Beyond the lights

Sunlight MazeI have been reading a lot about the spiritual/emotional experience of the dark night of the soul. I know I’ve written about it before, mostly because I have been experiencing one. Mother Teresa spoke of it and Saint John of the Cross from the 16th century famously put words to his experience. It can often be a blend of depression and searching. Its a moment when what used to give you happiness just doesn’t, usually you try harder and harder and still nothing. Your source of light is gone.

I recently watched Beyond the Lights. I knew it was only going to be a mildly good movie. The acting was mostly mediocre. Ok, I mostly went to check out the beautiful leading man and hear some great singing from the star. It was the story that mostly redeemed the movie for me. The story was about her life beyond the lights, and her search for light.

Noni is about to release her first solo album and just won a Grammy for a track she created with a popular rapper. At the hotel, after the Grammy’s ceremony, her mom (who works as Noni’s manager) finds Noni perched on the balcony ledge about to jump. The police officer assigned to guard her room for the night, comes and saves her, not only by catching her as she jumps but by reassuring her that he sees her.

The movie continues through her struggle with depression, to finding real friendship and love with the police officer. Finally she finds her true self and releases herself from the popstar persona she had created.

So why am I explaining the plot of this movie?

I’ve started thinking about this idea of night and its end. We see people emerge out of these moments and think well the sun must have come up again, and while that is true, from my experience where the light is centered has shifted. While Noni’s energy used to come from the crowds of adoring fans, friends and Mom, she realizes they don’t know who she is, they love her persona.

The crisis happens when she doesn’t love the persona anymore. As she comes to terms with her suicide attempt she admits that the persona did jump off that ledge, and it took the glimpse of her valuable true self to bring her back up, even if it took time for her to gain strength and to nurture herself again. In the closing scene, after breaking off her relationship with her mom and police officer boyfriend, she is now rebuilding the Noni that first loved to sing. As she is preparing to take the stage her mom calls to ask how she’s doing. Noni, first brushes off the request, then catches herself and says, “tell her I’m scared.”

A casual observer might ask why. She survived, is receiving great praise for her renewed self and is about to take the stage in her home town in front of 1,000’s of fans. She is realizing just how terrifying it is to be your authentic self. She was taking the stage without the carefully crafted persona.

So where was Noni’s new strength and light coming from, what was supporting her on this new venture. It was coming from within. The light that she once relied upon, the light from her 1,000’s of fans now emerged from within her, from the memory of her first song. And that light doesn’t mean a life without fear.

At the end of the dark night it’s not that the sun finally rises, it’s that the light, your strength, is coming from within you and the realization each day that whts terrifying won’t in fact kill you, it’s your own ability to walk into the unknowing, into the dark.

As I continue on this journey I realized my whole understanding of certainty, of light, of when everything would become clear again has now vanished. This is because I realized our certainty in life is an illusion. It’s partly a necessary illusion, to keep us moving forward, but really we have no idea what twists and turns life will take.

In Barbara Brown Taylors book, Learning to Walk in the Dark, she speaks about a blind man, who lost his sight in childhood. His parents invited him to share his experience as he learned to walk and live in his new world. What he discovered is that he could still see light though it wasn’t light that penetrated his blindness. It was a light that literally helped guide him through his day. He realized on the days when he was depressed, stressed out, or otherwise disturbed he would knock into many more objects versus when he felt serene and joy emanating from within him.

Recently, staring up into the cold clear night sky, spotting the few stars bright enough to penetrate the city light, I had a thought. What if the stars aren’t looking down on us? What if we are all looking into the darkness wondering what our future holds, where our strength lies. What if we’re all just stars staring into the darkness and its our own, and our friends/families, own brilliant light that obstructs this darkness mapping out our meaning, our love and friendships. As we move out of the city light we find the sky filled with so many stars we have to work to find the darkness. It no longer matters that we don’t know what is in the darkness, we have found the eternal light within us and flowing through us, guiding ourselves and each other.

Uncertainty and Doubt

Butterfly at Dumbarton OaksI’ve tried writing this a dozen times over the last year at least. So, because I haven’t put pen to paper, or finger to key, I now have a list of items I heave learned over these last two years and so I have decided to try and keep it simply to the ah ha moments.

