Portland Stands with Standing Rock

Standing with Standing Rock in Portland ME

Portland Stands with Standing Rock, Photo by Katrina Van Brugh

Sometimes our spirits know that we must go to another place to support the struggle to protect Indigenous rights and water. But sometimes our spirits tell us to stay put, and lend support from where we are, in whatever we can.  That is my particular calling in this moment, even though a part of my heart is out in Standing Rock every day.  But I was happy to stand in the rain on Saturday in Portland, Maine, with a few dozen people, including these young people from my congregation. Somehow being in the rain also felt right, because #waterislife.

This week many of my clergy colleagues have gone to the site of the camps, to bring a message of support, and I am glad for them to be there.  I am happy that our religious voices can be aligned with sovereignty and justice, after so much damage has been done in the name of the churches throughout the history of this land.

I am also glad personally to be following the spirit’s lead on this, because something is happening right now in our world which is deeper than politics, deeper than the divide between right and left, deeper than what any of the media are willing or able to talk about. It cannot be figured out by thinking or talking.  It is deeper than that.  It comes from the depth of the mysterious forces that give life, that sustain life, on our beautiful planet.

In a time of despair, that which can give us hope is often hidden from public view, bubbling up in unexpected places.  The energy and magic that is Standing Rock is not limited to that one place, but emerges wherever the people find our connection to the land, our connection to the water. Still, what is emerging at Standing Rock goes much deeper than I am able to fully understand, even when I open my heart to the mystery and the flow of it.  But every morning, I do open my heart to that mystery, and offer what energy and gifts I may offer to it.

Am I in the River?

If my search for greener housing is a worthy intention, then there is no particular outcome that must happen right now.  The energy carries its magic and I will learn from whatever I experience on this path, and it will lead me in the direction of that intention.

Similarly, if my work on the book, Finding Our Way Home, is, at root, a journey into Earth Community, then there is no necessary outcome.  Whether it is published or not, whether it is read or not, on some level it doesn’t matter at all. The intention creates its own magic and the journey will unfold in its own way and time in the direction of Earth Community.

Last week I was reading architect Sarah Susanka’s book, The Not So Big Life, and found these words:

“Every moment brings forth an untold number of alternative possibilities each of which has the potential to give birth to a multitude of life experiences. There is no one way in which things need to unfold… How perfectly the universe provides when we don’t intervene by trying to manage and control the process.”

At that time, we were waiting for news about cost estimates for renovations and building work that would need to happen on a house we’ve been exploring for the last four weeks. Her words helped to calm my heart, and then give me some equanimity when we learned that the work would be more than we could afford.  We had to let go of that particular set of outcomes.  Not without some sadness. It was one of the homes that made our hearts sing. But I remembered that there is no one way that things need to unfold.

There are many moments on both of these journeys when I feel stuck or impatient, worried or disappointed, aching for things to turn out in a particular fashion.  But today, I asked myself the question–Do I trust these intentions?  Do I trust the flow of the River of Life?  I remember the old adage–Don’t try to push the river. Let it carry you. I asked myself, Am I in the River?

And yes, I trust these intentions.  Yes, I trust in the flow of the River of Life. And yes, I know, deep in my being, that I am in the River.

Swan in the River

The Hope that Springs from Uncertainty

This week there have been no new houses to look at, but that is just as well because we are waiting to see what loan amount the bank will approve for us. I have also shifted from sabbatical time to a week of study and preparation for fall worship and return to full-time ministry. Today I’ve been reading books on Life Coaching, to learn strategies that coaches use to help people achieve their goals. I’ve thought that perhaps the tools of coaching might be useful for leadership in my congregation, and also useful personally to achieve our goal of finding greener housing, and living in ways that unite us with the living Earth.

