Tag Archives: stories

Burying the Too-Good Mother

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June whisking up some self-loathing for the rest of us.

I was raised in the South.  My mother was completely in love with American Camelot, so my brother and I were named after Jackie O and JFK.  The programming to be the perfect, June Cleaver, mom was baked in with a fried onion crust in lovely Cornel servingware. My mom so wanted to be June– but found the weight of being a single mom in the 70s to heavy for June’s apron strings and high-heeled vacuuming.  I’m becoming increasingly convinced that her inability to let June go fueled her alcoholism and many other (self)sabotaging behaviors.

In preparing for the upcoming e-course on using archetypes for emotional alchemy,Getting to Know YOU, I’ve been doing some work around the Too-Good mother that dies at the beginning of Vasilissa.  Many feminists have bemoaned how the mother is always dead before the curtain goes up in so many folk tales, and it can look pretty misogynistic if you don’t understand the deeper meaning…  Read more

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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.

 

So it was good that happened?

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I’ve got these–wait–I had these click-together wire mesh storage cubes in my closet.  Bought them I-don’t-know-when because I didn’t have money for a chest of drawers.  They’ve moved with me from place to place, and by the time I got a chest of drawers, I had too many clothes to fit in them, so they were used for things that don’t fold on a shelf, and all my folding clothes have gone in the wire cubes.

Then this guy–this amazing guy–came into my life last year and before I know it, he’s here all the time and I’ve got to find space for him to keep some clothes around because even engineers will notice if you come into work in one set of clothes and come back from lunch in another.  I had no idea how.  I’d combined drawers to make some room- but now I had drawers so crammed I could hardly get them opened or closed.

So a closet already over-stuffed with hanging clothes, folding clothes, shoes, bags, purses and scarves needed to hold just a little bit more… especially since I’d taken to buying him sweaters on a fairly regular basis.

The cubes are, well, were stacked about 7′ high on one wall of my closet.  They’re bound together with things like hairbands and long twisty-ties.  Its all very scientific and precise. High Klass. Nothing but High Klass.  There’s a shoe organizer that’s more stable (slightly more) propping it all up on the door side.  I know its propping it up because when I wanted to move said shoe organizer to the downstairs closet so I’d stop having pairs of shoes all over the place, the cube-topia groaned.  The shoe tree is a load-bearing wall. It would have to stay, and I’d renew my vow to carry shoes upstairs every night. Again. Even if it meant two trips.

Last week, as we rushed to get out of the house before paying guests arrived, the button on the back of my jeans caught on the corner of one of the cubes. I stopped immediately, but I knew.  I knew it was too late.  It was.  There was a groan as I turned around… it waited for me to fully turn before collapsing so that I could see it happen in play-by-play, agothe screamnizing, slow motion.

“Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!”

I just wanted to cry.  I was stressed out. Tired. Exhausted. Had way too much to do and far too little time to do it in.  I wanted to give up.  I didn’t want to go to the wine-tasting event my friend was having, I just wanted to go to J’s and lay in my pajamas and watch “The Vicar of Dibley” and cry into a glass of wine.

“No. No. No. No, you can’t. You just can’t!”

J came running up the stairs to make sure I was okay.  He rubbed between my shoulder blades- soothing the back door of my heart. Its what he does when I’m freaking out. He’s very good at it.

It worked.  I didn’t collapse into a similar pile on the floor.

“Well. Its not going to clean itself,”  I sighed.

I tried to pull it up. Tried to sort it out.  We hadn’t even finished packing to spend the week at his place. I realized that there was no cleaning this up quickly.  Everything would have to be toted out before any sense could be made of it.

We began pulling out the cube walls we could get to so that I could at least get at some of the clothes.  They were stacked under the bed and the corner knobs tossed in the nightstand drawer.  I managed to pull some clothes out and get them into my carpet bag.  No matching all packed components this time.  It was grab what-cha-can. I made sure I had at least one matching business-appropriate outfit for my Monday appointments and would just have to search more when I came round to scoop the cat box.

Being who I am, doing what I do, the metaphor of this collapsing closet didn’t escape me.  I spent the week mulling and meditating on it… a system that was not designed to handle the load it was being asked to carry collapsed.  At the worst possible time (as they do).

