Posts Tagged ‘love’

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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“One Small Year”

April 2, 2013

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The evolution of self doesn’t end. I thought I had done a lot of it, but now that I’m a mother (12 months to the day,) something fundamental in me has changed, deepened. My heart feels broader. On Shawn Colvin’s album “Whole New You” which she released after becoming a mother, she sings, “One small year… It’s taken all of me to get here.” The first year of my son’s life has indeed taken all of me and more, a good bit more.

Through the ups and downs of gaining a new equilibrium, I’ve become a better person. Perhaps only perceptible to me, but I feel more whole and more humble. Because of my immense love for son, I’ve surprised myself with the level of selflessness and responsibility I’ve been able to sustain. While I’m far more caffeinated, scattered, overwhelmed and quick to resentment, I’ve also experienced far more joy than I’ve ever known before.

Strangely, during this most precious year of my life, I’ve felt less connected with God. I don’t have a lot of time anymore to sit with God in silence, yet I’m also pretty sure God has been powering my mothering. There is no way I could have done this on my own.  Perhaps this year was more about doing God’s work than feeling God. Even though, every single day, I am amazed at and indescribably grateful for the gift we have been given from the Lord Almighty.

Recently after a particularly challenging week of our baby son being sick at the same time my husband was working nights, I sat on my yoga mat and didn’t do anything except breathe and “be”. I was relieved and grateful to set down my screw-ups for a few minutes. I felt calm, strong and myself – the me that exists underneath all the striving to be a good mother, wife, leader and employee. The me that needs a break sometimes. The deep me I’ve always been and the one I’ve become over the past year. These few moments were a respite from thinking I need to be anything other or more than who I really am.

My dad told me once during a difficult life transition to “lighten up,” and not take myself so seriously. Last year comments in an anonymous work survey said that my “intensity” might be intimidating for others.  My sister likes to tell me to “relax!” While it is still a beast I battle, motherhood has lessened my perfectionism, and I’m grateful to be easier on myself and others. I do, however, like the part of me that takes my life seriously. I consider my time on Earth, and with those I dearly love, to be short and precious. I know that my way of being and what I write about isn’t comfortable for some, but I’m not sure I can or want to change that part of me.

I will acknowledge, though, that one of the most wonderful things about motherhood is that around my son, I “lighten up” naturally. It comes without effort. He is so joyful and so much fun, I can only respond in kind. Sometimes the tables are reversed, he needs me to be that way first. And… he thinks I’m hilarious! So I milk it and I love it. I enjoy the fun part of me. It is my husband who is really the funny one in our family, but my son laughs at my jokes and slapstick comedy as if I’m the funniest person on Earth!

Becoming a mother and a wife have been the two largest “need to step up my game” events of my life. Despite the saying that we are all replaceable, I don’t believe we are all interchangeable. There is something I’m supposed to give my son, my husband, and the world that only I can give. These two people I love the most make me want to become the very best me I can be.  Working motherhood doesn’t leave a lot of time for all of the supports I used to use to de-stress and center myself, but I have learned that it is essential to make time for those that most influence my ability to be loving and happy for my husband , my son and myself – yoga, meditation, prayer, listening to others’ spiritual journeys, and writing. I like myself more when I love them well, or at least try.

This piece doesn’t feel too polished or quite finished, and I’m not sure I’ve accomplished Benjamin’s Franklin’s “write something worth reading,” but it is my baby son’s first birthday and I have to sweep before his party. I just wanted to acknowledge my gratitude for this sweet boy and my amazement at this “small year” by posting today.

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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.

Because it’s important

June 19, 2011

I was sad to learn about the recent passing of Mr. Beverly W. “Booty” Armstrong, one of the first people I met in Richmond and someone who made a lasting impact on me. During my rounds of informational interviews, a potential employer suggested that I speak with Booty about his work with the Virginia Performing Arts Foundation – at the time, the Foundation was raising capital to renovate and expand a historic downtown theater. I asked what motivated him to become involved with the project. He replied, “Honestly, I would rather be at a football game than watching a performance, but I do this because it is important for Richmond.”

I’ll never forget that straight-shooting and honest statement about why he was doing what he was doing. As I came to know my adopted city, I found Mr. Armstrong to be among a generation of Virginia gentlemen who cared deeply about the community in which they built businesses and raised their children, and who hoped it would continue to be a city in which their grandchildren would want to live and work. (I mention the men because at the time, they were more visible in corporate leadership than equally- involved and -philanthropic women.)

