The Cross and Lotus

The Wonderings of the Reverend Doctor Jennifer Tiernan


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“Why does the bishop hate me?”

So I am being moved, and before you point out that this is what I signed up for and I say “YES I KNOW” in all caps… we have only been where we are for two years.

My Piggy Earrings – A gift from Sam

For my son, who is 11, it has been a very stable two years after much unrest. He has a life here, Finally a school that is a good fit, friends, a pony.

When I found out from my DS the news, first I cried – because honestly I get to love the people in my church … yes even the grumpy and annoying ones… I love them…

Then I cried all the way home because I did not in any way AT ALL want to have this conversation with my son.

I figured the best approach was just to tell him. Like just ripping the band aid off rather than trying to peel if off slowly… that never works. So my husband and I picked Sam up at school and on the drive home as I wondered how to broach the subject. As if right on cue Sam says “I like that my mom is a pastor, well except when we have to move.” Sigh, OK God, I get it, now is the moment if I want to rip off that band-aid. I say, “Well actually I have to tell you something…”

Sam starts crying right away then goes into complete hysterics to the level where we have to pull over to the side of the road and give him time to settle down.

All the way home he just kept saying “Why, Why, Why, Why, Why… I am happy here… What about my school… Why does the bishop hate me…” etc, etc it went on and on.

“You need to tell your boss that I am not happy with this,” Sam said. I promised him that I would and indeed I did tell my DS that I had a message from my son that he was not amused.

This was one of those 20 minute car rides that felt like it lasted ohhh maybe 10,000 hours… my son gets out of the car in front of the parsonage. Face red, still streaked with tears, he slammed the door. I’m about to get out of the car and Sam turns around and hands me something… it is a pair of piggy earrings that one of the kids at school sells that I said I wanted… Sam says, “I got you these because I love you.”

Yes, Friends and readers, that is the moment when I felt like the crappiest parent on the planet…

… and I wondered about a God who would make me do this to my child.  Then of course I stated to think of Abraham… and the binding of Isaac

Lent has a way of tearing at us… gnawing at us… Pulling away our safety blanket… it is no wonder that in the UMC it is also the season when we get “the Call” to be sent once again into the wilderness… Leave the land you know and Go to the land that I will show you…

I wonder how Abraham’s family felt about it.  most likely they follow dutifully with tear stained faces…

 

 

 

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Albus Dumbledore – Where your treasure is there your heart will be also.

In Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus teaches us that the things that matter are not the kinds of things that clutter an attic or land us a starring role on hoarders. He tells us to store treasures in heaven to store intangible treasures that we are kept in a place where nothing can destroy them.Image

But I believe the most important part here is verse 21: Where your treasure is there your heart will be also.

I think Lent is a season of meditation on where our heart is… What is it that truly matters to us? Would what really matters be worth losing for all our other desires to be met?

Is our heart hard? Or is it soft and open? It is all about us…is there a barbed wire fence??? 

 

In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when Harry and Hermione enter the graveyard in Godrics Hollow they find this epitaph on the gravestone of  Albus Dumbledore’s sister “Where your treasure is there your heart will be also.” 

 

Arianna Dumbledore’s story is tragic… She is attacked as a young girl and becomes dangerous because she can’t control the use of her magic… So the family basically has to shelter her and care for her. Their entire life revolves around the care of this family member who is unable to take care of herself.

 

After the death of their mother, Albus Dumbledore becomes the primary caregiver for Arianna but listen to what he tells harry: 

 

“I resented it, Harry. I was gifted, I was brilliant. I wanted to escape. I wanted to shine. I wanted glory. Do not misunderstand me. I loved them… but I was selfish… so that, when my mother died, and I was left the responsibility of a damaged sister and a wayward brother, I returned to my village in anger and bitterness. Trapped and wasted, I thought! And then of course, he came…”  

 

HE, of course, was Grindelwald, an evil wizard, who entices Albus to plot a takeover of the world with him. But how do you take over the world when you have an invalid sister to care for? In an argument between Albus, Grindelwald and Aberforth she is killed by accident by one of them but…they never know.

 

Albus never forgives himself because it was his own ambitions and desire for power, his own selfishness that killed her. He went on to duel and defeat Grindelwald later but he confessed that it terrified him because Grindelwald knew his darkest secret.

