Factions developed within the church my father lead, and eventually my father stepped down from his role as a pastor there. His brother did not like the direction my father was taking as we left the Friends church and became involved in a startup movement called the Vineyard. The Vineyard movement began in the late 1970s, was considered non-denominational, made up of former Quakers, rock stars and actors, that embraced the idea that one could experience the Holy Spirit through songs, healing, prophesy. My first memory of a church service was when I was in the fourth grade and viscerally witnessed adults laying hands on each other, praying for healing, crying, shouting, shaking and falling over. I was intrigued and a little scared.
My uncle, a quaker, was vocal about this disagreement with my father’s direction and wouldn’t miss an opportunity to tell my father that he was a heretic. This made a strong impression on me. I soon began to become aware of the many disagreements within the Christian community. Some believed baptism was provided when a child was young, others believed that one shouldn’t be baptized until the age of 18. Some believed baptism should be full emersion under water. Some believed you didn’t need water you just needed to receive the gifts of the spirit called speaking in tongues.
The rift that caused my father to leave the church denomination was due to his growing belief in faith healing, speaking in tongues and modern day prophesy. My mother grew more ardent in her display of these behaviors. So much so, that if I admitted to being sick she would lay hands on me and speak in a strange voice with unintelligible words, which was troubling to me, so I learned to never admit I was sick.
My parents would have people over once a week to read scriptures, sing and pray for one another. One night I watched many adults put their hands my then 3 year old brother to heal his ears. As far as I could see and understand, he was declared healed. I was told that my little brother did not have to have the surgery to correct his hearing through the placement of tubes. He could hear clearly again. I believed.
I was raised by two loving parents who had very strong beliefs about who, what and where God. I learned from a very young age the “right way” to think about and practice our religion. I saw my dad as an expert in the field of theology as he was highly trained in his profession as a pastor. I was not a questioner then. I didn’t doubt my parents nor the leaders in our community. We were part of a small community called the Religious Society of Friends also known as the Quaker movement. People have asked me if we wore special clothing like the Amish. Quakers did dress in plain clothing until the late 1800s. Our community dressed simply. As you can see in the picture, my mom made sure we were color coordinated. She was an amazing seamstress, sewing dresses for my sister and I.
Quakers are a protestant denomination founded in the 17th century in England. They were persecuted for their beliefs which included the idea that God exists in every person. They rejected the ideas of elaborate religious ceremony and did not have official clergy. They practiced pacifism, and played a key role in both abolitionist and women’s rights movements. Women were thought of as having equal access and ability to speak in public forums. Though the Quaker movement was fairly progressive and egalitarian, in my family, I witnessed gender roles as being concrete and inflexible. Women were cast in a supportive role, men were to lead and provide. Women were not to teach nor hold positions of authority over men. If married, women were to submit to their husbands.
We lived in a small, three-bedroom parsonage, a house that was owned by the church. In the days of my younger years, there was a lot of structure in our routines. We walked to church every Sunday (we lived on the other side of the church parking lot). My father studied, created his sermon, and met with parishioners throughout the week. My mother cared for us five kids at home full-time. It was a vibrant and busy household.
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In the space there is the power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. —Victor Frankl
Beatrice Chestnut opens her book The Complete Enneagram: 27 Paths to Greater Self-Knowledge with the above quote. The quote stopped me for a few moments as I thought about all that I have learned up to this point about my response to this life I’ve been given. In many ways our response to people, places and things has been formulated over the years and turned into a template that is rarely questioned. Questioning a response creates a bit of space to begin to gain awareness into why we react in certain ways. It is the beginning of shaping new responses to align more fully with our highest self.
I’m on day four of the Carolyn Resnick’s “21-day chair meditation challenge“. Instructions include “sharing territory” with one’s horse by sitting in a chair in a space with the horse from fifteen minutes to one hour with no agenda, no expectations and no intention for the horse. The instructions offered a choice in the amount of time spent each day. Fifteen minutes a day would deepen my connection with my horse, thirty minutes a day would create “profound self-realization” or one hour a day would be “life changing”. I’m always up for “life changing” experiences. So I have opened up my schedule to spend one hour a day with my horse. “Easy, peasy”, I thought.
I took the picture above last Wednesday on the west coast. It reminds me of how a change in perspective can create a different mood. I woke up this morning with a very different landscape as I live in the Chicago area and winter is in full force. I admit I was in a funk, and did what I do when I feel low. I create my own seat in the Garden by connecting with my favorite people, cuddling with my dog, listening to music, practicing yoga, journaling and eating good food. One of the songs I heard was this beautiful tune by Ásgeir Trausti:
Far up in the north, the nights can be so dark. Biting cold takes its toll on the body. Grýla casts her spell in the depths of the mind, damaging happiness and the joy of life. Hope and faith, don’t you fail me now. Hope and faith, come and warm my heart. Hope and faith, fill me up with strength. Hope and faith, shine down with bright light. Hope and faith, give me back my joy. Hope and faith, in the dark of night.
Learning to accept uncomfortable feelings while practicing new behaviors strengthens our ability to do the hard things necessary to create. Making things or doing something new can sometimes bring up feelings of vulnerability. Engaging in something novel can quietly trigger negative beliefs of scarcity, worth and ability, wreaking havoc in reaching goals. Uncomfortable feelings and negative beliefs often surface when trying something for the first time. It can be helpful to journal about feelings and beliefs that that may come up. Think of a time in your life when you tried something new. What was that like for you?
…stay as light and unburdened as possible… -Elizabeth Gilbert
How does one stay “light and unburdened”? For some of us, this may not be a challenge. I’ve heard that there are some people in this world that wake up smiling. I don’t know of any. Okay, maybe my mom wakes up full of light.
Me? Nope. The moment I reach consciousness, demanding thoughts swirl around in my head space. I have this internal taskmaster that starts to dole out chores and responsibilities before my feet hit the ground, and then I have this part of me that whines about having to do all of those things. I’ve found that there is an art to practicing living a “light and unburdened” life. Key words here are “art” and “practicing”. Here are some of the things I create light and freedom in my life:
“The work wants to be made, and it wants to be made through you”. -Elizabeth Gilbert
Elizabeth Gilbert writes in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear about a Creative Force that is imbued in everything and in us. It is the Big Magic behind sunsets, puppies, works of art, folding laundry and making love. It is swirling around and through, inviting us to be noticed and intentional. This Creative Force wants us to be its form and has infinite ways of showing up. What wants to be created through you?