While working on a writing project, a mentor once told me, “consult with your muses and then work your magic.” His guidance beautifully encapsulated what I believe to be the essence of writing and other creative processes: a union between personal power and a deeper well of knowledge that extends beyond oneself. The name of this website arises from his words.
Writing and art-making are practices through which I come to better understand my internal landscape and the external realm in which I live. My pieces are thus deeply personal, political, and spiritual. They serve as windows and mirrors; openings into new worlds and reflections of present circumstances. My wish is for my works to be aligned with the wills of my muses.
If you have any inquiries or comments, you are also welcome to reach out through my contact page. I hope you are nourished and stretched towards new places by virtue of your time here.
It’s almost the end of Cancer season, and I’ve been thinking about water a lot lately. This is also partially because of a class I’m taking with Weaving Earth, which has been focused on water for many weeks. It’s been a beautiful exploration, even when putting me face to face with the ways water has been used and abused for many centuries.
Mostly, I’ve been contemplating the intelligence of water. The ways it shapeshifts, adapts, moves, and molds itself. The ways it embodies intentions that are infused into it, like how tears shed while feeling different emotions all have distinct molecular structures when viewed under a microscope. Scientific studies have repeatedly shown that water takes on the energetic imprint of what is infused in it (through sound or other means), for better and for worse. The notion that a few drops of water infused with a particular intention, emotion, or goal can alter the makeup of an entire cup, bottle, or jug of water is the foundation of making flower essences. For a long time, I thought this was nonsense, yet the more I look into water’s intelligence and learn about the magical creativity of this element, the more true it all seems.
Waters I have sung to before drinking them taste sweeter. Waters I have thanked before diving into them feel fresher. Waters I have blessed before anointing myself or another transport the anointed to a mythic time, where the here and now melt into a more spacious reality. I believe magic carries memory and that in infusing water with intentionality, the water changes not only itself but those with which it comes into contact. In the words of Octavia Butler, “all that you change, changes you….”
My thoughts about water’s intelligence have coincided with some thinking I have been doing surrounding ancestral connection. As a white person with multiple European lineages (and some Ojibwe heritage) in my family tree, I have found that learning more about who my ancestors were before they were labeled as “white” by capitalist systems has been an important part of dismantling white supremacy within me. The melting pot mentality of the United States forced many of my ancestors to hide, forget, or be embarassed by their cultural practices. I view it as part of my life’s purpose to (imperfectly) begin a process of reconnecting with some of these old ways of knowing. Not to fetishize the past, but to embody ways of knowing that reflect a healthier relationship with self, others, and the earth.
All of this is to say, I think about how the waters of my body — blood, sweat, tears, and more — might be vehicles of memory and intelligence. How they might be repositories of intelligence that can guide me on a path towards healing from the ways white supremacy, capitalism, and more have disconnected me from ancestral knowledge. What if my body and its waters could be seen as holders of knowledge that span beyond my lifetime? What if the liquids I am made of are pre-programmed with the wisdom of my ancestors? Instead of thinking I need a DNA kit to prove who my ancestors are or relying on historical records to “connect” me to them, what if I could trust that connecting to my lineages was possible through my own body and its waters (along with the dreams and intuitions that arise from them)?
I’ve been amazed at how certain things sound and feel so familiar to me, even though I’ve never heard or seen them before. An example of this is Scottish folk songs, even though I have never even set foot in Scotland, nor was I raised with any education surrounding my Scottish heritage. Yet the more I learn about water, the more I wonder if centuries of ancestors singing those tunes (or similar ones) altered the make-up of the waters in their bodies (and the bodies of their descendants as a result). Perhaps my sense of familiarity with Scottish folk songs (and Scottish Gaelic in general) is a manifestation of the waters in my being resonating with something they were intentionally encouraged to recognize over centuries of ancestral waters reverberating with those same sounds.
While a DNA kit can be helpful for those to whom it is accessible or appealing, I don’t think I need one to prove to myself that I am of Scottish or Irish or French or Spanish or Ojibwe heritage. When I hear those languages, sing those songs, and walk across those lands, the waters in me tell me so. My ancestral molecules light up at the sounds and sights.
Water is a vessel for memory, and the body is a vessel made of water. My very being is a vessel of ancestral knowing. Even when recorded histories cannot tell me who exactly my ancestors were or confirm ancient truths I know to be real, I can still feel my people in my bones and know that my ancestors (and their wisdom) are within me. I can trust that my body and its waters know what they know. Water’s knowing is enough.
This summer, I am taking a class with the organization Weaving Earth that blends ecology, astrology, earth stewardship, and more. One of the facets of this course is the practice of divination with and through nature, including but not limited to bird watching.
Divination is something I’ve long thought about and practiced. As a tarot reader, I am easily identifiable as a practitioner of at least one form of divination. But divination, for me, is not what many think of it. Namely, I do not use divination practices to foretell the future. At least, not directly.
I view divinatory practices as akin to mirrors. They reflect back that which is already present, but in a new way that “reveals” new insights and opens doorways we hadn’t previously noticed were there. It’s less about finding out what’s going to happen in order to prepare yourself for an outcome we can’t control, and more about discerning what is within our sphere of influence right now. That way, we can make better choices in this moment that will help us build a better future. I believe the seeds of the future are planted in the now, so to the extent divination is about predicting (and possibly influencing) the future, one must understand divination as a method for entering into a deeper relationship with this moment. We must get to know, understand, and relate to where we are now if we are to have any chance of co-creating a worthwhile tomorrow.
Something I’ve been thinking about lately, mostly as a result of something my summer course teacher brontë velez said, has to do with divination as a relational praxis. In a recorded conversation with water protectors, brontë brought up an alternative understanding of the Biblical story of Moses miraculously parting the seas, which they’d read in Tides: The Science and Spirit of the Ocean by Jonathan White. In short: rather than engaging in impossible magic, Moses might have succeeded in bringing his people to safety by being so attuned to the tides that he would have known when the low tides could give him and his people safe passage (and when the high tides would return and swallow his pursuers whole). “When you give your attention to the land enough, Creator will work with you for your freedom,” brontë emphasized.
I’ve been turning these points over and over in my body, mind, and spirit, letting them work their magic on me. The idea that offering greater attention to something can be a doorway towards freedom hits home for me.
(A small side-note: obviously, the capitalist systems around us constantly grab at our attention, encouraging us to be fixated on things that often run counter to a liberated existence, such as social media algorithms. I believe such forms of attention is different from becoming attuned to something we can be in an active, co-generative relationship with, such as the land we reside on, the bodies we occupy, the divine, etc. I hope it’s clear that I am talking about the latter in this piece.)
As a result of this conversation, I’ve been thinking about various forms of divinatory practices and how they might, quite simply, be forms of relationship. Relationship that guides us on a path towards freedom. Whether the divinatory tool be nature, tarot or oracle cards, our body, the stars, or anything else that fills us with awe and helps us feel more enlivened, what strikes me is that the key ingredient to any form of divination is relationship. Before touching the freedom we seek (through divination or other means), we are first and foremost in relationship. Relationship is the precursor to freedom.