While meeting with this slightly intimidating yet humor-filled man, he also said to me, “You’re quite comfortable talking with wealthy people, aren’t you?” I was taken aback, and hoped I had not been so informal as to be disrespectful. I had just moved from Aspen, where people of different socioeconomic levels mixed on a daily basis, mostly on a recreational level. Friendly, real interaction with people of wealth who cared about their community as I did had been integral to my eight years of non-profit fundraising in that town. However, there is always deference involved when asking someone to invest their hard-earned money in the common good. Even while I firmly believe that it takes many people playing different roles to create good change in the world – those who ask for funding, those who provide it, and the experts and participants who use it to make change happen – I still find it humbling when donors say yes.

I only spoke with Booty a handful of times after that exceptional first meeting, and I hadn’t seen him for several years. However, he continues to be a role model for me in his commitment to issues he considered critical for the health of this city. I suspect we had different political views, but I’ve been repeatedly surprised by the ways that we in this town can come together to work for what is important.

I do my work primarily because I care about creating equal opportunities for people who do not have them. I also do it because I feel affection for this old, traditional, southern city: a city with injuries so deep they will always be felt, and at the same time a city with promise so great it has yet to be fully realized.

Richmond, along with many other high-poverty urban areas, has problems that are too large for us to solve on our own, either as individuals or as small groups. I think these are problems that require God’s help to solve. But I also believe God wants us to give it our best shot, and at least try before depending on divine intervention to cure our ills.

During my workday, while driving from meeting to meeting, I’ve begun asking for knowledge of God’s will for our community and for God to grant us the power to carry it out. While sitting at a table with colleagues who are working towards a common goal, I sometimes ask the Holy Spirit to come into the room with us. I’m not sure it works, but I sense that my own will relaxes and I become open to our creating something greater than any of us can envision on our own.

I will miss Mr. Armstrong’s presence in this city. Though I didn’t know him well, I believe his big spirit and his example will live on as the rest of us continue to care for this place we love.

On Becoming a “We”

February 14, 2011

“The mystery which unites two beings is great; without it the world would not exist.” -The Gospel of Philip, Analogue 40, as translated by Jean-Yves Leloup

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to get married, to become a “we.” It’s already starting to happen. I am still an “I” and I am also now part of a “we.”

Recently I faced having to make a four-figure repair to my 11-year-old car. Upon hearing the shop’s estimate, I wanted to retreat to my room, shed some financial-worry tears, and figure out – on my own – how I was going to pay for it. But sitting on my couch was the man who loves me, waiting and willing to be there for me. I felt so strongly the urge to turn and leave, to be alone in my fear. Instead, I walked toward him, and he reached out his arms and held me. Then he helped me reason things out so I could make the best decision for me and for us.

I’ve spent many years thinking about “I.” Who am I in a family of five sisters? What’s best for me in my career? How do I take care of myself – mind, body and soul – on a daily basis? There is a tradition in some 12-step programs that reads, “Our common welfare should come first; personal progress for the greatest number depends upon unity.” My understanding is that we all win when we put the “we” first.  My fiancé’s 100-year-old grandpa gave us similar advice for our marriage, based on his 68-year experience of shared life with the one he loved. He said that after we say our vows, everything that affects one will also affect the other. I feel myself becoming more careful.

I’m not losing myself or discounting my own needs, rather I’m gratefully discovering what it is like to hold our union as precious. I feel self-full and a little more selfless at the same time. I’ve also decided to add my beloved’s name to mine after we marry. For me, the symbolism is powerful. “I” and “we.”

There is a mysterious connection growing stronger and more fluid between us. We’re growing a “we” and it is a deliberate and beautiful process. I hope this contemplation and practice of “we” in my relationship will also inform how I am in my family, at work, and in the world.

Joy!

December 13, 2010

I’ve recently come to trust, without a doubt, that God cares about my immense joy. I believed that God would care for my heart with solace, healing, and happiness. What I didn’t quite get, until now, was that God could and would blow my mind with totally unearned levels of grace.