I completed one book, whose author describes the most important tools for achieving coaching results as: motivation, positive frames of thinking, and confidence. I am going to be snarky for a moment and say it sounds a little like the worst of new age thinking–“just believe it and you can make it happen.” I do believe that we can access resourcefulness in ways that help us to achieve our goals. I like the tools that enable us to do that. But I don’t buy how everything seems to hinge on positivity and rejection of the possibility of failure. (I have two more books to explore, so perhaps I will discover that this one isn’t the best representation of the coaching philosophy.)

I am remembering Joanna Macy‘s advice to honor our pain for the world, to honor all the so-called “negative” emotions as well as the positive. Our pain is not just a hindrance to achieving our goals, but also a resource for compassion: our pain for the world comes from our deep interconnection with all of life.

Joanna speaks about the three stories of our time–the ways we understand what is happening in our world. The first is “business as usual” in the industrial growth society, believing we can just go on as we have been doing, and everything will sort itself out. But the industrial growth society is actually on a suicidal path because it is built upon destroying the natural world. The second story is called the “Great Unraveling,” a story of the destruction of our society, the mass extinction of species, climate disasters, and nightmarish post-apocalyptic scenarios in which people fend for themselves and turn on each other. The third story is called the “Great Turning,” in which human beings make a profound shift toward a life-affirming society, through major changes in our energy consumption, our social and economic structures, and especially in growing to understand that all beings are a part of one living Earth.

My desire for greener housing springs from my hope to be a part of a Great Turning. But Joanna points out that we have no assurance of success in our work to transform the world toward a life-affirming society. We could just as easily fail in our efforts, and witness the downfall of humanity and the extinction of our species along with so many others. Yet that very uncertainty can be the source of our hope and of our motivation.

Bald Eagle, photographer unknown

Bald Eagle, photographer unknown

I went for a swim at Winslow beach today, and as I floated on the ocean waters, I saw a beautiful bald eagle flying overhead. A small bird was chasing it at first, but then it soared on a long straight path towards the western sky.

As I ponder the concepts of motivation and hope, I realize that I don’t find my own motivation through messages of assured success and positivity.  I feel more resonance with the hope that springs from uncertainty.

There is no guarantee that Margy and I will find greener housing, and no guarantee that human beings can turn our society around toward a way of living in harmony with the earth. But for that very reason, we must give it our passion and our dedication and our best efforts. We must put our whole energy into the story that offers Life.

How to Face the Mess We’re In Without Going Crazy

Redwood Sky DSC06718I was away for eleven days at an intensive retreat in northern California on The Work That Reconnects with Joanna Macy. I have loved Joanna’s work for over thirty years, from when she was leading workshops on Despair and Empowerment in a Nuclear Age.  If you haven’t yet encountered her work, a great book to begin is Active Hope:  How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy, co-authored with Chris Johnstone.

Here is the description of the book from the publisher’s page:

The challenges we face can be difficult even to think about. Climate change, the depletion of oil, economic upheaval, and mass extinction together create a planetary emergency of overwhelming proportions. Active Hope shows us how to strengthen our capacity to face this crisis so that we can respond with unexpected resilience and creative power. Drawing on decades of teaching an empowerment approach known as the Work That Reconnects, the authors guide us through a transformational process informed by mythic journeys, modern psychology, spirituality, and holistic science. This process equips us with tools to face the mess we’re in and play our role in the collective transition, or Great Turning, to a life-sustaining society.

A true gift I have experienced in Joanna’s work is a way to experience my own grief for the world, not as a debilitating or paralyzing weight, but as a doorway into experiencing my deep interconnection with all beings.  We begin in gratitude, and the spiral of the work takes us through grief and interconnection, and we go forth with new strength for changing our lives and our world. I came away from the intensive feeling more alive and whole, and with new ideas for bringing people together around this work. Reading a book or a blog can be a solitary experience, but gathering with others to discuss a book, or doing practices together that make the ideas come alive, can be profoundly healing.  I am dreaming of how I might bring this work to Maine.

