Archive | June, 2012

The Taste of Bitter

28 Jun

In the Passover meal, one of the symbolic foods consists of bitter herbs which can be represented by horseradish. This food reminds Jews of the bitterness of slavery. Reflecting on their history of captivity and its harsh realities enhances the celebration of Yahweh’s goodness.

Lately I’ve been thinking much about the subject of bitterness. It’s a feeling I deeply dislike and one I don’t feel too often. However, when I do have occasion to be bitter, it threatens to swallow me whole. And that precisely is the danger of bitterness. It can completely consume us threatening to drain our vitality. Not only that, it carries a stench somewhat like a skunk’s. When we reek of bitterness, people can smell it and try to get as far away from us as possible.

However, there is danger to by-passing our bitterness as well. If we do, we lose the opportunity to let bitterness, which is affiliated with anger, eventually soften to grief. Then our tears can finally fall and wash out the wounds lodged in our hearts cleansing them. In a way we have to embrace bitterness for a time, giving it a voice and letting it rip with its naked rage.

Related, I once participated in a psychodrama workshop that explored themes from the “Wizard of Oz.” In one of the exercises, I was asked to step into the role of the bad witch which I welcomed for I had played Dorothy in a childhood production and wanted to play against my ingenue type. As Dorothy and her little friends came prancing down the yellow brick road, I stepped onto a chair and hovered above them. “Hello my pretty!” I cackled in a high pitched voice. Initially, I loved the thrill of power I felt as they all cowered in my presence. But as I continued with my tirade of bullying, I began to feel lonely. And as I let it rip in improvisation, I was shocked at how much rage I felt – at Dorothy for having friends and support, at their happiness and camaraderie and by what I perceived was their happy little lives. Suddenly real tears were smarting in my eyes for all the ways in which I identified with the witch. Even though on the surface I was Dorothy – a friendly, well liked person with things going for herself – on the inside there were so many deep wounds no one saw or knew about that I realized I understood the rage and isolation of the witch. And if I wasn’t careful, I could easily become her when life’s pitfalls ripped down the walls protecting my heart to expose where it had once been bludgeoned.

Every time deep hurts get re-activated, quite frankly, it’s a bitch. But like the Jews remembering captivity at Passover, it’s important that we don’t by-pass bitterness. It’s essential that we recognize where we’ve been hurt in order to understand how we navigate through new risks. And sometimes closing the heart is self-protective. It is only when we can sink into that deep pit of rage and despair that we can finally surrender and say, okay Lord. Part the Red Seas. Help me get out of here. Carry me to the Promised Land.

After the taste of bitter, comes the taste of grace.

In the White Wash

18 Jun

In surfing, sometimes you get caught in what is called the white wash. This occurs when waves are breaking fast and hard and as you paddle out, you end up battling the foam. Trying to get beyond it to the green (which is where you want to be to catch waves), sometimes the white water will actually take you backwards.

It’s a sucky feeling and physically demanding. It’s like taking one step forward and two steps backwards. And it’s a lot like life.

Lately, I’ve been hitting a considerable amount of white water, literally and figuratively. When I’ve gone out to surf, the sea has been fierce and chaotic, leaving me to battle the foam and basically call it a day. And personally, I seem to be abnormally tired, just able to do the bare minimum and I’m definitely not in any kind of flow.

I have learned that when you’re in the white wash, it’s best to respect the ocean. There is a time to push and a time to surrender. If you’re not catching the waves, sometimes it’s better to simply sit and watch from the shore.

I believe in cycles and rhythms. For everything there is a season… There is a time to strive and a time to rest.

Yet I also note that when you learn to surf, you do so in the white wash. You don’t try it in the green. Instead you ride the foam. So maybe I’m in a period of learning. Hanging out until I’m ready for the glassy green.

You’re My Best Friend

16 Jun

I’ve been blessed to have truly wonderful friends but in particular, to have a best friend whom I’ve known since the sixth grade. And the older I get the more I realize the value of a life long friendship.

