Saturday, September 30, 2023

Voice & Honoring Difference--Gift and Pain

 A tender morning dawns within me, with awareness of an eventful–huge, actually–day yesterday. I feel the heart-ache of an ending, with all its subsequent fear, self-doubt, anxiety, sadness. I feel the cusp of fresh air, a hopefulness and freedom so unfamiliar to me in this area of my life. 

A vague summary? I came to voice about my experience and finally took action for my own best self/life, even as I am only an indirect participant in my husband’s vocational life–as a preacher’s wife. I finally valued my own experience and the power of choice I do have more than the fear of the potential conflict or damage it might create, which he would have to manage. I embodied my own wisdom-sense, trusting Brian to embody his.

So we’re in it now. [Full Moon in Aries. Yowza. Yes.]

The last fourteen months have offered fodder-for-discernment for the situation in an on-again-off-again kind of way. Specifically, food for thought about a strand in my married-family life of the last 8-10 years. Years. My husband’s vocational life in congregational ministry, specifically his gift for mentoring, alongside my own sacred work of circle and commitment to him, our life together. 

The story and stories within these 8-10 years are too numerous to recount. The good decisions made in risked faith, the poor decisions made in risked faith–again, too numerous. But all the strands came together in the last month for me to see new things about my own behaviors, my own contributions to a situation–with possible future situations–which finally grew so untenable as to spur me to voice. Naming my own experience, in detail, with potential for sharing it in a system shaped to disregard my own experience. Naming what I now see. And acting for my own best self, the sense of the life I want with Brian. Acting without attachment to outcome, but finally acting.

We are in it now. 

“This may be the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” I told a friend on my way home from the long day of United Board meetings. Given the centrality of relationship that defines my life, my own sense of belonging and purpose, I bend over backwards to nurture relationships, offer well held spaces for teaching/learning/listening/growing with others. I find my life’s purpose in this kind of work, so it’s nourishing of me, about me too. Therefore, not out of character, I engaged this work for the last 8-10 years, on behalf of my husband’s work, mentoring a young woman who presented both a large threat of perceived impropriety and a desperately needed balm to his ministry. He and I made discerned choices all the way through, struggling together to honor his own relational needs in his work as well as the balance necessary in our own intimate life. 

Had it not been for his work, his need(s), I would never have intertwined my life with this young woman. There’s an emptiness in her that reminds me too much of my own. I recognize her familiar patterns of getting her needs met in the emotional intimacies of her parents, now the emotional commitments of other couples. She works hard at being the right answer at the right time for the men in her life, providing them what they need before they even know it themselves. And she’ll say whatever she intuits she needs to say, so to be valued, seen, belong. As such, she has shown me my youngest self, my most emotionally-neglected and wounded self, for years.

I am thankful, of course, as she has been a great spur for me to work on my own issues, my own relearning of new patterns that are healthier, better for me, better for all around me. I can say Spirit brought her into my life for my own healing, my own journey. I am thankful.

I have deep belly compassion for this young woman too. I perceived Spirit’s leadings for me to welcome her into the writing circle(s), the leadership circles, the community of women I knew that could help her see new patterns, different ways of getting her needs met–to be seen, heard, to belong. And she participated in all the things that I held, led, finally ditching the circle when it no longer provided her the connection to me…ultimately to me and Brian. Something in her prevented her from seeing new patterns, new invitations. She turned her attention to a new attachment that could meet her needs. Another fragile marriage, this time attaching to the woman.

And finally, in mid-September, I saw the inevitable frame within which all of this had unfolded. I had enabled the pattern itself. Because of my life with Brian, she never encountered the circle outside of the pattern of getting her emotional needs met in the covenantal intimacies of others. I was the link in the chain that had increasingly imprisoned myself. The circle itself was never promising enough on its own or it was not time in her life for whatever-this-is-in-her to be confronted, healed. So we release and trust in Spirit's timing...

Once you finally see something deeply, it’s impossible to unsee it. Once you see it, you have to take responsibility for the co-creation of your own bondage, making choices for your own best self/life/community of practice, purpose.

So, doing the hard thing I feared most to do, I set a boundary of no-contact with this young woman, for the remaining active years of Brian’s ministry. For the sake of his ministry, I had welcomed her in where she did not belong. For the hope that I could help her, could open new spaces for her, I had welcomed her in where she did not belong. For the penance I felt I needed to do, awakening to my own feminine and altering Brian’s world forever, I had welcomed her in where she did not belong. In my own patterns of finding safety by buffering my own parents’ rough edges, in getting my sense of belonging by providing for them, I enabled her to repeat the very same pattern in my own marriage

This morning, I ponder the very able skill I have in coming to voice in my profession (with its prophetic and provocative messages I offer a resistant listening church) alongside the highly developed aversion to coming to voice in my marriage to a pastor (where my coming to voice threatens our financial security and his standing as a leader). He cannot tell the difference this morning, of course, as I finally spoke. But I know the difference in my belly. I speak truthfully in his world only rarely, hardly at all. Congregational systems are not built for honesty in this way. They are built for diplomacy, the accepted public truth of what has been. Which has its place, of course, but is not central to who I am or what I’m called to do, say, be. I spoke as a whole woman yesterday, all of who I am, without attachment or anticipation of outcome.

