Spiritual Practice: Truth Speaking

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Warning: This is not a “how to win friends and influence people” post. You may actually lose some friends by speaking truth, but you might also gain some new and very interesting friends.

I’m not talking about truth-telling as in pointing out to your friend that she has lettuce in her teeth. That is a common courtesy, although awkward, depending on the depth of the friendship.

And I’m not talking about a fundy, stick your nose in my business, “Just speaking the truth in love, brother, you shouldn’t be dating her.”

I’m talking about the kind of truth-telling that happens when one looks at the world, at the dominant culture, and realizes that “we” have gotten off track. Telling the truth in that situation is much harder. People don’t like to hear that kind of truth because we don’t like to admit we’re hurting people with our words, actions, or laws. But that is exactly the kind of truth we need to tell in order to get back on track. It’s a prophetic voice.

*In his book, The Prophetic Imagination, theologian Walter Brueggemann writes, the dominant culture, now and in every time, is grossly uncritical, cannot tolerate any fundamental criticism, and will go to great lengths to stop it. It is the role of the Prophet to help “nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and a perception” alternative to the dominant narrative.” 

I had this experience when I began to align myself with my LGBT brothers and sisters, which cost me my job with a large evangelical ministry. I was not trying to be a prophet or rattle any cages, but the very act of standing with my rainbow family was apparently enough to challenge the power structures of the dominant Christian culture. Once you see an injustice, you cannot un-see it and the way the “church” was treating my gay friends was clearly wrong. I felt called to stand up against this injustice and consequently was booted from my spiritual tribe. This was an excellent opportunity to know what it feels like to be a gay Christian. In the aftermath, I gained a wonderful, supportive rainbow family, and found a new spiritual tribe among affirming churches, parents of LGBT children, and others standing with them.

 

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Our job as truth tellers is, to tell the truth, then stand in that truth. My spiritual director once told me that staying in a difficult place was a form of intercession. The good news is, we are not responsible for the outcome, we are just called to stand firm. It can be hard and it can be lonely, but it is always worth it. Here are some ways to sustain your energy during times of truth-telling.

  1. Give yourself radical rest. This in itself is a statement to the dominant busy, consumer culture we live in. It is a radical thing to choose to stop and rest. Rest, Sabbath, silence, and solitude will restore your soul and sustain your activism.
  2. Meditation/prayer/yoga: These things help connect your body, mind, and spirit which can get burnt-out and disconnected during times of cultural upheaval and chaos.
  3. Dance with your friends. I love to watch Grey’s Anatomy, where the characters model a “dance it out,” way of dealing with stress. We also see this modeled in scripture. When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, away from slavery and into freedom, his sister Marion whipped out her tambourine and led the women in a dance. When David returned with the Ark of God, he ripped off his clothes and danced. Dancing in the midst of pain, heartache, and push-back is a testament of hope, a celebration of battles won, or a prophetic statement that we believe they can be won despite evidence to the contrary.

What has helped you in your quest to speak the truth? I’d love to hear about it or stand with you as you find your voice against injustice.

 

*This quote and many of these ideas are from Christine Valters Paintner in Illuminating the Way: Embracing the Wisdom of Monks and Mystics

 

Photo credit: protest

 

Spiritual Practices: Archetypes — The Warrior

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We continue to explore our true selves through the window of archetypes, using as my guide the book: Illuminating the Way: Embracing the Wisdom of Monks and Mystics by Christine Valters Paintner. You can join us in reading the book or just follow along with the blog.

Archetypes are “instinctual and universal patterns of thought developed in human beings over thousands of years.” (pg. xi) Today we will look at the archetype of The Warrior.

“The Warrior is that part of ourselves which is ready to protect and defend whatever is necessary.” pg. 71

There are lots of examples of the Warrior in literature. The knight who is loyal to the Sovereign and who is willing to fight to the death for a just cause; but I am most intrigued by the idea of the Warrior who helps us fight our internal battles, especially when it comes to maintaining our personal boundaries.

