Author Archives: Rev Kathleen Sibley

Follow my lead

I’ve been reading a great book called “A Tree Full of Angels” by Macrina Wiederkehr. One line that held my attention this morning was about how everything is renewed under the eye of God. I took that into meditation and found myself asking some deep questions. What in me needs to be renewed? What do I feel I’ve lost? Doesn’t seem that I should have nothing stale in me, nothing that needs to be renewed after a six week sabbatical? Okay, that last question is silly and I know it. Of course there are things that need to be renewed in all of us. Still, it begs the question. What in you feels like it might have gotten misplaced or lost in your life?

For me, the big issue that came up is trust. In my childhood, I learned not to ask for help. Either help wouldn’t come and I would get in trouble for asking or someone would take the project away from me and do it for me. I also admit that I started out with an independent spirit. Family lore has it that my first sentence was “I do it myself”. So I sat there, flowing between meditation and prayer and contemplated how much I trust the Universe. It’s scary to trust someone or Someone else with my well-being. However, trust in the Universe is not optional. It is, after all, the title of this blog. I am responsible for what I create in my life, so if I’ve created a version of God that I don’t trust… well, I don’t like that. So I sat and asked my own deepest heart, how do I heal the trust issue? How do I learn to trust You?

As often happens, my meditation was then disturbed by a song running through my head. Ed Sheeran does a version of the song “Shape of you”[1] and I had just a line or two running on a loop. The lines were:

“Girl, you know I want your love

Your love was handmade for somebody like me

Come on now, follow my lead…”

It was as if Spirit was singing to me. All I need to do is follow Spirit’s lead. Spirit does want my love and feels it is valuable. When someone leads me in dancing, I find that there’s a balance between getting some small subtle signals and some obvious ones. The more I can relax and let my body just respond to those signals, the less I think about what I’m doing, the better off I am. If I think too much about Spirit and what God-in-me wants from me, I get off track. I get tense and scared and my trust issues get into the driver’s seat of my life. Very soon, I’m in a ditch, calling the spiritual AAA. If I let each small hint of guidance, each subtle lead pull me towards my good, then eventually it all works out.

Now, the Divine Dancer doesn’t mind stumbling about with me too much. It’s part of the learning and oh, by the way, part of the fun of dancing together. What someone else thinks about our dance is not my business. Well, it is, actually, literally, but I find that most folks have done their own stumbling and are willing to learn from mine.

So even when you think you have gotten off track, I encourage you to let Spirit lead in whatever dance to whatever song might come up. Don’t worry about it. Practice trust one dance step at a time. God doesn’t mind getting his toes stepped on; God just wants to dance with you.

[1] Written by John McDaid, Steve Mac, Edward Christopher Sheeran, Kandi L Burruss, Kevin Jerome Briggs, Tameka D. Cottle, Félix Ortiz Torres, Gabriel Pizarro, Chris Jeday • Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd., Universal Music Publishing Group, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

Feces or Fertilizer

Here’s the thing that I am learning. Being spiritual, even being relatively advanced spiritually, doesn’t mean you won’t have bad days. Jesus went off on the money lenders at the temple. He also displayed racism toward the Canaanite woman whose daughter had a demon and he yelled at his disciples when he got frustrated with them.

I nursed my mom (well, was her “go-to” person anyway) during her last days. She was a good person. I’m a good person. I still found myself in my car, alone, screaming with frustration because of the demands that were being placed on me. I never thought of myself as a screamer, but there I was. I was so afraid some poor cop was going to pull me over and end up having to listen to my hysterics. I had a bad couple hours this morning. (Notice I didn’t say “had a bad day”.) I was expected to form full sentences before the coffee hit, answering actual fact based questions and requests for help. I had a full day in front of me and knew I was forgetting something important but couldn’t get quiet enough to have actual cognition happen. I had only been back at work for three days and I was already over-whelmed. And then I got a text from someone who asked me for something I found unreasonable. That was it. I lost it.

The most spiritual thing I could do in that moment was to pull out the Holy No. No, I won’t ask for that favor on your behalf. No, I won’t cover for people. No, I won’t pretend that I’m happy about having to start over and pay $220 for another person’s mistake. No. No. No. It doesn’t feel spiritual for me when I say no. It feels frustrated and beyond my ability to handle. It feels like I’m being mean. It feels like I should be above this, should handle it all calmly no matter what “it” is. After all, I meditated this morning. I prayed and read and I made sure I got up in time to do it. Isn’t that how it works?

