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Archive for August, 2007

That’s my 7-word summary of today’s Gospel reading. Today is the feast of the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist, so the Gospel is the story of how Herodias used her daughter to trick Herod into executing John. When he promised the girl anything and she then asked for John’s head, I’m guessing that Herod knew very well that it wasn’t the right thing to do, and in truth, he really didn’t want to do it. But it seems he felt it was far worse to admit he made a mistake in his extravagant offer to the daughter of Herodias than to execute this man who disturbed him, yet at the same time intrigued him.

How do I compromise my values to save public face? I think our culture almost demands that we come across as “strong and confident”, even when we feel inadequate. The danger in this is that we can start to believe our own press. I’m thinking of the arrogance of some of our elected and appointed leaders in Washington, who make some terrible decisions with seemingly great confidence – where’s the humility?

I’ve found, with a lot of practice, that it’s not such a big deal to say, “I don’t know,” or “I made a mistake.” It’s really interesting when it happens in a classroom of new first-year students at university, who expect that professors must know everything and never make mistakes.

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I’m pretty exhausted this evening, having just returned from a lovely weekend near Cincinnati with kindred spirits from some other religious orders, driving directly to a picnic where I was to meet the people who belong to the Christian Life Community group I’m joining, and then to the once monthly 12 step meeting for women religious in recovery here in Detroit, where I continued the celebration of my 22nd anniversary sober. I often think of myself as an extrovert, but after all that interaction with people today, part of me just wants to crawl into bed and take the day off tomorrow. Maybe I WILL work at home…

en_big_book_anime.gifThe title of this post comes from the “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous. The authors list a number of promises (bottom of p. 83) that await those who practice the principles of the program, and one of them is, “We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.” I was reflecting on this promise today, thinking about the remarkable fact that indeed, I have been freed of much of the shame that used to torment me, that used to fuel my drinking, which in turn resulted in more remorse, creating a downward spiraling vicious circle.

Looking back now, I ask myself if I would do things differently if I had the chance to do them over, knowing what I now know. The answer is, “Absolutely!” But the gift of this promise is the realization that it has been the totality of life experience that has brought me to this stage of my spiritual journey. And I have come to love the woman I have become and am still becoming, having learned to love the lessons (at least eventually) that come with my struggles to live into the fullness of who God made me to be.

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Bicycle pilgrimage

Be sure to check out the new blog of Stephanie, “A pedal stroke closer to the monastery.” Stephanie, her sister, and her mom are bicycling from Montana to Minnesota, where Stephanie will enter a monastic community. Sag support is being provided by dad, who is hauling a trailer. Her reflections thus far are wonderful. I don’t know if she’ll continue to maintain the blog once she arrives, but even if it’s only for this month, it’s a gem of a blog. Check it out!

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Withholding information

mushrooms.jpg My brother used to talk about his bosses at a former employer in these terms: “Yeah, they think I’m a mushroom. They just keep me in the dark and feed me lots of s***.”

I’m still reading Wheatley’s “Leadership and the New Science.” A lot of what she says makes sense, and part of it reminded me of my brother’s playful take on the withholding of information. From page 99:

Everybody needs information to do their work. We are so needy of this resource that if we don’t get the real thing, we make it up. When rumors proliferate and gossip gets out of hand, it is always a sign that people lack the genuine article – honest, meaningful information.

It reminds me of the phrase “knowledge is power.” Unfortunately our western culture seems to encourage the hoarding of power. After all, if I share my power, there won’t be enough of it for me, right? If we could change this thought to “knowledge is nourishment,” maybe we’d realize we’d all get on much better and make better progress on building a better society promoting an open flow of information.

I don’t suppose any of us has to look too far to bring to mind an organization that starves us of information. Maybe it would be more heartening to share experiences of organizations that promote an open flow of information. I know that I work best with my colleagues at the university when we share information freely with each other. I can get stuck in solving a problem pretty easily, and once stuck, am much more likely to get unstuck sooner when I can get someone else’s take on the situation. I’m grateful that this is my primary experience of how we work together as colleagues. Still, I am often tempted to a kind of “go it alone” mentality, getting some kind of perverse satisfaction out of ruminating over some confusion much longer than necessary. I recognize this as nothing more than an inflated ego – or perhaps more accurately, a wounded ego that needs bolstering by a solo success. What a waste of time!

