Opening Up

The other day, The boys and I stepped out on to the deck to leave the house for a bit. They were fully clothed (miraculous, I know), I had my keys, wallet AND phone, we were ready. I am out the door first and I see, sitting just to the rear drivers side of the car, a bunny. Yep, there was Bugs just nibbling on the clover. So I paused and let both kids pass me on the stairs. I watched as the rabbit turned into granite as the kids hit the bottom step.

So I whispered, “Hey, guys, come back up here I want to show you something.”

And in that moment, as both boys stomped their way back up the steps, I knew that there were only a couple of realistic outcomes, I mean I have a six and four year old, you could list the viable options for me. But they reached the top step, saw the rabbit and the two opposing, possible outcomes occurred together as time slowed down.

Vulnerability is a scary, opening, brave opportunity we give ourselves. We invite a person into this space we have prepared both physically and mentally where we are giving them insight into what is important to us. That is a powerful gift, one that we give to ourselves and to others.

My six year old went quiet and watched. The 4 year old shouted, “I will chase it away!” Aaaand he took off down the stairs. These are common reactions when we invite people into our safe spaces. Some will sit, grateful with wonder. Others will run and chase the wonder away, unable to sit in the moment.

Being vulnerable, in this moment, didn’t cost me much, honestly I was expecting both boys to chase the rabbit away. If anything, the rabbit was really the vulnerable one that shared the moment with us. Sometimes vulnerability is inviting a child to come see a rabbit, hoping that they embrace the quiet beauty of the moment with you. Other times, it is daring to nibble on clover while maintaining eye contact with a creature much larger than ourselves.

And there are large, intimidating creatures out there that are continually staring us down. But can we feed ourselves if we don’t acknowledge we are hungry?? We are starving to be known and there is no security in baring parts of ourselves, even to people we trust—in fact that can be even scarier, but on the flip side, there isn’t any true security in our silence either. If we are not willing to be so beautifully brave, we will simply fade more and more from lack of simple, open connection. I want more for me than that. I want more for you.

This all sounds fluffy. But it really is hard to feed ourselves the connection of openness when we are sore, battered, bruised, traumatized by a society of make believe perfection and hard core judgement. Vulnerability is freaking hard and scary. Talking about miscarriage. Or spousal abuse— physical OR emotional, being fired from work, topics of shame or fear. These are hard things, but I think vulnerability just might be the food that helps us realize we are not alone.

Step 7

I am in the last half of a year of concentrated recovery of faith. a year of so many questions. Questions about who I was, am, want to be. Questions about who God was and is and is yet to be. Questions about what the collective Church was… is… and maybe could be… will be. And what do I have to show for it? Ironically, a lot more questions, but also a lot more peace.

This month I took a look at what triggers a reaction in me, then I had dessert and began reading three very interesting books. Dessert was necessary, triggers are very uncomfortable and frustrating embodiments of what is happening within us mentally and spiritually. Reading the books began as joyful and inspiring, but quickly morphed into intolerable. As in ‘heart racing, breath holding, need to break and go for a walk to regain composure’ kind of discomfort. I took breaks to do dishes and clean— does this tell you how uncomfortable this was??

“The Power of Love,” by Bishop Michael Curry, “Eat This Book,” by Eugene Peterson, and “Inspired,” by Rachel Held Evans. Wonderful books. Challenging books. Horrible books. All of which points to the fact that they are books that were indeed worth the read. Each of them challenged me to partake of Scripture again. Which sounds wonderful, and it is, but it is also scary.

Why is it scary to approach a book that I would once upon a time spend hours a day in? Because I used to accept the easy answers about the seriously questionable parts of this Holy Script, like a Hello Kitty bandaid on a seven inch wide stab wound. Because I am now even more aware of how that book has been used to hurt people for hundreds of years. Because that book is so tied up in current politics. Because the Church has become so divisive and uses its own Scriptures to to be so.

In Inspired, I was introduced to the practice of midrash. Evans quotes Wilda Gafney, “Midrash interprets not only the text before the reader, but also the text behind and beyond the text and the text between the lines of the text. In rabbinic thinking, each letter and the spaces between the letters are available for interpretive work.” (If you would like an excellent example of midrash, read the children’s book “Miriam at the River,” by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Khoa Lee. Seriously, go to your library and just sit and read it. Like now.) In very basic terms, midrash seems to be this idea of entering Scripture. Pick a text, read it a couple times then close your eyes, imagine the smells… the textures… the sounds…. Then watch what is happening in that passage and also inside of you. Every book ever written is an invitation to participate in a grand adventure, but if the words stay on the page, the journey never begins. Midrash is our formal invitation into Scripture.

But Eugene Peterson wrote and elaborated on Isaiah 31:4 and the word ‘growl.’ In the Hebrew it is hagah and is “usually translated as “meditate”… But Isaiah uses this word to refer to a lion growling over his prey the way my dog worried a bone. Hagah is a word that our Hebrew ancestors used frequently for reading the kind of writing that deals with our souls.” If we watch a lion or a dog chewing on a bone, there is a determination to wring out the very last morsel of joy and nutrition that they possibly can. If midrash is us entering Scripture then hagah is Scripture entering us.

Do you begin to see how that is both very enticing and terrifying in the same breath? When the words that we are challenged to partake of and be a part of are the very same words that were preached to slaves to keep them enslaved… these words were used to lead crusades… Spanish Inquisition anyone? How about forced assimilation/conversion of Native Americans in Canada? Or how about how when it is used to persecute the LGTBQ community? When Scripture is used to justify racism embedded in our culture?

