For Jana. An hour of work to pierce a pair of square feet, roots hidden, shallow and fierce beneath the surface. I pierced, pulled, pushed, watering as I went with drop after drop of my sweat. My blood simmered as each stubborn stem gave way to me. I tossed each aside, and then there were none, just strands of what had been, and loosened soil for new planting. A recluse pattered by, catching my eye as I dug. I offered a gloved finger then blew the spider away. Not now, my sister. And I dug, earth spilling into my gloves, painting my hands with crust. The succulent fell into the place I had made for her with a sigh. I stood, turned, and gathered the remains of what had been into the trash bin, to be transformed into compost for another life to beget life. The faucet squeaked its protest as I turned it. When I found the nozzle's boldest setting, I sprayed away the lifeless dust around the brick-lined abode until my two square feet and their new in-dweller were alone.
Tonight, under the starry sky of the searing desert, they will begin to confide their deepest secrets, and learn how to feed one another. And dear Lady Succulent- with her thick, soft skin surrounding mighty wells of gentle balm- she and her loamy lover will teach me how to live well in the desert.
Elizabeth A. Hawksworth is a published poet and historical fiction writer as well as a prominent blogger on topics of feminism, body positivity, fatphobia, writing, nannying, social justice, and spirituality. She is bold in writing about issues of ultimate concern when remaining silent and unnoticed would be, in the moment, easier. Here is part of her story.
A few hours north of Sarnia, Ontario, there is a quiet place nestled in a forest. Built with rustic logs, smelling like pine pitch, and surrounded by acres of misty trees, this small building stands, institutional and peaceful; utilitarian and somehow unique. In its natural surroundings, staring at a painting of the Baby Jesus, I found God.
Prayer, for me, has been a way to get through everyday life. I pray for health. I pray to be a better person. I pray for my family, my friends. I pray for things I want, things I don’t deserve, things I’m desperate about, things I can’t deal with. It’s not a fancy prayer. It’s often a mantra, repeated over and over, sometimes under my breath, sometimes out loud, sometimes mouthed in public places, and sometimes earnestly in the dark. And I pray every night, without fail, before I can close my eyes and sleep. I have to touch base. I have to let Him know. I need You. Please help me.
In that church retreat, hidden in the woods, I learned how to pray for more than just myself. I unlocked the talent I had all along – the talent of being able to use my words to change the world for the better. And I never felt closer to God, or more powerful with Him through me than I did then – creating creeds, weaving poetry, sharing with everyone my own personal faith, placing my feet on the path to social justice. If you had asked me then, I would have told you that I didn’t think I would ever be able to part from my relationship with God.
How things change.
I was badly wounded by the Church when I was a teenager. Shy, uncertain, and angry, I was struggling with my own sexuality and my sense of being. Holding hands with God, or so I thought, I faced the people who, also holding hands with God, told me that I didn’t belong. That I would burn in hell. That I was a sinner, a deliberate sinner, one who was so full of pride and bravado and hubris and lies, that I would never be welcome unless I changed who I was at the core. I had grown up solid in my belief that God makes us in His perfect image, and never makes mistakes. Now, I wasn’t sure if I was wrong, or if they were, but my hurt overwhelmed my faith.
I went back at 18, denying who I was. I joined a church of beauty and majesty, of tradition as old as time, and restrictions worse than any other church I’d ever been to. Was it punishment for the supposed sin of who I thought I was? To this day, I can’t answer that. All I know is that everywhere I turned, I found leaders, church members, even the Bible itself, it seemed, telling me that the person I am would never be good enough for God.
So I left. And I tried to forget.
I’m a rational person, most of the time. I also hold grudges, long after I should. And the hurt faded into twinges and then roared back to life in explosive, fiery anger. I wanted to hurt the Church the way it had hurt me. I wanted to hurt God. I wanted to burn in hell the way they said, just so that I could be myself without pretense, so I could live in sin without consequence and guilt.
And inside, I cried out for the God I knew in that quiet forest retreat. I begged Him to help me. I pushed Him away with both hands while simultaneously crying for Him in the night. And to His credit, He hasn’t let me go, though most days, I continue to angrily push and push and push, as hard as I can. He has forgiven me and continues to forgive me, despite all of my anger and moral failings, despite my hurt and my pride. He has quietly proven over and over that He thinks I am good enough for Him.
