Friday, June 29, 2007

Ravenous, drawn to/by God

Friday 8:53 a.m.

When I signed up for this retreat, it was after a significant amount of searching for a Christian meditation retreat. To no avail. So East-West at a Catholic retreat center was as close as I could get. I signed up with trepidation, and deep hunger. I was ravenous.

As the months passed, I was both looking forward to it and repelled by the thought of it: looking forward to the open time, fearful of the openness of the time.

Looking back, I feel God compelling me, drawing me here this week. Choosing the books I brought, selecting the place, guiding both my practice and my willingness to claim what I needed. I came here to jump start my meditation practice, but God gave me the view from 45,000 feet. The momentary clear apprehension of the vision that my husband has been pressuring me to write down. I know it needs to come down to 30,000 feet, and I need to make the effort to write -- really write -- but I am utterly grateful for the crack in the sky.

God draws me, draws us. Pulls us toward God, and creates us in line, shadow, form and gesture as we come closer.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The real story

I may be the only person I know who can turn a meditation intensive into a competitive sport.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Matthew 6?

Okay, so maybe I'm missing the point of this whole contemplative thing, but I just don't feel as dour as some of us look.

Noon (or When the sun is at its apex)

Wednesday 4 p.m.

1. Since last night's meditation, I have been very happy. That kind of lightness in your chest, soft smile, world-is-good happy. I really love this -- and can see why people get addicted. (Or maybe it's the fact that people make food for me?)

2. Dallas Willard's The Spirit of the Disciplines is one of the most important books I've ever read. It's not easygoing (at least not in the old issue; the reissue may be easier), because Willard is a philosopher by training and profession. The first 60% or so is theology, history, and social commentary, with a deep explanation of the Apostle Paul. Reading it is a bit like shucking oysters. And then: pearls. Why the spiritual disciplines matter, and why we cannot progress as followers of Jesus -- no, as reflections of Christ -- without them.

3. I left Christianity somewhere around middle school, when I became politically aware (I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X in 5th grade, so sometime after that). But I loved Jesus. Loved Jesus. I remember watching Jesus Christ Superstar in Rochester, NY, with my best friend from sixth grade who had moved there, and being frozen in my seat at the end. Weeping. They pretty much had to drag me out of the theater.

Sometime later, and I can't say when, I developed a big moving lump in my sternum. You know that place where your trachea meets your heart? Where breath and blood merge? For decades I've been trying to open it, to describe what's inside. It's the reason I traveled, the reason for MBZC, the reason I studied ethics (and 3rd-world women's studies; and went to divinity school), the reason for attempting communal living and voluntary simplicity, the reason for a lot of political action, the reason I kept sneaking into churches when no one was there, the reason I went ahead and was ordained even though my whole body was shaking and my not-yet husband had to act like a horse whisperer to keep me on the dais.

Over the years, I've tried to describe its contents in poetry, through my philosophy teaching, through nonfiction writings, through speeches, through living. I've tried in sermons, in small groups, in blogs. I've cried and yelled in frustration trying to describe it to my very patient husband. Soon after I started pastoring my church, I gathered a group of people from the church and tried to inscribe it instead, by trying to start another "worship service" that wasn't really a worship service that now I'd call an "emergent church", sort of. Each time, I've failed. The philosopher training (and my general leanings toward both high emotion and high abstraction) has blocked me. The lump itself is the way we are to actually daily live; its contents are kingdomvision.

4) The first time I read Brian McLaren, I felt something in that same spot -- between breath and blood. Right now I'm reading his newer (not newest) book, The Secret Message of Jesus, in preparation for leading a small group study of it in the fall. For a long time now, he's been grappling with that thing between breath and blood too. Thanks to God, McLaren, unlike Dallas Willard, and to a much lesser degree me, was trained in English, and so is having some success at describing it in concrete terms, in the language of poetry and pavement. I am envious, and very grateful.

5) Gratitude = happiness. See #1, above.

