Tuesday, November 25, 2014

#iamadventuring (or, Advent for Doubters)

It's been nearly three months since I said a word here, even longer since I posted regularly. Life happened, then pregnancy (boy #2 is due early April!), then a general disinterest in all things internet. I didn't do any of the things good bloggers are supposed to, like say that I was going or when I would be back, because I didn't know, and I still don't.

But I did want to stop by to tell you one thing, which is that Advent is coming. Last year my doubts weighed so heavily on me that I tried to get through the season without thinking of or noticing it. This year is different. This year I have the same old doubts but I am not afraid of them. This year I am admitting to myself that I like Advent, because I really really do. I've never been much of a Christmas day-Santa claus- red and green girl, but I love the tradition and the expectation and the liturgy and the simplicity of the advent season.

I love it so much that I had been plans to finish a now partially completed Advent e-course for the Doubters Anonymous community. But then, all the above things happened and I found myself entering a season of rest and real life presence, which I did not fight (maybe next year, dear e-course). I'm still in that season actually, so instead of doing the course, I've decided to just open myself up to the actual experience of Advent as much as possible, to give myself permission to enjoy this time of year, even thought I don't know what I believe, even though I don't always feel like I fit in with the notions of the season. I get to have Advent anyway. If that sounds up your alley, I'd love for you to join me.

Image via
I'll be art journaling and listening to music and hanging greenery and sometimes even going to church. I'll also be going through this series of prompts and generally seeing what this season has for me. I'll be sharing my little advent experiments (for that is really how I see them) on instagram and twitter with the hashtags #iamadventuring and #doubtersanonymous. Feel free to do the same. I'd love to see what you're experiencing during this time as well. Wishing you the deepest longings of your heart this advent season.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Bible and Doubt (a DA link-up post)

My friend Karissa is hosting the next Doubters Anonymous link up, this time on The Bible and Doubt. We'd love for you to join us over here! If you have a post you'd like to share anonymously, please email me at alissambc at gmail dot com and I'll happily host you here. You can also check out the first DA link up, What I Want You to Know About Doubt, here.

***

I've written before about my experience with the Bible as a doubter, about how I loved it, then hated it, then ignored it, then art journaled in it. Needless to say, in my 27 years I've gone through most of the feelings one can have towards the Bible, from the loyal to the skeptical. I think I'd describe my present attitude towards it as cautious.

I know how the Bible can make you fall in love with it. I know how it can seem to have the wisest, most relevant thing to say about what you are facing that day, how you will happen to come right to the exact verse you most needed. I know how it can say the best possible words in difficult situations, both to and from others. I know how it can encourage and challenge and comfort in ways you never thought possible. I know how close it can make you feel to God and how badly you can thirst for that feeling.

But I also know how it can spin you in circles until you are dizzy and exhausted. I know how it can make you question the love of a God who is said to do entirely heartless things. I know how it can fling you back and forth between the fear of hell and the (possibly worse) fear of the nonexistence of God. I know it can trick you into a warm comfort right before shredding you to pieces with all the things that just don't make sense. I know how it can induce panic attacks and trigger self-hate and bring up all your very worst fears. I know how it can do all this no matter how much you try to trust or gloss over or find a more liberal interpretation.

If there is one thing I've learned about the Bible through all of this, it is that the Bible is not safe. It is not simple and it is not easy and it doesn't make for the most precious Sunday school fodder, no matter how the children's storybook bibles may try to convince you otherwise. It is dark and confusing and dangerous and it doesn't give any easy answers.

karissa knox sorrell

But despite all this, and despite the fact that I've been giving the Bible a very wide berth for the last couple years or more, I can't seem to shake a small affinity for it. For better or for worse, the Bible will always be my mother tongue, the stories and cliches and images I was raised on. Despite the pain it has caused me, despite the fact that I no longer believe it to be Big Black and White Truth, I maintain almost a warm place in my heart for it.

And I think if I am ever able to return to it, really return to it, it will be as someone who it not forcing it to be fact. It will be by appreciating it for both its imperfections and wisdom, both its darkness and beauty. It will be by cherishing its stories and themes and characters as an integral part of a deeply flawed but deeply meaningful tradition that I just can't seem to let go of.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

It is not okay.

This world of ours is just so broken. The tragedies pile on top of each other like overdue paperwork spilling over a neglected desk, and God seems to be out of the office indefinitely. Maybe it was too much for him too, maybe he couldn't keep up with the never ending redemption. Maybe he is out grabbing a cup of coffee and telling himself he will get back to work in a little while. He just needs a few millennia.

Or maybe God loves us with the fiercest love imaginable but just allows us to wage our own wars. Maybe he sits in his heavenly recliner with a bag of low-fat potato chips and watches it all play out while he thinks warm fuzzy thoughts about us. Maybe he glances at the clock every once in a while, careful not to lose track of time and forget to eventually bring it all to an end. 

Both images are troubling, but what is even more so is the thought that he is intimately involved, that he is listening to our prayers and intervening on our behalves and orchestrating some sort of good plan for our lives. Because if this is so, he is clearly not an equal opportunity benefactor. 

Some people are getting away with minimal tragedy while others seem to never catch a break. And while we humans know how to make the best out of a difficult situation, we'd be hard-pressed to explain away the realities of injustice and abuse and suicide and war and murder and rape as hidden blessings to the people who are experiencing them. Is this getting too dark? Yes, I agree. It's a wonder we're able to tolerate it. 

We like to think there are easy answers to these questions. I regularly get them handed to me in pamphlet form by good-intentioned Jehovah's Witnesses. I too was trained in the fine art of Christian apologetics. I know the rhetoric that is supposed to make this all okay. It is not enough. I am not satisfied. 

Am I supposed to be? Am I supposed to be able to sit quietly in my nearly middle-class life and think to myself, well some people just get hell on earth and some people get hell after it and plenty of people get both, but God is good and he has a plan so I don't really have to let it bother me too much? I'll just keep my eyes in my own corner and hope for the best and sleep soundly at night? 

