Just over a week ago, Jim over at The Running Father Blog posted a callout for transpersonal testimonies, and I took the bait. What follows is my personal testimony…of faith and doubt, of a childhood steeped in fear and abuse, of an adult living with the fallout, of many deaths, and of surviving.
Stages of Development
According to Erik Erikson’s Eight Stages of Human Development, the first thing we learn is either to trust or to mistrust. The easiest example is a parent responding to an infant’s cries. Whether the baby is hungry, tired, or needing a diaper change, the baby has a need, and it is communicating that need with shrill wails. If the parent responds to the baby’s cry with feeding, holding, or changing, then the baby learns to trust that the parent will provide and care for its needs. However, if the parent lets the baby wail and does not feed, hold, or change it, then the baby learns that it cannot trust the parent.
Because the parent is literally the whole world for a baby, this lesson of mistrust then influences the baby’s worldview (and according to Erikson, the potential for successfully mastering the subsequent stages of development as they come up). The subsequent stages of development are: autonomy vs. shame (in the toilet training timeframe), initiative vs. guilt (preschool aged), industry vs. inferiority (primary school aged), identity vs. role confusion (adolescence), intimacy vs. isolation (in young adulthood), generativity vs. stagnation (in middle age), and finally ego integrity vs. despair (in elder years).
It’s fairly safe to say that I was on the losing end of these stages until at least elementary school or adolescence. I essentially survived my childhood as best as I could, and my saving grace in my early life was being in school. Once I learned to count, I counted everything…all the time. Then once I learned to read (in Head Start), and was able to bring books home (in elementary school), I read…all the time. Counting and reading transported me from an unstable, scary home situation into a world of order, patterns, and escapism. Of course my parents, siblings, and school kids thought I was freakish for being a space cadet, tuning everything (and everyone) out most of the time and that I was a lazy loner for choosing to read alone over hanging out with the neighborhood kids.
By the time I was 11, I had a bike, interests of my own, and I had learned to avoid home at all costs, and that’s how I survived. Considering the trauma in my formative years, it’s no wonder I have a hard time trusting people even now, or the gravity of things I walk around with daily. I know I’m lucky to have survived my childhood, and I’m luckier still that I’m not locked away in an institution, either mental or prison. That’s not an exaggeration. I’m literally a statistical anomaly considering my socioeconomic, dysfunctional background.
Of course I’ve been to a variety of therapists, and you know what they say? All of them? “Well, you’re quite well adjusted!” No fucking shit, Sherlock. That I haven’t succumbed to homicidal rages, been successful with suicide, or fallen into the abyss of criminality either means I’m a moderately high functioning sociopath…or I’m okay in spite of everything I’ve experienced.
Snake Oil Salvation
When you take a young girl with my history and add an element of charismatic, evangelical Christianity to the mix, what you end with is a girl who’s suffered unspeakable things thinking she was born damned into the world and deserving of her tragic lot in life. And that’s a goddamned shame.
Drawn to Christianity’s promise of eternal love, I ran to, begged, and pleaded with God to save me…or to let me die. I remember being nine years old and literally praying to God to let me die so I didn’t have to live anymore. (WHAT THE FUCK, INDEED?) But with the resilience that ONLY comes from youth, I embraced the concept of eternal salvation; and I became a proselytizing, evangelical Christian teenager. I channeled all my anger and fear into rigid religious fervor. But I still had questions, so I read the Bible, and I took Biblical courses at church.
When God never rescued me despite all my trying and learning and in the depths of my despair, I chose to let myself die and attempted suicide at sixteen. Though I survived, I think part of me did die then. I’ve felt very much in-between ever since, partly alive and partly dead. I was both corporeal and ethereal at the same time. Some might say I was fragile (they have). I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t say there’s a single fragile thing about me, then or now. I’m as hard and cold as a corpse, and it takes an unbelievable level of effort to force myself to be warm with people.
