Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Yoni: Remedial Work

One of my Facebook indulgences is to play a slow-paced game of Scrabble with an old friend. I often wish I were more of a Scrabble regular--real-time Scrabble, that is, with the enjoyment of the lovely wooden tiles and actually holding letters in my hand while I search my imagination. But Scrabble on Facebook allows me some helpful cheating, like checking the dictionary, and being able to move letters around on the board without someone watching.

I learn new words this way, too, though I'm not so sure that my retention rate is all that hot. Today's new word, I trust, is different.

YONI. Having a blank "tile" in my lot, I was determined to find a four-letter word by adding one letter to the YON that was on the board, one that would also allow me to play a Triple Word at the same time. I tried several possible endings before the "I" and was surprised and curious that YONI was actually a word!

So, to the real dictionary I went. Sometimes it's simply not enough to know that something is a word that will work in Scrabble; I have to know what it means.

Do you know what YONI means? Maybe you do. Maybe I'm exposing my immense ignorance by not knowing. It's always possible that this is another glaring sign of the remedial work I have yet to do. Maybe I'm one of the last supposedly religiously-educated women on the planet not to know what a YONI is. The fact that my theological training was at a decidedly middle-of-the-road Episcopal (thereby decidedly Christian in outlook) seminary, not given to left-leaning explorations of things like feminist theology (such things were rather in their infancy when I was in seminary), nor to comparative world religions, explains part of this.

But I still marvel sometimes that I didn't do a better job of exploring these newer realms of theology or other faith traditions during the twenty-two years that I was ordained. A wee bit, via some of the women scholars who have contributed to (and still contribute to) unfolding the origins of Christianity and the realm of "historical Jesus" studies. And a wee bit of interfaith dialogue without much research to back it up.

When I was freshly retired from parish ministry, a step off into the unknown that David and I took together five whole years ago, I began to do what I considered "remedial reading." I followed my nose, more or less.

Joanna Macy, for earth-centered reflection. Starhawk, for pagan feminist thought. The Chalice and the Blade. The Once and Future Goddess. The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe, in which old--very, very old, like 20,000 to 30,000 years old--artifacts and imagery fascinated me and awakened me to the kinds of religions that were around so long before the Judeo-Christian tradition I had learned so much about. I thirstily drank up the Venus figurines,  those voluptuous female shapes, and "sacred triangles" based on women's fertile, pubic regions.

I remember one day standing in the shower looking down at my not-so-toned-anymore middle-aged female body and realizing with a jolt that some places and some people long ago not only admired such shapes but associated them with God! With sacred energy and creativity.

And my eyes welled with tears as I briefly imagined how my daughters' outlook on themselves and their bodies might be so very different if they were growing up in one of those cultures where their bodies imitated the dominant sacred images of the surrounding community, its messages and media.

But I don't remember those books touching on the spiritual and theological geographies of India and beyond. (Old Europe and the Mediterranean were fascinating enough!)

Enter, then, YONI to my vocabulary.

My dictionary says YONI is pronounced with a long O and a long E sound. It's a noun (pl. yonis), from Hinduism, meaning "vulva, especially as a symbol of divine procreative energy occasionally represented by a circular stone. Compare with LINGAM [Hindu for phallus]. ORIGIN Sanskrit, literally 'source, womb, female genitals.'"

Which reminds me that there was a bit of excitement, many years back, in Judeo-Christian biblical theology, around the fact that root of the Hebrew word for God's compassion was related to the word for womb. I thought that was interesting but could never quite make it make sense to me until years later when I looked up the Hebrew word as best I could in my Brown Driver Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament. (Yes, my word geekiness is evident in the fact that I ever bought one and am still reluctant to part with it. Lifting it up and down from the bookshelf could constitute weight-training.)

And there I found (though I have to admit I don't remember the letters of the root and do not care to look them up right now) that the verb that links both "womb" and "compassion" means "to be soft and to be wide."

"Ahhh. I get it." I remember feeling a door open as I got the link between a womb's soft, welcoming, expansive nature and the image of an expansive, loving, embracing God.

So now I tuck YONI into my own embrace and think of all the smooth circular stones that clutter the surface of my bureau! Perhaps I'll look at them differently next time I wonder what to do with them all or whether to keep dusting around them.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spiritual Affiliation: LIFE

Thanks to a conversation of comments on my last blog post (comments that were posted on Facebook--feel free to find and "friend" me there!), I've made changes to my profile for the Spiritual Directors International directory known as the "Seek and Find Guide". Among the comments that helped to convince me to go back and choose that "Other" option that I had paused over before were these:

"Go with much more space there. One of my favorite definitions of enlightenment: 'lots of space...nothing holy.'"

