Broken Heart Syndrome

mintobrown 01Pouring my heart and soul into family, friends and work, I took little or no time for renewal this summer. My attitude was arrogant: “I am tough. I can take care of it all.”

My heart knew differently. It felt the stress of my worry over my baby brother and his stroke; my mother and her dementia; the start-up I had shared with friends and family (though I continued to feel solely responsible for its success, because even if I’d brought them in as partners, they were still depending upon me to make it all work. Right?)

It suffered from grief over Robin William’s demise, followed quickly by the self-death of a friend’s nephew, then the twelfth anniversary of my own husband’s suicide. The seventh anniversary of my father’s passing. Relationship woes. Money worries. The push to complete my first book.

The result was an event called stress cardiomyopathy, the heart’s way of saying, “Enough! I can’t take any more.” A warning shot across the bow, this terrifying experience brought me to an abrupt halt.

I’m convalescing now, sitting before the divine with a contrite (and slowly healing) heart. What do you have for me, God?

“You have unique gifts. There is so much you can do! But you aren’t called to all things: take your talent and focus on a few precious tasks. Listen to your heart; trust its direction. The flaming piles that distract you are someone else’s calling. You do a disservice to the world, yourself, and others if you engage their lifework and ignore your own.”

I’m listening. No, really. This time, I’m listening.

Labyrinth of Fir and Fern

labyrinthI hiked ten miles during a recent camping trip. It was hot and I was tired (and thirsty – I didn’t realize there wouldn’t be water available at the highway trailheads we passed) but I felt deep satisfaction in knowing I could complete a long day’s hike. 

The next day, Tali and I took a two mile stroll through the woods, following a path that twisted and turned and led ever upward. As I turned around to retrace my steps, I realized I was traveling a labyrinthian trail. I stopped.

“Divine – whatever you are, whoever you are, IF you are – show yourself. Not so that I will believe, because I don’t think you ever obscure yourself. I think – no, I believe – you are visible, if I can only have eyes to see.”

I looked around. I saw firs, ferns, tiny maples. I remembered the majesty of the aspen grove we walked through the day before. I remembered when, long ago, I received these words: Look at nature. Look at the trees, the hills. Wrap yourself in them, because it is my love extruded into the world.

My deity is not a god of deserts, but rather, one of forests and hills, of vineyards and fields. So long have I searched for home, but in that moment, I realized I’ve never been homeless. I am a child of the Willamette valley. I carry it within me, and in so doing, also hold the divine, who is visible within and without.

A Conversation for All

Discernment is a good thing!

I’ve been in discernment for the Episcopal priesthood for four years. The initial work was completed three years ago, but snafus and life events delayed the process. Or maybe it was the Divine, because I’m MUCH better prepared to proceed now than I was then.

Recently, we reconvened a small portion of my discernment committee. At their request, I’ve been writing about the past three years – events and studies, soul searches and emotional growth. Man, oh man, this is HARD! After a day of meditation, research and writing, I am exhausted.

But I’m also exhilarated. When we met last Wednesday, I said, “I think you guys should do this, too. It’s very enlightening!”

A new member of the committee, associate rector Shelly Fayette, noted: “In Olympia, we have regular discernment committees. But it’s not just about ordained ministry. One person may be in discernment about whether to change jobs. Another may be in discernment about whether it’s time to move a parent to an assisted living facility. Often, there is someone who is discerning a call to ordained ministry. The committee doesn’t center around one person; it’s a conversation for all.”

I think that’s a brilliant idea. Regardless of our spiritual leanings (or lack thereof) I think we can all benefit from taking time to periodically review where we are physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. To choose one item in particular to ponder and to write about. To meet with others for honest questioning and prayerful support.

I’m going to suggest the idea to my church, and I think it would work well in any community. Imagine how much more deeply we can engage our lives if we take time to discern!


We Don’t Do Karma

Jacob Wrestles the Angel, by Arthur Sussman
Jacob Wrestles the Angel, by Arthur Sussman

It’s been more than a month since I last posted. I moved both home and office in September and October. I experienced financial tribulation. (I’m always so optimistic about how much it will cost to move. This is one scenario where pessimism might a better choice. Although then I might never go anywhere at all.) While I reconnected with some of my loved ones, I said goodbye to others. I traveled and I worked. Stress abounded.

My prayer practice was irregular. It would have been easier to maintain a center if I’d been more disciplined about altar time. Wish I could really LEARN that lesson. Still, in the midst of the maelstrom, I found myself, like Jacob, on the road wrestling with God. I emerged not with a limp, but with a renewed commitment to pursue ordained ministry. Why? Because I was reminded that my life centers around my desire to reach out to others and show them the Divine in the universe and in themselves.

After searching my heart and soul, looking at other denominations and other faiths, I am certain of my call. I am ridiculously in love with with this guy who walked the earth 2000 years ago. Call me polyamorous, because I want to share him, not in a “have-you-found-Jesus-as-your-personal-savior” way, but in a “OMG-did-you-hear-what-he-said-isn’t-he-dreamy” way. Ewwww. Saccharine. I know. But there it is.

It makes me sad that because of well-meaning but theologically incorrect Christians, many people are turned off even by the mention of his name. That’s heartbreaking. It’s like being turned off by the mention of Buddha or Mahatma. Like them, Jesus had game-changing ideas.

His best one is forgiveness. In Episcopal and Lutheran churches, we do this ritual every Sunday. Put simply, it’s called DO-OVER! (AKA confession and forgiveness.) You see, guilt and shame cripple us, prevent us from being our best selves. But Christianity (another touchy word) says, “You’re forgiven. Let it go. Move on.” It’s a do-over. Christians don’t do karma. We do love and forgiveness. That’s radical.