Knowing this, I suspect that one day, I will heal completely from my scars and from my open, bleeding wounds, the way that even the biggest wounds do heal. The scars will always hurt a little, but they won’t always be open and raw, ready to bleed again at another article about Christians saying “God hates fags”, or someone telling me that you can’t be Christian and gay.
But here’s the thing about healing. When you forgive someone, you don’t do it for them – not really. They benefit from it. They may think that you are doing them a favour. And maybe, part of healing is to acknowledge that you acted wrongly, too, even if at the time, you don’t think you did. Maybe part of it is to be like God, and not push away your fellow human, even if that fellow human has done cutting, horrible things to your psyche and to your sense of self.
The thing about healing is that forgiveness is mostly for you. It’s to reach out with your own humanity and be the bigger person. It doesn’t mean you forget, and it doesn’t mean that you have to draw that person back into your heart. What it does mean is that where the rushing, raging rivers have broken the bridge of faith, forgiveness helps to place new planks, to tie the knots back into the ropes. Where the bridge has rotted in places, forgiveness places brand new materials to make your bridge stronger than ever before. Where the bridge is shaky, forgiveness helps to steady it so that when you walk across it and try to meet God on the other side, it’s not so hard and scary to cross it.
Because when it comes to healing, it might take awhile. It might take a long time to rebuild your bridge. And I’m not saying that someone isn’t going to come along and say cutting things that will throw it into disrepair. I’ve rebuilt my bridge many times now . . . and I’ve begged God to help me find the strength to do it again.
Your bridge isn’t just to God. Your bridge is to your fellow humans, as well. The ones that put up walls to keep others out – your bridge goes to their door and invites them to come and meet you in the middle. The ones that tell you you’re not welcome – your bridge goes to them and tells them that they are welcome to come and belong with you. And the ones that meet you with hatred – your bridge shows them that the easier path is love.
Because maybe the place you’re all trying to reach is that little church retreat in the woods, with the whispering leaves and the distant rush of the many creeks. Maybe the path you all want to walk is the shady wide dirt path with the dappled sunlight through the trees, that wide and welcoming path that has benches to rest on and clear pools to drink from. Maybe the paths we choose are inevitably the harder ones because the stony paths teach you what smooth footing feels like, and we have to learn, in order to grow.
Maybe the pain and the blood are something we all experience, even when we’re the ones wielding the swords that hurt. And maybe when it comes to healing, you find it in the silence and the dark, the pleas and the desperation, the fact that when you couldn’t walk anymore, He carried you – and carries you still.
Maybe when it comes to healing, it becomes the easier path to take – broken bridge, and all.
Yes is hard to hear. It's simpler to rest in the undemanding solitude of no than to accept another's yes. No is quiet, empty, dark. No fuel filling, no attendant needing. Yes is hard to hear. Yes is harder to say.
Yes is sacrifice and stumbling. Yes is work of constant mending. Yes is wick's body spending.
Yes is a shockwave, torn soft cobwebs atumble, stiff limbs bending.
Do I dare tap this heavy bell again, awaking it for another day's answer? Yes, please. Yes, yes, yes.
What sort of God do you get when the images you have don't look a thing like the person you see in the mirror? What do you get when they do?
What does sacred encounter look like when a person no longer practices religiosity or believes in God?
When religion's beliefs or dogmas are inadequate or unjust, what might keep a prophetic person or community rooted in religiosity?
I'm pleased to present Life. Love. Liturgy., my newly released collection of short stories and poetry, available online for purchase. In it I explore the processes of crashing against, opening up, dismissing, and broadening prescriptions of God and religion. ~~~ This book spent twenty months in gestation after being crowdfunded by many generous donors on Kickstarter. Over those nearly two years, I unexpectedly ventured away from the Roman Catholic Church and eventually found myself in the Episcopal Church (as a member of a Benedictine Canon community), with many stops in between. The order in which the pieces are presented is the order in which they were written, in order to honor the ways in which my own journey shaped this collection. Each piece in this book is written in honor of someone. The first piece, Emmaus, is written in honor of my friend, Rev. Cody Unterseher, who died unexpectedly in April 2012. His theological courage, his pastoral compassion, and his untimely death compelled me to shake off my fears and take up my vocation as a writer about matters of ultimate concern. I owe a debt of gratitude to many people, but especially to Cody. If you are interested in interviewing me about Life. Love. Liturgy.for your blog or other communication outlet, please contact me.
