Thursday, September 20, 2007

erosophy has moved

I won't be blogging here anymore, you'll find me at
(why? their layouts are much sexier. 'nuff said.)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

someone is baking

Someone in my apartment building is baking. At first I thought it might be cookies, but then I sniffed more intently and decided it could possibly be a cake. There is definitely the scent of vanilla and sugar in the air, and that golden-brown fresh-baked smell. It is both my gift and curse that I have this incredibly acute sense of smell.

Now, there is a part of me that wishes I could/would go and hunt down the source of this heavenly aroma. I wish I knew the people on my floor well enough that I could start knocking on doors and find out who was baking, and why. But the sad thing is that I actually do not know anyone else, even in the building. Sure, I can recognize faces, and the guy in the apartment next door I know owns a motorcycle and keeps odd hours, but I have no idea what his name is.

I sit here at my desk with five quotes staring me down, five quotes that are hanging above me in order to help focus my critical thinking for my thesis work. They are all quotes about "community" because "community" is my obsession, my quest, my holy grail. I have plenty of "conflagrations of community" (as Catherine Keller would call them) in my life. I draw on both the past and future possibilities in my dreams of community (as Marjorie Suchocki reminds me to do). I know that community is difficult and tenuous and "not automatically 'beloved'" (as Grace Jantzen puts it). And I realize that community should never force us to deny, stifle or smother out our differences (as Zigmunt Bauman challenges).

And so I sit, gazing at these quotes and dreaming of living where I can knock on my neighbour's door and ask what it is they are baking. I dream of taking my own fresh-baked cookies across the hall to the guy with the motorcycle. I long to make too much potato salad because I know that someone in my building is too busy to make dinner and would love to share mine.

Sometimes I think these dreams are silly and childish. Sometimes I wonder if I dream of these things because they are what the demographic I belong to are supposed to dream of. But part of me believes that I dream of these things because there is some desire deep within me (and maybe within others too?) to huddle together and share food and laughter and tears and touch. I'm interested in how we can do that with fidelity to our post-modern, post-Christian context, and how connection and community can, indeed, even save us.

It is tricky to put these two things together: the academic quotes and the heartfelt dreams. Right now I can feel the two both weighing heavily on my heart and mind, because they are still learning how to speak each other's languages and are still learning how to be patient enough to listen to one another. And yet I press on, convinced that somehow I might be able to say something that will take the desires of my heart and speak them back into my academic work in authentic and life-giving ways.

Maybe I'll go bake some cookies.


My quotes:

Catherine Keller: A conflagration of communities "cannot draw opaque boundaries around either its individuals or its communities.... it clusters locally and vines globally." (Apocalypse Now and Then. 218)

Marjorie Suchocki: "Who we are," as individuals and as 'the church', "depends upon our past and upon our future possibilities." (God, Christ, Church. 143)

Grace Jantzen: "Communities are not automatically paradise. Communities can be extremely powerful, and can use that power in destructive ways." "Community is not automatically 'beloved'." (Becoming Divine. 225)

Zigmunt Bauman: We need to employ "the republican model of unity, of an emergent unity which is a joint achievement of the agents engaged in self-identification pursuits, a unity which is an outcome, not an a priori given condition of shared life, a unity put together through negotiation and reconciliation, not the denial, stifling or smothering out of differences." (Liquid Modernity. 178)

Me: "Middle-class, North American congregations need to re-imagine what Christian Community looks like in their particular contexts."

Friday, September 14, 2007

I love this book

Ok friends, so I haven't been a prolific blogger lately because this fabulous book called Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert has been occupying all of my free moments since I bought it in the Denver airport Sunday morning. I was going to title this blog entry "you must read this book", but decided to just own up to loving the book, making a case for it, then letting you decide whether you must read this book (even though I think you really should read it, really).

It is a memoir of Elizabeth's year-long journey through Italy, India and Indonesia to pursue pleasure, devotion and balance. The book is insightful, funny, inspiring, and oh-so-lovely. I was laughing out loud on one page and then crying on the next.

