Hope, Creativity, and Art

by Rae Strozzo

In the midst of struggle, creativity is where hope finds vision.

We are in need of creativity and compassion in this moment.  This is a love letter to art and creativity that is so essential to all of us. Sometimes love is hard to see, and context is everything.  So first – the bad news.  

The current political moment seems so polarized and almost surreal.  We are at war now.  The U.S. is fighting itself as it has been since its creation but with a scary vigor. Fear seems to trump so much of what is good in the world if we spend our time on Facebook or watch more than 10 minutes of the news.  Shuffling through the lies to try and sort out what might be true feels like the new daily battle.  

The U.S. is fighting and exploiting other countries for the needs and greed of a few and the government and pop culture feeds it back to us as nationalism and what a “great nation” does for freedom.  All the while internally African American churches burn, Jewish community centers deal with bomb threats, and our Muslim brothers and sisters try to cope with threats, acts of violence and destroyed property.   Transpeople of color are murdered, gender expansive people commit and attempt suicide at astoundingly high rates, and lgbtq youth are homeless at much higher rates than their straight and cis gender peers.  

Walls are built to make and keep people illegal and separate, and families fear being broken up by immigration sweeps.  Our country incarcerates more people than any other country in the world, and that is also to make a buck at the expense of those people’s lives and the lives of their families – most of whom are people of color.  Many of our neighbors grow up trapped in poverty and in systems of oppression that get labeled welfare, child protective services, and the mental health care system and so on, but work against the people they are created to help and against the people who work in those systems who want to help.  

Many ignore these problems and systems, and we step past the oppression because it is as subtle as “professionalism” in a workplace that really just says look/be whiter.  Or we say we are moving to a better neighborhood or sending our kids to better schools without seeing that those are whiter neighborhoods and whiter schools.  We live in “Right to Work States” that really say it’s okay not hire people who aren’t white enough, straight enough, gender conforming enough, Christian enough because as long as we don’t say it, we haven’t done anything wrong.   

Now is a time when a college education is so expensive only the most privileged can have it without the reality of mountainous debt and where public education is stifled by our system of lack. We live in a time where art and music struggle to find access points to most people’s lives and where the funding for those things are viewed as unimportant and stripped away.   We are taught to blame the poor rather than help. We are taught to walk away from people who don’t see things the way that we do. We are taught that tough love is about shunning people from families, from churches, from communities, so that somehow they will want to come back to us, but in the way we want them and not in the way that the universe created them.  

We use our limited understanding of creativity to control other people. We use our limited understanding of creativity for greed.  Succumbing to those same limits causes us to destroy our planet.  Our creativity is limited by what we think we know and it is wasted on anger, fear, destruction, and an illusion of control. We stifle vulnerability because we mistaken it for weakness rather than a place where new ideas are born.  We are strapped down by prejudice and are unable in those moments to be our fully connected and creative selves.  Empire wants us to die for lack of imagination. White supremacy wants us to hold it up out of that same lack of imagination.

That is a lot, especially acknowledging that it isn’t even close to giving voice to all of what is up in the world right now.

But the good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way.  I firmly believe this.  All of these situations are things that were set in motion by people.  Logic suggests that if people created it, then people can also dismantle it. So there is hope. If we can be vulnerable enough to hope, then we have a place to start to vision something different, and that means creativity can come back to us and with its divine purpose intact.

Hope is where real creativity comes in.  Creativity, as it meets compassion, produces healing and love. This is where the arts are a healing force. Creativity as it is connected to love gives us the capacity for participation in beauty. It is the ability to turn the wound into a foundation for solidarity and into an olive branch for the “other side.”

As it is said, those with the capacity for great anger hold the capacity for great gentleness. So too those with great creative power towards greed hold that power for generosity. Those with great creative power toward destruction also hold great  power for creation. All of us hold creative power.  It is the link that bonds all of us to each other and to the universe. Creativity is what makes us human. It isn’t just a painter or a musician who holds creativity. Creativity is our mirror of the universe. It is our tether to the divine.  

Artists are a part of the priesthood of the creative and have a connection to the creative energy of the universe. When artists share their work, they open that connection to and establish that link for others.

The creative process and the artistic result aren’t just for the artist. Art is about completing a cycle and about helping other people and the culture it is a part of change, grow, and evolve. Art is a sacred reminder that we are ALL part of the creative flow of the universe. That is its purpose. Art reminds people that they have things to express and to express them. Creative expression is divine language no matter how it is spoken.