When I think about my tarot practice, it is very apt to understand the way I offer divinatory readings as relational. Namely, I am in a relationship with the cards I use and with the person I’m engaging with. I am also in relationship with the moment and space we are in, the circumstances that brought the encounter to bear, and much more. Even when I already know the person well, my tarot readings last ninety minutes for a reason: it takes time for the reasons someone sought out a reading to unfurl comfortably; it takes time for me to explain my methodology and help the person feel safe in the process; it takes time for the seeker and me to court each other and settle into a resonance that feels conducive to vulnerability; and it takes time to discern what the cards are communicating. I take my time with readings because relationships are built with time.
My relationships to the cards and my own intuition have been built with time. I believe I am a talented tarot reader not because I’ve memorized card meanings, but because I have become friends with the cards (which are vessels of meaning) and with my inner landscapes (which are the ground from which I offer meaning) over long stretches of time. My cards are my friends, and I am theirs.
To practice meaningful divination is first and foremost to be in a healthy relationship with ourselves, our tools, and the present moment. Rather than view the cards (or whatever our medium of choice is) as something to merely extract information from, what if we could relate to them as companions who are capable of — and interested in — being in relationship with us? Rather than view the future as something immovable and imposing, what if we approached it like a being we could relate to through the present moment with love and care? And how can we better understand that, whenever we offer readings to another person, we are forever changing them and ourselves through the act of relating with each other? How might all of these questions and the insights they illicit make our practices more magical, pleasurable, grounded, and healing? And might such attentive relationality be, as brontë suggests, a miraculous doorway to freedom?
My Lunar Tarot Readings are meant to nourish the collective. When shuffling the deck, I ask the Tarot cards to show me what the community of readers would benefit most from hearing at this moment to help us further collective liberation. As such, this reading is meant to be read by a wide array of people with varying experiences and needs. Some elements of this offering may speak to you and others less so. May you allow whatever resonates to shape how you move through the world; whatever doesn’t resonate, I invite you to leave it be. I am always open to feedback, though, so please feel free to share your thoughts with me. Thank you for reading this offering, and may you be well.
This December full moon (also known as the Cold Moon) comes to us at 10:28 PM ET on Tuesday, December 29. It meets us right before the close of an intense year in which innumerable losses were suffered, especially in communities that were already socially disenfranchised to begin with. Between the COVID-19 pandemic, a vitriolic American election cycle, a surge in white supremacist violence, and more, 2020 witnessed the killings of countless people at the hands of violent systems that fail to protect and honor life. In the midst of so much tragedy, suffering, and death, many of us are wondering how we pick up the pieces and figure out where to go from here.
This spread includes both Minor and Major Arcana cards, which means it is calling us to look at both the bigger themes of our circumstances along with the smaller details that make them up. In particular, this spread invites us to get in touch with our relationship to the material realm, including how we cultivate abundance for the collective (Ace of Pentacles). We are being encouraged to find ways to transmute blockages to said abundance (Temperance) and create structures that encourage its continued presence (Emperor).
At the center of the reading lies the Ace of Pentacles. Like all Aces, it signals a new beginning, a promise, and an offering, which is fitting for the upcoming new year. Given that it falls within the suit of Pentacles, it relates to all things material, including but not limited to our possessions, our finances, our career or job, nature, and our bodies and physical health. As we approach the close of 2020, this Ace tells us we are on the cusp of a new leg in our collective journey that promises newfound abundance if we approach it in the right ways. Are we going to take up its invitation, start on a new course, and help build a world in which material abundance is accessible to all and collectively shared (rather than hoarded by a select few)? Or will we continue down the same paths that have brought about such destruction to date? While the choice might be clear for many of us, to chart a new course does not mean the going will be easy. Notice how the hand holding the pentacle is leading us out of the garden towards distant mountains that promise challenging terrain. Building a new world takes work, but this Ace suggests we are up for the challenge. It’s time to shed our innocence/ignorance and walk out into the wilderness so we can collaboratively build the world anew.
But how do we go about this journey of cultivating communal abundance? What resources and skills might we bring with us? The majors surrounding the Ace offer some guidance here. Temperance, to the left of the Ace, is an alchemical card, meaning it signals a process of transformation and creation that incorporates seemingly disparate elements into an entirely new and unified whole. The angel itself, who is conventionally viewed as androgynous or gender-non-conforming, embodies this process. Rather than keep dissonant elements separate, how can they be brought together and symbiotically transformed? What parts of your self, your life, your community, your country, are at odds with each other? How can they be brought into conversation with one another to come up with unexpected ideas about how to build the abundant community hinted at in the Ace of Pentacles? What role is appropriate for you to play in this task based on your identities and levels of privilege? (Hint: those of us who are white, cisgender, straight, financially stable, and/or citizens have a greater responsibility for doing this bridge-building work because of the protections our privileges offer us.) With one foot on solid ground (which represents conscious thought) and the other in water (which represents our subconscious world), the angel reminds us that we must be in touch with our internal and external realms. To the best of our abilities, we must seek to ensure that our internal values reflect our external actions. If you claim to support Black Lives Matter, how can you behaviorally show this through your financial choices, your parenting style, your day-to-day actions, even more than you already have? As we enter into 2021, think about how you can more boldly act on your internal values and what sort of bridge-building work you’re suited to take on.
Last, but not least, we have the Emperor. Number IV (4) in the Majors, it was the card of 2020 (2+0+2+0=4), so it is only fitting that it makes an appearance here. Sometimes associated with fatherhood and masculinity, it is more suitable to understand this card as the card of structure, order, and foundation-building. When taken to unhealthy extremes, it can be stifling and/or point to the ways social structures oppress us by valuing order over care. Indeed, 2020 made clear that our current social systems are not working and showed us the extent to which American capitalism is a death-dealing enterprise. When manifested in a balanced manner, though, the Emperor can point to structures and foundations that support our flourishing. Similarly to how a body cannot stand upright without a solid skeleton around which the muscles can take shape, a community without any structure to support itself with is prone to flail and fall. Physical motion is about finding the right balance between flexibility and solidity, between muscular movement and skeletal stability; social motion towards a new reality is no different. While we work to dismantle harmful structures, we must also create new foundations and structures that can support us in sustainable ways and are built on the ideals of love (over fear), care (over profit), and interdependence (over independence). For those of us in the activist realm (and anyone else who is actively invested in creating a new social paradigm), how can we maintain a vision of what we’re building whenever we work to dismantle the systems we know must go? How can we be visionary creators who not only break systems down but also build new, beautiful, loving ones in their place simultaneously? And how can we listen more closely to the prophets of our time, those who have thoughtful ideas about where we are going and how to get there (I am thinking here of the numerous BIPOC, trans, immigrant, and other resilient change-agents in our midst)? How can we support their work and follow their leads?
In short: to create the abundance that is promised in the Ace of Pentacles, we must transmute old systems and habits (Temperance) into new, more holistic ones that offer both care and stability (Emperor). How we do this individually will depend on a number of factors, but the more we work together with others, the greater and more sustainable our impact will be.
