Sunday, January 19, 2014

A Rink and the Cross: 19 January 2014

The moment I closed my eyes, today, I saw an empty silhouette in the place of my body with a snowstorm on the inside. An out-of-body type of experience where I was looking down on the GRFM meeting room and I could see the beautiful swirling crystals in this space.

This body-shape was then blown away and became an iceskating rink - at first with no discernible edges, just a sheet of ice. And I flew around the rink with perfect ease, like I did as a child. Backwards, forwards, crossovers, a few little waltz jumps, running over the ice on my toe picks like I always did right before close. It was just me on the rink, and the ice was almost perfect. It was gorgeous, and I was alive.

Again, I was fully aware of my body, though I didn't concentrate on it this time. Since September, it has, with eerie consistency, been exactly the same body (that, by the way, feels much more mine than my body as it currently is. Look how trans I am, guys, Spirit gave me a body during meeting). It's become less ambiguously androgynous to the point where I can say what it does and doesn't look like, though, so I have the satisfaction of being able to include pictures. First off, it's always pretty clearly FTM, chest scars and smaller shoulder-hip ratio than cis male bodies and everything (though I don't notice unless I concentrate with the intent to figure it out) -

- and otherwise I basically look exactly like Jared Leto. (For those not a regular part of my life, I recently saw a picture of this guy and everything suddenly made sense. Didn't know about his existence before he apparently exploded all over the web the last couple days, so I'm not saying anything in or against his favor, but you see the similarity, don't you? Well, pretend, because one day it's going to be a thing.)

Anyways - I was in a black T-shirt, soft, kind of stretchy black pants, and black skates on the skating rink. It was so quiet, but the quiet was comforting somehow - the echoes of my skates on the ice made everything seem grander, royal, pretty, somehow. The rink grew sides, until it looked fairly similar to a conventional ring. Worn plastic sides up to the waistline, with glass extending further up from there. I did a few laps, feeling the wind in my hair and on my arms, everything free and full of energy, when I approached the center of the rink and, right in the middle, did this wonderful tight spin. The scratch I made coming out of it sent a burst of magical energy through the ground, like Elsa's magic when she's building her ice palace. (No, I don't even remotely want to be her, what do you mean?)

This burst of magic transformed the rink into a ballroom with an ice floor, and low, soft, golden-lighted chandeliers grew out of the ceiling. Where the plastic sides had been were golden marble pillars -

actually, let's be honest, more like -

- complete with these gorgeous dark navy velvet curtains on windows looking out on blank whiteness behind the pillars. As I continued to skate around the rink, little glass lights like the liquid rain branches in - yep - Frozen fell out of the ceiling as well, and lit up amongst the chandeliers. There was no other lighting, so everything was illuminated by these tiny little lights all over. The ceiling itself was dark, only peppered by tiny, sparkling lights, as if it were the sky itself.

I could skate around the pillars and run my hand through the droplet-like little lights so that they klinked like windchimes, and the warmth and strength of my body against the crisp of the air was bliss.

After what seemed like a couple hours of skating, I made my way to the center and sat down crosslegged under the largest and lowest of the chandeliers and closed my eyes, mirroring my position back in the meeting room. The rink merged with the room and the room with the rink and everything suddenly seemed preternaturally beautiful and I felt so pretty and masculine and it was so comfortable and freeing and exciting. But soon this gave way for the totally un-sensory longer half of the meeting.

Yesterday, I went downstairs to play the piano in the prayer room and, as I sometimes do, looked through the worship binder they use for small group meetings. Surprisingly enough, I don't attend these meetings, and I don't go to dorm worship, and I haven't heard most of these songs in a really long time. I've been away long enough now that it's begun to get nostalgic to hear them, even if some of them still fill me with a kind of vague, deep, gut-wrenching nausea. That effect has been diminished quite substantially by my year and a half of distance, though, for which I'm very thankful. This song in particular caught my attention, because it was one of those songs I loved without understanding why and sang like it was new I'd heard it every time.

Obviously, like many other songs I used to be up to my neck in, these lyrics pose a bit of a theological difficulty for me when understood literally. I mean, "Your blood was spilled for my ransom" doesn't seem to have the same kick without substitutionary atonement. But I never thought about the lyrics in the first place, so somehow it was equally powerful even now, so many months after my wonderful apostasy.

It kept washing over me as I sat there - me on the ice rink and me in the meeting - wearing at my consciousness like waves wear on sand. Savior, I come, quiet my soul, remember. This in itself was always beautiful to me - entering into the quiet, meditative space in which I still find that which I might call God. In fact, I thought to myself, if I'm going to understand the story of Jesus's life and death and resurrection as a metaphor for the human condition, it makes sense that introspecting would grant connection to God. It's by looking in and centering that the song starts; it's by looking in and centering that my own worship begins.

Redemption's hill - Redemption. Look, if something's being redeemed, it must mean that something magical his happening, because the process of redemption means that human beings have come to understand something in a new light. Redemption, I have realized over the last couple years, is an entirely subjective process, as is revelation. These concepts have no weight unless it means that we see the objects of redemption or revelation in different ways, as different things, serving different purposes. What does it mean for us to be redeemed?

- where your blood was spilled for my ransom. What does this even mean to people given that Jesus' blood is our blood? Everything I once held dear, I count it all as loss. It's that Jesus' story - or the implications of his story - and its transformation of the way people see their lives, their natures, their own existences and purposes, has brought something once painful into hope.

Lead me to the cross, where your love poured out. What is it about the experience of torturous execution that appeals to the human condition? Bring me to my knees, Lord, I lay me down. Submission to oneself? One's own spirit? Rid me of myself, I belong to you. No. It's certainly not that - there is something valuable about God being apart from, or at least distinct from, us. That's what makes this song powerful. Belonging to something larger and better and more beautiful. But submission and lowness only means something empowering if it means being part of that redemption - but to what does that redemption actually refer? Lead me, lead me to the cross.

You were, as I, tempted and tried - human. I remember it being that word - human - that always caused me to breath a sigh of relief, as though it meant God simply couldn't be that far removed from me, because God was simply human. Nothing more than that, either, I now add - God is human. God is human. Human is God. We have God in us, and we are in God. God is that which is holy within us - that which is beautiful about the holy condition might be called God. But God is more than that, too - God is the personification of these traits, symbolizing the unification of all those things and people that have something of God in them. As though there were some single being we were all part of, a unity binding us all together in nature. The word became flesh, bore my sin and death - now you're risen. There's nothing abstract about this story. It's incarnational, it's real, because it's our own story. We're not alone, because Jesus binds us together in that experience of exile from his own body, exile from his own land, exile from all dear to him - God experiences this exile. We're not alone, because God experiences exile. God is the exile.

Everything I once held dear, I count it all as loss. Lead me to the cross, where your love poured out. Bring me to my knees, Lord, I lay me down. Rid me of myself, I belong to you. Lead me - lead me to the cross.

