Category Archives: psychology

Were You There When They Crucified My Girl

A spin on an old spiritual. Often in holy week we focus on the history of the story. I wanted to contextualize and feminize the modern idea of crucifixion. Also to bring to light the fact that the female experience and the Divine Feminine are still excluded from mainstream Christian worship. Maybe the modern crucified Christ is the feminine form of God that is devalued and raped every day. Maybe it is time for Her to rise from the shadows of our unconsciousness.
#RiseWithHer

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Revealing Our True Selves

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It was a 6th grade assembly and I sat in the bleachers with my mouth hanging open as I watched a visiting jump rope squad perform a routine to Michael Jackson’s hit, Billy Jean.

“She is so cute!” Billy said pointing to the confident smiling girl in the center of the floor.  The boys quickly agreed that Jill (God I even remember her name!) was the cutest and I began to feel my skin grow hot and green.  It was another confirmation that what I needed most in life–to be loved–existed outside of my ordinary power.  If wanted to be like the confident girl that everyone adored, some serious changes were in order.

I began to grow out my hair (the whole mullet thing was seriously cramping my style).  I begged my mom for new clothes.  But even as I tried to change the outside, something was still fundamentally wrong with me.  I began making a list of all my physical inadequacies:  bony knees, glasses, no breasts (not much has changed in all these years).  I began to dread that since I couldn’t change these things that I would be doomed to live in the Land of Nerdom for all of eternity.

When my elementary school announced we would be starting our own jump rope team called the Jammin’ Jumpers I shed my usual shyness and ran to the front of the room to sign up.  Every girl was allowed to come to the practices, but if we wanted to travel to other schools and perform we had to make the cut.

I practiced for hours at home every night until I could do the routine in my sleep.  This was no small feat for a girl who didn’t even know how to jump rope and was called klutz by her family because she was often found splayed out on the ground with no explanation for why she just fell on her face.  Try outs were one week away and I was ready.

During our final practice the girls began to gossip about who was going to make the cut and who wasn’t.  Suddenly I realized the intense anxiety that filled the room as all of our eyes fell on Jenny.  If I lived in the Land of Nerdom, she lived in a land somewhere beyond it–in the next solar system.

Jenny was adopted and she looked different.  She was Native American with dark skin, wide chocolate eyes she looked at the world as if she had come from another planet.  I saw her jump rope tangled up in her feet. Tears welling up in her eyes.  I ran over to her and asked her if she wanted to practice with me after school since she lived on my street.  She looked up at me and smiled.

We practiced every day up until tryouts.  She told me how nervous she was.  I told her to watch my feet.  I promised to stand by her during tryouts.  I told her I would whisper the moves so she knew what do to.

Finally the big day arrived.  “Billy Jean is not my lover,” blared through the gym speakers.  “Criss cross,” I whispered to Jenny.  “One, two, three, four, heel toe,” I whispered.

The teachers made two initial cuts.  Jenny and I stood in the center of the gym with a few other girls. The teachers asked us to perform the routine one last time.  I was so relieved that I hadn’t made the cut yet so I could help Jenny.  I continued to watch Jenny’s feet and whisper the moves to her.  I was so proud of her.  She was nailing it.

At the end of the routine the teachers said, “We could tell which of you had learned your routine, and which of you were watching other’s girl’s feet because you had not practiced enough.”  Then they read the last cut.  When they called Jenny’s name we both screamed and jumped up and down.  But I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.

The teachers folded up their papers, stood up and congratulated the new Jammin’ Jumpers.  And I was not one of them.

“But you knew the routine!” Several of my peers gathered around me to console me.  They knew that I knew the routine.  They knew that I had worked with Jenny all week.  But the teacher’s did not.  I remember that pain of being unseen.  Of having no words and no power to change the outcome of the situation.  I remember the dark clouds that rolled in that day.  The way I curled up under my covers and cried when I got home.  I remember that feeling of exclusion, as if my exile from belonging was now publicly official.

The teacher’s were right, though.  I was not looking at them and smiling.  I was looking at Jenny’s feet and whispering her the moves.  I was sacrificing my best so that Jenny would make the cut.  Only I had no idea how much I was sacrificing.

