TweetSometimes the road feels like home. The shoulders of highway feel like walls and the yellow dash line feels as familiar as the handrail going up the steps to the bedrooms. Sometimes the car is my couch. That’s how 2014 has been spent. Traveling. Being uprooted, splintered weeks where a Wednesday feels as uneventful as Sunday. When the days run together and all I’m checking in on is the weather: bliss.
In the midst of Nick’s ever traveling job, he meets up with us wherever we are in the country. The past few weeks it’s been Norfolk International Airport. Visiting my folks and then family vacation in the Outerbanks, Isaiah and I have been little beach bums, kicking sand off our sandals in our drive from the south all the way to Philadelphia for a wedding, and finally headed home last night.
I’m home, but the house is emptying as we ready for the New York move. It’s home, but not. It’s too clean to be called home. The walls too bare, the floors too shiny, the simple decor too obviously minimized for strangers to be home. Yet we’ve never been happier, healthier, or pleased. We have so many tomorrows unfolding and life is too short to be spent in anything but gratitude. Right now, I’m just enjoying that I have two homes: the road and this house with a small echo.
TweetToday we’re off to Russia. It’s a surprise. Ron, my father in law, is retiring from the job he has had for 40 years. 40 years! We’re sneaking in to surprise him on his last day of work after four decades of service.
What a privilege to have that kind of security, to move into your late years with security, pension, and pride of accomplishment. I remember as a young adult thinking that the word “retirement” was one of the most depressing words in the English language. Now? I think it’s a word that drives me into a state of wonder. Celebrating not only retirement but the man who sacrificed many things to stay in that one place in his whole life; for family, roots, and belonging. I am so proud of him.
TweetI’ve been reading and writing more lately. Trying to establish the habits that I will surely need in my MFA program. I’ve found that I need to do something else to balance my literary heavy life. Photography came back into focus. I haven’t picked up the camera in a long time but I was reminded why I love it so much, how I feel the artistry of everyday came alive in small snapshots of the environment around me.
Although flowers are cliche, I am constantly reminded of how beautifully detailed they are, and how often they are ignored in the busy rush of the day. Part of spirituality is to notice things, not for the sake of beauty, but for the sake of wonder. Wonder is the output of a spiritual awakening.
Find what awakens you. Keep coming back to it.
They hung from a mango tree
after their sweetness had
all been stolen.
Hung to sway into a wind
that their skin could not feel.
“The Untouchables,” in a
caste system that hated them,
so much so they deemed them
unworthy of touch.
And so ironically, so violently,
they were left to be within anyone’s reach.
They swung from a mango tree,
hollowed and broken, for all
the village to see themselves.
No mangoes to pluck, all had been
under their watch.
TweetAs I read today’s reading I’m thinking about condemnation and what all this means about judgement. I’m still absorbing the news about Elliot Rodger who killed six other people in his self-loathing and misogyny.
He already was full of self condemnation, there is nothing further one can feel when already filled with self hate. Even after everything he has done to those poor families of the murdered, I cannot ignore the level of self hate and rage he had, so much that he emptied it out onto others.
I sometimes wonder if people forget that hell isn’t always a burning place after we die. Some are already living it here already.
TweetThere is it. The word, the “A” word: advocate.
In my early days of being an advocate and educator for survivors of rape and sexual violence, I thought it primarily described my role as being a voice in times of silence. Silence during invasive rape examination kits, I would be an advocate with my eyes and head, never breaking the gaze of a survivor who needed me to hold her stare while doctors did what they had to do for an investigation. In the dim lit corners of trials and courtrooms, I walked beside survivors and often their crumbling family members who could not keep their emotions contained. Advocacy, I learned, was not about supplying my voice in the place of silence. It was much more body focused. Knowing where to stand, and what presence to carry into each situation. Mostly, though, it meant developing a profound understanding of the voices of others. Knowing when and how to help them shape it, use it, attend to it. There are so many ways to advocate for survivors. Speaking for them, however, is usually not what’s needed though.
I wonder if these same qualities I learned in the field of sexual violence could be applicable to the spiritual world. Who doesn’t need to learn when to listen, how to listen, undoing years of learning that responding is equivalent to saying something of worth? Advocacy is the highest call to presence for another human being. Who else have I been an advocate for? Who else in my life needs me in similar ways, just not in those conditions? If I look into my life, I’m sure I will find others who also feel abandoned by everyone – including God – and violated, betrayed, broken, and bewildered. Perhaps I can begin to stop focusing on the whorl of my life, and fixate on being that for others. I have been an advocate for survivors of sexual violence nearly all of my adult life and it has sensitized me beyond comprehension to the world of survivors. But what survivors of violence need overlaps with what we all need: radical compassion, a loyal friend, honesty, and fellowship of anger at the injustice of the world.
