Monday, September 29, 2008

Silence and Listening

I have had intentional, and sort of imposed upon me, silence a lot lately. My experience tonight was my first experience with true silent listening. Not reflective listening, but listening just to listen - without response, without questions, merely witness. There are certainly non-verbal cues in this, but there is no response necessary or even really allowed.

It's exhausting (especially as someone trained in reflective listening and in human services and journalism), but exhilarating at the same time. It is a relief not to have to have answers, and to put ego aside for a couple of hours.

It is in that silence that there is room for listening to the self as well. It is also good to be listened to, and to have silence after one speaks. It holds you.

In my silent meditations lately, one of my daughters has been rising to the forefront. I called her tonight on my way home and asked her if she was getting everything she needed. It was a profound experience. In my meditation time today, I re-experienced an interaction we had and saw it through the eyes of listening. I do try to have a daily practice of visualizing each member of my family each morning (including myself) and considering what they need from me on that day. But this was much stronger. This was a soul connection.

I called her, and asked her what she needed; I said I asked because I know she has trouble asking. She is a middle child. She sometimes falls through the cracks. And she can be challenging in ways. She said she could tell it was important to me (I barely made it through without bursting into tears, and did so after). I said that I felt I was not giving her what she needed and that's why she kept appearing during my meditation time. I told her what I saw in my re-enactment - of me holding her hands, and listening, and holding her. And that I wasn't angry at her - only at that which is hurting her, but it comes out wrong sometimes.

It was so cathartic, and without that silence that my spiritual path has offered me, I wouldn't have had the gift of this vision, and insight. Of letting my spirit tell me what I can do next time, and not just saying I'm sorry (as I try to do when I screw up), but to let her know that if I could do it over, I would, and what it would look like. I hope it was powerful for her, and not just weird ;).

It's hard work, this intentional path. It's waking up with a desire to respond (thank you Erin), and to make room for silence in which to hear how to do that.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Walking and Anxiety

I've taken about 5 walks over the last two days, and have decided to walk with "beginner's mind" (I have gotten away from Wiki definitions, but the other quick ones I saw were too in-depth for this blog post!). I have an open mind, try to see each tree, sign, mailbox, house, as if I am seeing it for the first time, with an attitude of curiosity and newness. I also am observing Jakob, and his curiosity and explorations of things I hadn't noticed, like the stray cat my next door neighbor just started feeding, or the fact that something interesting is living among the old pig barn foundation at the edge of our property.

Jake and I are doing a little bit of intentional discipline training on the leash as well. It's for both of us - he is bossy, and I am out of practice with training, so we both benefit, and have a mix of intention and meditation on our walks. He seems to be enjoying it, and I definitely am, despite the almost constant rain this weekend.

I am finding some latent anxiety during each walk though - I know what it is though. It's that nagging feeling that I'm not doing anything, and there's so much to do. But I am doing something and it's really important.

Tomorrow is my first Wellspring group. I am nervous to meet my moderator for the first time, but excited. I am also going for a social walk with our ministerial intern beforehand, and am thrilled. I had an instant liking for her, and I got to hear her preach this morning. She is starting out as we all will, I suspect, a bit lacking in fire, but in plenty of underlying love and passion - enough so to move me to tears a couple of times, because I felt the parallel in our paths - that need to respond to the beauty and evil in this world.

Anyway, Wellspring. I was also relieved to find out that though I only have a chapter left, there are others who are only halfway through the book. Whew!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Daily Meditation

So I've been torn about what to do as my daily meditation. I write every day, either in a private space online or in my paper journal, or even here. I'm drawn to sitting quietly (beginner meditation) because I'm so resistant to it and find it so difficult. But before Wellspring started, I loved the idea of walking every day, but then we had to give up our dog, who I would want to walk with (and I couldn't take him for walks anyway because of his dog aggression).

But now I think I have a new leash (lease?) on that idea.

This is Jacob. I didn't think we'd find another dog for a long time. I kept the door open and perused Craigslist, Petfinder, and local shelter posts. I have looked at a lot of dogs over the last couple of weeks and have been very lonely for dogginess in my life. I've always had a dog; and it was painful not to have one - even a neurotic one.

Jake so far is everything I had hoped Sullivan would be, and sadly, wasn't. He rides well, he's totally mellow (especially for a young golden), he plays fetch, follows me around, and is gentle with the kids. He doesn't steal food, get in the garbage, or pee on the floor. He came from a family that had to rehome him because their older dog became aggressive with him.

He even met my neighbors dog this morning on our walk and he was totally mellow and left her alone when she was nervous (I'm sure she associates me with big, scary dogs, unfortunately). I'm going to take him with me today to hang out at my MILs while the girls have activities.

