When Peacemaking is Not as Easy As I Thought It Would Be

faithfeminismsI found my calling in a dream. Wouldn’t you expect as much from a starry-eyed mystic in the wilderness? It was a dream of war. Old, Biblical war, with tents and spears. At the end of each bloody day, the armies filed back into their camps to drink goat’s milk and mead and lick their wounds.

Sadly, Russell Crowe was nowhere to be seen. Nor Iain Glen, neither. Not a single oiled Hollywood extra in sight. No. My dream was a dream of a war between the people that I love. It was a dream of shared violence in which the perpetrators were all my people.

On one side, the urban progressives who had taken me in and gifted me my voice. My atheist husband. My Marxist brother. The women creatives who lifted me up and taught me to take up space. The gay men who fed me and dressed me and taught me to use my middle finger to protect myself from being colonized by shame.

On the other side, the Christian conservatives of my religious heritage. The sister who changed my diapers and taught me not to pick my nose. The rural towns where I learned to play “Hey, Cow!” The women who gave me chocolate chip cookies and fresh cow’s milk, who despised feminism for undermining their value as full-time homemakers. The pastors and pastor’s wives and LDS visiting teachers who taught me to follow the deepest yearnings of my heart, and seek for God.

One side. And the other side. Each waving their colors. Between them, bloodshed. In my dream I went and laid down in the middle of the field, and found Christ there waiting for me.

I have told this story many times. This is my Christian theology. This is my #faithfeminism. It is not a theology of atonement or righteousness. Nor is it a theology that entrenches my position in one camp or another. It is a theology of peace.

Christ in the space between. Christ as the bridge across the canyon. Christ as the third way.

[fast forward several years]

Of all the maps and visions of a faithful life, the one that fits me best is the image of a spiral. I see myself walking this circle path: both infinite and terrifying in the sheer precision of its repetition. I meet myself, here, again and again. I think, haven’t I been here before? Haven’t I answered this question already?

But I am still myself. And I have not escaped myself. I have not lifted off this earth — no, not even to rest in the lap of Christ. I am still walking.

I am still walking the path of the peacemaker. And today, on this day — on this turn of the circle — the middle of the field is not so clear. Today I am on the turn of the circle that brings me out of rest and into unrest, out of security and into conflict, out of stability and into disruption. This is not the whole path, but is a part of the path. And although I writhe in the discomfort, I also struggle to accept it.

As a peacemaker, I do not strive for a peace that is only peace for some. 

I am a white woman. I am a married, heterosexual White woman. This year, as I have come around the corner, the path has required me to witness oppressions I do not experience.

I made what seemed to be a pretty easy vow, last winter, to open my ears and eyes to the experiences of women of color. I took what you might think to be a pretty easy dose to start, actually. Basically I just read and supported the writing of some friends. But it was like jumping into a bath of cold water. It moved my eyes. And I felt then that it was time to reconsider the terms of my own peacemaking. I realized that I had passed through a point of synchronicity, that I had come to accept comfort and even a sense of achievement in a peace that was still only a peace for some.

Christ leads me forward, simultaneously out of my privilege and out of my oppression. It is the same outward movement, into Kingdom life, into a faith that conquers fear, into thin air. 

This is my faith feminism. This is the spiritual path as I understand it. It is the path, for me, of faith informed by a yearning for justice for all, and the path of justice work informed by faith.

I come around the corner again, and again. I walk through one camp and then the other. I fall. Sometimes someone is there to pick me up. Other times I have to do the picking up all by myself. I make mistakes, and I have to apologize for them. I overstep and I understep. I shout too loud and whisper too quietly. But I still walk.

I am called out to walk.

I’m participating in the huge link-up and week-long blitz at #faithfeminisms, responding to the theme “a calling out.” It is organized by Christians, but has an intention to be inclusive. I hope you’ll go see the rest of the posts here. Or follow the hashtag here. Maybe you’ll want to post your own! 

Why I Refuse To Teach My Kids To Live By Fear

My mother was terrified of CPS. She imagined the knock on the door, her worst nightmare. As a single mother living in poverty, she was constantly at risk of institutional intervention.

Her nightmare was my nightmare, too. As her female daughter, I inherited the weight. Despite what you might assume, reading here my passion for mental rebellion, free thought and revolution, I was impeccably behaved as a school child and young teenager. I could not afford to be otherwise. The integrity of our family was at risk.

