Monday, February 15, 2010

New Turn in the Blogging Road

OK, this has really been happening for a while, and I've been meaning to make it more explicit.

After sustaining two blogs, "Trusting Delight" and "Freedom Diaries", for several months, I've decided to make life simpler and put the two into one. And since "Trusting Delight" has been the longer-running of the two, it is the one that will continue, until some good reason arises for a change.

I've surely had my ups and downs as a blogger, and recently I've noticed how easily I can become the servant of my blog, rather that being clear that the blog exists to serve me and some larger purpose that I get to determine.

I am now clear that I intend to use the blog as a place both to post current observations (like, "the early morning bird chorus is so much more vigorous these days!") or photos of artwork as well as to post pieces of the larger story of my midlife journey from Episcopal priest to free-lance human being and the unfolding adventure of being myself.

This larger story is a midlife story of self-discovery and freedom, a "coming of age at 55" story, an ecclesiastical story through 24 years of being ordained and out the other side, and a theological and spiritual story of an evolving faith apart from religious beliefs, finding myself more grateful and having more fun with the unfolding adventure of being alive and being myself.

Which means that I am not attempting to post polished pieces of the story, but to let the blog serve as my way of getting stuff written, and not keeping it hidden away in some journal. To be the vehicle for what Anne Lamott advises in Bird by Bird:

"Get it all down. Let it pour out of you onto the page. Write an incredibly shitty, self-indulgent, whiny, mewling first draft."

"Then," she adds, "take out as many of the excesses as you can."

Just for the record, I'm not going to worry about those excesses for now, which would be another excuse not to write or not to share what I'm writing. Although I do aim to be careful enough to be civil and thoughtful and compassionate in a basic kind of way.

If in the process it becomes clear that I really do need a distinctly separate blog for this purpose, I'll deal with that when the time comes. (And I thank you for rolling with me yet again!)

In the meantime, I really do appreciate and am grateful for all of you who keep reading my blogs. Many of you I do not know and may never know (although I do encourage you to leave comments if you feel like it). Others are the kind of faithful friends who make life much more enjoyable!

If you are someone who has enjoyed reading "Freedom Diaries" from time to time, I do hope you will continue to follow the story on "Trusting Delight". It's all the same story!

OK. Here we go!

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Tale of Two Vision Boards

Yesterday I moved back toward painting for the first time in quite a while, since well before Christmas. I'm not sure of all the factors involved in my choosing not to paint for so long, but I know some of them.

Getting in the rut of expecting too much from myself every time I pick up a brush is a biggie. It puts way too much pressure on the process of painting and really kills it, right then and there, except for those times when I can keep going and break through to a place of simply enjoying the process. This is not a new phenomenon for me, and I am sure it will be with me off and on for a long time to come.

Still, in addition to stuff like holiday shopping, cooking, traveling, having both daughters home from high school and college and in the house, there was another interesting development that I noticed. It has to do with my other primary means of creative expression: words, writing, language.

Here's an intriguing thing (to me, anyway, maybe not to you!). I know a little about the practice of making a "vision board" as a way to see and to hold an intention of what you wish to be or do or have in your life, a way of putting dreams, hopes, and goals into visible form. Some people make them to express dreams that they already have; some make them as a way of discovering what dreams are wanting to be claimed.

In the past year and a half, I have made two vision boards, using images and words pulled from magazines and catalogs. I honestly wasn't sure if I did it "right" either time, and until recently I wasn't so sure that the process "worked" for me, whatever that might mean.

But the two vision boards are so starkly different that I couldn't help but notice. The first one was full of images--of landscapes, windows, doors. And lots and lots of images of artwork--some snippets of famous paintings, some of lesser known ones that spoke to me when I saw them. That board had very, very few words, and the most significant of them were "Making Contact", and I included them mostly because they were inextricably connected to an image of a sculpture that I wanted to include.

The most recent vision board I made is almost ALL WORDS! Other than a central spiral image of (I think) a coral-colored chameleon's tail, and a few other pics I put in both to break up the design and to add some fun, everything on the board is a word or phrase. Without giving away all my secrets, I'll give you a sampling of the kinds of words on my board: Celebrate, Art, Joy, Color, Walking, Money, Free Expression, Home, Nature, Playing, Living Large. You get the idea.

So here's what's interesting about this, and suggestive that something about the process did work for me, perhaps on a level I couldn't fully appreciate until the second board took shape. Last year, my painting was the primary vehicle that seemed to be carrying me somewhere. It fueled my passion, my curiosity, my energy, my connection to the world around me. It has not "gone away" for the moment, but it seems to have moved into a different role, one I'm still figuring out. But it makes sense that last year's vision board was all about images, and especially about painted images, brushstrokes, bold shapes, colors, and such.

