Spiritual Practice: Thriving Despite

If you’re like me, your current state of mind is that of escaping. By that I mean by this point in the year we have had a pandemic, fires, smoke, racism, and politicking; I want to crawl into a cave and wait until it’s all over. 

I’m not alone. I have friends who are so discouraged by the state of our country they are investigating other countries where Americans can relocate.

I have friends that have packed “go bags,” not to escape fires, but to try to escape the coming apocalypse.

I read an article about how humans are built to withstand short term conflict, but long term, ambiguous danger is not something for which we have a context. I guess World War Two might have been the last time folks felt this way.

It. Is. Getting. Hard.

So, what do we do? Crawl into a hole? Give up?

Thankfully for me, way before the pandemic, I committed to teach two writing classes this fall and to begin a new training program for spiritual directors.

 Life. Goes. On.

There are jobs that need going to, kids that want food, spouses who need our attention.

If you’re on the verge of giving up, tossing in the towel, taking a literal long walk off a short pier, please ask for help. We need each other to get through this, and the suicide rate is rising as we speak. Reach out, call the hotline: 800-273-8255 PLEASE! We need you. We need your voice, your gifts, your intelligence to make it through this.

So, how do we thrive despite all that is happening?

  1. Give yourself a lot of grace. This is not a time to be hard on yourself. This is a time to slow down and lower the bar. Instead of being the best employee, try to be a good one. Instead of being the best parent, try to keep your kids fed and sheltered. Hug them occasionally. Grace. Grace. Grace.
  2. Give others a lot of grace. Right now, that is hard. We are more polarized than at any time in history. It is interesting that on my Facebook memories, I made the same statement eleven years ago. I guess this has been going on for a while. But, what does it gain us to disparage other people? Most of us are living in fear right now, and if your trauma brain is activated, you’re going to believe all the fear mongers because they make sense to your animal brain. We are all walking around in a trauma response. We need to try and put on glasses of love, to look at everyone as if they are doing their best, to give them the grace we desperately need ourselves. 
  3. BE WITH PEOPLE. I know we are in a lock-down situation, but there are safe ways to be with people. Social isolation is killing us. A neurologist just told my friend that locking up our seniors for their safety in these care homes is causing quicker onset of dementia that wouldn’t have happened if they could see each other and their families. It’s a challenging problem. We don’t want them to die, but they are dying of loneliness. How can we see people and be safe? Meet outside. Go for walks with someone. Have dinner in your back yard with a couple of folks. You can sit six feet apart and still enjoy each other’s company. We need to be with others to thrive.
  4. Find someone to care for. There is always someone who has it worse than you. Adopt a shelter animal, send money to people who have lost their homes via fire, tutor a child online. Try growing a succulent, they are hard to kill, trust me. Giving to others gets our minds off ourselves, which, if not unchecked, can quickly become a central occupation when we are stressed.
  5. Practice self-care. Read good books, watch positive TV, take naps, eat well, and exercise. The usual. We need that more than ever.
  6. Learn something new. Nothing lights up the brain like trying something new. Take an online class. Heaven knows there are a lot of those offered these days. Teach one! That will light up the brain for sure. Mine is quite lit these days with the class I’m teaching and my book club which is reading, “How to be Antiracist,” by Ibram X. Kendi. There is so much to learn. My brain is on fire!

I’d love to know how you are surviving this difficult time. We need to share resources, ideas, and encouragement. Just know, I’m in your corner, and I’d love to hear how you are doing. If you’re in a cave, it’s okay to tell me.

Photo credit. Owl, mine

Family Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

Spiritual Practice – Releasing Anger

Election seasons can bring up a lot of difficult emotions. What do we do with our anger? My first thought is: Along with Dilbert, we all need to take a break from social media!

Strong “negative” emotions were not allowed in my family when I was a child; anger, grief, and sadness were all suppressed. As I’ve aged, I’ve learned these feelings are not negative emotions; they are just emotions. They are as much a part of me as happiness, joy, and delight. But, learning to be comfortable with them has taken longer.

I love how the ancient scriptures do not condemn these feelings. Psalm 4:4 teaches,

“When you are angry, do not sin.”

