Archive | March, 2010

Big Sur State of Mind

29 Mar

Big Sur is where I spent the majority of my time on my trip and for anyone who doesn’t know the Big Sur, it hosts one of the most magical blends of mountains, fog and forest in the world. It has also attracted famous artists, mystics, naturalists and intellectuals who without ego blend into the landscape without altering it or destroying it. While there, it’s impossible to not exist in a Zen like state completely surrendered to natural rhythms, the splendor of nature and the glory of God. I call this the “Big Sur State of Mind.”


As I return to my life at home, I have set an intention to be more in touch with this state. However, it’s harder to maintain when not in a beauty saturated environment and when hit by the demands of an increasingly fast paced modern life. My old antidote to the latter used to be to simplify, say no and to disconnect some from life but now that doesn’t work so well. I currently have a life style where try as I might, I can’t simplify without stripping myself of critical activities contributing to my personal and professional evolution as well as rich relationships that form the center of my being and values. Without realizing it, I have stepped up my game and there is no turning back.

So the only thing I can do is slow down my internal speed even if the structure of my life continues to clip along at a rapid trot. The image that keeps coming to my mind is that of an airplane in which you can feel like you aren’t traveling at intense speeds while inside, yet if observed from the outside, the plane really is moving at an intense rate. I’d like to have this feeling – to set this intention – to live from this place.

On the other hand, I realize there are some things I can slow down in my day-to-day life to keep myself from spinning too much off center. Often, I operate from my stubborn sense of will vs. intention, pushing myself to “do” instead of to simply move from task to task fully present and with a sense of joy. This was initially not hard to accomplish provided I had enough spaciousness in my schedule to breathe but as the demands of my life have increased, I have taken to multi-tasking to the nth degree leaving me robotic at times. Breathing gets lost in the equation. For instance, I used to cook my food with loving care but now I stand in the kitchen shoveling it in (or finding eating a chore I have to accomplish which should NEVER be the case). Even the things meant to slow me down, I sometimes charge after like a bull in a china shop. I push to get to yoga at 7:30 am (although that is better than not going) and I sometimes cram in the things I love like surfing and writing to the point where I’m frenzied from trying to do too much in one day. It’s like I’ve become a greedy kid in a candy shop who wants to have all the candy in one day instead of pacing oneself. 

It’s not that cramming and pushing aren’t going to creep in but when I find myself losing pleasure in things – I start to ask myself – what is the point? I also know there is a problem when I find myself impatient with animals, children and family members. That is a huge red flag for they suffer terribly when we don’t act from a spacious, grounded place. 

Basically, I need to get clear on what choices best suit my energy levels, personal needs and desires in any given moment. That is the key. That is the Big Sur State of mind. And I can only do that when I at least slow down enough to tap into myself and to God.

In the Flow of God

27 Mar

When I was on my trip, I stopped into a boutique where I tried on a few clothes. There were a number of things that had my name of them. In particular, a red dress that fit me like a glove and that happened to be on sale for a reasonable cost. Yet for some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to buy any of the items even though I knew it was stupid not to strike while the iron was hot because I hate shopping and here were a few things making it a low fuss mission. But in my heart and mind, this little shopping excursion created a big fuss. 

The little red dress seemed to scream, “I am woman, hear me roar.” It also said, “I dare you to know I’m forty years old.” But neither of these statements were things my psyche was feeling an impulse to express. I don’t typically hear voices, but while standing there in the store, I also seemed to hear every maternal figure I’ve had in my life saying, “You must buy that dress. It would be great to wear on a date.” Translation – “You need to date more. If you wore little red dresses, you’d have more dates.” I promptly decided that I wanted to vacate the village shops all together and found myself returning to the seashore where people sport cable knit sweaters from L.L.Bean instead. 

I thought about my reaction for days. Every time I was in the village (which was daily), I seemed to feel uncomfortable around shops and galleries, even though I love art and definitely appreciate and love clothes that are like art. What was going on with me? 

Then my friend I was traveling with said something that really struck me. She said, “Buying the dress wasn’t in the flow of God for you at that moment. Everything on this trip has been about being in the flow of God. For you, this trip has been more about being in nature and thinking of your family.” Her words struck gold. She was right. Everything we did on the trip – whether it was a hike or going out to dinner or just hanging out -had an organic, almost spiritual sense with little effort. If something felt like a strain, we knew we were going against that grain and weren’t in the flow of God. So we adjusted our plans accordingly hour by hour, moment by moment.

