Thea, I seek to reveal myself to you in words, and often my words feel like failures. But you see and hear and touch me whether my words suffice or not. Behold me, Thea. Marvel at your creation as you always have. Amen.
I was invited to offer a guest blog post on Path: Ethic, a blog that discusses ethical issues on subjects from politics to philosophy to parenting (and beyond). From the blog description:
Whether we desire a religious roadmap to show us which path is the right (or the righteous) one, or whether we insist on stories from the Ancients to tell us how to lead our lives in the future: in this complicated world where we connect everyday with others who are so similar yet separate from us, what does it mean to lead a moral life, to tread gently, to do least harm?
I wanted to create a space to ask those questions. Not to ask ‘what would Jesus or Buddha or Queen Victoria do?’, but rather, ‘what should WE do?’. This is a place to look at what is happening around us and think about what role we choose to play. It is a place to discuss and ponder and to always ask why.
Path: Ethic is a blog that transcends the blogger's usual trap of navel-gazing and serves as a gathering place for people who seek to discuss practical answers to life's most important questions.
You can find my guest post, "Secret of my success," here.
Recently I met someone who suffers from extreme nausea. He can't eat. He's afraid he's going to die. He mentioned fear of going to hell because of his past choices. I asked him in a quiet voice, "Do you believe you're going to go to hell?" He paused for a long moment, then answered, "My hesitation tells you a lot, doesn't it?" My heart wanted to burst in that moment. How could I, who have sinned so greatly and hurt so many, offer my hope to him? I wrote down for him the lyrics of a slow, gentle hymn I learned years ago, the words to which were written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu: Goodness is stronger than evil Love is stronger than hate Light is stronger than darkness Life is stronger than death Victory is ours, victory is ours Through Him who loves us Today I went flipping through the psalms and found one in particular that might have resonated with him.
Psalm 143 Hear my prayer, O Lord; give ear to my supplications in your faithfulness; answer me in your righteousness. Do not enter into judgement with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.
For the enemy has pursued me, crushing my life to the ground, making me sit in darkness like those long dead. Therefore my spirit faints within me; my heart within me is appalled.
I remember the days of old, I think about all your deeds, I meditate on the works of your hands. I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.
Answer me quickly, O Lord; my spirit fails. Do not hide your face from me, or I shall be like those who go down to the Pit. Let me hear of your steadfast love in the morning, for in you I put my trust. Teach me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.
Save me, O Lord, from my enemies; I have fled to you for refuge. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. Let your good spirit lead me on a level path.
For your name’s sake, O Lord, preserve my life. In your righteousness bring me out of trouble. In your steadfast love cut off my enemies, and destroy all my adversaries, for I am your servant. As a Benedictine Canon, my daily prayer etches the psalms on my heart. A few of the psalms I remember most easily are those I memorized long ago in song. Psalm 51, Psalm 130, Psalm 63, Psalm 23, and Psalm 91 spring to mind most easily when my heart is heavy. What words do I repeat to myself about God when I am most low? How might I find fresh, life-giving, mercy-imparting words?
Through my silence practice every morning this week, my life has grown very quiet, and I'm noticing a new tone in my discernment about priestly call. My failings and faults have surfaced with a most poignant sting. I've started questioning the call I'm hearing. I've dared the call I hear to change, to go away. The funny (read: frustrating) part is that even as I've allowed myself to feel anxiety and doubt and worry during these silences, the call I hear hasn't wavered. I hear this call even though I'm not perfect, not the best fit, not the holiest person, not the most balanced person, not the cookie cutter candidate. As I continue to hear this call, I acknowledge that the outcome of all this discernment is irrelevant. My listening--my obedience--is the only thing that matters to the one I call God. Will I continue to offer over my whole heart, no matter what outcome that offering brings forth?
In Arizona, we're thirty-four hours into Lent, and I've already messed up my Lenten penance three times. Yesterday I ate lunch when I meant to fast (Ash Wednesday and all), and I had meat on top of it, which I've given up entirely for Lent. This morning meat was part of my breakfast. Each time I realized what I'd done, I couldn't believe it. I shook my head and said to myself, "Kate, what are you doing?" It's hard not to feel angry and defeated when failure comes so easily despite earnest intentions.
Perhaps there is another way to look at failure despite earnest intention. Lent is not just a time of self-sacrifice, but of being able to sit, still and present, in moments of wrong-doing. When I fail to fulfill my intentions, and I take the time to acknowledge that I've failed, it stings. That sting is my stony perfection being broken by the piercing blade of humility.
During Lent, abiding by one's penance matters. But allowing one's heart to be transformed from a self-important one to a humble, failure-acknowledging one matters even more.