What will life be like for me now, for Brian and me now, with less and less of this woman in our lives? I am sad for the pain of it all. The heart-ache is real, visceral. But so is the oxygen, the hope, the awe of what we get to learn, when it’s finally time for us to learn it.

Monday, November 7, 2022

Reframing the Rage? Clapback Cards -- an experiment

I’ve blogged elsewhere about some Clapback Cards I ordered and received in the mail this past week–both my surprise-reactions in receiving and a felt invitation to do a little work with what arose. I'm much more educated about slang than I was. Yay.

This post is to see if reframing the rage could be of interest to me, to others. I’ll offer the question, then the given answer, then a reframed answer that accords a bit more with my own gut-value-sensation. Might be pointless, but I’m curious enough to at least start it… I’ll muse more holistically at the end, see what I’ve learned.

“Seriously though…why don’t you want children?”

Because major health issues run in my family, and it would be selfish to bring a child into this mess.

This was the first one I read, and it doesn’t strike too hefty a chord within me, either positive or negative. I appreciate the ‘reframe’ within the question, which would often contradict the assumption of selfishness in childfree women. I suppose I flinch at the over-share about health issues in my family. My reframe? Family life is so very complicated, for both parents and children. I’ve simply never wanted my own children, especially when I could love all the children around me.

As a mother, it’s offensive to hear that you don’t want children.

Why are you triggered by my choice? You must be having mom regret…

This was the first one that sent a red flag up my internal flag-pole. Presumptive aggression met by presumptive aggression. I want to learn different responses than that trope in our culture. Asking the question–why are you triggered by my choice?--felt hopeful to me. I would want curiosity–genuine desires to know, no matter what–to soften any kind of presumptive encounter like this. My reframe? Offensive is a charged word, m’dear. What does all this touch in you? Not having children, I don’t have a ‘dog’ in any of it…

Your boyfriend/husband will leave you if you don’t have children.

Hmmm…the same way you got cheated on AFTER you had children??? Interesting.

This one shut me down inside, completely. I almost threw the deck away. Petty. Presumptive in return. What woundedness is this supposed to salve? My reframe? I don’t think I have one for this one.

Let’s talk about why you don’t have children yet…

My uterus is not a conversation topic. Find something else to talk about.

I could imagine this one, actually, sitting in a congregational coffee-hour with an older woman who is unconsciously trying to be grandmotherly, chatty, social. I’d enjoy the ‘shock factor’ on her face, to speak so biologically-concretely, but it also feels disrespectful meeting disrespectful. Isn’t the invitation to take the high road? To meet fiery-insensitivity with watery-wisdom? My reframe? Or let’s talk about your wonderful children? They seem to bring you such joy…

As a woman, you’re supposed to be a caretaker and a nurturer of children.

NO, I’m not. It’s enough trying to take care of myself. Plus, I can  nurture children in my life, without ever having to give birth.

This one feels steady and responsive to me. Confronts the stereotype with a clear NO, a value of self-care, and a desire to nurture children. This one feels resonant with me.

People judge women that don’t have children. I don’t blame them.

They have no idea what that woman could be going through. Mind your own uterus.

This one also feels steady to me. Honest, responsive. The ‘mind your own uterus’ feels a bit cliche, unnecessary to me. It probably would sell t-shirts from her line. I don’t fault that. As a good businesswoman, she gave me a free t-shirt with my order, but I cannot imagine wearing it anywhere. It’s why I didn’t order one.

I bet holidays are hard for you, considering you don’t have children.

Only when I speak to people like you.

OR this one

The Bible says we’re supposed to be fruitful and multiply.

Judging by that waistline of yours, you’re probably not consuming fruits anyway.

Unhelpful. Mean. A conscious aggression in meeting an unconscious, passive-aggressive statement. Do I want to become consciously aggressive in the cultures we live in today? Isn’t there enough of that…? My reframes? Holidays can be so hard for all of us, regardless! Don’t you find yourself exhausted sometimes?


The Bible says a lot of things. One of my favorites is that we should stone to death those who don’t keep the Sabbath.

You’re married…it’s about time for you to give that man some babies!

For your information, we’re having a hard time conceiving. But thanks for bringing it up.

Not knowing the grief involved here, I name and hold this one with a little grace-space. I revolt at the cultural presumption–pronatalist burden on the woman to give any man some babies. Give? Horrible language for a woman struggling with infertility, finally getting pregnant, only to ‘give it to her man’? Ugh. My reframe? I give my man everything he needs already. :) 

You should pass down those good genes of yours. Your baby would be so pretty.

I already passed down some jeans to Goodwill. Does that count?

Ending on bemusement…this one made me laugh aloud and doesn’t feel petty or mean, for some reason. Maybe because I love puns so.