This isn’t to say that buying a little red dress and wearing one can’t be in the flow of God. It totally can be. It just wasn’t where I was at. Instead, I was on an inner journey and even in my outer one, I’m currently more focused on longings for school, travel, owning a decent surfboard and buying a digital camera than I am wanting to look cute in a little red dress. And when one does wear a little red dress it should always be about wanting to express oneself vs. trying to impress someone. The latter is definitely not in the flow of God. Nor is dating when you’re not in the mood or not drawn to someone in particular.

So for now, for today, I ask myself – “What am I going to do right now and is it in the flow of God? Where is my life going? And is it in the flow of God?” I plan to use this question as my spiritual compass, not only for the course of my day to day life but also for the greater path.

Morning at the Mission

24 Mar

Whenever I think of the Big Sur, Monterrey and Carmel, I think primarily of my father, for it was he who loved this region and brought me here. I don’t tend to associate this area with my mother for I have no memories of being here with her or of her speaking about it. However, when my dad was stationed at Ford Ord and she was pregnant with me, she apparently visited him here from Wisconsin and attended mass at the Carmel Mission, a beautiful old mission indicative of early Christian influence in California. 

Because of this connection to my mother and because she is now deceased, I decided I wanted to stop by this Mission I had heard so much about from my father but had never visited. My traveling buddy and I were going to pop in for a few minutes to look around the grounds and church. It turned into a much longer time. 

As soon as I walked into the garden from the side entrance, I was flooded with my mom’s spirit and a well of sadness caught in my throat. I immediately told my friend I wanted to be alone and moved to a quiet corner in the garden which was actually a grave site. As I approached the front entrance of the property where the church was, I saw a hearse and realized a funeral was in session. And the sadness continued to cascade over me like the waterfall I’d seen the day before. I sat down on a chair and was overcome with tears. As I let go, I felt my mom’s gentle spirit wash over me, intertwined with the breeze, telling me she was fine. I thought of my mom coming here to mass with me in utero and I remembered celebrating Easter Sunday with her throughout the years. And as I watched the mourners approach the mission, I recalled the day I attended my mom’s memorial service at her church. A catholic church. And I sobbed. And I knew she was okay.

After about fifteen minutes, I crossed to the inner courtyard, a lovely space filled with the peace of a monastery and yet the bustle of Catholic school girls traipsing to class. My mom had been a Catholic school girl. 

For years, I struggled with my mom’s relationship to God. I knew she loved Jesus but I also instinctively knew she didn’t know Him the way I do now. She was a “good” girl and I sometimes think she attended mass more because she worried about burning in hell than from an authentic craving for worship. If she hadn’t been so fear based – had been more in surrender to Him – would she have taken her own life? Yet I also know that her weekly trips to Mass were far more than duty. That she had a strong impulse to go to church and that she planted that within me as well –  I loved God when I was little; in many ways was a mystical child and here I am in seminary deeply in love with Jesus.

I heard music coming from the church and hovered at the door due to the funeral in session. The usher thought I was a guest even though I was in hiking clothes and handed me a program honoring the deceased. I listened as a woman read “a letter from Paul to the the Thessalonians” and then remained at the door as the priest approached the pulpit to read from the gospel. “I am the way, the truth and the light. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also.” John 14:6-7. How fitting.

So no. I am not orphaned. I have a mother. And today she and Jesus looked down at me from heaven and let me know that they love me and that everything is going to be all right. It was an exquisite morning/mourning at the mission.

A Gift From the Sea

22 Mar

Six months ago, I got into a conversation with my friend Charissa about how much we both loved Northern California and how ironically, it had been a site of pilgrimage for both her family and mine throughout our childhoods. For Charissa, her family stayed annually in Carmel where friends of theirs’ own a guest home; in my family, my father and I traveled to the Big Sur every fall and spring, which always included day trips to Carmel. This coincidence was enough for us to decide that we must then go on a road trip, so the kind people who Charissa’s family knows, sent us a key to the Carmel house.

