Doorway to the Divine

The whole universe and all events are sacred (doorways to the divine) for those who know how to see. In other words, everything that happens is potentially sacred if you allow it to be. ~Richard Rohr

I mentioned in my last post that one of the readers of my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace, challenged me to dig deeper into my story. In the process of excavating, I invited my forty-four-year-old daughter to have a talk with me.

When I trained in Imago Relationship Therapy, we learned a valuable listening skill called “The Intentional Dialogue.” We were taught to leave our own world behind, our perceptions, thoughts, and feelings, in order to enter and be present to the world of another. Listening deeply in this way gives us an opportunity to understand the other person at the level of their soul. It can be quite revealing. I decided to use this skill during our talk, which proved to be a “doorway to the divine.”

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After taking our places in my living room, I began, “I’d like you to tell me what it was like for you as a child having me for a mother.”

Being in my daughter’s world was heartbreaking as I listened to the depth of her anguish–sacred moments of truth telling. And then her magnanimous soul emerged. She gave me an unanticipated gift of grace–understanding and forgiveness.

Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.     ~Paul Boese

My daughter received an empathetic response from me as I validated her reality. I received her understanding and forgiveness, thus allowing me to forgive myself. Our future is enlarged. If my memoir does nothing else, the writing has proved to be healing for both of us. And that is a lot! I am filled with awe and gratitude.

A Holy Pause

True personal growth is about transcending the part of you that is not okay and needs protection. ~Michael Singer

I set a goal at the beginning of 2015 to write one blog post a week. You have’t heard from me since April 21. In addition to moving my blog to my WordPress website, I’ve needed to take a “holy pause” to work on transcending a part of me that is not okay.

c8c2b-demon

Shame Demon strikes again.

In June 2014, I wrote about my Shame Demon battering me with harsh judgments after feedback received about my character at a workshop. In May 2015, I began receiving feedback from those agreeing to read my manuscript to help me improve my writing. One of them challenged me to dig deeper into my story and especially into my feelings and motivations surrounding myself as a mother. Once again the feelings of being inadequate and unworthy surfaced. My Shame Demon attempted to kill the meaning, purpose, joy and healing writing my memoir has given me.

Michael Singer is one of my favorite spiritual teachers. In his book, The Untethered Soul: the journey beyond yourself, he speaks of the roommate in our head–the mental voice that creates problems, makes us miserable, and never shuts up. Mine resembles that Shame Demon.

Michael-Singer-headshot3

Michael Singer

The Untethered Soul

 

While we would never listen to someone who says the bizarre things our “inner roommate” says, we allow this mental voice to ruin anything we’re doing in an instant. When caught in a shame spiral, our mental voice creates even more havoc than usual. Mine was running rampant. I considered letting go of moving forward with my memoir and further exposing my inadequacies. I thought about giving up on the idea of sharing my story with the world.

Just as I did in 2014, I withdrew into myself for a time, avoiding contact with others, the very action that feeds shame. And then a friend noticed. “You seem depressed,” she said.

I let her know a little of what “my roommate” was saying. She gave me a new perspective, a different voice to consider. Gradually, I opened up to more friends. Gentler perspectives than the harsh ones my “inner roommate”  offered came forth. Even on-line spiritual resources spoke to my situation.

This reminder of grace in the midst of our frailties:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  ~II Corinthians 9a

And days of wisdom from Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations:

Richard-Rohr_home-view

~ Richard Rohr ~ Franciscan Priest

“Salvation isn’t about replacing our human nature with a fully divine nature, but growing within our very earthiness and embodiedness to live more and more in the ways of love and grace, so that it comes ‘naturally’ to us and is our deepest nature. This does not mean we are humanly or perfectly whole or psychologically unwounded, but it has to do with an objective identity in God that we can always call upon and return to without fail. Some doctrine of divinization is the basis for all reliable hope and any continual growth.”

