Monday, April 30, 2012

Too Much Time In the Courtyard: Teresa of Avila + the Story of Her Life

Teresa of Avila: The Book of My Life

This image links to my favorite translation of Teresa of Avila’s VIDA. Translated by the adept Mirabai Starr and with a forward by the contemplative nun turned lay hermit Tessa Bielecki. I recommend it to anyone on the search for their spiritual center or interested in the contemplative traditions. 

Often when I read a book I cultivate a sort of literary friendship with the writer–in the instance of this book the gifts were threefold. I felt like reading the translation of Mirabai with the consultation of Tessa and the story of Teresa of Avila I made three friends in one text. Each as valuable as the other to my reading experience. 

Teresa of Avila wrote, in the book of her life “Vida” that she felt she hit a point in her adult life where, after the worst of her medical afflictions had passed, and she had experienced moments of dimensional faith during those afflictions, she found herself, still, absorbed in the daily life activities in the courtyard of her world–a meeting space where nuns entertained the visitors of their monasticism.

Friday, April 27, 2012

How Jon Stewart +Stephen Colbert Are My Andy Warhols

Image c/i …part of a facebook sharing endeavor.

Jon Stewart & The Daily Show embody the circumference of my news network. He is where I get my current events. It may seem odd, or may not at all, but he gives me the ills of the world {of which there are many} in palatable “bites” that I can chew up and swallow. At the end of long days, after hours of nothing but living in and like a life-preserver or a pool buoy, trying to add some buoyancy to the psyches of the many beautiful and aching souls I meet with every day (as a trauma therapist) I need anything else I imbibe to be soft and palatable and with a side of truth and a peppering of sardonic wit.

And Jon Stewart serves me my meal of “news in nearly real-time” just the way I ordered it. Yum.

So, I began thinking the other day about the purpose that Jon Stewart and his later-night counterpart Stephen Colbert serve to a wider consuming audience then just me in my jammies after a long day.

I realized Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are like Andy Warhol. When I was studying art history, a bit in high school and then later in undergrad, with my nerdishly artsy bohemian friends {before I dropped out and drove to Colorado for a few years of “living” on not much} I remember exploring Warhol’s work and traveling to an exhibit of his in Philly with a friend of mine. Andy Warhol was known for his neon-saturated art prints like the one of Marilyn Monroe and his literal “soap boxes”. He built his name on the sarcastic way in which he portrayed the art world and the art in it by making fun of it. His art pieces were a play on the cultural art of the times and the nature of people–how we will {often} become hungry for something because of its cultural value and not necessarily because of its genuine nature.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Check Out My Article at Burnside Writers Collective: Metaphor + Morality in "The Walking Dead"

Image c/o Burnside Writers Collective ; originally from the credits of THE WALKING DEAD

I am a “The Walking Dead” super-fan. Seriously. Not only do I think a post-apocolyptic world with walking zombies have a lot to teach us and not only do I think the story-line is saturated with metaphor and meaning {see my article title above} but they are freaking zombies! I loves me some zombies.

So, in a departure from the contemplative and spiritual cruxes of my last two posts which discuss meaning making in infertility and the history of centering prayer…this post {and tomorrow’s on THE DAILY SHOW and THE COLBERT REPORT} and the article I am linking to is just for my nerdish freakish homage to zombies and the value of THE WALKING DEAD on AMC.
CHECK OUT MY ARTICLE HERE… at the Burnside Writers Collective.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Life In Utero: Finding God, Grace, Birth + Motherhood In Infertility

There are many ways to give birth and many things we can give life to in our own lifetime–ourselves, others, an idea, a book, a calling, a mission, a prayer. 

In some ways we give birth every day (when we are lucky or blessed) to a newer more developed version of ourselves.

That, however, isn’t the birthing or mothering we hear about most often–and there are way fewer books written on the subject.

With Mother’s Day around the corner and word of the “Mother Letters” (a great little collection of mothering stories)begins to buzz through the blogosphere I am brought back to a place I have found myself in often over the last few years–a place of contemplating mothering, motherhood, and the maternal as it relates to my life and the lives of others like me and different from me across a rainbow of female diversity.

