Posts Tagged ‘women’

A Teacher and a Preacher

November 21, 2013

I honor the place in you in which the entire Universe dwells, I honor the place in you which is of Love, of Integrity, of Wisdom and of Peace. When you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, we are One.”

- The meaning of the Sanskrit salutation Namaste

If Christ is in me and Christ is in you, we have something in common. We are no longer separate. We are no longer separated by so many miles—or by race or class or disease. We have something of our essence in common.”

- Br. Mark Brown, Society of Saint John the Evangelist

These quotations reveal a poignant similarity between the two paths of spirituality I walk – yoga and a private relationship with Christ. I’ve only just begun to explore the depth and breadth of either path. This interweaving of the two expands my capacity to know God within myself and to recognize God in others, my life and the world.

I believe it was the goodness and strategy of God that brought me into the spheres of two mentors, one for each path, who continue to have great influence on me and what I hope to offer the world.

Meaghan de Roos is a deeply inspired yoga teacher and co-founder, with her husband Gil Elhart, of Breathe Yoga Center in Norfolk, Va. Her classes are structured, informative and powerful. Too many times to count, I have felt awakened by her clearly stated, profound words coupled with thoughtfully led movement. Once, just before I participated in a difficult work meeting, I heard her say in a morning class, “Rest in your own center with your own Source.” I repeated this mantra silently to myself during the meeting and came through with my dignity and integrity intact.

Whitney Zimmerman Edwards is a humbly-brilliant, Episcopalian priest. She was recently named rector of Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Westport, Ct. Years ago in a women’s Bible study in Richmond, Va., she said, “We each write our own gospel with our lives.” This seemed revolutionary to me: that the story of God continues to be written through me, and that my story matters. Last fall, in response to my questioning how God could allow incredible evil to be perpetrated against children, she wrote, “God is not a thing as much as the cosmic well from which is born any of the goodness, grace, peace and healing you and I have ever known.” I’ve been pondering that sentence for a year.

In the foreword to Eknath Eswaran’s translation of the Hindu scripture The Bhagavad Gita, he describes adventurers dedicated to “knowing the knower”:

Yet there are always a few who are not content to spend their lives indoors. Simply knowing there is something unknown beyond their reach makes them acutely restless… This is true of adventurers of every kind, but especially of those who seek to explore not just mountains or jungles, but consciousness itself: whose real drive, we might say, is not so much to know the unknown but to know the knower… every now and then, like friends who have run off to some exotic land, they send back breathless messages… ‘Look at this view! Isn’t it breathtaking?’” (pp. 7-8)

At young ages, both Meaghan and Whitney were led to seek the Divine and testify to the deeper meaning of our existence. Each practices and, in her own authentic way, builds upon an ancient tradition. They send back “breathless messages” and lay paths and lend guiding hands for others to make their own journey.

Their respective ministries – one delivered in a studio, the other in a church – have led me to believe that both traditions can be mine and that I can delve into their synergies. It is going to require a commitment to deep study of the teachings of Jesus and an embodied investigation of the spiritual realm of yoga revealed through intense physical, meditative and breathing practices.

Day after day, Meaghan and Whitney give of their real and evolving selves to the healing of others and, as a result, the healing of the world. It takes great courage and a deep-rooted sense of purpose to be a seer who tells what she’s seen and admits she yearned to seek it in the first place.

I’m honored that both agreed to let me share with you a small glimpse into who they are and why I find them so inspiring. They both responded separately to the following set of emailed questions.

What in your life experience has most shaped your spiritual journey and what you believe to be true?

Meaghan: When I was 20 years old and a sophomore in college I developed an eating disorder that started as bulimia and progressed to full blown anorexia. I was at a cross roads where I had to decide if I wanted to live or die. I truly believe that my eating disorder was actually a deep longing for a fulfilled life, a searching for a connection to God, to something bigger than myself. Existing in the silence I was creating between my body and mind was a longing connected to my soul’s desire for healing and wholeness. That longing could be expressed in two ways: that of disconnect, cruelty, inward violence, and separation, or that of growth, connection to spirit, and a putting back together of fragmentation, therefore the possibility of wholeness. What I believe to be true from this experience is that there is shadow and there is light in all of us and that both are born of the desire to be at peace and to be happy, whole and free. In order to truly live in the light we have to be equally willing to be in the vulnerability of the shadow, of what we fear, and what causes us pain. We can’t selectively have one and numb the other. This is the fullness of life. And to me, it is what makes life worth breathing.

