Sunday, March 18, 2012

Like an Ocean

I was raised on the beach and lived there until I was 10. Our house was right on the beach... step out the sliding-glass door and there you are, toes in the sand. I spent hours each day watching the gulls and sandpipers, running tirelessly with my friends and the many dogs who resided there, and gazing at the ocean ceaselessly. I learned the rhythm of the seasons, when we could jump down onto the sand from a porch, run out to the waterline and explore tide-pools that had been exposed, and when the sea seemed to come nearly to our door; I fell asleep and woke to the sound of the waves, the endless breathing in and out of a body of water so vast that I couldn't really wrap my brain around it... but I didn't feel the need to. 
It has been over 30 years since I lived on the beach, and it remains the place I am drawn to most, that can sooth, calm and ground me no matter how frenetic my life may seem. Sitting on a beach, watching the grey-blue-green of the ocean, brings me peace.

The other day, I found myself trying to describe how I feel that God can be both inside and outside of us, and it came to me: God is like the ocean. Every wave, every spume of spray, each tiny drop of water even - contains within it some part of all that the ocean is. It is both an independent thing unto itself, and part of the whole. Separate it out - and it remains like the ocean it came from; return it, and it is still that same drop of water, now combined with many thousands of millions of others, to form that greater whole.

I am - each of us is - a drop of the ocean that is God; an infinitesimal drop of the whole, containing all that the ocean is, within me. As a drop, I came from that ocean, came from God - and I believe that when I die, I will return to that, will "return to God". Will I maintain the spark of individual consciousness that I call my "self" once I return to that vast sea? I don't know... and conjecture as I may, I won't know until I'm there. That's just one of the mysteries I'll have to be OK with for now. /3/18/12

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Shame and Love

"Shame" is not a concept I spend much time thinking about. It's not something I was raised with (quite the opposite, really), and is not an emotion that has much hold on me. The closest I've come though, was in the 6th grade.

I was not a "neat" child - which is to say, I was probably like most 9 or 10 year old American kids. I was easily distracted and a "dreamer" (or alternately accused of being a "space cadet" if you'll recall that lovely 70's idiom) and today some well-meaning doctor would likely say I had (and still have) Attention Deficit Disorder or an inability to focus on things that do not seem of import to me. I was, as you might imagine, not overly concerned with keeping my personal space tidy or organized.

The only place this really mattered, other than my room (which I'm sure pained my Mom), was in school. Each student had their own desk in the classroom and at the beginning of the year, there were little paper name placards declaring who was assigned to which one. As the months went by and my area was often rather messy, my teacher began to take serious note of the situation. I may not have been terribly concerned with my lack or organizational skills - but my teacher was; and she became determined to "make an example of me".  Each day, we students would come in and open our desks to retrieve our materials for the day. The desks were the kind where the top surface (polished pine-colored wood veneer) lifted, and there was a long shallow trough to hold pencils, pens and a ruler, and a large, rounded metal compartment underneath to store your books, paper and other supplies - which in my case often included a sweater and possibly snacks left over from Lunches Past. Though all the necessary components were there, writing on the surface of your desk (amongst other things), was "frowned upon". It turns out, those "other things" were even more important.

Each student was expected to "keep personal areas clean and clear" (or some such phrase that didn't carry much meaning for me at the time), but as I have mentioned, neatness was not my forte - I had other concerns that seemed far more important, like trying to pay attention to what the teacher was saying when it was distractingly lovely outside or singing to myself when I became bored. While I was at the top of my class in the SRA Reading Labs (anyone remember those??), I fell behind on the keeping-my-area-neat rule a few times too many, and my teacher decided that Something Had To Be Done. I came in to class one morning to find that my desk had been dumped unceremoniously upside-down, and the contents were spilling out Everywhere. To gild this image, there was a sign written on a piece of binder paper and taped to the now topside bottom of my desk, which read, "Pig Sty". The students laughed at my distress as they came into the classroom, and the teacher angrily told me that now I had to clean it up. This seemed unbearably unfair (not to mention physically challenging), and I remember the embarrassment of not being able to hold back tears as I tried to lift and overturn the heavy desk and gather in the papers, pencils, books, sweaters, probably food and other items that now completely surrounded me. Once I had the desk righted and had put everything away as best I could (most importantly to my teacher, that meant nothing peeking out from under the lid), I was made to put the sign on the back of my chair and leave it there all day. Or was it all that week? It is the first time I can recall, that I felt shame.

Shame was not a concept I had been taught, or even really been exposed to, much less internalized. Looking back, I think it is a credit to my mother that I hadn't encountered it before this time. Having been raised by a Pack of Wild Hippies (no, really - I don't think Mom would argue that point),  I hadn't encountered lessons-via-shaming before this. It was one of the creeds if you will of the Hippie philosophy, that shame is unhealthy and there are better ways to get lessons across to a child. What you DID teach your children - with all sorts of interpretive freedom of expression, of course - was Love. If anything can be said to be the "religion" I was raised with, it is Love.

