tips, round 10

It’s been well over a month since my last collation of tips. And with the election over-is, being counted but over, I figure now’s a good time for an update. Enjoy.

September 28, 2020

Attend to the new life. Grief is something I know well. She is an old friend. We have our issues, but there is something comforting about her as well. I’m not as well acquainted with her counterpart, Birth. Partly because I’ve never been pregnant, never given birth. And yet, it’s important to step into this metaphor. Not because, as a woman, I need to embrace motherhood. No, we all—men, women, and non-binary—have birthing potential. We all participate in creating. Over the years, authors have called me their midwife. I have been part of the process of creation for them; I have shepherded their project from manuscript to book. Bearing witness to this creation process is gift. It has great responsibility. My own writing too is a birthing. It is a coming to be. After the last pose in a yoga class, savasana (corpse pose), the teacher often directs you to roll over to one side and slowly come up to sit. I used to find this silly. Can’t you just go from laying down to sitting? Why do you have to roll over and then sit? It seemed like an unnecessary step. And then I read an article about savasana and how it is an acknowledgment of death—our concrete death that we will someday experience and the little deaths we experience daily. The rolling over, though, is a rebirth. You roll onto your side, in the fetal position, to acknowledge the rebirthing. We are made new every day. As a Christian, I should have gotten this: we don’t stop at the tomb; resurrection happens. I don’t take that rolling over for granted anymore. I don’t skip it because it reminds me to find the new life in myself and in these days. With all the falling apart of 2020, it is essential to see the rebirths too. Or maybe not see them yet but trust that they are coming. As much as we are keeping vigil for what is passing, we are also keeping vigil for what is coming to be.

September 29, 2020

Let’s discuss sins. There’s a billboard in town. It says something along the lines of “If you are okay with being sinful and perpetuating sin, vote for Democrats.” There’s a lot of this moral fear-mongering going on. It happens every election cycle. Republicans say voting for Democrats is sinful; Democrats say Christians who vote Republican are hypocrites. We have bishops sending letters and making public statements about who the faithful should vote for. We have other bishops giving other advice. Some issues are discussed more fervently than others. Some issues are highlighted as more important than all others. (I’m looking at you, abortion.) The “Catholic vote” and “Christian vote” are coveted and/or pandered to. We draw lines in the sand. In John’s gospel, there’s a story about a woman and man who commit adultery. The man scampers away, out of the story, but the crowd brings the woman forward to Jesus. They want to stone her, put her to death. Jesus draws in the dirt. They keep pestering him about her. “Fine, do what you will,” he says. “Whichever one of you hasn’t sinned, go ahead and throw the first stone.” Then he goes back to drawing in the dirt. He’s utterly indifferent. The doodles take up his energy, until finally he looks up and realizes the crowd has left and the woman is watching him. “Where have they gone?” he asks. “They left. No one condemns me.” “Neither do I. Go. Sin no more.” It’s an odd detail, that he was drawing in the dirt. What was he doodling? Why wasn’t he wholly invested in this woman, in her fate? Maybe he needed to consider what the lines in the sand were and why they mattered. Maybe doodling was his way of working through a condemnation that was on his lips. Instead, he let it out through his fingers and then brushed it away so he could release it. Sin is rupture. It is what breaks, shatters, tears asunder. Sin divides community. Before excommunication became a thing to be threatened for political points, it was actually a meaningful way of understanding the effects your sin, your behavior, had on the community. What we do—good or ill—affects those around us. We are persons in community, and if we do something to harm the community, we need to reconcile. Excommunication was the way of reconciling. You were not cast out forever. You were told to sit back for a bit and think about what you’d done. Eventually, after repenting, you’d be welcomed back to the fold. It was a process. We have lost the grace of the process. We have also, as Christians, allowed ourselves to fall into a trap. Partly of our own making. We are being used. Yes, I do think that there are major problems with being a Christian and voting for the Republican ticket, especially right now. I vote Democratic because of my faith and what my religion has taught me about the dignity of human persons. This is a moral stance for me. I am not sinning by voting for Democrats. I think we’d all do better to remove sin language from our voting conversations. But, if it must be there, then let’s consider this: What creates rupture? What’s breaking our community? As we cast our votes, who will repair what has been broken? What services and programs will be put in place to support life—all life—rather than deny it? Can we look at the ways other issues impact the ones we hold most dear? We Christians are not a monolith. We never have been. We do, however, need to attend to our conscience, to the teachings of Christ, and to the intelligence God gave us. If we attend to these things, then we are not sinful, no matter what the bishop or some self-appointed moral busybody says.

September 30, 2020

Work it out. A practical tip for today. Because if you watched the debate, you soaked up some ugly. Even if you didn’t watch it, as we did not, you have probably read about it or seen friends posting about it or it’s somewhere in your awareness. Based on what I’ve read, it was not good. There were moments of grace, perhaps, as when Vice President Biden defended his son and said how very proud he is of him as he manages his addiction. But there’s a sense of heaviness, despair, astonishment, and grief among my friends posting about the debate. And rage. There’s a lot of rage. Those feelings are valid. Don’t dismiss them or think that I am. But at some point today, work it through your system. Take a walk. Drink lots of water. Dance. Shake your body. Yep, like the “Hokey Pokey.” Touch your toes and reach up to the sky. Drink more water. Yell. Just stand in the middle of your living room and let out a guttural, primal scream. Get the ugly out of your body. Get the heaviness and rage through your system. These things stagnate, and we don’t need that right now. Trump wants you to be weighed down by the oppressiveness of his hate. Resist it. See it. Grieve it. Then let it out of you. Because you don’t need to hold his crap. Don’t forget to drink water. And if all else fails, take a wee nap.

