Sunday, January 27, 2013

Tissue Prayers

When I was in fourth grade at Bowie Elementary School in San Angelo, Texas, I kept a messy cubby. My teacher at the time called it my regurgitating locker with papers, pens, spiral notebooks, homework assignments, math sheets and colored pencils struggling to work their way to the edge and out onto the floor. It represented my mind too full of ADHD, daydreams, equations, words, God and deep sadness even as a ten year old. Out of this mess, I wrote poetry, played guitar, hummed and then sang folk music and wondered about God. I was Shiva the Destroyer breaking down my mind and creating from it. Not much has changed in forty years.

My house is relatively neat except for one corner. In my den behind the couch, a regurgitating miasma waits for my full attention; two baskets of paper bills, a world globe, a sewing machine, stacked clear plastic containers of quilting fabrics, a fishing tackle box of beads and beading supplies, photos and the albums they should need to go into, and a fabric cutting mat -- muscle for space in front of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves of crafts, theology, fiction and gardening books.

The problem with the past is we perceive it as a regurgitating space of disorder, random experiences, joyful surprises, creative bursts and shameful moments. The past will always encroach on the present and future and it must; the past is who we were and in a universe of constant becoming, the past is along for the ride. Sure I could shove all my clutter under the table in my den, but like the past, shoving dust under a rug only masks it and doesn't solve the issues. And the future? Worry. Always worry.

The Buddha is right, one must concentrate on the present moment to explore one's divinity or from my own religious tradition, the Christ within. But what about the pesky past or the anxious future? They're always getting in the way.

A few years ago, I developed a spiritual tradition called "Tissue Prayers." Finding a comfortable position in a chair (meditation does not have to be painful to be successful!) I write on pieces of paper my joys and heartbreaks, hopes and fears, and I place them in a baggie or paper sack. Like tickets in a raffle, I shake them up. At this point I either stand and walk in a circle similar to the Labyrinth discipline or I remain seated and pick out each item one by one. I cry over it, maybe clutch the paper to my heart and when I have honored and accepted every feeling, asked for forgiveness if needed, and offered them up to the Divine Healer, I discard the paper just like a tissue. I have also been known to burn the tissue prayers and on one occasion, I buried them. Either way, my gesture serves one function; I am done with this for now. I perform this prayer discipline at the beginning of every retreat so my mind and heart can be in the present moment -- ready to receive healing in the present for the past and future.

If ever you need to clear the slate and open up your heart to healing and divine love, tissue prayers will get you there.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Have Gun Will Enslave

"If you need a gun to make yourself free, then you're not really free."
The right wing gun nuts like to equate their right to own guns to their right to live as free people. If you want to visit a community where everyone arms themselves to the teeth, you don't need a time machine to the Old West but a plane ticket to El Salvador. I visited the country as a seminary student in 1995, shortly after the end of the decades long civil war, and everywhere I saw guns! guns! guns! with children as young as 13 carrying assault style weapons in the dirt filled streets. Posters pasted to concrete walls, on the side of buildings, and tied to metal fences extolled the virtues of a martyr society with pictures of Romero, the six slaughtered Jesuit priests, and other leaders, (some unlike the priests who had used gun violence to achieve their aims) and they had all died by guns. The society was many things, but it was definitely not free.

During our trip, our group met with the head of the Christian Democratic Party. A minister, he carried a gun easily visible at his side. His predecessor had been assassinated the previous year on the front porch of the very building we had entered moments before. One of us pressed the issue and chided him for packing heat as a minister. He explained violent struggle was necessary to achieve democratic results and then he ended with this statement.
"If I don't carry a gun, I can't defend myself. I would die."
Even with the gun, you're going to die, I thought. 

Jesus abhorred violence and with no exceptions, he taught his followers to do the same. Jesus didn't make allowances for just wars, collateral damage or necessary kills. For Jesus, the one who kills another human being murders his own soul. 

Freedom comes from love and not violence. If you need a gun to make yourself free, then you're not really free.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Praying at a Closed Door

As a chaplain and minister, I've heard many prayer requests over the years and most of them from people content to ask for so much less than they deserved or desired. Unlike televangelists or the Pat Robertsons of the world, most folks were humble and contrite in their requests wanting nothing more than a change in their attitude, relationships, physical illness, or job situations. What they were really asking for was healing

When Jesus says "Knock and the door shall be opened," and "Ask, you shall receive," I take him at his word, but so often I have knelt or cradled my wounds at some door -- closed, shut and impenetrable. This is when I'm in real trouble. The easy answer -- find the open door, but when I do, I realize I'm on the Titanic. I don't need a door but a life raft.

Lately, I've been making my knuckles raw pounding on that door: pondering if the best of life is over because of a looming empty nest; knowing I am changing physically and spiritually AGAIN and I can't control the outcome; worrying about my potentially life threatening and certainly quality-of-life threatening illness; responding to the command to finally move out of Texas and into the mountains -- mine and my husband's lifelong dream; but, wanting answers of where, how and when, NOW.

I am asking the right questions, at the right time but from the wrong perspective. God's time is not my time and God's concerns are for my spirit and not so much about my body or earthly constraints. God cares for me, YES, but God cares for that part of me that is infinite -- the spirit living a human existence. Changes the answers doesn't it.

