Thursday, May 31, 2012

God's Language + A Life Lost and Found In Translation

God is the source. But most of us don’t have easy access to him. Most of us need a translator to imbibe and synthesize the data and send it outward, to us, with some clarity. Writers, preachers, theologians, teachers, therapists, artists, animals, nature, and even the odd stranger on a bus can all be translator’s of God’s language.

I met a woman recently, in the end stage of her life, and she told me she no longer felt the hunger to absorb information, spiritual or any kind in this part of her life. She said it had come on rather recently, this contentedness to be in the present.

The more we spoke the more she used words of adoration like “being in love” and with her “beloved”. These are some of the words the most divinely attuned mystics used. And it made me think that it was not that she was no longer receptive to “information” but that she just no longer needed a translator.

While there are some mystics and highly attuned people who may spend chunks of their lifetime in the every-moment presence of and direct conversation with God for many of us it comes on for brief moments–in illness, grief, and life’s intensity, we brush up against the immortal lingering with God, momentarily, in the space between here and there, life and death.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Memorial Day: 5 Requests + 12 Film Suggestion in Honor of Warriors

In having worked my entire professional life with every manner of trauma survivor and quite often persons wounded by war–civilian and service members–I ask for a remembering of what is always given in the fields and deserts and jungles of war and I ask for a remembrance of the soul wounds carried by everyone who lives through war (externally and internally). The reverberations of war will last in a person for a lifetime of memories and often, nightmares.

In honor of the hundreds of people I have met and worked with who have suffered from the experience of war I thought I would pass along a few tid bits for the civilians who try to honor them this weekend ahead.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

In Pursuit of Making Something Beautiful

I stumbled on Prodigal Magazine’s prompt by chance: “What does it mean to live a good story?” Head over there now to read all the stories or submit your own…and become part of the “good story” conversation! 

I was knee-deep in Pinterest mania–after a weekend of asthmatic breathlessness, where my lungs hurt from sipping on narrow pipes of air, and there was nothing better than distracting myself with the semi-mindlessness of collecting little images for the literary timeline of my life.


In usual virtual synchronicity, all my pinterest collecting primed me to think about what makes a good story. I have spent my life reading them, envying them, aspiring to them, and believing I could never validly write them with the artfulness of those writers and livers I have loved. When I was very young I was worried nothing interesting would happen to me, that I would be the shy wallpaper character in the plot of someone’s better story. What I didn’t realize until retrospect kicked in was that my life (sometimes painfully and terribly) was not lacking in interesting–it was good, bad, terrible, painful, ecstatic, restless, vivid, relentless–but has it been “good”? I guess it depends on how a human being defines the word “good”.

A good plot is not necessarily a joyful story. A happy story does not always make a great plot.

And good in life could be seen as synonymous with interesting, or it could be seen as equal to moral, or it can just mean being imbued with grace. I think my life has had moments which fit all of the above, but as the hardships match the joys with increasing fury, I think the thing that has made the story good, for me, has been grace. And that has nothing to do with plot or craft or even something being interesting.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Confessions of a Concussed Mind + Thanks To God

I only wrote one post this week. I planned on having more. I had a bunch of ideas I thought would make it past the “notes on my iphone” stage of development but they didn’t. It has been an absurd blur of a week, the catalyst of which was a teeny tiny bit of a concussion. My life has been a series of lessons in letting go–of expectations, of presuppositions, of any sense of certainty and control. I believe God has used the things in my life which have knocked me down to help me grow.

Recently, there have been a lot of those falling experiences, and I hope I have shown sufficient growth and grace and wisdom–but I know sometimes I haven’t. Sometimes I have been angry, self-pitying, poor-me-ing, and bitter. That is just life and being human. We second guess, we love and we hate, we make mistakes. And I think if my series of illnesses of innumerable unexplained origins have taught me anything is that I am far from a perfect person, and I will always be far from a perfect person. Big surprise, right. Well I think I need that reminder a lot. Because my expectations of self and others has been often skewed.

I think of people like Teresa of Avila who spent 3 years, in bed, writhing in pain and how much God graced her with insight and humility she might not have ever had otherwise. I think of how she struggled and fell even after her most painful experiences which gives me relief that I don’t have to be perfect now and will not be perfect ever, but I can become a better human in this and through this painful experience of life. I think of Julian of Norwich, who I have been drawn to lately for so many reasons, who also suffered great pains and who found intimacy with her “Mother Jesus” out of that pain.

I find God leading me through illness with the anchors of the mystics who suffered similarly. I hear him calling to me with love through voices from the past and voices of those I find in my present, like gifts to my soul, each unwrapped with care by God and grace. In this pain God has chosen to give me greater and greater chances for empathy in those moments people have unraveled to reveal the soulful center of themselves. Even though I have worked with 100′s of people as a therapist, where they share the greatest traumas of their souls, often for the first time in their lives, I am still honored when anyone tells me their deepest and most sacred things.