October 2, 2020

Think about your intentions. I’m not doing it. I’m not writing about the biggest news today. Because I’ve been reading all about it, and I’m a muddle of thoughts and feelings. So instead I’m going to write about the tip that’s been percolating for a few days. Yesterday was the start of the second thirty-day opportunities for yoga that Clara has offered. She started the challenge with the question of what our intentions are for this month. It’s a question that is often asked by teachers at the beginning of yoga classes, at least the ones I’ve been to. What are you bringing to the mat? What do you need to work on? What are you feeling, and where do you want to be? What’s the point of this time? What do you intend? You set an intention at the beginning of class that becomes a focus point. If your mind wanders, if you get frustrated with the poses, if you lose your balance—come back to your breath and to the intention you set. I find myself setting intentions throughout my day now: as I settle into working, as I write, as I scroll through social media. What is my intention with this time? It either validates what I’m doing or pulls my focus where it should be. Intention sets a tone. The writing and yoga that I’ve done have been integral in creating space for my art, for my being. They have centered me. This is a very self-involved focus. What do I need? What am I thinking? How am I operating? Wellness processes can tend toward that direction: all about me. But as I considered an intention for this month, two things came to mind: (1) What am I able to give to others because I give time to myself? (2) How might petition be a part of intention? The answer to the first remains to be seen. The second question, though, is a helpful reminder to think on behalf of others, consider their needs, see how I can step in or show up. This year of quarantine has me very comfortable with keeping distances. But that’s not always what’s required. At least not mentally or emotionally. So what can I intend for others? How can I use this time of self-inquiry and self-definition to radiate toward being in relationship with others? Can my intentions be bigger than me?

October 5, 2020

Let it be prayer. I have never understood religious superiority. I am Catholic. I love being Catholic. It has shaped me to be the person and thinker I am. But I recognize that my Catholicity is not only a choice but also an accident of my birth. I was born into a Catholic family. I could just as easily have been born into a Lutheran one, or Jewish, or Hindu. Would I recognize the Catholic Church as the one true church if that had been the case? Probably not. It takes a lot of arrogance to say your way of knowing, praising, and being with God is the only way. This way works for me, but I cannot help but notice that this world is big with a lot of people in it. God is also big, and while I think our tradition has experienced revelation, I don’t believe God withholds her revelation from others. I also don’t believe she reveals on a spectrum of “fullness”: we Catholics get the full revelation, but others get tastes, samplings, crumbs. God isn’t stingy like that. Today’s yoga classes were more meditation based. One of them was mantra. Mantra makes me uncomfortable: it involves chanting a phrase 108 times. Clara does a good job of explaining the god or goddess called on in a given mantra. Today’s was Durga, the Hindu warrior goddess. According to Clara, she is the goddess you turn to when you need courage, strength, and discipline. She represents the power of peace over evil. When mantra is involved in a class, I often sit quietly and listen. The repetition is soothing, calming. Even if it makes me uncomfortable, once I acknowledge that discomfort, it settles. My shoulders relax, and I feel the words I’m not even saying do something to my mind and body. It reminds me of monastic chanting of the Psalms. That too settles. The Psalms are full of praise and petition, lament and thanksgiving. They give strength in the midst of fear. They focus attention on God when one is caught up in being human. We like to draw lines between humans: who’s in or out; who does things the right way or who does them the wrong way; who has knowledge or wisdom and who doesn’t. But as I listened to the mantra today, I thought of a woman who carried peace in her womb and gave birth to God in the flesh to conquer evil. Lines blur. Matthew Fox notes that there is one River and many wells: one God and many ways to that God. One reason I love yoga is that it is showing me to another well. This too is prayer: it is sitting in the silence or amid the chants and letting God be big, overwhelming, abundant. I do not want a small God. No, I want a God who is so astoundingly creative that she has given us many ways to reach her.

October 6, 2020

Yes, we have been slapped in the face. Last week, Donald Trump was diagnosed with covid. The announcements of positive covid tests among Trump’s advisers and inner circle came swiftly. They’re still coming. I have been swept up in the news. I watched the Guardian’s live feed all weekend, seeing who was diagnosed when, what treatments they were getting, what new norms were being totally upended yet again. To my knowledge, during my lifetime, there hasn’t been so much uncertainty about the president’s health, the line of succession, and where we might go from here. It was strange. It’s still strange. There has been a lot of speculation about whether Trump is actually sick, when he fell ill, how sick he might be, if this is a stunt, what the treatments his doctors say he’s getting do, and what the treatments say about the severity of his illness. We have been trained to be distrustful of this administration. We don’t know who among his advisers or doctors are giving us facts. It’s all muddled. It’s not a pleasant place to be. And it has me thinking about the role of trust in government. A healthy amount of skepticism isn’t a bad thing when it comes to government. As citizens, we need to keep our eyes on what’s happening, be aware, be engaged, hold accountable. We do this by voting, calling representatives, working for legislation, running for office, or campaigning for issues we care deeply about. But when the whole foundation of an administration is deception, as Trump’s is, that makes it exhausting to constantly be searching and fighting for what’s true. Our next round of leaders will have a lot of cleaning up to do, a lot of rebuilding. They will have to earn our trust again. But we also have to learn how to turn off the high-alert buttons in our brains. Maybe not off but down. Trump has earned this skepticism; he has created the situation where it thrives. But I am very ready to stop second guessing anything that comes from the White House. Yesterday Trump tweeted that he was going to be released from the hospital. Good for him. I did not, at any point, wish his death. I want this nightmare to be over, but if I claim to be pro-life, which I do, then I can’t let myself wish death on these scumbags. I recognize that he’s caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people; he has perpetuated suffering and trauma on untold numbers of people; he has fostered a culture of death in America. He is not a good man. Still, I can’t condemn him to death. What I can do is recognize the complete injustice, the total slap in the face that he is. As he tries to take away health care from millions of people, he received cutting-edge care. As he was treated for a disease that he has called a hoax while knowing it was deadly, thousands of people have died of that same disease. As he tweets, “Don’t be afraid of covid. Don’t let it dominate your life,” people with preexisting conditions are living with the reality that this disease could kill them. While he was preemptively (at least that’s what the White House reported) admitted to the hospital, there are people who cannot get tested or receive proper care. The hypocrisy of it boils the blood. So yes, if you responded with disgust, if you have tried to untangle reports full of deception and confusion, if your stomach turns at the thought of the care he has received while others have languished in pain, fear, and uncertainty—that makes sense. We have been slapped in the face. We get to be angry about that.

