Friday, May 22, 2009

[Beloved] "and the mercy of the fallen"

At my Thursday young adult church small group, we've been reading portions of Henri Nouwen's Life of the Beloved. He talks about how we are the Body of Christ, and he uses the Communion liturgy -- taken/chosen, blessed, broken, given -- as a framing device.

Excerpts from Blessed:
For me, personally, prayer becomes more and more a way to listen to the blessing.  I have read and written much about prayer, but when I go to a quiet place to pray, I realize that, although I have a tendency to say many things to God, the real "work" of prayer is to become silent and listen to the voice that says good things about me.  This might sound self-indulgent, but, in practice, it is a hard discipline.  [...]  To gently push aside and silence the many voices that question my goodness and to trust that I will hear a voice of blessing --- that demands real effort.  [...]  It is not easy to enter the silence and reach beyond the many boisterous and demanding voices of our world and to discover there the small intimate voice saying: "You are my Beloved Child, on you my favor rests."  [...]  Often you will feel that nothing happens in your prayer.  You say: "I am just sitting there and getting distracted."  But if you develop the discipline of spending one half-hour a day listening to the voice of love, you will gradually discover that something is happening of which you were not even conscious.  It might be only in retrospect that you discover the voice that blesses you.
I was really struck by the idea of silent prayer as listening to the voice of love.  I'm familiar with the idea of listening to/for God during silent prayer, but I usually think of that as listening for God to tell you something, but of course just being in the Presence is valuable, and sometimes what God most wants to tell us is that we are Beloved.  (One could argue that what God always most wants to tell us is that we are Beloved.)
    My second suggestion for claiming your blessedness is the cultivation of presence.  By presence I mean attentiveness to the blessings that come to you day after day, year after year.  The problem of modern living is that we are too busy --- looking for affirmation in the wrong places? --- to notice that we are blessed.  Often, people say good things about us, but we brush them aside with remarks such as, "Oh, don't mention it, forget about it, it's nothing . . ." and so on.  These remarks may seem to be expressions of humility, but they are, in fact, signs that we are not truly present to receive the blessings that are given.  It is not easy for us busy people, to truly receive a blessing.  Perhaps the fact that few people offer a real blessing is the sad result of the absence of people who are willing and able to receive such a blessing.  It has become extremely difficult for us to stop, listen, pay attention, and receive gracefully what is offered to us.
I'd been thinking recently about how when people are really grateful to me and I respond by saying that what I did wasn't a big deal, that I diminish their experience, that I implicitly say that the thing I helped them with wasn't a big deal (even though that's not what I mean) and also that in refusing to accept their gratitude I was denying them the ability to give me a gift.
    Before concluding these thoughts about our being blessed, I must tell you that claiming your own blessedness always leads to a deep desire to bless others.  The characteristic of the blessed ones is that, wherever they go, they always speak words of blessing.  It is remarkable how easy it is to bless others, to speak good things to and about them, to call forth their beauty and truth, when you yourself are in touch with your own blessedness.  The blessed one always blesses.  And people want to be blessed!  This is so apparent wherever you go.  No one is brought to life through curse, gossip, accusations, or blaming.  There is so much of that taking place around us all the time.  And it calls forth only darkness, destruction, and death.  As the "blessed" ones, we can walk through this world and offer blessings.  It doesn't require much effort.  It flows naturally from our hearts.  When we hear within ourselves the voice calling us by name and blessing us, the darkness no longer distracts us.  The voice that calls us the Beloved will give us the words to bless others and reveal to them that they are no less blessed than we.

Excerpt from Broken:
Living our brokenness under the curse means that we experience our pain as a confirmation of our negative feelings about ourselves. It is like saying, "I always suspected that I was useless or worthless, and now I am sure of it because of what is happening to me." There is always something in us searching for an explanation for what takes place in our lives and, if we have already yielded to the temptation to self-reflection, then every form of misfortune only deepens it. [...] It is so arduous to live without an answer to this "Why?" that we are easily seduced into connecting the events over which we have no control with our conscious or unconscious evaluation. When we have cursed ourselves or have allowed others to curse us, it is very tempting to explain all the brokenness we experience as an expression or confirmation of this curse. Before we fully realize it, we have already said to ourselves: "You see, I always thought I was no good.... Now I know for sure. The facts of life prove it."

