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.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Coming Out : I don't know (and a link-up announcement!)

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

***

Here's the complicated thing about faith for me: it is a paradox. Without doubt, even just the slightest shadow of it, there is no need for faith. Faith with no room for doubt is merely an observation of facts. And if life was that apparent, if spirituality and religion and the origins of our universe were that obvious, we would all believe the exact same things, all the time. But we don't, because when it comes to life's great mysteries, there are few true facts to stand on. So what we have instead is faith, our own private collections of things we choose to believe are true, though we cannot prove them to be. This is the essence of what unites entire religions, and at the core of it all, is a small space for doubt.

***

When it comes to spirituality, ask me what I believe, and I will give you a short list. On it, are things I can persuade my soul to see as true without it revolting, things like the existence of God and grace and the soul.

Ask me what I want to believe, what I have tried for years to force myself to believe so I could wrap my identity up in a pretty bow and call it saved, so my relationships and life and purpose could be easy and simple and safe and good, and I will hand you a laundry list so long you won't even want to read it. I no longer care to read it myself.

Ask me what I know for sure and I will tell you: absolutely nothing.


0610 list by paloetic, on Flickr


Go ahead, look me in the eye and ask me if God exists, ask me if He really is Love, or who Jesus is. Ask me whether any of the things I have experienced as God were actually Her. I will give you the same answer to every single one:

I don't know.
I don't know.
I don't know.

I can only tell you what I choose to believe is true, what I hope to be true, and how I let those hopes affect the way I see and live in the world. I cannot tell you facts. To me, spirituality is not a matter of facts. It is a matter of the balance between faith and doubt.

***

Not everybody sees it this way of course. Some people look at the mysteries of the universe and respond with bullet points. They will give you all the right answers the second you ask them, as if all their confidence could prove it were so.

Other people have found a happy medium. They hold to faith with one hand and doubt with the other. They don't let their faith make them self-righteous, but they also don't let their doubts take over. They simply choose to believe what they know they cannot prove and don't let the questions and possibilities overwhelm them.

And then there are people like me, who doubt uncontrollably until they are both dizzy and disillusioned. They watch what was once their living water, fluid yet containable, slip through their fingers like a fine mist.


By fate or by chance, I found a few of those people, a lot like me, first in my own community and then online. We even started a little group, which we call Doubters Anonymous, and I can't tell you how much it has meant to me, to us, to know we are not alone, nor crazy.

Maybe you also need to remember you're not alone in your perpetual not-knowing. You aren't, you know. There are lots of us, who want to believe, who try to believe, but for whom faith is just. so. hard. because we have been burned by it or scarred by it or just can't reconcile it with our hearts or souls or minds. You can join us there if you like. I sincerely hope you will.

And just to show you how not alone you are, we're hosting a little link-up called What I Want You to Know about Doubt (with thanks to fellow doubter Beth Morey for the idea). It's just a way for us to get together and be who we are, to invite others into what we're processing and to banish shame from the experience. If you're a doubter who writes, please consider adding your voice to the conversation by writing about whatever it is you wish more people understood about doubt. The link up will be held here on Thursday, June 5th. Just write something at your own place before then, then come here to add it to the list of posts. Or if you'd like to contribute but don't have a blog, I can host you here, publicly or anonymously. Just email me at alissambc at gmail dot com. Here's to hoping I see you then! Your voice is needed in this conversation.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Women on Writing : Hillary Rain

I'm so honored to have the lovely Hillary Rain here today for the Women on Writing series. Hillary is an blogger, author, and mystic guide. She speaks so bravely here about the often overlooked dark side of writing and the toll creativity can take on our relationships and selves. I'm grateful for the nuance she has added to this conversation and hope you treasure her tender words as much as I have. You can check out the first four Women on Writing interviews here

***

Do you remember the first time you really considered yourself a writer? How long has writing been an important part of your life?

I remember sitting on my front porch at six years old holding a pencil and lined sheet of paper, composing poem after poem about anything I could think of … trees, horses, the clouds. Shortly after that I was given a hardcover book filled with pristine white pages—without lines—which mesmerized me. I wrote and illustrated a story filled with weddings and babies and enough big ball gowns to dazzle any little girl. Eventually I wanted to write for the local newspaper which, to my pre-teen delight, published a piece I was exceptionally embarrassed to show anyone a few short years later … and unfortunately no longer exists.

