“Spiritual activism is the balance of inner practice with justice work. Together they allow us to respond to the world’s pain without becoming reactive or passive. One’s mindful silence is like breathing compassion in. Activism is like breathing it back out.”-Jim Rigby
I read the above yesterday and decided to go to church. Jim, who is the author of that quote, is the minister at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. I am, at least on the books, a member there. I joined last Advent.
the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.
“the advent of television”
synonyms: arrival, appearance, emergence, materialization, occurrence, dawn, birth, rise, development;
Late last summer, the summer of 2012, I opened up a searching journey. I’ve struggled like hell with my path around/towards spirituality. I won’t link here, but you can search in the search box on the right of the screen with the tag “spirituality” and you’ll see some posts of that nature. Part of that journey has been reconciling my own experience of spirit and community, and what is commonly perceived as “Christianity” in today’s world. You know, the Tea Partying, hate the poor, damn the gays, keep the women modest and pregnant, political Christianity of the Right Wing.
And, I know they aren’t all like that. I do. But the institution of Christianity (the political powerful “Church”) is such that when I hear the word, there is an immediate short circuiting in my brain about what I personally experience as (w)holy and what is represented in the media. And I freeze in my steps. My personal spiritual resonance is with the Christ of my youth, the social justice bodhisattva, collectively connecting our time here and now in this world against Empire and for humanity, not the hateful, greedy, corporate virus I find in the modern day conservative image of a vengeful sky-daddy God.
I mean, fuck that noise. That’s not Christian.
As I said, I joined St. Andrews and I wasn’t sure if I did that because it was the holidays and I miss the mythos of Christ at Christmas, or if it was some kind of mid life crisis, or because St. Andrews comes the closest to that merger of social justice and wild radical spirituality that I long for. All of the above, why not.
That path seemed to stop this summer the week of June 12th when I received a call that my mother, already weakened and degraded by Alzheimers, had pneumonia. It hit her very fast and I was faced with the question.
Treat her and keep her alive or allow the disease to take it’s course and have her pass.
And you know? As much as I’d prayed to have The Question presented to me, I don’t know that I ever imagined feeling so small and so childlike, so hopelessly helplessly alone and unprepared to say the words to the Hospice nurses and to the staff at the nursing home of, “We need to let her go. No treatment other than palliative.”
I felt nothing but fear and guilt and shame in that moment, because I couldn’t stop the initial disease, because I was angry she’d been sick so long, ten years, to begin with, because I’d struggled with our relationship when she was well, because the last three years especially had been a torturous dance of ignoring, obsessing, desire for relief for her for me for my family, devastation that I’d never have the mother I wanted, never be mothered, while I was now trying to learn how to mother.
That week I watched her die, slowly, though I suppose by comparison to the ten years prior a week’s time was short. I felt extremely alone. You know the term godforsaken? That’s how it felt. It’s great term.
Those few days of her dying are not for sharing, not now not here, but they marked me. She passed in June, early on the morning of June 15th and I’ve felt stalled, stuck, in limbo, lost since that point. She is gone and I feel…strange.
I thought there would be relief, yes? A weight lifted off of me? I cannot say that to be true.
I have felt, through most of the summer and certainly into fall, heavier but hollow. Tired. There can never be enough sleep. I long for days where there are no plans, no engagement, no disruption. I lack motivation. Drinking doesn’t help (believe me, I’ve tried), and only leaves me feeling more tired.
Yes, grief, but a strange and backwards kind mangled up in family and dying before death. Yes, depression. Fine, fine but it feels like more then that. Acedia. A foul darkness, the old monks called it, this kind of torpor of the soul. And that’s surely what the last three months have felt like.
This summer you might not have thought me acedic or depressed, for I was breathing “out” the fire of activism, right? Writing like a madwoman, raging my lungs out at the Capitol, frenzied in my tweets and posts. I suppose I was breathing out the compassion (or something) in activism, without having a reserve of compassion inside. I was racing around as if I had a role or a path in that activism without pausing to truly know what that role was, and as such, have stalled like a car without gas, sputtered out like a lamp without oil.
I read Jim’s quote and I decided to go to church for the first time in nearly a year.
Today is the first day of Advent, and Advent is a time of preparation and self discovery. It is a time to await the Mystery that is born in each of us. A time to breathe in, wait, allow space, and renew.
I’ve never been very good at self reflective waiting, probably because I’ve been afraid of the things I will find, the feelings and the calling and the mission and discernment that goes along with it.
Today? The centering prayer was this piece of personal ass-kicking, by Ilene Dunn:
“It’s an odd space, not all the time the same but shape shifting,
A perplexing space when first you enter
puzzling to discern which shape it’s taken,
the space between here and there
between present pain and future relief,
between today’s hunger and tomorrow’s hunger-sating feast
the space between yearning hope and hope fulfilled.
Sometimes you find it shaped a waiting place
a waiting room where tomorrow’s hunger-sating hope-fulfillment lingers awaiting
someone else’s decision
or an event that is not yet,
or a circumstance still in process, still becoming,
a room where all you can do is wait, and wait, and wait…
impatient probably but your own volition barred and impotent.
Yet other times you find it a beckoning path,
summoning forth action of your own towards hope’s fulfilling
urging cessation of lethargy and hesitancy and procrastination,
calling for the first steps of your walking forward
a pathway that’s messy and fraught with potential pitfalls,
a rocky path that can upset the most carefully balanced apple cart.
Is one the more difficult shape?
Waiting room or beckoning path?
And how can you know for sure which shape you’ve entered,
the room for waiting or the path for walking?”
When I thought I was supposed to run down a beckoning path of journalistic activism, I went into the wrong space, and now I’ve had to face that waiting time, eddied, swirling, impotent and exhausted. I can hear the actual call and it isn’t at all what I thought it was, I am no online warrior, no gadfly, no politician.
My call is absolutely the work of justice but it is not what I thought it was and I’m only beginning to see what it actually is, this path. I may still be waiting a little, and there is a lot of breathing “in” I need to do.
As such, my blog will be much more personal. While I will write about justice, equality, rights and many of the same things I’ve written about in the past, the writing will be through a deeper, more vulnerable, and spiritual lens. I will probably still swear occasionally.
I welcome you along the way, but understand if you read elsewhere.
I wish you discernment and discovery in this month of Advent. Here is to that Mystery, even when we don’t know what it is, or what to do with it.