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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Spiritual EcoSystems on Earth Day

On this Earth Day, I am thinking about what nature can teach us about spiritual community.  This month is full of days sacred not only to the Abrahamic traditions (Easter, Passover & Ramadan) but to other world wisdom traditions as well.  Since the start of so-called civilization, dominant cultures have tended to take a triumphalist perspective which is akin to agri-business.  Plant one thing (idea) only and consider everything else a weed or pest which has to be killed, while nourishing that one thing with artificial fertilizers (human invented religious dogmas) until the earth itself can no longer sustain it; devolving into desertification (or religious wounding). 

We live in a time when it seems we have lost our sense of common good and shared humanity.  We don’t even share common beliefs within our own families, let alone feel a connection to the religions of our youth. Trauma and divisiveness are having the same effects on humanity as climate change and pollution has on our planet – neither ecosystem is sustainable in such toxicity.

Where do we see healthy eco-systems?  In old growth forests and new permaculture food forests, where many different species grow together, feeding each other in symbiotic relationships through the mycelial network, in vibrant living soil.  Both climate science and earth science are learning that when we make space for relational growth, everyone in that ecosystem thrives. 

Earlier this month, (for the first time in 3 years) I had the delight of sharing spiritual space with my clergy colleagues in retreat.  The Chaplaincy Institute, where I was trained and where I now serve as a member of the faculty, is an interfaith seminary, so when we come together, we come as seekers from different traditions and no tradition; religious and spiritual but not religious.  We come together in our spiritual diversity, much like a healthy eco-system.

That experience affirmed for me, a vision which has been coming into clarity for a while now. What could a localized spiritual ecosystem look like, based on shared spiritual practices rather than shared religious dogmas?  When we engage in spiritual practices which bring our breath and hearts into harmony, we stop being “Other” and create space for compassion.  After over 2 years of isolation, pandemic, economic and political upheaval, social awakening and social entrenchment, we are all living with trauma.  Like many a pesticide, trauma stunts us; it locks us into our primitive amygdala brain where we can only fight, flee, freeze or fawn for survival.  In that space we cannot access our loving, compassionate and wise prefrontal cortex.

I envision spiritual community based in an exploration of embodied spiritual practices, celebrations about the common wisdom and unique beauty found in each of the traditions while stepping into brave space to examine where we have judged and dismissed others; leaving space for discovering what new growth is trying to happen when we come into relationships that value diversity in unity.  A spiritual space where I (as a Jewish and interfaith cis white bi female minister) can learn from/with others who are of different origins, theologies, genders, orientations and beliefs, sharing the stories which are sacred to each of us including the stories of our own lived experience. I envision honoring our common humanity and our common home, Mother Earth, as being integral and holy. I envision a spiritual and diverse ecosystem which fosters compassion, healing, and hope.

And I’d take the vision even further, to imagine that many such spiritual communities could form, like nodes of nourishment in the mycelial network of seekers, envisioning together a healed planet, healed society, healed families and healed individuals in all of our rich diversity with all of Creation.

If you would like to explore what this might look like, let’s talk.  If you want to see some of the offerings Shelter for the Spirit has coming up, check out the upcoming events page at www.shelterforthespirit.com.  If your vision wants to grow with mine, let this Earth Day be the beginning of a new paradigm for honoring Spirit and Earth.

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The Madness of Tyrants

Today, on the Hebrew calendar, the holiday of Purim is celebrated. Purim falls in the month of Adar, (or as in this year, the leap month of Adar II) when we are reminded to increase our sense of joy.  It is a rather ironic invitation, as it commemorates the near destruction of the Jewish community in Babylon at the hands of a madman named Haman.  Haman, was like a prime minister, second only to the king.  He filled the king’s ear and fired up the citizenry with hate speech announcing that all the Jews were to be killed on this day.  However, one person stood up, unveil herself as a Jew and claimed her power as Queen, to unmask the fake news and propaganda, to stop the impending bloodshed.  The king, could not undo the edict of Haman, but he allowed the Jews to protect themselves and fight for their homes and families’ survival. 

Our hearts are heavy this year, and it can feel impossible to find joy, when another tyrant is killing innocents on our nightly news.  But as much as our hearts go out to the Ukrainian people there are would be tyrants laying the groundwork right here in America, by banning books, by preventing women from receiving care for their reproductive health, by trying to criminalize parents and doctors who would honor the innate being of their trans kids, by trying to make LGBTQ students and families disappear all together by making it unacceptable to talk about what it means to be gay. 