The human condition means awareness of exile. We feel estranged - being estranged from God means being estranged from any other people, any hope for the future or past, separated from possibility for healing or hope. Exile means destruction, and exile is fundamentally godless. Exile is when God turns on you, abandoning you to the beasts and to poverty and your enemies tear down the temple.

I've been reading a book about pain in which the author, a sufferer of chronic pain, describes her disgust with the story of the crucifixion - or, at least, her disgust in the way Christianity enamors itself with that symbol and story. Pain is real, she says, and I refuse to take up my cross and follow someone. I want my cross taken away. I will not celebrate it in some delusion that community with a God imposing pain on its creation makes pain better or something. Remembering this story, I thought to myself that she had missed the point entirely.

The Judeo-Christian tradition is structured around pain, exile, despair, and death because those are our experiences. That's the status-quo. That's what we've got. That's the canvas we're given, it's what happens. It's not about accepting our pain or being okay with it, because we have no choice about that part. We've long accepted pain, and it's become part of every bitter step through life. And what's more, pain is isolating. As the author of this text says, pain makes the sufferer retreat into their own world, incapable of escape and incapable of any higher thought, anything complex, anything other than a plea for the pain to go away. There is no hope, possibility, love, peace, or redemption in pain. Where there is pain, there is no God.

The word became flesh, bore my sin and death - now you're risen. 

God - this personification of all those constructive human and natural qualities - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gratefulness, gentleness, self-control, hope, possibility, redemption - is there in every moment, even in the pain. Pain is no longer isolating, because pain in and of itself has been transformed.

Pain is not a vast chasm of spiraling despair. Pain does not mean that you have committed an irrevocable sin or that there's necessarily anything wrong with you. Pain doesn't mean that you've been cut off from the land of the living or that all justice has been forsaken for evil and a dark apocalypse. Sometimes these things feel real, and it's a dark place to be. Many of us really do feel this way when we're in pain - as though we're unreachable. But we do not remain in darkness forever, because we have risen, and there is always resurrection. Our pain is a sign of resurrection, and it is out of pain that resurrection emerges.

The Gospel does not eliminate the problem of evil as a lowercase P - E problem of evil. God is not analgesic. But that we feel pain prompts us to remember God - others, those less fortunate even than ourselves - and to make pain an opportunity to diminish others'. As the story goes, Jesus died an unjust death in an attempt to make the world easier for those who feel the brunt of injustice - the Israelites received from their LORD's hand double for all their sins despite anything they tried to do right. It's not about escaping our own pain, because it's already been accepted as an a-priori condition to applying oneself to this story that we can do nothing about it. But GIVEN that we've tried everything we know how to cure the pain and nothing is left to try - we need to make this world the kind of place where we diminish the pain of others.

This needs to be the kind of place where the sufferers of grief, those lonely or desperate find a place to stay. It means being a decent human being because we are the hands of God and also serve others as though serving God. God is no more than we are - God has become human and died with us, so that we might see light.

The Gospel means that we can approach our own pain without fear and let ourselves heal without being overcome by despair. It means we're not alone for too long, and that even in our pain, we find community - healing community, hopefully, if the community's living as "God intends" - with each other and the world. That means something, doesn't it?

God is not scary. Humanity is not scary. Life is not scary. We approach each of these things as though approaching the warm arms of a parent, confident and committed to the love we've found in each other. It's a very simple, self-perpetuating drive: pain inspires its own obliteration.

I want to live life the way I skate around that rink. There is something more beautiful about having an existence that sees the sparkling lights and the bouncing curls and magic and gold, a life that breathes fresh air.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Dough and Metal: 30 September 2013

It was a conveyor belt of some sort.

Rolling along it were globs of dough, squirted down onto the belt by some kind of mechanic operation hanging down from above.

They were in a vacuum, the regular dark of the mindspace cushioning them in silence.

Then came the leaves and the trees - once again, I was in a forest. But color never faded into the scene, apart from what existed in the dough. Everything was an intense, metallic pewter. Solid, sharp, and heavy. The forest floor was carpeted by a mossy sheet of small, dark, matt little balls of steel. It moved like a sheet of chain mail, and was so dense that none of the little balls ever came out of place. The trees were sparse and formed a low canopy maybe 20 feet at most off the ground - their bark was made of sheets of metal like everything else, and their leaves were bladelike in the way they hung down from their branches.
The one conveyor belt I'd seen initially was not the only one. This forest only existed for the sake of the conveyor belts, it seemed, or at least nothing lived here apart from it. It just kept spitting out these blobs of dough and they kept moving away to god knows where - it was assumed that something more would happen to them than just this.

It was at this point that it became clear to me that I was the product of this dough; I was dough, every part of me. My body was the same one I described in my last entry, and the same one present in my meditation from last week, which I didn't write about - a very plain, very androgynous body with mid-back-length wavy blonde hair.

I walked forward, alongside the conveyor belt, and stopped by a tree to examine the leaves. I cut my index finger clean off in the process, but it only stung a little. I picked the finger back up and examined it - a white layer of clay, pink, red, and tan: all the different layers that would be in a finger, just made of dough. I stuck it back on again and reappeared in the tree. The branches must have been cold, but I didn't feel them.

As if in explanation, some kind of incredible power surged through my body and shot out through my fingertips, sending medusa-like projectiles from my arms to every conveyor belt dough spout within a 300 foot radius. Out of my body poured dough - or perhaps it was sucked, drawn out, leeched out, vacuumed - and upon having injected what was necessary into this system, my power was completely drained. But I refused to remain weak, and so I gathered more, somehow, feeding from the surroundings, from the cold, from the lifelessness.

Understand, this cold and lifelessness and monochrome comes in stark contrast to the past few months. I have been on beautiful adventures and seen beautiful things. But there was some kind of unstoppable dark power in the utter defiance of this ecosystem's self-perpetuating death... It was alive, but only seemed to exist to prove how unliving and hostile and mechanical it could be.

A kind of invisible, silent vibration rose from the earth and formed a sheath around my body, and I drew it into myself, harvesting this power to whirl myself up above the leaf canopy, completely unhindered by, perhaps simply invincible to, the seemingly-lethal edges on both sides of every leaf.

Not going to lie, it was something like being in the avatar state. That's pretty close to what it was. My hair was rippling with static potential and wind, my fingers were tingling with power, and with every moment in the air and every moment I was able to see this wretched, indifferent expanse, I became stronger and angrier until.... something in my gut erupted.

My eyes lit up with a kind of lightning, as though anyone that so much dared look at them, at me, would have their corneas burned out (probably along with the rest of their face). Lightning shot from my core through my fingers and down through my feet to the trees below - but nothing burned, though the impulse was conducted from one side to the opposite side of the entire planet within seconds, because it was all just cold, hard steel.