I'll be the first to admit I have tried very hard to do this, especially in recent years. Like most of us, I have had my own shit to work through and I have had to learn to numb the pain of the world that pierces and throbs through my body in order to get through it. But sometimes things just hit too close to home, and sometimes things just pile up.  

This post will not end with reassurance. Because it is not okay. Even if there is a God, with a plan, who will one day redeem everything (and most days I do choose to believe this), the brokenness of this world is not okay. And while social media campaigns or non-profit donations or volunteer work may improve our world and help us sleep at night, they do not make it okay. Some pain also needs to be felt. Some tragedies also need to be mourned. Sometimes we need to be heartbroken enough by the pain of our fellow human beings that we go ahead and ask some serious questions of God rather than immediately whitewashing the world's tragedies with "right theology."

Because honestly, where is this good God we keep going on about? He has not arrived in time for too many of us, and the tragedy just keeps piling up. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Paradox (a poem)

when i say you are the god of black and white
i don't mean it like
true or false
good or evil
wrong or right

when i say you are the god of black and white
i mean that you are fully both day and night
the presence and the absence
the cosmos and the speck
of paint
that washes
from my forearm
down the drain

when i say you are the god of black and white
i mean that you are both the darkness and the light
as well as
every shade
of all the colors
in between

The Moon Is Coming Up by ikewinski, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  ikewinski 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Fear and the Creative Life

I took the GRE last week and it went well. I did as well as I could have hoped after two months of studying. The week leading up to it, I put my writing and all other creative endeavors aside, knowing they would be there to return to when the GRE was (finally) over.

But a week later, and I am still frozen.

On the drive home from the test, I though with anticipation about all the things I could now freely focus on. I am busting at the seams with dreams for this community that wait only for me to act. I finally have a direction for the writing that needs to be done as part of my grad school application. I can start blogging with a little more frequency and regularity. But until this moment, I have not worked on any of those things.

Instead, I have binge-watched two seasons of United States of Tara and painted the bathroom. That is a lot to accomplish in one week's worth of free time, but it is not in the direction of my dreams.

I have all sorts of excuses for this. I'm just taking a break after all that studying! My brother was in town one of those days! My husband just started back at his teaching job!

But the truth is that I am finding any reason I can to avoid the work that only I can do, work that I love and find meaningful. I am avoiding it because I am afraid of it.

***
"Do not call procrastination laziness. Call it fear. Fear is what blocks an artist. The fear of not being good enough. The fear of not finishing. The fear of failure and of success. The fear of beginning at all." - Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way
***

Fear seems to be a theme in my life lately, or rather, it always has been and I never knew it. Lately, I am just finally calling it what it is.

Fear & Anticipation by hartlandmartin, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic Licenseby  hartlandmartin 

I believe that if I avoid my dreams, then I cannot fail at them. This is technically true, but it certainly doesn't make my life any more happy, whole, free, or courageous. It makes it more predictable and dull and safe. It makes me feel nice and comfy in my risk-free little corner where I may not be doing anything particularly remarkable, I may not be living up to and out of the fire that goes on burning wildly inside of me, but at least I am not a complete embarrassment to myself. At least no one else can see me living out loud and believing in myself and making mistakes and falling on my ass and getting back up again like some kind of daffy, resilient phoenix/cockroach (whichever you prefer). 

***

As I was painting the aforementioned bathroom a couple days ago, I listened to a podcast in which the woman being interviewed said this: "When bad things start happening, as they do to all of us, I can either go back to sleep and try really hard not to have bad things happen, and live a kind of safer, more protective life... Or I can really just step into this fire and say 'What have you come here to teach me? I want to grow more than I want to be safe. I want to be wise and happy and whole, so that I can help other people and be a source of goodness in this in this world-- if at all possible-- more than I want to be safe.'"

What would it be like for me to live as if I wanted to grow more than I wanted to be safe?  
***

A couple weeks ago a friend and I went to this sort of community meeting where people share their thoughts and experiences on a certain topic. The theme that week was failure, specifically failure as feedback. And I thought to myself, "I don't really have much to say about that."

But now here I am two weeks later, and the question that runs over and over in my head is "How do I get myself to move past my fear of failure?"

And I think the answer has something to do with this idea of seeing failure as feedback.

I think it has something to do with seeing failure as an opportunity to get better at the things we care about, rather than a statement that we are not good enough for them. I think it has something to do with acknowledging the fact that there are some things in life we simply must do, whether or not we succeed at them. I think it has something to do with embracing our fears, with leaping headlong into them knowing that the possibility for catastrophe is real and high, but that failure may actually be the best way to get where we really want to be.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Women on Writing : Jamie Wright Bagley

Today I'm honored to share with you the thoughtful words of the lovely Jamie Wright Bagley. Jamie is a blogger and poet who has recently published a beautifully written little book of poetry entitled Book of Hours: In Shadow and Sun. As a perpetual doubter, I am grateful for how her book paves a way to engage with church tradition in such a gentle, refreshing, and non-triggering way. Download it now while it's still free! And be sure to check out the first six Women on Writing interviews here for lots more more writing practice wisdom. 

***

One thing I love about your book of poetry is that it provides a way to engage with traditional liturgical practices in a fresh and nontraditional way. What is your experience with the Liturgy of the Hours and what prompted you to look at it in a new way?

While familiar with the liturgy of the Book of Common prayer, and praying the morning and evening prayers, I am a delighted newcomer to the practice of praying the hours. I first discovered this grace within the pages of The Artist’s Rule by Christine Valters Paintner, which I read at the start of this year.

I have a great deal of love and admiration for the concept of observing the hours, and I wanted to be able to do that in my own life. So I created an interpretation that made room for the faithful doubters and free spirits who need to believe God can handle our shadows, too.