The teacher who makes a place for a struggling kid to learn because they take the time to rethink how they teach is a part of that energy.   The police officer who figures out how to stop violence without using it has that energy.  The activist who rallies support while seeing the other side as people and not just an opposing force is a part of this creative energy too.  

These are just examples. All of us have a link to what makes us our best selves. That is our link to the creative energy of the universe. We have been given this gift. But it isn’t about our minds and not even about our skill sets. It’s about our willingness to get vulnerable and listen to what our higher selves are telling us.  To listen to what our souls are telling us. To listen to what the universe is telling us.  

The path that is uniquely ours in life is lit by love and compassion as motive. Come to life with love and compassion and the steps to take become real.  The creativity to make things happen in our lives and in the lives of others becomes real.  Art is made in song, in paint, in photograph, and in every kind word, in every loving action. Listening to the creative energy of the universe and using that energy for kindness and compassion can heal a lifetime of wounds.  

True Perception: The Path of Dharma Art says, “Thinking goes as far as the mind understands. Then what? Art.”

Change for the good of all goes only as far as our ability to create compassion.  Then what? Art.

Rising from Ash

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

I met my nephew AJ when he was two years old. His mom was dating my younger brother and I was very excited to have a potential nephew in my life. I couldn’t have been more happy when that wish became a reality and they both joined our family.

AJ was seriously adorable. He had more energy than all my family combined. The kid was the sweetest to his mom. This ended up extending to all parts of his life and relationships. AJ was and is full of light and life.

When he was six I picked him up from an after school program to take him to karate. We were getting in the car when I heard a woman saying his name. I looked up and a woman was walking toward us with a little boy in tow, likely the same age as AJ. The little boy was wearing a helmet and had some facial disfiguration. I don’t remember this child’s name so we’ll call him Josh.

I got out of the car, uncertain of this woman’s intentions in calling out for him and approaching him.

She asked “Are you AJ?”
He nodded.
She said, “Josh has been talking about you all the time. He says when kids tease and hurt him that you tell them to stop and you are very kind to him. I want you to know how special you are. Thank you for being so sweet and kind.”

Each word filled my heart.

I asked him on the drive how he felt about what she said to him. He said “I just like Josh.” This little guy sure was amazing. Such a beacon by just being fully himself and choosing love.

AJ’s mom and my brother ended up separating and later divorced. I know divorce. I have experienced it quite a few times in my childhood. I knew how hard it would be. As everyone tried to figure how this next season of our lives would work, we lost regular time with AJ. It became the occasional holiday and outing.

When AJ was 12 we stepped up the relationship to being in his life regularly. I remember being nervous picking him up the first time after having seen very little of him in the few years prior. Quite simply, I wondered if he would still like me.

AJ initiated conversation right away, telling me a story from his life. So easy and light. It felt like we had never lost contact. And I really liked him. A lot. He was funny and thoughtful. He was and is a huge guy, but such a gentleness and openness. He’s unmatched in that area.

As the years continued we spent time as often as we could. Sometimes it was frequent, sometimes a dry spell. Regardless of the amount of time that had gone between our visits, we picked right up where we left off and there was always laughter.

The events of the past year made some conversations in my family and friend group very intense and hard. I had endured a sexual assault that massively leveled me. We had talked to all the adults close to us. I had no idea, though, how to tell AJ. I felt protective of him and did not want to hurt his heart. I did not want to burden him.

As is characteristic of this dude, he sensed something was wrong and asked me direct questions about it. I answered honestly. He took it in. He sat with it and we talked about all the other things going on as there was A LOT going on for him.

AJ was turning 18 and he was readying himself to join the Marine Corp that July 2016. We held space for honest talks and then maneuvered to humor. Good stuff. Honest stuff. Life giving stuff. And what an incredible emotional intelligence he showed throughout all of it.

The time I had with AJ between January and July was precious and sacred to me. As my focus began to turn outward to support AJ, I felt relief from the intensity of my internal world that was reeling and begging for healing. By loving AJ and showing up for him, I was healing. Love is funny that way. Loving action changes a heart and circumstance better than any New Years Resolutions ever could.

As the day approached that he was heading out to Boot Camp for the Marines, I was feeling the reality that AJ would be leaving. It never feels like the right time for those you adore to leave you. I knew releasing him was important and love lived out.

