Reluctant Mysticism

Sharing shifting faith in community, in private, & on nights when nothing but brownies & ice cream will do

antique-clock_543456

Tick-tock, tick-tock.

This moment is all you have.

All.You.Have.

Tick-tock, tick-tock.

Enjoy this moment, because you cannot have the past nor can you hold the future. This moment — this space you are in right now — is all you have. Make it count. Live it to the fullest. Choose well. Create memories. Transform and be transformed.

Tick-tock, tick-tock.

Is anyone else besides me panicking that we’re not making the most of every single second of our lives? Does anyone else feel so pressured to be free in the present to live that anxiety eats up what’s supposed to be a supposed powerful, liberating life?

Perhaps not. Perhaps it could just be me.

It’s true our pasts can weigh us down. But journeying back to lived experiences and refreshing ourselves with the lessons we’ve gained from them is not a bad thing. The past is informative, even fluid. As we gain new perspectives in our lives, we are often gifted with abilities to see our pasts in ways clouded to us before.

And it’s always amused me a little bit to hear the mantras of living only in the present (for by doing so we will find happiness). Yet we’re told let go of our pasts. While some strains of spiritual traditions teach that all attachments lead to unnecessary suffering, I would disagree. We are created to attach, be attached, to break apart, and to reattach.

We are created to be re-membered. Jesus lived that life in his attachment with the Father, with his friends and disciples, and with his resurrection — Creator engaging creation over and over and over again.

If the present moment is dedicated to be grateful here and now, to learning all we can, and to liberation, how can we simply let the present go when it officially becomes the past? Am I missing something? We’re to no longer dwell on the happier or more memorable moments of our lives? What am I not understanding in this discipline that it frustrates me to the point of irritation?

I digress.

This post is more of giving of permission: the present is not defined by a clock. It is not defined by a great teacher or a monk or a tradition. We are free to expand the present in order to live as much of it as we need to.

What do I mean?

Last July I took my Introduction to Arts Therapy course. It was structured like a holistic retreat: a lot of circle time, a lot of reflection, a lot of journaling, and and lot of art studio time. I came away with some excellent techniques to incorporate into my own life personally and professionally, and I learned a thing or two about myself along the way.

I’ve known for many years that I’m a long processor. That is, I need time to absorb what is being presented before me, to explore what I’m experiencing “in the moment”, to dig into what others say to me, and to chew on new insights and truths that rock my world.

I need time.

Our professor was diligent in making sure we knew that the studio was open to us as students before and after class if we needed to finish a project, or if we needed time to explore work we had already completed. However, even with that freedom, I felt pushed… forced… hustled through a full week… without a lot of time to ingest. It felt like I had perpetual heartburn all week.

Tick-tock, tick-tock.

Sometimes teachings around being fully present in the moment becomes so intense in and of themselves that they leave by the wayside people who struggle with anxiety, long-processors, or even people grounded in mindfulness who simply are being moved too fast. When this happens, we can hear the clock ticking.

There goes that moment. 

Oops, there goes another moment.

I just got into a rhythm of deep breathing and — DANG IT! — it’s time to pack up and go. Another moment gone.

During circle time, I felt many things bubbling underneath the surface but they weren’t ready to see the light of day just yet. But by the end of the week, I could only share a few select thoughts. The moment had ended. We were all going home.

Now of course I was able to take all of what I’d learned, heard, and created home with me and expand the moment that way. However, the opportunity to interact with my classmates as I’d wanted to was gone. The irony that the whole week was focused on remaining in the present while I struggled to speak within that present moment was not lost on me.

Mindfulness, as a discipline, is in part supposed to be able to reduce stress and anxiety so that the present can be experienced more fully. However, teachers and practitioners often forget that “the moment” means different things for different people. Sometimes stressing the present moment in the extreme, in an effort to create keen awareness, creates more disturbance and tension than it does relaxation and openness.

