Vulernability

I know vulnerability doesn’t relate specifically with Christianity. But it seems to be the theme of late. At least this week. Ok, who am I kidding? It’s probably my life’s work. Why? Because I am lousy at it.

A couple of people directed my attention to this TED talk on vulnerability yesterday, so this morning I sat down with my cup of tea and decided to listen to it…. while I read email. Because, it’s about vulnerability, see, and what could it possibly say that would demand twenty minutes of my precious child-free writing time?

Oh, silly me. The speaker, Brené Brown, had me laughing and then nearly crying. Her delivery and story sounds very similar to mine. Her description of therapy? Right on the money. She hit home. Dammit.

I am a very enthusiastic person; I get SO EXCITED about things. Which means that I get equally crushed and disappointed too. I try to temper both ends: my enthusiasm can overwhelm others – so put a lid on that! And I don’t know how to deal with my disappointment – so I drive it inward and just leave me alone already. But without vulnerability we aren’t fully open to the full range of life’s experiences and emotions; I believe that that openness is one of the results and requirements of a full spiritual existence.

I know that my soul’s longing for the Divine is in large part a hunger for wholeness, a wholeness free from guilt, fear and shame. I’m a work in progress on that front. I talk a really good game, but I’m still working out the pieces in action in my own life. My husband has helped me in this regard more than any other person. He demands that I be vulnerable, and I love that and hate it, both at the same time. Being a mother has also opened me up to levels of vulnerability in ways I’d never expected. I don’t know how mothers of ten kids function: there are two living, breathing pieces of my heart walking around in this world. What happens to them, happens to me.

I’m starting to make progress. As much as my gut instinct is to flee from vulnerability (my own and others), I no longer feel that being safe, closed off and emotionally withdrawn is worth it. I’ve tasted just enough of the sweet fruit of being vulnerable that I’d like to go back for more. But fear, guilt and shame still block my path pretty regularly. You might not believe it, but writing publicly and personally in this blog has been a big step forward for me.

(Ok, now I’m terrified that this post is becoming all therapeutic and shit, and soon I’ll start talking about my relationship with my parents and sobbing at the keyboard, and you’ll laugh at me…. VULNERABILITY! FLEE!!)

Phew. Crisis averted. Diverted. Hey, see what I’m doing here? I’m avoiding being vulnerable!

The last few days I’ve felt sensitive. Like some one left the door to my heart open and I’m getting all drafty. How do I engage with the world and still be vulnerable? My Facebook page is filled with links to things that I believe we really need to pay attention to: modern-day wage slavery, struggles of people without health care or insurance policies that max out on the dying, religious fundamentalists that believe there should be no separation of church and state – so long as it’s their religion in charge (Rick Santorum, I’m staring at you), lists of corporations which (not who – they aren’t people!) are sneakily and insidiously bribing legislation…. the list goes on and it feels so overwhelming. Will my kids grow up in a country where they are at the mercy of big business? Will they have clean water and healthy food? Will a bunch of men who practice a religion we don’t be in charge of my daughter’s body? Will the ocean run out fish in my lifetime?

It’s so overwhelming some days. I don’t know how to engage with out shutting the door to my heart and putting on my Strident Know-it-all Scholarly Debater costume.

The only thing I know to do is breathe. One breath at a time. One moment at a time. This practice makes each task five times longer to complete. Getting through the grocery store alone with out freaking out over which apple to purchase can take a really long time.

But there it is.

Thoughts? How do you stay open to vulnerability and still get through your day?

And really, please click on the link to the TED talk. Best twenty minutes you’ll spend today.

Resolution

So I went to sutra study. I was able to read a few comments on yesterday’s post before I left, rather in a distracted rush, for yoga class and sutra study. Many of you made excellent points and I was left feeling awkward, silly and vulnerable. I particularly hate feeling vulnerable. I am much better at over thinking things, if you hadn’t noticed.

When I started this project I knew this quarter would be a challenge for me, but I didn’t realize just how hard it would be for me. I’ve spent most of this quarter practicing Christianity by not practicing the Pagan things and Hindu things I’d like to practice. As the comments brought home, that’s not actually a practice. And it’s not very true to Christianity. I ‘knew’ both of those things, but I didn’t know what else to do.

Like all of the major world religions, Christianity is a broad tradition that embraces both fundamentalism and a liberal side so open that many might not recognize it as Christian. Until only a few years ago I was within the Christian tradition thanks to the wide berth a living tradition offers, yet it took a while to recognize that it wasn’t my narrative, it wasn’t my story. Christianity’s symbolism runs deep, but it’s not my metaphor.

When I started this project with Hinduism last summer I faced some of the same issues: how do I practice without falling into the snare of legalism. I think this is the problem that faces people who haven’t embraced the narrative and found a home in the story of a faith. In my reading I kept bumping up against Vedic orthodoxy and I didn’t like it one bit. I kept looking for the parts that resonated with me, and when I got to Tantra I found my narrative thread.