We have him on a trial basis, and if it doesn't work out, she'll take him back and find him another forever home. I can't see that happening at this point, but I'm still trying to keep an open mind. Even my husband though, who was dubious, is totally sold. He's a Golden guy though, so I'm not surprised ;).

Oh, and I got more of an answer to my question about souls from the other day, but I'll have to find the reference from Palmer and post it later.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The political test

You are a

Social Liberal
(75% permissive)

and an...

Economic Liberal
(18% permissive)

You are best described as a:


Link: The Politics Test on Free Online Dating
Also : The OkCupid Dating Persona Test

Monday, September 22, 2008

Changes Afoot

at Meadville Lombard. It doesn't look like it will affect MRP students as much, but I'm interested to keep reading and see what students are saying.


My poor daughter, who has had the longest, most glorious red hair in the world, has found nits in her hair again. No crawlies, but another long session of combing and medication is in our future today.

So, her step-mother (that's a new and slightly alarming word around here), much to my trepidation, took her for a haircut yesterday. I was really wanting to do it myself, for a variety of practical reasons, but S. was in a hurry to cut it, clean it, and donate it. So here she is, in her cute pixie glory.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Wellspring, Theology, and RE

Yesterday, I had the honor of attending the Wellspring orientation. Honestly, what I think was so wonderful about it was how much silence there was. Certainly, we were talked at quite a bit, but I spend my days surrounded by children and adults who talk, talk, talk. It was very healing to me to have a day where I spoke very little, except at lunchtime, and when asked to as part of communication exercises on empathic listening.

I felt so refreshed at the end of the day, and it was hard to go back to my family - as it turns out, my entire family, as we were having a family birthday party for Jude at my mother-in-law's house. It was hard to hold on to the feeling of peace I left church with, but I tried.

One of the things that I enjoyed the most was getting to walk the labyrinth. We have such a beautiful property at the church; it's a hidden gem of nature, and the labyrinth is no exception. I have not had a chance to walk it before, but really got a lot out of the experience. We did it as a group, and I had to really push myself out of my comfort zone to do that; experiencing mystery is a very private thing for me, but one of my reasons for attending Wellspring, in addition to preparing for seminary, is to be more genuine and outwardly spiritual. To let joy flow in and out of me, and to "let my light shine" so to speak.

Some other personal goals include:
being more intentional (about making connections, being intimate with my heart and others, about being open to possibility, about finding joy, and about finding God in every single day, and about forgiveness of myself and others)

I want to maintain a sense of humor and humility (lessons from the labyrinth) and let go of fear. All good goals for the next 10 months, I think!

I had a really basic epiphany while walking. It was a very personal, individual journey, but it was very comforting to have fellow travelers, which I didn't expect. It was good to be able to focus on the earth under my bare feet at times, and at others, to meet someone's eyes and smile in solidarity, or companionship.

Another awakening was regarding my need for spiritual privacy - I really think it stems from learning in childhood to be secretive and guarded - I am very self-conscious and afraid of "not doing it right." At one point during the labyrinth, it seemed very long, and even though the leader told us before we started that there was one way in, and one way out, I became convinced that I alone must be doing it wrong. I thought that I must have bypassed the center, or taken some wrong turning that would leave me wandering for hours, never reaching the center, or the way out.

Of course, I realized the ridiculousness as soon as I had the thought, and had a good laugh at myself. I found humor and humility on that walk, as well as awakening and companionship. A lot to gain in a half hour of meditation.

It was also a gift to be able to sit and watch others walk the labyrinth - I had to wonder if they felt self-conscious, as I did; or if they could put it aside in more intentional meditation. Of course, I'm sure there are a range of thoughts.

Our first reading is A Hidden Wholeness, by Parker J. Palmer. The moderators raved about it, and I was able to pick up a copy today at Barnes & Noble. I must admit though that I'm already having trouble with some of his theories about the soul. I'm making copious notes, and journaling about it. I also got a new, red Moleskine journal while I was there, just for Wellspring. Well, I'll try! I tend to use my journals for all kinds of things, and am feeling vulnerable about journaling much that is deep right now.

I taught the Chalice Children (4 yo's) at church today, and missed the sermon, but it was great fun. The kids made chalices from play-dough and decorated them with sequins, feathers, and shaped pasta. We talked a bit about our class covenant and how we want to treat each other, as well as what we enjoy about church, and what people do there. I drew some parallels between their RE class, and what the adults do during the service. (And that we all like snack!)

