Healing Our Spirits

There is no escaping that this fall has seen the heartbreak and trauma of war in a way that has caused normally aligned friends and family to be at odds, and even (for many) conflicted feelings within ourselves as we reckon with the horrors of Hamas’ brutal massacre and at the same time struggle with the horrific loss of innocent lives in Gaza, while hate spreads death and destruction.  We’ve watched as antisemitism and Islamophobia have increased exponentially, exacerbating the widening gulf between left and right.  We continue to be numb to yet another senseless mass shooting, this time in Maine.  We’ve seen the hopelessness in the eyes of our youth as they watch repressive new laws taking away their bodily autonomy and as they watch the continued degradation of the planet they will inherit.  For many (young and old), it seems the safest bet is to lose themselves in social media, digital gaming and substance abuse, checking out of the larger world. We’re seeing an epidemic of isolation in the world today. 

While the old models of religion did give folks a sense of connection, they also came with some hefty dogmas and otherizing of anyone who didn’t believe as they did. We are seeing a rising Christian Nationalism which clings to those older models and rejects the pluralism which has been a source of hope for others in a world that is far more nuanced and interconnected than the binary constructs would have us believe. Countless people have walked away from religion in the past 30 years, and many ran due to religious wounding. 

Yet, being in spiritual community can be a source of emotional support when times get rough; studies have actually shown that being in spiritual community can reduce mental health problems as well as lengthen life.  Conversely, other studies have looked at the rise in White Christian Nationalism, and at the various hate groups akin to it as a reaction to the loss of connection and a yearning for any community even if it is one based on hateful tribalism. We are relational creatures; without that we fail to thrive.

Many of the mystics and sages have said we’re in a time of paradigm shift, but what does that actually mean?  Yes, we know that religions across the board have grown smaller and smaller in the last 20+ years while the largest growing demographic is that of the Spiritual But Not Religious.   But what will spirituality look like when the old models die away or reinvent themselves? How will spirit thrive when it is no longer tied to patriarchy, white supremacy, and capitalism?  How do we build beloved communities which honor the lived reality of people of color, queer folk, poor & homeless people and the refugees of the world, let alone a beloved community which embraces all of the Abrahamic family – Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims & Palestinian Christians?  How do we step out of our safe but lonely cocoons to help create the world we want to live in?

First, we must pause to breathe.  Our automated and hyper-connected lives leave no room for nonproductive being.  That is by design.  Audre Lorde said that “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”  It was the radical reason that a group of Israelite slaves created as their most sacred commandment, the sabbath – a day of rest for all of us enslaved to the demands & power of commerce.  Those powers know that if we have time to rest, then we have time to notice what is happening in the world around us, and that awakens compassion within us.  We need only look at the massive turn out for Black Lives Matter in the early days of the pandemic – we were all at home to witness that knee on a throat and couldn’t look away. 

One of the terms that came out as the pandemic drug on was “compassion fatigue” because there was so much heartache that folks had nothing left to give.  Was that what the Divine meant when scripture speaks of “hardening” someone’s heart? But compassion is what calls us to stand up for the oppressed. It is what calls us out of our self-interest to lend a helping hand.  Yet, we have so little compassion for ourselves; we are enculturated in this capitalist society to berate ourselves if we don’t measure up to someone else’s idea of “success.” Ironically, compassion is the one thing which can lead us back to connection and community. Compassion is a name for the Divine in many traditions.  Compassion calls us to see the devastation, to cry with the heartbroken, to hold the children and to say no to the machine of war.

The experts in trauma teach us that to heal from any trauma – individual or collective – we must be witnessed as we tell our stories, and to engage in embodied practices which ground us, connect us to each other and to the Breath of Life. Some of the very practices we see in spiritual communities – singing together, sharing the same breath patterns as we speak aloud our hopes and our concerns through prayer, hugging our neighbors – are the same tools for healing trauma. 

Spiritual community may not look like megachurches in future years. Before we see what the collective will look like, though, we first must pause, breathe, and explore what our own spirits are yearning for, individually.  We must name the hurts and hopes of our own souls and be witnessed on that personal journey.  We must reconnect our souls and minds with our bodies and the body of the earth which sustains us.  It is no coincidence that our fevered society is mirroring a fevered planet.  We must engage in the political act of self-care and self-compassion.  We are seeing myriad unions standing up to big business; workers saying they’ve had enough of subjugation for subsistence. What is possible when we collectively empower our own spirits and make holy the very real need for healing and compassion on a global scale?

Instead of bowing to guru, priest or politician to tell us what to do and think, a new spiritual care provider has been emerging in recent years, the spiritual companion.  There have been Spiritual Directors providing pastoral care for a few centuries now, but the current breed of spiritual director isn’t directive – doesn’t tell you what to believe or how to relate to the Divine.  We walk along side – Jews, Christians, Muslims, Wiccans, Buddhists and Spiritual But Not Religious – as those we support make meaning of their own lives and their own relationships with others and with that which is holy to them.  Most chaplains and spiritual directors/companions honor what you believe AND what you don’t believe.  We make space for you to decide how you want to relate with Awe or Gd or whatever Source is guiding you. 

In this time of grief and trauma, we all need a witness on our journey, who listens for our hopes and celebrates our own soul-connections and self-compassion. We all need the sacred space in which to heal our spirits. So in this heart-wrenching time, pause to breath; seek out a spiritual companion; invite self-compassion.  As you nourish your own spirit, may your compassion grow for those who are counting on us to create the world we are all waiting for.  In healing our own spirits, may we bring healing to this hurting world.

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Widening our Welcome, at Pride Season and Beyond

Friends, I have moved my blog over to Substack. Check out the latest one, posted today: https://open.substack.com/pub/rivkagevurtz/p/widening-our-welcome-in-pride-season?r=kdjq0&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web

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Ascending in Spirit

Tonight is the last night Jews count the omer.  Originally, a harvest practice of collecting sheaves (omer) of barley, the Kabbalistic mystics redefined it as a time of spiritual journeying through the divine attributes of the Tree of Life, in preparation for the receiving of the Torah on Shavuot (which is celebrated this Thursday evening through Saturday.)  Not coincidentally, this time of inner reflection and anticipation is mirrored in the Christian tradition’s Lenten season leading to Pentecost, celebrated this Sunday.

