A brief interlude to note that here's another last Friday of the month, and that means another Maira Kalman blog post from the New York Times, always worth checking out. This one especially so in light of the agonizingly slow (or so it seems) process of getting some form of health care reform passed. And there's the climate bill too. Both important.
c. 2008, Sukie Curtis, Backyard in Summer, oil on gessoed paper, 6.5"x6.5"
I never did get around to explaining how I came by the title of this blog, TrustingDelight. And I think it's time to do so.
In a strange way this topic also belongs over my newer blog, Freedom Diaries, because the practice of trusting delight is a significant part of my road to freedom. Perhaps it's one of the strongest, clearest links between the two and why I sometimes get mixed up about what belongs where.
(Which of course causes me to wonder if they are, or should be, one and the same blog. But I recently read that it's a great idea for artists to blog about their work, and I thought: "Aha!! Trusting Delight could become the blog about my painting and other visual art, while Freedom Diaries remains the story about my journey, present as well as past.)
Anyway, back to trusting delight.
It happened this way: I'd been given a small piece of gessoed paper to use for a homework assignment for the plein air (that's fancy French art talk for painting outside) landscape painting class that I took last summer. I don't remember the precise assignment, but I believe we were simply encouraged to play around freely (my favorite kind of assignment!) with our paint and the paper, since gessoed paper was a new surface for most of us.
I took my paints, the paper, and my trusty folding French easel out to the backyard, which is where I did a lot of painting last summer (hence the large number of paintings featuring trees and a wooden fence). I was about to discover that gessoed paper is a rather slippery, skiddy surface compared to gessoed canvas, for instance. A paint-laden brush really slides around a lot, which some find disconcerting, and it can feel pretty out of control and messy for a while.
It was a gorgeous early summer day with plenty of sunshine and a pleasant breeze. There was stuff growing in the garden, the trees were in full leaf by then, casting intriguing shadows across the lawn, onto the fence, and through my neighbor's grove of trees.
The wind stirred the branches and caused the light to flicker and dance, and I was ecstatic. I worked pretty fast, mixing colors and swiping my brush across the paper, moving so quickly in fact that I couldn't really say how I decided to paint what I did. I was simply painting by the seat of my pants (ha ha! I actually typed "by the seat of my paints"!!).
I was trusting my novice painter's intuitive sense, though if I'd had any such thoughts of doing any such thing, I can assure you I would have gotten tied in knots. "I don't know how to trust my intuition," I can almost hear myself whine. But thankfully, I didn't go down that road that day!
Because the paper was small, around 6 by 6 inches, I finished in a matter of minutes (really can't say how many, since I was blissfully oblivious of time). And I looked at what I had done, and I loved it!
And almost immediately the thought came to me that I was simply "chasing the light" around the backyard with my paints and brushes.
Now it just so happens that in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that.... oops. Wrong story. Let me try that again.
It just so happens that in those days I was actively wracking my brain to come up with a name for my soon to be launched blog. And when that phrase "chasing the light" arose in my mind, I said, "That's it! I'll call my blog 'Chasing Delight'!"
But when I thought more about it, "Chasing Delight" felt a bit too manic for what I had in mind, and possibly even too suggestive that I could be chasing delight yet never actually finding it or catching up to it. And that was definitely not what I wanted to convey.
I tweaked some more, emailed my friend Sarah some more, and settled on "Trusting Delight" instead of "Chasing Delight".
Just when in this process I remembered St. Augustine I can't now recall. Believe me, I wasn't expecting to find inspiration for my blog title from any of the so called "church fathers", and particularly not that one, whom I credit, rightly or wrongly, with developing the lovely concept of original sin. He wasn't big on sex, either.
But long ago I read and took to heart a beautiful line that Augustine (354 - 430) once wrote in an essay about music. I like to imagine that he wrote this before he spent his energy cooking up original sin. For that matter, maybe he even wrote this before he converted to Christianity!
In any case, here's Augustine's line that lies behind my blog's title: "Delight is as it were the weight of the soul; for delight orders the soul."
Delight orders the soul. And I am, dare I say it?, delight's willing practitioner, doing my best to order my life and my soul by trusting delight.
(To be continued, for sure. Because that word "orders" has an interestingly familiar ring to it, especially when traveling with its ecclesiastical companion, "holy".)
Here's my latest post from over in Freedom Diaries:
"The story I am writing is about starting over to live my life without God." I declared this to my partner in an exercise at a writing workshop on an island off the coast of Washington.