I read Old Turtle, which was a little uncomfortable for me, as I'm trying to get comfortable with the terms God and Spirit and Soul and how to incorporate them into my own beliefs, and I'm not sure how the support parent felt about it, but the kids enjoyed the story. Jude said he liked it best when I made my voice like thunder!

In the car, I asked him what he thought God might be like, and he said it was a knight with a sword on his back. Apparently, Jude sees a God of Vengeance against monsters! A good 4 yo response.

Anyway, back to Palmer, I have some initial reactions.

First, I disagree with Palmer's premise that "all of us arrive on earth with souls in perfect form" (34). I don't have any more proof than Palmer does for my opinion, but some of his reasoning doesn't seem to support his claim, or at the very least, muddies the waters. He says that people have a "birthright nature" (32) and that the True Self (33) or the soul, the objective, ontological reality of selfhood (which by many philosophers is considered a circular argument anyway), that keeps us from the diminishments of our humanity. (emphasis mine).

I'm still trying to figure this out, and more wise minds than mine will weigh in, I'm sure. My question is, if the soul is our higher nature, and is objective, and it "keeps us from the diminishments of our humanity the threaten the quality of our lives," how can we separate that very soul from the humanity that makes us unique individuals? I have a hard time separating the idea of spirit or true self from the humanity that makes us who we are.

Why would each person's individual spark or soul all be in perfect form upon arrival/birth? If we are each an individual, it doesn't seem to follow that each unique person would arrive with the same purity of spirit, especially, if as Palmer says, souls are objective. Objectivity doesn't equal purity, does it?

He also spends a long paragraph describing all the negative things in the world that influence our supposedly pure spirit and put it at risk, but neglects to mention all the wonderful and positive things that also exist in our world that can uplift the soul. He also accuses us of having negative values that are internal (integral to our humanity?), which conspire with external enemies of the soul. If we are born with the perfect soul, where do these internal impulses come from? Are we so instantly sullied by our humanity once our physical bodies enter the world? I'm sure there is some practical theology that I'm lacking here that would help to explain his position, but although I'm interested in it, I'm not sure I'd be swayed by it. The arguments seem to be lacking in something, which is making it hard for me to see him as someone who can lead me into becoming more whole and integrated (which incidentially, is one of the reasons I'm participating in Wellspring).

He also claims that securalism contributes to our inattention (35) to our souls, but I honestly don't understand how he's defining secularism here - he calls it cynicism, which I think is a pretty narrow use of the word. Isn't there room for something in between hardcore religious belief and secularism to believe that we are born as unique individuals and that at the same time, we are are malleable (or objective, if you will) material that has a soul that is - neither imperfect or perfect, but part of our whole (!) humanity?

I don't know how much time I have to engage in too deep a conversation here about it, but I am absolutely interested in others' thoughts on my musings, and on Palmer's book.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Right to Life

This is a great post that sums up some great thinking on both sides (or the same side?) of the issue.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Visions of God

I have been having a hard time seeing God every day this week. However, today I canned 8 jars of pears (this is my first time canning, and it was a lot of work!), and seeing the girls' faces when I handed them some prepared pears that I didn't have room for was a delight.

Also, there was a driver in front of me today who was clearly in a hurry, but for some reason, I caught a glimpse of the lower part of his face in his side-view mirror and I could just see his humanity - the cigarette out the window, the facial stubble, the "tone" of voice as I could watch his lips speak. I wish I had had a camera!

The sky on the drive home tonight. Clear, beautiful, pre-frost sunset. Stunning.

Jude's face, talking about jumping on the stars at gymnastics - his favorite part.

Lucy saying, "Hide!" and "Boo Boo!" (peekaboo!) when throwing the cover back over her head.

Emma, laughing uncontrollably at Jude's descriptions of his poop.

All unlikely visions of God, but divine, just the same, to me.

A week of transitions

Monday was my son's birthday. 4! I hosted his first real birthday party, and we had an Incredible Hulk cake and lots of presents. We now own a new bow and arrow, a remote control car, a Power Ranger/transformer dude, a ball/spiky hat thing that is a hit with everyone, and more. It was in a word, successful.

He is taking on the new role of a four-year-old with excitement. It is great fun and was a motivator for learning to count.

Tuesday, I finally bit the bullet and took our dog to the humane society. I have been trying unsuccessfully for months to find a new home for him. He became dog aggressive about 18 months or so ago, and despite attempts to work with him, halter train him, etc., it has severely limited our ability to travel and do fun doggy stuff, because he can't go to the park, and we can't leave him at a kennel or with anyone who has pets.

Our aged cat has also recently taken to trying to attack the dog everytime I bring him outside, which is stressful, to say the least. And the dog has been getting a big stranger even with people.

