Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Parker Palmer

We all need to get away from political garbage. To cleanse our minds, I offer the words of Parker Palmer, a spiritual leader whom Krista Tippett likes to interview for On Being.
[W]hen I went to Union Theological Seminary in New York City for a year, . . . God spoke to me and said he wanted me to get the hell out of the church.   
Palmer does not trash religion or cling to religion. He recognizes its worth for some but knows that today he can awaken spiritual awareness in more people by not going through religion. He joined an intentional Quaker community where he was given the gift of understanding, 
that the value of a person has absolutely nothing to do with status, power, income, leverage. . . . I made the exact same base salary as an 18-year-old coming to cook in the kitchen or work in the garden. . .
Parker sees each of us having to find our own way to our true self. He calls this self the soul. 
And if the word “soul” doesn’t work for you, it’s “identity” and “integrity” in the language of secular humanism.
It’s the “spark of the divine,” in the language of Hasidic Judaism.
It’s “big self” or “no self” in the paradoxical language of Buddhism. Everybody has a name for it—different name—and nobody knows its true name.
I add that Christianity calls it the Christ within. I also call it the essential self and Higher Power.
Palmer’s book A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life captures my experience during what I call the womb/tomb period of my life, when I went back to the womb to be reborn, and spent time in a tomb to be resurrected. Palmer uses a different metaphor. 
[T]he soul is like a wild animal. . . . it knows how to survive in hard places. I learned about these qualities during bouts of depression. In that deadly darkness, the faculties I had always depended on collapsed.

My intellect was useless; my emotions were dead; my will was impotent; my ego was shattered. But from time to time, deep in the thickets of my inner wildness, I could sense the presence of something that knew how to stay alive even when the rest of me wanted to die. That something was my tough and tenacious soul.
             Yet despite its toughness, the soul is also shy. Just like a wild animal, it seeks safety in the dense underbrush, especially when other people are around.
     If we want to see a wild animal, we know that the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out. But if we walk quietly into the woods, sit patiently at the base of a tree, breathe with the earth, and fade into our surroundings, the wild creatures we seek might put in an appearance.
To allow the wild soul’s appearance, we can be facilitators for each other. And this requires listening.
no fixing, no saving, no advising, and no correcting . . . listen deeply to each other, . . . hear each other into speech. Which I think is another of the most critical tasks of our time. So many people unseen, unheard—they need to be heard into speech.
 So there are things we can do, but it’s a discipline.

Parker Palmer’s spiritual wisdom enters pleasingly into my ears. He finds the words for thoughts unutterable in straight prose. May we all practice the art of listening each other into awareness of the depth in our souls.


With the Dying       October 18, 2016

A 90-year-old gifted me by sharing some of her impressions as she moves toward death. For her, it is a peaceful journey full of gratefulness and no regrets. Not all persons close to death are so fortunate, but all deserve the kind of attention Parker Palmer advocates. 

He says when people sit with a dying person, they know they are doing more than taking up space. What is that “more”? Almost always they say something like, “I was simply being present.” We practice presence with a dying person, says Palmer, by honoring the soul and its destiny. 
“. . . we bear witness to another person’s journey into solitude.”
What does practicing presence mean to the dying person? Palmer has a hunch that comes from his own experience.
When I went into a deadly darkness that I had to walk alone, called clinical depression, I took comfort and strength from those few people who neither fled from me nor tried to save me but were simply present to me.
     Their willingness to be present revealed their faith that I had the inner resources to make this treacherous trek—quietly bolstering my faltering faith that perhaps, in fact, I did.
     I do not know yet what a dying person experiences. But this I do know. I would sooner die in the presence of someone practicing simple presence than I would die alone.
     And I know this as well: we are all dying, all the time. So why wait for the last few hours before offering each other our presence? It is a gift we can give and receive right now, in a circle of trust.
I have a hunch that the community of sisters with whom I attend Mass in Sacred Heart Chapel practice presence a lot. The spirit this creates fills the chapel. It helps to explain why I return week after week.



With the Sisters       October 26, 2016

I was surprised to receive glowing response to my last post.
One respondent asked if it’s all right to share my post with others. Because I’m asked this from time to time, I say OF COURSE to everyone who has this impulse. Some readers post my writings on Facebook, and I am flattered that they do.

Now my confession.
              The only reason I return to Eucharist week after week is the community of sisters and the larger community they attract. I have an awful time some Sundays absorbing the blows of that darn "Lord Father Son He Him His" God-talk. I don't believe the things everyone is forced by the Vatican to recite at Mass. To protect my integrity, I made the resolution years ago that I would not join in recitation of the Creed.

For the same reason I don’t make the sign of the cross. Years ago I signed the cross when Fr. Patrick McDarby intoned, “In the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sustainer.” That was before the disastrous Vatican clamp-down on liturgical language. See my writing about that fiasco. 

At Masses with women priests, we hear other inclusive versions. I wrote this for the website I created for Mary Magdalene, First Apostle, the Catholic womenpriest community in the St. Cloud area:
Central to the mission of Mary Magdalene, First Apostle, is inclusive language—references to our Creator/Source in terms that include the feminine so that God does not seem to be a god. At the beginning of Mass our presider says as we make the sign of the cross, “In the name of God our creator, Jesus our brother, and Holy Spirit Sophia.”
 We profess belief in multiple revelations of God and pray to the Beloved, the Gracious and Merciful One. We attend to the teachings of Jesus, our brother. Participants at our services appreciate the reflective doors of consciousness opened by our diverse images.
At St. Ben’s I love to join in the singing, although I’ve lost my good singing voice. In song and recitation, I change language offensive to me. “Father” as an image is not offensive but offensive is the Vatican imposing it as the ONLY image in our God-talk. I say “Our Mother.” 
In hymns I change “Lord” to “God,” which does not offend me because I can say “Mother God” and “God … She” but saying “Mother Lord” or “Lord . . . She” does not work. In the Gloria I sing “Blessed is One who comes in the name of God.”

A particularly annoying part of the Mass is called the “mystery of faith” or “Memorial Acclamation.” It has people proclaiming the death of a lord for supposedly saving the world. It conveys the image of St. Peter manning the entrance at the gates of heaven. How many people believe this myth? I think not many.

As the chapel obediently recites the imposed text, I proclaim the life of Christ alive in all of us. And instead of singing, “Savior of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection you have set us free,” I sing “by our cross and resurrection we set ourselves free.”
People resonate with the myth of Death and Resurrection because of its meaning for OUR lives. WE have deaths and resurrections in our lives. Daily living brings constant downturns followed by upturns and renewals.

I enjoy composing alternative texts to fit melodies written for offending texts that I refuse to say or sing. 
Again, I participate in the Mass for the spirit created by the people led by the sisters. In the chapel we together form what is called in religious terms the Body of Christ. For me Christ does not mean a male individual, but the spiritual entity at the heart of every human.



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