Cissy Brady-Rogers
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Archive for 'transformation'

Last week I met a remarkable young woman named Kate who fears that God, her parents and friends won’t approve of her searching beyond what she’s known of him all her life to be the “only truth.” Yet she also fears staying in the safety of that belief system, of not following her innermost self and trusting her own capacity to understand her tradition in a bigger way–what my husband Dave calls the big “G” Gospel.

It takes courage to leave the safety of traditional ways of believing the gospel of Jesus Christ, just like it takes courage to leave home and go away to college. Yet doing so is an essential part of adult identity and faith development.

What does it really man to “believe” the good news that Jesus preached? As I read the resurrection story in the last chapter of the gospel according to Mark this morning I considered the meaning of “believe.”

What does belief look like in daily life? Is about knowing facts and information, cognitively assenting to ideology? My evangelical training emphasized correct doctrine as the key element of belief. Discipleship focused on studying topics like “know what you believe” and “know why you believe” rather than equipping me for transformation into a more loving, Christlike person.

At this point in my spiritual journey I think belief has more to do with how I live and how I love than anything else. Faith in Jesus Christ is reflected in my attitude, motivation and behavior more than in what I proclaim to be true about God, human nature, reality and other existential issues. Interestingly, the modern English word “belief” has it’s etymology in Old English and Germanic words reflecting the more personal nature of belief as “holding dear, esteeming and trusting.” Billy Graham, who’s been called the greatest evangelist of our time, once said that the greatest expression of belief isn’t cognitive assent but to “be love” in the world.

I can’t “prove” my interpretation via exegesis. Moreover, I don’t want or need to. Years of exegetical training and practice did much to equip my mind for the study of scripture. But it did little in terms of making me a more loving, Christlike person. Psychotherapy and contemplative Christ-centered practices have been the primary avenues the Spirit of God has used to free me from reactive, defensive, unloving ways of being in my life. Centering prayer in particular has been the greatest tool for being transformed by the renewing of my mind in Christ.

I’m grateful to stand with Kate and many other millennials who are searching outside the expressions of Christianity they were raised in. They need boomers like me to support them in their desire to deepen their connection to Christ through both traditional and non-traditional forms.

My prayer for Kate and others millennials doing the hard work of adult faith development comes from the apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus: according to the riches of God’s glory, may you be strengthened with power through God’s Spirit in your innermost beings, may Christ dwell in your hearts as you are being rooted and grounded in love, may you have power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, and be filled to all the fullness of God.

“Now to the one by whom the power at work within us is able to do abundantly far more than all that we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”   (Ephesians 3.16-21)

I woke at 4 a.m. one morning last week on vacation with these thoughts about God’s will on my mind. One of the gifts of this vacation was a lovely balance between being and doing. The open spaces of just being–lounging in front of a roaring fire, standing in a boat on the Flathead River waiting for a fish to strike, drinking in the beauty of Glacier National Park from the Going to the Sun Road while someone else drove–each moment creating open spaces to taste and see the goodness of God. So grateful for the re-creation and renewal that comes from just being!

Mt. Glacier National Park, MT

Being and character are primary. God’s will is that I love, that I be a loving presence in the world. Who I am and how I do whatever I do is primary. When I stay aligned with God’s love, then the doing, along with what, where, and who I do it with, will follow.

I spent many years believing that God’s will was about what and where and who, about doing and circumstances — like there was/is only one right path to follow and if I missed it, or choose another path, I was screwed. Consciously I know that is not true, yet those old neural pathways can still pull me away from focusing on being a loving presence and into mental quagmires of “Is this God’s will for my life???”

One of the blessings of vacation is the freedom each day brings. No obligations or commitments, just time to love my husband, love the blustery weather of this Montana morning, and see what unfolds. A day to practice being present to each moment and let going of any attempt to find the one right or best way to spend the day.

If you told me 25 years ago that one day I’d be teaching yoga at the upcoming Big Bear Yoga Festival–I’d have said you were crazy!

Raised Catholic, I stopped attending mass in junior high school and became a “born again” Christian within the year. God’s timing was perfect. I desperately needed someone or something to “save” me from the disease and dysfunction growing within me and around me in my family system.