I met with my new spiritual director for the first time about a week ago, and now I feel like my new spiritual dwelling has all. It's one thing to journey forth in a community; it's another to have a holy listener dedicated to hearing your story and helping you recognize divine whispers in it. Choosing a spiritual director who's a good fit isn't a simple endeavor--not all spiritual directors are good for all people. Part of discerning who might be a good fit is figuring out whether the spiritual director you meet with is the sort of person you can imagine yourself either wanting to be or called to be in some respect. My spiritual director is a female Episcopal deacon, and I have long felt called to ordained life as a female, even though my own female identity has prevented me from pursuing ordained life for my entire life as a Roman Catholic. Meeting with someone who shares (or who can adapt to) your communication style helps as well. If you're forthright and want to hash things out in an objective way while your spiritual director is highly sentimental, you may feel as though you're talking past your director. Compatible communication styles help bring forth the substance of the conversation rather than serving as a barrier to it. That being said, meeting with someone who isn't exactly like you can sometimes be the most helpful thing of all--someone who is older (or younger), someone who's from a different faith or spiritual tradition, or someone who has had major life experiences that differ from your own may be able to lend a fresh perspective to your context. For me, the most important aspect of a spiritual director is always my gut feeling about that person: Is this someone I trust? Faith and trust are of the same root, and one can hardly develop one's faith with another if one doesn't deeply trust that other from the very beginning.
My spiritual director shared a poem with me that I had never heard before as we began our first conversation together, and it seems to me to be a perfect encapsulation of what one experiences when one is ready for a spiritual director.
In out of the way places of the heart Where your thoughts never think to wander This beginning has been quietly forming Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire Feeling the emptiness grow inside you Noticing how you willed yourself on Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety And the grey promises that sameness whispered Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled, And out you stepped onto new ground, Your eyes young again with energy and dream A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not clear You can trust the promise of this opening; Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning That is one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk Soon you will be home in a new rhythm For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
-John O'Donohue, "For a New Beginning"
A spiritual director, or spiritual companion, is someone who bears witness to what is stretching and unfolding in the midst of your life and heart. A spiritual director is someone who walks with you, not to guide you, but to help you name how God/dess is guiding you.
The Prior of St. Mary's of the Annunciation Benedictine Canon community has invited me into a conversation about how I'm hearing God's call to become a Benedictine Canon, and I find myself spilling over with words. When this happens (and it happens rather often, when I have something important on the brain), my best shot at organizing my thoughts is in writing. First, a note about vocation: to hear your life's call is to discern your vocation. Consider the Latin root of vocation: voca-tion, voca, vox, voice. To hear a call is to hear someone's voice. But how do I hear God's voice? What makes this a great question is that there is no straight or literal answer in my case. "God's voice" is a metaphor for the human voice. When God calls me, God isn't picking up a telephone in the heavens. When God calls me (or you, or Jesus, or anyone) God's doing something else. And since God's not doing the same kind of calling that I do, I'm listening to God in a different way than I would listen to someone else. I shared with the Prior my confidence that the Canon life is one to which I'm hearing God's call. So if God didn't call me on the phone or text me or leave a note on my Facebook timeline or tweet me or comment on one of my blog posts, what did God do to inspire this confidence? Fact is, it's not just about what God does--it's about what God does in relationship with me. Below I've identified four ways (though not the only ways) in which God "calls" me: 1) Through scripture. The life of a Benedictine Canon is one of prayer with scripture, especially prayer with the psalms. One of the ways I know God speaks through my prayer is that I change. My pace slows. Familiar words and phrases tingle in my skin and subconscious. The words both resonate with me and challenge me, but I am always safe in them, safe to risk opening my heart to them. This safety isn't related to the words of scripture alone, though--they're related to the way I join this community in praying them. Which leads me to the next three ways in which God "calls" me. 2) Through the rhythm of daily life. Benedictines pray a lot. When the bell sounds for prayer several times a day, Benedictines cease all else to pray together. In this regularity, it would be possible to feel trapped or shackled. When I pray during the regular prayer times of this community, however, I feel like I've entered the rhythm of a familiar household. Because all members of this community are held to the same expectation, it becomes a ritual as close to me as changing diapers, preparing formula, or playing with my daughters. It's necessary, it's beautiful, and even when it interrupts, it is a comfort. 