Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Blessing of the Crone: Beyond talk of Motherhood

As the heat was turned up here in the Pacific Northwest today, we turned our calendars to the month of May.  It is a month that I greet with mixed emotions.  I have for many years now.

Walking into the stores, turning on the television, browsing the status feeds on Facebook or unfolding the weekly paper, we are greeted with reminders that the day is quickly approaching when we will celebrate those who are able to conceive and give birth.  I am well aware that this day, this month, this holiday has different meaning for different people.  I know the history and the way the day has taken shape in recent years.

For many, Mother's Day is a time of celebration.  For some a time of grief.  For others a day that brings up difficult memories and shines light on unhealed wounds.  For some it is a reminder of how far along the journey towards healing they have already come.  For many it is a day of remembrance, reconciliation and pondering.  For me, it is blend of all of the above.

This evening I joined a group of women to discuss a book by Marion Woodman -- Dancing in the Flames: the Dark Goddess in the Transformation of Consciousness.  One thread of the conversation examined the striking differences between how our elder women were viewed in ancient societies, (and are still in some cultures today) and how they have been viewed by western society over the years.  Woodman uses the term "crone"  reaching deep into our collective consciousness to retrieve an ancient definition -- a wise woman, in the midst of reconnecting to the earth, to nature, to the Divine, to herself and to all of humanity.  I was blessed to find myself in the midst of a group of wise, elder women, several of whom have embraced the term crone with gusto as a term referring to themselves.

I am deeply grateful for this elder age group.  While many of my contemporaries, and those within a decade of me on either side, are wrapped up in the world of mothering, the crones and I are in a similar state of being.  We are both in the realm of self-examination.  We find ourselves contemplating and redefining old dreams.

In some ways, between my the miscarriages of my children over a decade ago, and my thirteen years as a nanny, I feel a bit like my years of "mothering" have drawn to a close, despite my age.  That season of life is not a present reality.  I have much more in common with the women with silver hair than I have in common with my own age group.

Although my heart sometimes still aches for the season of mothering, I am finding myself more and more content to simply be.  I am in an in-between time.  And I am thankful for the women who have come before me. I am thankful for the communion of the wonderful crones.


You know my heart of hearts, my internal wrestling, and the stretching that has come in my identity over the last decade.  I offer all that I am, and all that I desire, to the wisdom of Your competent hands.  I trust that You will continue shaping, stretching and molding me in every stage of life.  

Thank You for the presence of precious crones in my life.  Thank you for the comfort that they bring.  Thank You for their wisdom.  Thank You for the way they reflect Your light.  You shine through their hearts, their eyes and their silver hair.  When they speak, I hear Your voice.  For all of these gifts, the blessings of the crones, I am deeply grateful.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Ah, Tax Day!

Last night I found myself standing in the procrastinator's line at the post office.  The majority of the people who were mailing in their checks for the state department of revenue wrestled with the stamp printing machine, trying to figure out what kind of printed stamp to buy in order to receive the "postmark" of the 15th of April.  Three different people tried three different options, running up small bills on their credit cards before they figured out which option was the correct one.

As the line grew longer and began to snake around the lobby, one might have expected an attitude of grief or anxiety to pervade the atmosphere.  A funny thing happened, though.  Among the folks waiting in line as the seconds turned to minutes and quarter hours and so on, jokes about the drabness of color on the walls or the need for a clown or balloons began to bubble up.  No one was impatient with anyone else.  And when the discovery was made regarding which option was necessary to get the date printed on the stamp, great rejoicing erupted.  The person who made the discovery, (with the help of at least three other people looking at the screen with them) was so delighted that they had finally figured out the system, they stayed to help nearly half a dozen other people behind them so the process could move faster from there.