I had even more questions about faith, and I was desperate for a loving community, so I chose a Christian college when I was lucky enough to have the opportunity. College. Well, it really was the best of times and worst of times. I went through an early marriage, miscarriage, and divorce all before graduating in four years…with two majors… three part time jobs…and a chip on my shoulder the size of Alaska. I was villainized by some for mustering the courage to hold my head up and for bouncing back after the divorce. I was publicly humiliated for wearing a Kerry/Edwards t-shirt while cleaning in the cafeteria on voting day. You read things like Jane Eyre and Great Expectations, or anything by Flannery O’Connor, and you think despicable people like that can’t possibly exist in real life. I’m telling you, I’ve met more than one Bible salesman willing to steal a wooden leg!
As rough as it was, college was also a period of awakening and of finding the deep love of a Christian community, when I wasn’t angry at it, of course. My friends and I would walk barefoot by Buffalo Creek quoting Adam Bede, writing songs, and living out our social justice in the form of hospitality for one another. I never locked my doors. I always left my keys in my car for any of my friends to use as they needed. I never knew if people would be in my apartment…or not. I never claimed ownership over much, but I also never went without anything I needed. I ate well. All my bills were paid…in spite of the money I had or didn’t. It was faith inspired socialism, and it was so beautiful. We lived out the miracle of the loaves and fishes in my last couple of years at college, and it sustained me on more than just material levels.
With my college experiences, my questions about faith only grew, and I became more vocal about my universalist leanings. And then I went to seminary. I realize now that probably wasn’t the best route for me; but I was fresh out of college and not ready to leave my community…so I went to the seminary on the holy hill across the street. I only stayed a year.
In seminary, I gained a love of textual criticism, early Christian tradition, liturgy and ritual, Biblical languages, and early American Christian History, but my doubts than any of it was real, meaningful, or nourishing had also become overwhelming. So I took some time away from church when I left seminary.
In the four years after leaving seminary, I tried going back to church several times, but I just couldn’t. I tried the Methodists because I love John Wesley. I tried the Episcopalians because they drink and have great senses of humor…about faith…and life. The most pleasantly sarcastic people I know are Episcopalian. I strongly considered joining an Episcopal church here in Knoxville, but my husband and I were the youngest people in the congregation by at least a few decades, so the search was still on for a spiritual community.
Dark Night of the Soul
In those same four years after seminary, I struggled in the typical post-collegiate ways. I was overworked, grossly abused by my employer, underpaid, and had no benefits at all. And then I quit that job and struggled with unemployment. But wait…there’s more! To deal with…gosh everything in my life, I started taking an anti-depressant while working for said abusive employer. I was on it a whole month before I quit that job. With all my medical experience, I figured it was okay to just stop taking it. It had only been a month, right? Biggest mistake of my whole life. Ever.
I don’t remember much about the month of November, 2007. I am deeply ashamed of everything I put my husband (then boyfriend) through at that time, but I also know I wasn’t really in control of what was happening. I’m going to blame it all on very bad judgment and quitting my new medication so suddenly (because taking someone with so many demons and fucking with their brain chemistry that way is a disaster just waiting to happen). And it was a disaster.
Some people have a period of depression after confronting (and being consumed with) religious doubt and life struggles. It’s normal, really. But ever the over-achiever, I actually had a certifiable mental breakdown. My beloved took me to the doctor, told him I was broken and lost and not the woman he fell in love with, and he asked for the help that I couldn’t ask for. It took me over a year of taking the right dosage of the right medication to level my brain back out, and the process of figuring out that perfect cocktail was a nightmare all on its own (for me and especially for Daniel).
When I felt better and stronger, I told my doctor I wanted to go off the meds; and I’ve been successfully off of them since early 2009. But I’m not the same. I don’t know that I’ll ever be the same. Maybe part of me died then, too. In all the things I’d been through, I had never experienced debilitating anxiety like I have since living on the flip side of that coin. The constant tentativeness and fear that seems to follow me around since then are like stormy clouds always on the horizon, or a flock of dark pixies overjoyed at my torment.
