Thea, now and then I pluck up my dreams and arrange them in a vase, saying, "How beautiful! How lovely!" But in this way they are cut from their life's source, rendered rootless. Help me to remember that letting my dreams wallow in their own dirt does more for their beauty and strength than putting them on a polished table for show. Amen.
Something in my dreams last night left me anxious upon waking, so I began a mindfulness exercise, noticing the thoughts and sensations that I experienced. A bit of my dream returned to me in the midst of that exercise.
In the dream, I was aboard a ship that was leaving earth for the moon. The moon would then be set on a course for a distant, unknown planet. As the ship headed toward the moon, I watched earth explode from my window. I realized that all that I and my fellow creatures had known was now gone. Some voice--perhaps my own voice--attempted to comfort me by saying that a new world would develop, and it would learn to believe in God, too--just not the same way.
The fleeting nature of all that is, including human belief and memory, settles heavily on me. I look around my home and realize that all that matters so much to me now will be forgotten by future generations within a century. If anything remains of my life, it might be the writings I leave behind, but eventually even those will pass away along with all else that exists.
Perhaps what Julia Cameron writes as the first principle of The Artist's Way is the case: "Creativity is the natural order of life. Life is energy: pure creative energy." Perhaps all is fleeting. Perhaps to live well, to live faithfully, is to know that all creation will come to an end and to engage in the creative act anyway.
Yesterday I found myself with too much joy to bear alone. When I saw the UPS truck drive by the back of my house, I knew the driver was coming for me. I went out to greet him, and I chirped, "This is my first book!" He eyed the thirteen pound box incredulously and said, "This is a book?" "Well, it's about twenty copies of it." I grinned. He grinned back and wished me a good day. I skipped back in the house and set the box on my dining room table so I could take a picture to send my hubby.
I don't know how to describe what it's like. The disbelief and excitement I feel are akin to the feelings I had when I gave birth to each of my daughters. It isn't just that I've written something I'm deeply proud of, and it isn't just that this represents the accomplishment of a dream I've dreamed since I was thirteen. Holding this book in my hand represents a breaking free from the bonds of self-doubt and the grip of those who have ceaselessly tried to silence me. My voice is free. A burst of Easter arrives in the midst of Lent. And I feel just like this:
My dreams this week concern me. I've dreamed about killing someone I didn't know; I wasn't convicted in court for lack of evidence, even though I knew I was at fault. I've dreamed about others I did know dying of natural causes, leaving me to pick up the pieces. Last night I dreamed about an elderly friend of mine asking me to help pack up two houses: the one in which he used to live and the one in which he currently lived. He was preparing to move elsewhere, though I didn't know where. Everything I touched in his current house was laden with memory, whereas everything in the other house was strange, rich, and unlike him as far as I knew him. I'm no expert on Jung or Freud, but I do know that dreams can point dreamers to insights about themselves and their lives. What is with all the death, hiding, and transition? I woke in the middle of the night last night to get my baby daughter a bottle. When I returned, I flashed back to a conversation from my last Benedictine Canon chapter meeting. Br. Philip talked about preparing for his final profession as a Canon next month, in particular about the placing of the pall over his prostrated body. Like Br. Chad and Br. Rawleigh, Br. Philip will lay down his body at the service of God, the community, and the world. He'll be covered with a pall, the pale garment of baptism and death. I realized in the chill of the night that if I make my full profession as a Benedictine Canon, I will be committing myself to die. I crawled back into bed and closed my eyes, but words rose up, and I ended up texting myself with the words of a haiku so they wouldn't be swallowed by sleep. A funeral pall veils the diff'rence between old and new. Ego die. My dreams point me to an unexpected revelation: my old self is dying. I am being put to the test. My identity as a religious person has long been plagued with fear, self-absorption, doubt, and horded treasures, all carefully saved so I would have something to cling to in case God ever failed me. Now, step by step, I am moving forward into the intensely uncomfortable unknown: a place of overflowing trust. Father, I put my life in your hands. I'm dying--and it's okay. I'm letting the precious treasure of my life go. And what a relief. Mother, I put my life in your hands. My life will be whatever it is meant to be. The particular outcome of my life is no longer my concern. Living from moment to moment at the service of God and God's magnificent, multi-faceted creation is enough. Being able to turn again and again from my selfish fears toward God, the holy Fire who burns within me, is enough.
Last night a friend of mine from one of the social networks posed the following:
So here's a question - as a non-religious person, it's hard for me to understand the pull of this particular church. If you are not supportive of the Catholic Church's bad practices that go against the teachings of Jesus (as I would describe them, and as I suspect you might), then why is it important to be in that denomination? Is it a hope to make change from within? How is your staying in the Catholic faith good for you, and good for those oppressed by the bad practices of the Catholic hierarchy?