I thank God for many things this week….
  • I thank God for Genju who brought me the gift of the Grey Nuns–my tribe of mothers from a time before memory began.
  • I thank God for Judy who shared with me the legacy of her life story, all 83 years, and the vision of God as we can see him right before we meet him in full, at the weathered and worn edges of last moments of life.
  • I thank God for air in my lungs, again, and consciousness (both literal and spiritual) which, like most things, can only be really  appreciated after it has been taken away and then restored.
  • I thank God for the many patrons of my life who I can feel caring for me in the space between now and eternity–especially on the really painful days.
  • I thank God for my husband, my mother, my friends, and my dogs who all, in their own way, support me when I feel I can’t support myself.
  • I thank God for the many voices I have found in the virtual world who tell a story, live a parable, and write it out in new and surprising ways and, like gifts, unravel to reveal beauty I need when I haven’t the energy to sustain beauty on my own.
  • I thank God for my centering prayer group (the one I attend as a participant) and all the beautiful souls in it who have become like a spiritual family so easily, the years between us seeming negligible when we share in silence and the gifts silence brings to our soul.
  • I thank God for my writing group and their wisdom and capacity to turn words into life and life into words–and listen to my attempts at doing both, as well.
  • I thank God for every single human being who tells me their story, and reveals the ghosts of their soul, weekly in therapy. I pray always that God gives me the grace to get out of the way enough to help them the best He can, not just the best I can.
  • I thank God for everything I have and everything I don’t have–knowing that both teach me innumerable lessons.
  • And my concussed, dizzy, and aching head thanks my new inhaler for not making me pass out every time I breathe it in. I didn’t like the week of asthma “whip its” which, quite literally (from my vague teenage recollection of doing one of the dumbest drug options ever just the once–even at 16 I knew it was stupid) felt like doing actual “whip its”.

Who knew someone with asthma could be allergic to albuterol! It made me feel like the story of my friend’s cat…who was allergic to cats. You have to think it is some sort of hiccup of creation–except for, of course, the fact that through another anomaly of biology (which I am great at) I was able to value all the things I am thankful for in an intimate way.

So, thank you God for the greatest beauty hidden inside of the greatest burdens of life. Even if, like the cat, I am built to be allergic to myself.

Below are a few more things I was thankful to have found throughout the blogopshere this past month or so, inspired by HopefulLeigh and her May-so-far List of things she loves…

Carl McColman’s article at patheos to celebrate Julian of Norwich’s (ancient British contemplative)feast day…

The Velveteen Rabbi’s Rumi Shabbat pdf which is a tradition woven new in a way that could be practice for Christian, Muslim, or Jewish person of faith…

I was also happy to discover Christian Piatt’s new twist on the ancient tradition of Psalms as spoken word or song …

This beautiful eulogy of sorts to Maurice Sendak by Cathleen Falsani (one of my newest discovery and greatly loved voice–witty with depth…my favorite)…

Kathy Escobar provided a wonderful series on “rebuilding after deconstructing” which is a great guide, spiritual direction and formation all in one which gives people permission to stumble on the difficult road to faith which is evolving…

…And all the beautiful statements of love and unconditional compassion which came in the wake of the Catholic Church and their nuns issue as well as the gay rights/civil union issue. The beautiful capacity for so many people to speak their heart without damning everything and everyone else. Not that everyone is capable of this nuanced balance but I was so gladly surprised by the many that were.

My favorite posts to write were my series on “Unlikely Mothers” and the preceding post “Life in Utero: Finding God, Grace, Birth & Motherhood in Infertility”…

A Final Thankful Prayer for Mercedes Rosaria Pineda de Martinez, who passed away last week forcreating FANA–the orphanage of my beginnings, the place of my naming, and where my known history began. Without her passion for helping the orphaned children of Colombia myself and my adopted sister (as well as 1000′s of others) might never have found a place to call home.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Grey Nuns + Soul Consonance

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I find with increasing amounts of amazement that the deeper my heart opens to God, the more I let go of the things I once thought I had control over God sends me gifts in the shape of words, images, people and experiences. I feel him whisper in a light breeze, glint in the eye of a bird that holds my glance longer than necessary, and often in the way my crooked path lands me right at the doorstep of the next safe harbor of hope and faith on my journey to wherever He takes me.

Yesterday that song to my soul came by way of an unlikely resonance from an unlikely but, equally, likely place. I love reading blogs, articles, and essays of contemplatives from other “faiths of origin”. The Buddhist, Taoists, Hindus, Muslim and Jewish contemplative voices resonate somewhere in the familiar space of quiet penetrated infrequently by a gong or bell calling “time in” or “time out” to a period of prayerful reflection. Where our core beliefs of our traditions may separate us in philosophy, silence and our reverence for silence binds us in one common pursuit–to get closer to something far greater than ourselves and to let go of our small “selves” to do so.