It was June of 2006, only a month or two after writing my two poems about feeling shackled to God and burdened by God. I was trying to be faithful to what I thought those poems were telling me.
And I was far enough from home, from people who knew me as an Episcopal priest, many as their former priest, to feel a bit more free to be honest. Since I was in the Pacific Northwest, north of Seattle, I had imagined (in other words, I had assumed) that most of my workshop mates would applaud and embrace a kind of loosey-goosey, unconventional approach to religion and spirituality and that my talk of living my life without God wouldn't raise eyebrows or upset anyone and might even find a ready and sympathetic embrace. I guess you could say I was kind of hoping for that, maybe even counting on that.
And I guess you could say I had been a tad unrealistic. Actually, I'd been really seriously off base.
My story idea went over like a bad joke, and I, already feeling very tentative about it, was hyper-vigilant for any signs telling me I should reconsider and turn back from the brink. I already wondered if perhaps I wasn't yet ready to write this story, that perhaps I didn't have the requisite perspective and "distance" that time could provide. After all, I hadn't actually embarked very far along this journey of living my life "without God," whatever that might mean. But I was seriously thinking about it, imagining it, planning it. (But in order to write about it, I was really going to have to live it. Damn! I hadn't fully considered that.)
My partners in this exercise, three different people in sequence, were invited to listen to my proposed story line, then respond with questions for me, and I was to do the same for them. My three compadres, more or less randomly selected in the course of milling about the room, all seemed to react to my story in similar ways. Each one in turn posed questions that felt strained to me, unenthusiastic, even slanted in such a way as to suggest that this idea of living my life without God was misguided, dangerous, a temporary delusional detour from which they hoped I would eventually recover.
They seemed to want to talk me back into God, to reassure me that this dark time would pass. Almost as if they were worried about me, as if this talk of going godless signaled depression and despair, maybe a sign of mental illness (that would be my mental illness), some kind of breakdown, as if next would come talk of suicide and wanting to end it all.
But nothing could have been farther from the truth! What my companions didn't seem able to comprehend or to guess was that my wanting to live my life without God was a jailbreak, a life-or-death bid for freedom! It was my best hunch of what I needed to do to shed an immense burden and to become--perhaps for the first time since childhood, perhaps for the first time ever!--simply and joyfully myself, a human being alive and awake on this amazing planet. I wanted liberation, and the best I could figure it, that meant letting go of God.
I suppose I can understand and even appreciate their response. It's not as if sane people usually speak of going godless every day, with strangers! It's not generally considered a casual endeavor, like, say, going topless or braless (and even speaking of going topless might raise eyebrows).
I could have told them, if I had wanted to pursue this line of thought, that of course I know that if there really is a God of whatever shape or form who or which is everywhere in the universe, then my intention to live my life without this God was preposterous, ludicrous, impossible even! That I could, in my limited, misguided ego kind of way, imagine myself cast adrift and free of such a being/force/entity, but that in fact my very life and my every breath would still be dependent on it/her/him. In which case the joke would be on me!
But I really wasn't interested in that kind of thinking, so so familiar to me from my twenty-something years of theologizing, preaching, and fitting life into a particular religious worldview to be packaged up and delivered for the hoped-for good of others.
Maybe that's just it: I no longer wanted to have to think and write and speak about God at all. God had become (or at least thinking, writing, and speaking about God had become)--how shall I say it?--boring to me!
I wasn't depressed; I was energized, hopeful, yet also fearful, and I was trying to be brave. I wasn't trying to be offensive; I was trying to tell the truth. And the truth was, I was sick to death of God--fed up with god, with talking about God, thinking about God, shoring up other people's faith in God or ideas about God , trying to make God (the Judeo-Christian God? any and every God?) make sense, tired of being a spokesperson for God in any way, shape, or form.
After being ordained for twenty-two years, I wanted out. I was barely able to acknowledge that truth, even to myself, but this workshop on the other side of the continent had seemed like a good place to start.
By the conclusion of this exercise I wasn't so sure. I got scared; I retreated. I decided I wasn't ready to write that story and that, at least for the purposes of this writing workshop, I'd have to find another one.
OK, so those two poems I published in two previous posts about stuff I was dragging around might feel kinda heavy to you. But I trust you can sense that they were very real to me and important to write.