As the adult child of an alcoholic (ACOA), the idea of boundaries took much too long for me to understand. They say that children raised in an alcoholic system don’t understand moderation. The first time I heard that it made so much sense to me. I had always been an “all in” kind of gal. I was the first to jump off the cliff, eat too much, or drink too much. I started to learn about moderation when I and began to read about the features of ACOAs. It was like lights began turning on, but growth with boundaries came slowly for me because they can be so blurred for children of alcoholics.

Thankfully, my husband would help me. He taught me that when my mom called, and I could hear the ice tinkling in the glass, I didn’t have to stay on the call. Or when the family dynamic tried to pull me into the middle in my role as mediator, which I’d been firmly placed in since the age of six, I could resist the pull to rescue. These boundary making behaviors were things I had to learn and I needed the help of my inner Warrior for them to begin to come from me instead of from my husband. It took a lot of courage from this peacemaker to uninvite some family members to holidays or to start saying Richard Rohr’s sacred “no” that Paintner describes in this chapter. Unfortunately, decades of family gatherings were ruined until I learned to put my own little family first, but I finally did and it was a huge relief to all concerned. Well, to my little family anyway.

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Amma Syncletcia, the desert mother who is the author’s Icon for the Warrior, was a brave woman who took to the desert with her blind sister where she could throw off cultural constraints of women in the 400’s and be focused on God, offering wisdom to those who sought it. Many women joined her there, seeking healing for their inner wounds. We need the courage to deal with our inner wounds and the Warrior can help us, and we can help each other as Amma Syncletica did.

The shadow side of the warrior is our Inner Critic, which we are encouraged to listen to and then dismiss. As a writer, I’m very familiar with this little fella. I love Elizabeth Gilbert’s take on this in her book, Big Magic. She says (and I’m paraphrasing here) fear (the inner critic) is allowed along on the trip, but never allowed to drive!  Another shadow of the Warrior is the tyrant we can become if we let our Warrior run amok.

I love the prayer at the end of this chapter and offer it to you now,

“May you find the fierceness within to honor and protect that which is most precious. May you find the courage to say no to all that drains and disempowers so your yes may be all the more radiant.” (pg.89)

What has been your experience of the Warrior? Mine is limited by my family system but I’m interested in how it has helped others.

Photo credit: Warrior

Amma Syncletica

Spiritual Practices: Archetypes — The Orphan

Little orphan annie

We are continuing our study of archetypes as a spiritual practice, through the book, Illuminating the Way, by Christine Valters Paintner. You’re welcome to get the book and follow along, or just enjoy the blog and comments. This week we are in the third chapter, the archetype of the Orphan.

To review, archetypes are “instinctual and universal patterns of thought developed in human beings over thousands of years.” (pg. xi) “The Fundamental experience of the Orphan is abandonment, feeling like an exile, and longing for an experience of being at home.” (pg.54)

The inner Orphan invites us to feel the pain of unpleasant experiences… great. This is something I’ve been working on for a long time. In the past, if I had a feeling of rejection, loss or grief, I would pull away from it and stuff those feelings deep. This led to also being cut off from good feelings of joy and happiness because we can’t separate ourselves from only half our feelings.

When I was younger, I lived in Israel for a summer. The Israelis are often referred to as “Sabra,” which is a cactus fruit that is hard on the outside and sweet in the middle. It is hard, at first, to get past the tough exteriors of native-born Israelis, but once you do, you find the sweet, tender person inside. When I was living in there, I was given a nickname by my housemates, “Tough Cookie.” This was not a compliment. God used my time in Israel to help crack open my tough exterior, a safety wall I had built to protect me from my own abandonment issues and help me learn to face my inner pain. They say Israel is like the salt-filled dead sea, it exposes all of your wounds but also helps them heal more quickly. That was my experience for sure.

Welcoming difficult feelings is something I’m still working on decades later. I find the Welcoming Prayer most helpful. You can read more about it
here but just let me say it involves sitting with the uncomfortable feelings, giving them space as an important part of you, asking what they need, and then letting them go.