AJ sent me tons of things to prep me about what he was going to endure. He was signing up for such a hard time and yet he was facing forward. He was meeting life and saying yes. Unswerving and resolute. He was prepared and ready for what was next.

The three months he was away were actually the hardest for me since the assault. I didn’t necessarily link this to his leaving, though that worry and pain was fully there, too. The hard time just was what it was. Trauma recovery does not ebb and flow in a way that makes sense. It’s painful and overwhelming. It is also necessary to walk through that pain.

AJ endured an exhausting, all encompassing season and landed on the other side. He was officially declared a Marine on 10/14/2016. I couldn’t wait to see him!

I picked him up the very next day and noticed that nervousness rising again. Is it going to be weird at all? Is he going to still like me? He got in the car and said, “I have so much to tell you!” And he did.

Stories of how AJ had overcome, what felt triumphant, what the funny moments were, what comrades he now had filled our conversation. He held his head differently. He walked with the confidence that comes from living the life you challenged yourself to live. I got that familiar surge of pride that I had when he was six years old, reaching out and being loving.

Some other emotions rose up within me, too. Admiration.
Inspiration.
Awe.

I had been feeling shame about how hard the last three months had been, chastising myself to heal faster. I imagined AJ in the Boot Camp circumstances, pushing through, embracing the season of difficulty as a necessary one, and just meeting life with agreement and willingness. As I saw him this way, I saw myself in a new light. He was still standing and so was I.

The constant overwhelming circumstances hurts. The exhaustion hurts. The self doubt hurts. The loss of all things familiar hurts. And yet the human spirit is remarkably resilient and full of life.

This year has been a season of leveling for me, a burning down of life and a wonder if I will survive that heat and pain.

Am I forever broken?
Am I ever going to enjoy life again?
Will I ever be able to live again?
Will I ever rise again?

My nephew held up a mirror of sorts as he shared his lived experience. I started to believe the reflection of healing, living and thriving that was emanating from him and reflecting back to me. I found room in my heart to believe that it could be mine as well.

My nephew is pretty special in that he lives his life as a determined and steadfast participant, co-creating his world with the best next step being his main focus.

My nephew no longer goes by AJ. He gave that up around age 11.
My nephew’s name is Ashton.
I call him Ash.
He helps me rise.

 

Living in Uncomfortable Places

by Amanda Petersen

Last week I highlighted staying in uncomfortable places. In the midst of this political season, and events both far and near, we don’t have far to go to practice staying in these places. The question is, how do we stay without falling in hopelessness or wanting to run away? What I have noticed is the call to want to do something to make it feel better. What if you can’t? How do you make hate, environmental disaster, or divided people into a manageable situation?

To begin with, one must change the question. Our brains and egos want to make all pain better so the questions tend to revolve around that. The reality is that in many situations there is no fixing some pain. So why even get involved? Instead of asking, “How do I make it better?” try asking, “How am I called to love?” When there is love, one can stand in places they never dreamed. The thought of sitting vigil while someone dies may sound overwhelming until it is someone you love. Then you are willing to sit and be. When love is the connection, we will go into these places and sit with the reality and the tension of not being able to solve it. The movement then becomes standing as a witness to the pain, in love.

Still, it is helpful to have something tangible as a symbol of love. This can be a word, a listening ear, just being kind or donating goods needed. I would like to highlight the gift of anointing. Often seen as something only ordained or trained people do, it is truly something anyone can give to another. Especially during times of deep pain where someone is suffering or they are on the opposite side of an issue. The act of touch, scent, and words of blessing, healing, and love creates a deep and unexpected space that allows everyone to stay in the pain and realize they are not alone. This Saturday, Michelle Jereb is leading a workshop on the gift of scent and touch and prayer or blessing in seasons of both pain and joy. This is an important workshop for those who want to learn more about staying in the uncomfortable as well as how to stay in blessing. It’s not too late to sign up, yet space is limited. Take a moment and check it out.

This week how are you being invited to answer the question “How am I called to love in this situation?” How does it help you stay in the uncomfortable?

Places of Health and Healing

by Karen MacDonald

In a training for faith community members and leaders, I often ask participants to name places that enhance health.  Answers usually include things like doctors, gyms, clinics, the local Area Agency on Aging, organizations addressing diabetes or heart disease or dementia, hospitals, even the place where I work, Interfaith Community Services.  Every once in awhile, in a group of faith community people, the $64,000 answer comes up: our faith communities!

