Ladders & Circles

Joan Borysenko in her book, A Woman’s Journey to God, suggests that our “blueprint for male spirituality is laid out in the story of Jacob’s ladder in the Book of Genesis.” And, given that religion has been dominated by men for thousands of years, naturally our church structure, liturgy and theology has a male bent that is very linear.

“Church” as we have known it has a definitive ladder-like quality. God has always been at the top of the ladder, while the earth (and our familiar “dominion of”) is at the bottom. Men have been a rung or two above women, hence the suppression of women in leadership roles, and the lack of feminine input in liturgy and theology. The ladder also represents the need to take certain steps to get to Heaven. In most traditional churches, getting to Heaven included doing the right things (baptism, confession, attending church, good works, etc.) and believing the right things (whatever that church told you to believe).

What is happening these days is that this earlier paradigm (as Marcus Borg might say) doesn’t work for many people anymore. Those on the more progressive end of the scale are evolving into what Joan Borysenko terms the Sarah’s Circle model of spirituality. In this emerging paradigm there is no hierarchy, all are on an equal level in the circle and all (from men to women to children to creatures to creation) are sacred and interconnected. God is not found at the top rung in the top office, but at every point on the circle. There are no rules to get you to heaven, no correct belief to ensure your salvation. In fact, the Divine can be found at any point on the circle and often appears when least expected (as in the story of Sarah conceiving a child post-menopausally).

Another interesting concept of the circular model is the idea that God is found within. For centuries we have been looking out and up to find God. Now we are finally starting to realize what Jesus said in the first place, that the Kingdom of Heaven is within. Just as the center of the labyrinth is meant to draw us deep into ourselves to find our deepest connection with the Divine, so Sarah’s Circle guides us to look not only everywhere for God, but most especially within for God.

Slowly the Christian Church is moving away from the ladder and toward the circle. But, as with all change, some resist louder and longer than others. This is a fascinating time to be a student of the spiritual side of life. It is exciting to watch the growth and the awareness change. It’s also very frustrating at times! Our understanding of God and community (or church) must evolve just as we have evolved socially, scientifically and emotionally.



The One Story

In our world of individualism, it feels like my story is different from your story which is different from everyone else’s story. But that is the illusion. Each story is simply a thread in the tapestry of the One Story of Life. When I remember this, it is easier for me to remember why the Old Testament stories are important.

You see, I find myself in the midst of Genesis and the tale of Jacob, and I am apt to ask what importance this has for my life today. Jacob was an important figure for Judaism, but is so ancient as to seem to have no impact on my life today. But if I dig underneath the reported events of his life the real story emerges, the story of trickery, deceit, betrayal, love, forgiveness, faith and folly. Is that not the story of all our lives?

Megan McKenna asks us the questions, “What word are we in the Story? What will be told of us when we have become the ground of “once upon a time?”

A friend who heard the sermon yesterday was reminded of Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society and sent me this wonderful link: “The powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse, What will your verse be?” Robin Williams asks his class.

If you’ve read the book, or seen the movie, Eat, Pray Love you may remember Liz, the main character’s, discussion with her Italian friends about the words that define certain cities: ambition for New York, conform for Stockholm, sex for Rome. Suddenly one asks her what her word is, and she doesn’t know.

We continue to be asked for the deeper meaning in our lives, do we know what it is, what our word or our verse is? I’ve done funerals for people who believed they had no story to tell, that their life was too normal, too boring. But we all bring our threads, whether we know it or not. And if we don’t know it, we simply need to look harder.

Love & Light,


Love is complicated

I got to talking with a friend of my recently about unconditional love. Her comment was, “Kaye, I can remember a conversation you and I had early on about having unconditional love for all people, and I really struggled with that. In fact, I still struggle with that. To me it seems like unicorns and rainbows.” She said she reserves her love for a select few people for whom she’d do anything – her family and her close friends. And, sure she could get on board with a general conceptual “I love all of humanity and want the best for them,” but loving everyone… um… no.

I could completely understand what she was saying. So, the conversation sort of caused me to sit back for a second and wonder if I was just completely unrealistic in this concept that part of the spiritual path is learning to love all people. Maybe that is just ridiculous.

I mean, let’s face it, love is complicated. It’s not as easy and fluffy as unicorns, rainbows, flowers and Valentines. Love involves other people who are sometimes difficult to love. Love requires risk, being vulnerable and possibly getting hurt. Love involves not always getting our way. Love means getting our egos out of the way.