In the summer of 2010, I started going back to church. I was so skittish. And they let me be. They let me stay on the edges as long as I needed. Even now, they don’t judge me for the times I’m the Roadrunner out the door after service. Or, if they do, they love me the same anyway, and that’s all that really matters. They preach love, and they practice social justice. They care for the people in the margins. They give space and time and validation to people who are experiencing moments of brokenness, and they offer healing to all who would take it. They are made up of people who’ve been rejected and hurt by their loved ones as well as by the Church. They’re religious scholars with rich theology. They embrace and use liturgy regularly, and I’m sure services are planned; but no one gets bent out of shape when something goes awry. I dare say no music leader is as quick with the witty, musical improvisation as ours! And the children’s/youth’s presence in the congregation and service sets the most beautiful example for us as adults.
Along with my return to a spiritual community, I began practicing yoga in October 2010. It really did start as a practical alternative to physical therapy. But it became the first way I ever learned to be comfortable in my own body and mind. I learned to breathe. I learned to be still without relying on obsessive counting, or escaping through literature. I became physically stronger, and then I became inspired…to see what I could do…to learn what challenges I could overcome.
Last year for Lent, I started practicing yoga every day, and so many unexpected obstacles arose. Uncontrollable crying. Anger. Shaking. A return of nightmares, sometimes night terrors. I think my body was finally experiencing a delayed reaction of sorts to all the pain that had been inflicted upon it. And then last summer a friend committed suicide. In my emotional rawness and because of my own near-miss as well as our communication just a couple days before it happened, it hit me and left me down for the count. I gave myself time to grieve, and then I started moving on before I drowned in it. I went back to church, kept up with my yoga practice, added running, and started practicing Buddhist metta meditation.
I’d say I’m still in the process of reclaiming my life. I still cry sometimes when I do certain yoga poses. When I run, listening to loud, screaming types of music, I feel like my whole body is exercising/exorcising out all of my demons. I’m mostly sleepless, unless it’s out of sheer physical exhaustion. And sometimes it’s hard to shake the negative thoughts from my mind. But I’m still active in my spiritual community. I continue in my yoga & meditation practices, and I’m getting better at running every single day. I journal my reactions to life and culture here on this blog. In reading it, I sincerely hope this stage of my life is as inspiring as it is for me to be living it. Because as hard as all of this is, it’s all worth it.
So what am I? What do I believe? What is good or evil? What is my salvation?
Because our culture likes labels, I guess I’m a Post-Traumatic, Post-Evangelical, Post-Fundamentalist, Post-Academic, Atheist, Agnostic, Buddhist, Christian, Yogi. I wouldn’t say I’m a mystic because of my cynicism; but I’m probably more authentically mystic than all the people rushing to India to kiss the feet of their gurus and get new names. The very definition of mysticism, as Wikipedia goes, is “the pursuit of, communion with, identity with, or conscious awareness of an ultimate reality, divinity, spiritual truth, or God through direct experience, intuition, instinct, or insight.” Yup, I’d say I’m probably a mystic; but I don’t dig the talk of chakras or of chanting, or of faith healing. So I’m a cynical mystic as well as a statistical anomaly. Somehow that all seems fitting.
Similarly, the term “charismatic” takes me back to the scary days of life in a Pentecostal church with speaking in tongues, demon possession, and spiritual warfare. I would absolutely say I am not charismatic at all. But the literal and original meaning of charisma is “grace,” and were it not for receiving the grace of all the people who’ll have me, I’d be completely alone in this world.
What is good and evil? Well, I’m an expert at evil, so I’ll start there. Evil is anything that tells us “I am me, and you are you.” If “I am me,” then that means I exist outside of “you.” It means that we are different. It means I can pass righteous judgment on you and you on me. It means I create a sense of self and a sense of other. As long as I have a sense of self and a sense of other, I can debase whatever is “other.” This is the foundation of poverty and war, which are also evil. It is the foundation of thinking one person can own another person and therefore treat “their” people however they please, which is usually to say abuse. And its result…well its result is utter separation, which is hell. Good, on the other hand, is the coming together of You and Me. It is the abandonment of the sense of self and the sense of other. It is the connection of all living things. It is love and charity, grace and peace. It is salvation.