I’d like to offer a poem I wrote shortly after the 2016 election cycle came to a close. It’s a poem that helped me imagine ways of alchemizing suffering during a time of deep despair. It feels right to share it now when the need for individual and collective healing is even more necessary than it was back in 2016. I mostly wrote it for myself back then, but I thought it might resonate with others, too.
As a white US citizen who benefits from many privileges, I know the sense of despair I keep bumping up against these days is little compared to the despair many others are experiencing. I don’t wish to suggest I know the way forward out of this time of uncertainty and atrocities because I honestly don’t. This poem was simply meant to reignite within me (and, hopefully, others) a more hopeful vision for the world.
I trust we will find a way out of this apocalyptic time under the guidance of those most affected by the oppressive systems we currently live within. I believe another, better world is possible if we listen to the prophets of our times, namely BIPOC activists.
With that, I offer you this poem…
“Let us” by Gabriela De Golia
Let me share with you some thoughts About how we can heal one another. I don’t know all the ways to do this, But I’ve thought of some.
Let us do away with concrete So we may feel the earth Beneath our feet And let her breathe easy.
Let us darken our city lights So the stars may once again be Revealed to us And perform their ancient dance, Naked and glowing.
Let us reconnect With all the sacred spaces within us That we have been severed from So we may rediscover Our forgotten sanctuaries.
Let us bow down at the altars To our broken dreams So we may pay homage To the resilience We each have shown.
Let us make symphonies Out of our laughter And play them in the public squares So we may bear witness To each other’s radiance.
Let us gather up each other’s tears And bathe in them Like holy water So we may truly know Each other’s sorrow And gaze awestruck At the depth of our courage.
Let us find All of our broken pieces And mend them back together With glue made of gold So we may be stronger And more brilliant Than we were at the beginning.
The following text is a sermon I preached at my church, the First Church of Middletown, Connecticut, on Sunday, July 12th, 2020, while our Senior Pastor, the Rev. Julia Burkey was away. In this piece, I share my perspective on the subversive rational Jesus employed when deciding to use parables as a method of teaching and the ways in which current movements for justice reflect this type of subversion. Among other things, I also talk about how God and moments of change are reflective of one another (rather than buying into the notion of God as an immovable constant).
(Additional context: Rev. Julia’s time with our church is ending, which is referenced at the end of the piece and inspired some of my musings. This piece was also written during a time of heightened social unrest in the United States, namely with regard to racism and police brutality, which also inspired much of the writing).
The scripture passage that inspired this sermon is the Parable of the Sower, including the parable from chapter 13 in the Gospel of Matthew and the science fiction story by Octavia Butler.
Sermon: “God is Change”
May the words of my mouth
And the meditations of all of our hearts
Be aligned with you,
Our Beloved God,
You who are our rock and our redeemer.
Before I delve into musings about the Parable of the Sower, I’d like to contextualize it a bit within the larger Gospel of Matthew. This Gospel is the first in the New Testament, and its writer seeks to portray Jesus as a Jewish King and the Son of God who serves as a contemporary Moses figure offering a reinterpretation of Jewish Law in contrast to what spiritual authorities were espousing at that time. Jesus is working within a Jewish framework, and the use of parables which is so common in the Gospels is actually an element of Jewish tradition. In parables, Jesus uses classic imagery pulled from Jewish prophets such as Isaiah, to convey his message. Unfortunately, Jesus is portrayed in this Gospel as a largely misunderstood and rejected spiritual teacher. Rejection and misunderstanding are what largely lead him to begin using parables as a teaching and communication style.
Leading up to the Parable of the Sower in Chapter 13, the Gospel of Matthew is devoid of parables. Before Chapter 13, Jesus delivers his teachings in mostly prose-like language. While those initial teachings were received well by many, they were rejected by the spiritual authorities and many others. In the chapter right before that of the Parable of the Sower, Jesus has intense conflicts with spiritual authorities over Sabbath and other matters, leading said authorities to decide they must eventually kill Jesus. It is at this point that Jesus switches from using more prosaic language to engaging in the more poetic language of parables.
The word “parable” derives from the Greek words meaning “to throw” and “alongside” which, by extension, has been used to convey analogy, comparison, and illustration. Parables are didactic stories that illustrate instructive lessons. They use imagery that is meant to make us draw comparisons between things. In Jesus’s case, his parables are used as tools to help listeners draw comparisons between the world as it is and what the Kindom of God might look like.
People often portray parables as a more accessible manner of getting information across because they employ imagery that would be familiar to many folks, such as farming metaphors. But that’s not entirely accurate. When Jesus starts using parables in his speeches, even the disciples ask him, “why are you teaching in these unclear ways?” So clearly, even those closest to him were confused by his communication strategy, and we can only assume Jesus’s parables went over many people’s heads. I would argue that this lack of clarity was actually intentional on Jesus’s part, and the timing of when he starts using parables speaks to this, for it is only after a knockdown fight with authorities that he switches to this mode of communication.
Emily Dickenson, the famous poet, once said, “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant.” In other words, reveal the truth, but not in a straightforward manner. Indeed, throughout the Bible, for example, we witness God revealing Godself in very slanted ways: through burning bushes, smoke towers, God’s backside, and all sorts of other ways that don’t allow witnesses to see God clearly. Jesus, in using parables, is following in God’s footsteps, using “slanted” imagery to get at the teachings of God. I think there’s a psychological tactic to this.
It’s very obvious that most people most of the time don’t respond much to straightforward facts and information. If that were the case, we would have solved the climate crisis long ago, but instead, many are still debating whether or not climate change is a thing despite the obvious facts that it is. Oftentimes, what leads us to process and integrate information is not facts, but stories. Jesus’s use of parables is a tactic in bypassing the rationalizations and overly logical gateways in our minds and spirits that often prevent us from accessing deeper truths that go beyond the mere intellect. That doesn’t mean that everyone will understand or be receptive to the stories and their teachings — in fact, many won’t open themselves up to them — but such a tactic helps to lower people’s defenses and reach those who have not only a desire to intellectually understand of the Word but a willingness to be moved to their core by the Word. And parables also left those who were hostile to Jesus with less to accuse him of, because, after all, he was just “telling stories.” Jesus’s parables were thus a way of subverting oppressive power while still reaching those who would be most willing to join him in the task of building the Kindom of God, turning mere admirers into faithful followers.
So, what exactly does Jesus talk about in the Parable of the Sower? In this parable, Jesus portrays himself as a sower who is scattering seeds across various types of soil. This imagery relates to a well-known Jewish prophesy, that of Isaiah from the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. These seeds are the budding Kindom of God, namely the message of Christ that is seeking to take root in the hearts of people so the Kindom can spread far and wide. The four types of soil upon which the seeds are scattered are often interpreted as representing different categories of people. The first soil is conventionally seen as representing those who have no interest in furthering the Kindom or are actively hostile towards it. The second and third soils are usually depicted as representing those who show interest but then fail to truly believe and help build the Kindom. The fourth soil is regularly described as “good” and often interpreted as representing people who truly see, hear, and believe the Word, and who will help bear the fruit of the Kindom of God.