6) The post title? At noon, there is no shadow. Only light.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

God in the corners

Tuesday, 12:36 p.m.
I failed to mention that yesterday's teaching ("dharma talk", I would have called it a long time ago) was on ego.  He didn't say "ego", but that's what it was about.  How if we're going to be fully in union with God, our self we hang on to so tightly will have to go.  Standard stuff, but on the first day of serious meditation, it hit home.  My self is before me.
Yesterday afternoon was just what the Holy Physician ordered.  Scripture study, Dallas Willard, praying the hours, and a solid hike-y walk along trails that one Jim Hand, SJ, built. And the labyrinth, which is modeled on Chartres, and is, therefore, large.  Landscaping-wise I get pleasure from the way they made it; spiritually it's an outside version of what I'm doing 9 times a day inside.
Today we celebrated the Eucharist. I think I've mentioned here before that, though we've made a lot of changes in our community over the last 4-1/2 years, the one thing I've been scared to change is the once-monthly eucharist.  So it was truly grace to have it today. I'm reading Leviticus right now, which made the imagery of the Lord's table so meaningful -- so clearly tied to ancient Jewish theology and law.  It's the first time I've really been able to accept the atonement theory as having important base. I've known it, but today I felt it.
Anyway, during meditation itself I had mad monkey-mind. Brain would not settle down, and I kept getting caught up in it.  I redesigned the landscaping for our home backyard so we could save money in the re-do.  Couldn't really attribute that to God; more likely it's the loud shout of our bank account.  But later, though the monkey kept running, God got in a few words.  God gave me our next sermon series, both the title and the content: "Holy Scripts: Six Sacred Prayers".
Amazing what God can do in a very little cramped space.


Monday, 6:45 p.m.
As much as I like unstructured time, as much as I appreciate the openness of pastoral ministry, I am convicted about the value of daily, weekly, seasonal, and annual spiritual rhythms. And I do mean for every practicing Christian (of course, I'm not sure there is such a thing as a non-practicing Christian, but that's another blog entry). Israel lived by them. Jesus lived by them. Paul lived by them. A whole lot of the saints lived by them.  That's pretty good company.
I truly believe that capitalism, particularly, but western development, generally, has become the rhythm and reason of our lives.  One tiny example: the coffee break was replaced by coffee in offices. One rhythm broken.  So we expect to operate 24/7/52, with everything adjusting to make that happen.  But the liturgical (and seasonal) year is nuanced, to use Phyllis Tickle's word. The energy of the day itself has peaks and valleys: nighttime is naturally quieter than day; dawn than dusk. The psalmist writes of praising God seven times daily, hence the prayer observation of the hours. Fasting and prayer prepared Jesus for both the temptations and his arrest. "Efficiency" experts now advise not mutlitasking, and specifically not to do email first thing, or let it interrupt other activities. Rhythm matters.
The key question is "what, and how?" 
It's almost 7. I promised myself that this week I would not write after 7, leaving the rest of the evening to meditation, prayer, and reading. And rest.

Monday, June 25, 2007

We serve a mighty God

I am so full of joy. I happened to pass a computer with internet access, and discovered via email that one of our (very beloved by me) men had suffered a stroke. When I called his home, I spoke to his son and found out that the magic after-stroke drug had been given to him, and he's much much better!

And, to top it off, the leaders for the retreat have given me permission to take afternoons to study, read, and write. I don't know if God had anything to do with their answer, but I know God got me to ask.

We serve a mighty, and very thoughtful, God.

Blogging silence

Sunday, 5:40 p.m.
The silence begins in 20 minutes. Or in an hour and 20 minutes, I'm not sure.
I have come to Mercy Center ( for a five-day intensive East-West meditation retreat. Apparently it's a silent retreat. There are multiple rooms and patios where one can eat in silence, although I suspect that a group of people eating in a room probably aren't all that silent. Maybe that's why there are a bunch of room options in which to be silent while one eats: so there are never so many people chewing, chomping, snorting, swallowing, and clattering that it breaks the silence.
I figure blogging breaks the silence too, in spirit if not in volume. Probably no more than the five books, one magazine, and the Bible on my student-sized desk would, assuming I can maintain silence while reading them. If I'm cogitating, eating the words, does that break silence?
There is no actual silence. Even with my window shut, I can hear the rush of the wind in the trees and against the building. My window faces west, so I'm getting the evening ocean wind -- that shocking stupendous wind that I adore. If my window were open, it would howl into my cell like a train rushing by. Like the Holy Spirit rushing through that room so many years ago.

