Posts Tagged ‘meaning’

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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Conflicted, but not really

December 7, 2012

In a recent Sunday morning yoga class, my teacher invited “the presence and manifestation of truth and love” into the room. I like her teaching. She speaks cleanly, with conviction, of complex ideas that inform the larger meaning of my practice and how I may take the wisdom of my body into my life.

Lately, yoga is the 90 minutes of the week when I most consciously connect with God, perhaps because I’m able to slow down enough to feel God there. Being a new mother, I believe God is ever present, but I often think my son’s care, safety and happiness are all up to my husband and me. In class, I’m reminded of a larger force for good, available to help us with this monumental task, raising a child.

You likely know that I get pretty frustrated when God is exclusively referred to as “Father” and “He,” even though I recognize it is easier to use a masculine pronoun than none at all. Ironically, when I sense God near me in yoga, a “he” appears. Jesus, in fact. He’s usually sitting in lotus about five feet in front or to the side of me. He’s quiet and waiting, being present and emanating truth and love.

Perhaps this is Jesus’ way, showing up for me even when I repeatedly push aside the possibility that he could be a real and acknowledged part of my faith. I’m shy about even saying his name for fear of being misidentified as someone who uses Jesus as an exclusionary tool to separate the “believers” from the “non.”

Is my faith in Jesus an accident of geography? Was I just trying to fit into a traditional southern city the last few years of attending church and going to a women’s Bible study group (which I loved)? Or was God working on me? Is my imagination just choosing to see Jesus instead of some other image of God because he is such a part of popular American life? Would Mohammed appear during yoga if I lived in Pakistan? Does the fact that the question arises for me at all make me less of a Christian, if indeed I am a Christian?

I don’t know exactly what “Jesus is my Lord and Savior” means. It’s such a big (and often public) statement. Is it just easy to say to fit in with a church? I wonder what depth is behind that statement for others. I’m curious about their personal “being saved” experiences. Are their lives totally devoted to Jesus?

The thing is, I do think he’s real. I just feel I’m out on the intellectual ledge saying it. Though I have a hard time crediting him out loud (especially to my family), I believe this “presence and manifestation of truth and love” filled a long-term hole in my heart and made me ready for a lasting relationship with a kind and caring man. I do think he “saved” me.

I’ve wondered about the purpose of this blog post, of telling you about my Jesus dilemma. Who cares? Shouldn’t I be spending my time thinking about my family or my work? But in this short human life, what I think about and my relationship with God both matter to me. I also feel a need to figure out what I can say with integrity about my belief in Jesus because I would like to baptize our son. I’d like to ask for God’s blessing on him and promise to raise him in a spiritual home even though I believe he is loved and protected by God whether we baptize him or not.

There are a few people whose ideas about Jesus have made me think, “Whoa, this is something I can believe in.” I am not enough of a Bible reader or a theologian to have gotten there myself. What I know on my own is that I like Jesus’ vibe. He seems calm, deep and eminently patient – unless he’s mad about a social injustice. I like and respect that about him too.

And now that we’re headed towards Christmas and I’m listening to John Denver sing about the baby boy king and his own sweet little baby boy, I think, “Why not just let this beautiful, scientifically unproven magic be a lovely and meaningful part of my life?” I’d like to think that my New York Times-reading, Volvo-driving, Starbucks-drinking, liberal self could have an honest, tender and questioning relationship with Jesus.

Maybe he keeps showing up in yoga to remind me I can have that kind of relationship. And he’ll be there whether I can say his name out loud or not.

Experiencing Life Through You and Me

November 30, 2009

How could this be? Me? Writing about God all the time? I’m no God expert – I’ve got a million questions! Won’t I scare away potential clients? Shouldn’t I be talking about attracting true love, creating a fabulous career or manifesting the sexy, red, stretchy dress I want for Christmas? 
 
Is this authentic? How could I be so into God? Yikes… that makes me a little different than I thought I was going to be. You see, I grew up feeling shocked and mad that kids in my high school said I would go to hell if I didn’t believe what they did. “Well,” I thought, “That’s not too fair now is it? I’m 16! I’m not perfect, but I try to be a good person. What kind of God would send me and my loved ones to hell just because we didn’t go to your church?”
 
More importantly, why would I want anything to do with that kind of judgment and exclusion? No way! I had enough heartache to deal with as a teenager much less worrying about going to hell.
 
