Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Sacred Place, Sacred Space: A Sense of Home.

A friend asked in her journal, what is home?

Perhaps, if you've lived in one place all your life, the answer should come easily, instantaneously. Where else, otherwise, could you call home, if you've never experienced something different?

But it's a question that has been put to me rather frequently of late; by my friends, myself, and most importantly, my parents. To my friends, I tell them blithely, "I'm a citizen of the world"; to myself, I scratch my head and try to banish the question into the depths of my mind; to my parents, well, I make non-committal, guilty noises.

In the physical sense, home is where I hang my hat and lay my head; that answer comes quickly. Other maxims come to mind; home is where the heart is (where is the heart?); heaven is my home (what is heaven?). A flood of images, experiences, emotions, feelings, are tied to such weighty words as "home" and "heaven."

Some places have a sense to them. It is a feeling of shelter, of hiddenness, and the ability to gaze out at the world, unseen. In one academic design project, we were asked to choose and consider a space, to evaluate it, break it down into components, as if a recipe, and then to use the recipe to design other spaces with the same feeling.

I discussed two experiences of space. One was sitting out on a pier on the lakefront; I was sheltered from view in the shadows of some structure (probably with a light on top), with the landscape spread before me. Hidden, seeing, without being seen. Another experience is that of swimming in a pool in the morning: sunlight dancing on the pool floor, refracted by my passing. There could have been a hundred people watching me intently: nothing mattered but my interaction with the water and the light on the floor.

There are other safe places, there are other safe spaces. Those places, those spaces, may not be home, but they sure feel like it.

Blgriffith made a wonderful post over at hypersync in which he writes about how people react to him when he's wearing his clerical collar. I encourage everybody to go read the rest of the post, but here is the last paragraph:

This is the responsibility of the clergy - to be holy even as Christ was/is holy despite the fact that we will fail more often than not. We who are the representatives of Christ on earth have this high-calling to put aside ourselves and take upon ourselves the Cross, so that when people see someone in a clerical collar they know that they are safe and free to approach us, even in confession, even in a plea for help, even in passing out a hand-bill when one is shy or afraid. This is what it means to be one who points to God.

It seems that some people, of any stripe or creed, are similarly but invisibly marked: they, too, are approachable, accepting, slow to anger, slow to judge, quick to pardon, seeking to understand, seeking to love, seeking to do right. They create a space where the tide of fear is held back, where no secret is too dark, no failure too deep, where any uncertainty is permitted. Where our humanity can be laid bare without shame or judgement.

Upon meeting such people, no outward sign is necessary: the mark is clear as a Roman collar. Presence is all that is needed: this is Heaven, this is home.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Sifting through and pouring out, a retrospective.

It has seemed that every time I start a journal entry, that something else happens that makes the first one irrelevant... not that it doesn't matter, but now, that was then, and then... isn't so important as now. Still, the things are woven, is important. Things have been moving more and more quickly, and I'm finding myself more and more able to keep up.

This writing is divided into four parts; a summary, a narrative, some things I have learned, and some things I've now seen clearly.

Sifting: a Summary of movements:

In the last couple of weeks I have been percieving many things. Some perceptions I can identify, at other times I don't know what I am seeing.

At first, it was just kindred spirits, people on a similar spiritual path. But now, I am seeing more. It seems I sometimes get a sense of the degree of someone's centeredness. But I also suspect that one of the things I'm seeing is the Divine spark in others. If I could distinguish clearly, I suspect it's more of a spectrum of degrees than a matter of dividing lines. The fact remains that the breadth of my perception has grown quite a bit. Also, I can't quite tell what I am percieving, and thus cannot really act with full knowledge (and thus am more cautious than I might otherwise be).

Jesus challenges us to love God with our whole selves, and our neighbor as ourself. It seems to me that if one can percieve the Divine spark, that it's near impossible not to love. Perhaps that's what God sees when he looks at us; not what is but what can, could, will be.

My internal perception has sharpened as well. Another sign of growth is in my climbing; climbing when centered is easy. The body has its limits, but the game is truly won and lost in the mind. At one point in a climb I realized how easy it was. At another point, felt my mind begin to slide, called myself back to quietness, finished the climb. Awareness has been with me for quite awhile now, but at times it seemed like I was just along for the ride, unable to stop the slide. So probably my awareness is growing as I am having less attachment to events.

In terms of both the external and internal awareness, it's like learning sailing. One starts to learn what things feel like, and start to rely less on instruments that measure what they are. The easiest thing to learn is the difference between balanced and imbalanced, and degrees of imbalance. Then one starts to understand how to correct imbalance... then one starts to see when the balance starts to swing, so instead of a hard turn, a soft nudge will do. Beyond that... even less action is required to counteract a balance that is *about* to change. I've had my moments of clarity, but for the most part, I'm feeling my way through and getting feedback as I go.

