation.htm)

Slide002 Twenty-six years ago, I was in labor with my last child – a son. It was January 1991, during the height of the War in the Gulph. To try to keep my mind off my discomfort, I turned on the TV in the birthing room. Across the screen blared details of the bombing of Baghdad…the fears of the Israelis… the slaughter of the Iraqis. As I labored, my heart was breaking, because I realized that somewhere in Iraq, somewhere in Israel, women in those distant lands were also laboring to bring forth new life, in the midst of death and devastation. Was my soon-to-be-newborn son’s life any more precious in the eyes of the Creator than the new life being birthed by my Iraqi and Israeli sisters? The powerful contractions of my body became a prayer that the killing would stop, that the madness would cease – and in those moments I understood with every cell in my body what inspired Julia Ward Howe to write the words of that first Mother’s Day Proclamation.

Healthy mothering brings forth life, and desires to sustain life. Ultimately the mother, the life-giver, beholds the mystery that life comes not from her, but through her. The deepest mystery of motherhood is that all life is gift, and that we are stewards, not owners, of that gift. Life is not ours to give or to take – our singular task is to protect it and to nurture it forward.

Imagine a world where everything we do nurtures, rather than destroys, life. Where all of our resources are expended in the service of health, knowledge, creativity, harmony, compassion, and peace.    In such a world any person, male or female, parent or not, can be an active participant in the essence of mothering.  All who give birth to new creations/ideas/projects that support and nurture life are carriers of the mothering principle.  On Mother’s Day 2017, I invite us to ask ourselves, in the words of poet Marge Piercy : “Where out of our wavering half-tainted desires…can we birth the hard clear image of hope? Who shall bear hope back into the world? Who else but us?”

A Bunch of Bologna

There was a woman in the grocery line today buying a stash of junk food items: Fritos corn chips, Diet Coke, Oreos, a family sized bag of potato chips, bologna and bacon, and most horrifying to my sophisfullsizeoutput_7b2ticated palate: a loaf of white bread. As I scrutinized the contents of her cart, I thought to myself, does anyone really eat white bread anymore?   Didn’t she get the memo about the health benefits of eating unprocessed foods that have at least 3 grams of fiber per serving, or the health report that cautions against the nitrites in mystery meats like bolgna? My “latte-drinking, Prius-driving, Birkenstock-wearing” self felt sorry and actually somewhat embarrassed for her. And then my stereotyping-judgmental-shadow self waited to see if she’d be paying for her poor nutritional choices with food stamps. I’m ashamed to admit this, but it’s true. Yes, I am guilty of stereotyping and judging others by the contents of their shopping carts, if not the color of their skin.

Full self-disclosure: I’ve taken a bit of artistic license in describing this morning’s grocery line encounter. The woman with the cart full of junk food…was me. The embarrassment I felt was for myself potentially being seen, by anyone who knows me, paying for the utterly un-hip food items in my cart. Never mind that my shopping list was tailored to the limited menu of my special-needs brother-in-law who’s been living with us since the day after Christmas. I was ready and waiting to offer an explanation to any acquaintance I might run into that TR’s dietary choices are somewhat compulsive, and few: white bread toast for breakfast, bologna sandwich with Fritos and two Oreos for lunch, and either a hamburger, bacon sandwich, or Pizza Hut pepperoni pizza, with a side of potato chips, for dinner. To say that a palate which avoids any and all fruits, vegetables, or natural ingredients offends my CSA-card-carrying-member self, is a gross understatement. But in truth, what surprised and disconcerted me more was my palpable feeling of shame surrounding the affront to my self-image that purchasing said items at the Weis Supermarket elicited.

And so I’ve been reflecting on how deeply and inextricably I’m invested in my public persona. If you asked me, I’d tell you that I’m secure in myself, have no trouble speaking my truth, am open minded and diversity-loving, and did I say inclusive and non-judgmental? Ha! My early morning run to the grocery store has revealed another shadow part of myself that is difficult to reconcile…. I’ve become painfully aware  that the package of Oscar Myer’s in my cart is not the only “bunch of bologna” I’m transacting with…

Is there a subtle self-image that you are attached to? How have you encountered your attachment? Has it caught you by surprise?  I’d love to hear about it!