Indeed, for ages, spiritual sages have seen and taught the interconnectedness of our well-being—spirit, mind, body, community. The heady Age of Enlightenment (as if previous ages weren’t enlightened in their holistic views of life) separated body and spirit, science and religion.  Still, wise ones always kept alive the whole view.

The health ministry movement gained traction in the 1970’s, largely through the work of Rev. Grainger Westburg, a Lutheran pastor and hospital chaplain, and his colleagues.  Congregations are intentionally reclaiming their role as places of health and healing.  There are classes on healthy nutrition, fall prevention, mental illness/health, spiritual practices, and more.  There are yoga, tai chi, chair exercise classes, and more.  There are healing services, prayer gatherings, spiritual direction groups, and more.  There are support groups, community gardens, labyrinths, and more. There is the understanding that everything a congregation offers is interwoven to support well-being, of individuals, families, the congregation, the community.  Through all activities is threaded faith, drawing on scripture, prayer, worship, ritual, trust in the Source of Life.  As I hear from pastors and health ministry leaders, such health-minded programs enliven the life of congregations.

For a point of interest, the Health Ministries Association, the national group for anyone involved or interested in congregation-based health programs, is holding its annual conference this year in our backyard—Chandler, AZ.  Dates are September 12-14, with a lineup of inspiring speakers, enlightening workshops, meeting and learning from other participants, caring for our spirits…..it’s always a great time together.  More information on Health Ministries Association (HMA) and the conference is at www.hmassoc.org.  (Disclosure: I serve on the HMA Board.)

To health!

Spiritual, Religious, or Adventure?

by Teresa Blythe

Originally published on November 25, 2015 on Patheos
Re-printed with permission from the author

When a pilgrim begins the 800 kilometer trek along the legendary Camino de Santiago, they are asked to announce the purpose of their walk. Their choices are spiritual, religious or adventure. Which is a beautiful question to ask in spiritual direction since we are all on this pilgrimage called life.

What is the nature of your life’s path? Spiritual, religious or adventure?

I began sitting with that question after reading Sonia Choquette’s new memoir Walking Home about the healing she experienced walking the Camino de Santiago last year. Choquette is a well-known spiritual intuitive and teacher and author of many books on tapping into your intuition. She hit a low point in her life. Her marriage was falling apart; her brother died; and shortly after that her father died, too. The voice of one of her spirit guides clearly told her to walk the Camino (even though she barely had a clue what that involved.) Still, she heeded the voice, packed her bags and set out to walk the entire distance across northern Spain.

She named the purpose of her pilgrimage spiritual (P.61). Which is what I would call my own “camino” (Spanish for walk) in life. (Note: I haven’t walked the Camino de Santiago but the idea of doing it is growing on me!)

Spiritual Pilgrimage

The spiritual pilgrimage is about healing. One walks to be free of burdens, to forgive others and themselves, and to allow the silence and discipline of walking toward a goal to heal life’s hurts and draw you closer to the source of life.

People who see their life path as spiritual are seeking connection with a power greater than themselves. This spiritual seeking may involve a religious tradition, or it may not.

Religious Pilgrimage

For centuries, religious people have been walking pilgrimages in devotion to God. Some see the difficult walk as penance. Others do it because they believe it is what God is asking of them and they wish to be obedient. Muslims are instructed to travel to Mecca in pilgrimage at least once in their life provided they are healthy enough and can afford the trip.

People who see their life path as religious are seeking to show allegiance and devotion to God through adherence to a particular religious doctrine and participation in a particular set of religious practices. These practices are intensely spiritual but they grow out of a religious tradition.

The Adventure

Many people travel the Camino de Santiago for fun, companionship and excitement. Choquette shares stories of people running along the Camino, groups hauling a wagon full of gourmet food, people riding bikes or horses along the way. For most every pilgrim, the Camino is an adventure at times—you cross the Pyrenees, stop in villages along the way and meet people from all over the world. But people who choose to experience the Camino as an adventure are usually not placing an expectation that the walk will be offering them any spiritual or religious insights.

People who see their life path as adventure may also be simply not placing expectations on their path. I’ve worked with many people in spiritual direction who are content to see what life has to offer rather than hoping for miracles, healing or other spiritual experiences.