A tangible example would be in a therapist’s office: the client is given a therapeutic hour to be with the therapist who is genuinely facilitating an atmosphere of relaxation. However, with the tick-tock of the clock counting down those 50 minutes, some people simply cannot move into the groove of the moment. There are excellent reasons why the time boundary is in place, however mindfulness cannot always be nurtured within such a boundary.

Another example would be the proliferation of mindfulness services in corporate society. Employees are given X-amount of time to access wellness services, but it is on company time in order to promote the company. Again, these reasons are not necessarily inherently evil. But I hope people can understand how some folks simply would not be able to move into a rhythm of being present with themselves or others while trying to balance it with corporate time.

My own example of trying to live in the moment during my course but being unable to is a prime example: the teachings and examples were there. But the clock simply said “Tick-tock, tick-tock”, and it worked against my need to have more time to be comfortable and to open up.

This post isn’t intended to steer people away from being mindful in the present moment. Not at all! It’s more to make us aware that with so many different kinds of people in the world, generalizing that the only moment we have is ‘the present’ can induce more pain than it does healing.

Instead of returning to ruminating on the past or trying to control or worry over the future (also futile practices), it would be good to speak permission over ourselves. We are fully able to give ourselves permission to:

  • return to the past to enjoy fond memories and times
  • return to the past to remind ourselves of our choices, our transformations, and our pathways
  • create lifeplans that we can journey towards in order to bring some clarity to where we’re headed
  • be afraid of what life holds because let’s face it: it’s a scary world, and sometimes we need space to shout “I’m scared!”

And most of all, we are able to give ourselves permission to:

  • extend the moment; if we are unable to be mindful in the present as set out by teachers, counselors, friends, co-workers, or family, we are free to extend the moment we’re in beyond the clock. Our present could last a second, a minute, an hour, a day, a week, a month, a season. Our perceptions of the present don’t necessarily need to line up with stopwatch timekeeping or with how its measured in our spiritual traditions

When we reframe what it means to be in the present moment for us, it’s an act of awareness and exploration in and of itself. By identifying triggers and stressors within our mindfulness practices, we can start to tailor our disciplines rather than forcing a prescription on ourselves that might be doing more harm than good.

For me, the time to share with classmates is past. It was disappointing but by extending the moment of art studio time into my home, I am able to sit with that disappointment and perhaps observe how I react to others in groups…what it is I really what to do or who I want to be in those groups…and how to nurture better experiences in such groups when they come around again.

But to expect myself to function between 9am-noon and 1pm-5pm in a prescribed spiritual sharing formation isn’t going to fly. I dare say I’m not alone in this. Learning some courage and flexibility within the confines of classes, offices and workplaces is a good thing.

But full permission is granted to extend my moments to become the present for as long as I need them to be.

 

do not fear

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. -1 John 4:18

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. -Psalm 23:4

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. -Psalm 34:4

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” – Romans 8:15

Dear Jean,

The word sin has fallen out of fashion these days. It’s not a word that easily rolls off the tongue in polite society. Moralism and pietiesm can too easily shame people in our brokenness; but a total denial of sin can represent our refusal to accept that we are, indeed, in need of transformation and healing.

That sin describes how we all miss the mark isn’t the question I have.

I’m questioning the continual habit of Christians who believe we have the rightful authority to determine what is sinful and what is not. Looking back throughout our checkered history, it would seem sin is quite fluid in nature. Yes, stealing is wrong but everyone cheers for the oppressed Jean Valjean who stole bread out of desperation for himself and his family.

What about fear?

It’s mentioned, apparently, 365 times throughout the Bible. Thus it’s preached that our fear is a sinful state, since God has a habit of telling us not to do it. But going through Scripture, I think I’ve counted only sixty-some times where the contextual phrase “do not fear” is correctly applied. Not that a tally count determines importance, but the sheer level out-of-context teaching is telling me:

Rethink fear.

Rethink My (God’s) creation of fear.”

The people you live and work and play with have all known fear: in rejection, in abandonment, in loss, in grief, in disappointment, in ridicule, and in abuse. The most elegant and prophetic of people in our world today are often cast aside without second thoughts.

This isn’t a reason for fear?

