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.
My dear friend, Denise, has given me a number of CD's in the past--she gave out CD's as party favors for her daughter's fifth birthday party, and she gave me a couple of CD's to listen to as travel music for our journey out of California and into Arizona. One of the songs on one of those CD's caught my attention a month or two ago: "It’s Amazing" by Jem. It's one of those songs that catches your ear--her cool, low, non-urgent voice makes the song very singable, and my humming has turned to singing as I've listened to the song more closely. I was surprised to realize that this was a song about following the deepest desires of one's heart. Do it, now, you know who you are You feel it in your heart and you're burning with ambition But first, wait, won't get it on a plate You're gonna have to work for it harder an’ harder And I know, ‘cause I've been there before Knocking on the doors with rejection [rejection] And you'll see, ‘cause if it's meant to be Nothing can compare to deserving your dreams This has become an anthem for me, both for my discernment process in particular and for my life in general. The trouble I've discovered with intentional listening is that I often listen through the voices I have heard before, and often the most powerful voices from my past have shut me down.
Patience, now, frustration’s in the air And people who don't care well it's gonna get you down And you'll, fall, yes you will hit a wall But get back on your feet an’ you'll be stronger and smarter And I know, ‘cause I've been there before Knocking down the doors won't take no for an answer And you'll see, ‘cause if it's meant to be Nothing can compare to deserving your dreams
It turns out that it was usually the unpowerful voices--the voices who had little if any influence over my opportunities--that urged and whispered and cheered me on, naming my gifts in truth and freedom. As I listen to the prophetic sung words of Jem, I find that the power in the voices of my life is shifting. Don't be embarrassed Don't be afraid Don't let your dreams slip away It's determination and using your gift And everybody has a gift Never give up Never believe the hype Trust your instincts and most importantly You've got nothing to lose So just go for it
The great challenge of my life, at age 32, is to speak with the conviction of my heart without holding back for fear of anything, whether it's fear of being misunderstood, fear of being perceived as arrogant, or fear of being regarded as simply wrong. In order to embrace my conviction, I've had to let go of my ego's desire to manage everyone's image of me and simply present myself and my call--my heart's deepest, most life-giving, energizing desire--as I understand them in their fullness. The conviction of my heart bears a truth that is greater than power.
It's amazing, it's amazing All that you can do It's amazing, makes my heart sing Now it's up to you As I continue to listen and speak in my discernment circle, I bring my whole self to the conversation with the intention of being fully seen--by others, by God, and by me. The hardest questions have invited new clarity; the easiest questions have affirmed how much work I've already done to hear God's call for my life. As I seek to balance the voices that invite deeper questioning and voices that deeply affirm, how do I hold all the voices in tension with the longing that God has planted deep within me, which only I can speak?
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.
While sipping a hot cup of Ten Ren King's tea and chatting with a dear friend from the San Francisco Bay Area on Facebook, my friend wrote this to me: "kate, I am so happy for you - it seems your life is developing in amazing ways" (NB: The editor in me would like to capitalize and punctuate that sentence, but the friend in me knows better.) My friend is right, you know. I'm struck by how very much my life has changed in a very, very short period of time. I started this blog/site two years ago today. I wrote this:
Hurrah! Thanks to the inspiration of a dear friend of mine, Noach, I have planted the seed of this blog (and broader website). I hope it will yield many vibrant, lush, delicious fruits, and perhaps yield some long-lasting connections in the process.
Is it any surprise that the same friend who helped me plant this seed of a website and blog is now bursting with joy for me at what has risen up from the dark, fertile soil of my dreams and yearning? I look back at the woman I was in 2012--a first time mom; an office manager at a small synagogue; a frustrated, well-educated, sad, and increasingly jaded Roman Catholic--and I see someone who knew that 2012 was a beginning rather than an end. I had no real idea of where the road would lead, but I knew I would be creating the road for myself as I went along, and that I would visit some unusual and unfamiliar places along the way. My mantra lately, when folks ask me how I like Arizona, is, "I never thought I'd like living in the desert." But I do. My family is happy here. My husband has a job in which he thrives. I'm able to be at home with my girls for now, do fun-to-me gigs, and write to my heart's content. And finally, at long last, I get to be a both-feet-all-the-way-in member of a religious community in which I am valued, period--no strings attached, no hidden agendas, no glass ceiling. I love this community so much that my heart aches, as if it might burst. It's like being home again, but it's more than that. I'm not just part of the beauty that is my new community; I'm becoming a leader in bringing forth that beauty. Me. A woman. A thirty-something from Ohio who very early on learned to shut up and take it when something or someone wasn't good enough, even when what was good enough was within my reach, and even when what wasn't good enough was sanctioned by my religious leaders. Two years later, in 2014, I find myself in the midst of imperfect, beautiful people, and just by being my own imperfect self, I am amazing. I am vibrant. I am what I was searching for two years ago. It just took being planted in a fertile garden, free of choking weeds, for me to see myself stretched up tall and completely radiant for the first time.
I made my oblation to the Benedictine Canon Community of St. Mary of the Annunciation this morning. You know me--I like it when timing is more than a coincidence. The Prior of the OSBCn Community here in Tempe allowed me to schedule my oblation for the third Sunday of Advent, not only signifying a heart-opening beginning, which is what Advent is in relationship to the liturgical year, but also signifying a time of rejoicing. The Latin Introit for this Sunday is where Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, gets its nickname: Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus enim prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione petitiones vestræ innotescant apud Deum. Benedixisti Domine terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Jacob.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob. Could there be a more fitting liturgical opening on the day of my entrance into this community? When I pray today, I find myself saying in faith, Rejoice. Rejoice. The Lord is near at hand. She is near at hand, and you need have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by constant prayer, and with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to Her. Lady, you have blessed your creation and turned us from our deadening captivity. It is a fitting day indeed. It is an empowering day. Today I committed to the regular work prayer, and I find in that prayer the freedom to transcend my self-concern. Each welcome from the members of my community was a tap-tap-tap on the still stony shell around my heart, bidding it to break free. To stretch out my arms, to enfold sisters and brothers and neighbors in love: these are my new tasks. What a strange gift. What a novel reminder of my baptism. What a poignant icon of the divine spark that finds fuel in my humanity. I feel more fully myself today than I ever have in my life. Here in this place, accompanied by my family, my church community, my sister and brother Benedictines, and my holy cloud of witnesses from every part of the earth and God's heavenly banquet, I am home.
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?