Whitney: Not long after my brother’s incarceration, our father drank until he died, and our mother did the same, only a little more slowly. I was left to my own devices at such a young age that I shudder to think what could have happened after leaving home with few possessions and a load of pain. But what did happen, instead, was grace, in the form of a grandmother who needed me almost as much as I needed her.

I was never allowed to visit my brother in a prison deep in the south. But a short ways down the river that ran beneath my bedroom window, there was a jail. So, I began my search there, which as best I could tell was the closest I could get to him and the events which had laid waste to our family and my innocence.

I didn’t go to jail looking for my life’s purpose: I went to find fellowship with the broken, the burdened and the blamed. I sought kinship in those who had suffered evils not spoken of in polite company and among them I came to know beauty beyond all evidence to the contrary and forgiveness for that which I cannot understand. And, most unexpectedly, in between the bars and gates and rolls of razored wire I kept meeting this character Jesus, who, it seems, had long awaited me. Jesus, who stretched out his arms upon the hard wood of the cross so that everyone might come within the reach of his saving embrace, was there living among men who had known and caused suffering beyond measure.

I went to prison looking for what had broken in me and by the grace of God I found Jesus and returned home every evening to tell my grandmother about him.  And somewhere, on that short stretch of river between the two, I was saved.

What is God to you? What kind of trust do you place in that God? How do you believe God works in your life?

Meaghan:  I have always felt a sense of connection to something bigger than myself. Early in life that was an experience of God in the way that people told me, as a man with a white beard and staff that lived in heaven and determined one’s goodness based on how one behaved. Over time my image of God became freer and more personal. It was later in life, in a class with my teacher Seane Corn, that I heard her describe God as the manifestation of truth and love. That really resonated with me and is most in alignment with how I experience God. God is the manifestation of truth and love in all things, a blade of grass, the ocean, an animal’s sweet face, a baby, a spider, the greatest joys in life, the deepest sorrow. There is no limit or separation in this manifestation of truth and love, and it is recognition of the goodness innately in all. I place enormous trust in my belief that everything in my life is happening to bring me to a greater understanding of truth and love. That means the easy moments in my life and, most definitely, the challenging ones. The stickier it gets, the more I squirm, the more I know God is all over it.

Whitney:  I long for God in ways that surprise, feed and compel me.  I was first able to articulate that longing as a teenager.  I found myself in the midst of the Rose Test Gardens in Portland, an impossibly beautiful and fragrant spot. Looking at the snowcapped Mt. Hood, with a petal in my fingertips and the fragrance on the hot, dry air I had this perfect and fleeting moment of bliss and at that very moment I heard in my mind “this is what grace is”. I also realized that I have chosen to ignore grace by closing myself off to it countless times. Until that point I don’t ever remember wondering or caring about the nature of grace, but suddenly my senses had proven the means by which I could understand an aspect of God. God is pure gift: delight, beauty, life, hope, wholeness, and God pursues me with much more faithfulness than I have ever pursued God. The more time I spend with God the more any worries, fears, anxieties and wounds of life take their proper place in my consciousness.

What did it take to put yourself out there?

Meaghan: I don’t know if I ever would have pictured myself getting up in front of people day after day giving instruction, offering insight into yoga as I have experienced it through my life, and hopefully creating a container where people can feel truly seen and held. Truth is, I was a painfully shy and introverted child who liked the safety of my own home and the feeling of my own bed. I couldn’t look a stranger in the eyes without a ripple of terror pulsing through my body. My parents pushed me to do it anyway, and although there was a time in my life when I resented them for it, I am extremely grateful now. I am still introverted and it requires a lot of my energy to teach yoga in the way that I do. There have been times along the way that I have questioned if I am cut out to do this work, but every time I sit with that question I am absolutely clear that this is my dharma (purpose). I know because it is where I am asked to learn the most about myself and how I want to show up on this planet. It asks me to grow in ways I couldn’t otherwise. It asks a lot of me because it is through my teaching that I am coming to understand why I am here.

