Category Archives: Teaching/Learning Experiences
There are four ways of being: thinking, feeling, doing, and creating.
Thinking usually involves questioning and problem solving.
Feeling, whether positive or negative, is usually in relationship to someone.
Doing often involves care taking of things or care giving of people.
Creating is about new possibilities and may involve any or all of the other three.
Life involves all of these and though none of us does all of them equally well, I’ve noticed that through the stages of our lives we seem to eventually be challenged by life to develop in the areas where we don’t have natural gifts. This applies to our spiritual lives also.
At different times in my life I have found grace through very different sources. In my twenties I began to question my religious upbringing and for a few years I made the world and its pleasures my focus, but my questions finally took me on a journey of studying various religions in a search for meaning. Then in my thirties, a friend helped me begin to relate to Jesus, not only as a Savior and Lord, but as a best friend, and prayer became a conversation with him. Starting to read the scriptures to get to know him better brought them alive for me and I began to see their connections to even small things in my daily life. Gradually, they opened my eyes to the struggles of people around me and I began to recognize things I could do to help them. Then to my consternation, the Scriptures ceased to speak to me and health issues put me in a wheel chair, dependent on the kindness of others. Then accepting love from the kindness of others became a source of grace instead of frustration. And worship and rote prayer became my way to inner peace and a sense of the presence of God. Taking up art as a hobby began to bring me the freedom to live in the present moment creatively and even opened my eyes to blessings of God in the beauty all around me. Somehow, all of these ways of being came together and I felt a hunger to share my sense of the love of God expressed in Jesus, the presence of God in all things, and our oneness with God and each other. That led me to worship where I could give what I call my sermons from the molehill at Sunday worship services. We are all on a Spiritual journey whether we know it of not. But it does not go in the same order or timing or tidy little stages for all of us. We are all different, so our journeys will be different. And the places best for us to grow and learn spiritually will be different. But I’ve become convinced that over our lives we will have challenges with opportunities to experience growth in all of these ways of being. When we recognize these, we can accept them, instead of being threatened by change and resisting. Then eventually we become able to recognize God in everything and each other. This is very oversimplified, but is the essence of what I’ve experienced in my spiritual journey. The key to our personal spiritual journey is recognizing that the only thing in life that is not only inescapable, but when accepted, is a source of grace, is change.
Repentance is now considered a negative word. It implies sin, guilt and shame to the modern mind. Yet, the truth of the biblical quote, “All fall short of the glory of God” (which is perfect love) is pretty obvious.
The problem seems to me that somewhere along the way, we decided that seven was old enough to recognize right from wrong and twenty-one was old enough to take responsibility for our choices. End of story. The reality that we not only can grow in our understanding of and capability to love ( of morality), but were designed to do this at least to the day we die, got lost in the shuffle between Adam and Eve and their apple of damnation and Jesus Christ and the cross of salvation.
What if we use the word “unfinished” to describe our falling short? What if we use the word “growth” for the change implied by the word “repentance.” And then recognize that grace is simply “unconditional love ” in many different guises. And that is the fertilizer, the good soil, that enables growth and change.
Important note: Love does not protect us from the pain of natural consequences from our imperfect human choices. But love/grace stays with us through the whole learning process and has the power to free us to change when we recognize our need for it.
What percentage of the world’s population experiences perfect love from birth to seven? More, probably, than between seven and twenty-one. But where in the world do children experience only that kind of love? In an imperfect world of disease, hunger, greed, war, and TV is it even possible to protect children from knowledge of the fear, pain, and hunger in the world?
Even in a loving family, in affluent circumstances, traumas can still happen at critical stages of a child’s development. I knew a family who had several children and when the youngest was a toddler, the mother stayed with the oldest who had to be in the hospital for a week. After they returned, the youngest would have a panic attack if the mother even went out the front door and could no longer go to sleep except in bed with the parents. Up until a certain age, a child experiences “out of sight” as “gone forever.” By school age, the child seemed to outgrow the fears, but years later, in retrospect, the mother recognized that a profound fear of abandonment has been a strong influence even into adulthood.
We probably all experience the crippling effects of forgotten, even innocently caused traumas, unaware of how they influence our responses and choices in adulthood. The key to freedom is recognizing them, feeling sorrow for how they have wounded us and caused us to misuse others, and then by taking responsibility for seeking healing. Recognition is the beginning of the process. Sometimes awareness alone can free us to break a pattern of response. Other times, it takes time and we can only replace the destructive response with a less harmful one, during the process.