No Judgment

There is an attitude among pilgrims that everyone walks their own Camino. It doesn’t matter what your intention is—spiritual, religious or adventure. It will be whatever it needs to be. You may start out for spiritual purposes and end up having an adventure. Or spiritual folks may find themselves more appreciative of religion as they walk the steps that thousands of pilgrims over thousands of years have walked. Adventure seekers may be gifted with a spiritual insight. As the man who fitted Choquette for hiking boots emphasized, “It’s your camino.” (P.43)

Do it All

Ideally, our life’s journey is a combination of purposes. At some times in our life it may be religious, at other times spiritual and at others an adventure. Or maybe it’s all three at once. After reading Walking Home, I am using the lens of Choquette’s experience to see the whole of my life as a camino. Perhaps not as dramatic as an 800 kilometer walk across Spain, but satisfying in its own way.

Spiritual, religious or adventure? It’s worth pondering along the way.

(For more on the Camino, I highly recommend Sonia Choquette’s Walking Home. Shirley MacLaine also wrote The Camino about her experience; Paulo Coelho wroteThe Pilgrimage; and  Martin Sheen created the film The Way. Others have written of their experiences in blogs and books as well. Enjoy!)

If you are interested in learning more about spiritual direction or entering spiritual direction with me, please contact me at teresa@teresablythe.net  or visit teresablythe.net.  Also visit my website for the Phoenix Center for Spiritual Direction.

Photo credit: amateur photography by michel / Foter.com / CC BY

Here’s the thing…

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

Are you ready for the thing?

The thing is for every living being on this earth, there is risk and there is beauty.

The thing is for every person who harms someone, there are a ridiculous amount of people who do not.

The thing is that we are constantly recovering from something because that is the nature of living. Our bodies, our families, our friendships, our world are adjusting and healing in ways we could not imagine.

The thing is if we turn toward and walk through the dark nights of the soul, we are fostering an internal and external world that is truly healing.

The thing is if you are recovering from trauma the best thing to do comes from Anne Lamott: “Go only as fast as the slowest part of you.”

The thing is, we heal, we love well and fully.

The thing is we step into the stream of life and it gradually, ever so slowly returns us to the present moment and opens us to life in ways we cannot fathom.

The thing is… Life takes a lifetime and we have so much life ahead. The best is yet to come. I know that and honor that in you.

The thing is love.

Musings on Spiritual Health

by Kelly Kahlstrom

“To heal, a person must first be a person”

As some of you know, in my Monday through Friday 8-5 life I am a nurse case manager for one of the state Medicaid programs. I work with women who have high risk pregnancies. These risk factors can be physical, like diabetes or high blood pressure; it can be emotional like anxiety/depression or other mood disorders; or social, like being homeless. Bella* is typical of many of the women with whom I have the privilege to speak. She is a 22-year old who is 3 months pregnant with her second child. Her oldest child, Rocky, is 15 months old. Bella’s pre-pregnancy weight was 215 and she was just diagnosed with Type II Diabetes. Her mother is her primary support both emotionally and financially while she stays home to care for her son. Bella and the father of the baby are not getting along since the news of this second, unplanned pregnancy. She has a history of anxiety but has never sought treatment for this. She has had one year of college and eventually would like to go back to school but her first pregnancy interrupted her studies.  Historically my conversations with her would center on her diabetes and how it affects her pregnancy. I would offer behavioral health support and most of the time the offer would be declined by saying “I can manage it on my own; I just need to stay positive”. And I would leave it at that.

Recently however there has been a push within Medicaid to “integrate” disciplines so we do a better job of addressing more domains of health, noting that physical health, emotional health, spiritual health, and social health are all interrelated. Statistically, patterns have emerged which indicate that symptoms in one domain usually cascade through the other domains in fairly predictable ways. For instance, if one has a food addiction like Belle, it can be predicted that one might also suffer from physical limitations such as obesity and diabetes. Prescription drug use from back or joint pain is likely. Often there is a history of untreated anxiety/depression or other mood disorders and maintaining close relationships with others can be difficult. As you can see, an illness in one domain affects all domains of health. Illness is a spiritual event.