The universe I was in seemed to feed off of that self-frustration. It generated more electricity and produced more dough. Thriving off of the explosion occurring in the sky above them, the trees all just seemed to ask for more, which gave me more power even as it infuriated me (since they refused to burn). The same beams shot out through my limbs again - every finger, every hair on my body, every toe, simply pouring out immense bolts of lightning from a completely unknown source in my gut. Sustaining this hold, I raised my arms and my eyes up to the sky, projecting it all somewhere beyond, commanding it to fall, to humble itself. There was some kind of brittle, flat, slate sky far, far away that received the bolts and shook, cracked, and crumbled, and the pieces catapulted down as though being sucked in by a black hole.

I remained completely invincible to this catapulting of slate meteorites, unsatisfied with the results - because it only grew, the more I tried to destroy it, the more viciously it gobbled up my attacks. And so the more vicious I became - the more intensely my eyes burned and the more fiercely my hair sizzled and the more pointed my teeth became and the more utterly neutral my expression seemed and the more fiercely my limbs swung lasers around as though it were some kind of apocalyptic light show... But this would not, could not, end. That Ola Gjeilo piece, Tundra, that I linked from my last entry? It had been transposed to some other, more ominous minor key, and to full orchestra, but half of that orchestra was playing on the wrong side of their bridges, and half the choir was shrieking.

The next slate sky, a world beyond the one I had broken, shattered and fell; and the next; and the next, and the world of chaos just kept growing and growing, seeming to bristle with the energy it was feeding itself. But it was never enough, it kept growing - though everything was still cold, my arms became flamethrowers as well, a kind of sun, a combustion engine, a bringer of defiant, unliving death. I was in these three states at once: the naïve, new, quiet piece of raw dough; the witchlike provider of dough, peer of the trees; and the godlike, wrathful beast, attempting to destroy the world by expanding it... or perhaps expand the world by destroying it.

It was fairly nightmarish and by 45 minutes in, I was very, very tired. Horrified. But it wasn't horrified because I didn't know why it was there or what it was telling me, teaching me. I was horrified because it was such a perfect depiction.

I've been very frustrated of late with a great number of things. It, like this world I entered into, has been a fairly quiet but extremely explosive presence. I am frustrated with myself for lacking the self-control to be as responsible as I need to be; for forgetting things I need to remember; for having chosen to be where I am (as per this post to Apostrophe); for caring about things I probably would do better not to care about; for the death of a past I could never have saved. Infuriation about the state of Christianity and of Calvin and of those things I was always promised would be freeing but discovered not to be. Anger that I believed for so long and kept trying to when I always knew in the back of my mind how good it would feel to throw it away. I hate to admit it, but this world is a fairly accurate depiction of my soul from this past week, and living it through Meeting was the most cathartic spiritual experience I could have had.

I wasn't going to write about this week because it was so dark and so frightening. But today I find myself in the same kind of spiritual self-destruction - an inability to soothe the beast raging on this pillar of fire. When I tried to do so on sunday, I sent in a calming mist (to no avail), and then a numbing cloud (also futile). Then... well, all that worked was to implode the universe into a ball and carry it into the mindspace, enter my beautiful sea - the one with the sailboat - and drop it far down into the ocean, for use as my anchor. And there I lay, buoyed up by the water, soothed, peaceful, calm.

But I have found myself numb. I think it's simply true, on a descriptive, existential level, that Spirit leaves us sometimes. Well, I don't mean that it's not there, but perhaps that we are absent from Spirit. I'm unsure at times how to solve anything in my life productively, how not to engage self-destruction when I get the urge. Perhaps writing about this will create some type of calm. I find it more realistic to believe that that's not how this story will end, because that would seem disingenuous. I hope for more beautiful days with calmer weather; for big swallows to ride through the arboretum, valleys with blossom patchworks, orcas and soft sails and warm fires and children and waterfalls. I'd prefer that. But until then, perhaps this is how Spirit's urging me to hold my own issues in the light.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

My Sailboat's Electric Blanket: 15 September 2013

Grand Rapids has returned to my field of vision, and I find myself blessed to have such a warm community around me. The new season has brought interesting new things to learn: I met with a few people from the Meeting this week to talk about the history of GRFM and am glad to have candid conversation around the various points of drama and politics that have been around now and in the past. The Meeting seems very ashamed or irritated by these problems, and they are difficult, no doubt, but they're the same kinds of struggles faced by every church or religious group. Someone does something in a way that's not as thorough or as considerate as someone else wants it to be, doesn't spend money the way others want the money to be spent, and people get upset. I think that this type of knowledge sometimes drives people away from social or religious groups because they experience it to be disillusioning. I may be young and dreadfully naïve, but I've been tired enough of the general obnoxiousness, pettiness, and idiocy of churches for such a large percentage of my life that these conflicts - like one between spending money on spiritual training versus donating to charity/education/outreach groups - seem like the right conflicts to be having, if conflicts are to be had.

The image that presented itself today came to me immediately. It's one that came to me momentarily this morning when I got up and centered myself for a few seconds - it only took a few to appear. The image is of a beautiful sailboat on a vast grey sea, restless, but not angry. My boat is pristine, almost fantastic: its paneling on the inside, like sides of the top of the boat, were pearly and gold stripes - they may have been wood, but the most polished, the hardest, the glossiest. Most of the rest of the boat was mostly this dark, off-black wood. The same intense sheen, the same solidity, reliability. The mast was this color, and on top was this gorgeous finial - like this, but far more ornate, with the ridges made up in swirls that reflected the twilight bouncing off the water. And of course, a sail. It was large and heavy, but had fine, delicate fibers, so that it wasn't as rough as a typical piece of canvas. It looked like milk in the wind.

The setting was dark, but there was ample light, creating a shimmer on the water. This is more or less what it looked like, except that the boat was much smaller:

And this is what it sounded like:

This song was playing in my head the entire time I was in this place, and the scene was being built, as if by the brush of an artist, as if it were to the beat of the music. As this was happening, I was laying in the belly of the boat, under the deck. It was dark and warm, but I was simultaneously looking down at the boat from the sky, as in a dream. I swayed back and forth with the motion of the arpeggio as the clouds came into greater focus and the ship gained greater definition and detail.

I did not move normally during this vision. I was like a spirit, evaporating and spinning through various states and positions in the scene. In some ways, I think I was the scene, or at least partaking in the scene, similarly to the way I partake in God. It was a symbiosis with something larger than myself, with infinitely more energy and power than me, but which radiated from me and my ship nonetheless.

If you're following the music, at the sopranos' lyric line at 1:03 in the recording I linked, there appeared an orca by the side of the boat, and soon I dove into the water to join it. My back was arched and I lay on the back of the orca, held there by some kind of magnetic, majestic spiritual energy as it shot through the water. I wasn't wearing anything, but I had a very plain, androgynous body - almost childlike, except that it was fairly toned. The water and the orca and the ship and the clouds were connected in some way, and we knew each other.