And what were our risk factors? Living in unsafe situations, sometimes in the car, frequently relying on the charity of friends and strangers. Kids often unsupervised, often in unfamiliar situations while our mother worked — and as a writer, no less, which by some was perceived as not working at all. And an absent father, willing to slander her from his position in middle class America.

Again, what were our risk factors? Being outside of the “protection” of a male head of family. And being poor.

I stand with compassion and respect for Debra Harrell, who was arrested this week for letting her 9-year-old child play unsupervised in a public park. Her risk factors? Being poor. Being outside of the “protection” of a male head of family. And being Black.

I cannot imagine what it is like to be Debra Harrell or her daughter. I do not speak for them. But I do know and understand what it is to live in fear of institutional violence. I know and understand how a poor, single mother is shamed not only for her children’s behavior, but for her children’s very existence. I will not be told that this truth of my childhood is not true. It is a defining attribute of my experience. It shaped my psyche. I refuse to perpetuate it on others.

I refuse to be a part of the public shaming of a single mother in poverty.

And I refuse to be a part of the culture of fear that justifies it.

I am now the mother of three children. I live in the woods. I am raising my children wild and free – as much as possible free from shame — in a way I have not been able to accomplish in other situations. This is intentional. It is my refusal to swallow or spread the virus of fear.

Fear would keep me indoors and behind locks, for my own safety. Fear would keep my children behind screens instead of out in the raspberry bramble, for their own safety. Fear would claim that any safety not secured by an institution is no safety at all. Fear would outlaw self-determination.

Yes. Fear would do all this, and it would do so in entirely unequal terms. In common usage, the disenfranchised are called vulnerable. A culture of fear limits a person’s freedoms in reverse proportion to their share of power in an unjust society.

fear

Believe me, I do not intend to silence the truth of predation and violence. Even these woods are not free of human predators. But a culture of victim-blaming empowers the aggressors.

For the sake of a young black person who is punished for daring to occupy a public park instead of the McDonalds, for the sake of my husband who devises for his family an ingenious living situation quite out of line with the standards set by a culture of overconsumption, and for the sake of my own children and their wild hearts, I refuse to teach my kids to live by fear.

I will call them in at nightfall. I will keep them close by me in the wild days of October. I will observe their lives. But I will not teach them to shame or terrorize others. I will not teach them to cut with words like “irresponsible” and “ill-advised.” I will not teach them to carry messages for empire.

Nowhere in this world exists absolute freedom from danger. Everywhere is risk and everywhere is potential for wrongdoing. In my faith tradition we say the Kingdom is here and not yet. But I choose to live into a vision of a world in which every human being has full rights to safety and self-determination, including the right to fresh air and self-respect.

A Newsy Letter From the Yurt in the Woods (Second Summer)

Milo with Fia

I’m sore today. We worked through a ten foot pile of slash yesterday. This is a pile of branches and brush left over from our wild dash to stock up firewood last fall. Anything more than an inch in diameter gets drug out and cut into lengths for firewood. These small pieces are even better than cord wood for the cooking fires. The thin branches are broken up mostly by hand and tied into bundles of kindling. The twigs are raked up and scattered on the paths. It’s a whole lot of work.

Most folks around here burn their slash, but Nick and I are (choose one):

(a) hippie environmentalists
(b) rebels who like to do everything our own way
(c) not organized enough to get our burning done before the summer burn ban
(d) all of the above

Whatever the reason, I don’t mind the work. For a thinking (over thinking) person like myself, simple work is a gift. It is a chance to ease my thoughts off the constant hamster wheel and into this moment. Right now. This one. No. This one.

paintbrush in the meadow

Our second summer in the yurt is so different from the first I hardly know where to begin. Our first summer we hadn’t yet buried a pipe to move our water down from the spring. Now we have a sink and a hose, not to mention a shower. Our first summer I kept a whole kitchen garden watered carrying water in buckets. I nearly killed myself doing it. This summer I have only a few greens, a bed of strawberries, and six raspberry plants, all of which I water with a hose.

Our first summer we struggled when the summer heat came on. This year the yurt is insulated. The same insulation that kept us warm in winter keeps the yurt cool at least until the early afternoon. Our solar-powered fan makes the air move a bit. And the hanging house plants help to clean the air.