Now if we visualize the domains of health on a horizontal axis, as a snapshot in time, it is also helpful to remember that health throughout a person’s lifetime lies on the vertical axis. There is good reason to believe that two-thirds of us experienced at least one traumatic event in childhood. We now know that the more trauma a child has experienced, the greater the change to the neurobiology of the brain. This affects the body’s ability to process and recover from stress, especially chronic, unpredictable, toxic stress. Chronic exposure to this type of inflammation correlates significantly with auto-immune diseases, mood disorders, as well as substance use in adulthood decades after the initial exposure. So, with Belle, like many of the women I talk to, it is best to assume a history of trauma rather than not. This information radically broadens the conversation. The starting point may indeed be in the physical domain but, as rapport is established, the conversation can move across to other domains or backward to previous experiences and how these experiences might affect present and future health. It is here that I learned she was ridiculed as a child for her weight and she witnessed her older brother die of a heroin overdose. Often interpreted in childhood as a defect in their character, these types of experiences contribute to an ongoing angst in adulthood, pushed from thought by “being positive”, belied by reaching for the 8th cookie on the plate.

Which brings me to my real area of interest…spiritual health, and alas, it is the one domain of health I cannot talk openly about at work so I’ll muse about it here instead. Spiritual health is the point of origin, in my humble opinion, of both the horizontal dimensions of health and the vertical history of “how your biography becomes your biology”.

What exactly is Spiritual Health? Spiritual health is something that we all have a sense of but it is not always easy to articulate. I am drawn to Rabbi Abraham Heschel’s quote “To heal, a person must first be a person”.  Could it perhaps be said then that spiritual malaise looks like a forgetting of what it means to be human?  Without a protracted discussion with the philosophers amongst us, I would argue that one aspect of personhood is the need to make sense of the experiences in our lives. As Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks reminds us, “religion survives because it answers three questions that every reflective person must ask. Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live.” When we have forgotten who we are, what we are put on earth to do, and are unable to live up to our identified values, we have experiences but often miss the meaning of these experiences in our lives. Experiences without meaning leave us feeling empty, anxious, apathetic, conflicted, hurried or harried, self-absorbed or feeling we have something to prove. These disembodied feelings can originate from events that have occurred on either axis.

So if spiritual malaise is a forgetting of who we are, either from not recognizing that each domain of health affects the others, or by not understanding how events from childhood shape our adult health, what is the prescription? How do we recover the meaning by which we are able to re-interpret our experiences? “To heal, a person must first be a person” and awaken (again) to their own identity.  I offer these as possibilities but this hardly represents an exhaustive list.

  • A remembrance can happen through engaging in activities of quietude such as meditation, prayer, visualization, stretching, yoga, dream work, labyrinths, and mandalas.
  • A remembrance can happen through a flash of insight while engaged in the profane or mundane tasks of our lives.
  • A remembrance can happen when we take our faith seriously and actively work to deepen our spiritual life.
  • A remembrance can happen through the development of strong social ties to a community that makes room for questions about identity, purpose and ethics.
  • A remembrance can happen through consciously seeking ways to exercise each domain of health every day, i.e., eating well, participating in the spiritual practice of your choice, reaching out to a friend, or volunteering with an organization.  
  • A remembrance can happen when we work with professionals like spiritual directors and counselors who help us recognize and name the patterns of our experience.

Spiritual health opens up space to fully claim our humanity in the moments when we are awake. It allows us to be more fully in relationship with God or the Divine. It allows us to feel grounded in our purpose, to live with a sense of wonder and joy, to befriend death, to be a global citizen, and to practice forgiveness, compassion, and unconditional love. Not too shabby, huh?

I would argue that Bella is not unique to the population I work with. Her story, while uniquely hers, has elements that ring true for many of us. In fact, she is our colleague, our neighbor, our fellow congregants, and committee members. Perhaps even ourselves.

To heal a person must first be a person. Blessings on your journey!

* Names have been changed.

Embrace

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

Every year, thousands of people develop a dependency on opiates. Most go through some form of treatment which means that they have to endure detox. There are medications out there that can lessen this severity, but there is withdrawal when those are stopped as well. It’s gonna hurt to quit the thing that the person started using in order not to hurt.

Unless there is secondary vulnerability, we won’t die from withdrawing from opiates. We could die withdrawing from benzodiazepines or alcohol, but not opiates. The line used by some professionals who know a few things about addiction and recovery is, “You won’t die from withdrawing on opiates. You will just wish you were dead.” What they are saying here is that opiate withdrawal is one of the hardest things a person could endure.

I have withdrawn from opiates on a couple of occasions. I can assure you, it is the truest, most brutal kind of suffering ever. Don’t do drugs. The after-school specials of yesteryear were right. They were poorly acted and scripted, but they were right. Like Jack, getting high on that beanstalk, I didn’t heed the cautionary tale.

I’ve written about the disease of addiction already and this is actually not what this article is about. I know, we are four paragraphs in and it has been about addiction, but it’s about to merge into something else. So, check your re-view mirrors and let’s merge.

