A Conversation with Myself

I attended a Spiritual Writing Workshop last April with Joyce Rupp and Mary Kay Shanley. Our last assignment was to have a written conversation with our inner self as a tool for accessing our own wisdom. Having suffered from chronic migraines for a year, I chose this issue as my topic for this exercise:

Dear Migraines:

I am so tired of you! I'm trying to do the right things so you can feel good, but you never do! I've said I'm sorry, I've thanked you, and I've sent love to you. I walk outside, breathe fresh air, have cleaned up my diet from dairy and sugar, I exercise, I sleep a lot, I give you ice, meds, and meditations – What do you want and need from me? What's so hard about having a pain-free day?

It's the pursuit of control over all of this that you must let go.

But it seems that routine, schedule, daily habits are supposed to be good and helpful.

It's the control over outcomes you wish to exert over your body that's the problem, not the habits themselves.

So I'm supposed to care of myself without the expectation or goal that I will feel good and healthy? That doesn't even make sense. That's why I do them.

Yes, but it's the tit-for-tat, the immediate response, the iron-grip on your daily life and habits that doesn't' work. It's an organic process; you get mad at yourself if you don't get the results you want from whatever you do – all that does is put more stress on your system rather than release stress.

I don't like accepting limitations; I was raised to produce to outcomes by controlling my actions.

Yes, but life is really the opposite. Accept how you feel, accept what you can do today rather than what you think you should do. Start with acceptance and love of what is, without an agenda or a "have to".
Why is this so hard for me?

Because it's the opposite of what our culture promotes and it's not the path of perfectionism. All these exercise programs say, "don't quit, don't give up on yourself, push harder" but every time you blow past your own body's wisdom, limits, and what's possible for today, you "give up on yourself" – your true self.

So you're saying I need to listen inward rather than outward?

Yes! It's easier to be healthy and pain free when you don't have an adversarial role or a conquering attitude toward your body.

 

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Be Still

I was surprised how easy it was to hold still this time.  The Darth Vader-like mask was locked over my head, the IV was in and I was squished into the sliding platform with cushy headphones on my ears.  Since my head-MRI a year ago, I've spent more time in prayer and meditation.  I remember working at holding still, wondering how long it would take.  I stealed myself against the loud banging and clanking of the magnetic imaging, trying hard breathe calmly and stay still.  

What a difference a year makes. This time, it was more like a new opportunity to meditate.  Being still was easy, even relaxing. I listened to classical music instead of NPR and let go of trying to listen to the daily news between the foghorn blasts of the MRI.  I turned my attention inward for a conversation with God. Sometimes the machine was so loud it drowned out the music playing in my ears.

"It's awful noisy out there," I offered to the sacred presence within.

"Yes it is," replied God, "the world is a noisy place."  

"It's very noisy," I agreed.  I thought of the highway traffic that can be heard from our back deck at rush hour.  The music seeped into my ears through the hammering.

"But if you listen closely and pay attention," continued the sacred voice, "you can always hear the symphony of creation playing underneath; it's always there."  I remembered listening to the birds sing over that din of traffic.

Just like the voice of God in the stillness of a noisy MRI.  

The words of Psalm 46 are true: Be still and know that I am God.

"We're getting such great pictures!" the technician announced excitedly into the headphones.  

"Take your time," I thought, "I''m listening to the symphony of creation."

 

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It's All About That Love

My life, my prayers, my purpose - it all starts with love – not me loving God or me loving others, but “beholding God, beholding me and smiling,” as the Preparation Days encourage us in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  I prayed this one exercise everyday at the beginning of the 9-month program.  It was on Day 57 that my prayer experience moved from my head to my heart!  I moved from picturing God smiling on me to feeling God love me.

Yesterday during my prayers, I simply asked what God wanted to say to me and here’s what I received:

The more I accept how much God loves me, the more able I am to carry out what God wants to do through me. I am freer to listen to the inner voice. Since God loves me so much and fulfilling God’s call is my primary aim – my calling flows out of God’s love for me. 

