Category Archives: Spiritual Practice

When Your Theology Changes

I am circling around God, around the ancient tower
and I have been circling for a thousand years,
and I still don’t know if I am a falcon, or a storm,
or a great song.

-Rainer Maria Rilke

Carl Jung wrote that a Circle is an archetype for wholeness or God. We are always drawn toward it, June Singer said, yet “to fly straight into it would be like a moth darting into a flame.”

I guess, like Moses, we don’t look directly at the Holy. We circle around. We admire its posterior, its profile, its moving shadow.

At seminary I heard all theology is autobiography. True, I think. If we’re paying attention, all our life experiences are naturally integrated into a Story of what’s holding them together. We come up with integral symbols, signs and words that help us make sense of it all: theology. God-talk. The witness of Scripture is that. We’re designed to do that, too.

We are God-seeking, tower-circling, hungry-by-design, circumnavigating-Life-by-instinct creatures.

You’re a falcon circling.
When Rilke describes circling around the Tower, it’s what all of us are always doing.

Whatever language and symbols you have going right now for the Holy One, it hasn’t always been this way. Your autobiography has grown with your years on the planet, and your theology has developed with you. Each time you’ve crystalized a personal belief, it’s been merely a stepping stone of long-haul enlightenment.

In other words, your theology has evolved.

You’re a storm circling.
Like a scientist in the lab, when something interesting happens, our definitions are disrupted and our Story of God grows beyond its previous borders. Bill Moyers’ Genesis: A Living Conversation project suggested the narrative of the Older Testament is really the Story of God evolving in the human experience. Your story is a kind of scripture, too. Everyone’s is.

We know change happens, yet when seasons of transformation dawn, we pretend to be surprised. As if life is supposed to be stagnant and smooth, and moments of transition are really messing it all up. Humans are funny.

Pete Seeger said we can’t know the whole Truth. We can only circle round the gorse-berry bush hearing the rabbit, pointing and saying, “It’s in there somewhere.” Observe a sculpture with three trusted friends at the compass points, and you have access to four different views, all true, all different. The community, friends, church, sanga, is a vital thing in your God-Story evolving.

Paul Tillich said the word “God” is so old and tired, it should be banished from our vocabulary for about a thousand years. Then that word might begin to mean something again. We outgrow language sometimes.

When you come to a place where old words don’t work anymore, tell someone. Because that’s the Christ story unfolding: death and resurrection, and old wineskins breaking. When a season of questioning moves through, share that story of Christ emerging. Don’t circle alone, at least not for long. Your story– everyone’s story– is something we need to hear. I’ve been part of some communities over the years where seasons of deep questioning are avoided as a failure of faith. I’ve been part of others that treat these seasons as holy moments where faith is growing. I hope you have a sense of being surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses where your Story of God is welcomed, honored and treated as revelation. After all, didn’t he say something about being born again? And again?

You’re a song circling.
Who are you? After a thousand years, maybe we can say with Rilke, “I still don’t know.” Maybe the point of a creative, juicy life is to lose track of ourselves and know ourselves to be In Holy Process. We think we know what the point is; we think it’s all about the tower. But what about the circumnavigated path you’ve worn? Your favorite beverage on the journey? The weather lo these many years of orbiting? The company and the conversations? These are all parts of a spiritual life. The experiences of a true Christ life cannot always be neatly filed.

To conclude, let’s stretch the metaphor with Rilke:

You are circling ’round the One Holy Tower– a falcon, a storm, a song.

You’re a lover dancing round your Beloved.

You’re a storyteller wondering about the twist at the end,
a hawk patrolling her valley,
a youngster on the playground with one end of the  jumprope, whirling, whirling with your friend.

You’re an explorer of God downloading continuously to a universal core.

When your theology is changing, you are in the midst of a Holy Endeavor.


Spiritual Life in the 4th Quarter

In the final stretch of the calendar year, there is much to pay attention to. Lots of cultural traditions and liturgical moments converge in these final months.

From here on out the river moves fast, and something special will happen if you let go of the bank and let the current take you.

This post (should you choose to accept it) is to prime your imagination for the ride.

Autumn is a bell for change. Colors, aromas and temperature embodies the continual transformation of the Christ in us– death and life, ever recycling– and invites us to feel it in our bones. It’s a mixed emotional ride for many of us, however. As Gretel Ehrlich writes, in autumn “we hear a double voice. One says that everything is ripe; the other says that everything is dying. The paradox is exquisite.”

That intense mix resonates with these last few months of the year. As a liturgist, I think about how natural markers in time demand or romance our attention. At the end of the year, there are a whole lot of them piled up. It can be a spiritual practice to follow them– to keep in touch with the invitations to integrate what you feel and know, like you’d follow someone on Twitter.

