Prayer and Meditation

This may be the strangest thing I’ve said in a while, but this Lent was really good for me. While Lent is supposed to be a period of suffering and wandering, I’ve always viewed the liturgical season as a time of renewal and deep thought. Since I’d been in a period of serious self-evaluation for a few months prior to Ash Wednesday this year, I decided to add something to my life rather than to take something away. Quite frankly, I’d had enough suffering. I’d grown tired of contemplating my humanity, and I didn’t want to focus for one more minute on giving up some earthly pleasure.

I decided, since my church attendance had been pretty hit or miss for about 9 months, to add in going to the 8AM service at St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church. No matter what I decided, at the Ash Wednesday service as I was reminded that I’d come from dust and I’d return to dust, I would attend every Sunday morning, even if it meant getting up early on the only day I had to sleep in.

As usually happens when we obey the nudging of God, I was blessed in my obedience. I look back and recognize how the small act of going to church every Sunday helped me move from a place of hopelessness to a place of hope. Was the 40 days some sort of mystical balm for my aching heart? No. Has my transition from hopelessness to hopefulness been easy? No. But I can say that today, the Monday after the third Sunday of Easter, that I have a strong hope that my life has changed for the better.

One positive thing to come from the 40-day Lenten season was my recognition of how self-centered I had become. I had spent so much time wallowing in my own misery and just clinging to my own concerns, that I failed to realize how shallow and internally focused I’d become. I suppose you could say that I had fallen into survival mode where I was focused on my own getting by, so much so that I was unable to see how people around me were suffering. And there’s a lot of suffering in this world.

In light of that, I’ve decided to cut everything out of my life that seems like work to me, things that feel like they go against my ethic or against my conscience. I’m cutting out racing and getting back to the pleasure of exercise, trail running, swimming, and disc golfing with no particular goal or destination in mind. I’m decreasing the pain I bring into this world by being vegetarian. I’m consciously trying to relax and breathe through situations that might cause me stress or where I might say or do something that doesn’t bring peace to this place.

Most importantly, however, I am trying to focus my energy toward helping others in whatever ways I can, which could include just helping folks out, not talking about people (which I try to avoid anyway), being alongside people when they need me, and just loving folks no matter who they are. The biggest way I see to put other people first is to pray for people and when you pray for them, you’re really changing yourself through those prayers. This idea is wholly embraced by the writers of Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.

I typically believe that whenever I think of someone, those thoughts are similar to praying for them, but during Lent, I felt moved to have a more concerted prayer time wherein I conscientiously pray for the needs of my friends. I’ve decided to visit either St. Paul’s Cathedral or St. Mary’s Basilica on one of my days off each week, and I’ll simply put aside some time to pray for people by name, along with praying for whatever concerns I know are on their hearts or whatever they share with me to pray for. Is there a better way to spend time off than in prayer for family and friends surrounded by beautiful art and architecture?

I’ve learned that if I am more concerned for others, my concerns work themselves out on their own.

Dear Eve

Why did you do it? Why did you eat the fruit? I could understand if it would have been a watermelon, a banana, or even some strawberries. Weren’t there pineapples and mangoes growing in the garden? Couldn’t you have just been happy with a coconut now and then?

Apples are just not that good. They are pretty, usually red, and possibly shiny, but you are not a raccoon or a crow. I hope, at least, that it wasn’t a Granny Smith, unless you had some caramel sauce.

Did you have cramps, a headache, a backache, or constipation? How did you stop the flow? Was there at least a hot spring you could relax in?

We got a raw deal,
Every Woman After You

Writing and Art; Cranes; 70.3; Eating Vegetables

I spent this past weekend with my friend Sarah A. Chavez while she was up here in the Cities for AWP 2015, and I sort of hung around the conference wishing I’d have spent the money for admission to it. I was thankful I was able to attend so many offsite events, since the readings are really the best part anyway. Sarah and I met and had breakfast with our friend Ahyicodae (Ico), who lives up here, and with whom I get the pleasure to have writing and workshop days now that we’ve made that connection. For me, these connections are the writing equivalent of my artistic connections with Lyn and Tish.

I get all fired up and excited about writing and art when I am around other people who are passionate about being creative, so once again the creative fire is lit under my smoldering and lackadaisical behind. I’m not making excuses, but it’s easy for me to become complacent about art and writing (they are a lot of work!) when I am not making art, not talking about art, and not feeling inspired. I am blessed to have many, many creative friends, both writers and artists. I am blessed to continually meet folks (like Nell, who was one of the first non-work people I met up here) who make the world more beautiful through their creativity.