All throughout my teens I kept a journal, wrote love stories, and filled books with poetry. The technicalities of writing began to frustrate me though, and at one point I dramatically burned hundreds of handwritten pages of a disappointing manuscript. Yet even then, in the flushed-cheeks glow of paragraphs gone up in flamesI knew my identity was rooted in language and verse which made it all the more infuriating at times. Creative expression was my lifeline as a child and remains so now, the singular thing with power to lift me to the moon or devastate me with unconsolable pain. Bell Hooks describes this with achey eloquence:
“Writing is my passion. Words are the way to know ecstasy. Without them life is barren. The poet insists, language is a body of suffering and when you take up language you take up the suffering too. All my life I have been suffering for words. Words have been the source of the pain and the way to heal. Struck as a child for talking, for speaking out of turn, for being out of my place. Struck as a grown woman for not knowing when to shut up, for not being willing to sacrifice words for desire. Struck by writing a book that disrupts. There are many ways to be hit. Pain is the price we pay to speak the truth.” ― Bell Hooks, Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life
Photo 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?

Oh, I would love to be seated in a warm splash of light in a quiet bohemian cafe or pub filled with enough characters to inspire. I'd have my laptop and books and papers strewn about, a pot of french press with a side of cream (or a vodka with cranberry ready to lure words from the deep), the entire scene made just a bit more mysterious by the dancing swirls of incense and smoke. However, reality finds me snuggled with my laptop in bed or seated at my desk with a pot of jasmine tea and a candle or two. I can't not write and must find ways to make it work naturally, but to be honest, I have a love-hate relationship with it. Writing does not come easily for me. Inspired sonnets do not flow like warm honey from my lips. Lately it's a messy, tearstained battle between me and my words. I find myself fumbling for coherent language to hold the numinous concepts I ache to bring forth and each time it feels as laborious as giving birth. After one such debilitating season I gave up and wrote “I Am Not A Writer.” It's kinda how I feel at the moment.

What authors or works most inspire your writing?

While there are many writers and books who inspire me with their content, when it comes to inspiration for my own presence as a writer I look for fresh, brave, authentic voices to fall in love with. I say presence because it's not just about placing sentences. A writer's life is about magic. It's learning to see in the dark and mining the inner bone for what Monique Duvall calls “moonlight and wanton truth.” It's developing intuition and a finely-honed sensual awareness which allows another soul to taste the summery sweetness of the juicy nectarine still tingling on your lips. It's the alchemy of spirit and flesh, wild movement, making love, healing, remembering, transforming. 

My friend and poet Shawnacy Kiker does this for me. So does my friend Mandy Steward who takes my breath away with her ability to stay true to her own voice no matter what she writes… her books, blog, magic mail or 'zine. John Blase and Lakin Easterling inspire me with tender observations of life and their gentle-mystic hearts. I keep Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird close for encouragement.

You have written extensively, on your blog and in your book, Quivering Daughters, about your childhood growing up in Christian fundamentalism. What has been the most challenging thing about writing so openly about these experiences, and what has been the greatest reward?

Let me start with the greatest reward. I've met the dearest, bravest people through my book (now out of print), some of whom remain close and cherished friends. To hear their stories and receive messages of gratitude for how these words helped bring healing is the most humbling and moving thing that I as a writer could ever hope for. There is a cost to sharing openly, however, and the price was steep. It's hard to explain the most challenging thing about it because there were many, many challenges. The backlash from those who disagreed with my message was difficult. The loss of relationships. Not being able to meet the expectations of those who wanted more from me than I could give. 

Photo by Jennifer Upton
You identify as a mystic. What does this mean to you and how does being a mystic influence your writing practice?

A mystic is one who dwells in the nonduality of paradox without demanding an either-or, black or white reality. Instead, she makes space for a grace-based, both-and approach which allows life to be an organic, life-giving process. This mystical perspective allows creative, spiritual, emotional or relational tension to be present without rushing in with explanations, defense, or to ease discomfort for the sake of avoiding pain. These themes are heavy in my writing—overtly, as in my eCourse with The Wild Mystics called Into the Dark Night, and more subtly as I explore the tensions I experience day to day and surrender to their savage mercy. My writing—which I like to note is only one small “h” away from writhing—mirrors the rawness of my struggle to embody a mystic's grace and painfully reveals any lack of it.

When it comes to my writing, this sort of mysticism sharply attunes me to my heart which is crucial for me to trust and follow. My words fall empty otherwise, but Mystery lives in my heart, and life lives there. I'm no longer in ministry or write about topics I once did because I'm no longer in a season to do so. My both-and view of life holds the abuser and the abused in each hand with fervent love, and this message is not necessarily appropriate for those still recovering from deep emotional, sexual, spiritual, or psychological wounds. Yet my heart leads me ever deeper into the wildness of grace and the profound mystery that is God and my spirituality, and my hope is that my writing grows richer, fuller, and more empowered and resonant because of it. 