I spent the next 15 years involved in evangelical church and para-church organizations and attended evangelical undergrad and graduate school.  The personal relationship I developed with God and the people that surrounded me during those years really did “save” me. I made plenty of poor choices as it was–I can only imagine the trouble I might have gotten into otherwise. I’m grateful for the love and support of all those who came alongside me, loved me, and prayed for me. I also learned how to study the Bible and think critically about spiritual and theological matters. All of this laid a foundation for my faith in a God who so loved the world that he became flesh and blood, lived among us and revealed the way of love through the life of Christ Jesus.

And, I needed more than any of that provided.

I needed to embody my faith.

I needed to experience that love in my flesh and blood, in my female body. But the things about “flesh” and “body” I learned in church contexts didn’t take me deeper into my body.  Confusing messages reinforced an already shame-based body image: you are intricately and wonderfully made, but your desires, instincts, feelings and thoughts can’t be trusted; your sexuality is a gift from God, but don’t act too sexy or show too much of your body lest you cause your brother to lust. For Christian eating disorder patients I’ve worked with those same messages were life threatening–creating distorted views of “flesh/fat” and appetite that reinforced destructive body related thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

My bout with breast cancer in 1992 activated an interest in alternative approaches to health. I attended my first yoga class in 1993 with cautious interest. I prayed before I entered the room, asking God to give me discernment about participating in what my earlier training had told me was “of the devil”. Twenty years later I can’t imagine life without yoga. It’s the spiritual discipline God has used to heal my relationship with my body–to learn to listen to, respect, appreciate and be grateful for the glory of God’s image revealed in my body, in my flesh, in my blood. To experience Christ in me — the hope of glory dwelling in the sacred temple of my body.

I keep coming back because the practice takes me into my body in a transformative way, deepening my knowing of God’s love in the depths of my innermost self. My movements on the mat are prayers: my body speaks what my heart longs to express but words fall short of conveying.

Yoga for Every Body

I teach Christ-centered yoga because I want to share the transformative power of moving prayers with my communities of faith. While I mostly practice the physical postures (known as “asana” and one of the eight limbs of yoga), I have a deep respect and appreciation for other aspects as well.

That’s why I’ll be teaching a Christ-centered yoga workshop at the festival this month. I love sharing the immeasurable riches of God’s love in Christ through the yoga postures. I love guiding others into a deeper connection to the goodness and sacredness of their bodies. I love being at home in my body and inviting others to more fully inhabit their own homes.

I’d love to have you join me!

August 23-25, 2013

While I was away on vacation a plague of mildew took over my summer squash. Most of the leaves were speckled with white powder and some were turning yellow and dying. But in spite of the attack the squash were still producing–so much so that when I offered my husband some steamed squash one night he replied “Squash again?”

Determination

Saturday morning I went out with my clippers to assess the damage, prepared to tear it all out and begin planting for fall. But buried beneath the sea of mildew I discovered strong new shoots making their way towards the sun, determined to keep producing in spite of obstacles!

I went to work. I thinned out the damaged branches, cut everything back to the vine, tidied up the dead leaves, freed the new growth from potential contamination and opened them up to reach toward the light.

Humans and plants share the same basic growth instinct to fulfill our destiny. All God’s creatures great and small come equipped with everything we need to thrive. But, like the mildew that keeps the squash from flourishing, many life factors inhibit our innate potential to become all we were created to be. We all bump up against both internal barriers (character defects, defenses, limitations) and external obstacles (unhealthy relationships or workplaces, accidents, losses of all sorts that we can’t control).

Even the most determined among us weren’t intended to grow alone. Like gardens, we need the support of loved ones to overcome the many forms of dis-ease and dysfunction that inhibit our growth. We access the support of others within the broader community. We come alongside one another, helping each other prune back the diseased leaves, find the right combination of nutrients and light to make us strong and steady.

The determination of my plants to keep producing in spite of obstacles inspires me! I loved discovering the new life beneath the sad old leaves. And it gave me joy to prune away the old growth so the new could flourish.

Help!

Living from within, following your soul, being true to your deepest calling–whatever you call it it–depends on both personal determination and willingness to let others help. Habitually in the caregiver role, like many of the women I work with, learning to ask for and accept help has been a lifelong lesson.