My Life, Interrupted

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I love the week between Christmas and New Years – it’s such a mellow time, when life seems to slow down for a bit after the cultural frenzy of preholiday preparations. My practice for the past several years has been to spend the week in a reflective mode, reading over my journal entries from the previous year, and compiling a list of personal and professional goals for the next twelve months. I’ve also adopted the tradition of choosing a word as a theme for the upcoming year, a suggestion that has become popular in contemplative circles. Such was how this week began, lounging around with a second cup of coffee on the morning of the Feast of St. Stephen…until we got one of “those” phone calls…

Long story short, my mother-in-law apparently had a medical event during Christmas night, which landed her in the hospital. My brother-in-law who lives at home with her and who has special needs, was in need of supervision. Enter the Interruption. TR is temporarily living with us while mom recuperates.

For the past week I’ve found myself re-acclimating to a caretaker role, a position that for all intents and purposes I gleefully shed when my youngest child permanently left the nest. I’ve been involuntarily hurtled back into the state of disequilibrium I experienced when I had my fist baby, realizing that I am basically under house arrest, unable to freely come and go at will. My wings have been clipped. My silence and solitude have been invaded by the blare of the TV tuned to the shopping network, one of TR’s favorite distractions. I’m the commander-in-chief again of another person’s activities of daily living, marking the hours of the day by mealtimes, snack times, bath times and bed times….and I am a reluctant officer.

When asked what the secret to her long life and happiness was, a wise elder woman is reported to have said, “I have always tried to cherish my interruptions.” (in SoulCollage© by Seena B, Frost, p. 100) This challenging advice has been percolating in my mind and heart all week. What does it mean to “cherish” one’s interruptions, and just how does one go about doing that?

How do parents cherish the interruption of giving birth to a child with a genetic abnormality that will consign them to a lifetime of daunting responsibility?   How does anyone cherish the interruption of the death of a spouse, a friend, a sibling, a beloved companion animal? How does a committed partner cherish the devastating news that they have been cheated on? How would any of us cherish the interruption of a cancer diagnosis?

There are those who believe that we call to ourselves situations and circumstances that we need to “learn” from. There is an idea rampant in the culture that the power of positive affirmations can shield us from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.  What underlies both of these perspectives is the notion that we have some modicum of control over the vicissitudes of our lives. I disavow any such formulas and surrender to the truth that we live in a flawed and unpredictable universe. The attitude with which we approach our lives can indeed influence how we see and interpret events, but there is no cause and effect. What we have choice in is how we decide to respond to the fates that befall us. Therein lies our freedom and our response-ability.

It appears that my word for the year has come unbidden. “ Interruption” has chosen me. As I meditate on the phrase “cherish your interruptions,” it takes on the character of a Zen koan. What’s more important than figuring out what it all means, is engagement with the Mystery. Sometimes the answer is that there is no adequate answer. At this moment, I am only just beginning to accept that my comfortable life has been temporarily interrupted.  Cherishing, if it ever happens, will be a process assisted by grace.

How might you cherish your interruptions in 2017?

 

 

Prayerfully Challenged

The past month since the Presidential election has been very challenging for my personal spiritual practice/prayer life.  Usually my prayer/meditation has taken the form of a breathing mindfulness practice, where I enter into deep stillness. Because of my emotional upset relating to the political situation in our country right now, this way of praying has not been working because I have been too agitated, with my mind racing. Immediately after the election results were announced, I felt totally emotionally dislocated, was on the verge of tears daily, and could not even call out to God. When my stupor began to lessen in intensity, I attempted to engage the Loving-Kindness meditation practice (holding an image of a difficult relationship in the mind and sending that individual wishes for peace, happiness and freedom), and the Tonglen practice (breathing in a difficult emotion and breathing out peace). I was hoping that I could call up an image of Donald Trump in my mind, and send him love and good will. I also hoped that by sitting with my sorrow and grief in Tonglen, I would be able to ground myself and alchemize my emotions into something more positive. My efforts were met with frustration. I have to be honest and say that I was feeling anger and hatred in my heart. I did not want to send Donald Trump love and compassion. (So much for “progress” in the spiritual life…) I could only feel grief and sorrow for our divided nation. I have been tempted to believe that pure, unredeemable evil exists in the world. I gave myself permission not to try to pray or meditate. All I could do during my usual prayer time was sit and stare out the window.   Not praying became my prayer