“There are two major approaches to spirituality and conversion. We try to exclude and triumph over the negative parts, the shadow parts, the ‘inferior parts’ (I Cor. 12:22), as Paul calls them. This leads us to a kind of heroic spirituality based on willpower and the achievement of some sort of supposed perfection. But if you are honest, what you are really doing is pretending–and excluding the dark side that you do not want to look at, or the people you do not want to deal with. The way of Francis included and integrated the negative–forgiving and accepting the imperfection and woundedness of life. He agreed with Paul that the supposed inferior or weakest are, in fact, ‘the most indispensable.’ 

Salvation is not a divine transaction that takes place because you are morally perfect, but much more is an organic unfolding, a becoming who you already are, an inborn sympathy with and capacity for the very One who created you.”

“The whole universe and all events are sacred (doorways to the divine) for those who know how to see. In other words, everything that happens is potentially sacred if you allow it to be.” ~Richard Rohr

And so once more, I was given an opportunity to grow my shame resilience. I began accepting my weaknesses, looking for the doorway to the divine, and reminding myself of divine grace in the midst of all my life experiences. I moved forward.

 

An Opportunity to Practice

An intention for 2015:
Increase my awareness of the light of grace in the midst of life’s messiness.

Linda A. Marshall
 
On January 1st I posted this intention on my blog.
On January 2nd messiness entered my life.
As I set that intention, I wondered if I was inviting messiness in. It seems that I had.
I received a tearful phone call from my forty-three-year-old daughter who is single and has a disability. She depends on me. She’d just experienced a significant loss in her life.
I might have jumped in to try to control the situation. I’d certainly done that often enough in the past. But letting go and accepting my powerlessness over people, places, and things is something I began working on some thirty years ago.  
And, as I reminded myself, I’d made that intention. So, at the beginning of 2015, I remained calm and looked for the light of grace.
I listened to my daughter’s distress and then asked, “How can I support you? Just let me know what you need and I’ll do it.”
She was conflicted about what she needed from me. She needed my presence but my presence would not have been well received by those she had to deal with, making her situation even more distressing.
And so we waited for guidance. And then the still small voice of Wisdom within gave us the answer. “Reach out for support from a friend who cares.”
 Thank God for friends.
 
 
Karen has served as a gift of grace in the midst of the messiness in our life on several occasions. She appears in my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace, as just such a gift. Once again, Karen entered as usual—with compassion, empathy, and a deep wisdom of her own.
I write this post with gratitude for the increase in my awareness of the light of grace and the decrease in the length of time it takes for me to notice. 
 
 

DEEPENING: Divine Messiness

Look for God’s realm peeking through our imperfect world.
Deb Kaiser-Cross
My friends, Kathryn, Sharon, Karen, Jennie and many others speak of feeling closer to the Divine in nature than anywhere else. Jennie, one of my writer friends, writes eloquently about it. With them in mind, I set off on Thanksgiving morning for a walk in the woods at the center where I am engaging in a personal, silent retreat, hoping for Divine guidance to deepen my memoir.
Where I experience the intimacy my friends speak of is most often in my journal. Writing letters and reflections to the Divine in my journal is my major spiritual practice. On occasion, a wisdom beyond my own emerges from my pen giving me guidance and a new perspective on life.
 But I’m curious about my friend’s experience and so, as I embark for the woods, I declare, “On my walk, I’m going to be more present to my surroundings to see if I can have their kind of experience with the Divine.”
From the windows in the back of my little cabin, I’ve been marveling at the large expanse of trees reaching their limbs to the sky. As I enter into their midst, my attention is drawn to that which is rotting—wet darkened leaves, broken limbs, and fallen trees. I chuckle at my neat, tidy, orderly, perfectionist self. The woods are messy. I probably miss my connection with the Divine in the woods because I’m not able to control the messiness.
 
