Monthly Archives: June 2013

Abrahamic Space

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I love the Islamic depiction of Abraham. Though the Christian tradition portrayed him as so sure and certain, I had come to know Abraham through my prayer and meditation as a figure that struggled perpetually to find the Truth. One who wrestled and agonized, who God continued to challenge throughout his life.

“Get out of your country, from your family, and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.” is the beginning of God’s promise to Abram in Genesis 12. This pushes him to continue to spend his life in that space in between… finding solace in neither This- not yet knowing where That is, he must negotiate a space somewhere in the middle. Though he loved his father dearly, he could not abide with the idolatry that was not only a part of his society, but had put food in his belly and a roof over his head all of his life. He literally becomes a voice in the wilderness- leaving his family and society behind to go find God.

The rest of the promise in Genesis 12 is that of making him a great nation. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, beginning the story of Abraham with this great promise lays a foundation of certainty. Yet though the promise gave him the strength and courage to leave behind his home and family, surely he wrestled with it. The idea of him puffing his chest out with pride and arrogant assurance, pushing the villagers aside as he set off to establish a nation is absurd.

He left with a heavy heart. The Qur’an tells us in many places of how he continued to pray for his father over the years.

The Qur’anic depiction in Al-An’am beginning at 6:74 of Abraham’s leaving home and beginning his search in the desert is so poignant, so tender and human. There were likely many who did not believe in the idols, who saw the vanity of the practice, but did not act upon it. In acting in line with his convictions–despite the social consequences–Abraham is shown the Kingdom of Heaven and Earth. The veils are dropped from his eyes so that his heart would be strengthened.

There is the certainty of knowing that the idols are false, but when darkness falls, he searches for light- only to be disappointed when faced with the temporal nature of the stars. His repulsion for that which sets sends him to expand his search- to look beyond, to look under, to find that which is bigger. He turns to the moon, only to realize that he’s made the same mistake. “Surely if You do not guide me I will be of those who go astray” he calls to God. The search and the struggle of the search help him build his relationship with God. Each verse indicates hours and days watching, questioning, nights awake searching the heavens. Questions, answers, questioning the answers…

Though frightened and unsure, Abraham pressed on. He left all he’d ever known–the physical “certainties”–to search for something that existed only in his heart. He was scared, but still he went. This is what makes Abraham so inspiring as a religious character, and so prescient as a role model. This is where his faith and bravery lies: though he was scared, still he followed. Though he had no physical proof, still he had faith in that to which his heart alone attested. Though his mind fluttered and whirred, still he did not leave the tree that had sprouted from the convictions of his heart. Each time his mind returned to the branch, the tree strengthened, the roots deepened, and he was brought closer to God.

Abraham’s relationship to God is marked by great sacrifices: to ask a tribal desert-dweller to leave their family and society is worse than death. Indeed, what makes Abraham’s story so relevant to our lives today is that even now we still find this to be a terribly frightening prospect. We define ourselves by our families, our culture, our geography, our language, our food, the religious practice we were raised with… Abraham left all of these things and embarked on a unique path. He would not lose that rugged individualism and continued to live and act in ways that were far from the societal norms, but were in alignment with the convictions of his heart, and his relationship with his Creator. Abraham shows us that questioning does not necessarily mean the dissection and death of faith, but is rather the basis and edification of True faith.

In working with Muslim immigrant families while living in The Netherlands, I saw these children and youth- who others saw as caught between two worlds- as living in Abrahamic Space. Little did I know at the time that 5 times a day they asked God to help them follow the Path of Abraham as part of their daily prayers. I often wonder if Muslims ever think about what that really means… to leave not only your country, but your father’s house… to wander in the desert-exposed to every danger imaginable- in order to find God.

I wonder how many believers of any faith think about the amount of questioning Abraham engaged in to become so close to God… If we really consider the magnitude of the actions that he took as a result of the answers he received… If we ever wonder how religions founded by someone so unique, intellectually curious, and individualistic could become so rigidly conformist and anti-intellectual… how we could ever come to fear that space in between- that Abrahamic Space of the Middle Way.

