Lodur’s Gift (Church in the Woods, Day 24)

Lodur's gift

To get what I want from the woods, I have to lose my skin. All the habits, the defenses, the infrastructure; I have to lose that whole armor of self-protection that I believe I need to live.

It is not our fault that we defend ourselves from the world. It hurts. This has always been true. And in defending ourselves from the potential hurt we defend ourselves from the potential joys. This is universal.

But this morning I am thinking of how it is true in the particular, true of my time and my place. Our life in pixels requires that we develop some armor. Where else have you seen people saying such obnoxious things? Here we are constantly tossing off unprepared address, performing our dress rehearsals, making criticisms of all kinds: the legitimate and searching as well as the wantonly destructive, and in 140 characters, what is the difference? Some of the most harmful misunderstandings in my life to date have emerged from a careless email. I know that the cruelest thing I have ever said was via text.

In this digital age, the skin grows thick. In art, too, and entertainment, I have heard the voices getting louder. I have seen the increase in expectation for shock and shift and bounce: the sheer emotional volume we require in order to feel. We want our thrill as deep and wild as possible. We want a monologue written before a suicide. (A real one, please.) We want sudden, and bursts. Death, wearing lipstick. Something to break through all the numbness, and the noise.

The cost, as well as the cause: a thicker skin.

In Norse mythology, it is said that it took three gods together to create humankind. Odin gave us souls. Hoenir gave us the will to think and move. Lodur gave us feeling and warm blood. It is that last gift, Lodur’s gift, that we keep trying to give back.

Resurrection (Church in the Woods, Day 23)

photo-16

My seven year old son came to me crying yesterday. “The raspberries,” he said. “They’re dead.”

I said, “Of course they’re not.”

He said, “They are. I just looked at them. They’re all brown and dead.”

I was busy, of course. You know, the way parents get. Dinner on the stove, and a two-year-old on my hip. I said, “Please stop screaming at me. The raspberries are not dead.”

He wailed then, in earnest. “They are! I saw them. We won’t have any more raspberries!” His face was red with panic, his mouth turned upside down from grimacing.

I set the baby down and looked at him. It was the 22nd of October.

In July of this same year he was making pilgrimages daily to that very patch, and the raspberries weren’t dead then. Was July really that long ago? Back in July he had that patch to himself. His sisters and I preferred a different spot, with a more satisfying crop and a much more treacherous approach. He had a magic place, all his own. And it was summertime, and summer seemed like it would last forever.

Now, October. Just a few months have passed, but in those months he did so much growing up. He took a big kid trip all the way to New York City with his cousins. He made new friends, he started school, he learned to read big kid books. The summer didn’t end so much as it disappeared.

Where does childhood go, anyway?

I don’t blame him for searching. I’m still looking for mine. I pushed the dinner off to the side of the stove and marched across the garden. “Look,” I said, “Milo. Look at the green ones. Look at all these green canes. They’ll bear raspberries next year.” I could tell he didn’t believe me. I’m not sure that I was all that convincing.

If the raspberry cane could take the pulpit, would it speak to us of our inability to believe? Why we suffer these terrible losses, like the loss of childhood, when all we have to do is wipe our tears and see. The beloved rising here again, so close and so beautiful, in dew-dressed green.

If the raspberry cane could do pastoral counseling, it would bring me back my lost childhood, my lost innocence. It would resurrect time. It would teach me to stop crying for baubles that are not lost, and dreams that never failed me.

It would promise my son that summer comes again.

Book Review: Disquiet Time

Sometimes people wonder if there are any perks to being personal friends with approximately 250 writers. I tell them I don’t know about that, but it is true that I get a lot of free books.

I try to pay it forward; the whole point of publishers letting authors give free books to their friends is that it creates the ground level of word-of-mouth publicity. When I get a free book I make sure to Instagram it, or tweet about it, or write it up in one of my “What I’m Into” posts. A nearby church has three of them in their library, gathering dust I’m afraid, but you never know when someone will suddenly crave a bit of challenging reading material.