There is an equal measure of grace in getting what we want as there is in getting what we don’t want–it’s just harder to find in the latter.

The following is an emotional timeline & my personal experience of life in utero….
  • 12 Months ago I was afraid to want motherhood--to want something that I knew I might not be able to find biologically and to want something I would love so much it might break my heart open just seemed like too great a risk.
  • 9 months ago I came to terms with the fact that I could want to love something as much as a mother loves a child and not break in two. I realized it could be beautiful and powerful to want to add that kind of love in my life, and take the risk of trying something that might not work–like biological birth.
  • 6 months ago I felt broken in a way I hadn’t even thought possible–the idea of biological motherhood becoming improbable with each cycle that passed and the feeling of vulnerability, lack of control, and the inner sense (against my better judgement as a therapist) that it was my “fault” and that I was inherently “defective” because I could not “make” a baby “happen” inside me.
  • 3 months ago with increased chronic ailments and my flimsy ego bouncing in every direction–the compendium of “failures” of my physical form too much to even be pitiable anymore–I was more like the punch line for a really dumb joke.
  • And in the horrific the greatest thing happened…I let go. I let go of being an “A” student at every part of life. I let go of the failures of my body, my reproductive organs, and the feeling of fault in those things I could not control. I let go of the idea that motherhood–whether I wanted it or not, whether I could biologically produce it or not–might not look like any of the things I had imagined before.
  • Today I have no idea what mothering will be in my future but in my present it extends to…caring for others in my life as a therapist, as mentor, as a wife, as a friend…and even as a “parent” to three dogs. It means cultivating the embryos of ideas and callings in my life and not backing down from what God asks of me in this life, in this time. It means knowing that whatever happens it will never be on my timetable and rarely in the “package” that I asked for.

I am thankful for the many faces of mothering I have received in my life (which I will discuss in a post next week about 5 mothers and 5 mothering experiences in my life) and the ability to be a caregiver for someone else.

Mothering, to me, is the ultimate grace and expression of God in the world; it is expressed as unconditional love and compassion. This definition of mothering can describe the works of Jesus, the acts of a “Samaritan”, and the kindness a stranger shows with no expectation of a return on the investment of care-giving. In using this definition we are all called to be mothers everyday in so many ways–I could spend a lifetime mothering and never give birth. And I hope to try to live up to this call, whether I ever have a physical child or not.

Motherhood of children in a the definition of family as we see it is one way to love (a valiant, trying, and beautiful way) but not the only way.

In monastic communities of women the head of the “house” or convent was always called “Mother” and many beautiful mothers came out of this tradition who were never parents in the traditional sense of the word. Women like Mother Teresa and her patron saint (and mine) Teresa of Avila were mothers to giant households and communities of women who were caregivers to many–and in some ways their lessons on motherhood transcended all lines and definitions to teach the world about how far motherhood can reach.

Mothering is beautiful in all its forms, and I am just beginning to understand my role and my motherhood in my present-day life.

How do you see yourself as mother in your life? In your household? In your faith community? In the world at large?
What is your definition of motherhood? How do you see motherhood and its role in and out of the home? In small communities/families and the world at large?
What unconventional mothering have you done? In what way have you been “mothered” by an unconventional mother?
 Intense love does not measure, it just gives.~ Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Monday, April 23, 2012

Contemplation In Focus: 1 Person, 1 Practice: Thomas Keathing + Centering Prayer

In following up the Contemplation Tree Post Here I am going to begin a series on Contemplatives and Contemplation Practices. Many will be from the Christian tradition but sometimes it will include other people from other practices who have great resources for accessing inner silence and mindfulness.

To begin I am going to discuss FATHER THOMAS KEATING. One of the forefathers of present-day Christian contemplation and the formula for CENTERING PRAYER. For more details on the different forms of contemplation you can also read my “Introduction to Contemplative Prayer” E-Booklet on the right sidebar Here.