Soon I was on top of the mast, clinging to the finial and feeling my hair  - slightly longer and slightly wavier than it is, but still fairly androgynous - whip in the breeze. The music was building and building and at the musical section in 1:31, something cracked: with a burst, a rainbow-colored web of electric shock burst from the ship across the entire expanse of water, the entire sea brimming with static energy. In some vague way, it felt as if I were exploding out of the ship in the form of this energy, hovering in and over the water in this net of ethereal matter, as I imagine God in the Genesis story, where God hovers over the waters before Creation. As songs do when they are stuck in your head, the next time it reached that point in the song, the same thing happened: as if it were a wave hitting the boat, the mast, upon which I was perched again, shot such a burst of energy up out of its top, lighting the clouds on fire and sending bursts of bright, intense shocks through the entire sky.

And then came the rain: after several waves of this shock reverberating through the sky and the water, the drops of rainbow came pouring down from the dark, grey clouds - like they simply could not contain themselves any longer, and had to go down to greet the water. So there I was, on top of the mast on a Peter-Pan-like ship of glowing golden and pearl and off-black wood, floating in and atop and above an endless body of water, perched on the top of a mast, feeling my hair wave along with this creamy, fluid sail... It was incredible. (Unbelievably enough, no mind-altering substances required.) As is typical of my trips into these various fantastic worlds during Meeting, it was one of the most gorgeous things I have seen.

Again, it comes down to a very basic, very powerful experience with imagination. Here I was, this timeless, androgynous, powerful version of myself, completely by myself in this contained, isolated little world, with absolutely no one or anything to speak of in my company. Except the orca. And the fish. And the lightning, and my boat. And, of course, the music, which was the fiber of the universe, holding it al together, inexplicably oozing out of every crack that didn't exist. Even so alone, without anyone with whom to speak or to interact, I was in community, because this place was community. It was an audio-visuo-spatial expression of a soul.

Much of the reason people seem to cling to trinity doctrine is because it guarantees that God is in community with itself. I love that idea. God's internal community resonates with our own self-awareness and consciousness that's inherited as part of the human psyche. I like the idea of God knowing that God loves Godself and continuing in that love, understanding, self-knowing, and wisdom because it simply knows it to be that way. Trinity isn't the only way to get there, but the impact of this theology is an element of my natal tradition I haven't completely relinquished.

The human soul is an expression of God. This world, however alone or however stormy or however electric, is one we can retreat into to find peace - peace between the fibers of chaos. Because God, the human soul's expression of God, has put it there. Or it can put it there, if it's not. These worlds are hidden between synapses in our brains. It's such a simple joy. All it needs is to be dug out.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Family Water: 14 July 2013

On lazy summertime weekends, I sometimes put aside my laptop so late at night, when I'm so tired, that  when I wake up the next morning, I can hardly remember closing it and setting it aside. And as the sun through my window wakes me up some number of hours later, when I roll over and drag my computer toward me to continue the lazy summertime weekend thing, opening it back up is like a jolt back into a train of thought the Sandman had forced me to abandon.

My mindspace opened in a similar way this morning, onto an image of the last time I was meditating with a friend of mine in a park on Friday. My friend is seven years old - just going into second grade - and had used his boyish hyperenergy to run out in front of us on the trail we were hiking. When I caught up to him in the grass by the parking lot, he was sitting cross-legged with an exaggerated long expression and his hands resting palm-up on his knees, fingers touching like a little Buddhist monk. It was clear that he'd been doing it partially as a joke, but he must've been sitting there for awhile, and he resisted getting up when I addressed him.

Intrigued by his interest - the kid is intelligent and has a keen depth of insight, as I believe many children do - I told him we should move away from the path, and we sat down on a shady patch of grass looking into the forest. Our eyes closed, and I found myself entering a normal posture of meditation, which I found strange, considering that he's seven and there were only two of us. When we both got distracted by a couple people calling to one another across the parking lot, I told him to just hear it and let it go, to let thoughts come and leave without reacting to them. I opened my eyes and glanced over at him to my right - he had dropped his playful expression and had this air of serene calm over him. After about half a minute, he moved down in front of me off of the little hill we were sitting on, repositioning his sweatshirt under him in order to be more comfortable.

It was clear to me in May that some important brainwork I'd have to do this summer would be a reconfiguration of my understanding of family, of nationality, of belonging, my expectations for the future, my priorities, the way I see myself and my religion - everything I've had firm thoughts about in the past and since deconstructed. These are things I did on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times a day, from seventh grade until college, but I got bored as I found myself capable of emotional maturity. That has also meant, however, that many of the emotional qualities I was best at a couple years ago have gotten traded for entirely different qualities, and the original strengths have become weaknesses. I no longer overprocess, but that itself is a shift which I find myself having to process - the irony.

For one, I've begun to self-identify as Quaker. Not only is it the only religious ideology in which I've felt comfortable for any significant stretch of time, in the objective, modernist sense, but the dogmatic parameters of the community are loose enough that I don't feel threatened by anything people say. I still hesitate to say that "I am a Quaker" to other people because I'm still fairly uneducated on the kind of thing you'd have to read to know and I've only been attending Meetings for half a year, but I intend to stick it out.

Another thing is that I'm re-confirming to myself - in the midst of a pretty intense submersion in queer language and culture this summer, as I'm throwing out norms left and right - that I still deeply want to be a parent one day. I don't want a husband, I don't want a big house, I don't want to be a homemaker, and I don't want to be a woman as much as I want to be an adult. But I want to have a partner and family, and I want other childhoods to be part of my life when I've grown a few decades removed from my own. I want to teach a couple kids my language and culture. I like the grandma / grandpa / uncle / neice / nephew / grandkids dealie. I'd love for it to work out that way.

As I sat on that piece of grass watching that seven-year-old kid breathe and listen to the birds in Meeting this morning, I realized that it's completely unnecessary for my genes to be part of any child I raise. Most of the deepest love and pride I've felt hasn't been dependent on genes or pregnancy in the past - my best friends, the people I've been in love with, my teachers, my cat, my tree, the communities I've been part of. When my friend joined me in meditation for those ten minutes at the edge of a parking lot, we shared a unique bond that transcended any blood or familial or age or gender or sexual or even religious ties, and the same thing happens in community with Friends every week. I have believed and have taught myself for years, but especially in these past few months, that this bond exists between everything and everyone. Why not give more connections the chance to develop?

* * *

The image was fascinating today. It was one of this kid in front of me on the lawn, as I said - and soon an ethereal bubble of water appeared above his head - roughly 150% its size. It seemed to represent the state in which his mind dwelled, a representation of his mindspace.