October 7, 2020

It’s okay if you’re not into “unity” talk right now. I know I should be uniting. I know we’re all in this together. I know division serves no one except forces of chaos. But I’m not ready yet. I don’t know how to unite with people who still think kids should be in cages. I don’t know how to unite with people who still believe covid is a hoax, despite more than one million people dead and 35.5 million cases worldwide. And yes, I’m quoting global statistics because these people I’m supposed to unite with think America stands alone as the greatest nation on earth. We don’t and we aren’t. I don’t know how to unite with people who are okay with putting all of their beliefs aside for a single issue that is proven to be reduced in Democratic administrations. Yes, I’m talking about abortion. I don’t know how to unite with people who profess belief in the same God, the same Christ, the same Spirit I do and think their right to own a gun is compatible with this belief. I don’t know how to unite with people who claim to stand for “family values” and denigrate LGBTQ individuals while supporting a man who has displayed no values. I don’t know how to unite with people who claim “all lives matter” while not understanding how pointless that statement is when Black men, women, and children are being killed routinely. I’m not ready for unity. A few weeks ago my husband and I had a discussion about God and forgiveness and heaven and hell. Acknowledging that talk of the afterlife is completely speculative, I do believe there is a heaven. And I do believe in a God who is all-forgiving. If that’s the case, I don’t know how I can believe in a hell and damnation. Yes, even for the worst of the worst. This gets into sticky situations when we talk about people like Hitler and Dahmer and whatever evil person you want to mention. I believe in a God who forgives. And I believe in our wanting to be forgiven. That last part is essential. I do think that if a person turns to God, acknowledges guilt and sin, and repents, then forgiveness is offered. If not, what hope is there when we fail? I wrestle with this. I don’t want to share heaven with those who were evil in their lives. I am not the one who gets to decide that, though. But this post isn’t about the afterlife. It’s not about God’s forgiveness. It’s about mine. I’m not ready to talk about unity because I’m not ready to forgive people for what has happened over these four years. Donald Trump may be the figurehead, but he has unleashed a remarkable amount of ugliness in us. Those who still support him do so while knowing full well who he is and what he does. There is no deniability. When you know, you do better, but about a third of the US population is not doing better; they’re doubling down. I’m not ready to unite with them. Talk of unity tastes sour and bitter. I don’t know what it will take for me to forgive. Even if Biden wins the election, some of these folks will still believe children deserve to be caged. Unity won’t fix it.

October 12, 2020

Observe how you feel. We’re moving right along in 2020. It’s October, the middle of October. The Year of Upending is winding down. We are amazed by, astounded by, afraid of where we’ve been so far this year. We’re apprehensive about, uncertain of, nervous about what’s yet to come. I am so ready to be done with November 3. Get it here, pray good things happen, move forward. I am braced for impact. And no, I’m not even sure what the impact will be. But I’m braced. Yoga invites pauses. If you’ve never done yoga before, you might think it’s just a bunch of stretching, and how challenging is that, really? But it’s hard work. There’s balancing, bending, flowing, twisting, and, yes, stretching. Not to mention the emotions and thoughts that get moved around in yoga. There’s a lot happening as you move into and hold poses. What happens when you stretch something on the right side isn’t the same as what happens when you stretch that same thing on the left. Sometimes yoga instructors ask you to do a pose or sequence of poses and then “observe the difference.” Sit in a neutral position and see, now that you’ve twisted to the right, how does your body feel? What’s more open on the right side? What’s not? Okay, now we can twist to the left. We don’t stop very often to observe how we feel in our days. We move from one thing to another. It makes sense. Pausing to see how you feel in body, mind, and spirit takes time. We don’t always have time. But maybe today, as we move toward the end of this year that has changed so much in us, take time to observe how you feel. While you stir the soup of dinner, while you change the laundry, as you decide what to watch on television. Pause for a second. Observe what’s going on in your head and heart. Observe the differences. There are probably a few.

October 13, 2020

Find the holy place. I have long been fascinated by and interested in Native American tribes and cultures. In fifth grade, we studied tribes and their history in Mrs. Boos social studies class. I still remember a few things from the report I did on the Hopi. In high school, one of my teachers was close to the Lakota people at Pine Ridge Reservation. When I was in college, I went with her, along with another former student, to visit the reservation and some holy places. It was a trip that is still unfolding in me. In college, I took a class on Native American spirituality. That’s where I encountered Black Elk Speaks. It’s where I learned that Native Americans talk about the effects of actions seven generations down the line. What we experience now was effected by our ancestors; what will be experienced in the future will be effected by us. We are connected through time to those who have died and those who will be. We are never a separate generation, alone and disconnected. I have come to know a few atheists and agnostics, people who were not raised in a religion or who have turned away from it. They reject the hypocrisy and institutionalization of it, or religion has never made sense to them. They believe we are simply here and that there is no greater being involved; if a greater being is involved, it is not confined by religion and buildings. I understand the inclination to think this way, but it’s not something I’ll ever accept. I believe in God; that I believe to my core, despite the disagreements and issues I might have with her some days. I am amazed by the ways that other cultures embrace and articulate a belief in a being beyond the self. To me, that speaks of the universality of our creation. We all have our myths of how we arrived here. We all need to be created. Humans—no matter where they come from—need to make sense of their being. Often that involves divinity. In the postscript of Black Elk Speaks, the author recounts a trip to Harney Peak with Black Elk, where Black Elk prays: “Grandfather, Great Spirit, once more behold me on earth and lean to hear my feeble voice. You lived first, and you are older than all need, older than all prayer. All things belong to you—the two-legged, the four-legged, the wings of the air and all green things that live. You have set the powers of the four quarters to cross each other. The good road and the road of difficulties you have made to cross; and where they cross, the place is holy. Day in and day out, forever, you are the life of things.” Read that again: “The good road and the road of difficulties you have made to cross; and where they cross, the place is holy.” We are on a road of difficulty this year. I know of many people who are struggling with more than just covid, isolation, financial insecurity, and racism (as if that weren’t enough). This year has, for many, piled trauma on top of trauma. It is hard to see this as holy. And I don’t want to gloss over the pain and difficulty. Rather, I want to invite consideration of where the crossing of difficulty and goodness might be. This place of struggle, this place of despair, this place of upheaval—where does it cross with a place of goodness, a place of care, a place of restoration? That’s the holy spot. That’s where the Great Spirit is leading us.

