Sacred Courage

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

I greeted the morning by taking our beloved pit-bull Lu out for a walk. We encountered a wounded owl in distress, flailing, unable to fly, but still trying.

Lu didn’t really react. I wasn’t sure she noticed as I didn’t approach the owl, just observed, and then brought Lu back inside as I worked with some neighbors to get the owl some help.

When animal rescue workers got there, I went inside and got Lu, intending to take her on a walk again, since we had to cut the first walk short. I was nervous Lu would react so I started walking the other way, trying to distract her as they helped the owl. She definitely noticed this time. She was transfixed, but not making any sound. I kept trying to have her walk with me but she was not having it. We stayed far enough away to not interfere and I just let Lu be. She stared. And then laid down. She was calmly and silently watching. It took about ten minutes and she remained.

When the owl was removed I expected her to want to walk. She continued to just lay there in this restful, peace-filled way. It took my breath away. There was something happening and it really felt sacred to see, but I wasn’t sure why I was having that response.

During my prayer and meditation time I sat with this some.

Why did that matter so much?
Why was I moved by her complete and full presence in that moment?
Why is there a need for bearing witness?
Why do we sit endlessly with loved ones as they die?
Why is this sacred?

Empathy.

Our mirror neurons in our brain make us able to climb into the lived experience we are watching. As we witness the lived experience of others we see ourselves.

That scares the ever living stuffing out of us at times.

If we acknowledge suffering exists, we cannot deny that suffering is a part of all of this living. We cannot deny suffering will happen to us. And we hate that.

It takes courage to admit our fragility, our limitations, and our mortality. It’s hard to live a life that we know will one day end. It feels impossible to live while also accepting that we will one day flail where we used to fly.

What was the invitation for the sacred moment I experienced? Was it in the watching? We have all kinds of motivations to watch all kinds of things. In and of itself I don’t think the sacredness was in the watching.

I think the sacredness was invited the moment we realized we were seeing suffering. The sacredness was that we stayed.

Wisdom to know the difference

 

You may frequently pray, as I do, the Serenity Prayer in which you ask for serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. And of course the wisdom to know the difference makes all the difference!

I see spiritual direction as a wisdom practice.

I go to spiritual direction to get a “perception check” on knowing the difference. For example, I have one support person in my life–a mental health practitioner–who has advised me to stop watching and listening to the news because “politics will always be full of rancor and conflict, and natural disasters will always be horrible.” She wants me to accept how little control I have in matters of national and international importance. Then I have other people in my life, friends and encouragers I call my “dream team,” who tell me we can make a difference if only we do X, Y or Z. Perhaps both are right, but even so, I need the wisdom to know the difference between shutting the news off and just going about my life as if all is well, and staying informed and making my voice heard.

I haven’t figured it all out. I haven’t found my wisdom. And my spiritual director doesn’t tell me what wisdom is, but he’s quite good at noticing when I have located my own wisdom in this question. And I hope I do that for those who come to me for spiritual direction.

What is wisdom? In one sense, it is the female biblical figure, Sophia, described as God’s helper who was present at the origin of the world. Every now and then I like to dig into the Apocryphal book, Wisdom of Solomon, to reflect on the nature of Wisdom.

“Wisdom is a reflection of eternal light.
She is a spotless mirror of the working of God.”
Wisdom 7:26-27

“Wisdom reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the other,
and she orders all things well.”
Wisdom 8:1

As spiritual directors, we seek to hold this metaphorical Wisdom mirror up to our directees so that they can see the working of God in their lives. So that they can develop “the wisdom to know the difference” in their own lives.

As for my question, wisdom tells me to stay informed without becoming overloaded, to cut through the boarishness of political discourse and keep my eyes instead on the issues that affect people’s daily lives. I’ll use my voice when I can and hope for the best. Most of all, I will work on trusting that Wisdom orders all things well!

Do You Feel Out of Sorts Lately?

by Amanda Petersen

Ever have one of those days where you just feel out of sorts? There is nothing happening in your life to cause it, yet you feel like that commercial where the little blue cloud is following you everywhere? If that has been happening lately, you are not alone.

