Starting Over

Yesterday I visited a church. Of my own volition. I haven’t done that in four years. I haven’t wanted to. I’ve been at peace with enjoying my Sundays at home since I stopped attending church in 2011. I’ve experienced enough trauma in church over the last 30 years, I should have PTSD…but I don’t. If anything, I’m just bitter and skeptical.

But yesterday, I decided to try again. The decision to cross that threshold is much more difficult than I wish it was. I wanted to talk but I also wanted to be invisible. I hid in the corner by myself like Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club. I thought maybe if I didn’t make eye contact, I’d go unnoticed…but I didn’t. This particular community remembered me from a visit last month, when I met the lovely/kick ass artist, Frank Schaeffer. Granted, when I went to hear Frank speak, I didn’t know I was joining a small group of people holding church at the World of Beer. As I waited for my turn to talk to Frank, I conversed with a few of the church members. I met one of the “pastors” who was intrigued by my Fuck Cancer shirt and flip flops. He said he can always tell a lot about people by the shirts and shoes they wear. He said that by the way I was dressed, I wanted to be casual and not give a shit but was still a bit too afraid. Astute assessment, but this guy is also a top attorney in the area. He probably knows how to read people. In any event, I saw some potential in his little flock and decided to put my fear in the Fuck It Bucket and scope out the scene again when I was ready.

Sometimes I feel bad for declining an invitation to join a group. Yesterday, several church members asked me to move out of my corner and into the open to join the circus of conversation. Each time, I said no…preferring to stay out of sight. The collective dialogue was about the metamorphosis of church and how it’s become a cumbersome entity that hates gays and persecutes anyone who looks or behaves contrary to some arbitrary set of rules. And yet the religious assholes wonder why the church is dying.

In church, I’ve seen pastors cheat on their wives, verbally abuse members with racist/misogynist ideologies; witnessed people being accosted for having an abortion or for being gay; watched marriages dissolve from infidelity between church members (including my own); seen people falsely accused of heinous acts (including myself); and wondered what the fuck is wrong with people. So why in the hell would I ever choose to pursue this endeavor again?

I guess I keep trying because as much as I’ve had my heart broken, I’ve also managed to have it healed in the company of people who actually believe in love and act on it. The last two churches I participated in, I was nearly destroyed…but there were specific individuals who picked me up out of the ashes and spoke compassion into my bruised soul. And I’m kind of hoping that I’ll find some measure of what church is supposed to be while participating in this new community. I know there will never be a perfectly safe place because we’re imperfect people. But I’m starting over with a new awareness of who I am and what I know to be true about others. I hope this is the beginning of something great but I know I’ll be okay if it’s not.

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Metta Meditation

Two weeks ago I started attending a meditation group. It’s facilitated by a Buddhist teacher and each week, he opens new pathways to connect our outer self with our inner self. 

I suck at meditation. The great thing about mindful meditation: No judgment. So, according to said principle, I don’t suck at meditation. Meditation is like A.D.D. hell. Sit still for 30 minutes and concentrate on breathing. 

Breath 1, breath 2, air conditioner, cold, jacket, hot chocolate, chocolate ice cream, hungry.

That’s my brain on meditation. If I’m tired, hungry, or just plain bitchy, concentration is as fleeting as my interest in sitting idly.

Last Saturday I was having a particularly difficult time staying focused. I was distracted by some other circumstances: 1) Poor sleep 2) My husband was awaiting a massage by some tart after a 3 week labor intensive business trip 3) I can’t focus on ANYTHING when I’m tired and I know someone other than me is going to have their hands on my man. Note to self: Study deep tissue massage therapy skills and grow some damn muscles. After the standard 30 minute meditation, the group discussed our ability or inability to maintain awareness.

Then something magical happened. The facilitator introduced Metta Meditation. It’s a loving-kindness or compassion meditative practice. It works like ripples in a pond. You begin with yourself. You show compassion towards yourself, then to your family, then your friends, neutral people, and even people you don’t like. You repeat a phrase in your mind over and over, beginning with yourself and then expanding.

The phrase we were given: “May I be well, happy, and peaceful.” We recite the phrase 4 or 5 times and then move on…

“May my family be well, happy, and peaceful.”

“May my friends be well, happy, and peaceful.”

“May neutral people be well, happy, and peaceful.”

“May [person/people I don’t like] be well, happy, and peaceful.”

I did fine until I got to the last phrase. When I visually imagined the difficult person in my life, I actually made a face of disgust. To say it takes energy to wish a malicious bastard wellness, happiness, and peace is an understatement. But I needed to do it. I think the action was proactive and positive and removed some of the weight hanging around my neck. It’s the closest I think I’ll ever get to loving my enemies. I hope that by repeating this phrase, I’ll become a catalyst for change in my own heart and in the hearts and minds of others.

After the session, I was driving home and was cut off by a rude driver in a very large SUV. I had to stop my car to keep from hitting road barrels. I flipped the driver off then laughed and shouted, “May the shitty driver be well, happy, and peaceful!”

Hey, it’s a start.

Art and God

I’ve been creating art for half of my life. It started with a fascination with VanGogh’s Starry Night. It’s such a popular painting, it’s on coffee mugs, t-shirts, calendars, ugly Christmas sweaters. But to me it was transforming. It was taking all of those elementary art classes and culminating them into a masterpiece of color and texture. The first piece I tried to paint was a remake of the moon in Starry Night. I was captivated by the contrast of the moon against the sky and the sleeping blue town below. That was the beginning of the transformation.

Art was this activity I gravitated towards to challenge myself. I drew the faces of famous people, painted scenes for contests, and began to feel a deep, personal connection to every piece I crafted.

It was as magical as it was painful.

I never imagined that by simply picking up a paintbrush, I would be changed from the inside out. Painting was nothing but moving colors around on paper or canvas or whatever surface I happened to have at the moment. It was never supposed to be anything more. It was never supposed to make me feel emotions buried so deep…but it did. And amid the colors, I discovered the greatest truths about myself.

1) Art is not a thing, it is a way. It is a movement. It is what compels beauty throughout the world. It is not a thing, it is who we are.

2) Art is an act of love. It is the expression of emotions, fears, adoration, all the little phrases we’re too afraid to say with words. It is affection poured out in colorful streams of love.

3) Art is worship. I grew up in a conservative religion. Worship felt like a scripted encounter with God. Pray, sing songs, repeat. I don’t remember when art infiltrated my relationship with God, but over the last 15 years, it became the way I commune with God. It’s where I have my most intimate conversations with the Creator. Art has given me a unique connection with God.

4) I will avoid art if I believe I might feel some emotion I’m not ready to experience. Creating art makes me vulnerable, my defenses are down and I can’t fight off the waves of the past, present, and future. Sometimes I look at my paintbrushes and walk away. Save it for another day.

5) Art is as messy as life. Embrace it.

 

 

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