This time, when the profile form asked for my Spiritual Affiliation, I chose "Other" which led me to the opportunity to say something further in thirty-three characters or less. In the box provided I wrote:

LIFE: gratitude, amazement, art

That pretty well used up my thirty-three characters (if you include spaces)!

In addition to the comments on Facebook, I received a very thoughtful email from someone who wondered aloud: "Can we think about a sense of self-defined spirituality? Is it possible to consider spirituality as not always related to a particular set of religious beliefs?"

And I would add, knowing that religions are about more than beliefs--is it possible to consider spirituality as not necessarily related to the whole collection of customs and practices (as well as beliefs) that make up a religious tradition?

I do know that it was sometimes a source of great distress for me when I was ordained even to acknowledge at first and then to honor and feel OK about (feeling at least OK would have been the first step on the road toward eventually celebrating!) the fact that my spirituality seemed to be quite different from and other than and apart from the tradition I was representing in my preaching, teaching, and  ministry. More and more I wondered if it even made sense to consider myself a "Christian."

In fact, as I've written before elsewhere in this blog, I never felt entirely free to acknowledge even to myself and then to explore what it would mean to say my spirituality had next to nothing to do with Christianity! And yet I longed for that freedom. My soul was pleading, prodding, and pulling me toward the freedom to discover what would "be there" if I scrapped the whole God-in-religion thing and started from scratch. Started from my own embodied, earth-bound, earth-delighting experience.

I suppose I may have imagined the question was whether I would arrive at some sort of "faith," or not. Not a recognizable, fit in an existing label sort of faith, but an outlook, an orientation, a "spiritual affiliation" that I could articulate to others.

And even though I remain reluctant to do too much articulating and defining, most days it seems I've arrived enough to be able to declare that my spiritual affiliation is with Life, via gratitude, amazement, and art. I can live with that!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Interspirituality?or Other?

Last month when I officially joined Spiritual Director's International and was filling out my online profile, I got stuck at what I imagine for many would be a simple question to answer--my "spiritual affiliation."

The profile form provided an extensive drop-down menu of choices for indicating one's spiritual affiliation. By extensive I mean 56 different choices! And more than forty of those choices were variants of Christianity, nearly all of them denominations found within American Christianity: four Baptist variations, five Catholic, nine under the heading "Christian" plus all the recognizable (and some not so recognizable) denominational names--Anglican/Episcopal, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Presbyterian, Quaker. You get the idea.

The major world religions were there: Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim (plus Muslim Sufi). Native American spirituality. New Thought. Yoga.

I felt dizzied and confused. Where do I fit among these so called "spiritual affiliations" (which looked much more like religious affiliations or religious identities to me)? What is my spiritual affiliation these days? How would I choose to describe my own spirituality?

What I knew most clearly was that I didn't really want to have to define myself in this way. While I could understand that it might be helpful to someone who might come looking for a spiritual director of a certain orientation or persuasion, I could feel my interior dislike of being too tightly defined rising up.

I believe this dislike is two-fold: it's a resistance to defining myself as well as a resistance to defining the Sacred! First, there's my not wanting others to expect me to represent any school of thought or any religious body or outlook, to feel straight-jacketed in any religious or spiritual way. I want to be free to trust and to speak from my own wisdom in whatever way that presents itself to me, to claim my own spiritual authority (which I believe is everyone's birthright).

And second, I am honestly happiest when I decline to define "the Sacred," "the Holy" or "Ultimate Concern"or whatever term one might use. I am happy to speak of my lived experience in the most concrete and physical (yet metaphorical) language I can find, including the language of paint. But even that has limits.

Yesterday I tripped over a quote that sums up my stance beautifully: "It is best to have an intimate relationship with God and best not to insist that She exists." (It's attributed to Carla Ansantina-- and I have no idea who that is!) To which I would add: and best not to insist on just how She exists.

Having spent at least twenty-five years of my life lending my mind and my voice, and sometimes, I have to admit, bending my mind and my voice to think through and speak through the Christian tradition in its Anglican/Episcopal incarnation, I now gladly embrace my freedom not to. My freedom neither to feel required to translate my primary experiences into the language and imagery and stories of the Judeo-Christian tradition, nor to have to translate those stories, imagery and language for others. (As I write this, I am stopping to consider that I've paid a price for that freedom, still pay a price for that freedom, and perhaps I will write about that some day soon. But now right now.)