And what of salvation? Well my salvation is Jane Eyre, and all of Dickens’ orphan tales. It’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Jane Austen. My salvation is The Smashing Pumpkins, Sarah McLachlan, and Mumford & Sons. It’s absolutely yoga, running, and meditating. It’s Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein. It’s the Mandelbrot set and MC Escher’s Relativity. It’s the Buddha and Jesus and Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Today and specifically in my life, my salvation is Son’Cia Humphries, Meghan Sizemore, John Henderson, Mr. Owens, Ms. Rhoton & Mr. Wilson, Dr. Ruth Lavender, Dr. Jill LeRoy Frazier, Marvin Glover, Brittany Love, Evelyn Tachau Brown, Judson Nichols, John Gill, Leslie Etheridge, Victoria Medaglia, Ceil Sheahan, Sam Rosolina, Marcia Free & Fred Martinson, and Jim & Sandy Foster. It’s my beloved Daniel and his truly long-suffering love. It’s all the things and people that help me know I’m not alone…that I’m connected. My salvation keeps an eye on me in the moments I’m not able to look out for myself. It challenges me and makes me stronger. It holds me accountable to my vow to love myself.
This post covers my transpersonal journey to this point, which is almost 30 years old. It may seem too short a time to have lived through so much. But I’ve died a few times in the process, and I see it more as if I’ve just lived a few different times even if it’s only in this one lifetime. I’ve certainly had a plentiful serving of tragedy, but I’m living in the midst of the happiest time of my life, which is more than making up for all the doom and gloom.
Tomorrow marks three weeks of Lent, which is almost half-way to Easter and Lent’s completion. This year I’ve given up posting on Facebook, and instead, I’m writing letters to my friends. This Lenten practice is much easier than last year’s practice because I’m not necessarily adding a daily observance (like fasting and daily yoga). The only thing I’m “doing” every day is NOT checking Facebook, which has been much easier than I thought it would be, and I don’t miss it…much. While benefits and encouragements are present in social media, the chaff seriously outweighs the wheat in this regard.
The real challenge of this year’s Lenten practice comes in finding the “right” things to talk about. What do you put in a letter to people you hardly know or people you’ve only known superficially? In Facebook communication, it’s common to post whatever blurbs come to mind or whatever links I’ve come across online and “liked.” My personal Facebook News Feed usually contains conspiracy theories and calls for political accountability, articles about social justice, science news, progressive Christianity updates, Buddhism quotes, local news updates, articles about yoga and running, and my friends’ personal minutia (from meal photos and family activities to work rants and exercise updates). When I “like” these things or post things like this, I essentially put content “out there” for people to respond to…or not. It’s quite the setup for the introvert who still wishes to share without having to actually interact with people in real life. But it’s all rooted in superficiality, despite how profound or meaningful some of it may be.
But specifically writing to people and assuming they’re interested in the minutia of my life is another thing entirely. My first attempt at a letter to Wendy (the project’s muse) was over 10 handwritten pages, chock-full of spiritual history. And I scrapped it all because after I read it, I knew this complete stranger would likely not care to know quite that much about me. Regardless of that assumption’s veracity, I knew that I wouldn’t care for her to know that much about me. Then I sat on it for a week, trying to find something meaningful to say, something worthy of being written down and made tangible with a fountain pen and yellow, lined paper.
All I could muster up (for both letters) was an update about some of my recent activities (which is really to say an update on running/upcoming races). But running is so not the entirety of my life. Why did I write them both about that? Why didn’t I include writing about the things I’m reading, or about my work? Where is the Venn Diagram of topics that are both sincere and acceptable for polite discourse, whether public (on Facebook) or private in a personal letter?
Looking back on those first two letters, they are more reflective of selfishness and vanity than they are of a sincere attempt at communication. They should have been scrapped too, but I decided that whatever I put down in the last versions was going to be sent, with no edits or revisions; and now my heart is heavy with regret for what I included and for what I didn’t mention. In all the foot-in-mouth posts I’ve put on Facebook (of which there are way too many), I can assure you I never felt as embarrassed as I have since sealing and sending those letters.