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

The advice I'd give to budding writers is still the advice I give to myself everyday: be true to your own voice. Write what you need to hear. Don't be afraid—at least, don't let fear steal your voice. Follow your tears. Pain is the price we pay to speak the truth.

***

Hillary Rain is a writer and artist who believes in beauty, mystery, and grace.  She writes about sensuality, spirituality, and the shadowed nuances of her creative life at spiritsoulearth.com.​



Thursday, May 15, 2014

Coming Out : There's a piece of God in everything

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

*** 

Back when I was still a good Christian, I relied on three things for my spiritual development: prayer, church, and the Bible. These were the paths available to me for seeking God. Sure God made the world, and it was good, but it was only his creation, he couldn't be found there, not really. For that you needed reinforcements. This plan worked fine for me, until it didn't. 

At some point, God just seemed to stop showing up there, in that holy trinity of evangelical devotion. I couldn't find him in prayer, I couldn't find him in church, and I sure as hell couldn't find him in the Bible. He was gone gone gone, and eventually, I stopped bothering to look for him. 

Then, a few years later, he started showing up again, but in entirely new places. He peered through the tenderness in my husband's eyes, he quaked through my own body as I gave birth, he whispered through the breeze in the leaves as I hung clothes on the line. It was like a thin veil had been lifted from around the whole world, allowing me to see the little God fragments hidden in grass poking up through the earth, the scent of a familiar candle, my son nestling into my lap.


Online by erix!, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  erix! 

Some people describe this idea, that God exists both outside the universe and permeates every part of it, with words like panentheism, or illumination, or mysticism. But I had a dream once in which I said, "there's a piece of God in everything" as if it were really true. So those are the words I use now, because they are my very own. 

*** 
"Once you leave the cow path, the unpredictable territory is full of life. True, you cannot always see where you are putting your feet. This means you can no longer afford to stay unconscious. You can no longer count on the beat-down red dirt path making all your choices for you. Leaving it, you agree to make your own choices for a spell. You agree to become aware of each step you take, tuning all of your senses to exactly where you are and exactly what you are doing."  - Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World

***

When I was forced to turn the autopilot off on my spirituality, when I finally got the nerve to forge my own path out into the wilderness, I began to see glimpses of God in even the most unexpected of places. And I am convinced that "seeking God" is a journey available to all of us, regardless of creed, or status, or age, and that it requires nothing more than opening our eyes to the world around us. I am convinced that God is available wherever we find ourselves, even outside the church, the Bible, and prayer as we know it. I believe it because I experience it.

And the most mysterious thing of all is that these God pieces often appear to us on the very paths we are most forbidden from, the ones we have broken all the rules to get to. They show up in the poems of a Muslim mystic, whose words we read with fear and delight. Or in the relationship with that boyfriend we were warned not to date. Or at that gay bar the people at church don't know we frequent. 

And what are we to do with that? What are we to do when God goes ahead and makes a home in all the places we were told weren't "safe." What are we to do when we stop being able to find him on the old familiar streets? Do we settle for emptiness or do we continue the journey, on and out, seeking God pieces into the forbidden unknown?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Coming Out : I have hope for a scandalous redemption.

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

***

Back in high school, I went on a missions trip to Mexico with my youth group. During one of our lunches, we listened to a missionary explain the importance of evangelism to us while we sat on metal folding chairs eating white bread lunch meat sandwiches. 

I remember sitting there listening when a question suddenly lodged itself in my brain, a question that seemed valid and intelligent and that I couldn't seem to answer for myself. So afterward, when I saw a few students gathering around the missionary to talk, I went up too. As soon as there was space in the conversation I asked, "What about the people who live far out in small villages and never hear the name Jesus in their entire lives? What will happen to them?" 

That man looked me right in the eye and said that the Bible says even the rocks will cry out, so there is no excuse for not believing. He spoke as if he knew the answer before I had even finished the question and suddenly I felt stupid for asking it.  

I pretended to be satisfied with his response, but I wasn't. Thirteen years later, I'm still not. 

***

What religion is this that allows for hell in this world and hell in the next for human beings who are abused or starving or lonely or enslaved and simply were not born into the proper theological upbringing? What religion is this that determines any human beings' eternal destiny based on their ability to suspend their disbelief of a God who cannot be seen or touched? What religion is this that satisfies our darkest, most legitimate questions with pat answers dependent on the audibility of hypothetical rocks? 