In both cases, we are given tools for inner spiritual reflection which leads to revelation. Or put another way awakening to Awe and Aha! Whether a mixed multitude of seekers at the base of Har Sinai or a gathering of disciples hidden in an upper room, both groups were trying to make meaning of the upheaval of their lives.  What do we do when the life we used to live is now too small but we’re afraid to step into our spiritual power?

We are at such a moment today, I believe.  The past 3+ years have seen pandemic isolation, the senseless killing of black folk, the taking away of bodily autonomy of people with uteruses and trans youth, the almost 500 pieces of legislation in 47 states restricting the rights of queer folk, their families and their medical providers, the astronomical rise in hate crimes against not just queer folk but refugees, Asians, and Jews.  It is hard to not despair when the beloved community is under attack; when return to the “good ol’ days” espoused by some means the negation of the rights and safety of others.  We must recognize that what is at stake for us all is the right to fully embody the expanded reality of what it means to be created in the Image of the Divine. We can’t go back to ignorance and prejudice once we have awoken to the spark of the Divine in each of our human and nonhuman siblings on this planet.

Tonight the Omer concludes with the attributes (one for the day and one for the week) of Shekhinah shebe Malchut – majesty in sovereignty or presence in embodiment. Shekhinah is the Divine indwelling presence and she is considered represented in both iterations (whether one counts in the traditional form of Malchut shebe Malchut or in the egalitarian version I just used).  I especially take hope in the combining of the feminine and masculine iterations as an embodiment of the sacredness expressed in all genders.  How will we manifest our divine empowerment and authority; how will the Holy Spirit anoint our actions and intentions to heal this broken world?

I would love this to become a conversation that visions a different future, where we step into our spiritual power not just to fight the needed fight against Christian Nationalism and fascism, but to recommit ourselves to love instead of fear.  Let our Aha be in seeing those who would harm us as also frightened (because anger and prejudice are faces of fear); they too are in need of our example of love.  May the Awe which we know by many names and no name, strengthen our spirits and empower us as a priesthood of all believers coming together on the Holy Mountain.

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Gender Constructs, from the Beginning

There has been a lot of talk in the media and in the halls of government about gender of late, as we all know.  A lot of fear-mongering and handwringing among the conservative albeit vocal minority, that presumes to dictate to the rest of us how we should each live within our own bodies.  They would warp our views to believe that drag queens are out to “groom” our children, to become trans and queer.  And they claim to have the final word on what God thinks of all those wigs and corsets. Just like an earlier McCarthy era, (that of Joe McCarthy and his witch-hunt of supposed communists), they are trying to stir up fear and distrust among Americans.

I have a problem with all this hysteria. (Which is, itself a word steeped in genderized stereotypes.) Let’s start at the foundation of their strident “proof” that trans folk are supposedly not part of God’s plan. Even more precisely, let’s start at the literal beginning. Genesis chapter 1 to be precise. 

In our linear way of understanding a “story” we think of a “chapter” as a segment of one contiguous story. But Chapter 1 of Genesis is a completely different origin story from that in chapter 2.  Chapter 1 is the whole create the world in 7 days and it’s all good story.  Chapter 2 is the story of the subjugation of women and the subverting of the earlier goddess worshiping cultures (which surrounded Israel in the 6th century Before the Common Era).

So, if you remember your Sunday School or catechism, you’ll recall that on the 6th day God created humanity, ha-adam – the earthling, the human – from adamah, the earth.  Not some specific dude but the whole of humanity. And the God who did this creating? Elohim – which is a plural noun (gods) that is rendered singular (as He in English).  Today when someone is not bound by one gender or we don’t know the individual’s gender, the singular pronoun used to describe Them is often They.  When this nonbinary or unidentified God is considering creating this human being, God speaks to God’s self (presumably) about how the humans will be created in “our image”.  Either this god was talking to other co-gods or to God’s self – as a being of more than one gender – when They say that humanity will be created, in Their likeness.  Either way you look at it, you are only left with two legitimate possibilities.  Either the monotheistic God we claim to worship was not the only God (don’t even get me started about the archeological artifacts throughout Israel inscribed to YHVH and His Asherah) or the monotheistic God was nonbinary &/or intersex. 

The early Talmudic sages took this one step further and asserted that the first earthling was, like God, not bound by just male or female but an intersex unitive being which contained all genders.  And at the end of the day, GOD SAID IT WAS ALL VERY GOOD!

Now even if that is a bit too much for our little human brains to process, we then come to the second chapter; really a different and separate origin story, set in the Garden of Eden.  This is the one with the snake and big bad Eve tempting poor naïve Adam.  We have a different name of God in this story; YHVH (whish Jews do NOT call Yahweh – that is a Christian construct). Anyway, this God supposedly puts ha-adam asleep and creates woman by taking her from the human’s tzela. Tzela, contrary to popular belief, is not rib, but rather side.  Imagine how differently we would have all experienced our worth, (particularly as female bodied people) if we had read that we had come from the side of – equal to rather than subordinate and from – males.

So, here’s a non-binary God whose second act upon creating humanity is to perform gender reassignment surgery on Their creation separating as if conjoined twins, so that this solitary being would not experience the sense of isolation and loneliness that the Divine saw them experiencing.  One of the points in many theological treatises is that the whole reason Gd created was to not feel alone in the universe.  An act of compassion.

It is no coincidence that the same conservatives who are taking away the bodily autonomy of people with uteruses are also the same folks legislating the bodily autonomy of trans people.  They have been quite good at stirring up fear “for the children”.  Where is their compassion?