The other cards seem to be versions of these kinds of things, so I’ll stop my review and reframe. What do I notice most? Lots I’ve already named, mostly about grief and our incapacities to bear the pains/losses of others. How we use social-norming to create expectation, stability and perceptions of control. Hardly any of which is malicious. Unconscious, yes. Refusals to awaken to others’ experiences are irritating, even angering. But if we want to transform the fractals of our consumerist-materialist-pronatalist overculture(s) into something life-giving for more of us, even for all of us, I cannot imagine the way forward is through matched aggression.

Matched aggression means that the sadness or woundedness remains, for both. Cycles of violence don’t get disrupted. They may even get more intense, polarized. Interestingly enough, it was easy to share my sensations/reactions to the cards, but I didn’t actually reframe them until I’d written most of this post. 

I guess I’m simply not much of a card-stock response kind of girl, preferring instead to practice becoming more present amidst the unconsciousness, allowing a vulnerability to shine forth from me, knowing who I am and delighting in the choices I’ve made, we’ve made. I'll hopefully never be a "clapback queen," though I know she's inside me all the same!


Sunday, June 5, 2022

Woman Releasing Birds...

Such is the title the artist gave this image, painting, icon. And the artist is the one who would know, of course. But I can’t help smile and push-back somehow at the utter literal-ness of the words she chose. I balk at it, actually, with a sense of defense of the Holy the image evokes, which is so much more than woman releasing birds. As I rise up inside, to give full-throated, full-hearted defense of the icon this work has been and is becoming in my own journeying, I am yet returned to the wisdom of the bare-bones title. The words really are observation without interpretation, which is a classic non-violent-language wisdom practice. It frees the viewer to receive his/her/their own evocations, invocations. Which I’m pretty sure is precisely what Jean Jensen, the smart savvy wise artist, knew by Heart. Woman Releasing Birds it is… [She can be reached for more prints or correspondence at P.O. Box 159, Lewellen, NE 69147, or The Most Unlikely Place,].

I remember when Jean first sent me the image of it, shortly after pandemic lockdown months ended. Something jarred us to reconnect via text…I don’t remember what it was…but she sent me a photo of the actual painting, nearly finished. The painting itself is more than life-size, so huge for a painting. It was located in the fellowship hall of the local church in her small town Nebraska community, which was free for such studio use.

Tears erupted when I first saw even a tiny image of it… It spoke so many things to me all at once, and it was iconic for so much of the Women Writing for (a) Change community-circle work I’d been doing. From time to time in these years, I’d put the image as a lock-screen or home-screen on my phone. Needless to say, the image has spoken to me in multiple ways, in many seasons, since I first saw it. I received a canvas-print reproduction of it a couple weeks ago, and encountered her all over again.


The face of the woman resembles Jean's face to me. Not sure whether she considers it a ‘self-portrait’ in any way, but it’s how I receive it. Makes me smile, with a fondness of many years’ acquaintance, if not a lot of deep knowledge of one another any more. Jean was the one who would steal my journal during the long days in sometimes-sleepy lectures of Clarissa Pinkola Estes to draw little pregnant women figures in the margins. Made me laugh then; makes me laugh now, simply remembering.


For me, the face also resembles that of the founder of WWfaC, even if it presents a bit softer version than I experience in her face today. It was a visceral, immediate knowing that Mary Pierce Brosmer was to receive a copy of the painting/print, whenever and however way opened for that to happen. Not sure all why… Part of it is out of awareness and respect for her rather sizeable ‘pain-body’. There’s a deep wound she carries, tries to get her WW sisters to carry unconsciously, which the figure in the image illustrates. The strength in her arms, the determination to open her heart in a physical, fleshy-pulpy way.


This part of the image may simply be a representation of vulnerability, not woundedness, of course. But in MPB, it’s a woundedness she refuses or a deep pain she is unable or unwilling to sit with in order to heal, to find peace. This saddens me, for her, but it no longer touches my own triggers. I know I cannot and will not carry that for her any longer, even if I do love and live into the wisdom I received because of WWfaC. Her anonymously given print should have arrived at the mother school in Cincinnati yesterday. The copy for my writing-sister, Beth, in Bloomington, should arrive tomorrow, both "founders" of WWfaC circle communities in their respective towns. And of course, having co-birthed WWfaC Central Ohio with Lisa Heckaman, I have one which speaks to me...for me... I await Lisa's decision whether she wants the copy I have for her...or whether that is to find another sister down the road.


The birds in the image are modelled after a photograph taken by my uncle John, a retired biology professor and avid photographer, writer, tender of the land. So the various forms of birds being released evoke lots of images for me—family associations, light, dark, colorful, grey. In that way, I identify with the woman myself, determined, looking upward while grounded in the wisdom of transformation, the feminine (snake), my canine companions of unconditional love and presence, past and present.


The birds are significant in another WWfaC stream…its leadership sisterhood. For over a decade now, the ‘anthem’ of sorts for Conscious Feminine Leadership sisters is a chant sung by Libana called A River of Birds. Interestingly, when the prints arrived at my home, I tried to remember the opening words of this chant, sung at every gathering of leader sisters. We’ve not circled in person since Covid, of course, so we’ve not sung it together for over two years. It still surprised me that I could not remember how it started. I could not bring it back. I went to Google and eventually found it, words below. It meant something to me that I could not remember it... Poetry of departure, I guess.


