Monthly Archives: August 2022
Breathes There a Woman with Soul so Dead, Who Never to Herself has Said: “That Guy’s Got a Great Set of Buns
I recently was with a group of widows of ages between 65 and 85. Somehow, one honest woman admitted to horrifying her grown daughter by obviously getting a “charge” out of looking at good looking young hunks. This admission led to others admitting they didn’t even have to be young as long as they were mobile and not dribbling. They also admitted to struggling with some shame over this. I speculated that this was caused by the balance of estrogen/testosterone changing for us. (I later actually checked this out with a physician and it turns out it really can be part of this time of our hormonal existence.)
Now, for someone my age (85), practically speaking, any male my age is probably an invitation to caregiving. Most of us have been there, done that, and rather not have a replay. We grew to love our long-time husbands enough that, as hard as it was, it was an act of love and we have no regrets. But that kind of love grows from many years of marriage. Another problem is that if men our age are affluent and fortunate enough to have stayed healthy physically and mentally, there are plenty of younger (50-60-year-old) gals waiting in line.
And even memories of good times with our own dearly departed often bring tears from feelings of loss, so many of us find it safer to fantasize about long gone movie stars.
By now, I’m sure everyone is familiar with the “baddie/goodie” combination I look for in everything. Well, this stage of life has opened my eyes and triggered sympathy and understanding of the challenges many, if not most, men have had to deal with from puberty. And what a crock it is for us women to expect them not to react hormonally not only to the young and well endowed, but even to well preserved middle-aged women running around half naked. Earth to women! Jimmy Carter was honest; lust is hormonal in nature. If you are not offering something with that much appeal, play fair, don’t advertise it. And be honest. Admit that at some level, you know your power.
Most of us need Love fleshed out, not just an abstract concept. That’s why Jesus means so much to many. We not only see the crucified Jesus as ultimate Love, in fact the Love of God made visible for us, but we see him showing us the WAY for us to also become love.
We watch him walk through the Scriptures: learning kindness from his mother, outgrowing making law into a God, outgrowing thinking his group had a monopoly on God, outgrowing loving just neighbors who are like himself, but even the enemy, struggling to outgrow human fears to make the choice to not only accept physical suffering, but the loss of everything that made him who he was, and forgiving not only his friends who abandoned him, but even the enemies who tortured and killed him, and finally even when he felt abandoned by God, choosing to trust.
Whether we like it or not, this is not only his WAY, it is also the WAY for us, just as it was for his first disciples. This is the WAY of giving, growing, healing, forgiving, letting go of pride and power, accepting suffering, loving even enemies, and trusting God in the darkness of the unknown at the end of life.
This is my paraphrase of today’s reflection by Richard Rohr: The Sign of Jonah
There is a flow to our spiritual journey. There are times of grace when we experience Love of God’s presence with joy. But for the journey to transform us we must, like Jonah, spend time in darkness. Our spiritual lives are journeys of deaths and resurrections as recurring stages of darkness, grace, growth and new life. This is the pattern Jesus promises us and we see it in other traditions as well. Native religions speak of winter and summer; mystical authors speak of darkness and light; Eastern religions speak of yin and yang or the Tao. Christians call it the paschal mystery: all point to the same necessity of descent and ascent. We are transformed through death and rising many times in our life.
Usually, it is a loss that takes us there. Sometimes the loss of a loved one, a relationship, a career setback, or sudden financial insecurity. The American dream of a steady ascent without failure or loss is a delusion spiritually. Mature religion teaches us how to enter with trust the difficult periods of life. Knowing we are not alone and that this is the crucible of transformation opens us to the grace for growth and transformation. These hard passages are good teachers.
Our first reaction is to try to change events so we can avoid changing ourselves. Learning to stay with the pain of life, without answers, even some days without meaning is the hidden path of contemplative prayer. Grace leads us to the state of emptiness, to a momentary sense of meaninglessness in which we ask, “What is it all for?” But this spaciousness within the question allows Love to fill and enliven us.
A quote from another priest, Father Powell : “ PassionDeathResurrection should be all one word” sums it up.