I quit my job today. Several days ago, I agreed to take on an editing job. In discussing the job with the client, I asked many questions, and I also made several assumptions. I bid for what I thought would be 30-35 hours of work. It turned out that this job would require at least a hundred hours, and possibly many more. Since I had given a flat-rate bid, my hourly rate for the job went from normal-for-me to piddly--not even a decent fraction of minimum wage. So I quit. And I felt terrible about it. Then the mental onslaught began. You didn't keep your word. You didn't stick it out when things got rough. You took the easy way out. You need the money--you should have just sucked it up. You're a lousy contractor. You're an unreliable editor. (Oh, and the client, when I offered to send along the fruits of my already many hours of work in exchange for pro-rated pay, accused me of scamming. So--) Your client thinks you're a cheat and a scammer. Quitters are losers. Want it spelled out? Foxtrot. Alpha. India. Lima. Uniform. Romeo. Echo. Quitting doesn't sit well with me, not even a little. Quitting produces a magnifying glass that channels rays of truth and burns me. Quitting elicits a shockwave of realization and memory that knocks the breath out of me. Once, when I was twelve years old, I jumped off a swing and landed on my back. I couldn't breathe for at least thirty seconds, maybe more. I was terrified. The pain mounted with every passing second. Worse, I was alone, without help, and without any means to summon help. I wondered if I was going to pass out. I wondered if I was about to die. Quitting is like that. It's an admission of inability to do what I've said I can do. It's self-mutilation of the picture-perfect persona I've worked so hard to build and maintain. It's an unfathomable crack in my impenetrable defenses, a loophole of vulnerability. It's the potential for destruction. Quitting is the seed of weedy humiliation. How can I sink any lower than to go back on my word, to admit that I was wrong in my own self-expectation? Is there anything worthy of redemption in a quitter? I am forced to face my own genuine failings so infrequently that it's world-shifting when it happens. It's one thing to admit failing in a general way, as in Psalm 51, but to name and own particular failings is a much more daunting task. I don't want anyone to know that I'm not as awesome as I present myself to be. I don't want anyone to know that I fail. I don't want anyone to know that I'm not a model feminist. I don't want anyone to know that sometimes I'm a lousy parent or spouse or friend. Because then I might be ordinary, right? Then I might require a reexamination of the awesome person I think I manage to be most of the time. And that might change who I am. And if I change, then who am I? Do you suppose this is why we describe God as immutable, unchanging, and sinless? Because we are so fearful of change and sin in ourselves, and so resentful of it in others? What if God were more like humans? What if God were more like me? What if bearing the divine spark within me meant accepting my failings without idolizing them, so that the awesomeness could shine through the muck? What if quitting and failure are two sides of the same tool, designed to cut facets in us so we can capture light more brilliantly, like jewels? What if failure is the only available path to discovering who I really am, as shone through God's marvelous light?
My baby crawled for the first time today. Her dad and sister and I cheered her on wildly as if she had just hit a grand slam. (The first object she went for was a crinkly package of baby wipes; the second was a major league baseball. Yes, a little music and a little baseball confirm that she is our child.) I feel like her--inching forward, reaching for that which I behold, struggling little by little with every bit of my strength to get where I'm going. With her, it's a down-on-the-ground, whole-bodied struggle. With me, it's a battle raging within me over a single, burning question: whether or not I qualify as a leader. (Weird inner battles, I'm good at them.) I'm not an alpha female. I know women--amazing women--who are alpha types. I admire them, but I'm not one of them, nor do I have any desire to be one. This obviously precludes me from assuming any role of religious (ordained) leadership. I still hear this call to leadership, though, which makes my eyes cross. Come on, Goddess. Non-alpha types don't make leaders. The whole notion is absurd. How can I be a leader when I'm the one who's always been in the background, observing more often than herding? When I've been told to my face that I'm not a leader? Leadership roles in my case seem (as my medically trained hubby would say) contraindicated. Conveniently, I've never had to grapple with this before, because I've always belonged to a tradition in which I would never have to take seriously (or be taken seriously regarding) my call to religious (i.e. ordained) leadership. Now I'm about to be received in a tradition that does, and I'm flailing like my infant daughter. How am I supposed to get where I'm going if I don't have the juice to do it? For fun, I decided to humor my Lady Goddess and google "characteristics of a leader." I found this list.
Proactive vs. Reactive The exceptional leader is always thinking three steps ahead. Working to master his/her own environment with the goal of avoiding problems before they arise.
Flexible/Adaptable How do you handle yourself in unexpected or uncomfortable situations? An effective leader will adapt to new surroundings and situations, doing his/her best to adjust.
A Good Communicator As a leader, one must listen...a lot! You must be willing to work to understand the needs and desires of others. A good leader asks many questions, considers all options, and leads in the right direction.
Respectful Treating others with respect will ultimately earn respect.