Sunday, 9:15 p.m.
I was right: reading and writing break silence. So does looking people in the eye or acknowledging them in any way. Maybe that explains the sketchy cell phone reception, rather than Mercy's placement in the hills.
Monday, 9:01 a.m.
After 2 meditation sessions (each is 25 minutes sitting, 5 minutes walking, times 3), I can honestly say it is much easier than when I was young. My brain still skyrockets around, but now it's more like the synapses are randomly firing than that my self is following some downward spiral. Progress?
Here's what I'm grappling with today: I didn't sign up for a sesshin (all day meditation for a longer period of time), not knowingly. What I signed up for, what I crave, is meditation morning and evening, and praying the hours and scripture study and long walks, visioning at 30,000 feet. Last night, my wonderful husband encouraged me to do what I want -- to stay but not go to the meditation practices, to come home and continue my retreat, to check into a hotel -- whatever will be useful to me right now. This kind of thing is one of the reasons I adore him: he both challenges me and supports my actual needs.
That's not the grappling. The grappling is whether God has something for me to learn from keeping the schedule I've been handed. Whether God wants me to learn a "new" kind of silence, so that there's less of me and more of God. I've already been slapped with the need to overcome disdain, as I practiced what I would say if I pulled out of the structured retreat. God made it very clear, in a very humbling way, that I may choose to do something different, but I don't need to justify my choice, especially not by criticizing what we're doing. (The internal patter goes like, "Hey, I did this for real at MBZC, in very strict Rinzai Zen practice, for two years. And I got the robes to prove it -- don't need to do it with a bunch of western posers." You see why God would not be pleased.)
The rest of the grappling is this: we have a number of isolated one-hour periods of free time throughout the day. What would happen if I just shut up and did the practice and actually utilized those spaces for the stuff I came here to do, instead of wasting them telling myself I don't have the time to do what I came here to do and trying to figure out how to gracefully get out of it?
If God is teaching me 1) stop criticizing in order to justify; 2) shut up; and 3) just do something, that will be a productive week, all by itself.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Picking up your ball and leaving the game

I am convinced that one of the disasters of the Boomer church was an utter dearth of stated expectations, discipline, and accountability. There is no Boomer-based organization I've ever belonged to in which the members actually felt they needed to a) make commitments, b) live up to them, c) confess when they've messed up and make amends, and d) work out conflicts and problems directly.

The same goes for the church. We've asked for nothing, required nothing, and been pissed when we got nothing. If someone misses an obligation, we pat them on the head and say "there, there, of course you had other things to do!" We tell them that following Jesus is easy, and we don't ever talk about devotion to Jesus -- that God must come first. Or, for that matter, that when they join a community they are choosing to take on commitments to that community.

But the part that's getting me today is that way too many people think that the way to resolve conflict is to pick up your ball and leave the game. Tremendously mature. Shockingly useful. And then they wonder why they hate going home, their kids are a mess (or simply don't think church and God matter, since their parents act like they don't), and no one ever tells them the truth about anything.

We've been lax in accountability ourselves. We've talked about it, but we haven't enforced it. Those days are over. Right now. And if people don't have the spine to actually work through relationships (with help, with prayer), they're just going to have to find another game to play in. A pick-up game, where if no one shows up it's simply cancelled.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Transition and conflict

I truly honestly deeply believe that a church in transition (Good transition! Spirit-led transition!) will experience conflict, even if all the people have been well trained to "be nice".

I also truly honestly deeply believe that a church transitioning from
once-a-week-maybe-and-then-you're-done, to

faith lived out 24/7 in your real life and high expectations for leaders to actually be spiritual leaders and think about what they are modeling to newer people and kids

will experience conflict, as the low bar habits of neglectful membership (and forget about discipleship!) crash into the high expectations of actual community and purpose.

