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Posts Tagged ‘surrender’

Finding Nemo (video game)

In the movie Finding Nemo, the “natural blue” fish Dorie sings:

Hey Mr Grumpy Gills
You know what you gotta do when life gets you down?
Just keep swimming
Just keep swimming
Just keep swimming swimming swimming
What do we do we swim, swim, swim
OH HO HO How I love to swim
When you WAAAAAANNTTT to swim you want to swim

This keeps going through my head these days, because frankly, life has got me down.  Why is it that trouble comes in clumps?

Let the Airing of the Grievances begin:  (1) a week and a half ago, my elderly mother got knocked down by some supermarket automatic sliding doors and has been suffering the aftereffects from that freak accident; (2) Little Bird has had intense nasal congestion and swelling the past week, along with a terrible cough, which has made sleep problematic for all of us; (3) My Guys’ father is in declining health; and 4) to top it all off,  My Guy and I caught a weird stomach flu bug the night after Thanksgiving and are still trying to recover.

I thought of Dorie at zero dark thirty last night, when my face was wedged against the bed rails on Little Bird’s bed, while Little Bird snored like a buzz saw in my ear.  Just keep swimming, I thought.

I don’ t have any spiritual insights to help me through this, not really.  Sometimes life is hard, and the best I can do is try to remember to let go and simply accept what is happening in the present moment, without judgment.   At least it lifts a little of the mental burden of thinking, “Why is this happening to me?”

I guess Reinhold Neibuhr’s “Serenity Prayer” says it about right, although most of the time I feel like screaming in protest rather than living into the attitude of this prayer:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Amen.

–Reinhold Niebuhr

In other words, just keep swimming, just keep swimming.

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Just when I was wondering what I was going to write about next, Little Bird handed me a lulu.  We were driving in the car to her tumbling class, and here’s how it went down:

LB:  Mommy, some people can’t see very well.

Me:  Mmm-hmmm.

LB:  And some people can’t walk very well.  And some people can’t hear very well, right?

Me:  Yes, that’s right.  We are all different.  (pause while I’m trying to think what to say next.)  What do you think about that?

LB:  I like it!

Me (internal sigh of relief):  Yeah!  It would be really boring if we were all the same, wouldn’t it?

LB: Yes.

Me (seeing teachable moment):  God loves us all, Little Bird.

LB (without missing a beat): God loves to shake his little booty!

Me:  Laughing.

Now, I’m not crazy about the fact that she has already, at 3 1/2 years old, internalized the idea that God is exclusively male.   But I love the image that sprang into my mind when she said this — an old white man, with a long white beard, shaking his booty and having a great time doing the cosmic dance.  It might look something like Mr. Natural:

Mr. Natural (comics)

It expresses something fundamental about the nature of God that I, for one, want to connect with more fully:  God is joyfully exuberant, God loves to move around and shake things up, God is loose.

Once upon a time, after a painfully introverted and lonely adolescence, I found that kind of joy, through dance.  I was a new student at U.C. Berkeley, living off-campus in a private home, and was overwhelmed with the hugeness of the place.  In desperation, I applied to live in one of the student cooperatives around campus.

Of course, the student coops are run and operated by students, so they tended to be wild and woolly places.  You would think that shy, sheltered me would wilt in such a place, but instead I thrived.  I had found my people — quirky, intelligent, off-beat, and funny.  And the parties!  Hoo, mama.  That was where I finally loosened up, let go, and learned how to dance.

I moved,  I shimmied, I shook my little booty.  There was no self-consciousness, no thinking involved at all — just sheer joy in movement.  I have never felt so free in my life.  I was pouring out energy, a waterfall of sheer joyfulness shared with all those around me, who were also dancing with abandon.

This self-giving, ever-moving quality of God is well-described by the fancy Greek theological term perichoresis.  First used by the Church Fathers, the term refers to the mutual indwelling and intersecting of the three persons of the Trinity: God the Father/Mother (sorry, I just had to); God the Son; and God the Holy Spirit.

I love Episcopal priest Cynthia Bourgeault’s take on this concept in her book The Wisdom Jesus:

The Trinity, understood in a wisdom sense, is really an icon of self-emptying love. The three persons go round and round like buckets on a watermill, constantly overspilling into one another. And as they do so, the mill turns and the energy of love becomes manifest and accessible. The Cappadocians called this complete intercirculation of love perichoresis, which literally means ‘the dance around.’ Their wonderful and profound insight is that God reveals his own innermost nature through a continuous round dance of self-emptying (p. 72).

Well, my college dancing days are long over.  And I’ll be honest: time has hardened me.  Fear, disappointment, and maybe just the passing of time have formed a brittle shell around my heart that sometimes seems impossible to crack.  It’s hard to admit, but there it is.

The challenge is to keep my heart open to change and possibility and love.  The challenge is to stay loose.

Fortunately, Little Bird and My Guy have come into my life to help me.  Life is fresh and new for Little Bird, and her heart is wide open.  My heart, in turn, is unable to resist her.  She dances and I dance with her, and we spill love into each others’ buckets.

