Morning Pages: Condemnation, Forgiveness, Righteousness

As I read today’s reading I’m thinking about condemnation and what all this means about judgement. ?I’m still absorbing the news about Elliot Rodger who killed six other people in his self-loathing and misogyny.

He already was full of self condemnation, there is nothing further one can feel when already filled with self hate. ?Even after everything he has done to those poor families of the murdered, I cannot ignore the level of self hate and rage he had, so much that he emptied it out onto others.

I sometimes wonder if people forget that hell isn’t always a burning place after we die. ?Some are already living it here already.

online slotsMorning Pages: Sexual Violence, Advocacy, and Spiritual Endurance

There is it. The word, the “A” word: advocate.

In my early days of being an advocate and educator for survivors of rape and sexual violence, I thought it primarily described my role as being a voice in times of silence. ?Silence during invasive rape examination kits, I would be an advocate with my eyes and head, never breaking the gaze of a survivor who needed me to hold her stare while doctors did what they had to do for an investigation. ?In the dim lit corners of trials and courtrooms, I walked beside survivors and often their crumbling family members who could not keep their emotions contained. ?Advocacy, I learned, was not about supplying my voice in the place of silence. ?It was much more body focused. ?Knowing where to stand, and what presence to carry into each situation. ?Mostly, though, it meant developing a profound understanding of the voices of others. Knowing when and how to help them shape it, use it, attend to it. ?There are so many ways to advocate for survivors. Speaking for them, however, is usually not what’s needed though.

I wonder if these same qualities I learned in the field of sexual violence could be applicable to the spiritual world. ?Who doesn’t need to learn when to listen, how to listen, undoing years of learning that responding is equivalent to saying something of worth? ?Advocacy is the highest call to presence for another human being. ?Who else have I been an advocate for? ?Who else in my life needs me in similar ways, just not in those conditions? ?If I look into my life, I’m sure I will find others who also feel abandoned by everyone – including God – and violated, betrayed, broken, and bewildered. ?Perhaps I can begin to stop focusing on the whorl of my life, and fixate on being that for others. ?I have been an advocate for survivors of sexual violence nearly all of my adult life and it has sensitized me beyond comprehension to the world of survivors. ?But what survivors of violence need overlaps with what we all need: radical compassion, a loyal friend, honesty, and fellowship of anger at the injustice of the world.

Today is Memorial Day weekend, and I remember all the women who have been lost in the war of violence. I uplift all the women who were killed, raped, tortured, held captive, enslaved, beaten, manipulated, used, and dismissed purely because of someone’s misogyny and unconscious spirit.

For what I believe about women in the world, I am prepared to be “kicked out of the synagogue” and, in terms of advocacy for women, killed.

They will expel you from the synagogues;
in fact, the hour is coming when everyone who kills you
will think he is offering worship to God.

Morning Pages: An Untamed State

Is it possible to be a novice at something you’ve been doing for years?

Yoga instruction books explain the normalities of those newbies beginning yoga practices. ?Understanding the body is essential to yoga practice and in the early stages of yoga, the body unleashes a reliable yet unexpected stream of energy. ?This may help explain the decreased need for sleep early on. ?But as the body adjusts and muscles are strengthened, the amount of sleep normally needed returns. ?I always found that living contradiction marvelous. As the body uses new muscles which should deplete energy, the body experiences a temporary abundance of wakeness. ?As the muscles become familiar to moves and stretches, the nocturnal pattern returns.

I have begun and left yoga only to return again months later. With my frequent stints, a lasting period of beginning and ending, I’m at a constant state of novelty. This disloyalty has continued for nearly two decades. The epiphanies are always the same once my body remembers the arches, pulls, and smooth arm arcs: I should keep this up. I should commit to furthering my practice. This feels amazing. And yet when my routine changes, my morning yoga is the first thing I remember to forget.

The same is true for prayer. ?My kind of prayer. The kind of prayer where I stand in front of an closed window and open it slowly, allowing panefulls of breezes to wash over me. I stand in the same spot, hear the same creak in the wooden floors beneath my bare feet, listen to the trees rustle, temporarily pierced by a far away siren and take in the glory of mystery. Why am I here? Why was I born in this time? Who do I love, and do they know it?