I love how the spiritual wisdom and insight sit so comfortably next to funny stories, descriptions of amazing food, and tales of the pain that comes from living. The author doesn't claim to be an expert in meditation or prayer, but just does such a good job of articulating how a spiritual journey can unfold. One of my favourite parts was story 42 (there are 108+1 stories in the book, like a string of prayer beads) where she described a typical interaction between her and her mind when she tries to meditate, it made me laugh in recognition of the games my ego-mind plays to try and stay in control of situations.

The other thing I really love about the book is that it is not a story of self-denial and perfect devotional practice, it is the story of someone who takes time to enjoy the beauty and pleasures of life as well as spiritual discipline, which is so wise. What is the use of becoming a calm, centered person if you won't also let yourself enjoy the world? She writes about savouring meals, people, places, as well as not attaching to those things. So good.

I'm almost sad to have finished the book, I enjoyed living in it for awhile, watching someone else's journey of self and spiritual discovery unfold. But then again I have my own journey of spiritual self discovery to take, and it seems to be unfolding in some lovely ways. I can't wait to see what's around the next corner.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

ode to the pacific northwest

Flying in to Vancouver this morning I see what makes my heart leap: terrifyingly jagged mountain peaks with bright blue, tiny, jewel-like lakes nestled amidst the razor-like rocks. In spite it being the end of summer there is still snow dusted on some of the edges. In the distance, far above the jaggy peaks, loom flat-top giants whose shape betrays the terrible power that lies inside them.

This is what I love about the northwest, the dramatic, rough splendour of these mountains and the whole landscape. Towns humbly sit at the feet of these towering, rocky slopes. Even the clear-cut expanses do not and cannot touch the terrible peaks. Rivers wind their way to the flatter land that gives way to more majesty, the ocean, with more jagged peaks across the water.

It is this chaotic and dangerous landscape that my heart/soul/spirit calls "home", not the rolling hills and gentle expanse of the midwest, lovely as they are. The danger and the beauty and their juxtaposition terrify, thrill and humble me, all the while pulling deeply on my passion and desire..... so beautiful, so frightening, and so much like God. Hallelujah.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

midwest soft spot

Ok, so I have a very soft spot in my heart for the midwest, and whenever I travel here (right now I'm in Independence, Missouri until Sunday) I am reminded of that soft spot. I think the recollection started today with the barista at the Chicago airport Starbucks who kept calling me "ma'am": "was that an americano ma'am?" "What size did you want, ma'am?" "here you go ma'am." And then there was the kind man next to me on the flight to Kansas City who pointed out the spectacular rainbow we were flying over top of (I couldn't resist making a joke about feeling a little like Dorothy heading back over the rainbow to Kansas). And then there is the distinct possibility that we will have a thunderstorm tomorrow - I LOVE the thunderstorms here, they are incredible testimonies of power.

There are also all the people here that I'm fond of and the fond memories attached to many of the people and places. In spite of not always enjoying myself over the course of the four years I spent near here in Iowa, there were some really lovely times. And it is nice to come back to familiar things, like the noisy bugs that no one else seems to notice (I have a vivid memory of a campfire one evening where someone remarked on the quiet stillness of the night - quiet? still? I thought they were joking. They weren't), and that thick, humid smell in the air. Despite these being things that were initially annoying, they have come to be things that have a special place in my heart. It is amazing what places can do to you, and all it takes are the sensory inputs - the sounds and smells - to bring back floods of memories.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

souls are God's jewels

"You are as prone to love, as the sun is to shine."
- *Centuries of Meditation,* Thomas Traherne (1636-1674)

"You never enjoy the world aright, till the Sea itself flowers in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with the stars: and perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world, and more than so, because men and women are in it who are every one sole heirs as well as you. Till you can sing and rejoice and delight, as misers do in gold, and kings in scepters, you never enjoy the world."
- *Centuries of Meditation,* Thomas Traherne

"This world is a mirror of Infinite Beauty, yet no one sees it. It is a Temple of Majesty, yet no one regards it. It is the Paradise of God. It is more to man since he is fallen than it was before. It is the place of Angels and the Gate of Heaven."
- *Centuries of Meditation,* Thomas Traherne

"Souls are God's jewels."
- *Centuries of Meditation,* Thomas Traherne

on friendship

A post on Rachel Kramer Bussel's Lusty Lady blog called "On friendship" (caution when clicking, there's some nsfw adult content around her blog) inspired me to reflect on friendship in my own life.