I listened to your words with great interest:

“When one is, in some ways, controlled and subdued by fear, we have to find ways out. I have to prove that I am someone. Whatever the way that I use, I have to prove that I am. I need to be admired, I need to be told that I’m great. So we create walls around our hearts in a competitive world where I have to prove that I am better than you. I have to go up the ladder — always go up the ladder — to have more, to be more, more power, more money, more knowledge, more admiration. But what we’re most frightened of is to feel that we don’t exist, that we’re no good, that we’re pushed down.” -Jean Vanier Lecture Part 1, Introduction & Fear

Fear, in your understanding, is not a sin. It is a natural response to threats/perceived threats in our worlds. And why wouldn’t we respond in such ways? We were created with a finely tuned (or not-so-finely-tuned) visceral response when our persons are faced with threats/potential threats.

In darkness, without the sense of sight (losing a means of attention and protection), our heart rates rise, our palms grow sweaty, our bodies prepare to fight, flee, or freeze.

In the face of dwindling bank accounts and mounting bills, without a means to feed our children, our stomachs clench, tears well up, we lose strength.

In communities where violence of all kinds is the norm, we automatically take measures to ensure our safety — travelling only in daylight, travelling in groups, we carry weapons, check in by text or phone every few minutes, or never going out at all, keeping the shades down, doing anything to attract zero attention.

In lives where abuse has happened (a one-time event or on an ongoing basis), we lock doors, we psychologically tune out or tune up knowing that our abuser is coming through that bedroom door as soon as he comes home from work, we fight pounding headaches and severe muscle pain.

Fear isn’t a sin. Fear is a sign.

Fear is a communicator that something is clearly not right in our worlds.

Like anger, it is not the presence of fear that is sinful. Rather it’s what we do with our fear that potentially could lead us towards deeper brokenness. I think that’s what you’re getting at in your lecture: the cycles that deepen our fears, letting them take root where love could heal and transform us, are sucking whirlpools. And without Love, we cannot extricate ourselves.

We drown.

And not all people make room for rooted fear! We can’t make blanket statements about fear being sinful, especially to fearful people. It’s textually incorrect, but more so it only layers on added fear that somehow, in all of our fearful reactions, we’ve managed to rile up God too.

No, God doesn’t want anyone to be trapped in fear. I agree.

But I fully disagree that the Bible clearly states that fear is sinful. This teaching has helped heap on the standby of guilt and the old faithful of shame where neither have any rightful place.

How many people are we continuing to hurt by saying: “Tch, tch, you’ve given way to the sin of fear!”

Too many.

Learning how nuanced and complex we are as created beings, I am coming to understand that true love casting out all fear is a lifelong process. I will never be free of fear’s implications. I’m human! Jesus doesn’t repeat “Do not fear” because we’re stupid and sinful, but because our Creator already knows how fragile we are. She knows that there are terrifying things in this world that will knock us down.

We are Her creation after all.

God repeats “fear not” because we need to hear, in intimacy and consolation, that voice of Wisdom and Love. It’s repeated because, like children calming down hearing the voices of their mommies and daddies, we learn to be still with God. Unashamed and unafraid.

Your one phrase knocked me flat over:

“We are healed by those we reject.” -Jean Vanier Lecture Part 1, Introduction & Fear

In a world where I am fearful of so many things, this particular sentence stopped me short: who has been made afraid because of me?

Whom have I rejected in my life?

Who would have thought to look for healing from our own fear in the lives of those whom we have rejected? Crunched down on the ladder? Disregarded? Cut off?

But of course Love would be here.

We would never want to return to the places of our own sin. That would mean we would have to become vulnerable! Broken! Exposed!

Perhaps here is the face of sin within fear: the harm we inflict upon people within our own pain.

And yet I still find no condemnation.

There is Love.

It doesn’t mean healing from the things that cause our fear is easy or a snap. Healing is a slow, meandering river that is often muddy, still, and deep in many places. But I find it a powerful release — and relief — to understand that my fear does not separate me from God, but rather creates opportunity for God to communicate with me.