And then it broke. I can't say it shattered - it's more that a massive torrent of water suddenly fell out from it down upon him, as though it had been relieved of the tension that had kept it in its spherical shape. He was drenched, but he did not flinch or turn or shudder or react in any way. It seemed to cause him some kind of glow, in the way a plant does after you give it some fertilizer and sunshine. The memetic counterpart to the above thoughts came through my mind - the vivacity of this child and any child's life, its strength and independence from blood ties. The water was still streaming down in a small, cylindrical waterfall - and suddenly there came an intermission to the scene.

There were three tiny children of genders as fluid as the water - their genders flowed in and out of femininity and masculinity and androgyny and can't-tell and weird combinations of it all - that were climbing up a rope in the middle of the waterfall. This location seemed fairly similar to the one I blogged about in The Most Beautiful Nature I've Ever Seen, in a dreamlike kind of way.

The top child was blonde, had short hair, and was the quickest. The middle one had redish blonde hair and was very curious, but slower than the first. The third had mopish, curly, brown hair that stayed the same shoulder length regardless of gender. There was a playful back-and-forth banter between them, Blonde urging Red and Brown on, Brown complaining of splinters, Red telling Blonde to wait up, Brown getting distracted by something cool on the rocks. Each child's face and hair changed from moment to moment as genders and gender expressions changed, as if all their different cheeks and chins were nothing more than images in a stop-motion movie. The rushing of the water seemed to drown out their shrill, excited voices after a time, and my thoughts wandered into formless Brain Just Needa Process Stuff mode.

Four people gave ministry today, and every one of them mentioned the recently-announced verdict of the Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case. Their messages were about inclusion and exclusion and the horrors of racism and compassion and the importance of nonjudgment, the importance of making all these values a political reality for the communities we interact with. That fit particularly well with the first image and train of thought I had been following, and just as Meeting was about to close, it came back in a sort of classical recapitulation.

I was back at the edge of the parking lot and the kid was in front of me on the grass. But as he slowly turned around to look at me, he was not just a he - he was all genders, and all races, and all sizes, all shapes. Every seven-year-old child in one body, grinning at me soaked in this water, which had returned to a bubble above their head: a bubble that I now recognized meant family, meant mindspace connection, meant the Life and Light that binds us together, the water that flows in and out of humanity, the same formula in each body and animal and plant and bacterium. The breaking of the water was like a baptismal water and like a uterine breaking of water - the Living Water is what brings us into this life and whence we return when we leave. It is the Fountain with which we commune when we pray and what we see in our brothers and sisters when we call them by name.

 It has been said that God, Jesus, is the Fountain of Life - in every other sermon I heard as a child, in countless praise songs, in Christian books and prayers and stamped into the fabric of the culture I was raised in. But I believe it is of equal worth - not blasphemous, not insane, not even unChristian - to say that we are also the Water of life. It is my deep conviction that God invites us with every breath we take to discover the extent to which we might one day incarnate that reality.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

From Lost to Listening: 7 July 2013

A couple weeks ago, my younger brother Jaco and I finally made it to University Friends Meeting in Seattle. We met the experience with a degree of glee - for me especially, it had been over a month away from one of the first religious institutions/traditions I've ever really loved associating myself with. There's a sign by a spot in the parking lot that reads "NO PARKING. VIOLATORS WILL BE HELD IN THE LIGHT." We both erupted into smiles and it only took a couple seconds for smartphones to come out.

We were there way early, and it's already awkward being new somewhere, so I was more than a little thankful I had Jaco there to talk to while standing around uncomfortably. The building is square, with a fellowship hall on one side, the worship space on the other, and the library, offices, and stairs down to the children's space on the third side. In the middle is a Zen-looking garden - please forgive my complete ignorance about Japanese architecture and culture - and the walls facing the middle where the little garden is are all glass, with panels I believe are meant to look like sliding doors. The worship room in particular is heavily influenced by the clean, square design of Japanese buildings. There is a light fixture in the middle of the room that is probably about 10 by 25 feet that lets in natural light where this picture above has lightbulbs. The chairs under it are organized in four triangles, facing each other in a really interesting clean-cut visual interpretation of what I'm used to. It's definitely much bigger and has a different feel from the early-1900s, ornate old family house that Grand Rapids Friends Meeting meets in.

This building is a mid-20th century creation, inspired by the Japanese architecture one of the Friends had had experience with when he was rebuilding houses there after the Second World War. (This man was in the habit of going wherever every major American war in the 20th century wreaked destruction to rebuild afterward. I was inspired by the story.) We were told this by a kind, very typically Quaker-ish man (about 60; white hair; intelligent, calm disposition; deep eyes; lots of stories about history from both American colonial times and the 20th century) that approached us while we were standing around hoping that anyone that happened to see us and think we were a couple would hear our Afrikaans and assume something else.

There was a 9:30 adult religious education gathering about the structurally-engrained racism inherent in our current American prison system, and particularly the prison system in our county. It was amazing to witness this kind of conversation the moment we walked into the Meeting house. First impressions can be so telling. There have been other first times at places where I've walked into conversations about how there's a disturbing growth of the doubt, among our secularizing youth, that miracles are possible; others about how the church was dying; others about the incredible healing power of Jesus; others about the peace God brings when we surrender our busy busy lives to Him. Though none of these churches were churches I disliked, it was clear how I would come to relate to them very quickly.

I feel a million times more at home anywhere where I can walk in and randomly attend an "adult religious education" session that's literally about racial injustice. I cannot describe how happy that, on its own, makes me. But that it was conducted by a woman that had just authored a book about it and that was very conscious of the fact that we were almost all white and mostly pretty privileged, that it was received critically, earnestly, and practically by the group? This is the kind of religion I want to be part of.

Another very kind man, named Robert, talked to us after the gathering disbanded. He's in his 70s and has a Southern accent - he only moved here about ten years ago, and was, according to him, a very stubborn, dogmatic, old crotchety Southern man until a few years ago when it all fell apart and he sought out the Friends meeting. He was a Biology teacher in his young life, and then a professor of Education in - what was it? Guam, I think. The melting pot of identities bottled up in this one very simple and sincere character was amazing to me. I wish I had had more time today to go up and say hello to him. I very much appreciated his story and his conversation.

I regret that I did not write about the experience two weeks ago directly after I got back as I normally do. I had a fascinating, refreshing time of meditation, and some beautiful, fascinating images. The one that stuck with me most was that of a gigantic bird in the middle of the same room I was sitting in, but the room was much larger and flatter - the detailing seemed smaller as well. It seemed much like a bird cage. When the bird flew out of the room, I hung onto its feathers like a little kid riding bareback. I saw everything from above - the water, the cars, the University, the trees - and then I landed back in my seat again.

Everything would suddenly seem like it looked so much smaller than I knew it really was in those moments. It was as if I were being shown the enormity of the world, the openness of possibility, the importance of thinking of the world in those ways. The humanity and clunkiness of the world outside of this joyride on the back of the bird seemed, counter-intuitively, to minimize the importance of thinking of the world in that clunky, limited state of mind. The sky was the limit on the back of the bird, and everything seemed immeasurably fresh and real.