I came to a friend some time back who knows a few things about addiction.  I said, “I think I am addicted to opiates.” He assisted me in finding treatment, getting time off of work to withdrawal, and walked me through withdrawal one step at a time. He is a good man, that guy. I won’t say who he is but his name starts with an E and ends with an “verett”. One thing he said over and over again during my withdrawal was, “Embrace the suck.” I hesitated to write that line in a faith-related blog, but any other word to replace “suck” just would not do.

What my friend was telling me in that moment was that embracing the suck means walking through it rather than struggling against it. It means acknowledging the reality of where you are at physically, spiritually or emotionally without having it be the place you will forever stay. It means that if you are in the habit of embracing the worst moments, you will most certainly be in fit position to embrace the good when it comes. And it will come back.

When hurting, it is a good idea to develop some mantras. I use some mantras in my own life, in addition to the one in the paragraphs above.

“This too shall pass.”

“Breathe.”

“Be here now.”

“God is Love.”

These are anchors to truth when I feel untethered. When the extreme happens in our lives, it creates an awareness that we are at risk. A healer in my life says, “The vigilance we experience after an extreme event puts us in touch with how fragile life can be. We generally don’t walk around thinking about that or experiencing that because it would be too much and too debilitating.” Scary, unwelcomed, hurtful life stuff makes it feel like we are only fragile. We are only vulnerable. That is not true.

We are fragile. We are sturdy. We are vulnerable. We are powerful. We are all of it. And what a range of emotion that can be. If it feels hard it’s because it is hard. If it feels easy it’s because it is easy. All of it. No binary, no either/or; all of it. Improv comedians actually know this reality well. They teach you to say “Yes, and…” rather than, “No, but…” They utilize that concept to be in a flow with the other folks doing improv. It’s basically, “I accept that and here is what I can contribute.” Back and forth, flow…

The pain will come and I am sorry for that, I wish it were different for all of us. The tears will well up. The sadness will seep in from time to time. The grief will take a seat at the most sacred place in your life at some point. And it will so suck.

The ease will come and I am so happy for that. The smiles will come again. The laughter will find its way back. And peace will take a seat at the most sacred place in your life at many points. And it will be so joyful.

So I say to you, as I also say to me, “Open your arms. It’s time to embrace it. All. Of. It.”

The “Is-ness” of Healing

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

Before you read this, may I ask you to do something? It may be an odd request, may even prevent you from reading this now since you may not be in a space where it would be a good idea to play something on YouTube. It may even be something you choose not to do, but I will ask anyway.

Will you please play this video? Will you then close your eyes and sit with what you hear? Listen as many times as the mood strikes you. It’s good stuff.

Then come on back:

John Denver “All This Joy”

 

Welcome back…

When I was about 8 years old I remember hating nighttime. There are a variety of reasons for this that increased my sense of vulnerability at night, probably things that would resonate within you as well. My little 8 year old self thought frequently, “Why do we all go to sleep at the same time? Shouldn’t someone be keeping watch?” We are at our most vulnerable when sleeping, completely unaware. We really should have planned this out better as a human race, right?

Going to sleep while everyone else is asleep has a certain strange agreement of trust. We’re pretty much saying, “Hey, I am going to just close my eyes for the night and make myself as vulnerable as can be. I am pretty sure we all are going to wake up on the other side of this day.” When life events, though, challenge that level of trust and belief, sleep becomes harder to come by because vulnerability is harder to come by.

I’ve shared with you before that I am in recovery from drugs and alcohol. As many with that history, I tend to be pain avoidant. It is hard to sit with pain, physical and emotional, palpable and overwhelming. I don’t like it. I actually hate it. I despise it. It frustrates and confounds me that it’s in the mix of life.

That avoidance of pain versus the turning to face it is really the challenge we are faced with most regularly.. Each time we turn to face the reality of the present circumstances or moment, we are being co-creators with Spirit and participants in the flow of life. I forget this a lot. Like all the time. I forget this because pain hurts. You likely do the same because pain hurts. We certainly do this as a community because pain hurts.

I write a lot of subtext to my daily experiences. I make meaning in ways that allow me to understand the world around me. I can act as though that subtext is true, but really, it’s just my thoughts trying to make the world more palatable and less dangerous. Often the subtext that I create separates me from the world around me, separates me from you. Separates you from me. I’m pretty tired of that, aren’t you?