I take it back. ?Prayer is the first thing I remember to forget when things get hectic.

Reading a book, hard thick paged reading, was abandoned a long time ago. As a child, I read voraciously, to the point of my staunchly religious mother wondering if the devil was tempting me through silent words of a stranger’s mind because I read in secret, openly, first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and every free moment in between. ?My fifth grade teacher would tell you that the days she relented and treated the class to a game instead of quiet time, the class would squeal as they played Four Corners and I, to be obedient, would play along, too, but only with a book in my hands, my eyes moving left to right while I followed the herd of my friends, trying to choose a corner that would not be picked by whomever was It. Last one standing won the game and got to be It. Even with my book, never paying attention, I won and resented becoming It. It forced me to put my book down and play a silly game with lots of giggles. I wanted to be lost in the world of stories, guessing, and feeling like someone was drawing a picture for me in my head.

“Remain in me.” So says today’s reading.

Well, what does that mean? Remain in me? Who is “me?” Those beautiful trees I pray in front of in the morning? My noisily sleeping, teeth grinding child in the next room? ?How does one remain?

“I have told you this…so that your joy might be complete.”

Ahh, yes, joy. That word that everyone writes in wedding cards and birthday greetings. That word people use to up the anty on happiness. ?The idea that something beyond ourselves is attainable yet is only given by something other than ourselves, this Joy that must be granted, not oddly earned.

Joy is the even streamed energy that bolsters my joints, limbs, and mind. The sources for it are, unfortunately, those first things I remember to forget when life gets hectic: prayer, yoga, reading. And upon rumination, the list continues: friends, writing, dancing, painting, learning, laughing. These are the first things to go, the first people thrown off the boat to preserve whatever distortion we have of life. ?But these are precisely the things we stay alive for. ?What kind of survival ends with misery if all that gives joy is surrendered?

In the strange mix of extroversion and introversion, I need both relationships and solitude to thrive. ?Somewhere along the way, I think, the idea that my life is purely to serve others without taking joy for myself began to breed, especially when I became a mother. ?It is time to reclaim those pieces of myself in sustained practice.

Yesterday morning I did morning salutations and so I woke at 4am, feeling quite refreshed. ?I picked up the book I had been waiting to read for quite some time, “An Untamed State” by an author and editor who is slowly shifting into a permanent state of Important in my life, Roxane Gay. I read for nearly three hours. ?And I feel, suddenly, like the adult I envisioned I would be as a girl: a writer with big dreams, stealing literary moments when her family sleeps, running on foreign lands I’d never been with an expert tourist called an author. Today it was Haiti. ?I close the book when my body calls for water, or food. ?I go to write my morning pages.

God asks us to remain one with God. God is in us, We are in God. To remain in God is to remain in ourselves.

Do the things that continuously bring you back to yourself. God awaits in the pages, in the arm arcs, by the window pane.

Morning Pages: You Can’t Always Get What You Want, but Why Not?

The reading this morning is especially powerful but the same line always renders me confused: Ask for whatever you want and it shall be given.

He must mean something more than just this simple message because the human comprehension of it isn’t true. ?Not everything we want is given. ?Is there something more?

Yesterday a dear friend of mine began chemotherapy after finding stage 4 colon cancer had spread to her liver. What is is that I want, what have asked for? I ask that she recovers and lives a longer life with her daughter. ?That is my desire.

If she dies, what becomes of this prayer? What are we to make of the prayer that went seemingly unanswered?

I never looked at prayer in terms of asking or even requesting. ?Spiritual mentors have always guided me, reminding me that prayer is not about God withholding something unless you ask for it. The act of prayer, a reflection upon one’s inner world and inviting God to be a part of it, is not a constant Christmas list, but a clarifying process of true desire. What is it that I truly want? ?Who am I in this desire?

The words that stay with me are not the aforementioned quote but the part that reads, “remain in me.” This passage urges me to stay a part of the vine, to grow in God, remain a part of something larger. ?Perhaps when we do this our desires change and that is how all we seek is given to us. ?When we turn away, drift, alter our connection by severing our ties to the Vine, then what we seek becomes artificial and thus unattainable. What plant rooted in the rich soil asks for astroturf?