Two years ago, I left the community and the job where I was happiest and felt most loved. While all my twists and turns up to this job didn’t make sense, where I was made sense. At least it made sense until the day I realized I couldn’t stay. In a moment, everything I knew was turned out onto the ground, knocked from its foundation.

I had so identified with ‘find what you love and do it,’ that I had become what I loved. Which was great, right up to the moment I realized I didn’t love it anymore.  Bring on the tears, followed by more tears and many sleepless nights.

Compounding this sense of dread was having only a vague sense of where I should go next. I only knew for sure I couldn’t stay where I was. The community I loved and felt loved, but I had moved there for the job and it was a small town, with little more to offer a liberal arts major and I was ready for a the city.

I now live in Washington DC with many many recent college grads still finding themselves in new careers, jobs and degrees. Its funny how you don’t realize how you’ve changed until you meet someone where you once were.

At the beginning of all this shifting I had confused my sense of career with my sense of self. Then while talking to the 22 year olds I meet, I realized that while the foundation of my career was shaken, WHO I AM is not an issue. I am a person who will be of service my whole life, who will pursue love, joy, and beauty. I will mess up and screw up along the way. I will make right and wrong decisions and learn to love. How I express and manifest these essentials will also change.

Krista Tippet, in a conversation on pilgrimage with Paulo Coehlo, said, ‘Love is the greatest life long pilgrimage. We are always learning to love. We never really arrive at learning to love. We are constantly changing and learning how to be better.’

Right now I am figuring out how I will spend my days, how those days will sustain me financially. This is not a reflection of who I am. This is not a reflection of my ability to love and to live in the world.

Today I fly to Albuquerque to attend the Living School for Action and Contemplation. It is a two year mostly distance course with two gatherings a year. This paragraph is the primary reason I decided to apply.

The world needs places that equip individuals to serve with compassion, acknowledging our differences while valuing our one-ness. The Living School for Action and Contemplation provides such a course of study grounded in the Christian mystical tradition. Cultivating a contemplative mind through teachings and practices, students deepen their awareness of our common union with Divine Reality and all beings. Students emerge empowered to live out their sacred soul task in their homes, workplaces, and all relationships, within a more spacious stance that is at once critical, collaborative, and joyful.

When I applied for this course, and was accepted, I honestly thought all my financial instability would be cleared up. Something would come along and I would find myself with a certain financial steadiness.

It didn’t happen. Uncertainty still accompanies me on the bus as I travel to another interview and as I press send on another application.

However, self-doubt, uncertainties close cousin, is not a passenger on the bus anymore. Self-doubt, which caused many sleepless nights and tears, has been replaced by a new foundation, deeper than my profession. It has been replaced by a deeper certainty of who I am. For this, I am glad my foundation was rocked two years ago.


FlowersI have a backlog of blog post ideas and this one seemed the best one to clear the block and begin moving.

My mom recently sent me a box of items from the things I have stored at her home. Inside was a card with a poem I wrote while in college. At the time, I felt so strongly about the piece I used my printer to put it on a piece of fancy card.

I wrote it my first year at the University of British Columbia (UBC), in Vancouver, Canada. It felt like the beginning of so much life. I was a second year transfer student from community college. I chose Vancouver for school partly because while I visited the campus, I had a vision of my life that opened to so much joy. I was so right about UBC and the dorm life at Vancouver School of Theology. I made so many life long friends.

The poem is again on my bulletin board, above my desk, so I thought I would share the piece with you.


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Pentecost and Pride

Last week DC celebrated Pride week. Rainbow flags waved throughout the city. On Saturday I attended the Pride parade. ‘Happy Pride day’ was cheered from cars and strangers as we walked on the street. The very next day was Pentecost, one of my favorite holy days. With the rainbow flags hung throughout the streets, I walked into the church and saw the red, orange, and yellow streamers of Pentecost, I was suddenly struck with a new revelation, in my long deepening and shifting understanding of the Holy Spirit. I suddenly saw all the colors of the rainbow in a new way.