Last summer we had yellow jackets. I stayed indoors more than I wanted to and kept the front door closed because of the yellow jacket plague. (Okay, it felt like a yellow jacket plague.) This summer we have birds. The same late spring frost that froze the cherry blossoms last year also devastated the serviceberries. I knew we had a few here and there but didn’t realize that we are surrounded by them. Tiny blue fruits hanging down all around us like dewdrops. The birds come and feast. My baby, Sadie, stuffs her mouth with as many as she can reach. Nobody else really likes them.

Sadie in the serviceberries

I am not the ecologist to tell you that there was no fruit and there was no birds and so there were a lot of yellow jackets. And anyway, it is only July. The worst of heat and drought and the late-summer reign of insects is yet to come. But still. I was told by neighbors that every year is different, as far as what pests and which pests and how it all works. Between the weather patterns and our level of preparedness both, I would take this July over last July a hundred times.

Milo and Stella don’t like the serviceberries, but they do like the wild black raspberries. We have a gorgeous patch of them just behind the garden, and Milo can spend a happy hour out there. My domestic raspberries are on the slow boat, sadly. Only one cane actually produced this year, although I have hopes for next year. This year’s new canes are vibrant and twice as tall as the ones that dried up while I was out of town.

What most eases our feelings of failure is a focus on infrastructure rather than immediate solutions. We are grateful for the proximity to survival-level thinking, here in the woods, in the wild. It is an inspiration, to put it mildly. And yet, when we think short-term, we wear ourselves out and make little progress. Many of our grand plans from last year (the ducks, the bees, the food-producing garden) were in simple terms a failure. Or you could say a very moderate success. This second time around we are moving with more care and more deliberation. Before we put the garden in again, we’ll have the water tank above it, and now two years’ worth of adding organic material to the dusty soil. It is not the immediate gratification the wider American culture is accustomed to, but I sense that there is wisdom in this way.

Milo is happy here. He loves the solitude of the woods and can spend an hour or more sitting on the swing in the garden, just letting his imagination run. Sadie is happy where there are serviceberries and where there is water. Our big girl, Stella, misses people, and we’re considering sending her to Kindergarten (rather than home schooling her) this fall.

Nick is happiest whenever he is figuring something out: designing some original solution, some unique, ingenious plan that the world has never yet seen.

For many reasons we will continue to live on the mountain only most of the time. Work and personal needs and social needs will keep us sometimes and sometimes often away. But we will always be returning, to this home where we have put down roots in such an intentional way. And know this, that whenever I am here I am with the people who supported and encouraged us to take this leap…to move into a wild patch of woods and make a home here. We had little safety net and little self-knowledge, but lots of excitement and lots of love. Thank you for that. Thanks for being with us, and providing for us. Thanks for being our people.

Love,
Esther

Sometimes It Isn’t a Gold Cow: On Money, Working for Free and Christian Idolatry

Stella in the dry hay

I was devastated when I crash landed my thrilling career as a freelance theatre director. One day I was accepting awards and being complimented in the arts section of the newspaper. The next day I was a burnout: a stay at home mom with no public recognition whatsoever, and, of course, no money.

I went through the stages of grief. Denial. Anger. Eventually acceptance. These days I say — rather flippantly, I admit — that hitting bottom was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Thomas Merton: “If I had a message for my contemporaries it is surely this: be anything you like, be madmen, drunks and bastards of every shape and form, but at all costs avoid one thing: success. If you are too obsessed with success, you will forget to live.” (h/t the life artist)

Hitting bottom taught me how to live. Losing the race put my feet underneath me. Dropping my ambitious career gave me the freedom to imagine something more authentic: a risky, countercultural lifestyle that is better for my marriage, my values and my soul.

Working for free, for both my husband and myself, has translated into freedom. 

It sounds good, doesn’t it? But here’s the bitter pill. It wasn’t working for less money that gave my husband and myself such spiritual freedom. It was living on less money. It wasn’t changing our place in the economic system. It was learning the countercultural values of peace, quiet, and rest.

Charity is a pillar of American Christian culture. That we would volunteer some portion of our time to serve others is nothing less than expected, and for good reason. It feels good to help others. It makes us feel better about the terrible inequalities and injustices of the world. It places us, we imagine, at least, on the good side of history.