I offer the following in hopes of clarifying for her, for others, and for myself, just why it is that I choose not to relinquish my catholic identity.
A couple of months ago, I had a life-changing experience in an Islamic gathering place filled mostly with Jews, a symposium hosted by the local Unitarian Seminary. I realized in that place that G-d was indeed calling me, and calling me to much more than I'd ever realized. "Multi-religious identity" is the phrase that stuck with me, and I scampered off to my local Unitarian Church to experience multi-religious identity in action. I seriously considered enrolling in the local U.U. seminary, knowing that such a radically welcoming religious tradition would fit my heart's call perfectly.
Of course, I make plans, and then G-d thwarts them. I found out I was pregnant in mid-October, and all ideas of seminary, of finally fulfilling my 11-year call to ministry, went out the window again. (My family comes first, and that's the way I prefer it.)
When I realized I wasn't going to pursue seminary right away, or perhaps ever, I took a look at what I was missing when I went to the UU church. I missed two things: the ritual and the story. I don't miss the rampant bigotry or bullying, but the liturgy and scripture have shaped my life for the last thirty years. I've also been to half a handful of catholic churches in which the gospel--the good news--is truly proclaimed. Radical inclusion, in these two or three places, is the rule, not the exception. They operate as the rest of the Catholic Church should. They are what make catholicism resonate so strongly for me.
I also look at the people who most inspire me--Jewish and Muslim leaders--and I see that they have not ceased to be Jewish or Muslim simply because of the evil of some people in their respective traditions. They live their traditions rightly and beautifully, and they set an example for not only people in their traditions, but everyone around them.
That is the sort of catholic I am--not someone who kowtows to the pope (because the pope and the hierarchy are completely dispensable, as far as I'm concerned), but someone who cleaves to catholic story and ritual and sees her fellow creatures in richer, brighter hues as a result.
I am catholic with a small c--"universal" is what the word means--rather than Catholic with a big C (which is what I was when I was quietly obsessed, like so many Catholics are, with avoiding the punishments of speaking too loudly about what one really thinks). I embrace all people, whether they are religious or anti-religious or somewhere in between. I see wisdom in all ways that embrace deep and abiding love, which is the great gift the UU church has given me.
I am catholic, not because of the hierarchy's permission or lack thereof, but because I have been called by Christ, that sacred, wonderful manifestation of G-d. This is where I feel most at home--not because of the bullies, but because of the lovers. And I will remain catholic until, somehow, the stories cease to speak to me, and the holy practice of radical table fellowship and of washing the feet of others ceases to touch me.
I won't leave just because the leadership structure and many of its members are corrupt. I am no cave-dweller. I will stay as long as I find my deepest hope in the catholic (again, small c) way of being religious. And, thanks to the UU's and my Jewish and Muslim inspirations, I will be a catholic who harbors no fear. G-d will never detest me for prophetically crying out against injustice. Quite the opposite. I, unlike the vast majority of my Catholic friends, am in a place in which speaking out costs me nothing that I would regret losing. So I find myself in the position of a prophet. It's not what I expected, but I am happy to be able to plow the way for holy change in the RCC and other Christian denominations.
Bottom line? Merely being Catholic would not satisfy my heart's yearnings, but being catholic does.
I've been thick with fever for two full days now. One of the features of this fever? Nightmares.
So far my fevered, broken dreams have been all over the map, both figuratively and literally. Last night I was in Berlin, Germany. The previous night I was hanging out with Unitarian Universalists. The night before that I was I was getting ready to lead a Jewish High Holy Day service. The thing that each dream had in common was an extraordinary degree of self-doubt. I couldn't get past the sense that I was saying something wrong, letting someone down, acting like a fool, or otherwise becoming an example of a failure. I've woken up every few minutes, fighting to persuade myself to get out of these dreams, but my fighting proved futile every time. For the last two mornings I've woken up and waited for darkness to break into morning light so I could justify escaping from my night-time gloom.
Dream experts might tell me that this is my unconscious self breaking free during a time of vulnerability. Frankly, I don't want to hear it. I don't want to be battered by my unconscious mind. I don't want to dwell in all my inadequacy--I do enough of that already.
But perhaps there is some lesson here, some message that needs hearing.
I don't know what the message is, but I do know that these last two nights have left me feeling more vulnerable than I have in a long time. Being sick has left me unable to give as much as I normally do, and I'm feeling it in waking life almost as much as I am at night. It's hard not to have control over what I can do and accomplish in a given day, especially when so many people rely on me.
What can one do, what is one worth, when one suddenly can't give anything of value--when one can't do anything but take?