Cissy Brady-Rogers
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Archive for March, 2013

Barbara Fredrickson’s Love 2.0: How our supreme emotion affects everything we feel, think, do and become paves the way for more scientific exploration of what Jesus taught 2000 years ago. He said that all the  commands of the old covenant were summed up in two: Love God & love your neighbor as yourself. He said that the entire law of the torah is summed up in love.

Love the Supreme Emotion

It’s about time scientists got with the program!

I’m half-way through Love 2.0. While the concept of a power greater than ourselves, God, or a Divine Source of Love has not shown up in the book so far, it confirms what my personal and professional experience has told me is true–that loving and being loved is our core need. When satisfied we thrive. When our love need is unmet, we struggle.

Fredrickson’s research indicates that just reflecting on our positive, loving engagements with others in an intentional way activates positive psychological and physical changes.

Last night after a day filled with positive social encounters with others–including playing with the pre-schoolers at church who always remind me of the power of living in an open hearted way–I went to sleep holding those memories in mind. I slept better than I have in a week and woke up in a positive state of mind.

I’m excited to finish the book, but even more excited that someone is invested in researching the supreme importance of love in human flourishing. I pray for blessings on her work and that the body of research and literature on this essential area will expand.

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.

I often appreciate journalist Sandy Banks’ opinion pieces in the Los Angeles Times. She’s a middle-aged, African-American, single mother of two young adult women with insights born only of lived experience.

Yesterday’s piece on “Drunkeness isn’t Consent: The Steubenville rape case shows the perils of binge drinking” hits home for me. While never a black-out drinker, I too drank excessively in my youth and put myself in precarious positions–both with men and otherwise. And one of those times I was raped by a man whom I’d met through mutual friends at a bar.

I made poor choices that night–choices I would not have made if I were sober. When push came to shove and he took things further than I wanted, he overpowered me. I fought, screamed, bit him, pulled on his genitals and did all I could to stop him. I said “NO” very loudly and clearly in every way. His physical strength proved greater than my will and effort to resist. My only consolation was that I’d actively fought off his violence throughout and made it as miserable an experience for him as possible. I knew I’d not consented to intercourse and made sure he had the bruises on his arms and body to prove it.

The next morning, after I’d “come to”, I called the rape crisis hotline, connected with a counselor who met me at the hospital where I received services and filed a police report. When all was said and done with the criminal investigation (he spent the weekend in jail and got out on bail), it came down to his word against mine. The kind female representative from the district attorney’s office handling the investigation basically told me that if I went to court, I’d have to prove I hadn’t given consent. She said that in light of the circumstances surrounding the events, including the fact that we’d been seen enjoying each others company in a public setting and leaving the bar together, his attorney could skew the evidence to defend the rapists innocence and make it a miserable experience for me in cross-examination.

Bottom-line: I didn’t have a strong case! I dropped the charges.

Justice? Ha!

I rejoice that this young woman’s case brought some degree of justice. Sadly, due to many factors, including the social pressurs of what’s been termed “rape culture“,  in most cases no one is every charged with a crime let alone prosecuted. The justice system is still woefully inadequate when it comes to prosecuting rape.

But the point I want to make here, is that while “NO” is always “NO” and drunkenness is not consent, all of us must be much more careful about our relationship to alcohol.

Banks writes, “We have to impress upon our sons and daughters the dangers of binge drinking…” I’d take it a step further to say, all drinking. Studies show that even small amounts of alcohol can impair decision making capacities.

I don’t blame myself for the rape. But I do take responsibility for the choices I made that contributed to my poor decisions that night. It’s difficult work to tease out what is not my responsibility (the rape) from what is (my excessive drinking). Both are expressions of human desire for pleasure gone awry.

When used separately or together in a responsible way, both sex and alcohol have tremendous power to deepen our capacity for joy and intimacy. But, they also make a lethal combination when used irresponsibly–as in the Steubenville case.

Just like we need to make responsibility choices about drinking and driving, so too we need to be wise about social drinking. Not just for teenagers who shouldn’t be drinking anyway, but for young adults and the rest of us. The potential risks of alcohol use far out-weigh the benefits. Isn’t that pretty obvious?

At my fifty-first birthday dinner our conversation steered around to the topic of death! Hmmmm….  Not sure how that happened but since all but two of our guests were in our second halves of life, it makes sense.

My chaplain friend Ruth Clayton, who has specialized in hospice and palliative care work, recommended The Conversation Project as a resource.

Growing up with a mother gifted and called to the spiritual work of burying the dead and who worked professionally as a probate attorney, death was not feared in my home. We attended the rosaries and funerals of dead relatives from the time we were old enough to sit still for an hour. I remember viewing the dead bodies of my Great Aunt Floss, Great Aunt Blanche, Uncle Bob, Uncle Jimmy and others. Death was normalized as a part of life. People cried, but also honored death as a joyous passing to another stage of life.  Not the end of life, but the beginning of another form of life.