A personal experience may illustrate this. My husband made an ethical decision that caused us to have to start over in business. We lost our original investment in the company he and two others had started and in the following year a recession hit and our new business had almost no clients. I got a job as Associate Director of Religious Education for the Chaplains Division at Fort Campbell that helped us stay afloat, but we gradually had to sell all our investments and even our wedding silver. We had to learn how to heat with a wood burning stove and fireplace. We almost lost our home. Our children got jobs, scholarships based on ability, and did without the extras most of their contemporaries had at college. We even had to put plastic over our roof, since we couldn’t afford to repair leaks. We lived out in the country in the woods, so I hoped no one would notice. But since we were in a direct line to the local airport, I found out our plastic had become a direction sign for airplanes. We all learned new ways of being. Christmases brought out the best in all of us as we tried to make them good for our youngest child who still believed in Santa. Over and over small miracles in moments of crises reminded us that God was still with us. Every New Year’s Eve, we would say hopefully, “Well, next year is going to be better.” The seventh year on New Year’s Eve, we sighed and said, “Well, we’re getting a whole lot stronger!” That year things got better. Some of my best memories are from those seven years. I think they made all of us better people and they definitely increased my faith. I have a collection of stories of life challenges and spiritual transformations. And at eighty-five I expect to have more challenges to depend on grace to grow so I can become the person God created me to be.
For me, this inner peace in the middle of sorrow and pain has become harder, because in my early spiritual journey, I could sense the presence of Jesus in the room even when I was in physical pain or emotional turmoil. And often joy came even in pain or heartbreak. But at least those memories help me know that even when I now feel alone, I am not.
Mirabai Starr finds inspiration in mystics Julian of Norwich (1343–c. 1416) and John of the Cross (1542–1591).
“Both endured profound suffering and yet discovered a deep and Divine love in its midst. What does a religious woman who dwelt in an anchor-hold during the Middle Ages have to do with you and me today? Julian endured a long and cruel pandemic. The disease ravaged her community and carried off the people that she loved. She learned to shelter in place, focusing on cultivating her interior landscape and sharing the fruits of her wisdom through the window that opened from her cell onto the busy streets of her city (think computer screen and Zoom), where she offered counsel to visitors . . . each day.
She found solace, not in the wrathful father-god of her childhood, but in an unconditionally loving Mother-God who could not help but forgive the transgressions of each one of her darling kids. She recognized that everything that is could be contained in a hazelnut in the palm of God’s hand, and that it all endures because God adores every particle of Her creation. She also realized that, even though the night feels impenetrable now, dawn is coming, when we will see with our own eyes that not only is every little thing going to be alright, but that it has been all along.
And how could a renegade monk, who survived the Spanish Inquisition despite the Jewish and Moorish blood that flowed through his veins, have anything to teach us about flourishing in our own dark nights? John of the Cross illumines the transformational power of radical unknowing. He rekindles our latent longing for union with the Beloved and, through sublime poetry and precise prose, blows on the flames so that they dance back to life in our beleaguered hearts.
He reminds us that when everything in us wants to rush out and fix the problem of our brokenness, both individual and collective, the wisest and most loving thing to do is to be still, letting go of our attachment to the way we thought the spiritual life was supposed to feel and the sense we assumed it should make. Once we step out of our own way, into the dark and empty vessel of the soul, “an ineffable sweetness” will begin to rise, permeating and nourishing the quiet earth, uncovering a resurrection we never dreamed possible: a dazzling darkness, a radiant night, a revolutionary newness of being.
But maybe not quite yet.
We are not alone. The wise ones who walked before us have left luminous footprints for us to follow in our own apocalyptic times.”
Richard Rohr teaches that God uses love and suffering, and especially suffering, as universal paths to reach and change us.
Two universal paths of transformation have been available to every human being God has created: great love and great suffering. These are offered to all; they level the playing fields of all the world religions. Only love and suffering are strong enough to break down our usual ego defenses, crush our dualistic thinking, and open us to Mystery. In my experience, they like nothing else exert the mysterious chemistry that can transmute us from a fear-based life into a love-based life. None of us are exactly sure why. We do know that words, even good words or fine theology, cannot achieve that on their own. No surprise that the Christian icon of redemption is a man offering love from a crucified position!
