Sunday, November 7, 2021

Community is NOT Intimacy

Community is not the same thing as intimacy, nor is intimacy what community brings as gift.  Years of yearning and disappointment are packed into this statement, though I am also smiling, now on this side of things.

A searing yearning has accompanied me most of my life. It’s really only been in the last years that I learned not everyone has this sensation inside of them. For me, it’s a waxing and waning emptiness within, met somehow in being seen, being deeply heard in who I am or what I have to say. Sometimes I’m acutely in touch with it, feeling its weight and drive to be met somehow, anyway, anyhow. More often than not, in these days, I’m less attuned to its urgencies and need. I know some of the stories underneath it, and can hold the ‘searing’ quality with a bit of watery ease. I also appreciate its contributions and gift in my life, the fruit of its drive.

Early on in my life, the searing yearning pushed me into some difficult situations--discounting my own worth so to be included in human groups that didn’t respect me nor have my best interest at heart. That happened a lot in college. Over the years, however, this part of me has led into diverse spiritual friendships, deepening relationships and a web of belonging that nourishes me as the creative contemplative I am. I cannot now imagine my life away from the busy intersection of widely divergent human beings with whom I have shared prayer, pleasure, practice, lament, laughter and more. Friends who are deeply committed to wisdom ways of being in the world and who held spaces for me to heal, grow, learn, and love anew. In the end, this searing yearning has made me a contemplative, a writer, a community organizer, a circle-way holder/keeper--all of which makes my life overwhelmingly rich, abundant. I am grateful. A long road to ‘here,’ wherever ‘here’ is, but worthwhile.  

Community did not provide for me what I have needed, however, nor was the intimacy I craved to be found in its valleys or mountaintops. Community is not the same thing as intimacy, nor is intimacy what community brings as gift. 

Parker Palmer’s essay articulated this for me in a way I could finally see it in my own experience. He names clearly that our culture today associates community with intimacy, which he points out is a trap.

When community is reduced to intimacy, our world shrinks to a vanishing point: with how many people can one be genuinely intimate in a lifetime?” A light bulb went off in my head when I read those words for the first time. I was both exhausted and exhilarated. The energy output in my life at the time, to craft a faith community for myself in which I could be seen and heard, in which I could feel safe, was huge. Ultimately unsustainable. I was attempting to be intimate with an increasing number of spiritual friends, across geography and even generations. I was seeking intimate community, or so I thought.

Palmer’s observation freed me to see my own finitude, accept my own limitations as gift. He was inviting me to relax into my created condition and be receptive to all around me apart from my intentions. Trust the gifts that would be given, that would emerge. Palmer crafts an image of community that resonated with me as soon as I read it, yet was also liberating me from this yearning that drove me so. 

Community must be an expansive web, he observes. It must be “capacious enough to embrace everything from my relation to strangers I will never meet (e.g., the poor around the world to whom I am accountable), to people with whom I share local resources and must learn to get along (e.g., immediate neighbors), to people I am related to for the purpose of getting a job done (e.g., coworkers and colleagues).” In this expansive sense of community, we are related to one another without any one of us being completely responsible for the relationship itself. I know that sounds arrogant and more--how is one person responsible for any relationship, after all?--but it’s how I was reared. It’s my natural (if unhealthy) way of feeling connected, important, valued in relationship. I assumed for decades that I am responsible to care for the other if I am to be connected, to serve others if I am to be seen, to expend my own energies for what the other desires I am not to be alone. In my unconscious need, I constantly "served others" out of my own need more than their own. Ego-driven ministry, which is not ministry at all.  

Parker conceded what is now acutely obvious to me, after forty years of living into the responsibility paradigm: “Intimacy is neither possible nor necessary across this entire range of relationships.” His question is worth repeating: With how many people can one be genuinely intimate in a lifetime? For an extroverted introvert like myself--one who thrives on one-on-one connection in multiple, serial fashion--the number of folks may be larger than some others. But it’s still finite. It’s still limited to decreasing energies as I age. I had been working so very hard to create a scaffolding of spiritual friendships that could hold seekers across traditions, differentiating from norms and expectations. I had thought community simply needed to be more intimate to do its healing work in the world.

