Liberating Stories

bknecklaceFirst thing in the morning I make my tea, sit in the red chair, and read the early Christian mystics. Then Gwyn wakes, curls in my lap, and we read Greek myths. I bustle off to work where I write stories, read emerging writers’ stories, review published stories, and teach others how to create effective stories. I return home to Gwyn listening to an audio book. I read magazines on the toilet. I listen to Gwyn read her homework. I tell her a bedtime story. Finally, exhausted, I curl up with a good novel.

I’m steeped in stories.

When I take the stuff of my life and make it into a story, I feel myself and my world transformed. I come alive. I participate in ongoing creation. One of my greatest delights is that I get to support others in this work. When I teach writing, I help others know the “aliveness” that, as Ann Belford Ulanov says, “springs from our making something of what we experience and receiving what experience makes of us.”

Is it any wonder, then, that my most intimate name for God is Story? (more…)

Writing as Deep Listening

DeskW:DaffodilsJim was a thoughtful, retired pastor who came to me for writing support. Because of prolonged wheelchair use, a wound had appeared at his sacrum that proved difficult to heal and challenging to his faith. Jim wrote personal essays about the struggle while enduring multiple surgeries and long periods of immobility.

Then his project stalled. He had expected the wound to close and provide neat closure to his essays. When it didn’t, he couldn’t finish his essays.

I told Jim (rather crassly) that a physical healing would be a clichéd ending to his story. (more…)

How To Retreat (with advice from a 7-year-old)

ImageRetreats: I’m a pro. I’ve been on silent retreats, church retreats, centering prayer retreats, women’s retreats, led retreats, self-directed retreats. I’ve led more writing retreats than I can count. I worked in retreat ministry for three years, so I even know retreats from behind the scenes—the frustration beforehand as numbers fluctuate; the frantic food preparation; the retreatants who use kitchen dish towels to clean their ears; conflicts that fester and flare among the staff until dishes get smashed; the enormous effort behind the scenes to support a silent space. Jesus went up to a lonely place. Moses heard the still, small voice. We, too, can take time apart to support our outward journey with the inward journey, to balance our noisy, active lives with silence and stillness.

Or with whatever. Gwyn wanted pop music on the drive north. She arrived wearing bunny-print PJs, shed her coat, ran at the couch and took a flying leap. (more…)

God of Nothing

Vase FacesDuring a Sunday service my pastor asked the congregation for our images of God. What people shared—God as the sound of children laughing; God as prairie; God as executive assistant—filled me with hope. Holiness is abundant, emerging in and through creation, and can be encountered in the smallest of ordinary moments. I too have known God as the breadth of the Hudson River, its salt water pushing against the fresh water flow, its expanse my wide margin, its current my clear direction. I’ve known God in the indiscriminate attraction of my bisexual body. I’ve experienced God in the joy of a climate march and a Black Lives Matter protest and in a community’s story-telling at a beloved member’s funeral.

But had my pastor confronted me yesterday, had she held the microphone to my face and waited for me to muster up my courage, I would have said God is emptiness. I kneel these days before the God of nothing. (more…)

Blind Faith

I can’t even write the words “blind faith” without my skin crawling. Despite forty-six years of attending church and more than half that time intentionally engaged in spiritual practices, enough of me is rational, academic, and post-modern that I’m unwilling to “blindly” do anything. Isn’t blind faith the purview of global warming deniers who believe humans were given dominion over the earth and the earth’s preservation is in God’s hands? Isn’t blind faith the stuff which sends terrorists careening airplanes into high rises? (more…)

In Praise of TransParency

Gwyn’s frolicking in the neighborhood splash pad with a kindergarten buddy and a new friend, all three wearing pigtails and an obnoxious amount of pink. I sit on the bench with their mothers chatting about teachers which for some reason requires my offhand explanation, “Gwyn has two moms.” My new acquaintance nods. “Chrissy is transgender,” she shares, nodding toward her five-year-old who is now being towed around on a noodle. The conversation careens forward.

What?!

Later, we’ve patted the girls dry and they’re out piling playground sand over their legs. We mothers occupy yet another bench. Because I’ve never known an out transgendered preschooler, I ask, “What’s Chrissy’s story?” And then this extraordinary mother tells me how her little boy always loved girlish things, how all the ECFE mothers wondered about his identity, and then one day when he was four he climbed into her lap and asked, “Mommy, why did God make a mistake?”

God didn’t make a mistake, Chrissy’s mother insisted. The next day she took him to Target to buy a new set of clothes. Chrissy danced through the racks announcing to strangers, “I get to buy dresses! I get to wear skirts!” Chrissy goes to kindergarten next year and already her mother has done a presentation on gender inclusivity for the elementary faculty. Chrissy will enter school as a girl.

I am awed, humbled, and suddenly, fiercely, in love with this mother-daughter pair—because this child knows herself, because her mother listens to her and accepts her, because they’re both flexible enough to revise their ideas about their identities, because they’re fearlessly honest as they enter the ever-widening circles of childhood… I love this mother’s transparency. I love the possibilities for Chrissy’s life in spite of the many hardships I’m sure she’ll endure. I love that Chrissy will know her mother’s love regardless of what else happens.

Who knows why our bodies are the way they are, fleshy and fit, broken and breaking out, male and female and the spectrum between? Who understands the indomitable nature of our souls? Creation unfurls immeasurable variety, and all of it can be transparent to this unexpected, revising love.

–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

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A friend of mine recommended this amazing blog, Transparenthood, in case you’d like to learn more.

Just in case anyone wants to sign up at the eleventh hour, there are still two spaces left in my retreat from June 15-19, 2015:  Alone Together:  Write That Book at the Madeline Island School of the Arts.

And if you’d like to explore revision within your writing, pencil in September 12-16, 2016, for a retreat at the Madeline Island School of the Arts.  More to come!