Dr. Rachel Remen, who cofounder and medical director of the Commonweal Cancer Help Program, tells a story in her book, Kitchen Table Wisdom, “Some years ago a young resident psychiatrist from Langley Porter Institute at the UCSF Medical Center who wanted to learn more about people at the edge of life was observing one of my sessions. A former gang member whose hands were covered with tattoos was speaking of the deep love he now felt for his young wife who was dying of cancer, the ways in which this capacity to love had caught him unawares and so had healed him. As he shared insights about himself and experiences of intense intimacy and tenderness with his wife, I glanced over at the young Freudian psychiatrist, he had stopped taking notes. His eyes were filled with tears.  After the patient left, I asked him if he had learned anything useful from the session. He smiled ruefully. “We are all more than we seem,” he said. Actually we are all more than we know. Wholeness is never lost, it is only forgotten.”

Clearly she is right. Most of us have forgotten what it feels like to be whole. We have forgotten what it feels like to love deeply. And I believe we’ve forgotten because we’ve gotten caught up in our fears and we’ve pulled back inside our safe walls. The book of First John says that “perfect love casts out fear.” But it seems we’ve forgotten how to live without fear, and so forgotten our wholeness.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, French theologian: “We are one, after all, you and I; together we suffer, together exist, and forever will recreate each other.” Love does not yell out, “God hates fags.” Love does not turn away tired, hungry, scared children longing for a better world. Love does not work to deny women equal rights, equal pay and a say over their own bodies. Love does not destroy the environment. But love is not rainbows and unicorns.

So, what does it mean to love and to build our lives and our community on Love? I think it begins as simply as remembering the Hindu word, Namaste, every time we meet someone. “The Divine in me sees the Divine in you.” Yes, somewhere deep inside each person is the spark of the Divine, it is just that we’ve forgotten who we are. How will we remember unless someone else then see it in us? Loving another means supporting others for what is in their highest good. It means not letting yourself get wrapped up in negativity over a person. Loving means opening up and taking a risk… risk being love, joy and hope in a world that seems to have little respect for those things.

Perhaps most of all, loving means taking a step back when we become judgmental, critical, angry or resentful, and trying to determine what fear within us causes us to respond that way. What triggered those feelings? And then ask ourselves “how can I respond in a way that will bring positive change?”

Dr. Kent Keith once wrote, “People are illogical, unreasonable and self-centered. Love anyway.” And he’s right. Loving others (and I do not mean bringing them into your home, giving them your bed, enabling them, or letting yourself get hurt) brings us back to our core, our essence, the Diving within us.

Love gets complicated because we, as human beings, are complicated, love anyway.




Why we do what we don’t want…

The apostle Paul in Romans 7: 13 says, “I don’t understand what I do – for I don’t do the things I want to do, but rather the things I hate.” Been there, done that. In fact, I’d be willing to bet we all have. We’ve snapped at our loved ones, we’ve gossiped behind someone’s back, we’ve wasted time at work, we haven’t helped the needy, we haven’t reached out to a friend in distress, we’ve cheated on our diets, we’ve drank too much, we’ve not been truthful, we haven’t followed through on a promise, etc. But, why?

Some people answer this question by saying, “The devil made me do it,” thereby resulting in the proverbial angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other each vying for control.

Paul believed that there was a power, a proclivity, a predisposition in him that he named “Sin”. It was this Sin within him that caused him to do things that he didn’t want to do. In contrast, Paul talks over and over again in his writings about being “in Christ”. He says we can have new life “in Christ” and freedom “in Christ”, then we are no longer captive to the “law of sin.”  All of this boils down to living in the presence of God as Jesus lived in the presence of God. And when we do this we die to our old nature (with the power of sin in it) and we have a new creation within ourselves.

For the great theologian and philosopher, Augustine, the human heart was innately perverse thanks to the sin of Adam and Eve. Augustine coined the phrase “original sin” and humanity has been burdened by the concept ever since.

My issue with these theories on why we do things we don’t want to do, is that each of them puts the blame outside of ourselves and our control. They divorce us of responsibility over our own actions. In the vernacular of our own time, I believe we would answer this question by discussing the tension between ego and spirit.

Our ego is sort of like our body-guard in that it wants to make sure we are safe and so it tries to always be in control. Ego wants to make sure we look good to the world and if we don’t it gets defensive, critical, and judgmental, and makes excuses to put us on equal footing. We say to ourselves, look, I’m not so bad… they’re worse! Our ego fears being hurt and exposed, and so when it feels like that might be the case it backs off, isolates, shuts down.

It’s not that the ego isn’t useful, it is, but if it overpowers our connection to spirit then we end up doing more and more things that we know aren’t good, and find more and more excuses to do them.

