Joy…to the World

This is my last post of the year… without declaring what next year’s theme will be. I haven’t really tapped into any insight of what the next year will entail, so for now I will be silent about that. Anyway, to state that this “year of Joy” was anything but joyful is not definitive proof that I am a sadist or one who is incapable of experiencing joy. With all things I’ve asked of God, however, the truth of ” the themes” is always multidimensional. Also, not being one who is ever satisfied with a flimsy or shallow understanding of said “theme” (like a house built on sand) the effort to understand the deeper meaning of joy has taken greater energy and focus than anything else I’ve tackled on this journey. First, because I feel at its core the concept of joy is deeply misunderstood; second, because of my own imperfections and limitations; thirdly, because the concept of joy is so intimately intertwined into my particular belief system that it has been necessary for me to strip away what has been illusory and what is real about the joy that my faith brings. Boom. Head explodes.

The greatest fallacy I’ve discovered regarding joy is that it somehow comes from a place of sublime and almost ignorant happiness, that with axioms and idioms, joy becomes real, a fact. What this year has shown me is that true joy cannot be fabricated and is often most predicated on difficulty. Whether it comes from sadness, stupidity, pierced illusion, betrayal, embarking on a strenuous challenge, obstacles of every sort or simply boredom…Joy is that very thing that colors and transforms difficult or challenging moments when I choose to embrace them as seeds of possibility, nurturing them and seeing something blossom that turns into a beautiful and succulent fruit that comes with being rooted in faith, truth and love. Yes, I can see this as heady nonsense, so let me explain.

When the year began, I had already started to dabble in some arts and crafts (what I would call it) and then at the beginning of my year of joy, I consciously chose it as a mechanism to react to, and express the struggle I was having with understanding its true meaning. By that time my faith in reason, religious structures, leadership and later the countries response to a pandemic was already at a lifetime low. So I taught myself to draw (with the help of YouTube and family), to paint, to create jewelry that took all that negative energy and made it into something else, something that I felt joy from. The result was something that I didn’t foresee…I was actually good at it, and my own surprise that I was good at it was a revelation in itself that made me pause. I tried to take inherently joyful moments and ideas that existed outside myself and put myself into them: my son climbing a mountain, a butterfly, and exquisite stones and then created art including the blue laughing woman at the top of this post. I understood my surprise in this hidden talent was rooted in the second reason this journey of discovering joy was so difficult. Because, regardless of proof otherwise, at my core I fight against the belief that I truly am one of the least among us that Jesus spoke so poignantly about. No, this is not a pity party or cry for approval, it is simply recognizing and stating a belief that I’ve struggled the hardest to get rid of my entire life. Curiously, this year I found more success by learning to see this weakness as a future gift. And by choosing to see myself as one of the least among us, I’ve also become able to distinguish who the sheep and goats are in my life. So those of you who have chosen to treat me unlike Jesus would, I say good riddance, because even though you may think it is of little effect for a lowly one as me to treat any of you who righteously believe you are superior to me, as Jesus would, it offers me clarity of who really understands what those words truly mean. Your behavior toward “the least” is a measurement of how much you truly understand the gospel message. The gift that comes from thinking I am among the least, is that there is no compunction to create any falsehoods about who I am or hold onto any sense of superiority. I don’t have to pretend I’m better than anyone else because I already know I’m not. And those of you who do, are becoming so much more obvious about your true nature. Being “better than” is never and has never been part of what true joy really is…but kindness is, and mercy, and truth, and love, love, love is. Joy is also not synonymous with happiness, because some of my truest moments of joy this year, like the woman above, were colored in blue, in grief, and the sadness that comes from seeing things in a new light.

So when I say these words, in this season of light: “Joy to the World,” it is not only my wish that all of you discover the joy that comes through when we transform any moment into a future fruit, but that it is done by preparing room in our hearts for it, and seeing it through eyes of love, faith and truth.

When Clarity is Just No Fun

meBe careful what you pray for, a slight twist on the “wish” adage, but I am definitely feeling the strain of clarity, my prayer and commitment in 2016. Seeing the world with clear sight, isn’t always easy, I certainly am more empathetic to those who choose to live in their own private Idaho. Except there is too much at stake to live in illusion, the greatest revelation of my year so far. And so much fear…and anger…and lies…and blame…and, well it gets to be just too overwhelming. I hate being overwhelmed. I swell up like a beached whale (autoimmune issues…not the time for an explanation). So I’ve incorporated some practices that stave off the kind of soul-hyperventilation that can stop me in my tracks sometimes. Don’t judge, and feel free to start your own list.