Love and suffering are part of most human lives. Without any doubt, they are the primary spiritual teachers more than any Bible, church, minister, sacrament, or theologian. Wouldn’t it make sense for God to make divine truth so readily available? If the love of God is perfect and victorious, wouldn’t God offer every human being equal and universal access to the Divine as love and suffering do? This is what Paul seems to be saying to the Athenians in his brilliant sermon at the Areopagus: “All can seek the Deity, feeling their way toward God and succeeding in finding God. For God is not far from any of us, since it is in God that we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:27–28). What a brilliant and needed piece of theology to this day!
Love is what we long for and were created for—in fact, love is what we are as an outpouring from God—but suffering often seems to be our opening to that need, that desire, and that identity. Love and suffering are the main portals that open the mind space and the heart space (either can come first), breaking us into breadth and depth and communion. Almost without exception, great spiritual teachers will have strong and direct guidance about love and suffering. If we never go there, we will not know these essentials. We’ll try to work it all out in our heads, but our minds alone can’t get us there. We must love “with our whole heart, our whole soul, our whole mind, and our whole strength” (Mark 12:30).
Finally, there is a straight line between love and suffering. If we love greatly, it is fairly certain we will soon suffer, because we have somehow given up control to another. That is my simple definition of suffering: whenever we are not in control.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See
Here are two quotes about spirituality that I understand from my own experience, but I see the differences as more stages of our personal journeys. And of course, I see those as varying in the order of their development for people with different inborn personality preferences. By eighty-five, I’ve gone through the scary dying to my natural strength, so I could develop my weakest side more. I’ve seen others in their senior years panic in confusion over it, not knowing it’s a natural part of our spiritual growth toward more wholeness. I know how weak spiritually I am when I don’t actively seek grace. So, when the way I’d found it since my thirties simply stopped helping, it took a while to recognize and accept that I needed to start focusing on my least developed side where I have almost no natural talents.
And while I have not become really “gifted” in that area, what has been the blessing is that I am better able to understand people who are and who have the values and limits that go with those gifts.
Cynthia Bourgeault “In terms of the spiritual journey, trying to find faith with the intellectual center is something like trying to play a violin with a saw: it’s simply the wrong tool for the job. This is one reason why all religious traditions have universally insisted that religious life cannot be done with the mind alone; that is the biggest single impediment to spiritual becoming.”
Daniel Lee “Faith has to be experiential, not just intellectual. Even if you may understand it, you may not be able to believe it. Conversely, you may not understand it fully, but you may believe it. This is the mystery of unknowing. I used to pursue only knowing by studying the Bible and theology, but once I learned about mysticism, I now understand unknowing.”
Years ago, when I taught a six weeks class on mystical experience, most of the people who came were older men whose life work had been in very concrete logical things like construction and practical engineering. And several did experience new aspects of spirituality. One left after the first two classes, but several years later came to a prayer group and told us in amazement, “I was sitting on the couch praying and suddenly there was Jesus sitting right next to me! He was as clear to me as you are.” One interesting aspect of this is that intuitive me has sensed an incredibly loving presence several times. I was sure it was Jesus, but I didn’t see him with my physical eyes. We are different from one another and even our mystical experiences won’t be exactly alike, but ours will be grace for us and can even be grace second hand for others.
This is an excerpt from an article from Dr. David P. Gushee, a leading Christian ethicist who serves as distinguished university professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University, chair of Christian social ethics at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and senior research fellow at International Baptist Theological Study Center. It speaks to my experiences in my spiritual journey, which at eighty-five ended up focused in, but not limited to, the Presbyterian USA Christian denomination.
““There is no single version of Christianity or any religion.” Quote from Dr. Gushee.
This is the excerpt:
The debasement of U.S. right-wing Christianity is only baffling to those who have been exposed to a different understanding of what being a Christian is supposed to be about. You know, old-timers like me, who walked uninvited into a Southern Baptist church building in 1978 looking for something I did not know how to name, but whose name turned out to be Jesus Christ.
