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Transcending Trump: August 21

Transcending Trump: August 21

 

I’ve changed the name of this series from Transforming Trump to Transcending Trump. It’s such a little change, but it acknowledges a huge truth. I do not have the power to transform Trump or the terrible divide within this country.  But perhaps with this seres I can do my part to help transcend its life-draining impact.

The headline at the bottom of the mandala says it all: And suddenly it’s reality. In the wake of Charlottesville, there is no longer any possibility of ignoring the hatred and racial divide within our country. This mandala is not an effort at denial; that’s not what transcendence is. It is a way of maintaining our centers in the midst of it.

That is the gift of mandala. It draws you deep into its (and your) transcendent center and then propels you out from it into the world beyond its borders. Without this spiritual anchor, the world I’m currently living in can feel too overwhelming to cope with. With it, I’m able to rest within the quiet of its core and then get out there to make those calls, write those letters, attend those vigils and scrawl a sign I never dreamed I’d need to make: KKK IS NOT OK.

Trinity

Trinity

I really didn’t just go to Divinity School on a whim, as my mother suspected. Despite my parents’ hostility to the church, I’d been interested in religion all of my life. I’d shifted from being a Unitarian Universalist to an active member of a United Church of Christ. I’d taught comparative religion for twenty-five years and come to discover I was jealous of students who went on to study religion in college. I’d completed a two-year School for Spirituality at the nearby Mercy Center and worked with a spiritual director. I’d even had an Emmaus moment driving along the winding back roads to Munson, Maine when I’d known with profound certainty that I was being called to enroll in seminary. I just didn’t know why.

Part of the problem was that I was pulled in different directions by my Christian faith, my love for all the world’s religious traditions, my Unitarian past, and the atheism of my family of origin. I just wasn’t sure I was Christian enough to be going to Divinity School. Plagued by self-doubt, I went to see Peg Stearn a former minister and mentor.  Over lunch and many cups of tea she listened to my agonized ramblings and finally responded, “Linda, you’re asking the wrong question. It’s not whether you’re ‘Christian enough’ but ‘What kind of Christian are you?’”

I didn’t know the answer, but the next fall I headed off to Bangor Theological Seminary in the hope of finding out. I arranged my classes for three consecutive days in Bangor and spent the rest of my week secluded in a log cabin on a island off the Maine coast. It was on a blustery afternoon in March that I came to know my answer to Peg’s question. It happened like this.

That second semester I was taking not only the requisite classes in Biblical criticism and church history, I was doing an independent study on the Christian response to the world religions. I’d spent the morning wrestling with the three most common responses to the problem. The first is the one that claims that Christians have an exclusive claim to truth and/or salvation.  Although there is the most Biblical support for the exclusivist approach, I found it anathema. I was too attuned to the sacred truths of all the world’s religions to believe God wanted the world to all be Christian.

The next approach is often referred to as the inclusivist one. It suggests that those of other religions have access to God’s truth/and or salvation to the extent that their religions resemble Christian teachings. The theologian who popularized this approach is Karl Rahner, who wrote of “anonymous Christians” who are saved through Christ by virtue of living according to Christian values. Leaning on Romans 2:14 and Matthew 25, he wrote that those of other religions could have “in [their] basic orientation and fundamental decision accepted the salvific grace of God, through Christ, although [they] may never have heard of the Christian revelation.” I appreciated Rahner’s efforts to reconcile his belief in salvation through Christ alone with his appreciation for the goodness in all humanity. But his strategy struck me as essentially patronizing and dismissive of other religious traditions. I couldn’t help but wonder if rather than looking at others as “anonymous Christians” we should be thinking of ourselves as anonymous Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists instead.

That left the final approach described as religious pluralism. It’s the one that insists there are may paths up the mountain and many lenses that allow us to focus our sight on God. I believe that and look to Jesus’s assurance in John 14:2 that “in my father’s house there are many mansions” to support my sense that there is a place in God’s Kingdom for all people. Still, there was a problem. I wasn’t prepared to say that all religious teachings are equally valid, to give the same credence to Osama bin Laden as to the Dali lama. The “I’m OK, you’re OK” approach to the world religions left no room for discernment.