While helpful in some contexts, I usually take issue with this interpretation that categorizes individuals as belonging to one type of soil or the other. I think that makes it too easy to fall into the thinking that “only this type of person [namely, our understanding of what it means to be a Christian] is truly faithful.” This can result in us projecting our own lack of receptivity and spiritual insecurities onto others. While it’s easy to think of ourselves as the “good soil” because many of us are believe we are dedicated to the message of Christ and God, I think it’s more helpful to understand each soil as a state of being we each find ourselves in at various times. Sometimes we’re receptive to the message, and other times (like, 75% of the time, according to scripture) we’re not as open to the Word and helping to build the Kindom of God. I, for one, can attest to the fact that I am often disconnected from Christ and God due to anxieties, distractions, intellectualization, and lack of vulnerability, among other things. So a question that I have been holding within myself is how can I cultivate my inner landscape in such a way that the soil in my spirit can become more and more receptive to Christ’s message and the budding Kindom of God?
I think an understanding of land and farming can help to answer that question. When preparing the soil for sowing and planting, one must till it, meaning the land must be broken up and turned over. One also usually puts some form of manure or fertilizer on the soil before tiling to make it more amenable to growth. This means that “good” soil is actually broken, messy, and even stinky. Preparing our hearts and spirits to receive the Word is much like that, in that we have to allow ourselves to be broken, turned over, and covered in unappealing circumstances a lot of the time if we are to allow God to flow through our lives. We are instructed to allow ourselves to be moved, even broken, by change and circumstance, which can include feeling grief and other unpleasant emotions that we often try to avoid. This isn’t to say we should lend ourselves to harmful situations, but rather that we must allow ourselves to experience the unknowns, discomforts, and growth pains associated with change if we are to let God move us towards where God wants us to be. If we focus instead on remaining pristine and perfect and untouched by life’s circumstances, we’re actually closed off from God’s transformative grace. Just like sowing seeds, letting ourselves be transformed by God requires a letting go, not just letting go of the seeds, but letting go of the process and trusting in powers far beyond us (such as the rain, the sun, and God) to do their thing. Great transformations rarely happen through our own efforts alone; they usually happen because forces beyond us are also playing a role in the changes we are undergoing.
Notions of change and transformation are ones that we don’t often associate with Godself. We often think change is either entirely bad or that it is a positive result of God’s actions, but rarely do we think of change as God’s very self. We often think of God as immutable, unchanging, constant. While those portrayals can be reassuring at times, they can also contribute to us avoiding change when it’s necessary. Lately, though, I have been inspired by teachers who offer a different view of God, one that actually depicts change and transformation as inherent to the very nature of God. This idea is actually a core teaching from a modern-day rendering of the Biblical Parable of the Sower, that is, The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, who was a Black female science fiction writer. Science fiction and other forms of speculative literature are often similar to Biblical parables in that they draw a comparison between our current reality and another reality that is meant to inform us as to how we can move from where we are to where we want and ought to be. I have been particularly interested in the ways Black and Indigenous thinkers are envisioning possible, beautiful futures as a way to help me envision and work towards building the Kindom of God. In listening to the dreams Black and Indigenous folks have of the future, I think we become better poised to further Christ’s work and message because Jesus always centered those who were unjustly targeted by worldly authorities. In Butler’s Parable of the Sower, the core spiritual tenant put forth by the main character is as follows:
“All that you touch, You Change. All that you Change Changes you. The only lasting truth Is Change. God Is Change.”
I find this teaching particularly poignant during a moment in history such as this, when so many Black, Indigenous, and other people of color are demanding that we change the way things are so we can live in a more just society (one that I would argue is reflective of the Kindom of God). I think it’s an incredibly potent time to view God as change, as thinkers like Octavia Butler might argue.
Bringing these ideas even closer to home: a question I’m holding is how can I practice trusting that our congregation’s transition with the upcoming departure of Rev. Julia is itself a manifestation of God as change. Further reflecting on the aforementioned quote from Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, how can I remind myself of and affirm the ways that Rev. Julia has shaped and changed me and our entire church. Furthermore, how can I reflect on the ways First Church has shaped and changed Rev. Julia, and how all of this interdependent shaping and change might be reflective of godly relationships of mutuality and connection? Even though we are undergoing a physical separation with Rev. Julia, thinking of God as change reminds me that even this change is a chance to further deepen a connection with God by relying on God’s guidance and grace throughout the transition.
With all of the change happening in our lives, our church, and the world, I pray that we allow our souls and the soul of the church to be tilled through these changes and become prepared for sowing so the seeds of the Word can take root within us and blossom into wholesome fruit. May we remember that God moves through change, that God is change, and that by trusting in that change, we are allowing God to flow through our lives.
Thank you for listening, and peace be with you. Amen.
Apocalypse comes from the Greek word meaning “to reveal.” An apocalypse is an uncovering more than it is an undoing, helping us see things as they are and as they have been for a while: fractured and disconnected, centered on profit instead of community, individualistic, unsustainable, harmful, etc. The systems we have been living under are collapsing under their oppressive weight.
The COVID-19/coronavirus crisis is an era of death, not just of physical bodies but of the myths we’ve absorbed about our existence (namely, the myth that we are independent individuals as opposed to interdependent collectives). We are experiencing the death of our world as we’ve known it because the social structures and stories we’ve known can no longer hold themselves together.
Yet this time can also be a moment of birthing. We can bring a new world into being if we let ourselves process what is happening and tend to the seedlings of transformation that are seeking to take root and sprout. There isn’t only death in our midst; life is stirring under the soil, desperate to burst forth. Like compost, we can create new growth from the debris of our past.
We must help this burgeoning life to emerge by taking big and small steps towards a new world. We must nourish resilience if we are to bring a new, more sustainable, and equitable world into being. We must harness the tension that’s accumulating during this crisis to propel us forward into a new era of social, political, personal, economic, spiritual, etc. transformation. The tools for a revolution of love are here and the stage is set. Let’s do this.
In addition to basic hygiene guidelines like washing hands and self-quarantining, here are some ways you can practice helping new life emerge in this time of death and dying:
Stay connected emotionally despite physical isolation. Reach out to your people in whatever ways you can through digital means, letter writing, social media, etc. Connection is crucial during crises and times of imposed isolation.
Prioritize your wellbeing. Don’t give up your responsibilities to others, but make clear to yourself and your community what you can and cannot offer at this time. You are a human being with limits on your capacity. Your burnout will harm the people you care for, so be clear and real about your boundaries. Be very diligent when it comes to caring for your physical, emotional, and mental health.
Permit yourself to be where you are. Whether you feel panicked or calm, how you are feeling is a reflection of the ways your body and psyche are processing this experience based on past traumas/experiences. There is no universally appropriate way to be feeling in light of all this. Grieve the losses this situation has thrust upon you and celebrate the silver linings. Give yourself wide berths as you navigate these waters.
At the same time, try to make decisions from a place of love, rather than fear. If you’re feeling unsettled, engage in healthy self-soothing until you can make decisions from the perspective of, “what’s the most loving and life-giving thing I can do for myself and others right now?”
Do less, not more. Our nervous systems are more sensitive than we realize, and they need lots of love right now. Our brains are overwhelmed, and we need to give ourselves space to literally clear neural pathways. What’s the least you can do right now to get by? What tasks can wait or be removed from your list of to-dos? Sleep as much as you need (though if you struggle with depression, don’t stay in bed more than you need to avoid the onset of an episode).
