Things I’ve Prayed For Lately

A moment of grace happened tonight, that I thought I’d share:

My partner Hawk and I are planning a church service together.  We’re co-leading the service at his aunt’s Unitarian Universalist church.  I think it has come as a surprise to both of us that the planning process has been fairly contentious.  I.e., on most things we are not tending to see eye to eye.  From how we were going to actually compose the sermon to which affirmation to use for the benediction, we’ve been disagreeing on everything.

Things had gotten out of hand, to the point where it seemed like every time we sat down to actually plan the thing, we ended up having a big fight!  I kept thinking, For crying out loud, this is supposed to be a sacred occasion and an opportunity to be of service (to the Great Love, no less) and here we are fighting!  What is going on?  But I also knew that I was as responsible as anyone for the condition our process was in.  And, truthfully, I didn’t really have any faith in my ability to not start or engage in arguments with Hawk over bits and pieces of the service.  I could see that something was pushing my button for “feeling threatened and powerless” — I didn’t know why it had come up, but  I was stuck in a pattern of feeling like all my opinions were being steamrollered, if that is the right word — feeling like I didn’t have any say and my creative contribution ws going to be lost.  This is something from my childhood.  I don’t really know why it’s been coming up at this particular moment or what triggered it in the first place, but I was definitely feeling stuck, and I was really suffering because of it.

I have, however, been praying for grace — this was both strongly encouraged by Hawk and inspired by the Caroline Myss book I mentioned in the previous post (in response, in fact, to just such fears as as I described).  Once I humbled myself enough to be willing to let go of the pain (and to try something Hawk suggested) I prayed for my heart to be strengthened enough that I would be able to choose things that were harder but right.  And I prayed that my actions could be aligned with God’s will.  (This phrase, for me, expresses my knowing that I am out of alignment and also not honestly knowing how I will — or can — bring myself into re-alignment; I guess it is an expression of trust in grace, that somehow even if I don’t actually think I have the strength of will to always do what is of the highest good, it can — somehow — end up being done through me.)

And also I took a page from the AA book — one I never really got into while I was going to AA, but which felt appropriate now — and prayed that God would take away my character flaws.  Jealousy, for one, and the fear of being overshadowed (itself actually an expression of choosing the ego over the higher self).  I did not groove on the language of “character flaws” in my AA days, let me tell you.  But I’m at a place now where I see the value that concept can have … I can see how such a prayer could really be the gateway to having a big step up.  (I think the twelve step program is actually a wonderful path of prayer, self-knowledge, knowledge of God, and service — not unlike the path of mysticism that I was talking about before.  Note how I never got a sponsor or did the twelve steps, either.  🙂  )

Anyway, when I wasn’t actively engaged in prayer, I wasn’t really thinking about these things as I went about my day, but I gradually realized that a shift was happening in the way Hawk and I were working on the service — or rather, in the way I perceived the process.  I actually started being able, when I noticed a potential conflict coming up, to not start a fight!  Sometimes this meant just letting something pass by without question or comment, and sometimes it meant telling Hawk that I wasn’t thrilled with some element he was proposing, but I was willing to go along with it if he was excited about it.  I felt glad that we seemed to have achieved some degree of peace, though it felt precarious to me.

then we got to the subject of the affirmation to use in the benediction.  Hawk had proposed something; I had objected on the grounds that it wasn’t specific enough to our topic; yadda yadda yadda; I had made a whole fuss about it the last time we tried to have a planning session.  This time, I said to myself, I will go with the strategy that seems to have been sorking so well — just go along with whatever he proposes for the sections he’s in charge of.  So when he brought it up, I just said, Ok, sure, that’s fine. 

But even though I said it was fine, he went on to explain why he liked it, why he felt like it was a good finish to the service, and how he thought it related to our sermon.  At first, I started to get a little defensive — I could feel some resistance coming up.  Then the thought occurred to me — and this, I think, was the moment of grace — like a little voice in my head: “Wow, ok, he’s trying to share with me why he thinks this would be a good fit, and I’m just dismissing it because I still want to hold onto my feeling of being right, regardless of whether we use it or not.  What if I just — allowed myself to listen to his reasoning?  What if I opened just that much?”  And … as a matter of fact … I did start really listening to what he was saying.  And I did feel my heart opening — and I did get where he was coming from.  Really. 

So I was able to say, Yes, let’s go with that, and actually mean it.  And some peace was sustained.  But really the true moment of grace was in the sudden flash of light with which I saw that I was really attached to the feeling of being right — that up to this point I’d been choosing that over my love for my partner.  And once I am able to see that that’s the choice I’m making with my actions (in this case, my words as actions) — I definitely do not want to stay there!  But I might still not have the moral courage to change my direction — in essence, admit that I was wrong, and change my actions and words accordingly — were it not for God’s grace and the strengthening of my heart that I prayed for.  In fact, it may be that every time I admit to being wrong, and that someone else was right (or even just that they have a good point!), that is happening because of an intervention of grace.  Because the habit of clinging to the sense of rightness is very strong in me.  And I think that much of the time I don’t even realize I’m doing it — let alone realize what choices I’m making from that place, and what those choices say about my priorities!  I’m saddened every time it strikes me how far away I am from the ideal … but I do have faith that I can get better, step by step.  And moments of revelation like this one tonight, where I realize how much I am reliant on grace for any change I make for the better in my self … are really pretty mind-blowing to me, pretty heart-filling.  And I just have to say I’m grateful for being shown a glimpse of what I was actually doing, difficult though it may be for me to witness, and I’m grateful that although I didn’t know if I would be able to do it, the right thing happened through me. 