Whitney:  My early story is a sad one, one that I do not tell often, but it deeply informs my care for others.  I have known pain so intimately that others’ pain does not frighten me.  Suffering is inevitable yet dreaded by all.  It is never welcome and yet it refines the soul like fire.  Our silly concerns, wasteful anxieties and selfish pursuits tend to burn off in the fires of pain and whenever that happens real and meaningful healing is possible, in the way that these epic fires burning across the West will prove the forests, making the conditions just right for an even healthier stand than there was before.  I am honored to draw close to people in those terrible moments and remind them of a strength they possess not to endure but to flourish; helping them navigate their fear and discover more of themselves and God in the process.

What do you see in your students or parishioners that you wish they could see?

Meaghan: I see myself in every student that comes to class. I see the vulnerability of what it means to be alive on the planet at this time. I see how connected and alike we all are despite our surface level differences. I see the courage, strength and dedication it takes to make a commitment to practice yoga and develop a willingness to bump up against what is uncomfortable. I see the beauty and the wisdom that is expressed in each individual as I witness a collective moving and breathing together. I see what it means to choose a different path, one that is not ordinary or easy. I see the sacrifices that are made to carve out that bit of time to be on a yoga mat in a life that is busy and filled with responsibility. Most of all I see God…the manifestation of truth and love embodied through the practice both on and off the mat. And it gives me hope.

Whitney: God is in everyone.  I am dedicated to witnessing to that and celebrating it.

A New Way Forward

March 14, 2012

I am 37.5 weeks pregnant. As I gradually become a mother to this growing babe and soul within me, my spiritual life has both deepened inwardly and been thrown off track outwardly.

I’ve only been to church a few times in the last nine months. I miss it, yet when I go to regular services, I wish it were different. Since taking part in this new creation, I want now more than ever to hear the feminine honored in church.

When I worship in community, I want to hear “Mother”’ as much as I hear “Father.” (I believe this would make a significant difference in how women are regarded politically, in this country and around the world. But that’s a topic for another day.)

Early in pregnancy and after reading Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon, I had a dream that the Mother Goddess, wearing khakis, came to visit me. In the dream I felt torn, as if I were abandoning the Christian God for the Mother. Doesn’t the all-encompassing entity I believe in include the Mother?

Some have said to me, “What a shame you can’t get past the words.” Yet the words I speak aloud in prayer or proclamation are important to me. Authenticity, especially in my relationship with God, is my lifeblood. It’s made me wonder if most others believe God is male or the words just don’t matter to them. I acknowledge that Jesus of Nazareth was a man. But beyond the span of that individual life, I don’t know. I hope Jesus Christ, the representative of God, is something entirely larger than mere male or female.

For Christmas, my brother-in-law gave me the New Zealand Prayer Book, an Anglican Book of Common Prayer that is intentionally and respectfully gender neutral. In the introduction, R.G. McCullough writes:

“We have gradually been compelled in our pilgrimage to start searching for ways to address God in language which is other than masculine and triumphal… Even new words are only a vehicle for the worship of God, so that we might reach for the things beyond the words in the language of the heart.”

My spiritual unmooring isn’t just about church liturgy. During pregnancy I’ve had to surrender control over my body to the mystery taking place inside me and to look there for God. During the first five and a half months of growing this baby, nausea kept me off my yoga mat, a sacred place that had previously helped me stay grounded and calm in my daily life. Once the nausea went away, I was able to resume a new kind of practice surrounded by 15 other round-bellied women one evening per week. Especially now that my days are quite busy preparing for my maternity leave from work, I’ve needed the permission to go within and connect with myself and with my baby.

I’ve been working on this posting for months, wondering all the while when it would say what I meant to express. I had a sense that I shouldn’t post it until after the recent WomanKind conference – a glorious, deeply meaningful day of 500 women exploring and celebrating their faith and their questions, led by wise female clergy and lay volunteers. Even while worrying about the impact of my changing spiritual places and practices, I’ve consistently felt protected by a power greater than myself and I knew that the day would hold answers for me.

