Simplicity of Cause & What About Church?

There is, at the surface, infinite variety of things; at the center there is simplicity of cause”. –Ralph Waldo Emerson


When I started this blog I thought I would not write about religion (or politics). But then I don’t always get to choose what appears in my head and if I can’t write about the big topics- the controversial ones, the volatile and meaningful and frustrating ones- then why bother writing, really. These are the topics that usually come through in raw truth and clumsy human experience.

My earliest memory of church is of standing next to my grandmother, reciting a prayer by rote memory: Lord I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed. Why am I not worthy? I wondered. What have I done? Because I was pretty sure it was the grownups who could really screw up here, and not my five year old self. The prayer was coming through my lips from my head only. My heart was sort of disconnected from the whole experience.  At the time I thought the whole world was Christian, or at least the good people. And not only that, they were all Catholics.

When my three children were of the age to attend church, I did what I thought was the right thing to do. And it may have been. I dressed them up a bit and gathered my husband, who somehow thought I was equipped to make this all-important choice. Despite the I am doing right by my family feeling, I felt like a bit of an imposter, because I just never really liked going to church. But I dutifully signed my oldest up for the First Communion classes, because in the moving sidewalk that is Catholicism, when it’s time, it’s time. This meant that she had to attend a class before the church service each Sunday, and attend mass after the class. By the time mass rolled around, she was hungry and bored and so done with church. Conformity not being her strong trait,this just wasn’t working out for her. At all.

On one such occasion, which is etched in my memory, my husband had to carry her out as she had grown increasingly agitated. By the time they were half way down the aisle, her complaints had turned to a full out wailing of “I HATE CHURCH!” Even as my heart sank- couldn’t they have made it outside before that unfiltered explosion? – I had the thought that matched hers. So do I. So. Do. I.

I’m pretty sure God spoke to me that day through a child, saying get the hell out of here! But the culture of religion is a strong pull and it took a little while longer before reluctantly abandoning ship. The thought of it made me feel happy and free, but also worried. There was that notion that what if I am damaging my children by not bringing them to church? What if I am damaging them if I do? Or what if it is the right choice for some of us but not for others? How do we reconcile that? Never have I been so conflicted. Maybe the better choice is to sloth through for several years and then let our children choose. At least that way they would become familiar with the option of prayer and God and a spiritual life without it having to come from their parents. I mean, I was all set, my beliefs firmly in place, mostly built from my inquisitive and reflective nature and raw experience. I didn’t require a mediator or a designated time of public worship, but what about the rest of the family?

The concept of the entire family’s spiritual life being squarely on my shoulders felt daunting. Surely any choice I made would be inadequate for someone.   So we stayed a while longer, until one of our daughters asked why the priests were always men.  The patriarchy and politics and rituals just felt so stifling. Many of the beliefs did not sit well with me (while others, the ones common to all religions, the really big ones, resonated. These just didn’t seem to require a Sunday meeting). Then when the news revealed all the charges of molestation at the hands of the Catholic priests, I just felt so justified in leaving.   The fact that children could be forsaken and this was to be handled within the church itself, somehow above the law, was the last straw for me.  I had a visual of the institution with all its pomp and circumstance, crumbling when the truth came to light. I was tired of trying to convince myself we needed this.

I think that all institutions have good and bad, dark and light, and this is no exception. So to leave it behind is to relinquish the good too and it would not be a complete expression if I did not acknowledge this. Because I also see the beauty- in fact the same daughter that rejected church as a young child, was admiring the stain glass windows and the sheer awesomeness of a church building one day when circumstance led her inside, and exclaimed how “beautiful it is when it is silent in here”. I personally think a church would be a beautiful place in which to meditate. For many it is the perfect place to gather and connect, to each other and to a divine presence. The routine and service and comfort that can sustain a church community are not lost to me. I know what I have given up. All of us have to choose for ourselves, and sometimes for our children as well.

   My middle daughter elicited the most doubt in my decision. Shortly after leaving the church, she took out a series of books from the library, and read them over and over again. The characters were a Jewish family who adhered to many religious rituals. Shabbat and Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot, this family observed them all; from what they ate to when they prayed and how they welcomed the seasons- with feasts and parades and festivals and prayers. Each time she checked out the books I would cringe. Damn, those books again, they kept appearing, making me doubt my choice. Had I denied her this? I don’t mean being Jewish, of course. We were Christians after all. I mean being religious. Maybe we should’ve split up the team. My husband may have been willing to go to church with her while I stayed at home with the other rebels. One day I just asked her. Do you think you’re missing out? Do you regret this? She told me no, absolutely not. But how can she ever know for sure? In any case, her sense of wonder has remained strong, her integrity unflinching.  Sometimes I am amazed at her clarity of what is right and wrong. Doing the right thing goes a long way in connecting us to our divinity.

   My youngest daughter is scientifically minded and plans to contribute to the field of medicine.  Though not opposed to religion, she thinks energy should be focused on getting something done. She is empathetic and intuitive and does a damn good job of running her own life. She doesn’t think she missed out either.