Note I said: "were very real." I wrote them more than three years ago. I'm not lugging those burdensome feelings around with me any more. I've traveled quite a distance since then.
But they are important markers for me. Milestones along the road I was on, plodding along as best I could, rarely straight-forwardly, not always pleasantly, but moving one way or another (or, rather, one way and another).
I'm sure that those two poems were trying to tell me something I needed to learn about myself, something I needed to see and hear and know more clearly, something that some part of me way down deep already knew (and I hate to admit that it took me a long while to really let that knowledge sink in, or rise up to full consciousness, to the point of acting on it).
Shortly after writing them I read those poems to my friend Patty, a fellow poet, by way of also complaining about the inner turmoil I was experiencing (and no doubt blaming on my job). When she heard them, she said to me: "Well, at least this job is getting you to write poetry!"
I remember thinking that was scant consolation. I wanted relief from the turmoil, not poetry! I wanted to get out of the exhausting inner conflict I felt about what to do with my life, a conflict that the job seemed to perpetuate and even exacerbate.
I can see now that that job was on some level just where I needed to be, because it was doing me the favor of stirring the pot of inner conflict, provoking me toward inner clarity, eventually making my life unbearable enough to get me unstuck. But at the time I didn't want any more unbearable pot-stirring or inflamed conflict. I wanted out; I wanted to escape; I wanted a break.
Reading those poems from my present vantage point, it's so easy to imagine that they were telling me in the clearest possible terms that I was through with being an Episcopal priest, that renouncing my ordination was the obvious thing to do.
But at the time I wasn't that clear, at least my conscious mind wasn't that clear. I was trying to listen to my soul, that is on the days when I wasn't convinced that I had actually lost my soul forever somewhere in the business of being a priest.
But more often than not, I was probably only listening to my mind yammering on, flip-flopping endlessly, unsure of what to do.
Unsure because not really even ready or willing to entertain in any serious kind of way letting go of the the one adult identity I had had for longer than any other--being ordained, an Episcopal priest, a "professional God person".
Unsure also because I was so easily distracted by the more immediate quandary of whether to stay in my current job or not. This was not the first time in my life that I had imagined that my inner conflict was about "being in the wrong job" rather than about being in the wrong profession, even in the wrong calling.
And here it seems time to introduce the confusing, loaded, torturous, and (to me, for the longest time) debilitating idea of "vocation".
As I said last week, I'm going to connect Trusting Delight with Freedom Diaries for a while, in hopes of bringing more eyes to my newer blog. So here's what I posted yesterday over on Freedom Diaries. And if you want to see what else I've posted there, you can follow this link: Freedom Diaries. The unfolding story of my journey from being good to being happy, from feeling caged to living free, from Episcopal priest to free-lance human being.
Of Church-going and Music
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Talk about having a foot in two camps, or straddling a fence. I am at this moment attempting to blog while also listening online to the Sunday morning Eucharist at Washington Cathedral, where, Bekah tells me via text, she is sitting in the fourth row. "And the altar is especially colorful."
"It's St. Francis' Day!" I text her back, half wishing I were there with her.
I'm not sure it will work, this listening and blogging at the same time. I'm not even sure it should work, since doing one thing at a time, fully present and single-minded, is usually the better way (despite the assertions of my children).
Monday, October 5
That was yesterday. It didn't work. The audio stream kept breaking up, so I gave up blogging and went downstairs to listen on a different computer and ended up helping Anna with something else. That was fine.
Not for the first time I admit to myself that I envy Bekah her occasional visits to the Cathedral, her still fairly new and fresh explorations of church-going on her own terms, as an individual, away from her parents. I especially envy her openness, her (somewhat) unjaded stance, apparently unencumbered by roles, responsibilities, or the expectations of others. Whatever encumbrance she carries i s made of stuff she has accumulated and not yet let go of from her growing up as a "P.K."--preacher's kid, which in her case was until recently preachers' kid. Double trouble. (Or as one honest teenaged member of my congregation said at the time that David and I got married, "Boy, do I feel sorry for their kids!")
My envy of Bekah suggests an assumption on my part, largely unquestioned, that such freedom from expectations or personal agenda is lost to me, no longer an option. Maybe it's time to question that assumption. Maybe that's how freedom is found; it's claimed, not stumbled upon.
Last May when I went to D.C. to pick Bekah up from her first year of college, we squeezed in an afternoon Evensong at the Cathedral. Just walking into that glorious building and hearing the girls' choir warming up, their voices soaring into the vaulted ceiling high above, tears welled up in my eyes. I felt my heart both healed and torn apart at the same time.