But to be freed of this increasingly heavy responsibility paradigm? To realize that community was not intimacy, nor intimacy community? Really? I found myself wondering. I don’t have to serve to be seen, caretake others to be connected? I can learn to trust connection that I have not earned? Could my connectedness truly arise from a strengthened capacity for it, that contemplation strengthens in me? The invitation arrived at just the right time--enforced lockdown, in a global pandemic--and while I was terrified of being isolated and alone, I found myself more and more deeply connected. Somehow. 

To begin to open my assumptions and learnings about this sense of community continues to unfold and challenge me. I’ve lived in my community is source of intimacy for so long that I find myself there often, even though I know it’s not liberating or even true. Strengthening my capacity for connectedness is what ultimately connects me the earth (my prayer tree outside, Mama Elm, for instance), to sentient beings who don’t speak in words (my heart-dog, Nala), to strangers I encounter in the grocery store, to human beings across the globe whose eyes and voices touch me now in ways new to me… Strengthening my capacity for connectedness continues to challenge me in specific areas of my life where I have felt hurt or unseen--so, with church colleagues, or higher education colleagues of all sorts. So many unhealthy habits from those environments, so now, many opportunities to practice health and differentiation while loving, strengthening capacity for connectedness even there. With ‘them.’

When community and intimacy can be un-hinged from one another, I think there is also invitation to confront our habitual tribalisms--of nation, of church, of political party, etc.--with an increasingly larger web of relatedness that liberates. When you can pursue and participate in just a few of your most significant relationships that will deepen your own sense of intimacy--being seen, being heard, offering gifts of the same to those you love--then there is a freedom to broaden your sense of include a whole slew of ‘others’ with whom you are related, whether you wish it were so, or not: strangers, colleagues, local-neighbors, more... You can begin to see all 'others' as part of a communal web, human being, belonging...being-longing...

Because like it or not, Parker names from the beginning of his essay, “we are embedded in community. Whether we think of ourselves as biological creatures or spiritual beings or both, the truth remains: we were created in and for a complex ecology of relatedness, and without it we wither and die.” So much of my life has been spent attempting to craft an intimate community around me, so be seen, heard, safe, loved. I’d like the remainder of my life to be spent honoring the community within which I’m clearly embedded, apart from my choice or preference, knowing now that those with whom I am blessed to be intimate will be fewer, sustainable, and free. Connect, so you can connect again later...

There is great gift in finitude, as I often tell my really not being in charge at all. Responsive, not responsible or reactive. Responsive, curious, receptive, free... It becomes feasible, then, for me to focus on what is mine to do: strengthen my capacity for connectedness through contemplation, delight, receptivity. That feels do-able, human, humane.

I invite you into that as well. Join me?

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Community? ies? What...?!?

Connect, so you can connect again later… These seven words have become an aphorism for me these days, a bit of a mantra as I go about my workaday world. They are surprisingly minimalist for a relational person like myself. I got into theological education a long time ago, guided by a deep desire for deepening relationships, spiritual growth, a sense of belonging in Something Larger Than Myself. In my family, that’s what church was. Theological learning was a good connector with my father, and in an odd, negative-attraction sort of way, with a couple of my uncles. (One was a professed atheist, hence “negative” yet “engaging conversations” between us.) The pathway has been a beautiful one for me, now over decades, peppered with unexpected spiritual friendships and fascinating work across collaborative energies and multiple traditions (and no-tradition). I continue to struggle, however, in my understandings of and participation in community

What does that term truly signify today, given our global economies, political divisions, social-media algorhithms of fear, anger, hatred? How is it enlivening, life-giving, welcoming, even sacred? Can it even be any of those things anymore? How do we understand a community amidst the multiple-communities we can interact with now, every day?