Nope, sorry. Being spiritual means we have the tools to deal with what comes up, even when what comes up is icky. Everyone gets to deal with some stuff in their lives. Everyone – me, you, Jesus, Buddha and every other John Q Public that has walked the planet. There’s a reason the spiritual leader Anne Lamott called her new book “Hallelujah Anyway.”

The difference between me and a Chris-ted being is the rate at which we recognize the feces we’ve been handed can be used as fertilizer for some great field of good. I am lucky. I have a great prayer partner willing to answer my call, pull over her car and not fall for my crazy as I spew it. I knew I would feel better at some point after talking with her. And sure enough, the right and perfect person came to me for counsel… about my exact same issue. How do I allow myself to say no and still feel in integrity as a spiritual being? How do I forgive myself for not being willing to stretch even one more inch in service to humanity? How can I be a Christed being before the coffee hits?

Here’s the thing that I am learning. I am still a good person if I am frustrated with having consequences for someone else’s bad customer service. I am a good person when I just can’t listen to one more person asking for one more thing. I am a good person even when people insist on talking in the morning.

We are good people, Christed beings, because we stay awake and aware and try our best. Not because we walk on water… but because we want to.

 

Sacred Days

I was at a retreat all week up in Oregon. It was very, very green. It also rained every day except the day it hailed. So what was created was a sense of being all tucked in, with nowhere to go and nothing to do except the deep spiritual work. Now, I had my doubts about this particular teaching for years. For one thing, the materials are in a weird font and there’s an over-abundance of extraneous quotation marks that annoy the crap out of me. However, I have learned to that kind of things aside in order to see what might be of use, so there I was. I know and trust the facilitator Rev. Dr. Penny Macek (check her out at www.newvisioncsl.org) and she wouldn’t work with less-than-stellar people, so I was willing to try.

The first thing that happened was that they started talking about Christ. I’m not a traditional Christian. I understand the Christ in the same way these folks do – it’s the life energy and intelligence that predates any religion, but gets called the God Self, Higher Self, and Buddha nature.  I don’t care what you call it, frankly, as long as there is an understanding that Jesus of Nazareth was one of many Christs that have taken up the work over the ages. I’ve long since left behind the need to talk to Jesus as the one and only. Even he smirks when I talk about it to him, cuz it’s just funny and wrong at the same time. So I had to remind myself as we talked about the Christ over and over that it was my new understanding, not the old one I was raised with. Yes, some of the songs we sang got very traditional, but I looked past that (see how amazingly magnanimous and spiritual I am?).

I will admit – I did trip over the Jesus thing a lot, just like I was tripping over the Mohammed thing earlier in the week. I listened to Mohammed’s biography in the car and got very judgmental over how he went to war and played politics and treated the Jews in Medina. Isn’t it amazing that I can find ways to judge these amazing people? Here are two men that gave their lives to the work in ways I can’t even fathom and I’m looking down my spiritual nose at them. Not that I can channel a holy book or change water into wine (which I admit would make me immensely popular) but I can miraculously find fault with damned near anything.

What will it take for me to see the Christ Being in everyone? What will it take for you to see it? What if it shows up in your mirror, like Bloody Mary at midnight? Then what are we going to do? I’m going to stick with what I learned at the retreat. I’m going to keep going back to www.sacreddays.org to find the music we listened to and the explanations of the exercises. I’m going to keep working on my own inner critic until even that voice is the voice of God (which is female in my heart right now). I’m going to look past punctuation until my consciousness is so clear and strong that I only see God. Period.

Hold my hand

Recently, I challenged myself to play the guitar for a Sunday service. Understand, I haven’t done that since about fourth grade. Think about that. It’s been decades, although I won’t say how many. I remembered how to do the three simple chords, no problem. I was able to work hard enough over the course of the week to somewhat create calluses so that I can play the chords on the metal strings (for those of you who don’t know – ouch!!!). I could sing the song without a problem. I had the words in front of me in case I lost it and it’s not like it’s not a song I sing to myself all the time, by one of my favorite artists, Celia (check out www.celiaonline.com) Folks gave me pretty good feedback, so it couldn’t have been too terrible. It wasn’t a virtuoso performance by any means, but no one walked out and there were few actual groans.

So what was the point of this somewhat amateurish performance? Besides trying to impress my congregation with my miraculous ability? Well, that’s a longer story. Ever since I was a kid, I refused to do things in public if I wasn’t good at them. I never played sports. I never did much of anything. Well, theater stuff, but I was good at that. When I sang, I’d go hide and sing where no one could see me. Yes, I see the problem with that – it didn’t occur to me until years later that folks could definitely hear me, and seeing me was not the issue.