There’s a river of birds in migration, a nation of women with wings.

There’s a river of birds in migration, a nation of women with wings.

(repeat as long as the circle desires…)


Woman Releasing Birds therefore speaks for me to the rising of the Feminine in the world today. A wisdom that restores balance into the world, for the Earth, desperately needing the sustainable life a balance of feminine-masculine brings. She stands firm on the ground(s) she knows, willing to name all of her own experience as she lets it go, as it shapes her more deeply to be precisely who she is. No shoulds, oughts, fears, shames…all of those become the redeemed or restorative wisdom only she can bring the world, through the darkened-light and lightened-dark.  


I love being the vessel by which this image can reach Mary Pierce Brosmer, anonymously, as she is a woman for whom I am deeply grateful and from whom I am peaceably estranged. Her sacred work in the world is not yet complete, but it has deeply impacted my life and well-being. I am thankful, and am glad to embody that in a concrete action upon the conclusion of my formal affiliation with WWfaC.


A woman releasing birds…a phrase that offers me freedom as I become released from affiliation with Women Writing for (a) Change, effective June 30, 2022.

May we each find release…May we each be released.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Being Me Everywhere I Am -- the New Story

I received a question this week that pissed me off inside, though I’m pretty sure I didn’t show it much. I don’t even remember precisely who asked me the question, but it was a member of a community in which I have covenanted these last months “to be on an initiation journey with.” My part in this commitment is to get curious when something snags me inside, or outside for that matter.

What’s preventing you from being all of who you are in all those spaces? Another version of it came out as Why not be whole, wholly who you are? I noticed the flash of irritation, perhaps even anger, almost immediately. It wasn’t until the next day, in a completely unrelated circle practice, that I could get underneath the question a bit, allow my feelings to breathe and allow me to receive the gifting. 

I have been living a journey whose story I’ve told in terms of fragmentation and compartmentalization, understandable in our polarized and polarizing era. A new story, however, suggests a more truthful journey of deep feeling presence, honed intuition and restraint out of compassion with a realism about communications in our world today. Let me start with my own story-telling, that seemed to trigger the question in the folks who asked it.


My sacred work over these last twenty years has placed me at multiple intersections of really beautiful, complicated, and contradictory communities (are there any other kinds? ). Sometimes I’m a seminary professor in a freestanding, increasingly conservative, highly polarizing United Methodist seminary. We speak of our ‘large umbrella,’ but most liberal-progressives would never consider matriculating in our degree programs. In this stream, I’m sometimes a Protestant Christian in spiritual friendships with Jews and those of other traditions (or none), living and learning how to invite spiritual maturity and deepening human becoming across traditional lines. Sometimes I’m a conscious-feminine leader in a non-traditional writing school for women (and now anyone nonbinary, men), holding spaces for women to come to voice and to learn more deeply the embodied wisdom they need to bring into the world. Sometimes I’m a preacher’s wife in a ‘purple congregation’—a church with militant liberals and Trumpist Republicans both—tending to self and community with utmost attention to a supportive role for my husband’s calling(s). Rarely anymore, but sometimes I’m a Presbyterian clergywoman myself, standing with integrity in a sacred profession in a dying denomination of Protestant Christianity. Most recently, I’m sometimes a Masters athlete in a CrossFit ‘box,’ having trained through the Level 1 Seminar but clearly a participant and fitness buff learning her way in a world often contrary to human health and wholeness.


I am always just myself in each of these communities, and yet I am also highly aware of how these communities live a different ethos and diverse practices into the world, with little focus on/awareness of? others’ practices while honing ‘their own.’ My writing sisters are not interested in my seminary professor self as they express a deep aversion to the church, to established religious traditions (that have wounded women so). My seminary colleagues do not see my conscious feminine leader self, as seeing Her suggests a liberal intelligentsia taking away the Sacred they value most. My denominational colleagues are not interested (much) in either of the above, nor are any aware of the Jewish (and other traditions) companions who are an integral part of my life. Congregational life is usually inwardly focused, focused on survival and not other wisdom(s) from other faith streams. My CrossFit folks are not interested in the work complexities—which I really appreciate—though they probably express the most interest in any and all of the above, without division or a dog in any of the disputes there.


My story about myself here has been one of fragmentation, compartmentalization, and shifting. “I cannot be all of who I am in any one space,” is one way I’ve expressed it. And it often feels like that, because in each space, I can sense the wholeness and wisdom of “the others” in my life, often disregarded or even disdained in the community I’m in at the moment. I may attempt to bring awareness to those persons in my life, or the community wisdom that is being disregarded, or I may simply notice a yearning, or a sadness, or a grief that this other wisdom cannot be seen or welcomed for some reason. In this way of telling my story, I have felt a deep yearning for wholeness, integration, and an increasing desire to spend less energy tending to the polarizations of our day, more energy spent living with and loving the people around me.