As many who’ve traveled with me with know: In order to stay even remotely connected with my own root community of Protestant Christianity, I had to reach outward into other communities that valued faith and/or practice but were safe for a woman awakening to the Feminine long-denied within her own circles. I sat with Buddhist, Jewish, earth-centered spirituality, Muslim, secular-academic, Quaker/Friends, and more. The last 15 years have been an abundant buffet of welcome into webs of relationships that could hold the differentiation from my own root-tradition that was unfolding. This path of spiritual deepening required me to encounter and be broken open by the shadows of my own “community,” be it familial, marital, ecclesial. Shadows very few in my closest relationships were interested or willing to see, to be clear.

So now, I struggle to understand community as anything monolithic or unifying. While I only affiliate with maybe six distinct communities today (Presbyterian Church USA, United Seminary UMC, Women Writing for (a) Change, and now Awakening Women, Fire&Water Leadership cohorts, and CrossFit), I could point to my daily intersections with probably 10 more, in some fashion or another. These ones named are in addition to my own immediate family and families of origin (my own, and that of my husband). How is one to understand community when a life is built around several diverse communities, many of whom do NOT get along with each other…!? 

My Women Writing sisters downplay my seminary-prof-self; my Presbyterian community completely ignores my WWfaC self, or the woman deeply nourished by Awakening Women. CrossFit has a deep curiosity about my various selves, but our shared focus is fitness-in-community. Camaraderie and challenge go hand in hand, and we form a community together. But it also isn’t complicated or even bothered with all the ecclesial-feminine bits in the rest of my life. Curious, but not focused or necessary to name. Awakening Women and Fire&Water folks are the most distantly connected in my daily life, the first largely in online interactions and occasional retreats, the second in monthly contacts across an incredibly diverse (for me) learning community. I am committed and connected there, but not in the same “in-person” sorts of ways.

As such, all of this can be isolating for me. I can easily feel alone in each community because I am affiliated with all the others that no one in each community is ALSO affiliated with. I am sensitized to the judgments of internal-community-assumptions because I know and love folks who don’t fit within those assumptions, when spoken aloud. Regularly, I have to decide do I mirror this judgment to the one I love who is speaking? Do I share my experience of rudeness or malice, though I know it's not maliciously intended? Do I let it slide, honoring that s/he would have little reason to be so sensitized? And no one needs to be connected to all of my communities as I am for me to feel like I belong...but it can get complicated all the same.

Other times, I’m quietly astounded and delighted because of the overwhelmingly abundant web of connectedness I get to cherish, participate in, contribute to. I am regularly seen and connected with such a wide variety of human beings that I can feel the largeness of our own mysteries, the ways in which we ARE each other while being so vastly different. Human beings are fascinating creatures--of habit, of fragility, of humor--and each is so very lovable--no matter how hidden the divine spark may appear on any given day. Myself included. To encounter each human being as s/he is, when I’m open to it and curious, is a gift to me.

But is that encounter community? I don’t think so…

These questions sent me back to an old-familiar-essay I’ve cherished ever since I first learned of it: Parker Palmer’s 1998 essay, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Community...with a Fourteenth Thrown in for Free.” [He wrote it late at night, with the Shopping Channel on in the background 😆] As I reread it a week ago, I startled to see some things anew, reframe some things within me based upon my own wrestlings here with what community signifies. I’ll start with the opening two paragraphs, but I suspect there will be different observations rising here over the next several weeks and months. In reconsidering citizenship, I want all Americans to become more conscious of what we assume (or refuse) in our notions of community.

The first observation by Palmer is that community is not a goal to be achieved, but a gift to be received. In previous readings of this work, I think I have cruised past this first paragraph with a sense of “yeah, yeah, yeah...we know that already.” This time through, I’m newly appreciative of the observation and the need to pause here, to stop and listen, to deeply consider more underneath the surface. It returned me to my opening aphorism: connect, so you can connect again later. The practices underneath Palmer's opening observation are vastly different from how most of us are shaped, trained, even convicted to believe. The way of being in my aphorism is more aligned with his observation... Hmmm...

Most of my inherited and earned assumptions about community rest in the idea that we can be trained to form it. Theological education and ecclesial communities are founded on this notion of being shaped in a tradition, being formed for belonging in this particular community.

