Thursday, March 27, 2014

Bakerwoman God

kneading by Mr.Fink

The summer I found myself perusing the shelves of the public library like it was my job, I was a newlywed, unemployed, college student in a new city. God had grown increasingly and unrelentingly distant over the past year, and by that summer I had become unable to pray, read my bible, or relate in any way to the God I knew, white and bearded in the clouds. So I filled my days with piles of books from the library and old films from the DVD section, alternately attempting to fix and distract myself from my new spiritual realities.

One afternoon, knee deep in the religious section looking for the God I seemed to have lost, I happened upon a book called The Divine Feminine: The Biblical Imagery of God as Female by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott. Published in 1984, the copy I held in my hands was old and worn, with an outdated, mustard design on the cover and what I assumed would be outdated contents.

I'm over at D.L. Mayfield's place today sharing my encounter with the poem "Bakerwoman God" for her Upside-Down Art series. You can read the rest there...

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Women on Writing : Esther Emery

Welcome to the third installment in the Women on Writing series, in which I am interviewing some of my favorite female authors and writers on the practice of writing. I am so pumped for you guys to read Esther Emery's wise and powerful words here today. Esther is a writer, blogger, and runs a homestead at her yurt in the woods with her husband and three kids. When it comes to writing, and creativity, and art, and life, Esther faces it all head on and inspires others to do the same. If you like her words here, you'll love the free inspirational e-book she's written for you. And be sure to keep up with the rest of the series for more powerful feminine writing wisdom. 

***

Why did you decide to start a blog? What led you to create your e-book? 

My blog began as a very transparent – I think, anyway -- act of returning to the public eye after a long period of hiding. I had been telling stories for audiences, usually in theatres, since I was a teenager. But that relationship went wrong for me. There was self-obsession. There was too much need for validation. The creative work was contaminated, and I dropped out.

I started the blog very gently, in the same week that my third child was born, with a message and feeling of rebirth. I had come to realize that my creative self had survived and even thrived: that what I was now experiencing was a season in a wholly creative life. That was a really beautiful discovery. And it was really beautiful to share it in real time with a small but loving audience.

I wrote the ebook, Unleash Your Wild, a year later, and it’s just a short manifesto claiming this wholly creative life. It’s based in my experience: that authentic life and the creative impulse are so bound up in one another as to be almost indistinguishableAnd that this freedom – both to be your most authentic self, and to be a channel to the spark we call creativity – is available to all of us in a profound way. The freedom is there. It’s on the other side of all our obstacles. But it’s there.

Photo by Jennifer Upton

You live in a yurt in the woods with three children and a homestead to run. How do you make space and time in your life for the practice of writing? 

Right. What’s harder to come by than the keyboard time is the thinking time. What I’ve done all this winter is get up in the middle of the night. Somebody has to get up and add wood to the fire anyway, and I found, quite accidentally, that my writing brain is very alert and sensitive at that timeSo I often stay up for an hour or so and then go back to sleep.

In some ways my life in the woods is very monastic. That fits well with the creative life. The part where I have three kids who want attentionand food and clean clothes is not that part. But my husband and I have made a pact in our lives that we want to both get to do the things we really want to do. Whenever it is possible – and of course it isn’t often enough! – my husband will keep the kids so I can have the thinking time and staring-into-space time and tromping-around-the-woods-by-myself time that makes it possible for me to write.

How has the writing process changed you? How might you or your life be different if you were not a writer?

I can’t even imagine. If I weren’t a writer I would be a dancer. If I weren’t a dancer I would be a painter. If I couldn’t paint I would tell stories around the fire. It would come out of me, somehow. But writing is the only thing I’ve done 10,000 hours of, and that matters.

There’s a relationship between the creative impulse, which is not tied to any particular medium, and the creative craft, which is. When you have a craft, you become humble to the creative impulse. There’s a wisdom and humility that comes with having made a bunch of mistakes in a certain medium. I have made a bunch of mistakes as a writer, and a playwright, and a storyteller. Which makes me humble. And also confident, because I know I can survive making these mistakes.

Being a writer keeps me in relationship to sacred reality. I don’t slip into numbness or spiritual starvation myself, because I’m constantly looking for sustenance that I can deliver to my readers. It keeps me listening to my own heartbeat.


Photo by Jennifer Upton

What authors or works most inspire your writing?

Annie Dillard is my spiritual ancestor. HelénCixous is my familiar. James Joyce is my obnoxious and truly genius big brother who sparks my competitive spirit. Shakespeare is where I go to steal.

Do you ever struggle with the balance between the hands-on work of living your life and the more introspective practice of writing about it? How do you create harmony between these two parts of yourself?  

Of course. I have a memoir, that I’ve been working on for over four years, which is just now almost finished. (true story) I pushed as hard as I could to get it done before my third child was born, but I simply didn’t make it. I had to set my unfinished work on that proverbial back burner while I gave birth, nursed an infant, and also birthed an off-grid homestead with my husband. For more than a year I made no discernable progress on my book. It felt like dying. BUT. During that year I also healed old wounds and grew up in really important ways.