Just as a Jewish President has stood up to claim the dignity and right to survive for his Ukrainian people, we are each called to stand up to the insidiousness of the would-be tyrants in our own backyard. While over 62 percent of Americans believe in the rights of LGBTQ folk, and 80% of Americans believe abortion should be legal, a conservative minority has stealth-fully moved their agenda from the national scene to the local and state bodies and begun to turn back the protections of women, people of color and queer folk.

In the Purim story, even though it is part of the Hebrew Scriptures, God is not mentioned at all.  It is understood that the Divine works to inspire the good people of Shushan to stand up to tyrants.  It is understood that we have a responsibility to one another.  We are the hands and hearts of the Divine, called to put an end to war and to put an end to hate.

Before Esther unveiled herself, and took the risk of confronting Haman, she fasted and prayed for the fortitude to do what was needed to protect all those in danger.  She could have kept quiet and continued to enjoy life in the palace, safe from direct harm.  But she, and we, can only be safe when all – the women, the transkids, the black young men, the LGBTQ families and all the many refugees – share in that safety. 

Last week, Shelter For The Spirit pre-empted our usual new moon celebration to hold two nights of prayer services; for the people of Ukraine, BIPOC folk, and LGBTQ folk.  Our prayers continue that through sanctions, isolation of the tyrants, and communal courage we may manifest a world free from hate and war.  If you would like to add your prayers to ours, you are welcome to watch the recorded service and infuse it with your own prayers as well. May we all find the fortitude to stand up against tyrants.  https://youtu.be/2RL3-3APtlY

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You Are Worthy

One of the saddest changes out of the last 5 years of divisiveness is the rampant increase in hate; hate for anyone who is Other than white, cisgender, Christian (of only the conservative variety), and to a large extend male or patriarchy identified.  We have seen a resurgence of not only hate speech and hate crimes, but a devolution into a false narrative that anyone who isn’t a white Christian nationalist is therefore wrong, evil, or going to hell.  We’ve seen conservativism pushing back against LGBTQ+ folks’ rights to medical care, employment, parental rights and their place within Beloved Community.

While some states have succeeded in banning conversion therapy for minors, many more still pressure youth and adult LGBTQ+ folk to change their innate nature and subvert it into one acceptable to heteronormativity.  Today there are over 4.2 million youth and young adults who are experiencing homelessness; 40% of those youth identify as queer, trans &/or nonbinary.  The vast majority are on the streets because the people who were supposed to love and protect them instead condemned them, as not being worthy of the love of the Divine.

You. Are. Worthy.  Every person is worthy of love and respect, but far too often religion has been used as a club to beat a person into conformity.  More and more families are recognizing that their child, or friend or relative is divinely made just as they are.  But the conservative element would have submission rather than wholeness, and so propagate the myth that if you pray hard enough you can change your very nature.  Those who have tried to live that lie have done great damage to their souls and their psyches. And even those who have not gone through conversion therapy have suffered deep religious wounding from the families and churches that cling to scriptural words which are devoid of context, linguistic accuracy, or compassion. 

These fear-based religionists claim to believe in a loving and Living G-d but do not allow that G-d to evolve and grow – along with Their creations – in understanding, compassion, and hope. They deny science, mental health, and modern research into the development of the fetal brain and body which, in truth, only expands the wondrousness of how we are made.

Because of religious wounding, many LGBTQ+ folk have thrown G-d out with the Holy Water and reject all forms of religion and spirituality, as a result.  Cutting off their own innate sense of spirit and creativity, rather than be hurt again by a Judging G-d. But one can heal religious wounding, reconnect with a sense of Spirit beyond traditional or conservative understandings; moving from fear to love of self and Other and reclaiming their sense of worth.

Please join Shelter For the Spirit and our co-hosts MCC Portland, for “Pray Away: A Conversation about Healing from Conversation Therapy,” either in person (if you are local) or via Zoom, this Sunday, Nov. 7th.  For full details go to https://shelterforthespirit.com/upcoming-events/ to learn more, or email me at rivka@shelterforthespirit.com.

Whether you attend or not, if religious wounding has impacted your life, consider joining our next support group for religious wounding, starting back up again in January.

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Who is my Beloved?

Today begins the Hebrew month of Elul; a month of introspection before Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year. At this time of year Jews engage in an accounting of their year to examine where they have lived up to their values, hopes and intentions, and where they have not.  In the dominant culture, we make a nod to how we want to be “better” through our new year’s resolutions, but we aren’t encouraged to examine our impact on another.