Is it really such a far stretch then, that all these years later, I have found myself drawn to a religion that espouses Love as the highest ideal? In one of my favorite passages from the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is asked by a scribe what the first or greatest commandment is. Jesus answers,

"The first is, ' shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength'. The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'. There is no other commandment greater than these."

Love - for God, for your "neighbor", for all you encounter - Love is the greatest commandment. How can I not be drawn to a Teacher with such a powerful, earth-shaking, life-changing message? /3/17/12

Friday, March 9, 2012

Divine Intuition

My reading this morning can be distilled down to one lovely, simple sentiment that resonates powerfully to me -

FAITH is God within you.

I have held this in my mind as I've set about my day, coming back to it whenever I recalled the reading and mulling it over: Faith is God within me; I have Faith, so I have God. I have God, so I have Faith. What is within me, guides me...

I have always been an "intuitive" person. I think about all those times that "Intuition" has re-directed my actions, whether big or small, and it clicks for me - that voice that we call Intuition, the feeling in your gut that tells you when something is "right" or "wrong", that voice that whispers within and helps us to decide which path to take... that is God. In Episcopalian parlance, it is the part of the Trinity that we call the Holy Spirit, that part that lives inside each of us (while also being part of everyone & everything else). To be “moved by the Spirit” is to feel that push or pull of Inspiration or Love or to hear the whisper of the Voice that guides us. I am practically giddy with this realization. Maybe it's simple and so obvious that everyone-but-me already knows it... but I feel the need to share it, anyway.

The reason this excites me and fills me with such warmth is that while I wasn't always certain where I stood with God, whether I understood or practiced religion or spirituality correctly, and sometimes didn't recall that God was with me... I have always known I could trust my “Intuition”. It's a voice I was encouraged to listen to, and to nurture an understanding of from an early age, though I was taught to think of it as "Me", my “Deeper Self”... I think that may even be the "proof" that some use to say "there is no God" (ie: it's all within us, so all there is, is Self). But that's not the whole truth of it. Yes - what is within me guides me; there is wisdom there that I can tap into, unconscious or subconscious knowledge, deeper understandings - it is all within me, and of me... I worked on paying better attention to my intuition and trusting it to lead me correctly, depended upon it... and all the time, "It" was God. That's a big enough thought to make me pause and re-read it while I'm writing.

 I hold a belief that many disagree with and some downright condemn. It is this: that we all – or most of us – do believe in, commune with and/or have a relationship with God. The same God. We call it – call Him, call Her – by different names, or describe it with no name or form… but I believe we really ARE calling out to the same thing. Or not the same thing, exactly – it’s more that God can be many things to many people, and still be God. If I believe – and I do – that “with God, ALL things are possible”… then how could I assume that God is so limited as to only be how the Episcopalians (or the Catholics or the Mormons or the Hindus or the Jews or the Pagans or any of the other religions of the world), describe it? The very nature of the Divine is that it is limit-less – without limits or boundaries.  So if I say, “Ah, but God is actually like this”… I have just implied, “and not like THAT”. It is from this place of belief, of faith, that I can say, “There is only one God”… yes, and that God is everything; everyone gets to be “right” – because “their” God… IS God. All one. /3/9/12

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Opening Doors

So, I "came out" today as a Christian. That is, to The-World-as-defined-by-FaceBook...

My faith has become a big part of my life and who I am now, and I decided it was time to put it out there in the open - at least to friends I know well but don't see or speak with often, to some I've known over the years in what sometimes seems a past life entirely.... It may seem odd, my reluctance to share this, but I think it's been well-founded. For one thing, having been raised in such a decidedly anti-religious setting, I hadn't felt like risking potential judgment (or even derision), or having to defend my position; for another (and perhaps the deeper reason behind the first), I find it's a very intimate thing, this new relationship with God that I've been nurturing, and something I cherish. I love speaking to other people of faith about their journeys, discussing various points of doctrine or history, reading scripture and comparing notes... I can actually do so quite happily for hours! But it is very personal, and I've been cautious about who I open myself up to and share it with.

Being part of All Souls has been a huge factor in how my life has shifted this past year, and I'm so very grateful for the warmth and community we've found there. I guess I've come to the point where keeping my faith journey to myself started feeling like a disservice or even a disrespect to the church that has become such a foundation for me.

Well and so - I've gone and made it public; and thus far, I've been pleasantly surprised both at the comments I've gotten, and by how good I feel about having it out in the open. I never have been good at keeping things to myself... perhaps, after all, that's a Good Thing. /3/7/12