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Fleeing failure

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Perusing through my old blog this morning for writing samples for a spirituality column and found this goodie from 04/19/09:

“Yeah, so the article said that when it comes to failure, there are two types of people;” my friend told me as she popped a piece of sushi in her mouth. She’s degreed in biology, and is forever feeding me fascinating tidbits on the wonders of creation. “There are those that deny failure. They blame, they avoid, they insist it wasn’t their fault, they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, they’re being picked on, you name it.”

“Right. Prison is full of those.” I replied.

We laughed. “Right. Nothing changes for these deniers. The brain stays the same- no development.”

My eyes were wide, eager, as I dipped my roll in the wasabi-soaked sauce. Dichotomies, or dividing issues into two opposing categories, always make me suspicious. Not only is Life typically more complicated, thinking in dualities polarizes and divides us as people- pushing us to abandon middle ground and move to the extremes of left or right, this or that, for or against. I was ready to try to expand the two categories; to diversify.

“Then there are those that accept failure. They face it. Facing it and accepting it changes their brain. It opens neural pathways and pushes development forward.”

I lowered my chopsticks and sat back in the booth. “SubhanAllah.”

“Yeah, ’cause they’re looking to see ‘What did I do wrong?’ asking themselves ‘How can I do better?’ It changes you.”

So we don’t just learn from our mistakes, we need mistakes to learn.

For more than a decade, I have meditated heavily on the story of Adam and Eve. Indeed, the Qur’an’s insight into them was tremendously affirming for me and certainly played a role in my conversion. I had long seen the doctrine of Original Sin as being inherently evil in the way that it distances us from God, pushes us to identify with our egos instead of God’s Breath as the Truth of who we are, and justifies corrupt behavior (after all, if we are corrupt at our core, can we really ever hope to be anything other than corrupt? But if we have God’s Breath at our core, then evil is something we can win over and leave behind). I did not see any justification for Original Sin in the story of Adam and Eve. In fact, I read that story very differently from how I’d been taught.

The real problem was not so much that they ate the fruit- surely God knew that they would- the problem was that they did not take responsibility for what they had done. Adam blamed God and Eve, Eve blamed the snake. No one admitted to what they had done, no one repented.

When we refuse to acknowledge our mistakes, we begin engaging in all sorts of behaviors to justify ourselves, and this puts a distance between us and God. It affects our relationship with ourselves and with others. The word “Eden” means “Bliss”. So we can see that the story is showing us how we remove ourselves from the Bliss of God’s Presence when we refuse to take responsibility for our actions, when we don’t accept our failures. Blame blocks Bliss.

To return to the Garden, we need to face Truth and undergo purification. In the Genesis story, this is symbolized by the angel with the flaming sword guarding the gate. The Qur’an is very straightforward: Adam and Eve repented and were forgiven. They continued on to Earth, as was always the intention, and God provided sustenance and guidance.

The way the lines of Genesis are colored in by the Qur’an relieves us of the guilt attached to living on this planet, and assures us that it was always meant to be so. The stigma of making mistakes is lifted; “They slipped” is all that is said. We are assured on a variety of levels: making mistakes is part of being human, the Earth is not a prison but was always our intended dwelling place, and forgiveness is ours for the asking.

I had understood for quite some time that making the mistake was an integral part of the story- that, somehow, they could not go to the Earth until they did… but I didn’t understand why. In hearing the role that facing our mistakes and accepting failure plays in our brain’s development, so much falls into place.

Failure is necessary. We need it to grow. No wonder God tells us that if we cease to make mistakes and repent for them He will create a people that will… that we all make mistakes and the best of those that make mistakes are those who repent: to accept failure is to move forward. To move forward is to come closer to God. To become rigid, immersed in blame, afraid of change and failure, and convinced of our own piousness is to halt our development and begin moving away from God towards spiritual and intellectual death.

Failure is necessary. We need it to grow. How gloriously liberating! What a smack in the face of the Whisperer that is forever telling us how damned we are because we are not perfect. We needn’t ever be ashamed for making a mistake- only in not ADMITTING that we have made a mistake. Failure is not the problem, denying failure is the problem.