My fascination with the Holy Spirit and Pentecost may have started with a devotional I created 10 years ago, the summer I cooked for Sierra Service Project. I recall following one of my classic mind word trails to a verse from 1 Kings 19:11-13

He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake , but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

I was stunned by the idea of God not coming in all the forceful and nearly violent movements, but in the silence.

Now you’re asking how this relates to Pentecost. Pentecost is the day the church recognizes as the birth of the church. It is the day the Holy Spirit visited the disciples and touched each with tongues of fire, giving them the gift of language to go out, teach and be understood by all people. Before this moment they had huddled together in an upper room, not knowing what to do after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The story of Elijah and the disciples encounter with the Holy Spirit, combined with my fascination of the mystics of all religions, started me on a life long study of the Holy Spirit. I didn’t realize it would be a life long study. Yet, here I find myself ten years later and still fascinated with how the Holy Spirit manifests in the simple and the profound, in the silence and in the languages of the world.

For many years, I had felt pulled between two different yearnings in my spirit. The desire to find quiet contemplation, to dive into myself and God and my desire to be active in the world. For most of my young life I never thought the two could be fulfilled simultaneously. I always pictured myself being pulled apart by these opposing forces of spirit.

Then, about 5 years ago, during a drive up the California coast it suddenly occurred to me both these manifestations were coming from the same source of the Holy Spirit, so both were necessary in my life. Both radiated from the same center. From then on I began looking for all the ways the Holy Spirit manifested in both ways, in stories and people.


With the blessing of First United Methodist Church, Santa Rosa CA, my home for four years, I created this fabric panel which hung in the sanctuary for Pentecost.

Pentecost focuses on the Spirit’s fire, so when I searched for the opposition of fire I discovered it in the story before Pentecost. If we always start a story at the most dramatic point, we miss the subtle movements occurring and building up to the ‘miracle.’ The disciples could not have been prepared for the ministry to the world had they not been baptized first by Jesus’ love, by the Holy Spirit in cleansing water, washing away preconceptions. and preparing them for the fire of God. The Holy Spirit was calling them out into the world from their upper room, like Elijah being called from his cave.

Last summer, I was preparing my application to attend Father Richard Rohr’s Living School of Action and Contemplation. The school blends learning about the mystical traditions, the Franciscan way and action. While I was preparing the application I realized I was still separating the Holy Spirit into waters that cleanse and fires that ignite. (By the way, this is a thrilling and liberating moment, as if suddenly realizing how to ride your bike with no handlebars, no judgement, just pure joy.) 

Growing up in California I should have seen this coming. Fire can also be an incredibly cleansing force, and frequently healing comes in finally acting, as in when you finally say how you feel, or tell your story.  Similarly, the cooling wash of love, can actually ignite so much energy. I discovered the fire and water of God could be working simultaneously and in partnership, both healing, both igniting.

This realization also ironically clarified my study and work with religiously motivated nonviolence. Nonviolence is the ultimate healing action, out of love we speak, we act, we work to bring revelation and justice. Nonviolent actors, have sought to heal themselves by standing up to injustice, and sought to heal the very people who impose, or act in unjust ways, in order to liberate all the people. The way they act is meant to heal the other and themselves.

On Sunday, as I looked at the streamers of Pentecost and recalled the rainbow flags hanging from our church doors, I asked, ‘what happens to pure light as it passes through water?’ A rainbow is created. A rainbow is created as the fire of the sun passes through the tears of heaven. During the Pride parade I saw so much jubilance, both outlandish and demure. With this jubilance a deep river of pain flowed in the many many suicide prevention and community organizations seeking to heal wounds, to be the light and walk through the dark with so many. In that moment, the tears of so many were ignited by the light, creating rainbows of pride. (Here is a great article on how the rainbow became the symbol of the LGBT community.)

A poem title, “God is Gay” was read at the Interfaith Pride service. On of many favorite lines is,

God gave us the rainbow
As a promise that we will never be flooded again
Either with rain or ignorance

While we still have ignorance in the world, the rainbow reveals for a moment the intersection of light and water helping us see all the beautiful ways our world, our languages, our identities, and our sexualities are manifest.