So my prayer life remains curtained in mystery. These morning pages are my prayers. I find them circular sometimes, almost bizarre and directionless. I don’t really know where I’m going in prayer but I know that it always leads to something deeper, unearthing a presence that I wasn’t aware of prior to the prayer. I realize in that moment that I am connected o the Vine, and my prayer reminds me of that. And I feel full. And with that fullness, I am able to go out and face the possibility that my friend will not survive this cancer. That she may die soon, or she may live three more decades of joy. I don’t know. But my prayer reminds me of how precious life is, how dear she is to me, and coming into that clarity is not the same as her cure for her cancer, it is a antidote to my fear.

Political Theology: Catholic Spirituality and Drones

At every intersection of political examination of conscience, I come to the word peace and rummage in my mind for an spiritual reasoning that explains why I have never heard the word “drone” in any Catholic space or conversation. ?I suppose because most Catholics, ?sitting upon the words “political” and “reflection” come to the two areas that the church is most infamously known to brush scandal: sexuality and gender. ?Anything that has to do with, as NCR columnist Jamie Manson describes, “the pelvic region” is cause for Church debate and media sensationalism.

But nothing about drones.

Drones, like so many other facets of foreign based news and political chatter, seem like a topic outside my understanding. I don’t know when drones were built, or by whom, or what (other than terrorizing other countries) their purpose is. ?Based from general and cursory reads of current events, I surmise that the overarching goals are to “keep the peace” (surveillance) and limit the risk to US American lives. ?And yet, as a US American, I can’t say that I feel any safer than I did a decade ago. ?Drone strikes, or any US military tactic that sends machines of steel instead of human life, further deploys the global message (read: illusion) of an American Invincibility; where the cost of life will rarely be American and the mental neuroses of paranoia and terrorism will impact us all.

I think about how removed most Catholic consciences are from this issue, how removed my own conscience is from this issue. ?I wonder if when Catholics pray they are only praying for peace of mind. Sure, no one wants a worried mind, but what price comes to believing in peace? ?To believe in peace, we have to believe that all life is sacred, even those whom we label “enemy.” In nearly every passage of scripture I have ever studied or contemplated, the word enemy is used to describe the further advancement of love; manifesting forgiveness and painful growth of inclusion.

None of this is simple. ?There are some acts in the world, ribboned with terrifying violence and unthinkable hate, that I can scarcely put words to fully encompass the horror. But I wonder about today’s passage and what is left for Catholics to ruminate in a time when we divorce ourselves from the responsibility from the callous calculations of our government. ?How long do we continue to focus on issues of sexuality and gender to the negligence of the crime we are also witnessing on a global level?

I often hear from aging and aged Catholics that we have to pick and choose our battles, we must discern where in the world we want to try to help make a difference and focus on the good so we do not burn out or become hardened to the point of inactivity. ?My focus and passion has always been issues of radical understanding of human divinity – of all persons – and I can’t reconcile the truth that peace does not exist and I, very likely, cannot undo that.

So what is left for me today, after these lines in today’s reading:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”

I have more questions.

Is it enough to create peace in the world in the spaces I occupy? No, but it’s a start.

Does it really matter how I love people and whether I prize their full human being? Yes, because everything stems from here.

How do I participate in the disordered values that are perpetuated by the idea and military execution of drones strikes? I think what I choose to express about power, understanding, and love either challenges the idea of drones or uplifts it. The world I love is drowning in violence. ?Where, on this ship, can I puncture a hole to release some of those rough waters, knowing this is will not save me, but done in the daily practice of what I so fervently believe is what we all seek: peace.

We’re Moving to New York

We’re moving to New York.

I’m going into an MFA program in literary nonfiction at Columbia University.

Our life is nuts. Lines are blurring. Days are running together.

Our house is up for sale.

We keep driving to New York to investigate and make decisions.

Life is…nuts.

This pic is a reflection in the window. You can see, Isaiah sleeping in the car, Nick doing email on his cell phone, and New York buildings all around.

Welcome to the next phase of my life.

One Act Play: Am I a Hipster?

Am I a Hipster: A One Act Play About Moving To New York

Setting: Dinner Table, Spring Night in Cleveland 6:30pm

Two parents, one four year old eating a huge bowl of chocolate pudding for dessert

Empty plates in front of everyone, cleaned from a night of chicken burritos.