Hence the irritation flash with the questions to me. What’s preventing you from being all of who you are in all those spaces? Why not be whole, wholly who you are? The feelings here for me: anger, a feeling of being-judged, disbelief, sadness, maybe some fear. The first time I got the question in the fall, I heard it as a value-judgment that I was “not being authentic.” No one likes feeling judged, of course, but something in me also knew it wasn’t true. I am authentic, wherever I go. It gets me in trouble regularly, with blunt speech or mirrored disagreement in collective spaces.


I wonder if this anger and irritation stem from a generational difference regarding authenticity that I often encounter with liberal-progressive voices in my life. I appreciate this drive for authenticity, but my own language circles more around wholeness, integration, presence. Can you hold ambiguity within yourself, being precisely who you are, while breathing into irreconcilable difference in peaceable surrender, receiving? That’s integrity, wholeness, not authenticity for me. Maybe that’s what these companions mean by authenticity...but I don't know.

Irritation rises because I weary quickly of identities-focused human beings on a militant quest for authenticity in all their/our identities. There’s an individualism and independence underneath it that I continue to distrust, in the end. Distrust that one ever “gets there” while still growing and changing. My identities have shifted over the years as I've grown, which is not inauthentic but impassioned wonder toward abundance. And distrust that one of us can be wholly themselves authentically without whomever they’re with or whomever they’re committed to, which ultimately I hope will be all of us. Different communities bring different sides of me to life, but they are all me-in-relationship. Not inauthenticity but interconnection and belonging to each other. It pisses me off when someone suggests that I am being inauthentic when I am deeply committed and impassioned for all the human beings in my life, especially those who do not fit into the worldview-with-others I happen to be in at the moment.


The larger trigger for me this past fall, though, was the suggestion that within (a presumed) inauthenticity I was therefore untrustworthy. This fellow’s fear/energies did touch my fear of being untrustworthy due to ignorance, white-blindnesses. Even as I know I am trustworthy, particularly within covenantal commitments. I also know however that I am learning as I go, that I make mistakes regularly. It is only a matter of time before racial-trauma, racialized woundings, arise between well-meaning human beings. I have tangled in others’ woundedness, unknowingly, particularly in higher education settings. I have felt the backlash of others’ (now understandable, always legitimate) defensiveness. So I am care-full now in my vulnerability, even as I also celebrate that I love easily and fiercely. I am trustworthy, with a fierceness that can get me into trouble, hopefully the good kind of trouble. It's good here to see this as a trigger for me.

When opportunity opened to engage all of this feeling, these questions, in an unrelated but timely circle of friends, I realized it’s time for a new story, one that’s actually easier for me to hold and to tell. Ultimately, I think it’s also more true to who I am, how I do what I do, and why so many different communities welcome me into their practices as they do.


The new story, then: I am deeply present in every environment I enter AND I have a well-honed intuition for connection, tempered by restraint, resourced in compassion and non-judgment. This is why folks are drawn to me, becoming curious how to be in this spaciousness, presence, amidst the fears and challenges of our day. 

When I prioritize one identity or role, it is not because I am shifting or being inauthentic. I am practicing a sacred restraint, with compassion for who I’m with and how we’re connected. I’m not being inauthentic, nor do I need to proclaim all parts of me to be authentically present. Not everyone gets access to all of me, nor do I need for all of me to be seen or known in each environment I’m in. [That is sign of growth right there, just sayin’!] Anyone who needs to proclaim their own self-identities in each space they’re in is welcome to do so with me, but our connection does not depend upon identities, authentically expressed or not. Connection, I’m learning, arises with vulnerability, with desire, with a willingness to become more and more present, curious, wondering… Identities do not create freedom, loving-first does. A deep sense of Sacred connects, even when we hold the Sacred differently.


So what is preventing me from being all of who I am in all the spaces I get to be in? Why not be whole, wholly who I am? Today I would answer:


Nothing prevents me from being all of who I am, except me, my fear of vulnerability and getting hurt. I am being whole in this moment, wholly who I am as I walk, breathe, listen, learn, love. I am deeply present in every environment I enter AND I have a well-honed intuition for connection, tempered by restraint, resourced in compassion and non-judgment.  

It is no less true that most collective spaces I know in our world struggle to surrender to the radical abundance and mystery that human being into human becoming can be. So I am who I am in each space, aware with a heartful tenderness and compassion that urge restraint, honor of another, loving in wonder and curiosity held sometimes without voice. My anger and irritation may flare with those who require their own version of authenticity for others while refusing to participate deeply, vulnerably, themselves…and I remain thankful for this tension between generations that finally popped the new story into me.

Always a practice, never a destination, of course. I’m less and less present right now because I’m getting hungry! Hangry, even. Time to stop. Love to all.

Friday, February 11, 2022

How Does "Forgiveness" Factor into my WWfaC Listening?

The day’s writing has clearly been about You Left Me and Forgiveness of the Divine…? But I found myself diving into more specifics in the situation that drew me into the circle series in the first place: Women Writing for (a) Change mother-school and my relationship with her as an affiliate, WWfaC, Central Ohio, LLC. How does "forgiveness" factor into my WWfaC listening, particularly as I become increasingly aware I am so unclear about forgiveness, its currents, practice, feelings, more...?