How long have you been writing poetry? What is it that draws you to that medium in particular?

I started writing poems and song lyrics around the age of 11 or 12. I remember nearly knocking over my mom in my excitement to convey the news that I had written my first song. She responded as all good mothers do, with a little surprise and a lot of support.

As far as what draws me, I think my love of music, rhythm, the swaying of trees, symbols, and pictures behind words all play a part. Imagery is a form of communication that reaches me when mere words would fall flat. Poetry is a movement my soul can blend with- a place my mystic heart finds home. I can say what I truly feel, in a comforting, rhythmic way. It feels like I have an intimate connection to a universal heartbeat. It’s irresistible.


Image by Jennifer Upton

What would be your ideal writing environment? How do you make time and space in your life for the practice of writing?

My first reaction is to concoct the most grandiose vision my imagination affords. After some thought, though, I realize every time I am any place but my own small and simple home, I am far too busy gathering and storing new information to actually get any good writing done, except for the occasional but unreliable bursts of one or two inspired lines. I need an environment of sameness so I am not tempted to look anywhere but within, where the writing originates. For me, a cabin in the woods would be the ultimate distraction- I would spend my hours communing with nature and daydreaming myself into alternate dimensions. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love it and I see the value of a quiet getaway and refilling the soul’s reservoir for creativity; that certainly is an important part of the whole process. But in my personal experience, real writing occurs as a part of real living, embracing and drawing inspiration from everyday events and the discipline of habit.

For now, I usually sit on my bed with my laptop. I have to make good use of nights and weekends because there is no such thing as getting up before the kids. We live in close quarters so there is no withdrawing from their presence, but I have learned to take full advantage of any moments my children are occupied.

What authors or works most inspire your writing?

The answer to this would probably have to be a series of blog posts. There are so many foundational voices influencing and inspiring my words. I am most recently taken with writers such as Madeleine L’Engle, Richard Rohr, Christine Paintner, and Julia Cameron. Their experience as Christian mystics informs and mirrors my own experience, and I’m grateful for the kinship I feel through their works.

If you could give one piece of advice to budding writers what would it be?

Starve your excuses. Any and all of them. If you truly want to write, it’s worth the risk of wholehearted action and devotion- right now! There will always be something to eat your time, but don’t buy the lie that you haven’t enough. You can carve out a few seconds here or there to practice. And all writing is practice. It’s the act of showing up, building habits, giving voice to your dreams. Don’t wait. Live your dream today.


***

Jamie Wright Bagley lives in Chicagoland with her husband and 3 children. She spends her days wearing an assortment of hats, from writing, to coaching, to caring for her free-spirited offspring. She believes housework is a sometimes thing, and once you get to know her, you’ll find the way to her good graces is through endless cups of tea and large helpings of pie. She purposes to create hope and delightful expectation through poetry, writing, and contemplative practices, encouraging others to grow and flourish. As a Story Unfolding trained coach, her heartbeat is to equip fellow writers to believe in and build their projects. You can find more of her words at her blog, engage her as a story coach at The Story Unfolding, or follow her on twitter.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

When free work might cost someone

The High Calling is hosting a link-up about Working for Free, which I found through a post by Esther Emery. It's a topic that I've been mulling over in my head a lot lately. I didn't mean to get involved, but then I did. 

***

It's been nearly two years since I've had a paying job, by which I mean it's been nearly two years since my life hasn't revolved around when my son eats and sleeps. When I decided to quit my job to care for him, I was prepared for the fact that I would no longer be bringing in an income, and I haven't, not a single penny.

My blogging habit began recreationally, a free way to satisfy my over processing mind. But as is the case with creativity, the more you do it, the more you have to do it.

Over time my compulsion has even blossomed into other habits. In addition to writing, I now spend time collaborating with other writers, helping to manage content for a community blog, and facilitating a support group for a small but growing community of doubters. All of this I do for free, because I like it, I have the time for it, and I don't need the money. This is a huge privilege, one I am thankful for.

But recently, a new project has fallen into my lap. I see a need for what I am creating and feel compelled to fill it. It will take more time and energy than any of my endeavors so far. Even so, the truth is, I could get away without charging for it.

And the question I can't seem to get out of my mind is not should I do this work, or even will it succeed? The question is how much do I value the time and energy and gifts of myself and others doing this type of work?

Hard Work (Vicios I) by Eneas, on Flickr

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License by Eneas 

I may have the luxury of offering my work for free, but not everyone does. There are people doing the kind of work I am hoping to do who are hustling each and every day to support their families without sacrificing their dreams. What does it say, not only about me and my work, but also about others' and theirs, when I offer up a product or service for free? If someone who would otherwise spend money to hire an editor or take a class or even purchase a book goes with my free option instead, might I be partially responsible for those lost dollars?

These questions or not simple to answer, but neither are they to be taken lightly. When I consider whether or not to work for free, I must consider not only the value of my own work, but also how my attempts to do good may deprive others of the support needed to do theirs.  

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

On Fear (Thoughts on Being an Enneagram Six)

Fear sounds like scurrying,
like the scritch-scratch of the mouse within the wall,
franticly working, 
burning the midnight oil unseen.

Fear sounds like the crackling of the dying fire, 
like leaves and twigs and ash, 
smoldering together with a sizzle sizzle, 
waning but never going out because
fear
never
sleeps.

Not even when the baby dozes and the man you love holds you in bed with his arms wrapped around you and his legs intertwined with yours.

Even then fear is curled up in the corner with a flashlight, making the swoosh peck sound of pen against paper.*

***

In the Enneagram, a centuries old system of personality typing, each of the nine types has its own "vice" and virtue. The vice of type Six is fear. 

Funny how I never would have called it that. Even reading the type description, in which every other word fit me like a glove, the word "fear" felt distinctly unfarmiliar. "Easily stressed," I might have said, or maybe "prone to worry." I wouldn't have even called it an anxiety problem, because I know people with those and I handle my worst case scenarios quite calmly, thankyouverymuch. 