Nick: I was pinged by one of my coworkers who asked if we made a decision about the move.

Lisa: Uh-huh.

Nick: I told her that we’re deciding between Riverdale and some parts in Brooklyn. ?Do you know what she said?

Lisa: She can’t believe we’re thinking about Brooklyn.

Nick: Yes. And do you know why?

Lisa: Something about hipsters, I’m sure.

Nick: Yes! She said,’I never pictured you a hipster.’

Lisa: (laughs)

Nick: Wait. ?What’s a hipster?

Lisa: You don’t know what a hipster is?

Nick: I mean, what IS a hipster?

Lisa: Do you want my definition or, like, a real definition.

Nick: Either. Both.

Lisa: Well, it’s like that one guy said the other day. You don’t own something specific, like a lawn mower. ?There’s only one, and it’s all community shared because it’d be considered cool to not own anything so you don’t own anything.

Nick: Oh man. That’s me! Give me another definition.

Lisa: It’s like-

Isaiah: Excuse me!

Nick: Because I really want to know-

Isaiah: Excuse me!

Lisa & Nick: Yes, Isaiah?

Isaiah: I have a definition.

Lisa: You have a definition for “hipster?”

Isaiah: Lazy. It’s someone who is lazy.

Lisa: (laughs) Awesome. (stop laughing) Wait a second. You’re right! Lazy people who can’t think of fashion for themselves, so they go by what’s trending.

Nick: (grabs laptop) I’m looking this up.

Lisa: (puts plates away)

Isaiah giggles, slowly impacted by sugared pudding.

Nick: It says someone who follows trends and is an artis-, artisan- artisnal – look, I can’t even pronounce it. ?That must mean I’m not a hipster.

Lisa: Artisinal?

Nick: Someone who lives in gentrified areas. Ohhhh.

Lisa: Yeah, that sounds about right.

Nick: And…what is this word? E-f-f-e-t-e

Lisa: Effete?

Isaiah: You said feet.

Sugar Cleanse Letters, Day 2

Dear adrienne,

Forgive the staccato, unrelated points in this letter with no transition: it’s day 2 and I’m noticing everything. ?My ability, though, to put it all together, is nil.

I notice how after I eat, even when I’m satisfied and no longer hungry, I notice the Want comes alive. ?I Want something crunchy, salty popper in my mouth. ?I like the feel of crunch against my teeth, grinding in the back. ?And cauliflower doesn’t have the same zing. ?I keep asking myself why I’m doing this, why am I putting myself through this when there are so many other ways – less restrictive than this path – that would deliver similar results. ?To be truthful, I don’t know why but the challenge of it entices me to keep going.

I face day 3 tomorrow and am scared. ?I’ll be traveling for three days, and although I have the support of my partner and frenzy of my little one to keep me busy and occupied, I’m worried about the road. ?I’m worried about the Want overtaking. ?But I’m packing healthy alternatives and will keep my journal on hand to jot down the times and moments that I’m craving. ?The Want is strongest around 2pm. ?What’s funny is that I’m not a sweet tooth. ?I’m not a big chocolate eater, I can’t really stand oversweetness, and am allergic to a lot of tree fruits. ?What’s hard to say no to are the carb loaded tempations of rice, gourmet breads, a touch of boursin on a cracker, and pasta. ?Things that aren’t inherently bad for you, but the indulgence of them will toxify the body with sugar.

I drank coconut water today and didn’t realize it had a little bit of sugar in it. ?Natural, of course, but sugar nonetheless. ?I felt like a failure and dreaded the idea of starting all over again ?I noticed the failure feeling and wondered where it came from, why would I let one unintended mistake set me back. ?I ran into the perfectionism. I noticed it and moved on. ?I’m not starting over. ?I’m continuing. Tomorrow. Day 3.

This past Sunday I celebrated Easter, a time of renewal and celebration in my faith. ?I was able to enjoy it reasonably without an overabundance of sugar. ?Everywhere I look I notice how much we, as a society, consume that is not real or natural. ?It’s made me question how much of my life is real and natural.