Reverend Lauren Winner, Assistant Professor at Duke Divinity School and author of the beautiful Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, surmised in her closing WomanKind sermon that perhaps God was saying to us through the Exodus story, “You have already done more than enough. Now I simply want you to be with me.” Perhaps I’ve done enough in pregnancy simply by being a vessel for this Divine new creation. Perhaps now I can just be with God for the last weeks of this spiritual, physical and emotional journey.

Thankfully, when I meditate in the morning, God always shows, sits with me, and says to me, “It’s all going to be OK. I love you. I love that baby. I’m right here.”

This journey of pregnancy is almost over. Two more weeks to wait seems very long, though, now that my belly is big, my walk is slow, and my muscles ache. Yet there is still fat to add to my sweet boy’s body, cells still to develop in his brain, and tiny lungs that need more time to practice before they take their first breath of air.

Ten years ago, I took a Zen writing and painting workshop. During class, I drew an ink painting of a mother’s pregnant belly with a round melon-like baby inside. Along the curve of the belly, I inscribed a quotation from the Zen Buddhist teacher Dogen that reads “You should understand the meaning of giving birth to a child.”

I don’t yet, but I believe I’m on my way. When it comes time, I’m excited for my God-designed body to take over and birth not only a son, but a mother, a father, a family and a new way forward.

What’s on your A list?

July 20, 2010

A friend of mine is working towards a joint master’s degree from Duke University’s School of the Environment and Divinity School. It’s exciting to hear about her intention to combine the two fields of study for the good of the planet. Our conversations about all of the theology she is learning are incredibly enlightening and fun. They confirm my desire to work for social justice driven by an ever-unfolding understanding of the responsibility I’ve taken on by being a child of God. She recommended to me – a Bible neophyte – that I read the Old Testament’s Book of Amos for a good dose of social justice.

So I added “Read Amos” to my newly organized to-do list for the weekend. Last week I took a workshop on planning, focus and prioritization, an experience I hope will make me more “efficient and effective” (or at least punctual!) Particularly now that I have a super cute, salmon-pink planner making it all the more fun to get organized! One tip offered was to rank the importance and urgency of daily tasks with an A, B or C. I ranked reading Amos a B since “Pay Bills” was a bit more urgent, if not more important.
 
I wanted to read Amos without looking at the footnotes to see what I could absorb on my own. Luckily, it was pretty easy to get the gist of the following admonition from the Lord:

“I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:21-24)
 
You might recognize that last line from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. I yearn to hear more of its kind in church, to inspire and embolden us to follow his and others’ examples.

I admit though that I was feeling a bit anti-church this morning after reading about the Vatican’s including the ordination of women in the same “grave delict” category as the sexual abuse of children. If that kind of thinking is Christianity, what am I doing getting dressed up to go be a part of it? I then reminded myself that my church has two ordained women priests! So off I went and asked God to please let me hear something I need to get past my doubt.
 
I walk in and what’s being read aloud? Amos! Now, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard Amos in church. Granted, I’m usually late so I well could have missed it! I couldn’t help but feel that God had asked them to read it just for me, as a way to say, “Yes, you are meant to be here today.”

Adding to the list of grace-filled coincidences of the morning was priest Randy Hollerith’s sermon. In it, he noted how some people rank their to-do lists as A, B or C priorities. Hey! I just learned that little organizational trick in my training! Randy closed by saying, “The demand for justice is God’s ‘A’ priority.”

 
I was glad to be reminded of what needs to be at the top of my to-do list Monday morning. 
 
What’s on yours?

Wow, what a sight!

February 15, 2010

This weekend I had the immense pleasure of participating in WomanKind, an interfaith exploration of women’s spirituality hosted by the visionary St. James’s Episcopal Church in Richmond. It would not do the experience justice to recount all of the nuances here (such as the gorgeous Botticelli-inspired décor). However, I will share the most memorable moment for me.
 
