I wish for us that we can look back at this point in history as a time of spiritual awakening, transformative love, healing reconciliation, and powerful creativity. A time where we collectively went through an evolutionary leap. Related ...

 

How do we frame these times? and more...




How do we frame these times?

How do we hold this complex world?

It’s so difficult to hold all the danger and uncertainties around us and stay active, engaged, and creative!

In a single day I cycle through a bunch of different frames of mind, each with its own level of adrenaline, fear, anger, courage, and hope. Fortunately I know what shuts me down and what keeps me present, visionary, and courageous. I have learned this: How we frame what is happening has everything to do with how available we are as agents of love and transformation.

So let’s talk about the frames we use to talk about what is happening now. I have four different ones I pass through on any given day. I hope this list might help you identify the meaning you are making of these times and how it affects your ability to engage fully.

“This is a horrible disaster”

This is can be my gut, adrenaline-fueled reaction to the news. It is essential that we call the racism, misogyny, imperialism, extraction etc. currently at play by their true names and not ignore them.

Yet focusing on how bad things are totally wears me out physically, emotionally and mentally. If I’m not grounded, the notion of “things are breaking down” can quickly spiral into “creation itself can break.”

“Things are not getting worse, they are getting uncovered.
We must hold each other tight & continue to pull back the veil.”

This widely circulated quote from adrienne marie brown has helped me get some perspective and take courage. Many hidden systems of exploitation are being brought forward so we can finally really see them and deal with them. It’s like an addict’s bottoming out. At least that’s my hope.

I love the image of holding each other tightly with love and courage so we can get to truth. That compassion and solidarity is essential. Yet when I’m in a similar place with my daughter, who is highly sensitive and sometimes feels sheer terror over peeling off bandaids, we just get stuck with her clinging to me. The idea of unveiling as part of healing simply does not compute in her terrified, clinging mind. When I’m afraid, I too need an ever stronger guiding statement about the process of unveiling as part of healing.

“We are in the midst of the Great Turning.”

The Great Turning is a phrase popularized by Joanna Macy and names the essential adventure of our time: shifting from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization. I have found this framing deeply meaningful because it gives me direction. Joanna Macy has also helped me work with the grief that comes with loving a planet in peril. The grief is actually an indication of connection, and this connection is what can guide us.

I have really wrestled with my fear: Are we going to make the Great Turning happen quickly enough for complex life forms to continue to have a presence on this planet? Underneath my fear has been a lingering existential question: Even if we are in collective danger – on the social, political, or climate level – do we live in a safe and loving universe? Is the Great Turning simply human centered?

“We are careening towards oneness.”

This is a phrase from theologian Cynthia Bourgeault. (I recently blogged about it here.) It has become an important handle for me lately because it holds two important ideas together. The word careening captures how chaotic things feel. More importantly, the idea that we are moving towards oneness is an expression of deep faith in the evolutionary nature of the universe and of the divine to move towards more love and more consciousness. We are moving towards both increasing complexity and unity. This movement requires our conscious participation.

This is a significant statement of faith and way of knowing the universe that I have arrived at through contemplative practice and study. It is much too big an idea to fully transmit right here in this blog. The essence that I want to convey is that I am finally coming into trusting deeply that this is a loving and safe universe that can hold these times. Ultimately this allows me to become in instrument of the divine dance of love with a lot less adrenaline and much more power and creativity.

If I had to pick which of these four statements I’d say to myself as I’m trying to settle into sleep, I’d pick the this final one. It is the one that contains the most faith and possibility for me.

What’s your handle for holding these times?

You may have many like me. I’m curious which ones fill you with the most sense of courage, vision, and possibility. Your wise take might be exactly what someone else needs to hear.

If you are having trouble accessing your best self, this can be a sign that your worldview also needs attention. I firmly believe that transforming how we see the world is the fastest and most powerful way to shift both the inner world and outer world. It is not a substitute for making phone calls to your legislators, but no less important.

With love,
emily

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Elizabeth’s Upcoming Events

Second Fridays; 1:30-3:30 p.m.:  Spiritual Memoir drop-in sessions, Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality.

April 14: Living the Questions
May 12: The Natural World
June 9: Looking Back, Seeing Again

March 26-April 1, 2017: Self-Guided (DIY) Writing Retreat with Naomi Shihab Nye, including 1 on 1 consultations with Elizabeth, Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality.