What would change, if instead of saying “This year I want to start a diet,” we instead reflected and recognized “I really wasn’t very good at self-care and rest, and want to appreciate my body in more healthful ways.”  Moving from guilt to compassion for self.  What then, if you extended that circle, to bring compassion to how you treated a family member or friend? The waiter that served your meal?  That relative who’s posts make you cringe?  That homeless veteran? That person of color?  What if you honored your child by using the pronouns they identify as? What do you think would change if we stopped treating the planet as a commodity but as a life force of which we are a part?  Dare we look at how we treat our soil? Trees? Oceans? Air? Climate?

The name of the month, Elul, is considered an acronym for “Ani l’dodi, v’dodi li,” “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.”  What if we treated ourselves, our partner, our child, our neighbor, our planet as Beloved?

Are we treating our Black neighbor as beloved when we don’t hold our police accountable for acting as judge, jury & executioner?  Are we treating our police officers as beloved when we deny how they were attacked during the January 6th insurrection? Are we treating our kids as beloved when we continue to not deal with gun violence and school shootings? Are we treating homeless as beloved when we send squads in to destroy their meager possessions in a “sweep”?  Are we treating as beloved our parents when we refuse to wear a mask? Are we treating as beloved the animals, trees, homes, businesses, people perishing in unprecedented wildfires? And is it any wonder, then, that we are not treating as beloved the essential and healthcare workers who are on the front lines of the COVID pandemic? 

Our sages (of many traditions) recognize what we seem to have forgotten.  It’s not about Me, my diet, my discomfort, my politics.  We only thrive when we move beyond me and mine and see the beloveds surrounding us.  When we act from compassion instead of self-interest.

In this moment we are witnessing 2 (among many) wildfires, each larger than the city of Los Angeles, devouring our forests and homes.  We are witnessing a “dead zone” forming in the ocean off the coast from British Columbia to California, where lack of oxygen in the water is expected to lead to significant die-off of our fish and sea life.  We are witnessing the slowing of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC, the vascular system (as it were) which regulates the warming and cooling of our ocean waters and therefore climate; if it collapses so do our predictable weather systems which make agriculture even possible. Today, the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change sounded a “red alert” that can no longer deny the severity of our crisis.  Meanwhile almost 100% of this fourth wave of the pandemic is being caused by people who chose not to get vaccinated or wear a mask.  Billionaires are spending millions on recreational space travel rather than giving their workers a living wage or contributing to the communal safety nets.

It can no longer be denied that the avarice of the twentieth century and now the 21st, has degraded not only the planet but our sense of community.  Instead of legislating women’s wombs or a trans youth’s bathroom, what if we brought compassion to bear, and created a health system which uplifts us all?  Instead of complaining about the refugees at the border, what if we recognized the pain and fear that would drive a parent to walk hundreds of miles rather than risk their child’s life from drug lords and despots?  What if rather than decrying “fake news” and government overreach we listened to the doctors, nurses, and grieving families begging us to inconvenience ourselves just a tiny bit by putting on a mask that will save lives?  What if, instead of being outraged about the filth and stench of a homeless camp, we recognized that the lack of mental health care, affordable housing and a restorative justice system leads people to despair? 

The hunger we feel for human touch, due to the isolation of the pandemic, is only a magnification of the self-imposed isolation of recent years.  We have shut ourselves off from our families by gazing constantly at screens like Narcissus gazing into the mirror.  We have shut ourselves off from our neighbors each time we have railed, “not in my backyard” or failed to vote on issues that didn’t affect us personally.  We bemoan the divisiveness and loss of civic discourse, but we talk more about “my right” than “my responsibility” to the common good. Focus too much on preserving the status quo instead of honoring someone else’s lived experience as true and valid. 

What made us “great” in the mid-20th century was that (despite the myriad ways we devalued anyone who wasn’t a cis white male), we recognized that the only way to overcome dictators and fascism was to band together across our differences, growing gardens and sacrificing resources to support and outfit the young people fighting for freedom.  We inconvenienced ourselves with curfews and food rations, and yes, safety precautions and new vaccines against the polio pandemic (which was rampant at the same time we were fighting a world war).  The wealthy paid their fair share so that we could not only outfit the war effort but build roads and bridges, schools and hospitals here at home.  People may have only identified their church or homogenous neighborhood as community, but they recognized that the only way to grow hope, connection and spirit was through compassion for their fellow humans.

We have yet to perfect our union, and to become Beloved Community.  We still fear the “Other” and judge & demonize anyone different from ourselves.  We prefer to ignore the systemic oppression experienced by so many in this country, if it means we might have to address the ways we denied the truth of history and must share some of our privileges (which we don’t lose just because someone else gains).  We convince ourselves that the problems are either too big or inconvenient to address, to not have to change our own unexamined way of life.  Racial & gender equity are “someone else’s problem.”  “Nothing can be done” about climate catastrophe. 