But isn’t there also the moment at which you are a terrible, wonderful success at being charitable? Or perhaps you aren’t a success at being charitable, but you are trying to be? Perhaps you are working for free in monetary terms, but you are checking other boxes on the checklist of the good American Christian life…racking up the points for spirituality and generosity?

Then again, maybe you’re just interning. And working for free is paying into a fund you plan to cash out when the opportunity presents itself.

Or perhaps, and this is more common than I’d like to admit, you’re working for free because you are tracked in a category of people who work for free. Much of the female Christian blogosphere is this. We do work similar to journalists, creating content that thrills and pleases the reader, except we don’t expect pay the way that journalists do. We don’t expect pay, and we don’t get any.

Is this a spiritual practice? Or is this simply participating in a system of inequality?

I am grateful beyond measure for my philosophy of downward mobility. I was imprisoned by career ambition, and was set free. But I am also aware, as I share my experiences with others, that the tangle of social expectations is more than one layer deep. The expectation that some will work for free is a part of how our economic system works. And for the exact same reason that I celebrate my own escape from my career track ambition, I celebrate those who escape from domestic track servitude. I celebrate freedom, in the name of a God who set his people free.

Wouldn’t it be great if idolatry was only that one time we made a cow out of gold? We never do that sort of thing anymore. But there are gold cows and there are gold cows. And our love of money, appreciation of accomplishment, and obsession with work (whether paid or not) are things with horns.

I wrote this post for The High Calling community project on “Working For Free.” That conversation is here

Off the Grid With Kids Q&A: How Do You Survive Without Indoor Plumbing?

shower revised

I told you a few months ago that I was going to do a series answering the questions that I ALWAYS get about my off-grid lifestyle. But then I was like “Just kidding, I’m going to go live in an apartment for two months.” Now I have done that and survived it, and now I am back at the yurt, picking up the series again because I still get all the same questions. Here’s another installment.

Do you have indoor plumbing? 

No. We are not connected to a municipal water source or a waste water system or pipes of any kind.

Where do you get your water?

We have a natural spring. A great deal of effort was made (not by us, this was before we lived here) to build concrete underground storage tanks, which contain the spring water and keep it clean. In the non-frozen months, we can use gravity to move the water to a sink outside our yurt and to a hose for the garden. In the frozen months I have to carry it down in 5 gallon containers, about 400 feet, but all downhill.

Is your water safe to drink? 

Yes. We have had it tested multiple times. When we first arrived there was a small amount of coliform bacteria in the water. We used a very fancy filter to make it safe for drinking. But after several months of letting the water flow it tested clean. We still use a sediment filter for our drinking water. But that isn’t a safety issue.

Where do you go to the bathroom? 

We have an outhouse that is about twenty feet away from the yurt.

Does your outhouse smell bad?

No. Actually, it doesn’t. There are a couple of design features and a couple of best practices that make our outhouse as pleasant as any indoor bathroom  (but for the air temperature, which is another issue for another day.) One design feature is that there is an air tight seal between the pit and the room, if the lid is closed. The other is that the pit is vented with a black pipe, which heats up in sunlight and creates an air current, basically a naturally powered fan that keeps air moving in the pit. Our best practices are that there is no paper or trash of any kind in the pit, and that we constantly add carbon to balance the nitrogen, in this case in the form of sawdust.

Do we use the outhouse at night?

We do go outside at night, yes. But usually we take the dog with us. And it isn’t a part of our routine. We send the kids to the bathroom before dark (sometimes this is linked to the chickens going up to roost). By luck or strategy, or some combination of these, I rarely have to carry a kid outside during the night. It does happen, but not very often.

Do you have a shower?

Yes. Our outdoor shower is epic and gorgeous. Y’all don’t know what you’re missing. 

Do you use the outdoor shower even in the winter?

Yes. I learned that I am comfortable showering outside (with wonderful hot water and a warm towel) down to about 20 degrees. Some days it is colder than 20 degrees. On those days I don’t shower. It isn’t worth it. Also, I did cut my hair short so my outdoor showers aren’t very long. But in retrospect I don’t think that made very much difference.

How do you keep the kids clean? 