We are terribly vulnerable human beings in a scary and confusing world in a humongous unknown universe. Both, addictions to pleasures and to behaviors that give us the delusion that we are in control, dull the pain of awareness of our human vulnerability. I personally am not into housekeeping. Dust reappears the next day; no feeling of control there. But sorting and organizing lasts a lot longer and is much more satisfying. But sorry you will be, if you come along and disturb my order. And when dealing with painful realities in the middle of the night, but too tired to organize anything, I’ve been known to stand at the kitchen counter and eat half of a peach pie. These are not terribly destructive painkillers, unless I use them to indefinitely avoid looking at what is the root of my particular pain at that time.
I’ve never known anyone that thought this life is heaven. Though there have been times I thought it might be hell. I am definitely no longer a Pollyanna, who saw only the good, because I felt too fragile to deal with the pain of life. Nor am I my midlife self that became a cynic, who expected and tried to prepare for the worst. With grace, I’ve become able to see both in each day; to experience the deep sorrow of loss and the joy of beauty all around me at almost anytime.
When we believe we are loved at our worst and still unfinished at our best, most days we are able to try to be open to how our lives are challenging us to grow. Sometimes, like Peter Pan, my theme song is “I Won’t Grow Up!” But then I remember that life does not give up challenging us, which means I’m just dragging out the process.
We are all a work in progress. Awareness is the key to progress. And that comes in different ways: discomfort within, overloaded responses to people and events, even just something we seem to suddenly read or hear all around us. We will be able to perceive the cues in different ways through different stages of our own life. When I got brave enough to make the leap from agnosticism to faith in grace, I could suddenly make sense of the scripture in spite of all its anomalies. But I met many life long Christians that admitted sadly that they did not really find meaning there. Then later in life, they suddenly found great joy in it. I had loved the Scripture from my early thirties, but during my fifties and sixties it simply became like reading the back of cereal boxes. We all go through stages, but they differ in timing because of our various personalities. So, don’t assume because you have never enjoyed or understood something, that you never will. Like it or not, we grow and change with both losses and gains during the process.
All of this can be seen as psychological or spiritual or both. Mostly, it’s just the way life is, but how we perceive it can make a huge difference in becoming the people in process that we were created to be.
“You can’t fill a cup that is already full. That means you can’t approach a new situation, relationship, or job with what you think you know will happen. When you do that, you’re not leaving room for the unexpected, the delightful, and even the miraculous. Try starting from a place of ‘Maybe I don’t know.’ It allows you to be open to something or someone being different from what you experienced in the past. When you approach life in this open way, you also allow the universe to conspire on your behalf. So be empty of expectations. The universe will always dream bigger than you will. Abundance comes when you realize that you can receive what you need-every day.” by Eden-Clark and John Germain Leto
This quote so speaks to my condition right now. One of the hardest things for me is to allow those I care about to hurt. I want to help them find joy even in times of suffering, both for themselves and partly for myself. But suffering is part of the fabric of life and brings opportunities for grace and each of us has our own way and timing for experiencing it and learning from it. And part of loving another person is allowing them to be themselves, even if we are totally convinced we know “better” ways to be. Not being able to help my husband accept the losses that come with his illness or to help him trust that death is only a doorway, not the end, is very painful. And feelings of inadequacy and failure easily become less painful when disguised as frustration and impatience. The quote at the beginning of this showed up as a memory on my face book page today reminding me that my way may not be the best way for someone else and to trust God who loves my husband more than I ever could.
I do relate this experience to Mary’s vigil at the foot of her son’s cross. She had tried to convince him to come home when she realized he was putting himself in danger. She must have struggled with anger when he wouldn’t listen, also with guilt that she had somehow failed him, and with unimaginable heartbreak as she watched him suffer.
In the quote at the beginning of this, I translate “Universe” as God. And however anyone understands salvation, I truly believe that Jesus showed us that this life is not all there is and that suffering has the potential to be redeeming.
And the most counter-intuitive truth he showed us about life was when he prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” He showed us that forgiveness is the ultimate requirement for love, so that we too can experience forgiveness. Because forgiving others and accepting and experiencing forgiveness are inseparable.
Forgiving others frees us to forgive ourselves, particularly when we have not been able to consciously admit we need forgiveness. We all have the self-righteous belief that our way is the totally right way. And that blinds us to the harm we do. Forgiving others for their blindness both frees and heals us.
Forgiving others is at the core of the command Jesus gave us, “Love one another as I have loved you,” because forgiveness is the very essence of Good Friday.
My prayer for all of us this Holy Week is that we will find the grace to admit the limits of both our own understanding and of everyone’s human blindness, freeing us to both forgive and accept forgiveness. So then, on Easter, we can celebrate the love of God expressed in Jesus and truly rejoice and be glad in it.
