Posts Tagged ‘a woman’s body’

The Brea(st/d) of Heaven

August 30, 2014

A group of girlfriends, including our priest, humbly shared Communion around a circle. One mother of three small children handed the consecrated bread to the woman next to her and said accidentally, if appropriately, “The Body of Christ, the Breast of Heaven”. Much laughter ensued. I was moved by the potential meaning held in her unintentional substitution for the word “bread” – it remains an unforgettable Eucharist.

I wonder what it is like to breastfeed from God, to experience mutual need and devotion, intimacy and sustenance unlike any other. Do I already? Could I intentionally?

My son’s favorite part of church is what he calls “God’s Dinner”. It may be because he gets to move his little legs and see lots of people on our way up front, or it could be that he gets a snack. I think, however, he senses something more is happening. He seems in sweet awe as he holds his two-year-old palms up to receive this spiritual food. He has a skip in his step afterwards. Back in our pew, he always asks for more.

I experienced breastfeeding my son as a kind of sacrament, an “outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace” (Book of Common Prayer). In the wee dark hours, more than calories was transmitted. “Take, eat, this is my Body, which is given for you.” (BCP, Eucharistic Prayer II) It wasn’t my grace that flowed; it was the purest of God’s love feeding us both, and a passing of Peace between mother and babe.

It is no small feat to feed a child from your own body multiple times a day and night for weeks, months or years. During the harried moments of raising a baby into a toddler, it was within the calm of nursing that I remembered the profound nature of the mother role and what a privilege it is. A lot transpired in the 12-inch world we created between us in our blue denim rocking chair. It was there that my son rolled toy dump trucks and excavators across my chest, it was there we chanted about Sita and Ram during my yoga teacher training, and it was there we gazed into each other’s souls and fell deeper and deeper in love.

I often wonder, as I look at my son, if God loves me that completely. There were a few days last winter when I found myself saying, “I’m not a good person” because I had been bitchy, ungrateful, impulsive, and negative. These are the moments when I most want to contribute to God’s kingdom rather than take from it, and yet, I need time at the Breast of Heaven in order to right myself. I need to be held, to connect my soul with God, and to feel loved despite my shortcomings, maybe even, inclusive of them. Then I can be nudged towards what could be.

In the Hindu scripture The Bhagavad Gita, Krishna, the charioteer and teacher, gradually reveals himself to the warrior Arjuna as the Divine and as Arjuna’s immortal Self. Near the end of the story, he tells Arjuna that he loves him, that he is dear to him. I found this so touching. Could God also be this Self within me offering tender love and forgiveness to my imperfect, small “s” self?  

When people say “God loves you,” it feels like fluff to me, until I give credence to God’s love as I experience it – a surrounding presence within which I “live and breathe and have [my] being” (Acts 17:28). It is a healing energy that works its way into the inner reaches of my heart. It is as if I were a nursing baby and whenever I cry for my Mother, or even make a peep, She is there. This there-ness, that’s love to me.

Do we wean from God? As happens in a breastfeeding life cycle, I know that I have received highly personalized-for-each-stage-of-my-growth Divine nourishment. Sometimes I wonder if it is time for me to stop asking God for so much, and give what I already have. I don’t think, however, that I will ever grow out of needing to hear about Jesus’ vision of justice or tap in to his meditative presence. Nor can I imagine being beneficial for my family and the world without continually accessing a power greater than myself.  

I’m heartened that when weaning a child, allowing him to continue becoming his own self, his need for his mother is no less strong, and her love for him is no less fierce and no less present. This, I suspect, is how it is with God.

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What must they be feeling?

February 9, 2013

I try to imagine what the families of the murdered Sandy Hook Elementary first graders are feeling. How are they surviving the vicious taking of their children whom they will never hold in their arms again? I stop far short of really opening my heart to the bottomless well of their pain.