Pouring: Narrative of events, sort of... and by no means complete

A couple of very challenging days, two weeks ago, where I let others' unkindness throw me, and unexpected disappointments only added weight. It was difficult not knowing how I might manage the next hour without giving out. I happened upon a beautiful sight and a kind person. No occurence is an accident, but I recognise that these gave me something more concrete to cling to.

So I survived; but am hardly content to get by. It was either, see how deep the reserve is (it was feeling like the low-gas light had been on for a couple days) or figure out how to run directly off generator power. Yeah, because I could just figure that out by brain power! (Many times it is good to be very intelligent; however, intelligence has its limits.)

This is where I talk more about perceptions... because after these couple of days, I have had a lot of experiences with people...

Saturday evening, I went climbing with a friend, and we had a very long conversation over dinner afterward. At the climbing gym, I met someone who felt very, very familiar, yet whom I had never seen before. I couldn't help but look at him, but evidently neither could he. We shared a number of long looks before I volunteered that he looked familiar; he later said that I looked familiar to him as well. This is one place where I'm uncertain of what I was perceiving.

My friend claims to be an atheist, but at dinner asked me a few questions that gave me a chance to talk in some very general yet very direct terms, how I view "spirituality" differently than "religion", how I find Catholic practices useful in my own life. And then more general things, like suggesting that there's more to "reality" than what we tend to see, but that we could learn to percieve it. She made the connection that what I was talking about sounds like the Matrix... thank God... I am acutely aware of having difficulty expressing myself with these things. And some specific examples that she could identify with; the guy at the gym, the experience of slacklining when it feels right. I am also content to agree with her that science cannot yet measure these phenomena. On the drive back to the city, she commented on enjoying long road trips; being able to think about things, not think about things, just be. I told her that she knows more than she might think. She, too, has something...

My parents went to a talk on meditation, at church. Dad went to most of the series throughout the week, Mom only to the first one. My mother worries that if you "empty your mind" that Satan will get in. People used to worry that if they didn't cover their mouth when yawning or sneezing, that they'd have the same problem. But when I talk about things in terms of getting a feeling, or having intuition, it's not so foreign. I have told my father that I have been practicing meditation for some time. He enjoyed the talks, enjoyed the techniques that were taught. The reason I don't discuss my spiritual life with my parents is that I don't percieve them as having the capacity to understand, but maybe they can understand parts.

My sister has the same reservations. I can easily see how a different sort of prayer life would benefit my father and mother, and hope to be able to help them. They are both burdened by the cares of the world. My father asks "how" in terms of meditation, centering prayer, contemplation... the distinctions have never much mattered to me, and at this point... it's just something I do. Sometimes I use one practice or another to help quiet myself, but that's generally during the day. Also, I would welcome being able to share more of my life with them, and think my sister might as well. Even now, she and I are taking only very tentative steps; she tends toward apologia and I tend away from it; somehow, though, we manage to communicate.

Another person, a potter, an aquaintance only. Don't know what his beliefs are, sort of don't care; he exhudes joy. (This is the source of the game I mention below.) I spent some time with him, each working on our own projects; it was, quite simply, good to be near him.

Another person, a ceramic artist too. Again, only an aquaintance; we were working in the same room, on our own projects, not talking much. But I get a sense of centeredness from him. While I was musing, wondering what i might percieve, it turns out that he practices Aikido. That would explain it... but we spent some more time on another day, again, working together; again, it was good to be there.

I do wish I could better distinguish what I percieve...

Things I have learned.

Forgetfulness seems to be the first sin. Forgetfulness is death. We walk by faith, we move by touch. To forget is to bind our own hands.

A survival trick: remember what is real; don't believe perception because it is there. To name the lie is to deny its power.

It is very hard to love my coworkers, though that is what I must do.

It is far better to be laughing at how ridiculous things can be, than to be angry. Rather than letting my ill-mannered coworkers throw me off center, I can do this creative exercise. Where a friend used to work, they would play a game, "Tell us a story". And someone would tell a story, in the form of a fairy tale, a story from real life at the office, casting real people as princesses, dragons, trolls, knights, and such. I've no-one to tell stories to, but can write my own.

The best thing I can do is to know, to become, to be, the Spirit of Christ.

Things I have recieved. It seems like the things that stick, that aren't immediately understood, are the important things. Like some of Jesus' more mysterious words in the Gospels.

"Where you gonna run, salvation is here..."
Switchfoot, "Dare you to move"

"I'm not copping out, when you're raising the dead in me!"
Switchfoot, don't remember the title

"I called through your door,
"The mystics are gathering in the street. Come out!"
"Leave me alone. I'm sick."
"I don't care if you're dead! Jesus is here, and he wants to resurrect somebody!""

"And I pray when I look in your eyes you stare right back down into something beautiful"
Jars of Clay, "Something Beautiful"

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


How do we identify ourselves? What do those labels mean? Are they universally understood, or best among a group?