One of the side effects of living a Deep Listening life will be days where –for no reason at all– the little blue cloud will show up. It makes sense if one believes we are all connected, and there are tragedies happening in large proportions, that one would feel the pain of others. When there is a lot of sadness in the world, that sadness touches others.

What do you do with these blue cloud days? I could make a list of ways to move through these days, yet I really believe each of you have your own wisdom. I’d love to hear what you do when these days of communal sadness show up.

For myself, the blue cloud days mean reaching out to community, increasing self care and meditation, and balancing the sadness with inspiration. In the midst of all the sad stories there are so many of how people have reached out and loved each other. These seasons are times for me to ask questions like “Is this sadness moving me in a new direction?”

Let’s take a moment and inspire each other with our stories of blue cloud days and how they call us to a deeper and richer life. If that sounds impossible, I encourage you to reach out to one of our community to assist you in finding your way through blue cloud days. In the meantime, may your week be filled grace as we interact with ourselves, others and God/Divine.

Reflection

by MK LeFevour

I never liked poetry. I believed if you had something to say, just say it – don’t couch it in fancy words or with metaphors that nobody understands. Then along came a well-meaning friend who loaned me a book of Mary Oliver poems. It sat on my nightstand filling me with guilt each night that I didn’t open it. After a month, my friend asked how I was enjoying the book and I lied, “Oh, I’m loving it!” But not being a fan of lying and knowing my friend would eventually ask which poem was my favorite, I broke down, opened the book to a random page and read Oliver’s most loved poem, The Summer Day. My life was changed by that one act of opening myself up to this woman’s understanding of loss, sorrow and hope.

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver won a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for her poetry. But what brought her to winning such prestigious awards was growing up in an abusive house where her only escape was to wander the woods near her home. In nature she found her true home and healing for a broken heart.

What we have in common with Ms. Oliver and each other, is that we live in a remarkable place of nature that others might experience as inhospitable. But what we know is that despite living with the constant danger of getting poked by plant life that doesn’t want to be touched is that we are blessed to live in a desert where we are surrounded by daily wonders – the magic and power of a monsoon storm, the collared lizard doing push-ups on our garden wall, the roadrunner stopping on a dime and changing directions as she spies us coming down the wash, the hummingbird taking on all comers to protect his feeder , the coyote sauntering across the road and then turning to give us a smug look before he bounds away into the brush and javalinas who, if you sing to them, will stop and lay down to listen until you’re done with the song.

Mary Oliver’s poems bring me comfort. But why are they comforting? I believe it’s because she continually reminds me to pay attention to the world around me – from the grasshopper to the stars. And when I bring my attention out from the hamster wheel of dark thoughts in my head to the beauty of our desert, I am brought into awe and wonder and that brings me healing.

Ms. Oliver gave these instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it. My wish for you is that you find your Mary Oliver who can speak your pain and bring you words of guidance and comfort.

Let me leave you with words from another poet, Rumi, that I’ve come to love (yes, open your heart to one poet and others will push their way in).

Grief can be the garden of compassion if you keep your heart open through everything. Your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom.

 

Photo by Boris Smokrovic on Unsplash

S-h-h-h

by Karen MacDonald

So much sound and fury….

Harvey,

     Irma,

          Jose,

               Katia,

                    Maria.

Earthquakes.
Nuclear saber-rattling.
Refugee migrations and suffering around the world….and so much more….

How to respond, what to do?
Be quiet, pay attention to spirit.

Fast from the whirlwind of words and images around and within.
     Step away from the demands of schedules and tasks.
          Withdraw from the anxiety of so much to resist and to assist.

Be pilgrims on a journey to purify our hearts, rather than to speak our piece. (1)
Tend the fire of the Spirit in us, so that we have warmth to offer those in need. (2)
Be in solitude
     be still
          be.

Only then, speak
     with the power of “a word that comes out of silence.” (3)

Only then, act
     with the strength of a deed that comes out for serving.
Then will beauty and life shine in and through us.

S-h-h-h….

     not in a great and mighty wind,
     not in an earthquake,
     not in a wildfire—
          rather, in a “soft, murmuring sound” (4)
          did Elijah meet G-d.