My husband (and others like him) knew that he was male at 5 years old; it was society that told him for the next 45 years that he was mistaken.  And yet, when he finally took the leap of faith to transition at 50, it was and is a true blessing.  His transition was blessed in our congregation with a naming ceremony, and when we later celebrated at his 50th birthday party, his mom proceeded to tell stories about the little boy she had witnessed even while the dictates of the time insisted he was a little girl.

What we’ve learned from science (itself also under attack by the same conservatives) is that gender identity is formed in the 3rd trimester, separately from the biological sex formed in the 1st trimester.  When children like my husband say they were born in the wrong body, they are being truthful.  Their brain and their bodies are not aligned.

There are currently almost 500 bills in 47 states which are trying to dictate to families with trans youth how to control and conform to one group’s idea of gender.  That doesn’t even count the number of bills about abortion rights.  In both cases, a calculating group is banking on creating fear and uncertainty under the guise of protecting children.  Their goal is to subjugate women and trans folk, in an effort to return all of us to a fictionalized “good ol’ days” when the white male ruled supreme. But their rhetoric never seems to address the concerns or needs of queer and trans children who have been forced into homelessness or who have died by suicide because of the judgment imposed by fearful parents and their fear mongering ideologues. Nor do they address the financial and health realities which are wrestled with by parents who must make the painful choice to abort a fetus regardless of whether it is wanted or not.

These hate-mongers do not speak for the Source of Love and Hope.  They certainly do not speak for the Christ they claim to believe in.  What did he have to say on the matter?  He dined with eunuchs and stood by the woman who haters would have stoned. Nor do these Christian Nationalists speak for the vast majority of religions in this country, who affirm the worth of each person, regardless of gender, as being made in the image of the Divine, with a Gd-given right to live fully and compassionately in control of their own bodies and genders.

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Pausing for Compassion

I had the interesting experience for the last two days of needing to keep my head immobile after physical therapy, for crystals in the inner ear.  The PT therapist instructed me to not look up or down, and since the crystals are in the left ear, not to turn my head to the left either unless I turned my whole body.

I quickly became aware of the question, “What am I not seeing”?  I carried this question into spiritual direction (with my own spiritual director), as I pondered, “What am I not seeing?” in my life, spiritual and mundane. I share this now, as an example of the kinds of conversations one might have in spiritual direction. It is not just the big liminal moments, or the dark nights of the soul.  Spiritual Direction is more often about the still small voice moving through our lives.

What does narrowing my focus look like, in the spiritual realms of my life and the ordinary? We recalled that in last month’s session, I had been feeling a need to hit the pause button after the busy-ness of the last year as caretaker of my family while teaching at seminary, serving clients and seeding spiritual community; the need to pause for self-care or even self-cherishing!  Did I do that? Of course not, and so here is the universe giving me a clearer message to pause, with the PT’s instructions to rest for the two days after the procedure. (But this was going to be my week to get things done!) There is always too much to do.

This invitation to pause and gain a new perspective invited questions of what does self-care look like? What am I not attending to? What happens if I narrow my focus to that which enlivens my spirit? What happens if I let go of those things which are outside a narrowed perspective?

As I sat with these questions, both in the session and during these past two days what came into focus is the need for rest; as Audre Lorde said, “Rest is a radical act of self-care”, (in a world which would have us constantly focused on Doing instead of Being).  My incessant doing, is about being considered (or at least maintaining the illusion of being considered) valuable.  Don’t even ask me about self-cherishing!  Oy! If I am not “valuably” contributing to family and society, (ie caught up in endless striving), how can I possibly find value in myself – to be cherished or cherishable. How can others cherish me for my innate beingness when I don’t constantly produce outcomes that can be monetized?

Taking this to the next level, if I can’t cherish my own innate Being, how can I possibly cherish another? This is the underlying question of the Golden Rule regardless of which tradition’s iteration you use.  And the answer to that question, (and at the heart of the Golden Rule itself) is compassion; compassion for self and compassion for each other.

Compassion seems in short supply right now, regardless of one’s tribal affinities.  I use the word tribal very intentionally and by it I do not mean the indigenous nations whose lands we inhabit.  I am talking about the divisive tribes we collectively find ourselves in at this moment, not only in this country, but in many countries as we struggle between different world views and the looming danger of nationalist fascism.  The battle isn’t really about good versus evil, as we vilify each other it all becomes so subjective. It is not about bathrooms, drag queens nor pronouns.  But it is about fear vs love, and how we react from our places of fear on both the right and the left. 

Fear is the currency of trauma.  The reason I and so many others become workaholics, or alchoholics, or shopaholics is fear that we are not cherishable. And certainly, trans and nonbinary kids are getting a loud message that they are not cherishable, thanks to the repressive legislation being put forth throughout this country.  We live in a culture which trades in the business of fear, and uses it to keep us from not only being compassionate with self, but with each other.  Those in positions of power would much prefer we fear-monger and scape-goat, against trans youth, people seeking abortions and refugees at the border rather than examine the ways voter supression, tax-cuts for the rich, and abdication of responsibility for climate change are benefitting the powerful and undermining democracy (not to mention our common humanity). Fear (and its tribalism) lives in our amygdala’s primitive “lizard” brain.  Compassion lives in our mammalian cortical brain, where our needs for caring, nurturing community invites love to guide the collective ever toward freedom and hope.

Here’s the thing about our busy little lizard brains – they are strictly about survival, so the perspective they encourage is that everyone is a dangerous Other to be feared.  The fearful amygdala is a gatekeeper  who does not allow compassionate thoughts to even form (in our curious and feeling mammalian brains).  Our gatekeepers have been very loud of late creating fear that has fed war abroad and civic discord all around us. Rather than “going back” to a mythical “good ol’ days,” we have escalating Otherizing not just of BIPOC and queer folk, but anyone with a uterus or who lives in a “blue” state. And those of us in our liberal towers are no less Otherizing of the middle American struggling in the rust belt or those left behind in the bible belt. The gatekeepers are not just the strident talking heads on TV or politicians in the halls of government, but the silos and echo-chambers of social media and even members of our own families. The gatekeepers also live within each one of us, as we weigh our worth and devalue our spirits.