Now some people say dogs are man’s best friend; others say one’s spouse/partner is. Perhaps, but I don’t have a dog and I don’t have a spouse/partner. But I do have Steph, a woman whose heart is as big as her smile and whose talents and spiritual gifts touch people’s lives in extraordinary ways. It has been fun to journey with her on the path of college, graduate school, relationships, church and art and she has helped me walk through the rough terrain of family deaths and loss. Sometimes I think she is not human but rather my guardian angel.

So here’s to friendship – one of the best treasures life offers! Tell me about some of your close friendships and what they mean to you.

A Song Not Spoken Of

13 Jun

The Song of Songs is a beautiful book in the bible celebrating sexuality within marriage that is seldom really talked about in any depth. The book also carries a warning: Do not stir up or awaken love until it is ready!

The latter is important advice that kind of falls on deaf ears for we live in a society of immediate gratification where love is often stirred up way before it is ready. Silly shows like “The Bachelor” leave naive viewers thinking they can find true love on National t.v., sex is marketed to us with just about every product imaginable from cars to beers to hamburgers and kids are being sexualized at younger and younger ages. So just how do we prevent stirring up love until it is ready and what happens when sexuality is awakened not only prematurely but sometimes disastrously, as in the case of sexual violation and abuse? The bible may warn its daughters not to stir up love until it is time but what of Tamar or Dinah or the women in Judges? Well, that is not love but nonetheless sexuality is awakened. And these women’s stories are seldom discussed…

In an era where sex is spoken about so explicitly, it seems no one really talks about it with the authenticity it warrants whether that be within the church or the secular world. Theology of the Body is an excellent start and C.S. Lewis’ thoughts on the subject ring of sharp intelligence but there is so much more that can be explored and spoken about. In the church, we typically put sex into a category for married folks leaving single people wondering what they are to do with their bodies and the need for human touch; in the secular world, we joke about it, parade it around the internet and often dive into it way too soon. And at the movies, gratuitous sex gets a “R” rating where more erotic, love-centered sex often gets slapped an NC-17 rating. It makes no sense.

I love the Song of Songs which is ironic because I am a single woman and really should be meditating on “The Song of Being Single” instead. But to voice that tune it can be helpful to hold it up against this other melody of stark contrast.

What does it mean to be single in today’s world (church or secular) and what does it mean to be married? Are we more alone single or is there also an inherent loneliness in marriage at times as well? And which path leads to a more spiritual one? Who presses into God more when in despair, lonely or feeling lost? On this I’ve heard so many mixed messages it makes me batty. One school of thought holds marriage up as the ultimate test of refining a Christ like love; another school says that only being alone liberates one from the idolatry of human love and allows the necessary focus for a devout life.

And if being single is so held up and honored as a spiritual path why then did God create Eve for Adam even though he was living in paradise?

I have no answers for these questions but thoughts are welcome.

Why the Bible is Meant to be Read Out Loud

8 Jun

My aunt introduced me to Shakespeare at a really early age by taking me both to the Oregon Shakespeare festival during summers and by having me sit in her lectures at a community college where she prepared her students for the plays they would see in Ashland. Even though I was only ten, with her helpful assistance I could ascertain when lovers were quarreling or when kings were preparing for war based on the actors’ body language, tone of voice and the words themselves. I was not a genius – I was simply exposed to Shakespeare’s plays the way they were meant to be consumed. Plays are meant to be seen and heard – not just read.

I’m beginning to think it is the same for the bible. The bible is a rich complicated text but how often are we taught to not only understand it but to embody it? And how do we truly understand it if we don’t embody it on some level?