Folks come to seminary to become leaders in shaping Christian communities to be better Christians. Shaping. Folks find themselves as members of churches when they know how they belong, what behaviors are expected, what we do together when we gather and serve. We belong when our community sees us, welcomes us. I have long heard community-organizing as the intentional, well-trained work of creating community, which has basically meant achieving it, to me anyway. And yet, Palmer opens: community is not a goal to be achieved, but a gift to be received. He writes, “When we try to “make community happen,” driven by desire, design, and determination—places within us where the ego often lurks—we can make a good guess at the outcome: we will exhaust ourselves and alienate each other, snapping the connections we yearn for. Too many relationships have been diminished or destroyed by a drive toward “community-building” which evokes a grasping that is the opposite of what we need to do: relax into our created condition and receive the gift we have been given

This is writ-large in one of the communities in which I participate, contribute (who will remain nameless). All of us have shown up with a desire for our lives to be different in some fashion, more significance, deeper meaning, closer connections, whatever we might name for ourselves as our ‘heart’s desire’ in showing up. And it’s precisely those expectations that exhaust us, alienate us from one another, and snap the connections we say we yearn for. Very few of us came into the journey with the idea that we ought to relax together, accept our created condition as it is, and receive.

My own version of "activity instead of receptivity" stemmed at first from the fact that I’m a white woman in a mixed-ethnicity group. I was not going to be ‘one of those white women’ unwilling to do her own work. I had an urgency within me that I thought was nothing but virtuous, even prophetic. I now know it was masking a sadness inside of me, a deep frustration that I live in Ohio in the year I do. I’m surrounded by Trump Republicans (who I try to constantly humanize and honor, while sometimes failing in my own fear and frustration). I’m much more emotionally aware of the woundedness all around me, white, persons of color, economically-challenged, sick…and it hurts. Can make me afraid for who 'we' are becoming around one another. It’s exhausting to be around fearful white people when I’m fearful myself, as a white woman. When I relax, however, when I practice receptivity, there is an assurance that comes from elsewhere deep within me. I become patient with my urgency, and honor its value within me, potentially for those around me, but surely for myself.

The amusing part is that I was so consciously tending to learning in a racially-diverse community that I missed completely the much larger growth curve for myself: being in community with good-hearted people who serve in denominational structures. As I stay, I'm required to see "denominational executives" as living breathing human beings who matter. Very few people on the planet irritate me more than church denominational executives, by the way. Long, conflicted history in my own church of course, the universe has paired me now with several. As Winnie-the-Pooh says, "Oh bother." 😆😆😆

Part of this history comes from my extensive work in theological education, preparing folks for church leadership. Most of my work in theological education has pointed out the off-the-rails character of life in seminaries/div schools today, having little to no bearing on the relational skills of shaping community. Faculty are hopelessly shaped in more and more disembodied, abstracted, and emotionally-neglected skills, which means they arrive to “teach fledgling Christian leaders” with little to no emotional intelligence or endurance to actually participate in Christian community. Which is messy, conflict-ridden, disruptive and ultimately transformative, when held well by those able to hold ambiguity, uncertainty, and compassion for many. This is NOT what theological faculty do today. Most, anyway. Many come into teaching precisely to escape this work of Christian community. And theological students Zoom in from online portals, which means it’s easy to step away from something that upsets them ‘on screen.’ I’ve had to grieve my previous sense of learning community to allow the individuals that come to me from their separate portals to learn, be engaged by the words of their classmates, and weekly, by my own words in video-lecture, responding to their words. Vastly different animal than in-person Christian community.

So how to break the cycle of assumption then? How to begin to shape incoming seminary students so that community is not something they can create or achieve, but only something they can receive? No one likes the answer to this, which is part of why I love Palmer’s essay so much.

Practice receptivity. Do the inner work to learn how to become vulnerable in collective settings, such that you are receptive to whomever and whatever shows up there. Community will never emerge, be borne, until there is a “capacity for connectedness” deepening all around us. And receptivity requires inner work more than any external structure building. 