Last week when I was out with some work friends, engaging in our normal discussions about God, meditation, and life, I was interested when one mentioned that they couldn't or didn't talk about this "stuff" with anyone else. I was interested because, when I take stock of my closer friends, I'm friends with them mostly because I can talk about that "stuff" with them. If I can't talk about God and spirituality with a person, I'm not likely to become good friends with them. This may sound incredibly pretentious and arrogant of me, and maybe it is, I'm willing to entertain the possibility, but at the same time, if I were silent about those things which are a huge part of who I am, I would feel like I was not bringing my whole self to the relationship.

I wonder sometimes how I got to where I am now in my life, when did I become this spiritual, mystic, ministerial seeker? But then I think back to, say, the sunny lunch hours in high school when my friends and I sat on a blanket in the grass and talked about what we thought the meaning of life might be, and my constant involvement in church, and so many other things, and then it seems obvious; I was bound to turn out this way. And so, pretentious or not, a projection of Shannon that didn't include the mystic Shannon would be hollow.

And so I find myself incredibly grateful for the friends I do have, the multiple people with whom I can share and who can share with me the things that are dear to our souls. If it were not for friends who push and prod and pique, I would not have found myself where I am today.

Thank you.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

birth announcement

Did you know that there is a new star being born? I just learned from this BBC News article that astronomers are watching carefully as a new stellar system is born to see how the process works and what they might learn about how our solar system was born.

Water vapor pouring down supersonically in vast quantities, matter spinning wildly, extreme hot and cold temperatures, extreme pressure - sounds like an awfully intense atmosphere in the stellar delivery room.

But births seem rarely to be quiet, passive, calm processes. There is uncertainty, there is pain, there is intensity, there is chaos; new life does not arrive quietly and unobtrusively. The image of a stellar birth seems closer to human birth than the image of a green plant slowly, quietly pushing it's way through soil.

But possibly there is room for many birth metaphors, many images of new life. Sometimes in my life new birth arrives slowly and quietly like the green plant, and sometimes arrives with chaos, uncertainty and pain. And yet new life always comes, and re/birth seems to arrive regularly. Awesome.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

more poetry

Ok, so I'm slightly obsessed with poetry lately, but I think that's ok; my guess is that it is kind of an epiphenomena of what's been going on with my soul as of late. So when I was at camp a few weeks ago, somehow Shakespeare's sonnets came up in discussion, and I, like virtually everyone else, had a sonnet still tucked away in the corners of my brain that I had memorized during high school. So I began to recall it, and as I did it was as if I were reading it for the first time, even though "I" "knew" the poem "by heart", it felt more like I was discovering the poem anew as I spoke it out loud, and in some ways it felt almost as if the poem were reading me, not I it. And it was an incredibly beautiful experience.

A large part of the beauty of this particular sonnet, for me, is in saying it out loud. For when I let the lines carry my voice, the very act of speaking the words with raw honesty seems to carry my body to a different place. The line that begins "Like to the lark..." always leaves me breathless with a racing heart by the time I get to the end of it, because I never pause between that line and the next. So partly out of physiology and partly because of the words themselves and what they point to, I am left gasping at the beauty of it all. And then the last two lines become a sort of contented sigh, passing through me like truths that cannot be harnessed, denied or controlled.

I am still swept away by the beauty of these words and the huge meaning they express in such brevity, amazing. There is a sense that I "understand" this poem now far better than I did when I memorized it for school, but there is also a sense that I have always "understood" the poem, in that the way I speak the words now is the result of continuous testing and re-speaking when I first learned them, and that too is a strange truth in itself. Perhaps this sonnet-remembrance experience has more in common with my spiritual journey than I first may have thought. Both are journeys of rediscovering something learned long ago that suddenly, under the right circumstances, has burst open with a supernova of meaning; a supernova that leaves both glittering beauty and a dark black hole..... kind of like the poem... Hm.

Sonnet # 29

When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featur'd like him, like him with friends possess'd,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.