Create some structure amidst the chaos. Our brains need at least a small amount of order to feel safe. Try making a daily schedule for yourself that’s not overtaxing but helps you stay focused on the things you really need to do.
Model healthy crisis response. Children learn how to handle crises by watching how the adults around them do so. If you manage this time by moving from a place of love over fear, you will be teaching another generation how to better care for themselves and the world.
If you’re healthy, offer assistance to vulnerable folks, including the elderly and immunocompromised. Create local community networks where resources and tasks can be shared (like getting groceries for your vulnerable neighbors). We must engage in physical distancing, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help each other out responsibly.
Let this moment radicalize you. To be radical means to address something “at its root.” This crisis wouldn’t be so drastic if we had universal healthcare, paid sick leave, and many other social systems that valued people’s lives over monetary profit. This situation is a political crisis as much as it is a health crisis, and we must address the root causes (namely, social policies) that created it. Donate to a political campaign that is pushing for radical social reform, even if it’s $5/month. Call your representatives demanding that evictions be banned for the duration of the pandemic, that utility companies not be allowed to shut off power/water/gas, and to prioritize the most vulnerable. If your local politicians are enacting progressive crisis response strategies, demand that those stay in place after the pandemic has passed. Organize. Vote accordingly.
Cultivate joy and allow yourself to feel pleasure. Yes, there’s a crisis happening, but it won’t get any better by being depressed or angry or anxious all the time. The idea that we aren’t allowed to experience happiness while others are suffering is codependent nonsense. Make love, sing in the shower, watch your favorite movie, eat your favorite comfort food, do at least one thing a day that can boost your mood and remind you that there is beauty worth living for in this world. Moving from a place of joy will sustain you for the growing revolution.
We are witnessing an apocalypse, but that doesn’t mean everything is over. It means a new promise is revealing itself. We are on the precipice of a revolution of love that is teaching us how to live interconnectedly. It’s on us to accept its invitation to change our world into a better version of itself.
This piece was originally posted on the Awaken Everyday Blog of Copper Beech Institute in celebration of Pride Month 2019.
I identify as queer. I am also a mindfulness practitioner. While these two things may seem unrelated to one another, they are inherently connected for me. Without mindfulness, I likely wouldn’t have been able to awaken to my queerness; without queerness, my mindfulness practice would not be as rich as it is.
While I sensed I was attracted to other women at a young age, I spent many years denying this deeper knowing and couldn’t bring myself to embrace it or make it known to the world until relatively recently. It was only when I became a resident at Blue Cliff Monastery, a mindfulness center in the tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, that I began to recognize my attraction to women as more than just fleeting thoughts or feelings. When I was invited to find stillness and come into greater connection with myself through my meditation practice, I could no longer deny the part of me that had been whispering for years, “I am queer.” I realized I yearn for meaningful, romantic, and sexual connections with women (in addition to men and people of other genders). My practice has helped me dismantle and shed the negative programming I’d adopted surrounding my attraction to multiple genders and granted me the spaciousness to fall in love with myself anew as I leaned into my queer nature. My practice gracefully then guided me into my first and current, wondrous partnership with another woman. In very real ways, I am openly and happily queer thanks to my practice of mindfulness.
In a complementary way, my awakening into queerness has led to a more profound practice of mindfulness. To practice mindfulness as a queer woman who experiences social marginalization with respect to gender and sexuality reminds me that contemplative practices are ultimately centered on achieving liberation from suffering. This includes liberation from the suffering imposed on marginalized beings by oppressive social structures such as homophobia, sexism, and patriarchy.
Lest we forget: mindfulness practices were not developed by spiritual masters thousands of years ago to feel less stressed or become more productive, even though it certainly helps with that. At their core, contemplative practices were established to awaken from false notions and touch the deeper, sacred reality of radical interconnectedness. Recognizing that oppressive social structures try to keep us from accessing this truth, we are invited to practice in such a way that our mindfulness can be a vehicle for furthering love and justice in the world by dismantling systems that deny the inherent dignity of all beings, including those in the LGBTQIA+ communities.
My practice of mindfulness is centered on learning to love myself, others, and the world in a way that is counter to the oppressive norms that currently structure our societies. Similarly, to be queer is to love and exist in a way that is counter to current social norms. In these respects, my practice of mindfulness and my queerness are cut from similar cloth; each helps me to love and to exist from a place of greater liberation.
The following recording and text comprise a sermon I preached at my church, the First Church of Middletown, Connecticut, on Sunday, March 31st, 2019, during the season of Lent. In this offering, I share my perspective on how, rather than needing to be perfect in order to receive God’s love and grace, we receive these divine gifts through our mistakes and imperfections.
While the text is slightly different from the actual sermon that was delivered, which you can listen to through the audio file below, the larger sentiments and themes remain the same.
The scripture passage that inspired this sermon is the parable of the Prodigal Son, from the Gospel according to Luke 15:11-32.
Sermon: “The Most Perfect Gospel”
May the words of my mouth,
And the meditations of all of our hearts,
Be aligned with you,
Our beloved God,
You who are our rock and our redeemer.
Good morning, everyone. It’s such a joy to see all of your radiant faces here this morning. My name is Gabriela De Golia, and I am a deacon here at First Church of Christ in Middletown and a member of our Executive Committee.
It’s an honor to be offering the sermon today while our senior pastor, the Rev. Julia Burkey, is away on sabbatical. She will be back with us next week, and at this very moment, she is on retreat with one of the most incredible Christian teachers of our time, Father Richard Rohr, at his Center for Action and Contemplation in New Mexico. Fr. Rohr is a Franciscan father who fuses contemplative spirituality and social justice activism, and his teachings are centered on love, grace, and healing.
Today, I’d like to invite both Fr. Rohr and Julia into the space by sharing some of Fr. Rohr’s reflections on the scriptural story we heard earlier. My hope is that this will connect us to Rev. Julia and what she might be experiencing in Fr. Rohr’s presence. I also trust that by sharing the reflections of a prominent Christian teacher on today’s scripture, we will better understand what this story is trying to teach us about ourselves, God, and how God would have us move through the world. I hope the sermon nourishes you today.
First, a bit of contextualization. This story comes from the Gospel of Luke; in the words of Fr. Rohr, “[Luke’s] perspective might be called a theology of salvation”. Indeed, the Gospel of Luke is full of stories of salvation, including the one we heard this morning. This story is commonly known as that of the Prodigal Son — prodigal meaning “a person who spends money in a recklessly extravagant way.” Fr. Rohr goes so far as to call the story of the Prodigal Son “the most perfect Gospel […] the most perfect story Jesus ever told.” I find this to be a bold statement for someone as well-versed in the Bible as Fr. Rohr. He continues, “this is surely a gospel that needs no sermon. Nothing further needs to be shared than what you just heard [through scripture].”