 

So on Arianna’s headstone… is engraved… Matthew 6:21… Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  A warning and a reminder of what is at stake when we follow the ways of our own desire for power, glory and recognition. 

 

Grindelwald represents our shadow, right? The part of our self we just don’t want to confront? That thing that whispers in our ear about all we could have, all we could do if we would just follow the leading of our own ego. When Jesus is tempted in the wilderness, Satan gives him this same testing… You could have everything I can show you… if you would just bow down and worship me!

 

So friends, where is your heart? Do you even know where it is? I suggest that part of the work of Lent is to FIND it. Know where it is grounded. Know what is truly important in there… not the outside stuff… not your victories… but your treasure… the intangible one… the one that isn’t stuff.


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Lent – time to get real.

Lent – not a terribly popular subject in our “I’m wonderful I’m magical… it is all about me… life coach, feel goodie obsessed spiritual milieu.”

The invitation is to the shadow to come out and make itself known to us.  Generally people don’t want to send that invite.  The shadow makes an interesting date but not one that you necessarily want to invite home to spend the night.

 

I actually responded on a blog recently that telling our children how wonderful and perfect they are all the time and that they never do anything poorly was actually damaging… that is was better to let them know that being human is to some days be great and some days to kind of suck. I was deluged with a barrage of posts about what a horrible parent I must be (seriously, have you met my kid?).  But what worried me more is the fact that there is a whole mindset out there that people are perfect – that is the bottom line.  Kids are being taught to believe they are perfect and entitled to win and get everything they want. They know they have a shadow (believe me they do) but they are being taught to pretend it away or act as if it doesn’t matter.  

 

It is not wrong to see yourself as a beloved and divinely created child, capable of great things, beautiful things, and wonderful things!

 

And yet how far under the rug are we sweeping the fact that we are also capable of selfish things, mean things, cruel things.  No one wants to admit it and yet it is there so the carpet has a huge lump in the center.

 

There is no balance in this world… it is a world of opposites and polarization… and maybe this is what we are doing to our wholeness as well.

 

So come on people for 40 days… just BE REAL!

 

How about 40 days of NOT telling yourself how great you are?  Just that… How about firing that “life-coach” for 40 days and really dig around inside somewhere. How about realizing that no matter how many affirmations you say not every day is sunshine and lollipops.

 

Maybe I am not being fair… perhaps these are just personas that people put on… a brave face for the world… but I have come to dislike this persona in general… and feel often like ripping its mask off. 

 

I have been told by many people that they dislike Christianity because of the idea of “sin.”   Sin is a loaded and misused word for sure but how about a reclaiming of what that might really mean… where are the icky/sticky/yucky parts of you? The ones you work so hard to bury?  They must see the light of day and be integrated in order for us to really be enlightened/transformed/resurrected  otherwise you are fooling others but I can guarantee somewhere deep down you know you are not fooling yourself.  And you certainly are not fooling the divine mystery known to some as God. 

 

I say all this because I want it for myself… I want to be authentically human… which is to say I don’t want to be perfect but I want to be exactly who I am.

 

Lent is an invitation to the real world, the one we have to confront before we can understand the value of the empty tomb.


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Living With Depression

Living with Depression

No literally I live with it… my husband is suffering from severe depression.

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When a partner is depressed it is not always easy to figure out what to do.  Sure when a parishioner or someone in the community comes to me for pastoral counseling I know how to listen, be supportive, offer helpful feedback. But when it is the person who you connect with more than anyone else in the world… that is different, I am not able to do what I can do for others because it is like watching myself suffer in a mirror… it is just too intense, too close, too painful.

I married this person knowing this was part of the deal… it was in the realm of possibility because Ed suffered a debilitating depression in the past… but like ten years ago… as I have learned, having something in your mind as in the realm of possibility and being confronted with trying to help a partner who is falling apart before your eyes are two very different things.

At first I got angry… I decided I was going to be “The Advocate” and fight all his battles and protect him from the things that would hurt him… but that only ended up ripping me apart… and causing me a crazy amount of anxiety…

Then I decided I would just try to be helpful and supportive… make suggestions on what to do next… or how to proceed.  This ended up making me feel like I was micromanaging a 54 year old person… I didn’t like that feeling either…

All of these fix-it kind of strategies really were just to cover up the fact that this scares the shit out of me… down to my core… my rock is being eroded away by his sadness and there is nothing I can do to stop it… nothing I can do to make it better… and if I stop to think about it I feel like I am on that tightrope with no net… who will catch me if I fall if Ed can’t?

