Sunday, May 29, 2016

What is true worship?

Sunday. I woke up thinking how much more gratifying it is to live life as the Beloved. Complete, perfectly loved by the Divine, without the need to seek (imperfect) love from fellow createds. I have known that perfect Love. The moment came unbidden. It was a split second, just as my eyes were halfway open after meditating in a yoga studio in Modesto, CA. It was a Saturday in March 2013. I had been meditating daily for three months to alleviate the anxiety attacks that started four months earlier. What I felt was this: I was awash in approval, in favor, I was being seen (by God) at my utmost self, in whom He took delight. I write this now and remember that in Scripture, that was how Jesus emerged from His baptism. A dove appeared, a voice said, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Oh my gosh! I have known that piece from the Bible since I was a child, and just now understood it in my spirit.

This afternoon, leaning against the dishwasher, I thought, "Why do they call it 'the sacrifice of praise'?" ("We bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord.") Is it such a big sacrifice to praise God? I guess if you didn't love Him it would be. But maybe "sacrifice" in this context isn't something that hurts, something that requires that we give up what means a lot to us. (Although yes, we'd have to give up our ego to surrender to God in faith. That would be a sacrifice of needing to be in control.) 

What if sacrifice means an offering, like in Old Testament times? I think that's closer to how it was meant to be read. Jesus, the ultimate Sacrifice, put an end to sacrificial lambs and other innocent animals, because He alone was the perfection that could please God. 

As we approach the throne of God to worship, we would be empty-handed if we did not bring the sacrifice of praise and acknowledge the extreme sacrifice made for us by His Lamb.

I was raised to believe that as a person born with original sin, I am tainted unless and until I have accepted Christ as my Savior. Then I can inherit the Kingdom as one of God's children. But that second part, being a child of God, well, I hadn't really given that much thought as an adult. To me it simply meant keeping a pure heart, staying innocent, guileless, faithful, kind—all the good stuff. You tiptoe to the throne, head low, hoping God the Dad is in a good mood, has seen you being good like Santa does, hears your troubles, grants your prayers very soon after you pray them.

But to worship as the Beloved! To simply open to the veiled truth that as the vessel of the Holy Spirit I am already and always filled with His perfect love, whether the emotional weather is stormy or calm, regardless of debt, deadlines, life-threatening illnesses or crude, rude, aggravating people getting in my face. Worship isn't merely a refueling of my spirituality. Love doesn't run out like that. Not perfect love, anyhow. It brims and overflows.

To worship as the Beloved strengthens me to spill unconditional love with every step, over every encounter with every person, animal, object, being, in every situation. To worship as the Beloved is to turn my face to the blinding light, keep it there, and keep seeing that Light in my darkest moments. It is to take only the minimum time possible to get past the jabs, the insults, the hurts, the slights, the disappointments in flawed fellow createds so that I can focus again on that Light, that completion that I am only in Him.

"He who began a good work in you
will be faithful to complete it in you...
You are his treasure
and He finds His pleasure in you." ~Philippians 1:6

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

How I made my peace with water

This post was sparked by the first annual writing contest hosted by in September 2015. The chosen theme was "Women and Water."

 Lusty villains are chasing a nubile woman. She steps gingerly into a basin of water, wrings herself out like a washcloth and dissolves. Her body reconstitutes itself elsewhere as she steps out of another container of water. No more bad guys in sight.

This is a scene from a movie I remember watching as a child. Another striking image, this time from a TV commercial: A woman lies spread-eagled on a life-size lotus afloat on a pond. Her expression is languid, making her seem unreachable.

Something about both scenes awoke the first stirrings of sensuality in me. Water symbolized escape—whether from danger, my straight-laced Catholic upbringing, or the tedium of reality, I wasn’t sure at the time.

When I was 14, my Dad retired from the Philippine Air Force, which meant we couldn’t live on base anymore. Our family moved from the city to a remote subdivision converted from rice fields. The nearest neighbor was a brisk walk over the hill. At sunset, the lizards on the walls joined the crickets in evening song. At night if you got out of your mosquito net to get a drink of water, the flying cockroaches dive-bombed you. It became a choice between enduring thirst or braving the wilds.