Yesterday I got up and played the guitar even though I didn’t feel ready. I had adrenaline zipping through me at a prodigious rate. It’s been a long time since I had stage fright, but there you go. Now, it wasn’t enough to just do one song on a Sunday. I chose Easter Sunday. I was doing one of the big talks of the year and I asked to do the music. Yes, I asked. Theoretically, our music director could have said no. If I was really bad, I’d trust him to say no and save me the embarrassment. The whole point was to challenge my belief in perfection and do something I didn’t expect to just carry off effortlessly.

The good part is I could fake strumming when I could tell my fingers were playing the wrong chord.   I think we managed to turn the microphone on my guitar waaaay down. And I had the sense to do this in front of a crowd that is loving and forgiving and knows me anyway. What surprised me was that my ego was so involved in remaining calm and spiritual during this growth experience. It bothered me that there was so much adrenaline running through me. It bothered me that they were taking so long to figure out the microphones. It bothered me that I felt I’d let the sermon preparation slide a bit in order to get the music ready. I was not able to float through the whole thing on a cloud of serenity.

In meditation that morning, I saw a child who was doing something for the first time. She was scared, but clinging to a trusted adult’s hand. The whole experience was one of fun and fear at the same time. This is how I think maybe it’s supposed to be. As children we are supposed to have a trusted adult teach us how to feel fear and do it anyway to find out if the fear changes to fun. I’ve decided that is part of my Higher Power’s job description now. If I’m going to be spiritual and live on my growing edge, then God/Goddess/The Divine has to hold my hand.

That way, if I fall flat on my butt, at least I know someone will help me up. And laugh with me afterwards too.

Meditations on a pencil sharpener

I have an electric pencil sharpener behind my desk. I love this thing. I love having a really sharp pencil for balancing my checkbook and writing out ideas. In both cases, the eraser comes in handy, but I like having the sharp point to make my numbers and ideas clear and easy to read.

I noticed as I was sharpening some pencils today that if I push too hard, the whole thing stops. There’s a level of pressure that is right between too hard and not hard enough that is perfect. It lets the machine do its work, shaving off the next level of wood and lead. Push too hard and the machine will dig too deep and break the pencil. Don’t push hard enough and nothing really gets sharpened. Isn’t it the same with creativity? Push too hard to make “art” or deep change and you end up jamming up the works. You try to go too fast and everyone feels pushed and stressed out. Don’t work at all, and you end up with no results. Eventually, the project gets boring because there’s no forward motion.

I also noticed that my pencil sharpener is a Boston product. To me, the town of Boston is my past. My family is mostly from New England and the Boston mindset (and accent) feels like home sometimes. There’s so much good back there. Of course, if it was really for me, I’d be living there. It’s not a bad place, just not my place to live all the time. When I’m in my creative mindset, when I’m living the life I’m creating, it’s important to know where I belong and what is now a part of my past. The outer layer of wood on my pencil has also served me well at some previous point. It’s not useful now because it’s covering up the lead I need to write my next chapter with.

Today I dumped out the reservoir of pencil shavings. It’s important to consciously let go of what no longer serves us on a regular basis. That might be the clothes in your closet, the relationships you’ve outgrown or the mindset that has been leading you into confusion and unhappiness. All of this benefits from regular evaluation and release.

Finally, I notice that this is an electric pencil sharpener. What a great metaphor! No matter what tools I am using, the energy behind the tool is something outside of me. As I create my world, as I sharpen my own consciousness and bring forth balance or new ideas, I’m powered by a greater energy. I don’t need to provide that power. It’s there for me to use whenever I use this machine. It will wait for me to be ready. I never feel guilty for not sharpening something in my office. The pencil sharpener is there for my use when I’m ready, as are the pencils and every other physical and metaphorical tool I have.

Isn’t it great that Spirit shows up in such beautiful, mundane ways? God is in my pencil sharpener as much as the majestic mountains and all the miracles we all recognize in our daily lives.

Pride and Pruning

I just spent a little over an hour working outside the Center pruning bushes and cleaning up a bit. I was there helping our Saturday morning volunteers. One of them drags around an oxygen tank and I know at least one is an octogenarian. I lasted an hour. Tops. They were working when I got here and are still working. Yikes! I bow to their superior stick-to-it-ness.

I find that doing physical work is good for me, no matter how much I might avoid it. It’s good for me when I get too stuck in how hard it is to do all the mental work I do. It’s also good for me when I get too puffed up with pride, thinking about how I can do things better than other people and start thinking that means something. What Spirit was pruning from me out there was the unhealthy kind of pride. Healthy pride says I have intrinsic worth. Unhealthy pride says I have more intrinsic worth than you do.