What I don’t usually do with my free books is write whole blog posts on them. Today, though, I’m making an exception. There are a few reasons for this, one is that it is an essay collection, which means my personal connections to it are several; also just that I loved it.

[Enter: Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book, by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels]

grantfalsani_disquiettime_hc-2-1

What it is: An essay collection. I’ll admit I have a thing for essay collections, possibly because I am a self-identified millennial and that means I have the attention span of a millennial and that means I’m just about to start calling myself a “mil” because it takes too long to say millennial.

Translation: These are short, fun essays about pithy things.

Who should read it:

  1. Those of you who feel like you ought to be reading the Bible, but actually can’t, possibly because you secretly hate it. A fellow spiritual writer who recently set down the Good Book after discovering scores of instances of abusive father imagery comes to mind.
  1. Those who really ought to have no interest in reading the Bible, but actually for some reason do.
  1. Anyone who thinks religion would be better off if it didn’t take itself quite so seriously.
  1. All those in need of a thoroughly researched scholarly opinion on whether or not seraphim have genitalia.

Ahem. I think this book review is over. Here’s where you can order it: Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels

No, wait, there’s one more thing I have to say. Nothing has ever killed God quite so quickly as too much reverence. A God who is too much of a stuffed duck to endure our laughter, and too fragile to meet our most incisive questioning is no God of this world’s people, and no God of the Israelites, either.

I think it is a mistake to think that making fun of the Bible and being guided and nourished by the Bible are contradictory paths. The fact is, even the most faithful experience some kind of doubt. And even the most cynical are drawn at times to the rich tapestry of our culture’s foundational religious narrative.

Disquiet Time is a kind of raucous dinner party held at the intersection of those lines. The prayer may not be clean, or tidy, or exactly reverential; certainly it isn’t quiet. But oh, it is a prayer to a God who lives.

Girls Who Don’t Wear Dresses (at SheLoves Magazine)

I have announcements today! One, I have been invited to participate in the SheLoves Magazine series, “We Are The Other,” sharing about an aspect of my history and identity that is likely not entirely known to those who read here. I have made a decision to be more clear about this moving forward, although it does come with some personal risk…or maybe just some trembly fingers.

{{Deep breath.}}

The post is called, “The Song of the Girls Who Don’t Wear Dresses.” And it is right here, or you can click on this image.

O_Esther

Also, even cooler news. SheLoves Magazine has invited me to be a monthly contributor moving forward! This is even more special to me than it sounds. Because, I’ll tell you the truth, when you’ve got a magazine actively targeting a readership of Christian women, I have some defense mechanisms that fly up. I think, This is probably not a place for me. But Idelette McVicker is simply, undeniably fierce…as an editor and an activist. I am honored to join with her, as she and her global team are learning, teaching, singing true songs, and LISTENING.

(If the name Idelette is familiar, but you’re not a reader at SheLoves, you may be remembering her guest post for me on women and money. Check it out here if you missed it.)

Now, here’s a teaser for the post I have up today at SheLoves…

I come from the tribe of girls who don’t wear dresses.

It’s subtle now. These days, you might not even notice. But in college I shaved my head clean, wore extra weight on my hips, fought my body for its insistent femininity. When I went to a pizza joint, at 18 years old in my usual get up, I made the pretty girls whisper and stare. I know this because one of them told me about it later.

I know how it seemed. I have been told. To one person like I was trying to act out, that it was all about getting attention, as if it were my heart’s desire to make people turn and stare in grocery stores. To another that I was perversely expressing some kind of ugliness, putting myself in service to the enemy of light and peace. To another that my life choices were a threat to her Christian values. She covered her children’s eyes.

The rest is here.

The Runaway (Church in the Woods, Day 20)

leaves

The day will come when you just can’t stomach any of it. The clever, beautiful people going on and on about the clever, beautiful things. Perhaps yesterday you found it all engaging, worthwhile, worth talking about. But today it begins to make you feel ever so slightly nauseous.