Sometimes I get a glimpse of a tiny pattern that reinforces my belief that life has a pattern of purpose.
As an extrovert I don’t necessarily think well, but I think fast. And I used to walk fast, talk fast, and respond quickly to stimuli that I was interested in. My husband Julian as an introvert drove me crazy by having to mull over the smallest decisions and by being so fastidious and careful with what I thought of as unimportant detail, so causing me to always be waiting impatiently on him.
Well, I’ve never focused on physical details. How my babies survived is a witness to the reality of guardian angels. Now, here I am. Me, as Julian’s caregiver, bandaging very painful wounds with complicated modern layers of bandages that do different things. Cutting off bandages near wounds. Wrapping tape around gauze to keep bandages on without putting tape directly on very fragile skin. Getting it tight enough to stay on without putting pressure on the tender places. Not always remembering to place layers and tools strategically so when holding something in place on the wound, I can reach them. Then realizing from the deep sighs that my klutzy slowness is driving him crazy!
Everything I am needing to do right now from filling out government forms with dates and numbers and long forgotten details about health issues is something Julian has always done, because I am so bad at them. And even when he doesn’t sigh or visibly shake his head, I can tell watching him try to explain something some hospital or government agency thinks is important, but makes no sense to me, makes him want to scream.
Now, I’m convinced that part of life really is having to walk in the other guy’s shoes, particularly the one completely different from you, that you mentally judged over and over.
There have certainly been times where I have felt or been inadequate, but I was always pretty good at avoiding situations where it was hard being me. The easiest way was to simply not value those things in life.
Lot’s of luck, guys. Life catches up with you!
Yesterday, I realized that I don’t distinguish between God and Jesus except when I need to deal with the downside of my own or others’ humanity. Then I reflect on the Jesus of the Scriptures and see how open he was to growing in understanding and wholeness. When I see the overview of how drastically Jesus changed his ideas and choices through interaction with people different from him and then going apart to pray, reflect, and listen to what God was saying through those life challenges, it gives me hope for myself and humanity. And it motivates me to stop and listen to God through my everyday life experiences. If I struggle with the same thing over and over, obviously I am not paying attention. The rough spots, the challenges, unfamiliar ideas, the people that make me uncomfortable are God calling.
Sometimes, I just HATE knowing that!
And sometimes I even have to mentally put my fingers in my ears and sing to myself, “Jesus loves me…………..” until that assurance of love gives me the courage to recognize that when something about another person pushes my emotional buttons, it’s because of something related that I don’t want to know about myself.
On the positive side, I realize that I also have God eyes. I experience not only pleasure, but the sheer joy of seeing God in the beauty in nature, momentary kindness in people, laughter of children, and my own humor at my weirdness, silliness and even brokenness.
Wow! That has been such a life affirming and empowering gift.
I’m pretty sure those two different aspects of openness are wholeness.
And wholeness is the path of the journey to holiness.
Strangely, what triggered this awareness yesterday was a friend mentioning sadly that none of the Christmas cards she received had anything about Jesus on them. They had birds and animals and lovely landscapes, but no nativity scenes. I realized that I used to feel the same lack of spirituality when cards only had beautiful nature or just happy people on them, but now I feel God in all those things everyday, so I see God in pictures of them too.
And I am really beginning to see this as not only progress, but as what Jesus is all about. Jesus is our main clue to the immanence of God, not just God’s transcendence. Jesus gives us God eyes. God in the natural, God in the limited, God in human incompleteness. God in our funky little unfinished selves.
Rejoice and be glad in it! If God is in the beauty of the cardinal who pushes the little birds off the feeders, if God is in the beauty of the daffodil that goes through cycles of ugly withering and beautiful blooming, God is in us and our cycles of dying and becoming new.
Jesus loves us because he has God eyes too.
Human beings, even in the same families, are born with unbelievably different ways of being in the world. It seems like God really complicated life on earth by making us this diverse. Yet, the mystics of all the world’s religions insist that the spiritual reality is that we are all one.
And even the Apostle Paul tells Christians, that we, the person next to us in the pew, and presumably the Christians worshiping God across the street and around the corner, are the Body of Christ. Every single one of us is an indispensable part that needs all the other parts to function as Jesus Christ’s visible presence in the world today. When the smallest, least important part is ignored or neglected, the whole body suffers.
Some years ago, when reflecting on this scripture while preparing a sermon for a group of Directors of Christian Education from diverse denominations, a very disturbing image suddenly filled my mind. I saw a person with their arms flailing in different directions, their head twisting side to side, and their out of sync legs struggling to stumble forward even a little with each step.
I felt like I had been hit in the stomach as I grasped the reality that this is the Body of Christ now. I literally cried aloud, “God, what can I do?” And immediately into my mind came the answer, “Admit what you can’t do.”
