Tag Archives: god

Abraham’s Path: The Ambiguous Way

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Abraham’s Path: The Ambiguous Way. Join us 6/12/14 http://www.facebook.com/events/403867586418328

Working closely with Baba Yaga lately, ambiguity has been one of the central themes.  I was thrilled at the release of Maleficent, and seeing an ambiguous female character portrayed sympathetically is huge, I tell you, HUGE.  Ambiguity is something that is central to the Wise Woman tradition and all of the Life/Death/Life goddesses (who are the most powerful).  Yet its something that women, caught in the crossfires of Maddona/Whore syndrome, have had little societal support to step in to.

In thinking about this, I’ve turned to the stories that brought me to the ball to begin with:  those of the Abrahamic tradition.  The story of Abraham is a story of ambiguity, questioning, and uncertainty.  How very odd that the traditions that followed are now so marked by black & white thinking and claims to certainty.  I think its time to look at these stories again and work from there.

I’ve republished one of my first blogs from 2009:

“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.”

Read the full blog post on The Deeper Marriage.

 

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My body is not a problem to solve.

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When I was still living in Memphis, there was a woman, Barbara I met through the International Education  department that I bonded with immediately.  Neither of us were stick figures, and often complained to each other about the unsolicited “helpful advice” we got from strangers.  Both of us ate healthily and went to the gym at least 5 times a week, yet people made assumptions and felt compelled to shove metaphorical pamphlets in our hand about eating and exercise like those fundamentalists that stand on the corner on Bourbon Street and tell people the error of their drunken ways.  

One of my friends, T, never got such advice, though she was one of the most unhealthy people I knew.  I parked in the farthest parking lot so I could get at least a mile in just walking to and from my car, while she got several parking tickets a month for trying to park as close as possible to her classes.  She would have driven her car into an elevator if they’d let her.  She smoked 2 packs a day, had double cheeseburgers for dinner regularly and never exercised.  But she was a size 5 or something, so no one ever gave her a lecture about how they were “concerned for her health”… she met the beauty ideal, and that was all that mattered.

 

One night at a party, someone started their health-preaching at Barbara and she replied, “My body is not a topic of conversation.” When they kept on, she walked away.  I was stunned. And in awe.  How did she do that???  As compelled as people were to give me health advice, I was compelled to tell them all that I already did– far more than they suggested.  I did not sit on my butt all day eating twinkies, as they seemed to think.  It is not a simple formula- bodies are complex and far more goes into metabolism than most people care to think about.  

It bothered me deeply that people walked around thinking I was lazy.  That they insisted on holding on to simplistic ideas that don’t really work in the real world.  That they were judging me unfairly– based on a beauty standard that is only attainable with photoshop, rather than the health concern bullshit they claimed was their primary motivation.  It really, really REALLY bothered me.  So I was stunned that Barbara could shut them down that quickly and not set them straight.  That she could take her body off the table completely and not even engage in the topic.

As much as I resented that my body rather than my writing, my painting, my cooking, or my intellect were the focus of so many people’s view of me, I couldn’t drop it any more than they could.  I didn’t know how to take it off the table.  Three years in hijab would teach me how many years later, but that’s another story for another post.

What Barbara understood all those years ago that I’ve just picked up recently is articulated beautifully by Michele Lisenbury Christensen in her work on the elements of Masculine and Feminine Power.  To listen to her speak on the topic, check out the Shero’s School for Revolutionaries.   Regardless of our sex (or gender for that matter) we need a balance of the masculine and feminine to be healthy and truly functional, yet our society is heavily swayed towards the masculine.  

One of the paradigms she discusses is Providing  (masculine) & Nurturing  (feminine).  This pertains to the way we relate to others.  I would add that it also applies to how we relate to ourselves.  In explaining, Michele asked: “Do I hold you as a problem to be fixed, or a person?  

“Are resources needed here?  Or listening? Holding?

She went on to discuss how distorted Providing is that mean voice in our head that provides perpetual commentary, criticism, and “suggestions for improvement”.  I realize that it was my full identification with that mean voice in my head in my 20s that compelled me to engage with people in a topic I didn’t think should be brought up to begin with– my body.  Interesting that for the decade I was in The Netherlands–where its considered incredibly rude to talk about someone’s body or presume about their personal habits– no one talked about my body and weight came off.  I no longer felt fat, I no longer focused on the fat, so the fat went away.  I often wondered- in this land where I was on the short side of average instead of a looming Amazon woman 3 heads taller than most other women– if I’d grown up there if I ever would have developed the body image issues that led to the weight gain.  I thought I was fat, so I eventually became fat.  A little weight gain in my pre-eclampsic pregnancy, and others began to agree with me.  I took that on, and the weight came on even more.  The harder I worked to get rid of it, the more my metabolism slowed and the more stubborn the weight was.  Like the child told they will go nowhere losing all ambition, my body resolved to the fat label put upon it. 