But Christianity is not my story anymore. How many times can I repeat this? It’s not you, the reader, I need to convince, it’s me. I was at peace with this, until I tried to return. And I can’t. There is no returning for me. And that’s what I realized on my drive to yoga. A huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I wanted to cry. I felt exposed.  Look at how ridiculous I’m being – and in ‘public’ too!

How do I stay true to the ‘rules’ I’ve set for myself on this project? I guess I stay true to them by staying true to myself. That means getting back to my practices – back to MY practices. I can finish out this quarter engaging with Christianity, engaging with a beautiful, rich tradition that has given me so much. But I won’t and don’t have to practice.

Several years ago, when I was studying with T Thorn Coyle, I used to beat myself up if I didn’t meditate for at least 20 minutes. And then I realized, the tools are there for me; I’m not here for the tools. Meditation isn’t going to come knocking on my door and ask why I shorted it ten minutes. Or forgot to show up. No, meditation is my tool to use for my liberation. Same with this project, same with this work, same for my path. They are tools that serve me, not the other way around. The point of this project was to get clear and to struggle and to find out more about myself and my practice, and I’d say it’s working!

I’ve been neglecting several things, all in the spirit of ‘not practicing.’ I haven’t set up my altars in my office. I’ve had this wonderful (if cold) new space for several weeks and it’s still unfinished and chaotic. I haven’t been doing my sitting or my prayers or making kala. Boy, do I feel the effects of not practicing! With the exception of the meditative mercy prayer, there hasn’t been anything else to fill the space. That is silly and not particularly helpful.

During yoga class we worked on back bends, which open up the front body, especially the space around the heart and breast bone. That exacerbated my feelings of vulnerability and at several points during class I wanted to cry. I’m not a crier and wish I was. I think it would be healthier for me. Yoga sutra study was nice but not what I’d made it out to be in my head. I felt foolish for making such a big deal about it. I still feel foolish.

humility, vulnerability, and resolution were the themes for me last night and they carry over this morning. On more than one occasion I’ve been encouraged to stop over thinking everything, to get more honest, more vulnerable, more personal here and it’s a struggle for me. But last night was a great gift to me, a release, a resolution. Thanks for helping me along.

Conflict

My lunch today was amazing. Like, really, really delicious. But the conversation was good too. Husband and kids and I sat around the table talking about the day thus far. ‘Oh I’m going to yoga tonight,’ I said, ‘but I’m undecided if I’ll stay on for the yoga sutras study group.’ After explaining myself, my husband just looked at me and said, ‘Why don’t you write about this?’ Good point.

So, here’s what I told him. After yoga class tonight – asana, physical practice – I’ve been invited to stay for a monthly study group of the yoga sutras, the philosophical and spiritual foundational text of classical yoga. It’s kind of like bible study, for yogis. Neat! But it doesn’t fit in with my Christian quarter.

Of course, I’m not really practicing much Christianity this quarter, am I? I’m practicing by not practicing the other things that make up my personal spiritual practice. Before, I used to get on my case about not practicing enough. I felt like I didn’t have a very dedicated practice at all, not compared to before I had kids, where I’d do forty minutes of yoga asana and thirty minutes of meditation every morning! But now that I’m not practicing other things I see just how much practice I had going, and how integrated into my entire day it was. As I’ve said before, that’s good information. I might never have discovered that were it not for this quarter!

My husband said, ‘What kind of Christianity are you trying to practice? It never would have bothered you five years ago when you still thought of yourself as Christian.’ He has a very good point. Except that five years ago I wouldn’t have viewed or approached the yoga sutras as they are: spiritual, foundational texts. I now see and embrace yoga as part of the greater Hindu tradition.

I could not stay tonight and attend next month, after my quarters shift again. That’s what I’m tempted to do. I want to stay true the aims of this blog project, on the other hand, maybe I’m making to big a deal over nothing?

What do you think? Should I attend tonight, or not? Why?

Virgin Mary in Song

Let’s have some music for your weekend!

My kids are feeling poorly. I’m blogged out from all the coverage of the Pantheacon transgender/Z Budapest conflict/discussion. So let’s have some beauty! To song!

The most famous of all songs about the Virgin Mary is the Ave Maria, the Latin version of the Hail Mary: “Hail Mary, full of grace, God is with you; blessed are you among women and blessed it the fruit of your womb, Jesus; Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” This is a beautiful, simple prayer, that is essentially Marian theology distilled in to three sentences.

Let’s start with the most well known, and for good reason: Franz Schubert’s. I’m not sure who the singer or accompanist is but they do a very good job.

I recently read the following in an article, which is well worth reading in its entirety. (Thanks, Adam.)