Amid so many global and personal challenges, can I shift my gaze to one of compassion? Walk in their shoes? Tread lightly on a suffering planet? Cut myself some slack while also owning my responsibility?

Who is my beloved?  Who is yours?  Can we pause from our fear long enough to recognize the face of the Divine staring back at us with pleading eyes?  There is a lot to fear in the world, but compassion, for self, for neighbor, for planet is the only way to heal the cumulative traumas and collective grief we swim in. If I can pause and breathe into compassion rather than going reactively to fear or jealousy, maybe together we might discover our similarities as well as the common cause and creative synergy that could lead to solutions to the dysfunction and oppressions which surround us.  If I take the hand of my beloved, and they take mine, miracles can happen.

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On Earth Day, Sanctity of Life calls for Compassion

The world, today, celebrates in gratitude for the planet we share while wrestling with the damage done to it by our human species.  In this week, here in the US, we continue to struggle with what it means to be members of a society which aspires to equality for all while trying to hide from the realities of racism woven into the fabric of our society.

The created world could teach us a lot about how our society could function more holistically and compassionately.  But religion, as we have lived it in the past few centuries, has taught us that the created world, nature, is antithetical to spirit.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

While religion planted itself ever more firmly (in the last 600 years) in the notion that somehow spirit and flesh, spirit and earth, were separate opposing realities, it lost track of the very first thing the Abrahamic scriptures professed; that The Creator called all of creation GOOD.  The Source of Life didn’t say humans are good and reptiles are bad.  That Source didn’t say only men are good but not women.  And that Source definitely never said this breed is better than that breed, whether talking about the colors of the human rainbow or the myriad fish in the sea.

In our compartmentalized, sanitized, narcissistic society we have put environmental concern, racial concerns, LGBTQIA concerns, and so many other concerns into neat little separate boxes.  The power constructs would have us believe that we are each struggling alone in our own little box and the resources of ingenuity, sustenance and compassion have to be allocated to this box or that.

But that is not how the Creative Force designed this world.  Everything and everyone is part of an ecosystem which only flourishes in unity.  When we strip away the top soil, or burn the rainforests the consequences ripple out.  The mycelial network between fungi and trees stops functioning; stops sharing the resources to renew life. 

The same has been true for us.  As we have commodified peoples and tore apart the connections between us, our social safety-net has disintegrated.  Granted, it only served as a safety-net for some some of the time, because the game of power has been winning for a long time, separating us.  In our own little boxes, we live in fear and lack.  We don’t know how the folks in their own little boxes are or are not functioning, but we assume they must be doing better than we are.  The fear, distrust and anger grows.  It was designed that way by those who hold the power and resources. 

Those of us with white skin didn’t know what we didn’t know, and in our blissful ignorance bought the lie that “those people” (those other little boxes) where robbing us of our birthright.  The systems of oppression we have been blind to, be they poll taxes or red-lining or mass incarceration, were consciously designed by those in power.  They told us that we had something to fear, and more specifically they told poor white folk – “see you don’t have it so bad.  At least you’re not black.”  The significance of this week’s verdict will only be made real if we stop believing the lies and living in the boxes. 

The language of fear has changed somewhat but it is still about keeping us separated from those who are also struggling to get by.  Now they also tell us – don’t believe the scientists, don’t wear the mask, don’t leave your house without a gun – be afraid.  It’s a jungle out there!

If only it were.  In a jungle or a forest, yes, there are some dangers, but there is also mutuality.  There is a wisdom in nature that knows there is enough for all. We are only now learning that even the community of trees communicates and supports one another, sending nutrients and messaging through their intertwined root system. The plants, animals, microbes and waterways are a community of mutual support, taking from each other only what they need, knowing that the survival of all depends on their interconnected web of life.

The reason we celebrate Earth Day each year is because our species has forgotten that it is part of that web of life.  More specifically our American society and other colonizer societies, has believed the lie that we are somehow separate from the web of life.  We’ve built up our little boxes, put fences and highways around them, keeping ourselves separate from the wild.

But just as we have raped the planet, tearing off topsoil and mountain tops, we have destroyed the fabric of society.  Rather than growing our sense of unity and love, we have grown fear and baseless hatred.  Just as nature is supposedly unsafe and dirty, we have made women and people of color into dirty, wild things to be tamed.  We have siphoned off clean water for fracking and bottled it for sale.  We have convinced ourselves that science and faith are both suspect if they in any way remind us that we are part of the larger world; that we share in its fate and are responsible for one another. 