And lest you conclude that because I fled the church, it means I am devoid of reverence for the mysteries of life, that could not be further from the truth. I think that Jesus was the coolest guy to walk the planet, and I have an absolute belief that we too are made from the same stuff and therefore capable of so much. We are worthy. We are all that.  I don’t just believe in the power of prayer, I know of it. My own experiences are so powerful and clear to me that words would not do them justice.

We are all on our own journey and will be brought to our knees at one point or another. I like to go there willingly and often and preferably not in church, but that doesn’t make me better or worse off than someone else. It’s just my preference.  Church, no church, Jesus or Buddha, Muhammad or Moses, one God or many gods or nature or nothing at all that you can name; we all have the gift of intuition and when we get rid of the extraneous, it becomes much clearer.   We don’t have to place a name or even a religious attachment to this gift. My simplistic Spiritual Life for Dummies: If church makes you feel good, then go. If it doesn’t, then don’t. Brilliant, I know.

The late Ernest Holmes, when reflecting on the quest for authentic and direct religious experience, wrote, “It is only the unessential that is vanishing, that the abiding may be made more clearly manifest”. This remains relevant today, perhaps more than ever. And this is where simplifying comes in. We all get to choose what is essential for us. We all have perfection at our core and how we access that is up to us. Or sometimes something happens to move us along to that center. There lies the gold- the peace, the love, joy, and our gifts.   All the rest is just extra stuff.

Kitchen Clarity


Kitchen Clarity

There’s something joyful about a transparent kitchen. I swapped my opaque containers out for clear ones. I love mason jars because of the ability to see what’s in them. I like to know what I’m eating, drinking and storing. I love being able to see it. I also like these jars because they represent something old and sturdy, like a truth rediscovered anew, such as the idea that fat really isn’t terrible to consume (it’s processed food that is making you sluggish, fat, and sick!) and how bone broth is such a health-giving tradition and locally grown food is the best.

I like a clean fridge and an orderly pantry. I want to know what I have at a glance. It makes me feel light and free and happy to open a door and know instantly what is there and what is missing. My food-is-love husband gets pleasure from a stuffed fridge. That represents security and comfort for him. We’ve learned to compromise. I don’t mind spending a lot of money on organic food. I figure you pay the price sooner or later with cash or health, so it may as well be up front. He loves quantity. So we’ve settled on buying organic eggs and milk and sometimes grass fed meat.

We both enjoy cooking. I like experimenting with new recipes. It’s a creative outlet for me, and a useful one at that. Like not wanting to wear the same dress twice in a row, I often search for novel dishes to cook up. My husband cooks from memory and typically sticks to his usual delicious favorites. We seem to agree that spending time in the kitchen is worthwhile, and if we’re going to be hanging out there, it may as well be inviting.
If you feel stuck in any area of your life, starting with the physical can get you moving forward- cleaning out your home and your car. Exercising. And if you are in a rut with your dietary habits, why not start with the kitchen? Purge it of anything you don’t want to consume. Clear it and clean it and start fresh. Fresh food and wholesome ingredients and simple recipes and staples in clear view; an uncluttered kitchen can be a great start for a clear mind and body. The kitchen is often the center of a home. We typically eat at least three times a day, so doesn’t this area deserve a lot of attention? Food is medicine. You are what you eat. There is a lot of truth to these old sayings. Food is sustenance, and a clean kitchen invites the flow of something good to nourish us, body and spirit.

Less is more for weddings too

ImageAppointments scare me. Maybe it’s a fear of commitment, I’m not sure. Maybe it’s because I was the maker of all appointments for my family of five for many years, and inevitably we’d end up with a scheduling conflict which would require another call. I don’t know why I dread the call. Well, dread is a strong word. I want to avoid it. I’d rather bring out the trash or pull hair from the drain. But eventually I make the appointment and then I write it on the calendar hanging on our kitchen wall. And there it is in ink, permanent and piercing and taunting me. You have to go, you know. Here it is, in ink. You have to be there. Or else.

Recently, I went with my daughter to find her wedding dress. She had to make an appointment. That’s how it works in the wedding market. There was going to be no such thing as just showing up and browsing the dresses ourselves, God forbid. So on the day of The Appointment, the saleslady gathered dresses that she thought fit my daughter’s requests. Only they didn’t, really. Not entirely. Not as much as the dress that they didn’t bring out- the one we would go back for another day, and find by ourselves because we asked couldn’t we please, please just be left alone to look this time around? Wedding marketers do not love us.