Here’s a quick tour of some of these moments for your preparation. Notice the wide range of experiences we are invited into.

  • Harvest: Celebration! Seeds have, without any advice from us or wi-fi, made food. We are woven into all creation.
  • Day of the Dead, All Hallow’s Eve: Re-membering our dead dears, accepting our past, feeling grief and letting go.
  • All Saints: Each of us is woven into a great web of holy witnesses. We ask how to be purely present in the flow of past-future.
  • Thanksgiving: Refreshing our gratitude; imagining a thriving, generous life.
  • Advent: Whisper it: Mystery! Longing for newness, we are pregnant with change.
  • Winter Solstice: The darkest day of the year, quiet and stark. The ancients used to climb the mountain with fire to help stoke up the sun.
  • Christmas: Surprise and celebration! Holy-ness is among us; in fact, our very lives carry the Christ.
  • New Year’s: With hope and with tender trust, we begin again.
  • Epiphany: Share what you have; that’s the point of all this.

Quite a ride.

How does it feel to see your life as part of these moments? Celebration and contemplation, gathering and letting go, remembering and starting again.

To be a liturgist is to be a farmer. I often find myself in leadership simply inviting people to pay attention to what the current season calls for. It’s not to be taken literally. These moments don’t just happen once a year on the calendar, like, “better get ready to be grateful, because Thanksgiving Day is coming!” No, all these days are practice for what’s possible every day. It’s a spiritual life that recognizes what your life is asking for.

You probably have favorite things coming up as well as moments for which you have natural resistance. But listen: you’ve experienced all manner of things this year. These next few months offer the opportunity to integrate these experiences. Each moment coming your way is an invitation to acknowledge, accept and welcome your whole life experience.

Are you open to that?

A deep breath of space in your body is all that’s needed for today.


Introvert Practice: Good, Alone and Free

I went to strip away what I had been taught, to accept as true my own thinking…no one around to look at what I was doing, no one interested, no one to say anything about it one way or another.

I was alone and singularly free.

— Georgia O’Keeffe

.

Sometimes you need to get away to see yourself clearly. Pry yourself away from the impulse to please family and friends, watch yourself be a self-standing whole You, and feel what that feels like.

Much of my vocation orbits family life, to give myself to wife, son, parents, sister, friends. The feeling is cozy, immersed in a glorious web of color and song. I love this life.

And then there are seasons where I feel entangled, and I begin to feel derivative of these powerful forces to which I gladly give myself.

Imagine with me browns, greens and blues. I am thinking of one of my favorite solitude spots, a one-room, no-electricity cabin in the woods. I stand on the edge of the forest, swallow hard my Blair Witch-phobia, and exhale. “This is my time,” I speak out loud. Nothing to produce, no multi-tasking, no email. Nothing to keep up with, no meetings, no waiting. No, in fact, clock.

I step slowly on the path through the oaks, as to not cause a wake to disturb the leafy floor. Slow. Slow. Slow feet for this seasonal pilgrimage to meet myself. “Nice to meet you,” I’ll say. Deep smiling sigh. “Tea?”

I inhale the sounds of squirrels and birds and the leafybreeze. Wind, spirit, Ruach. I watch for deer and turkeys for their medicine. I look for the cabin to come into view like meeting an old friend.

There is absolutely no one interested in what I am doing, and I am for the moment singularly free. Like Georgia.

When I am in the midst of change, I need solitude to get my bearings. Shout it from the mountaintops: I am an Introvert.

I love people for whom the opposite is true: when they are overwhelmed, they need a party. Like my friend Doug who just about crawls out of skin when faced with a contemplative exercise. Both ways in the world are good, and it’s good to know who you are.

Georgia cultivated her artist’s life by getting away. Silence and space refreshed her imagination for her true life.

Introverts unite! Er, Disperse!  In this change of season, some of us are getting out of the current that’s been sweeping us along. Even for an overnight, or an afternoon. Shoot, maybe an hour would do it: to practice your alone-ness, your free-ness and your goodness.


Tell the Truth Faster

Trish and I were in a canoe on a little lake in Wisconsin. A loon was there, seeming to follow us as we paddled around slowly.

Today my Beloved and I celebrate the anniversary of Island Day, the day when we first professed our love for each other. It was kind of a big moment.

I’m glad there’s something on the calendar reminding me that I have been brave and honest in sharing my love. Definitely worth celebrating.

When I don’t share who I am with people, I experience their love for me as conditional. It’s not any lack on their part; it’s because somewhere inside me I know it might be different if they knew what I was thinking. So though love abounds around me, it meets a secret semipermeable membrane.