As Palmer states in his second paragraph: “Community begins not externally but in the recesses of the human heart. Long before community can be manifest in outward relationships, it must be present in the individual as “a capacity for connectedness”—a capacity to resist the forces of disconnection with which our culture and our psyches are riddled, forces with names like narcissism, egotism, jealousy, competition, empire-building, nationalism, and related forms of madness in which psychopathology and political pathology become powerfully intertwined.” Religious traditions today have lost more and more of the wisdom necessary for this "recess of the human heart" work. It's very challenging for traditional folks to get out of the way and relax, receive. Particularly when their sadness at apparent losses of tradition are so unconscious, so ungrieved.

Seems like next post invited is practicing receptivity in a world in which vulnerability can be penalized. How do we practice receptivity, so to develop our capacity for connectedness beyond what we’ve known in church, civic settings, family?

What is meant by inner work here, in a world demonstrating little but advocacy and resistance, posturing and proclaiming? More to come... Until then...

Connect, so you can connect again later. It may not seem like much, but it models a receptivity and a practice of connecting significant for what community might eventually come to mean.

Monday, November 1, 2021

Community Table...Not Yet

I sat down at the community table of the local coffee shop, noting the African-American women and small girl sitting at the other end. I smiled, belatedly realizing through my mask they wouldn’t know that. As I waited for my coffee drink, a treat for me on this Monday morning, I set about making my list for the week. I wanted to clear the decks a little, in expectation and anticipation, to see what writing might come. 

“We are expecting the rest of our friends to come soon,” said one of the women to me, motioning that she would need the space, the table. “Oh,” I said, with surprise. “This is usually the community table, so I didn’t know…” I let my voice trail off… “When will they be arriving then?” “In the next few minutes…” “Okay,” I said. I tried to attend to the words that might come before “they” arrived. Realizing the expectation was now disrupting getting my thoughts together, I packed up my stuff and headed to the back of the coffee shop. The corner booth had just opened up, as way would have it. I curled up in the corner chair, enjoying the quiet and the greater comfort around me.

The irony was not lost on me of course: the Community Table

What is required, from each of us, all of us, to rebuild any sense of trust in community in the American experiment? Is it even possible anymore? How do we rebuild something that has never truly been an expansive American phenomenon, made even more demanding now across differences exploited by late-era-global-capitalism and social-media algorithms bent upon fear, anger and hatred?

To be clear, this is not about being asked to move from a community-table by the woman who asked for what she needed. Happy to, and we both landed in what we needed--her, space; me, quiet. And she would have no reason to know I had just left my car, after letting it run for a while so I could listen to the end of a chapter of a book that currently has me. It’s captured my heart, my mind, even in the times I have to turn it off because I feel nauseous and sad.

The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers. The woman at the the table and I have every reason to see one another in the sculpted-wounded perspectives we’ve both inherited. Yet it begs the question for me, within the river of listening from another friend who is asking, “Is reconciliation even possible?” Reconciliation between…? we might ask…? Between white/color, masculine/feminine, wounded/wounding…? The questions are stomach-punches, to be sure, but there is strength and courage in asking them aloud… We have to remember how difficult it is, what we ask of others… this friend also said. 

There will posts here to come, shaping what I mean by ‘community’ and what I am learning on my own journeying toward a more rigorous manifestation of that around me today. Enough for now to bow to the question, to move when asked, and to receive the graced quiet that comes when each of us receives what we need in the moment.

I will also always bow to my own sensation, yearning, however patiently I need to sit with my own sadnesses in order to participate in it:  

I want the world to be different, to heal...

I want to sit quietly for, or walk slowly toward, the more frequent days when it feels possible for a moment at a time…this new/old story of reconciliation.

As I say to all those who sit in direction: at your pace. Only when You’re ready. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Lemon of Internal Loneliness - Lemonade of Community, Earth, CrossFit

Alone in my own body. 