No matter that I daydream regularly about what I would do if my husband died or I got cancer or had a miscarriage or lost my mother or crashed the car or on and on and on. "A vivid imagination" is what I would have called it, not a life spent waiting for the other shoe to drop. "A realist" is what I would have called myself, not a woman driven by fear. 

***

Three rabbits by dicktay2000, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License by  dicktay2000 
"Here I am, a rabbit hearted girl
Frozen in the headlights...
I must become a lion hearted girl
Ready for a fight"

-Florence and the Machine 

***

Sixes, I soon learned, come in two types: phobic and counter-phobic. Some Sixes are clearly one or the other, but many alternate between both. 

Funny how I knew this about myself but could never explain it. I would have told you I was just a paradox, the classic good girl, with a rebellious streak. 80% "Like me, affirm me, approve of me," 20% "Screw you, I do what I want." 

But it turns out that I am really just terribly afraid, and my "goodness" and "rebelliousness" are nothing more than two sides of one security blanket.  

***

Lately I find myself dreaming about moving to Alaska, a thought that fills me with both dread and excitement. The idea was triggered by a casual mention to my husband about a Creative Nonfiction program in Fairbanks, which he refused to forget and now I can't seem to either.

I go back and forth between thinking life there would be adventurous or insane. It would be a hard life, for sure, with a much higher cost of living, and months of near constant darkness, and unimaginable cold.

Aurora 15 October 2010 by mmmavocado, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License by  mmmavocado 
And I can't help but wonder why it is that I, a self-proclaimed beach lover, find myself so fixated on Alaska of all places. Why not Hawaii or Oregon or even Maine?

I could talk a big talk about the natural beauty, about the forests and moose and aurora borealis.

But the truth is that the challenge of Alaska calls to me, even comforts me. The truth is I like my dreams with a side of adversity. Safety is the most dangerous thing of all. There is far too much to lose.

*This section was inspired by a prompt in the Story Sessions community.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Free : Six Months In

A couple months into the year, I thought I might get a tattoo of my one word, free, on the back of my neck. But then a couple months later, I thought, no no that's not right. Then, I thought I would get a key there instead, something a little more symbolic and open-ended, like my other tattoos. But lately I have been thinking, no no that's not right, that's not right. I will have to wait. That just isn't it.

***

When I first started living as if I were free, it destroyed me so beautifully I thought it could be my word for life. But now I'm starting to realize that free really is just the key. It opened the lock which had bolted the door which then slowly cracked open further and further until it hung wide open. I have stood there for a long time now, staring into the open space, looking out and knowing in my head that I am free, letting the fact of it take my thoughts where they may, whispering it to myself over and over and over again. I am free I am free I am free.

Deep in the woods by Isengardt, on Flickr

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License by  Isengardt 
But I am still living in the cage, because the key is not enough. As long as the door is unlocked, you are technically free, but you also have to walk through it. I thought I had done this, leaving church and all, I thought I had ran out the door as soon as it swung open, but I had not.

***

What if I stopped living as if everything I did and thought was inherently flawed? What if I started living as if my simple, wild soul was one little piece of a giant puzzle? What if I started surrendering myself to the shape and location of my own piece, rather than jamming and tearing it to fit where it would not?

***

The small man
Builds cages for everyone
He
Knows.
While the sage, 
Who has to duck his head
When the moon is low,
Keeps dropping keys all night long
For the 
Beautiful 
Rowdy 
Prisoners. 

-Hafiz

***

What matters most, is not that I am free, but what I am free for. Opening the door is one stage of my life, but the world outside is the rest of it. I already have one foot out the door now, but where I am headed is still glorious Mystery.

What if, when I finally emerge from the cage, I ignore the tracks set before me? What if I refuse to place one foot here and one foot there as always, like a child following her mother in the snow? What if I turn my back on both paths diverging in the woods, and instead grab a hatchet, blazing my own trail by the light of my soul? What if I make a thousand tracks in the wrong direction, but get to see things I never would have glimpsed otherwise?

And what if I stray so far from the path that I am given up for lost? And what if my hidden, meandering trail allows me to traverse the woods completely unseen by the gatekeepers and rule makers and line drawers of the world? What if I return to the cages by the haze of moonlight and start dropping keys? 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

On Jesus and Hanging Out with Heathens

The more I've been honest about the state of my faith, the more I seem to be making friends with a certain type of person, atheists and agnostics and all types of religious dissenters. Sometimes this worries me. Regardless of the fact that I haven't been to church for the better part of a year, I like to think I still have a reputation to uphold. I like to think there are people there who still see me as a "good person" or "true Christian" or at least as someone who hasn't completely gone off the deep end. My fear is that my new friends threaten the legitimacy of these notions.

But almost as soon as I think of all this, a pesky familiar image comes to mind, of Jesus surrounded by people who weren't approved by the religious authorities. From the stories I grew up hearing, he seemed to have quite a reputation for this. But he also seemed to genuinely not give a damn what anybody thought. He followed his own convictions and let people talk.


The difference, of course, between the Jesus of the stories and I, is that he was supposedly sinless and I am not. He could not be accused of the faults people found in his friends, but I can.

On the surface, I am afraid I will be guilty by association, that the unbelief of others will implicate me as a dangerous dissenter too. But the truth is that I am really afraid of being unmasked. Because when it comes to heathens, I am one, at least according to the only version of faith I have ever known.

This is not easy for me to come to terms with. I would like to think that I am just that saintly, that like Jesus I am willing to hang out with "the least of these" out of complete compassion and with no thought of my reputation. But I do think of my reputation, regularly, and my friendships have been more out of shared experience than my own altruism.