When my husband and I married, my stepmother gave a toast on behalf of my late father. She said to me, his youngest daughter and someone who struggled for years to understand his love, that I would never know the depth to which my father felt my every joy and sorrow.  Indeed, I had never imagined that my Dad loved me in such a visceral way. Perhaps, then, his anger at the choices I’d made while growing up was born from the pain those choices caused me.

When I had my own child, I began to understand on a much deeper level what my stepmother meant. My baby son feels like a living, breathing part of me who is no longer physically attached to me (except when he’s nursing!) There is an energetic connection between us.   When he is away from me, a central part of me is elsewhere. My heart beats now in and outside of myself. When he cries, I ache.

At four months, when I clipped his thumb instead of his nail, and he began to wail, I sobbed as if I could feel his pain with him. “This is what she meant,” I thought.   At five months, when I had to leave him behind in the daycare room for the first time, I felt like I was leaving the core of my being behind, taking only the weeping outer shell of myself to work, wondering what I was doing.

It holds true on the joyous side as well – when my son laughs, smiles his wide-open grin, talks his sweet sounds, or beams with pride at his newfound ability to stand, my heart expands beyond measure. Being in his sunny presence is the most simple, pure joy I’ve ever known.

Our son is wholly his own, he loves his growing independence, and he is still part of me and my husband. Is this physical, emotional and spiritual connection because we (and God) created him, he grew inside me, he feeds from my breast, he snuggles his little body against mine, and rests his sleepy, curly head on our shoulders? I don’t think my Dad did much of that beyond help create me, but apparently he felt love for me at a profound level. Something I had never understood, until now. And something I thought was perhaps just true for mothers, until watching my husband with our baby boy.

When I told my mom about the thumb-clipping incident and surmised that these intense feelings for my son would lessen as he got older, she said no, they wouldn’t. Her five daughters are now in their 40’s and 50’s. They haven’t gone away. It seems that feeling another’s pain and joy as if it were our own is a lifelong part of parenthood.

Because of the tragedy of Newtown, I’ve wondered about the potential for unfathomable pain in loving my son so deeply. Will I lose him? I have friends whose children have died very young, their time together cut impossibly short. I’ve realized it could happen to anyone and could happen to me.  No amount of prayer or begging seems to make a difference. I tell myself there is nothing to do except cherish everything about him and be awake to each present moment. Let this “little Zen master” (as Jon Kabat-Zinn calls children in the home) teach me over and over about the preciousness of now, and impermanence.

The joy of being his parent is so great and the privilege of caring for his heart so tender, it is worth the horrifying risk of unimaginable heartbreak. Perhaps that is how the Sandy Hook parents are living through this nightmare, able to survive their grief because of the unforgettable sound of their children’s laughter, the physical memory of small, sweet arms wrapped around their necks, heart-filling pride at the little people their children already were at six and seven years old, and an all-encompassing love that continues.

A New Way Forward

March 14, 2012

I am 37.5 weeks pregnant. As I gradually become a mother to this growing babe and soul within me, my spiritual life has both deepened inwardly and been thrown off track outwardly.

I’ve only been to church a few times in the last nine months. I miss it, yet when I go to regular services, I wish it were different. Since taking part in this new creation, I want now more than ever to hear the feminine honored in church.

When I worship in community, I want to hear “Mother”’ as much as I hear “Father.” (I believe this would make a significant difference in how women are regarded politically, in this country and around the world. But that’s a topic for another day.)

Early in pregnancy and after reading Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon, I had a dream that the Mother Goddess, wearing khakis, came to visit me. In the dream I felt torn, as if I were abandoning the Christian God for the Mother. Doesn’t the all-encompassing entity I believe in include the Mother?

Some have said to me, “What a shame you can’t get past the words.” Yet the words I speak aloud in prayer or proclamation are important to me. Authenticity, especially in my relationship with God, is my lifeblood. It’s made me wonder if most others believe God is male or the words just don’t matter to them. I acknowledge that Jesus of Nazareth was a man. But beyond the span of that individual life, I don’t know. I hope Jesus Christ, the representative of God, is something entirely larger than mere male or female.