Failure is necessary. We need it to grow. What a demonstration of God’s Grace woven so intricately into our creation. God is indeed Greater- greater in Mercy and Forgiveness than we can even imagine.

As I saw in an article title: “Failure is not an option–Its Require

How Does Literature Mean?

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See on Scoop.itVasilissa: Connecting to Intuition & Standing in Power

Latest video lecture about how to read literature… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-NfKUMFJjVc Music by Zoe Keating.

Jacqueline Freeman‘s insight:

"What if literature is not a pail, but a picture?"  Great short video about unpacking the meaning around us.

See on jamesrovira.com

Walking through a Vulnerability Hangover

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home keyI’d had an amazing day.  Spent the morning in a Wise Woman Herbalism class where the teenager inside of me was giggling the whole time about how cool it was that I was sitting in the middle of the desert learning about deepening my healing relationship with plants.  Hard to imagine a place farther away from my fundamentalist WASP background.  The class and the women in it had been so affirmative of the body of knowledge growing inside of me throughout my life.  A confirmation of intuition’s power to train us up in the way we should go, and the collaborative support of Life around that.

Afterwards, I met some friends for a late lunch.  We’d laughed about how the only way we seem to be able to get together is when one of us calls 10 minutes away from the other’s freeway exit and a cascade of calling and coordination whirls us into the closest locally-owned gathering spot where we while away the hours over pitchers of sangria or pots of tea.

Got back home to melt into the couch and my sweetheart’s arms as we enjoyed the evening of “doing nothing” that we’d promised each other in the bridge of one fast-paced week and the next.  Made a phone call to some friends that had amazing news, and tossed around an idea I got about doing “storybook weddings” where I work with couples to find their totem animal, then write a folktale about it for their ceremony.  Flipping through my class binder, I got the idea to do a series of creative classes where we’d explore the different chakras and what feeds them and do craft projects based on that.

A beautiful day.

Pretty late, this voice began to streak through my head.  It told me that I hadn’t been as supportive of a friend going through a rough spot as I should have been. A bit later, it ran through again, dropping another bit of evidence of my unworthiness as a friend.  Another message came through.  At this point, I knew that the Saboteur was around.  It seems these ideas I’d had were really good ones, and the Saboteur showed up to undermine my confidence and convince me that no one wants what I have to offer.

When the Saboteur shows up, grab your flashlight. Whatever you do, don’t let it keep the lights off and hide in the Dark.

 

I used to call it “Splash Back”.  You know when you’ve finally realized you’re stuck in the mire, gathered the strength to get out of the mire, then found a bank to pull yourself up on-  once raised out of the muck, there is this splash back that laps up against your legs and knocks you off balance a little bit.  It feels like its trying to pull you back under.  Knowing that its there and what it is helps me to find my balance and stand firm.  Brene Brown called it a “vulnerability hangover” in her TED talk.  Love that term.  I knew precisely the space she was describing, and her giving language to it affirmed my experience that it was a means of pulling us backwards- and a natural part of the process.

Brene Brown: Listening to Shame

I’d had an amazing day.  I’d started something I’d always wanted to do- the Herbalism class- and the creative energy unleashed from that brought some ideas that’d been simmering under the surface to the boil.  I’d spent the afternoon in the warm, healing, glow of deep, authentic, emotionally intimate friendship.  The evening sinking deeper into that space on an even more intimate level.  And here it was.  This shame-laden voice flashing through my mind building a case that I’d fallen short of so many important tasks that I’d moved from doing a bad thing to being a bad thing.  As I’ve learned to do, I spoke it out loud.

If dark, shamed-filled voices are running through your head, speak out loud what they’re whispering.

 

Doing this in the presence of someone that you love and trust is even more powerful.  Speaking the shame-laden whispers aloud brings them in to the light.  They grow in the dark.  Bring them in to the light.  I’ve learned to do this in my relationship with my partner.  I know that he loves, respects, and honors me, so when I have some thought that suggests otherwise, I say it out loud so that I can see the look of surprise on his face and see just how untrue that thought was.