The Troubles of 2019-2020 in which I got hurt, arguably hurt/challenged sister-leaders at WWfaC motherschool, need not be a rupture or requirement to leave said community formally. I can remain, gratefully, in formal connection with communities that have shaped me deeply but who no longer feel lively in my ongoing learning. My life in the church, formally. My life in the seminary, often. And I often feel a deep yearning to contribute, to “give back” in some way. I'm primarily a Giver and feel most connected when I can give.

But I can also honor that my gifts are either not seen or valued by the community as a whole, and that I don’t need them to be seen or received to continue to grow. I’m a firm believer in the receiving-and-offering of gifts in community AND my gifts are such that many communities have no more interest in what I have to say, as I grow…and sometimes outgrow those around me. Said without judgment or criticism, just awareness of differentiations and divergences of paths because we don’t get to choose who we are to people. We only get to discover it, again and again if we’re blessed to do so. Given all this–spoken and unspoken–a short circle-series themed in Forgiveness (Anger, Grief, Compassion, Joy), outside of my own circle-community affiliation, seemed warranted.

Forgiveness of them for refusing my innovations? For not seeing me as I need to be seen? I am angry (therefore hurt, sad) that I was chastised for bringing Zoom circles into our community (pre-Covid). I’m irritated that this innovation was never honored, once Covid hit. All of a sudden, Zoom circles were legitimate and okay. Necessary even. I shared my experience and materials, with little honoring by them or anyone of my previous chastisement or censure. Clearly, this was not a gift freely given from me. Gifts freely given require no reciprocity, no affirmation of the gift at all. I’m not able to give freely with this community anymore, apparently. I’m too hurt, angry, grieving still. Worth noticing.

Or am I in the circle-series to learn forgiveness of myself for leading a bit like a bull in a china shop, impassioned but more blunt than the system could sustain? The Troubles unfolded because I am committed to living into relationship first, structures second. I made two choices to welcome sisters of color into my leadership training, even though my affiliate license crafted our community’s understandings of right relationship in geography instead of emotional/spiritual connection. The license never even dawned on me, which was my mistake. I honestly thought the mother-school would understand this and see it as I did. I actually thought there would be delight, given our shared ethos for relationship over hierarchy, for the conscious feminine of welcome of sisters of color over structures that divide and conquer. Clearly, I was wrong. I made mistakes in my impassioned commitment to bring more women of color into my leadership training, but in all honesty, I’d do it again, just as I did. I was/am accused of bringing competition with the motherschool into this unfolding, and I can see how they see that. I can also see how their structures foster an inwardness and a preference for the mother-school over all others. Affiliates who advocate for their own primacy of relationship will always be chastised, which is short-sighted in my view. The structures rooted in geography need to change toward relationship, toward abundance.  

Do I need to learn forgiveness of them for not companioning me–or not being able to companion me?--in my own growth journey, leaving me feeling isolated and alone? I’ve re-read the private blog-posts I wrote during the offering/implementation of my first Central Ohio leadership training, summer-into-fall of 2019, concluding with Graduation on March 8th, 2020, four days before Covid lockdown in Ohio. This leadership training was my own differentiation, my own growing up, welcoming new leadership sisters into a flow of initiation work centered in our own community, not Cincinnati. Just like the other affiliate in Bloomington had done for years. But it was terrifying, exhausting, and made that much more difficult because not only was the larger web of sisters unavailable to me–except the one affiliate sister, who was a lifeline–but there was a strong sense in me that the mother-school was just waiting for me to fail. There was no honoring of my values, my commitment to relationship, my own giftedness in this work. I remember no “checking in with me” or “how’s it going there?” communications from anyone in the mother-school community. I was alone. Though we made a Cincy-wide invitation for mother-school sisters to come meet the new Central Ohio sisters, only 2 people came. We bent over backwards to conclude our graduation with a visit to the Mother School, to be welcomed and welcoming into the community, and no one came. Certainly not the Founder, who made sure she was out of town (which I don't know for sure, but can imagine). I was embarrassed, sad, angry, and felt further isolated.

Everything seemed to be in the shadow of the Founder and her trauma of church-wound (Roman Catholic), patriarchal dismissals-devaluing, refusal to be seen as she desires to be seen. (Which I realized is where our wounds charged each other’s…). By mid-October, I created my own ritual of release of her–expressing gratitude for her at each place we have held circle in Dayton, and in each place, asking her to release me, to be released from me, from us. Not her wisdom. Not her contributions. But her painbody, her trauma, her inability to move into her own healing journey to let the pain go already. I continue to be thankful for her, for her work, and I have no contact with her. I can no longer sit in a circle when she is present, both because her pain hurt/hurts me and because I refuse to carry it for her in this motherline any longer. I am not severing from her best Self–she will always be a part of me–but I will no longer consciously process her pain in my systems of circles. I’ll probably do it unconsciously for the rest of my working life, in other contexts, but I am wisening to it now.

