Tuesday, October 27, 2020

How Can You SAY That? I asked her...

What if I lived life today as if there really were a divine order to things? That we cannot ‘get it wrong’? These words were gifted to me today, even as I now sit here befuddled by them. I asked the African-American woman speaking, a coach-friend-elder, “How can you say that? Seeing the world the way it is right now, how can you say that?” Before my mind’s eye danced the suffering of so many American (Black) families, sons and daughters lost to police violence; families ripped asunder in a global pandemic, with 225,000 lives lost, a majority in communities of color. Tears pricked my eyes as I, a white woman from Dayton, asked her, “How can you say that?” She smiled at me as she said quietly, Because I have already surrendered…

My body knows there is wisdom here that my mind cannot hold for long. Her gaze was clear, her voice was sure. Assured. She is living something she knows intimately and well. Once upon a time, I knew a body truth about surrender. It was not the popularized conception of surrender as weakness or a victimization. Like surrendering to the conqueror on the battlefield, or to a toxic masculinity so rampant in our world today. No, this wisdom-surrender is rooted in finitude and grace, growing more Life and Love in selfless strength demonstrated without fanfare or even acknowledgement. Something from the inside…known in relinquishment and trust.

I first encountered the wisdom of
surrender to an elder, to a teacher, in a Buddhist lineage--Nyingma-Kagyu lineages in Tibetan Buddhism. I experienced it within the context of a spiritual friendship, rooted in the Christian faith, offering new language for understanding surrendering to my tradition’s teacher, Jesus. But the Buddhist lineage invited surrender to one’s teacher, one’s root-lama, so to learn the path more deeply, without attachment/aversion, for freedom, awakening. For me, in my own tradition, the question became: What did it mean to surrender to an elder whose unconditional love transforms and/or transfigures all into blessing? What is the path of surrender that is not acquiescence or self-abandonment, but life-giving gift and self-becoming/divine-fulfillment? The visceral mark of this surrender is a sense of freedom, of release, of life-giving energy within and beyond… It is known by its fruit, one could say.

My body recognized what this friend was offering me today in her witness to surrender, yet choice and discernment have to tango here too. My first real encounter with this wisdom was a learning experience I’d rather not have had. I believed I was surrendering to an elder. For a time, I experienced the freedom and life-giving character of a deeper encounter with myself. But she was not an elder. She was a dear friend whom I desired to empower so fiercely...to make a teacher by becoming a student. But then her attachment to being the only teacher between us grew sickly and sickening of us both. Neither of us could grow without being grasped to spiritual death by the other. Had I not relinquished her, the friendship, and reclaimed myself, we would have continued to suffocate one another...claiming love but knowing only imprisonment. If it does not liberate, it is ego, not love. (Dr. Maya Angelou again). I have since been skeptical and rather closed off to the notion and potential wisdom of surrender.

Then these words...What if I lived life today as if there really were a divine order to things? That we cannot ‘get it wrong’? Once upon a time, I lived in a universe--or multiverse, either was fine by me--in which there was a divine order to things. My life’s path took me into a Kierkegaard philosophy course my junior year of college, awakening me in ways I had not known I was sleeping. I relinquished plans for medical school and leaned into a completely unanticipated path of teaching in a girls’ school in Pasadena. I encountered strong women leaders in both school and church who would mentor me, take me under their wings and encourage me. Grad school in theological education beckoned, and away I went into an orderly-disorderly, definitely non-linear pathway of transformation. What I get to do today was never something I said as a little girl that I wanted to do when I grew up. I teach at a freestanding seminary in a Protestant tradition not my own, learning/teaching interreligious-intercultural encounter and spiritual practices in historical traditions. Yet...somewhere along the way, this utter conviction in the divine order of things has been shaken down to a fine strand or a fragile thread. Life can only be understood backwards, Kierkegaard supposedly said. It must be lived forward. I can articulate the divine order of things as I view my life backwards from here. But forwards…? In today’s America? Really?