“Another world is not only possible, she’s on her way.  Maybe many of us won’t be here to greet her, but on a quiet day, if I listen very carefully, I can hear her breathing.” (5)

(1) based on Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Way of the Heart
(2) Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Way of the Heart
(3) Ibid.
(4) I Kings 19:12, The Jewish Study Bible
(5) Arundhati Roy, “Come September”, in The Impossible Will Take a Little While (Paul Rogat Loeb, editor)

The “Music” of Our Whole Lives ~ some reflections after the OWL All-Levels Training of Trainers

by Karen Richter

I was really excited to be able to attend the Our Whole Lives Training of Trainers last week in Hawaii. While the Southwest Conference has several churches who offer Our Whole Lives programming, we didn’t have an approved local trainer. I’m especially grateful to the OWL staff person at the national setting, Amy Johnson, Commissioned Minister for Sexuality Education and to the Unitarian Universalist Association who made this training happen and provided a wonderful experience for 22 trainers-in-training.

One really wonderful discussion during the training was about the “music” of the OWL curriculum. This is a rich metaphor, acknowledging that a person who participates in an Our Whole Lives program at any level might not remember any specific information they learned. As time passes, the content (anatomy, active listening checklist, contraception failure rates…) may simply slip away. In this metaphor, the participant might forget the “lyrics” they previously knew… but it’s our hope that they remember the tune.

What’s the TUNE of Our Whole Lives? What is the spirit or culture or tone of the program that becomes the music children, teens, adults, and facilitators come away from OWL humming under their breath?

karen richter OWL booksIt’s VALUES. All of Our Whole Lives curricula is grounded in specific values. For elementary programming, these are Respect, Relationships, and Responsibility. For high school and adult programming, the values are Self-Worth, Sexual Health, Responsibility, and Justice & Inclusivity. Every workshop, every resource, every activity reflects and reinforces these values. Being absolutely clear about the centrality of these values makes Our Whole Lives a gift to families and communities. Building a shared language of values makes awkward (or sometimes just plain funny) conversations a little easier.

It’s a CELEBRATION OF LIVED EXPERIENCE.karen richter open door Besides the values, Our Whole Lives is based on some assumptions, including the natural goodness of our sexual feelings, identities, and behaviors… while acknowledging the real damage done to sexuality by violence and exploitation. All persons are sexual, and exploring this everyday commonality is a formative experience at any age.

It’s a recognition of the CONNECTIONS BETWEEN SEXUALITY AND SPIRITUALITY. Can you think of words that describe healthy sexuality? Can those same words also describe healthy spirituality? The Sexuality and Our Faith resources helps facilitators and participants deepen those connections and develop a sense of gratitude for the gift of sexuality from a loving Creator.

There’s a significant weight of responsibility on OWL facilitators – keeping all these pieces of “music” in your head, being engaging and approachable, planning and executing 90 minutes of instruction and activities. If your congregation has Our Whole Lives programming, hug these wonderful people. They are engaged in life giving, life saving ministry.

If your congregation doesn’t currently offer Our Whole Lives, let’s talk!

Hooked

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

It was simple really.
We were looking for nourishment.
We were looking for food
We thought we found it.
We were eager, driven by hunger.
We chomped down and we knew
Right away
We were tricked.
There wasn’t any nourishment
There was only a hook and we are on it.

It hurts.
It really hurts.
It pierces and mars.
It harms us.
It injures us

We flail and thrash.
We have to get away.
And in our best effort of pulling away,
the hook sinks in deeper.

I know a thing or two about hooks.
And the line
And the sinker
Got some scars to prove it.

Here are some things I have learned.
We never respond to people or events.
We never do.
Never.
Ever.

We respond to our own perception of people and events.
We respond to our own feelings from the perceptions we have of people and events.
This means most of what we tell ourselves is a way to frame and understand the world.
The stories help us figure things out, but the stories themselves are not true.
The stories are within us, written in such a way that we can face forward and keep going.
We are making choices based on what we think is happening, many times making choices out of fear.
We can enhance our capacity to make loving choices if we can understand the narratives are myth.

Fear is powerful. We try to respond with as much power we can muster by thrashing and pulling and fighting. The thrashing makes sense to the panic within us in times of fear and pain. Thrashing feels like a choice. It feels like we are doing something to help ease the hurt. We are not. We often confuse the expelling of energy as progress when really it often just makes us exhausted.