In answering a post on somebody's blog, I identified myself as Julie.

I resist labelling myself... except with the name that I've used for years. Perhaps it helps that a friend will describe something that suits me well (often an article of clothing) as "very Julie". So my feints at labels provide many more questions than answers.

Maybe God was onto something there. I am who I am, who I have been, and who I will be.

Author's note: This should have been posted fully thirteen days ago. Oops!

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Love of Beauty

I wanted to write a longer response with my comments and observations, after reading a post at Be_Now's journal. [There are many things that could be discussed, but rather than trying to give an evenhanded treatment of many views, I'm only presenting my own.]

I am a shameless lover-of-beauty. A simple equation and a great pleasure: see, hear, touch, taste, smell, feel, beauty - and I am delighted. Asceticism has never sat well with me; it feels incomplete, despite any number of attempts by evangelical Christianity to preach about how the world and the flesh are evil. I am thankful to now have words and structure, and in responding to the blog, an inspiration, to explain what I've known all along.

Near the end of Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis describes the theory of Enjoyment and Contemplation found in Time Space and Deity, written by Alexander. For example, when one sees a table; one enjoys seeing, and contemplates the table. In bereavement one Enjoys (in the author's sense of Enjoyment) grief, and Contemplates the beloved. So when one hopes for something, one Enjoys hope and Contemplates the something. In short, Enjoyment is the act, and the thing Contemplated is the subject, or perhaps object is a better term, of the act.

But to attend to your own love or fear is to cease attending to the loved or dreaded object. In other words the enjoyment and the contemplation of our inner activities are incompatible. You cannot hope and also think about hoping at the same moment; for in hope we look to hope's object and we interrupt this by (so to speak) turning round to look at the hope itself. Of course the two activities can and do alternate with great rapidity; but they are distinct and incompatible.

C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, "Checkmate"

If I were to seek out Beauty for its own sake, then I would be, to paraphrase Lewis, in a futile attempt to Contemplate the Enjoyed - to make the act of experiencing into the object of my thoughts. A poor substitute! No - I enjoy seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling, feeling, and, in so doing, contemplate Beauty.

In a discussion of the Isha Upanishad over at the wisdomreading group I shared these words, and wish to present them again in the imperative:

Dance lightly, hold loosely, drink deeply.

"For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life."

excerpt from Prayer of Saint Francis

May we all seek to give, seek to forgive, and seek to die daily; and in so doing, find incomparable riches, total forgiveness, and life everlasting.

What's in a name?

One blogger chose an alter ego so as to be free from what he saw as himself. I've rarely needed that; during my formative years I was scarcely around those who'd known me in my youth. Luckily it is more about becoming myself.

A girl at the climbing gym Saturday had a tatoo she described as a Zuni bear, which is a Native American symbol. I am born (according to Native American lore) in the month of the bear (found that out trying to look up the Zuni bear). I identify as the bear. (Or the three bears in one. Usernames can be a pain. Bearbearbear, at times, when one "bear" is taken, because two isn't enough! ) This is all very strange. My self-identifiers are very powerful in the stories that attach to them; the other name I've chosen is Gabriel; my confirmation name. Also at the gym, there was someone who seemed very familiar, and I to him, though we'd never met. Things like that have been happening a lot lately, but that's for another entry.

I know that names and naming can be very powerful, and can also be very limiting. What of taking on more names? Are those identities incorporated into mine? (All is one, anyway?) I've no worry or expectation, and figure that it'll work itself out over time, but it'll be floating in my mind until it finds its place or floats away.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Several statements; no easy answers.

A friend asked, "So what if I'm one of those Lord-pervaded moving things in the moving world, how am I supposed to live?"

A few thoughts in response:

I'm one of these Lord-pervaded moving things in a moving world.

The One who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world.

The one that I did share at the time:
Dance lightly, hold loosely, drink deeply.

Full; filled to the full; fulfilled. Yes.

I think that the questions most worthwhile, must be lived out. It can't be thought through or worried by intellect; concerted effort at understanding mystery might only blind us more.

Yeshua said, "Whoever lives the interpretation of these words will no longer taste death." -Gospel of Thomas

Friday, March 03, 2006

Perhaps called "Anticipation".

I see a few drops flying by, every now and then;
the cleansing is coming.
Yesterday there were drops too, signs of things to come.
An hour later, a few of the drops are making contact;
I think today will be the day.
They come more quickly, now in more abundance.
Heavily in bigger clumps,
the anticipation builds.
More drops fly by in little deluges,
land, dampening, puddle where they fall.
Not long now!
Liquid falls as though dropped from buckets,
only moments remain.
Suddenly the sky darkens above,
the building rumbles a little,
and I feel it tremble.
At last it comes,
The window-washing rig.