Journey

This is about my spiritual journey and trying to find what God is calling me to next.

Crowdsourcing Discernment Reading

In this current phase of my discernment journey, people have been recommending many different books for me to read; Parker Palmer, Barbara Brown Taylor, Rachel Held Evans, Wendy Farley, Brother Lawrence, various Christian mystics, and so on. I read through many and picked up bits and pieces here and there, but something seems missing.

I think back to earlier days at Grace Episcopal Church in Manhattan when we read Dostoevsky, T.S. Eliot, and Flannery O’Connor as part of our Sunday morning adult education. I think even further back, to my first semester of college. I had headed off to college planning on majoring in religion, then heading to seminary, and becoming a minister. My first semester, I took a philosophy class with a professor who had taught religion for many years and switched over to teaching philosophy.

He was a great professor and I decided I would major in philosophy instead. One piece of advice he gave me was to spend time reading great literature. I didn’t take that advice at first and it wasn’t until my senior year, when my college experience was unraveling, that I started taking literature courses. Besides that introduction to philosophy course, some of the other best courses I ended up taking were that senior year, including a course on Virginia Woolf. I still go back to Virginia Woolf as touchstone decades later.

I’ve also always been very interested in writing, and one piece of advice that I remember, probably from a course on writing short stories was, “show, don’t tell”. What stories will help show me what I need to see in this part of my journey? What stories do you recommend and why?

I should note that while I’m thinking particularly about books, I’d also include in this suggestions for movies. Tarkovsky and Wenders come to mind as great directors. What movies do you recommend, and why?

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The Advent Discernment Monomyth

I have long been interested in the Monomyth, an idea popularized by Joseph Campbell of the commonalities between various heroes’ stories. We see it across literature, and even in our own lives. Yet it strikes me that this is a very masculine story about the activities of the hero and these stories shape our culture.

Recently, I’ve been getting more and more interested in the idea of counter-narrative. What happens if we tell some of the other stories, stories that belong to others than the active victor? Recently, I heard a quote that sums this up nicely, “Until the lion tells the story, the hunter will always be the hero”. Perhaps to add a little more to it, we should replace lion with lioness.

For the past couple of years, I’ve felt called to ministry and have been trying to discern exactly what God is calling me to. As I’ve started talking about my journey, I’ve heard story after story of people whose journey did not go as they hoped or expected, so much so that I’ve started to wonder if there is a discernment monomyth.

It typically starts, with some sort of deep personal experience of the divine. It is so personal, so powerful, that it is hard to find words to describe it. There is a sense of fear and uncertainty, of being told it is the Lord and not to be afraid, a sense of unworthiness, of being made worthy, and a sense of awe and praise. We find elements of this in many of the great calling stories in the Jewish bible: Samuel, not recognizing the sound of the Lord’s voice, the Lord telling Jeremiah not to say, “I am only a youth”. Perhaps the story of the Annunciation captures most these elements best.

At times, people here the call and don’t respond or try to flee from it. Perhaps they doubt the call or feel the time isn’t right. Jonah comes to mind, as do so many modern stories.

The next big point in the journey seems to be the visitation. Within the Episcopal Church it is often the person being called meeting with their priest. A calling is a hard thing to talk about. Will people believe me? Take me seriously? Be supportive? This validation often comes in a response where the people being confided in say that they saw this coming, perhaps even asking what took so long. The story of Mary visiting Elizabeth is a great archetypal example.

This is where the hero’s story and the seeker’s story seem to really diverge. In the hero’s story, the hero needs to accomplish certain tasks, certain works. For the seeker, the ministry slowly takes shape inside, like a child in the womb.

Of late, I’ve been encountering people who are ordered on bed rest. Often, this is followed by a miscarriage, or an early birth, where the child lives a very short time. There is incredible grief which seems never to go fully away. I have seen this in the stories of many seeking ordination in the Episcopal Church who have been rejected.