Frenzied thrashing does not work for sustaining life. It is fear based and reactive. It is dangerous if this is our main way of being.

The perceptions of our life is what hooks us. The lies and stories we tell ourselves, the justifications, the rationalizations, the ruminations all merge into a single, solitary hook that now hurts. We fall for it a lot and the thrashing begins.

But then…
after the thrashing
in the silence,
in the exhaustion ,
in the darkness,
we see some inklings of light, hope and peace.
If we can open our hearts to it, we will feel the know the true power of acceptance.

Many misunderstand acceptance.
Some see it as weak.
Others see it as surrender.
Still others see it as saying we are ok with the awful thing that just happened. That we endorse it in some way.
Not true.

Acceptance is not dismissing the pain. It’s acknowledging that the pain exists.
Acceptance is not surrendering to the harm. It is simply acknowledging that the harm happened.

This is hard stuff.
That hook changes things and makes us weary.
Getting off that hook is never poetic while it is happening.
A soundtrack of peace, love and ease does not accompany the process.
It is marring and bloody.
It is scary and painful.

In this process of thrashing and accepting, flailing and yielding the difficulty fades into the background as we foster a nurturing, loving heart.
It comes complete with its very own set of self-compassion and graciousness.
In that grace comes the realization that we are off the hook.

Finally.
Completely.
Fully.
Free.

Spiritual Direction and a Rejection of the Nashville Statement

by Teresa Blythe

Evangelical Christian leaders who refuse to accept LBGTQIA+ persons as they are recently released their treatise on sexuality and gender, called The Nashville Statement (and did so during the worst hurricane in the nation’s history for who-knows-what reason). I’m not linking to this hurtful document—if you want to read it you can google it—and I have a few points to make about why I believe spiritual direction should always be a place of radical welcome to gender and sexual minorities (GSM).

Some spiritual directors shy away from taking a stand on controversial issues that divide left-wing from right-wing Christians. They contend it’s a political subject and they want to stay non-partisan.

I choose, however, to stand with all GSM people and offer my thoughts on why a statement such as this Nashville manifesto is worth countering.

As a Christian spiritual director, I take my cues from Jesus and one of his teachings that has always guided how I treat others—whether they are like me or different from me—is “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

How would I like to be treated? Then that’s at the very least how I will treat others and I believe it would be Christ-like to go even farther and treat people as they would like to be treated.

I would never want to be referred to in the angry, hurtful, heterosexist language used in the Nashville Statement. In fact, in one way, I was mentioned and I felt the burn. This statement links marriage primarily to procreation. I have no children, so I guess I’m in need of repentance in their eyes.

It also speaks of male and female as the only genders around. What does this mean for people who are Intersex and born with both male and female characteristics?

But mostly the statement employs the usual anti-gay rhetoric that has been driving the gay community away from church for the past 50 or so years.

OK, so I’ve made my point. I reject the Nashville Statement wholeheartedly. As an ally of the GSM community and as a spiritual director who loves working with a diverse and wonderfully created clientele, I stand with Jesus in loving neighbors as I want to be loved and accepted.

And I’m asking all spiritual directors to be open and affirming of gender and sexual minorities. In fact, I would say that if you only want to work with cisgender (look it up) and heterosexual people, you should really not be a spiritual director. If you fall in that category, I would encourage you to get to know some people who are different from you. Many progressive churches (UCC, some UMC, PCUSA, Episcopal, ELCA and others) are open and affirming and in those churches you will come to know people who are GSM and their loved ones. I think you will find that to know them is to love them.

Arguments about homosexuality and church teachings used to seem so complicated. But after doing spiritual direction for over 20 years now, there is no argument for me.

It’s all about the Great Commandment and the Golden Rule.

reprinted with permission from the author from Spiritual Direction 101 on Patheos

Should, Must, Gotta, and Have-To

by Karen Richter

Are you tired? I seem to have a lot of tired friends lately. Whether they are parents, activists, or just in a career building phase (or all three!), I see caring and beloved humans all around me moving from one obligation to another.

“I just gotta…”
“Guess I should…”
“My must-do today is…”
“I’m sorry but I have to…”

This makes me sad because we are not called to a life of Shoulds and Gottas.