Mary Allen, life coach and author of “Spirit Versus Ego” offers some helpful advice on distinguishing ego from spirit and living more in spirit. These are, in my opinion, some of the hardest choices we have to make in life. But the more we make them the easier they become.

  1. Get present. Ego wants to drag us into the drama of the past or the fear of the future.
  2. Choose higher vibrations – consciously choosing peace, joy, love appreciation, generosity and other good feelings strengthens the connection to Spirit.
  3. Take responsibility – ego likes to be the victim and lead you to believe you have no choice or are not powerful. What do you need to ask for? Who could help you? What do you need to let go of?
  4. Practice humility – ego is about being right. Stepping into humility and admitting critical, judging behavior liberates us from ego and brings us back to spirit.
  5. Remember that ego’s voice is almost always associated with angst, resistance, doubt, fear, guilt and confusion. Spirit’s voice is clear, wise, knowing, and brings peace.

Living more consciously about our own behaviors and actions is a huge part of the spiritual journey. We’re not going to be perfect overnight, but that doesn’t mean we stop trying to live more out of spirit than ego. The peace we find with that spirit connection is well worth the effort.



Does God test us?

I have never understood why people think this is an acceptable view of the Divine. I suppose it comes out of scripture passages like the story of God testing Abraham’s faith by asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac as a burnt offering. In 17 years of preaching I avoided this passage for the sole reason that I don’t believe God does this, but I finally decided to tackle it head on this last Sunday.

Here is a brief refresher on the story… if you remember, Isaac’s birth is miraculous… Sarah (Abraham’s wife) had been unable to bear children and when she was about 60 (and Abraham about 90) and angel came to her and told her that she’d have a child. And so she did. God promised that Abraham would be the father of great nations through the descendants of this very special boy, Isaac. Then, suddenly, God decided to make sure that Abraham’s faith was good enough for this distinction. With no explanation, God essentially tells Abraham to take his son 40 miles away and offer him as a burnt sacrifice on Mt. Moriah. Abraham is supposed to bind his beloved son, slit his throat and light him on fire. Really???

Never mind that God sends a ram at the last minute to take the place of Isaac. Never mind that this may have been a story explaining why God doesn’t like child sacrifice (what about animals?) Never mind that Isaac may have symbolized the nation of Israel that went astray and yet God saved them anyway. The ramifications of how churches and people have interpreted this have spiritually effected people for thousands of years.

You see, I get stuck at the very beginning with God even asking Abraham to kill someone. What happened to “thou shalt not kill?” What I read online was that lots of people seem to be ok with God requesting someone’s death, because, well, it’s God and so God can do whatever God wants including killing people. We don’t have to understand that. Baloney.

People, in general, also seem to be ok with God testing us, but for me that is the biggest disconnect. I just don’t believe that God tests us or our faithfulness. Yes, there are things that happen to us in life that “test our faith” but God isn’t sitting around on a cloud trying to figure out how to send us faith-challenging obstacle courses as a test to see if we are worthy.

One of my biggest pet peeve sayings is: God doesn’t send you more than you can handle.

People say this all the time. It is simply another way of saying that God was testing them by sending all kinds of difficult, if not downright horrible, things into their life. Certainly we’ve all had those times when one thing after another goes wrong. Last year in the span of about two weeks my partner found a lump on her thyroid, was laid off of work, my son got in a car accident with her car, and our basement flooded to the tune of about $10,000 worth of damage. Was it a frustrating, difficult and sometimes scary time? Yes. Was God testing us? Ridiculous.

God doesn’t send you more than you can handle. The passage this came from is 1 Corinthians 10:13 where Paul actually says something somewhat different “No test has overtaken you but what is common to all people. You can be confident that God is faithful and will not let you be tested beyond your means. And with any trial God will provide you with a way out of it, as well as the strength to bear the trial.” Nowhere in this passage does it say that GOD will test us, just that challenges happen to all people, but God hangs in there with us and gives us strength (it is just that sometimes we are blind to that help).

Are there things that happen to us that test our faith, our belief in God, our strength? ABSOLUTELY! That is common and normal… but it is not God who is testing us for some bizarre supernatural reason that only God knows and we aren’t supposed to question.

The God I know is the God of the Spirit Within  who seeks the fulfillment of who we were created to be. It seeks wholeness, wisdom, and our spiritual growth through personal introspection about the things that happen to us. In other words, perhaps the outcome of the normal difficulties in life is not a pass or fail grade from God, but the opportunity to grow emotionally and spiritually deeper.

That seems like enough of a rant for one day!