So do I forgive this larger web of sisters for not companioning me, for not being able to companion me? Or do I thank them for forcing my differentiation and growth out of adolescence in our motherline of circles? I would never have left them consciously, after all. I would have tried to stay as a daughter in circles of mothers for as long as I could have. Except daughters best honor their mothers by growing up. By leaving them and becoming their own, best, grown-ass Selves. I best honor Mary Pierce Brosmer by growing the fuck up here. 

What within forgiveness am I to learn here, to receive, to offer? I honestly don’t know.  

I DO know that I want to be free to listen to the leadership invitations in my life without feeling like I need to look over my shoulder constantly for being censured, refused. I need to be in a community of leaders who consistently put relationship over structures, abundance over scarcity, friendship over tradition (when those two seem to be placed at odds with one another…). And this circle series is giving me spaces and voices and containers in which to come to this language, even this morning. I’m grateful.

It's also good to be able to articulate my list of sadnesses, grievances, hurts. I can sense and celebrate that I don't hold any sister-leader responsible for any of the above. I know everyone was really doing the best each knew how to do. I even know Mary Pierce Brosmer is doing the very best she knows to do, after decades of pouring herself out for this way of gathering in circle, bringing the Feminine more fully to voice in an increasingly hostile world. I need to do the best I know to do now--to continue to deepen in my own leadership, with both willingness and risk, and to walk toward freedom with those who can receive my gifts, celebrate the hard work we love to do, and let go of all else that does not nourish us to be our grown-ass selves.

I wonder if I am to continue to learn within WWfaC, offering my wisdom and musings and receiving that of others, or whether that door is shutting, blessedly, without anger or grief...just completing what had needed to be, for all of us?


Friday, February 4, 2022

A Thermal Core Sample Then...Where am I with WWfaC Cincy?

Yesterday and today I have been revisiting some old blog-posts on a conscious feminine leadership blog of mine, to feel what I might feel, remember what I might remember, receive what has surely changed alongside what has not changed…at least yet. It’s not coincidental that a four-circle Wisdom Series began last night, focused on Forgiveness with themed weekly gatherings on Anger, Grief, Compassion, and Grace. In the middle of December, I realized I wanted to discern the possibility, potential, and character of my relationship with a hugely important community in my journey–Women Writing for (a) Change. Was it time for me to leave the community, so to protect the mother-school from all that I feel calling me? So to protect myself from any unintended but deeply wounding behaviors directed at me, binding me from stepping more largely into my leadership self? Tough to say. I committed long ago that I would never leave a community of service while I was angry. That has held me at my day-job of United Seminary at times, then with WWfaC, of late. 

What do I want or need in my relationship with the larger WWfaC sister-leader community? Anything? What can I offer (that would be received without censure)? Is it finally time for me to relinquish the affiliate license, trusting that I could retain the certificant-relationship-status, and be free of wounding or being wounded? My own work of holding space for current leadership sisters, for circles of writers who come, for circles of non-writers who come is such a part of my Sacred (mothering) Work in the world. I am committed to each of them, all of them, as our soul-contracts play out in the divine order of things. But I'm also not in charge, nor do I need any documentation to trust the hearts that will come, some of whom will stay, others' paths will move them away. WWfaC larger-community need not be a part of that, as it really isn't in any feasible way anyway. Except the letter of a license at the moment.

This is why I set myself a discernment path: some intentional writing-reflection for myself (such as this), some writing-reflection in touch-ins with the WWfaC leadership sisters (the centerpiece was to be a 4-day retreat, which then got cancelled by the venue), some circley-listening spaces outside of the WWfaC practices of circle (the Wisdom series), and then, of course, listenings with two coaches/consultants in my life (Quanita and Tenneson) and other Fire & Water colleagues who have been woven into my life through this 16-month “leadership initiation journey” I signed onto in January of 2020. Ultimately I’m asking:

How may I best serve the common good with my all of my gifts–establishment education/seminary, network of interreligious spiritual-friends, women’s circling (Central Ohio, in particular), Brian’s and my vocational connection, Fire&Water, and more? In what kind of relationship with WWfaC, mother-school can I best be faithful to all that beckons me from Beyond? If it is no longer as an affiliate, then perhaps it is time to release what had been, thereby freeing everyone involved from what-was. If I were to retain the affiliate license, what is our shared vision of abundant circling that we can all stand in with integrity, sit in with patience, rest in with peace?

I wish I could sketch in words HOW HUGE THIS IS FOR ME. It feels not unlike being asked to take a leap off of a precipice without any sense of safety net. 

Anyone who has spoken with me for longer than 20 minutes knows that this non-traditional writing school community and web of sisterhood blew open my life right when I needed it to. It was a source of holding in anger when I needed to awaken to the righteousness of my own anger. It was a covenantal community that espoused an ethos and named values that I had held ever since my Clinical Pastoral Education journey began in 1999. It was a home when I thought I’d never ever find a home again. 

So I’ve journeyed since 2012 with this community, from participating in containers of witness for my own healing journey to serving in leadership on the Board of Trustees and in the leadership-curriculum development and academies, trainings, with many places in between. I currently hold an affiliate license with this community, so to have co-birthed a circle-way community of sisters in the Dayton-Columbus area, Women Writing for (a) Change, Central Ohio. Seven years of collaboratively holding a circle a week, then two-circles a week (one in Dayton, one in Columbus) with a spirit-friend unparalleled in my life…it was a whoosh! of the Feminine reclaiming my heart, my body, my mind–all of me. 