I doubt very much those bushes out there are comparing themselves to each other and noticing who I left lopsided or where there are still stray flyaway branches. I know they aren’t comparing how they looked before to how they look now and lamenting that they can’t afford a better hair dresser… uhm, gardener. Emerson once wrote:

These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God to-day. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. Before a leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the full-blown flower, there is no more; in the leafless root, there is no less. Its nature is satisfied, and it satisfies nature, in all moments alike. There is no time to it. But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time.

When I get stuck in unhealthy pride, I am miserable. Nothing I do will ever be good enough. Nothing I say will ever be wise enough. I know this is something most of you already know, but the answer will always be to go back to God (by whatever name you use). Get back into this moment. Remember that you are like the other plants, no better and no worse, that exist in the Divine Garden. You are there for a reason that is all yours. Physical work, as much as I might try to avoid it, helps me get back in the present.

Maybe today was about pruning my unhappy pride as much as helping out our volunteers. I’ll probably come up with a hundred and one excuses to do other work on the first Saturday of other months. But in the future, I’ll be aware that spending an hour with the landscape is worth the time.

Reaching out

 

I’ve heard that the biggest issue in America today is loneliness. I don’t know – maybe it’s actually homelessness or the fact that we are still at war or that bookstores and libraries are closing. Still the loneliness thing seems to be attached to all the other issues, so we may as well see what we can do about this one.

I’ve started several groups that meet on a regular basis to offer mutual support. Sometimes the groups really take off. Sometimes they take off after the third or fourth attempt. Sometimes I’ve found that the reason they didn’t take off is because there’s already a group and so I join that one.

I meet with a group of eight female ministers once a month for lunch. It took a few tries to get this group going, but we did it and have been meeting for several years now. I don’t know what I’d do without these women. They have heard me celebrate big and little victories. They have heard me lose it over big (and little) tragedies. They have remained in principle and unmoved by my story, although they are always wonderfully compassionate and loving to me (they just don’t buy my story – it’s a good thing). I’ve heard them in the same types of circumstances. We laugh together about the crazy gig called ministry that we all love. It is more than worth driving an hour and a half each way to eat salad with these beautiful souls.

The thing is, this started as a semi-professional meeting. We met because we were all ministers in a particular philosophy in a male dominated profession. We do share best practices, new books and trainings and what to never try again, but mostly we share our lives. This is the big secret. There is a lot more professional development and worth in creating the connection than in finding out which fundraiser works the best.

Because of this group, I answered the call to be a Regional Support Representative for our region. Our region is five states, with about thirty Centers. I did it because 1. They asked me and I didn’t think “they” even knew my name and 2. I wanted to pay the good I got my from minister friends. Now, I don’t get to meet with all the ministers or Boards in my region on a regular basis. We certainly don’t get to do lunch together more than once a year, if ever. But I can call, and send silly emails, and that’s a connection. They all have my number. I know before I took over, I sometimes thought my RSC was watching me and would call just as I was losing perspective. And she usually said exactly the right thing or pointed me in the direction to find the right thing myself.

Here’s another secret. I’m massively shy. I don’t reach out easily. I’ve gotten myself into hot water more times than I care to say because I let myself get isolated. I get why loneliness might feel like the biggest issue in our country right now. And I’ve learned that the best way to heal my own loneliness is to reach out to someone who might be in the same boat. In that way, neither one of us is lonely anymore. So it’s really a self-serving spiritual practice. I’m not nice as much as smart. And I offer my trick to you as a cure of any loneliness or isolation you  might be feeling.

Worthy of consideration

Today I found out that the report I worked so hard to get out…hadn’t been sent. For whatever reason, I attached a report from several years ago to the email. I got the right report out this morning, and heard back from our manager that I have another month before my report is actually due. Son of a motherless goat! This is a great opportunity to stop for a moment and chill. I don’t need to get everything done right now. I am trying to make sure all my bases are covered so when I leave (in over a month) I have everything done for the time I’ll be gone. What I need to remember is that, due to my compulsively responsible nature, I’m actually ahead of the game.

I spoke last Sunday about realizing that sometimes the things we most hold against ourselves are actually strengths in disguise. Okay, they can be strengths when seen correctly, as part of God/Good. That’s more accurate. I used to take it very personally when I made a mistake because I thought/believed that mistakes or dropping the ball was a direct reflection of my worth as a person. I didn’t know that worthiness is something we all inherently carry. When I know I’m worthy of love or my space on the planet or whatever good I feel I need, life is just easier. I have nothing to prove. When I don’t know I’m worthy, I have everything to prove and no hope of ever proving it.