By mid-afternoon my head was spinning with unresolved questions and I decided to shift gears. After a frigid walk on the beach, I took out my church history readings from Hildegard de Bingen’s Scivias. In them she not only described the visions she had received since she was a young girl, she illustrated them. As I delved into her writings and entered into her mandalas, I suddenly had a vision of my own, a visual response to my theological quandary. I pulled out my watercolors and painted what I’d seen.

I saw the three strands of the Trinity woven together around a blazing circle of light: God the transcendent, God the incarnate, and God the spiritual presence. Within the circle the threads formed the shaped of the Tao and connected to the central truths of all the world’s religions. The transcendent thread of God the Father connected to the yang where the words Allah and Yahweh are written. The thread of the Spirit connected to the yin and the Om of Brahmin. And there at the center of it all, connected to the incarnate thread, was the cross.

William James wrote about three varieties of religious experience: the sacramental, the prophetic and the mystical. The  sacramental experience acknowledges the transcendent element of Reality; the prophetic, its presence in human history, and the mystical, its spiritual element. Most all religions incorporate these elements. Some do so explicitly, as in the Christian Trinity or the Hindu triad of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Others do not, but followers seem to reincorporate all three elements in their expressions of their faith. Buddhism rejects any notion of transcendent divinity, and yet reverent offerings and intercessory prayers are made at temples around the world. Islam is adamant in its monotheistic focus on Allah as One, and yet Sufis have emerged as a profoundly mystical expression and Muslims’ allegiance to Muhammed can provide a fierce prophetic expression. It seems to me that when the sacramental, prophetic and mystical elements of religion are balanced, they are all held within the Light of the rule of three.

But of course, the world’s religions do not always maintain a balance between their sacramental, prophetic and mystical expressions. This vision also provided a stark reminder of what happens when religious expression unravels outside its trinitarian bounds. Outside the circle, the transcendent strand becomes a warrior god, symbolized by the crossing swords of a bellicose god. The prophetic strand becomes worship of a human leader or institution as occurred in Nazi Germany. And the mystical strand devolves in one of two directions: into a dark and sometimes bloody passion or into the empty void of disconnected “bliss.” In any of these scenarios, religion becomes a force for evil.

After painting my vision, I had an answer to the question, “What kind of Christian are you?” was clear. I am a trinitarian universalist. I hold that God transcends the dualism of human thought through the interplay of three forces. It doesn’t matter whether we call them Mind/Body/Spirit or Creator/Redeemer/Sustainer or Father/Son/Holy Ghost or, as Anselm did in the 12th century, “Lover/Beloved/Love Itself. The mandala of the trinity holds all in the Oneness of Light.

Dona la Pace

Dona la Pace

imagesI’m one of that generation who came of age crawling under desks to prepare for nuclear holocaust and reading Nevil Shute’s On the Beach. The threat of immanent destruction has always circled just below the surface of my consciousness, periodically nibbling on my fingers and toes. So it caught my attention this week when my son posted an article from the New York Times on Facebook with a headline from Hillary Clinton, “I’m the Last Thing Standing Between You and the Apocolypse.”

It’s scary times we’re living in. The post 9/11 world is unraveling at the seams. We are arming rebel vigilantes in Iraq and have launched missiles against Yemen. Donald Trump seems prone to pull the trigger of our nuclear arsenal in response to virtually any provocation. The nightly news from Aleppo is evidence that there are no lengths to which humanity will not go in its self-righteous quest for power. And Russia has just recalled any citizens who are travelling abroad as a preparation for the possibility of world war.

Right now the space under my desk seems pretty darn inviting. I find myself fantasizing about where I might go to escape from Armageddon. Move back to the quiet isolation of Chebeague Island? emigrate to Canada? journey to the North Pole perhaps? I know, of course, that there is no escaping this one. In the next world war, there will be no corner of the planet left unaffected by its horrors.