Quiet Confidence Be sure of yourself with humble intentions.
Enthusiastic Excitement is contagious. When a leader is motivated and excited about the cause people will be more inclined to follow.
Open-Minded Work to consider all options when making decisions. A strong leader will evaluate the input from all interested parties and work for the betterment of the whole. Resourceful Utilize the resources available to you. If you don't know the answer to something find out by asking questions. A leader must create access to information. Rewarding An exceptional leader will recognize the efforts of others and reinforce those actions. We all enjoy being recognized for our actions! Well Educated Knowledge is power. Work to be well educated on community policies, procedures, organizational norms, etc. Further, your knowledge of issues and information will only increase your success in leading others.
Open to Change A leader will take into account all points of view and will be willing to change a policy, program, cultural tradition that is out-dated, or no longer beneficial to the group as a whole.
Interested in Feedback How do people feel about your leadership skill set? How can you improve? These are important questions that a leader needs to constantly ask the chapter. View feedback as a gift to improve.
Evaluative Evaluation of events and programs is essential for an organization/group to improve and progress. An exceptional leader will constantly evaluate and change programs and policies that are not working.
Organized Are you prepared for meetings, presentations, events and confident that people around you are prepared and organized as well?
Consistent Confidence and respect cannot be attained without your leadership being consistent. People must have confidence that their opinions and thoughts will be heard and taken into consideration. Delegator An exceptional leader realizes that he/she cannot accomplish everything on his own. A leader will know the talents and interests of people around him/her, thus delegating tasks accordingly.
Initiative A leader should work to be the motivator, an initiator. He/she must be a key element in the planning and implementing of new ideas, programs, policies, events, etc.
But... I am/do all of those things when it comes to something I care about and am deeply invested in. So... Moi? Leader? I'm not an alpha leader. I'm a servant leader. I lead by example. I'm dazzling and inspiring in a different way. Folks don't generally want to be me--they want to be around me. When I live out my (rather awesome) ideals, I am at the service of others, rather than in charge of them. That's how my leadership manifests. I've just never formally thought of leadership, especially religious leadership, like that. Now that I see it at work at St. Augustine's, however--a context which has become my context, rather than remaining someone else's--it makes a surprising amount of sense. Tune in again soon for more from the M. Kate Meets Her Vocation show!
December 23 O Emmanuel, Rex et Legifer noster, expectatio gentium and salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos, Domine Deus Noster!
O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, expectation of the nations and their savior: come to save us, Lord our God!
To those against whom I have sinned, There's no easy way for me to say this, so let me start with the most important part: I am sorry. I have done you wrong, and I am sorry. I have hurt you, and I am sorry.
For every time I had an advantage over you and used it to your disadvantage, I'm sorry. For every time I threw you into a crisis of self-doubt and self-hatred, I'm sorry. For every time I shouted at you, called you names, slandered you behind your back, excluded you, ridiculed you, and broke your heart, I'm sorry. For every time I chose my own interest at your expense and obfuscated the truth, I'm sorry. For every time I physically, mentally, verbally, and spiritually harmed you, I'm sorry. For every time I tried to come between you and the ones you loved, I'm sorry. For every time I chose the lazy way at your expense, I'm sorry. For every time my words or actions invited you to act or speak in ways you regret, I'm sorry. For every time I spoke or acted in any unkind, uncharitable, unloving way, I'm sorry. For these words that will probably never reach you, I'm sorry. For these words that you probably wouldn't believe anyway, I'm sorry. For every wrong that I have forgotten, I'm sorry. For everything I do in the future to convince you that I'm still as stony-hearted as ever, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. All I have left to offer you is my open hands, waiting in emptiness to receive your undeserved forgiveness. With broken love, Kate
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?
Sometimes I look in the mirror and all I can say is, "Kate, you've failed. Again." This has been happening more often than not lately, and it's really getting me down.
Failure is one of those items that I find hard to bear. It goes against my impulse to be successful, to look good in the eyes of my friends, my family, and my colleagues.
And maybe this is why I continue to be Christian. Jesus, the man who's supposed to be the Messiah, failed, too. He died a horrific death instead of completing the establishment of a new reign, and his followers had to make up excuses about why. He became the sacrificial lamb, they reasoned. It must have been God's will, they claimed.
What do I do when I fail? Figure out where to lay blame. Explain it away. The same exact thing.
But maybe I fail because I just haven't done enough, I haven't put in enough effort, I haven't been smart enough or quick enough or clever enough.
Every pore of my being screams out that this cannot be, but it is.
And Lent is one of the few times when not doing enough is enough. Jesus dying on the cross is enough.
And when failure occurs, that is the moment when room is made for something greater, more powerful, and more enduring than what was.
If I deny my failure, how can that failure be resurrected?