We need to stop, breathe, pause, before we can even consider what self-care might look like; how cherishing self, loved ones or community might be expressed. So, what are the ways I can pause for compassion for myself?  What does the still small voice within me whisper?

First, I can pause to really receive the positive feedback I have been given about my gifts. Within my ministry that which feeds me and for which I get positive feedback are the spiritual direction and heart-felt reiki treatments I give to clients. I can also take in the appreciation of my seminary students, that what I teach enriches, in turn, their ministries.  Second, I can be gentle with myself; where striving has not been met by interest, and where it has. So, I will narrow the number of offerings at Shelter For the Spirit to those programs which also feed my spirit; letting go of Being Spirit and reimagining Teaching Tuesdays, but continuing Interspiritual Service, Dwelling in the Luminous Dark and Shabbat Supper and Song, for as long as they feed me and others.  Third, I must recognize what all the busy-work keeps me from.  So, making more concerted space for the contemplation which is needed for the next phase of writing my book.  That one in particular invites me to Be instead of Do, because it requires valuing what I have to say and making space to just Be with my thoughts. It means owning the truth of my journey and asks me to mine how the compassion of others has influenced the thriving of my queer family.

It all must begin with that pause for self-compassion.  If you were to pause, what would the still small voice within you whisper?  If we stepped out of striving, how could radical rest recharge our passions? If we could grow our sense of self-compassion and rest, could we begin once more to value the diversity of our sacred siblings instead of alienating them as Others? Could we recognize the Image of the Divine in the eyes of those who look, worship and act differently than us?

How might we transform our relationship with ourselves and with one another if we took that pause for compassion and realized that we are all trying our best to survive in a culture that places commodifying of our life force above the truth (within all the wisdom traditions) that we are uniquely and beautifully made as part of a richly diverse world. We are all expressions of Divine Light – maybe not when we act as striving, fearful, and divisive tribes – but most definitely when we are self-caring, mutually cherishing multi-faceted expressions of the Breath of Life.  What makes us unique among our animal relatives is our ability to move beyond not only our lizard and mammalian instincts but to embody Beloved Community wherein we each can bring our gifts from a place of joy, where we can recognize the wisdom in every tradition, and when we can celebrate the myriad expressions of humanity as valuable and cherished expressions of hope.

The still small voice moving in our individual lives also informs the undercurrent of our collective experience. When we ask the little and big questions of ourselves, as we are witnessed in spiritual direction, we can feel the collective pulse and touch heart of the Ineffable.  In this moment of trauma, fear, mistrust, and hate, let us stop, pause, breathe and turn away from the god of Fear toward the Divine Source of Love.

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Welcoming the New Moon of Adar in Pisces

The new moon in Pisces (which began last light) is an invitation into awareness of our spirituality, creativity and emotions.  This particular new moon is a stellium – a conjunction of sun, moon & Venus – all appearing in the same sign, powerful enough (according to some astrologers) to blast open our 3rd eye.  This is also a super moon, meaning it is at its closest position to earth.  And later in March, we’re told that Pisces has a generational shift into Saturn’s sense of order and boundaries. So this is a moon which envisions our biggest dreams, and then gives us Saturn’s discipline to manifest those dreams into long-term goals.  It is a moment for leaps of faith – especially concerning our spiritual growth.  But to take that leap we must first let go of the past, forgiving ourselves and others.

And that is where Adar comes in.  Like Pisces is the final month of the astrological calendar, Adar is the final month in the Hebrew calendar. The central theme of Adar is the story of Queen Esther in the Hebrew Scriptures, where a young Jewish girl hides her identity and becomes the Queen of Persia, taking a leap of faith to later reveal her true identity to save her people from the massacre planned by the evil Haman.  But there is another story hidden within this story.

Because this story takes place in Persia we know it is supposed to take place during the exile of the Jews of Jerusalem to Babylon.  We know now, thanks to modern archeology, that prior to that exile, Judaism was not monotheistic.  Throughout Israel there have been items excavated inscribed to “YHVH and his Asherah”.  Asherah was the Mother Goddess, the precursor to Shekinah (the indwelling presence of the Divine).  In earlier cultures she was the partner of El, but with the Hebrew slaves return from their Egyptian exile, she became the consort of YHVH.  At both the sanctuary at Bethel, and later at the temple in Jerusalem, the symbol of Asherah, a wooden totem pole or tree, was planted next to the altar of YHVH.

So Asherah went into exile with the Jewish people when they went to Babylon and there became that same persona, known instead to the Babylonians as Ishtar.  The goddess Ishtar becomes the human character, Esther. The Esther archetype reminds us that fixed identities can shift/transform. And so the Esther story becomes an allegory: Esther/Ishtar is the hidden Queen/Goddess; Mordechai (her uncle in the Hebrew story) is Marduk, the patron King/God of Babylon and Aman/Haman is the rival god (in both Babylonian and Hebrew cultures).  YHVH does not appear in this story, because it is the Goddess who stands in her own truth and power instead of allowing herself and others to be sacrificed to either patriarchal god.

Adar, according to tradition and Talmud is supposed to be a month of increasing, radical joy.  It is embodied celebration of vanquishing those who would kill us – or those parts of ourselves which constrict us and prevent us from being our fully embodied divine selves.  The veils and mask which are the symbols of the holiday are representative of hiding Esther/our self from highest Self.  And we are commanded to get so drunk that we can’t tell the difference between Mordechai & Haman – can’t tell the difference between either patriarchal gd who would keep us in smaller self.

What is the invitation to us on this new moon? Brene’ Brown tells us that “joy is the most vulnerable human emotion.” So, what are the veils & masks (we use to conform) that we are ready to let go of; which hide us from our joy and our divine selves? How do we treat ourselves as someone deserving of joy? Can we sit in that curiosity and see what unfolds? Who can we become if we stop sacrificing ourselves at the altar of gods that no longer serve us? May this new moon be a time of taking leaps of faith, to become our highest, truest selves and embodiments of the Divine Feminine (regardless of the genders we inhabit).