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Facade decoration, Island of Malta

Then one morning I had the urge to pray the rosary. I have a very special sterling silver rosary that was given to me by my great aunt Sister Gabriel, a Roman Catholic nun, when I was around 10 years old. It hangs on my bedpost as a talisman but I don’t often pray with it. But for some reason I wanted to hold the beads in my hand and pray with them. And so I followed my intuition, picked up the beads, and have been praying with them daily ever since. There is something about holding these beads that grounds me. They connect me to my childhood, to my Roman Catholic upbringing, and to my aunt, with whom I felt a special bond. Praying the rosary also connects me with Mother Mary, who for me is an archetype of the Divine Feminine, as well as with all the common folk throughout history who have had a devotion to praying the rosary, and who have believed in Mary’s intercessory power. However, I’ve put my own personal twist on the prayers that I say. I’ve collected contemporary versions of a creed, the Our Father, Hail Mary, and the Glory Be, and it is these prayers that I use. Praying the ancient rosary with these contemporary words feels meaningful and empowering. It connects me with the tradition of my Catholic roots, but also brings the tradition forward in a way that comes alive for me. Sometimes I  totally break from the traditional prayers, and use the rosary as generic prayer beads, reciting other personally meaningful prayers such as the Prayer of St. Francis or the Memorare, or I simply say the names of people in need as my fingers move along the beads. I have always loved silence and wordless prayer, but in the present circumstance I have needed the structure of words to help me stay grounded. This practice is helping me to regain my sense of equilibrium and I am grateful that the invitation to pray this way floated up from my interior.

I’d like to share some of these prayers with you, in the event that they might also speak to your heart. The language in the prayers is universal so they can be spoken by anyone who believes in the Divine in any form .

Creed:  This I know: the world will rise through evil and through pain and be born anew in one eternal love, over and over, like the seasons, as often as it takes until creation is the perfect body of God. Nothing is lost. All is present and alive in love. Wrongs are forgiven, and evil can and will be transformed into power for life. Everything created lives forever in the one eternal love. ( Christin Lore Weber, Circle of Mysteries, p. 28)

Our Father:    Our Father, Holy Mother, Creator of the Cosmos, Source of Life, You are in my mind, in my garden, in my cup of wine and loaf of bread. Blessed be your names: Mother, Allah, Goddess, Beloved, Father, Radiant One, Yahweh, HaShem, Sophia. Your presence has come, your will is done on earth as it is in the cosmos. My we give each other strength, mercy, tenderness and joy, and forgive each other’s failures, silence, pettiness and forgetfulness, as we ask to be forgiven by those we’ve hurt. Lead us home to ourselves, to You, to clarity, to oneness, and deliver us from the darkness of our ingnorance and fear. So we pray and so we receive. Amen. (Jan Phillips, There Are Burning Bushes Everywhere: Poems and Prayers of a Rebel Mystic, p. 36)

Hail May:  Hail Mary, full of grace, Wisdom is with thee. Blessed art thou, and all women, and blessed is the fruit of our wombs: new life – from thought, from word, from seed…all that we create. Holy Mary, Holy Mother, Shekinah, Sophia, come to the aid of your daughters now, in this hour of our dire need, and at the hour of our death. Amen.(My own words)

Glory Be:   Glory when we’re stripped of every hope. Glory in our striving all our life and dying distant from our dreams. Glory in the darkest night. Glory in the cave beneath the steepest mountain of the earth. And when we think that even God has died, glory in the faith that cries: I will go on. Amen. (Christin Lore Weber, Circle of Mysteries, p. 139)

What are the prayers of your heart that ground you in this moment?

 

 

The Space Between

Sometimes the only wostb_6375rds I have are words about having no words.