October 14, 2020

Ponder restoration. I’m tired. I’ve been sleeping fine, but I’m tired. Cully has been waking me up at five to get on the bed. She doesn’t just jump on the bed like a normal dog. That would be crazy. No, she puts her front paws up and waits for one of us to get out of bed and help her up. And we do it. Because we’re suckers. But then I have to resettle into bed, and I lose half my sleeping space, and my alarm will go off in an hour, and the sheets get all caught under her, and what kind of monster would I be if I moved her? So then I stay awake for a bit pondering being a monster and planting daffodils and weird dreams and where the closest blanket might be. (I can assure you, tonight, the closest blanket will be at the foot of the bed.) I also ponder how much I love her little nose pushed under my arm and the way she curls into my side and the softness of her ears, so it’s not all bad. It’s cloudy and cool and drizzly today. So as happy as I am for fall, the fogginess of the morning is stretching on. I find that days like this require a lot of restoration. A slower yoga class, more patience with my writing, gentle music while I work, more cups of tea throughout the day, possibly working on the couch instead of in my office. There is a temptation to beat ourselves up when we think we need to slow it down. Slowness betrays weakness, and we can’t be weak! We have to be strong! We have to power through, lean in, grin and bear it! Sometimes that’s certainly the answer. But I don’t think it is this year. I think this year is teaching us the importance of backing off, slowing down, restoring. It’s showing us how to listen to ourselves and what our bodies and minds need and want. It’s requiring different movements and gentler ways of being. It’s making us believe in the “slow work of God,” if we’re so inclined. Today I’ve decided a concrete reminder of this slow work, this gentling, this restoring is necessary so I’m making bread. The sponge is bubbling away; in a couple of hours I will knead it and let it rest to rise. It becomes something new in the resting. So do we.

October 15, 2020

Acknowledge the little braveries. We have mice. It happens. The weather turns cooler, and the mice look for a nice, warm home with food. Despite our dogs and cat, apparently we are hospitable hosts. I do not like mice. They scare me. I think they are disease-ridden filth monsters waiting to somehow attack me. They scurry and are unpredictable. And I also don’t like that they get killed by my cat or by traps. They’re cute and furry. I don’t like killing things, and the fact that I live with a creature made of claws and teeth that turns into all-instinct when mouse season arrives is disconcerting. We know pretty quickly when we have a mouse because Scout suddenly hangs out in the kitchen a lot. There’s a cabinet they like, and it happens to be where I keep my baking tools: measuring cups and spoons, whisks, piping bag. Until last year, I had these things just out loose in the drawer like a normal person. But then we’d get mice and I’d have to bleach all the things. So I finally got wise and put them in a container that I can disinfect easily. But I still have to open the drawer where mice have been. Where mice could still be. Waiting to get me. Last week I needed to make a cake. (Yes, needed.) So I finally screwed up my courage and opened the drawer, got out the boxes, disinfected all the things. And felt like a brave badass Wonder Woman for doing this little thing that had absolutely no real danger attached to it. Anxiety likes you afraid; it thrives in paralyzing you. Over the years, I’ve learned to celebrate the little braveries, the ones that don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Because these little braveries lead to big ones. It’s like using a courage muscle, an anti-anxiety muscle. These need exercising, and sometimes the silly little things that get in our way need to get out of our way so we can move forward to other, bigger braveries. Like learning how to use a double boiler for Swiss meringue buttercream frosting.

October 19, 2020

Now the rubber hits the road. The last couple of weeks have been strange. I’ve been blah. Not anxious or depressed, but meh. This is the first day in I don’t know how long that I haven’t napped. This is acedia, which I wrote about several weeks (months?) ago. I am adrift. I’ve been craving fall and winter. If we can’t go anywhere or really see anyone, let’s have the weather that inspires coziness and isolation. But now that the weather has followed my line of thinking, I find myself staring down months of home and even more limited interactions with people. I’ve gotten used to in-person book clubs and my weekly cocktail hour with a good friend, outdoor gatherings around a fire and visiting with neighbors over the fence. Poof. Tomorrow it will snow several inches; meteorologists are predicting colder than average temperatures for the next couple of weeks. I’ll see you all next April. Except this is where it matters. This is where the resilience and self-care get put to the test. Yes, curling up in a ball and hibernating for a few months sounds great. But only sort of; it also sounds like giving up. Now it’s even more important to get up and do the writing, do the yoga, do the work. This is when eating good food and drinking lots of water refreshes and refuels. The living room dance parties and playing with puppies or kids aren’t optional; they’re warming and centering. Diving in to the hobbies keep us engaged and learning. These are important as we deal with the chronic stress of living this year. We have some heavy months still ahead of us. We might have hoped or thought this would be over by now. It isn’t. You may think the rubber has been hitting the road all year long, and it has. But we don’t get to let up now. We keep digging deep, we keep doing the good things that keep us healthy, we rest when it’s necessary, and we keep our hopes on hugs to be given in the future.