Do you live in Waukesha or Marinette, WI?  I’ll discuss incarnation, Christianity, and bisexuality at noon on April 5th at the University of Wisconsin–Waukesha and at noon on April 6th at the University of Wisconsin–Marinette. Please join me!

Save the Dates:

October 2-6, 2017: Alone Together: Living Revision at Madeline Island School of the Arts.

September 24-28, 2018:  Alone Together: Living Revision at Madeline Island School of the Arts.

 

The Grief of Discovery

Gwyn and I were at the piano labeling chords in her lesson book; she’d just learned tonic and dominant, one and five and their corresponding Roman numerals. Because piano practice can be grueling, we do it before school when Gwyn’s most alert, but this also means an awful time crunch, so when Gwyn leapt from the bench to stand in front of the fireplace, I had little patience. She pointed at the clock on the mantel, a fancy one with Roman numerals. “Now I can read it!” she proclaimed, and told me it was 8:40. She had cracked the code.

Which was all so exciting she couldn’t practice, she wanted me to write one through a hundred and I started while Emily did her hair, but then I remembered why we use the Arabic system—Roman numerals are cumbersome, laborious, and there’s no way I could write a hundred before 8:50, when we needed to leave. “But you promised!” she wailed and a meltdown ensued, a full-fledged, stiff-bodied temper tantrum. I kissed a timely school arrival goodbye.

Only afterward do I recognize the symptoms. Even now I am in the throes of this same human phenomenon: A moment of “getting” something, when a layer of film is peeled from our eyes and we see the world more clearly, if only by a fraction. It’s both thrilling and disconcerting. I recently learned that our democracy is not an irrefutable, indestructible fact but rather a fragile construction requiring vigilant defense, support, and construction. I, too, threw a temper tantrum. I’d rather go back to my old way of seeing. I’d rather not suffer the consequences (my increased responsibility) of this new understanding. But once we’re seeing more clearly, going back to old ways means unhealthy denial. Best to throw a fit and move on.

Emily wrangled braids into Gwyn’s hair and we got out the door onto bikes, where I coached her on I, V, X, L, and C, the system of subtracting lower letters that precede higher ones, and two blocks down she had it, if she wanted she could write one through a hundred herself, and she was happy as a clam. We did Roman numeral math problems the rest of the way. I’m glad for the reminder that learning of any kind is a way we come into consciousness. It’s how we’re changed, how we grow, and how we come more alive, which is also how I understand God’s movement in us. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, Gwyn was late for school. But no other human work is more important, I believe, and if we can get through the tantrum there’s complex delight on the other side. –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew
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Upcoming Opportunities

Spiritual Memoir drop-in sessions, Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality, Second Fridays; 1:30-3:30 p.m.:

March 10: Holy Resistance
April 14: Living the Questions
May 12: The Natural World
June 9: Looking Back, Seeing Again

Do you live in Waukesha or Marinette?  I’ll discuss incarnation, Christianity, and bisexuality at noon on April 5th at the University of Wisconsin–Waukesha and at noon on April 6th at the University of Wisconsin–Marinette.  Please join me!

SAVE THE DATES:

October 2-6, 2017: Alone Together: Living Revision at Madeline Island School of the Arts.
September 24-28, 2018: Alone Together: Living Revision at Madeline Island School of the Arts.

 

Writers: How to Strengthen Your Sword Arm

Hidden deep within the writing process is a powerful tool for social change.

I know; that statement can’t be substantiated. But let’s try on the idea for a moment.

If you’ve ever penned your thoughts or memories or imaginings, you know that the writing process surprises you. Writers say they write to find out what they think. The process of writing is revelatory. We see differently for having written. This is “re-vision”, even if you’re just writing a journal or first draft.

If you’ve ever stuck with a project through many significant drafts, you know that the revelations keep coming. As you change the story, the story changes you. A work changes its “own conclusion by virtue of being written,” as Nuala O’Faolin said of her memoir. “I was not at all the same person, when I handed the manuscript to the publisher, as I had been when I began.” Approached with a heart open to transformation, the writing process is personally transformative.

We all know that effective literature changes readers’ hearts and minds. The basic ingredient that allows the reader to be moved is the writer’s capacity to be moved. “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader,” as Robert Frost said. So the writer’s transformation is intricately entwined with the reader’s transformation.