We discovered that you had to buy three stamps at a time, so those who had only one or two envelopes that needed the date-stamped postage shared with those who had been standing in line behind them.  Wishing one another a "happy tax day", we worked together to lift one another's moods and each person in the line helped the person or two behind them to navigate the silly machine.  I was struck by the presence of the joy and compassion in that small, whitewashed government office.  Christ is sometimes found in the most unlikely of places.  For me, on tax day, Christ was found in the little post office in my hometown.

Ah, Beloved,
You have a way of popping up unexpectedly.  Your Spirit of compassion is present in places we might not think to look for Her.  Surely you surprise us with your grace when we least expect it to come our way.  During this Holy Week, I pray that everyone might catch a reflection of You in our fellow human beings, in the love of our animals or in the glory of your creation.  May we all be captivated by your Spirit of grace and compassion, and may we strive to make Her presence felt more palpably everywhere we go, in Jesus' name, amen.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Offering - Lent 2014, Week 1

Gracious Creator, I am no longer my own but yours. Put me to what you will; rank me with whom you will. Let me be employed by you or laid aside, exalted for you or brought low. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. (from John Wesley's Covenant Prayer)

Tonight, I am meditating on these words and wondering about the implications of praying in such a way.  Are we able to honestly pray these words?  Do we invite Divine to truly shape and mold us?  Do we truly desire to be like the One many of us know as the Christ? Are we willing to be laid aside, brought low and to become completely empty of ego and self-seeking?

It's easy to pray for half of these things -- to invite abundance, exaltation and fullness. That, however, is only part of the prayer.  To walk the Lenten road -- to invite times of unemployment, times of scorn or rejection, times of emptiness, loneliness or darkness without turning away in fear is to open ourselves up to the rest of the story.  In many spiritual traditions, the faithful are invited into times of fasting, meditation and prayer. 

My husband’s tribe, like many of our Native brethren, sends young men (and sometimes women) into the wilderness to learn their spiritual calling, to develop their courage, to conquer fear, and to open themselves up to adulthood.  Food or drink is limited or cut-off before the journey, and the seeker becomes a finder of themselves and Divine.  When they return, a feast is prepared, and initiation rituals commence.  They often receive a new name as they sing the song that they receive from their guardian(s) and enter the fullness of adulthood. 

Likewise, our tribal friends in Mexico participate in times of fasting from certain foods and activities as they prepare to journey to sacred sites asking for wisdom, guidance, healing and help that they can bring back to their people.  Pilgrims along the journey often encounter strong resistance both from inside themselves and from forces of nature as part of their learning and strengthening.  This is true for many of our ancestral traditions throughout the world.

Despite the ancestral invitation to participate in such emptying, I admit that I struggle to pray in this way.  It is difficult to invite Divine Love to compress me into something that feels makes me feel useless, laid aside or empty.  It seems counter-intuitive.  This prayer and the practice of fasting and releasing our own desires is certainly counter-cultural.  It certainly strikes a blow to our ego when we intentionally invite blank space into our existence.  We must face our fear that tells us once we completely release what we have, offering everything into the hands of the One who gave it in the first place, we might not ever get it back.

Ah, fear - that four letter word prevents many a devout person from entering into the depth of Relationship they so desperately long for.  I am far from alone in this struggle.  It is a cultural reality in this “self-made-millionaire” society.  Fear is everywhere, but it often wears a mask.  We all have our secret fears.  One of mine is the fear of becoming useless.

I desire to impact others for the better.  I desire to help.  I desire to do.  I desire to become someone of significance.  I do not want to be forgotten or cast aside.  I do not want my mind to cease remembering or my body to cease functioning.  I do not wish for my voice to be taken or for my comprehension to become muddled.  And I recognize that each of these statements, even those with seemingly beneficial intent, there is a propensity towards fear.

As I consider all that I have written thus far today, I return to the prayer.  Are the words of John Wesley more than I can pray tonight?  And yet, the closer I draw to the One I call "Beloved," the more intensely I hear the invitation to pray this way echoing in my soul.