We can deny pandemics and climate change all we like, but it will not prevent either.  We can turn over our civil liberties in the name of safety, but it doesn’t mean that those in power won’t put a knee on our neck if we too become perceived of as Other or Enemy.

On this Earth Day, let us remember that we are all part of a rich tapestry of creation that the Source of Life called good.  That Source is a compassionate and loving connectivity, which calls us to responsibility for one another as the hands and hearts of Love.  It is not too late for us to reawaken from the epidemic of fear and hate.  It is not too late to rejoin with our web of life to heal the damage done to planet and people.  It is not too late for everywhere to be Eden once again, if only we look with compassion on this earth and all the peoples that inhabit it as our kin. 

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To Start Anew

Tonight, Jews around the world are marking Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Sabbath before Passover begins, tomorrow night. And then on Sunday Christians will celebrate Palm Sunday.  It is also a special weekend for me, as this sabbath is the anniversary of my ordination.  The Hebrew Scriptures read on this sabbath tells of the initiation (ordination) of Aaron as high priest and instructs us to keep a fire burning in the sanctuary, at all times. 

This year as I consider how I am tending my fire, or spirit, one cannot help but reflect on all we have gone through since the last Passover and Easter seasons.  Most of us will spend a second holiday season physically distanced from our loved ones.  Many of our loved ones have died in this year.  We have watched our country be divided and traumatized, over and over, as we experienced financial and health crises, political insurrection, and now multiple mass murders in just the last couple of weeks.

While many people tend to juxtapose Passover with Easter, in reality it has a lot more in common with Palm Sunday; and both have something to say about the moment we find ourselves in.  On Palm Sunday, the rabbi Jesus road into Jerusalem with great fanfare and proceeded to overturn the marketplace inside the Temple.  On Passover, Moses and the Israelites overturned the machinations of slavery in Egypt and turned their back on all they had known to step into a new life.  In both instances the common folk stood up and spoke truth to power.  And in both instances, bold actions eventually boomeranged, as reality and fear made them second-guess the voice of hope and freedom.  The Israelites built a golden calf and waxed nostalgic for the known dysfunction of enslavement.  A week after Jesus’s triumphal entrance, even his own disciples denied knowing him, and hid in fear.

The moment we find ourselves in is not so different.  I remember shortly after we all went into lock-down, folks were noticing the blue of the sky and the clearness of the waters, when we were not actively polluting our planet.  Many of us were restful, appreciating the slower pace; spending time with our beloveds (if we shared the same home).  But before long, we became restless and fearful; it has indeed been a long year.  It has been a year in which the stark disparities between haves and have-nots were laid bare, as people of color died at an even higher rate than white folk; when elders and prisoners died in exponential numbers where they were warehoused. 

When we slowed down, we could no longer numb ourselves into distraction, so the murders of George Floyd and Breanna Taylor (and so many others) jolted many into finally realizing that racism is still alive and well in our culture.  Asian folk, (who for many years had it somewhat better than other people of color), are now experiencing hate on a scale not seen since WWII, as we mourn those lives taken last week.  And yet, it is a segment of white Americans who profess fear of the Other and claim to need their guns; while time after time, those guns have caused loss of life for the innocent.  Like those early Hebrews and early Christians, fear too often displaces hope.

And yet, when we weather the fear, metabolize the trauma and return to hope, that is when the love of the Divine sets us free.  Free to recognize that we are each made in the Divine Image.  Free to recognize that only together can we become the Beloved Community.  Free to start anew. 

This time, as we enter this week holy to so many, let us begin our exodus from fear and hate, and not look back.  We are told that a great multitude went out with the Hebrews, all yearning for a new way of life.  Let us not return to a toxic normal but continue to pursue our hopes and dreams in ways that do not return to numbing busy-ness, or callous disregard of others.  Let us recognize that it is in our diversity that we best reflect the image of the Divine. When we witness and experience that hope and compassion, we free each other to become the Children of God that Jesus and Moses knew us to be.

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Praying for Compassion

The Jewish mystic, Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav told a story about a king who discovered that the current year’s grain supply was tainted and would make the whole country go insane.  There was only enough of the prior year’s grain to sustain himself and his vizier.  When he discussed this with this learned advisor, the vizier told the King, “but if we are the only ones sane then we will be perceived as the crazy ones so we’ll be the ones in an asylum.  Better we too eat the tainted grain.  But let us put a mark upon each other’s brow, so that at least when we see this mark, we will remember that we are insane.” 