Except…the achilles heel and the unwanted Truth which of course would come: the mythos of this community is not unlike the mythos of my family of origin, I have come to realize…A strong idealistic sense of itself, a refusal to see shadows so to focus on the light everyone needed so badly, a healthy and then unhealthy focusing inward, so to protect something worth protecting. It was only a matter of time before the mythos had to shatter open for me to see all that I did not want to see. The mythos, ethos and values I assumed would hold beyond anything legally questionable were never going to hold as I had assumed.

Fear. Shaming. Projections. Polite niceties cloaked in unconscious refusals to see or hear me. Too much misunderstood and unseen and not enough time before decisions had to be made, proclamations handed down, and censures given. Well, one censure. Afterward, the circle-of-redress held by the current Board Chair tried to make it all nice with champagne. It was my family of origin all over again, except all in the language of circle. My experience of the community was nothing like the community hoped it would be. The community was held captive to inherited trauma, and dealing with the threat of me, my choices–that yes, went against the license, but were within the professed ethos and commitments of our community at its best. My situation was one of the symptoms of reactivity and needed immediate closure on the mother-school terms. 

But…I’m a cycle-breaker in my family and collective systems, and a royal pain in the ass when I have my teeth into a vision. I may go away quietly for a time. I may retreat to a safe distance and lick my wounds. I may even attempt to play nice for a time and hold the norms that no longer feel real or honored to me, because that was not my experience of the community. Though it take me 45 years, I will retrieve my experience as I experienced it, and I will name it at the very least to myself, more likely to communities that can witness my wound, anger, grief, outrage, sadness, weeping…so eventually…it can be let go. It can become a sacred scar. It can become what was necessary in order for me to continue to grow. Perhaps what was necessary in order for us to continue to grow

And ay, that is the rub. Is Women Writing for (a) Change a web of community that I want to invest any more time/energy in? If I cannot be heard or seen? If I cannot offer as I receive? 

September 18, 2019, I re-created a conscious-feminine-leadership blog so to protect my storying, my journeying, my disorientations from a web of sister leaders I had trusted deeply and then been wounded by, unimaginably to me then. I don’t remember what the previous URL even was, but the new one recognized that the framework of the Conscious Feminine brought into my awareness by Mary Pierce Brosmer back in 2013 was no longer a safe or necessarily even only one for me. At least as this phrase had been held by the mother-school and her Founder. 

So I diverged from what had been before. My new private-from-them blogspot URL became I wanted to name this new strand or departure in my life a conscious feminine that restores. A way of being “circley” and grounded in abundance, not scarcity or inherited trauma. A way of gathering as women, as human beings more broadly welcomed, that could RESTORY (as one of our new sisters would say) what the founding community’s strangle-hold on the Conscious Feminine seemed to be refusing in me. The mother-school could not or did not value the risks I was willing to take, the leader I could become–we could become–if we bent structures to relationship, legalities to persons. 

Who could I become, I yearned to wonder, if I were freed from having to look over my shoulder all the time, protect others’ innovation from the Mother School’s eyes/ears, protect myself from the natural evolutionary work any “daughter” needs to do, by soul-contract, with every mother who nourishes her along the Way. She needs to grow the fuck up. Differentiate. Stay connected, always grateful for every piece–the gracious and the painful both–but grow the fuck up. 

I see now I made this new writing space so I could become mySelf, apart from older-sister-eyes/ears, so I could eventually claim my own freedom in forgiveness (it now seems)...forgiveness of myself for the ways I lead that hurt others? Forgiveness for the ways I lead such that others wound me? Forgiveness of others for being just as human as I am, each and all doing her/our very best to bring Good into the world?

My new friend and coach, Quanita, is working on her next book…birthed by many mothers. Perdita Finn from The Way of the Rose circle of rosary-friends wants all of us–women, men, nonbinary, and more–to become mothers. As her argument goes, when the world is populated by mothers, those who are free to love their Earth, their earth-bodies, and one another–then perhaps, just perhaps, we might come to trust the divine order of things in which everything that happens will become woven into the Whole. A One-ness of us. Some of us can feel it already, even without proof seen or heard. Mothering is not a biological or even a Feminine path, I’m now thinking-feeling. It has to do with nourishing and holding and…letting go.

I guess I am joining this call into mothering, then… I want all of us to become mothers, so paying homage to one and her unfortunate trauma is no longer a sign of loyalty and connection. I want all of us to become mothers as we learn to bow to all who come from afar and from differently-deep-within. I am because we are. You are me and I am you. Each of us has been a father, mother, sister, brother to all the rest of us.

Can WWfaC-Cincy allow this differentiation and growth? In the end, it doesn’t really matter. Birthing is like that. MySelf is on her way, in Her new rendition…AND I am committed to connection beyond difference, differentiation, always. You can ask my own mother.