Last night at Taize we sang over and over the haunting chant Dona la Pace, Signore. I want to pray for peace, for this country and all those caught in the path of war. I want to beg God to allow the cup of this crisis to pass. Indeed, my heart now makes these prayers with every breath I take. And yet as much as I wish we might avert warfare- and will do whatever is in my power to prevent our country from electing a candidate who feasts on retribution and combat- I don’t really believe in a God who chooses to answer or ignore such prayers, one who averts this war and wages that one.

We may dream of the Peaceable Kingdom, but the peace of which we sang last night is a different kind of peace. It’s the peace Jesus arrived at in the Garden of Gethsemane. It’s a peace like that of which Martin Luther King spoke the night before he died. It’s a peace that recognizes whatever chaos is reigning in our world, the love that is God remains the Ground of our Being. And with this realization comes a further understanding: my call at this challenging time is to avoid the temptation to crawl under that desk and instead to offer whatever peace I have to offer to those who cross my path. May it be the same for you.

 

 

 

 

 

No X-it

No X-it

 

fullsizerender On Saturday my Mandala Journaling workshop focused on Stage 10: Endings. Stage 10 mandalas are often marked with X’s, crosses or downward facing triangles. We are all many-facetted so some aspect of lives is always at stage ten. There is something drawing to a close, something we are needing to let go of, or a shifting in our consciousness.

In this mandala I did an experiment. There is something big that is drawing to an end and I’m not ready for it. I know the end has to come, but I’m hoping there will be a lot more time before that happens. So a I used markers to draw a big “X.” Then with oil pastels in the healing colors of green and turquoise I attempted to draw over it. The X did not go away, but life swirls around it and is somehow enriched by its presence.

I think there’s a message in there.

Wayfinders

Wayfinders

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I’ve just started participating in a group founded by Darreby Ambler called Wayfinders. Our purpose is to discern God’s call to us at this moment in our lives, to identify a specific goal directed towards that purpose, to create a map and action steps to make that goal manageable, and to form a support group to both inspire one another and hold us each accountable to our chosen way.

There’s a big goal looming over me right now, so big it seems almost overwhelming. On June 14 my novel Elmina’s Fire will be published through She Writes Press. The mandalas are painted. The manuscript is in. I’ve written an acknowledgment of all those who have made this work possible, especially those who have served as spiritual guides over the past forty years, the wise “Brother Noels” in my life. And I’ve dedicated the book “to those who have had to walk away from the spiritual abuse of church and to those who have chosen to stay in the hope of changing it.”

Now I need to develop what they call an “author’s platform.” That means that I have to step outside my introverted shell and put myself out there so that by the time Elmina comes out, there’s a group of people who know who I am. I’m being encouraged not only to maintain a blog but to give talks, write articles for e-zines, send out my manuscript for reviews and enter writing contests. They’re even suggesting I enter the world of Twitter.

ACK!!!!!!

As I worked with my resistance towards doing these things, I made an important discovery. It’s not that I’m afraid to write or teach or use the computer. I’ve done these things most of my life. What I’m really wary of is revealing my deepest self, the self revealed in the life of a sensitive, mystical medieval girl who is plagued by inner demons she’s afraid to confront. I do not really believe that it’s OK to bare my soul.

With this realization I could see that my Wayfinders Goal is more than just “to publicize and market Elmina’s Fire.” It is to dare to believe that it’s OK to share my heart and that Elmina’s Fire is my gift .

And that, I guess is the challenge that faces us all- to dare to come out from under that bushel and let our little light shine.

Not Every Circle. . .

Not Every Circle. . .

Unknown-1Did you know that every year a wonderful event happens in Grand Rapids? It’s called Art Prize and for three weeks every nook and cranny of the city turns into a museum. Last fall, the mandala painter in me wandered the streets and marveled at all of the mystical ways that artists and sculptors interact with the circle. I must have swooned one time too many, because my rationalist architect son let out a long sigh of complaint.

“Mom,” he moaned. “You can’t call everything that’s round a mandala.”