Today, there was no such exploration. There was no ball, no flame, no air, no journey. I have never had the kind of meeting as I had today. I know that a large part of that is because I really know no one at this meeting and had talked to no one before sitting down, and I could tell there were several others present that were in my shoes. There was a vibe - where the vibe was clean-cut and fresh and pure and straight-edged the week prior, this week it was its antitheseis: void, still, clinical. Those words may sound more negative than I intend them. What I mean to say is that for the first time since I began attending meetings, nothing really happened today.

I focused for a long time on the bodily feeling of discomfort I brought with me. Part of being slanted towards a tendency for depression is that sometimes tiny things set me off and I'm unsure what they are until I examine the feeling very deeply, and even then, it's not the incident itself that was responsible. Someone had asked us to move our conversation from the space outside the meeting hall about five minutes before the start of meeting, and it served as a way for me to channel my insecurity about being in a new place, leading a sibling that was hiding in my shadow.

My reading from Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano, has given me new thoughts about the nature of what she calls "body feelings" - a deep sense of where and how things are in your body that contributes meaningfully to your self of self and identity. I spent some time doing body scans, focusing on the location of the faint pains, trying to decipher for myself what "discomfort" actually felt like, bodily. This exercise has replaced for me a process that used to be going to God "with open hands and an open heart," carrying the burdens I was bearing. The reason that this no longer works for me is that it's a passive, weak motion - it's not productive for me to risk becoming needy and whiny (as I have in the past) as a byproduct of finding emotional community and release.

Again, this process of mediation may not seem to have anything to do with the standard conception of the Christian deity, but I never rejected that deity as I've morphed into the understanding of the universe  I have now. Whatever it is I am doing and whatever it is that God has become to me, I do it all in God's presence. God is the mother's blood flowing through my thought fetuses - my meditation is just the umbilical cord, and the place I meditate is just the placenta. God is life and movement and learning and community - I love using a mother or father figure to represent the metaphorical source of all these things, because it grants a sense of unity to experience. The unity rings so true when I dwell in it: I see reflections, pieces, of God in every person I meet, in every tree, in every book, in every article I read.

That is no different than it's ever been. The way I think and believe has changed immensely in the past year, and with surprising apathy on my part. But while I was taught that this release would surely be surrendering to darkness, this process of letting go is as much surrendering myself to God as anything I have ever done. Probably more. It means I'm no longer occupied by the existential strain of truth and falsity on my own mind. God - my metaphor God - directs my thoughts and my revelations and my understanding of truth without my trying to coerce reality and rightness into boxes.

My thoughts this morning were cloudy and uncomfortable - a kind of Pepto Bismol texture, murky and amorphous. I saw a piece of chalk start sentences on a green chalk board over and over and never really write anything coherent - it was the same sentence over and over, in fragments: "My thoughts are a sea of disjointed restrictions." It only existed to deliver the emotion I seemed to need to express, and it went nowhere. But then I gave up.

It was like taking the needle off of a scratched record - like finally popping your ears after a sudden climb in elevation and being able to hear again - like turning off some static background noise your subconscious had been distracted by. I just gave up, and gave in, and listened. I did nothing. I just sat there and rested. I listened to some annoying tapping sound someone on the other side of the room was making. I listend to the yawns and coughs and shifts and knuckle cracking of the people in the room, the birds outside, the cars, the sound of the room itself. I felt my body in that space and kept feeling the way I physically reacted, despite the numbing of my previous physical discomfort. And something just worked, somehow. It didn't feel brilliant or bright or hopeful like the best weeks, but it was honest and plain.

Maybe sometimes Meeting is like waiting for a bus that never came. But listening to the other cars as they come by seems a worthwhile activity in and of itself.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Most Beautiful Nature I've Ever Seen: 1 June 2013

I have made it through May in appreciably better condition than I anticipated. Though I miss Grand Rapids and everyone I got to know this year, I have settled back into a comfortable rhythm back home. I've applied for jobs, watched some shows, seen some friends, and rediscovered my relationship with my parents (which, probably - ironically - due in part to my paranoia, internal conflict, and fear approaching my return, is almost entirely positive, and for that I am eternally thankful). I've literally had a different plan every single week to get to Seattle for meeting and I have failed every time - catching rides with friends, taking the bus, going with other friends, not communicating properly, yada yada yada.

As I've mentioned, unlike ever before, I legitimately start to feel spiritual unrest when I spend too much time out of meditation now, so I have very randomly decided to plop down on the spot to recenter my mind on two different occasions in the past couple weeks. Too much time has passed since the first to merit a post of its own, but it was probably one of the most beautiful meditative experiences I have had. Driving home from a coffee date, one day, I was suddenly filled with an antsy anger, perhaps regret, for the way I had portrayed myself in the conversation. I'd been stuck at home for a few days and hadn't gotten exercise, either, so leaving this meeting, I suddenly felt extremely claustrophobic and embarrassed of myself, pulling off to the side of the road completely spontaneously to charge into the woods.

My first attempt to do this resulted in my landing in a ditch, which had a couple passing bikers worriedly looking at me over their shoulders, because my back wheels were in the air. No matter - I got back on the road, and Lo! there was a trail, maybe 100 yards ahead of me.

Maybe it's because I'm older, or because I've been in Michigan winter with nothing to see but grey for half a year, or because it was completely in the middle of nowhere, or because the sun was shining just right through the trees, but it was legitimately the most beautiful hike I've ever hiked. It seemed to be primarily built for mountain biking, because it was fairly narrow and rocky, with as many bikers on it as runners. (I was clearly the only awkward nonathletic person there, in my skinnies, sweater, and sneakers.) The first leg of the trip was me cathartically running out my frustration to a Protest soundtrack, and the second half, I put everything away so that I could pay attention to the finer details of the forest and soak in the smells and sounds.

There were two mountains, essentially, that I climbed down and then up, with a swampy valley in the middle of them. This swamp had a wonderful, fairly new, wide wood bridge spanning it, and halfway through, there was a bench (just half a log on two more logs - Pacific Northwest style). On my way back, I sat there in silence for 40 minutes, and it was incredibly healthy for me. I learned something very interesting, but now I don't remember what it was. I almost like it better that way - the experience is something I like to remember and then let go of.

That was a week ago. Yesterday, I and a friend of mine were walking through this random little town that literally has only one street and a single coffee shop. We happened upon an adorable, eccentric old house-turned-store, where I found a couple candles and a ring. I've amassed a decent collection of candles, now, and wanted to test them out, so I made a makeshift table and put them all on it. My family later remarked that it looks like I have a shrine in my room, but it didn't even occur to me at the time that it might seem that way. I do suppose meditating cross-legged in front of a small table with eccentric-looking candles on it is fairly nonwestern. Whatever works.