Yes, the blog or story or essay that goes out into the world is an instrument of social change, but it’s not, I believe, the most effective one. What is really, sneakily powerful is our participation in developing the human capacity for revision. Because every time we step back from our writing and see it in a radically new way, we exercise our revision muscle. We learn to detach ourselves from one draft, play and explore and invent, and then out of old material create something new. We grow in our capacity to be unattached agents of change. We move from being reactive to co-creative. And, if you’re willing to think broadly, we actively participate in the evolution of consciousness.

The real power-players today aren’t those who hold the big, external positions of leadership. They are the people who are calm, creative, able to step away from events, see them clearly, imagine new ways to frame them, and launch fearlessly back into that good work. They are willing to see both the big picture and the details. They are undaunted by the slow pace of creation. They love the process more than the product. They are people whose hearts are open to change, who create from that vulnerable, open place.

Writers, our strength rests in our capacity to revise. Let’s nurture that strength, then use it boldly.

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Interested in learning about spiritual memoir? I’m giving a brief introductory workshop this Thursday evening from 6-9 p.m. at Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality.

Want to stay calm and conscious through your activism work?  Consider attending this day on Guardianship: A Critical Responsibility for Our Times on February 10th.  I’ll offer the journal as a tool for recording, reflecting, being transformed, and strengthening agency.

The Spiritual Memoir drop-in sessions at Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality continue on second Fridays from 1:30-3:30.

February 10: Cultivating Love
March 10: Holy Resistance
April 14: Living the Questions
May 12: The Natural World
June 9: Looking Back, Seeing Again

SAVE THE DATES:

October 2-6, 2017: Alone Together: Living Revision at Madeline Island School of the Arts.

September 24-28, 2017:  Alone Together: Living Revision at Madeline Island School of the Arts.

 

 

We Are Marching

IMG_2210January 17, 2017
Dear Gwyn,

You don’t want to go to the Women’s March this Saturday. I understand; you’re eight, and two summers ago at a climate march you experienced the unfortunate combination of too much heat, exhaustion, and greasy eggrolls. We’re marching anyhow. I’m writing this because I want you to know why. I also want to tell your older self, so I’ll tuck this letter aside to show you again later.

Sometimes I feel small. Sometimes I wonder whether I can make a difference in the world. Especially when large groups of people make bad decisions over long spans of time (like prejudices or hurting the environment), I feel overwhelmed by the problem and wonder if anything I do will matter.

Most of the time, though, I know that small is good. Small kindnesses add up to make big kindnesses. Small efforts, like making friends or trying hard in school or helping at the church bazaar, make big things happen. Grown-ups forget this a lot. We rush to work on big things because it helps us feel important. But any change that lasts is made up of many small steps. Think about how many times you’ve practiced piano. Each time doesn’t seem to make a difference. But you can play Pachelbel’s Canon now. Practicing worked.

I also know that the best gift I can give the world is me. The best gift you can give is you. This sounds easy but it’s really hard. Each of us has a spark in us that’s totally different from everyone else’s spark. When you make that spark into a roaring fire, you warm everyone around you. I’m still learning about how to build that fire (that’s why I’m in school!), but I know it means loving what you love, and acting on that love. This doesn’t seem powerful, but it really is. Think about how much Grandma loved you, baking cookies with you and teaching you to sew. Grandma’s love is still all around you even though she died. Isn’t that ­super powerful?

Every once in a while, what’s happening in the big grown-up world and what’s happening in our small family world come together. Right now, a lot of people in our country are saying mean things—about women, about immigrants, about Muslims, about people with disabilities. You know how we’re teaching you to treat everyone with respect? Our new president is disrespectful to people who are different from him or who disagree with him. So right after he becomes our leader, we need to stand up and say, “Let’s respect each other!”

This is a moment when we can make our love shine out in the history of the United States. This is a chance to send our loving sparks out into the whole world. Moments like this don’t come often. That’s why we’re marching.

(No eggrolls afterward. I promise.)

Love, Mama

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There are opportunities to march across the nation and globe.  Here is the vision and mission of The Women’s March:

We stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families – recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.

 

The rhetoric of the past election cycle has insulted, demonized, and threatened many of us – immigrants of all statuses, Muslims and those of diverse religious faiths, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Native people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, survivors of sexual assault – and our communities are hurting and scared. We are confronted with the question of how to move forward in the face of national and international concern and fear.

In the spirit of democracy and honoring the champions of human rights, dignity, and justice who have come before us, we join in diversity to show our presence in numbers too great to ignore. The Women’s March on Washington will send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world, that women’s rights are human rights. We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us.