But what midrash and hagah have taught me is that we aren’t to take the Bible and just accept it because it is “the Bible.” No, we are to sink our teeth into it and tear it apart. Wrestle with it— like Jacob with the Angel. Embody the struggle within it and acknowledge the struggle within ourselves. I think that is part of what Bishop Curry was saying when he reminded us, “Jesus said in Matthew’s gospel, “The scribe who is fit for the Kingdom goes into their treasure box and pulls out something old that becomes something new.””

These songs have been on repeat in my brain. Give a listen.

Step 6

Hi, my name is Katie and I am working through the sixth step of my program: I am ready to have God remove my character defects.

Step 5 was both terrifying and amazing. It felt transformative. Mountain peak and depths of hell all in one. Yet coming to Step 6 felt like every doubt and question of worth rolled up and filled with exhaustion, quarrels, and an extra dollop of ‘give up.’ Step five looked at who I was… step six is looking at who I am becoming.

But upon actually beginning this step, it felt more like acceptance. Actually that isn’t correct. It felt like recovering. Not recovery— but recovering. The first five steps helped me to break down and really see much of the brokenness around/in/of my faith and the spirituality I had engrained into my soul. This step was a break from that as I took a moment to recover. To absorb the change… and begin to believe it.

If I go about my usual work out routine. Scratch that. Let’s imagine, for a moment, I have a regular workout routine: walk two miles, jog two miles, half hour of light weight lifting. That is fairly simple, it will take maybe 24 hours to provide the muscles adequate time to rest and grow. Now if I decide to suddenly run 22 miles and weight lift for two hours, both things my body and brain are completely unprepared to do… it will take a couple weeks for my body to recover.

This, what I am doing, is both doubling the. mileage and weight achieved the day before and continuing on. And it is hard and it feels incredibly lonely and like I am fucking it up. So this month is recovering. Giving my head time to breathe, my soul time to process, my spirit time to actually believe the changes I am challenging myself with are possible. That means laying on the floor and staring at the ceiling. Sitting by the river. Listening to a song on repeat and crying each time. Spending time taking deep breathes. Finding a safe massage therapist and getting a massage… or three. Visiting some of the people that are necessary for my soul.

But how does that connect with God removing character defects? Maybe it doesn’t or maybe it goes back thousands years to one of the greatest defects of all time: our unwillingness to recognize that God leads us into places and seasons of rest— physically, emotionally, spiritually—for the simple purpose of rest.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures…

He leads me beside still waters…

He restores my soul…

You prepare a table before me…

You anoint my head with oil…

Excerpts from Psalm 23 (ESV)

There is something interesting in the 23 Psalm which I think shows a transition in the author which in turn illustrates an opportunity for us. The first three verses the author is talking to us, but in the next two verses we disappear as the author shifts their attention to God. To me it illustrates the difference between knowing about what has been prepared for us and participating in that very thing.

Here are couple songs have meant a lot to me the past couple of weeks.

Tea With a Brother

The intimacy of sitting in little chairs,
with your brother
at a little table set for two.
Having a little tea or cocoa,
in little tiny cups.
…imagining what it is like
to be another,
to be you at a different time.

Here, sitting with your brother
with just a taste
of orange, 
and just a taste of apple,
and just a taste 
of an older life.
…and being real,
being both silly
and  grown up.

Then looking out the window,
seeing the horizon in the distance,
the edge that is yet to be explored.
Sitting there with  your  older self,
tucked safely deep inside.
This communion, always with you
at a table set for two.
You are living now, as you will be living then.
Though, your view is sheltered,
this is who you are.

The courage it will take to leave,
But, the delight in coming back…
to this shelter,
to this tea,
to this brother, and
to this your centered self.

This poem came from seeing a picture of two grandsons having “tea”, a small snack to provide some nourishment but also to occupy them for a “little” while. It is a beautiful picture of two brothers having fun…the older looking out the window that he faced, past the younger. While the younger seemed to be chatting and engrossed in the setting.

The Roar

The roar, a prayer, from somewhere deep
A prayer of grief
that keening makes,
…because of pain that mourning shapes. 
A moan at first, there are no words,
then wrenching out to final roar. 

The roar it comes from somewhere real
Do not defy, do not pretend:
This place, this desert, so destitute.
A rocky valley, a swirling eddy, …
a place where others seldom enter .
But it is the
cry for others,
and how tragic if not shared.
So roar your prayer, and some may see,
this place with empathy.

To listen to the roar
is to listen to a prayer,
look  down the depth of pain,
look down that  well with them,
…then sob and wail.
For from the bottom of that well
their honest roar it came.

How can the body hold,
such grief, such anger or despair?
It must not, else it fall apart.
Let it roar and be a prayer. 
Oh, Lord, this roar,
is our only prayer.
It is our holy prayer.

So for now
find that place where you can roar
and let the roar be your honest  prayer,
your primal prayer…
…your only prayer.
Then take a breath…
and say, 

In Psalm 73, the psalmist says, “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant: I was a brute beast before you.” (verses 21 & 22)  Sometimes our prayers are groans or sighs.  And sometimes they reach to the center of our core and are expressed in roars, from that place of deep grief, frustration, anger or utter despair.  Seldom do we give each other or ourselves permission to express that sort of emotion, and that is tragic.  So it is stuffed and I wonder if it leaks out of us in other ways…unhealthy ways.