There were times, many times, when some part of me (like my frightened ego?) really wanted to know precisely what role painting was going to play in my future and why it made sense for me to do it so much in the present. Was it primarily a vessel (I often thought of a boat) that was carrying me across the river or sea that I needed to cross in order to reach a new shore? Or was it the new destination itself, part of the new landscape of my future/present?

It was, and is, probably both, some of each. And here's the thing: trying to pin painting down and get at an exact description of its role or function was not helpful, no matter how understandable was my desire to do so. I was still every much in what William Bridges calls "the neutral zone" of my major life transition, and by its very nature, neutral zones are undefined times and places, where you don't get to enjoy the certainty that you crave (at least the left brain, rational, linear, keep-things-predictable-and-under-control-at-all-times part of you). You don't yet know where you're headed.

Again and again I did my best to tame (sometimes more like bludgeon, I'm afraid) my need for certainty by repeating the mantra, "All I know for now is that I have to keep painting." And lying behind that mantra I also held onto a sentence from Gregg Levoy's book Callings: "The point of passion is mainly to follow, to let yourself love what you love, to respect your hunger and obey your thirst." Though I remembered it as, "The point of a passion is to follow it, not knowing where it will lead."

Now I seem to have returned to language as my primary vehicle of creative expression. Some days, many days, in fact, I feel as if I have SO much to say that I hardly know where to start. I feel as if I have waited so long to really get to writing the story of my journey from Episcopal priest to "free-lance human being" that there's now so much wanting to pour out of me that my two hands at the keyboard can barely keep up. The old image of holding a tiny cup under a waterfall comes to mind. I can only do what I can do one chunk of time by one chunk of time, and keep on going.

And find occasions and venues to start speaking, aloud, publicly, for the first time in quite a few years. It used to be something I did on a regular basis, I remind myself from time to time. I was a "preacher" after all!

But this time I look forward to speaking without the expectations and limitations of sermons, and without the cloak and clothing of ordination. "Outside the box" and "speak" are also on my new vision board.

Stay tuned. I have a feeling this is only just the beginning.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

How to Go to Church

Bekah is in Nashville on an "Alternative Winter Break" service project with a group from George Washington University. Although the trip itself and the work to be done are neither explicitly "faith-based" nor religious in nature, the students are being housed at the Belle Meade United Methodist Church in Nashville. (Bekah tells us that Belle Meade is the part of Nashville where Al Gore lives--an affluent residential area, in other words.)

As a kind of thank you to their hosts and perhaps even as a way of enjoying the support of the Belle Meade UMC congregation, the group from GW is attending church there this morning. Bekah was relieved to know they'd be attending the "traditional service" rather than the "praise service" earlier in the day. Still, at risk of putting words in her mouth, I believe it's reasonably safe to say Bekah has at least some misgivings about attending church in the south, where even mainstream denominations like Methodists and Presbyterians are apt to have a decidedly different, often more conservative or more evangelical, flavor than what she prefers.

This morning I texted her the following suggestion: "Pretend your are a visitor from another planet, and be very very curious and very observant. Like, 'Wow, that's intriguing!' And enjoy singing."

I find that this kind of "from another planet, very very curious, semi-detached observer" stance can be very helpful when I decide to go to church. Sometimes from my observer stance I notice just how horrible a lot of the prayers and hymn texts are, even as I sing along to marvelous, beloved tunes. On All Saints' Day, for example, the hymns were so laden with images of earthly strife, struggle, pain, sadness, toil, battle, burden, and darkness associated with life here and now, while only life hereafter got joy, light, freedom, that I honestly wondered: "Who in their right mind would want to be part of THIS group?!"

As I've said in an earlier post, drawing in church, especially during the sermon, also helps. It brings out a different sort of observer in me--one that's happy to focus on some physical shapes and details in my immediate surroundings. Since drawing is an activity that often boosts my internal happiness, it puts me in a good space for enjoying what I enjoy, noticing what I don't, and letting that roll off my back as best I can.

Which relates to my best of all church-going advice to myself: to keep my expectations very very low. I feel kind of bad saying this, since I remember all too well how much I wanted to know that what I did as a priest in church, and especially what I said in my sermons, really made a significant positive difference in people's lives, and that the liturgies we offered were vehicles of grace. In addition, some of my friends are still clergy with similar hopes. But what's a blog worth if I don't tell the truth?

These days I'm happiest if I remember not to go to church needy, not to go looking for and hoping for affirmation or inspiration or inner peace or intimate community. To that end, it helps if I do my best to care for the happiness and well-being of my soul at home. And then, if I happen to glean a teeny taste of one of those aforementioned things at church (affirmation, inspiration inner peace, etc.), or even if I simply get to sing a hymn I like, or find myself amused at my inter-planetary observations, or feel a tad glad to participate in that ancient ritual of the eucharist (but really, I'd be SO much happier to eat something having more resemblance to real bread than those tasteless, wimpy, papery, stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth wafers, thank you very much), and to imagine that David's glad to have my company in church for a change--any one of those circumstances might warrant being called "a good day in church"!