These last four years it seems we have all lost our minds.  I will not get into debates with those who support the current administration.  We are not living in the same realities and so we will not convince each other.  But I do mourn what has been lost in this madness.  Civility, Compassion, Kindness.

How did we go from a country of we to a country of me.  Even 5 years ago, did anyone anticipate fellow citizens walking into grocery stores toting AR-15s, let alone threatening to assassinate duly elected governors?  It is not even just red vs blue anymore, but on both sides, there are some who say others on the same side have sold out, aren’t committed enough; unless you’re all in then you’re out.

Rebbe Nachman didn’t tell us what happened after the year of insanity.  How did the kingdom find its way back to a sense of whole and healing community?  There are those who fear that regardless of the outcome on Nov 3, between now and inauguration day things will only get worse.  Maybe that is true.

Or maybe, the world had to turn a bit upside down so that we could let go of old paradigms.  We are in a moment of reckoning, no matter which side of the sociopolitical spectrum we inhabit.  Collectively we are tainted with trauma. Trauma response disengages our ability to think, we can only react, out of our fear. 

The spiritual traditions, the world over, tell us that there really are only two choices – fear or love.  Fear leads to tribalism and dogma (both religious and political).  Love invites hope, curiosity, and bridge building.  And the deepest form of love is compassion.  The Golden Rule may be said slightly differently in each of the world’s religions, but they all has the same bottom line; don’t do to someone else what you would not want done to you.

Our country and our world are in desperate need of compassion right now, if we are to step away from the madness of our divisiveness.  We have forgotten that each one of us is an image of the Divine, in all of Gd’s prismatic glory.  No one of us has the full picture of our neighbor, let alone the sole truth about that Source which is known by many names and by no name.  We are each granted a piece – and through compassion, we can share our individual truths with one another.  Rather than blasting our fear (hidden in the form of anger) at one another, what if we could hold each other with compassion, so that in our vulnerability we can speak our fear and hear love in return?

There are nine days until the election.  Let them be days of prayer.  Not prayers of tribalism, but prayers of compassion – for ourselves and for one another.  And if the word prayer doesn’t work for you, consider this.  Whether prayer, sending light, energy, or affirmations, science is now proving the power of our words to change the worlds, on quantum physics levels as well as within our own psyches (which means soul.)  And from a trauma perspective, mantras, chants, prayers all help to regulate our breathing and open us to calming, fostering peace and resiliency.

Let us pray, Source Divine, that you will lift the madness, anger and fear from each of our hearts and minds, and fill us with Your Compassion.  Help us to see Your Beauty in the eyes of those we disagree with.  Shelter in compassion those many who are struggling to survive, financially, as well as with illness.  Bring compassion to all for the brown children in cages and the black children on our cities’ streets.  Bring compassion to those who fear for their safety.  And bring compassion to those who would serve as our political representatives, that we may find compassionate ways to support the well-being of every person within this divided country.

I invite you to join me in prayer, each day, opening ourselves up to both receiving and giving compassion, that we might heal our country and ourselves.  Then on election day, I invite those local to give yourself the gift of walking the labyrinth – mine or another – socially distanced of course.  With each step let us manifest compassion for our nation, for those we care about, for those with whom we only see opposition, and for ourselves. 

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What is Religious Wounding, and why is it important at this moment in time?

Right now, we are being given two very different interpretations of the world we live in, courtesy of the two dominant American political parties.  Each believes we are facing doom, but with very different meanings of what that constitutes. 

We witness peaceful, diverse demonstrators for police accountability being assaulted by law enforcement while those same police departments, with ties to white supremacy, are seemingly turning a blind eye to counter-protestors who are carrying guns and have now killed two protestors.

Over 180K people have died from COVID while almost 6 million cases have brought fear for family members, loss of employment and health-insurance, and poor prospects for long-term recovery, with a ripple effect into the entire country.  Hit the hardest, have been Black, Indigenous and communities of color, highlighting the disparity of access due to systemic racism.

Children still remain in cages, ripped from the loving arms of their immigrant parents, as we conveniently forget that we are a nation of immigrants.

Neither political party yet trusts a woman to lead the ticket, 100 years after the passage of the 19th Amendment. Instead, women’s reproductive rights are being whittled away, at the same time that the Department of Education is eliminating protections for female students against rape.

The number of transgender people who have been murdered in 2020 already exceeds the total for last year.  At the same time, of the 2 million youth who experience homelessness each year, 40% are LGBTQ; those numbers are expected to rise (along with domestic violence) as a result of COVID.

Seventy-five years after The Holocaust, we are seeing a drastic increase in anti-Semitism and hate crimes against individuals and synagogues.  Muslim people continue to be banned from entry to this country, even for life-saving operations.