So when I feel shame at being associated with people the Church would not approve of, it is myself I am ashamed of, it is my own secrets I fear to have uncovered. The friends I am afraid of having, the ones the Church might warn me against, they are the very ones my soul most needs. They clean out my closets and challenge my assumptions. They open my eyes to the truth of my own backsliding/awakening (whichever you prefer). They're no more Jesus than I am, but they heal me just the same.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Coming Out : I art journal in the Bible.

This post is part of a series on spirituality and coming out. You can read the rest here.

***

I thought I was done with these posts. I thought I had released everything I needed to in order to live openly in my spiritual identity. But it turns out there was one more thing: I art journal in the Bible.

I got the idea from my friend Jamie, who bravely and openly does found poetry using the Bible. I loved the sound of that and suddenly had an urge to try blackout poetry in the Bible, something I had just begun to experiment with. But honestly, doing it in the Bible sounded a little crazy and kind of sacrilegious. Maybe I would, maybe I wouldn't.  

I was mulling it over a few days later when a Jehovah's Witness came to my door. They come regularly and ask all sorts of questions, but for some reason the woman that knocked this time was especially concerned about whether I used my Bible. At the end, as she walked away from my doorstep, she turned and said one last time, "Use your Bible!" 

After that, it was a done deal. I started the next week and have now done dozens of pages. I collage and watercolor and paint and write and draw and do blackout poetry. I process all sorts of things, spiritual and otherwise, in a safer, more abstract way than I can with writing alone. It has been a completely cathartic experience for me all the way through, something I look forward to, my own little form of doubter's art therapy.


I once treasured the Bible. It was my air, my water, my manna from heaven. Then things got really complicated really quickly. Soon my water was drowning instead of nourishing me. But I kept diving back in again and again and again, begging the water to heal me even as it killed me. Finally, one day I came out of the water and didn't get back in.

But now I am returning to the Bible in a wholly unexpected way, one that is much more healthy for me. I am not forcing it to solve all my problems or answer all my questions or magically make me someone I am not. I'm just letting it exist and be what it is and letting myself do the same in its pages. I'm finding this is healing old wounds.

I don't mean to offend. I don't want to desecrate something that is holy to you and I really don't want to trivialize the importance of scripture in your personal spiritual journey. 

But I also don't want to live in fear and shame. I don't want to go out of my way to keep secret something that has been so positive for me. I don't want to talk a big talk with my friends about living out loud and then deliberately hide any proof of my passions before the guests come over. I don't want to take a picture of what I am learning and then remember I can't share it because the truth of my spiritual journey might be offensive.


There is plenty in my life to keep secret. I have lots of opinions on lots of things that I don't feel the need to make public. But shame is not a good reason for keeping secrets.

This crazy, heretical thing that I'm doing, this art journaling in the Bible, I am not done with it yet. I'm just at the end of Exodus now and my commitment to this peculiar spiritual practice of mine is only growing. I've never been much of a visual artist, so my pages are rarely beautiful or even aesthetically pleasing. But the mess-making and truth-telling and meaning-finding and Self-being happening in those pages? On my best days, it's really something to be proud of.   

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Women on Writing : Beth Morey

I can't believe we're already into the sixth Women on Writing interview. I've learned so much from each of these women and interviewee six, Beth Morey, is no exception. Beth is a talented blogger, author, and artist. Her words are frequently fearless and powerful, even on the darkest of subjects. I hope her responses here today empower you as much as they have me. As always, you can check out the rest of the Women on Writing interviews here


***

Tell me about your blogging journey. How did you get started and why do you keep at it? 

I got in on blogging almost as soon as the medium emerged. A free online instant-publishing-gratification journal?  I was soin, even though I didn't quite know what to do with my Livejournal blog that I started the summer after I graduated from college. I didn't get more serious about blogging until November 2007, when I began (ironically, considering that I was soon to be diagnosed with a devastating eating disorder) food blog.

That food blog, however, soon naturally transformed into an online record of my grapple with said eating disorder.  Though blogging, I not only met many kindred souls who were also fighting against the ED beast, but also found a great measure of healing. There is just something special about writing your heart out, and then posting it for all the world to see.  It felt very validating. 
When my daughter, our first child, died without warning within my womb and was then stillborn in November 2011, it felt very natural to turn to my blog once again for healing. About a week after birthing her body, I wept over my keyboard as I tapped out her stillbirth story -- and kept on writing about the journey of grief, and then of pregnancy and parenting after babyloss. It wasn't until about mid-2013 that I finally began to feel that I had written as much as I needed to of that experience. I won't say that I'm  fully healed, because how can a mother's heart ever fully heal from that sort of loss? But I do know that I have achieved a great deal of healing, and blogging played a very large role in that.

This is why I keep at it -- because it is healing for me. It helps me to process in a way that journaling does not.  And it also has, without my meaning for it to, become something of a ministry to others. There is something so powerful about that "me, too" -- of hearing that you are not alone in whatever you are going through. Words have the power to change the world; words have the power to change one person's world; words change my world. This is why I blog.

Image by Jennifer Upton
What would be your ideal writing environment? How do you make time and space in your life for the practice of writing?

Blogging is very natural for me. I feel a sort of soul-pressure, and words start forming in my head, and I know I have to get them out, so I blog. It's enjoyable and therefore I don't have to "make" myself do it.  I find the time to blog when my son is sleeping.

Writing novels, on the other hand, takes much more resolve. I make appointments with myself and keep them, set word count goals and then meet them. We have recently invested in a half day of daycare for our son -- which he adores, but makes my mama guilt flare! -- so that I can write.

As for my ideal writing location -- I write mostly at coffee shops right now, which I love except that they usually tend to have distractingly loud music. I'd write outdoors if there was an outlet plug handy and an umbrella to sit under so there wouldn't be a glare on my laptop screen. My ideal spot would have tables and chairs to write at, but also a squashy chair so that I can hunker down and get cozy if I needed to. Also, something yummy to drink is good.