Here are some myths about pain that I’d like for us to consider getting rid of:

-If I feel the loss, the grief, the sadness, it will break me. Forever.
-If I start to feel I will feel this way always. Forever.
-If I leave it alone and not look at any of it, time will just make it go away.
-If I spend time honoring those feelings, I am self indulgent and need to change.
-If I drink this, take this pill, watch this video, it will numb me out and I will not have to worry about it anymore.
-I should compare my pain to what others have to walk through and then shame myself for feeling bad because they have it worse than me.

There is an ebb and flow to pain and healing. It looks like this:
It gets better.
Then it gets worse.
Then it gets better.
Oh great, now it got bad again.
Hey! Guys! Look! It got better again!
Ok it’s getting worse again.
Yay! It’s better…
And the bad days start to neutralize and the wound starts to heal.

There is more space between the times it gets better and when it gets bad again. We are constantly reaching for equilibrium. And, if we let it, it comes. Eventually.

The only way it comes, though, is through a turning to rather than a turning away.

I am not an expert on grief and loss, but I certainly have experienced it. I am not an expert on brokenness, but I can check that box too. I am not an expert on isolation and turning away. Wait, I kinda am. I’m kinda a gold medal contender for that one. Who else would like to join me on the podium?

Your life, my life, our loved ones lives, will experience pain, injury, brokenness. It just is. Your life, my life, our loved ones lives, will experience healing. It just is. My dear friends, this is the work in living. This is the work in relationship. This is the work of the ministry of reconciliation. This is the work of our communities of faith.

Healing comes when we turn to what is.

And that, my friends, is the stuff of life.

It just simply is.

A Refreshing Way to Recall Your Baptism

by Kenneth McIntosh

Last Sunday, at First Congregational Flagstaff, several members shared memories and anecdotes concerning their baptisms. One recalled being baptized as an adult in a beautiful river beside red-rock cliffs in Sedona. A middle-aged man shared that his earliest memory in life is his baptism as an infant!

Wherever you were baptized, and however it was done, it is good to ponder its ongoing reality in your life. Like faith itself, the memory and interpretation of the happening may be more important than what occurred in the past.

We commonly think of baptism in its most obvious significance—that of washing away our impurities. That’s certainly an important and abiding perspective; “Repent and be baptized…for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). At the same time, there is another Scriptural tradition that might point us in additional directions, regarding the significance of our baptism. Each year in the lectionary cycle, at the start of each new year, we commemorate the baptism of Jesus, and we are called to recall our own baptism. Yet the baptism of Jesus points to something more than forgiveness of sins. In classical Christian theology, Jesus was without sin. Or, in more contemporary terms, Jesus possessed a perfect God-consciousness. Unlike us, Jesus had no need for a ritual of cleansing moral impurities. So what does Jesus’s baptism mean, and what does it mean for us?

In the mid-seventh century an Irish scholar wrote a treatise titled On the Miracles of Holy Scripture. It’s a unique work, seemingly ahead of its time. Covering a huge array of Bible miracles, the author sought to point out that God never works in violation of nature’s laws. By portraying the harmony between miracles and natural order, this author makes Scriptural wonders feasible to a scientific mind while also elevating the ‘miraculous’ aspects of everyday natural events.

Referring to Jesus’s baptism the writer reverses our normal understanding: normally we think of water as cleansing the baptizee (as a normal bath would do). Yet Jesus was in no need of cleansing. Rather, the waters required redemption, because they are held within the confines of the earth, and the earth was cursed by humanity’s fall, as indicated in chapter 3 of Genesis. So Jesus’s baptism had a reverse effect–the baptized One gloriously refreshed polluted creation.

Could you think of your own baptism as being a similar event? Has God not called all believers to labor for the good of all creation–not just for humans, but for all beings and the earth itself?

At Jesus’s baptism he hears a voice from heaven: “You are my child, whom I dearly love: in you I find happiness.” It might be a stretch for you to believe this, but God no doubt said the same thing at your baptism. Our self-doubts, or our lack of awareness, probably prevented us from hearing that loving affirmation—but it was there. Ponder your own baptism vows for a moment. Imagine God saying those same words to you. How does it make you feel?

Jesus, knowing how much God found happiness in him, went forth from his baptism to begin healing the world. You had the same experience! So as you recall your baptism, consider how God has called you to live as a dearly beloved child, and how you can work with God to cleanse our polluted earth.