Friday, September 29, 2006

Thirsting for the Spiritual

Having come to the end (for now) of my academic quest, I'm finding myself thirsty these days for spiritual stories. There's a deadness or a dryness or a distance that I'm trying to spark back to life. It feels cyclical and maybe chemical, in the way that you need different things at different points of your life.

So, an atheist most of my life, I find myself deeply involved in the First Unitarian Church here in Albuquerque. The truth is that as a kid, I loved going to church. I'm a community junky but somewhat of an introvert, so the structured interaction paired with some degree of enforced anonymity (because not many people are who they REALLY are in church -- you're just your Sunday church self!) always felt really good and really safe to me. The only thing I didn't like was hearing so many things I didn't agree with -- things about god or sin or obedience or judgment...

So imagine my surprise and elation when attending the UU church for the first time and hearing messages of social justice, individual reason, support of diverse beliefs. Almost every time I go, I find myself weeping because something said taps this hollow place inside where the fullness of spiritual communion -- with people of peace from all over the world -- should be.

This Sunday, Christine will talk about a UU minister during WWII who risked everything to help Jewish refugees in Prague escape from the Holocaust.

Sunday, October 1
"Love Will Guide Us"
The Rev. Christine Robinson

In the years before World Wart II, a Unitarian minister and his wife traveled to Prague to help the Unitarians there deal with refugees from the developing Holocaust. The Israeli government honored them this year as among the "Righteous of the Nations." I was honored to be present at the ceremony in Washington, D.C., last month, and will reflect on these two heroes and what their story has to say for us in these days.

Click here to read the story from the Washington Post.

There's a dearth of sources for good stories these days: occasional news items, Democracy Now, good friends, some literature, and now, for me, the occasional sermon. I'm happy to have one more place to go to feel full and supported and free to think, feel, and begin to understand. Overwhelmingly, the message is one of hope -- for peace, for acceptance, for tolerance -- despite a resolute acknowledgement of all that we face in the world today. I need that.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


From a beautiful sermon (9/10/06) by Rev. Christine Robinson of First Unitarian Church:

When you embrace change as the not-always-easy fundamental of life, you are aligning your energy with reality, and that in turn will not only make things flow more easily for you, but will give profound meaning to even the most painful changes you will encounter.

Much of the pain of change is self-inflicted. It’s caused, not by the change itself, but by our reaction to change. It’s caused by denial and resistance, how we stiffen up and harden our attitudes as we face change, rather than mustering our curiosity, softening our wills, and embracing the new.
All that resistance we put up to just making the change that we need to make suggests that we’re not really ready and are not taking care of ourselves in the midst of change. And how do we do that?

Whole books have been written on this subject, but here are three important strategies that have a spiritual bent to them. They are:
  • acknowledge your losses and deal gently with whatever in you feels it is losing,
  • be appreciative and show your appreciations, and
  • keep what you value and believe uppermost.

There’s huge wisdom in the comment that most of us spell the word “change” L-O-S-S, and it often surprises me as I talk to people during times of change in their lives how reluctant they are to acknowledge what they have lost and to let themselves feel the pain. Instead, they often beat up on themselves for “living in the past” or “wallowing in sadness,” or, alternatively, and men are particularly good at this, for channeling their feelings of loss, which they find unacceptable, into actions of anger.

But it is OK to feel loss. We are hard-wired to hang on tight to the things we think will keep us safe and happy…to love what is mortal and hold it to our bones as if our lives depended on it, as Mary Oliver says. We don’t need to go through the trauma of change beating ourselves up for feeling bad. Usually our grief is like a little toddler who tugs on your pants for attention over and over again until you think you’ll go crazy…but if you just bend down and pay her a little bit of attention, she’ll be soothed and go on her way. Ignore her, though, and there’s hell to pay in the end.

Secondly, be appreciative and share your appreciations. When we’re stressed out, this doesn’t come naturally to us; we often have to do it by discipline. It’s worth it though. Voicing our appreciations gets us out of ourselves, if only for a moment, puts us in a better frame of mind, influences people to be of assistance to us and even, believe it or not, research shows this, puts endorphins in our system and helps us to be more effective in dealing with stress.

One thing I did while on sabbatical was attend training sessions to equip me to debrief people after traumas and disasters, something that I’ve meant to do ever since 9/11. As a part of that training, we listened to the dialogue between air traffic controllers and the pilot of a plane that had lost its controlling mechanisms. We then watched the plane land, and then crash; about 200 people died in that crash. That was disaster debriefer training boot camp. One of the things I most vividly remember about that experience is that, as the pilot approached the runway, knowing that a crash was likely, he said to the air traffic controller, with just a little catch in his voice, “Thank you for your help. You did the best you could.”

Now, this might seem to you like a breathtaking display of spiritual maturity…a pilot, facing the most unwelcome possible set of changes in what had been a routine day’s work, in the midst of bringing every ounce of training and skill he had, stopped to thank those who had done all they could.

The pilot survived that crash. Due, no doubt, to all that skill and training, and to the physics of the impact, but perhaps also in some small part because of the endorphins of gratitude and ability to relax into all that was his life in that terrible moment.
Thirdly, know, as you struggle with your chosen or unchosen change, that when you soften your attitude and let yourself go with the flow that is all that is your life, you are aligning yourself with the great force at the heart of things, which we call by many names. ..