One of my candles has a difficult wick that I was trying to test out today, and the fire gave me the same antsy desire to explore, to be quiet, to be free, to be full, to escape, that came to me last week. So I lit all the rest of the candles and arranged them symmetrically, turned off all the lights, and sat down. It wasn't long before I was interrupted by my family to go watch Star Wars, but one of the most incredible, erm, visions came to me.

I had spent almost no time in Observation before the image came: a very plain, poor, victorian-era little girl was hugging her young mother. The image wasn't clear, though I would describe it as faded, rather than dim, but the world they lived in is the same world I created in which to imagine Great Expectations when I read it.

The girl had long, wavy, sand-colored blonde hair, slightly tangled, but only from play. She wore a light brown dress with three-quarter sleeves and a little white frock - perhaps apron - with frills on the straps and hems and a white bow in the back. In this first image, she was incredibly distraught. As has been the case before, despite the fact that I was not the girl, nor the mother, nor did I find that they represented my relationship to my mother or any tentative daughter, I could feel the girl's pain and the mood of her surroundings in perfect detail.

As children often are, the girl was thoroughly saturated with the sadness - a very plain, very pure sadness that sunk to her bones. It was the kind that makes you feel so helpless you forget about everything that was good, and tears seem like a natural outpouring of your state of being. That state of being where, if only you still remembered something that was good, the misery couldn't possibly be so miserable.

It was a deep pain, not just the scrape of a knee. I don't know what happened - perhaps she got betrayed by some friends, or teased, or kicked out of a game, but I get the feeling it was accompanied by harsh movement and some kind of physical consequence. Do you remember that deep ache that wells up in you as a child when you've cried so much the whining becomes an expression of the ache in your abs? It was that kind of all-consuming ache, accompanied by shame and rejection and emotional hurt.

The mother had a small frame, dark hair, rosy cheeks, a dainty nose. She cradled the girl in her arms so beautifully. The two fit together like a puzzle, as if they had always been meant to be together, to comfort one another. Her mother was a safe haven for the little girl, a home base from which she need never depart. She was warmth and beauty and simplicity and goodness to her, and the girl could see absolutely nothing wrong in her.

This scene faded into a nature scene. She had run a long way to arrive here, and she'd discarded her shoes by the edge of the clearing in which I found her. It was a waterfall, maybe three meters wide and three or four stories tall. There was a perfectly clear pool at its base, and the vegetation was overflowing at the seams. It seemed to speak of pixies and fairies and dwarves and magical kingdoms in some kind of subtle way; there was magic in the air. At least, that's what it seemed to the little girl, who had run a very long way, and had just reached this oasis, and knelt by the water to wash her hands and face.

As she was exploring the area, turning up rocks and splashing in the water, a little boy about her age came out of the woods, or perhaps a cave to the right of the waterfall, and told her that he could show her something cool. Again, typical of children, it didn't really seem strange to her that he was there, nor did she think to ask for his name. It didn't occur to me that he had no identity and that I didn't know where he came from until just now.

He was a skinny boy with a feminine face - pink lips, sharp chin, pale complexion. His build was small - smaller than the girl's - but he'd clearly found his way around the direction he'd come from and was eager to show it to the girl, despite his shy, quiet disposition. The two children waded through waist-deep water into a cave to the right of the waterfall, behind some bushes and through a nest of ferns. There was a long cliff face that went on for significantly longer than the waterfall, and the cave was a relatively shallow, but impressively cavernous space that had evidently been appreciated by some kind of carnivorous animal before us. The boy had been collecting stones he'd found in the pool and in the cave, sorting them by color and shining them to make them look nicer.

After he'd shown me his rocks (as the victorian girl had now morphed into my consciousness, almost as though in freedom, she became me), I asked whether he'd explored much further - maybe, up the cliff. He said he hadn't tried to climb it, and wondered whether we even could. Before he'd finished his sentence, I had made my way through to the cliff face and had climbed up a couple feet - the slope was slightly to my advantage, but it was clearly a difficult climb for such a small kid in a damp dress and bare feet. The boy was afraid and questioned my decision, but I pointed out that there was another cave behind the waterfall that we could get into fairly easily if we climbed carefully.

And so we did - each climbing carefully a story up and about twice as far over, into a far more impressive (though damp) cave than before. The story ends here, but the moment is one I feel deserves description. The waterfall was out of reach from the mouth of the cave, easily three times an arm's length, but we could feel the spray where we crouched together, playing with some stones we found on the cave floor. Outside the cave, watermark rainbows where the sun touched the spray, and from our vantage point, we could see the splashes and ripples the waterfall made in the pool below from its own point of view. The green was so green, and the blue was so blue, and the black so black, the white so white. As if everything was more purely exactly what it was, and everything was more easily understood.

Her mood was such contrast to the state I had found her in. It was an escape for her, no doubt, to come here and play, explore, lose herself in the beauty of a magical world. And what incredible beauty. I'm not sure I've ever felt a place more eternal, old, wise, calm, living, so bright and full of color. It was genuinely a gift to be given a window into that world for a moment, and to experience along with these children, and especially the little girl, the release of pain and frustration into life and light and goodness.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Plants and Birds and Mothers: 12 May 2013

This Sunday was my last trip out to Grand Rapids Friends Meeting until late August. I took a bike again, and it was the craziest trip - such an array of weather patterns. Sunshine, blasts of freezing cold wind, warm gentle breezes, hail, more sunshine, enough heat to make me sweat. Craziness. The world is beautiful, though, and it was a fun trip out. Having now learned the optimal path, both in terms of distance and scenery, well enough not to have to check my phone, it was certainly the most pleasant bike trip I've made out yet. It was certainly a bittersweet morning for me.

The meditation I've had over the last few weeks has been deeply involved with that idea: that the life around us and the life in us and the life between us all stems from the same Source, and so we can learn more about any of these branches by studying the rest of the tree. Walking past all the flowers and the little leaves emerging, a couple weeks after the sun had started to shine, I felt a very simple community with the little buds. I'm in such a spring season of my life, and I fear sometimes that when the Summer comes, I might look back on this time and criticize the blossom for failing to photosynthesize as prolifically as the leaf. There's always an apprehension in the back of my mind that I'll be more like the daffodils, which shrivel after brightening the world with a couple weeks of colorful display, than like the apple blossoms, which are equally lovely, but which are signs of the coming fruit. Especially when the point of college is to cultivate a certain anticipated fruit, it's nerve wrecking not to know why so many petals are dropping from the tree.