Over a four-day conversion experience, I learned enough from and through devout Christian people to be led into an encounter with Jesus himself. I was exposed to people whose demeanor was gentle, whose speech was clean and kind, whose integrity turned out to be rock solid, whose moral plumbline was the instruction offered in the New Testament, whose life purpose was to follow Jesus, and whose mission was to share the gospel with others. These were the people who led me to faith in Christ and who discipled me at the early stages of my walk with Jesus. They were not perfect. But they were recognizably and seriously Christian.
There were other versions of old-time, pre-Trump Christianity that I might not have liked as much but that were still very different from the cancerous thing that is spreading among white conservative Christians in America today. I was exposed to these other varieties as well. There was the smart, humane, post-Vatican II Catholicism in which I was raised, the charismatic Anglicanism of a girl I dated, the earnest social-service mainline Methodism of some friends of my parents, the doctrinaire Lutheranism of a few folks I knew, the passionate Black church faith of some of my friends from school.
My search brought me to study and experience many Christian denominations and even different world religions. I finally experienced a relationship with Jesus through friends who gave up their affluent life style to work in a non-denominational missionary organization, Campus Crusade for Christ. My journey has been enriched by all the sources and experiences of my search. No one has a monopoly on God and no one has “All the truth, nothing but the truth” even with the help of God. That would make us equal to God. As Paul said, “We see through the glass darkly.” And we all individually and collectively are vulnerable to the siren call of pride that blinds us to our own limits and cripples our ability to grow in love from “love your neighbor” to “love your enemy” to “love others as I have loved you.”
In my thirties while reading the book, “The Wellsprings of Life,” which described the processes of evolution from the macrocosms of the cosmos to microcosms of cells and atoms, I could see the unity within the differences that connected them all. It was a mind-blowingly beautiful picture of the oneness of everything and the awesomeness of God. I had to dance! I needed to praise with my whole self with that sense of the oneness of all in God.
I just read some insights by Episcopal Priest, Cynthia Bourgeault on Richard Rohr’s reflection site that mentioned experiences I have had tying our body to our spirituality. She says, “From ecstatic lovemaking, I learned not to fear dissolving into oneness.” I can relate to this because many years ago, my husband came home from a difficult day eager to make love. I’d had a pretty challenging day also. Good sex seems to make men feel better about themselves, but as a woman verbal and tender affirmation beforehand helps make sex ecstatic for me. So, my first thought was “Not, tonight.” But then, I thought about him needing that expression of love and decided to give him as much love as I could physically. And giving from love brought not only ecstasy, but a sudden sense of being totally one in every way with my husband and then it morphed into a sense of oneness with everything – the cosmos and even the Love that is God.
Bourgeault goes on to tell of the Russian Orthodox Archbishop Anthony Bloom’s story about a young man who was totally disillusioned with religion, but hungry for a life of faith. The Archbishop told him to go home and make one hundred full prostrations a day for a month. That means going flat on the floor face down arms outstretched for a long in and out breath before rising slowly. The young man returned with eyes glowing with faith. From that deep gesture of bowing and letting go of self, he had connected through his body to wellsprings of faith. Bourgeault says that our bodies with their natural movements can offer us spiritual insights in a way that the mind simply cannot.
Again, I can relate to this because, one time in my Catholic years, I was in charge of recruiting Scripture readers for the Masses and putting the lists in pigeonholes for them to pick up. The current priest was a Vatican ll liberal trying to move the emphasis off a static presence of God in the tabernacle to God’s active presence in the people connecting us in worship. So, unknown to me, he added the order to not genuflect when crossing in front of the tabernacle to the pulpit to read. Older members who grew up with a very vivid sense of the awesome presence of God in the consecrated bread in the tabernacle went ballistic and blamed me. I was furious with the priest both for not understanding how this effected people and for letting me be blamed. So, though I was a liberal that had quit genuflecting, when I next was a reader, I genuflected from irritation, not a sense of awe. When my knee touched the floor and my head bowed, I was overwhelmed with the sense of the majestic and awesome presence of God. I almost couldn’t stand back up.