When I heard Fr. Rohr say those words, I jokingly told myself, “this makes my job easy on my assigned preaching day!” But you didn’t come to here this morning to hear someone preach nothing to you. And furthermore, given that Fr. Rohr has preached sermons on this passage, I believe that he, too, trusts that we can benefit from communal discernment about this story. Not because it’s an overly-complicated story, but because it is so simply revolutionary. This passage shares an understanding of God and relationality that is so far beyond most of our wildest dreams, so contrary to our reward-and-punishment-oriented norms, that I think we need time and guidance in learning how to properly integrate the teachings of the Prodigal Son into our minds, hearts, and bodies.
As we heard, the Prodigal Son spends a lot of money on getting it on and having a good time. Now, spending money on extravagances isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the son doesn’t spend just anyone’s money; it’s his father’s inheritance for him, which the son asked for before his father was even dead! A bold and arguably selfish request. Yet, the father, who is meant to be a reflection of God in this particular story, gives his son the inheritance money, likely knowing it will get used for questionable purposes.
This action by the father might seem irresponsible; by many conventional parenting standards, it arguably is. Yet, if we look at the father’s decision a little differently, we realize he gives his son exactly that which will ultimately lead the boy towards grace and transformation. This inheritance money is what will cause his child to hit rock bottom — which, for better or worse, is often what we need in order to realize we need to change — thus jumpstarting the boy’s path towards salvation.
In this story, we have a son who has messed up pretty bad and whom many would deem undeserving of forgiveness. Yet the father rejoices at his son’s decision to return home and to turn towards change. The father’s actions — which, again, are meant to reflect how God loves us — literally upend our very common understandings of deservedness, worthiness, goodness, and such things. As the Bible so often does, this story turns almost everything we’ve been taught about these concepts on their heads. Fr. Rohr states,
“Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son [is a wonderful illustration] of how Jesus turns a spirituality of climbing, achieving, and perfection upside down [into a spirituality in which those] who have done it wrong and are humble about it […] are the ones who are forgiven, transformed, and rewarded. […] We thought we came to God by doing it right, and lo and behold, surprise of surprises, we come to God by doing it wrong—and growing because of it!”
Fr. Rohr continues,
“Worthiness is not the issue […] We’re all saved by grace. We’re all being loved in spite of ourselves. […] You’re absolutely worthy of love! Yet this has nothing to do with any earned worthiness on your part. God does not love you because you are good. God loves you because God is good!”
These words from Fr. Rohr, to me, are a holy proclamation. Rather than needing to be perfect in order to be saved or considered lovable, what Fr. Rohr and the story of the Prodigal Son are offering us is the idea that we are saved and loved simply because God is of the nature to love us no matter what. In this story, we see God running down the road to meet the Prodigal Son, loving him without reservation, even after he’s messed up pretty bad. The son doesn’t know how to process this grace; in this passage, he says twice that he doesn’t deserve to be his father’s son. What an accurate reflection of how many of us push away someone’s love simply because we can’t believe they could love us in all our imperfect fullness? I imagine most of us have, many times over.
Now, at the same time that the Prodigal Son is struggling to accept his father’s grace towards him — which, again, is meant to represent God’s grace — his brother, who I like to call the Perfect Son, is also struggling with his father’s love towards the Prodigal. Out of jealousy and a sense of unfairness, the Perfect Son literally refuses to go to the banquet his father organized. I’ll admit that I often feel and act like this Perfect Son: I regularly do things just the way I’m told to, and I get pissed as hell when those who don’t somehow make it through or, worse, are celebrated instead of me. Because where’s my special reward in that? Where’s the fairness there?
Luke’s vision of God’s love in this story is therefore not just a statement about love — it’s also a statement about justice. Again, in the words of Fr. Rohr,
“We often think that justice means getting what we deserve, but the Gospels point out that God’s justice always gives us more than we deserve. […][God] gives everyone all that they need in order to grow.”
He continues by saying,
“We have a hard time with this kind of justice. We are capitalists, even in the spiritual life. We’re more comfortable with an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. We don’t know what to do with a God who breaks that rule! […] All through Luke’s Gospel people are receiving what they don’t deserve. […] God’s justice is on the loose!
That kind of relentless generosity is hard for us to comprehend, much less practice. That kind of unconditional justice is beyond our human power. Yet Luke is showing that it is possible to be fully human and divinely just.”
So a question I’ve been asking myself while reflecting on these words by Fr. Rohr and the story of the Prodigal Son is, “what would our lives and our society look like if we lived out this Gospel’s understanding of love and the justice it asks of us?” I obviously can’t say for sure, but I imagine that parts of it might look something like this:
I imagine that if we let go of our notions worthiness-through-perfection and trust instead in the concept of worthiness-through-God’s-grace, we would forgive ourselves for the choices we now wish we hadn’t made. We’d view where we’re at today as the perfect starting point for our growth and healing.
I imagine that when anger towards someone is justified, we’d still trust in the possibility that they, like the Prodigal Son, could someday begin the road towards their own transformation. And should they choose to do so, we would make way for that to happen.
I imagine that our prisons would be centered on rehabilitation and hopefully helping inmates re-enter society, rather than viewing them as eternally unworthy and stripping them of access to future jobs, contact with their families, and their right to vote.
I imagine that white people would never question their own belovedness during conversations about racism, and that we’d know that when people — especially people of color — critique the ways white supremacy manifests in ourselves and in our institutions, that we would view such critiques as invitations for us to reclaim the parts of our humanity that racism has tried to take away from us.
I can imagine so many other ways we’d embody a theology of love that pushes us towards justice, like the Prodigal Son invites us to do.
To be clear, this passage isn’t license for doing harm, nor is it suggesting that we can’t hold people accountable when they’ve done wrong. Rather, this passage is centered on trusting that if one humbles themself enough to admit their wrongs, then they can begin the journey towards grace. Notice that the Prodigal Son could only fully receive the grace that God was always so willing to give him once he himself chose to make a change, once he himself started taking active steps towards his own liberation. So this story isn’t a get-of-jail-free card for being a jerk; it’s a reminder that if we put in the work of orienting ourselves towards transformation, the debris of our lives can begin to clear away, making way for us to receive the grace that God gives us willingly. In a sermon he preached on this passage, Fr. Rohr stated,
“Very often, it’s people who’ve hit the bottom who love God […] when they realize that God is always and forever running down the road toward them.”
I don’t know if there’s a better definition of grace than that: God always and forever running down the road to meet us, always ready to love us.
As demonstrated through the story of the Prodigal Son, if we want to meet God and if we want to receive God’s grace, we better mess up. We make mistakes so we can then find the answers and learn from them; we better get it wrong so we can then get it right and be wiser for it; we better not be so perfect that we refuse the invitation to the holy banquet; we better get lost, precisely so we can be found, and then show other lost souls the way; we better screw things up bad so that instead of being able to save ourselves and becoming proud of ourselves, we can instead experience what it’s like to be saved by a power greater than ourselves. All of these experiences will yield a far deeper joy than we could ever achieve through our individual efforts at being perfect.
So to close, my wish for each of us is that we each mess up; that we each be humble about it; that we each make amends when needed; that we each trust that we are loved for no other reason than because God created us; and that we each receive this divine love with open arms and a grateful heart so we can offer such love to others in turn.