Good night and love,

H.S.

The Fear of God

I’ve started in a book group that’s reading Caroline Myss’ book Entering the Castle — it’s based mainly on the writings of St. Teresa of Avila (along with drawing on other mystics in other religious traditions).  The idea of the book is to teach readers how to follow the mystic’s path while living in the modern world — to become “mystics without monasteries,” as she puts it — ultimately to arrive at the mystic’s true goal, the life lived in identification with the divine soul.  Which is, in essence, union with God.

You know, within the last couple of months I committed myself, with witnesses, to a path of mysticism and a path of ministry.  I did these things because I felt a strong inner call, and praying about it, I felt I received clear and abundant signs that it was the right thing to do.  I can admit now that I did not make these commitments with a full understanding of what they would demand of me.  I also felt I could not choose otherwise.  It was not a question of logical consideration.  In fact I find it really hard to explain the reasons why I chose these commitments, and so I am more comfortable keeping them to myself. 

I agreed to marry my partner after only two and a half weeks of dating for similar non-reasons — realizing well into the journey that my commitment to this union would really require of me that I grow a lot, that I face my own buried dysfunction, that I learn to think less of my small self, to become more selfless.  And to be extremely flexible.

So now that I have been a spiritual bride and taken new vows, first of all, I find all my shit getting stirred up — all that stuff that keeps me from truly being available for service.  In the last few weeks I’ve had some really painful experiences of struggling with lack of forgiveness (for myself, others, situations…).  Another area that’s been triggered is my old social anxiety, feeling ill at ease and self-conscious in social situations, like I’m always making the wrong move.  And of course, writing all this and recalling the ways I have been chastising myself reminds me that self-acceptance remains one of the big areas where I still have a lot to learn.

In the midst of all this, Caroline Myss’ book comes along.  I find as I begin to read it that the promises of the introductory chapters comfort me in some deep way — they seem to hold out hope to my soul that there is direction and guidance available — that there is peace that can be found — indeed, by following a path the entry gate of which I’ve already passed through. 

They also kinda scare the crap out of me. 

I realize that I actually am not a little afraid of going down that path.  I’m a little scared of the journey in and of itself.  What will it reveal to me about myself that is not acceptable to God?  What will it insist that I do?  What will it force me to give up?  Will I feel those things as difficult or painful, or will they simply arise in their proper time as natural next steps, easy and joyful to take? 

How will following this path change me? …  I notice that this human life of mine, with its aesthetic arrangement of material comforts, its intellectual pursuits, and its interpersonal relationships organized into the predominating social structures of the day … this small life of mine, put together with so much energy and attention … it’s compelling, it distracts me away from the spiritual path.  It pretends to be in competition.  My small self reads of the union of the soul with God through the effacement of the ego, and thinks of its comfortable apartment life, and thinks that that would be painful to sacrifice, it would be hard to let go, and my small self is unsure that the metaphysical rewards will be worth the discomfort of growth and change.

I wonder now if this is what The Lord of the Ringsis really about.  I’ve been re-reading the series this summer — I read it all the way through several times as a teenager, but haven’t looked at it for a long time, and I just got the urge to revisit it and see what my current self makes of it.  I was curious to see if I would find its meanings and lessons changed as I read them from a new vantage point in life.  So now I’m thinking about Frodo’s journey as a nice metaphor for the journey of the soul.  (I know lots of people have suggested religious interpretations of the series before — I’m not arguing for a critical interpretation — just saying that as another version of the archetypal story of the Hero’s Journey, as a story, it can help us understand that othet heroic journey that is inward, toward the divine spark within.)  Frodo signed on for a dangerous journey into a completely unknown wild, answering, when called, from his heart, not his head.  He took it on for the good of all — surrendering his own will and accepting that his death was likely with deep courage and faith.  There was something in him that was unwavering — that, when he was surrounded by total darkness, and all of his hope was gone, that nonetheless continued putting one foot in front of the other, until there was nowhere further to go.  And when he got there it turned out that the goal could not be accomplished by his own power at all, but only through the intervention of a power greater than himself — what might have been called, in the context of the story, destiny.

I don’t think, here in the West, that we really understand the meaning of destiny anymore.  It’s only through reading the works of Indian and Middle Eastern writers that it’s even beginning to dawn on me that there is a big gap there in my (and our) cultural understanding.  But there is something about both the way I met and married my partner and the way I came to the spiritual path I’m embarking upon today that has a feel of destiny.  What that means to me is that I have a feeling that there is some purpose in these meetings, that some piece of some plan is clicking into place, that, to put it simply, some good will come of it.  At these times I’ve felt the elusive edge of a sense that all our souls are part of a great … perfection, an extremely complex and delicately balanced story that is unfolding exactly as it should, the only way it ever could, toward our evolution, toward our highest good.

This barely-touched sense of rightness, totally inexplicable though it may be, still gives me enough willingness, courage, and excitement to put one foot in front of the other down the path into the utter mystery. 

Thanks to you for allowing me to share this with you.

Love and blessings,

Heartland Soul