It happened at the beginning of Saturday afternoon’s healing service. As I watched a parade of women, old and young, black and white, clergy and attendants make their way up the center aisle to the front of an estrogen-filled church; my eyes grew big as did my smile. Soon, the altar filled with women ministers and priests. I swallowed hard in disbelief and tears filled my eyes at the sight. There it was – ancient wisdom in feminine form. 
 
After years of wondering if I would find a resonant place in a tradition about a man, a doctrine historically dictated by men and churches led predominantly by male clergy, the altar scene yesterday was startling and life-changing. I have been greatly inspired by masculine messengers and interpreters of God, including a recent embrace of the Ultimate Messenger. Nothing, however, has ever moved me more than this scene of my own kind – woman kind – delivering spiritual guidance in Christ’s name.
 
I know it sounds predictable coming from me to want to see women clergy. I wonder what it was like for the other 399 or so women in attendance – many of whom seemed to be followers of the Christian tradition. I believe that few would deny the lack of feminine spiritual role models held up for us to learn from, respect, and revere. The dearth of women spoken about in the Christian church was a major stumbling block for me in surrendering to this path, until I realized that Christ himself is the embodiment of what I consider most gorgeously feminine: care, love, compassion, service and community. 
 
It isn’t that I don’t value what men bring to relationship, leadership and spiritual practice – I do, very much. Yet to surrender my heart, body and will to God is such a personal, vulnerable experience. If I am to do it within a particular tradition, I need to trust that I and all women are considered as valuable and valid as men in the eyes of the church. I’ve no doubt that we are equal in the heart and mind of Jesus, yet much of what has been built in His name has called into question the institution’s reverence for women.
 
Nothing can adequately convey the heart-opening power of seeing wise, white-haired female ministers with their warm smiles and distinguished voices sitting amongst an interracial mix of intellectually fabulous, young priestesses. Garbed in white robes with beautiful stoles, these women shared delivery of the Gospel and God’s spiritual food.   The first prayer began, “O God, Mother of endless generations” – that alone would have sold me. The service went on to speak of “God in the midst of her” in Psalm 46 and to analyze the unconditional, deeply intuitive understanding of Christ’s power by a very poor, very sick woman as written in Mark 5:25-34. (Thanks to the flawlessly crafted and moving sermon of Dr. Linda Powell Pruitt.)
 
I had the intimate joy of witnessing this with my mother, an early 70′s feminist, who raised my four sisters and me to believe that something different from what she had lived as a young woman of the 50′s was possible for us. We both wondered how much more welcoming church might have felt to her as a girl and to independent young women today were this service their first experience of Christianity.
 
Even when the Christian church develops more balance of spiritual leadership, I will never forget my first time – yesterday at WomanKind – realizing what is possible and being sure that I belong.

To what will you give your life?

October 26, 2009

I’m reading Things Seen and Unseen: A Year Lived in Faith , a memoir by Nora Gallagher, the super cool (I tried to think of more sophisticated adjective but read some of her work and you’ll know this fits) keynote speaker for this February’s WomanKind conference in Richmond. [note: the 2010 WK details will be up in November]

In the beginning of her book, Ms. Gallagher quotes the late civil rights activist Bishop Daniel Corrigan

“You don’t actually get up one morning and decide to die for something. You put your foot on a path and walk. One day, you look back, maybe fifty years, and say, ‘That’s what I gave my life for.’
 
You who are reading this, maybe you are 70, 26, 12 or almost 41 like me… What path are you on?   
 
The most I can say for myself is that I continue to walk the path of my own healing, growth and joy so that I may give my life for the healing, growth and joy of others. Now that’s a lofty statement! Yet per the good Bishop’s instructions, I’m simply putting my foot on a path and starting to walk.

(And let’s give Bishop Corrigan another heavenly shout out for supporting the right of women to be ordained priests!)

What will you give your life for?

Are we living in Hell?

October 6, 2009

Even though I’d like this site to be all about mind, body and heart goodness, I couldn’t not post anything about the public raping of women in broad daylight in Guinea. Minds, bodies and spirits ravaged for a lifetime by rifle barrels. Of course the world has known about “women as battlefield targets” for years now in Bosnia, Darfur, the Congo and elsewhere. I personally haven’t done a thing about it. Geez, where have I been?

