Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Monday, April 30, 2012

Fight Against the Tide

"Most of what we call aging, and most of what we dread about getting older, is actually decay. That's critically important because we are stuck with real aging, but decay is optional. Which means that most of functional aging is optional as well." - Chris Crowley and Henry S Lodge, MD, Younger Next Year (for Women), p36  

I just finished reading Crowley's book Younger Next Year - the version he adapted specifically for women as opposed to the first wildly successful best-seller - and though I desperately want to loan my copy out to everyone I know, I just can't as it is already battered, dog-eared, and split in the middle. The book vindicates my mad passion for exercise, indeed justifies all expenses for athletic pursuit and equipment, hooray!

The simple truth Crowley and his doctor, Lodge, expose between the covers is that the human body is designed to move. Every day, not some days, and especially as we age. Everything in this paragraph comes from the book, and they explain much better than I do, so I am highly recommending that you purchase this book! The authors note that aging begins in the late 20's, and accelerates after 40, and for women, it REALLY gets going after menopause. Sound scary? It does to me, too. And yet.... we can beat back the tide! We can send opposing messages to our bodies, and they WILL listen.

Here's a great quote: "Exercise - the physical work of hunting and foraging in the spring - has always been the single most powerful signal we can send that life is good; that it's spring and time to live and grow." (p 39, italics are the authors') And another gem: "Seventy percent of what you feel as aging is optional." (p 6) Optional aging? Hallelujah - then I opt out of the 70% that is optional. The main premise is that we need to exercise 6 days a week for the rest of our lives. And not just 'easy' exercise either. I won't get into the details here, but . . . read the book. Happy, healthy exercise to all!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Summer Break

‘God breaks the heart again and again until it stays open.’ -Rainer Maria Rilke

I just finished my first year in the Benet Hill Spiritual Formation program. What a gift this year has been, and what a difficult journey. In the one-page summary I turned in for my end-of-year conference I had to answer this question: how have you changed? The space to reply was small and I laughed. How have I not changed? might be the better question.

To sum things up I could say that I have learned the truth – or many truths – about myself. About who I really am, about the strategies I use to get by in the world, about how I was wounded and healed as a child. I discovered gaps in my parenting, my relationship-building, and of course in my spirituality. Little by little I struggled to close those gaps, to move from reacting in fear to responding in love. It’s the long, steady work of forever, but it seems to be the best work I can do. And . . .I was privileged and honored to hear my classmate’s truths and their amazing stories. We were strangers at the first class last September, and now share an amazing bond, a willingness to expose our vulnerabilities and an appreciation of each other’s strength and ability to love.

Was my heart broken? Oh, yes. To share in someone’s deep pain – the illness of a loved one, the end of a relationship, a spiritual dark night of the soul – guarantees a period of broken-heartedness. I even think that now, it might stay open. At least, as Sr Marilyn might say, “the door is ajar.” So now our summer break. The respite comes as a relief, though I have four or five books to read and meditation to continue, if I can maintain some sanity and moments of alone-ness in the craziness of the children’s summer vacation. But I have a new self, a new mind (a beginner’s mind) and I hope that this summer will be another new journey. “I give up what I thought I knew. I don’t expect to ever again feel secured by intellectual confidence. But I find life much more interesting now, living with not knowing, trying to stay curious rather than certain.” - Margaret Wheatley

Friday, April 20, 2012

How do We Navigate These Times?

Today is April 20. It is deportation day for a friend of dear friends. She arrived several years ago from a poor and desperate country with two young girls. She was pregnant at the time, fleeing abuse, rape and torture and the people that killed her husband.

She has pursued legal channels to obtain residency in the US. Due to a case that was initially mismanaged, plus signs of post-traumatic stress which hinder her ability to jump through hoops, plus our country's rigid immigration laws, the system has failed her. May God bless her and her children and keep them safe.

In witnessing painful systemic injustice, we all ask - how can we keep going? In class on Tuesday, Michelle offered us a quote from Margaret Wheatley,entitled How Will We Navigate These Times? I offer it to you:

"The answer is together. We need each other differently now. We cannot hide behind our boundaries, or hold onto the belief that we can survive alone. We need each other to test our ideas, to share what we're learning, to see in new ways, to listen to our stories. We need each other to forgive us when we fail, to trust us with their dreams, to offer hope when we've lost our own. I crave companions, not competitors. I want people to sail with me through this puzzling and frightening world."
-(Leadership and the New Science, p 171)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Perfect Parent

"Each of us is looking for the perfect parent. We are waiting to have someone who completely understands us to mirror back that we are simply wonderful."
- Pat Wyman, Three Keys to Self Understanding:An Innovative and Effective Combination of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Enneagram, and Inner-Child Healing

A new baby arrived in our family over the weekend; my nephew, Joseph Matthew Clavadetscher, made his miraculous entrance in perfect health. A beautiful blessing for my brother and his wife and their two-year-old, who has suddenly become a big brother and - for a time - second banana. Talking with my brother brought back memories of my babies and of my scrambles to be an adequate mother. Survival, not perfection, was my goal.

Yet reading Wyman's book has been deeply moving to me as both a child and a mother. I can usually read only a few pages without some deep emotional shift, after which I either cry or take a nap. When I read this statement about envisioning yourself as a small child in the house you grew up in, I just ached: "In virtually every case, the child is alone in the house. That is because no matter the size of the family or the age of the child, she felt alone." When I imagined my young self in our home in Ann Arbor, where I spent formative growing-up years, I too was alone, despite my large and loving family. Wyman presents this as no one's fault, just a reality of childhood. We want something that no one else can give to us; this seems tragic and flawed. It is especially crushing to wonder if my own children feel this way, too.