But… there’s work to do, right? The world’s a mess and its needs call to us, right? When we pray, asking God to feed the hungry, God says, “I sent you,” right? It’s arrogance to think that the world is depending our our little bit, but at the same time, the world IS DEPENDING ON OUR LITTLE BIT! How do we reconcile this mental anguish and move on?

tree pose
tree pose

I’ve spent my summer doing yoga (now that’s random… just bear with me). I’m struggling with Tree pose; it’s a balancing pose and my balance is pretty crap. My teacher says, “Feel your feet. Hello, feet! Feel two corners in the front of your feet and one corner in the back of your feet.” When I’m a good listening little yogi, I do this and THEN I can raise one foot and lift my arms into Tree. When I try to jump right in, without talking to my feet and feeling my foundation, I wobble like crazy and my Tree pose doesn’t do much.

It’s my humble suggestion to approach our work, especially in social justice, in the same grounding, foundational way. First, we must feel our freedom. Freedom is our birthright, our calling, a gift from God. Freedom is the three corners of our feet.

Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

2 Corinthians 3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

Feel your freedom, friends; stand firm. From this foundation, move joyfully into your work.

Communion and My Transgender Experience

by Joe Nutini

A note from the Southwest Conference: This is edgier than our usual posts. It graphically describes an authentic spiritual experience. If that’s not for you, we will see you next time. But didn’t want you to be caught off guard.

 

I knelt down on the red wooden kneeler before the priest. His well adorned robe flowed gently over the railing separating us. He held the body of Christ in his hands. This was a sacred duty. We were to be subservient to the lord who had reportedly sacrificed himself for us. I did not share this story. For me, even as a young teen, the Eucharist was much more than that. I knelt because the cells of my body knew that there was something special, something mystical about the transubstantiation that took place in the communion ceremony. I did not kneel for the priest, I knelt for the mystic Christ who transcended all boundaries.

When the Eucharist touched my tongue, I often had an almost erotic experience. His body, his miracle touching me physically…this was something tangible. I could eat the in-between space that the risen Christ occupied. I felt it in my cells just as I felt my most recent first orgasm. I often experienced signs and visions that I now understand to be communications with the spirit world. When I took communion I did not feel so alien in my body. For a moment, though my gender and physicality did not fit quite right, I was able to overcome this painful conundrum.

Now here we are many years later. I started transitioning about 13 years ago. In that time I have become much more interfaith in my spirituality. I believe in variety of things, many of which could be termed new age.  I practice Buddhism as a way of life. Today I see most religions and spiritual practices as being a part of a large interconnected web. We are experiencing this web in both this world and in the metaphysical plane. My transgender experience has allowed me to see this more clearly and to feel it viscerally. There are no borders or barriers between this world and the next. Just like there are none when it comes to gender. There is only fluidity and change…there is only sacred and mystical blending, bonding, separating, transmuting and impermanence.

Thought I look much more like a man outwardly, I still consider myself a transman.  I am more on the masculine side of the spectrum. Yet, like my experience of Jesus in the Eucharist, I move through the fluidity of gender. There is a flow in my body. An existing in two spaces simultaneously.

There is a certain dharma to my transgender existence. I do not know what it means to be a cisgender man because I was not born one. That is my experience of being a transman. It certainly isn’t everyone’s experience. But for me, the lesson is to be able to occupy a space with which I resonate, even if it does not fit the boxes that society has created. In the 13 years that I have engaged in physical transition, I have not once said I was a man trapped in a woman’s body. I never had that story. I don’t feel a need to have the story to justify the physical changes I’ve made. It is simply what needed to be done. When the time came I knew and felt that it was right. This is a spiritual practice of trusting one’s own intuition and internal guidance system.

I often think back to the days when I was young and practicing Catholicism. The same catholic church that later threatened to excommunicate me if I came out as queer, provided the mystical experiences I needed to fully grow into myself as a transgender person. My body, like Christ’s risen body, occupies a mystical space. It is a physical manifestation of what Buddhists call impermanence. I think we all exist in this state. A state of in-between. A state of a body, a person, a mind, a heart and a soul in flux. I believe transgender people are here to be visible manifestations of this concept. I also believe we are here to help cisgender people move away from the rigidity of gender roles and into a more relaxed way of being.