We support the advocacy and resistance movements that reflect our multiple and intersecting identities. We call on all defenders of human rights to join us. This march is the first step towards unifying our communities, grounded in new relationships, to create change from the grassroots level up. We will not rest until women have parity and equity at all levels of leadership in society. We work peacefully while recognizing there is no true peace without justice and equity for all.

 

Six Ways Blogging Helps You Be A Better Writer—And Person

deskwdaffodilsTwenty-two years ago I started writing a monthly column for my church newsletter. I appreciated the immediate feedback. If a member of my congregation disagreed with something I’d written, I’d hear about it on Sunday. Usually I received a lot of encouragement.

As people outside church expressed interest, I sold subscriptions to the column for $12 a year, printed out copies, and put them in the mail. Eventually the internet arrived, and the blogging phenomenon; I posted my “column” for years before I deigned to call it a “blog.” Nine years ago I added a second monthly entry on writing. A tally of my slow and steady posts is around 370—a figure that stuns me today. Here are some thoughts on the hidden value of all that writing:

  1. Blogs put a writer in conversation with real people. I started my column as a way to stay in touch with my church community during a period when I was away a lot. It was essentially a public letter, and it worked—people communicated with me. Even now, I’m far more likely to hear readers’ thoughts about a blog than a well-crafted essay in a literary journal, or even one of my books. I like hearing from and responding to readers. Blogging is a way to participate in a bigger conversation, with immediate results.
  2. I have more patience for the slow work of writing. This might seem like a paradox, but somehow the bi-monthly contact with an audience sates my need for immediate gratification. Thoughtful, creative, book-length literary work takes me six to ten years. I can sink deep into that private, generative place because I have a regular appointment with my readers.
  3. Deadlines are great. While I believe strongly in letting creative work grow at its own pace, there’s also a serious advantage to having a deadline. I’m forced to produce, regardless of inspiration or mood or quality standards. That’s good for me, a diehard perfectionist.
  4. Regularity means major productivity! All those enforced deadlines mean that I’m generating massive amounts of prose. Eventually, much of it works its way into books. Reflections on faith become essays; musings on writing have evolved into a craft book about revision. When a blog gets lots of responses, I consider why, and whether I should give the ideas more attention.
  5. Frequency teaches us about listening. Half the time when I sit down to write a blog, I have no idea what to say. I sit at the keyboard and ask, “What’s rattling around in me? What have I been musing over, without even knowing it?” Something always comes. The writing leads the way. Over the years I’ve come to have great faith in this process.
  6. Blogs are a bell-weather of what works. Because I receive reactions to some posts, I’m slowly gaining a sense of what material connects my heart to a reader’s, and why. I’ve learned to be more honest; that I don’t need to try so hard; that the conversation within my most intimate being is my best material; that I can be hospitable to my readers without limiting myself with concern over what they’ll think. The experience of real connection with readers teaches me about what makes writing effective.

All of which inspires in me gratitude for this forum and for you, my faithful readers. Here at the beginning of a new year, may we all find rich and fulfilling creative practices. And may our creative work build connections to one another in an ever-growing web of conversation.

Warmly, Elizabeth

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Interested in writing spiritual memoir?  I’ll teach an introductory workshop on Thursday, February 2 from 6-9 p.m. at Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality.

Join me on second Fridays, 1:30-3:30 p.m., for Spiritual Memoir drop-in sessions at Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality.

January 13: Light and Darkness
Spiritual memoirs inevitably encompass both joy and hardship.  What literary tools can help us “wail the right question into the swaddling band of darkness,” as Annie Dillard put it, “or, if it comes to that, choir the proper praise”?

February 10: Cultivating Love
“What goes on in your innermost being is worthy of your whole love,” Rilke told the young poet.  Writing memories can be an expression of this love.  We’ll grapple lovingly with our past, practice writing as a loving act, and open ourselves to receiving love through the creative process.

March 10: Holy Resistance
Sometimes resistance—to creativity, to spiritual practice—is a sign that our small, limited self feels threatened by the True Self.  When we resist the process of writing or the material that arises, how can we open our hearts to transformation?

 

On third Fridays from 1:30-3:00, there’s a follow-up Seed Writing Group that continues writing and sharing on these topics. Lots of great opportunities to nurture your writing practice!

Set aside a week in 2017 to dive deep into your project.  Join me October 2-6, for the Alone Together: Living Revision retreat at Madeline Island School of the Arts.

 
 
   
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