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Inviting the Crone

2022 was tough for many of us.  In our family, health was a central theme of the year, as first I, then my husband and finally our adult child all underwent various surgeries and covid illnesses.  We’ve watched the world around us struggle with fear: fear of illness, fear of war, fear of rising costs, fear of divisiveness, even fear which simply seems to pervade …everything.  Fear and trauma seep through all our interactions, so that we react from our primitive amygdala before we can even engage our thoughtful pre-frontal cortex.  That coupled with the recurring surges in a pandemic which is now defined as endemic – even tripledemic – has left many of us feeling depleted and cut off from the very things which bring healing – community.

After our kiddo came home from the hospital, I found myself baking – a lot.  Not from the novelty of it, (as in the beginning of the pandemic when folks were swapping bread recipes), but instead, baking old family recipes.  Looking at the handwritings of my mother and aunties, now gone.  My mind was also on my dear mother-in-law, who passed this summer (so this was the first holiday season without her festive meals, too.) Suddenly, we’ve become the oldest generation. Feeling called to the hearth, which for most generations, before the current times, was the heart of the home.

We think of winter as cold and shriveled, much like the way we portray the Crone in modern culture.  But earlier cultures looked beyond the wrinkled bodies, and clouded eyes, and saw our elders as the wisdom keepers and storytellers.  The smells from their kitchens, the warmth of their hugs, have left visceral imprints on our hearts.  While it is true, sadly, that not all people had the gift of a good external parent, we can all access the Good Parent within; hugging the inner child who hungers for companionship, nourishment, and love. And thankfully, many have been able to call in surrogate mothers/grandmothers to inspire and warm their lives.  I find myself calling in the Divine Feminine in the form of the Crone, asking which are the lineage of ancestors (biological or not) who inspire us to kindle the hearth anew?

While the dominant image of the fearsome hag continues to negate elders (especially older female-appearing individuals), we forget about the lifegiving qualities of the Crone.  Just as winter appears (on the surface) to be cold and barren, under the snow and rotting leaves, new life is forming which will burst forth in the spring.  Likewise, the seed of the grandchild is within the womb of the grandmother as she carries the mother. The magic of the Crone is that she calls us to honor our ancestors while nurturing our future descendants.  So this winter, I am inviting in the Crone, to dwell at my hearth, to help me vision what the coming year may bring.

At the hearth we tell stories of hope, we break bread together, we nurture and teach the young, we create family not only of blood, but family of bond.  My mother used to say “How is it I could have 6 kids and no 2 of them are anything alike!”  We come to the hearth as different individuals.  We don’t always get along, and even cause harm at times, but the warmth of the hearth can be a metaphor for warming the heart – our own or those family or friends who we’re estranged from.  We often work out those family of origin patterns in community, bringing our vulnerability and our hope that healing may happen. The experts in trauma teach that, as we metabolize our trauma and find healthy ways to move forward in our own lives, the healing ripples not only forward to future generations, but backward as well, to the ancestors; healing the epigenetic fractures within our DNA.

I’m hungry for the hearth and community, and in our fall survey it was clear others hunger too. 57% of respondents resonated with the idea I’ve been exploring, about creating interspiritual community.  What might the hearth look like if we came together through shared spiritual practices instead of shared dogmas?  How might my heart soften when you tell your stories of struggle and survival that echo my own? How might our image of ourselves – and of the divine – shift and grow, when we make space for each of us to live into the fullness of our own truth?  How might we cool the heatedness in our society while cooling the heatedness mirrored in Mother Earth?

So this new year, I invite you to explore these questions with me. I will continue (of course) to provide individual spiritual direction, reiki, lifecycle events, workshops and guest sermons.  I will continue to offer some of the programming we had last year, but this year I am setting the intention to birth an interspiritual community.  That means I bring the fullness of my spiritual journey – Catholic child, Jewish adult, interfaith minister – into relationship with the fullness of your spiritual journey – whether you come from a place of faith or no faith. In launching this new community, you’ll see (on our upcoming events page) that there is a different type of experience regularly each week: 1st Tuesday Being Spirit Healing Circle, 2nd Saturday Shabbat Service, 3rd Tuesday Teachings, and 4th Friday Supper & Song.  And in keeping with the rhythms of Mother Earth, we will continue to offer Dwelling in the Luminous Dark on the new moon.  There will also be special holiday programs like the Mystical Tu B’shvat seder on Feb. 5th when we will enter the four worlds and invite healing for the Tree of Life and all life on earth.

You can come to the hearth at the Shelter, either in person or via zoom for most events (though some are billed just as online and others as just in person.) Sample the menu, come warm your spirit, and bring your own wisdom to the table.

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Trauma & Tashlich

If we were sitting inside a synagogue today, one of the stories we would hear would be when Sarah ordered Abraham to “cast out” Hagar and Ishmael to the desert.  To cast out, tashlich.  Many a queer person knows what it means to be cast out of their families; when those who presumably know us most deeply turned their backs on us.  My beloved and I each experienced versions of that, when we were each young lesbians in the beginning of the 1980s. Thankfully, over the last 30 years more and more families, including our own, have made teshuvah (repentance) for acting out of fear instead of love.

Today, however, there are those who would like families to again, cast out their queer, trans and nonbinary youth.  In the last year there have been 300 anti-queer and trans bills in 23 states; 13 of those states have signed their bills into law. This rhetoric has led to more families, again, casting out their kids. Indeed, over the past year in this country there were over 4.2 million youth who are either homeless or have instable housing; of those 40% are queer and trans youth. 

In our country’s current divisiveness, it is no longer just queer and trans youth who have been cast out, as we are also witnessing the reversal of laws over bodily autonomy and reproductive health.  Neighbor and family being encouraged to report on – to cast out – women who seek abortions or parents who get there trans kids the medical support they need to affirm their genders.  It makes folks worry what other rights might be taken away. More and more, political schisms have fractured families – parent from child, siblings from other siblings… with the youngest generation frustrated that none of the adults seem to be making true inroads in protecting our fragile planet… and wonder what kind of world they are inheriting.