We had electricity but no phone lines or running water yet. We had a pump well in the back yard powered entirely by elbow grease. The water gushed out brown and greasy-smelling with every push on the roughhewn beam that served as the handle. Dad put a sock over the opening. That was our filter. One day a lady came looking for my parents, who weren’t home. She asked for a glass of water. I gave her one from the pitcher in the fridge. She knew, just by looking at it, that it wasn’t from the tap. When she didn’t take a drink, I glimpsed our new lifestyle as it must look to outsiders. Miraculously, no one in the family got sick when we moved to the sticks, apart from the first summer when I broke out in hives.

Our small house had a galvanized iron roof. When it rained, which was six months of the year in the tropics, the rain made pleasing pelting noises on the roof. It could either make you sleepy or help you focus. In high school I studied for a test with the sound of rain on the roof. I aced the exam. In the middle of Typhoon Didang Signal #4, I cowered under a blanket in bed, waiting for the roof to rip off and the fierce rain to pelt us in the dark. The roof stayed put, but by the next morning the trees stood nude.

As a grown woman, the thought of water inexplicably disturbs me. Not the kind in a bottle or out of the tap. The untamed force that tosses ships and hides alien-looking sea creatures. The torrential rains that release from grim clouds.  The malevolent waves that hurl across the ocean and rear up on shore to collapse and crush cars, buildings and the economies of small countries.

In California’s agricultural Central Valley where I live now, concrete irrigation canals snake through farmland, pasture, dairies and orchards to funnel water from mountain reservoirs to thirsty lowland. Some roads cross over these canals. I am always queasy driving over these short bridges. I have never learned to tread water, and I am short enough that my head would be under water if I tried to stand in a canal. That’s assuming one can stand. I suspect there is a current beneath that benign surface strong enough to pull your bloated body along for miles.

I go through a disaster checklist in case my car swerves and plunges into the canal. Unbuckle seatbelt. Hit the button to lower the window, or break it with the small hammer designed specifically for such a purpose. Take a big gulp of air and pray I get my head above water before it runs out. I have gotten much better at holding my breath and extending my exhales from three years of yoga.

While all of California withered to a crisp in the drought, and while forest fires brutalized hundreds of homes this summer, I nursed my distrust of water with shame.

The fear stalks me. One night on a cruise to the Caribbean, I could not bring myself to lean against the deck railing. The moon reflected off the inky waves. It might have been romantic if I weren’t bordering on bonkers. I kept squashing thoughts of climbing recklessly over the railing and flinging myself into the depths. Why would I even be thinking that? Who runs toward the beast?

The human body is about 60% water. Mine wants to retain all my water as though I had a personal scarcity. Sweating is a natural detox, but this midlife body disdains it. On the dance floor, while everyone around me secretes from palms, underarms, foreheads and backs, I remain uncomfortably hot and dry. If I tried hot yoga or sat in a sauna I would likely suffer heatstroke.

In times of trouble, my dreams are variations on water themes:  In one, I am trying desperately to drive a bus home over steep terrain. Just when I think I’m almost there, a flood renders the road impassable. Any dream dictionary will tell you that water stands for strong emotions. In my waking hours, I keep a tight grip on mine.

In the second theme, I feel the urge to pee, but the bathroom always has some faceless guy standing there. Or the windows don’t have blinds and there is absolutely no privacy. So I have to hold my water.

Recently, though, my relationship with water may have shifted. I teach midlife women a fusion called Ballroom Yoga. We undulate to the beat and the breath, shedding inhibitions and self-loathing, flooding with gratitude for the gift our bodies truly are. My husband says we move like water.

Water awakened me to my sensual nature when I was a girl, and as a woman I have come full circle to my sensuality and spirituality.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Forgiving vs forgetting "with generosity"

"Let us forget, with generosity, those who cannot love us." Pablo Neruda

One of the comments under this quote on author Elizabeth Gilbert's page was, "Never in my life has such an elegant 'fu** you' been written."
How do we forget "with generosity"?
We allow that those who did not love us—because they simply could not, those poor heart-challenged beings—we accept that they continue to exist, and thrive even, as we walk away and leave that arena of our loss for them to rule. We create our own corner of the universe, where they are not the center, but they are not barred at the doors, either. We face forward. We don't keep walking past that same sad arena, peeking in, keeping track and comparing, reliving every slight and injustice and pondering why, oh why, they did not see how deserving of love we really are.
This is why forgetting with generosity is healthier for us than just forgiving but never forgetting.
(notes to self in this month of love)