Yesterday a Category 4 hurricane slammed into Louisiana, that reiterated the increased frequency and intensity of natural disasters during the climate crisis.  These clarion events are the fulcrum between those who believe that climate change is a hoax and those who believe that we are at the make or break point to forestall the destruction of the world.

While we all bemoan these myriad concurrent stressors in our society, what has not been discussed much is the inter-relation between them all. 

At the root of the racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, anti-Semitism, islamophobia and the planetary degradation rife at this moment is religious wounding.

How was it, that after all of the enlightenment of the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the gay rights movement, the ecumenical strides that have been made in the last 50 years, that there are still so many people who live in fear of a judging, triumphal god?  How is it that police officers shoot unarmed black kids while professing fear for their own lives?  How is it that we maniacally rape the planet, knowing that we are sealing our own doom? When did we lose sight of growing our beloved community and common humanity and instead revert to a tribalism of racism, fear and greed?

Religious trauma, I believe, is integral to all of these.  Of course, trauma in general, as Peter Levine states, “Is a fact of life and of nature itself.”  But why is it that our human brains and hearts compel us in a way different from all other species, to turn that trauma onto ourselves, each other and the planet, all in the name of the loving Source which created it all and called it all good?  How did we lose our way back to Eden?

The short and over-simplified answer is that while, for most of these traumas, we can trace them back to primal fear within our primitive brains, in 1492 these fears were given a focus that led to one of the deepest religious wounds still causing harm over 500 years later, effecting how we relate to each other and the world we share.  While persecution didn’t originate with it, the Spanish Inquisition supercharged the demonizing and ‘othering’ of Semitic (Muslim & Jewish) peoples, and then exported and globalized that system of oppression, in the form of colonization, raping the African and American lands and killing or enslaving indigenous peoples.  That same reign of terror, also burned women healers and wisdom keepers, labelling them witches, professing all women to be inheritors of the temptress Eve.  It justified the pillaging of earth’s resources as a God-given right of ‘dominion over the earth,’ denying the original instruction to, instead, be guardians of the earth and protectors of its resources. Indeed, anything ‘earthy’: wilderness, women’s blood, darker skinned peoples, were viewed as evil and only light white European males were worthy of the Old White Guy in the Sky.  Rigid rules of behavior for men, women and those beyond the gender binary dictated how we must behave and which emotions we were allowed to express.  It established the hegemony which has reinforced the toxic system of power that exists to this day, but it did so (and still does), by playing on those primal fears.

While the dominant Christo-colonizer culture has a lot to answer for, it is not the only religious tradition to cause wounding.  Wherever we have forfeited our connection with the vibrant flow of the Breath of All Life, to replace it with dogmas based in human fear, we have caused wounding.  We have not resolved the fear that lives in our primitive ‘lizard’ brain.  No amount of philosophizing and proselytizing, has cured us of our knee jerk reaction to anything or anyone that is ‘other’ than familiar.  ‘Other’ is dangerous, thus activating our flight/fight/freeze impulses. 

The problem with that, as with any form of trauma, is that once those impulses are turned on, we lose our ability to think logically; to even hear each other.  So, in this moment, we see governmental officials in freeze mode rather than devising solutions to Covid and Climate Change.  We see people finding their sense of security in carrying an assault weapon.  We see the ongoing killing of unarmed black men and trans women.  We see families of queer folk feeling forced to choose between their religion and their child, and so sacrifice that child to the judging god such a system relies on to keep feeding the fear.

Just as with domestic violence, the wounded can become the abusers.  Those who are most strident in today’s divisiveness are truly afraid; they’ve been groomed by a fearful religion, and then subjugated by the power system, told that their suffering is caused by those ‘others’ who are also subjugated.

‘Otherizing’, even when it is not directed at you can, makes one afraid to speak up, lest we lose what little privilege we feel. That old tribalism in our brain makes us long to be included in the ‘in-group’ to stay safe, so we get pulled into the us vs them tribal speak. The more we parrot what our leaders promote, the more affirming attention we receive from our group.  And so, divisiveness escalates as we align ourselves with those we feel we need for survival. 

Is it any wonder that so many people have opted out of religion all together, rather than be inflicted with such a toxic tribalism? We’ve thrown God out with the Holy Water, and in so doing have lost our sense of awe in the human spirit, including our own.