Much of the following information has been extracted from outside sources and quoted directly into the post. This is only because I feel to get at the essence of the practice and one of its modern day champions is to hear it from the people that know both best! I will share one anecdote from my life and experience of this wise practitioner, teacher and advocate for the practice of Christian Contemplation.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Humble/Gratitude List: Things That Remind My Ego It's Not "All That"

In therapy we sometimes recommend people do gratitude journals–to emphasize the positive of life and find personal humbleness. I think it is also an excellent spiritual exercise. My neurotic ego needs a kick in the *ss often. That pesky ego that fills us with the feelings that we are both the worst and the best, sometimes even in one breath–it feeds on complements given to it and nastiness directed towards it in equal measure. It can tug us more into “neediness” of the self & diminish our capacity to be compassionate to ourselves and others.

So, I here is my public foray in personal flogging and humility; because if it’s not public I can always trick myself into thinking it’s not there :) .

Humility List AKA “things I suck at and other personal confessions”:
  1. I am awful at sports. I was on the volleyball team for a year in high school but I got the “stage fright” and could never do what needed to be done when it was game time. A definite humiliating way to end a not-so-promising career. It was made official when running after the volleyball practicing in my own backyard I fell into the neighbor’s backyard and chipped my ankle bone.
  2. I am afraid of revolving doors–not metaphorically, actual doors. I have this perpetual fear that I will get stuck in it’s whip fast circular maze. I have had nightmares about it. A friend in graduate school told me he got stuck in one with a stranger who thought he could squeeze into the same cubicle with him but couldn’t–he said it was as scary as it was an awkward invasion of personal space. I only went to the bookstore on NYU campus once during graduate school because it only had a revolving door. What kind of cruelty is that?
  3. I cannot do math–even simple equations or tip on a check. I count with my fingers or in my head imagining the configurations of numbers on dice. Geometry, Calculus, and Statistics make me quake and groan in equal measure.
  4. I am pretty impoverished when it comes to poetry. I cannot, under any circumstance, be succinct. Poetry, at its core is about synthesizing things to their smallest denomination and making each word count. I can’t do that. I can’t be brief period. All my sentences are run-ons and all my paragraphs too long. I agitate anyone who is naturally succinct–like my engineer brother or all of my doctors. Doctors ask me things like “when did you last [fill in the blank for a symptom],” and I respond with something like, “Well it was July in Bolivia and there was this campesino strike…” They don’t like it.
  5. This is a big picture one. I struggle with being tolerant of people who are intolerant. It is a humungous paradox, I know. I struggle with it often in life but especially in faith. I am trying more to let God and grace and my limited contemplative mind to take over when I am confronted with this particular test, but it is a tough one for me.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Developmental Theory Exploration...

The following is my response to Rachel Held Evans’ Post today on Better Conversations Between Churched and UnChurched Christians . I edited a few bits for clarity because in my spastic enthusiasm and un-contemplative fervor to reply I didn’t properly proof the response (like I will now).

My response includes the discussion of a concept I am calling “developmental theology” which merges the two things I have tried to study the most in my spiritual and personal journey of faith and life–psychology and spirituality…and the formation of both in humans. Namely this human. Like many scholars of human development before me who used their children as their subjects, having no children to take notes on I am relegated to the closest human specimen I have–myself.

Humor me if you will in my thoughts on developmental stages of personal faith/theology. I am going to be writing more on the subject moving forward, and adding a tab at the top of the site to continue the exploration and refinement of the theory, as it were of “developmental theology”.

The more I study and consider the idea the more my calling to spiritual direction draws me forward into it’s realm…as much of what I am saying from a perspective on this psychology/religion hybrid is innate in the education and practice of spiritual formation. How delectable a treat–a way to co-mingle the two worlds I am most passionate about in a soul-care method and practice!  Yes, I am a nerd. Yes, I am ok with that.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Tree of Contemplative Thought {My New Favorite Thing}

In the pursuit of more contemplative sources on the web I found the following TREE of Contemplation which, in its simplicity, depicts the multitude of contemplative traditions and the way in which our roots wind around each other, dancing like a Sufi, chanting like a monk, and illuminating the ways to God found, inherently, in the pursuit of silence and meditative prayer.
You can download or print out your own HERE.
And you can fill in a blank one with your own tree of faith like the one below…HERE.
Both are care of the CENTER FOR CONTEMPLATIVE MIND IN SOCIETY and in an inspiration of images I will be spending the next few weeks going through the many practices listed in the TREE with a bit about their history and practice.