I think that the ideal home would be a single guy with no other pets, and hopefully they'll find that for him. It was very difficult though. I cried all the way home. It seems lonely to walk in now, even though he often drove me crazy and had to be kept out of the kitchen because he is a counter surfer. So think good thoughts that he'll do OK on the temperament testing and they'll find a good home for him. It is hard for me not to drive over and visit him every day. But he wasn't happy, and we weren't happy. Thankfully we had him since he was a puppy, so I was able to give detailed info about him. The only other time i had to surrender pets was during my divorce - I feel very strongly about my pet obligations, so this has sucked.

My son misses him, but is lobbying for a "small dog." My husband wants a Golden Retriever, which is certainly smaller than Sully.

The second half of Tuesday I spent cleaning out my daughter's room and getting her fall clothes out. All day yesterday I spent in the basement getting the littlest two kids' fall gear out. What a production. My back is still killing me from all the bending and lifting.

However, I now have about 10 boxes of clothes to donate to migrant farm workers, so that is a feel-good event.

Today is pear-canning day. I have a whole crate of pears to process for canning and drying and need to get started ASAP.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


I am really enjoying the stories I am finding through my digital storytelling class. The author of one of my textbooks has a site with some really amazing and moving stories. Check them out!

Great sermon

We came home from PA yesterday because I wanted to go to church so badly today. It was well worth the effort, even with the guilt trip I got from my mother for not seeing her while I was home.

Rev. Kaaren had an awesome sermon, entitled "Worshiping Obama" which was really about living our faith in service and aligning that with patriotism. It was such a great sermon. I will post a link to the podcast when it's posted.

What made it even better was that Jude stayed in his RE class By Himself For the First Time ever. Tom wandered in and out with Lucy and got to hear most of the sermon as well. Last week she had another failed attempt in the nursery, so I didn't want to try that again.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Crying at Weddings

I just got back from the wedding of two of my dearest friends (who I knew separately, and they met each other and fell in love!), and it was so wonderful. My former minister did the ceremony, and I was honored to do one of the readings.

It was so amazing and of course I cried. There is nothing more hopeful than a joining together of lives, and of course it makes me renew my own internal marriage vows, and be more in love with my own husband and family.

I honestly can say that this was THE most family/kid friendly event I have ever been to. Unfortunately, Jude got upset and had to be taken away by my husband, who missed the vows and the other good parts, like the kissing!

I got to see lots of old friends, meet some new ones, and have an utterly relaxing and joyous time. The kids traveled well, we stayed overnight with a different dear friend and were rejuvenated by her love and healthy cooking.

I got home to an annoying continuation of some difficult business, but dealt with it immediately. I also got an email and a phone call asking me about teaching gymnastics locally at the community center, which I would consider after December. I am excited to hear more about it! And an email about Wellspring news, which is getting me excited! My former minister mentioned that he is thinking about starting up a program in State College, which would be awesome.

So Congrats to E & K! I hope they have a miraculously awesome honeymoon in Italy, and enjoy their new married status for the rest of their lives!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


I have been incredibly quiet for the past few days. There are a variety of reasons.

1. My semester has started, and I realized that I never received one of the books I ordered, which makes me already behind on studying. Thankfully, the seller is going to send me a replacement for free.

2. The kids fall activities have started. It hurts to look at Google calendar each morning. Even with cutting back, we now have:
Kid 1: Karate on M; Waldorf classes on T; Cheerleading on T, W, R; Drama or Science on Fridays (with her dad thankfully). The occasional YMCA homeschool day on Wednesday too.

Kid 2: Gymnastics on M, T, R, S; Waldorf on T with Kid 1; the occasional YMCA homeschool day on W (not always with Kid 1)

Kid 3: Gymnastics on R (with Kid 2); the occasional playdate.

Kid 4: Tags along at all the above events.

I have board meetings for the homeschooling association about every month or 6 weeks it looks like; Tom joined the RE Committee this year, so has a monthly evening meeting; Wellspring starts this month with a retreat next weekend; oh, and did I mention the wedding I'm in this weekend? (A joyful occasion however!)

Then I am teaching twice a month for the 4 year old RE class and am anxious to get to services - except when Kid 1 has a football game - MANY Sunday afternoons until November.

To add to the stress of the first week, there has been some marital strife that is recurring, but difficult to work through. I'm not sure how to resolve it and there are hurt feelings all around.

However, I am trying to continue my journaling practice every day, which in and of itself has been made difficult (by above mentioned marital discord) and it has been hard to see the holy in small things over the last few days, but I'm trying. My kids are the biggest source, but even they are being particularly difficult to love today.