Ah and I then I remember that I am a person of faith and I know what is there to catch me…

Go to my contemplative fall back and try to just be in the moment…

The difficult decisions being made are whether Ed needs a partial day program or a full hospitalization…  what to do about finances because Ed’s helpful former employer (who appear to be minions of the devil)  have worked hard to block his unemployment benefits, causing even more stress and depression  of and course we need that money coming in to feed our kid and our fur family…

But living in fear of the future is not a helpful stance right now – so now I am just breathing – yes that is it… one breath in and one out… then another… and repeat…

Now I am just taking care of what is in front of me in ministry and whatever Ed needs help with at the moment and of course my child and everything else going on… but just one small bite at a time… otherwise I am liable to choke…


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Art and Poem Meditation: Wendell Berry

I love to use poetry and art in worship and meditation –  I have been meditating on this Berry poem in preparation for the season of Lent… and thought I would share… Enjoy! 

 

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Wendell Berry- On His Farm- 18″ x 30″ oil, by Greg Newbold
*used with permission of the artist*

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 

of everything ready-made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head. 
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer. 

When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you 
to die for profit they will let you know. 

So, friends, every day do something 
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor. 
Love someone who does not deserve it. 

Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed. 

Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias. 
Say that your main crop is the forest 
that you did not plant, 
that you will not live to harvest. 

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns. 
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees 
every thousand years. 

Listen to carrion — put your ear 
close, and hear the faint chattering 
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful 
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men. 

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child? 
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 

Go with your love to the fields. 
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts. 

As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. 

Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction. 
Practice resurrection. 

Wendell Berry
 
Check out this musical tribute to Wendell Berry:  http://wendellberrymusic.org/
 
Here is a link to the Blog of artist Greg Newbold, who kindly allowed me to share his amazing painting of Wendell Berry – see more of his beautiful work!: http://gregnewbold.blogspot.com/      http://www.gregnewbold.com/


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Meat Free

I am no longer eating meat. Really it is something I have wanted to do again for a long time but honestly a couple of things kind of stopped me: 

First:

I don’t eat any sugar or flour or any kind of process carbs, I also don’t eat any rice or pasta.  I have those food disciplines because of a long time battle with eating disorders… staying away from those things keeps me from binging and the binge/purge cycle or as I sometimes refer to it the ninth circle of hell.

This left me wondering what the heck I would eat if I didn’t eat meat.

Second: 

At some point being a vegetarian became not good enough for persons who do so for ethical reasons… it seems now either you are vegan or not doing it right – when I was a teenager it was good enough to be a vegetarian but the animal rights world has moved on since I have been paying close attention… 

So I felt a dilemma… given my above restrictions I was not very sure that getting rid of dairy was going to be tangible – and again if you don’t you’re doing it wrong…

The break in this impasse finally came for a couple of reasons… 

Firstly… my 11 year old son has basically shamed me…he became a vegetarian in April of 2013 and has stuck to it 100%… his philosophy, “if I love farm animals I shouldn’t eat them” is a simple statement of truth…  and since he IS 11 and been doing it for ten months straight now… even checks ingredients on candy… I know this is serious and he isn’t going back anytime soon… 

Then also I came to the realization I had to start somewhere… and do the best I could. I was never going to get anywhere with ethical food choices if I didn’t start somewhere. 

No, I can’t be vegan tomorrow, that would not be good for my food recovery which is vital to my well-being and sanity in this world… but I can begin… and just start making the changes I know I want to make but without sabotaging everything else… I worked with someone in food recovery who is vegan, to figure out what kinds of things I could eat as proteins I thought about it for about a month. I wanted to make sure I was really ready to give up animals as a source of protein… 

OK and so I did… and I am really, really glad to be on the other side of that leap

 

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I am going to rest here for a while but I know my next leap will be dairy… there is no denying that the dairy industry is cruel and humans don’t really need it anyhow… but damn, I love my half and half in my coffee and my Greek yogurt. There is yogurt that is soy (hurray) but there isn’t any soy creamer that isn’t full of sugar… (BOO HISS) 

I feel like I need to have a few months under my belt before facing the dairy dilemma but I have already switched over to soy cheese…

 


The last thing would be eggs to be truly vegan… and the jury is still out for me on this one. Mostly because I live in the country and there are in fact… in many of my neighbors yards… cruelty free eggs. I can see with my own eyes the living conditions of the chickens and they are better in most cases than my studio apartment on 108th street and Amsterdam…  the chickens are pets, they have names, they come inside the house to watch TV this is not factory farming, although some TV programming might count as cruel. 