If I have not opened my heart naked to you, I can only receive your love under the conditions I am offering to the relationship. I feel it as conditional.

I am so grateful to my Beloved for continually inviting me to understand the mystery of love in the world.

Sometimes it’s a brave thing to be honest. It’s a risk you measure out, and there’s plenty at stake. Other times, it’s intuitive, flowing and bright and you give it no thought. I desire that life and that sense of trust. I want to, as Jack Canfield says, tell the truth faster.

As we raise a glass to brave Island Day, here’s to all the ways you are opening to love by saying what needs to be said.

Take it away, John Mayer:


Be the Volcano

It’s been on my mind that models, language and symbols for spirtuality are not set-in-stone universal norms. What we are taught generally becomes an orienting Story for us. What we learn develops in communities. And over time, you know what you got? You got yourself a tradition. Over generations a rich, ever-emerging heritage that can be an anchor as we open to an orienting Story within which to frame our best existential questions.


This perspective invites respect for unfamiliar traditions. It invites dialogue among the citizens of our planet. I wish this kind of thing, at this point in the 21st-century, would go without saying.


There are many metaphors for transformation among spiritual traditions: washing something that’s dirty, a seed becoming a tree, being born a second time, death and resurrection to name a few.
Welcome to an intense one from our brothers and sisters in Hawaii: Volcano.


In the deep and juicy Hawaiian culture, Pele is the goddess who appears as a mysterious, beautiful young woman just before her volcano is about to erupt. Or as an old gnarled woman who lights her cigarette with the snap of her fingers. Warrior-fierce, earthy, dangerous and vibrant, Pele is an archetype for the powerful and passionate feminine.


The literal translation of “volcano” in Hawaiian is Lua pele, pele ahi ‘ai honua which means “she who throws fire to eat the Earth.”


Throwing fire
to eat
the earth.


(You are Woman. Hear you roar.)


So, Volcano: Your present, conscious personality is the surface. Your soul and all its holy intentions is the boiling, sizzling molten core of the earth. How do you engage and connect with your soul that sometimes seems a distance away? Sometimes it takes drilling. Other times it erupts at unexpected moments. Sometimes, you can set your watch by it in seasons. In deep change that sticks, sometimes it hurts and sometimes there is fire. With Pele’s fire you know nothing is going to be the same again.


Trish and I journey to Hawaii soon. Here’s a new community song brewing about this intense image of transformation. Imagine driving percussion surrounding a growly voice on the verses, a higher, triumphant melody on the chorus.


verse 1:
She’s drilling down to taste the core
She’s tapping in to an ancient boiling soul
       remembering and roaring
       this is a day to use her voice.


chorus:
LUA PELE!


verse 2:
She’s throwing fire to eat the earth
No holding back the power of new birth
       eyes closing now and breathing
       this is a day for being true.


verse 3:
Earth juice is running down her chin
Erupting body and a mind that’s never been more clear
       it’s blasphemy or praying
       this is a day to have no fear

Marriage 2.0 and Counting

Last weekend in Minneapolis I got a new wedding ring. Nothing wrong with the old one, it was just Time.

In our going-on-12-year partnership, Trish and I have gifted each other with new rings whenever there’s been an important change of season in our marriage. It helps us give deep attention to the subtleties of our relationship as it carries us like a river into new territory to discover.

As we shared this with the good people at Irish on Grand (where I found my ring) and the other artsy places along Grand Avenue (where I didn’t), they all said they’d never heard of this way of doing rings. Since I’m a blogger now, I could not hide the lightbulb above my head under a bushel basket. (I’ll pause a moment for you to enjoy that image.) Here’s the story:

Trish and I have realized from the beginning that our anam cara relationship is a spiritual practice. That is, it’s one of the primary ways we are transformed and enact transformation in the world. I love talking with people who do relationship this way. Each partnership is a unique dance, a one-of-a-kind jewel. When I hear stories from other couples, I see possibilities for what our own marriage might be up to. Relationship requires a rich imagination because, like my friend Jonathan Rundman sings, “Love is science and love is art.”

There are two parts to a lasting relationship: change and stability. To the first point, relationships are dynamic, flowing and often bewildering. They change all the time. You can’t step into them twice. No surprise here, since both parties are presumably living, breathing creatures, each of whom is evolving in their own unique way. But to the second part, there’s also the dimension of stability and trust that happens over time. Between the partners there is a heart-opening sense of safety and strength. If the needle goes too far one way, you have a dusty institution on your hands. Too far the other way, it’s chaos.

The mysterious weaving of these two juicy elements is one reason I am here on the planet.