Image by Jennifer Upton
Though much of your writing addresses darker themes, you describe your upcoming novel as "the ideal beach read." How do you balance the light and dark of your creative identity?

Ha! I think people familiar with my blog will find my novel, The Light Between Us, surprising. It really is light and fun -- it's a new adult romance, after all. But at the same time, there is a certain depth and texture to the characters, which balances the silly fun of a romance. I try to make it a more "real" romance, complete with some of life's quirks and hurts.

I think that I grew up with an inappropriate expectation of life, perhaps born of the American dream -- I thought that if I was good, life would be good to me. But life is hard and painful and unfair, at times anyway. I tried to find some of that balance in my novel, while also keeping it entertaining.

I guess that authenticity is the answer to your question. When I am joyful, I say so. When I am anguished, I say so. There's room for all of it, and both the hard stuff and the light can coexist in the same moment.

What authors or works most inspire your writing?

Anne Lamott, Neil Gaiman, and Audrey Niffennegger are my big three -- I would love to become as skilled at writing and telling textured stories as they are. I also adore the poetry Rainer Maria Rilke, Rumi, Mary Oliver, and David Whyte.

If you could give one piece of advice to budding writers what would it be?


Your words matter. The stories -- true or made-up -- that live inside you matter. Your creative dreams matter, and are worth pursuing.  Set aside time to pursue them, even if it's hard or petrifying or "impractical." It is more impractical to have your soul, with its unchased dreams, shrivel up within you.

***

Beth writes, paints, and dreams in Montana.  She is the author of the creative healing workbook Life After Eating Disorder, and is the owner of Epiphany Art Studio.  Her words and art have appeared in various publications, such as Somerset Studio, Still Standing Magazine, Wild Goslings, and Disney's Family Fun.  In addition to her quirky little family and their three naughty dogs, Beth is in love with luscious color, moon-gazing, and dancing wild.  Her upcoming novel, The Light Between Us, releases June 14.  She writes soul into flesh at her blog, and is saving the world at Act Small, Think Big.   

Monday, June 9, 2014

Spread the Love (blog tour)

My dear kindred friend Jamie, a lovely writer-poet-artist who makes amazing found poetry art (below), tagged me in this blog tour and so of course I said yes. Here goes.

art by Jamie
1) What are you currently working on? 

Right now, I'm studying a lot for the GRE, which isn't at all creative, but creativity is the end result. It's the very first step to pursuing a Master's degree in creative writing, which is something I've been tossing around for a long time. My undergrad degree is in literature, so it's up my alley, but also a huge challenge because I've never actually seen myself as particularly creative. We'll see where it goes. Like Wendell Berry says, I'm trying to be willing to make a few tracks in the wrong direction.

I'm also always conjuring up stuff for my blog, or writing posts for other places. I try to art journal regularly as an additional creative outlet. And I facilitate discussions and meetings for Doubters Anonymous, which definitely has a creative element to it that I enjoy.

2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?

I'm not sure that my work has a genre. Basically everything that I find myself creating these days comes out of this intense experience I've had with doubt and how it has transformed me, whether that's manifest through writing, or art journaling for myself, or running a little support group. I guess I feel like my work right now is raising my son and living my life in a truthful way, following all the rabbit holes I feel compelled to jump down and letting them lead me where they may. So far, they have led me to just be present and honest here in the midst of doubt and spirituality and mystery and see what happens. And I don't hear a lot of people talking about doubt in the way I have experienced it. I don't see a lot of people exploring and embracing it as a spiritual practice and sharing that perspective out loud. So I guess that's what I have to offer.

3) Why do you write/create what you do?

Mostly because I can't not. Writing came knocking on my door and just wouldn't let me breathe until I got the words out, specifically when it came to my doubts, which then freed me to write even more. It's kind of a never ending circle where the more you're processing, the more you have to write, and the more you write, the more there is to process. So art journaling and Doubters Anonymous followed quickly after that, because I found I needed a private place to wrestle through my questions more abstractly, and I also felt compelled to provide a safe place for other doubters to wrestle through things together. Who is it that says, "Write the words you most need to hear?" I guess I am creating the things I most need to have, and trusting that others out there have the same needs.

4) How does your writing/creating process work?

I wish I could say I was more disciplined, because every one says creativity is about showing up and sitting your butt in the chair. I am very fortunate that our current lifestyle does not require me to make an income. So my creativity is largely driven by my own inspiration, which mostly comes on walks or washing dishes or playing with my son, and then drives me crazy until nap time or bedtime when I can finally get the words down. I do generally make a practice of setting some deadlines and schedules for myself. I'm a slow, meticulous writer, though, so I try not to overcommit and to leave lots of room for life to be lived. 

More than anything, I just try to be aware of the life that I'm living and to keep my eyes open for new insights into the things I am processing, whether that be through books or blog posts or conversations or my son curling up in my lap. Life itself usually gives me more than enough inspiration for any of my creative endeavors.


Go see Abby and Sarah and Addye on June 16th for more interviews with creative types!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

What I Want You to Know About Doubt by Emily Crawford

Emily is dear real-life-look-you-in-the-eyes friend of mine. There are no words for how grateful I am for her regular presence in my life and her willingness to thrash through the hard questions alongside me. Without her support and courage, this little vagabond doubting group of ours would not exist. Despite not being a blogger, she graciously agreed to share her words here for our What I Want You to Know About Doubt link up. I hope you find them as encouraging as I did.

***


I put off writing about this for some time, but when I actually sat down to put words on the page I found it to be easier than I thought. After all, I’ve been having this conversation in some form or another for the past several months as I slowly begin to tell friends, family, and people I used to go to church with about what’s been going on in my life lately.

It’s also a conversation I’ve been having with myself. As I struggle with doubt, countless questions roll around in my head about God, his existence, his nature, the Bible, culture, other religions, etc. But I’ve also found space to ponder doubt itself. In my musings and with the help of fellow doubters, who either are or who have been where I am, I’ve come to see doubt not as a plague or sign of spiritual weakness, which has made all the difference.