I know I am flash-in-the-pan and have almost zero stick-to-it-ive-ness (what a word!), but I wrote a rough draft of a poem today and I started a short creative nonfiction piece this morning as well. I have the ideas for some artwork, and I know I just need to do it. The theme I am currently stuck on, and I blame the liturgical calendar and where I am in my life, is resurrection, rebirth, and reconciliation. I feel like I’ve died and come back to life, like a cliche little phoenix.

*

Here’s part of the CNF piece I started this morning: “Whenever I wash the dishes, I always look out the window toward the Mississippi River, which is about two blocks west of our house. Sometimes if I strain, I can hear the barges pushing their freight, and sometimes if I pay close attention, I can see interesting water fowl low in flight as they land or take off from the water, even though I can’t really see the river. Today I was standing by the back window in front of the sink washing the dishes from last night’s culinary success while thinking about everything I wanted to accomplish today. I noticed a hawk and a couple of other birds flying in an odd pattern over the neighbor’s house. I wondered why the birds were behaving so sporadically and scoured the ground for the neighbor’s dog, which sometimes runs along the street in front of their house. No dog. I traced the flight pattern up into the sky and was humbled by what was making the local birds behave so strangely. The sky was marked with the unmistakable giant white bodies and long, black-tipped wings of the whooping crane, a cast of about 50 of them in fact. My day became glorious in that minute of awe, and I continue to thank God that I am still here and that I am so blessed.

*

The thing I am struggling with the most in my life right now is the desire and energy to train for this half-marathon in June and the 70.3 in July. Neither race is going to be pretty. In fact, I think they are going to be very, very ugly. More factually, I think I’ll be lucky to finish them both. I am having a difficult time with running. I have the desire. I can remember what it felt like to be able to run 9 miles at a stretch with virtually no difficulty and no soreness the next day. I can remember what it was like to run 15 miles on a Saturday, being sore the next day, but not dying from it. My body wants to be there again, but with everything is so psychological. My mind says, “Remember how bad your legs and feet hurt after work and standing for 8 hours at a time. You can’t run after that. You need to go home and put your feet up and watch 97 hours of Murder, She Wrote. You don’t need to write or do art or run or swim or do anything but be a slug. You’ve earned it by working so hard.” I’m trying to focus my meditation and prayer, now that Lent is over, on positive self-talk in regards to triathlon-related and creativity-related pursuits. Today, I am going for a three-mile walk. Tomorrow, I am going for a swim and run. My goal is to never turn on the TV or open a book until I’ve accomplished my goals for the day. That sort of relaxing is my reward. I don’t read for a living anymore.

*

I’ve been vegetarian again for two weeks now. Psychologically, I feel 100% better. I always forget how clear my mind becomes when my life isn’t held in a balance based on killing creatures for sustenance. Physically, I feel about the same. My body is still store from work, and I still think I need to just lay about (see above). I think it’s worth being a kind-hearted eater to not have dreams about dying animals, and I think it’s worth it to be adventurous in the kitchen again. We’d gotten in the rut of eating the same five or six meals over and over again, but we’re shaking it up a bit these past few days. Yesterday, I made my first batch of saag paneer, and it was delightful and filling. And, I am mostly past a point in my life where I am willing to do pretty much anything to lose weight. I’m not. I’m more interested in living a consistent ethic of life, and a life lived well and not on the backs of innocents.

*

Now I am off to buy a cheap table to use for my printmaking lair upstairs in the attic.

Vegetarianism, Stress, Grace

I’m avoiding cleaning the house by watching Animal Cops Houston and Pitbulls & Parolees, and I am sitting here bawling like a baby. This might be PMS, but it’s more than likely a response to something I’ve been feeling for a while.

I have reached a point, yet again, in my life where I am finding it difficult to morally and ethically justify eating animals. The paleo diet I was following, where I ate meat with a side of meat, sickens me to think about now. Will I miss the chicken wings? Yes. Will I still eat them occasionally? Likely. Will this be something I reconsider in a couple of years, a couple of months, a couple of weeks? Maybe.

I consider myself prolife in all regards, and I am leaning more and more toward the fact that I need that to include animal lives in that prolife consideration. I desire a consistent ethic in companies I support, friends I make, places I work, and religious institutions I belong to, so it makes sense that I would hold myself to the same standards. I love my cats and my dogs, I am in awe and wonder of wild animals, so it makes zero sense that I eat animals.

I’m trying to get back to a place of peace in my life, to reduce my stress, which has been astronomical for about two years. While I do think that eating more protein has helped me, I also don’t think that ingesting the violence of our current farming practices and ingesting the violence of death has helped me to be a better person. Call me a hippie, but I just can’t get past the fact that a sentient, living, breathing being has to die to feed me. This facet of meat eating has never really stopped bothering me. I have dreams about animals chasing me, and they have never gone away.