Today is Memorial Day weekend, and I remember all the women who have been lost in the war of violence. I uplift all the women who were killed, raped, tortured, held captive, enslaved, beaten, manipulated, used, and dismissed purely because of someone’s misogyny and unconscious spirit.
For what I believe about women in the world, I am prepared to be “kicked out of the synagogue” and, in terms of advocacy for women, killed.
They will expel you from the synagogues;
in fact, the hour is coming when everyone who kills you
will think he is offering worship to God.
TweetIs it possible to be a novice at something you’ve been doing for years?
Yoga instruction books explain the normalities of those newbies beginning yoga practices. Understanding the body is essential to yoga practice and in the early stages of yoga, the body unleashes a reliable yet unexpected stream of energy. This may help explain the decreased need for sleep early on. But as the body adjusts and muscles are strengthened, the amount of sleep normally needed returns. I always found that living contradiction marvelous. As the body uses new muscles which should deplete energy, the body experiences a temporary abundance of wakeness. As the muscles become familiar to moves and stretches, the nocturnal pattern returns.
I have begun and left yoga only to return again months later. With my frequent stints, a lasting period of beginning and ending, I’m at a constant state of novelty. This disloyalty has continued for nearly two decades. The epiphanies are always the same once my body remembers the arches, pulls, and smooth arm arcs: I should keep this up. I should commit to furthering my practice. This feels amazing. And yet when my routine changes, my morning yoga is the first thing I remember to forget.
The same is true for prayer. My kind of prayer. The kind of prayer where I stand in front of an closed window and open it slowly, allowing panefulls of breezes to wash over me. I stand in the same spot, hear the same creak in the wooden floors beneath my bare feet, listen to the trees rustle, temporarily pierced by a far away siren and take in the glory of mystery. Why am I here? Why was I born in this time? Who do I love, and do they know it?
I take it back. Prayer is the first thing I remember to forget when things get hectic.
Reading a book, hard thick paged reading, was abandoned a long time ago. As a child, I read voraciously, to the point of my staunchly religious mother wondering if the devil was tempting me through silent words of a stranger’s mind because I read in secret, openly, first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and every free moment in between. My fifth grade teacher would tell you that the days she relented and treated the class to a game instead of quiet time, the class would squeal as they played Four Corners and I, to be obedient, would play along, too, but only with a book in my hands, my eyes moving left to right while I followed the herd of my friends, trying to choose a corner that would not be picked by whomever was It. Last one standing won the game and got to be It. Even with my book, never paying attention, I won and resented becoming It. It forced me to put my book down and play a silly game with lots of giggles. I wanted to be lost in the world of stories, guessing, and feeling like someone was drawing a picture for me in my head.
“Remain in me.” So says today’s reading.
Well, what does that mean? Remain in me? Who is “me?” Those beautiful trees I pray in front of in the morning? My noisily sleeping, teeth grinding child in the next room? How does one remain?
“I have told you this…so that your joy might be complete.”
Ahh, yes, joy. That word that everyone writes in wedding cards and birthday greetings. That word people use to up the anty on happiness. The idea that something beyond ourselves is attainable yet is only given by something other than ourselves, this Joy that must be granted, not oddly earned.
Joy is the even streamed energy that bolsters my joints, limbs, and mind. The sources for it are, unfortunately, those first things I remember to forget when life gets hectic: prayer, yoga, reading. And upon rumination, the list continues: friends, writing, dancing, painting, learning, laughing. These are the first things to go, the first people thrown off the boat to preserve whatever distortion we have of life. But these are precisely the things we stay alive for. What kind of survival ends with misery if all that gives joy is surrendered?
In the strange mix of extroversion and introversion, I need both relationships and solitude to thrive. Somewhere along the way, I think, the idea that my life is purely to serve others without taking joy for myself began to breed, especially when I became a mother. It is time to reclaim those pieces of myself in sustained practice.
Yesterday morning I did morning salutations and so I woke at 4am, feeling quite refreshed. I picked up the book I had been waiting to read for quite some time, “An Untamed State” by an author and editor who is slowly shifting into a permanent state of Important in my life, Roxane Gay. I read for nearly three hours. And I feel, suddenly, like the adult I envisioned I would be as a girl: a writer with big dreams, stealing literary moments when her family sleeps, running on foreign lands I’d never been with an expert tourist called an author. Today it was Haiti. I close the book when my body calls for water, or food. I go to write my morning pages.
God asks us to remain one with God. God is in us, We are in God. To remain in God is to remain in ourselves.
Do the things that continuously bring you back to yourself. God awaits in the pages, in the arm arcs, by the window pane.
TweetThe reading this morning is especially powerful but the same line always renders me confused: Ask for whatever you want and it shall be given.
He must mean something more than just this simple message because the human comprehension of it isn’t true. Not everything we want is given. Is there something more?