Charissa and I are fifteen years apart and yet click as if we’d been childhood school friends. There aren’t many people who you can get into a car with at 4:30 in the morning (our hour of departure so that we could get above LA without hitting traffic – it worked) and not only be civil with but then promptly proceed to talk with for seven hours straight without being bored, irritated or tired by the other. 

During our drive up, we had phenomenal weather. Blue skies, warm sun and little fog which is unusual. We stopped at Pismo beach and then dropped over to the coast highway where we eventually landed in the Big Sur. While there we stopped at Nepenthe and Ventana, favorite spots of my father’s. 

Upon arrival in Carmel, we settled in our lovely house after a grocery store run. I found it no coincidence that Ann Morrow Lindbugh’s beloved book “A Gift From the Sea” was strategically placed in the room I’m staying in. A classic reflection on the importance of solitude, taking spiritual retreat time and replenishing in nature, I lovingly leafed through it realizing I first read it when I was Charissa’s age.  

Most of our time has been spent in nature. We went for a fabulous hike in Garrapata state park which hosts the most stellar views I’ve ever encountered in nature. 

We also hiked in Pffeifer State Park, where my family used to always stay. 

And eaten at Rocky Point restaurant which hosts fantastic views as well as warnings.

And we have walked by this church every day in Carmel. (I like its tulips).

Charissa liked this sculpture tucked away in the lovely rain forest like neighborhood you’ll find if you turn off onto Palo Colorado a remote street in the Big Sur. And my dad would have been pleased every time we crossed over Malpaso Creek, the River Clint Eastwood named his production company after back in the 70’s. My dad actually met Clint at the Hogsbreath Inn years ago. He was having a drink at Clint Eastwood’s Carmel restaurant and Mr. Eastwood chatted it up with him.

There is so much more to say here about the splendor of nature, the gift of friendships, the importance of family heritage and the necessity of rejuvenation time. But for now I’ll close with noting that while on our hike in Garrapata, Charissa and I took a moment to sit down and acknowledge God. Sitting in silence and in prayer, I asked if she wouldn’t mind singing something in worship as well. Ironically, she had the same impulse and sang a few verses of a song we sing in church. The lyrics coincided so beautifully with what we were seeing, feeling and experiencing, it was truly an awesome moment. Here is what she sang –

Praise Him, you mountains that tower so high, You oceans so deep far and wide, Praise Him, oh you sun and moon, And in you shining stars, praise Him from above…” 

I think that says it all.

Sweet Surrender

18 Mar

They say that our initial impression of God is often based on how we perceived authority figures as children. Apparently we transfer our relationships with our parents on to God until we experience a different relationship with Him other than one based on our limited perspectives of Divinity. 

That pretty much sums up my first impression of God. Because my parents were loving, I’ve always experienced God as being so too, but because my parents had addiction problems, at some point I learned not to rely 100% on the big people – if at all. I learned how to take care of myself (i.e. get by and be hyper-responsible) and naively thought that if I tried hard enough, I could control things – like whether or not my parents drank or used. Before I learned that the latter was impossible, I’d already become a control freak. It was too late.

Now I’m not overtly obnoxious. And I know how to let loose and let my hair down so I’m not a complete control freak. But when under stress or not trusting Him, I revert back to the little kid trying to run the show. I try to mange people, places and things instead of letting go and letting God. And I’m sure I get a little irritating to some for my know it all ways and busy body, manipulative energy.

The other day I was at a prayer vigil at my church and the pastor started talking about the word “surrender.” He was talking about the word in a slightly bigger context than I am here. For instance, he suggested surrendering a long held grudge or destructive, behavior pattern. He said, “Anyone needing to surrender, get down on your knees and ask God. Right now. Here. It’s okay.” And I’m thinking, “We don’t have any pews. I’m not going down. I’m not going to draw attention to myself.” Yet deep down I knew I was one of those needing to submit. I knew I needed to surrender my stress, my recent impulses to control and my fears of God not having my back as I take some professional and financial risks. So I bowed my head as my form of submission. But as the prayer and music went on, I thought, “What the hell. It’s just Journey (the name of the church) and just God.” So I crouched down in my aisle and made myself real small in a ball – child’s pose – so no one could see me down there on the floor. And for a few minutes, I breathed. I relaxed. I let go and let God. And I caved into “sweet surrender.” And for a few moments – hours – I let go. I was so relaxed when I got home, I fell asleep watching t.v. which NEVER happens. But it did because I had let God hold me in His arms and take care of me that evening. 