[M]y theology tells me that the great powers of healing and renewal…hear those words about change…the forces that fuel the great radiance that was at the beginning of time and space, the most basic, fundamental reality we can ever know is alive with change. And when we relax into the changes that are required of us, we’re not just living ploddingly effective lives; we are partaking of and swimming in the reality of realities.
God is the mess itself, the evolution, the shove we get to grow, more like the exquisite beauty of trees growing through seasons and loosing their seeds to grow in new places other than the perfect statue of a tree, solid, pure, and never changing. God is more like the dying person who learns, at last, to say thank you and really mean it, the new parent who says goodbye to childless freedom and embraces the responsibility of growing another human being, the man who inventories his life and decides to give up the demon drink, the victim who makes the best of her life in spite of her oppressions and uses what she learned to help others. That’s God’s work in the world. Even more radical, that’s God’s being in the world. In creation with the rest of us, moving slowly and with plenty of losses and reverses, toward greater love, gratitude, and
understanding of mystery.

So. That unwelcome change that I need to make? I’ll still grieve my losses, soothe my inner child, and mope a bit. I’ll still count my blessings and focus on my strengths and move on into all that is my life. And I’ll do it with a sense, not of fighting off my faults or being on a hopeless journey toward perfection, but of simply being a pilgrim on life’s path, deeply participating in the precious mystery at the heart of the universe…that change is perpetually in the air, that it is what brings us not only delight, but growth in spirit, and that that is not just the condition of our life, but its very meaning.

Monday, September 18, 2006


The new grass rising in the hills,
the cows loitering in the morning chill,
a dozen or more old browns hidden
in the shadows of the cottonwoods
beside the stream bed. I go higher
to where the road gives up and there’s
only a faint path strewn with lupine
between the mountain oaks. I don’t
ask myself what I’m looking for.
I didn’t come for answers
to a place like this, I came to walk
on the earth, still cold, still silent.
Still ungiving, I’ve said to myself,
although it greets me with last year’s
dead thistles and this year’s
hard spines, early-blooming
wild onions, the curling remains
of spider’s cloth. What did I bring
to the dance? In my back pocket
a crushed letter from a woman
I’ve never met bearing bad news
I can do nothing about. So I wander
these woods half sightless while
a west wind picks up in the trees
clustered above. The pines make
a music like no other, rising and
falling like a distant surf at night
that calms the darkness before
first light. “Soughing” we call it, from
Old English, no less. How weightless
words are when nothing will do.

– Philip Levine, Breath, 2006

Friday, September 01, 2006

More Confessions of a Self-Help Girl

Okay, so I found myself having one of "those" conversations this week.

You know, the one where you find yourself spewing self-help garbage. (Because, let's face it, it works!)

One of my go-to books on relationships is the really embarrassingly cheesy Unimaginable Life by (wait for it...) Kenny and Julia Loggins, which, it turns out, is even more unimaginable than the authors originally claimed, as they are now DIVORCED as of 2004, a shocking little tidbit that I missed somehow in the last 2 years.

When the book (and album) came out, there was quite the media blitz in certain New Age circles. At first, just because one of the authors is ... b-music famous. And then, because it's one of THE most honest books I've read about relationships. Written by BOTH partners. Chronicling their individual AND partner trajectories. A lot of the book is taken straight from their journals, and you wince at times about their honesty, even in really ugly moments of fear and loathing.

This couple goes through a LOT. They were married for 14 years. They fought for their intimacy; they fought for their health. When they married, they promised to follow their paths even if that meant supporting each other to leave to find healing somewhere else.

And that's how it happened (at least publicly).

NOTHING on this in New Age circles. I'm DYING for a book or article or ANYTHING from either one of them (Kenny's pouty quotes during his recent reunion tour with Messina are NOT satisfying and only raise more questions, if not eyebrows).

Where's Julia's public statement? Where's Kenny's whiny tell-all?

Whatever happened to heart-blasted open honesty?

And yes, this panic is definitely about me and answering the "what if" question that we all have about love. What happens if the perfect relationship goes bad?

Where do you go? Clearly, this couple says, you go quiet (relatively). Okay, Kenny did release a new album, complete with sappy "I miss you" songs. No, really! One of the songs really is called "I miss us" or some damn thing. But that tells us very little, really.

One of Kenny's horrifying newspaper quotes is how great it was to reverse roles with his son and cry on his shoulder. If you've read the book, you know this is one of the things he loved best about Julia, how she played mommy to his hurt little-boy self. I'm thinking, dude is 52. Why not try just being the adult? Maybe Julia was exhausted being mommy to all 4 of their kids and Kenny, too. Being mommy is just not sexy, unless you're a pedophile.

This brings me to an argument I had with a man who I'd just met. He started the conversation warning the four women in the room that we were to acknowledge right-off that he was being brave to talk to us being the only man present, and he didn't want to get stabbed (or something deadly like that). He said it was ridiculous for women to expect maturity in men in relationships because men have never been taught how to be in relationship, in the way little girls are. He said, (and oh boy do I quote):

"Men are like retarded children. You wouldn't get mad at a retarded child for not knowing how to act. You have to be patient and teach them."

We didn't buy it, and I summed it up this way.

"Okay, but I don't want to have sex with a retarded child!"

For those of us who believe in non-traditional relationships, in trying to follow our connections, there is very little out there about what happens when THOSE end. The ending of abusive relationships is well-covered ground. Does that mean that healthy relationships are easier to walk away from and don't warrant comment? I don't think so! The hardest I've ever cried in my life (almost) was deciding to walk away from a fairly functional relationship that I just knew wasn't going to sustain us both. So painful!

I hope that if I were to 1) have the guts to write about my good and healthy relationship that I would also have the decency to 2) write about how it ended, if and when it does.

We need those stories, too. Even those of us who don't sleep with retarded children.