We’re not immune here in Oregon, as we’ve watched communities to our south ban any signs which promote the welfare of black and queer youth in their schools. And even the centrist candidate for governor has accused the democratic candidate of “Bringing the culture wars to your kid’s classroom,” as if children with queer parents or who are themselves queer, trans or nonbinary are not already subjected to the culture of prejudice. And both centrist and conservative candidates want to roll back environmental protections to make possible more logging and more industrial pollution, placing profit above the common good and the health of our planet.

While each of the candidates bemoan the homeless crisis, governments cannot change the systemic nature of this crisis when every attempt to create safe alternatives (for those who our capitalist society has left behind) is met with “Not in my backyard!”  We have turned those who lost their housing (to the real estate collapse or the covid job market or simply because greed has made affordable low income housing a myth) into the Other.  We turn away, hoping to not see ourselves in their eyes.

We on the left have not helped matters when we boil everything down to tropes about the right’s lack of intelligence and compassion. “If they only got educated about the issues”…. we say. But we have not educated ourselves about how the powers that be fan the flames of division; media conglomerates spinning different realities depending on where their viewers call home.  We have forgotten how to have civic discourse, let alone civil and compassionate conversations.  I was recently reminded of an image from the animated movie, Wall-E where all the people were glued to their screens, oblivious to the living breathing people within arm’s reach.  It no longer feels so far-fetched.  

How did we get here?  Unnoticed amid the louder political debates, there was a study a few years ago, which found that in the growing climate crisis, there is a correlation between the planet’s rising temperature and the growing anger and divisiveness within the human communities. We are, after all, part of this planet, even if we’ve forgotten that; so we are (in a way) mirroring the fever of our Mother Earth, enflamed by the constant vibrational anxiety of cultural and familial discord.

The folks who study trauma, have explained that we are all so saturated with multiple traumas – from 9/11 to the pandemic to renewed fears of Russian nuclear weapons, not to mention the current hurricanes and climate-affected natural disasters around the world – one crisis after another has bombarded us to the point where none of us can think rationally.  Thinking, and compassion, require that we calm our trauma triggers which live in our bodies and specifically our lizard-brain amygdala.  When we are in fight, flight, freeze or fawn we literally cannot think – that function is part of our pre-frontal cortex, as is our sense of safety in community, our compassion, and our hope.  Ol’ lizard brain is always looking for the next disaster, for the next shoe to fall, for the next Other to be revealed as Enemy.

So who have we cast out this year? Because we were too activated to welcome the stranger; because we were too afraid of difference to hear what we may have in common, because we were too scared for our own security to reach out a helping hand? As we journey through these Days of Awe, how might we settle our trauma and our self-righteousness to consider what has caused hurt and fear in those we deem Other.  What is the teshuvah that will allow us to return to a sense of beloved community, not just with fellow humans but with our miraculous world?

For trauma to be transmuted and transformed, requires action.  Just like the gazelle running from the tiger, we have to get out of our frozen fear by moving.  When Hagar was cast out, she almost succumbed to fear and hopelessness, but she realized that to save her child she needed to act – to find the spring of water which would not only allow her and Ishmael to survive but which became a source of spiritual healing for Muslims to this day.

Hagar’s spring, and our Sandy River, touch us in primal ways.  Water holds memory. It represents our emotions – when blocked the waters of our heart burst their dam in destructive ways, but when encouraged to flow compassionately can bring healing; just as salmon are returning to our rivers freed of their dams.  Water purifies and renews, which is why mikveh and tashlich have such a visceral place in our lives. The tears of release, the tears of regret, and the tears of joy each has a different chemical composition, yet all provide healing.

So we come to the river, to acknowledge that fear has led us to make choices which caused harm to ourselves or others.  We come to mourn and witness the ways we have gone along with the status quo or bought the illusions marketed to us as convenience. We come to cast off that which no longer serves us, so that like Hagar, we might find the wellsprings of hope, so that we can be enactors of healing change rather than frozen spectators in our own lives.

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Unitive Commonwealth of The Divine

Earlier today I had the pleasure of giving the guest sermon at a local congregation. This week’s readings are not of the warm and fuzzy variety!  It was one of those lections that (while not full-on fire & brimstone) can still make us a bit squirmy when we hear about divisiveness and judgment. As a feminist, Jewish and bisexual woman, the supersessionism and patriarchy in some passages can rankle my sensibilities. But when I hear the words attributed to Jesus in today’s Gospel, that call for the division of families, it pushes a tender button.  Many queer folk, myself included, have experienced what it means to be divided from our families because of who and how we love. Part of the disconnect (spiritually speaking), ultimately is because of the perceived tensions of being in relationship with a Loving Gd as opposed to a Judging Gd. Each of today’s readings have been used to control and subjugate others based in those dualistic ways of understanding the Divine and Scripture.

While I am an interfaith minister, my experience as a Jew by Choice, has provided me with a very different relationship with scripture than did the Catholicism of my youth.  I’ve learned to wrestle with the inspired words of Scripture, and (like Abraham, Lot or Rebecca), to question Gd and Gd’s spokespersons.

Let’s start with Isaiah 5:1-7. The imagery of Isaiah’s words was intended to be a wake-up call as the nation of Israel neared annihilation from the Assyrians; which (when it came to pass) resulted in the end of the northern kingdom and the disappearance of 10 of the tribes, leaving only the tribes in the southern kingdom of Judah, in and around Jerusalem. The reading begins with a “song” about the Divine as owner of a vineyard.  This is a lovesong turned sour; after planting, cultivating, and building protections in anticipations of a rich harvest, what is brought forth is rotten or wild fruit. In other words, that the corrupt and unruly tribes had devolved into a rotten society. Gd, despairing at what could have been done differently, takes away the hedge which served to protect the vineyard (Israel) determining to give the land over to wild animals (the Assyrians) – the land ravaged and the nation utterly destroyed. The story of Noah and the ark is not the only time Gd threatens to abandon or destroy the people.  The Holy One, repeatedly calls the people (in their covenantal relationship with Gd) to be righteous and justice, not only for the sake of the powerful, but for the marginalized, the widow & the orphan. Failure to care for those who suffer, is why Gd threatens to abandon Israel and allow them to be destroyed. We’re given two opposing images in our readings – when in Gd’s good graces, we are Joshua miraculously destroying Jericho; conversely when disobeying, we face our own annihilation, at the hands of our enemies. 