Those who have seen their hopes and dreams die are then faced with difficult choices. Do we try again? Do we give up? Do we adopt someone else’s hopes and dreams for us?

What started me thinking along these lines was wondering if Mary had a mid-wife. What sort of pre-natal care did she receive? What did she do for her pregnancy diet and exercise? What role did Joseph take in the pre-natal care and the birth? What was her labor like? How long did it last? How sharp were the pains? When did the water break? How big was Jesus at his birth?

It is not surprising that the description of the birth, by a male doctor, is amazingly terse. “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” It almost sounds like the ICD-10 code, O80 and Z37.0 should be added into the text.

I am working with a medical education project, and I’m struck by the idea of using this as a case study. A young immigrant comes to your clinic. She says she has missed her period and is feeling nauseous. She says she has a boyfriend. They hope to marry when the time is right. Yet she claims not to be sexually active. ICD-10 Code Z32.01, but I digress.

What do you think? Is there an Advent Discernment Monomyth? Does this capture aspects of it? Are there other parts that should be added?

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Advent Musings – Sunday Nov 27, 2016

Advent Musings – Sunday Nov 27, 2016

For everyone who is so over 2016, come to church. For us liturgically minded people, it is already the New Year. Happy Advent!

So, what am I going to do for Advent? I’m not sure. It feels like my spiritual journey has been stuck in Advent for over a year. There are a lot of different resources I’m looking at.

I signed up for The Big Class: Getting More Out of the Bible with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. It is tied to The Bible in the Life of the Church.

The class starts off with

The new year is exciting because we recognize the great opportunities it holds. Even cynics (most of them, anyway) take the day off and imagine the potential that unlived days offer us. That's why people make resolutions. It's not about guilt; it's about excitement. The upcoming year has a lot of days in it that you can choose how to fill. It's a fresh notebook, and you've opened it, and you're gripping your favorite kind of pen. It's a trail wandering enticingly through woods that you've never explored. It's an airline ticket on which you get to write in the destination.

Want change? Read scripture.

I’m starting this new liturgical year in a place of greater uncertainty than most years, for many different reasons. Perhaps the Advent disciplines will help shape the coming year.

As I read the beginning of the class, I thought about how much the words we read shape us. I remember years ago hearing a sermon about the verb speak, in the middle voice, the idea that God saying it, makes it so. It is part of the story of creation, the story of redemption, and the story of our lives.

What does God have to say about each one of us? What do our brothers and sisters have to say that will help shape us? How much will the Archbishop of Canterbury’s class help shape us? Do the opening words help us be more excited about the possibilities for the coming year?

The second part of the Getting Started section starts off with “Before getting started, you are invited to update your profile picture and short bio.” I used a current headshot after deciding my Santa headshot probably wasn’t right for this. Then, I looked at the bio. “About You: What would you like other members to know about you?” How do I chose to describe myself? Especially since I can only describe myself in 140 characters. How does this help shape who I am? I think about Judith Butler and “performativity’ I think about John Searle and John L. Austin and “illocutionary acts”.

I’m also looking at The Society of Saint John the Evangelist’s #AdventWord. Living Compass’ “Living Well Through Advent 2016”, Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations, Kate Heichler’s Water Daily, various other blogs and stuff shared on social media. This afternoon, I prayed and shared Sunday Prayer from RevGalBlogPals.

In my own journey, I feel like I am in the wilderness, being ministered to by angels. It is an uncomfortable place for me. I want to be out ministering to others. There is so much work to be done. I want to be washing the Lord’s feet, not having him wash mine.

Yet here I am relying on others to help me make sense out of this journey I’m on. As I was writing about this to some friends, the Wilfred Bion’s valence theory comes to mind.

The tendencies to internalize, collude with, and respond to the projections of others. It is the propensity of an individual to occupy a similar informal role repeatedly in groups. It depends on one’s object relations and social identities.