Well yes, he’s probably right. The hubcaps on my Subaru aren’t really mandalas, nor are the Regulator clock that ticks off the minutes since Peter’s last infusion and the drain that the plumber is installing in our soon-to-be downstairs bathroom. I’ve just returned from a week with my daughter and grandchildren, reentry is hard, and the mystical presence of mandala seems far away.

But then I catch a glimpse of the sun reflecting off Peter’s feathery hair, Abbie turns her round cocker spaniel eyes my way, and I sense a stirring within my heart. The fact is, I’ve never adhered to a sharp delineation between what is a mandala and what is not. In classes I define a mandala as any drawing done in reference to a sacred circle. I realize that all of life is filled with sacred circles. Those kaleidoscopic hubcaps have the power to take Abbie and me for a walk in the park; the unrelenting tick of that Regulator clock is a reminder to be grateful for each minute Peter and I have together; and even the drain the plumber is so carefully spackling will soon take away the dirt of each day’s endeavors so that we can start afresh.

It occurs to me that mandala is in the eyes of the beholder. And maybe yes, you can call everything that’s round a mandala.

 

Things Fall Apart

Things Fall Apart

 

Do you remember reading Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart in high school? The tragic effects of colonialism on an African village and the seeming inevitability of Okonkwo’s self-destruction have stayed with me for half a century. Back then I thought of it all as a “third-world” problem, unjust and unbearably sad but not really related to me.

After all, back then I lived a privileged life in a well-to-do Virginia suburb and didn’t even know I attended a segregated school. One afternoon I was riding my horse past a new housing development with a big sign that said, “White, gentiles only.” When I asked my mother, “What’s a gentile?” her only response was, “You don’t have to concern yourself with that; you’re one.” In my world of pillared brick houses, freshly-painted white fences, and neatly kept stables, I didn’t think I’d ever need to worry about things falling apart.

Fortunately, life happened. When I took a History of Science class at Wellesley, it hit me that the force of entropy threatens everyone, and it isn’t just about physics. The Civil Rights Movement and the War in Vietnam were in full tilt. As I grappled with their implications and my own inner demons, the world I thought I’d grown up in slowly gave way to something larger, more chaotic and far more abundant than anything I could have imagined as a girl.

I’ve just finished reading Paul Kalanithi’s exquisite memoir, When Breath Becomes Air. The author’s quest for the meaning of life and death leads him to a residence in neurosurgery only to be derailed by a diagnosis of stage-four lung cancer. “(B)rains,” he writes, “give rise to our ability to form relationships and make life meaningful. Sometimes, they break.” And yet it is in the breaking that Kalanithi finds many of the answers he had sought.

Jesus said, I’ve come that they might have life, and have it abundantly. This passage has been used to justify colonialism, a gospel of wealth and all manner of excess, but that of course is not how Jesus meant it. He meant  for us to know the richness of life lived within the breaking. He lived and died that we might come to trust in the abundance of life in the heart of God, particularly in those times when things fall apart.

On this sunny August day, nothing in my life seems to be hanging together quite the way I want, but somehow this morning I dare to believe him.

 

 

Half Way There

Half Way There

 

Back in the days before car seats and seat belts, my would parents would pile all four of us kids in the 1946 Ford convertible they’d miraculously received as a wedding present only a year after end of the War. Every summer, after the predictable fight over who got to sit in the front seat (won inevitably by sister who was the one most likely to puke), we’d set off for the ten-hour trip up US Route 1 that led to my grandparents’ house at Yelping Hill. The first few hours weren’t too bad. We’d sing Boola Boola and Aura Lee. We’d play license plate bingo and the billboard alphabet game. We’d divide up into teams and see which side could spot the most cows or tractors or red barns. But it was just a matter of time before these games would break down. There’d be poky fingers and accusations of cheating. One of us would scream, “I’ve got to go!” and then refuse to squat behind the bushes when my father pulled over. By lunchtime, my parents must have been counting the seconds until they could order drinks at our half-way stop, the Glasgow Arms.

