Friday, February 13, 2015

When: For Doubters, Misfits and Spiritual Shifters

When you vacillate between wearing your heart on your sleeve and keeping your true thoughts and feelings behind pursed lips and forced smiles -

When you think you might have opened Pandora's box of Spiritual Unraveling or feel you're playing a game of Jenga with all the beliefs that have previously held your life together and wonder which piece you pull out will finally make it topple - 

When you both fear and accept that this, for you, is the only way to knowing (and becoming) what's Really Real -

When you can no longer abide by the boxes of institutionalized faith, even if you sometimes crave its comforts, and you step outside to experience God or the Divine Presence or Church away from church - 

When people you know, and don't know, fear for you, that this is rebelliousness, "walking away," catching "the slippery slope," or merely a phase, and they pray for you, hoping you'll return, but you know in your knower that you are closer to faith than perhaps you've ever been and have no intentions of going back -

When you have surrendered to the great Unknown of how this will all play out or how you will be on the other side of it and freefall into it with surprising moments of peace, yes, nestled in the swells of angst - 

When you're tired of the Jesus in Lovey-Dovey songs and Jesus the BFF who is altogether too familiar and the tired Jesus of Cultural Wars, because he's been domesticated and made so small and often so petty, and some primal place in you is desperate to know Jesus Who is in The Tallest Old Trees and The Holy One Whose Name is Too Casually Dropped in Conversations - 

When being in groups of others, or among friends, who are fitting in where you no longer do leaves you weary and frustrated, confused and anxious, and you wonder if you'll have to "fake" it to stay in these relationships - 

When you're done putting a lid on your own discomfort so as not to make anyone else uncomfortable - 

When so many words and phrases and assumptions of like-minded belief, songs and blog posts and sermons, and even the bible itself, sound like fingernails running down your internal chalkboard -

When you hesitate, even, to call yourself Christian (or Muslim or Jew or Catholic or Baptist or Mormon or ... ) because you're worried that will imply too many things that no longer describe you - 

When you sit and inwardly quake, nearly talking yourself a dozen times out of hitting "publish" on a post and decide, in the end, you no longer wish to bend your words to the approval of others - 

It takes all the courage you can muster to bring your full self to the table. 

And this, you find, is freedom and holiness - and faith.

Linking up with Five-minute Friday, to the prompt of "When." 

P.S. To all who felt uncomfortable reading this, please know that's ok. And yet, if you would like to know and better understand how to companion with someone through this kind of tumultuous process, I highly recommend a book I'm in the midst of reading (for my own process): Faith Shift by Kathy Escobar. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

My search for the holy grail (#SmallWonder)

My lens could not stretch far enough, nor my eyes squint sharply enough, to capture them. The entire road trip, they eluded me. Haunted me. Possessed me like a fire that could not be quenched. My search for this pure white, feathered holy grail.

At the start of our trip, I didn't even know to search for them. But they showed up, elegant ghosts of white on stilted legs, throughout the fields on each side of I-5. We passed them by as blurs, at first, and then I grabbed binoculars, stunned by what came into focus.

Egrets. White heron. A feast of mysterious beauty to my soul.

And from then on, I held my camera in my lap as long as fields and barren plots of dirt were our landscape, ready to catch them at a moment's notice. Determined to memorize the shape and form of their beauty, to carry it home in my camera as evidence, in my heart as a souvenir that money cannot buy.  

* * * * *

The sun swept its generous arms across the sky one evening, releasing an armful of color, and as it began its rapid curl inward, I saw them. A pair of them. In a field of brown still illumined in gold. Pull over! Pull over! I begged my husband, as we actually had a rare shoulder to do so and no cars behind us, and he did. I pulled out my camera, fumbling to change the settings to let in more light, my heart pounding at the seeming perfection of this arrangement. They were there, closer than I'd ever seen them. I lifted my camera and then, in a breath, they took to the skies.  

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry or bow humbly at the holiness of what I couldn't yet put into words. I'm still not sure I can.

No matter how I tried, I could not make them stand still. Otherwordly, undomesticated, intoxicating, they remained in view just long enough for me to notice before lifting majestic wings and disappearing in a sea of sky.

I sought for them in grand places and found them, most often, in the humblest of landscapes. In the wild, yes, but not far removed from us. With us, but not contained by us.

As with my faith, as with catching sight of God across the earth itself, I cannot say, in the end, I was very much surprised by this discovery. But delighted, oh yes. From here on out, I will always be scanning the ordinary fields along the stretches of mundane highway for signs of God, feathered or otherwise.

Joining the community of Small Wonder at Kelly's, where we gather each week to share a moment of wonder.

Friday, February 6, 2015

In which my heart is stolen by a Mexican California

I can feel in the fabric of my soul how much I've changed when driving through Long Beach in California, the first leg of our road trip, my senses are fully awakened in the homogenously Mexican parts of town. The neighborhoods with bars on the windows, yes. With the old man peddling tamales and elote (Mexican corn on the cob), moving his cart from corner to corner. The taco stands with makeshift canopies and customers eating on their feet, wafts of smoky chorizo filling the air. The families barbequing carne asada in driveways and the tiendas with speakers pulsing out Cumbia music.

We're visiting friends, on the hunt for a store with a carniceria where we can find fresh cuts of beef for our own carne asada, and three out of the four of us represent the only white skin around these parts. 