After the guests checked out, I went hunting for organizational systems.  “This time I’ll get something more substantial.  I’ll really organize it the way I’d like,” I thought.  I spent time on the interwebs looking at all sorts of closet organizing ideas.  Closets so cute you could live in them. Work in them.  I thought I’d do something not so cute, but equally drawer-y, shelf-y, pull-out-rack-y.  Til I saw that we could spend the weekend in SanFran for what that’d set me back.  My vision became more minimalistic.  Sturdiness was the central requirement.

Even my minimalistic revisions were further amended standing in the discount aisles looking at storage systems.  I settled for two plastic 4-shelf racks intended for the garage, a clear 3-drawer caddy, 3 shower rods, and some packages of s-hooks.

Standing before the aftermath, I felt completely overwhelmed.  Where to start? I started hauling clothes out of the closet and sorting them into (wrinkled, chaotic) piles on the bed.  That’s all it took. Getting started.  Once I started moving, the momentum kept me going.  Ideas started popping. Things were shifted. Scooted.  Moved. Rearranged.

By the time it was all done, all my shoes, purses, and scarves were now housed in the downstairs shower.  It didn’t get used anymore since my son moved out and I converted the downstairs bedroom into my office.  Perfect.  Now I wouldn’t have to haul shoes, scarves & purses upstairs anymore.  They could get changed and donned downstairs- which is where it always happened anyway.

The shifts opened up two racks and four drawers for J to use.  My closet was so open I had room to put a folding chair in there so I wouldn’t have to sit on the bed to wriggle into hose if getting ready before J had to be up.  The space! The air!  Now I could organize my clothes again by type then color– as I liked to– instead of by length, which the old system had required.  Did I mention that moving the shoes downstairs meant I could use the over-the-door  shoe organizer for hosiery and hats? Well, I did. Also organized by type and color so that I could find what I need without turning on a light for early-morning appointments.

I’m not a clothes-hoarder if things are neat and systematically organized, right?

When J got home from work, I couldn’t wait to show him the results of my day.  I wanted him to behold the order I’d shaped from the chaos.  He was shown the coat closet, then the shower-now-accessory closet, then taken upstairs to see the spare drawers and racks in the armoire, to the glory of my closet.  No pjs on the floor.  No shoes thrown in the back. Rainbows of color. All the skirts together, all the sweaters together, all the shirts together, all the dresses together. Order.

“So it’s good it collapsed, huh?” he said, rubbing my back.

“Yes.  Yes, it is.”

(There’s a metaphor in there… apply where needed.)

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?

He Stood Right Here

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I thought my old blog was lost– I’d done some reflections there on stories from the Abrahamic tradition that I wanted to reprint here- I found it today searching for something completely different….

Here’s a post I did about my DV activism from 2009.  I’ve come a long, long way since then, but the story of where my passion for the work I do with folktales is still just as powerful:

 

“He stood right here, in this spot,” Brother Alakoum emphasized pointing at the ground next to where he stood as he looked out over the massala, “stood right here and asked for money for Bridges TV.”

Earlier in his portion of the presentation, Br. Alakoum had told the story of a man from our community that was such a tyrant that his family celebrated his death at Chuck E. Cheese. He wanted to stress that the issue of domestic violence is real in our community, and its time to move to Zero Tolerance. “You think its being a man to have your house afraid of you, but then your family celebrates your janaza at Chuck E. Cheese.”

The panel discussion entitled “From Domestic Violence to Domestic Peace” was held during the Friday night halaqa spot at ICC in Tempe. I’d printed 40 of each of the flyers we had to give out. We’d run out. 50 – 60 people were there, many new faces. Panelists were Dr. Aneesa Nadir, Founder and President of ISSA-USA, Ahmad Daniels, Executive Director of CAIR-AZ, Ahmed Alakoum, Executive Director of MAS-AZ, and Jacqueline Freeman-Ennaffah President of AMWA-AZ and founder of I AM: American Muslim (that would be me)

I’d spent the afternoon trying to untie the knot in my stomach. Each event I’m involved in concerning domestic violence brings an onslaught of feelings of insecurity and helplessness, inadequacy almost to the point of despair. Each of these attacks serves to prove to me how important this work is- how much Darkness would stop it- but staying on top of the wave instead of being crushed under it takes tremendous effort and God’s Grace to get through.