I head for the aptly named Stillwater River at the edge of the woods. A huge rock provides seating as I gaze at the gently flowing water and journal my reflections. I much prefer the metaphor of the river flowing as life flows—around barriers, smoothing our rough places.
Once back in the silence of my cabin, I notice the messiness in my journal. In my writing, I wade through the messiness in my monkey-mind until a clearing of new awareness and understanding emerges. This weekend the still small voice of the Divine within gives me what I came hoping for—clear guidance for deepening my memoir.
Awe fills me as an awareness of the messiness of nature mirroring the messiness of life becomes clear. My memoir is about the messiest stretch of my life. I am reminded that in the midst of the mess, I have my most profound encounter with the Divine.
An intention for 2015: Increase my awareness of the light of grace in the midst of life’s messiness.

You Are Accepted…How Sweet The Sound

Paul Tillich quote
Recently Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the celebrated memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, posted this Paul Tillich quote on Facebook. I added it to my page noting that the reason my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace, has that title is because it took me so long to experience this truth.

 

Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert

 
Patricia Hollinger’s poem, Amazing Grace, appeared in True Words from Real Women, a Story Circle journal of short pieces of life-writing by SCN members. The topic for the September issue was grace. Patricia gave me permission to share her poem with you.
Amazing Grace
 
                      Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound…
                                Just hearing the tune makes many a heart pound.
                                That saved a wretch like me!
                                Is what follows and causes me to plea.
                                I was NOT a wretch, “Damnit,” I said,
                                From such words I often fled.
                                With religious angst and major depression,
                                These words reinforced a negative impression.
                                I changed the word wretch to a soul like me,
                                After hours and hours of therapy.
                                Yes, I was lost in the throes of religious zealots,
                                Their words often stung me like BB pellets.
                                Now I am found in the truth of my soul,
                                Seeking this became my ultimate goal.
                                My eyes had been blinded for many years,
                                As I heard sermons designed to elicit fears.
                                “Tis the grace of the presence of a listening ear,
                                As I poured out my hopes and fears,
                               That brought me home to my true self,
                               Never again in fear will I sit on a shelf.

 

Patricia Ropp Hollinger
 
Dichotomy: Intellect & Soul
I could relate to Patricia’s blindness, having been blinded to grace myself for some of the very same reasons. While I didn’t intellectually take in the dogma, the words in the liturgy and music about sin and unworthiness found their way into my psyche, making my already difficult life circumstances even more grueling.
 
Thankfully, the preaching in my progressive denomination, often influenced by Paul Tillich’s theology, leans more toward emphasizing the love of the Divine. My own preaching certainly did. Still, like Patricia, I needed to pour out hopes and fears to compassionate listening ears. Much of my struggle in A Long Awakening to Grace is related to the confusing dichotomy between my intellect and my soul.
Graced with a Miracle: Radical Acceptance
 
And then, not so very long ago, a miracle happened. Another layer of numb gave way, awakening me to grace at a deeper level than I ever imagined possible. My eyes were opened to my wretchedness and at the same time to my loveableness. From this new vantage point, I could embrace the mixture we all seem to be…I could appreciate as never before our human journey of coming into consciousness of the divinity at our center.
 
With this radical acceptance of my humanness and my divinity, the dis-ease engendered by fear of condemnation, the stigma of guilt, and the decree of unworthiness has been tempered considerably. Their shadows continue to creep into my psyche from time to time. But awareness frees me to soulfully sing, Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound.

…remember that to be in grace means to submit to the voice greater.
Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Clarissa Pinkola Estés

My Intention: Wholehearted Engagement

…we must dare to show up and let ourselves be seen. This is vulnerability. This is daring greatly.
Brené Brown
I place a star next to the paragraph I just highlighted in my copy of Brené Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, where she writes about the vulnerability of putting our writing out into the world with no assurance of acceptance or appreciation. She says sharing something we’ve created is a vulnerable but essential part of engaged and Wholehearted living. It’s the epitome of daring greatly, especially for those who approach the world through shame. Shame resilience is called for when we believe that our self-worth is dependent upon getting a positive response.
As a memoirist writing as honestly as possible about shameful aspects of myself and my life, I dare greatly. For the past two years, I’ve been sharing my story with my writing partner. In addition to a recent manuscript review and Master Class at Mad Anthony Writer’s Workshop, I’ve been giving chapters to four readers for critique. The ultimate dare will be publishing. 
Nancy Pinard
www.nancypinard.com
The Master Class is facilitated by Nancy Pinard, a Dayton author and former short story teacher at Sinclair Community College and the University of Dayton Life Long Learning Institute. Out of the huge number of mature learners who responded to her class at UDLLI, a group of writers created a support group that continues to meet monthly. Those who were fortunate to be in her class, consider her to be the “Wannabee’s mother.”
 