I barely notice, hardly remembering I'm not part Mexican myself, until the stares. Not impolite stares, but guarded. Curious. And I feel the walls closing between us in these streets, that though we can drive wherever we please, coming and going, there is palpable distance between us. 

I feel it keenly, painfully: we inhabit different worlds.

* * * * *

We pass a man at his grill outside and Ricardo asks him, in Spanish, where we can find a store to buy good meat. I shift from one foot to the other, eager like a child to enter into the conversation. They finish and Ricardo tugs my hand gently toward the car, but I stay put.

"Listas para la cena?" I ask this man with a playful smile.  He looks, for a moment, taken aback. And then, it happens so fast I almost miss it. His guard falls. He smiles back, catching my joke, and responds that, yes, dinner is almost ready, we are on time. We laugh and thank him, waving goodbye with a friendly, "Que le vaya bien!"

* * * * *

We pull into the jackpot of all Mexican grocery stores I've seen, blocks from this man and his barbeque. As soon as we enter the sliding doors, I pull away from Ricardo, squealing. The bags of still-warm sopes and tortillas, made on sight. The lit cases of fresh Mexican sweet breads. The swarms of people shopping, none of them looking like me. In the back of the store, we pull a number and wait our turn at the meat counter. I disappear down the aisles, finding a metal strainer, a large can of whole pinto beans, a bag of homemade tortilla chips. I'm in a room of heaven, and I'm in no hurry to leave.

When it's time to check out, Ricardo and I stand in line with our goods, and I smile at a tiny woman with white hair drawn into a bun, an apron like my grandma may have worn covering her dress, getting into line behind us with a tiny cart of groceries. I am compelled to talk with her, to bridge this gap between us. So I ask her how she is and tell her what a beautiful supermarket this is. How we live in Seattle and there is nothing like this there. She graces me with a warm smile and polite conversation, and I reach out for her hand, gently clasping it, to wish her well as we're leaving.

* * * * * 

I don't know why, but my heart is clenching, fluttering, breaking in this place. Mexicans living so close to the border in poverty, many of them eeking out a living, and how easy it has been for Americans to dismiss or judge them based solely on their immigration status. But I know, they are here for a reason, many of them quite possibly for reasons more desperate and heartbreaking than they would ever let on, and everything in me wants to look them in the eyes and laugh with them and practice my limited Spanish with them and learn from the stories they tell, until they know beyond words that I see them as equals. As people, before anything else. 

That I want to know them.

Driving back to our friends' home on the other side of town, I wonder if I could live in a neighborhood like this. Where I stand out like a sore thumb, at least on the outside. Because something inside me is crying out to build bridges where there have been few that have remained standing. To build a path, over time, between the walls, between houses. To believe, perhaps with some glimmer of idealism, our homes can even be connected. 

Linking up with Tell His Story


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Road trip (#SmallWonder)

We cover close to two thousand miles of open road, from western Washington through Oregon to southern California and all the zig zagging in between as we, each day, turn the car in the direction of home. The inherent quality of road trips is that, in a tangible way, they foot us along to experience the journey as hundreds of daily arrivals at destinations, or moments in time, set on a moving continuum. And though I find myself wishing for more time to stretch and cover the edges of these nine days, I’m learning, too, to bend with time. To sit within these pockets time offers as gifts and allow myself to settle in contentment for what is.

For we never stand still, not for long, and this is both madness to the eyes and mystery to the heart, in that we are asked to hold a moment ever so briefly, embrace it - and then release before we are ready. Whether it was Only Five Minutes or Two Whole Days, The Blink of an Eye or Hours Dragging By, it is what it will be and truth be told, these moments will rarely feel Long Enough.

* * * * * 

Hours pass in the car with few words exchanged between us. We are engaging in the conversation of silence. Of growing companionship. The spacious freedom simply to be.

We point out birds to each other - Hawk! Bald Eagle! Egret! Snow geese! Falcon! Red wing blackbird! - in the sky, the naked trees, the fallow fields, on fence posts and in marshy pools. We draw our breaths in sharp at the colors of blushing sky at sunset, the fog hovering in valleys, the rocks texturing steep hillsides. We sing along with our cd collection, and he laughs at my spirited impersonation of Michael BublĂ© and I snicker as he translates Spanish lyrics from old Banda songs. 

We stop to take pictures, hundreds of pictures, of every thing and place of beauty we feast our eyes upon. We fall asleep one night in the back of the car with a sunroof of stars above us. We bundle up in the crisp morning to feel the ocean air kiss our faces and hear the waves pounding sand. We stop for tacos and coffees and Red Bulls, town after town. We run like children down ocean cliff trails, chasing after a white heron in the sky, these birds I long for, always just out of reach. 

We collect shells and stones and laugh at the ways the seals scoot and hop on their bellies across their rocky thrones. We spend an hour in San Fransisco eating bread bowls by the wharf. We stand inside a hollowed out Redwood the size of our kitchen, in a forest of giants, in hushed and holy silence. We lose our way among the parking lots of Yosemite, lose our patience, and find grace once more as we hike steep trails, feel our legs and lungs burning with life. We fall asleep early at night, exhausted and full from the day that didn't feel, in the end, it passed too quickly.

And I sense this spaciousness between us, like the generosity of slowly wrinkling skin. What we wish for in time, we find is right here, in us. 

Linking up with the community of Small Wonder at Kelly's place