May all of this come to pass, and glory be to the God of Love. Amen.
Content disclaimer: this musing is a bit science-focused at first, which I personally love but know can be intimidating for some. It grows into an interdisciplinary piece though, touching on spirituality, social theory, and more. I’ve tried my best to write about science in accessible terms, so if it isn’t your thing, have no fear! I gotchyu.
There are many ways to define resonance whether you’re talking about physics, chemistry, relationships, or any number of topics. All point to a common theme, though: it represents the amplification of a particular state when it encounters something else in that same state. It’s a co-creative and mutually growthful occurrence.
The most common example of this has to do with sound. Most of us have experienced it: we’re playing an instrument with others or singing in a group and, suddenly, the sound we individually produce “jumps” to a much higher level (also known as a higher amplitude) because it’s matched up with the frequency produced by another object or person. This is because the frequencies literally add onto one another so their total strength is much greater than their individual parts. The sound we made alone is nothing compared to that which was created together.
I personally love graphs because they are simple and often artistic representations of complex information. I’ve included one here about the concept of resonance that I found on PhysicsNet:
In this graph, f(o) represents the resonant frequency. When you hit this by getting an object to vibrate in a particular way, you see the amplitude of the vibration (the strength of it, in other words) suddenly jumps by leaps and bounds. It’s like hitting the musical/physical jackpot; it’s where you get the most bang for your buck.
You can achieve this resonance goldmine by joining in with something else that’s vibrating at the same frequency (such as the music example from above), or by reaching an individual object’s or your own “natural frequency”. For an example of natural frequency, think of making a crystal cup “sing” by wetting your finger and pressing it along a glass’s crystal rim in circular motions. When doing that, you’ll feel the cup vibrate more and more strongly and start to “sing” once you get a good rhythm going. You’re hitting its natural frequency there, making it go into resonance.
For those who sing in a group setting, like a choir, you know when you’ve hit resonance — the sound of the group utterly changes, along with the energy of the space (including in your body). I mean this very literally: energy changes by virtue of the physical vibrations coalescing and becoming much stronger, so you feel a vibrational shift. I also mean it in a more intuitive manner: when you hit resonance, you feel more “in tune” (get it?) with your surroundings. Because you literally are.
In addition to being an amazing scientific phenomenon, resonance is an incredibly helpful concept for me when making decisions and/or thinking about spirituality, relationships, and many other aspects of life and society.
We’ve all experienced a circumstance in which there are many different options we can choose from. To help clarify what the best choice is, we create pros vs. cons lists, ask our friends and family for guidance on what to do, or leave it up to chance and flip a coin because we literally can’t make the decision for ourselves. I have personally done all these things when presented with something I simply didn’t know how to navigate. They all work well to some degree. When I started thinking of the concept of resonance in terms of decision making, I had a new tool with which to disentangle the knotted mess of possible paths to take.
If we think about our life as a symphony and the different decisions we make as musical notes, each decision then has its own sound, with its own beauty or sharpness or flatness. Some are clearly not the right note for this time in our lives; many others might all sound appealing and could feasibly work in the larger musical piece. The question is, thus, which exact note/choice do we choose that would best compliment the music at this place and time of our lives?
I say we choose that note/option which, when carried out, brings all the other aspects of our life to a “higher amplitude”. Think of the graph above: which note, which vibration, which choice is the one through which you can be ushered to new heights precisely because it represents your natural frequency?
This is obviously a very abstract concept, so perhaps a concrete example might help to clarify what I mean here. I am now in my late twenties, and over the past decade, I have served in many professional roles: political organizer, social justice trainer, educator, staffer at a Buddhist monastery, grant writer, program coordinator, and more. Each role has nourished me deeply and I could feasibly serve in any of them for the rest of my life and be very good at it. They would all make me quite happy, too. As my father likes to say, “my daughter is a Renaissance woman, a Jane of all trades — she can do just about anything!” Obviously, this is a loving exaggeration, but the point is that I have many paths available to me when it comes to career. This is a blessing not all people can claim for themselves, so I am truly grateful for the privilege of having a choice in what I can do with my life.
Very much to my surprise, when I saw my now-beloved pastor the first time I ever went to church at the age of 26, a small but clear voice inside my spirit said: “I want to be that.” I was a doubter and did not actively believe in God at the time so you can imagine I was incredibly confused by the internal voice. I dismissed it as bizarre and humorous. I imagined I was attracted to the fact that she was facilitating learning in a spiritual context, which I myself had already done to varying degrees in my capacities as a Buddhist practitioner and training facilitator. I imagined I liked the fact she was in a leadership role and a public speaker. I imagined all sorts of things to explain away the confusing statement that had arisen within me.
Yet slowly, surely, over time I began to realize what actually happened upon meeting my pastor was that my natural frequency had been struck; I just hadn’t known what that would feel or “sound” like before it happened. By going to church these past couple years, by developing a deeper friendship and “professional” relationship with my pastor by becoming a deacon, and by listening more and more to my own internal symphony and figuring out what notes sound best within my being, it has become very clear that the path of becoming a minister is exactly the right path for me to follow at this time. I thus recently submitted my applications to divinity school and hope to begin my pursuit of a Master of Divinity degree in the fall of 2019.
Whether or not I become an actual pastor is beside the point to me. Maybe I’ll become a chaplain, or maybe I’ll be pointed towards some other path during my studies. But to walk the path of ordination right now feels exactly right and I know the journey will eventually lead me to where I am most called to serve.
Coming to the understanding that I want to become a spiritual leader — namely, a Christian minister — required patience, trust, and developing a sense of comfort within discomfort. It required that I admit I was both enthused at the thought of becoming a religious leader and embarrassed by it (because, according to modern standards, religious people are foolish, right?). It required that I learn to let go of my obsession with what others think of my life choices and listen instead to what notes the orchestra within me wishes to play, and what the conductor of my life (God, my Higher Self, etc.) is inviting me to do.
As a Christian, when I think of resonance, I think of tuning myself to God’s frequency. When in prayer, instead of listing things I hope God will do for me, I try to align my being with God so I can become resonant with the divine plan and flow with the larger patterns of existence. It’s a subtle and confusing practice at times, but again: once you hit resonance, you know it. (Fr. Richard Rohr speaks to all this beautifully in his short meditation A Tuning Fork.)
When I hit spiritual resonance, God and I begin to amplify one another. On my end, that means I act from a place of greater unity, strength, and peace. Even if there are multiple good options for me to choose from, I usually sense which one is more “in tune” with God’s plans. I pursue this path as best I can even if it’s not what I or others initially wanted to do because I trust infinite God more than my finite self. I might be afraid to follow God’s path because of the vulnerabilities it hoists upon me (such as the possibility of rejection, uncertainties about my future, etc.), but I do so anyway because I know God’s plans always yield more love than I could conjure up on my own.
With practice, I believe everyone has the capacity to sense this kind of resonance and act from it, even non-religious folks. In essence, to sense resonance is to deepen one’s intuition. To deepen one’s intuition is to learn how to distinguish the signal from the noise of our minds and follow that signal at all costs, even if it means taking risks and navigating unknowns. It is an act of faith in oneself and the larger process.
