Inveterate—confirmed, hardened, incorrigible, habitual, compulsive, obsessive: Yup, that describes me as a church-goer. I may lurk on the periphery, I may rail against the church’s (titanic) flaws, I may flinch every time I name myself a Christian, and yet I can’t help myself. Church has blessed me. So I show up.
Those of us who are inveterate church-goers are numb to scripture. We’ve heard the stories so much, our immediate reaction is, “Blah, blah, blah; same-old same-old.” A rare good sermon might shake us out of our complacency, helping us hear scriptural wisdom afresh or making it relevant. Every once in a while, a beam of sunlight breaks through the barriers of the text and lands, shockingly, on our bored hearts. Most of the time, for me at least, the Bible is flat, familiar, and, frankly, uninteresting. (more…)
A friend of mine died recently. Jeanne Audrey Powers was one of the first women ordained in the United Methodist Church. She worked for the General Conference in Manhattan and traveled the globe, hobnobbing with top religious leaders of every stripe. Just before she retired, she came out lesbian at an international conference, sending waves of dismay throughout the global church in hopes of leveraging transformation. She kept an apartment in Minneapolis and attended my church, which was how I came to work for a brief spell as her personal secretary. (more…)
A few years ago, I set off on a journey to the heart of Christian contemplation, both in practice and with studies. I began doing Centering Prayer, a form of meditation rooted in monasticism and the teachings of the mystics, and reading works from the mystical margins of Christian tradition—St. John of the Cross, Meister Eckhart, Theresa of Avila, Bonaventure, the Patristic fathers—and sharing all this with an international contemplative community. It’s been thrilling. The work transforms me from the inside out, and will have a profound on my writing, teaching, and living for years to come.
Because I love and trust language so much, the hardest part about these past years has been my inability to talk about what I’m learning. I put down a book or return from a symposium feeling like my internal furniture has been rearranged, but I can’t say how, or why, or what. I’m a blubbering fool. (more…)
First 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…)
Jim 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…)
Retreats: 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…)