And yet, in a part of Psalm 80, it is the people who cry out in fear and despair, remembering that they were the choice vine which The Divine took out of Egypt and planted in the Holy Land; it is they who ask why Gd has abandoned them.  They call out for Gd’s compassion and love; to be remembered and protected by their loving Gd instead of punished by the judging face of Gd. The image of the judging Gd in stark relief against that of a loving Gd.

While the Letter to the Hebrews is considered one of the most anti-Jewish sermons in the canon, one scholar has suggested that Hebrews was actually a synagogue homily delivered on the ninth of Av, the day that commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temples, which (yet again) was perceived as Gd withholding love and punishing the people for not living up to the covenant. Hebrews then lifts up the righteous from earlier ages, but says that they did not merit their reward; implying that it is only through Jesus and not through their own Jewish experience of the Divine that rewards can be bestowed, thus negating the ongoing relationship with the Divine that non-Christian Jews continue to have with Gd. The first faithful ancestor that Hebrews lifts in today’s reading is the image of Rahab, the Canaanite prostitute who hid Joshua’s spies in Jericho.  Several commentaries consider hers a powerful conversion story; that she heard of the Gd of the Hebrews and knew this to be the one true Gd.  Indeed, some traditions relate that Rahab married Joshua and that the two began a line of descendants that included kings, prophets, and priests.  Rahab is included in the genealogy of Jesus.  While many juxtapose her prostitution with her conversion, what the commentaries fail to note, is that as a Canaanite prostitute, she would herself have been part of the Canaanite religious cult – a type of priestess. Therefore, her recognition of the Divine would have been more akin to a natural progression in her spiritual journey rather than being viewed as a repentant sinner. She, like Abraham and Sarah welcomes the strangers (spies), and like Lot protects the visitors in spite of the power construct which would hunt them down. Rahab, whose people are soon to be colonized or killed, embodies the spirit of hospitality and devotion which are the central expressions of Abrahamic Judaism; the face of the loving Gd in juxtaposition to Joshua’s reflection of the judging Gd.

Jesus, in Luke, warns of division within each family, as the fate of the disciples and all who would follow his teachings. Telling them that he does not come to bring peace but fire.  Both Isaiah and Luke speak of impending doom and ask why the people do not see the signs of the times. Hal Taussig’s The New New Testament points out that, while many scholars used to place Luke as having been written in the mid 80s CE, experts in the last twenty years have determined it more likely that it was written around 120 CE, late enough that the early followers of Jesus would have experienced not only the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans, but the subsequent revolts and further dispersion of the People of Israel.  Jewish scholar, Amy-Jill Levine points out that at this time in history for Jews (and all Christians in this period were technically Jews either by birth or conversion), for Jews to tell pagan family members that they needed to stop worshipping their gds would put the whole local Jewish community in danger; to deny the local gds and turn to the Gd of Israel (or his proclaimed son) would be seen as traitorous to family, to city, to the very empire. Jesus is here voicing the reality of the paradigm in which his followers were living.

Where Hebrews historically is pointed to as the most supersessionist scripture in the cannon, Luke has the reputation as being the most inclusive and supportive of women and the poor.  But, the Women’s Bible Commentary points out that in actuality, Luke may give a voice to more of the women in Jesus’ community, but he does so to show them as subordinate to the male leadership, (which was more in keeping with the Hellenized and Roman gentile churches of 120 CE than with the egalitarianism of the original Jesus community. Luke’s Jesus is suggesting the altering of the relationships of duty and obligation which can leave broken families, but he also invites space for another kind of order to emerge; a new church family made possible when obligations associated only with dutiful action are cast aside.  Amy-Jill Levine counters that to regard Jesus, appropriately, as caring for women, children, the sick and the poor, embeds him within Judaism rather than separates him from it. By triumphally separating Jesus from his lived context, it created an us/them dichotomy on top of the erroneous trope of Loving Gd (as Christian) vs Judging Gd (as Jewish).

Perspective is everything. When we look with a fresh perspective at these readings, and invite new questions, what can they teach us about cultivating compassion and love?  How do we reconcile our understanding of a loving Gd and a judging Gd in ways which help us heal our vineyard and cultivate healthy and beloved community?

The journal, Science noted a few years ago that there is a direct correlation between the rising temperatures of our planet and the rise in anger, violence and divisiveness in our world.  The fevers of our society are a part of the fevered reality of our planet because we are not separate but part of Creation. To put this in terms of trauma informed practices, when we are caught up in our anxiety, fear, and tribalism (be it MAGA or Liberal Snowflake), we are not thinking with our compassionate hearts (not even capable of doing so), but instead reacting from our primitive lizard brains. We get stuck in dualistic thinking of us/them, right/wrong, good/bad, Loving Gd/Judging Gd… and forget that Jesus was trying to teach us a different way of relating to Gd and each other.

The theologian, Cynthia Bourgeault, points out that the Greek word metanoia, (what we translate as repent), literally means to go beyond mind, or into a bigger mind, much like eastern philosophy understands consciousness.  She reminds us of yet another vineyard story; the parable Jesus taught about the vineyard owner who hires some laborers early in the morning and agrees to a specific wage for the day.  Then throughout the day, the owner hires more and more laborers.  At the end of the day, those who worked the full day are angry that the owner has paid those who only worked for an hour the same daily wage as those who worked a long day. Bourgeault points out that the reason the laborers (and we) have such a problem with this is because the dualistic, or binary mind operates from scarcity, so needs to keep track of the score.  But when we look at this parable (and today’s readings) from unitive or heart mind, we see that Jesus was teaching us to let go of competition, hierarchical obligations and self-focused interests and instead enter into a participatory relationship for the good of the whole.