For Christmas, my brother-in-law gave me the New Zealand Prayer Book, an Anglican Book of Common Prayer that is intentionally and respectfully gender neutral. In the introduction, R.G. McCullough writes:

“We have gradually been compelled in our pilgrimage to start searching for ways to address God in language which is other than masculine and triumphal… Even new words are only a vehicle for the worship of God, so that we might reach for the things beyond the words in the language of the heart.”

My spiritual unmooring isn’t just about church liturgy. During pregnancy I’ve had to surrender control over my body to the mystery taking place inside me and to look there for God. During the first five and a half months of growing this baby, nausea kept me off my yoga mat, a sacred place that had previously helped me stay grounded and calm in my daily life. Once the nausea went away, I was able to resume a new kind of practice surrounded by 15 other round-bellied women one evening per week. Especially now that my days are quite busy preparing for my maternity leave from work, I’ve needed the permission to go within and connect with myself and with my baby.

I’ve been working on this posting for months, wondering all the while when it would say what I meant to express. I had a sense that I shouldn’t post it until after the recent WomanKind conference – a glorious, deeply meaningful day of 500 women exploring and celebrating their faith and their questions, led by wise female clergy and lay volunteers. Even while worrying about the impact of my changing spiritual places and practices, I’ve consistently felt protected by a power greater than myself and I knew that the day would hold answers for me.

Reverend Lauren Winner, Assistant Professor at Duke Divinity School and author of the beautiful Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, surmised in her closing WomanKind sermon that perhaps God was saying to us through the Exodus story, “You have already done more than enough. Now I simply want you to be with me.” Perhaps I’ve done enough in pregnancy simply by being a vessel for this Divine new creation. Perhaps now I can just be with God for the last weeks of this spiritual, physical and emotional journey.

Thankfully, when I meditate in the morning, God always shows, sits with me, and says to me, “It’s all going to be OK. I love you. I love that baby. I’m right here.”

This journey of pregnancy is almost over. Two more weeks to wait seems very long, though, now that my belly is big, my walk is slow, and my muscles ache. Yet there is still fat to add to my sweet boy’s body, cells still to develop in his brain, and tiny lungs that need more time to practice before they take their first breath of air.

Ten years ago, I took a Zen writing and painting workshop. During class, I drew an ink painting of a mother’s pregnant belly with a round melon-like baby inside. Along the curve of the belly, I inscribed a quotation from the Zen Buddhist teacher Dogen that reads “You should understand the meaning of giving birth to a child.”

I don’t yet, but I believe I’m on my way. When it comes time, I’m excited for my God-designed body to take over and birth not only a son, but a mother, a father, a family and a new way forward.

The Energy Between Us

April 18, 2010

A young woman recently told me she believes God is the energy between two people. Such wisdom and awareness! I appreciated the reminder that I must take responsibility for the energy I give to another.  
 
It isn’t easy. I quite regularly catch myself holding back or feeling competitive when interacting with someone new, as if the person across from me must prove herself trustworthy, before I will “love my neighbor as myself.”
 
The instruction, “So glorify God in your body,” (1 Corinthians 6:20) helps me in my quest to remain open-hearted in my interactions. When I allow God to course through my whole being – heart, mind, strength, and soul – I am much more able to extend “God-like” energy to others.
 
The yogi Paramahansa Yogananda writes in his mind-opening book, The Yoga of Jesus, “When one actually perceives the Divine Presence in his own soul, he is inspired with love for his neighbor – Jew and Christian, Muslim and Hindu – in the consciousness that one’s true Self and the Selves of all others are equally soul-reflections of the one infinitely lovable God.” (pg. 99)
 
Can I recognize God in another? Would I even try to see God in my enemy? What kind of energy would I create with her if I did? I find it hard enough to be conscious about my energy with those I love – to love them as completely as I would like to love myself. Therein lies the problem. If I love myself conditionally, I will love others the same way. Similarly, the judgment I feel toward others often reflects hostility within me toward myself.
 