"Ahhh, yes. I remember why I love this tradition." That and other such thoughts ran through my mind. Mostly I tried simply to allow myself to enjoy the sensory delights to ear and eye and soul as we wandered the building waiting for the choir seating to open for Evensong. I got to show Bekah some chapels she hadn't seen before, including the children's chapel, bordering on the too-precious with its miniature, child-sized everything: cathedral chairs, kneelers, altar, even a small pipe organ!
What really grabbed my heart this time was noticing how the hands of the bronze statue of Jesus-as-young-boy, who stands as a welcoming presence with arms outstretched in greeting, are shiny from the touch of many who just can't resist and reach out to make contact. I did the same. What was I hoping for? Some sort of magic gift of miracle, like the woman who reached out to touch the hem of Jesus' garment in the gospel story? Or just the tactile pleasure of smooth cold bronze and the knowledge that others before me have found this hand irresistible?
The Evensong itself was fine, lovely, not exceptionally so but certainly a peaceful close to the afternoon and the hours I had spent driving to get there. Afterwards Bekah and I wandered the Cathedral grounds, briefly meandered the rose garden with its statue of the Prodigal Son engulfed in the embrace of his father and the pungent smell of boxwood everywhere. And I showed Bekah the house within the cathedral close where I had lived by myself for nine months when I was a seminary intern at the near-by Episcopal parish. (I wrote about that house and how I experienced the sound of bells coming down the chimney here.)
On the bus back to her campus, I remarked: "If I could go to church just to enjoy the music, that would be perfect."
"That's why I go," she said. So simple.
Of course it's probably more than the music. There's some occasional delight in the cadences of the language of the liturgy (until my mind kicks in with theological arguments and counter-arguments and I have to find a way to hush it up or give it some happier occupation--drawing helps). And there's the joy of not just listening to music but participating in making it--singing! There's nothing quite like singing with a group of people, that co-mingling of breath, body, and voice.
(You won't catch me saying that singing hymns partakes of another dimension than singing "secular" songs, like old Beatles' tunes, or folk songs, or newer tunes, like Taylor Swift or the Jonas Brothers. Really, I'm not sure that the content of the song matters all that much, as long as it's within one's own subjective field of beauty, meaning, and enjoyment and the common ground of the singing community.)
"Maybe all you ever really wanted was simply to go to church and sing," a friend who has known me from before my church-going days says, implying but not saying, "...and getting ordained got in the way and made things really complicated."
"I've been thinking exactly that myself," I replied. Truly.
Maybe all I ever really wanted was to go to church and sing, to go to church and absorb the liturgy, to go and be a part of something bigger than myself, to feel accepted and connected. It was simply part of who I was at the time, a piece of my journey, more a temporary phase of my personal (spiritual) development than a genuine vocation to ordained ministry.
(And then, even farther from my conscious thoughts, there lived and grew the desire, even the need, to feel important, visible, special--and ordination seemed to offer just that.)
What can I say? During our recent three day stay at Kidney Pond in Baxter State Park, I really got into clouds in a big way. Which was a good thing, since there were a lot of clouds around, and when they mingled with sunlight it was especially easy to enjoy their shapes, colors, and movements.
And as you can see from the photos above, I really got excited by what the pond (lake, really) waters did with the colors of the sky, the various shades of cloud color, its own transparency to the pebbly bottom, and the nearly constant motion of small waves toward the shore at my feet.
So I took several photos. Well, more than several. I even took my first ever videos using Anna's basic point and shoot digital camera. (If I've ever used a video camera before, I'm forgetting. We've never owned one, I know that much.) They may not be prizewinners, but I had a huge amount of fun taking them and just basically dancing with delight noticing the patterns!
Here are just a couple of my color-patterns-on-the-water photos. Just to get me back into the bloggerhood.
I am a writer, speaker, spiritual director and life coach, and also a passionate painter and lover of the natural world. This blog holds both present-day observations of my life and pieces of the larger story of my journey from Episcopal priest to "free-lance human being". It's a midlife story of self-discovery and freedom, a "coming of age at 55" story, an ecclesiastical story through 24 years of being ordained and out the other side, a theological and spiritual story of an unexpected, evolving faith apart from religious beliefs, finding myself more grateful and having more fun with the ongoing adventure of being alive and being myself.