Interesting, all the things I’ve not been trusting Him about have been for naught. He keeps providing unique opportunities and resources for me WHEN I listen to the direction He wants me to take. When I stop trying to be the one woman show without any reliance on him. Abba. Father. 

I think of my cats and how they fully surrender themselves to me as I hold them in my arms. 

Like Ally McBeal, I’m picking a personal theme song. It’s Sarah McLachlan’s “Sweet Surrender.” And I better get down on my knees daily for “It’s all that I have to give.”

The Kingdom Breaking In

3 Mar

For school, I was assigned a project where I had to take a passage from either Acts or one of Paul’s letters and explore its meaning in both its original context and a current one through a creative medium. I chose a passage from Acts and decided to examine the text through three specific paintings. Although the paintings I created are not my best work in terms of artistic expression, I found the actual assignment greatly illuminated my understanding of  the text. So I thought to post the project for anyone who might be interested and in the hopes that you might enjoy the Word communicated through a different lens.  

The three paintings I created reflect the passage from Acts 2:38-42 and communicate the meaning of the text, as well as my personal experience with its message in a current church context, showing that the Word is as alive and vibrant as it was at the inception of Christianity.

Repent and Be Baptized

The first painting specifically reflects the scripture 2:38. “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven.” Related, I gave the painting the title Repent and Be Baptized.  Placed within images of water is a photograph of my adult baptism, which occurred a year and a half ago. The water is reflective of the act of being dipped in water, which is where the word baptism derived and also reflects the subconscious, where sin often breeds. The painting speaks to the church in a contemporary context, in that our church baptizes individuals when they are at an age to consciously choose to follow Christ. It also reflects a direct overlay with scripture in that since the time of Jesus, baptism has represented a critical stage in one’s walk with God.

The Holy Spirit Descends

The next painting portrays Acts 2:38 referring to the gift of the Holy Spirit being given. Entitled, The Holy Spirit Descends, my painting communicates the Holy Spirit descending and anointing those choosing to be baptized and to follow Jesus. The scripture reads, “And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our god calls to him.” As the artist, I chose this image for I definitely felt the Holy Spirit descend upon me during my baptism. Likewise, many times during worship at our church, the Holy Spirit is palpably present making for a profound and joyous experience. This continually fills me with wonder, which is one of the reasons why I chose this passage for my NT project.

Basileia Tou Theou or The Kingdom Breaking In

Finally, the last painting represents the culmination of the scripture 2:41-42. “So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” The painting depicts a garden representative of the church body at the time of the church’s beginning and now in 2010.

I give the painting two titles. The first is Basileia tou Theo, which is Greek for the Kingdom of God and the second title is The Kingdom Breaking In. Going with the first title, the painting expresses that through God’s people living a cruciform ministry, the Kingdom of God is here and now. However, because we have not emerged into a complete eschatology, the second title – The Kingdom Breaking In, may more accurately represent the scripture. I came to this awareness when try as I might, I could not get the painting aesthetically right despite having painted numerous images of flowers previously to my liking. As I worked on it, I realized that my act of painting the picture reflected a parallel process with the church body striving to spread the Gospel. We as Christ followers do our best to imitate Christ but of course fall short at times. Likewise, we have still to inherit the Kingdom and yet when in union with God the Kingdom is present. It’s a paradox of sorts. A yes – but.

Addressing the church in a modern context, the final painting communicates the wonder of the church body in full blossom via worship, various ministries and fellowship. I use the imagery of a garden for a few reasons. One, a garden is beautiful, as is God’s grace and love. But a garden is also something that needs to be tended to as does our spirituality and spiritual community. It must be looked after with care to ensure growth vs. stagnation or choking from weeds and things that would destroy its beauty. The garden represents many types of flowers reflecting diversity and inclusiveness, which is the Christian community. God’s chosen people now includes all who accept and follow Christ. And finally, the garden represents the Garden of Eden and the restoring of cosmic order after the fall from Eden. It is a microcosm of the kingdom breaking in here and now.