  1. The first thing I do when I wake up is start my prayer, it was written by me and for me. That way I am tapped into an infinite source of love, in my own way and in my own words. I repeat this prayer many times during my day.
  2. I look in the mirror for my “Hello Dawg” it sounds silly, but clarity starts with me. I look at myself with and into my oversize eyes and welcome myself to a new day, flaws and all. Usually I’m naked, because then there is absolutely no illusion. I also have learned to never make a disgusted face, because if anyone else did that to me it would hurt my feelings, so why should I accept it from myself? I also know that I am so much more than the present physical form that I feel so limited by most days. (too many injuries)
  3. I sit in the tub and continue my prayer, for people, for clarity, for hope and love and anything else that comes to mind. My cat (the one we saved from Walmart) sits on the edge and just looks at me, loving to watch the water and safe in the understanding that I am a good human, one that would never get him wet.
  4. I do need a moment or two to check email and social media and become grounded in all the wonderful people that I have in my life. (Since my experience in a contemplative monastery, though very momentary, I can still be too solitary).
  5. I spend my working day in service, in my minds eye, I visually extend love to every person I come in contact with. It has taken years of practice, but now it seems mostly effortless. I never underestimate the impact of a momentary gesture of kindness. They always impact people deeper than we know.
  6. I B.S. better than anyone. It is part of my charm and why I am good at what I do. People are comfortable at our office, they are there primarily for healing, and safety and comfort is my number one priority.
  7. I find so many things funny. Life in a small town is so full of shits and giggles…also animal, mostly baby animal videos warm my heart and make me laugh. Exceptionally good/surprising singer videos make me happy cry…which is always a good boost in a particularly busy day. Anything with Amy Poehler, Melissa McCarthy, and Tina Fey keep me in belly laughs, as well as John Stewart. They are certainly people who I would want to keep me company on a desert island. YOU MUST LAUGH EVERY DAY.
  8. I cook. Because of all my health issues, it gives me joy to find recipes and transform food into the best of its potential.
  9. I study and read, every day without exception.
  10. Everyday I look back over my day, and then spend time in forgiveness, mostly to myself. I am a woman without filters, and sometimes regardless of my intentions, I hurt people I love. I may fall short of my own expectations and the expectations others have of me, but I never waver that my heart is always in the right place. Still there are days that it is hard and words of forgiveness make me cry.
  11. Lastly, I meditate on the journey I will take when I sleep. Dreams are very important to me and I think can teach us many things. I visualize walking with the powers of heaven into the unknown for adventure and insight. It really works, you should try it.

Of course there are many things in my everyday life that aren’t included here that are so very important and indicative to my journey that are for me alone. They are too personal to share, but are also the reason that I am who I am, and I never forget that.

The Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts

the whole is greater than the sum of its partsWhile this quote of Aristotle always inspired me whenever I felt overwhelmed or alone, frustrated with my own limitations and inadequacies…it also rendered me dissatisfied and disillusioned in my quest to be a member of that one great whole, or team that I could latch onto and add my small part to a much greater and more powerful transformation. While I’ve been a party to many groups in my lifetime, with the pledge to add my part to build something greater, also came the disappointment that comes with recognizing even the whole itself is horribly fallible. When the big picture starts to be a reflection of the the flaws of its smaller parts at a greater rate than the many gifts that are present…then its time to pick a new team.

In choosing clarity as my focus for the year, sometimes it means that we look at those groups that we are but a small part of. It is never easy, trying to be objective about a group that you’ve committed to, at least in theory, and asking these questions: Is the whole, the group that I’m part of really greater than its parts? Is it pulling the best of the many into an even better whole? Does it reflect the best of me? If you don’t like the answers to any of these questions, then it may be important to step away and reject the whole, in favor of just a solitary part. If the whole doesn’t embrace the best parts of me…even with all my flaws, its’ time to step away.

I could remain vague, but I don’t think that would fall in line with my commitment to clarity, and would leave you confused. So I say this: While my commitment to be an active part of the Body of Christ is as strong as it has ever been, I am leery of the the body that calls itself church as the primary means to create and keep the body of Christ functioning. Oh yeah, I said it. Remember, am making this claim. While I do see progress in the name of building the Body of Christ all over the world, the progress lies in the small parts and not the whole. I can give you a ton of individual anecdotes about people doing wonderful things…But when it comes to the whole? whew, those “bodies” are too much a reflection of people who look alike, think alike, and talk alike about what the rest of the world needs to do to be more like them, and what the “real” church has to look like.

So I call bullshit. If we are to really be a church, an expression of the Body of Christ and the Kingdom of God….then it has to reflect all of us, even the lesser parts (which will look different to every individual part who thinks they are so much more important, enlightened, and blessed than everyone else). It includes the wealthy and the poor, men and women, all ethnic groups and gender expressions, idiots and geniuses, the strong and the weak, the courageous and afraid, liberals and conservatives etc., etc. Because truthfully? All of us are fallible and fragile on our own. All of us need God, and not in all the same way. We do need each other to move ahead. But we need to use our best selves and allow others to be their best selves to do it. The Gospels are full of ways to be our best selves…when was the last time you walked in someone else’s shoes, not judged, gave out of need instead of excess, sold all you had, visited someone in prison, danced naked before the Lord..(ok, that last one is my favorite…you really should try it sometimes, it makes the other stuff so much easier to do).

And so comes the how. It is by God’s grace, and Christ’s essential commandment: Love the Lord your God with all your soul and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself. It may be messy. It may be hard. But it is what is required of us.

 

 

 

Clarity of Mind

clarityWhen I look forward to 2016, embracing an unhindered path free from the past, I want clarity of mind more than anything. The one thing about moving forward without baggage is that I am far more leery of grabbing onto anything that will weigh me down. At this point, the beliefs I carry with me are no strain; I take Jesus as his word when he says my yoke is easy and my burden is light. I am to love others as he loves me. Grace has filled all my empty nooks and crannies, so that love should be easy too. Except when its not.

So clarity of mind is what I pray for. I want the ability to see through all the rancor and the guile, and see the goodness in each moment. I want to push through layer after layer of subterfuge that buries the truth beneath power and attempts to beautify the evil that lies at the center of so many of today’s problems that would poison us against each other instead of becoming the body of Christ we were meant to be. I pray for the kind of ears to hear and eyes to see that Jesus spoke about and allow no one, regardless of how rich and tempting, to deceive my eyes and ears otherwise.

So, clarity of mind is what I ask for. For then I can wield the power of love as God’s greatest weapon against the growing darkness in the world.