It’s like two feet walking. The internal work, of becoming the person who is capable of doing the work. And the external work, which is the work. You have to do both.

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

Cultivate inner space. Don’t rush to fill silences, actual or emotionalLearn how to hold that space open, inside, and to trust it. It’s the point from which your authentic voice will rise.


***


Esther Emery used to direct stage plays in Southern California. But that was a long time ago. These days she is pretty much a runaway, living off grid in a yurt and tending to three acres of near wilderness in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. She writes about faith and rebellion and trying to live a totally free life at www.estheremery.com, and is also the author of the free, inspirational ebook Unleash Your Wild. Connect with her on Twitter @EstherEmery.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Free : On Blackout Poetry and Grace

"Grace is not defined by God being forgiving to us even though we sin. Grace is when God is a source of wholeness, which makes up for my failings." 
- Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastrix 
***

A few months ago, I had my first foray into blackout poetry and art journaling. I gathered a few scrap pages I had lying around from old children's books, and I began to explore as best I knew how, circling certain words and then blacking out more and more until only this remained: 

Creep in
and see 
what She had in mind. 

The opening is big enough.

She crawled right in. 

Gracious! 

How she cried, 
"We are free!"

Photo by Elora

A few days later, I sent the page off in the mail to a friend, sure that the words were for her somehow. But months later, they keep boomeranging back to me. I am reminded of them every time I let my mind drift to the Divine Feminine, every time I am implored to explore the depths of mystery and doubt. I am reminded of them in the moments when I feel overwhelmed by the sheer beauty I have found in this path, by wandering off into the unknown. I am reminded of them every time I get a glimpse into this entirely illuminated world we live in, and every time I think about my one word for the year: free

The further I wander off, off into the forbidden wild, the more drunk I become on freedom. These days, the idea of returning to my old ways of living, to the securely gated pasture, feels as absurd as to be impossible. Who am I to enter back in and shut the gate behind me, I who have met joy and beauty and freedom on the other side, I who have experienced grace-- limitless, measureless, boundless grace-- in the wandering off? 

O glorious grace, if it is an ocean, I want to spend my whole life exploring it.  

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

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Magic within the Mundane

"Some days I am not sure if my faith is riddled with doubt or whether, graciously, my doubt is riddled with faith. And yet I continue to live in a world the way a religious person lives in the world; I keep living in a world that I know to be enchanted, and not left alone. I doubt; I am uncertain; I am restless, prone to wander. And yet glimmers of holy keep interrupting my gaze." 
- Lauren F. Winner, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis

I remember the first time I encountered these words. I was emailing back and forth with an acquaintance, when I noticed that first sentence pasted into the bottom of her signature. Within a few days, I had purchased and was pouring over the book, which documents Winner's struggles with faith in the wake of her mother's death and her own divorce. Nearly two years later, her words continue to have meaning for me, and I return to them again and again in my own enchanted restlessness.  


I'm over at the Story Sessions blog today getting lit majory for the Words that Work series. You can read the rest here...

Friday, March 7, 2014

When finding God means finding Self

Midway through her memoir The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, Sue Monk Kidd makes this subtle but profound statement:
"In some ways, spiritual development for women, perhaps unlike that for men, is not about surrendering self so much as coming to self. "
Her words knock me off my feet with a quiet truth, with the sudden realization that this journey I am on has always been twofold: finding God and finding Me. I am diving through the wreckage of a religious upbringing, deciding what to keep and what to toss, what assists and what distracts, in my search to know God. And in doing so, I am learning to listen to my own voice.

No part of this journey is easy for me to talk about, but speaking of "finding myself" is especially difficult. For one, I have been taught that Self = selfish. I have been taught to put others first, which means putting Self last, which means putting Self never. I have not always been good at this, but all my life I have tried, mostly because I believed self-sacrifice was necessary to please God and others. And for as long as I can remember, I have desperately wanted to please.

The fact of the matter is that, as women, (especially, especially in the strange subculture of evangelical Christianity) we are trained for this. We are trained to submit, to blend, to serve. We are implored to shower love on anyone and everyone but ourselves. We are taught to see our bodies and lives and words as tools for caring for others. To have a relationship with Self for its own sake has been unthinkable. I have had no intimate example of this, of a woman who loves and cares for and prioritizes herself in a free and healthy and joyful way, for the entirety of my 26 years. But, not coincidentally, my life is nearly swimming with women who have spent decades suppressing their own dreams and opinions and intuitions.

And if you suppress your own voice for long enough, if you refuse to speak your truth, you can't help but also suppress God's voice within you, you can't help but suppress the Spirit that whispers in your heart where to go and how to love and who to be. Realizing all this now, I am slightly confused about how I was supposed to be hearing God's voice for all these years, without ever listening to my own.