As for My Guy, by nature he is predisposed to enjoy change, rather than resist it (like me).  When he is not being a rocket scientist, he loves weird activities like conscious dance, going to drum circles and sweat lodges, and communing with our backyard on his shamanic journeys.  His predilection to try new things invariably pulls me along, and I am forced to look at life in different ways, and to stay open.  What a nut.  God, I love him.

We are not perfect — we get annoyed with each other, frustrated and resentful.  Just this morning in a fit of pique I threw a roll of toilet paper at My Guy.  Well, not directly at his face, but definitely in his general direction.  We are human beings, not God.  But God is within us and around us, and we overspill into each other, giving and receiving in turn, making the energy of love palpably “manifest and accessible.”

How is the energy of love manifest and accessible in your life?

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Cliff Diver, MAZATLAN

It takes radical trust to live a life based on love rather than fear.  It takes a freefall dive off the Cliffs of Insanity (I do love my Princess Bride references) into the flowing waters of God’s mercy, not knowing for sure whether you will ever surface again.

When Big Change is happening — as it is in my personal life and as it is happening in the world — it is easy to live in fear.  It’s all around us, almost in the air we breathe.   The world encourages us to feel that there is no security, either for ourselves or for our children.

It doesn’t help that life seems to be arranged so that we can only see a step or two ahead of us.  We can’t see what will happen, and no matter how hard we try to control things, life often refuses to cooperate with our plans.  One of my favorite prayers, written by Thomas Merton, acknowledges this truth:

MY LORD GOD,

I have no idea where I am going.

I do not see the road ahead of me.

I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself,

and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.

And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.

I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.

I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

– Thomas Merton, “Thoughts in Solitude”

The fearful honesty in this prayer is both frightening and comforting at the same time.  Frightening, because in order finally to admit that we don’t know where we are going, a part of ourselves has to die.  Comforting, because once we do accept that truth deep in our bones, we find that we are held and supported in ways that are unseen, yet tangible.

A year and a half or so ago, My Guy and I were driving back from the Bay Area to Southern California, with Little Bird sleeping in the back seat.  We talked about how we wanted to live a life that was more aligned with nature.  We wanted to grow at least some of our own food and have some outdoor space for a change.  We wanted to be closer to family in the Bay Area.  It seemed impossible.

Now comes the part that will make my non-religious peeps cringe:  we prayed about it.  We asked for help.  We let go of the idea that we could make this happen.  And now here we are, getting ready to move to a house in the Santa Cruz mountains with a third of an acre of usable land, a chicken house, and solar panels.  It defies belief.

I know a lot of people who are going through some dark times.  I have gone through some dark times myself, and have wondered when the light would shine again.  Right now, however, the sun is shining, and I simply want to shout out from the other side, “You can trust in the goodness of life.”

I know that everything could change tomorrow, but that God would be with me still.  And because I know that, Hildegard of Bingen’s reassurance rings true:  “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

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o is for open

Image by Michael W. May via Flick

“I’m in charge here.”

My 2 1/2-year-old girl, known here as Little Bird, uttered these words recently and repeatedly.  This was the latest salvo in her ongoing battle to control everyone in her world and everything that happens to her.  As her pediatrician said at her 2-year checkup, “It’s all about control at this age.”  Boy howdy, is it ever.

But don’t we all want to be in charge?  I know I do, and I get just plain cranky when I lose the control.  Which happens about a million times a day, every day.  The trick for me is knowing:

(a) which things I can control;

(b) which things I cannot control; and

(c) letting go of the things that fall under (b) above.

That rotten old (c) is the kicker, of course, and the most difficult part of the journey.

In The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See, Richard Rohr says that “all great spirituality is somehow about letting go.”  (64)  The good news — or bad news, depending on how you look at it — is that being a stay-at-home mom or dad is a spiritual bootcamp.  Every single freakin’ day presents multiple opportunities to practice letting go of control.  We should all be canonized as saints.

For example, a few months ago, my Little Bird was suffering from fierce separation anxiety, especially at naptime and bedtime.  When I tried to leave her room, she would cry big fat tears and say pitifully, “Mama walked away!”  I was at my wit’s end to know how to help her through this.  Mama Guilt started to whisper in my ear, “You’re such a crappy Mom . . . why can’t you help her . . . why can’t you solve this problem?”

Two grace moments occurred to help me through this.  First, I did some Internet research, and realized that this was just a phase.  That’s all it was, not the end of the world as we know it.  Whew.

Second, I realized that I am not responsible for my child’s feelings.  She is her own person, with her own feelings.  If I try to control or manage her feelings, I am essentially violating her personhood.  I can do my best to support her in what she is going through, but in the end, she must go through it herself — as we all must.

This recognition helped me to surrender my desire to change Little Bird’s feelings.  I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and let it go.  Once I did that, I felt a spaciousness inside me.  My frustration and guilt washed away like the tide, and compassion flowed in.  It was both cleansing and liberating.

I was then able to say to Little Bird with a calm heart, “I can see that you are having a hard time and you are having some big feelings.  I know that you will be okay.”  While her anxiety didn’t completely go away, it did ease up, and we had a rest period before entering the next scene in the drama called “Bedtime.”

This particular scene reminded me that I can live my life like a tight fist, grasping for control over life’s uncertainties.  Or I can live life with open hands, freely surrendering those things that do not serve me or those I love.

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