My husband tells me I’m an onion, with lots of layers. (Thank you, Shrek, for inspiring my husband to analyze my personality in this way.) He tells me that I am “community oriented” in the sense of coming to someone’s aid or doing something for someone else, but that when I am in need, I rarely, if ever, reach out and ask for help from that same community. (He’s right. I rarely even ask for his help, much less anyone else’s. It’s the sin of pride, and I’m very guilty of it.)
Maybe that’s playing a role in this attempt at fostering deeper communication. Here I am thinking writing letters is the perfect type of interaction for me—the writer; but when it came to choosing superficiality or sincerity, I chose superficiality. More than anything I’m sure this is rooted in fear…fear of sharing my life in all its raw honesty; fear of letting people see me as broken or damaged or vulnerable because I don’t have a happy or “normal” history. I assume people want a happy story, one that inspires (and that is what I try to do on this blog). But in making and living according to that assumption, what I’m really doing is failing to trust them…to trust that they will accept me as I am. And as sorry as I am for that, I’ve lived through enough awkward moments of absolute sincerity and honesty to know that my mistrust is well placed.
I have six more letters to write, and I have an established history with only half of them. This week I’ll spend time on the three people I’ve known well. Though we have fallen out of communication, it’s always been easy for us to pick up without seeming to have missed a beat. I’m hoping that makes it easier to write them and that my letters will be more sincere. If I even get responses from the first two letters, I promise I’ll try harder to drop my prideful veil in reply more than I did in the initial attempts. In the meantime, please accept this song that both explains and apologizes better than I can on my own.
This final week of Lent, I have checked my observances of fasting and almsgiving with the intentions I had when I began this journey. Now it’s time to talk about prayer. I’ve already expressed my struggle with prayer here during Yogic Lent, but part of that struggle is due to a problem with how I defined prayer.
I have traditionally understood prayer to be a verbal expression to God, whether audibly or via thought. That kind of prayer just doesn’t work for me anymore because I can’t seem to find the words, and I don’t think I have an audience. That’s right, the writer has hit a block when trying to converse with God. Even more challenging is the thought that God, as I have known it, is nothing more than a cultural construct. In light (or darkness) of these obstacles, I think I’ve found ways to use yoga, breathing, and walking to express myself in such a way that can make my whole life a prayer—of sorts.
When I’m practicing yoga, sometimes I have these rare moments of clarity, coordination, and connection. It’s usually dependent on synchronizing my breath with either movements or holds, and it works with an asana practice as well as a stationary meditative practice. In those moments, I feel like my whole existence is in tune to something (maybe everything??). My mind is focused solely on being in the pose and breathing; my body is feeling the pose fully while breathing; and my heart and soul feel energized.
Despite feeling unbelievably connected in my yoga practice, it wasn’t until I attended a prayer labyrinth at COS on Friday that I actually saw how my yoga practice could be prayerful. The “service” started with six people, shoes off, sitting in a circle. We each read a verse of Psalm 22 and included “O God, do not be faraway” in responsive sections. Psalm 22 was selected intentionally to help us reflect on the suffering of Christ on Good Friday. We stopped at verse 24, and said the following prayer communally before entering the labyrinth:
“Be with me now, O God, as I seek to follow Jesus of Nazareth on the path of joyful service and prophetic love. Amen.”
On the journey inward, I hung my head in shame as I walked, struggling to keep my feet steady on the narrow path. I was ashamed that in some of my most forsaken and forlorn times, I had more faith in God than I do at this point in my life. I repeated the prayer, “O God, do not be faraway” as I kept walking to the center.
There in the center of the labyrinth, stood my beloved. He waited for me, and as I stood next to him, my head lifted. Filled with gratitude for his presence there with me, I cried a bit as I stood with my eyes closed, especially when he kissed me on each of my cheeks. In all my disbelief, I cling to rituals like keeping Lent, but Dan, with his unshakeable faith, has no need of the rituals, and he typically feels awkward doing them. But he was there without any spiritual need or motivation; he was there just for me. Though he probably didn’t intend for his kisses to be kisses of peace, I felt the peace of Christ fully nonetheless. I realized then, as I have before, that Dan is my great gift from the universe. He makes up for my lacking faith with his overabundance, and his whole life is an outpouring of love for me.