Last Saturday, my beloved boyfriend bent down on one knee and with tears in his eyes, asked me to marry him. And of course I said YES! To know that the man I adore loves me enough to want to spend his life with me… well, it is a profound feeling. When I look at his sweet, handsome face, I am so hopeful about our life together.

I owe God my humility and a huge dose gratitude for bringing into my life someone who fit my soul. I love being alone, yet he has become an integral part of my life and with him, I feel more joy and more peace than I’ve ever known on my own.

As some of you are well aware, I am almost always late, and at the same time, not terribly patient. I believe that despite my periodic emotional questioning as to when my turn would come, God knew that waiting would be oh so good for me. I’ve grown in my capacity to love. I’ve become more whole, whole enough to now merge with another.

I’m convinced that God orchestrated this waiting for just the right man, just the right me and just the right time. I want to say thank you to the Big Powerful Heart for loving me that much.  

And thank you too for being with me on my journey through this blog, and for being out there in the world, vulnerable in your own way.  

When I look at my ring, I feel our love has been there all along. I believe we are meant for each other and that is why it feels so good and so easy to be with him. He is kind to me, even when I send him seven emails about our wedding after he’s worked a 36-hour shift.

Word has it that marriage is hard and the statistics aren’t good. I hope, though, that ours will be filled with wonder and laughter. Now more than ever before, I understand the yearning of same sex couples to marry. This feeling of saying “yes” to formally and reverently binding my life with that of my beloved… anyone who loves another should be able to take this step.

Twelve months ago on my 41st birthday, I declared it would be the Year of Love. Indeed it was, and with more to come! My sweet man’s proposal proved to me that sometimes good things, the things I want more dearly than anything else, really do happen.

Choosing Love

August 17, 2010

I find it so easy to hate from a “righteous” place. I’ve done it a lot. I do it still. Just the other morning at 7-11, I felt it looking at a Time Magazine cover photo of a young woman whose nose and ears had been cut off by decree of the Taliban.

I hate the Taliban, what I know of the Taliban at least. When I indulge in my fury, it gives me a little high to feel so strongly about something; then I crash with frustration at the realization that fury alone won’t change anything. Upon hearing about a crime against humanity such as the butchering of the Afghan woman, I feel hate grip my mind, body and heart.

Many people who work to right social injustices find their fuel in anger, yet at what cost and to what end when that anger boils over?

Hate against hate does nothing for the world. Hate doesn’t conquer inequality. Hate won’t change the minds of those I disagree with. Hate will do nothing except burn me from the inside.

Constant rage is not sustainable in a human being. It seems to me that hate-filled bodies are more susceptible to disease of the same “angry” nature. Similarly, I think the degree of fervent hate in the world and our own country is growing to a level that is unsustainable. Just like a 105 degree summer day with 90% humidity is often broken by a massive thunderstorm; at some point, hate will crash.

What will we have left? I imagine the shredded, burned remnants of what it once meant to live in community. Maybe though, after the crash, we’ll be able to start again. If one person can remember what it is to love.

One of my heroes, Morris Dees, founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, knows a lot about hate, having fought legal battles against white supremacist groups for more than 40 years. The SPLC has documented 932 known hate groups currently operating in the United States; 22 of them in Virginia.

I received an email from the SPLC that ends: “People of goodwill can make a difference in the fight to expose organized racism and hate in our country. Remember to be an advocate for justice and speak out against hate wherever and whenever you see it.”

I added my name as a “voice for tolerance” on the SPLC’s “Stand Strong Against Hate” map. What will it do? I think it is a small, public way to speak out for a different world – one moved by care for each other.

Rob Bell writes in Velvet Elvis, “The goal here isn’t simply to not sin. Our purpose is to increase the shalom in this world.” He defines shalom as God’s goodness. I believe that goodness is expressed as love.

A few days ago I lay on the floor under the ceiling fan trying to get cool. My boyfriend was sitting across from me. As he spoke, I wasn’t really paying attention to his words; instead, I was watching the crinkle of his eyes when he smiled and thinking how happy I am with him in my life. Lately, I feel filled with love, and while I feel blessed to experience it, I believe love is also a choice.

I’ve heard many times the expression that “hurt people hurt.” I would reason then that the moment-to-moment choice to fill myself with love or hate has a direct impact on the world and others around me. In the face of so many social issues that get my ire up  (way up!), I pray that I may choose my response carefully lest I add to the problem instead of help to alleviate it.