As a woman, I find that sacrificing everything–even my success–is a very easy thing to do. I was raised in a Christian home that valued service and shunned selfishness.  I looked to Jesus who gave even his life away for others.  I learned how to be a spiritual doormat.  The nuance I was missing was seeing clearly who I AM.  Often when I let others define me I feel like I am a nobody.  On the other hand,  Jesus (as ego-inflated as this may sound) knew he was God (at least in some of the gospels)  and it was this radical audacity that really pissed off the religious leaders.  He was claiming his own power.  A power that he knew was divine.  I had yet to find a connection to that kind of power in my life.  For so long that power remained outside of my self.

Psychologists tell us how important mirroring is in forming our early identities as children.  When we have been abused or neglected that work of seeing our true essence is even more difficult.  As I have grown up I have often had women confess that they hated me initially because I was tall and beautiful, which I still don’t get because when I think of “me” I think of the picture posted at the top of this article.  I think of the girl who didn’t make the Jammin’ Jumpers.  How blessed are we when we are surrounded by people who see our value and divine worth.  (Even when we sport mullets.)

What I am finally learning as I near 40, is that belonging is not about fitting in at all. Brene Brown reminds us that actually fitting in is the ultimate barrier to belonging.  Her research has shown the tolls of trying to twist ourselves into something else for others.  Belonging begins with self acceptance.  For me it begins by loving the nerd that I am.

I still don’t know my limits, I don’t know exactly who I am and what I am capable of.  But I am testing those limits and gathering the courage to face whatever learning opportunities present themselves.  I am becoming mindful of the twisting that I can do for others (this has nothing to do with yoga)  in order to belong.  I am learning to distance my true self from the voice that is constantly hounding me:  “You’re going to get run through the ringer for that one.”  “You’ll never make a living doing what you love.”  “You have nothing to give.”  I am learning that this voice wants to protect me from future harm.  But it goes too far when it protects me from truly living.

So I am learning to live with less judgement.  To accept each day as having an abundance of grace and all that I need on my path.  I am meditating on the great I AM.  When I meditate on I AM I cannot see myself separated from the mystery of creation.  Instead I become keenly aware that the life force of the universe dwells also inside of me.  Jesus called this God.  It has also been called Love.  A love that is stronger than death.  And it’s this realization of incarnate love that allows us to make the great sacrifices in life.

I remember watching Jenny run down the hallway with all the Jammin’ Jumpers.  I had never seen her body radiate so much joy.  And in the midst of my own feelings of rejection, her joy touched my heart and I was able to share in her bliss.  The illusion was that I had been cut off and separated from that joy–but the truth was that I had been a part of it all along.

Today, I know that I am not the outcast I thought I was.  I am the fruit of creation’s ancient journey.  I am made of star dust.  I am a miracle.  I am enough just the way I am.    And so are you.

Michael Jackson was right, Billy Jean is not my lover.  I am the lover I have been looking for all along.  And you are yours.   May you have compassion on yourself this day, and receive who you are.

Happy Valentines Day!

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My Fig Leaf Dress

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So it’s time to share some of my memoir.  I can’t believe how hard this is after ten years of working on this project and having written the rough draft over a year ago.  But it is.  But I also believe that stories can heal.  I know that writing helped me heal.  And it is my hope that my story will encourage other girls and women to voice their stories and heal from their past too.  
 
I have begun the process of submitting it to publishing houses and agents.  One thing that I am learning is in the changing landscape of publishing I need to build a strong platform.  So I’m pouring the concrete here and inviting you all to carve your initials in before it dries.  ​You can support this project by recommending it your friends, following me on Twitter and liking my Facebook page. Thank you so much!  
 
*In my memoir I have made my best attempt at telling my story as I remember.  Much of it includes my emotional landscape and subjective experiences as I processed traumatic events.  In some instances I have changed names  to protect people’s privacy and merged time to honor the structure of a story arch.  I researched  the land in many places in order to describe some scenery more accurately.  The music I have added to the text was popular around the time the events occurred and it reminds me most of those moments now.
 
 
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent 
about things that matter.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr
In the beginning darkness covers everything. 
Not light, but sound first breaks the void—Shhh. Leave it alone.
There is a voice crying in the wilderness, 
“Prepare the way of the Lord!”  
If all are silent rocks will cry, 
“Prepare the way of the Lord!”  
Rocks that sit at the edge of the cliff, 
Rocks that kiss the great abyss, 
“Prepare the way of the Lord!”  
Rocks that live in the pit of my stomach?  
Be Quiet. Leave it alone.
Silent night, holy night,
The little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.
Silent night? 
Yeah right. 
No crying?  
Baby’s dying!  
Shut up and leave it alone! 
In the beginning darkness covers everything.
Until I speak,
And then— 
There is light.
 