I opened my eyes and walked out of the labyrinth the same way I came in. Though it is literally the same journey I took on my way in, I felt transformed. I couldn’t get the song, “God Will Lift up Your Head” off mental repeat, and I walked back with my head and heart most definitely lifted, full of gratitude.
When we returned to our seats, we finished Psalm 22 and said the following communal prayer:
“Fill me, O God, with the same love, the same courage, and the same mind that were embodied in the life of Jesus. Amen.”
Then we shared how we felt about the experience with one another. I love how the Pastor referred to it as similar to a dance when other people do it together because there were definitely times on my way back that I noticed just how gracefully we flowed around one another on our various winding paths. I am also grateful for having done the labyrinth with other people. Regardless of how different the labyrinth journey was for each of us, we were all on the same journey, and we were all doing it together. That is life.
Even more than the momentary golden nuggets of peace and connection during the prayer labyrinth, I am grateful for understanding that prayer is not limited to verbal expression. Sometimes words don’t work. Sometimes action is necessary. It can be as simple as walking along a path painted on canvas. It can also be a yoga pose or a breathing meditation, and I’m grateful for knowing how to access that kind of expression when words fall short.
When I wake up tomorrow, my Yogic Lenten Season will be complete. Oh yes, there’s a post for that, too. I hope you come back for it.
Thank you for reading! As a reward, here’s a picture of me in the center of the labyrinth.
What’s that? Day 43? What about Lent being 40 days? Well, Lent is practiced for 40 days, but because the Sundays of Lent are days to “break fast,” it actually totals between 46-47 days, depending on the year. So yes, it’s beyond 40 days, and I’m still going strong. Well…maybe not so strong. In anticipation of returning to three meals a day on Sunday, I have been thinking about food all week. I feel bad for my office mate who has endured listening to my tummy grumble, and whenever he talks about all the yummy food he makes, I have to hold back from drooling. I was discussing my plan to nibble on trail mix throughout my days next week to slowly introduce more food back into my diet with another colleague, and she bought me the MOST amazing trail mix this weekend. Between the two of them, I’m finding this last week to be one of the most difficult when it comes to conquering my physical hunger, but I’m ever-grateful for the sustenance of their friendship. My last post detailed the fasting portion of my Yogic Lenten journey, but there are still two other parts to a traditional Lenten observance: almsgiving and prayer, and today I will discuss almsgiving.
In my first post of this series, I defined almsgiving as being translated from “merciful giving,” and I explained that it was a commitment to social justice that transcends Christianity. Whereas the fasting practice in Lent is an individual one, and the prayer element straddles the individual/communal spheres, almsgiving is solely a communal practice. And yet, despite the focus on service to others, it is actually an outward reflection and action of an inner understanding of receiving grace. In practicing almsgiving we are required to fill the gap of need for others, whatever that need may be, with our loving service, and Maundy Thursday is probably the best example of true almsgiving.
Maundy Thursday, as is so beautifully explained by Mr. Andrew Ford on his blog, A Red State Mystic, originates from the Latin mandatum (mandate). Christ commanded (mandated) his disciples to “love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34). And Christ loved his disciples with everything. Everything he did was an act of service and love for all creation without restriction.
At this point in Jesus’ ministry, he was about to be betrayed and arrested by one of those disciples. He had just broken bread and drank wine with them, and he taught them (and us) to associate that bread and wine with his sacrificed body and blood, respectively. But he also sacrificed his lordship, too. After the Eucharist, Christ, who was then declared and has since been worshiped as the divine son of God, got down on his hands and knees, and he washed the feet of his disciples. In this act, Christ took on the muck and filth of the world and made his disciples clean. This had nothing to do with how great he was; it was to set the example of how his followers were expected to love and serve others.