I arrived to an empty meeting house and texted Walt Marston that I wasn't sure if I'd missed a memo, since I'd never been the first to arrive. But I figured I would wait until Meeting was scheduled to start and take a moment to calm my spirit, regardless. The blossoms on all the trees - though they still seem a bit out of place to me by the middle of May, since I'm used to March and April being blossom season back home - just make everything look softer and more painterly. Every leaf is more noticeable after the winter season, when we become accustomed to the barren, fairly ugly branches - at least in Michigan, everything's just grey in the wintertime. But now that everything has suddenly exploded out of its cocoon, there is a subtle vivacity to the air and the dirt and the color and the sounds that makes something deep within me feel very warm.

Hearing something behind me, I turned around to see Mike Holladay approaching the steps where I was sitting, asking whether no one had arrived yet. We started chatting and went inside, and I explained that I'd come a little early because it was my last week. He gave a warm hug, and his laughter and lightheartedness was the same warmth in the breeze. And as more people began to filter in toward the start of the meeting, I got to shake hands and meet a couple that has just returned from their winter in Florida. I love shaking people's hands - it's so telling. The man's - I'm terrible with names, even when I've met people several times, forgive me - was firm, but not decisive. He shook maybe four or five times, where I normally only shake twice, but it communicated an appreciation of the moment, and the interest in his eyes when he asked for my name was inspiring. His wife, who was around the corner at the time, proceeded to ask for my name in precisely the same way - and my last name in precisely the same way - and shook my hand, but with about twenty times less movement, as light as a feather, with softness to match it. They both welcomed me, though they've been absent since my first visit to the meeting in October, and though it'll be my last for months. One does not simply extend that kind of greeting unless they've made the space their home.

I was glad to see Walt, who chuckled and said something about people having shown up in the end. Ron Irvine came in, too, and though I've followed him on Facebook, he's been in California for a month, and I've missed speaking with him. There was soon a small circle of people sharing mundane little jokes about the weather and the changing of seasons, the end of my Academic year, a book that's just been put out for sale by a lady named Anita who attends the meeting, things like that. The old wood and brick of the building and the warm lights and the warm faces and hands and smiles and hugs going around are so simple, but they're so rich and full and meaningful.

My heart was full when I sat down. Being around people like these - not just for their kindness, but openness of spirit and the clarity with which they see other people - humbles me incredibly. Again, it occurred to me that the "great cloud of witnesses" is not limited to Abrahamic forefathers, nor to religious figures, nor to just these people in Meeting, but also to the animals and the carpet and the phone in my pocket and the air and the Spirit and children. There is a weight to Life that contains a wise constancy I'd like to spend my time learning from, and I have a disposition that allows me to do so easily if I simply listen.

I have friends with whom I have been in conversation lately about the personal ethics of mind-altering drugs like pot. I'm intrigued by the debate, and it's very clear to me that pot is less harmful than tobacco. People have told me about all the great effects it has on your ability to meditate, and notice detail, and all that. And as I have let go of my old conclusions, I have come to the realization that regardless of whether I'm okay with whatever, I'm really not a fan on the conceptual level. A phrase kept popping up in my mind through most of meeting:
My soul sees deeper than any altered state. My spirit knows more peace than any breath of smoke. My imagination is realer than any high. To suddenly feel the room become alive with a Presence - or, rather, to suddenly notice that it already is - makes me feel as though . . . something can be done here. As if the soil is simply too rich for something not to grow, and that I am part of this garden. That we are all growing together.

Along with the fullness, the humility makes me feel very small. And because this is a disorienting and worthless feeling, I think, when it is not grounded in reality or linked to practical application, I began to imagine myself putting this newfound humility I have learned the past few months into my interactions with people, into the work I do. Not gonna lie, I'm very nervous to go back home. I recently shared a picture from the pretty big facebook page "I fucking love science" about a couple functional prosthetic legs given to a cat after a run in with a car, I received a comment from my mother that the picture was "cool, but I hope that's not the kind of language you're using."

My life has grown beyond this kind of issue since I have left home. I don't swear excessively, or in inappropriate contexts, but I certainly don't have barbed wire protecting me from some kind of canon dictionary of profanity. It is this way with many things in my life, the way it has become, where regardless of the answers produced, the questions I am asking now are fundamentally different from the ones I was asking twelve months ago. It is not, "What is really true?," but instead, "What is really meaningful?," and not "Where is God in this?," but "Where is this in God?." I, like many young people in my position, I'm sure, am afraid to return to a community that expects me to be someone I am no longer. I do not feel changed; I feel matured. I feel as though I have matured in precisely the way my community has taught me to do it - always seeking God, always making conclusions or coming to decisions with great discernment and integrity. As I have said many times, this has not been a process of rebellion for me, at all. It has been like letting a bird out of a cage, allowing it to perch on top of it instead of on the little swing inside. This morning, the fullness of my humility brought me the understanding that returning home will mean having to respect people that have taught me to learn things with which they will not agree.

I deeply want to maintain the peaceful love of life I have learned this year, both in meeting and out of it.  It has been months since I have really argued with anyone, and I would not like this to change. My nonacademic goals and desires have become very simple: to love, and be loved - or, alternatively, to appreciate and be appreciated - and to spread the peace that is a product of such actions. Reflecting on Mother's Day today was an anticipation of returning to someone that I have learned to appreciate much more objectively this year, which has been an extremely humanizing and worthwhile experience for me. I no longer see my mother as simply my mother, but as a person that acted in certain ways and did certain things and made decisions for and around me, growing up, someone that also has a personality of her own.

My hope is that we will be able to develop a closer friendship this Summer, but my apprehension is that both with her and with my father, there will simply be too great a divide between the daughter they expect and the person I am (though I honestly believe that they would like the person I am now better) for them to be able to approach me as a full being. Speaking as their kid, it's the bittersweet reality that home might not feel like this life and freedom, at first. But speaking as a newborn adult, it's knowing that for the first time in my life, it is first and foremost my responsibility to take this liveliness back home, not something for me to expect of them.

I have been given a million incredible opportunities, nourishment from everyone around me, and I have had life poured into me as if through a funnel. My prayer is that I will be capable of wrapping that up and bringing it home to my parents, so that I can give back to them what they have given to me; that I will be strong enough not to shrink back into my seed cap when the caretakers of my childhood garden continue trying to coax out of the earth things that have long since sprouted.

Today I recognize the shortness of season, and the youth of the world, and the youth of my mother, and the youth of myself. I recognize the simplicity of goodness, the goodness of simplicity, the depth of simple goodness. I recognize the flux between generations, the apprehensions inherent in this whole process, the great desire I have for my parents to understand (despite whatever doubt) that their work has been well done. But more than that, I recognize that this is not the first time my life has been doused in miracle grow, and that the way my life has worked, people - my dear mother in chief - have been constantly trying to help me find what I realize I have found to the best of their ability. I have a world to thank my mother for, because this is a world she helped me create. She tilled the soil, she planted the seeds, she trimmed the branches (and she tried to trim some branches that never came off). Maybe, this summer, I can bring back some of this fruit to the family dinner table.