My mom planned well for her death. She never wanted to be a financial burden on us kids.  After all the insurance policies were cashed out and the bills were paid, the final accounting of all her cash resources left her with only a few thousand dollars in the bank.

Me & Mom in a Box 1984 - Remarkable & Silly Mother

I suspect that even in her compromised physical state, her sharp mind was working the numbers, assessing just how much money was left. When she sensed the money running low, she decided it was time to go.

She died a blessed death, surrounded by all three of her children and the ex-husband (my dad) who remained her best friend long after they were no longer married.

The day she died I was at her place waiting with my brothers for the inevitable. Her doctor called in the afternoon and told me that she’d come by the house after an evening meeting. I told my mom, who by that point had stopped talking but remained coherent. She blinked her eyes at me, seeming to understand.

That night, with Dr. Shugie just having arrived, there to sign the death certificate, mom passed peacefully to be with all her beloved ones wherever the souls of the departed go when finished with this leg of their journeys.

As in her living, so in her dying, my mom faced death with preparation and planning. She was a good steward of the life given her. She did the advance work and made it easier on us.

Preparing well for death is an important part of life. It’s part of mindful living. How did your family and communities approach to death and dying impact you? What have you done to have these conversations with your loved ones? Perhaps a visit to The Conversation Project might be a good place to start.

A Celtic Prayer for Wisdom

Irish Blessings to You

Rachel McCrickard, now program director at the YMCA of Metropolitan Chattanooga in Tennessee, introduced me to Celtic spirituality while a student in my human sexuality class. We talked a great deal in class about the negative impact of  Christian teachings emphasizing the sinfulness of body. Rachel thought I’d appreciate John Philip Newell’s resurrection of this lost thread of our Christian heritage which points to the goodness of creation and the human body.

She was right! I devoured her copy of the book, read most of his other books, and went on retreat with him a few years ago. Learning from my students is one of the gifts of being a teacher. I am grateful to Rachel and others who expand my knowledge, challenge my thinking and deepen my connection to eternal wisdom.

Wisdom enables us to see what author George MacCleod called “the glory in the grey” — the gifts that lie hidden in the dark places of our lives.

In honor of my Irish heritage, where this kind of wisdom has supported our survival as a people through many trials and tribulations, I share John Philip’s prayer for wisdom. May wisdom guide you to see the goodness in your body and your life that is deeper than any brokenness or challenges you face.

A Prayer for Wisdom by John Philip Newell

That truth has been inscribed into my heart and into the heart of every human being, there to be read and reverenced, thanks be to you, O God.

That there are ways of seeing and sensitivities of knowing hidden deep in the palace of the soul, waiting to be discovered, ready to be set free, thanks be to you.

Open my senses to wisdom’s inner promptings that I may give voice to what I hear in my soul and be changed for the healing of the world, that I may listen for truth in every living soul, and be changed for the well-being of the world.

J. Philip Newell, Sounds of the Eternal, Monday Morning Prayer

Recently a young woman spoke about her vision of how she’d be in her life if she were really listening to and trusting herself. She said she’d feel more clear headed, confident, and decisive. She said she wouldn’t be afraid to speak her mind even when she anticipated significant others would disagree. She said that she’d be able to listen to others compassionately without feeling compelled to compromise her own values for the sake of pleasing them.

As she spoke she drew her hand to her heart and said, “I’d be making decisions from here and not getting lost in all the noise constantly playing different scenarios over and over again in my head.”

Amen! She’s invested a huge amount of time and energy learning to listen herself and live from her heart. At the end of our conversation she said “It’s a lot of work because it’s new. But I feel so much lighter and calmer that it’s worth the effort.”

Unbeknownst to many of us, even positive change is stressful. The necessary stress of change can be a major obstacle in moving forward in our lives. Just because you choose it and know it is in your best interest doesn’t mean you won’t feel stressed as you find more life-giving ways of living your life.

Conscious breathing is an excellent way to self-soothe when facing the stress of positive change. My friend and mentor Joan Borysenko offers a wonderful little two-minute video on how to use your breath to cope with the positive stress that comes when you’re making changes in alignment with your vision of a more abundant life.

My dear friend Andrea, whose father recently died after a long and arduous struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, shared this tragic story of another family’s confrontation with the challenges and failures associated with medical “advancements.” She called it a “mirror of what we lived through.”

These stories are important to tell. And important for us to hear and reflect upon as we each of us will face similar challenges in our lifetime.

They are especially important for people of faith to consider as the powers of medical technology to sustain life, prevent aging and even defeat death become increasingly available to consumers. As Joel Shuman and Brian Volck put it in their book Reclaiming the Body: Christians and the Faithful Use of Modern Medicine, “There is no apparent limit to medicine’s ambition to control the circumstances of human life and death by bringing them under human control. Billions of dollars are invested each year in research that has as its ultimate aim the elimination of contingency from the biological circumstances of human existence, and few people seem interested in asking whether or to what extent such an aim is appropriate for creatures of a providential God.”