My family just completed an epic purge to prepare for our impending move and I never felt better about letting go, and moving toward a vision of myself that is healthier, less reliant, even, and deliberate. ?I don’t know where this cleanse is taking me, and I truthfully don’t even know why I’m insistent on doing it now…but it feels right. ?It feels timely.

I’m resisting the urge to keep apologizing for my writing — I’m tired and feel strange.

Thanks for being in this world, adrienne.



Breakfast: egg white omelette, dollop of guacamole

Lunch: quinoa, chili with grassfed organic beef, fresh spinach

Snack: greens salad w/ grilled chicken, hot tea

Dinner: brown rice, shitaake mushrooms, lemon chicken

Dessert: T of peanut butter

Sugar Cleanse Ain’t Just About the Sugar

After the book tour and consuming countless hours of facilitated dialogues about healing, suffering, and trauma, I decide to go on a sugar cleanse. ?To be truthful, I don’t know why, but in my body, I feel the need to release things that aren’t mine. ?I’m not sure it’s possible to explain it well over a a computer, or really in words, but I knew I had to do something when my sleep turned into interrupted confused states, and my once razor sharp memory began fuzzing out simple details. ?I’ve had body work done, I even went to acupuncture. ?I’ve run, planked, yoga’ed, and drank more water than I ever had and, still, something(s) are lingering. ?I need some thing(s) to be released. ?Things that aren’t mine. Trauma that isn’t mine that is clinging to my cells, draining me, weighing me down.

A contributor from the anthology and new friend, adrienne maree brown, recently did a 21 day sugar cleanse and to be honest what attracted me to it were her Facebook posts about how difficult it was. ?As strange as this sounds, I wanted something else to take my mind off the stress of moving, the unknown of going back to school, the vestiges of the anthology’s emotional turmoil. ?I began prepping a few days ago and experienced terrible withdrawal symptoms. ?I had diarrhea, chills, pseudo flu symptoms without the body aches. ?That was just the prep. ?Then came the headache of all headaches. ?I could barely function that day and Nick wondered if I was taking on too much. ?I could barely care for Isaiah. ?Then, boom, the next day I woke up refreshed, energized, and my face feeling as smooth as a baby’s bum. ?I took the weekend to enjoy the holiday and eat some favorite foods (filipino kare kare with rice! artichoke and spinach dip on pita chips! a margarita!) and managed to steer clear of marshmallow peeps and Easter candy.

Today was my first day. ?And the one thing that saved me? ?I WAS PREPARED.

After an egg white omelette with fresh spinach, tomatoes, and avocado, I prepped an organic grass fed beef chili with beans for lunch, and then traveled with a can of lentils, brown rice, chicken, and spinach for dinner.

It worked. ?I wasn’t hungry at all. ?My energy was even and felt attentive and aware of my body.

My intention for this cleanse is prompted by intense curiosity, need for challenge, but primarily health. ?After nearly 2 months of heavy travel, I feel the need to make my own food, drink more water, sleep well, and rid my body of emotional and physical toxins.

I’ll be writing letters to adrienne to help keep my focus and accountability up. ?I’ll post them here on this blog and hope you enjoy the journey.

Here are some tips from adrienne that I will be incorporating, and here is the cleanse that I will be doing. ?I can tell you this right now: I’ll need the support and the company.

A Selfish Lent, An Easter of Joy

It’s been a selfish Lent, and I liked it that way.

While the rest of the Catholic world pined and prayed away their 40 days on sacrifice, obligation, “giving it up to the Lord,” and fasting on their human favorite goodies like alcohol, chocolate, and bad words, I’ve done something I’ve never done before: I made a whole new life for myself.

That’s right. ?I put into action the plan I’ve had for years and finally did my 40 days of genuine ministry in the topic that draws me ever closer in enraged fascination: sexual violence. ?It’s time, it being Holy Saturday, and the Easter Vigil tonight, to share what I’ve done, how I did it, and why I’m giving up giving things up for Lent in lieu of putting into action a new course of living.

One of the first memories I had of Lent as a child was being given a cardboard box to donate all my coins and extra change during the forty days leading up to Easter. ?Because of my late February birthday, I always received money in the mail and carried around a guilty conscience that I should give my money into the donation box. ?I did. ?Every year. ?Whatever birthday money I received, I folded it up and pushed it through the skinny slot so children in some other part of the world could eat for the next few months. ?The unknown person got a bowl of rice, I got my birthday cake and mom’s homemade lasagna. ?Seemed like I should be happy with that deal.