I boil water twice a day. In the morning a pot of hot water does the coffee and the oatmeal and the hot water for everybody’s faces and hands. In the evening a pot of hot water does the dishes (sometimes more coffee or tea) and everybody’s face and hands again. In the summer we have cold (warm-ish in the daytime) water flowing freely in the sink. I use wet wipes and hand sanitizer when appropriate. In summer we go swimming a lot and play with water from a tub or from the sink. In the winter we don’t get as dirty and don’t bathe as often. But it is also true that my kids are often very dirty. Honestly, of all the things they could be into, I think mountain dirt is not so bad.

Are you going to install plumbing eventually? 

Mmm…never say never, but certainly not soon. We have other things to do. Among this year’s projects are a DIY water heater and a bike-powered clothes washer, both of which have been on the list of things to do for a long time.


So…that’s not so crazy, is it? Right? Feel free to ask other questions. The installment on communication and internet use is here. And I think the next one of these will be about trash and waste and composting. Thanks for reading!

And We Have a Cherry Tree

In our first year on our land, we had a hard freeze in May. All the blossoms fell from our one fruit tree, which was sorry looking anyway. Damaged at the trunk by elk, and one whole side of it was dead and dried up. I wasn’t even sure at the time what kind of tree it was. We did keep thinking we would research it, but who has time? With life to do? And, truly, the distractions.

But we did prune our unknown fruit tree. And gave it an extra deep soaking in the early fall when we first hooked up our hose. Then we forgot about it.

We came back to our yurt last night after almost two months away. The whole place is overgrown and bubbling over with life. Potatoes in the compost bin. Grass knee-high in the meadow. The kids ran from place to place taking it all in. But I first saw the cherries.

And we have a cherry tree.

Thank you, cherry tree. Thank you for this. For the hope of restoration. And for healing. And for the painful beauty that things can grow again.

cherry

What I’m Into June (with the EEWC-CFT Gathering, Gilead, and Voxer)

fuzzy grasses

The summer marches on. We’re still in Colorado. And exploring around Colorado. Here is a sandstone cliff I loved called El Morro, which I saw when I went to New Mexico with my kids.

the hollowing

After that I went without my kids (flying first class, thank you Johnny Depp) to St. Louis for the biannual meet-up of the Christian feminist organization with the longest name. They have other superlatives to claim as well, but check this out. First named the Evangelical and Ecumenical Women’s Caucus, this group was the LGBT inclusive half of a split in the 1980′s which also created Christians for Biblical Equality. Now it is also inclusive of mainline denominations (inclusive, inclusive!) and has added the second name Christian Feminism Today.

EEWC-CFT.

I had a terrific time. I know from sad experience that some Christians and some feminists in their natural habitat can be cagey and defensive and (at least by appearance) judgmental. But this particular group seems to specialize in genuinely human welcome. Like, they welcome the human part of you first, and whatever other attributes you may bring are not so much at issue.

Genius.

And I did a workshop there. Which went pretty well.

Slide01

Now the good stuff…

What I’m into RANDOM

This month I finally got into the Enneagram. This is a spiritual energy and personality typing system that is very old but recently a bit of fad in my online world. I was extremely skeptical, for a long time, which was then hilariously validated when I turned out to be the type most known for intellectual skepticism. ha! I’m a 5 with a 4 wing. What are you?

And I’m into my new-to-me iPhone. I got it when my husband got an upgrade. Having the iPhone means I can do Instagram, which I love. (My favorite hashtag is #storygrams.) And it means I can do Voxer, which I really, really love. If you don’t know Voxer, it’s a walkie-talkie app, which allows you to send and receive voice messages. I don’t know what I imagined, like we were going to say, “over and out” or something, but it’s not really like that. What it really is like is monologuing. Which I love because the radio isn’t as good as it used to be and we all need something interesting to listen to.

What I’m into BOOKS

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

My literary agent told me to read this book because it would change my life. I was (see above) extremely skeptical. But don’t listen to me, because this whole book is a thin place. I just said in my workshop that we are hardwired to respond to art that juxtaposes the eternal with the temporal — forever with momentary — because that is how we as humans experience the divine. This novel is written from the perspective of a man who is both dying and in love, and taken all together every page hits that string.

