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…)
When seekers trekked out to the desert in the early centuries of Christianity, the wise Abbas and Ammas there advised them to “go to your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.”
I’ve been mucking around in this pre-original-sin wisdom lately, and, let me tell you, it’s mind-bending. Mistakes, weaknesses, temptations, sins—Augustine hadn’t yet made of these cause for guilt and shame, so instead they’re understood as unavoidable, even necessary to the life of faith, and worthy of gratitude. In story after story, thieves create chances for the monks to release material attachments and exercise compassion. The devil comes not as the temptation to do bad things but rather as distracting thoughts. This is a topsy-turvy faith, barely recognizable today as Christianity. (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…)
She didn’t read books so she didn’t know
that she was the world and the heavens boiled down to a drop.
–Zora Neale Hurston
Since my mother died over a year ago I’ve worn her jade ring as a reminder that she’s still here. My mother loved beautiful objects and somehow these objects, her jewelry and the quilt she made me and the African violets she grew and even her dime-store spiral notebooks, continue to hold that love.
As do I. Sometimes I feel more my mother than myself—her loud hiccups, her bad gynecological genes, her late night worries and self-pitying whine, and her fondness for home, for a lingering, elegant meal, for libraries, for generous giving. Her goodnight kisses, her pride at my work, her inexhaustible love. These were in me before she died I know them more poignantly now.
None of us, it turns out, are separate, siloed identities. We’re all mash-ups of each other. (more…)
I was raised by a liberal, seminary-educated mother in a liberal United Methodist congregation, and both blanketed me with a theology of a warm, loving God. But the chill of original sin snuck under the covers regardless. How? It’s hard to say. Through the Adam and Eve of popular culture? Through my mother’s foundational guilt and insecurity? Through the Sunday morning stress of getting out the door on time, as though our lives depended on showing up for worship with clean hair and ironed clothes? Regardless, I understood myself to be fundamentally wrong, and faith was the antidote. Every time I screwed up, deliberately hurting my boyfriend, turning my back on a stranger in need, lying to my parents, my “sin” was a guilt-soaked reminder of my hidden, awful nature. (more…)
“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…)