Yesterday I sent out an email to a group of my soul sisters requesting prayer for wisdom regarding my work. I’m determined to share my unique understanding about health, spirituality and transformation with others. And, I need support in doing so.

How about you? What are you determined to do in this season of your life? Who will you ask for support?

Yesterday a client came to session stating that she didn’t think she was a good fit for coaching. She hates paperwork, forms, filling things in and writing things down. “I’m not a journaling kind of person.”

Welcome to My South Pasadena Office

It was awesome!  I love the way she took charge of what she wants and needs. She spoke her truth and started a conversation about adapting the tools and process of coaching to fit her needs and personality, not the other way around.

Women are biologically wired and socially conditioned to adaptation–to fit ourselves into other’s versions of reality rather than listen within and find our own way. This “substantial female preference to affiliate under stress” underlies the people pleasing dynamic that leads us to be silent when we want to speak up, say “yes” when we want to say “no” and compliantly fill out forms that we want to tear up and throw into the trash can!

The personalized health planning model I’m training in at Duke Integrative Medicine is a medical model. Paperwork, quantitative tools for assessing where you are now and where you’d like to be and creating measurable goals to guide behavior change are part of the package. It’s an excellent model with some solid initial research demonstrating positive health outcomes.

But, it’s just a model, not a magic formula.

I’m reminded of the scripture that says, “Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12.2).

Lasting change doesn’t come from the paperwork, the diets or the programs that the world has devised–many with good intentions and great benefits for some people. Transformation comes from renewing your mind, learning to attend to and  listen for your own truth, not by trying to adapt yourself to fit my model or anyone else’s.

From a Christ-centered perspective, transformation comes from deepening your connection to the mind of Christ within. To strengthen your awareness of the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control that come from the Spirit of Christ within you.  It is within you, not in a book, a pill, or  a new routine.

Wired to attend and adapt externally, even after all these years of healing work, I still excel in people pleasing.  A big part of my on-going transformation comes from mindful awareness and centering prayer practices. Turning my attention within and just being aware of what is going on within and around me, without responding, has taught me a new way of being in my body and my life. When I neglect my daily practice of twenty minutes, I notice a significant difference in my ability to hold onto myself, take a stance and not fall into social adaptation patterns that don’t benefit me or others.

Like other helping professionals, I offer services, programs and information to support transformation. But the bottom-line of what I offer is meant to help you listen to yourself, trust yourself and live from within. That is the new way of being in your body and your life.

Listen to yourself, listen to your body, know yourself and be a discriminating consumer of services, information and programs.

I loved sitting with my client yesterday. The internal listening and honesty she exhibited in our conversation about the model and her health goals will guide her toward authentic, sustainable new ways of exercising, eating and living–because she’s living from within!

I love sweet peas. I love their delicate but strong blossoms, the way they fold in on themselves on one side and open up on another. I love their unpredictability–the way they weave up the fence, around the trellis or wildly splay out everywhere ignoring my effort to contain them. I love the variety of shapes and colors. I especially love their sweetness–along with jasmine and gardenias, they announce spring’s arrival.

the more you take, the more they give

I met a sister sweet pea lover who gave me yet another reason to love them. Like God who loves to love us without limits and yearns for love to blossom everywhere–the more you take, the more sweet peas give.

Sweet peas on the kitchen counter and dining room table, in the bedrooms and bathrooms. I can’t keep up with them. The more I cut, the more they produce. The more I take, the more they give. Even this morning, after several months of production, another bouquet.

Sweet Peas Everywhere

So it is with God’s love–the more I take, the more I get. My job is to take Love, to receive Love, to open my heart to Love wherever it appears, however it comes, whomever delivers it.

My twenty-four year marriage has been my greatest school of love. Like the peas, I can’t predict or control how my husband will love me. I want red sweet peas and spontaneous, romantic, weekend escapes. I get purple and white flowers and well planned vacations to high-end resorts that he gets great deals on using his internet search skills! I want variegated blossoms and the theater. I get beautiful solids, my laundry done on Saturdays and the bed made every morning. I open up to the real love he can give and let go of my agenda for what love “should” look like.

sweet peas straight from the vine (background)

My job is to take the love that comes, delight in it and be grateful for it, not waste precious energy trying to get red flowers to grow from purple seeds!