 

We are so trained to do something.  All the time.  With everything.  We have great difficulty just being with something.   It bleeds into every area of our lives, and damages our relationships and erodes our peace of mind. Our Puritan heritage preaches that its not okay to let things just Be.  Its lazy.  Its permissive.  Its the door to chaos.  Anarchy.  Society will totally crumble if we’re not ever-vigilant.  If we don’t judge often and quickly, and condemn accordingly.  The papers are full of it, the news is full of it, and our heads are full of it. 

Thing is, its a lie.  A big fat hairy puss-filled seething boil of a lie.  It doesn’t make us better.  It deepens our shame and makes us worse.  It is the thing that takes us away from what we want directly into what we say we won’t tolerate. Pounding on a treadmill because we think we’re fat will keep us fat.  Loving our body and moving it in ways that bring us joy will bring us to Health.

Its work learning to be with your body.  Learning to be with your emotions.  Not analyze, not fix, not work on or improve, just Be.  Whether or not you were raised in a religion, bad churching has informed every part of our society.  We have this idea that if you’re doing it right, life will be easy.  If your life has difficulty, then you must have done something wrong.  I don’t know how that idea came from a religion with a guy being persecuted by both the fundamentalists of his own religion and the colonialist government in place to the point of dying the death saved only for traitors and terrorists, but it did.   So we pathologize all sorts of things that are perfectly normal, and in fact necessary for our development.  We think if we’re uncomfortable, there must be something wrong.  We numb by analyzing, diverting attention, eating, drinking, -holicism– anything really to avoid just being in our bodies and just feeling our emotions. 

Its caused a deficit of empathy in our society.  We don’t want to feel bad, so we default to distorted Providing instead of Nurturing.  We view everything and everyone– including ourselves and our emotions–as problems to be fixed rather than creatures to be held.  Its backwards.  Maybe there is a problem, maybe resources are needed, but if the connection isn’t made with the Being first, then the solutions applied will be oppressive rather empowering, and they will eventually backfire. 

My body reminded me of this in its latest letter to me.   Its voice is the exact opposite from the voice in my head: its loving and supportive.  There is a gentle strength that is so soothing and enlivening. Though I was raised in an environment where we went to church 5 times a week, my relationship with my body is my first real experience with agape.  At the time of the letter, I’d been focusing too intently on the symbolic meaning of things and it was getting stressful as I strove to figure it all out. “I appreciate your commitment to listening to me and learning my language” she said, ” but I am not a puzzle to be solved.  I am not a problem to be fixed.  Just love me. Listen to me, and we’ll figure it out as we go along.  You’re smart and you’re listening.  Don’t worry that you’ll miss it. I’ll let you know.”

Remember the same in your own walk and development.  As you’re learning to listen and working on the relationship you have with your body and your emotions, release the drive to do something with what comes up– create space where it can just be first.  So often, just allowing it to Be is the solution…

 

Getting to the root of it

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Last night during my weekly Mood Management Mondays class, we worked with Patchouli, an oil that addresses body shame and body judgment.  Considering the WASP body-shame culture the hippies emerged from, it makes sense that they relied heavily on patchouli to shake off ideas that the body is evil, sinful, and disgusting.  In many ways, we haven’t shaken this idea off as a culture.  Though we now use the language of fitness/image/beauty instead of religion, the puritanical emotional m.o. is the same.  (Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth draws this metaphor out exquisitely)

Even though I’ve done research for the class and had my own experiences with the herbs/oils we’ll be working with, I’m always struck with the power of doing a plant meditation in a group and sharing our experiences with one another. Last night was no exception.

Though patchouli is a low bush, everyone had visions of the forest.  Of eating the forest, of being the forest, of being a tree, branches held high to the sky. Root Chakra GoddessWhy would an oil that addresses body shame and body judgment have us turning into trees?  What is it that trees understand that we need to learn?

When I was living in Utrecht, I kept getting these images in my meditation of trees spinning around because they weren’t grounded.  The roots had no soil, and they were in a spin- not knowing where to build out to gather sunshine or bear fruit.

Last night, I really connected to the awareness that if I wasn’t in my body, I wouldn’t be able to keep my heart open.  If my heart is not open, I’m not going to be able to bear fruit in my life.  Contentment will be hollow and short-lived. Relationships will visit authenticity, but not live there.