***

These days, there is almost nothing I can say I know about the infinite Mystery I sometimes call God. Many days, I don't feel sure that such a thing even exists. But in spite of myself, I have this secret, scandalous hope that God is real and capable of redeeming everything and everyone, to the very last God-foresaken soul, and that, in the end, She* will

open arms by bruce.aldridge, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License

I'll be the first to admit I have very little faith in anything at all, but I have loads and loads of wild hope in the shocking, reckless, unending grace of a God who holds this beautiful broken universe of ours together with Her love. I have been ashamed of this precious hope and called it sacrilege, even in my own heart. 
But I will no longer pretend not to believe in a God of limitless redemption. The truth is, on the days when I believe at all, I believe in a God of second, and third, and millionth chances, who will never turn Her back and who stands with open arms for all of time, all the way into eternity. This is the God who has met me in the darkness of my deepest doubts, and She's the only One I can believe in.

P.S. I shared a few words about coming out yesterday on the Story Sessions blog.

*I use the feminine pronoun not to scandalize, but because the imagery it invokes has gotten me closer to wrapping my head around a loving God than any other.  

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Coming Out : I'm no longer evangelical, and it's not your fault.

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

***

A few months ago, I found myself in a phase where I was obsessed with watching LGBT coming out films. 

The interest didn't come as a complete surprise. I grew up a theatre nerd and, true to stereotype, was exposed to the diversity of human sexuality fairly early on. As a result, issues like gay marriage have always felt personal to me, less about right and wrong and more about people. So, when Bridegroom and Out Late both popped up on my Netflix account, I just followed the impulse, assuming it had something to do with that.


But when I found myself completely captivated by a third film, Wish Me Away, I began to think deeper about what might be bringing me back to these stories again and again. Eventually, it struck me that something inside me deeply identified with the struggle of deciding whether or not to reveal to others who you really are, and the fear of judgement when you do. 

Via
I don't pretend to understand the complexity and difficulty of coming out of the closet regarding your sexuality. But I do understand the compulsion to hide a part of yourself.

***

I've recently come to the conclusion that, whatever I am, I am not an evangelical. It's been a freeing realization. I've spent the majority of my life trying to fit my spirituality into that box, with varying degrees of success. There are so many questions I still cannot answer for myself, but it feels good to have this one tiny piece of the puzzle: I am not an evangelical.

For me, this is no small step. Because along with my artist mother and journalist father, evangelicalism raised me. Evangelicalism gave me my first sense of community and introduced me to God. Evangelicalism brought groceries to my house when times where tight. Evangelicalism loved my broken teenage self unconditionally, when few others did. For my entire life, evangelicalism has supported and nurtured and challenged me. It provided me with my primary sense of identity for the first two-plus decades of my life. 

Overall, evangelicalism has been good to me. This is not everyone's story, but it is mine. This doesn't mean I haven't been burnt by evangelicalism a time or two, because I have. Or that I don't have huge problems with several aspects of it, because O do I ever. But every religious tradition has its faults, and that is not why I am leaving. I am leaving because the nature of evangelicalism at its core is in direct conflict with who I am and what I believe.

So my shedding of the term is less a matter of right and wrong, and more a matter of apples and oranges. I don't mind hanging out with apples, some of my best friends and closest family members are apples. I may even go back to church with apples some day. But at the end of the day, I am not an apple. 

The strictness of evangelical theology simply does not leave room for the mystery and paradox that has come to shape what remains of my faith. I no longer know how to function as a perpetual doubter and emerging mystic in a tradition that relies so heavily on certainty and confidence and, well, evangelism. So I am freeing myself from the label and all its trappings. I am allowing myself room to stretch and breathe and be who I am.


***

A couple months after my coming out movies phase, I came across this Ted talk:



That's when I realized that it wasn't just me, that this process of coming out of the closest, it isn't just a gay thing, or a lesbian thing, or a spiritual misfit thing. It's kind of a human thing. We all have our stuff, the pieces of our essences we  hide for fear of rejection, or conflict, or condemnation. 

I don't know what the inside of your closet looks like, but I know the inside of mine all too well. It's lined with pages upon pages of all the beliefs and convictions and aspects of my spirituality that I've kept hidden. I've spent years curled up in my closet telling myself, "Don't say that. Don't admit that. Don't share that. You're wrong. You're lost. You're a heathen." And I am just so done. I am just so tired of the shame. I am coming out of the closet to be myself now. 

I don't know much about my place in this precious mess of Christianity, but I do know that if I am to continue existing within it, it will be as me. So, throughout the month, I'll be taking a few baby steps out of my spirituality closet with more Coming Out posts. I'd be honored if you'd join me on this journey by leaving a comment or link about your own coming out process. Let's step out of the closet together.