In the middle of the alphabetical list of spiritual affiliation options I paused to consider the two "Inter" choices--Interfaith and Interspirituality. I know I'm not truly interfaith, though I have great respect and sympathy for those who draw deeply from more than one great faith tradition.

So what about Interspirituality? I had never encountered the term before (and frankly wondered if the folks at Spiritual Directors International had made it up, perhaps in response to a number of their members). It sounds a little too vague and wispy for my taste. So I passed over it.

In truth, I could have chosen Other and then done my best to describe my spiritual affiliation in terms of my history--raised a Unitarian Universalist, drawn to Anglican/Episcopal music and liturgy, crossed over into Christianity, ordained an Episcopal priest, trained in Ignatian and Benedictine spirituality, then left ordained ministry and crossed back again to. . . what exactly?

Or, I could have chosen Other and then done my best to describe my spiritual affiliation in terms of where I am right now--which is kinda, sorta UU in thinking (is there a univocal sort of thing? I doubt it), kinda sorta still fond of much Episcopal tradition and liturgy (if you could excise a lot of the words and drop the doctrine and. . . ), and profoundly and happily agnostic most of the time as well as deeply connected to Whatever via the natural world and the creative processes of painting and drawing.

Maybe I wimped out when I selected Anglical/Episcopal and moved on. Is that really the best descriptor of my current spiritual affiliation? Perhaps not. Maybe Interspirituality is. Or that wonderfully wide open Other.

Hmmm. I might just have to go back and edit my profile.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

More from Bekah in Kenya

More news from Bekah in Kenya! She is back from her weeks in the village of Shirazi on the coast near Mombasa. And there are two new blog posts that bring us up to date on that experience.

Swahili lessons beneath a mango tree, eating sweetened spaghetti, watching inventive children at play, and the sounds of goats and the Muslim call to prayer. Bekah says in many ways it was a "regression into childhood"--eating with her hand, and being dressed by her host family among other experiences.

Guess you'll just have to read about it. Here's the link to the first post about Shirazi; be sure to go on the second.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Falling on my Knees, Thinking of Japan

I've actually got lots of posts lining up within me waiting to be written. At least that's how it feels some days. As if this not-writing has gone on long enough and until I get going again, I'm going to be a bit stuck.

Something about letting creative forces flow where they will. Even if I think I ought to be or would rather be painting just now, if I keep stuffing these writing ideas, sooner or later I'll find myself stuck. Clogged. Dammed up.

But before I try to write anything else, I want to write my own most respectful and sorrowful pause in honor of the people of Japan and the terrifying events that have been unfolding there and continue to unfold.

So . . . a moment of silence. Many moments of silence throughout my days. Sending, in whatever ways may come to me, my prayers, blessing, love, compassion.

Some moments all I can think to do is bow to the ground. Fall on my knees and bow to the ground and hold them in my heart.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Spiritual Direction: hanging my shingle

                                                    Pink Tulips, © Sukie Curtis, 2011

I think it was probably five or more years ago that a friend of mine first suggested that I join and list myself with Spiritual Directors International, since spiritual direction is something that I do. For some reason, I decided rather quickly that it just didn't sound like me to do something like that. Don't ask me why!

It occurred to me the other day that I wasn't sure if I had ever looked at their website before I made that decision, and that it might not be a bad idea to take a peak!

Imagine my surprise and delight when I actually liked what I saw and found some helpful resources there, too. Which led me to decide to become a member.

Which also led me to see if I could write a "blurb" in 100 words or less to include in their directory. The word limit was one of those things that felt both impossible and at the same time helpful. As if I knew that without some sort of limit I could forever get lost in refinements and subtleties ad infinitum. Perhaps even ad nauseam. The 100 words became an almost fun sort of challenge--to speak concisely and with integrity about something that's in the realm where language gets so easily muddled.

So here it is: my 100 (more or less) word shingle.

Spiritual direction brings attention to the "holy conversation" beneath the surface of your life. Whether you believe this conversation is between you and a transcendent God, creative energy or power (by whatever name) or between you and your own "true self"--or both!--matters surprisingly little. As spiritual director I serve as witness, mirror, and guide as you hear and trust your soul's deep wisdom, truth and longings. I bring years of experience as spiritual director; former Episcopal priest; mother, wife, human being. I am a grateful and playful painter and writer and above all (in Mary Oliver's words) "a bride married to amazement."

There you have it! What do you think?