You fold up the newspaper and set it aside. You set down the books, sighing with dissatisfaction. You stand up, throw your body up, really, into space. Away from the menial tasks and the drudgery and the superficiality and the greed, and all the stuff, and all the work it takes to take care of your stuff. And the talking heads running their mouths over it all. There comes a day — really, this happens to almost everyone — when it just makes you sick.

Here’s what I recommend. I recommend that you run. No, really, run. Run somewhere where there is space to run, or put your head down and pretend. Run however you can run, don’t worry about what it looks like. Speed is not the issue. Just physicalize this, the escape that your soul so longs for, and the power that your body has to do more than you normally ask it to do. Put this wisdom into your body, so you can let your mind believe that this is possible. This.is.possible.

Getting out of the tangle, into something free and true, is possible. The cage is a lie.

When you wander back, sheepish, pulling autumn leaves out of your hair, you’ll be ready to manage things like a pro.

Monkey Skull (Church in the Woods, Day 19)

monkey skull

My kids have this game where they touch the monkey skull and then they run. If you’re wondering what the children of the simple life actually do on a Saturday afternoon in the woods? This is a fair synopsis. There is a growth on a tree. The tree is near our house. I don’t know what caused this growth, perhaps there is a botanist in the audience who can explain for us? But whatever it is, it is clearly representative of a monkey skull. Any five-year-old child can see that.

The game is that when they touch the monkey skull, it comes alive. They creep up on it gingerly, poking each other for effect, reach out trembling fingers, and then, just as soon as their fingers have brushed the bark, they turn around and sprint the 40 yards back to the clearing and the sandbox. Then they catch their breath, wait for 2-year-old Sadie to catch up, and creep back down the path to do it all over again.

Are you afraid of what lurks in these woods? 

It seems to me my kids have it just about right. The primate brain, come to life, is about the most real and frightening thing I can think of. I have one them right behind my eyes.

But the game my children are playing is a game about abnormality. Where the long tall trunks of the tree have set a certain standard, what is this weird outgrowth? It doesn’t fit in the categories. It doesn’t fit Plato’s ideal. They are aware, in some sharp, childish way, that it is the aberration that carries the spark of life. The point of mutation is also the point of creativity. The point of difference is a locus of power, to be sought and feared. Run up and touch it, I dare you. Have you the courage?

Behold, I will do a new thing. 

Sometimes my old secular humanist friends ask me why I bother with religion. I say, I love the challenge. This is not only the insane social challenge of placing my radical self amid the most entrenched and fixed structures of patriarchy known to me…although that is certainly a challenge. This is the deeper, truer challenge, of simply coming into proximity with a living God. A God who speaks.

I will do a new thing.  

Really? You’re going to do a new thing? Like, a thing that I haven’t seen before? Cause, um…that’s terrifying.

I’ve been thinking liberation theology lately. Don’t you know those Killjoy Prophets have me all caught up in their prophetic energy for change? I’ve been wondering, in my contemplative time in my woods, do I really believe all this? Enough to stand for it? Do I really believe that God is there, in the points of disruption, in the points of chaos…in the points of discomfort, and the points of tearing down?

Oh, yes. I do.

It’s terrifying to know that you don’t have it all figured out yet. No wonder our pastors spend so much time saying exactly the opposite. It’s terrifying to think: God could speak in any voice, in any place, in any unfamiliar form. It’s terrifying to think of a God that big. Yourself so dwarfed, so vulnerable.

But the trees of the wood are not a product to be packaged, nor a wild to be tamed. Everyone knows in autumn that the woods can suddenly turn on you. This is terrifying, and yet, healthful food. How vast, how chaotic is this universe! How much room there is, for each of us, to grow…unbound and uninhibited!

Go ahead, wake your child’s brain and play. I dare you…

Another Rest Day and Some Rilke (Church in the Woods, Day 18)

another rest day

I am, again, actually taking the day off, but I know a number of you are checking every day for these posts. (And I don’t blame you, the church in the woods is a sweet flavor.) I wanted to make sure there was something up.

Nick is off to California next week for some work – this time it’s making up a warehouse for a big corporate party – so I’ll be mountain lady again for the rest of the month. But first we do a list of errands and preparations and other boring, not-particularly-spiritual things, so I’m sending this one from a distance.