In interpreting the gospel writer John’s account of Jesus speaking to a Samaritan woman (which a Jewish man at the time would not have done), contemplative priest Cynthia Bourgeault illustrates beautifully what can happen when two people recognize each other as Divine:
 
“Something he sees in her gives him the confidence to be so nakedly vulnerable; and something she sees in him gives her the confidence to follow his lead, to go higher and higher and deeper and deeper in herself, knowing far beyond what she could know from ordinary knowingness, knowing fully in the immediacy of her own heart. This quality of awareness is not something that comes from outside the moment. Rather, it grows up in the moment itself through the quality and energy of the heart connection.” (The Wisdom Jesus, pg. 11)
 
May we all give to each other and experience that kind of God energy.

Peace

April 5, 2010

Of all the devotion, betrayal, strength, fallibility, sadness, and glory I heard and read about during Holy Week, the line that moved me the most was this: “Peace is my last gift to you, my own peace I now leave with you; peace which the world cannot give, I give to you.” (The Book of Common Prayer)
 
I’ve written often about doubt and uncertainty on this winding path of mine. It is challenging, at times, to feel lasting peace about earthly matters such as money, love, work, health insurance, family misunderstandings, and social injustice. Yet, in the midst of all or any of those, I’ve come to recognize the kind of peace that is a gift from God – “peace which the world cannot give.”
 
This peace I feel in my body. When the core of me is open, breathing, and calm, my mind feels safe to follow suit. In this state, I trust the peace of the certainty I feel – certainty that it all means something and God is there for me to lean on. It is the deep peace of forgiveness after confessing “things done and left undone.” It is the peace of saying, “Yes, I do believe in this mystery that ‘passes all understanding.'”
 
When watching and participating in Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services last week, I had to acknowledge that I believe in what this sacred practice represents. Seeing my clergy dressed in black with their backs turned to the congregation as they prayed was incredibly moving for me. I believe in the underlying story. So I say the words; I sing; I kneel; I eat the spiritual food. On Easter, it sank in deeper.
 
The judgmental, exclusionary, violent, sexist, neighbor-against-neighbor interpretations of Christianity have made me wary of Christianity as a whole. I’m grateful now to be learning a profoundly different take on what Jesus was teaching and to have found an understanding of God’s kingdom that I want to be a part of.
 
My mind still asks, “Am I for real? Is this devotion to and worship of God coming from my heart or my head?” I trust my body when she replies, “Yes. This is real for me. I feel this deeply. It has integrity.” Writing about and saying “Jesus” out loud is, at times, uncomfortable for me, yet being with him in private always feels natural. When I meditate, I invite him to sit with me.  He offers his hands. I take them. This is complete peace for me.
 
What brings you peace? If you’d like to share your own practice, please do so.

Tree Lessons

March 16, 2010
One of my favorite magnolia trees in Richmond was cut down recently. She was an awe-inspiring momma of a tree – larger than the house she sheltered. Her canopy spanned the whole front yard and covered part of the roof. She lived on my street. When I asked a little girl playing on the fresh magnolia sawdust if the tree had been sick, she replied, “No, just old.” 
 
This weekend a friend and I went for a walk through Hollywood Cemetery. Normally, as I amble past the markers of people’s lives, I’m observing dates and calculating the lengths of lives lived. On Saturday, however, the trees consumed my attention – especially the enormous oaks with roots visibly growing out of the stone embankments of the cemetery.
 
I love that trees in winter, especially these grand old trees, feel no need to prove themselves. “Here I am” they seem to say, “naked, proud, and knowing.” Through them, I learn to trust nature’s cycle – even when they look dead, life is simply resting inside, waiting to reemerge.
 
A teacher once told me that the yoga involved in tree pose isn’t necessarily about holding perfect balance. Instead, it is about getting back in the posture with grace, patience and commitment, each time I fall out. 
 