October 21, 2020

Make room for grief. My grandma has MS. There have been ups and downs through her life with MS, and this year the trend of ups and downs continues. This is how chronic diseases work. But in this year of shifting ground, I’m considering what her life has been and the ways in which we prepare for or make room for grieving. All of us, in one way or another, are confronting a variety of grievings this year. We are flailing and steadying constantly. Grief is here. Grandma’s MS is an odd way for our family to experience grief. My uncle Kevin drowned. My dad died three weeks after his diagnosis of colon cancer. Uncles Shaun and Ryan died by suicide. These are deaths that don’t give you much time to think about what’s coming. Because what’s coming has already arrived, and you are faced with reality. There are still elements of denial, but the knowledge of death is immediate even if it is unbelievable. But with Grandma, the process is prolonged. She has, over the years, gone from driving to not driving, walking to wheelchair, quilting to not quilting. The losses are visible and gradual. I find myself making room for Grief when I consider my grandma and her health. Rather than rushing in and upending everything in the house, Grief is visiting me as a well-behaved houseguest, sitting with me, offering a blanket, a shoulder to lean on. She’s gentle. Somehow, at this point, I have befriended her. I’m sure that won’t always be the case. But she is an old friend, a wise friend, who has more to teach me. And what she seems to be teaching me now is that we create some space for what will be hard. Not to wallow in it or become preoccupied with it, but to, if possible, let peace be present in the process too. I have started a new quilt; it is an homage to my grandma. I have been wrapping myself in the quilts she made me with more tenderness and care, running my fingers over stitches she made. I have been thinking about her laugh, her relationship with my grandpa, which has taught me so much about how to be in relationship with Patrick. I have seen her hands in my hands as I work on a quilt for my mom. I am attentive. Grief has walked in the door, and I’m letting her, subtly and quietly, be present. I know she’s here. I know that she is preparing me for someday down the road. I make a pot of tea and see what she has to unfold in the meantime.

October 22, 2020

Wobble. I think I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating. This week at Thornphy Manor has been strange, out of balance, stressful. It’s manageable and getting better, but yesterday I was pretty overwhelmed with all the things. I didn’t work well. I didn’t feel well. I didn’t move much. I didn’t do anything to reign in my thoughts. It was the culmination of several days of crud building. When I wake up and do my morning writing, it often happens that I write about what my day will look like: bake bread, work, yoga, plans, laundry, food. I proclaim that it’s going to be a good day. This week, I’ve been doing that, and about three minutes after the writing is done, the day goes to pieces. So today I gave up on that. I decided to focus on the moment, like a good little enlightened millennial. It’s been working. I have felt myself rebalancing each time I pull myself back to the present. In today’s yoga class, we had to do one-legged chair, with the ankle of our other leg resting on the knee of the standing leg. Then add a moving meditation with the arms. It was challenging. And I could hear Clara’s laughter as she gave the cues. And at one point I looked at the screen, which I don’t do very often, and saw her wobbling and smiling. It made me grin. Wobbles happen. We build strength in the balancing act. Yes, I’m ready to be sleeping really well, feeling energized, and preparing for a hibernating winter. I thought I was doing those things. Turns out I had to wobble a bit. I didn’t realize how much my thoughts have been racing or projecting forward until I slowed it down today, reeled it in, recentered. I know I keep harping on this, but we have to work harder than usual on our mental health these days. And while the wobbles might feel unnerving, they’re doing hard work of creating mental and emotional muscle memory as we proceed through this year. I might get just as frustrated and worn down next time I start to wobble, but maybe I’ll remember to smile, tap my toe on the ground, and rebalance into this challenging place.

October 26, 2020

Keep leaning toward hope. It’s hard today. I know. We have another Supreme Court justice who doesn’t deserve to be on the bench. The hypocrisy is astounding. The threats to law are frightening. The damage this court can now do is unnerving. This is one more assault on the norms of our democracy. One more, after almost five long years of constant disruption, distortion, and disturbance. We are so tired of this. We should be tired of this. But do not lay down in this despair and refuse to get up. One week. We have one week to go until the election. I am hopeful. I am encouraged and amazed by the lines of people voting. I am watching the numbers of ballots already cast, and I’m inspired. People are turning out in droves. No, we don’t know what that means exactly. Not yet. But I am hopeful. I wanted to maintain a healthy cynicism or skepticism this election. We got so burned last time. It hurt. I wanted to protect myself. But day by day, I feel hope growing again. It’s how I know that Trump hasn’t stolen my humanity. It’s how I know, despite the years of kids in cages, rampant disease, disrespect and dismissal toward anyone who isn’t white or male or him, utter chaos and inability to govern, profiting off of his office, total disregard for established norms and laws—despite all of this, I still have a heart. I still have joy and grief, excitement and frustration, anticipation and apprehension. I have not been dehumanized by this administration. I remain hopeful that we can and will do better. Fingers crossed. We still have hard days ahead of us. We are not through this. We have to keep getting the work done, whether it’s volunteering for campaigns, donating, putting up signs, reminding people to vote, voting ourselves. Most important, we have to stay human, stay hopeful. Let out your rage. Acknowledge that this theft of a Supreme Court seat is not acceptable. But know that this isn’t over yet. Lean toward hope. You might just fall into it and splash some of that hopefulness on others.