If I still believed in the lie about being unworthy or inherently broken and bad (anyone else ever feel that way?) I would be deeply embarrassed by sending so many emails to folks who are already busy. This morning, I laughed it off and let it slow me down enough to notice what is going right. I have plenty of time to get things done. I have time to go slow and be creative. I have time to do whichever project I want because I’ll get to the others in due time.

What aspects of yourself can you reframe in a positive way? What would allow you to feel worthy, or notice that you were never unworthy? What will it take for you to live from worthiness?

A balanced budget

It seems like balance is a big issue for me. When I was in ministerial school, one of our instructors often reminded us to aim for the B. As you may guess, many of us were over-achiever types who put pressure on ourselves to get all A’s. Now in this case, the B stood for balance. We were to pay as much attention to creating work and life balance as we were to creating an awesome business plan or powerful Sunday talks. Balance is what really matters, we are told.

What if there’s no such thing, really? What if, when I say balance, what I mean is to be really present in whatever I’m doing? So if I’m at work, I’m not thinking about the weeds that are out of control in my yard at home? If I’m at home, I’m not obsessing over my next talk or even contemplating how to fit in an extra pastoral care visit in this week. I find that being fully present is enough of a challenge for me. If I add in trying to be completely balanced between work and play then it becomes too much. The truth is that, for me, there will be times I need or want to be at home for longer periods. There are times of the year when I simply expect to be busy at work. Basically don’t really expect my full attention between Thanksgiving and Christmas unless we are in my office talking about the work of ministry.

I’m working on the Center budget right now. The big goal is to find a way to fit in everything we think we need and have a plan to pay for it all. When I start this process, I find that the first version of the budget, where we just plug in numbers that seem to make sense based on what we spent in previous years, is almost always way out of whack. Never in our favor, either. It takes more time and more thought to bring us into balance. I’m starting to think that life balance requires the same time and attention to expenditures and income. Where do I get my energy? Am I willing to invest enough time in the things that feed me so that I don’t end up in the red at the end of the day or week or year? I’m so careful to balance the financial budgets in my life – time to look at other kinds of energy as well.

So… is your energetic budget balanced? How do you make sure?

Immortality

Tonight I’m teaching a class whose theme is Immortality. We’re going to be talking about life after death, what it might be like to live without a human body and what we teach about all that. Mostly it ends up being a discussion of the students’ experience with near death experiences, ghosts and other interesting occurrences. The thing is, our teaching is pretty simple. We don’t claim to know. We each individually have our pet theories, but the official teaching is that we can’t really know.

Here’s my official teaching. It’s more interesting to me to know if there can be a healthy, prosperous, fulfilling life BEFORE death. My focus is on right now. Am I doing everything I can to live large before I leave or am I just waiting for whatever comes next?

When I was in Practitioner training, we had to do an exercise in which we wrote our own eulogies and planned our memorial services. Mine was a big party with balloons and music and fun. I said I had died at the age of 83. I believe it was a happy death, and not a particularly difficult one. I had time to say goodbye to folks, make sure my affairs were in order and then just leave gracefully. This exercise is supposed to be about living more fully in this life because we are reminded we won’t be here forever.

I’ve been pretty up front about managing my depressive disorder. The effect this exercise had on me was to make me calculate how much longer I had to be here and when I could leave. It was more like counting down a prison sentence (a life sentence, if I want to be facetious). I’m not afraid of death; like many of us, I tend to have more anxiety around life. Realizing that I believe life to be eternal was, at one point, a very painful truth.

So now I’m taking the next step. At this juncture in my life, I still firmly believe that life is eternal and we get to keep the memory of whoever we were on earth. That’s no longer bad news. I also believe that we get to learn more about whom we have been in other lives and who we are between lives, which sounds pretty cool to me. The homework (as it were) is to make sure I don’t waste the time I have here. Am I coming out from behind my Netflix queue in order to engage with real people? Am I being of service to the folks I meet in the grocery store and at work, or do I just post something on my Facebook letting people know how I feel about the latest scandal? Or kittens, for that matter? (I’m pro-kittens, for the record).

This culture makes it so easy to live from a step back. We make it easy to live by proxy through our electronics. It takes effort to remain present in the here and now, and I believe it’s entirely worth it. As fascinating as I find near death experiences (nope, never had one) I don’t want to have a near life experience while I’m here. If for no other reason, I want actual people to show up for my memorial service and have something to say other than what my favorite TV show was.