I was reading one of my fellow pilgrim’s blogs yesterday, the articulate and thoughtful author, Genju, of108zen books on the path of Buddhism in the tradition of the beloved Thich Naht Hanh, and I found a beautiful consonance in her life and mine…in the shape of socially conscious women called “the Grey Nuns”.  Her post “hearts that awaken” discusses how she found herself on a Buddhist retreat in the sanctuary of the Grey Nuns. She writes:

 What penetrated me was the interconnections and the surfacing of the past in a new perspective and with new understanding.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Julian Of Norwich "Mother's Day" Thank You

It is the week (and day) of the Feast of Julian of Norwich and Mother’s Day. In following the last week of posts discussing literal and spiritual motherhood I thought the following passage from Julian’s own writing would be the perfect thing. I used this reading this week in my guided contemplative prayer group, read three times, each time followed by a period of contemplative silence.

Passage of Julian of Norwich, excerpt from 40 day Journey with Julian of Norwich

“Jesus Christ, who opposes good to evil, is our true Mother. We have our being from him, where the foundation of motherhood begins…our true Mother Jesus …alone bears us for joy and for endless life, blessed may he be. So he carries us within him in love and travail, until the full time when he wanted to suffer the sharpest thorns and cruel pains…and at the last he died. And when he had finished, and had so borne us for bliss, still all this could not satisfy his wonderful love… To the property of motherhood belongs nature, love, wisdom and knowledge, and this is God. For though it may be that our bodily bringing to birth is only little, humble and simple in comparison to our spiritual bringing to birth, still it is he who does it in the creatures by whom it is done… And in our spiritual bringing to birth he uses more tenderness, without any comparison, in protecting us…And from this sweet and gentle operation he will neither cease or desist, until all his beloved children are born and brought to birth.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Needlepoint Mary: A Thank You To My "Band-Aids + Cough Medicine" Mother

After discussing at length my “unlikely mothers” who were people on my path of life who showed me the compassion and unconditional love of a mother-figure, I wanted to take a moment to thank my “band-aids and cough medicine” mom. Which is to say, I want to thank the mom in my life who provided me with the ever day miracle of just loving me, even and especially when I was hard to love. She was the mom who taught me what love was, and by every psychological developmental model of learning, is the reason why I can reflect love out into the world–having learned how to do it from a genuine source of love.

I would say that more than one time in my life, her ability to love me, saved me–literally and spiritually. In working in the field of trauma I see many people who, by the developmental standards, where at a disadvantage early in life because the person, their parent(s), who were to be their example of love provided them, instead of stability and care, like my own, a mixture of neglect or abuse that made their basic understanding of love and loving difficult from the start. I was blessed with a mother who reflected everything I needed to me so that when I dealt with trauma, in my early adult life, I had a spiritual and emotional life preserver to hang onto when I could’t stay afloat. Many people don’t get this and I am so sad for that, and so grateful for my mother.

The following micro-story is my version of a long “Mother’s Day” card to my mom…

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Praying the Psalms: A Guide For Daily Practice

A suggested prayer practice: praying the Psalms. 

The Psalms are the poetry of the Bible–they are beautiful, often painful, and illuminate the struggle in humans to understand God and the cries in the wilderness of faith for God’s answers. We don’t always get answers that are visible from God and we spend much of our faith lives struggling in the wilderness of our own faith–like rugged backpackers. We can all relate to the lamentations and calls to God inherent in the Psalms. I am feeling drawn to think and about and talk about the Psalms this past week after an interesting beginning to a conversation with a gentleman who is in the process of writing a book on the history and contemporary relevance of the Psalms in the world.

Consider picking a Psalm for every day and meditating for even 5 minutes on its meaning to you–viscerally and emotionally. 

A Psalm for the week (one reflected on often in the contemplative tradition): 
 Psalm 46:10 (NIV)
He says, “Be still and know that I am God;I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.” 
Read through these three lines (in your head or out loud) three times and then taking 5 minutes in silence to reflect. This is a daily contemplative practice you can try–with this Psalm or any. Give it a shot this week–see how it feels. Maybe even journal the experience and at the end of the week you can see how your experience evolves over time–in communion with this poetry for God.

You can get A Psalm App Here titled “The One Year Book of Psalms” or search for your own app (there are a number of options on itunes).

Read More about the Psalms on Wikipedia Here.

If you try this practice come back and discuss how it was. Have you prayed the Psalms before? What is your prayer practice? Is there a Psalm that you feel a special affinity for? Why?