Thankfully potato soup is in the crockpot, and fresh homemade bread awaits warming, so dinner will be a ready-made affair and hopefully bedtime will follow soon after!

Friday, September 5, 2008

John Stewart. He Makes My Day

Holy Moments

My ministers asked people to write something about the last year that expressed a moment of holiness in their lives to bring back for the first fall service and share. This is what I wrote:

This summer was a conglomeration of holy moments, but if I had to pick one that had a material reminder, it would be the return receipt for my application to Meadville Lombard Theological School.

You see, about two years ago, I started feeling a call to the ministry. It did not come as a joyous, holy and sublime awakening, but rather something that I tried to ignore, and run away from! Kaaren reminded me that some of Jesus' prophets had the same reaction! However, the call to serve will not be denied, and I began to feel daily joy and transformation in knowing what part of my life's journey was to look like.

When I walked out of the post office with that slip of paper this summer, I had tears of joy in my eyes, as I often had this summer, and truly felt a moment of holiness. I had two small children hanging on to my legs, two larger ones waiting in the car, a mountain of laundry, a broken lawnmower, and an empty checkbook. However, every step of every day over the last 18 months was worth every small and large joy and sorrow in that moment and in that small slip of paper.

That moment in the post office - it was like having my life flash before my eyes - all those holy moments of the last year - seeing my babies curled up in a chair together grinning at each other, watching my oldest make breakfast while I frantically studied at the dining room table, my husband walking the baby to sleep night after night with her head on his shoulder, arms wrapped around his neck - all of those moments of personal and family sacrifice had brought me there, to the post office, to this small slip of paper - a reminder of the Unity in Unitarian - of how my friends, my family, and my church are all inextricably bound up together.

To me, that complicated moment of motherhood, vocation, education, sacrifice and love, was the most holy of all. It contained more than words can express, but the heart just filled up and overflowed.


I've been trying to get time to post about this, but I was very cranky and busy yesterday, and had to finish an essay, do my personal journaling, and start reading for school, which starts in two days.

Wellspring starts up in a couple of weeks, and I contacted two people on the list for spiritual directors. I never heard back from one of them (?!), but the other one and I met on Tuesday morning, and it was a great fit. Her name is Ann, and she's also a therapist, so it's a great mix, because I think that spiritual deepening for me is also going to be a deepening of the personal healing I've been doing for years.

My assignment for this month is to see "God" in the small, everyday things. Some of my personal goals are to work on the concepts of forgiveness, compassion (for myself and others), thoughtfulness, patience, transparency, and trying to see where the universe is leading me this year - what is my purpose in Wellspring this year? Keeping the doors and windows wide open to what will come.

The end result for me is integration of my values, my living, my parenting, my "right" relations with family and friends and the larger world. But the journey is the important thing, and I need to keep my eyes on the here and now while remaining open to the twistings of the path that I'm on.

Last night I went to the parent meeting for the homeschool Waldorf program that my kids attend. This is our fifth year, and I have not ever really allowed myself to feel the deep joy and peace that runs through the teachers and the rituals there. In my defense, I have had a baby or toddler since the girls started, and I have mostly been focused on getting through the annual festivals and rituals without someone freaking out ;), but last night, I was very focused on what the teachers were bringing to the room, and I could feel the love and the peace. God (I am not really comfortable with this word, but I haven't come up with a good one that doesn't feel false) was so present for me, and I was really able to keep myself open.

I generally despise singing, dancing, or doing any kind of agme in public, but we played a clapping game to introduce to some of the new parents one of the things the kids will do, and I was able to jump right in, laughing, with true joy in the moment - and it was very intentional and yet unexpected.

Letting my guard down feels good

Thursday, September 4, 2008

My take on Palin

is best said by this.

I fully support the idea that she should not be questioned for her ability to lead based on motherhood. But I also feel that her commitment to her family, as a woman, who is biologically supposed to nurture her child is a harbinger for how she will care for a nation.

Her gender shouldn't affect how we view her as a potential leader, but I do judge her for working a much-more-than-full-time schedule with an infant. Her babies will only be babies for a short time - there is a time and place for everything - and you can do everything, but not well.

I'm not saying this well, I fear - I have opposing feelings- I support her right to choose to work, but I don't support her taking on such a vocation - as running the country is - it's not just a job - with a small baby. There are ways to balance work and a young family - but I don't think that being VP is a good one.

So even if I didn't already disagree with her politics, I'd disagree with her personal choices. Do I judge Obama similarly? No. He doesn't lactate. Is that fair? I don't know. It's biology.

I must be another of those conservatives with liberal ideals.