The Glasgow Arms was the only restaurant my family ever went to, and it was a fantastical place. There were swords and muskets on the walls, and cannon balls in the corner. There were pictures of castles, and there in the dining room stood a full set of armor. I still remember both the relief and the disappointment when my father told me there was no mummified knight inside.

It’s funny. What I don’t remember is getting back into the car after lunch at the Glasgow Arms and driving the rest of the way to Yelping Hill. There must have been more songs and more games and more fights, but it could be that just the promise of being half way there lulled us into an altered state. Maybe we all just fell asleep, our bellies filled with hamburgers and the cherries from my parents’ double manhattans.

I know why I’m thinking about half-way points. Yesterday Peter went in for his fourth round of chemo. That means that we are now midway through this leg of his cancer journey- too far in to turn back, but not far enough for the end to be in sight. He’s weathered the dropping white blood cells, the trip to the ER, the hair loss and growing fatigue. He’s let go of all the activities and many of the interests by which he once defined himself. Some days his eyes are vacant; others they are filled with curiosity about what lies ahead.

And me? I watch Peter as he naps on the couch with our cocker spaniel, Abbie, at his feet. His face is soft in the sunlight with no trace of the tension that used to furrow his brow. Since this journey began, Peter has become more relaxed and free. I’m the one who has taken on the job of worrying, and I know that it is an unproductive task. It strips me of my soul’s equanimity and separates me from Peter. It’s a job I need to let go of. No doubt there will a more ups and downs before we reach the end of this journey, but for today, I’m going to try to take my lead from Peter. Perhaps on this second half of our journey I can join him in the sunlight, simply resting in the heart of God.

Today these things are true…

Today these things are true…

FOLmandala2Today these things are true:

Our dog Abbie’s soft fur is dancing in the sunlight streaming into our condo.

A gas fire is gently warming our living room, another reminder that early April isn’t quite springtime in Maine.

At LearningWorks thirteen students from Angola, Burundi, DRC, Somalia, Honduras, and Iraq summoned enough English this morning to share what they hope they’ll be doing in ten years.

Around her kitchen table, Nancy Beebe shared with me a piece of banana bread and her indomitable spirit.

I can almost play some Variations on a Theme from Tchaikovsky for another piano/organ duet at Clark United Methodist Church.

I’m making mandalas for the pastoral care team at Saint Luke’s to take to shut-ins.

We have tickets to see My Name is Asher Lev at Portland Stage this evening.

Peter is awaiting CT scan results to see how many spots his cancer has spread to.

 

Most of the time I know that this is also true: I have a choice about which of these things I want to give my attention to.

 

In the world of making mandalas, the downward-facing triangle signifies endings; the upward-facing one is a sign of beginnings and new endeavors. Those ascending Flowers of Life? They remind me that this day still abides in Life.

 

Easter Bells

Easter Bells

Great is Thy1What is that sound?
Easter bells, perhaps? The neighbor’s wind chime? Maybe it is someone playing music on bottles filled with turquoise water on a distant beach… somewhere warm where the wind tinkles and the sun shines and life is eternally joyful.
Ah, there we have it.
Eternal joy, the Easter promise, our hearts dancing like tinkling bells in the presence of What Is. No regrets. No laments. No wishing this or that were somehow different from the way they are.
Loving What Is.
Isn’t that how Byron Katie puts it?

In this first week of Easter, my thoughts shift to Paradise, where the lion ceases to be carnivorous and all the teeming conflict of being caught in a world of matter evaporates into dew- which does, of course, smell like nectar.
I try to catch a whiff.

But damn, my sense of smell is filled with other things… rotting kale that I found in the back of the crisper this morning, my own stale sweat, the smell of fear that never quite goes away. And other things too- peppermint oil and the sharp smell of chocolate, Abbie’s soft droppings that I dutifully pick up on our morning walks, the scent of Peter’s Old Spice on the sweater I borrowed for last evening’s rehearsal, the sweet perfume of the ten thousand things-
the scent of the Big Bang and the separation of yin from yang.

All waft together into a bouquet far sweeter than any heavenly nectar my imagination lets me conjure up. Perhaps this is all that is meant by Loving What Is.