It doesn’t say don’t be angry, but when you are angry, don’t hurt anyone or yourself with your anger.

What do we do then, when we are angry? I’ve written before about the Welcoming Prayer. It’s always a good place to start. When any uncomfortable emotions come, welcome them and sit with them. Acknowledge them as part of you and ask what they are trying to tell you. If we listen, we can learn what is bugging us. If we suppress those feelings, we will most likely have physical difficulties like stomach aches or headaches. Suppressed emotions don’t magically go away; they just come out in different ways, hurting our own bodies or hurting those we love.

How do we release the anger from our bodies? When I was a mom of young kids, working, and going to graduate school, I felt anger and frustration as I tried to juggle all of my responsibilities. I call it my Alanis Morrissette decade, as I loved her angry Jagged Little Pill album. I’d crank it up and do some angry vacuuming to release my anger, or I’d go for a run and pound my rage into the pavement.

When my son was little, he had a lot of anger, mostly because he didn’t have the words he needed to tell us what bugged him. I taught him to pile up pillows and hit them with a plastic bat. When he outgrew that, we got him a punching bag, and when he was angry, he’d wail on that. Once he hit it so hard, he knocked it off the hook. Can you see why we need ways to get the anger out of our bodies? If that anger had been directed at a person, it would not have gone well.

My daughter Stephanie made this mosaic

In Cindy Bunch’s book, Be Kind to Yourself: Releasing Frustrations and Embracing Joy, she introduces the idea of releasing anger by smashing things. She suggests waiting until no children are around so as not to scare them, and then dash plates onto the cement to break them. She used this idea after her divorce when she was grieving. She says that when you are done smashing, you can either sweep up the broken pieces and throw them away or use them to make a mosaic, showing how you can make something beautiful out of your grief.

Some people garden, taking their anger out on those pesky weeds, others exercise, scream in the car, or weep in the shower. Of course, once you have words for your anger, it’s always good to talk to someone about what’s bugging you. A friend, a pastor, a spiritual director, or a therapist can be a big help. I’d love to know how you release anger. What have you found helpful? What works or doesn’t work for you?

Photo of lion by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Photo of runner by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Spiritual Practice – Making an Altar

Six months into the pandemic things are getting difficult. Civil unrest around seeking justice for people of color continues and America can’t seem to get a foothold on this virus. Massive numbers of people are dying and sick. Today, I may have forgotten to put on pants. Thankfully, I don’t really go anywhere these days. Anyway, I thought it would be a good time to focus on something positive.

In the Old Testament people were always stopping to build altars, or memorial stones, to mark important events in their lives with God. I’ve been reading the coolest little book by my friend Cindy Bunch. She and I went through our spiritual direction program together. Her book is called, “Be Kind to Yourself: Releasing Frustrations and Embracing Joy.” In it she has a ton of very accessible spiritual practices.

The one I want to highlight is making an altar. I’ve never tried this, although Cindy makes alters all the time to celebrate or mark significant events. They are temporary things that she takes a picture of to remember each event. She may leave them up for an hour or for weeks; she may make them indoors or outdoors. She marks what she  calls “moments of grace.”

“You could pick up items on a walk, arrange them outside, use the altar for prayer and meditation, and then walk away from it as a way to reinforce the moment but not hold on to it. You can, of course, take a picture to preserve the memory and return to those moments of grace.”

I decided to make an altar representing what is getting me through the pandemic. First, I thought of books. I’ve been reading Robin Hobb’s Assassin series (I’m on book 13) and it is so engaging, I just love it. So, I put a stack of those on a chair. Then I added a paint by number kit I sent for. It’s ridiculously hard but I’m enjoying it in small bits. Of course, the Black Lives Matter protests are ever on my mind and I’m committed to learning and listening, so I added two books I’m reading with my book club. And I added a candle to represent my spiritual practices, which I am enjoying most every morning. Without these I would probably not be surviving at all.

If you’d like to give this practice a try, I’d love to see a picture of what is helping you get through this pandemic. And I’d highly recommend Cindy’s book as it is a very important time to Be Kind to Yourself! Otherwise you might just leave home without your pants.