The space between…The pregnant

pause…The blank canvas…

The empty page…

The Dark Night …  The black hole…

The broken promise…The blind spot…The unlived life…The dream deferred…

The unopened letter…The blank stare…The untold story…The missed connection…

The unrequited love…The dead end…The fork in the road…The pink slip…

The well run dry…The barren womb…The unsolved mystery…The bridge to nowhere…

The open hand…    The beggar’s bowl…The holding tank…The dropped stitch…

The souls in Purgatory…    The foot of the cross…The new moon… The lost horizon…

The eye of the storm…The total eclipse…The hung jury…The stay of execution…

The unsung hero…The held breath…The catch in the throat…The pit in the stomach…

The broken heart…The empty nest…The sound of silence

What are your words for having no words?

 

Living the Questions, Post Election

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I would like to beg you… as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.           ~Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903 in Letters to a Young Poet

What just happened?

Why didn’t I see it coming?

Who can I blame ?

How can I constructively channel my grief, fear, and anger?

How can I disagree with my neighbors without demonizing them?

Where is the meeting ground with others who understand the world from a fundamentally different framework than I do?

What aspects of my personal comfort and privilege kept me blind to widespread cultural rage?

In what ways has my privilege contributed to systemic forms of oppression?

How has my feminism been parochial, blind to its intersection with racism and classism?

Which of my own values am I willing to compromise to protect my own interests?

How can I be in solidarity with American citizens who have lived with the reality that we are not truly “one nation under God with liberty and justice for all?”

How can I stand with the most vulnerable without colonizing their sovereignty over their own lives?

What am I willing to let go of so that others can have their fair share?

What does it mean to be American? To live from my heart with compassion? To be human?

Can I stay in this place of not-knowing and avoid the temptation to rush to reactive, quick-fix solutions?

How can I embrace the present moment and accept what is, while at the same time working for change?

Would I be willing to go to jail or to put my life on the line for the values I believe in?

What are the specific gifts and talents that I have to offer for the repair of the world at this moment in time?

What spiritual resources and practices will help me stay centered and grounded during this confusing and chaotic period?

What are your questions?

 

Take Your Inner Kindergartner to the Voting Booth

Hopefullfullsizeoutput_78ey everyone who is reading this post will be heading to the polls tomorrow to stand up and let your voice be counted. During this unprecedented election cycle, nerves have been frayed, family relationships and friendships have been strained, “Election Anxiety Disorder” has been diagnosed, and cynicism has taken up residence in many hearts. Our nation’s collective dirty laundry has been aired, and every other-ing “-ism” known to humankind has reared its frightening, ugly head.

No matter what the final results of this contentious contest are, we have a long and difficult road ahead of us – a path that will require honest and critical self-reflection, humility, and willingness to forgive in order that we can move forward and seek the common good.

I admit that I became addicted to the incessant barrage of breaking news stories, an ambulance chaser horrified by, yet fixated on, the latest political carnage. The media hype which started well over a year ago has obscured any semblance of the truth and thrown gasoline on every flickering ember of potential conflict. How is a reasonably intelligent and motivated citizen able to separate fact from hyperbole to make a conscientious choice for the 45th President of this country? The stereotype of angry, white, non-college educated “redneck” men being the majority voting block for Donald Trump is not the whole picture – I personally am surrounded by respectable neighbors who have Trump –Pence signs displayed proudly on their lawns. Attempts to convince people through logical argument that their choice is, at the very least, misinformed, and at the very worst, a scourge against democracy, have failed abysmally. Rarely do polarizing conversations do anything to convince another person to change their mind, or even to see an issue from a different perspective.

So in this moment I invite every adult of voting age to suspend logic and consult with the wise voice of your Inner Kindergartner before filling out your ballot tomorrow. Call upon your child spirit, which is intact still, but hidden beneath layers of disappointments, prejudices, down-sizings, bruises and boo boos, perhaps barricaded under a fortress of fear and anxiety about what the future holds. When you enter the voting booth, remember these classic words of Robert Fulghum, about what you learned in kindergarten :

Share everything…Play fair…Don’t hit people…Clean up your own mess…Don’t take things that aren’t yours…Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody…Learn some and think some…When you go out into the world, hold hands and stick together….

Let these simple rules be your guide.

What will we tell our children and grandchildren if we spurn what we’ve taught them from the age of reason?

Most of what we really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be, we learned in kindergarten…

For the full text of Robert Fulghum’s poem, see:

https://www.scrapbook.com/poems/doc/842.html