Wisdom demands I learn to choose well in my fear. That, too, is a lifelong lesson.

May I learn it well.

Until next time,
Erin

This post probably the most accurate reflection of my own process & identity that I’ve read thus far (except I’m attending an ELCIC seminary). I add “reluctant” to my own personal walk in mysticism because let’s face it: I’m stubborn. When I encounter God, I often wrestle her until dawn and come away with a limp. Rarely do I shift or change without a fight.

But beloved I am. I am move deeper into Love.

Originally posted on celtic straits: Postcards from a wonderful site called avagabonde.blogspot.com I was raised a Methodist in an integrated inner-city church. I became committed to Jesus in a high school Young Life club. I find my theological home in historic Reformed theology, and I am an ordained Presbyterian minister (EPC).? I teach leadership and…

via What is a Christian Mystic? — Reluctant Mysticism

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This is probably the most accurate reflection of my own process & identity (except I’m attending an ELCIC seminary). I add “reluctant” to mysticism because let’s face it: I’m stubborn. When I encounter God, I often wrestle her until dawn and come away with a limp. Rarely do I shift or change without a fight.

But beloved I am. I am move deeper into Love.

celtic straits

Postcards from a wonderful site called avagabonde.blogspot.com

I was raised a Methodist in an integrated inner-city church. I became committed to Jesus in a high school Young Life club. I find my theological home in historic Reformed theology, and I am an ordained Presbyterian minister (EPC). I teach leadership and spiritual formation at an Evangelical seminary. I love to read the ancient writings of the Church Fathers, Catholics, Orthodox priests, and Celtic Christians. I am a spiritual Neapolitan, a blended-fruit smoothy, a potluck. Hawaiians call it aloha mixed plate. A tradition from the shared lunch of workers in the pineapple plantations: “Welcome. Share. But you get what you get, Brah.”

A mixed plate. It is a difficult concept, because I do not believe that all roads lead to God, any more than all roads lead to Denver. You can move toward or away from any destination. But God has…

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erin and joel mckerrow

I first encountered Joel McKerrow at the Creative World Festival 2012 in Mission, BC. His spoken word poetry was magnetic, uncensored and empathetic. I’ve been following him, his wife Heidi, & their work since then. I’m thrilled for Joel that his poetry is moving to the stage. Here’s hoping for a Canadian tour in the near future!

Cheers!

It is my absolute privilege to announce the collaborative work I have been producing with the amazing writer and television actor Anna McGahan. We are bringing together an immersive, participatory, poetic theatre show for the Melbourne Fringe Festival this year that we will then tour around Australia. Please come along and let your friends know… http://www.thepeopleofthesun.com.au ______________________ MELBOURNE FRINGE DATES: 20-22 […]

via Announcing my first ever theatre show… — onefootintheclay

Vinyl

“Like A Broken Record”, E.Thomas, Copyright 2016

“Every child, every person needs to know that they are a source of joy; every child, every person, needs to be celebrated. Only when all of our weaknesses are accepted as part of our humanity can our negative, broken self-images be transformed.” -Jean Vanier, Becoming Human

Dear Jean,

You or I could throw a stone into a bookstore and beat the Vegas odds by knocking over a book about self-esteem. If I was a betting woman, this would be a sure lock to paying off student debt. There are very few spaces in our first world sphere where self-esteem isn’t the springboard for personal growth. It’s like a broken record, repeating the same tired message over and over again: there’s far more to the story, but everyone’s stuck on the first fragment of the larger message and we all refuse to budge.

How do we deflate conflated low self-esteem?

I hear what you’re saying: we’re all broken, we’re all wounded, we’re all buying into negative messages that help shape terribly distorted versions of ourselves. We all listen to them. It becomes even scarier when we hear ourselves speak those same messages over others.

When I was younger, emotional management was difficult for me. Emotions were BIG, but I didn’t see them as big. I naturally assumed that how I felt about the world was the way everyone else felt about the world. So why ponder if something’s wrong with the size of my emotions when that possibility is not even a blip on the radar?