3) Through the voice(s) of the community. This may be the biggest piece for me at this point in my life. It is clear that to be part of this community is to be equal to each member in dignity and respect. I am not regarded as lesser because I am a woman. I am not regarded as lesser because I am a lay person. I am not regarded as lesser because I am married. Each member brings her or his own gifts to the community, and those gifts are habitually lifted up, rather than quashed. The way each community member interacts with me demonstrates to me that I stand eye to eye with each one--not the same as any other, but loved and embraced in the same way as every other. God's presence manifests in these beautifully broken people. 4) Through my very body. Over thirty-one years, I have developed a keen sense of when I am safe and at home, and when I am threatened and in danger of harm. As a deeply sensitive body, when I enter a new religious situation or context, my entire self attends to whether my situation is harmful or loving. In this community my guard rests. Last night, when we were physically gathered together as a community, I prayed to the Lord instead of the Lady for the sake of unifying our voices in prayer. That unity did not threaten my devotion to God as Lady, but rather left an open door for that devotion. I trust that in this context that door will not be closed or locked, as it has been in most of my previous religious contexts. In this community, I am able to hold the diversity of the community close to my heart, without fear of it swallowing me into anonymity and dignity-destroying submission. God doesn't call me the way others usually call me, but God makes her call known. I perceive God calling me to this community inasmuch as this community, like God, challenges me to transcend myself without losing my sense of safety or integrity. This community, also like God, accepts me as I am without first rendering me or others inferior. Finally, the rhythm of this community, like God's rhythm in my life, is familiar, persistent, and rich--like coming home.The call to enter the Canon novitiate is as audible and clear to me as the bell that sounds each prayer hour into being.
Happiest of Trinity Sundays to each of you--may you be richly blessed in the holy, pervasive presence of the Mother, the Daughter, and the Holy of Holies. Today Christians celebrate the intrinsically relational character of G-d. I can't help but think of the relationality between myself, my first daughter, and my daughter still in the womb. We are connected and separate, three and one all at once.
Today I'm working on a trinity-themed piece for Life. Love. Liturgy. I look forward to finishing this piece and those that remain to be written. We'll see which reaches its fulfillment first: my book, or my pregnancy!
Once I finish the Life. Love. Liturgy. collection, I will move on to work on two things: 1) revamping and revisioning my primary blogs (this one and that one), and 2) giving shape to my first novel.
If there is anything in particular you would like to see from me in the meantime--any topic you would like me to discuss here or on my other blog, any question you would like me to explore over a series of blog posts or perhaps in an article, please let me know.
In the meantime, you can now find me on Twitter (@lifeloveliturgy!), so feel free to visit me there as well. I'm delighted and grateful that you're joining me as I continue journeying into my vocation of prophetic word-weaving. Thank you.
It's official. If all goes as planned, I'll be publishing my first book this September.
I can hardly describe how excited I am about this.
I'm looking back on my life--my childhood, when I first put pencil to paper in a journal, my high school years when I was so encouraged by my teachers, my college years when I explored languages and religion and philosophy and history and narratives, my year of volunteer work in inner-city Cleveland, my two years of contemplative theological study at St. John's School of Theology in Collegeville, Minnesota, my subsequent doctoral study at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, and becoming a wife and mother (by far the two most important roles I've ever taken on)--and I'm seeing all the moments and people who have brought me to this place of confidence and creative empowerment. It turns out that creative writing is my niche (a fact I've known for a long time but also pushed aside for other tasks). And now, in the online world of 2012, I can write and publish a book with relative ease, no publishing company needed. Who knew?
If you would like to take a look at the details of my book project, they may be found here: