OK, not really for new moms only! But I have an essay up on Mom the Brave today, in their “Dear Brave Mom” category. It’s an open letter to the mommas of newborns…that’s such a crazy time; for some it’s pure bliss, but for others (like me!) it’s sheer survival. Head over to Mom the Brave and give it a read, or share it with any friends you have who are in that crazy, hazy newborn stage!
For a long time now, I’ve wanted to join a yoga studio. But I’ve always been a starving student, or a missionary, or whatever. Now that I’m working again, Robert and I decided we have enough wiggle room for me to sign up with the new studio in town, YogaWorks. I was afraid that having a yoga membership wouldn’t be all I had dreamed (why am I always afraid of being disappointed?), but it has turned out to be amazing! I feel strong, my body confidence is way up, and it’s a fantastic stress reliever. After attending for a week there as a guest, Robert decided to sign up, too! So now it’s also a fun and healthy thing for us to do together.
Since September, I’ve been going through a the Ignatian spiritual exercises using a book called Journey with Jesus. Every day I ask myself “examen questions” and one of them is when I sensed Immanuel, God with me, in the previous day. It’s interesting that the most consistent time of sensing God’s presence has been during yoga. I wonder if that is because in a challenging yoga class, I must be totally “in” my body–I can’t disconnect or detach. (I just read a line by Dallas Willard where he states, “our body is a primary resource for the spiritual life.” Huh!) And that integrated activity, where I’m using my mind and my body, somehow becomes an almost spiritual exercise. I find the same to be true when I’m in nature–again, it’s a time when I’m not “checking out” of my body, like when I’m working on a computer or even so consumed in dealing with students at work that I can’t address my body’s needs like thirst–or even needing to use the restroom!
I was thinking about all this the other day, and remembering a piece I wrote last year for my Master’s thesis project, Telling the Treasure: Reflections, Essays, and Anecdotes from a Backslidden Mystic. It’s called “Namaste,” and it’s about the Holy Spirit and a little about yoga, among other things. Since Pentecost Sunday just passed, I thought I’d share the piece here on Eeper.
“God in three Persons, blessed Trinity…” or so the old hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” goes. I’d sung those words a thousand times before I started to think about the three persons of the triune God as, well, three persons. There’s God the Father, of course, and God the Son—that would be Jesus—but what of the third? The Holy Spirit, or as some Bible Belt folk might say, the Holy Ghost. It wasn’t until halfway through my year in Norway that I heard someone really emphasize the importance of viewing the Holy Spirit as a person. For me, that changed everything.
Jan, a guest lecturer in our little discipleship school (and the rapping prophet I’ve written about elsewhere), reminded us of what Jesus said about the Holy Spirit. He called the Spirit the helper, the friend, the teacher, the comforter, and the one who leads us into all truth. One who plays these roles more logically falls into the category of a person, rather than some ethereal force—although I suppose the Spirit is that, too, if we think of the way she (or he) hovered over the waters before the dawn of time. Jan encouraged us to think of the Holy Spirit as a person, and to address the Spirit as such, praying to him as we might to Jesus, asking to guide us, to comfort us and be a friend to us.
And really, it is Jesus we are addressing—the Spirit is the way that Jesus chose to come and be present with each one of us until the end of time, when we will all live in a new city fresh out of heaven, where God will dwell among us in whatever holy and terrifying and joyful and astounding form that will take.
When I was fourteen, I attended my sister’s high school graduation, and the valedictorian’s speech ended with the saying, “Yesterday is history, and tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift—that’s why it’s called ‘the present.’” Though now I would cringe at the use of such a cliché, I remember thinking at the time that it was clever, even profound. For some reason I remembered it the other day, and I thought about how Peter preaches in the book of Acts that the Holy Spirit is a gift. I’ve found that is partly because it is the Spirit who helps us get on in this daily life of ours, whose presence with me in the present is as much a gift as my husband’s is, when he sits with me and lets me cry or talk or merely sigh many heavy sighs.
In the Old Testament, the presence of God is something awful (or awesome) and indescribable—smoke on Mount Sinai, an unbearable glory in the tabernacle’s Holy of Holies. The presence of God is a desert shrub on fire, burning without being consumed. It is a cloud in the wilderness, swaddling the liberated Hebrews as it leads them onward. It is something to be feared and something to be desired. Continue reading
Also, in June the first print publication of Equals will be released, and will include a story by me! I’m so excited to be part of their inaugural edition. Equals is doing such a cool thing by gathering really brilliant women from all over, from different walks of life and different belief systems, to talk about what matters to us. If you’re interested in Equals, check out The Equals Record, their online spot, and also you can head over to their Indiegogo campaign and pre-order the book that’s coming out in June!
I wrote this nearing the end of a summer-long Bible study where about ten of us artistic-types (musicians, writers, photographers, painters, etc) gathered to read and discuss and create our way through Ecclesiastes, with the hope of sharing our work at an art show near summer’s end. We did that, in an art show/house party in group member Helen’s backyard in Silver Lake. It was a fantastic night, and I had the opportunity to read this piece to the small crowd who had assembled to drink sangria and discuss the wisdom of the Teacher. When I shared the preliminary piece with just the group a couple weeks earlier, one said it reminded them of the letter read at the end of The Breakfast Club. I took that as a compliment.
In my Ecclesiastes Bible study group this summer, most of us are seminarians or recent seminary grads—a little disillusioned, definitely deconstructed, picking up pieces where we can and often trying not to fall into the abyss of doubt, cynicism, or whatever brand of philosophy that tells us we’re fools for believing the way we do.
Ecclesiastes is a heavy book—don’t read it if you’re in a funk, or you’ll never get out. Unfortunately, that’s where I’ve been most of the summer: in a funk. I keep stepping into little dark puddles of despair or low self-esteem or ultrasensitivity so that the pain of the world becomes too crushing for my small soul to bear. Others in our group are jobless, or wrestling with bosses, or questioning their calling and place in this world, or helping parents deal with illness, or grieving the loss of parents. Ecclesiastes is not a cure for our ailments, nor does it give us the answers we are searching for. Continue reading
I’ve joined an artists’ summer small group, where we study and discuss the book of Ecclesiastes, and hopefully let our reflection spring into creative expression. Last week was our first time meeting, and we discussed the first chapter. Below is my response to Ecclesiastes 1:7, entitled “But the Sea is Not Full.”
Lately I’ve been wanting to weep. I’m not sure why, but at a couple of points each day—usually in the evening, or just before bed—there’s a tight swelling in my chest. All the emotions I’d stuffed there for 12 hours decide to show up en masse at the door of my heart, demanding to be let in. I can’t look at them, this rag tag bunch of feelings: self-pity with her one droopy eye, anger’s furrowed brow and clenched fist, confusion looking dopey and befuddled, anxiety wringing her hands and pacing. There’s also wonder and compassion, willowy twins toward the back of the crowd, patient and silent but pleading with big wet eyes to be admitted.
I might open the door a crack, sneer at the crowd with contempt, and slam it again in their faces. I eat some cereal out of the box, by the fistful , or I scroll through the news feed on Facebook for an hour. They go away, eventually, and I breathe a sigh of relief. I just don’t have room for them all—not to mention the fact that wonder always leaves me aching for more, and compassion always demands more of me. It’s more than I can take.
“All the rivers flow into the sea, but the sea is not full. To the place where the rivers flow, there they flow again.” Ecclesiastes 1:7
It’s never enough. If I open the door, I will not be filled. So I keep it closed—closed to the good, closed to the bad, closed to the beautiful and to the ugly. Those times when I did let the river of wonder flow into me—treading water in the turquoise sea of Cinque Terre, or watching the sun rise out of the ocean on a deserted beach in Australia—it wasn’t enough. The next day, I wanted more. Back home in Southern California, I lay on the beach in Malibu and ache for Cinque Terre. The sea of my heart is never full.
I open myself to streams of pain—loving those who will not love me back, allowing myself to feel something for strangers with haunted faces like open wounds—and the streams never stop rushing in. Anxiety, fear, anger all run from endless springs so that if I let them, they too will never stop—and my heart will never say “enough.”
I collect and hoard and pile and stash: friends, security, compliments, affection, approval. No matter how much I have, I’ll find another corner, a trap door, a cubby to fill. The tide rises and the sea threatens to run past its boundaries, but it always recedes. There is always room for more, because there are always leaks—compassion quickly seeps out when I feel my rights have been violated; but anger can drain a little at the sight of an earnest, snuffling pug on his morning walk.
I’ve gotten clever with building dams, though, and most days I redirect the flow with a series of obstacles—a lot of music and podcasts and general noise, some vegetative time at the computer, lots of scurrying to and fro with errands, cleaning, assignments, social engagements. By the time the rivers get around all of these, their waters are a pitiful trickle that I collect in a small bucket, and it’s that bucket that gets full at the end of the day, when it threatens to spill over into frightened tears as I get ready for bed.
I sit and look down from my window, grim and bitter as a spinster, tracing the pattern of streams winding through the world and dumping into other hearts, other seas that will never be filled. And I wonder, which is my biggest fear—that the rivers will one day dry up and there will no longer be a chance for wonder, or even for heartbreak? Or that my heart really could be filled, that it could burst? Didn’t Jesus say that if we asked the Father, we would have joy like a river overflowing its banks? Didn’t he say that she who believes in him would have rivers of living water flowing from the very depths of her being?
Can the sea become the spring?
This little ditty ran in Fuller’s weekly student publication, the Semi, for a series on sexuality (for which very, very few women writers submitted articles).
I was born into the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, a denomination founded in the roaring twenties by a woman who had three husbands and later an E! True Hollywood Story made about her questionable kidnapping and other scandals. So, you may think that I grew up in a church environment that broke gender stereotypes, that set women free to express themselves in ministry, in mind, and in body…but you would be wrong. No, my church youth group was probably much like yours—the boys herded off for a talk about sex (read: porn and masturbation) while the girls huddled together and dreamed about the princes that awaited them at the end of the rainbow road of purity and promise rings. Four years at a Foursquare Bible college was—surprise, surprise—more of the same, with the expected addition of make out sessions in dorm stairwells and far corners of public parks. The sexual tension was thick, and the solution was marriage, of course. But I graduated with two ex-boyfriends and no engagement ring, which was practically unheard of for a school where many women attended only to receive their MRS degree (sorry, had to put that in).
One week after graduation, I found myself dancing in a campground bar outside of Paris with a bunch of Australians to that classic 90s jam, “Let’s Talk About Sex,” followed by a quick game of strip air hockey with a New Zealander named Matty. You’re probably thinking: this is where it gets interesting! Bible college grad explores her repressed sexuality in the backpacking scene of Europe…but you would be wrong. Again. I won that air hockey game, after removing only my earrings and my sandals (Matty may or may not have been down to his underthings). And the exploring I did over the next few years had little to do with men and a lot to do with traveling the world for missions and study and fun, discovering more about other people, other cultures, and God—and growing up a bit in the process.
But these things have a habit of resurfacing, and once I was done traveling and settled back in California, I entered the world of Fuller with its ecumenical diversity and gender-inclusive policy. I was so accustomed to using “he” and “men” for all humankind, including myself, that it took me awhile to realize how empowering it was to include both genders in our speech, our writing, and especially in our reading of the Scriptures. Replacing “he” with “she” in some verses about discipleship or God’s love opened up the world to me—I was no longer on the outside looking in, I was invited to get in the game. I started to ask questions and offer comments in class, I no longer hid my intelligence as I did in Bible college, and I began to understand the way it made me feel to be called a “girl” versus a “woman” (hint: boo versus yes).
As an intelligent woman, I returned to some matters left untouched since my high school and college years. I was single and trying to figure out what to do with this sexuality that was supposed to have been activated at 22 if I had married a few weeks after graduation, like a good Bible college student. Sexuality seems to be a given for men, but is still a closed topic for many Christian women. Gathering the moxie I’d collected in my empowering moments of feminism at Fuller, I opened the door and invited myself into the conversation. What does it mean to be 26 and single? I wondered. What if I never get married? How does a promise ring help me then? I knew by now that my perfect prince probably slipped up somewhere way before he turned 26, and I felt cheated. I brought up these questions among friends and acquaintances and discovered that some weren’t ready for that kind of talk, but also found that I’m not alone. I had a conversation recently with a 35-year-old friend who is single, and she’s wondering lately if she’s wasted the past couple of decades with her sexuality on the shelf. Maybe it’s time to take it down and see what happens?
But it’s not even about measuring purity points with a future spouse, it’s realizing that we are not only spiritual, physical, intelligent, emotional beings—we are also sexual beings. And I did not have a clue what that meant. Some things have helped—especially my exposure to Catholicism and other traditions that were quite foreign to me before arriving at Fuller. It wasn’t until this year that I realized how wide is the chasm between my sexuality and my spirituality. In my classes and reading, I’ve been fascinated by glimpses of an earthy spirituality where the body is as much a meeting place with the divine as the mind or the soul—where the three, in fact, are blurred and joined much more than compartmentalized or cordoned off from each other. Last summer in Italy I was still as single as ever, but I immersed myself in the sensuality that marks the citizens of the hilltop Umbrian town of Orvieto—feeling the buzz of wine or espresso in my veins, rich truffle oil and sweet gelato on my tongue, St. Francis’s brother Sun caressing my shoulders. Somehow, these were steps in my journey.
So here I am—not far from where I started, but I have a rucksack over my shoulder and I threw out the maps I received as a child (I Kissed Dating Goodbye and DC Talk’s “I Don’t Want It”). The cartographers of Christian sexuality—at least the Evangelical ones—led me nowhere, but told me to stay in one place and be a good girl until a nice man came and found me. However, I am not interested in going the way of the mainstream, non-Christian world, either, who tell me that God is too big, too slow, too out-of-touch to bring along on these travels. I can’t explain it, and I can’t even say I’ve yet experienced it, but I know that He is the guide and companion that I want, and that in these uncharted wanderings, He is a safe place to camp.
Here’s a poem I wrote for a final project last quarter, responding to our course on the Old Testament writings (Chronicles, Ruth, Esther, Lamentations, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Job, and Daniel).
Acquiring a Taste
Reality is like a fine wine, I read.
It will not appeal to children.
The Writings are like fine wine,
And I came with the palate of a child.
But I was ready for a coming-of-age
And willed myself to take small sips,
So one day I might enjoy the taste
He doesn’t always speak
He doesn’t always answer
He doesn’t always heal
He doesn’t always reign.
He comes in wisdom
He comes in a whirlwind
He comes in a kiss
He comes in laughter.
Can I one day rejoice not only in the drinking
But in the seasons and rhythms of the winemaking?
The long waiting and hoping,
The toil under the cruel sun,
Humility arriving like
A cool breeze.
These days of discipline I will not despise.
Your feet crush my expectations and entitlement.
In your ceaseless treading I sense a pattern:
Your complicated steps are a dance.
One day at your table I will lift my glass to you
And salute the beauty of your movement.
We will lock eyes
and drink deeply.