‘Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria,” which surprised some music critics when it debuted in 1825: Schubert seldom showed religious feeling in his compositions, yet “Ave Maria” is a breathtaking work of adoration of the Virgin Mary. What was with the sudden piety? Schubert dryly answered: “I think this is due to the fact that I never forced devotion in myself and never compose hymns or prayers of that kind unless it overcomes me unawares; but then it is usually the right and true devotion.” This musical prayer became among the most familiar and enduring religious pieces in history.’

Franz Biebl’s version is perhaps my all time favorite choral work involving the Ave Maria. This version is done by the phenomenal all male ensemble, Chanticleer. (Check out the mustache on one of the singers!)

Another musical Marian form is the Stabat Mater, from a 12th century poem. During this time period a new form of devotion developed in Europe, centered on the Mater Dolorosa – the Sorrowful Mother. Stabat Mater, Latin for ‘the Mother stood’, or with the first line of the poem (Stabat Mater dolorosa), ‘the sorrowful Mother stood’. What did she stand next to? The cross and Jesus, her son, crucified upon it. (For the absolute best book I’ve read about this form of devotion and its development, read Rachel Fulton’s From Judgement to Passion.)

In graduate school I wrote an entire paper on this particular poem and its use in music. I listened to something approaching twenty settings of it. The following are a few that stood out to me.

Here is Pergolesi’s version:

Rossini’s:

Dvorák’s, perhaps the most well-known setting, certainly the most well-known to me.

For more modern interpretations, Arvo Pärt:

Penderecki’s also impressed me, but I can’t find a good clip of it.

Let us not forget the glorious Eastern Orthodox tradition and their many songs to the Theotokos! The Estonian Phiharmonic Chamber Choir is world-renown and made a CD focusing on Russian Orthodox hymns. It is superb and I highly recommend it.

Anyone know of some non-classical songs about Mary? Clearly my classical music background is getting the best of me! I know of one gospel song, The Virgin Mary had a Baby Boy, and Breath of Heaven by Amy Grant:

Have a great weekend!

 

Lent comes early this year

…For me, at least.

Today is Fat Tuesday. Not being culturally Catholic, I’ve never had a grasp on when Mardi Gras occurs, but I think it’s today – a huge blow out before Ash Wednesday tomorrow when Lent begins for Catholics and other Christians. Eastern Orthodoxy doesn’t have this tradition. The two weeks leading up to Lent (which begins next week for them) are Meat Fare (eat the meat) and Cheese Fare (eat all the dairy but no meat), where they wind down before their vegan Lenten fast.

I used to observe the Orthodox fast for Lent. I viewed it as a spring cleaning and a form of positive self- and spiritual discipline. It’s been a few years since I’ve observed it, since I’ve not had a spring free of pregnancy or breastfeeding for four years now. This year, I’m still nursing, but I am going to observe the fast – only in an entirely non-traditional way. Late last spring I read a bunch of material (among it Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes) that sold me on the primal/paleo style of eating. After eating that way more, but often less, for six months I felt great and had lost some of the baby weight I’d gained, but since arriving in the US we’ve reverted to a more standard American diet, and I’ve noticed some distinct results. I won’t go into detail, but I think I’ve got a gluten allergy. My form of Lent this year is to do a strict primal eating challenge. That takes me to end of this quarter; seeing as how I’m missing Easter, it all lines up nicely.

But let’s talk about Lent. I’ve talked before about fasting before (here and here). I think fasting is, over all, a beneficial practice, for our bodies and our spiritual practice, particularly for those of us, like myself, who are lucky enough to always have enough food to eat. Whether we go vegan, give up sugar, or fast from all food, the goal is to hone our senses, bodies, and focus – to gain strength from discipline, offer a sacrifice to the gods, and thus connect more deeply with the Divine. For some, fasting can bring about a trance-like or other euphoric experience.

But mostly? I hate the way Lent is discussed in the Western Christian tradition/s. In college, when I was most recently active in Protestant Christian life, people would talk about Lent and how they were giving up chocolate or something so banal and pointless as to actually make a mockery of the fast. I know, super judgmental, but there it is. That isn’t to say giving up chocolate couldn’t be a great start – after all, we need to set ourselves up for success, not failure and perhaps success with chocolate one year might lead to heftier goals the next. But generally, my experience was listening to people give up nothing costly and then forget about the practice in two weeks’ time.

On the flip side, the major theological idea underpinning Lent is suffering. The idea is that we fast so that we might share in the suffering of Christ. I have oodles of issues with this concept and I’m going to write about this…. later.

Here’s a breakdown of posts of I’m formulating and series I’m thinking of writing in the next five weeks:

I will finish my Testimony. I want to write about the Virgin Mary: a book review, discussion of some theology around her, and another music post for her. I have two additional books reviews I’m hoping to do: books by Rob Bell (and an interview/dialog with the person who recommended them to me) and one by Bertrand Russell. I also want to do a series on theological concepts in the Christian tradition: suffering, Incarnation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection. I may even attend a church service.

Are you observing Lent? If so, how? What does it mean to you? If you’re not Christian, is there some other way you ‘spring clean’?