PART I 
THE TREE OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL
Chapter 1
Whore
“The great tragedy in our lives is often the ground from which a good life can be built.”
-Dr. Rachael Naomi Rennen
Yellow corn stalks line the horizon ready for harvest.  
In the Northeastern corner of Arkansas just beyond the Ozarks, flowers turn outside my bedroom window. The dandelion weeds, the Queen Anne’s lace. In the month of August of 1989, around the time of year when the Mother of God annually falls asleep, I receive a call.
“Jessica! It’s for you,” my mother hands me the phone. “It’s Christian.”
“I’ll take it in my bedroom,” I run down the hall and lock the door. I have just turned fourteen. I am still all arms and legs and the tallest girl in my class. My hair is streaked with blonde and my olive skin glows from summer sun. I hate myself. I cannot clearly see who I am.
You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart and soul of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.  
-Exodus 23:9
“Hey! What’s up?” his voice sounds deep and sexy. He’s sixteen or seventeen—I can’t remember. He’s one of the first guys in my life to pay me any attention. He makes me believe I am more than just a giant nerd.
“Nothing,” I giggle. “Just helping mom unpack another box—my life is soooo exciting.” I’m the new girl in the small town of Blytheville, Arkansas. With the southern accent it is actually pronounced Blah-ville.
“Tell me how a beautiful girl like you just shows up in my world one day?”  
My heart pounds. He thinks I’m beautiful? What the heck? No one has ever called me that before. Nerd, prude, dork—that’s what people call me—not beautiful.
“You know, when you talk about me, it doesn’t really sound like me,” I say.
“So tell me all about the real you,” I can hear him smiling. I wrap the curly mauve telephone wire around my index finger and think it over. Obviously he has figured out how to be popular. Everyone loves Christian. Even my parents. My mother entrusted us into his care the first day we showed up at the Youth Center on base. He works there. I guess he’s like a Youth Leader or something. He has the keys to a world I want to be inside of. The one thing I want in life is to belong—not on the fringes, not in the shadows, but in the center, near the sun and the bright smiles of my peers. I want to be protected from the people who make fun of me. I want to become a whole new person, one that is likable, even lovable. My fantasy is that Christian will take me under his wings and shelter me from any further assaults, train me in the ways of cool. Me, his little Padawon.
“Okay, Christian, but you have to promise not to tell anyone. I meant it, NO ONE.”
“Jessie, I will never tell a soul your secret. What you tell me tonight will be our secret. I promise.”
He is so good at making me feel comfortable. How can I resist? “Okay,” I swallow down the lump in my throat. My hands begin to sweat. Will he still like me when I tell him who I really am?
Here goes. “Christian, I’ve never been popular.”
“What do you mean?” He chuckles, “You’re so beautiful. I can’t imagine that.”
 “I used to wear glasses.”
“So?”
“No, these huge blue glasses that covered up half my face. I just got contacts last year.”
“You think a pair of glasses could hide those big blue eyes from the world? They’re so pretty. I love your eyes.”
I can’t stop the smile from spreading across my face.
“And I wear generic shoes.”
“So?”
“From Payless!”
“So what?! You are probably the hottest girl in the world with your big blue glasses and generic shoes!”
“Shut up!” I laugh. “Everyone used to make fun of me.”
Christian is silent. The phone keeps sliding through my hand. I press the number pad closer to my cheek and wait for all of eternity to hear his reply. Finally his voice breaks through the void as if he is commanding an answer from the dead, “Who made fun of you, Jessie?” The question echoes across a black universe of pain.
“Lots of people…my whole life,” I whisper, suddenly finding it difficult to talk.
“Oh, Jessie…how could anyone be mean to you?”
“I dunno,” I try to hold back the child-like sobs, but the force is too strong and the dam breaks anyway.
“I’ve just never figured out why I don’t fit in! I think it has something to do with my parents’ religion!” Snot falls out of my nose and drips off my chin.
“Jessie, shhhhhh, don’t cry. Try to calm down, okay? I don’t like hearing you so upset when I can’t be there to give you a hug. Is your bedroom door closed?”
“Yes.”
“Good. You don’t want your parents to hear you.”
“I know.”
“Jessie, you know I care about you, right?”
Relieved, I croak out, “Yeah…”
I can hardly believe it. Suddenly, my soul swells with hope. It’s a new feeling.
Maybe everything will finally be all right. I will learn the ways of Christian Roberts. He will take care of me. I breathe deeply, into something I have never known, like I have come home to a place that has never been mine.
“Jessie?”
“Yeah?”
“I can help you. Do you believe me?”
“Yes.”
“All we have to do is initiate you,” says Christian.
“Initiate?” I ask. “What’s that?”
“Jessie, do you know what sex is?”
“Yes,” I blush. “It’s something married people do.”
Christian laughs. “Is that what your parents told you?”
“Yes,” I say.
“Well, there’s your problem!” he says. “All the popular people have sex together.”
“They do?” I say, truly amazed.
“Yes! Even friends have sex with each other. You don’t have to be boyfriend and girlfriend or anything—or even in love to do it.”
“Really?”
“Yes! Don’t you watch TV or read magazines?”
“Yes, well, kind of…”  Actually not much.  I live a pretty secluded life.  
“Everyone has sex, Jessie, it’s what human beings do.”
I think of Madonna steaming up the TV with her hot music videos. I think of all the sexy girls sprawled out on the covers of magazines with their half open eyes and parted glossy lips. Suddenly the veil is torn in two. Of course they do, I think. How could I not see it before? This must be the missing piece of my life. Sex is the secret to connecting with others and making friends and being popular—which is sinful—which is why my parents don’t want me to know about it! Oh! I feel so silly. All this time everyone has been sneaking off and having sex together and I’ve had no idea! How naïve I have been!
“Tomorrow,” he says. “We initiate you tomorrow.”
I remember the warmth that appears between my legs and rises into my heart exploding like a million butterflies inside of me. This is what I want. All those butterflies in my chest. Someone to hold me and love me. And maybe this is my part in the crime: I am naïve and curious about sex without knowing how dangerous a woman’s sexuality or curiosity can possibly be. My mouth turns dry. My body begins to tremble. “You’ll finally belong,” I tell myself. “It will be okay.” But something inside of me knows otherwise.  
~
For years I turn to boys and men to save me from myself. This is the awful start to it all. Or maybe it isn’t the start. Maybe it begins when I am five, when God enchants me and pulls me into his dark world. Or maybe it goes further back, deep into the annals of history, towards theologies of original sin, dichotomies of flesh and spirit, and ancient fears of women and what they know in their bones.
 