Mother Teresa ministered to the lepers and the Dalia Lama has lived in exile- both over fifty years. Nelson Mandela prayed for the healing of a nation from a jail cell on Robber's Island for twenty-seven years. Jesus spent forty days and nights in a desert, without food and water, seeking his answers. The spiritual life is never easy.

The optimal time for a woman to give birth is when the cervix has thinned one hundred percent and opened to ten centimeters. There is preparing, nesting, laboring and yes, even pain, before the head crowns.

So I will sit at my door to wait for it to open. And knowing me, I will bang on it from time to time, but I will keep this forward in my mind -- pause, breathe, listen and discern. The possibilities are endless and God is choosing the right one for me.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Sacrifice the Bible on the Altar of Love

This morning my husband, Britt gave Blythe my car to take to Best Buy so she could pick up a new cell phone.  A good plan except for the slow leak in my left-front tire. When I pointed out this problem to my husband, he began to worry. Without anyway to contact our daughter (her cell phone had broken) to hurry home, Britt went looking for her but couldn't find her. He drove to Best Buy, Hastings bookstore, the library, and any other place he thought she might go. Every few minutes he called me in the hopes she had already arrived home safely. Convinced she was stuck on the side of the road somewhere with a flat, we breathed a huge sigh of relief when she drove up the driveway two hours later having gone to Half-Price bookstore and lunch. Good parents worry and do everything possible to keep their children safe.

I spent all afternoon researching the first fifteen verses of Genesis 22 and for my minister and Hebrew speaking friends, I could make a strong, academic and spiritual argument for why Abraham never intended to slay Issac, nor was Yahweh even asking Abraham to sacrifice his only son.  Instead, I want to pass God's test of me this way: if I must interpret the text as it is traditionally presented -- Abraham showed courageous obedience to God by his willingness to murder his only child -- then I reject this story. The Bible is wrong and this part is not inspired by any holy being. This is a text of terror, murder and the opposite of love -- hate.

Which is why this comic is spot on in pointing out the failure of the Bible to be all things to all people in modern times. This is one story we should all throw out especially if we're required to read  it literally or to call it inerrant. Any God who demands the sacrifice of a child is not loving; this God is a monster.

Why read the Bible literally when the writers never meant for it to be so? It is not a history of the middle east, neither is it a science text book about the origins of the universe. It's not even a good example of human relationships with all the raping, pillaging, murdering and destroying going on.  Our best option is to discern where it derives inspiration from God and hence, where we can glean spiritual truths. Jesus argued and debated with the texts of the Hebrew Bible as any good rabbi does because he believed higher truths could be discovered. It's why he taught in parables so each of us, first as listener then as reader, needed to work for our spiritual truths. "Let those with ears, Hear!"

Abandon your simplistic translations of the Bible from child hood: God didn't create the world in six days; God didn't flood the world and kill everything off; God didn't kill people in Sodom and Gomorrah; God didn't murder the first-born of Egypt; and God didn't demand the sacrifice of one little boy, Issac. And the virgin birth, well, let's not go there.

But do embrace these truths: God loves, nurtures and cares for each of us while also making us clean up our messes, be kind to strangers, to respect the earth and to push us to be better human beings -- just like any good parent would do.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Mediation is for Mystics ONLY!

Or so I thought. When I first started meditating twenty years ago, it was arduous work. Lots of sitting, chanting, breathing and time wasting. As an adult with ADHD, there were days when I fought my thoughts like dragons; mental daggers to keep them from swooping in and destroying my reverie. Worse was the time commitment; every morning at 5am for the only hour to myself and often locked in the bathroom. Yes, the bathroom. My kids and husband knew not to bother me there.

But when my first symptoms of what I now know was RA started to fight with me ten years ago, I had to give it up. Pain and fatigue prevented me from long sessions of deep meditation on a daily basis. Fortunately, I had learned a new form of connection with God from a seminar taught by Matthew, Dennis and Sheila Linn in San Angelo, Texas of all places, and it didn't require long hours absent from my family. All that is required is love and imagination.

Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down. No need to cross legs or sit up straight. Ask yourself this question: Who loves you most in the world? A parent, sibling, spouse, lover or friend? Living or Dead? Focus on this person and remember a time when you felt his/her love for you. Imagine this love as energy and it flows through you like lifeblood. Now remind yourself of this simple truth:

God  loves you even more. (Insert your name for the Divine: Yahweh, Allah, Jesus, Shiva, Nirvana -- you get the idea.)

Then feel the love as God wants you to experience it. Let God's love flood your brain, lungs, heart, mind, spirit, limbs, arms, legs, fingers and toes.  God's love courses through you as light and everywhere it touches, cells are transformed, energy is renewed, broken places are mended, and healing flames your heart. Bathe in this love. Luxuriate in it. Breathe it in as if it were oxygen.  If part of you resists then let the love speak for you to these dark places -- "Honey, s/he deserves this," and watch the love wash over those doubting, limiting thoughts.

Your time is up when you decide even though you may want to stay forever. You will feel grounded, centered and able to give and receive love from the day ahead.

You can also read this post on my Facebook Page -

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human one.
Teilhard deChardin