It isn’t a diatribe against medical advancement, but a warning to proceed with caution. As people who belong to God, who have been freed from what one biblical writer called “enslavement due to the fear of death” and believe we are destined to return to God, how does our faith impact our consumption of medical services?

An article on a $5-million grant to an academic atheist to study immortality and an advertisement for “Hope in a Jar” shared space in the L.A. Times this morning.  They stuck me as examples of how culture distorts and takes advantage of spiritual longings.

As someone who believes deeply in the eternal nature of life, I think that $5-million would be better used attending to the temporal needs of my 925 million hungry brothers and sisters around the planet. And, while it doesn’t surprise me that academics want to study this topic, it seems ironic that an avowed atheist who considers the afterlife unlikely is heading the project.

Spirituality for Sale Here

“Hope in a Jar” sells their moisturizer as a product that will help me “wake to limitless possibility” – capitalizing on my supposed fears of aging and death in order to sell products that I don’t need and probably contain chemicals that will do more harm than good.

The longing for hope in something beyond death is a shared human experience that needs to be treated with reverence, wonder and respect. I hope that academic integrity will guide the researchers to do that. I long gave up any hopes on the advertising industry doing their jobs with integrity.

Personally, instead of trying to change the culture, I am committed to critical ingestion of it–especially advertising that subtly play upon our vulnerabilities in order to convince us to buy stuff we don’t need. It’s also an integral part of my work with others.

For more on critiquing the culture see my colleague Michelle Lelwica’s blog in Psychology Today or the book I collaborated with her on: The Religion of Thinness. We need to educate ourselves and our children on being wise consumers of culture–to be in the world, but not blindly buying into all the distorted views of reality it offers.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s new book Lean In:Women, Work and the Will to Lead is stirring some controversy. Some feel that Sandberg is speaking  from a fantasy world and out of touch with the reality most women live with. They suggest that her perspective puts unhelpful pressure on women to keep pressing against the glass ceiling while having a family.

I look forward to reading some excerpts of the book and deciding if it’s worth my time and effort to read the rest. I’ll decide for myself if I think she puts undue pressure on women to try to balance motherhood and career advancement. And, that is just the point I take away from this: it is my decision.

Decision making about what “I” believe is where many of the women I work with get stuck.  They don’t know how to make major decisions because they’ve been socialized to listen to everyone else’s perspective. Often, when asked what do you think, feel, believe–about their own lives or cultural issues–they hold back, stumble and aren’t sure what to say.

Self-doubt and disconnection from what “I” think, feel, want, need, begins when girls aren’t taken seriously. One young adult woman I worked with on reclaiming her voice told me flat out: “Nobody takes teenage girls seriously.”

Solid decision making in adult life begins with adults taking girls and teenagers seriously. We have a great privilege to listen to them, ask questions, value their ideas–even when we think they are strange or wrong. And, rather then telling them they are wrong, we can offer our perspective, or a different perspective, and encourage them to consider other views.

Ultimately each of us is responsible for our own lives. Sheryl Sandberg and her detractors have their perspectives. I will have mine.

Be it in matters of eating and exercise or career choices, each one of us gets to discover and listen to our own wisdom, not just follow someone else’s plan for our lives. That work begins with our girls–taking them seriously and listening to them.

I do love what Sandberg said in her CNN interview: “I want every little girl who is told that she’s bossy to hear that she has leadership skills.”  Amen to that. As a little girl and adult woman who has been accused of being bossy, I appreciate the re-frame. Bossy girls can grow up to be remarkable women!

Brother Lawrence, a French Carmelite brother who lived in the seventeenth century is best known for his practicing the presence of God–a version of mindful awareness with God at the center. He said that it wasn’t necessary to go to church to be with God. He wrote that we can make our own hearts a place of worship. But he also said that in order to do that we must empty our heart of all other things. Mindfulness is a way to empty our hearts and minds of all other things and make space to listen for the voice of God.

Mindful awareness practices can be done anywhere. Brother Lawrence was famous for practicing presence while doing his kitchen duties. For me the critical piece isn’t where I am or what I am doing, but whether or not I’m paying attention to my immediate experience.

My mind is especially prone to wander when alone–walking down the street, cooking a meal, driving to work. Each time I catch my mind drifting from the present moment and bring attention back, I strengthen the mindfulness muscles in my brain.

Each moment of “failing” to practice mindfulness becomes an opportunity to grow in gracious awareness–another important spiritual skill. No judgement, no condemnation. Just come back to the present moment. Like the Apostle Paul who wrote that God’s power is made perfect in our weaknesses, so mindfulness is strengthened each time we come back to the present moment after having drifted elsewhere.

A short mindful awareness practice I often use when I catch myself  judging myself for failing–whether in mindfulness or something else–is the Jesus prayer: “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.” It’s a way I practice gracious awareness with myself. It’s a way to empty my heart of inner dissonance and make space for God.