Here’s Rainer Maria Rilke to take up this empty space.

All will come again into its strength:
the fields undivided, the waters undammed,
the trees towering and the walls built low.
And in the valleys, people as strong and varied as the land.

And no churches where God
is imprisoned and lamented
like a trapped and wounded animal.
The houses welcoming all who knock
and a sense of boundless offering
in all relations, and in you and me.

No yearning for an afterlife, no looking beyond,
no belittling of death,
but only longing for what belongs to us
and serving earth, lest we remain unused.

Jesus and the She-God (On Using Female Pronouns For God)

green pastures

I was converted to Christianity after hearing a church congregation recite together the Our Father prayer. I was ready to join in, I thought I knew what I was doing, having been in church plenty as a kid, but then they started right out praying to “Our Father and Mother” and I left my mouth open but nothing came out. I was just as stunned a little later in the same worship service when the choir sang the 23rd Psalm with all female pronouns for God.

She maketh me to lie down in green pastures.

I am to this day indebted to that church, for having the courage and the willingness not only to pay lip service to a genderless God, but to also live out that value: to live out the value of gentleness and flexibility regarding gender. I have heard many say in principle that God’s divinity is not precedent on His maleness. But I have heard few give breath that principle, to actually bring it to life in language.

She leadeth me beside the still waters.

When I stepped into that church in Boston I was a seeker, and I was vulnerable. I had been looking for some kind of bridge between my cracked insides and the tradition of my childhood. I had been looking for exactly this kind of leadership, somebody who would take me by the hand and bring me into the circle, give me a chance to work out all the dissonance, help me put glue in all the cracks.

One of the things we struggle with in activism of all kinds, but particularly Christian activism, is how to be nice to each other. Right? Nice. Gentle. Welcoming.

Hey, didn’t you read those beatitudes? Bring it down a notch.

It isn’t that I don’t think about these things. Or that I don’t recognize that compassion is the center of our faith. It is. And I do want to live in compassion, more than anything. It’s that I see the directionality of this language. I see that what people call “nice” is sometimes only nice to some of the people, and quite uncomfortable for others.

Sometimes when we say, “be nice,” we mean, “be nice to the people who are used to having people be nice to them.” When we say, “be welcoming,” we mean, “be welcoming to the people who are already inside the circle.”  This choice is a choice of direction. It is a choice between audiences. There are people located on all sides of the issue.

I get that changing gender pronouns feels disruptive. With gender it can feel like when you take away any of the rules you lose your grounding entirely, and then where will you end up? I get that. I want to say that I have compassion for those who are intensely threatened by hearing of God as a She. I have compassion for those who say, “You can’t be speaking of a real God, you must mean a something else, maybe something wrong and twisted, and that scares me.” I have compassion for those who say, “I don’t understand it,” even if they really mean, “I don’t want to understand it.”

But I feel the need to say today that although I have compassion for these feelings, I do not validate them. The distinction is that I want to be the kind of leadership that moves forward, into risk, and out of this particular brand of security, which is really only security for some.

Why do I make this choice? Because Jesus did. Because this was the root and basis of Jesus’ ministry: to reach out, beyond comfort for some into a kingdom for all. This is what the beatitudes are about.

We must reverse what is high and what is low, what is inside and what is outside, in order to build God’s kingdom here on earth. Otherwise we are only shifting the human kyriarchy ever so slightly to the left.

A church that is fully welcoming to human beings who are not gender conforming will not uphold gender as a idol in the place of God. We just won’t. We won’t let this be a stumbling block. We will open this door and hold it open. We will be a church that welcomes, and a church that sings.

The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. She makes me lie down in green pastures. She leads me beside still waters. She revives my soul. She guides me by paths of virtue for her name’s sake. Though I pass through the valley of the shadow, I will fear no evil, for God is with me.

Selah.

My Soul and the Infinite Internet (Deeper Story Day)

Stella running

I’m on Deeper Story today! I wrote this post “Why I’m Crazy Enough To Go For a Year Without the Internet” about a month ago, because that’s how it works over there. There is a monthly deadline, and the deadline landed just when I was feeling so deep in the fog, and trying to sort out the impulse to get some clear space for my head. It’s really great to read it again now that I have begun to accomplish that.