I open to the love as it comes, not guard my heart until I get the version of love I think I deserve. Not that I’m giving up hope that one day he’ll actually surprise me!

Spiritual Director Sr. Mary Ann Scofield once wrote that the most difficult thing of all is to take in how truly, deeply and unreservedly loved we are by God because it changes everything.

What will happen if I open my heart, take my guard down and let God love me?

The more I take, the more I’ll get!

I will be changed.

I will become more of the person I was created to be–made by Love, of Love, for Love. I will become a better Lover of God, of my husband, of my neighbor, of myself.

Being a great Lover is the only thing I know for sure is God’s will for me. All the other decisions of life fall into place when I focus on resting and trusting in this great love that changes everything because it changes me.

Long term change occurs gradually through patient practice and faithful failure. Whether you’re seeking more attuned ways of eating and exercising, better communication skills with family members, or trying to change the world, patience and faithfulness will be necessary.

In writing about the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, Desmond Tutu said that the “faithful failures” and years of “unsuccessful” efforts to restore right relationships among the people of his country “nurtured the soil of godly success.”

I’ve been experimenting with different ways of organizing my schedule and “to do” lists since I began my professional life as a youth ministry intern back in 1985. I’ve had varying levels of success and failure, and days when I just wanted to give up. But, I’ve stuck with it.

Recently I’ve experienced a “breakthrough” — coming into a rhythm of productivity I’d previously only dreamed about. Today I wondered aloud to myself, “Who is this I have become? Who is this woman who moves through her day with purpose, clarity, relative ease, getting things done that align with her goals, letting go of what is incomplete, knowing she’s done what she could?”

It’s tiny, miniscule, and relatively unimportant compared to what Tutu and his brothers and sisters in South Africa achieved. Yet, in the same way that their faithful efforts brought about increased justice and peace for a nation,  my faithfulness has brought greater peace within, which impacts my husband, friends, clients, students, and everyone in my world.

For both great and small scale changes, patience and faithfulness are essential qualities needed to bring about a new way of being in our bodies and our lives.

As we say in the recovery movement, “Don’t give up before the miracle.”

Self-awareness and understanding are essential life skills. Without them, and even with them, we are prone to repeat the same unhelpful choices over and over again. In the recovery field, one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. Understanding ineffective or destructive habits and patterns through self-awareness is the beginning of making new choices.

A young woman with years of therapy, in-patient hospitalization and residential treatment for her eating disorder told me that what she’d really needed all along was someone to help her understand herself and “be happy being me!”

The biblical wisdom that anchored me during my own years of disordered living spoke to this core conflict: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Years of  therapy, self-reflection and spiritual practice, along with lots of loving community, have nurtured the self-understanding I needed to be happy being myself…at least most of the time!

Self-awareness is the foundation for self-understanding. Not knowing what you feel, think, sense, want, or need, makes for a reactive rather than a responsible life.

When you aren’t attuned to feelings, you’re prone to let hurts, stress, and frustration accumulate then blow up in anger, shut down in depression, get a tension headache, or eat and drink in attempts to self-soothe.

When you aren’t attuned to sensations in your body, you’re less able to discriminate between physical hunger in your stomach and emotional distress signals from the same region.

Listening to yourself–to the sensations, feelings and thoughts that are the raw material of mental processes–enables you to take responsibility for how you respond to your experience rather than just react to whatever arises.

One of my current goals is to increase my mindful awareness in every day life. Taking simple “mindfulness moments” throughout the day has helped me decrease reactive responses (answering a text immediately just because it calls my attention) and increase my responsible choices (paying attention to clock time and planning ahead for the contingencies that inevitably arise).

Awareness of sensations, feelings and thoughts enables me to more compassionately and effectively process the dissonance that arises when I realize that I’m running late, yet again, in spite of my valiant efforts to change. When I feel the tightening in my stomach and shoulders, I take a deep breath and release the tension. When self-critical thoughts and feelings arise, I acknowledge them as part of an old story that is no longer helpful, and choose to extend forgiveness and kindness to myself.

Regular practice of mindful awareness is relatively simple. You can practice it right now. After you read the rest of these instructions, stop and check in with yourself as described here:

1.) Close your eyes and take a few long deep breaths. Breath in fully, then slowly exhale through your mouth. This activates the calming system of your body, telling everything to slow down and relax, so you can listen more carefully to your experience.