What I remember seeing in myself was a consistent overreaction to small things, but often a significant under-reaction to big things. It was during my overreactions that I heard the most criticism:

“You’re just trying to get attention.”

“You’re a drama queen.”

“You’re so self-centered.”

“You just want to be the center of attention.”

Those repeated words — center, attention, drama — were attached to my moral relationship with God. If I was overreacting to a situation (whether it was joyously, despairingly, fearfully, or carefully), I was sinning because I was demanding that attention be paid to me. And by making that demand, I was committing the sin of selfishness.

When I under-reacted to situations, I was ignored. It didn’t register on the radars of other people that a classmate’s father had just committed suicide the night before, and I completed all of my schoolwork for the day while the rest of my class sat together in tears. I don’t remember feeling much of anything other than I had to study for a test. So I studied.

In fact, as a look back, I under-reacted far more than I overreacted. I’m sure there were many days and nights my parents wished I would emerge from my basement room and be present with our family. Often there were dark times when I don’t recall feeling anything at all but gray deadness.

But teenagers, especially highly anxious/possibly AS teenagers, often don’t have the language to go to their parents and say:

“Excuse me, but all this talk about my overreactions just to attract attention is hurtful. It’s even more damaging to hear from the church and school and friends and youth group that I’m sinning by doing so. Could we please discuss how we could repair the gashes to my broken self-esteem? Thank you and kindest regards.” – Your Eldest Daughter.

I have to wonder: would the harmful impact have done just as much damage had the attention-seeking accusation NOT been attached to God’s relationship with me?

That was the clincher.

It seemed I was forever failing God.

Yet the doctrine of Original Sin reinforced that was not created good, or wanted, or loved. I was impossible to love except through the lens of Jesus. It made no sense to me. I only learned that I was unconditionally loved AFTER I said the right words and behaved in ways that showed inward transformation.

Maybe I was asking for attention.

Maybe there were no words for “Excuse me, Church, but you’re telling me that just by being born, I am damned to eternal conscious torment BUT if I confess how evil and awful I am before God, God will be able to love me again?”

Hindsight is 20/20, so there’s no way to say for sure what was really going on. I can say with certainty that I lived with daily guilt about who I was, who I was supposed to be for God, and who I was supposed to be for others. Guilt, shame, guilt, shame — it quickly became a fundamental part of my identity.

Attach a broken view of myself to God, I can learn to see myself as beloved and wanted and in relationship with the Divine and others.

Attach a CONDEMNED view of myself to God, and I learn to see myself as evil, born sinful, born awful, abhorrent, and only potentially lovable to God and others.

So back to that rock-throwing. Shall we try again? I’ll bet you a million dollars I’ll hit another book on self-esteem (tosses rock up and down in hand). I’ve given you some background about a broken view of myself from a religious background, but what about non-religious people or non-spiritual folks?

The reality that both of us could hit self-esteem/self-help books easily in any bookstore shows us that it isn’t just church people crying out in distress. It’s everyone.

And in good first world fashion, others have capitalized on our need and marketed the hell out of it.

I’ll confess to healing from a broken self and a broken view of self, but when does our need for help with healing become an addiction to self-esteem?

In our endless pursuit for fulfillment, awareness, insight and growth, we pander after movement after movement; book tour after book tour; trend after trend, and none of us seem the more fulfilled, aware, insightful or matured because of it all.

In our legitimate need to heal, have we become so stuck on ourselves that we flaunt our brokenness to the world? Are we that distorted in our pursuit of healing, that we try to be the most broken in our communities? The most hurt? The most inept?

Help me understand.

Help me understand when vulnerable sharing is true and needed; and when displaying all colours of our perceived brokenness is little more than…attention-seeking.

Help me understand this vacuous space we seem to be living in that sucks towards us all of these self-help books, lists of how to be happy, tips towards positivity,  and theory after theory about how we must focus on our own self-esteems first and foremost.

Does it all really begin with esteem?