Breath is a conduit of silence, silence is a conduit of prayer, prayer is communion with God. May God grace your prayer life with the renewing experience of silent meditation.  Amen.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Pricks of Life: A Thank You + A Prayer

I spent a second day in one week in an ER. With continued breathlessness, dizziness, numbness and shaking throughout my body, after nearly passing out this morning I headed back to a hospital with little answers, followed by the blessing of an internist who had many. Finally, I have medication to heal (what was chronic asthma exacerbated by acid reflux and a sinus infection, plus really bad allergy season) and food in my belly, both lovingly delivered to me by my husband.

Today was the oddest kind of blessings–in prayer and in the painful breathlessness of tired lungs aching for someone to listen and an answer to be found. I came out of it. I am alive. I am humbled by the community of care that was showered upon me throughout the day and God’s presence like a thread woven through it all–reflected viscerally in a ribbon of light above my bed in the hospital. Some may call that delusion–I will continue to call it grace.

In this second hospital visit, same as the first (just a little bit louder and a whole lot worse), more blood was taken, holes poked into my already bruised inner elbow. In trying to take my blood oxygen, with no success, the nurse pricked me in four places trying to get enough of a sample to test. First in my inner elbow and then on both my wrists.

As the nurse pricked my wrists, first the left, then the right, I felt a flood of pain like an explosion. I remembered, in that moment, my childhood prayers and fantasies of stigmata–I would beg God at night, by my bedside, for this proof of God in my life and my value in his universe.

I felt that pain radiating through my wrists today–not necessarily more particularly particular than any of the other pains in my life–and I realized the fullness of my naiveté and ego in those childhood prayers.

We are given our own crosses, our own very particular “stigmatas” which will come to us throughout life without request, without want, and embody a very real opportunity to sit with Jesus, if we choose, in his pain. We don’t need to pray for the pain, the pain will come as sure as breath, and we can only pray for enough God-in-us to bear it, and be better, not worse, for it.

My wrists still hurt tonight as swelling and bruising reminders of my foolish wish and my own life’s real pains. It is also a reminder of what God asks of me in my particular life, my particular experience, my particular brands of pain. I am, we are, living this life that needs no piercing proof of both its pain and God’s love and endurance to be with us in that pain.

I write this now (in both my post on the site and an email to those in my faith community)  as a thanks to the human embodiment of God’s love in my life today and as a prayer to those who are in need of the blessings of God’s love in this embodied world of His today and all days.

Thanks be to God. And thanks be to the loving kindness of His beautiful and care-taking humans. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Movies With Meaning: Why I Love Sports Movies + Hate Sports

I hate sports. I spent a small portion of my late teens and early twenties–in the pursuit of camaraderie–watching sports. Baseball, football, basketball, soccer and I grew a clear and undeniable distain for them all. It’s not personal (well it is personal, just not a judgement)–I just don’t get it. Someone hits something or dribbles something or throws something and then people run–around bases, or across a field, or a court. And then it happens again. I just don’t get it. So, I gave up the faux sports loyalties and arduous game watching and went back to what I really spent my imagination doing during the course of games anyway–reading or writing or thinking about stories.

But, the logic that follows for my watching sports is completely contradicted when I watch a sports movie. Sports movies I love. I get immensely invested in the games, the winning and losing, and the plot-line that weaves between the athletic action to give me something I can hold onto as a writer, a reader, a daydreamer–characters with depth and hearts and a story with meaning that the whole movie works up to a fervor and final resolution, usually on the bases, or the field, or the court.