This is a phrase that I used to use to describe what it felt like inside of me, for most of my life. I don’t know how it will sound out loud, in the spaces where other human beings read their own experiences into the words. For me, this sensation has driven most of my need to connect, to be seen, to be heard. It’s a searing thing sometimes, with a panicky edginess that will not let me rest, sit still. Other times it will only be a dull ache that I hope no one notices while I go about my postures of purpose--thought projects, intellectual achievements, devotion to the divine as I had been shaped to know it/Him/the One. 

The source of most of my ‘not-enough-ness,’ this sense of being alone in my body, has also resulted in the depth and breadth of connections with friends I get to enjoy today. Without it, I would not have striven so hard for distinction amidst my intellectual pursuits, to be emotionally present for the mentors in my life who were drawn to my energies. I would not have persisted into new communities, then been driven further for women to gather in circle, for human beings to learn new ways to be more fully human with one another. In that sense, I have a blessedly overwhelming amount of lemonade for this lemon of an internal loneliness.

I muse here because I’m beginning to wonder if there are others in our civic spheres who feel bereft and alone in their own bodies. Could this emptiness unknown be underneath much of the inhuman-acting-out I see writ large--both extremist Republicans and Democrats? Does an utter refusal of awareness drive our divisions?

Most of the strategies the Westernized over-culture posits for redress of this existential condition have to do with sex of some kind. It could be as minimal as being a sexually desirable woman (for me, in my body), or an overtly macho-man in control and domination (the last gasp of the Patriarch? I wonder…). Or it could be as extensively beyond my ken as having multiple partners in sexual explorations, even co-habitation. (Could there be anything more exhausting or complicated, I wonder in myself? No shame no blame here, just observing my own visceral responses...). So much of our ideological politics has an either/or fulcrum around some body-characteristic...often with categories determined by the linear, categorizing habits of mind that are not holistic, integrative, synthesizing. Regardless, human beings are hincky about bodies, both as sites of ultimate self-expression and focal points of organized shame and moral condemnation(s). As a young woman growing up in small town Ohio, I chose to insure I was alone in my own body. Not only was it safer, but it seemed less complicated. 

Fast forward to today, with decades under my belt now of reclaiming the human body as source and guide in sacred knowing. It was not a conscious choice to focus my scholarship in this way, nor did I ever imagine I would be doing what I’m doing now in my vocational pursuits of seminary teaching and circle-way leadership. I was gifted with a transformative encounter with Something or Someone on November 11, 1993, singing Mendelssohn’s Elijah oratorio in a huge choral concert. I was blessed with a mentor and companion who could steward my fledgling (and willfully stubborn) scholarship. The role of music in spiritual transformation, in the arrival of insights along the sacred journey--that became my quest. The gift was realizing the wholly embodied nature of musical experience, the role of the body in receiving insights and staying with Something or Someone long enough to be changed on the inside. Reclaiming the body, I came to realize, undergirded everything driving me toward the sacred...

...which ultimately had to become reclaiming my own body. Note the abstraction in “reclaiming the body”? Divided. Separate from. Dissociated. Hmmm….  An essential shift in this sacred journey became the journey of reclaiming my own body, as fragile, fearful, and shame-ridden as I felt my own form to be. You cannot grow up in a feminine-demonizing, bastardizing-Christianized culture and not get marked by the embodied shaming/guilting of Eve. How does Dar Williams sing it? The story she was not meant to survive? 

Having deflected and distanced myself for decades from any association with Eve’s shaming--it wouldn’t touch me if I took on the masculinized shield, I decided early on--I now see the terrible wounding of both men and women by this energy of demonization, this energy of dissociation or separation. It doesn’t matter whether you agree with it and disempower women consciously or unconsciously, or whether you decry it, deny it, refuse it voice. This energy of aversion, of separation, is internalized within each of us in some fashion. It shows up when men disavow their feelings, so to not get the shit kicked out of them for being weak or ‘too feminine,’ or to prevent losing face in a political debate or divide. It shows up when women achieve as much as men, taking on the masculine in the worlds where it will be the only thing heard or seen. All the while, our world careens out of balance, disconnected from the earth, from the feminine, from the body.