Yesterday a dear friend of mine began chemotherapy after finding stage 4 colon cancer had spread to her liver. What is is that I want, what have asked for? I ask that she recovers and lives a longer life with her daughter. That is my desire.
If she dies, what becomes of this prayer? What are we to make of the prayer that went seemingly unanswered?
I never looked at prayer in terms of asking or even requesting. Spiritual mentors have always guided me, reminding me that prayer is not about God withholding something unless you ask for it. The act of prayer, a reflection upon one’s inner world and inviting God to be a part of it, is not a constant Christmas list, but a clarifying process of true desire. What is it that I truly want? Who am I in this desire?
The words that stay with me are not the aforementioned quote but the part that reads, “remain in me.” This passage urges me to stay a part of the vine, to grow in God, remain a part of something larger. Perhaps when we do this our desires change and that is how all we seek is given to us. When we turn away, drift, alter our connection by severing our ties to the Vine, then what we seek becomes artificial and thus unattainable. What plant rooted in the rich soil asks for astroturf?
So my prayer life remains curtained in mystery. These morning pages are my prayers. I find them circular sometimes, almost bizarre and directionless. I don’t really know where I’m going in prayer but I know that it always leads to something deeper, unearthing a presence that I wasn’t aware of prior to the prayer. I realize in that moment that I am connected o the Vine, and my prayer reminds me of that. And I feel full. And with that fullness, I am able to go out and face the possibility that my friend will not survive this cancer. That she may die soon, or she may live three more decades of joy. I don’t know. But my prayer reminds me of how precious life is, how dear she is to me, and coming into that clarity is not the same as her cure for her cancer, it is a antidote to my fear.
TweetAt every intersection of political examination of conscience, I come to the word peace and rummage in my mind for an spiritual reasoning that explains why I have never heard the word “drone” in any Catholic space or conversation. I suppose because most Catholics, sitting upon the words “political” and “reflection” come to the two areas that the church is most infamously known to brush scandal: sexuality and gender. Anything that has to do with, as NCR columnist Jamie Manson describes, “the pelvic region” is cause for Church debate and media sensationalism.
But nothing about drones.
Drones, like so many other facets of foreign based news and political chatter, seem like a topic outside my understanding. I don’t know when drones were built, or by whom, or what (other than terrorizing other countries) their purpose is. Based from general and cursory reads of current events, I surmise that the overarching goals are to “keep the peace” (surveillance) and limit the risk to US American lives. And yet, as a US American, I can’t say that I feel any safer than I did a decade ago. Drone strikes, or any US military tactic that sends machines of steel instead of human life, further deploys the global message (read: illusion) of an American Invincibility; where the cost of life will rarely be American and the mental neuroses of paranoia and terrorism will impact us all.
I think about how removed most Catholic consciences are from this issue, how removed my own conscience is from this issue. I wonder if when Catholics pray they are only praying for peace of mind. Sure, no one wants a worried mind, but what price comes to believing in peace? To believe in peace, we have to believe that all life is sacred, even those whom we label “enemy.” In nearly every passage of scripture I have ever studied or contemplated, the word enemy is used to describe the further advancement of love; manifesting forgiveness and painful growth of inclusion.
None of this is simple. There are some acts in the world, ribboned with terrifying violence and unthinkable hate, that I can scarcely put words to fully encompass the horror. But I wonder about today’s passage and what is left for Catholics to ruminate in a time when we divorce ourselves from the responsibility from the callous calculations of our government. How long do we continue to focus on issues of sexuality and gender to the negligence of the crime we are also witnessing on a global level?
I often hear from aging and aged Catholics that we have to pick and choose our battles, we must discern where in the world we want to try to help make a difference and focus on the good so we do not burn out or become hardened to the point of inactivity. My focus and passion has always been issues of radical understanding of human divinity – of all persons – and I can’t reconcile the truth that peace does not exist and I, very likely, cannot undo that.
So what is left for me today, after these lines in today’s reading:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”
I have more questions.
Is it enough to create peace in the world in the spaces I occupy? No, but it’s a start.
Does it really matter how I love people and whether I prize their full human being? Yes, because everything stems from here.
How do I participate in the disordered values that are perpetuated by the idea and military execution of drones strikes? I think what I choose to express about power, understanding, and love either challenges the idea of drones or uplifts it. The world I love is drowning in violence. Where, on this ship, can I puncture a hole to release some of those rough waters, knowing this is will not save me, but done in the daily practice of what I so fervently believe is what we all seek: peace.
TweetWe’re moving to New York.
I’m going into an MFA program in literary nonfiction at Columbia University.
Our life is nuts. Lines are blurring. Days are running together.
Our house is up for sale.
We keep driving to New York to investigate and make decisions.
This pic is a reflection in the window. You can see, Isaiah sleeping in the car, Nick doing email on his cell phone, and New York buildings all around.
Welcome to the next phase of my life.