My daughter is a minimalist bride-to-be, preferring no fuss on her clothing. She was the kid bothered by itchy tags and the stitching on socks. It comes as no surprise that she’d want a comfortable wedding dress and she’s beautiful without all the frills and layers and lace that can weigh a petite person down. She wants to be able to move and dance and wear a bohemian chic flower headpiece that compliments a simple dress. She didn’t want a train that required its own entrance, or any train at all. The dress she found is exactly what she wanted- light and pretty- and she glows in the simplicity of it. Image

ImageSo on to flowers. The first two places we called required The Appointment. “We will have our wedding specialist sit down with you and go over everything”, they told me over the phone. My interpretation: We will take up half of your day as we try to convince you that you need to spend the equivalent of your other daughters’ college tuitions in order to have beautiful centerpieces and bouquets that will  make the wedding good. We will treat this as if you are preparing for brain surgery instead of picking out some pretty flowers for this festive big day. Do people really remember the flowers? Or do they remember the day, the joy, the vows, music, food and wine? Okay, maybe they remember the flowers too, I don’t know. I don’t remember flowers. Image

So I called our local florist and they assured me that yes, we could drop in any time and pick out some flowers and it did not even require The Appointment!  I love this place. Plant Bazaar owner, if you are reading this, I love you. We will go and find some bouquets and corsages and boutonnieres and my daughter thought perhaps we should arrange some beautiful dried flowers in mason jars ourselves because this goes with the spirit of her mountainside wedding.

Ah yes, flower arrangements are blooming nicely(pun intended). Music has been carefully chosen by my daughter and her fiancé. Food will be scrumptious. The view, awesome. And the love….it’s really about the love.

What I’ve learned is this: Wedding planning does not have to take over your life. A dress does not have to take over your body and flowers do not have to take over your budget or your entire day. You really can give the metaphorical middle finger to the too-muchness of wedding planning. Keep it simple. Unless you’d rather not, in which case take out your appointment book, clear your schedule and your life, and jump right in. But I’m not coming in after you.



Writer’s Dilemma

I was in our outdoor shower this morning, my mind wandering to several years ago when I wrote a monthly column for a newspaper. A bumblebee joined me mid thought, all buzzing and hyperactive, drawing my attention outward, which is sometimes a good thing for me. I surrendered to the moment at hand, choosing to stay in the shower with the bee who stopped swarming my head sometime after the shampoo but before the conditioner. My thoughts returned to the newspaper days, and how, during those three or four years of writing for it, I had grown increasingly uncomfortable with knowing that people were actually reading what I wrote.

There lies the writer’s dilemma, common to many. At the time, I didn’t know other writers shared this problem. I thought it was unique to me, probably because of some emotional deficit born from my childhood, the same childhood that turned me into a writer. Now there’s a catch-22. It wasn’t that I didn’t want anyone to read my writing; it was that people I knew were reading my writing. And telling me. I remember when it first started. I wrote something heartfelt, sent it to the editor, and she called me. She was moved by my piece and wanted more. Like I do with many things, I jumped right in. My heart said yes, fearful thoughts to follow, but only after the deal was cinched.

Okay, just a little ole newspaper, a handful of readers, nothing ginormous. But there were my words, my name, right in front of my eyes. Strike one. I am not sure how many other writers share this next particular oddity, but once I publish a piece, I can hardly stand to see it again. I fear I will see things I wish I’d written differently, or not like it at all anymore. What if I start to hate it?

So seeing it was the first hurdle. Then came the realization that people were reading it. This was a local paper after all. People I knew were reading it, every single month. Strike two. And, worst of all, they sometimes commented. They would tell me they liked the column. (I assume readers who didn’t like it kept that to themselves). Someone even told me that she looked forward to reading it each month. Yikes! Strike three. I quit.

My husband couldn’t quite understand this. Neither did I. Why did you stop writing for that paper? he asked. Because people were reading it was my honest response. It’s ridiculous, I know, but writers are sometimes like this, I guess. I published a few things shortly after quitting the newspaper, but they were in magazines- ones that strangers read. I was so much more okay with this than with a local paper exposing my thoughts.

Fast forward twelve years.  I’ve grown thicker skin because middle age does that to you- you actually grasp that we are all going to die someday so what the hell? What is a life if not lived with courage? And some creativity? If we’re not at least trying to be authentic, then why bother? I’ve regretted things I’ve said. And I’ve regretted things I didn’t say even more. We have to try to use our best judgment, but maybe it’s all kind of a crap shoot, in a way. Recently, a few people have commented to me about my blog. A few years ago, when self-sabotage was only a comment away, this would have been treading on quit-worthy territory. Today, I am happy to have the feedback and happier still to know that someone other than myself might get something out of my compulsion to write.

Besides this blog, I am working on a memoir. Talk about having to overcome fear. It’s not just my new found courage that keeps me writing it though. It’s the realization that I would be forever disappointed if I remembered scenes of epic poignancy and then kept them to myself. It’s knowing that my truth is somehow connected to a universal truth and sharing it is a good thing. It’s unique and nothing special at the same time, hopefully in just the right proportions. This gives me courage to say the hard things or face the demons or write the truth. Or to speak it when necessary. And to shut up when that is the bravest or wisest thing to do. Could it be that simple? Oftentimes, writing and life just seems to be a journey of figuring out when to run naked from the shower and when to stay and face the sting.