For the Master Class at Mad Anthony, four of us submit 15-page manuscripts to Nancy who distributes them to us for critique. I am the only memoir writer. During class each writer remains silent as our work is critiqued. In addition to her appraisal, Nancy gives helpful technical suggestions and examples specific to our genre related to the craft of writing. After hearing everyone’s comments, we are permitted to ask questions or make comments.
My lip quivers as my turn to receive feedback approaches. I’ve already received a manuscript review the day before and have an inkling of what is coming. My character is about to be evaluated along with my writing. My reviewers do not like my mothering, a primary shame trigger for women.
 
While I am uncomfortable hearing their impressions of me, it is valuable in three ways. First, Nancy noted that I’m not beginning my story in the right place. Additional backstory (background information to more fully understand my character) was needed. Now I have written new chapters for the beginning and moved the chapter under review to ninth place.
 
Second, despite my discomfort, I am able for the first time to take in positive comments about my skill as a writer and my compelling story. Their interest is piqued in knowing what led to my disliked behavior and how the story turns out. For a writer, that is a good sign.
 
Third, as one who has struggled with shame for most of my life, this experience gives me an opportunity to see how far I’ve come in developing the shame resilience Brené Brown recommends. For a week, I withdraw and enter a period of self-examination. Were they right about me? Was I a terrible mother?
 
Wayne Tully Fantasy Art through Zazzle.com
My shame demon attempts to batter me with harsh judgments, stop me from exposing my shameful behavior, kill the joy and healing writing my memoir is giving me. Toward the end of the week, I begin sharing what I’m going through with trusted friends. In my experience, talking about shame renders it impotent. By the beginning of the next week, my shame attack has subsided. In the past, it would have taken months or years. I owe a debt of gratitude to Nancy Pinard and my Master Class-mates for giving me an opportunity to see the progress I’ve made. I owe a debt of gratitude to my friends who hold me up when my shame demon tries to sink me.
 
The middle of July, I’ll be daring greatly again at the Antioch Writer’s Workshop, submitting Chapter 2 for a Seminar dealing with manuscripts as well as another one-on-one critique.
 
I find a needed bit of wisdom in a quote by Adam Appleson, “Share whatever it is you’re ashamed about. You may think you can hide your shame by not talking about it, but in reality, it’s your shame that’s hiding you.”
 
My shame has been hiding me for far too long. I’m not writing about the shameful aspects of my life to attract attention. I’m writing to come out of hiding…to join the journey from “What will people think?” to “I am enough”…to engage in Wholehearted living. Along the way, I hope my story will inspire others to do the same. And that means being vulnerable and daring greatly. And so it is.    

My Journey with Grace

Early years:
 