Photo of altar rocks by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Second pic is mine

Spiritual Practice – Enjoying Art

One beautiful thing to come out of the Pandemic is an unprecedented outflow of art. Suddenly musicians are releasing songs from their living rooms, art galleries are opening virtual tours, and DYI arts and crafts are booming. I ordered a paint by number art canvas and when it came, I thought I’d lost my mind. But, working on it slowly is actually relaxing. Why is there such a deep need for art during a time of crisis?

Somebody help me!

I remember reading about Solomon building the temple in Jerusalem. He was directed by God to put as much beauty into the temple as there was structure. God knows we need beauty. Of the interior walls alone it says, (1 Kings 6:14-22)

He paneled the main room with cypress, which he overlaid with fine gold and decorated with palm trees and chains. He adorned the temple with precious stones for beauty, and its gold was from Parvaim. He overlaid its beams, thresholds, walls, and doors with gold, and he carved cherubim on the walls.

An artist’s idea of Solomon’s temple

Then I think about Burning Man, where artists spend a year building art features that will be burned when the week is over! It seems like such a waste, but the artists want to enjoy making art for art’s sake, not for the commodification of art in the outside world.

Black Rock City Temple, My son helped build this!

Paul Gauguin said, “Art is either revolution or plagiarism.”

In Reno, artists are meeting every evening to create art around the #BlackLivesMatter movement. It is giving them joy, passion and expression during a very dark time. People who come to watch them work end up in conversations that would be difficult otherwise.

They agree with Louise Bourgeois who said,

“An artist can show things that other people are terrified of expressing.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda made his play Hamilton into a movie to be released in theaters in October of 2021, but because of the virus, he released it on television so that millions could enjoy it. If you haven’t seen it, find a way. It is amazing and the songs stick in your head forever!

Gerhard Richter said,

“Art is the highest form of hope.”

We need hope right now more than anything else. So, I encourage you; take some time to draw, sing, paint, dance…whatever you enjoy. Watch other people share their art. Let your soul be lifted by beauty. It is not a waste of time. We have a God given need to experience beauty, now more than ever.

Let me know how you are enjoying art and what art means to the health of your soul.

Pictures: Burning Man art top, Paint by numbers, mine

Temple Art Solomon’s temple

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: Listening and Learning

            Wow, it’s been an intense few weeks, hasn’t it? Black brothers and sisters are sharing their stories of pain and suffering. They are being extremely vulnerable and we honor their courage.

            In light of that, I’ve had some white male friends reaching out with questions, and I must say I’m thrilled this is happening.

            The first person asked, “Is there a place for us in the Black Lives Matter movement?” The answer is, “Yes. We are invited to the table, but not to lead, and not to dominate the discussion — but to listen and learn. Then, we are invited to help our white friends as they navigate this conversation.”

Fantastic things are coming from this. Large numbers of white people are gathering to read books by black authors and watch informative movies. Netflix and Amazon prime are highlighting these movies. Large numbers of white folks are joining protests. There will not be a race war; we will stand side by side for equality.

I think I’ve gotten an email from every business where I’ve ever purchased something telling me they support Black Lives Matter. If you want to be encouraged by an example that shows people are listening, check out https://www.babynames.com/.

            Another white friend asked if it would help to share his story of suffering at the hands of the police when he was nearly homeless and supporting himself by dumpster diving. His story was horrendous and his pain and suffering were real, but the answer was “No, not now. Maybe later.” The black community has been unheard for four hundred years. It’s time to let them speak.

            Another white friend asked if it would help to share his history of pain and suffering because of his extremely white skin. It has been very painful for him and it has affected many parts of his life. The answer again is “No, not now. Maybe later.”

            The beautiful thing about these conversations is first, they are asking! And second, they are receiving the “no” answer without flinching. They are graciously stepping back and making room for black stories to dominate. This is wonderful progress. Thank you, wonderful white brothers!

            This reminds me of the #metoo movement. I’m sure there were men who could have used the #metoo awareness to talk about being passed over at work, but they let the women speak. Because of that, things are changing. High profile rapists are now in prison, and a record number of women are now holding political office, and we are witnessing renewed progress in in women in sports and other places demanding equal pay.