Maybe I long to pray this gripping prayer because I long to trust.  I want to trust.  I want to believe that, should any of these things ever happen to me, I would not truly be cast off or ignored or rejected or forgotten.  Do I struggle to trust God, or do I struggle with the trust of God's people?  Although the two are often linked, they are not at all the same.

I want to trust that my worth is not inherently wrapped up in what I do.  I want to trust that I will continue to be loved and valued even when I can no longer contribute to society in the ways I am used to.  I deeply desire to see Light and Love flowing so freely through your peoples that no one would be afraid to pray these words.

You know my fears.  You know my longings.  You know how deeply I desire to connect with You.  Every day I yearn for more of You, and every day I wish to offer You more of myself. Perhaps one day I will be completely willing and able to pray Wesley's prayer.  For now, I trust that You meet me where I am, and somehow I feel that my desire to pray is as pleasing to You as the actual prayer itself.  I am grateful for your Love and I long to bring You joy.

Friday, January 24, 2014

My Daddy is Dying

It seems so strange to type such a title for a blog post.  I haven't posted in a while, despite spending much time at the computer.  I told myself it was because I had other things to do.  That was partially true.

This month, however, a reality check came in the form of a note about my dad's last doctor's appointment.  And this week I have been ill, so have had a few days at home by myself to reflect and to realize how much I have been running without realizing it.  Last night while I was at home with the kitties, I found myself overwhelmed with sadness.  I finally broke down and sobbed.

I have known for a while that things were changing.  I know that my daddy's mind has been swiftly leaving him.  Moments of clarity and recognition are getting further and further apart.  The formerly egregious extrovert that used to greet total strangers in the store with great delight has turned inward -- now hardly able to engage in even a simple conversation with his closest family members.

My heart was nearly cut in two when the news of his body's loosing battle was announced a couple of years ago.  I packed up my husband and cats, wrapping up seminary with a shorter degree than I had originally set out for, and moved back to our childhood town so I was sure I would have some time to be with my daddy before the final day came.  This past year has been a gift, even if it has been filled with gut-wrenching sobs over the news of dementia settling in.  We are pretty sure that the treatment for the original illness has increased the speed of this mental decline exponentially.  It may have even caused the dementia.  Which is worse -- the original disease or the side effects of the treatment?  Both cause death of one kind or another.

Now, a brand new cruel beast threatens to steal my daddy away.

I do not know what to say in my prayers.

I have talked, a bit, about my daddy's decline.  It is very difficult to talk about.

The feelings are so raw and the reality so strong that the words get caught in my throat.

People are uncomfortable with silence.  As I am struggling to formulate my thoughts, attempting to find words, they often fill the silence with their own.  When I do find the boldness to speak, their discomfort becomes more evident.

They shift in their chair.  They look away.  They find something in the room that needs tending or they change the subject or fill the remaining silence with empty platitudes.

Sometimes they shift the conversation so that it focuses on a grief they have experienced in the past.  They may well be trying to sympathize, but somehow their grief becomes the focus of the conversation.  My feelings get lost -- fading into the background like something unwanted, unloved.

I do not fault them.  They just don't know what to do.  They think they must say something.  They don't know how to sit in the presence of pain.

The pain of watching someone you love battle an illness that is slowly eating their body away is horrendous.  Seeing the very same person's mind slipping like sand through your fingers on a windy day is worse.  This pain is present every day.  Sometimes it is a dissonant background note in the seemingly large orchestration of everyday life, and it is easily ignored.  At other times, the pain arises as a solo, demanding full attention, center stage.

Today it is the latter.

Death makes people uncomfortable.  Grieving, even more so.  Few people know how to be with someone who is watching a loved one die.