Religions centered on the worship of a male God create “moods” and “motivations” that keep women in a state of psychological dependence on men and male authority, while at the same time legitimating the political and social authority of fathers and sons in the institutions of society.
-Carol P. Christ
 “Are you sure you want to stay home?” My aunt Mary Kay, my mother’s youngest sister sits on our couch drinking coffee with her wet white-blonde hair smelling fresh. She’s just ten years older than me and I think she’s cool. But hanging with my family is definitely not.
I roll my eyes. “If it was just me and you,” I smile. “Besides I’ve got plans,” I say. I convince my parents that it’s more important for me to stay in town and make friends today.
The doorbell rings around 10 a.m. Christian stands in the doorway, the light behind him makes him glow, like he is Jesus, come here to save me. His broad chest fills out his white t-shirt and his cologne snakes through the air and makes my heart pound. I hope my parents don’t sniff us out. His wavy red hair feathers back, his fair freckled skin is clear, his teeth are perfectly straight. He shows them off with an easy smile. A black belt wraps around his waist, holding tight his tapered stonewashed jeans.
“Hi,” I say as my heart melts like warm butter.
“Well, hi,” he laughs and makes small talk with my parents. I look past him; afraid I might stare too long. Watch the dandelions dodder in the dry grass behind him. I pluck one from the ground on the way to his car.
“Have a good time!” My mother and father stand on the threshold of home and world and wave goodbye.
Christian puts his hand on my shoulder and directs me to his old black mustang. I pretend that I am more woman than child. I smile and throw my head back like the beautiful girls on TV. He turns up the radio and Don Henley sings, I know a place where we can go that’s still untouched by men. We’ll sit and watch the clouds roll by and the tall grass wave in the wind. You can lay your head back on the ground and let your hair fall all around me offer up your best defense, but this is the end, this is the end of the innocence.
We race down Chickasawba, the old road named after an Indian Chief who is remembered for offering honey to all who crossed his path. This road connects Blytheville to Gosnell and our pain to our balm. As the cotton and the soy beans sway, as each of us looks to the horizon dreaming of the hope we’ll find when we get there.  
~
 “Dammit!” Christian bangs his hand on the steering wheel.
“What’s wrong?” I hide my alarm and try to be nice and sweet. That’s what boys like.
“I forgot to tell you, I promised to pick up a few of my friends soon. You won’t mind if they come and watch will you?”
“Um…” I didn’t know what to say, but I start to have an awful feeling in the pit in my stomach. I press the yellow flower into my arm so it bleeds on my skin.
“Actually, in any sort of initiation there has to be witnesses,” he adds.
“But I thought it was just going to be me and you.”
“Jessie, you want to be popular, don’t you?”
“Yes, but—”
“So, you won’t mind if my friends join us will you?” His tone grows harsh and forceful. I know how to fight with my parents. I have no idea how to fight with someone older and cooler than me.
I look at the yellow streaks on my arm and try to ignore my feelings. I am so close to the dream I have always wanted. I know it won’t come easily. There are sacrifices involved in life. Christianity has taught me that much.
~
When the drought comes, the Native Americans ask De Soto to pray to his God and give them rain. They admire his shiny armor and his advanced weaponry. They bring two blind men to De Soto and ask him to heal them. Agreeing, De Soto builds a fifty foot cross and places it on top of the peoples’ holy hill—maybe it was the Chickasawba mound, the one discovered between Gosnell and Blytheville. And like that the natives surrender their sacred religion to a stranger who possesses more material power. 
~
“Like who?” I ask finally.
“Like Matt, you’ve met him before. The skater with the long dark hair.”
Yeah, I remember meeting Matt. He did seem like a pretty cool guy. And I do have a thing for skaters, especially the one’s that have flops—that long hair that covers up one eye—so mysterious. But I just want to be with Christian for now. Maybe initiations aren’t for being romantic. Maybe that comes after.
“I guess,” I fall back into the seat and let the familiar haze fill my head. I zone out and follow orders. He turns up the radio, My head is full of magic baby and I can share this with you…I’m alive, oh, oh, so alive.
~ ~ ~
 