What Do Women Want?: Adventures in the Science of Female Desire by Daniel Bergner

The basic premise here is that in the study of female sexual desire, data has been interpreted to fit the bias rather than the other way around. You know all that stuff about how men are hardwired to want sex and women are hardwired to want relationship? Well…arguably not so much what the science actually says. Hmm. How about that? I won’t say I found the book an amazing read. Where we are at with discussing sexuality in the public sphere (in the style of a magazine piece, no less) is about a million light years from the beauty and complexity and wonder of the real thing. All the same, I find this very worth mentioning.

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

I dipped into this one (an old favorite) when I saw it on a list of writing texts by Addie Zierman. I think what I love so much about Annie Dillard is that I am never quite the same when I set down a book of hers. She makes it look like the rest of us are just moving around so many puzzle pieces, while she is speaking from some original source. Intimidating? Sure. But in all the best ways.

What I’m into BLOGS (mostly articles, actually)

I have recently had my attention redirected towards longform articles as well as blogs. This is helping me to read the best writing out there, while still respecting my way-human-interest (soft?) tastes. It’s helping my writing voice, and my patience. Which is why I highly recommend this amazing list of pieces written by women at longreads.com.

I started reading this online magazine of spirituality for the not-so-religious. Killing the Buddha.

And I geeked out when I got connected online with Kerry Egan, who wrote one of my favorite short articles on faith ever, ever.

June in this space

My most popular post was on the dry days, wilderness spirituality that I write about often: The Hollowing (When I am a Singing Bowl)

But very close behind was a post I wrote and rewrote and wrote again for two days and still struggle with: When White Women Talk About Race: A Case For Thoughtful Self-Censorship

As always, here’s my Facebook. Here’s my Twitter. And here’s your favorite from my Instagram.

instagram

HAPPY SUMMER!! What are you into?

Click this button to join Leigh Kramer’s “What I’m Into” link-up and check out the rest of the links.

What I'm Into

Let Me Be a Woman

woman

I’m at Deeper Story today, with reflections on womanhood and lived femininity.

“I thought of all the million markers we have for femininity. I thought of the million ways in which we have to prove ourselves, as women. Of course I hope for each of us to grow into our maturity. But there is something more going on here than individual expressions of insecurity.

Something has come between women and the source of our femininity. Something has happened to us, that our womanhood can be held hostage by the world.

The lines of judgment vary widely. But there is always something. Can you bear children? Do you have boobs? Is your hair long enough? Do you wear a diamond? Do you carry lipstick? Can you bake a cherry pie?”

I hope you’ll join the conversation. The rest is here.

Hello, My Name is Esther, and I’m the Kind of Person Who Lives in a Yurt

yurt and deckLast April, I moved to a yurt in the woods. It was a radical, life-changing sort of move. It was the kind of move where you don’t ever quite know what you’re doing or why you’re doing it, but you do it anyway. All my articulate words — and my friends can tell you, I have plenty of articulate words — are always a little less than what is truly going on.

This summer I moved back into town. It was a necessary move, and also a temporary one. I thought, as I was coming here, it can’t be that big of a deal, right? I mean, it can’t be that big of a deal to live in an apartment again. I’ve lived in apartments all my life.

I was wrong. I was monumentally, hugely, terribly wrong.

In my yurt in the woods, I live off the grid. I have to carry wood to stay warm. I have to start a fire to cook food. In the winter I have to carry my water. I am constantly outside. I am constantly physical. I am constantly in natural surroundings.

In town, I have gained weight and gotten lazy. I feel detached from my own body, as if we were two broken parts of something that should be whole.

In my yurt in the woods, my three children are constantly outside. The yurt walls are permeable to sound. I can hear them playing in the garden. When I take them for walks on the mountain, my spunky little girl runs ahead and picks all the flowers she can find. My little boy, who is often deep in fantasy worlds, falls behind. I don’t have to yell at them for this.

In town, every other word out of my mouth is, “No.” My children break things. I feel ashamed of them. I keep them indoors and put screens in front of them so they appear to be less wild.

In my yurt in the woods, there is no electric light. When dark falls,we gather in close and listen to each other, and to the sounds of the woods. I feel rested. I often wake up very early or in the middle of the night to write.

In town, I am overcharged and overstimulated. I have trouble falling asleep. Sometimes I lie in bed feeling tense and anxious, even for hours. In the morning I feel heavy and leaded. I feel like I’m pushing through a cloud of mental noise.