And yet . . . there are ways that we can be loved completely. Faith teaches us that our higher power (God, Spirit, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, etc.) loves each and every person honestly and despite our flaws. I have written before about my struggle to say and believe that "I am the beloved Child of God." That statement comforts me but I find it difficult to comprehend and integrate.

What gives me more hope and peace is the following statement from Wyman: "The perfect parent is living within each of us, and it is up to the adult part of the self to mirror back to the soul everything that the soul has been waiting for." I can love myself, show compassion to myself, and honor my deepest, darkest feelings. I can be that source of endless love and support that seems so elusive elsewhere. Belief that God / spirit / source resides within me helps me with this effort, but ultimately this feels personal. I hear my own two-year-old voice in my head when I re-read these lines: "I do it myself!" What comfort and peace to know that we have this power within us, and that our children have it too.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Resurrection: Culture of Life Defeats Culture of Death

"Jesus was a one-man crime wave." - Father John Dear

I was privileged to hear Father Dear speak on Tuesday. He requested that we call him John, as "Father, Dear" was just a little too over the top. So John, then, is a Jesuit priest and peace activist who has been arrested 80 times (by his own count) and who was nominated for the Nobel Peace prize. He was at our church as part of the tour to promote his latest book,
Lazarus, Come Forth!: How Jesus Confronts the Culture of Death and Invites Us into the New Life of Peace.

In John's presentation he breathed new life into the Gospels, particularly the Gospel of John, which is the only gospel to contain the story of Lazarus. Fr. John (as opposed to the gospel of John) argued that Lazarus represents all of humanity; we belong to the culture of death as it is expressed in war, poverty, preventable illness, trafficking, racism, sexism, and death row. Fr. John argued that we are in thrall to death's power, that we do not fully believe that we can defeat it. Just like the mourners in Bethany, like Mary and Martha, our faith is not strong enough to let us believe that life in God / Jesus is truly stronger than death.

Fr. John noted that Jesus wept out of sorrow for our lack of faith in him and in life itself. Then Jesus went to Lazarus' tomb and issued three commands:
1. Take away the stone!
2. Lazarus, come forth!
3. Unbind him, and let him go free!
In Fr. John's reading of the Word, he sees these commands as life-giving orders for each of us. We can roll away the oppressive stone of fear on our heart, walk forth into new life in faith, and be unbound to see, hear, taste, touch and smell what life truly can be.

Fr. John also revisited the foot - washing aspect of the Last Supper, another piece of our faith tradition that only John describes. In Fr. John's narrative, the foot washing is a call to a nonviolent Way, not a call to service (as I described it in my already - outdated epiphany below). He noted the verbs, "Jesus, bent over, lifted, rose" were verbs from the Passion narrative and presaged Jesus' ultimate nonviolent act of death on the Cross. Certainly rich food for thought. New thoughts, new imaginings, new directions - a blessing.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Maundy Thursday

"Most scholars agree that the English word Maundy in that name for the day is derived through Middle English and Old French mandé, from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase "Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos" ("A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you"), the statement by Jesus in the Gospel of John 13:34 by which Jesus explained to the Apostles the significance of his action of washing their feet." -

In class with Sister Marilyn on Tuesday I learned that the series of three days (Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday) was called the triduum in the Catholic Church (literally, "three days") and I learned a lot about Holy Thursday, which precedes them. Specifically I learned that the sacrament of Holy Thursday includes both the meal - the breaking and sharing of bread which is in Matthew, Mark and Luke - and the foot washing Jesus gave to his disciples, which is only included in the Book of John. The Mandatum (mandate, mandatory) element of the ritual was meant to be the foot washing, and not the meal.

Here is a wonderful quote from Father Richard Rohr which perfectly sums up the imperative of the foot washing:
"There's no real story of the Last Supper in the Gospel of John as we find it in the other Gospels. There is no passing of the bread or passing of the cup. Instead we come upon the story of Jesus on his knees washing the Apostles' feet. Really quite amazing, and even more amazing that we never made the foot washing into a Sacrament! It is much more explicit in the Scriptures than many other actions we made into sacraments. Perhaps John realized that after seventy years the other Gospels had been read. He wanted to give a theology of the Eucharist that revealed the meaning behind the breaking of the bread. He made it into an active ritual of servanthood and solidarity, instead of the priestly cult that it has largely become. Peter symbolizes all of us as he protests, "You will never wash my feet!" (John 13:8). But Jesus answers, "If I do not wash you, you can have nothing in common with me." That is strong! We all find it hard to receive undeserved love from another. For some reason it is very humiliating to the ego. We all want to think we have earned any love that we get by our worthiness or attractiveness. So Jesus has to insist on being the servant lover. Thank God, Peter surrenders, but it probably takes him the rest of his life to understand."
- Adapted from Radical Grace: Daily Meditations, p. 143, day 154

We accepted this mandatum in our Engaging Spirituality / Just Faith group this morning, and took turns washing one another's feet. Though slightly uncomfortable and certainly unusual, it was a beautiful ritual that perfectly set the stage for the coming holy days. We serve those we love, and see our love mirrored in their acceptance. I also want to deeply thank this group for their loving support and receptivity of my bearings letter today; if we can only know ourselves by how we are reflected by others then I am honored and blessed to be reflected by you.