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Smothered Creativity

Women have been in darkness for centuries. They don’t know themselves. Or only poorly. And when women write, they translate this darkness. Men don’t translate. They begin from a theoretical platform, already in place, already elaborated. The writing of women is really translating from the unknown, like a new way of communicating, rather than an already formed language.

Marguerite Duras

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September 3, 2013 · 4:05 pm

Feeding Your Demons: Practicing Radical Hospitality

“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light but by making the darkness conscious.”  –Carl Jung

In my last post I shared my journey of how I stopped fighting my demons and began to feed them.  In this post I’d like to talk about the practice of feeding your demons that I am learning from Tsultrim Allione and show how it is not so un-Christian as one might think.  This is her guide based on the teachings of Machig Labdrön, an 11th century female Buddhist teacher.  I am only summarizing her in depth practice so please refer to her work if you would like to try this.

Step One:  Find the Demon
Take a few deep breaths to calm your body.  Identify a situation or a feeling in your life that troubles you.  Look for the place in your body where you carry the burden of this problem.  Is it in your tight jaw?  In your chest?  In your lower back?  Is it in a place on your body where you self harm?  Does it have a color? A temperature? A smell?  A texture? A sound?

Step Two:  Personify the Demon and Ask What it Needs
In this step imagine what this creature would look like if it was sitting in front of you.  What is the shape? The gender? What is its emotional state?  How big is it?  How do I feel in its presence?  Once you have imagined it sitting across from you, ask it:  What do you want from me?  What do you need from me?  How will you feel if you get what you need?