I found God in myself and I loved Her fiercely

I am continuing in my series of blogs about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in honor of the anniversary of his death, April 4th. I am exploring what his life can teach us about the experience of the Divine Mystery.

I want to acknowledge that there are many people who do the work of justice, without relating to a God of justice. Their work comes out of a belief in human dignity and connection, and God has nothing to do with it, for them. And that is really fine with me. When we have experienced the connection we share with other human beings, I believe it naturally leads to a concern about justice and equality.

But for some of us, there have been moments when we were in despair about injustice, or afraid of what our truth was revealing to us, or ready to give up, like Dr. King had been in his moment of despair. And in those moments, we also felt a divine presence, a presence of courage and hope and strength, empowering us into transformation. This God may not have intervened to take away a difficult challenge, but rather enabled us to find wholeness and self-worth in the meeting of it.

For me, the divine presence gave me the courage to leave the church of my childhood, and leap into the unknown, to find myself as a woman, as a whole and equal person. When all around me the church was saying that women had their place, and it was not in the priesthood or the leadership, when I was hearing that women were weak and vulnerable and needed men to guide and protect them, something enabled me to reject that characterization, and claim fullness. Something I barely even had a name for—but it was a sacred power nonetheless.

Photo by Rick Kimball

Photo by Rick Kimball

For me, the risk involved imagining that God might be a woman, a Goddess. That I might be created in the image of that Goddess. And even though there was nothing in the Bible that described this Goddess, yet it was still the stories of the God of justice that led me out of those old male-dominant images and into new possibilities. As Ntozake Shange put it, “I found God in myself and I loved her fiercely.”

This experience in my own life became a window to understand, at least in part, the kind of transformation the slaves had experienced. How miraculous and lonely it could be, how long the journey, and how frightening the desert. But yet, something unmistakable like a fire to guide the way. It taught me that the divine is a power beyond institutions, beyond containers, yet able to be present in our lives—especially in those moments of transformation, when “the mighty are cast down from their thrones, and the lowly are lifted up.”

I do not ask that anyone believe in the God of my own transformation. It doesn’t work like that. But I do offer it to you as an option of hope. If you are going through a hard time, if you are discouraged, if you are seeking to follow the truth of your heart, if you are sore oppressed. If you are having trouble believing in your own worth and dignity. I invite you to call on that God, and see whether there might be a presence that can help you through.

Abundant Love

According to Rev. Gordon McKeeman, the Universalists introduced the belief in a God who loved so abundantly that he would drag “the last unrepentant sinner, kicking & screaming, into heaven.”

Wow! A God who loves so much, who wants joy and blessing for all people, even if we have to be dragged into it against our will. It is such a gospel of hope, in contrast with the harsh and judgmental gospel of Calvinism.

One of the questions another of my colleagues, Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed, asks is why didn’t Universalism spread all over this country? Who could resist a religion with no hell?  Why was it so much harder to believe in a God of overwhelming love than in doctrines like the virgin birth or the resurrection? He answers his own question like this:

What we yearn for is unconditional love but it is contradicted by our experience. Instead, the principle message each of us received over and over again was this: behave and be loved, behave and be loved. The implication is: those who are good and compliant are loved, all others not. Universalism calls this “partialism.” In other words, people have taken their own experience of conditional, judgmental, imperfect human love and ascribed it to God.

What does it mean to believe that God is love? The phrase may have become so familiar that we almost don’t hear it anymore. One of the letters in the Bible says it, “God is love, and those who abide in love, abide in God, and God in them.” We can get derailed if we imagine God as an all powerful ruler sitting on a throne granting favors. Then, if something tragic happens to us, we feel that God must not love us. But if God is love, then the image of favor-granting dictator doesn’t work. God is more like the Sun, shining on everything and giving life to everything, no matter what, enabling all things to unfold in the way that they will by being alive.

Sun Shining on People

Photo by Margy Dowzer

Quote from Mark Morrison-Reed from “Dragged Kicking and Screaming into Heaven