Spiritual Leaders

Gaining knowledge is the first step to wisdom. Sharing it, is the first step to humanity.” – unknown

Several years ago I had a friend who was struggling to keep his marriage together after it was revealed that his wife was having a long-term affair. From time to time he’d recount some of the help and advice they were getting as they tried to heal – from therapists, friends and books. One of the most insightful pieces of advice he got was from his pastor who sagely counseled, “You are going to have to say ‘good-bye’ to that marriage. If you two are going to go forward, you will have to build a new marriage together.”

It takes a special role to be able to drop truth bombs and still be heard. Friends might be able to do it, but often have a vested interest in offering up advice. More often than not, they offer idiot compassion as therapist and author Lori Gottlieb calls it. “Idiot compassion is where you want to make somebody feel better, and so you don’t necessarily tell them the truth. And wise compassion is where you really hold up the mirror to them in a compassionate way, but you also deliver a very important truth bomb.”

Therapists can deliver truth bombs but I think we often forget that our spiritual leaders have that capacity too. Given that church affiliation in the US has dropped below 50% for the first time ever, I wonder if we are losing touch with a unique group of people who want to help and also celebrate with us.

Twelve years ago when I was in crisis going through a divorce, I was lucky enough to find my way to a meditation teacher that helped guide me into that practice that has changed my life in many ways. And often when I have a spiritual question or even a lapse in understanding, I will go to my meditation teacher.

I also have the added benefit of relationships with a number of pastors since my dad was in the profession. They teach me again and again that our spiritual leaders whether they be pastors, rabbis or yogis have deep wisdom and history to access whether or not you agree with every bullet point of their theology.

When I asked my dad about that job/role/life calling as a Presbyterian pastor in the years before he died he said,

“I never would have imagined, at 20 years old when I finally made the decision to go in to ministry, I never would have thought that this is what my life would be like. I am so grateful to God for what that has meant, the number of lives that I’ve been able to be a part of. One of the unique things about ministry is that you are able to be with people in some of the most precious, important, holy moments of their life . . . birth, death, baptism, marriage, funeral, crisis. A pastor steps in to the middle of someone’s life at those unique times and that is pretty rare.”

So on this day that is Good Friday for Christians and the start of Passover for Jews, I dedicate the post to all our spiritual leaders that are willing to help us through the important moments of our lives. May we all find ways to support and honor them.

(featured photo is one of my favorite pictures of my dad)

Learning Every Day

I am learning all the time. My tombstone will be my diploma.” – Eartha Kitt

I’d like to say that when I was growing up, it was a family tradition that we went around the table to say what we learned that day. I have a vague memory that we did in fact do that but as the third and youngest child, I think that maybe it fizzled out by the time it got to me.

Regardless, I’m happiest when I’m learning something every day. In fact I was happily driving alone in my car the other day to Costco, listening to a Brené Brown podcast and thinking in the back of my mind, my blog should be titled or subtitled “What I Learned Today.”

At possibly the very same moment, fellow blogger Rosaliene Bacchus of the Three Worlds, One Vision blog typed a comment, “Wynne, it’s a joy to witness, through your reflections, the way in which you learn from even the smallest experiences in your day-to-day life.”

My kids were 4 ½ years old and 7 months when this pandemic started. I find them fascinating to watch and interact with and I learn from them every day something about what it means to be human. But the isolation of this time and the slower pace of our schedule of activities meant I had to find sources of adult conversation, inspiration and meaning. What I’m listening to and reading has helped me not only learn how I can grow but also process the tidbits of what I see about how my kids grow.

Podcasts, which I can listen to in the car, when I’m cleaning or late at night when I’m getting exercise by repeatedly climbing the 47 stairs I have in my house, have brought so many experts and depth right to my doorstep: Krista Tippet’s quiet and spiritual On Being, Brené Brown’s insightful and research driven Unlocking Us, Dan Harris’ urbane and slightly sardonic mindfulness podcast Ten Percent Happier.

I read as much as I can – sometimes thrillers and spy novels that take me completely away from my life for an hour or two. But mostly I read as many blogs as I can and I’ve loved the books penned by fellow bloggers than I’ve read or am reading: The Twisted Circle by Rosaliene Bacchus, How to Heal Your Life by Tamara Kulish, Voices: Who’s In Charge of the Committee In My Head by Julia Preston and Be a Happier Parent or Laugh Trying by Betsy Kerekes.

It was on the Unlocking Us podcast (I think) that I heard neuroscientist David Eagleman talk about the research that we are powerfully influenced by the 5 people we spend the most time with. I’m delighted because I’ve been spending time with you all – you’ve inspired me, taught me, made me laugh and made me think. What a joy!

