Spiritual Practice – Bridge Building

            It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when the world is falling apart. I often ask myself if am I doing enough to help move things forward. What can I do?

 Recently a business in our town had a rock thrown through its huge plate glass window. Small businesses in our area are going through a really rough time so my husband and I decided to meet there for coffee as a sign of support. When we arrived, we found our friend outside, who is a trans woman. She is very tall, has remaining “masculine” features and she is loud and proud! She was wearing a bikini and standing outside the business holding up a black lives matter sign. We went up to say hi and have a chat and I noticed that other folks walking by looked confused, or even scared as they passed her. Some openly stared. These reactions are common to the experience of trans women. We invited her into the business to buy her a coffee and then the customers around us seemed to relax.

It was as if our acknowledgement of her humanity allowed them to do the same. It took away her “otherness.”

            This was a very small thing to do, but it is an example of bridge building that we can look for every day. So many people are blowing up bridges right now, especially on social media. Just read the comments on any news or corona-related post and see the haters with their bombs sowing division. Bridge building is a small drop in the ocean of justice and healing, but as we each do something small it will become a river of love healing our land.

Mother Teresa said, “Do small things with great love.”

            What are some small things you can do to build bridges?

We can amplify the voice of someone whose voice is marginalized. A friend of mine organized a protest of a local park named after a white supremist. I stopped by for about a half hour, created some of the available art, and took a lot of pictures. Then I went on my Facebook and the Black Lives Matter pages and shared those pictures, thanking my friend for organizing the protest. If you see a post by someone of color, reshare, like, or comment on it; that amplifies their voice and builds a bridge from your friends to theirs.

We can stand with someone who might be treated unfairly and lend them your unspoken support. That’s what we did with our trans friend. We just stood by her, talked to her and bought her coffee. Two middle aged CIS gendered folks treating a friend with dignity allowed others to see her as a person, one that was safe to approach. Others felt free to interact with her more. You can do this by attending peace vigils or protests too.

My friend Jessica wrote this book. It’s short and informative, read it!

Or we can buy books by people who are different from us, read them, and then leave reviews. One idea I heard was to make a commitment to do this for a year. What a great way to learn new things and hear new voices. What bridges will be built as you talk with your friends about these books or post about them.

You might go for a walk with someone who sees the world differently than you do and just listen without judgement. I wrote about this earlier and it was a great experience for me to learn why my friend was against mail in voting. She had some legitimate concerns. A bridge was built between us that strengthened our friendship that had been weakened by political differences. Friendships are more important than politics.

My husband and I were talking about Jesus, who was a great bridge builder. Whenever he met a tax collector, clearly one of the most hated populations in his day, he wouldn’t mention their “sin,” he just saw them as people, and generally invited them to lunch. In fact, he rarely confronted anyone’s sin, except those of the Pharisees who were trying to keep people away from him. He did have some harsh words for them. Yes, let’s stand up against that kind of injustice, those who make policies to harm the orphan, the widow, the prisoner, and the immigrant. We need to vote them out. But, let’s put on our Jesus glasses and try to see people the way he did, as humans to be loved and cared for. Let’s look for ways we can build bridges.

What ways have you found to build bridges in this difficult time?

Photo’s mine

Spiritual Practice: Cocooning

                I was recently in an online training on John O’Donahue, the Irish poet, priest, and prophet. The trainer talked about two kinds of time: receiving time and surface time. We live mostly in surface time, going about our business, but occasionally we take the time to get quiet, to go deep, which is receiving time. And when the trainer said those words I started crying and couldn’t stop.

            After some reflection I realized the hardest part of this coronavirus isolation for me has been missing out on the places I normally go for receiving time. My weekly trips to the library were gone, my monthly prayer retreats to the Mercy Center were gone, the road trips to the giant redwoods my husband I and enjoy were gone.

            John O’Donahue lived in the Burren in Ireland. The Burren is a large area of County Clare that is not the beautiful green we expect of Ireland, it is a barren rock-strewn area. Yet O’Donahue found beauty there. But I’m having a tough time finding the beauty in my own quarantine “burren.”

How do I develop the ability to rest and settle down during the virus when I can’t leave home? My husband and I walk the dog in the desert most days, but now there are dozens of other people joining us. I have my own room in our home for writing and reflection. But at home, I have a hard time settling as there is always the distraction of a chore that needs doing or a snack calling to me. I have a lot of excuses.

            This week I took a risk. I asked my friend if I could hang out in her spare room for the day. What a blessing it has been to be away from my home after four months of isolation. I’m just across town but it is quiet here and there is nothing else needing my attention.

            Why are times of silence and solitude so important? I’ve written much on this topic in this blog. If we look at Jesus as a model, he would withdraw to quiet places, such as a desert, a garden, or a tomb; and there the deep work was done, preparing him for what was next.

The whole world is cocooning right now because of a virus and radical changes are happening. And we “white” people now have an opportunity to dig deep, admit our racist tendencies and listen and learn new ways of being in the world. It is intense, hard and revolutionary.

            This space of solitude is called many things: the waiting room, the desert, liminal space. But I prefer the picture of a cocoon. A cocoon is a soft sanctuary and looks peaceful from the outside, but inside things are happening! A caterpillar is dissolving and its imaginal cells are fighting their way into becoming a butterfly. Cocooning is a very active period of waiting. Radical changes are happening if we allow it.

            Sometimes when I feel overwhelmed by the pain in the world I physically cocoon. I curl up in the covers on my bed and picture myself wrapped in a cocoon of God’s love, safe and at peace. This allows me to refuel for the fight for justice. We all need to pause and take a breath. Contemplation must undergird activism or we will burn out.