When I was on my way down here, I thought, this can’t be that big of a deal. It can’t be that different. I wanted to bridge the gap between the lifestyle I have chosen and the lifestyle led by a great majority of humans with whom I would like to connect. I wanted to pretend that it is generally really similar. But actually it isn’t.

It is essential today, for my own mental health, that I accept my chosen lifestyle as alternative. And also, that I accept that living an alternative lifestyle is not an act of aggression towards any other person who does not live the way I do.

Integrity living is available anywhere and anytime. You can homestead in the suburbs as well as you can on a mountain. The city of Boston actually is a great place to support local agriculture. You can build community anywhere. You can fight for justice anywhere.

But the more you work with your own integrity, the more you will observe what you truly want. I keep learning this lesson, over and over again. You can envision grand plans for recalibrating global vibrations. But what really matters is that you bring your own self in tune.

It requires tremendous discipline, to do this. To stand against the trends that would pull us all into dominant patterns of overconsumption and overwork and competition, yes. But also to stand against the ego that would assume that freedom looks the same for every other soul. That simply isn’t the way it is.

Each one of us has a deep call to authenticity. Each one of us has a deep call to health. And I believe this: that in our place of health, we enact less destructive violence on the earth and on each other. When each of us feels our cup full — filled with the life and peace that bubbles up from within — we steal less from one another.

I’m going home in a week or so. I’m going home to my healthy place, which is a yurt in the woods, with no electricity. I wish for you, with all my heart, that you would find your way home, too.

My home is completely isolated, but for the hummingbirds. I know that this is not the way for everyone. Maybe it won’t always be the way for me. But as long as it is, I need to go.

Don’t judge me, okay? And I won’t judge you. Let’s be the healthiest people we can be. Let’s give one another permission to seek our truest freedom, even if it requires letting go and respecting differences. It might be the first and best step we can take to help our hurting world.

The Hollowing (When I am a Singing Bowl)

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Years ago a friend of mine experienced a series of losses. I said to her, “God is making all this space in your life. I can’t wait to see what comes along to fill it.”

I don’t know if she felt like shooting poison daggers into my heart at that moment. Do you think? If you said that to me right now I think I might.

It started for me around last Christmas. Maybe only the straining of growth, which is synonymous with endings. Maybe a rhythm I set years ago — or had set for me by the struggle that is life — of expanding and contracting? I don’t know. But several things that I had counted on, things that made sense of my life, just vanished in a poof of smoke.

Loss.
Emptiness.
The hollowing.

Do you know the hollowing? Do you know the season when the hours and days stretch out like geologic time? When you wonder what will come along to fill what can’t be filled?

I don’t know if you have tried the things I have tried. Coffee and homemade banana muffins. Twitter and Instagram. Movies and park dates with the kids? But no dice, right? The hollowing is the hollowing. You will be made concave. Struggle or not, your insides will be scooped out by the handful.

A wise friend sent me a poem about a singing bowl. And I already knew it, as I read the words. I already knew – don’t tell me — that the hollow sings. The concave and hollowed out is blessed in this way. A vessel for sacred space and sacred time.

It doesn’t mean that I want you to tell me. If you tell me that God is making space in my life right now I might still find daggers for you in the back of my eyes. But yes, I know.

The hollowing is sacred time. 

I don’t believe in a puppet master God. Or a vindictive God. I don’t believe that God needs me to be weakened or harmed. I don’t believe that God is teaching me a lesson.

But I do believe in God like a wild wind that blows through and picks up all the dust. I do believe that the loss and emptiness is blessed because it will be filled. And I believe this, too, that it is a better path to be filled with a sacred song than with a thousand illusions of comfort or security.

We are wired for struggle. And the struggle can be sacred, too.

When the day stretches out in geologic time. And my feet aren’t quite on the ground. Sacred.

When I struggle and am exhausted and imperfect and I don’t know what’s coming next. Sacred. 

When I am forgotten and invisible. When you could pass your hand right through me as if I weren’t even there. Sacred.

When I am a singing bowl, emptied out and vibrating at God’s touch…

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“Become an open singing-bowl, whose chime
Is richness rising out of emptiness,
And timelessness resounding into time.”

See the rest of this beautiful poem and subscribe to the poet Malcolm Guite right here.