So I spoke it out loud.  I said what I was hearing, and J asked me where that was coming from.  The thoughts stopped then, but the feeling persisted.  I felt heavy.  Sad.  Lonely. Worthless.

Are you well-nourished, hydrated, and have you had enough rest?

 

I didn’t feel like I was tired enough to go to bed, so we pulled some stuff up on Netflix.  The feelings continued.  Part of me didn’t want to go to bed, but I began to realize that the feeling was likely feeding off my being tired.  I’d woken up earlier than usual that morning for the herbalism class.  I remembered the line in Vasilissa when the doll repeats “The morning is wiser than the evening”  so I decided to get ready for bed.

Go into gratitude

 

By the time I’m getting ready for bed, the feelings have spread from thoughts critical of my new project ideas to totally knocking out my present ones.  I breathed to create space around the thoughts and detach from them.  They’re not doing me any good, and clearly coming from a place that is not my friend.  J dropped off the minute his head hit the pillow, so I commenced to name the things I was grateful for that day quietly to myself.  I began with being grateful for the recycling trucks that came an hour earlier than usual and got me up just minutes before my alarm, to the amazing opportunity to study Wise Woman traditions, to my wonderful friends to my taste buds, and the dear man sleeping next to me.  I could feel the energy shifting more intensely with each counted blessing.  I fell asleep humming with a feeling of contentment and happiness.

Before waking up, I had a dream where I was working on a video project to expand education.  It was promoting a festive event we were doing.  The video was done- and was absolutely beautiful—but so serious.  “Look ya’ll, “ I told the team, “we’re promoting this fun event to help folks—we should show that first- let the fun get folks’ attention.”

What a great way to move through life!  Have fun and help people! Clicks so nicely into the messages I’ve been getting about not taking things so seriously.

Writing this as we’re on the road to Payson to enjoy nature and be able to take a hike in the shade. Gonna turn this idea around and see how I can bring my life better in alignment with that…

(post script: dropped my phone in a pool under the natural bridge and my car overheating meant driving back at 40mph with the heater blasting moving through the Arizona desert back to Mesa. But more on that later- wanted to get this up before I take my car in.  It was a beautiful day all the same.)

DailyOM – Always Be for Something

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See on Scoop.itVasilissa: Connecting to Intuition & Standing in Power

Jacqueline Freeman‘s insight:

What we focus on is what we grow… if we’re focused on war, for example- we’ll get more of it whether we’re for or against it.  How can you shift your focus to more truly align with your values and effectively bring the change you seek? 

See on www.dailyom.com

Center stage: Storm. Healing: enter stage left.

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Went to go see Oz, The Great and Powerful last night. Came in this morning to write some of my musings– (J and I had a great discussion comparing Oz with The Artist. Or rather, he was defending the cad-ish qualities of the main character, and in my insisting that the differences in this cad and that cad were significant, I realized that the films are actually quite similar in theme and talked about it –out loud–to myself for a while as he looked on with a sometimes inquisitive, sometimes confused, sometimes irritated look on his face)– and I saw this in my FB feed: Thanks to Elict the Greatness Within for this story!

I couldn’t have put together a better Thursday morning post if I tried.  Thursday does mean “Thor’s day”, after the Nordic god Thor.  Usually when we think of Thor, we think of giant, mountain-crushing hammers, and hot blondes (though legend usually ascribes him as a ginger), thunder and lightening, and terrible, terrible storms.

What we don’t usually think of is how Thor, being the son of the head-god Odin and the earth, is a protector of humanity, a healer, and one who makes things sacred.

I remember sitting in my etymology classes in high school thinking that gods & goddesses had the most random collection of things they were associated with.  God of storms & protection? Healing & hallows? What the hel?  But as so beautifully demonstrated in the life of James Harrison, above, the storms or sicknesses in our lives lead to the healing that enables us to make life hallowed for ourselves and others.

This is a fact of being human.  Its why its represented in stories like Oz, where the storm brings opened perception for the Wizard and for Dorothy, and why storms and healing are so often coupled in the religious stories of the world.

How have the storms in your life opened your perception of the world?  Moved you from silence to sound, from black & white to full color?  How have your hurts and trauma enabled you to help others?  How could they?