So as I continue to struggle with doubt, here are some things you should know that I’ve discovered along the way…

Sometimes I like it.

As terrifying as doubt can be, there is also a side of it that is thrilling and refreshing. Like breaking off from a well-worn path in the woods, there is both the possibility of getting lost and confused and the possibility of finding something amazing. And likely confusion, lostness, and amazingness might all be experienced at the same time, not just one or the other.

This is a little like what doubt feels like to me. Anxiety, hopelessness, hopefulness, excitement, tears, wonder, fear, freedom all wrapped up together. Best of all I occasionally catch glimpses of God that I have been missing for so long, and he doesn’t look the same. I haven’t figured out yet if it is something of my own imaginings or something real. Either way it is just out of reach, which for now keeps me on the hunt.



It is essential for me.

To be frank, I didn’t choose my faith/belief system. It was chosen for me, it was chosen for my parents, and their parents, and so on. Granted, there was probably a measure of choosing involved in staying committed but we all started on a fairly fixed path. And I’m not even saying that I think it should be different, this passing on of traditions and beliefs. It makes sense and we do that with all sorts of things. But maybe doubt is a way of taking back some of the choosing. And maybe that will make whatever I hold onto more valuable and precious and lasting.

It may always be with me.

Like some of my worried friends and family members, I want doubt to be a phase. I want to wrestle for a bit and then move on. I want to figure it out, to be on the hunt but then eventually find something concrete to hold on to. But I’m becoming less and less convinced that this will be the case.

At this point, now in my 30s, I have struggled significantly with doubt at some time in each decade of my life. Not long ago, I was telling a friend that after my last bout with doubt, which took place in my early 20s, I felt I had been “delivered” and would no longer struggle in that particular way. Yet here I am again…back to doubt. This time around, though, I’m a little more comfortable with it, as if it were a familiar thing now.

I ran across an interview with author, Daniel Taylor, who wrote a book called “Skeptical Believer.” He described coming to terms with what he called his inner atheist and even described it like an old friend. I’m not sure I’m quite there yet, but thinking about it in those terms brings me a good amount of peace. It also takes the pressure off. Maybe doubt is not something to conquer but to be at peace with as a part of who I am and how I’m made.

As I continue to explain to people in my life about this season of life and the doubt that accompanies it, I know that I will run into those that don’t understand totally. That’s OK. I don’t expect people to. Even when I do encounter people who have experienced doubt in the past, I find it is a little different for everyone. What I do hope is that people might be open to a response other than “What a shame!” This is the response I dread the most. I have been pleasantly surprised, though, that most people I talk to don’t think this way and instead see doubt in more gracious terms. Doubt is hard enough as it is. What a gift to have understanding people to walk alongside. I hope the more we talk about doubt, or any struggle for that matter, the more understanding we will all have for each other.

What I Want You to Know About Doubt
Click here ^ to see the rest of the posts in the link-up

What I Want You to Know About Doubt (a link up!)

Today is the day! It's the What I Want You to Know About Doubt link up, where we share our assorted thoughts on doubt and what we'd like others to know about it. If you'd like to participate just scroll down for the details. You're also welcome to join us here to be part of an ongoing community of doubters wrestling through questions together.

***
There is a lot I could say about doubt. I've spent nearly six years now with the cloud of doubt hanging over my shoulders, sometimes stormy and sometimes wispy, but most days just grey and heavy. I could shake my fingers at you, the outsider, tell you all the things you did wrong, or don't understand. I could tell you how your helping made things worse. This would probably be justified, and maybe even productive. Other people, I hope, will bring those words into the conversation, as they are desperately needed. But the words that keep coming back to me are things I didn't understand as a doubter, the ways I treated myself poorly for far too long. These lessons were hard won, in battles fought slowly over the years through tears and confusion and panic attacks. They are the best words I have to share on the matter, and they are not so much for the outsider as for the insider, my fellow doubter. So be it. This is what I want you to know:

1. Doubt is not something to be ashamed of.

But oh, how I have felt the shame too, for not having enough faith, not being a good enough Christian, not being loved enough to experience God's presence. I have felt shame for talking honestly about my doubts, as if hiding them would make them not exist. I have felt shame for not being able to make the spiritual rules I was taught work. I have felt shame for being a spiritual leper, a constant, visible reminder of unanswerable questions normally relegated to dark closets. And, like a leper, I have known the risk of infecting others, with questions too dangerous to touch.

But now I see that shame, not doubt, is actually the real danger. It makes you do unhealthy things. It makes you push your fears down inside of yourself until they eat away at you from the inside. I threw myself harder into service and scripture and all the things I thought would finally trick God into fixing my sickness. I attempted to pray the doubt away over and over during moments of midnight desperation, my body shaking in fear of death, in fear of where my doubt would send me.

At some point, I had to make a choice, between shame and mental health, between shame and being true to myself. Once I did this, I began to cross paths with other doubters, and I learned to see how healing it can be to witness doubt in others, to talk openly about it with people who have been there, or are there. You start to feel less crazy and alone and ashamed. So eventually, I began to see doubt as a normal healthy part of the spiritual life and I began to prioritize coping and living with my doubt rather than being ashamed of it. Most of all, I learned that my doubts, when shared openly, could be a catalyst of healing for others, rather than a poison. For me, this has made all the difference.


2. Doubt is not something to fix.

I have tried all the miracle cures. I have tried prayers and devotions and volunteering and community and worship and apologetics and just not thinking about it. And in my six years on this journey here is the closest I have come to a cure: acceptance. 

Oh, it has not cured the questions. It has not cured the skepticism or loneliness or social discomfort. But it has helped immensely with the shame and anger.