So here I am 25 years later… not totally sure I fit within the Christian church, not really matching the low-key vibration of a Buddhist path, loving the gorgeous Hindu goddesses while knowing nothing about Hinduism, and coming from a family who finds spiritual grandeur and truth in nature. Yet lately, when I sit to write this weekly email about what is on my mind and heart (that I hope will be of some use for others), it keeps coming back to something about God.
 
(Note: if this ever gets too preachy for you or I start sounding like the high school people I just dissed, you are always welcome to send me a note or to simply unsubscribe.)
 
The thing is… it’s all God for me. This whole exploration of the depth and breadth of self, the fullness of life, and the sweetness and heartache of love is completely intertwined with the spiritual aspect of living as a human in the world and on the Earth.
 
This weekend I watched a simple, little, funny movie called “The Answer Man” about a renowned spiritual “guru” who is also a cranky, foul-mouthed, lonely guy. People come to him for the answers that he himself is seeking. It is in an unexpected love for a woman and her son that he begins to feel his authenticity and his connection to God again.
 
From that place, he offers to his girlfriend this beautiful line, “You are here so God can experience the world through your eyes…Through you, He falls in love with the world all over again.”
 
That’s the little nugget I’d love to offer you this week. It reminded me that there is a reason for our being here in exactly our unique form – so God can experience the world through our eyes, our skin, our breath, and our hearts.
 
For every yummy glass of buttery Chardonnay God gets to taste through my lips, you may share a cold Heineken. For every new crush that makes my heart skip a beat, you may allow God to experience a mother’s wide-open love for her precious new baby. And for every ounce of human anger and sorrow God can feel through the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof’s description of injustice (ala this young man’s health care travesty), your passions may ignite a thousand different responses. 
 
This week, I invite you (and myself!) to try this practice on for size: Let God feel what it is like to be human through you, your love, your body, your emotions and your actions. Notice if and how life feels different and whether little things seem a bit more magical and sacred.  I’d love to hear how it goes.

Happiness, Meaning or Both?

September 21, 2009

When I worked in New York as a 23-year-old, I used to walk home through the West Village crying my eyes out. No one noticed. This was Manhattan before 9/11. I lived in a SoHo loft, went out with friends, saw countless downtown performances, and rode the subway to the Cloisters at 190th Street whenever I needed solitude and a park that didn’t have creepy dudes doing creepy things.

99% of the poetry I wrote during that time was sad. I knew that I was soul sick.
 
At 26, I escaped Gotham for Aspen. I didn’t know how to ski. I didn’t own a mountain bike. (Both soon rectified!) I had moved there to manage a dance festival, to be in the middle of immense nature and to live with nice people who said hello on the street.  When I volunteered for a community project and my team leader was strung out on coke, I knew I needed something even more than mountains.
 
I went to a small, dark church with about six other parishioners. The sermon was one that I will never forget. He spoke of young people’s pursuit of happiness instead of meaning; when, really, meaning is where it’s at. This was a huge relief to me because a) I wasn’t great at happiness, and b) meaning gave me an anchor.
 
Thus was born my exploration of life below the surface. 
 
Several years later, my oldest sister was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 43. The thought of losing her was more terrifying and incomprehensible than my whole meaning-filled being could stand. So, after much devotion to my soul, I changed gears.

Awareness of life’s brevity and the singular importance of love and family was a given during that time. Happiness however… was long overdue. Moroseness would do nothing to serve my sister. I vowed to make that six months the best of my life. The highlight was celebrating her recovery by inaugurating the Annual Bare Chested Boobie Romp (now in its seventh year!) Happiness… I was hooked!
 
While fun as hell, after a while of living in hedonistic pursuit, I came to know deep down that it wasn’t me. Not solely, nor soul-ly. I yearned for depth to ground my pleasure.
 
I’m not the life of the party, nor am I Ghandi. 14 years after that Aspen sermon and many workshops, therapy, coaching, yoga and pole dancing classes later, I’ve come to believe that my life is about both: happiness and meaning. 
 
Some of you lucky dogs may have been born with this wisdom. For me and perhaps others, it’s been a journey that couldn’t have been forced.
 
My Dad once told me in his backyard that I needed to “lighten up” (which I didn’t take kindly to!) Just before his death, he thanked me for the “pleasure of my company” after a road trip, just the two of us. I believe the shift was partly due to finally being my true self with him, and partly due to revealing a new self – one that has been hard won. I’m glad he got to experience her for a short while and I’m grateful that I get to live her now.