So, if you have a moment, please leave a comment about where you get your inspiration.

I’ll close with a quote from an On Being interview I heard with Thich Nhat Hang, “You have the right to make mistakes but you don’t have the right to continue making mistakes, you have to learn from your mistakes.

Here’s to always learning!

(featured photo by Pexels)

Secrets

Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard.” – Anne Sexton

This week when we are returning from holiday breaks always reminds me of one of the wackiest stories from when I was in business with two partners and we had almost 20 employees. On the Monday after New Years Day in 2008, I was in the office when the office manager came in to say that we hadn’t heard from our program manager, JE, since the Christmas party two weeks prior.

JE didn’t work for me but in a small company, I certainly knew him. I liked him too. He was smart, quiet and diligent about getting his work done. He’d left Microsoft six months before to come work for us and except for one scheduled break in late October, he’d always shown up. It wasn’t unusual for our folks to work from home, especially over the holidays but not answering emails and phone calls was definitely odd.

Since my two business partners to whom JE did report were in Mexico on a hang gliding trip, I jumped in to help. Thinking that maybe we could find his girlfriend’s name and call her to check in, I googled his name. The top result was a memo from the United Stated Department of Justice dated in October of the previous year (the same days of his scheduled absence) that read something like this:

“<JE’s full name>, 27, of <city>, WA was sentenced to six month in prison for his role as the leader of a software pirating group. He will be reporting to <low security prison> on January 1, 2008.”

Well, that explained why we couldn’t get ahold of him! When we finally talked with his girlfriend, she said that JE would be disappointed to know we’d found out because he didn’t want to let us down.

Of course, had he quit before he went to prison, we would have never looked for him!! Granted he had bigger things to worry about in the 8 weeks between sentencing and reporting to the facility but as a logical young man, it seemed obvious that if you don’t want people to look for you, you need to break up with them first.

I think of this often when someone is carrying a secret. It is an immense burden that sometimes precludes thinking and acting rationally. And often the secret itself prevents the carrier from finding the tools to heal – because developing any depth is dangerous, lest it unearth the core of what they are carrying. The secret has a life of its own that requires it to stay buried and drains a lot of energy to support itself.

At the time of my life when this happened, I had a secret too. I was unhappy in my marriage and way of life and I was diligently trying to keep that a secret, mostly from myself. I drank too much wine and then smoked cigarettes when I drank as a way to numb myself from feeling what was really going on.

Thinking back now, I realize that I was forcing myself daily to keep walking down a path that didn’t feel right. I was in a relationship that wasn’t supportive of me, I was in a business partnership with a charismatic that was making me crazy and I had developed no spiritual depth with which I could heal these wounds. All these secrets were a prison in their own way.

As it turned out, I kept my misery under wraps for another year after JE went to prison. Then the charismatic business partner told me of my husband’s infidelities and it all blew apart – the business and my marriage. Finally, no one had any secrets left and I could begin to heal. With nothing left buried, it was finally safe to develop some spiritual depth that carried me out of my prison. I can only hope that JE was able to heal once his secret was out as well.

(featured image from Pexels)

Deep Enough

“When you realize how perfect everything is, you will tilt you head back and laugh at the sky.” – Buddha

My honorary aunt and uncle came to visit recently. They were my parent’s best friends since before I was born so every time I’m with them, it feels like old times. Talking with my 92-year-old “uncle,” he asked about my son going to daycare all day during the week. “He seems so little for that” he says. And I agreed and added, “True, he is little. But I need the help.”

My uncle looked off, squinted his eyes as if he was trying and failing to imagine choosing to be a single parent, taking care of children, working and balancing it all. Then he looked back and gently said, “I guess I could see that” in a tone that confirmed he couldn’t.

My uncle is a renowned Biblical scholar and retired professor of Theology. He once spent 17 years writing a book on the gospel of Matthew. But he has very little practical knowledge of the world. Years ago my uncle visited a college in Texas and was sitting next to a rancher at a meet-and-greet dinner. The rancher said he had 300 head of cattle and my uncle asked how many cows that was. The rancher famously replied, “I don’t know about where you come from but here in Texas, our cows only have one head each.”

In the moments when I struggle to find any sense of the spiritual plane in my hectic life, I sometimes envy people like my uncle who seem to have created calm and ordered lives in which to acquire deep knowledge of the Divine. I would love to be so deep in the study of life, Mystery and God. But life has called me to be broad instead.