When Juliet in the famed “Romeo and Juliet” says, “The clock struck nine when I did send thee nurse…” what she really means is,”Where the hell is the nurse? She’s late. She should have been here hours ago (with word about Romeo). What the ?????!” She is frustrated, impatient and irritable. Therefore the actress playing Juliet must understand the paraphrasing of this sentence and how it translates into the common vernacular so that when she speaks the more formal words, they are understood by the audience. And for high school students reading the play for basic English class, unless they take a stab at actually saying these words out loud, most likely the words will remain somewhat stiff and archaic, plus not mean much. This is kind of sad given that most teenagers could probably really relate to this scene if they actually understood it.

I wonder how much of the bible we’re not fully comprehending because we’re not speaking the words with our voices. If the word became flesh, shouldn’t we involve our own senses with it as well?

While studying Greek and Hebrew in seminary, I have found it necessary to read phrases out loud in order to learn the languages. And what a gift this has been for when reading a phrase in Greek or Hebrew, the language of the original biblical texts, they seem to seep into my cells in a way they don’t when I read silently in English. I cannot explain this phenomenon really but something happens on a deeper level allowing me to “soak” in the words’ message in a different way.

Now I am not saying that we all have to learn Greek and Hebrew as a pre-requisite for understanding the bible but I am encouraging that we read favorite texts out loud as if actors preparing for a scene. While doing so, it’s best to not assume a “performance” stance when reading. Instead we can take our time. We can think about what the words mean and slow down as we read, letting them roll off our tongues at their own pace. We can also select images that go with the words. For instance, if in Psalm 125, the line is, “Those who trust in the Lord are as Mt. Zion, which cannot be moved but abides forever,” we can visualize a favorite mountain so that we can really take in the metaphor. When we do, we can see just how profound the words really are.

God gave us the power of the written word and the beauty of art. Why not let art inform the word and allow us to better understand Him, the Master Creator?

Lessons from the Board

2 Jun

“Surfing is so spiritual” is the ultimate cliche but I am continually in awe of what I learn from surfing. So I guess cliches are cliches for reasons; i.e. there is some truth in them.

This morning the waves were really choppy. Due to the wind and something about ocean currents that I know nothing about, it was hard to catch anything. As I sat on my board feeling the waves lap about I felt more like I was on a boat than a surf board. Yet there we all were – half of San Diego sitting there hopeful that something would come along and break cleanly.

I had been out the day before where to my delight, the conditions were perfect. I caught wave after wave after wave in gentle succession. And suddenly I realized, sometimes we just get lucky. Sometimes the conditions are ideal.

And when they aren’t, there isn’t a whole lot one can do.

As we all sat out there this morning, the conditions didn’t change really but every now and then a swell formed on the horizon showing promise. At that, all of us in the line up took our positions: board pointing towards shore, belly on board, toes slightly curled, paddle, paddle, paddle. And then a random few of us were blessed by being in the right place at the right time. Similar to when a plane taxis on the runway and builds momentum to take-off, a surfer knows when one’s efforts and the wave’s power create enough synergy to stand and ride.

As I rode a wave with another surfer next to me who was insanely polite and indicated for me to stay on the wave and not drop off because of him, I afterwards thanked him. “You’re the most polite person out here,” I said for I have seen this guy before and he truly is courteous to others on a party wave. “Did you enjoy that wave?” He asked. I nodded. “And I did too and we both got to ride it. Praise God!” And I looked at him and said, “Praise God indeed.”

Praise God indeed. I have so outgrown the belief that I am omnipotent and can just make anything happen in my life because I will it hard enough. I know that for every wave I catch, one can viciously knock me down. So yes, I praise God for every blessing that happens to come my way.

Some days I totally wipe out. Sometimes it’s my fault. I’m tired, not paying attention and just do stupid things. And sometimes I have a grandiose sense of what I’m capable of and take risks I shouldn’t. Yet other times, I simply fall victim to the ocean’s currents – to the force that moves me beyond my control. And I do my best to work with it and stay out of harm’s way. But I will not get out of the water. I will keep paddling out. I will keep learning the lessons and keep taking the blessings. And yes, everyday I will praise God for his magnificent creation and will wait patiently for that perfect break that I can ride in all the way to shore.