Step Three:  Become the Demon
Keep your eyes closed and move to the place where you imagined the demon sitting across from you.  Take a few deep breaths as you imagine yourself as this creature and what it feels like to be in its shoes. Then answer the three questions you asked it:  What I want from you is… What I need from you is…When my need is met, I will feel… Tsultrim Allinone writes, “With a disease like cancer the demon might say, ‘I want your life force, all of it.’  And responding to ‘What do you need?’ the demon might say, ‘I need strength.’  And if to the question ‘How will you feel if you get what you need?’  –in this case, strength–the demon replies, ‘I’ll feel powerful,’ then you know to feed the demon power.  Be sure the answer to the third question is a feeling.  For example, the cancer demon might have said, ‘I will feel huge.’  But hugeness is not a feeling… the feeling behind hugeness might be power.”

Here is the paradox:  we may think that feeding a demon makes it grow, but it actually diminishes it’s strength.  By becoming conscious of our demons and the needs behind their pain, they can be soothed and transformed into a helper for us.

Step Four:  Feed the Demon and Meet the Ally
Return to your body and original seat and face the demon again.  Imagine your body melting into a nectar that you can offer the demon.  If it was love, or acceptance the demon wanted imagine what that would look like as your body melts into a bowl or a chalice or whips around the demon like a wind.  Follow your imagination as you offer the gift of your body to the wounded part of yourself.  Take note of the color or consistency   You are giving the demon the feeling it will have when it gets what it needs.  Feed the creature until it is totally satisfied.  At this point the demon may transform or leave.  Ask to meet the ally, to see how this transformed energy might be used for good.  Again use your imagination and take any notes on its appearance and your feelings.  Ask the ally:  How will you help me?  How will you protect me?  What pledge or commitment do you make to me?  How can I gain access to you?  Then change places again and answer the questions as the ally.

Step Five:  Rest in Awareness
This is an important part of integrating the experience into your body.  I like to lie down in shavasana pose.  Let yourself enjoy the lightness and freedom of this experience.

How can this practice be Christian?
Without writing a thesis on the topic, I will outline a general theology that runs throughout the biblical text and Christian tradition.

Old Testament
The Hebrew word “satan” literally means adversary.  When Jacob wrestled with God, God is called the “satan”  in the story.  The Hebrews did not see evil as an external force, but understood the “satan” to be a force within humanity that is inclined toward evil.  Even in the story of Job, the Satan seems to be a part of God’s counsel and works with God to carry out God’s will.  So the overall voice of the Hebrew scriptures lacks our notion of demons and hell.  Later in human development this force is recognized as existing outside of human will (This is introduced in Enochic literature in the 4th Century BCE.)  One of the main components of Old Testament law is the command to care for strangers on the land, windows, orphans and the poor.  Essentially to live in a just community.  This narrative continues in Jesus’ teachings.

New Testament
Jesus is constantly criticized for his extension and reinterpretation of the law as he dines with sinners welcomes outcasts and touches people who are  ritually unclean (read sick and dangerous).  The Gospel of Luke centers on the image of a feast, where all are invited to God’s table to be nourished and recreated.  At the institution of the Last Supper (the most troubled night in the life of Jesus)  Jesus made his body into a nectar, offering it to his friends (to sooth their  future agony) and to remember him.  When Jesus left his disciples he continued to tell them:  go and do likewise–heal the sick, raise the dead.  Essentially, be Christ to others too.

Reconciling the Opposites
American culture especially suffers from a debilitating polarization.  Complexities of self are easily lost in the rigid categories of right or left, republican or democrat, good or evil, conservative or liberal, and with the escaping middle class now we have rich or poor, and so on…  The task before us now is to move from flat polarization of opposites to a reconciliation of them: the paradox.  This makes me think of the tongue twisting gospel of John this week:  I in you and you in me and God in me and you in God, fox in box and sox on fox!  One exercise I do frequently to remind myself when I am projecting my shadow onto others is make a list about everything that annoys me about someone.  Then I put my name at the top and I see that I have given them the worst of myself.

The next level of our human consciousness is to gain the understanding that everything is connected.  Carl Jung taught that what is happening in the global world is also unfolding in our interior lives.  If the earth is wounded, our bodies are scarred.  If we can face our shadows and tend our pain,  we can have compassion enough to heal the world.  The answer to so many of our problems is connection.

