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.

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