Patchouli supports the root chakra.  If the root chakra is unbalanced, it can result in financial insecurity issues.   Affirmations for the root chakra are “I have a right to be here.” and “I have a right to my needs.”  It makes sense that if we can’t receive the truth of these statements fully, manifestation will be blocked, money problems will seem to always surface, and feelings of connection and belonging will be elusive.

As we moved deeper into conversation with the oil, the grounding feelings intensified.  I was reminded of an experience I had at a 5 Rhythms workshop earlier this summer on Yes & No in the body where  I realized that I had been experiencing grounding feelings as sadness.  The doTERRA book I have on Emotions and Essential Oils describes patchouli as “balanc[ing] those who…seek to escape the body through spiritual pursuits.”   Up until about 4 years ago, my spirituality –regardless of what house it practiced in–had been about trying to find the escape hatch out of my body.  Not surprising for someone that has experienced physical and sexual abuse, but last night I became acutely aware of how bracing myself against my body was also preventing me from letting that unconditional, transcendent Love that every religion preaches truly flow through me.

After the plant meditation, we did a writing exercise that puts you in touch with the voice of the body.  I am always amazed at how loving the voice of the body is. It is not harsh and judgmental.  It does not criticize.  It does not shame- even in areas and about issues you’d think it would.  It speaks of my neglect and mistreatment of it in the most compassionate and kind way you could ever imagine.  When it shows me how I’ve taken advantage of it, it is not in the resentful voice of the victim, but simply showing me how I’m hurting myself by doing so.  It shows me these things by praising the thing- no matter how small- that I’m doing right.  The way it lifts me up is so humbling. It is an amazing, miraculous role model for agape. It really honestly only wants what’s best for me.  its job is to support me and it does so  gladly.

Most of my life, I’ve braced myself against fully entering my body.  I didn’t trust it.  Grounding felt heavy and sad to me and I wanted to feel light and floaty.  What was I bracing myself against?  I asked myself last night. Why was I afraid?

I didn’t trust being in my body.  I didn’t trust what would happen there or how it would make me feel.  My conditioning, both religious and cultural, told me that the body is not to be trusted and listened to, but to be held suspect and denied.

Why?  What has it ever done to me?  I’ve done much to it, but what has it ever done to me?

I’m reminded of moments when I felt betrayal- when it responded to things that were abhorrent to me or even traumatizing psychologically.  I can count these moments on one hand. Why do I weight them more heavily than the millions of times that my body supports me through every day moments or even times when I’ve pushed it to the edge? Why do I forget all the ways it tried to warn me of danger and I didn’t listen? Why don’t those times count for anything? If I was in a relationship with someone that brushed past the things I did for them every minute of every day to hold on to isolated incidences, what would that feel like? If I was being blamed for something happening that I tried to stop, how would I respond? How cruel is that?

I still have healing to do.  Everyone does. I need my body to be able to do that.  I need to be in my body to keep my Heart open enough to let the blood flow and cleanse and nourish.  All the incessant circling in the sky above my body just landed me from one frying pan into another fire.  Its been coming in to my body that’s gotten me as far as I’ve come.  Its time to fully step in now and chant “There’s no place like home.”Dorothy's red slippersJoin us for Mood Management Mondays every Monday in NC Mesa.  More information and tickets are available on my website at http://www.lifelinedevelopmentcoaching.com/mood-management-mondays1.html

The antidote to crazy

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This isn’t just about talking down crazy, as those on comment threads would say to diminish this as an alternative path to arming ourselves to the teeth.  This is about connecting with another human being and not only not being afraid of the depth of their pain, desperation, and despair, but being courageous enough to share it with them.

Isn’t that the only thing that makes any of us crazy? Disconnect and pain and how no one wants to really face it, let alone connect to it?  Yet, facing it and connecting to it is the only cure for crazy.  Being allowed to be fully human.  Being loved through all the beauty and the agony that is being human.

video interview: Woman talks down gunman

That this happened in Atlanta, Georgia and that Antoinette is a black woman and the gunman a white man takes the depth of this beauty and courage to an even more expansive place.  It is  powerful testimony to the power of embracing our own shadow so that we’re not scared of others’–even those that persecute us, that see us as the enemy and treat us as such.

I can only imagine that her tale was one of betrayal, heartbreak, bad luck, disappointment, and the forgiveness that inevitably followed, the hope that strung each event together and kept her life from completely unraveling in those places where there didn’t seem to be any options or chance of the future being any different…

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.

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

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?