Sometimes grace is a ribbon of mountain air that gets in through the cracks.
Anne Lamott 
Grace is tied to our image of God and what it means to be human. When I was in my early teens, the parish worker in our church helped me develop a loving image of God because of the way she related to me. She treated me as a person of worth, listened to me as though I had something to contribute, and nurtured me. I was unaware that I was receivng a precious gift of Divine grace. Church was my oasis away from the biting criticism I received at home. My mother’s worries about “what’s wrong with Linda?” left me feeling flawed, but not sinful. I worked hard to prove Mom wrong. If I thought about sin at all, I relegated it to dastardly behavior, something a “good girl” like me, even though flawed, could not be guilty of.
My best friend from high school and I both became teachers. She shared with me shortly after we began our careers that she feared she was committing the sin of pride because she felt good about herself as a teacher. I gave her a puzzled look. She added, “You know, like we learned in Sunday school.”
I didn’t remember learning that. I couldn’t fathom that my friend was sinful for recognizing her gifts as a teacher, so I decided to do a little research. I learned that the passages of scripture speaking to the sin of pride refer to arrogance, conceit, and haughtiness, not something characterizing my friend. I told her what I’d found, stating, “It’s okay for you to feel good about yourself as a teacher.” I had just taken my first foray into serving as a spiritual guide.
Disintegration:
I wish grace and healing were more abracadabra kind of things. Also, that delicate silver bells would ring to announce grace’s arrival. But no, it’s clog and slog and scotch, on the floor, in the silence, in the dark.
Anne Lamott
During my dark night of the soul, my experience was of being abandoned by a judgmental God. I wondered if God saw something wrong in me as my mother had. I wondered if I’d done something offensive and my difficult life was punishment for my sin. During a discussion about turning one’s will and life over to the care of God, I found myself in tears. The words that came from my mouth surprised me. “I don’t think God cares about me.” It made no sense to me at an intellectual level, but at the emotional level, I suffered. Today I realize that childhood experiences imprinted deeply in my psyche produced this state of mind, overriding my intellect. My extended dark night played havoc with my thinking.
Well-meaning people would say, “God only gives you as much as you can handle.” I thought that image of God odd…giving us pain as a test of our strength. Imagining a God inflicting pain on purpose only made my suffering worse.
Describing grace as an undeserved gift from God also did not help. Wrestling to understand the absence of grace in my life, blind to any extension of God’s grace, deaf to any mention of grace, all I heard in church were messages of sin, unworthiness, judgment, and the need to repent. Even though my progressive denomination did not accentuate the need for redemption as some churches do, any hint stabbed at my heart.
Integration: It’s a Process
Sometimes grace works like water wings when you feel you are sinking.
Anne Lamott
In my theological education, I learned about an ancient creation-centered wisdom tradition that preceded the church’s emphasis on our sinful need for redemption. This tradition, all but lost in Christianity today, emphasizes our original blessing as co-creators with a Creator God who calls us to a LIFE of loving action fostering dignity for all. For me, that is inspiring.  How favorably we must be regarded in the eyes of our Creator to be given such a high calling and awesome responsibility.
Matthew Fox, a Dominican scholar, is a prolific writer about creation-centered spirituality. He recognizes that it may have been necessary for humanity to concentrate during a certain period on our fallenness, but he believes the time has come to let that preoccupation give way to attention to Divine grace. I agree with him and think the preoccupation of which he speaks, along with the critical imprint from my childhood, contributed to my awakening to grace being so long.
  
Being introduced to the richness of the original languages in the Bible, a richness not conveyed in English, had an impact. Enlightened by scholars who study these ancient languages, I began to hear sin differently. The Hebrew word for sin is chattah and the Greek is hamartia. Both are archery terms for missing a target. Sin means missing the mark. I love that and find it empowering. If the mark is missed, there is always another opportunity to hit it.

The Greek word for conversion is metanoia, literally meaning “going another way” or “changing your mind.” The positive framework presented in the original languages is far more inspiring to me than being dragged down by a negative, disempowering focus on departing from my hopeless inferior sinful state. I came to see us humans as having been endowed by our Creator with the capacity to change our way of thinking and acting. I think we actualize ourselves as co-creators when we challenge ourselves to act out of higher levels of being. Of course, I often miss the mark, but in every moment I have the opportunity to change. Being given a second, third, or whatever it takes chance is comforting. In my experience, uncovering the Divine nature within me is a form of prayer, equally as important as praying to an external God for help. Empowered to fulfill a high calling to partner with my Creator in continuing acts of creation, today I see myself and all co-creators as deserving of grace, even when we miss the mark over and over again. I don’t think it’s about deserving or not deserving. I think it is about awakening.