            The BLM protests are already having an impact as well. Policy changes and new legislation are being passed to change the way police operate. We can hope this translates to more black people and people of color moving into leadership in all of our places of power in the nation and to changes in the prison system as well. Only if we live, work, and get to know each other as humans will we truly learn to look beyond the color of our skin.

Lantern Festival, Nevada

            When my daughter adopted a black child, I wanted it to be easy. I wanted her to be “ours.” But I have to admit, it took a while to see beyond our skin color difference. She felt “other” to me. Only as I grew to know her and love her did that “otherness” fade away and she became bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh.

When my husband’s gay colleague started inviting us to birthday parties, I wanted it to be easy, but I felt on the outside. Only as I came to know them, to rejoice over their joys, and mourn over their pain, did they cease to be my “gay friends” and just become my friends. Now they are more like family to me.

            There is another kind of listening and learning that is critical right now in our polarized nation. A conservative friend who told me via text that she disagreed with me about a social media post I made about mail-in ballots. I suggested we meet for a stroll and conversation. We had a fantastic talk and I learned things from her I didn’t know. I now understand why some folks are against mail in balloting. The sad part is that she has reached out to other friends who don’t even text back.

I would never let politics get in the way of my relationship with someone I love. We are better together, if we can listen and learn from each other.

            How are you listening and learning? We need to encourage each other. If you have questions, this is a safe place to dialogue about uncomfortable topics. I have to approve comments, so no one can attack you! Comment away.

Photos: Top Reno Black Lives Matter Vigil, mine

Photo of white man by Inzmam Khan on Pexels.com

Photo of the Lantern Festival, mine

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

Spiritual Practice: Finding Your Tribe

backlit dawn foggy friendship

When I say tribe, I’m not referring to a group of people you were born into, as in a Native American tribe, but in the popular understanding of the word: a distinctive or close-knit group, a group of kindred spirits, people you feel safe with.

Sadly, these are not always the same people as the tribe you were born into, though it is for some lucky folks. Also, your tribe will change over time depending on where you live, work, play and grow as a person. Sometimes, a change in beliefs or political understanding will move you from one tribe to another. Sometimes a job promotion or increase/decrease in your standard of living will propel you from one group to another.

The important thing is, we all need a tribe — people that “get us,” people that are safe. I recently met a young woman who had developed a great group of friends. Later, something happened that showed her they were not her tribe. They betrayed her deeply and gossiped horribly about her. She was devastated and is now having trouble trusting anyone else. That is a hard thing; betrayals can stick with us causing us to withdraw and put up walls of protection around our hearts.

My husband and I went through a tribe change when we started standing with the LGBTQ community. Our faith tribe, some family members, and many friends could not understand this decision and we felt exiled from that tribe. It was a very painful thing. But it was also freeing. We had been tiptoeing around on eggshells, trying to avoid rocking the boat in our tribe, and when we left, we could walk more freely. Suddenly, it was as if we could breathe, we could be ourselves, and we could advocate for justice. We remained close to many of our longtime friends, but it felt as if our tribal allegiance had undergone a seismic shift. Eventually, we found likeminded people with whom we could be more candid with about topics that were previously difficult to discuss. It took a while but we are now enjoying exploring a new tribal identity.

 

photo of a person wearing printed crew neck t shirt

How do you find a tribe?

  1. Look for people who might have the same interests as you. Perhaps in a church, community organizing group, book club, hiking group or political action group.
  2. Look for people you feel comfortable around.
  3. Try sharing a bit of yourself and see how that part of you is handled by others in the group. Are you welcomed or held at a distance?
  4. Not everyone you meet will fall into the category of tribe-worthy. We all have friends, acquaintances, and family members that we love, but that does not automatically make them part of your tribe. Don’t put all your energy into forming a tribe at work. Jobs can disappear and your tribe along with them.