October 27, 2020

Engage your belief. We need to talk about what it means to be voters who are people of faith. This is part 1 of a three-part series on that topic. As most of you know, I am Catholic. My hope, though, is that these reflections can touch on whatever your faith might be. (I know I have friends who used to practice a faith or who never have, who are agnostics and atheists. I do not deny your ability to be moral and good people; obviously, which is why we are friends. Maybe, though, these posts can shed light on what participating in democracy and believing in God can look like.) Religion is a powerful force in American discourse. We esteem it and denigrate it. We talk about separation of church and state, but then we argue about prayer in schools or legislating morality. Churches have tax-exempt status, but every four years (at least) they dip their toes in the pool of politics. The waters of religion and governance are muddied. This should not come as a surprise. Religion is not a thing that one takes on and off. It is a thing that forms who one is. At worst, this is a type of brainwashing. At best, it is formation of conscience and identity within a community that recognizes God as the source of all life. I think and vote and write and relate because of who I am as a Catholic. It is bone deep, in my sinews and cells. I can’t separate that part of me from other parts. But not everyone shares my religion; nor should they. Additionally, faith is not an excuse for thinking uncritically. It is not a crutch. It does not provide a way out when considering difficult decisions. As humans in the twenty-first century, we have a lot of questions without ready answers; we are wrestling with much ambiguity. The ground has shifted under our feet in many ways. We have a variety of ways to deal with this as religious voters. One way is to find one thing, one issue, and zero in on it. This is all that matters, and it’s what we base our votes on. This is how we get single-issue voters. Another way is to throw our hands in the air, claim it’s all corrupt, and hold our noses to vote. We claim that we’re choosing “the lesser of two evils.” This is how we get voters who don’t actually engage the issues or learn about them; it’s how we get religious people who don’t vote at all. But there’s another way: to embrace the age-old concept of faith and reason, to exercise critical thinking skills with our conscience. This is a way of engaging the issues that matter deeply to the world and to us, to listen with the “ear of our heart” to what those around us need and see how we can meet that need. It places us squarely within the human community, not above or outside of it. The first two options create a really messy anthropology: My one issue is more important than any other issue that anyone else might have in this country or in the world; I can’t think outside my own priorities to embrace someone else’s concerns. Or: The world is corrupt, evil, and bad; my vote is a participation in that evil, but I’ll try to mitigate it as best I can by choosing what’s less evil. In a world that was created and named “good” by God; as a person who believes in a Savior who healed the sick, spoke of freedom from bondage, fed the hungry, and constantly turned attention to the poor and needy; as a believer anointed with oil to signify being sealed by the Spirit of joy, play, creativity, and wonder—how sad that the best some people of faith can do is limit their vision or look with disdain on processes of governance and the needs of their neighbors. We are called to think bigger, more faithfully, more creatively, more compassionately. Voting is a responsibility. It is not a burden. It’s another way we lovingly stoop to wash the feet of those around us.

October 28, 2020

Be a discerner. I love West Wing. It’s probably my favorite show. I love the characters and the storylines. I love the humor and the writing. I love the explanations of how government works and the hopeful view of citizenship and public service. But one of the things I love most is the way it shows a Catholic president and faithful civil workers. It’s not a main theme, but you get glimpses of it. I’ve been thinking a lot about the episode titled “Take This Sabbath Day.” In the episode, the Supreme Court refuses to grant a stay of execution to a man on death row. He’s been convicted of murdering two people. One of the defense attorneys contacts one of the president’s senior staff, Sam. The goal is to get President Bartlett to bypass the Supreme Court and grant the stay. As a Catholic person, President Bartlett is against the death penalty; throughout the episode, he wrestles with the decision he has to make. But as president, he knows he has to uphold the law. Bypassing the Supreme Court could create precedent that would wreak havoc on the balance of powers. It is an episode that shows the sharp distinction between person and office. Bartlett decides not to grant the stay. A priest friend is visiting with him when he gets the news that the man has been executed. After a minute, the priest asks if Bartlett wants to make his confession. It is a powerful, sobering, grave scene. When Patrick and I watched this episode together for the first time, he was very troubled by Bartlett’s faith playing any part in his decision making. He still is. But I see it as a thin line he has to walk, and it highlights what I wrote about yesterday: religion isn’t something you take on and off; it can be the basis of who a person is and how they act. Our political leaders who are people of faith have to figure out how to walk this line. We have a very stark example of this in the differences between Joe Biden and Amy Coney Barrett. Both are Catholic. Both have been labeled not Catholic enough or the wrong kind of Catholic; I refuse to enter conversations along these lines. Catholicism (most religions, generally) is a big tent. We share the same baptism, and slinging mud at each other’s Catholicity is fruitless. We can have different opinions on doctrine or dogma, different ecclesiologies or anthropologies, even different Christologies or pneumatologies. But we have been washed in the waters of baptism and anointed with oil in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit. We are Catholic. Nevertheless, when it comes to being a voter who is looking at candidates, then I think we have to consider discernment. Our own and that displayed by candidates. (Yes, I know Barrett isn’t in an electable position, but she’s the most prominent Catholic foil at this point.) How do they make the decisions that affect people? How do they think things through? Who guides them? Where do they seek advice? President Bartlett shows discernment throughout the episode on the death penalty. He talks, he ponders, he prays. He is very obviously torn; he searches for advice and wisdom. Discernment is an intentional and critical approach to what must be decided. Slow, thoughtful, prayerful deciding. Gathering information, sifting through it, listening for where God is calling one to be. Listening to where peace is in the process. Not ease. Not denial. Not a lack of resistance. Peace. Being a voter of faith means that we go through this discernment process and watch for candidates who embody discernment themselves, regardless of whether they practice a faith. Being a discerning person means we’re willing to wrestle with options, play out scenarios, challenge and be challenged. The peace comes, not in perfection, but in knowing you’re on the right track. It comes when there’s still work to be done, still improvement to be made, but you also know that you are ready and willing and capable to face that work. It comes when that still, small voice whispers and tells you you’re on to something.