On the day after Easter, on baseball’s opening day, I am going back to being vegetarian. This does not mean I’ll start eating a bunch of wheat, soy, corn, or other things that have been genetically modified, but this should mean that our grocery bill will go down a bit, since beans, rice, and vegetables are generally less expensive than meat. I’m not going to be vegan, so I will still use organic dairy and eggs, as I have been. Does the treatment of dairy cattle and chickens bother me? Yes, but I need to take this slow.

I’ve had a good portion of stress in my life in the past two years. I’m not whining about this, but I have noticed that the stress is taking a toll on my body. My body simply feels inflamed. My entire body. My brain feels foggy, my lungs are congested, and my joints are achy, and I think it’s because of stress, so I’m not trying to add more stress by making yet another drastic change in my life.

I’m in a good place right now. My new Caribou is less stressful, because we have more people working at a time. Since I am working my way up to manager, I can even pay my bills. I’m finally getting used to our new house and our new geographical location. I’m making some friends up here, and I am maintaining my friendships with folks in Indiana. I’m adjusting after about six months of the extreme stress of moving 10.5 hours away from where I’d lived for 40 years and changing careers from a professional job where I made $48000 a year to a food service job making $8 an hour. The transition was rough, but now I am through it, and I am ready to take back control of my body (through diet), my mind (through reading), and my spirit (through prayer and meditation).

I’m still training for the Muncie 70.3, though it’s been pretty hit or miss recently, and I am training for Sour Grapes and Big Shoulders. I’ve learned that it’s rough to be on my feet for six. seven, or eight hours a day at work and then still train, but I keep working on it. I’m working on giving myself grace for the times I don’t train. And I keep giving myself grace for being in a weird head space for the past year or so.

Dear Ten-Year-Old Me

When you are 40, you will look back on this day as both a pleasure and a pain.

You will remember the gentle sway of your canoe as you sit and relax in the path carved out through endless lily pads by many, many similar boats over the years. You will remember the long, long day you spent in this canoe with a girl whose mother played violin and whose father taught biology. The fickle world of middle school church camp and the fact that neither of you had a clear camp-friend forced the two of you together for the day-long canoeing adventure. You thought it would be a beautiful day, because you loved canoeing and swimming, but she talked nonstop about herself and how smart she was. You learned later, when her mother ended up substitute teaching at a school where you taught in your early twenties, that she got pregnant at 16 or 17 and that her life had been hard. You would not be sympathetic. In fact, you almost thought she got what she deserved.

But on this day, just before you entered 8th grade, you floated lazily, dragging your finger through the duckweed that coated the top of the water. You had just about mustered up the courage to break up with that jack ass boy, and you should have, but you couldn’t. You really should have, but that’s not why I am writing to you this time.

You had been a Christian for over half your life already, and you thought church camp was about the best and worst place you’d ever been. As you floated there, you thought about the spirituality of the place, the lessons, the bible study, the worship, the beauty of it. You thought about how silly some of it seemed, the cliquey girls, the boys who openly flirted with them, the contrived games at recreation time. You thought about a high school counselor from your hometown, who, when I look back on your young life, you may have been a little sweet on. Finally, though you just prayed.

You swayed back and forth as the girl tried to paddle you forward, and you dragged your finger in the water, and you prayed. Hard. You wanted answers. You had always heard God speak, and you always would hear that voice. Even when you are 40 you’ll hear God’s voice. God’s voice will never leave your body or your soul.

In that moment, when you were floating there suspended between your middle school world, the natural world, and the spiritual world, you heard the words that will disturb you for the rest of your life: “I want you to do my work. I want you to speak. I want you to minister to those around you. I have called you to this.”

Those words will both shape and destroy you. You will always wrestle with what this means for your life. You will always wonder if you are, in fact, ministering. You will always wonder why you heard these words and then a few years later figured out your sexuality which wasn’t compliant with your chosen denomination’s perception of your calling. Hell, your gender is barely compliant with your chosen denomination’s perception of a call to ministry. You will always wonder why you can preach, why you can counsel, why you can minister in all situations. You will always have people who want your counsel. You will always feel like you could do more to uphold and fulfill this call, this vision. You will always feel unsettled.

You will go to seminary for three years, and you’ll work in a church for five. You’ll preach sermons, you’ll mentor teenagers, you’ll make an impact on countless lives. You’ll leave all that behind to do the same in the public school system. You’ll go to graduate school and you’ll read books that make you feel whole, that will lead you to putting your bifurcated self back together, because all your life you’ve been taught that you can’t be gay and a Christian, let alone be a pastor. You’ll always feel a bit of that push and pull. You’ll be 35 before you finally figure out that living a call and ministering is a process of putting all your pieces back together. Of accepting those things about yourself that seem to be in opposition.

While you sit there in that canoe, think long and hard about what you’re hearing, what it means, and how you’ll follow that longing, that call. Make some different choices. Give yourself some grace. And revel in who God has called you to be.