It's been a particularly dominant theme recently that people I love reach out to me first when they're in crisis. No matter what I do or fail to do in my "real job" (either now or any job I have in the future), this is reason enough for my being on this earth.

I learned that whatever we say means nothing,
what anyone will remember is that we came,
I learned to believe I had the power to ease
awful pains materially like an angel.
Like a doctor I learned to create
from another's suffering my own usefulness, and once
you know how to do this, you can never refuse.
To every house you enter, you must offer
healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself,
the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch.

-from "What I Learned from My Mother" by Julia Kasdorf


This morning I happened upon a Magpie Girl blog post, Quiten Down: How to Shut Up your Gremlins. Excerpt:
“Gremlin” is the term coined in Taming Your Gremlin by Rick Carson. It’s a way of describing the little voices in your head that tell you untrue things. This American Life did a great piece on Gremlins called The Devil In Me. In the second act Nancy Updike asks people what the little voice inside their heads is telling them. The answers are at turns tragic, stunning, and most of all, utterly familiar. Go ahead and have a listen. We’ll wait…

Are you back? Did you hear your own Gremlins in there? I know I did.

When my life coach, Jena Strong, first suggested that I started working with my Gremlins, I wanted to throw the book at her head. I couldn’t pin my Gremlins down long enough to find out if they had girl parts or boy parts; I couldn’t read their name tags; and doggonit, they were LEGION! My Gremlins? They were very, VERY noisy.

Then Jen suggested that I take all the voices in my head and make hash marks. In any given day how many times did my Gremlins say something nice to me, and how many times did they say something negative? I tried this. After 48 hours I did not have one single hash mark in the positive column. The negative column on the other hand was quite lively.

Jen said that since my Gremlins were so very busy, maybe I should build them somewhere to go after work. After all, they did have my best intentions at heart. They were trying to protect me – to keep me from doing anything scary, or potentially painful, or too awfully adventuresome. So maybe I should give them a nice shag carpet and, in the words of Jena “sit them down and pour them a stiff drink already.”

So I did. I made them a crash pad in the charming urban-decay style. Wall paper, gilt mirrors, and battery operated twinkly lights…I spared no expense. As I worked on this mansion for the little demons, my un-namable Gremlins began to take dimension and shape. They became less ethereal, and more manageable. Soon the legion was happily ensconced in a pretty little Gremlin dollhouse.

Now that I was a full five feet taller than they were, I felt empowered. I could totally kick their butts. Like Jen says, if they misbehave I could just send them to paperdoll Gitmo.

I rapidly discovered I was not at all pleased that Gremlin Blythe had allowed the other Gremlins to propagate, so I made her put everybody on a neat little leash. The next step was to let the Gremlins take ownership of their own messages, so they didn’t rattle around in my busy little mind. I’ve always adored those little slips of paper that come in fortune cookies, so I cut a whole stack of them and put them next to a tin in the Gremlin dollhouse. Here are just some of the messages that filled that tin up in the first few hours:

“Where you are is not good enough.”
“You never get enough done.”
“Your passions aren’t strong enough.”
“You can’t climb out of this confusion.”
“You never finish anything.”

Now, keep in mind that I have been writing, reading, and carrying around affirmations to counter these messages for weeks. But something about writing them down in their negative, shitty versions was totally empowering. Now they belonged not to me, but to this third person – the Gremlins. They weren’t mine to have and to hold, and they weren’t mine to carry. Now Blythe and her crew could tuck them away on their bookshelf and keep them dusted and alphabetized. Not. My. Problem.

I cannot tell you strongly enough how much of a breakthrough this has been for me. My noisy Gremlins are much quieter these days, and when they do start getting chatty I act like a staff writer from the Evening Post—I just make the report. The quote gets shorthaneded onto a slip of paper and tucked into their dollhouse. End of story.

Other posts from my browsing of the Magpie Girl blog:
* The Do Less Revolution - The Have-Done List.
* Sacred Commerce: on finding a new way to serve and sustain.
* Lessons from an Artist: On speaking with authority about what you do.

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