2.) Take a moment to notice any sensations in your face, neck and shoulders. Just notice whatever is there. Don’t do anything to change it. Just acknowledge whatever arises and let it be.

3.) Take a moment to notice any feelings or thoughts you’re having, either in response to this blog, or otherwise. Again, just notice and acknowledge what is.

That’s it. You don’t practice mindful awareness in order to “get a result”. You practice so that over time you can build your mindfulness muscles so they are available when you need them...like when being on time to your appointment is important so you finish your blog and get on with your day!

I am alive and relatively well of body, mind and spirit today because of the grace and truth I’ve come to know through my relationship with Jesus Christ. The forgiveness I know in Christ enables me to practice self-forgiveness each time I “do the very thing I hate” and am not the woman I aspire to be.

For me, the divine compassion expressed in Jesus–suffering with the blind, paralyzed, lepers, widows and other alienated ones of his day–makes it possible for me to work with my brokenness, to relate to the parts of me that I’d rather ignore and suppress. I practice gracious awareness with my shadow side–the blind, deaf, grieving and diseased parts of my psyche–because the life of Christ shows me that the path to abundant life comes not from transcending my weakness and frailty but by relating to it with compassion.

Henri Nouwen writes that the compassion of Christ “transforms our broken human condition from a cause of despair into a source of hope.” Some other wise one (whose name escapes me) has said that the cracks are where the light gets in! The apostle Paul wrote that we have the treasure of the glory of God in cracked vessels to remind us that the power of transformation comes from God, not from us.

I notice that when I blog about my personal struggles, as in my last blog about my misuse and abuse of alcohol, my readers are more apt to comment, send a personal email, or “like” my post on Facebook. That reminds me of Frederick Beuchner’s biography Telling Secrets. After sharing his story of his father’s suicide when he was a boy, he said that telling our stories is important because it makes us more human and more able to relate to one another.

What story from your life do you need to practice telling with gracious awareness instead of shame and disgrace? How might you enter into the dark places in your life with the compassion of Christ?

May we be full of grace and truth. May be compassionate. May we love ourselves as God loves us.

My pastor Chris spoke yesterday on slowing down as a spiritual practice for Lent.  It reminded me of my Great Uncle Solanus Casey who lived in a way that reflected what spiritual writer Evelyn Underhill referred to as the “leisure of eternity.” I aspire to follow my great uncle’s example, but I am easily distracted, often rush, and don’t like driving in the slow lane–despite knowing it is good for me.

My Great Uncle Venerable Solanus Casey, OFM

Solanus Casey, a Capuchin priest who died in 1957,  is the first American born male declared “Venerable”by the Catholic Church–the first of three steps to canonization which confirms official declaration of sainthood.

When Solanus died in 1957, over 20,000 attended his funeral mass in Detroit where much of his ministry took place. In addition to an extensive ministry of prayer and counsel to people with physical, emotional and spiritual ailments, during the depression he helped start a soup kitchen which continues to serve the hungry today.

In spite of a potentially exhausting schedule–sometimes working up to eighteen hours a day–he never exhibited impatience, even when occasions warranted it. People said he was never in a hurry but lived in what he referred to as “faithfulness to the present moment” with himself and others.

At the height of his ministry of prayer and spiritual counsel, people would patiently wait for hours to meet with Solanus.  Apparently, he wasn’t distracted by the dozens of people waiting, but offered his undivided attention to whomever he was sitting with. His patient presence spread to those waiting  who reported that it was easier to wait knowing they too would receive his full attention.

The image of Solanus in his simple brown robe and glasses, praying with hurting people, feeding the hungry, consoling the suffering, never in a hurry, inspires me to practice being faithful to the present moment like he did. Specifically, at least for the rest of Lent, that means no attempts at multitasking (it’s really neurologically impossible despite my fantasy that it works), no listening to media or phone calls while driving. That last one will be especially challenging. But a recent dinner conversation with a friend whose nephew was killed in a car crash due to distracted driving keeps coming to mind every time I get on my phone.

How about you?

Where in your life do you go so fast that you aren’t fully present with yourself and others?

What would slowing down and living with the leisure of eternity look like in your life?

What one small change could you make to practice being fully present?