“If you’re feeling what the river is feeling, it’s hard to pollute the river. If you are feeling what a child is feeling, it’s hard to rape the child. If you are connected to your own internal being, it is very hard to be screwing and destroying and hurting another human being, because you’ll be feeling what they’re feeling. If you’re separated, it’s not a hard thing to do at all.”
-Eve Ensler

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I gave up fighting my demons, and began to feed them

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I sat in a cold room under flickering fluorescent lights. I was shaking as two older men placed their hands on my head and commanded the demons leave me in Jesus’ name. “I just saw a hippy demon fly out of you,” said the big guy in his booming preacher voice. They told me all sorts of demons were flying around the room. The other placed a Bible in my lap, “You must read God’s word,” he said. “It’s like a sword that penetrates the darkness.”

“Where?” I flipped through the pages.

“Anywhere,” he said. And so I started reading Leviticus law.

“Try Ephesians,” the other one said after I muttered through the passages about who can have sex with who. He directed me to the verse and chapter. I read:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. -Ephesians 6:12

The Christian fiction author, Frank Peretti had a major influence on the evangelical and charismatic culture that I was a part of in the late 80s and early 90s. Some Christians even claimed his books, This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness were second only to the Bible and many used them as spiritual warfare handbooks. (Scrolling down on the reviews you can see how much this Christian world view persists today.)

I found myself in Christian communities that prayed more against demons than to God. Ever since I was little, I had been warned about these demons and the portals they use to enter our world: liberalism, new age spirituality, environmentalism, feminism, oh the worst: relativism.

I still remember that awful feeling in my stomach, when I stood in front of my fifth grade class and announced that I would not be attending school on Halloween because it was “The Devil’s Holiday” and we didn’t worship Satan in our family. Even my teacher looked at me with wide eyes and an open mouth. But I had come to expect this sort of judgement. I had been taught that Christians were set apart, fools for Christ.

I was out of grad school when this frightening dualistic world view finally unraveled for me. I listened to a kind psychologist explain (one of those I had been warmed about: the humanistic people under Satan’s spell), he said, “The demons we fear are our own wounded and abandoned parts of ourselves.”

My spiritual journey began to turn in a whole new direction. Instead of escaping my fear–and projecting it onto other people, religions, cultures and worldviews, I began to welcome it. I began to sit with it. I visualized it. I asked it what these fears and awful feelings wanted from me. At first they said: I want your life. I want to consume you. I want to put all my hatred in you. But when I asked them what they needed they said: I need your love. I need your attention. I need your compassion. I witnessed these cut off parts of myself transforming from enemies that once drained all my energy to fight, into allies that empowered me to live a more peaceful creative life.

Shortly thereafter I found myself at a conference on the Divine Feminine at the Washington National Cathedral. I stood in the back of Bethlehem Chapel– green with morning sickness– listening to the first American woman to be ordained as a Tibetan nun. I listened with more than a hundred other people to Tsultrim Allione teach the ancient Buddhist practice of Feeding Your Demons. I fed myself saltine crackers, pregnant with my daughter and my budding feminine spirituality. As I listened I could not help but see how this practice mirrored teachings in the Jewish and Christian traditions too.

Much of the Old Testament law teaches the importance of extreme hospitality towards strangers. Jesus continued this hospitality as he welcomed sinners, outcasts and women to dine with him. In the image of the Good Shepherd, Jesus is portrayed as seeking and feeding the lost. I realized the lost come in many forms: those who have been abused, those who are literally hungry, also those parts of ourselves that we fight against, deny, silence with perfectionism, alcoholism, the ones we starve out, and feed with hatred.

In the mystery of the Eucharist, Christ’s body is given to us. I asked a young girl on Sunday what this could possibly mean. She wisely replied, “It reminds us that we are one with God. That God actually lives inside our bodies.”

Tsultrim Allione taught me that to fight the demons makes them stronger–but to feed them–with the nectar of your very body, satisfies and transforms them.

In my next post I will share the meditation practice that I learned from Tsultrim Allione on how to begin to feed your own demons.

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Bidden or Not Bidden the Goddess is Present

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There is no doubt Beyonce was worshiped last night.  My Twitter and Facebook feed lit up with praise and adoration, boys and men tweeted their longing for the Goddess, while women and girls posted props for her triumph of girl power.  As I behold the image above, I see how the two faces create a chalice in the center–a symbol of the divine feminine.

While Beyonce and all the alluring young women of our time will eventually grow old–the Goddess of Love will not.  She will continue to enchant humanity as She incarnates flowering and fiery young maidens throughout time.