The strange thing that draws these reflections forth with a sense of contrast, with possibility, is that I am no longer alone in my own body today. I find this befuddling in many ways, because it is independent of my sex life. I am blessed with a loving life partner, willing to grow along with me amidst his own quite distinct sacred journeying. We’ve had great sex, bad sex, and everything in between. This being no longer alone in my body is independent of that journey with him, though it now gifts us both, of course.

The pieces that seem related have emerged from disparate but integrating directions. One clearly breathes new life here as our circle-way community was birthed and is evolving now in her own time, blessed by the shared labor with a dear spiritual friend. Another comes in deepening explorations in co-creation with nature, learning the voices and energies of what another friend calls the Plant Nation, the Mineral Kingdom, and more.

A Sacred Mountain Quest in 2019 opened up awareness to invitations and energies I’d never noticed or truly felt before. Another piece comes in a relatively new circle-way community in my life, CrossFit, a community-organizing approach to fitness and health. 

This not being alone in my body anymore suggests a way of being in the world rooted in nature, connected to the Earth in known and unknown ways. It is held by being in right relationship with a larger community that truly hears me, sees me, at regular intervals. Not only hears and sees me, but allows me to be as fragile and potentially shadowy as I may be at times, experiencing and even causing discomfort within which all of us (who are willing) will grow, be transformed. This not being alone in my body breathes again and again as I get to play and move and challenge myself with physical exertion alongside others on the same fitness commitment, discipline.

The emptiness unknown became apparent, began to ease, when a community formed with deep-listening, consciousness-raising practices in which those who show up can be seen and heard, in all light and shadow...when an inarticulate-intuitive connection to the Earth took root in my awakenings...when a community of fitness offered a way to move in concert while prioritizing individual health and fitness.

Body. Awakening Community. Earth. Moving Community. Body. Not resolving our political conflicts. Not ignoring our political divides and the very real pains in any and everyone I know. Body. Willing to awaken in community. Rootedness in the Earth. Becoming fit and healthy so to hear what is all around us.

Enough for today. More than enough. Downright blessing and gratitude. Lemonade (without sugar for me), from this lemon of body loneliness. Perhaps lemon-infused water will be enough, refreshment for a warm day.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Emptiness Unknown

There used to be a deep-belly emptiness in me, though for most of my life, I did not even know I felt empty. This may be because I insured I didn’t feel...or I didn’t feel what I wasn’t supposed to feel...or at least I didn’t feel too much, whatever that meant in my contexts. In the last 5-7 years, however, a fullness I never knew was possible found me, or was released within me, or…something...? Midlife awakening? Surely. Midlife crisis? For a time, yes. But I had been empty without knowing I was empty, and I’m a woman who is assumed to know a lot

So now I’m curious about this emptiness unknown. One, how could I have not known I was empty? What were the assumptions and practices that filled my life but did not fill me? The second reason is probably part of the first, in some way. Now that I can feel this overwhelming fullness, this grounded peaceableness that opens doors for me and holds spaces for me? I want everyone who will listen to know about it. To know about this groundedness, this fullness, this sacred abundance that is simply everywhere, though hidden in plain sight in a consumerist, market-economy environment. It's like having a felt-sense of the best thing EVER but being basically mute, speechless.

I don’t berate myself for not knowing, at least not as much anymore. I’m learning to trust there is a divine order to things, and life expands when I surrender into what is, just as it is, even as I get to learn and offer my part as I may. I also do NOT want to sound preachy or judgmental or presumptuous, because my own journeying need not parallel anyone else’s. I know that. Yet this yearning to share presses into me more and more... How to proceed? A bit of story context, perhaps.

One rendition of this story is rooted in my own family lineages. I was born into a Pennsylvania-Deutsch Brethren/Scottish-British Baptist weave of family, with well-tended material needs and a highly relational extended family enamored with professional success and intellectual achievement. This means I have striven hard for and earned/been granted an establishment life--seminary professor married to an attorney-become-pastor in a mainline denominational church. We are double-income-no-kids dog-lovers with ease of a quiet life we love. The underbelly of this life however is an inordinate devaluing of emotional experience(s), a confinement of the heart within the categories available to the mind. Without shame or blame, the wisdom of the body and the inarticulate movements of the Heart simply do not factor into how my family connects with itself. Instead, it’s information, social-capital connections, books, movies, and achievements. And some of the most internally lonely people I know. There is a deep emptiness about which we never speak. To even allude to it will bring the conceptual violence of intellectual debate and refusals into speech. The shame and fears of unworthiness (or whatever the bindings may be) are simply too great, too intentionally unconscious. Unbearable. So I no longer speak of the emptiness deeply within my family to my family.