Nick and I sat by our wood stove by candlelight last night and talked for a long time. (He never did change out of his pajamas.) We talked about this somewhat silly phrase that gets tossed around in our culture, that magic doesn’t work unless you believe. And how we get that this is sort of Disney-speak, but also it is also so true of our place in the woods and our whole off the grid life.

It doesn’t work unless you believe.

I have had some episodes this year of faltering belief. And reasons for that. Sometimes the lack of belief is only apparent in the scrambling desperation with which I try to build my safety nets. And don’t you know, more desperately I scramble, the more I lose my footing and slip down.

But when you believe, when you believe in radical activism, and integrity living, and setting your mind free from the negative stories you’ve been telling about yourself…? This is not just cool. This is magical. This lifestyle of ours is not just interesting. It’s transformative.

This is a real power: the power to have a dream of something true and then set out to make your life come into line with that true dream. This is a real magic: to have the will to not give up.

Here’s part of my Deeper Story post, that I wrote a month ago:

It is always hard for human beings to live the tension that is true. This isn’t the middle that I’m talking about. This is the tension held between the polarized extremes. This is the place where it is true, yes, that the Internet is essential to modern life, and functional in ways that no other medium can be. And it is also true that it can suck your soul, affect negatively your real life relationships, and increase exhaustion and anxiety.

I dropped out. I dropped right out. And I lost a lot of things in the process. Believe me, I wouldn’t want to live like that my whole life. But I also gained a kind of groundedness, a sense of permanence and a deep sense of obligation to the rest of Creation: all these values that now profoundly affect the direction of my life.

The rest is here. Enjoy!

Patience (Church in the Woods, Day 15)

leaf and stalk

I don’t want to admit to you how much I have the itch to wander. I could wander right out of this whole thing, right out of the Church in the Woods, even if it is so much like paradise. I wonder what’s on the other side of the hill.

It’s been fifteen days. Fifteen days. Shouldn’t I be done right about now? I know, it’s obviously rich and beautiful and good for my soul and maybe good for everything in the world, but the fact is, these are not the most powerful motivators. Not for my small brain, anyway.

There are also shiny things.

My woods are on the edge of what we call civilization. Or this civilization is on the edge of what we call woods. The town reaches out to me, with all these attractions and comforts. Chatty conversations, fortune tellers, my always quest for traction, purpose, accomplishment, production.

My husband didn’t get dressed today. It’s a wild, windy, always-threatening-to-rain fall day, and he doesn’t have a sharp blade for his saw mill. So, no work. He stayed in his pajamas instead and started working through a bushel of apples and the three pumpkins our kids got at the school field trip. Applesauce, apple muffins, pumpkin bread. All this well before noon, and yet it is also the definition of a day off. He isn’t going anywhere. I, on the other hand…

I don’t understand this about myself. Even after nearly five years of pursuing the contemplative life, practicing quiet and working with my restless mind, I still wander. Still my mind wanders, seeking freedom, seeking escape, seeking, what? Something more gratifying than everything good in the world?

But when you get the junk food  — and I mean junk food for the soul, now — it’s just so easy to say it’s what I always wanted. I wanted sugar, and salt, and flashing screens, and people telling me that I’m worth something because I dominate, because I consume, because I produce. It’s just so easy to let it whet your appetite for greed. Then, once you get into all of that, you’re in, and it takes another two weeks to get back to the church in the woods and slake your thirst.

But God is so patient. Like the moon, she travels with you, always, always and forever. Patient. And every single moment under this sky is a chance to breathe and remember that you’re alive: to remember that your life is a gift already given, not something to be earned. You are already alive in this moment. This moment. This one. This.

Say thank you.

I still have so little patience. I have so little patience to wait and let good things come. I don’t understand it. But in the end it doesn’t matter. The patience that matters is not mine. The church in the woods will be open always, always ready, always waiting for me to remember and come home.