On occasion in my coaching and women’s circle, I ask participants to practice grounding and taking up their rightful space in this world by embodying their favorite tree. They usually look at me a bit sideways. After some gentle coaxing, they set their skepticism aside that this could be at all illuminating. I ask them to feel their roots growing deep into the Earth and their branches reaching wide open, sky high or perhaps, in the case of willow, draping gently and gorgeously. “Breathe as your tree, let the wind and weather move you, feel your strength and your beauty.” Sometimes it works for them in the moment, sometimes not. It always works for me. Becoming a live oak centers me, calms me, and opens my heart.
 
In the brochure “The Method of Centering Prayer: The Prayer of Consent“, Thomas Keating writes, “The principal fruits of centering prayer are experienced in daily life and not during the prayer period.”  I hope that even if women feel a bit silly and self-conscious embodying a tree for three minutes, the effect is felt out in the world – in them and by others. I hope they are reminded of their own dignity, especially in the presence of “their” tree.

The Year of Love!

December 6, 2009

When my sister and her husband were starting to create their family, she declared to him, “This is going to be the year of sex!” (It worked!)

So, on my 41st birthday, I’m declaring that the year ahead is going to be the year of LOVE! And since love always works (even in those mysterious ways that we don’t quite understand at the time), I know it’s going to be a super-powered, super-fun, super-fabulous year!

I commit to you today that I will make good on my declaration by: contributing love to my community by sharing what I have… discovering and creating love through my work in myriad forms… loving my body and taking care of my heart… expressing selfless love for and experiencing fabulous love with a man (whoever he may be!)… and channeling love to my family and friends through prayer, encouragement, laughter and acceptance.

In yoga this morning, my teacher Kyra read a poignant story* about Mother Teresa’s choice to start serving the West and her reasoning that while we may not be starving for actual bread on any comparable level to the people of Calcutta or Bombay, we are starving for the spiritual food of love.

When she received the Nobel Prize, Mother Teresa was asked, “What can we do to promote world peace?” She answered, “Go home and love your family.”

So, today, this little missive will be shorter than usual because a) love – generating it within yourself and sharing it with others – is all you need, and b) I have to go get a birthday pedicure (lovin’ my toes!)

xo for your own coming year!

Making a place for uncertainty

November 16, 2009
As part of the “Women on the Edge of Evolution” series being presented (free!) by the team at New Feminine Power, I listened to an interview with the Zen Buddhist teacher Diane Musho Hamilton. She spoke of the necessity that we become able to hold opposites within us for living these paradoxes is what it means to be human.
 
I began to wonder if my arch nemesis – uncertainty – could somehow find a comfy home within me along side my yearning to know. Normally I try my damndest to make uncertainty disappear just as fast as it came deeming it wrong, harassing, and unsafe. Perhaps its presence isn’t so bad after all.
 
Another wise friend, who is entering into a potentially amazing or potentially heartbreaking situation with ease, said that she was “making a place at the table for uncertainty” because it was not hers yet to know the outcome. She was so calm. I want that…
 
Gracefully making space in me to hold both the excitement of new love and the fear of being abandoned… The tender and profound memory of my father’s last weeks of life and the agony of witnessing his journey towards death… A clear and cherished vision for a family and career while not knowing in what exact form either will unfold.
 
I feel repeatedly asked to say goodbye to one safe harbor, surrender to unpredictable seas, and become willing to land in a place that is perhaps different (and I believe always better) than my planned destination.
 
Allowing these paradoxes to live within me takes an enormous amount of courage. Sometimes I don’t think I can do it because the fear of failure and disappointment is too huge. Then I ask myself, “What if I give up? I will miss so much beauty. I might even miss a miracle.” 
 
The surety of life’s majesty makes me willing to hold it all and keep milking every last drop while I gradually accept the certainty of my ultimate death and of those I love.
 
As you live with your own internal paradoxes, I bow to you and my heart is with you. I would love to hear from you here or privately your own experience and practices with this aspect of being human.