Another rendition can come in terms of the rise of the feminine so apparent today, which expressed itself within my own life in the last 5-7 years. ‘Feminine’ was a bad word in my house, for various mostly unconscious reasons. I remember the sneer on my dad’s face when I was in high school, as he distanced himself from something feminine and my mother looked away. The implicit curriculum in my family line was clear: feminine is weak, disdained, avoided. Voice in my family was granted through connection to the father, the brothers, and I maximized that pathway to agency for at least four decades. Blessedly so, I might add--a great gift to me and to my life today. But something began to break open in me, at first gently and then more and more persistently: I was feminine. I am a woman in body and soul. There are different ways to be who I am than I first knew. It took incredible strength to claim this part of me, the body wisdom so deep in me, so disdained in my family line. The pain of coming to voice in this way, audibly and visibly in my family, was extensive. No one in my immediate family or family of origin was interested in my newfound feminine. Particularly as I was enraged and reactive about its silencing, abuse, neglect. For years. I don’t actually blame them. It was no picnic.

Another strand of this storyline could be explored in the cultural heritages within which I live and am perceived in my life and work: whiteness. My curiosity comes in this term last, latest, because admittedly it is the newest framework within which I’m wondering things aloud. I’m not jumping onto the Critical Race Theory trains, nor am I interested in debating systemic racism (or not). I’m not interested in debates, so why would I be interested in those?

But I am interested in this emptiness unknown, and its emergence in me, a white body. So many strands of European cultures divide the mind from the heart, the spirit from the flesh. A dualism entrenched in Holy Scripture, that gives an either/or habit of mind and a longstanding relationship with shame, guilt, judgment (of the other, or fear of judgment in the self). Any deep feeling that would arise in me? Sublimation into the cognitive. Reticence to feel too much, be too much, say too much. A numbness or a deadness that would be perceived an appropriate response for any societal disruption that makes 'those that be' uncomfortable. Do that every day for nearly fifty years, and you’d have an incapacity for feeling, and an inability to connect with basic human instincts of seeing another as yourself, loving another as oneself. No matter heritage, skin, culture, see another person always with the spark of the divine, however muted or dimmed it may seem to me. To realize when I'm not seeing an other in this compassionate light...even with my best intentions. When I'm encapsulated in a largely white environment, I know to not cross the streams, impose too much emotion into the space. Except I'm starting to play with that line, spaces that feel open to a little more emotional expression, in a setting that's already rife with emotion.

I’m sure there will be other storylines within which this emptiness unknown could be explored, but for now…  As a result of this proclivity in me for deep feeling, I feel deeply and often, such beautifully awesome and sadly lamentable Life. Because of my tenacity to stay present in my body amidst disregard, refusals, and the conceptual violence of my family, I know a fullness, a groundedness, a peaceableness that I never knew was possible. It does not depend upon my immediate family, nor upon my family of origin. It does not require anything from my extended family, nor does it need affirmation from beyond. It has a life of its own, always available to me, when I do not separate from it or isolate myself from it...

There used to be a deep-belly emptiness in me. For most of my life, I did not know I felt empty. And now I want everyone who will listen to know this groundedness, this fullness, this sacred abundance is available to one and all. But how do we begin? How do we let this fullness speak for itself, again and again, inviting us ever inward, outward, IN? I do not know, really.

Consider this Post One of a series then. I invite the fullness to find me in these next days or weeks, and then offer the words it may, in its own time...


Community is NOT Intimacy

Community is not the same thing as intimacy, nor is intimacy what community brings as gift.  Years of yearning and disappointment are packed...