What happens to our assumptions when, instead of perceiving a judging Gd laying waste to the vineyard, we recognize that to be able to plant a healthy vine (or a beloved community), the soil of our reality needs to be reworked and healed; our systems of oppression must be exposed, and new constructs developed. That by recognizing and evolving the traditional family and gender role constructs of Jesus’ time (and ours), we can create chosen and birth families which are not bound by hierarchy, misogyny, or power over, but cultivates each person’s gifts and wisdoms. What can beloved community look like, when we examine our translations and traditions for triumphalism, racism and supersessionism to make space for other cultures’ experiences and expressions of spirit; to welcome what they can teach us about the fractal beauty of a Source of Life that is known by many names and no name. 

Maybe Jesus was saying that the fire he was bringing was a transformation of how we viewed Gd, self and others. Instead of a limited binary view of gender, power, race, and even Gd’s self, when we open to a unitive understanding of the One Gd, (not as triumphal and Truer than someone else’s god), but instead come to recognize we are part of that Oneness with Gd, with our whole human family and with Creation herself, then together, we become the Living Unitive Commonwealth of the Divine’s multidimensional self.

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Put Your Troubles in the Dirt

“Put your troubles in the dirt, where all good bullshit belongs.”  My daddy knew instinctively what science has only in recent years affirmed; that the microbes in soil light up the serotonin receptors in our brains.  But he also knew, as a farmer, that while manure might be unpleasant, it was a necessary ingredient for growth of healthy soil and subsequently food. It is what you do with it, that makes all the difference.

I’ve been spending a lot of time with my hands in the dirt this past week.  Buffalo, Uvalde, Ukraine, not to mention subjugation of womens’ bodily autonomy, the banning of books, the denigration of trans and queer people through “Don’t Say Gay” in one state and punishing of parents and medical folk (who would honor and support trans youth) in another.  You add to that the ongoing trauma of white supremacy, climate change, growing homelessness resulting from corporate greed.  Then when anything in our own personal lives gets added into the mix….. I’ve heard from others (and felt myself) the exhaustion of hopelessness.  I return to the garden to try to rebuild those serotonin levels which are so depleted right now.

About twenty years ago, when the ice shelves started collapsing and I got involved in Jewish environmental work, I looked anew at the Hebrew scripture’s words, flowing with images of nature and our relationship to it, and realized for the first time that those were not just poetics. It was the lived truth of an agrarian society which understood what we have forgotten.  Caring for the planet, honoring all life, welcoming the stranger, caring for the destitute were essential to a peaceful and flourishing community.

As our lives have become more and more insular, locked into the screens which have siloed our realities and normalized AR-15’s, we have become not only divorced from our own backyards, but from our families, neighbors, communities.  We have devolved into tribalism, and many bemoan the lack of civility let alone compassion.  And even where we have shared interests, (be that liberal or conservative), there is discord when attempts to find common ground are derailed by grasping for power and the “right” degree of partisanship.  Even within well-meaning organizations, the white supremacist capitalist culture we all are subject to convinces us that the world is one of scarcity, so we must overwork and “get ahead” of the other ‘guy’ or risk falling behind, beneath, or into oblivion.

We look at the heartbroken families whose children will never again laugh and play, and our hearts break with theirs knowing that the powers that be will only offer “thoughts and prayers” but will not stand up to the NRA or the other corporate interests. The white nationalist and conservative elements scream that no one can make them wear a mask or give up their guns, but they are equally adamant that neither a pregnant person nor a trans youth can have that same bodily autonomy. Ironically, we applaud the people of Ukraine in their fight for democracy against a fascist oligarchy, while we let our own democracy decay and oligarchy grow here at home.

STOP!!! I know I’m not alone when I beseech all that is holy to deliver us from this insanity. Like the prophets of old, our sages of this day are calling us to “Wake Up!” and change our ways. 

So I keep returning to the earth, the dirt, our Mother, the humus to our humanity.  The sages of old, for all their “flowery” poetics were speaking quite plainly. The wisdom of Mother Earth and the creative forces we call Divinity are continuing to teach us, if only we will listen.  While fires destroy the monocultures of our forestry industry, an old-growth, biodiverse forest not only withstands fire but needs a certain amount of it for some seeds to be able to propagate.  While our modern agricultural system is killing soil microbes and polluting our waters with toxins, regenerative and biodiverse food forests rebuild the soil and bear much more nutrient-rich foods and bioswales purify our water and withstand hurricanes. While we clear cut forests and strip mine the earth, the root systems and mycelial networks are funneling information and supporting the health of many species as a collective living community. While the corporatocracy and White Nationalism would convince us that the world is hierarchical and only the strong & powerful should survive, nature is reflecting what we all actually know (when our brains are not hijacked by the trauma responses of fight/flight/freeze or fawn); that a healthy diverse society cares for the widow and orphan, welcomes the stranger, shares its bounty for the betterment of the collective, and treasures above all else the children who are our futures. 

It is time to remember that, while there will always be seemingly insurmountable issues to contend with, it is what we do with those issues that makes the difference. A seedling grown in outer space cannot become a tree without the resistance provided by gravity and wind. But staying stuck in the trauma and the muck keeps us in a perpetual loop of disfunction; we can’t grow and thrive either in our beings or spirits. It is when we can ground into resilience and reach out to one another in compassion that we are able to re-engage our creative minds to find solutions. We will either stay in tribal-trauma mentality or engage our communal, compassionate and wise pre-frontal cortex to find solutions to the challenges and heartaches we face. We must, as all the holy sages teach, let go of the constant fear to be able to live into love’s potential. It is time to awaken from the illusions which cause suffering, greed, fear and anger. It is time again to beat swords (or AR-15’s) into plowshares. It is time to release all the bullshit into the earth and watch Eden grow once again.

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