The only way to get better at this is by doing it. Doing it allows us to hear with greater clarity what the voice deep within and/or beyond us is calling us to do. In doing what this voice wishes for us, we come into greater resonance with ourselves and the world around us. In so doing, the symphony of our lives is taken to new heights; we feel more in tune with ourselves, others, and the larger process.
Spanning outward from the personal realm, I believe this concept of resonance can also be applied to social systems. What societal structures open us up and lift each individual and group to new heights of fulfillment? What social systems allow for the whole to be amplified and sustained? What policies honor all persons, leaving no one at risk of a socially-imposed, premature death? As a radical progressive who believes in a beloved revolution, I believe such a resonant society looks like one in which the government supports the poor, celebrates difference across gender and race and all other facets of identity, opens borders, and functions from a philosophy of abundance rather than one of lack. It is a culture of listening rather than dictating; of accountable forgiveness and amend-making instead of punishment and excuse-offering. It is a space where interdependence is validated instead of independence.
In short, a resonant society is one that is in alignment with our human essence and calls forth the parts of ourselves which mystics across time, space, and faiths speak to: that is, our interconnected, abundant, transformative, and whole nature. Such a society, though we’ve never lived in one, is possible precisely because it is in our very nature to achieve such resonance. While it requires practice, it is possible. Indeed, the possible is only possible through practice.
Whether on personal, divine, or social levels, I find the concept of resonance to be one of the most helpful forms of imagery when navigating unknown and complex situations. It helps me distinguish signal from noise. It helps me remember I don’t have to exhaust myself, that I can simply listen for the right frequency and follow its directives upon locating it. Resonance is what guides me amidst the glorious messiness of life.
The inspiration for the post’s image: I took this photo of the Grand Tetons during a cross-country road trip in 2011. When my brother and I arrived in the national park, we turned a bend and there stood the Grand Tetons, a monumental mountain range that juts out from the earth to an elevation of 14,000 feet. I gasped so loudly that he halted the car, afraid I was having an asthma attack (note: I don’t have asthma, but apparently my breathing pattern was similar to that of an asthmatic). I unexpectedly started to cry; something about those mountains moved me to tears. Our entire stay was a deeply spiritual experience for me that I reflect on regularly to this day. It was one of the first times I ever felt deeply resonant with the world around me. Even though I wouldn’t have called it this at the time, it was an experience of communion with God.
Hope is a thing of grandeur. It is a primary pillar of many spiritual faiths; a thing we are told to hold onto when all else fails. Without it, especially during difficult times, what is left of our reason for being?
As someone who deeply appreciates the story and path of Jesus, I recognize that Advent (the time leading up to Christmas, which we are experiencing at the time of writing this) is a time of hope. In Biblical texts, the period leading up to Jesus’ birth was depicted as a time when deep darkness covered the earth and all seemed at a loss. Yet in this darkness a great light was gestating; the darkness was the seedbed for great changes that were fast approaching. Some knew this because they could read the signs (think: the Three Wise Men) and because of these abilities, they grasped hope from the clutches of despair. This hope, this light, this beacon, of course, was held in Jesus — the vulnerable, complex mixture of all-powerfulness and absolute powerlessness. God manifested as a human baby that couldn’t fend for itself yet somehow held the strength of all the heavens within it. What a beautiful metaphor indeed.
To have hope in a time of deep despair is a nuanced exercise. For some, it seems obvious that we should cultivate and nourish it. For others, it’s more complicated than that. Pema Chödrön, one of the most respected Buddhist teachers of our time, bluntly suggests we “abandon hope.” Put slightly differently, she says, “the trick is not getting caught in hope and fear.” For her and other Buddhists, hope is but an emotional state that is just as likely to yield suffering as fear.
Indeed, upon deeper inquiry, it becomes clear that many of our hopes are fed by our fears. We are afraid x will happen so we hope y happens instead. It’s somewhat circuitous, but if one looks at the true nature of both fear and hope, we see they are closely related and even woven of the same threads.
Because of its proximity to fear, we must be attentive to our hope. Otherwise, we’re likely to suffer whether or not we nourish said hope, for it will merely be a masked version of our fear. Hope is, therefore, a subtle practice, a delicate state of being that must be tended to diligently.
As a Christian who practices Buddhism, I often find myself at a cross-wiring when it comes to hope. My trust in God’s grace leads me to have immense hope for myself and the world, yet my Buddhist practice encourages me to let go of my hopeful thinking and the emotional states that come from hopefulness. It’s a very interesting space to be in.
What I’ve started doing in light of my seemingly-opposing spiritual inclinations is to nourish my hope without tethering it to an outcome. This is paradoxical when seen in the light of conventional understandings of hope, so let me explain.
In my view, hope is problematic when predicated on the need for a particular outcome to occur. To me, that’s like gambling with fate. You can’t control the vast majority of what will happen in your life, let alone the world, so why spend so much energy becoming emotionally invested in an outcome that could very well not happen? Of course, some argue “because that’s what keeps you going!” But what about when that thing you’re trying to avoid happens, or that thing you’re hoping for fails to happen? Was all your effort and emotion, then, a waste?
Hope is often used as a way to escape the discomfort of the present moment. To hope for a better future often translates into sidestepping our need to simply be present with what is happening right now: our pain, our sorrow, our anger, etc. That’s not always a helpful strategy. Again, in the words of Pema Chödrön: “If we’re willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated, then we can have the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation.” We’re all walking on unsolid ground — we could all suddenly die of a freak accident, lose a loved one, or have unexpected changes knock us to the ground. Ironically, becoming comfortable with the “groundlessness” of life is necessary for achieving deep inner peace.
I won’t go as far as Pema Chödrön and suggest we abandon hope altogether. But I do believe it’s important to abandon hope that seeks to keep suffering at bay. That is an exercise in futility.
I also believe it’s important to release our hope from our desired outcomes. To hope without demanding that your vision for the future manifests is to hope for something different. It is to place a radical amount of trust in oneself and in the process. To have hope without necessitating a particular outcome is to act from the knowledge that even if none of what we want to occur actually happens, something transformative will nevertheless manifest in the depths of the unknown. That transformative something might be painful, but we recognize it is not wasted in the grand scheme of things precisely because there is no waste in the grand scheme, only transformation. This is not a spiritual truism; even the law on the conservation of energy points to this fact.
To have hope without requiring that our desired outcome manifests is to humbly admit that due to our own incapacity to understand the full scope of the process we neither know the best outcome nor have the means to bring it about on our own. So why seek to impose our hopes on the world? Why not instead trust that, no matter what, the situation will become transformed in a fashion that is aligned with workings that are far grander in scope than we can possibly understand? For some, like myself, these larger workings are called “God”; for others, they represent processes (be it mechanical, social, relational, etc.) that are larger than them.
Healthy hope is thus a matter of trusting that the larger process is inherently based on transformation rather than on the dichotomy of successful vs. wasted experience. To hope without skipping out of the present moment, without requiring that the world gives us a specific outcome, is to touch a deeper level of stability than fear-induced hope can ever offer. Above all else, healthy hope is a remembrance that fruitful transformation is inherent to all situations.