At eighty-five I have been through years of body limits from pain and surgeries that often leave me with a sense of alienation from my body. Now, I have been swimming to build up muscles around my knees in hopes of avoiding replacements. Recently I have the pool to myself with the trees dancing in the breeze and birds calling to one another. I began to play inspirational music on my phone and to do some ballet movements to the music. I loved ballet when young, but haven’t been able to dance that way since my forties. The support of the water allows me to do this and somehow connects me with my body in a positive way and once again with a sense of being a part of the rhythms and beauty of nature and the creator of all of it. God is so all encompassing that there are many ways to connecting with God.
One of my favorite spiritual writers, Richard Rohr wrote this. I understand his language, but I don’t speak it. Probably because I sat at the feet of an intellectual father who tried to pass down his understandings of life, science, history, literature etc. This article is about important things for all of us to understand and appreciate, but it is written in a language that probably at the most 25 % of our population could or would even try to read. What we need in our democracy is translators. It’s vitally important right now. At 85, I’m getting mentally erratic, so I doubt that I qualify, but I feel like that may be why I am still here, so I am going to try harder.
I also, have experienced praying and sharing with groups of women together who were of all denominations. We focused on the love of God expressed in Jesus and in the challenge to grow able to love as Jesus did. We can bond across our differences.
Feminine Symbols for God
“Both Scripture and Tradition offer metaphors of God as female, having feminine qualities, or fulfilling traditionally female roles. This week, we consider the implications that the Divine Feminine has in our lives. Father Richard describes Mary as a feminine symbol for the divine presence:
Although Jesus was a man, the Christ is beyond gender, so it should be expected that the Big Tradition would have found feminine ways, consciously or unconsciously, to symbolize the full Divine Incarnation and to give God a more feminine character—as the Bible itself often does.
Why did Christianity, in both the East and West, fall head over heels in love with this seemingly ordinary woman Mary, who is a minor figure in the New Testament? We gave her names like Theotokos, Mother of God, Queen of Heaven, Notre Dame, La Virgen of this or that, Nuestra Señora, Our Mother of Sorrows, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and Our Lady of just about every village or shrine in Europe. We are clearly dealing not just with a single woman here but a foundational symbol—or, to borrow the language of Carl Jung (1875–1961), an “archetype”—an image that constellates a whole host of meanings that cannot be communicated logically but is grounded in our collective unconscious.
In the mythic imagination, I think Mary intuitively symbolizes the first Incarnation—or Mother Earth, if you will allow me. (I am not saying that Mary is the first Incarnation, only that she became the natural archetype and symbol for it, particularly in art.) I believe that Mary is the major feminine archetype for the Christ Mystery. This archetype had already shown herself as Sophia or Holy Wisdom (see Proverbs 8:1–3; Wisdom 7:7–14), and again in the Book of Revelation (12:1–17) in the cosmic symbol of “a woman clothed with the sun and standing on the moon.” Neither Sophia nor the woman of Revelation is precisely Mary of Nazareth, yet in so many ways, both are—and each broadens our understanding of the Divine Feminine.
Jung believed that humans produce in art the inner images the soul needs in order to see itself and to allow its own transformation. Try to count how many paintings in art museums, churches, and homes show a wonderfully dressed woman offering for your admiration—and hers—an often naked baby boy. What is the very ubiquity of this image saying on the soul level? I think it looks something like this:
The first Incarnation (creation) is symbolized by Sophia-Incarnate, a beautiful, feminine, multicolored, graceful Mary. She is invariably offering us Jesus, God incarnated into vulnerability and nakedness. Mary became the symbol of the First Universal Incarnation. She then hands the Second Incarnation on to us, while remaining in the background; the focus is always on the child. Earth Mother presenting Spiritual Son, the two first stages of the Incarnation. Feminine Receptivity, handing on the fruit of her yes. “
Eileen: I am terribly afraid that women of today in our desire for the freedom and power to use our gifts and be our personal selves in our current American culture may be losing the gifts of the Feminine. But perhaps that will free men to accept the feminine in themselves and even for our culture to accept that the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual feminine and masculine can come in either bodily incarnation.
Perfect for our times. He not only saved us from a bloody race war, he showed us how we can follow the WAY Jesus lived and died without hating or resorting to violence.