But I wasn’t. ?And I wasn’t a spoiled child. ?I rarely received money and I didn’t spend it. ?There were no allowances to save, so anytime money came across my way, I would save it for something special that I wanted. ?But I dreaded Lent because of it’s inevitable alignment with my birthday. ?It was the one day of the year that I wanted to do what I wanted, a day that I could do and be all the things I wanted with no apology or reason. ?But Lent curbed that for me as a child. ?This was my introduction to Lent and to the concept of charity: it forced me to give up the one day I waited for all year.

Lent is often focused on the solemnity. ?The suffering. ?The human darkness that temporarily triumphs the supposedly inherent light in us. ?The words ring like bells repent, make way, offering, repent, sacrifice, repent, repent, repent.

A lifetime of growing up Catholic with Catholic rituals, prayers, and worship service formed my conscience to be acutely and painfully aware of suffering. ?It wasn’t until natural adult maturation that I begun to understand Lent in the context of my own strengths and limitations: charity never made sense to me. ?Giving the extra never made the impact that I always wanted to see.

For me, the depth of poverty and corrupt infrastructure of leaders and politicians evaporated whatever hope I experienced from volunteerism and random acts of kindness. ?Don’t get me wrong: I believe in the necessity and power of charity and sharing resources with the marginalized. ?But 35 Lenten seasons later, I no longer found it moving to simply stop drinking soda and going to mass an extra day of the week to feel a deeper connection to something Larger than myself.

When I began the Dear Sister anthology, I shied away from revealing that much of it came from my desire to do something with my faith. ?The focus on the anthology is on survivors and their stories, admitting or narrating my story felt and feels distracting. ?Beside the point. ?Needlessly detailed. ?But in processing it these past few months, it’s essential to stop hiding faith and begin living it in the most authentic way we can imagine. ?Lent, for me, needed to go beyond sacrifice. ?It had to be about creating something.

I formatted the book tour to reveal my innermost longings about life and faith: activating community members to care. ?The dialogues were facilitated in a way that I hoped to radicalize the notion that non-surviving community members and allies were, essentially, the heart of transformation. ?Their ability to listen, believe, and love is the only way forward in eradicating sexual violence. ?What other way could there be? ?And ?yet, over and over, the communities did not understand this. ?Still, the onus and responsibilities of transforming the world to a more peaceful and just existence fell on the ability of survivors to tell their story and be labeled “strong.” ?Their choice to report, not ability to heal, is the focal point of justice. ?Their health and safety is secondary to their willingness to cooperate with state’s notions of jurisprudence.

For this Lent, I decided to create the conversations that I thought would uplift the survivors and help heal communities so they are stronger and able to more readily address the issue of power and sexuality in their communities.

Perhaps it was my unwillingness to give up meat on Fridays, or maybe it was the my shrinking belief in the veracity of the gospel, but I decided to create a new Lenten practice for myself and speak what I wanted to speak, step out of the cave of fear and assumption that someone else would do the work and just do it myself. ?I had to. ?Not only was the orthodox Lenten practice boring me, it was killing my spirit. ?I decided to take this Lent to live the way I wanted my life to be lived: truly for others.

I made this Lent about me. ? Me serving others, not me giving up pleasures. ?In some ways it was selfish. ?And it never felt so good. ?A new Lent made a new Easter. ?The renewal I experienced was not shiny or even pretty. ?Folks forget that rising from the dead isn’t all glory for the rest of us. ?Death’s stench lingers until we fully escape the tomb, and only than does the open wind cleanse us.

I am emerging from this tomb and leaving behind tattered garments of a woman who worked for the church, who prioritized the feelings of others over the well-being of the marginalized. ?My Easter is not of sunshine and sweetness, but of an earthy grit that comes from digging out of that grave, a smell of soil and sweat, and even a little bit of brokenness, still. ?It is an Easter of joy, of smeared dirt marks on my face, and exhaustion beyond bodily fatigue.

This is me crawling out of my cave.