I invite you to join this conversation with anything this may have brought to your mind…

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You may be tired of hearing about the festival, but I have to say at least one more thing…

One of the things that makes it special is that it is a multi-generational gathering. Many women bring their children. The boys over a certain age have their own camp on the land, but everywhere else you see girls of every age hanging out with their moms, or with new friends their own age, striking out on their own, heading to activities at the Gaia girls tent or elsewhere. Wherever they are headed, many of them seem to be very independent and self-assured – probably due partly to the atmosphere of safety that the staff and “festie-goers” work so hard to maintain on the land. Losing track of one’s daughter in the real world is cause for panic, but at festival, many moms feel quite comfortable with letting their 7-12 year olds roam the land freely, knowing that everyone looks out for the little ones.

This brings me to another “Michigan moment.” I was at Night Stage one evening, and one of the performers, Doria Roberts (singer/songwriter, see picture below) invited all the girls to join her on the stage for one of the numbers she performed. I’m guessing about 100 girls ran down front to join her. It was a powerful moment, and I found myself thinking that these girls are our future.

doria_canyon.jpg

Anyway, I was pretty impressed by this young woman, who has also been recognized for community service and social activism. The festival organizers have worked to create a program that appeals to a wide variety of age groups. Obviously, with such a diverse group of women, there will be diverse tastes, and I must admit that I didn’t particularly care for some of the shows that were presented. But we all seemed to get along just fine, despite the great diversity of ages and tastes.

Makes me long to see in our world a little more willingness to put judgment aside and really learn from others who think and believe differently from each other. When that happens at a meaningful level, I believe that we discover we have a lot more in common than we thought we did.

Instead of fasting from food or some other kind of treat during Lent, might we fast from judgment and negativity? Could we do it for the sake of those girls?

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evo.jpg

I found myself looking back on my favorite memory of the 2007 Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. I was most moved by a performance/ritual by an ensemble calling themselves Evolution V (see picture above). Here’s the description from the program:

Evolution is a theatrical performance and ritualist ensemble of magical women. East coast meets west coast as Aleah Long (left), Yaniyah Pathfinder (right), and Ubaka Hill (second from left) converge on the Acoustic Stage with Kumu Kawaiae’a (pictured below), Victoria Kragt (second from right) and Queen (center). Evolution was inspired by the Great Mother, who beckons her daughters to call her names, embrace divine purpose and awaken to the creative healing powers, restoring balance and beauty to the Earth. Come fully present and ready for the Awakening.kumu.jpg

I could go on at length about the details of this experience, but I think I’ll leave you with just a single experience that has become etched on my soul. The ritual was opened by the Kumu, chanting an invocation in Hawaiian. This woman, who I also was drawn to in the Opening Ceremonies for the Festival, was a larger-than-life presence, or so it seemed to me. It seemed that every time she spoke, the wind answered by swirling around the natural amphitheater that is the Acoustic Stage area. It literally gave me goosebumps, and the temperature was in the high 80’s or low 90’s. And she left us with the thought that while it is our sacred duty to care for our Mother (the Earth), we should realize that she will survive. The question is whether or not we will act to make sure we work to create an environment that will allow us as a species to survive.


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I know, it sounds like kind of a nonsensical topic…I’m back to reading Wheatley’s “Leadership and the New Science” and just finished Chapter 5, “Change, Stability and Renewal: The Paradoxes of Self-Organizing Systems.” Here’s an interesting excerpt from p. 83:

If an organization seeks to develop these life-saving qualities of adaptability, it needs to open itself in many ways. Especially important is the organization’s relationship to information, particularly to that which is new and even disturbing.

An open organization doesn’t look for information that makes it feel good, that verifies its past and validates its present. It is deliberatively looking for information that might threaten its stability, knock it off balance, and open it to growth. This is so different from the way information is handled in well-defended organizations. In these, only information that confirms existing plans or leadership is let in. Closed off from disturbances, kept at equilibrium, such organizations run down, atrophy, and die.

Wheatley applies this to organizations. I think it also applies to spiritual and personal growth. It’s not always enjoyable to deal with new insights about myself, but I can say with complete honesty that I have no regrets about any of the things I’ve had to deal with in my life. I have a strong sense that God has guided me through a number of difficult times and has helped to come out with a stronger and truer sense of myself – the paradox of disequilibrium resulting in greater stability.

I also think it is good to reflect on this in the organizations I’m part of. I have often heard that one of the roles of religious in the RC Church is a prophetic one. Does that mean that whenever I question authority, I am fulfilling my prophetic call? I think not… But whenever I speak from my center, from what is deepest and truest in me, I believe that this is so, whether if confirms or disturbs the powers that be. Can I count on speaking from this place of deep integrity without ongoing discernment and prayer? Absolutely not!

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