Well, that took me several decades.
But I have finally realized that neither I, nor any of us, can discern God’s will unless we recognize with Paul that we see through the glass darkly. No matter what our natural gifts or spiritual ministries are, we need to be humble enough to consider other visions, so we don’t block what the Spirit is saying to the Body of Christ at any particular moment in time. Our vision may be valid, but just not in God’s timing for a particular part of His motley crew of Christians.
And like Paul, I have finally come to see that the most important gift really is love. That no matter how wonderful our own gifts are, unless we do the work of God with hearts open to all, with gentleness, sensitivity, patience and above all, humility, we become a noisy clanging cymbal that cripples the Body of Christ and blocks our broken hurting world from hearing the love of God expressed in Jesus.
The Broken Body
Reflecting on the Body,
you the hand, I the foot,
Christ the head, perhaps the heart,
all at times the hidden part,
I let the Scriptures
flood my mind with images,
with suddenly one image,
a moving picture
so harshly real
I gasp aloud.
A person staggers
arms flailing, head jerking
back and forth in spasms,
body parts all pulling
This then, reality,
Christ’s earthly body now.
God, forgive us.
The prayer of my heart:
“Jesus, I want so much to use the gifts God gave me and the gifts of your Spirit to bring your love to our broken world and hurting people. Give me both the courage to let God use me and the humility to accept God’s timing. But most of all teach me how to love humbly, so that I do not become a clanging gong or clashing cymbals blocking others from knowing your love.”
About forty years ago, our quite elderly parish priest had been a Scripture Scholar and a consultant for Vatican ll, so he was very up to date on the changes that were being made. I guess I was as close to being a feminist as anyone in our small rural church, so he asked me to carry the large Bible at the front of the procession into the church at the beginning of Mass. (A first for laity and a first for women in our parish) I was to carry it open, held out prominently, bow, go up the two stairs to the altar and then carry it over to the lectern on the left. I would then step down on that side to sit until time for the scriptures to be read. I would then be the first woman in our parish to read the Scripture aloud as part of the Mass. It was a great honor, but very scary, since I am a terribly clumsy person and the potential for disaster was mind boggling. I was terrified. I made it all the way down the aisle without dropping the rather heavy bible, but unknown to me, carpenters had raised each of the two steps up to the altar an inch or so that week. So, I tripped on the first step, staggered drunkenly up the second, and did a juggling act trying to keep the Bible from flying out of my hands. Some how I got it onto the lectern and started shakily down the two stairs to the pew on the side, looking down to make sure I didn’t trip again. I forgot there was a pillar there and ran head on into it, almost knocking myself out. I sort of fell into the pew and by the time my eyes could focus, it was time for me to do the first reading. It suddenly hit me as funny. It seemed like God’s somewhat warped humorous way to remind me to let go and let Him do it. And I was able with His grace to read the scripture with clarity and feeling and understanding. And ever since, when I get nervous about preaching, reading or leading prayer at worship, I remember that beginning and think……well, I’ve already done my total humiliation thing…and with grace survived it and learned from it. Then I am able to chuckle to myself as I visualize that first time and let go and let God do Her thing.
Since my experience of the total love of God through Jesus when I was thirty after several years of rather hedonistic agnosticism and then several more years spent searching for spiritual meaning and purpose, my heart’s desire has been to somehow communicate that love to others.
God’s love didn’t make me perfect, but it brought meaning and purpose, an acceptance of the reality of my human weakness, and hope for growth and change through grace. Change for the better has been slow and spotty, but is still part of my journey at “almost’ eighty. ( I have a couple of hours left till the eighty.)
My most natural gift is speaking. And a Spiritual gift of seeing the connection between Scriptures and daily life came with my conversion. For a long time I just did whatever needed doing, like teaching, making soup for the sick and poor, smiling at people, organizing my husband and children into a work crew for church and school events, recruiting and getting training for religion teachers, and and at that time a new ministry for laity and particularly women, reading the Scriptures aloud for worship services.
Some of the more obvious experiences of God curtailing my tendency to hubris seem worth sharing, if only to give others a chuckle.
One came to mind this morning as I was checking my old lady chin for whiskers. Forty years ago when teaching a fifth and sixth grade confirmation preparation class, I was (I thought) waxing eloquent on the opportunity at confirmation to make their own choice of Jesus as their personal Savior and Lord and how wonderful that is. At the end, I asked if anyone had a question. One rather quiet boy raised his hand. My heart filled with joyous expectation as I said, “Yes, Jesse?” To which he replied quite seriously, “Mrs. Norman, Do you have a mustache?”