Getting new wedding rings plays with this potent blend: Trish and I desire a sign of our relationship’s strength, AND we want that sign to change over time. To honor such glorious mystery, however you do it, is a gift to the world, because you know and I know there are plenty of places mystery is snuffed out. So instead of a lifetime ring on each of our hands, we decided it might serially evolve. The changing shape, style and color of the rings on our hands is part of the delight of paying close attention to what our Beloved is doing with us.

Side trip for liturgical geeks: This is not unlike the visible sign of the sacrament that represents an invisible grace. When you partake in Holy Communion, for example, you may experience the Meal differently every time. There’s the anamnesis element of remembrance alongside eschatological celebration, connection to the human story of existential isolation but also the salvation of community, connection to the Jesus Story in crucifixion lament as well as resurrection joy. Or when you witness Holy Baptism where we are both drowned to death and raised to New Life. There’s lots to unpack. In this way, I can appreciate why Roman Catholics see marriage as a sacrament. Sheesh, that ring’s got a lot to hold.

In my marriage with my partner, I think of these two entwined mysteries as being held not by either one of us, but by a kind of Third Holy Thing. Which brings me to the name we have for our marriage: Beloved. Say it soft and it’s almost like praying: Beloved. This Beloved holds us together.

It seems to have a wisdom, compassion and will all its own.

Sufis speak of Allah as the Beloved that is closer than we are to ourselves. The Christian tradition speaks of the Christ-life in which we live and move and have our being. In the Hebrew scriptures there is the Garden of Eden holding space for delight and holiness, and the Song of Songs with the dazzling dance between Lover and Beloved that is the passionate love of G-d for Israel. To me, our Beloved has that kind of heart.

As a spiritual practice, relationship can be both a magically ecstatic and nakedly terrifying place where you face the Truth. I am continually amazed at what our marriage brings to me (and asks of me) if I am paying attention. I’m amazed, I suppose, because I don’t quite get what’s going on here. For example, Midrash around the book of Genesis is rich with dialogue exploring human sexuality, equality and uniqueness among the genders. In the story of Eve and Adam, the Hebrew term for their partnership has a loaded connotation: “an adversary, as it were”. That is, your best life partner is one who will be against you in all the best ways. Wo. Is that what I signed up for? Truly, yes, because how else would I grow, but it’s good I didn’t think about it too much on the day I said “I do.”

When things get complicated, crazy or scary, the main temptation in our society is to oversimplify. Tame it. Control it. Kill the mystery in it so we can be sure where we stand. In other words, to keep from being overwhelmed by a thing, we overcome it with understanding. That’s often the urge in relationship: to box it up and label it. And, by the way, this is true for any relationship: parent-to-child, grandparent-to-grandchild, neighbors across the backyard fence, dorm room-mates, middle school frenemies, adult life partners. These interconnections are powerful because they are under no one’s control. They are a luscious blend of you, the other and some third thing in orbit around you both.

Side trip: There’s a Native American idea about this, that in any gathering there is a spirit created out of the unique persons present. The people’s intentions, moods, their choices to speak or listen, all of this is woven into the making of a spirit that has never existed before and never will again. Our presence and choices in community matter as much as if we were giving birth to a whole new being.

To consider a relationship an honest spiritual practice, you do a rare and amazing thing. You open yourself up to to be changed by this out-of-control thing. You give yourself to something Other than you. It’s really nothing short of a miracle for that to happen, survival-oriented, biological-success-driven beings that we are. To approach a relationship this way requires vibrant imagination, and a trust that this thing is alive and knows something you can’t access alone. I operate in life favoring and cherishing this mystery because I feel protective of it. The alternative is a relationship that has crystallized, under tight containment  in an effort to keep it the same through seasons. As Thomas Moore writes, literalism in any relationship is the end of it. Any time we think it’s arrived, it’s over. The fun is celebrating each moment while knowing full well that it will never be the same again.

When Trish and I got married 11 years ago (which we were privileged to do by law because we claimed to be heterosexuals) we noticed something about the service we designed. Whereas many beautiful weddings are a moment of ritual to bring a partnership into official being, ours was about celebrating what we knew was already true.

So back to the rings. How are our rings ringing true to our Beloved in this current season?

The last time we got new rings for one another was in Florida few years ago. In the midst of a retreat, we realized we were discovering something new about who we are for each other. My new ring had a silver swirl like an ocean wave or a curling arm.

The one I chose last weekend has a loose Celtic knot spinning in infinity (hey, hallelujah) like Pentecost wind and fire. It’s good. It’s perfect for how I’m stretching right now. And it will someday grow stale, ceasing to spark my imagination about what our Beloved is doing. Then it’ll be ring shopping time again.

Well.

I do go on, don’t I?

Your thoughts? You partnered people, how do you keep it fresh? How do you celebrate both the stability and change of your primary relationship?