Mystic or Bust

“The Christian of the future will either be a mystic, one who has experienced something, or she will cease to be anything at all.” –Karl Rahner

Morality, ritual, and blind belief: contemporary Christianity is known for these. If you’re Christian, you adhere to certain moral standards (although these vary vastly between denominations and individuals); you go to church, and you “believe in Jesus Christ,” whatever that means. As best as I can tell, this is how Christianity is perceived by popular culture. For the most part, this is how Christianity is experienced by Christians.

Dig deep enough, however, and I suspect you’d find that many Christians have “experienced something.” For that matter, people of other faiths have, too, and those who calls themselves “spiritual but not religious.” As have artists, nature-lovers, scientists, community organizers, and anyone who volunteers their time to help others. You might call the “something” God or art or nature or love or truth, but regardless, you experience a mysterious happening that brings you alive and gives life meaning. You glimpse a source beyond the scope of human consciousness. You know a beauty that vibrates in your very cells. You sense significance that encompasses even tragedy, even rampant injustice, even death. (more…)

Seeing Again—and Again, and Again…

bly-editsWhenever I speak about writing and inevitably mention revision, people roll their eyes. Even experienced writers. Even published writers. A few years ago I pitched my book about revision to a series of editors at the Associated Writing Program’s conference; each and every one laughed at me.

Revision is dreaded, universally. Even those like myself who thrive in revision understand the sentiment. Change is hard. Changing the way we see our creations and then changing the creations themselves is especially challenging. But it’s even worse than that. To change the way we see our creations, we ourselves have to change. We have to willingly step away, shift positions and perspective, and look again. Ugh! (more…)

Entering Shadowland

pokahoesunset16-04Cancer does this: Shake you out of the status quo and drop you into a different realm, one where your everyday priorities are rearranged and suddenly small talk, the cleanliness of the house, even your job ambitions seem ridiculous. Instead you give yourself over to what really matters: Being present to one another. Doing everything possible to tend to health and well-being. Emily and I call this place of intensity Cancerland. Life-threatening illness does a marvelous job of helping you reprioritize.

But so do other things, like the death of a loved one or losing a home or experiencing trauma. The last time our country did a collective gasp and had to reprioritize was 9/11. The recent election shocked some of us into a new way of seeing the world. Our national shadows—the parts of us that fear the Other, that wants to eradicate whatever seems to threaten our wellbeing—are now out in the open. They’ve been there all along, as people of color and immigrants and trans folks have been trying to tell us. But now we’re all plunged into a new reality: Shadowland, a country where democratic processes are scorned and fear has taken the reigns. (more…)

Just the Pond

swimmyWhen I was in my early twenties, flying back and forth between home in New York and college in Minnesota, the moment on the plane that terrified me most had nothing to do with take-off or rising to forty-thousand feet or landing. No, what gave me anxiety was that broad view of New York City, eight million people packed into three hundred square miles, that proved to me just how small I was. In the vast world I was a speck. An “insignificant number,” my chemistry teacher taught us, was like the weight of ashes in an airplane ash tray (back in the days when there was such a thing) compared to the weight of an airplane. I was an insignificant number, and it shook my foundation. (more…)

Corrective Lenses

IMG_0320Recently I plunged into Minneapolis Park & Rec’s latest phenomenon and started swimming across Lake Nokomis. The lifeguards tow enormous orange buoys out for the course, then hover alongside in their kayaks. The first time I was ecstatic—such freedom! such a great workout!—except that, without my glasses, I couldn’t see the buoys and kept veering off course.

So I bought prescription goggles.

Now you have to understand that I’ve been both terrifically near-sighted and an avid swimmer since I was nine. When I got my first pair of glasses, I was amazed that trees actually had leaves. (more…)