My daddy is dying.  Fast or slow, death is surely coming.  I am distressed; and I feel utterly alone.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Morning Coffee


Today the sun shines brightly here in the Pacific Northwest, and the wind cuts cold, slicing through  the hand-made cap upon my head, finding just the right pathway through the neckline of my jacket in order to touch that shoulder that aches a bit when the seasons change.  So, I bundle up a little tighter, pour myself a cup of coffee and wrap up in a thick blanket to sit on the patio rocking chair to listen to the birds sing the last few praises before they travel south to avoid the winter storms.  I can see my breath.  Steam from my coffee fogs up my glasses.

Breathing in deeply, I feel the cold air rush into my lungs.  It remains there, pausing for a long moment, growing warmer as oxygen moves into my bloodstream.  Taking its place, the toxins, the used energy, are returned to my core.  The chill has completely dissipated.  I exhale slowly, wondering if you can feel what I feel, and see what I can see.

My Morning View - Photo by Trista Wynne
The branches of the trees in the green space are now exposed.  Waving proudly in their nakedness, they are not ashamed.  If only I could be so bold!

My lips have lost their moisture now - stolen by the frigid wind - that rascally thief!  The warm liquid soothes them, if only for a moment.  My coffee is losing its comforting properties to the same bandit that wicked away the softness of my skin.  I do not care.  I am here with you.  For this moment, that is enough.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Vacuuming, Planting and the Intangibility of Ministry

In the last couple of months, a good portion of my time has been dedicated to helping to develop a contemplative prayer service on Wednesday nights in my worship community and aiding in the guidance and supervision of religious development of senior high youth in an inter-religious fellowship.  Online development of blogs, social media networking and the planning and implementation of worship services all take time.  The effectiveness of this spent time, however, is not always able to be quantified or evaluated.  The support of ministry is somewhat intangible.

During this time frame since my weekday job came to an end, I have used a large portion of my time in soul-searching, the tending and healing of old wounds, evaluation of my intended career pathway(s) and filling out applications and online inquiries for job postings that look like they may be fulfilling for me.  Since I have not yet found a position that fills these weekdays, much of my free time has gone towards housekeeping and self-care.  Just as the support ministries listed above, neither of these things are really able to be evaluated.  Although a clean house is nice, it doesn't stay that way for long.

While vacuuming this morning, my soul once more was directing its attention to our Creator.  I was inquiring about the direction in which to travel to bring economic security to our household (although my husband is working full-time, I need to bring in at least a partial income to supplement what he provides while I await my ordination and, hopefully, full-time ministry work).  Continuing in my housework, I simply watch and wait on the Beloved's response.  The Spirit had something to say today as the vacuum passed to and fro on the office carpet.

All is intangible, She whispered.  All that I have called you to in this time is preparing you for the intangibility of ministry.  You plant the seeds of faith in every kind of soil that I place in front of you.  You preach and teach, you hold the hands of the wounded and broken, you guide and advise the peoples who are looking for direction, you pray for everyone you see and hear, and you point people towards My work in your midst.  But that is as far as your work can go.  Everything else is up to Me.

My thoughts turned towards the bulbs I planted last fall and those that I added to the soil this fall.  Not all of them will sprout.  Some have already been stolen by the squirrels who need a little extra sustenance for their winter nests.  Others simply do not have the DNA structure within them to support a full blossom in the warm months.  A couple of them have already started to sprout and their tiny shoots will be frozen over when the winds of winter blow through.  I have no control over any of those factors.  Granted, I can cover the ground with chicken wire or stones to attempt to thwart the advances of the squirrels, and I can insulate the tender shoots with peat moss and leaves to try and protect them from winter's effects.  But, in these preventative measures, my options are limited simply on account of our dwelling in a rental property.

Planting in my Garden - Photo by Trista Wynne
I understand why some church leaders and certain personalities are drawn towards the tangibility of membership numbers and financial contributions.  These things are quantifiable.  They can be judged and thus give some people a goal towards which to proceed.  We've saved x number of souls this month and baptized y converts, some might boast.  Our staff includes more people than you have attending your congregation, another might say.  Competition sets in and self-assurance soars -- that is, until the numbers begin to decline and self-identity begins to spiral downward.