Since I’ve been attending Church of the Savior (COS), I have witnessed so many of Christ’s disciples living in this way. They are committed to loving without restriction as well as serving the local and larger community. I have been encouraged and inspired that, aside from doctrine, or translations, or anything else that gets in the way (for me), love is the focus. It is out of this love that so many social justice groups have grown out of the church itself or out of its members.
When I’m not working, doing yoga, or writing, I’ve been meeting with the Peacebuilding Institute of East Tennessee (PIET), the local and founding affiliate of the worldwide Peacebuilding Institute. The Peacebuilding Institute was founded by Reverend Jim Foster, a current COS member, in 1988 as a non-profit organization committed to maintaining a network of peace workers all over the world. The Peacebuilding Institute, now an online network, is a group of independent organizations from many nations which have chosen to affiliate with one another for the purpose of mutual support and encouragement in our worldwide quest for peace. Each affiliate has its own program and governance and chooses when and how to work in concert with others in ways that are mutually beneficial and which advance the cause of global peace.
I had discussed taking a leadership role in PIET with the founder in February, and after the announcement in March, I began work as the director of both the Peacebuilding Institute as well as PIET. Though it began as a non-profit organization, the group has since lost its 501c-3 status, becoming a 100% volunteer organization. While I love volunteering, I can’t realistically expect everyone who provides services for the group to volunteer also, so it is my goal this year to work on regaining the non-profit classification.
I have been most encouraged by PIET members here in Knoxville and Oak Ridge who have volunteered their time, skills, and loving service to revitalizing the Peacebuilding Institute since the beginning of March. Due to their efforts, I am proud to announce the updated website, found at www.peacebuildinginstitute.org. I will be adding a page for the Peacebuilding Institute here on my blog, as well as on Facebook, and I encourage you to like our page to stay updated on current peace events!
In addition to lots and lots of website content development, we have worked tirelessly to bring Knoxville the Second Annual Conference on Violence. Last year’s conference was held in the summer, and it was a specific goal this year to draw in the local student crowd, so the conference will be held Saturday, May 5 from 9:00-3:00pm at Church of the Savior. I’m thrilled that we get to offer the following workshops:
The Economy of Violence, led by COS member, Bob Rundle
Violence in Schools, led by COS member, Ed Sullivan
Domestic Violence in Knoxville, led by the Executive Director of Knoxville Family Justice Center, Amy Dilworth
The Long-term Effects of Violence and Recovery, led by yours truly
If you’re interested in attending the conference, please send me an email at email@example.com and make sure to indicate which workshops you would like to attend. Also, it would be great if you could share this blog post with all the people you think may be interested.
That we’ve completed most of this work in the last six weeks astounds me. And though I can’t quite equate the work I’ve been doing with this group as almsgiving because I directly benefit from developing peace in my own life, I know that I have been transformed by my diligent work and especially the diligence and support of the other PIET members. Connecting with this group has been both life changing and affirming to me, and I look forward to sharing my own peace journey with them. I hardly identify with the servitude of Christ washing the disciples’ feet, but I hope to work towards becoming that kind of servant for peace.
Yet again, I must express my gratitude for participating in the Yogic Lenten Season. Without the perspective I’ve gained from practicing yoga, I could never work full time, do yoga every day, volunteer, write, and fast all at the same time. I should be dead from exhaustion, but I’m not. I should be having a nervous breakdown from all the stress, but I’m not. I have learned to never underestimate the sustaining power of good, deep breaths and precise, coordinated movement.
Thank you so much for reading, and come back tomorrow for my post on prayer!
I am now over the half-way mark in Lent, and I’m happy I’ve come as far as I have, but I do not think it will necessarily be downhill from here. This week especially has been…different. As happy and free as my recent posts have been, this week has been off. Something just feels wrong, and it has felt wrong all week. It has come out in my yoga practice in the form of crying during savasana (corpse pose, the last pose in an asana practice). I have no idea what brings it on, and when it happens, I can’t seem to control it. It unsettles me for sure, and I don’t know what to do about it. Zen would tell me to do nothing. I need to be better at that because whatever I’m doing now is turning me into a blubbering idiot. I’m pretty sure I hid it well in class Tuesday, but I’m kind of anxious about going to class tomorrow because it hasn’t gotten any easier as the week has passed.