Speaking of love, Jesus  had some pretty interesting ideas there,too. “I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you…just as your heavenly Parent shows love to everyone, so must you.” When someone irritates me, hurts my feelings, doesn’t appreciate me – my response can be, not anger or irritation, but love. Jesus says, “Someone’s hurt you? Love anyway. Love especially.” How is that even possible? But when I take his words to heart, my life is transformed.

I’m sometimes asked, “How can you possibly believe that? And why would you want to?” My response is that my life is better for believing.  If you’ve followed my blog, you know that I’ve talked about what I DON’T believe with regards to traditional Christianity. I’d been trying to decide if this disqualified me from pursuing the priesthood. I’ve been reminded that it’s not my decision, so I’ve placed the call and I’ve committed to preparing the paperwork. We’ll see what happens next.

Holy Wanderer – the canon of the Journey

_DSC5832“I’ve been on many journeys.” – Paul of Tarsus, writing to the church at Corinth in autumn 55 CE.

I don’t know how many times I’ve begun my altar time with deep prayer and/or a card reading, then opened my daily reading book (currently Celtic Daily Prayer) to find that the scripture reading affirms and further enlightens the initial whisper of Spirit. It happened again today.

First, I meditated on two cards drawn from Wisdom of the Crone: Magick and Journey. They instructed me that my ‘glimpses’ are true visions of the Divine, and that my life path will include exciting journeys. They further noted me that ‘home’ is within me as I travel grounded in Spirit.

Then I turned to Celtic Daily Prayer and discovered that today’s readings centered around journey: specifically, the physical journeys that lead us to spiritual awakening.

I’ve always considered myself Peregrini – a spiritual wanderer. My life choices haven’t given me opportunity to indulge in much physical wandering, but Spirit assures me this is coming, and soon. So it’s no surprise that as I gathered books from my shelf inspire me, many revolve around travel. They include:

The Sacred Journey, The Art of Pilgrimage, A Desert in the Ocean, The Book of Creation, The Cloister Walk._DSC5830

I’ll talk about each of these books in subsequent posts, making the case for their inclusion in canon.  Then I’ll give you my fiction list. (Fiction? Divinely inspired story telling? Yep. Just like many of the stories in the Bible and other holy writ.)

If you’re feeling the tug of Spirit, read these books. Walk the path of the Peregrini with me.

Sacred Scripture – Inspired Word or Blasphemy?

_DSC5692What makes a written work ‘sacred’, and why are certain works elevated above others?

Please bear with my scholarly tone for the next few paragraphs. Eventually, I’ll make a case for ongoing revelation as opposed to set scripture (see – there’s a payoff coming!) But first, I need to set the ‘sacred’ scene. Here we go!

Most religious traditions have a fixed and unalterable set of written work that is ‘official’ or canon (i.e., sacred.) All subsequent writing is considered supplementary and of lesser authority.

The reason for canon is to unite followers around a common understanding or set of rules, thus reducing the chance of misinterpreting or altering the understanding of their Divine’s communication. It also enables the community to pass on their beliefs to subsequent generations.

For example, the Vedas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads are Hindu canon. Called Shruti, meaning ‘heard’, they are understood to be received directly from the Divine. Everything after is called Smriti,’remembered’- contemplations upon Shruti._DSC5694

Theravada, or Way of the Elders, is Buddhist canon, and Mahayana, or Greater Vehicle, is the inspirational supplement.

Judaism’s canon, the Tanach, is supplemented by the Talmud and the Midraash.  Christians accept the Tanach (the Old Testament) as canon, and also include the New Testament. Catholic Christians add writings (Apocrypha) that are considered merely inspirational by Jews and Protestant Christians. These gathered writings are known as The Bible.

Canon, then, is an expression of the conviction that Divinity speaks to a given group only for a discrete time. During this period, revelation is received, and then held as God’s final word. The problem is, this assumes a group’s behaviors and understandings – their culture – does not change through generations.

And this assumption runs contrary to history. Cultural norms DO change, and dramatically. For example, Judeo-Christian ideas about equality, about slavery, about consequences for trangression – even about what constitutes transgression – are markedly different than they were 4000, 2000, 1000 or even 100 years ago. How can a religion remain relevant in the face of canonical rigidity?

_DSC5695Christians today are caught in this dilemma. In light of canon that teaches that men should not shave and women should not speak, that slavery is acceptable and despots are God’s judgement on the faithful, Christians today tend toward one of two perspectives:

1) Evangelicals, who accept canon as the unalterable Word of God, but focus heavily on certain passages and ignore others. This pick-and-choose fundamentalism requires mighty mental machinations to navigate.

2) Mainliners, who consider canon as a reflection of the time in which it is written, but continue to incorporate outmoded interpretations into their worship. (I.e., virgin birth, original sin, human sacrifice.)

Both approaches are problematic – in the exact same way. Because new revelation is not allowed, Christians are forced to shoehorn antiquated perceptions of the Divine into their modern understanding.

It is error to relegate God’s voice to the ancient past. Divine revelation in one moment becomes blasphemy in the next if people hold rigidly to it rather than embracing ever-unfolding epiphanies. Today’s movement of Spirit is not supplementary, it is primary. It is as canonical as were the transcendent whispers in the ears of our ancient mothers and fathers.

In my next post, I’ll talk about candidates for a current canon. Post your ideas here, too!