October 30, 2020

Voting for life is messy. I tried writing this tip yesterday, but it didn’t work. I was too defensive, too guarded. This is a topic I feel, in many ways, unqualified to write about. I would much rather stay out of it. But life issues matter greatly, and refusing to talk about it, refusing to examine how we as voters consider life, does a disservice to ourselves, our faith, our world. (Throughout this reflection, I use the term “anti-abortion” for those who are against abortion. I refuse to use “pro-life” for such voters because, for this segment, they often are concerned with one facet of life, and that is abortion. Please note, however, that pro-choice people are not “pro-abortion”; they think it should be legal and accessible, but they aren’t advocating abortion for all the women all the time; to think they are is ridiculous.) For a lot of Catholic and Christian voters, abortion is the issue. Everything else falls away, and they make a decision on what circle to fill in based on what a candidate says they’ll do about a court case that legalized abortion. I have never understood this. When you consider the many and varied ways that life is or can be diminished for the already born, how is it even possible to elevate abortion to the highest of issues? I get that protecting the unborn is a good thing. But what is it we want them born into? I have seen too many people advocate for babies to be born while in the same breath supporting a defunding of education or restricted access to health care. They want babies to be born but have no problem with the abundance of guns in our country. They want babies to be born but think capital punishment is acceptable. They want babies to be born but don’t care that the water supplies in our nation are increasingly unhealthy. They want babies to be born but deny that the climate these babies will inherit could be unlivable. They want babies to be born but do not understand that Black, Brown, and Native babies grow up in a radically different world from white babies. They want babies to be born but they sure better be straight. They want babies to be born but support economic policies that continue to hold back, discriminate against, and harm the poor. They want babies to be born but don’t foster life in any other way. Life is more than babies being born. We are so stuck on the legality of abortion that we are missing creative, intelligent, and compassionate ways to make it less prevalent. Abortion will not disappear because it’s made illegal. This is why I support legal abortion. I want it to be safe for women. Women who cannot, for whatever reason, carry a baby to term need to be able to make decisions for themselves and for their families without being taken advantage of, traumatized, or judged. When we talk about making abortion illegal, we ignore the possibility of desperation and we ignore the invitation to be caregivers. We ignore the call to be prophets of love in an untidy world. Over and over again, statistics have proven that abortion rates decline when government services are stronger, when social safety networks are robust, when education and health care are funded. This happens in Democratic administrations, not Republican ones. I understand that many anti-abortion voters have problems with voting for Democrats because they want to keep abortion legal, but closing your eyes to reality that it will exist anyway does not help. Republicans have an easy talking point with abortion. They’ve had almost fifty years to make good on the promise to overturn Roe v. Wade, to make abortion illegal. Maybe they don’t want to because (a) they know it won’t work and (b) they need the votes of a dangled carrot. Why, then, are Catholic voters so easily duped on this issue? I suspect a couple of things are happening. It’s easy to be an anti-abortion voter. You have one thing to consider. You don’t have to weigh pros and cons of other issues. You don’t have to read platforms or policies. You don’t have to dig deeper. We’ve all got a lot going on. What can it really matter? Except it does. A lot. Our world isn’t simple, and our voting discernment shouldn’t be either. I think it’s also easy to protect the innocent. The unborn aren’t making mistakes; they aren’t living and breathing like the rest of us. They don’t annoy or frustrate. They don’t complain or have thoughts on how precisely they want to receive your care and concern. Voting for the unborn feels virtuous because we don’t have to confront the real, pressing, troubling issues facing our world. People are messy. We do all sorts of things—good and bad, marvelous and infuriating. Voting on behalf of people is hard because you have to empathize. But this is precisely what being a pro-life voter is. It’s seeing our brokenness and redemption. It’s acknowledging how we are fallen and graced. Being a pro-life voter means looking at the massive, tangled, amorphous mess of issues that make us human and finding hope in the midst of it. Being a pro-life voter is looking at all the ways life is devalued—guns, poverty, war, violence, lack of education, climate crisis, deregulation, unfettered capitalism—and taking a prophetic stance for values that foster life instead: education, racial justice, access to clean water and healthy food, environmental care, regulation of business, quality health care, human rights, especially for women and LGBTQ persons. For people of faith, we cannot limit our participation in the many ways that life is and can be cultivated. We believe in a God who continues to work, who didn’t merely create this world and then leave it be. As such, we cannot be voters who concern ourselves with bringing babies to birth only to let them trudge through their infancies and childhoods and adulthoods without proper resources and care. No, we must be continuous cocreators with God—seeing the world that is and imagining the ways in can be more. This is how we be faith-filled voters.

November 2, 2020

Steady on. I’m stealing that phrase from Dan Rather, who uses it a lot in his posts. I need it right now. The ups and downs of the past few days have surprised me. I feel incredibly hopeful, and then the next moment I’m awash in doubts and fears. I think about how great it’s going to feel to vote for Biden and Harris; I imagine what it’s going to feel like when Biden is declared the winner; I wonder what breathing will feel like when I’m not subconsciously braced for the next thing Trump will do. But then I remember that there’s a lot of chaos planned: from declaring early victory to legal battles to whatever crazy plan Trump and his enablers concoct to sow chaos. We won’t be out of the woods if Biden wins—even if he wins in a landslide. We have long days and nights ahead of us. Steady on. I’m thinking of two things to keep the steadiness. The first is breath. I’ve written a lot over these months about breathing and how important it is, how it has been denied, how it brings us back to ourselves. I’m keeping this front and center today. In yoga you attend to your breath to build heat or cool down. You breathe into difficult poses, tight spots, tense moments. Clara has added some mini tutorials to her site, and one of them is on a type of breathing called ujjaiy breath. I’m learning to understand it. In her video, she talks about the solar and lunar aspects of breathing. The inhale is solar: it is warming, energizing. Notice your heart rate as you breathe in; it rises. The exhale is lunar: it’s cooling, calming. Again, notice your heart rate when you let out a long exhale; it slows. We hold the sun and moon within us when we breathe. This push and pull, this up and down, this hopefulness and doubtfulness—they are solar and lunar. The key is to hold them in balance. Steady on. The second thing I’m holding on to today is the feast of the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, All Souls’ Day. Today we remember those who have died, that cloud of witnesses. We Murphys talk a lot about “all our dead people.” This weekend I was reading the latest issue of the London Review of Books. There’s an article on TS Eliot’s letters to Emily Hale, which were recently unsealed. In the article, the author references something Eliot wrote about his dead people: “Sometimes one is just oneself, but for the most part one is being hustled about by one or another of a crowd of shadows.” I get that. Today, as I try to cultivate steadiness, it helps to remember what this crowd of shadows has endured. What they lived through, saw, did. We are not the first ones to live through extraordinary times; we will not be the last. This moment reaches backward to that cloud, to those witnesses, to those saints and sinners—to those humans—who walked before us and among us. It reaches forward to the crowd who is yet to be, those who will live long after we have. It is humbling to place yourself in the midst of this communion of saints, to acknowledge that you are one among many witnessing to a time and place. So, today, take deep breaths, recall those who have died, remember that we are not alone in our uncertainty. Be hopeful, acknowledge the doubt, and try to find the middle way. The steady way.