When I sit to meditate in the morning, I usually find I already am participating in the mystery of life, just in a different way than the enlightenment I imagine I could reach if I had hours to go deep. In the quiet moments before I wake my two kids and go full on to get them out the door, I often get a glimpse of the Divine and Universal Flow find right here in my beautiful, messy life.

Sure, I have popcorn in my bra and am changing diapers in the back of my SUV between dropping my daughter and school and my son at daycare but I don’t need to be a scholar to know that God is right there, laughing at the gentle touch between us.

My uncle has only been able to been so deep because he has my aunt who has handled almost all the details of their life, their kids and grandkids. At the end of their visit, she said to me with a smile and a wink on the way out, “I don’t know how you do it all.” And I felt the presence of God in that spark of knowing that passed between us.

(photo from Pexels)

Deep Knowing

“The inner life of any great thing will be incomprehensible to me until I develop and deepen an inner life of my own.” – Parker J. Palmer

I was standing in the crowded reception hall after my father’s funeral service greeting people, feeling the comfort of the huge tide of love for my dear father carry me through the ache of missing him when one of his close friends came up and whispered in my ear. She said, “You were his favorite.” I wanted to turn and joke with her that she said that to all the kids but the truth of it choked off any chance of reply. It was something that I knew way down deep but never would have said, something that I wanted so badly to be true because I loved him so, and something I needed to hear to affirm that bond I felt with him.

On the morning of November 7th, 2014 my 79-year-old father spent an hour or two reading in the sunshine on the back patio of the home he and my mom owned in Tucson, Arizona. He had just accepted a position as president of the board of an organization serving people in the Middle East and was planning out the next meeting while my mom was out playing golf. He must have felt the need to get some exercise so he placed his open book face down on the chair, put on his helmet, hopped on his bike and started riding the route that they often took through their quiet community. He’d gone three blocks when he hit a car coming through an intersection, suffered blunt trauma to his neck and died within a minute.

A year-and-a-half before he died, I was out walking my dog on a bright Seattle spring morning and the song Circle of Life from the Lion King came into my head. My eyes filled with tears as I knew my beloved father was going to die. It wasn’t an urgent feeling but just a recognition of the eventuality and an insistence on talking with him and writing about his life and faith. It was absurd on the face of it. I was too new in my spiritual path to relate to his, I wasn’t a writer and I’d heard his stories all my life. But the voice was clear that I listen. So I did. Over the next 18 months, I sat down and recorded conversations with my father.

So when my dad died that Friday morning, I was in the best place possible, if that can be true about a death. I’d said “good-bye” to my parents the week before when we’d met for breakfast in Seattle before they drove down to Tucson. That morning, my dad looked at me and said, “You look great.” Which I’d understood had nothing to do with my outward appearance but everything to do with the twinkle that was back in my eye. I had survived divorce, found myself and God on a meditation mat and spent that precious time listening to him. We’d spent so much intentional time together that there was a special closeness we’d developed on top of our father-daughter bond. There wasn’t anything that was left unsaid between us. I loved him and he loved me and saying it 1,000 more times wouldn’t make losing him any easier, I’d always want more.

My dad’s death made me know, really know, that the insistent voice, the voice I think of as the God voice, is a trusted Guide. As a Presbyterian pastor for 40 years, I know my dad led many people in faith. But I’d like to think that my spiritual awakening was his most proud accomplishment. Actually, that’s false modesty because I know it was just as I know I was his favorite. He bore witness to a life well-lived because of the deep joy, rich meaning and complete reassurance of a strong faith. Faith that carries us through the tough moments, seasons and challenges. Faith that leads us to do what we need to do. And I heard him and that carries me through the tough moments of losing him which is exactly what he wanted for me, for all of us.

It makes me ache for my brother and sister that they didn’t get the chance to talk to him the way that I did. And it makes me wonder about how God could provide for me so well but not them. But I’ve come to understand that we all got exactly what we needed. My spiritual path led me to be able to have those substantive conversations about faith before he died. It didn’t matter that my dad saw God through the lens as a Presbyterian and I see God through my Buddhist-Christian-meditative lens, we talked about what was crucial to a meaningful life. My siblings have a different experience of faith, life and my father that I believe has left them with an open question that they have an opportunity to solve. Whether or not they do so is their path.

I haven’t told anyone the secret my dad’s friend shared with me at his funeral until this post. As the youngest child in the family, my siblings never listen to me so I think it’s safe to assume they won’t read this and the secret is still safe. Being my dad’s favorite means honoring him with my life and maybe one day my siblings or my children will come to me wanting to know what I learned. And I’ll pass it on.

So, dear reader, I ask you: Is there anything your voice is telling you that you haven’t listened to yet?