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.

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.

Pentecost

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.

Stumbling stones and tombs

Stones on the AltarThis Sunday, I noticed a dozen large river stones sitting on the altar. Its the first sunday of Lent and I was reminded of the stone moved from Jesus’ tomb. This started me thinking about stones, caves and tombs, about stumbling and resurrection. Stumbling brought other images into my mind including stumbling block, mental block, writers block, and then start blocks. Can the same block/stone that causes me to stumble also be used to help me push off for a new stronger beginning? What about the stone at the tomb? What does stumbling really look like, when does the stone become a new beginning versus the heavy seal on our tomb? Is the difference between stumbling and starting a matter of perspective?

I was reminded of three writers.

Theologian Father Richard Rohr wrote a book titled, Falling Upward.

The message of Falling Upward is straight forward and bracing: the spiritual life is not static. You will come to a crisis in your life, and after the crisis, if you are open to it, you will enter a space of spiritual refreshment, peace and compassion that you could not have imagined before.

Rohr does not offer a syrupy evasion of this crisis. But he does underline two crucial points. First, God has not abandoned you, even if you are sure that God has. (“All the books of the Bible seem to agree,” notes Rohr, “that somehow God is with us and we are not alone.”) Second, “We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right.” That may be cold comfort during the crisis—when your house has flooded, who wants to think about spiritual growth? But later you will notice. You will wonder how you possibly could have come to where you are without that flood. –Read the full review on Christian Century

In Malcolm Gladwell’s new book David and Goliath, he outlines a question that arose for him as he wrote his previous book Outliers. He noticed that many of the people, thought of as exceptional, also had experienced a difficulty. He discovered people rarely felt they achieved in spite of their difficulty. They achieved because of the difficulty. The difficulty acted as a catalyst or reason for learning uncommon strengths.  As an example, he notes there is a high percentage of entrepreneurs who have Dyslexia.

The stumbling block becomes a seal on our tomb, not when we trip, but when we pick up the stone and continue to carry it with us. Trying to fashion a badge of honor, not realizing it has become a stone around our neck. Gather enough of these and we become buried in a tomb of our own making. A tomb defined by our failures and our misfortune. Why do we carry these around? When we recall the resurrection the tomb is empty, the stone is removed. The women leave the tomb. They leave the place where they experienced deep pain, as they buried their friend and teacher AND they leave the place where he was resurrected. 

Gladwell and Rohr are exploring the same depths as Brene Brown, revealing for us how we learn from our vulnerability, from our stumbles, and our difficulties. We learn more than just how not to trip, we learn our true strengths, we learn the depth of our communities, and sometimes gain clarity about our direction. When we look back we see the distance we have traveled. Gladwell, Rohr, and Brown do not shy away from the trauma these failures hold, they simply call us to remember all that we learn and gain, if we are open to that vulnerability.

Looking at the stones I also remembered the tradition where people leave stones to mark places they encountered God, gained an important spiritual insight, and as a guide in the wilderness. The stones act as reminders and as a ritual to mark a moment in time. A moment that may mean nothing to anyone else. Or may guide them through the same wilderness you traveled. When I look back on my life I hope to see many stones, many places where I encountered God and gained spiritual insight. Even though I now fully comprehend the tremendous amount of pain that may accompany those moments.

 

Read more about Brene Brown and Vulnerability in a previous post.