Neither talk therapy nor political debate alone can heal trauma, nor can the “opiate of the masses,” (religion); when it goes no farther than professing that which convinces us that we are right and good, and “they” are bad and evil.  It is in the doing, that healing comes.  Like Abraham or Buddha or Jesus or Muhammed, it is in offering compassion and kindness to one another, that we are able to heal.  It is in sharing a meal, building a home, sewing face masks, and singing songs from balconies, that we make community; regardless of what genders, orientations or colors, the mix of that community holds.

Contrary to the rhetoric of the moment, we do not live in two different universes.  We must begin to listen compassionately to what is at the heart of our neighbor’s or relative’s fear. Now, more than ever, we are being called to look at the ways we not only experience trauma ourselves, but also how we have unintentionally triggered those around us.  We have to own our complicit action and inaction for the systems of oppression and trauma which continue to cause harm.  We especially need to examine how we have used scriptures and dogmas which perpetuate the fear of a wrathful god, instead of embracing the compassion and healing of a loving God.

How do we begin to heal such wounding and divisiveness?  We begin by cultivating compassion.  Our ‘better angels’ have always called us to uplift those devastated by natural disasters, and provide comfort and sanctuary to widows, orphans and strangers.  We must cultivate compassion for ourselves and we must cultivate compassion for those we have turned into enemies.  We must cultivate compassion in our relationship with that which we call Holy, whatever that means for each of us.

Join me on September 13th for a free intro session to learn more about religious wounding.  Then join me in October for a 4-week workshop, where we will look more deeply at the origins of religious wounding, and how it manifests for different people.  We will then explore ways to heal our individual religious wounds, and build a resiliency which will allow our individual Spirits to reconnect with our sense of Awe and Hope.

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Praying for Healing & Compassion

I spent the better part of the last 35 years advocating for social justice. I’ve participated in more marches and rallies than I can count. But I’m having to sit out this current call to action. It is not that I feel any less passionate about the fact that Black Lives do indeed Matter, or that the sin of racism has infected our society for far too long. Between mobility issues and having multiple health challenges that put me at high risk for COVID, I have to recognize that I need to find a new way to help bend the arc of justice.

My passion for social justice has always come from the spiritual and religious teachings which have inspired my life. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, when marching with Martin Luther King, “I was praying with my feet.” What do you do when you can no longer pray with your feet? When you cannot, like Isaiah or Jesus or Muhammed, protect the oppressed with your own body?

We can engage in a quieter, even silent, activism. Prayer has fallen out of fashion, and has become associated (for many) with traditions which have become stale and lifeless. But quantum physics as well as research in some of the preeminent medical schools have shown that our thoughts and words have power. The setting of an intention, the voicing of affirmation, we often use different words but they all come back to prayer. What is a prayer, other than voicing our hopes and concerns to the ineffable Source of Being? And how much more powerful, when our collective intentions are amplified?

I’d like to invite you to join me in a particular form of prayer, with a new twist. A novena is a prayer form that originated in the Catholic church, which sets the intention to pray every day for 9 days, dedicated to a singular intention. Starting on this Thursday, June 11 and continuing until Saturday night, June 20th, let us set the intention of healing and compassion. Healing of oppression and racism. Healing of bodies, from COVID. Healing of our society, infected with divisiveness. Compassion for those who have not known they were participating in systemic racism. Compassion for those who are suffering financially in this time of disruption. Compassion for all who have lost loved ones to the violence and disease which afflict our communities at this time. Compassion for ourselves, that we are all trying to become our best selves.

Saturday the 20th is the new moon and Summer Solstice. The new moon is dark; a luminous darkness which portends new beginnings. Carrying this prayer, this intention, into the time of new beginnings, is itself a special kind of hope. We have yet to know what our “new normal” will be. We are seeing glimpses of it, in the awakenings of white neighbors and the dismantling of systemic racism. But there is much yet to learn, do and heal. We are birthing a new way of being, with one another and with ourselves, in the aftermath of COVID. There are still wisdoms we can draw on from the old ways, but we are invited to breathe new life into them, as well as devise new ways of connecting with All that Is.

If you are ready to envision a hopeful future, you can go to our Inclusive Prayer page and choose any of the selections there, or simply speak the words of your heart. If you still take comfort in older forms, use the prayers which bring you comfort. Or if the healing light of Reiki, or other silent meditations inspire you, that too is a prayer. Set a time each day when you will infuse your prayers with healing and compassion. Pray each day from June 11th – 20th. I invite you to share your reflections on the Shelter For The Spirit Facebook page. And if you would like to share in a sense of completion for this journey, join me on Zoom, Saturday June 20th at 2:30 pm PDT (solstice), for an Interfaith Virtual Labyrinth Walk. (Watch for details on registering, to follow, on our Events page and our Facebook page.)

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