Why do we need a tribe? Life is hard, and we are all busy. Having a small group of people you can be yourself with is important. You don’t have to agree on everything to be part of a tribe. The best tribes can challenge and disagree but continue to love and be connected. The best tribes can bring in new ideas and expose each member to new things. But tribes don’t just happen, they need to be cultivated. Meeting with people regularly is the only way to develop a tribe. Weekly or monthly gatherings, dinners, or any event where you can talk deeply with one another can lead to a tribe. You must take risks to form a tribe. Tribes can be healing. As we share our pain in the safety of a tribe, we can heal.

five women laughing

When we left our former tribe, we started a new one called “Shalom.” It was to be a place of healing for people from the LGBTQ family who had been hurt by the church. This became a tribe of safety and love, but it took over a year before we could all trust each other. After five years we officially dissolved the group, not because anything bad had happened, but because it had met its purpose. Everyone in Shalom, including us, had found safety and healing, and life had gotten better and busier for everyone. Everyone agreed it was time to stop our meetings which had gone from weekly for three years, to monthly for the last two. We will still be friends, but it was time to let the tribe scatter.

How do you know it’s time to move on from a tribe? Sometimes it is just natural as life and priorities change. But tribes can also become toxic, as what happened to the young woman I mentioned. If there is gossip, lying, or intolerance of who you are, it might be time to leave. If you find yourself avoiding the folks in your tribe, you might need to reevaluate. A tribe is somewhere you are not just tolerated, but celebrated.

Do you have a tribe? How did you find it? Have you ever had to switch tribes? I’d love to hear your stories.

 

 

Photos: Top pic 

Man in shirt pic

Women laughing pic

 

Spiritual Practice: Visioning

candle

I have often been skeptical of visionaries. I once worked with a youth group at a church where several young women came to me privately, confiding that God had told them they were to marry a certain young man. Unfortunately, they all named the same young man! I’m pretty sure hormones were speaking and not God.

Yet, I have experienced God speaking to me and others through dreams, visions, and intuitions as well. And, there are people who are particularly in touch with what God is doing in the world; they are careful observers, who can see what the rest of us might miss. We call these people prophets or visionaries. They are people who see beyond the status-quo.

Yet I believe we can all be in line with what God wants to do in the world if we just give ourselves time to listen. As in most spiritual practices, the ability to vision starts with quiet listening.

Here are some exercises you might try to begin a visioning journey:

Caution: If we get stretched too thin, we will not be able to stop and listen to God without falling asleep. Regular contemplative spiritual practices prepare our heart, mind, and soul to receive what God is trying to tell us. But, if you try to listen and get drowsy, honor your body by taking a nap. I believe we live in a chronically sleep deprived world. Sometimes the most spiritual thing we can do is sleep.

12190958_10153660480100502_4243965797328569041_n

Take a walk in nature:

Getting out into nature is also an important way to listen to the heartbeat of God. God’s creation speaks or creates an atmosphere for us to hear things better. Visionary Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was what they call a “landscape mystic.” Christine Valters Paintner talks about Hildegard in her book, Illuminating the Way, “that the geography of her world was a means of ongoing revelation into the nature of God.” I’ve found this to be true for myself. Getting out into nature, whether it’s a walk in the desert with my dog, or a trip with my honey to the ocean or forest always restores my soul, clears my head and helps me hear God better.

Make a visioning board:

Gather some magazines, glue and, scissors. Think about what things are most important to your true self and are in line with your values. This is not a wish list for material possessions or fame, but a chance to clarify what unique dreams, personality, and purposes God has given you. It could be goals, dreams, or desires. It could be things you don’t see in your life right now that you would hope to see in the future. Or it could be things you already see but want to continue experiencing. Begin to look for pictures in the magazines that represent those values. When you find them, cut them out glue them in any way you want on a paper or canvass. Keep your vision board near you to remind yourself what is important.

When I did this exercise, the things I noticed that were important to me were: time with my family and friends, traveling adventures with my husband, writing meaningful books, helping people grow spiritually, and empowering women. Three years later, this board still reflects my basic values and has been a way to say “no” to things that would take me away from things that are not life-giving.

Your board will reflect what is important to you. Let me know if you try any of these practices and connect with your inner visionary.

When you feel you have heard from God it’s always good to run what you’ve heard through spiritual friends you trust and the holy books you treasure. God is good and loving and wants you to be involved in your own healing, the healing of others, and the healing of the earth. The things you hear will line up with the loving nature of God.

Spiritual Practice: Truth Speaking

protest

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.

 

consumer-activism1

 

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