So it's true, I am finding God and myself. And I will no longer be apologizing for either venture.

***
My lovely writing community is hosting this blogging event, in which women are invited to write about the "girls we once were." I have been thinking of her a lot lately, that little girl. She's not so different from me today, really. She lived in her head and shied away from attention. She cherished quiet time for imagination and exploration, she lost herself in books and dreams and the stories in her head. She looked wide-eyed at the world around her, holding her thoughts close and ever-searching for all the ways to be good and right.

Serious-faced tow head, front and center
In one sense, on this journey to find myself, I am going back to her, to the girl I once was, to find who I am at my core. But in another sense, I am moving onward, upward, outward, growing into the woman I never allowed myself to be. 

This new woman, she is an artist. She creates well-structured prose with a poet's heart. She believes the things she believes no matter how someone may try to shame them out of her. She showers her uninhibited affection on son and husband and dear friends. She takes time for herself. She feels her emotions and trusts her intuitions, giving others permission to do the same. In all of this, she is learning to be less pleasing and more true


So you see, the little girl is not complete without the grown woman. I need the little girl I was, of course, to tell me what has been true about me from the start. But I also need the grown woman, who has the benefit of 26 and a half years of life behind her. This woman has learned things about herself, through trial and adventure and love, that the little girl never dreamed of.

***

I stopped by church last week, for the first time in months, to pick up some food my husband had ordered for a fundraiser. The after-school program, where I had once volunteered, was in full swing, and familiar faces, ones I love dearly, were gathered in the basement kitchen. Life was going on there as it always has, but words like, "I miss you" were whispered in my ears and it all felt so familiar, yet strange, so right, yet terribly sad. 

That night at home, I asked my husband if I was doing the right thing. I asked him, not to hear his answer, but because for the first time on this journey I felt lonely and selfish and ashamed. But despite my insecurities, despite my doubt and fear and shame, this is where I landed: 

I have to keep moving forward, keep meeting myself, keep searching for God in the dark. I don't know what my life will bring, but I know I've got to live it as me. As lonely as loss of community can be, loss of Self is even lonelier. I have to know her, the girl I was, the person I am, the woman I will be. I have to know her if I want to hear God speak to her. No one else can do this work for me, no one else is going to prioritize my ability to know myself or God. I have to do it. I have to make it a priority. So I am, unapologetically.

*We're celebrating Women's Day by writing about the girls we were/are/will be. Join us?*

Monday, March 3, 2014

That thing where you realize you're afraid of pastors

I had just finished writing some especially vulnerable post, as I am wont to do, and I was begging my husband to read it and give me his reaction and tell me that I was still okay as a human being, because I'm emotionally needy like that. I think it was this post, but it might have been this one. My husband read it and was super chill, as always, acting like it was all fine. But I was still really nervous.

"What are you so afraid of?" he asked.

"What if the pastors read it?!" I said, my body curling in on itself.

"The pastors? What pastors?"

There was a long pause and then I just laughed out loud, because what pastors? Who was I even talking about?

Via
All the pastors I had ever known had teamed up in my mind as this patriarchal force, the guardians of the spiritual realm, holding the keys to Truth with a capital T, determining who I was allowed to be and what I was allowed to believe as a Christian. The Pastors had become an image in my head, a symbol of all the people who would line up to condemn me if they only knew. Without realizing it, I'd imagined one of them, white, male, middle-aged and evangelical, sitting me down after stumbling across my blog, which is becoming more unorthodox by the minute.

"Young lady," he would say. "This is not Right Theology. The Bible says XYZ. You are on a slippery slope, and you are leading others down a path to destruction. You are a heathen. You are wrong. You are condemned. You are no longer one of us."

All this just for thinking my thoughts, just for writing them down for others to read. I've been waiting for months, for The Pastors to come and tell me I am in error. I've been filtering my thoughts just enough to keep my imagined Pastors at bay, but even as I have gotten braver and braver, no one has come to condemn me.

So I have no idea what this fear is rooted in (other than 26 years of church, that is). I've never had any sort of pastor-related trauma that I can recall. And anyway, my fear is far from the level of phobia. I don't go screaming in the opposite direction when I see a pastor. But maybe, as I think about it now, my heart does. Maybe my heart runs away screaming from the possibility of more condemnation on top of that which it has already received from me.

I don't know how to repair this tender little heart of mine, except to give it the permission it seeks myself. So I am giving myself permission, one day at a time, to think my own thoughts and be my own person, no matter what anyone, even The Pastors, may say. I am allowing myself not to agree with every bullet point of Christianity that been presented to me. If I ever return to church, it will be once I am strong enough to be who I am, even within a community of people who may openly disagree with my views, and not to hold the personal theologies of any other human beings as the blueprint for my own spirituality.

*This post inspired by a prompt from the Story Sessions community. It's the best and you should join us.*