Or have we conflated one aspect of our own identities so egregiously that we can only see this bulging stomach of our self-esteems, while the rest of who we are in God is ignored? We are, indeed, broken people. Every one of us.

But when does genuine healing, fast or slow, become the celebration? When can we put down the foci on ourselves, and be celebratory of the healing and love in others without worry or thought as to how this will (or will not) affect our own esteems?

Your turn.

Throw your rock.

I bet you a million dollars.

Until next time,
Erin

Amy 3

Baby Damien (used with permission)

Saturday morning I woke up, padded around in my pajamas, made a light breakfast, and checked my newsfeed. It was as normal a Saturday morning as ever one was.

I scrolled down through the various posts and articles, until I saw I picture of a tiny baby’s legs. It caught my attention because these were very tiny legs, and very tiny toes — far too tiny to be earthside just yet. I choked on a sob when I saw that it was my friend Amy’s baby.

Meet Damien.

Perfectly formed, he was stillborn at 20 weeks.

Amy had just lost a son.

Amy 2

Baby Damien (used with permission)

How do we share words when we look upon perfection and understand that it has been taken away?

Sometimes our silence, like the silent secret place Damien had been growing in, is the most precious thing we can give.

But too often, our silence is what has created unrecognized griefs. I have met many women coming through the Centre who will sit down, needing some food support, and they kind of murmur, “I need food. I’m too tired to work or cook, because I miscarried this month.”

That’s all.

Not much more is said.

One or two have shared a bit more of their stories with me. Losing a child to miscarriage or stillbirth isn’t a real grief so they’ve been told. After all, many have stillborn children and even more miscarry — multiple times! It’s physically painful, but it’s not as if the child was three or five or 10 years old.

These are the messages these women are hearing. From churches, from hospitals, from families, from friends.

“No need to grieve! It’s not a big deal.”

How little we know of life. How little with know of grief. How little we dare look into the faces of traumatic death and speak to them, and name them as children who are gone.

I think of the way things were thirty or forty years ago when women weren’t even to speak of such events, let alone as their babies as children.

Grieve them?

No! Carry on!

(Heaven forbid the father grieve these things.)

Oh God, that you would hold in your space all the lives muted in their grief over losing such new lives. We are learning now how deeply we have forced many people to keep their grief silent and unspoken. We are to be strong; we are to be faithful; we are to be able to live our lives as if nothing happened, because certain traumas and losses are considered less than others. And if we are grieving, we are to keep it secret and behind closed doors. These are private affairs, after all.

And we wonder why so many people suffer with wounds that have never healed?

I know in many hospitals, churches and community organizations, things are changing. The grief of miscarriages and stillbirths is being recognized as a profound loss that forever change who we are. People are awakening to the need for us to weep, to mourn, to name, and to love one another. For many, however, silence is remains a burden to bear as they wait in body to recover.

This is not a post on whether or not the church or the world is pro-life or pro-choice (both terms are antiquated, and need to be done away with). This is a post about a beautiful woman who has lost a beautiful son — and she is speaking about it. She is speaking about him, about Damien.

Beautiful, honest, raw pictures were taken of Damien at the hospital. A tiny, wonderful wrap and cap were provided for Damien, child of God. The recognition of Damien’s life by Amy and her family, and by the hospital staff was powerful. Their grieving voices are speaking truth to power:

Damien is real; his life is real; his death is real; and we are mourning that death,
while celebrating his life.

Amy 1

Damien’s wrap and cap (used with permission)

Amy’s hope is to create tangible, hopeful support such as she received this past week. She wants to start collecting bits of fabric and other notions to help make wraps and caps such as the ones Damien received at the hospital. An incredibly talented crafter and artisan, Amy will surely design beautiful items. An incredibly huge-hearted woman, I know each item will be infused with Amy’s love, her grief, her desire to support others, and Damien’s own little light.

If you are able to help with fabric or cash donations for Amy to purchase supplies, please send her an email at the following address:

Amycmahe@gmail.com

We all stand around Amy and her family during this time, breaking the code of silence by speaking one word:

Damien.

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