(Ref: Chaos Management’s GROUP RELATIONS GLOSSARY OF TERMS)

What am I holding for others, for groups I am part of? How does allowing others, angels, to minister to me help the church as a whole?

This is probably enough for right now. I’ll read a little more, pray compline, and perhaps have more musings tomorrow.

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Discernment, Violence, Elections, and Reconciliation

Recently, I was hurt very deeply by a group of people whom I believe were trying to do what they believed was best for me. It wasn’t a physical injury. Instead, it was an emotional and spiritual injury. Over the past year and a half, many people have come forward to me to tell their stories of similar injuries and I wonder what I am supposed to do in my case, and in the case of others. I have been spending a lot of time thinking and praying about this, and where we go from here.

Recently, I was speaking with the head of a domestic violence shelter about how we, as innocent bystanders, need to respond when we see intimate partner violence or fear that a friend of ours may be abused, or an abuser. I think this latter point is really important. How do we lovingly get an abuser to become less abusive? The head of the shelter is working on a blog post about this.

It came into sharp focus this morning when a friend on Facebook book wrote,

Every few weeks lately I hear my neighbors fighting. They are a young couple with a baby. The mom is often crying and saying she wants him to leave. The cops have been called at least once.

Sometimes I stand in the doorway so he knows I have my eye on him. I haven't been sure how much more to intervene, but have been on the verge of going out to talk to them and offering to call the cops (which you know is something I would only do as a last resort).

Tonight, just as I finally decided to attempt to stop reading election tweets and go to sleep, I heard them again. I heard a smack and I jumped out of bed and went outside. As soon as my porch light came on he ran off into the house and I saw her lying in the street and sobbing.

How do we respond to violence or the threat of violence? I have been spending a lot of time thinking and praying about this, and where we go from here.

Today is Election Day. The level of anxiety in our nation is great. It permeates everything. I wonder if that anxiety was a contributing factor in my friend’s neighbor’s situation. I wonder how that level of anxiety is affecting me, and those who injured me.

A long-time political friend on Facebook, a conservative Republican, posted

Republicans let the underbelly of the American entertainment complex take over the party and right now I’m watching smart people who I respect trade their most core principles for fealty to a political party.

What are our core principles? That all people are created equal? That all people are created in the image of their Creator? That all people are loved by their creator? How does this relate to our loyalty to the institutions we are part of? Where does faith fit in?

Another conservative friend of mine on Facebook posted

We need to grow up in Christ and come back to our right mind and good senses! I don’t know about you, but my relationship with Christ isn’t affected by anyone or anything. My blessings are not contingent or dependent upon who is in office. If need be, God will make Hillary Clinton my servant and cause her to deliver blessing right to my front door. Nothing shall separate me from the love of God in Christ; not Hillary, Donald, or anyone else.

Amen!

As I look forward to this day, and the days to come, there are a few thoughts that come to mind. I posted this on Facebook:

Will the glass shards that surround us tomorrow be from a broken glass ceiling? From Kristallnacht? From some combination of the two?
It is up to each one of us, what we do today when we vote and what we do afterwards as we work towards truth and reconciliation.

I also posted the prayer for an election on Facebook

Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers and privileges: Guide the people of the United States in the election of officials and representatives; that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of all may be protected and our nation be enabled to fulfill your purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The voting will be over by the end of the day, and it will be time to start reconciliation. I need to work on the long hard slow process of reconciliation with those who hurt me. Couples will need to work on reconciliation. Our nation will need to work on reconciliation. We need to spend a lot of time thinking and praying about this, and where we go from here.

Nineveh

Sometimes, I feel like I’m supposed to go to Nineveh
but when I get to the ticket office
all they have
are trips to Tarshish.

I stand
confused
in the lonely ticket office
and look at the posters
of exotic destinations.

I don’t want to be thrown overboard
by frightened fishermen
and Nineveh is too far to walk
alone.
I don’t think I even know the way.

So I wait,
looking around for a friendly face
that might help me find my way
or even walk a little while
with me.

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