            I’m not the only one who thinks about cocooning. I just started reading Sue Monk Kidd’s book, When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions, and I found that she also uses cocooning as her analogy for growth during periods of waiting.

“Waiting is both passive and passionate…it’s a vibrant and contemplative work. It means descending into self, into God, into the deep labyrinths of prayer. It involves listening to the disinherited voices within, facing the wounded holes in the soul, the denied and undiscovered, the places we live falsely. It means struggling with the vision of who we really are in God and molding the courage to live that vision.” (pg. 14)

She points out that trying to leave the cocoon before it is time can be damaging. A butterfly actually builds and strengthens its wings while trying to get out of the cocoon and “helping them along prematurely” means the wings will never grow strong enough to fly. Staying in our COVID isolation is very hard, but, leaving before it’s time could hurt us as well. We are invited to stay in, even though it feels like death. We can use this time to continue to grow, change and develop as people in ways that we cannot in surface time.

As I discovered, isolation does not equal cocooning. How can we find places to settle to where we can listen deeply?

Try one of these:

  • Open your coronavirus bubble enough to trade babysitting with someone so you can have time alone.
  • Get outside in nature, somewhere beautiful or look for beauty in ordinary places.
  • Continue to stretch yourself by reading books, listening to podcasts, and watching documentaries of people from a different culture than yours.
  • Borrow a friend’s spare room for a day.
  • Take a long drive in the car without the radio on.
  • Sit somewhere and stare at a tree for an hour. It’s amazing what will come up.

I’d like to hear how this time of cocooning is helping you to examine yourself deeply? How are you finding space for solitude? What are you learning that you will take with you into our new world?

Photos:

Cocoon

The Burren Pic

The Carin Photo by Nandhu Kumar on Pexels.com

Spiritual Practice: Opposing Injustice

Me at the Reno BLM Protest

The recent murder of George Floyd has once again brought to the forefront the state of racism in America. Thousands have rallied to peacefully protest, and small groups of agitators have turned these peaceful rallies into riots, bringing violence and destruction.

I walked in the Reno protest. One thousand people walking together, many holding signs. It was beautiful. Later that night a group drove into town and started breaking windows and burning property. That was not Reno, and that was not the organizers of the march, who immediately condemned the violence. There is much speculation about who the rioters were but no one knows for sure. Our community was heartbroken but turned out the next day to help clean up. That is who we are.

As I write this, it is #BlackOutTuesday. You may have seen some black profile pictures on your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. It’s a day to stay off social media and dedicate ourselves to learn more about racism and what we can do to end it. I’m still learning, but I want to share a few ideas which I will post Wednesday. Here are some easy onramp ideas to help us move forward.

  1. Listen. If you read something a person of color has written online, or if you are in a conversation with a person of color, don’t say “But what about…?” Just listen, ask clarifying questions and learn.
  2. Read. Read outside of your own culture. We often read from only our own culture. Let’s expand ourselves. Try one of these books:

Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? I read this book and it really helped me. It also led to my writing of the book, Cracker (see below).

Yesterday I joined a small group of people reading, Between the World and Me. I want to continue to grow, learn and understand.

Or if you prefer fiction try, The Hate You Give, which is also a fantastic movie and will help you understand how riots happen.

  1. Vote. Think about being involved in local politics or voting for candidates who support justice for the marginalized. Maybe you could staff a voting place, canvas or drive someone to the polls.
  2. Pray. Never has our land needed prayer more. This is a critical time to open ourselves to the Spirit of God. We need divine intervention to move forward as a people. Some people are too devastated even to pray. For them I recommend closing your eyes, lifting your hands, visualizing the hurting world and placing it in the hands of the divine. This is big and painful and we can’t shoulder it all at once or alone. Many groups are gathering together online to respond in prayer.
  3. Hope. For me, I find it a painful yet hopeful time. This quarantine has given us time to pause, look deeply at ourselves and take stock. We see the good in all the beautiful creativity that has gushed forward. We see the pain and fear, even the hate that has also been unleashed. It’s time to stand against the fear and hate. It’s time to heal the pain. It’s time to move the earth toward love and peace. We must pray together, work together, hope together.
  4. Act. DO SOMETHING/SAY SOMETHING. Speak out on social media and take the heat. Trust me, I know that is hard. I try to keep people from arguing on my wall but it seems to happen whenever I speak out. I try to respond in love and have taken breaks from Social Media to keep my heart from becoming bitter. You might try to march in a protest or stand with the marginalized in some way. Silence is not an option.  Call or write your representatives and ask, “What are you doing to change the systemic oppression of people of color?” Check out http://www.Theactionpac.com for up to the minute information about how to be involved.

When I was in middle school, I was trying to understand racism and my librarian (yay for librarians) recommended some books which I read and still think about today. One of them, Black Like Me, was a true story about a man who takes pills to turn his skin black, perms and dyes his hair and experienced life as a black man. His experiences were life changing for me because it was an opportunity as a white person to know what it felt like to live the black experience.

A few years ago, I was thinking of that book. I wrote Cracker to help people today have that same experience through  fiction. It flips the script so that we are forced to walk in a world where white folks are the oppressed minority. Everyone who reads it, black and white, says it’s really hard to keep yourself from flipping the script back over, but all agree it makes them more mindful of things like microaggression, systemic injustice and racism. It has a discussion guide in the back. It’s a good starting place. You can find it here.

Let me know what you are learning or trying in standing with our brothers and sisters of color to bring about a better world. Stay safe!

Photo of black women by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com