During my dark night of confusion, I often said, “I need God with skin on.” My pain prevented me from recognizing the many friends who walked with me through this experience as the Divine messengers they were. I am eternally grateful for those who responded to their awesome call to be co-creators by reaching out to me, helping me “change my mind” about God. Consoled by their care, I moved from experiencing God as Judge to embracing God as Cosmic Comforter, one who suffers with us through our dark night experiences.
Even after that powerful experience of grace in 1999, it took time for me to integrate grace into my psyche. As I mentioned in my first blog post, the writing of my memoir transformed the way I look at my life…awakening me to seeing my difficult life as the context for my spiritual journey, finally achieving the integration I began consciously seeking in 1984. Today, in my better moments, I am challenged and empowered to find the gift available in every painful moment, recognizing Divine grace in everything. I am in awe of the mystery and The Mystery. 
I do not at all understand the mystery of grace –
Only that it meets us where we are
But does not leave us where it found us.
Anne Lamott

Memoir: A Path of Transformation

I want to write, but more than that, I want to bring out all kinds of things that lie buried in my heart.
Anne Frank
In 1999, after a long painful period in my life with both my children, we experienced being gifted with Grace. A twenty-two year search for the cause of our painful circumstances yielded nothing that made a difference. Then, quite miraculously, the answer arrived…in a hospital…in a most unexpected way. When the story was being relayed to a nurse (really an angel disguised as a nurse), she looked at me and said several times, “You need to write a book about this.”
Keeping a journal for most of my adult life has been my way of praying to The Mystery (what I prefer to call the Divine). In my journal, I write to understand my life, wrestling with the big questions of life, and, like Anne Frank, to bring out what is buried in my heart.
  • Who am I? Who am I being in my life?
  • What’s the purpose of my life? Am I living my purpose?
  • What values are most important to me and am I living in alignment with them?
  • What are my ideals and am I being true to them?
  • Does my life matter and, if so, in what way?
  • Am I living in a way that serves the greater good?
  • Are some people designated as special…chosen to receive joyful blessings?
  • What is the meaning of the pain in my life? Is it punishment? How am I to think about it?
  • What are the lessons I am here to learn? Am I learning them?
  • Can I trust You, The Mystery, to be a benevolent force? Are you for me?
  • If so, how am I being supported in the midst of all this pain?
At the moment of commitment, the entire Universe conspires to assist you.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 

cosmos

It took ten years after that first encouragement to find the maturity to begin writing A Long Awakening to Grace in earnest. I’d been writing at it for years. And then these past four years, my memoir has been writing me. 

Two years ago, I found a writing partner in the Spirituality Forum meeting at our local senior citizens center. We were both writing our memoirs and decided to meet every two weeks to read and critique each other’s work. Reading to Nita was an act of courage because she has not experienced the kind of challenges in her life I’ve had in mine. She never once judged me, even as I revealed shameful secrets. She told me, “I feel as though I’ve been chosen to hear your story.” I agreed, believing it was Divine guidance that brought us together. With her support, several drafts have been revised and now one is in the process of being polished. Thank you Universe!!
I struggled to find an ending because in some ways the circumstances in my story continue. And then a miracle emerged. In the process of writing and sharing my story with Nita, I began to perceive my life in a whole new way. Remaining vestiges of victim dropped away. Looking back at my younger self through more mature eyes, admiration for my determination to grow and my strength in persevering appeared. Listening with an open-heart as I read to Nita, compassion for what I was going through and forgiveness for my weaknesses surfaced.
And then one day a Grace-filled awakening came to pass. Gratitude for my pain flowed from my pen as I wrote in my journal. My eyes were opened to my difficult life being the context for my sacred journey and, as improbable as it seemed, to my challenging children being my spiritual teachers. Their trials gave me many opportunities to surrender and to learn to love in heart-wrenching circumstances. The ending, or in actuality the continuing, gifted me with an experience of the transformative power of memoir.
A memoir may always be retrospective, but the past is not where its action takes place.
Nuala O’Faolain
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