This sense of loss or fragility has not been an overt shift in belief/doubt about divine presence, divine order...I know what my life has shown me, and the freedom of being finite, of not being in charge. There’s no existential challenge wrestling its way within me; Spirit is Spirit and when we get to participate, always, a blessing… But the challenge of living my life today, convinced of the divine order of things? I’m more a seminary professor taught the hermeneutics of suspicion than a surrendered participant in divine (dis)order...I’ve lost the felt-sense of surrender and trust in a God whom I could name easily and know as that God forever. The wounds of the last (four?) years are simply so deep, so painful, so unforeseen (by me)... And as I grow and change, not ironically, so does my felt-sense of the divine.

It’s been a million little strands breaking under the strain of our overwhelming human fragility and our seemingly irrepressible inhumanity. It’s the politely and conveniently ignored betrayal of women as women by every major religious tradition on the planet, drenched in one-sided, abusive-patriarchal and feminine-demonizing practices/thinking that dehumanize all of us and e-masculate the planet. It’s walking the faithful path and experiencing two days of utter void and disintegration in which abandonment is the only accurate description. Generation upon generation of body-wounds, internalized traumas, fearmongering and incitement to violence… This…? The divine order of things…? Jewish wisdom rises regularly in my awareness these days, of the world lost with each human being who dies, of the rise of fascism or authoritarianism while so many of us hide and hope it will all go away, it will all be alright… Never again simmers so close to the surface while you can only do what you can do bursts bubbles of fear.

But my body knows the wisdom of surrender and the empowered freedom that comes when letting go of my sense of utter-responsibility so to receive my simple place in the flow of things. I more deeply trust my body’s perception of what is actually life-giving, often (but not always) in contrast to what religious traditions presume they’ve meant as “life” before. Surrender here does not mean giving up or letting go of all that beckons for change. 

It does mean acts of radical trust while being in the day’s arisings, the moments as they arise… It means entering into ritual in companionship with the earth--my tree-elders close by for instance--and in gratitude to the earth. It means staying grounded in life-giving activities (CrossFit for me, probably some baking too, plant-tending, knitting). It means welcoming all the wisdom that has come before, inviting the appropriate ancestors to draw close and help for Life, for Love, for all. Surrender means being precisely as I am, open to growing older, younger, larger, smaller...whatever the invitation may be. BE more than DO, while the world turns on her axis of Hope. Show up on behalf of those suffering and hiding. Be precisely who you are created to be, knowing you are not alone. Show up for the wisdom trainings that find you--peace-making, de-escalation trainings, being prepared--and live in the life-giving energies of the world being painfully transfigured before our eyes.

Again, I see her smiling face, her gaze that reaches me even through a screen...Because I have already surrendered… 

As we concluded our time together, she startled me again: Enjoy these next weeks before I see you again. Startling juxtaposition is a signpost of faith in Kierkegaard’s world. This week...before the Election...Enjoy... Enjoy these next weeks… Deep breath... Right... Enjoy...

What do I need to do to enjoy this next week in life-giving intention and joy?

What be YOUR pathway of intention and joy?

Notes for the road, perhaps a later page...

Remember, anxiety is a sign you are not present to the moment. Fear is only in the past (memory of something that happened) or in the future (anticipation of what may happen), but never in the present. Stay present to the moment. There may be danger in the present, but never fear. BE as you need to be to stay present in the moment. (Probably CrossFit for me!)

White people struggle so to surrender... What would it mean for more of us to learn the freedom in surrender to the elders further along on the healing path than we are...? (Hint: they'll probably not look like me/us, but some might...)

You are not alone. Only when you abandon yourself do you feel alone…


  1. I'm going to try to live out of that this week. All will be well because God create out of chaos.

    1. YES🤓 And living it as a practice ... we cannot get it wrong OR fail...everything belongs as we rebirth through (potentially) great tumult...


ENACTING Beloved Community

This is a phrase that undergirds the work of C. Anthony Hunt (or here ) as well as a curricular goal of one of United Seminary’s Immersion...