I need the back story and the meaning-making to make what happens when this person runs here or throws this or hits that have any kind of relevance to me. So, in a very ironic way, although I am a self-proclaimed sports-unenthusiast I love sports movies–so much so that I will even spring for the big screen of a theatre, the obscenely costly buttered heart attack they call popcorn and the hurdle (pun intended) of my husband’s neurosis about getting the seats by the railings (so he can put his feet up).

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Maundy Thursday: An Awful Lot Like Dying

You know that old tv series, “This is your life” ? Tonight felt a lot like that–in a beautiful, mosaic sort of way.

I have not ever celebrated “Maundy Thursday” before with any fanfare and until I joined my Episcopal church a few years ago, I hadn’t heard of it at all. I am sure it was always out there, floating, like everything that exists but you have no personal relationship to–but tonight I entered into its universe and it shifted me. Like the plates of the earth, the way they move in imperceptible ways all the time, and no one notices except when it’s the large thunder of an earthquake. Tonight was a seismic shift for me in a microscopic way that no one but me would ever know, except by my explaining that it happened.

I guess that is how most transformation, or continuing transformation happens, in small microbes of change that could easily be ignored, even by the bearer, unless you make a conscious decision to notice it, embrace it, and change because of it.

Most of my life, as I imagine most of many people’s lives, is full of many more moments I bypassed than the ones I stopped to meditate on. Today, this feeling, even if recorded only for myself, isn’t something I want to forget quickly or brush past like an afterthought.

I have made a note this week, one that I have made before but forgot–breathlessness feels profoundly and exhaustingly like dying. There is nothing like the experience hour-by-hour every evening gasping for air to set the stage for Holy Week and its implications.

The nature of this process of death and rebirth which is the foundation of Christianity in Jesus’s life, death, and renewal in God is one that I have found hard to conceptualize and personalize before. The story is there, in Good Friday and Easter, but it has always come and gone with minimal reverence (besides the flicker in a Sunday morning, or the everyday, passive kind) and almost no personal experience of Jesus in the process.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Life Parable: The World Is On Fire {Or Maybe It's Just A Car}


It’s Friday at 5:00pm–the essential shut-off valve in my mind has been cranked to a close and I am trying (through some visceral pains of my chronic issues) to decompress. I pull off on my exit ramp in that auto-pilot kind of way, and out of the corner of my eye I see what seems like smoke. Initially, I ignore it–I am in shut-off mode and that doesn’t usually allow for too much peripheral attentiveness. What had seemed like a smudge of poor eye sight begins to billow out of the left-side of my car window. I see a man slowing down next to me at the exit ramp stop light, his car beginning to puff furious exhales like the-little-engine-that-couldn’t-anymore. He still seems fairly nonchalant. I can’t tell if he’s even going to pull over–no hazards on, no outward signs of panic on his behalf, and so I mimic his laize-fare.

“Sure,” I think, “His car is steaming, and if my car is steaming I would be kind of panicked, but look at him. He’s cool, he’s unaffected. How present-minded of him. I admire that guy.”

And then, no sooner had I aligned with him and his chill-vibe, than the undercarriage of his car begins to catch on fire.

There was that one second, where he hadn’t seen the smoke turn to bright orange embers, still in his slow-to-stop and not rushing out of his vehicle mode, when I was still like, “Hey maybe a car fire isn’t all that bad.”

And then my off-valve went into crisis mode as I realized, “Oh crap. I am way too close to a car on fire! What the bleep is wrong with me!”

Survival mode and I veer off to the right ramp before the Zen of it all gots me blowed up. Luckily, the man had exited his vehicle as I began dialing 911. All in a Friday’s commute–the usual.

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Call For... A Society for Young Christian Contemplatives


  • Creating a compassionate and reflective ecumenical community of Christians in their 20′s, 30′s, and 40′s who are interested in carrying the sacred ancient traditions of Christian Contemplation/Mysticism forward into the next generations of Christians.
  • By engaging with our inner contemplatives today, we will be able to gift the tradition of sacred space and communion with God to ourselves, as young people, and to future young people. The tradition was once lost for 400 years–we can be the caretakers of our communal Christian Contemplative Traditions (or lose it again).