I spent so many years looking for a backdoor cure, but refused to take even one dose of acceptance for the pain. I think I was afraid acceptance would be like admitting defeat, would be like acknowledging my doubts probably wouldn't miraculously disappear one morning, replaced by the old faith I'd thought I'd have forever. I so wanted the old faith back.

I could have spared myself so many years of pain, if I had seen doubt as a normal process. I could have embraced my questions rather than pounded my fist at them. I could have made a friend out of the hesitant, probing, cautious mind I was created with, rather than an enemy. But I wouldn't take a single day of those years back. And I wouldn't go back to my old faith now if I could. These pesky questions of mine have made me who I am, have created this life, one of depth and creativity and exploration. Fix the doubt and you destroy the complex beauty of this wild life of mine. 

3. Doubt is sacred.

Yes, doubt is painful. It is agonizing and debilitating and heart breaking. Once you feel the bottomless chasm of it way down deep, it is not easily irradicated. It settles. But if you go ahead and invite it in and grab it a cup of tea and let it make itself at home, it can be transforming.

Some people have other catalysts for spiritual awakening. Some people hit rock bottom and meet themselves through death or sickness or abuse or addiction or greed. For me, it was doubt. Because doubt-- persistent, disturbing, unrelenting doubt-- has this way of stripping you of everything you thought made you a person. It destroys all your fantasies of how you earned your own goodness and rightness and merit. It tears an entire layer of false skin from your flesh, leaving you raw and tender and immobilized and angry, because this is not the way things were supposed to go. You thought you had done everything right.

And when you emerge from this divine wrestling match, after you've waved your white flag and surrendered to defeat, there are no easy answers left. All you can do now is move forward and cope. Some days God is closer than your heart pounding in your chest. Some days there surely can be no such being. Some days God is alive in the grass and babies and light against the sheets. Some days the shame and fear and anger come rushing back to you all at once. This is the art of paradox you are learning now. You are learning to exist in the questions, to hold doubt in one hand and the smallest sliver of faith in the other and to let that be enough. 

And if you make it this far, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is not perfect faith, but endless  mystery. Some days, you feel it before you and within you and wrapping its arms around you and you are not even afraid. On your best days, it feels almost like God. And this, this paradox and mystery and learning to be, it is your spiritual practice. It is the gift doubt gave you.

***

Now it's your turn to share your thoughts on doubt. If you've already written a post, just follow the directions below. If not, it's okay, the link up will stay open until Thursday, June 12th. If you'd like to participate, but don't have a blog or prefer to remain anonymous, email me at alissambc at gmail dot com and I'll happily host you here.

*This link up is now closed.*

What I Want You to Know About Doubt
<a href="http://www.alissabc.com/2014/06/what-i-want-you-to-know-about-doubt.html" target="_blank"><img src="http://oi62.tinypic.com/hum1pz.jpg" alt="What I Want You to Know About Doubt" width="200" height="200" /></a>

Directions:

1. In your post, include the button above or a short note about the What I Want You to Know About Doubt link up.
2. Add your post below, being sure to use the url of your specific post and not that of your main blog page.
3. Take some time this week to visit other posts and comment on those that speak to you. Feel free to share and invite others to participate as well.

Thanks so much for adding your voice to this conversation. I look forward to reading your words!

*This link up is now closed.*




Friday, May 30, 2014

Simple Pleasures of Spring

Loving

Spring is here, but if feels like summer already down here in our southern valley. We've been working like crazy on our backyard. It was pretty neglected when we moved in, so the yard work is never ending. And that's without the stoop and driveway demolition (finished!), new stairs (nearly complete), plus a fence and patio to build, hopefully by fall. It's a lot of work, but still pretty fun, and I'm crazy thankful for a husband/best friend who knows how to build stuff and has a summer break.

Also: breaking in the kiddie pool, learning about the enneagram (I'm a six! Eureka!), tending lavender sprouts by the sink, Mumford and Sons round the clock, bike rides and smoothies with my little, digging into my first few copies of the Secret Message Society Zine, sidewalk chalk and other toddler adventures, any movie with Meryl Streep, art journaling in secret books, weekend adventures with friends and relations, and of course the exquisite Wild Mystics class I had the privilege of taking a few weeks ago.

Reading

My favorites of the past three months:

The Ocean at the End of the Lane- I don't read a ton of fiction, but I kept hearing about this one and the title captured me. It was a lovely introduction to Neil Gaiam. I was completely drawn in and loved seeing the world he so authentically depicted through the eyes of a young boy. It ended up being a surprisingly deep read.

The Grey Muse- Because of our library's request system and a great used bookstore, I rarely ever purchase books new, but I couldn't resist getting my hands on this one, written by an online friend of mine. I'm so glad I did. It was nice to take little poetry breaks in my day and the words really did feel like they could have been written for me by a much older and wiser version of myself. Highly recommended.

An Altar in the World- I stumbled on this at the library looking for another book by the author and am so glad I did. It's a beautiful survey on the importance of spiritual awareness and seeing the holiness in everyday life, even in the most mundane tasks. It came at just the perfect time for me and left me with a lot to think about.

Sharing

When Mom and Dad Share it All by Lisa Belkin for NYT

Incarnation- It means Something! by Caris Adel

Why I Will Not Rejoin the Evangelical Church Today by Bryn Marlow for Church in the Canyon

6 "Heretics" Who Should Be Banned From Evangelicalism (or, a lesson in consistency) by Tylor Standley

And last but not least, this video, which (along with the knowledge that I'm an enneagram type 6) inspired me to finally sign up for the GRE:



Writing

A month of poetry (mine and others'), three more lovely Women on Writing interviews, a few guest posts, and (my favorite) a piece for the Story Sessions link-up.

Also, I've been writing about coming out in regards to my spirituality and doubt. I'll even be hosting a link-up for doubters on June 5th called What I Want You to Know About Doubt. If you have any thoughts on the subject, I hope you'll join us! More details at the end of this post. 

Linking up with Leigh Kramer for What I'm Into.