I can’t help but think that in all the physical (and emotional) strength I’ve been building with fasting and daily yoga, I have been failing in becoming more dependent on God. Maybe being aware of my distance from God (as I have understood the concept most of my life) is creating this deep sadness. And as is typical for me, I am much more comfortable with pushing the hard feelings down, sealing them behind an impenetrable wall than I am with facing them. But yoga has made me so much more open, and I think my doubt is taking this as an opportunity to rear its ugly head.
Through this Yogic Lent I’ve said a lot about yoga, but I’ve been kind of silent when it comes to how this is shaping my spiritual relationship. In my first post of this series, I explained that the purpose of Lent was to become more dependent on God, which is achieved through fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. I’ve been doing the fasting with relative ease, and I’ve been fairly active in the Peacebuilding Institute when it comes to community service. But every time I pray, I just feel so useless and ridiculous. I don’t buy it for a second, and when I focus on it, I can’t help but feel like my faith is broken. This is certainly not the intended outcome for a traditional Christian Lenten observance, and in this way, I feel like I have failed miserably. Maybe I’m becoming Agnostic. I’m certainly not Atheist because I feel connected to something–some force of creation–something beyond ancient. But I don’t think there’s a divine being who hears my prayers, and this Lenten observance has made me confident that praying is not a positive thing for me.
I’ve thought for some time now that we created God in our image instead of the traditional belief that God created us in God’s image. It makes more sense to me that we would name the moment of creation as a deity out of a great respect for whatever/however it was that we were created. I think several (maybe all) of the world’s religions are a manifestation of this respect. But I think it stops there. If we truly respected the process of creation and our creator, then how is it possible for us to have wars at all, but especially in the name of religion? How can we tear one another down, or cheat one another, or beat one another (physically or emotionally)? If God is God, omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent, and if that God created us and everything else in the universe, how could that force not compel us to act with loving respect for all creation? (This is not an invitation for my conservative Christian friends to tell me about the doctrine of free will. I’m familiar with a variety of Christian doctrines, and if it were as simple as that, I don’t think I’d be feeling this way.)
Two years ago, I came out of my spiritual closet and publicly expressed my doubt in this blog post. In the last two years, my doubts have grown while my faith has diminished. Though I’ve had moments (like the one I’m in now) when I reel against my doubt, for the most part, I’ve accepted my lack of faith as a natural unfolding of who I truly am. Though I do not appreciate the way I’m feeling, I am grateful for the courage to face my doubt.
Despite my skepticism, I’ve been attending church at Church of the Savior regularly for the last eight months, and I think I’ve been pretty active with it. I have gone to an Adult Discussion Group almost every Sunday since September, and I am an active, authentic participant in the conversation.
I’m grateful for the people I’ve met at Church of the Savior because they have never once judged me for being who I am. And as strange as it may be, I’m meeting with the leadership on Sunday to discuss possibly becoming a member. Someone in class said that many people in the church came to it as a last stop on the way out of Christianity, and I feel the truth of that so profoundly. So I will tell the church leaders how my doubt dwarfs my faith, and if they’ll still have me, then I’ll be happy to be a part of their community.
Having struggled so deeply with only Daniel to lean on these last six years in Knoxville, I am grateful for a group of people with whom I may share my joys and burdens (as long as I let myself). I am grateful for people who make a commitment to be there for one another, regardless of differences. I’m grateful for people who have not written me off because of my gender, accent, appearance, income, political leanings, or my doubt.
It’s clear that I don’t believe in God the way I did growing up, and though I long for the faith I had as a child, I just can’t reconcile having faith in something that I don’t believe anymore. I’m not sure what this means, but I think I’ll apply this Zen proverb: “Before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.” I’m certainly not saying I’m enlightened–just the opposite, in fact. But the proverb still applies.
Thank you for reading, and thank you for those of you who have been following me along this journey. Readership of this blog has increased substantially through this Yogic Lenten Season series of posts, and I am grateful for all of you. Please leave a comment if you wish.