The ministry that Jesus calls me to is not one that appeals to that sort of power jockeying.  My identity can not be based on such things.  I have come to learn that my self-image needs to stand on its own, content to be dwelling in the arms of our Beloved.

Perhaps this is why I have been called into this time of transitional rest.  As my soul and mind are gently healed from the wounds of old and I am working towards ordination, I am called to lay my cares and concerns into the hands of the One who is guiding my path.  I am simply called into Relationship.  This is my preparation for ministry, so that I can firmly say with the apostles of old:
For my part, I am going to boast about nothing but the Cross of our Master, Jesus Christ. Because of that Cross, I have been crucified in relation to the world, set free from the stifling atmosphere of pleasing others and fitting into the little patterns that they dictate. Can’t you see the central issue in all this? It is not what you and I do—submit to circumcision, reject circumcision. It is whatGod is doing, and he is creating something totally new, a free life! All who walk by this standard are the true Israel of God—his chosen people. Peace and mercy on them! (Gal. 6:14-16, The Message)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Pleasant Pumpkin Day

Pumpkin Carving with the Youth
It's been a very pleasant, pumpkin-filled and quite beautiful day today. I am offering thanksgiving for the continued gorgeous sunshine, for the gift of the harvest season, for the fun of fellowship in my spiritual communities, for reconnecting/date-time with my husband and the gift of musical endeavors book-ending the day.

My husband helps his
brother on the trampoline.
Last night, my brother-in-law stayed with us.  He is always a joy to have visit!  Since he views the world through a very different lens (developmental delays and visual impairment) we are reminded to slow down and to enjoy the simple things in life, like the feel of a giant stuffed tiger, the gift of balance on a trampoline, the vibrations of the bass through a small amp and the smell of a pumpkin spice candle.  A gentle rap-a-tap on a hand drum, the springiness of a slinky and a little music (played either at his hands or ours) will keep him happy for hours.  The joy of our Beloved is certainly evident in my precious brother-in-law.  For him, I am incredibly thankful.

Murray Hills Christian Church
Worship at my home church this morning was awesome. It was great to have the whole worship team back together again -- the first time we've *all* been together since the beginning of the summer. (One day I'll get a picture of the whole team to share here.) We were blessed by a wonderful harvest display near our baptistry. Between the surrounding beauty, the presence of a tiny new baby in our congregation and the worship team's heart-felt harmony this morning, I felt deeply connected to You, Beloved.  Thank You for Your presence in our midst!

My youth aren't afraid to
get their hands a little dirty.

My guitar was left at home for my kitty to curl up with and I was off to hang out with the wonderful Unitarian Universalist Senior High Youth I co-advise this year. We carved pumpkins and talked about Halloween traditions and family endeavors. The group joyfully welcomed a new friend into our midst and got our hands quite dirty!

Pumpkin smashing
at the Green Dragon
Killer Pumpkin Brewfest
After lunch, my husband and I headed to the east side of Portland for the Killer Pumpkin Festival.  We watched the smashing of giant pumpkins by the highest bidder, took in the sounds of the Oompa Band and sampled several different delightful pumpkin brews.  Some of our local brewing companies make great pumpkin beer!  I am thankful for the joy of this time with my husband.  Doing something completely unexpected, like swinging a sledgehammer at a pumpkin on a stump and sampling some new tastes is certainly a blessing.

Deep belly laughter filled our afternoon together, and then we returned to our church for worship team practice.  Later we had the sanctuary to ourselves, just us and our Beloved.  I played my guitar and my husband played the drum set.  We played with all of our might - a wonderful gift of freedom since we usually practice our music in our apartment and are always considerate of our neighbors.  Body, mind and spirit were united in glorious, freeing worship together.

Your Spirit, Beloved, was palpably present with us today.  I am deeply thankful.  I am truly blessed.