November 3, 2020

Practice Advent. We are in a not-knowing time. I used to struggle a lot with unknowns. When I was in college, I wanted all the answers. I wanted to know what my path would be, what career I’d choose, what all the things would look like. I hated the not knowing. I wanted the knowing so badly. I’ve mellowed a little since then. Maybe. Anxiety is a result of struggling with the unknown. You want what’s predictable, stable, safe. But I think one of the gifts grief has given me is an acceptance of what’s not known and more of a willingness to sit in the muddle. It’s not always easy, but I’m slightly more patient with it now. Slightly. The church builds a not-knowing time into the liturgical year. Advent is the time we wait, we prepare, we anticipate. It’s a time of gestation and wonder. New things come to be in the waiting. It is rich soil. Today feels pregnant with possibility. And heartbreak. We don’t know. We want to know. We have to sit here a while longer, let it be unknown, confusing, anxiety-producing. We have to put our self-care tools to work: deep breathing, meditation, movement, healthy food, much water, good music, connecting with friends and family. Today is strange: it’s the one we’ve been waiting for and yet there’s still so much that’s uncertain. So much that will remain uncertain for a while longer. We wait. We let this not-knowing time do some work on us, even if we’re oh-so-done with it. It’s not done with us. Sit here today in the hope of what can be, in the fear of what may be, in the uncertainty of what will be. Sit here with the unknown and let it be hard—because it is. But know too that there will come a time of knowing. And then we move forward. In hope. Always in hope.

November 4, 2020

This is the day to be careful. We are still in the not-knowing time. I trust the people who say that’s to be expected, and I’m hanging my hope on their reminders to wait this out. But it doesn’t make it easy. I find myself scrolling a lot—and it’s not even eight o’clock yet. I haven’t had coffee yet. (Yes, we should have planned better. No coffee in the house the day after the election was a stupid move. Co-op opens in thirteen minutes. Not that I’m counting.) I did manage to do a meditation but not yoga. I’m hungry and am tempted to have a piece of cake for breakfast, but I’ll have toast and a piece of fruit. I want to watch the news. I probably will dip in and out. I know I’m dehydrated. I had only a glass of wine last night, but I haven’t been so good at my water intake lately. I’ve had a headache for three days. It’s tension; I can feel it in my shoulders, neck, and jaw. I’ve gone to a variety of massage therapists over the years; when they touch my neck, they always ask me if I get headaches, and they’re shocked when I say no. But now, yes. Days like this are ones we want to ignore, just get through, move past. In so many ways, this is 2020 in a nutshell. We want out of the crisis. This is the day to watch what we eat, what we read, how we breathe and move and have our being. I woke up remembering what I wrote after Ryan died, about what I had forgotten about grief: the exhaustion of grieving, the need for stillness and silence, the sensitivity to noise, the gathering of mementos to be close to you. There’s an element of this happening for me today, but it’s not quite so dramatic. I’m remembering how to hold on to hope: vetting sources, not being drawn in to drama, recognizing that people will be who they are, keeping an eye on the good. We’re not out of the woods yet, but maybe we’re not so deep in the forest as we were. Time will tell. Today we be careful with ourselves and with others. We remember that all of us have expectations, hopes, and fears. We give a wide berth to those who have us on edge because we know we are all on edge. We listen to the people who know things. We keep drinking water and moving our bodies and taking naps and finding things to laugh about. And we go get some coffee.

November 5, 2020

The doing never ends. These days of not-knowing have me realizing a few things. First, there was a big difference between knowing the counts would take time and living the time the counting takes. Second, I was very much looking forward to the deep breaths and peaceful slumber of a Biden win. Third, oh, the privilege I continue to uncover in myself even when I think I’m aware. As we move through this week, it’s dawning on me that we are not done. Even if things look promising, and they do at this point, it’s not leading to the feeling of unfettered joy and calm that I so desperately crave. There is joy and relief, yes, but it is tempered by the knowledge that about 69 million people still think Donald Trump deserves to be in charge. Sixty-nine million people have lived through these five years (I’m including his first campaign) and decided that we need more of this. Sixty-nine million people are okay, not just with racism, not just with sexism, not just with xenophobia, not just with caged children, not just with mocking the disabled, not just with disregarding a deadly pandemic, not just with prejudice against LGBTQIA individuals, not just with selfishness, not just with financial fraud and misdealing, but with all of it. Sixty-nine million people are justifying the means for the end—whatever they think that end might be. I have a very hard time breathing deeply and sleeping peacefully with this knowledge. How did we get this so very wrong? One of the most divisive areas of this election is among religious voters, particularly the Christian flavors. I’m wondering where we go from here when we read the gospel so differently. What role does the church play in healing the divisions in families because of the election? Divisions the church itself often exacerbates. It’s no wonder that atheists, agnostics, and nones look with skepticism at the role religion plays in politics. We’re inconsistent and hypocritical. While I think faithful people have a place in politics and that churches can be sources of intelligence and discernment, I also think we need to look at how this is done. It’s failing now. One of the things I remember from a moral theology class in college is that the ends cannot justify the means. The professor hit this part home hard. And yet, I see many of my fellow baptized justifying or not even caring about the means. The inconsistency boggles the mind and wearies the spirit. So as relieved as I am that things look promising, I am also concerned with the work yet to be done. And therein lies the privilege. The lack of a landslide makes glaringly obvious what I should have known (and, to be honest, knew but didn’t want to admit): the work will never be done. Every day we have to move this country, this world, toward justice. Every day we have to fight for an environment we can sustain. Every day we have to amplify the voices of the marginalized. Every day we have to look at what’s hard and try to solve the problems. This has been an exhausting marathon. But marathons have end points. This doesn’t. When Biden wins, we still have work to do. We don’t get to let our guard down. Much as we might want to, we will still need to remain vigilant on behalf of those who need us, on behalf of ourselves, on behalf of our country and the world. We’re not sprinting or marathoning. We’re making our way through history—and that’s never-ending.