 

So if my criteria on dairy and eggs are based on compassion… milk is out for sure… eggs jury is still out.

 

So my end goal right now is to be an ova-vegetarian but again, taking it a day at a time especially since the rest of my food disciplines makes it so tricky.

 

Perhaps you are bored to hear about my food? Well, ok, I will not post about it again until what I am sure will be the “Epic Dairy Post”.


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via negativa

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The Night of Enitharmon’s Joy – William Blake 1795

Do you ever go through a difficult season of life and wonder what God could possibly be thinking?   I have been having that feeling of late; as contemplative as I am by nature there has been quite a bit of “really?” and “What!”

And yet I must accept the real of the world as it appears…..not invest in the world of illusions as our ego tends towards.

One definition that I love of being contemplative is “A long loving look at the real”, no need to candy coat, no need to pretend I believe the BS and the hype, just gaze at the truth… both the horror and the beauty of it.

“People are mean”…well, people are broken and hurting creating their own illusions and little worlds.

“I Can’t catch a break”...who told you that you were entitled to one?

The truth is that life is not easy, being a Christian is not a magic pill you swallow to make things “nice” or your life “good” you are not going to pray yourself a parking space OR name it and claim it (despite what the false teachers of our “American brand” Christianity might tell you, ugh, that is a whole other topic).

I told my congregation I wish I could tell them otherwise because it might fill the church…but I can’t say it because God is not Santa who brings us gifts gift if we are good and coal if we are bad.

Case in point, Job: Job prays and makes sacrifice for his children to be safe…but those prayers do not protect his children, could never have done so.  Ed, Sam and I drove through Sandy Hook on Monday – nothing will make that hit home more than being in a town that is as normal and sweet as any you have ever seen…and yet has suffered the worst we can imagine.

We play a kind of Game in this world – our prayers are all variations on “let this cup pass”, musical chairs…oh let this not be my turn to be out…

But we are all “out” eventually. Suffering comes to all…sooner or later it comes…you don’t have to go out and look for some in order to get deep…just live long enough you’ll get it.  Don Bisson had said that some people get thrust into the darkness earlier than others due to life circumstance – that has been me..

I resonate so strongly with the Via Negativa just because of my experience. It is my spiritual path and I don’t resent it. In fact I have come to understand that it is a gift…but that took time.  The fact that it is not the common approach to God has sometimes made me feel odd, people note this different approach; I did at one time resent it.. but acceptance came when I realized that it cannot be helped. My path to God is the one that leads into the dark (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/627178/via-negativa).

The good news for me (and people like me) is that “darkness”  has not, in the tradition, been seen as a bad thing, in fact it is often seen as a sign that one is close…approaching God at a deep and perhaps terrifying level.  Standing so close to the fire of God that every illusion we create as a person and communally begins to melt like wax…

To me this is what is Fearful about God…not that God is a rule enforcer who is looking for me to step out of line so I can be punished…that is the kind of fear a human ego can understand; the kind that comes from living in a world where someone is always an authority over us.

The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom is not so much about submission to God as the next authority in a long line but rather the realization that all authorities are false and THAT my friend is scary stuff. There is no foundation, no anchor, no safe harbor, no net, nothing..

And even God as we thought we had come to understand God, is absent… shown to be our own projection..as soon as we unveil that truth.. God retreats deeper into the mystery.

So why do I muse on this now? Because somehow in the really bad crap going on right now I feel that call to the darkness of God that has somehow always been natural to me. The mysterious God makes sense to me.  I honor and wonder at the mystery of the whole thing.

I don’t believe God is absent nor do I see God or experience God much these days – hence the darkness of God’s extreme and alarming closeness.