When I was in the first grade, I wanted to be the Mighty Isis (a child of 70′s television and a feminist mother!) This is one of those times when I really wish I had her super hero powers and could use them to stop rape from being used as a diabolical weapon of warfare. Until then, the best resource I’ve found is this list of NGOs on Stop Rape Now the UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict.

God, help us.

Trust on a scale of 1 to 10

October 4, 2009

“I felt the strong bond that women have with each other regardless of how well they know each other, the compassion we have toward one another and the capacity at which we can whole-heartedly give and receive of ourselves.” – Women’s Circle participant

In a workshop a few years ago, we were asked to stand in front of a woman we didn’t know and sense how much she trusted other women on a scale of 1 to 10. I hesitantly yet honestly rated my partner a 4; she gave me a 9. Was I naïve to trust so willingly? No, I intuitively knew it was a gift from growing up with my own built-in women’s circle of four fun and devoted older sisters and a deeply loving mother.

My trust of the feminine has also been infused by my experience in a college sorority (I know, it’s true, hold your smirks), being witness to the strength and raw emotion of thousands of teen girls in Girls For A Change, and spending countless hours in women’s workshops opening my soul to be seen and felt by fellow travelers.

It was painful to so viscerally feel the walls inside this woman in front of me and wonder where her mistrust was born. Perhaps from an early experience of being abandoned – emotionally or physically – by a significant woman in her life who lacked the capacity to fully care for a child. Perhaps from the betrayal of adolescent girlfriends trying to mask their own insecurity. Or perhaps she found it difficult to trust the depth and tenderness of the feminine in herself, leading her to mistrust it in others and in the world.

While I’m grateful for my experience with the women in my life, I do understand what it’s like to have a hard time trusting what is unfamiliar or unknown. Just today I wondered, on a scale of one to ten, how much do I trust God’s will for me? It’s always a 10 in hindsight! Or easily an 8 when, conveniently, God’s will seems to match my own. However, it is certainly more of a 0 to 3 when I don’t yet understand, the answers aren’t clear and I feel I’m in a holding pattern (more like a cell!) with my yearning and confusion.

At those times, it takes all of I’ve got in mind, body and spirit to surrender to this something which “passes all understanding.”

I’m learning though, through gradual experience, that trust is indeed a more magical, empowering and tender way to live, a way that heals old fears. For me, practicing trust goes hand-in-hand with learning to receive. Opening my heart to another’s inherent goodness or to the care of a power infinitely greater than my human self, allows me to discover just how deeply I am seen, held and loved. It’s a moment-to-moment choice I choose to make again and again.

Opening to ourselves

September 2, 2009

I’ve spent a lot of time the past few years thinking about and practicing opening my heart. To others, to God, to possibility, within new relationships and old, during life on the upswing or in the middle of a downward spiral. It has required moment-to-moment awareness and perception of whether I am opening or closing.  (and sometimes I am completely clueless to either!)
 
This week one of my teachers asked me, “Is your heart opening to you?” I could tell this was a novel concept by the lump in my throat, tears welling in my eyes and the light bulb going on in my head.
 
Such a profound and necessary gesture. Beginning all the good we want to be and do for others by gently opening to ourselves first. You can try it if you’d like. Simply breathe into the center of your heart and feel it softly, subtly opening, like your favorite flower, to yourself.  The you that only you know.
 
For me, it is palpable and shifts me into a vulnerable place that is beautiful rather than scary. My shoulders relax, my chest exhales, my hips feel more grounded and I let go of efforting. 
 
Recently, the entire New York Times Magazine was dedicated to the empowerment of women and girls and its necessity for a healthy world.  (Thanks to the tireless Nicholas Kristof!!)
 
One Pakistani woman is quoted as saying A woman should know her limits, and if not, then it is her husband’s right to beat her.” Acknowledging that I am no cultural expert, I will boldly say that this woman could benefit from a little heart opening. Obviously, and likely unconsciously, she doesn’t feel it for herself much less her daughter-in-law.
 
In my opinion, all the empowerment programs and policies on the planet won’t make a real, lasting difference for girls and women until we open to that inward feeling of tenderness towards ourselves. That, I believe, will change the world.


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