And I believe this is normal and part of the journey.

Can't say I'm loving it, though.

Friday, June 08, 2007

"It's the stem cells. I hear their cries."

(with thanks to Garry Trudeau for the title)

So our President said he's going to veto the stem cell research bill, because "If this bill were to become law, American taxpayers would for the first time in our history be compelled to support the deliberate destruction of human embryos. Crossing that line would be a grave mistake. For that reason, I will veto the bill passed today.''


So American taxpayers can be compelled to support the deliberate destruction of thousands of full-term-or-grown Iraqis, along with the "accidental" destruction of thousands of Americans, but cells are a problem?

"Right to life", my patootie.

Friday Five Getaway Edition

The RevGalBlogPals post five questions every Friday for the ring to play with. This week it's all about getting away, so I had to post!

My ideal getaway island would include coffee and drinks brought to me. Emerald water, high 70s, slight breeze. Soft sand. Very few people. Very quiet.

1) What book(s) will you bring? Fiction. Chick fiction. Anne Tyler, probably. Or Candace Bushnell, if I were really tired.... might manage Kathleen Norris or Anne Lamott, but don't count on it. Definitely Esquire and Vanity Fair.
2) What music accompanies you? Well, since I'd have to download or rip to get what I want, probably what's already on the Zen, which is mostly gospel. But some Jimmy Buffett, Otis Redding, hmmm... Concrete Blonde, Edie Brickell, Etta James, maybe. Definitely some sax.
3) What essentials of everyday living must you take (as in the health and beauty aids aisle variety)? 45 spf Sunscreen . Waterproof mascara. Sarong. My favorite tinted Lorac lip balm. My sleep mask. Oh! and foot cream for after the pedicure.
4) What technological gadgets if any, will you take with you or do you leave it all behind? If I take my laptop I'll work. I'd take the Zen, and cell only if I were playing hooky.
5) What culinary delights will you partake in while there? Whatever is local, fresh, and vegetarian. Green papaya salad is always good. French champagne and rose and sparkling water.

What makes for a perfect day on vacation for you? Waking up without the alarm. Making coffee. Going for a long walk, either with praise music playing in my ears or a good friend/husband. Coming back to coffee, newspaper or book. Reading outside. Cooking a very leisurely dinner, or letting people bring it to me. Hot tub and pedicure. Skydiving or something else fun if it's day 3 or 4. Great conversation. And private time with my husband...

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Learning from chagrin

Yesterday one of God's children called me. I wasn't in the office, but got the message by email. I called her back to see what she wanted. After pleasantries, there was a long silence. Then it went like this:

Me: You called me?
God's child: Yes.
Me: What can I help you with?
God's child: Well, I'm out of (physical) rehab and I wanted to be put on the prayer chain. I called the office; you were gone last week?
Me: I was gone the first half of the week, and I'm finally caught up (laughing).
God's child: Oh (not laughing, realizing I'd been back a number of days).
Me: Did I neglect you? Do you feel neglected?
God's child: Yes. Yes I do.
Me: I'm so sorry. When we spoke two weeks ago you said you were doing fine, and since I didn't hear from you I figured everything was okay.
God's child: Well, every other minister I've had just called.
Me: (deeply chagrined and chastened) I'm really so very sorry. I'll call later this week. I'll make myself a pest.
God's child: (laughing a tiny little bit) That would be fine. If you can find us between doctors' appointments!

That was yesterday afternoon. I cannot stop thinking about it, and my internal dialog runs from shame to justification to realization-about-everyone-else-I've-neglected to figuring out why I don't call easily. No pastor has ever called me, so I've no models of that. I grew up with privacy: no dropping in, don't ask to be invited, etc. And I do have a fear that I'll call and be rejected. Then there's the "I have other work to do, other people who are actually dying to visit, sermons to write, budgets to produce, scripture to read" stuff.

Bottom line: She is a child of God, and I am her sister in Christ. I should have called sooner. Period. Especially since I'm trying to teach everyone else in our church to do just that.

So, Child of God, if you're reading this, thanks for the chastening. I'll talk with you tomorrow.