Women’s Studies professors aren’t generally well-recieved in any religious congregation, let alone a mosque. Talking about feminist theory and women’s emancipation will likely repel this audience even more than the average American. Yet, I am convinced that the issue of domestic violence will not be significantly reduced until faith communities become proactive in preventing abuse and intervening when it does occur.

Why is this issue so important to me? Why should anyone listen to what I have to say? If being a Women’s Studies instructor has no authority here or even arouses suspicion, what can I possibly say to this audience that would matter to them?

I was raised in an abusive home. My father sent my mother to the hospital a few times. We learned very quickly not to talk about it. Dad convinced us with his screams, Mom with her tears. My extended family knew mother’s stories about broken bones and bruises were lies. They tried to get my brother and I to tell them what was happening. We merely regurgitated the half-truths we had been trained to tell. I remember so clearly the suspicion in my uncle’s eyes, the pleading in my grandmother’s face, but my tongue was tied in a knot I didn’t know how to loosen.

A hostage, a puppet, my mouth bore the words that had been planted there. I hoped as much as I feared my eyes would tell the Truth. No one ever acted on what they saw in my eyes, only what they heard come out of my mouth. I thought they didn’t see. I realize now they must have felt as tied and helpless as I did.

I learned there is no safety in the world.

I am a product of both my mother and my father. Growing up with the violence, the distrust, the lack of respect, the lovelessness, ripped something inside of me. That hole would yawn wider and wider as the years went by. I would try to fill it with just about anything. Nothing worked. It seemed too big even for God.

My parents were not just at war in our house, they were at war inside of me. There was not communion between my male and female sides, there was competition. There was not communication and comprimise, there was name-calling, ultimatums, and threats. I was not given a foundation of trust, respect, love, dignity, equality upon which to build my relationship with myself, with God, with the world around me. Instead, I was raised on the rim of a volcano, never knowing when the ground beneath my feet would crumble or explode.

My dad never hit me, but hearing him hit my mom, listening to the way he talked to her, seeing how little respect he gave her, taught me about being a woman. Woman was something despised, sometimes pitied, but seldom loved. She was an object. A slave. Not really human. She was not appreciated, she was not respected, what she contributed was not important.

My mom clung on for years. For the kids. We all wish she hadn’t done that. It would have been better to not have Dad there. It would have given us the chance to be a family, instead of a collection of refugees, each huddling in their own corner, hoarding supplies, listening for signs of the next raid.

It has taken me a long time to learn to forgive my parents. Both of them: him for doing it, her for staying.

I haven’t forgiven myself yet. For the cowardice I exhibited huddled in the dark on the top of the stairs while they screamed, while he hit, when she was chased. For being the reason they were still together. For getting sick so they would fight about him not giving me my medicine on time. For being alive and the reason they would argue about money or later, visitation. For needing anything ever from my mother who was clearly struggling to stay alive herself. For continuing to love my Dad even when he’d caused my Mom so much pain.

I haven’t forgiven myself yet. I don’t know how to loosen the knots of emotion and the guilt-ridden consciousness of a child that takes all blame upon themselves. My intellect cannot comprehend it, and my heart is afraid of feeling it fully enough to let it go.

So I do this work. I hope that parents will hear, that they will listen, though the arc of change is slow and incremental. I hope that leaders will pay attention and take this problem for being the real threat to the community that it is. I do this work in the hopes that fewer children will grow up carrying the same burden that I do. That fewer children will have to work so hard to trust God and believe that they can experience love. That fewer souls will be ripped in quite this way.

I do this work so that more children will have fewer barriers in their relationships with themselves, with God, with the world around them. That more children will be brought up on a foundation of equity, justice, trust, honor, dignity.

And today, humbled and in awe of the immensity of God’s grace–of the enormity of what happened last night in that mosque, faces turned upward, next to the projector screen–I am so grateful for the plowers and planters like Dr. Aneesa Nadir. Those constant and patient souls that have banged their hearts, minds and souls against the hardened earth of this community, who have spent their years breaking up the surface, dropping seeds, praying for the right balance of rain, sun, and temperature to bring the seeds to fruition…

Oh Lord, hear our prayer