The Goddess is bidden in American culture.  We worship Her in magazines, models and movie stars.  We use Her to sell ads and run our economy.  A part of us knows She’s not entirely human: She’s airbrushed, adorned and acted.  Still, we need Her with us.  Her beauty reminds us that life is worth living.  Her power ignites our dormant energy and calls us to unite and create new life together.

The Goddess is not bidden in Christianity.  The Apostle Paul and the early Church Fathers steered Hellenistic Christianity away from the Pantheon of Greek Goddesses.  It has been suggested that the earliest form of the Holy Trinity was derived from the Gnostics: Father (The Creator), Mother (Sophia) and Son (Christ).  Later Christianity removed the Mother and replaced it with Holy Spirit, who is called a He in the Nicene Creed that is recited each week by millions around the world.

A major theological stumbling block to donning the female form with divinity in the church has been the historic vilification of the flesh which is said to war against the Holy Spirit.  In Romans 7:18 the Apostle Paul writes, “I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is in my flesh,” a statement that would be very difficult for many pregnant mothers to make.  The 4th and 5th century theologian Augustine coined the term “original sin” which has gone on to shape humanity’s loathing self image–a move away from what is written in the book of Genesis, where it is written that God created male and female and called them “very good.”

When the flesh and the desires of the flesh were deemed sinful, so were women, sexuality and the simple joys of life itself:  nourishing food, comfortable clothes, a cozy home, a lover, a family all appeared frivolous distractions from a God who detested carnal impurities.  These values belonged to the silenced Greek Goddesses–Hestia, Demeter, Aphrodite.

Furthermore, this Christian God looks suspiciously Gnostic as it tries even today to escape the flesh rather than incarnate it as Christ has, descending into all the mire–even death–to show us that God is present everywhere–maybe even in a Superbowl half time show.

As I watched Beyonce’s gyrating hips I could not simply think this woman was merely dancing.  I remembered that there were once temples devoted to the Sacred Prostitute, places of initiation into the sexual mysteries.  As I watched the orchestrated movements, the flames, the unfolding ritual, it was clear that Beyonce embodied the ancient Priestess.

Is this really girl power, this way of being that is clearly not for young girls or the elderly, but women of a certain age range, and a certain look?  Are there any other kinds of power available to girls and women throughout their life time?  Many of us are unfamiliar with the other forms the Goddess presents to women of all ages, because we have been raised on male gods and their preferences.

In my church, the Episcopal Church, which has been known as one of the most progressive branches of the church for women and gay rights, this is image of God we worship every Sunday in the Rite II Eucharist (using Prayer D):

Frequency of Names for God used in the most recent edition of the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, 1979 in the Rite II Eucharist with Prayer D.

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The highest frequency of names for God are male. The values of rule and power are thus equated with the Divine.  If this is what is said in our more progressive churches, I think it’s fair to say the average Christian church worships one similar or even more masculine.  Maybe this is why it’s so easy for us in American Christian society to ignore the teachings of Jesus and abide instead by Machiavelli’s ethos that might makes right.  We worship the winners and forget that Jesus hung out with the losers.

And maybe this is why it is so dangerous for women to speak of rape.  It challenges the power that male gods propagate.  (Does God’s visit to the young virgin Mary echo an old story of divine rape?)  If Beyonce was raped last night, would the same culture who praised her say she deserved it?  Would they say: look at how she was dressed, she was asking for it?  We all know where the pendulum goes: to the light and to the shadow.  (I once worked for a Catholic priest who either adored me or belittled me; he struggled to find equality and humanity with women.)  We may have left religion–but the Goddess is still present.  Even if her sexuality is still split from our spirituality.  Even if the church is dying–religion lives on, even unconsciously.

If being sexy for a general audience is the only power a woman has available to her in her lifetime,  then women will continue to loath their flesh and the creative life force within.  Many will cut themselves off from their sexuality to remain traditionally spiritual.  Others will cut themselves off from traditional religion, the pleasures of food, or their very own bodies in order to remain sexual.

We need the whole Goddess and all the stories she inhabits.  We need to say Her holy names week after week so that we can learn Her ways.  If we can excavate Her divinity from the annals of time, redeem her from the ground of our being, I believe we will create a more sacred space to raise our daughters, our dignity and our divinity.

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