If I am trapped in self-hate and self-criticism, I cannot do what God wants me to do because I don’t feel worthy or deserving of such attention, such joy.  Thinking I can do God’s will then feels ego-driven, and the negative voices say, “Who do you think you are?  You’re not that great to be fulfilling God’s will.”  

It turns out that my worthiness has nothing to do with what God can do through me because it’s rooted in who God is and not who I am.  It turns out that no one is worthy to be an instrument of God – it’s pure gift, rooted in God’s self-giving love. It’s a fact, a reality, apart from my worthiness or my acceptance of it.

Since God’s love comes to me a priori, the primary purpose of prayer and meditation is to experience how much God loves me.   From this vantage point, new vistas open up that are not limited by my narrow view of what I think I am supposed to accomplish in life. Such love leads me to new questions for my day:

  • What in love does God want to do through me?
  • Since God made me and loves me, what work, relationships and tasks flow from this?
  • How does God want to show up in the world through me? 

Each day is full of new possibilities!

 

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Hope in Endings

Addendum to Executive Summary for Living Waters Hope

Revs. Linda and Dan Anderson-Little

June 3, 2015 

Bishop Roger Gustafson asked us to reflect on “how we experience hope in the closing of Living Waters”.

It’s a wonderful question.  We both have remained hopeful about the future of the church, the need for continued mission and experimentation in our changing culture, as well as personal hope in the presence of God in our own lives.  Below we highlight some concrete sources of hope:

Impact:  We know that we have made an impact in some people’s lives; we have given skeptical and hurting people a new conversation, a new opportunity.  We trust through the miracle of the Spirit, this will continue to ripple out.

Small Group: The impact we’ve made is most notable in the Small Group that met consistently from the very beginning of Living Waters.  The depth of conversation and shared intimacy has far surpassed any experience either of us has had in our traditional church experience.  We are heartened that at least 6 members of this group will continue to meet 3x/month with us as part of our personal outreach and spiritual practice which continues to be a source of great hope.

Support: We have been humbled by and so grateful for the support we have received from every corner of the church – both as we imagined Living Waters, carried it out and closed it.  We have had wonderful conversations and engagement with the staff of our local and national judicatories, colleagues, our Steering Team and Intercessory Prayer Team, as well as those in “official” committees tasked with decisions to support us and offer oversight.  Even as we struggled with Linda’s health challenges and the decision to close, we have been buoyed by the prayers and love of so many, which continues to give us hope.

Discernment: We both feel God’s continued presence and grace in our lives.  We’re discerning what we gained from this experience and are still in process of listening to what God might be up to next for us.  Dan is pursuing some possible Interim Pastor positions to provide income during this process.  Linda is exploring what kinds of ministry and commitments will be compatible with health and well-being.  We have also realized that we can “discern rightly and still decide incorrectly”.  We rightly discerned the need for mission with the “Nones”, trying bold experiments in ministry, and that we both have gifts for mission development.  However, Linda engaging in this kind of ministry, and perhaps trying to build ‘fast and big’ were not correct decisions.  The gift of distinguishing between discernment and decision, gives us hope that God’s faithfulness is ever true, even in the midst of our limitations.

Funds: We’re grateful for the shared discernment of our judicatories, coach, Steering Team and Prayer Team that it was time to conclude the ministry before all the resources dwindled.  We find hope that there is still $47,000 still available for new mission in the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy and the Central States Synod. 

Faith: Because this has been such a positive experience in so many ways, we are sad, disappointed and very sorry Living Waters did not work, but we have not been brutalized or torn up by it.  We rest with conviction on the very core of our faith, which is that God raises new life from death and God always has the final answer.  We trust in our resurrection hope that death is not final and that the Holy Spirit will always work new ways to bring grace and love to all of creation.

 

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Quotation of the Week

The church does not have a mission in the world, God's mission has a church in the world.

 

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