“Conscious suffering is the gateway to our own spiritual awakening and maturity.” (pg. 55)

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Our book uses Dorothy Day as an icon for the Orphan, as she was a woman who cared for many orphans and widows. She was committed to social justice at a time when few were talking about this topic. You should google her, as she was quite before her time.

The Orphan is a very popular archetype in literature, especially children’s lit. Think of Little Orphan Annie, Anne of Green Gables, and Oliver. When I was a child, my best friend always wanted to play horses while I wanted to play orphanage. It was not because I had a terrible home life but because I was a fan of The Boxcar Children mysteries. Orphans had all the fun and the inner resources to meet whatever came at them. I made orphans the heroes of one of my book series, The Finding Home Series.

We are living in a time of many difficult realities. Perhaps this has always been true, but now they are thrust into our faces every day on the internet. How do we survive the weight of them? How do we keep from being overwhelmed by the immensity of the pain we are exposed to? Our inner Orphan can help us by giving us strength and resilience. I don’t know who said it first, but I love an idea I heard from Glennon Doyle on a podcast recently, “Just do the next good thing.” That is, we can always do something simple and immediate, in the present. We can’t do it all, but we must do something. This takes the pressure off being overwhelmed and thinking that we must save the world.

Of course, the Orphan has a shadow side, as do all the parts of our true selves. The Shadow of the orphan could be fear of abandonment leads us to abandon others first, or do something to force someone to reject us in advance. It can also lead to betraying our own hopes and dreams for fear of disappointment.

In what ways have you faced feelings of abandonment? How can you use your inner Orphan to help you face discouraging feelings or experiences? Have you experienced the Orphan’s shadow?

Photo Credit. Little Orphan Annie: Young actor Aileen Quinn made her film debut in the 1982 smash-hit musical Annie. Picture: Supplied.Source: Supplied

Dorothy Day

The Female Side of God, Please!

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In the front of my prayer journal (the one beginning June 2014), I wrote, “Something new is happening in my life…Spring”

Well, these last eight months haven’t felt like spring. They have felt like the longest, coldest, hardest winter ever. Losing my mom, losing the job I loved, and with it my InterVarsity family.

As I walked the labyrinth at Mercy Center last week, I reflected on Spring: re-birth and birth. When you’re in labor you have to go through “transition” before you give birth.  Transition is ugly. You turn mean. You say horrible things to people that love you. You swear.

I’m in transition. I’m mean. I hurt those I love. I swear. I’m in pain. I’m grieving.

Will I give birth in the spring?

I know I can’t rush the birthing process. No one hopes to give birth to a premie or a stillborn child. Growing new life takes time — patience. I’m not ready to give birth.

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I walk the soft curves of the labyrinth, turning toward and away from the womb. That’s what I need right now. Not a hard, masculine side of God with bared chest and bulging muscles. I need a soft female side of God, with large round breasts and fleshy arms to hold me tight and suckle me. A soft place to land. A warm place to hide. I’m tired of the tomb, I want the womb – like my childhood caregiver, Lillian, who swept me into her arms every day after school and held me close and safe to her fluffy goodness. My own mother was small-boned and wiry. She smelled of smoke and had a hard time holding still. Lillian was warm and soft and available.

Twice now, girls have come up to me on the playground when I’m on yard duty and asked for hugs. I love to wrap them in my arms for just a moment before they run off to play. For just a moment they feel safe. Because the world is a hard place. One of the girls has a chronically sick sister that makes her life unbearable, and the other is as smart as Einstein but has the social skills of Joaquin Phoenix and gets made fun of a lot. And I get to be a soft place for them to land.

I need a soft place to land. But just as the labyrinth pushes me out of the womb and back into the world, this birth will happen eventually.  What will it look like? Will it have ten fingers and toes, or be weak and sickly? Will it live? Am I ready?

Thankfully it’s still winter, at least in Reno, although California is showing signs of life. I have time to rest before moving forward. I will wait, quiet and nested in the womb of my God.