Cissy Brady-Rogers
Cissy Brady-Rogers Cissy Brady-Rogers Cissy Brady-Rogers

Tag: renew your mind

I’m on sabbatical this month – taking time away from my customary routines to focus on writing my spiritual memoir. This week I’m working on the topic of sin. Thinking, writing or reading about sin is challenging. So, while they don’t have anything to do with sin, I’m adding a few photos of the beautiful places I’ve been as I’ve traveled in the Pacific Northwest. Grateful for those who’ve hosted me and whose company I’ve enjoyed along the way.

Sunset in Gulf Islands

Sunset in Gulf Islands

The majority of the explanations, definitions and teachings about sin I’ve heard over my forty years of following Christ have been unhelpful.

Most recently, I listened to a sermon on Genesis in which the pastor taught that at its’ root sin is not believing that God is as good as he says he is. He said that every particular sin is an expression of unbelief. He suggested that we steal because we don’t believe God will take care of us. And that we lie because we don’t believe God will take care of us if the truth be known.

I suspect that this pastor hasn’t done much lying or stealing in his life. If he did, I think he’d might have a different perspective.

Perspective is everything. How we see things, how we view reality, how we understand biblical teaching, is informed by our life experiences. Ultimately, if there is an objective reality or “truth” about God, human nature, sin and all the other issues theologians and pastors attempt to conceptualize and put into words, no human being is capable of holding in consciousness, defining or communicating that objective “truth” objectively. All attempts to communicate eternal truth are subject to human subjectivity.

Vancouver Marina at Sunset

Vancouver Marina at Sunset

That’s what led me to write a memoir. I’m owning my subjectivity. You can argue doctrine and ideology all you want. But you can’t argue with my story. My story is my story. You may not like how I’ve come to understand reality or what I believe about sin. But you can’t deny the wisdom of my lived experience.

My theology professor at Fuller Seminary, Ray Anderson, used to say that a theological essay without a story is not a good theological essay. I’d say that a theological essay or sermon or teaching that doesn’t help me become a better lover, is not a good one. When all the theologizing is over, I want to know: does it help me be a better lover of God, my neighbor and myself? Jesus said that all the law was summed up in two commands: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Do this, he said, and you will live!

Jesus didn’t come to put a cage of ideology around us to keep us safe from unorthodox views of God and life. He came to set us free. He came to give us life and give it abundantly.

My journey to sin less and love better has led me to what will be considered by some an unorthodox and heretical view of human nature and sin. So be it. That’s why I’m writing a memoir and not a theological essay!

Amtrak Cascades - Vancouver to Seattle

Amtrak Cascades – Vancouver to Seattle

I never doubted God’s love or care for me. It’s people I couldn’t trust. I lied to my mom because I feared the emotionally rejecting way her attempts at discipline were most often administrated.

It wasn’t God’s care or love I didn’t trust. At its core, it wasn’t even my mom’s care or love I doubted. I knew she loved me. At an intuitive level, I sensed her care. But I didn’t trust her ability to respond to the limits of life, it’s problems, trials and challenges in life-giving ways. I didn’t believe in her capacity to emotionally care for me the way I needed to be cared for. That’s why I lied as a child. Not because of some eternal stain of “sin” that predetermined me to be a liar.

Created by God, in the image of God, what was deepest in me was God’s eternal love. Love is my eternal nature. At my core was and is a longing to love and be loved. I want to live in loving relationship, all the time.

Jesus’ mystical prayer for his disciples in John 17 reflects this ultimate longing for loving unity among all created existence that is the core of my human nature. He prays for a restoration of the original harmony reflected in the creation story–the humans are naked and without shame, in harmony with God, one another, themselves and the earth.  Jesus prays for restoration of our eternal oneness, praying, “that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me…that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:21, 26, NASB)

Bainbridge Island Trees

Bainbridge Island Trees

But living in perfect harmony isn’t possible in limited temporal reality. In limited human life, we must develop capacities to cope with individuation, separation and limitations.

In real life, living in perfect harmony with all people, all the time, is impossible. And I think that coping and surviving in an unloving world has a lot to do with what my Christian tradition calls sin.

We all know that walking is good for you. Just getting up from your desk to walk around the office or outside for a few minutes has plenty of health benefits. After all, sitting is the new smoking.

But a study by Gregory Bratman at Standford University found that when compared to an urban walk, a nature walk resulted in even more emotional and cognitive benefits than an urban walk. Moreover, it may even change the wiring of our brains!

Winter Day at Occidental College - All Brown Now

Winter Day at Occidental College – All Brown Now

I imagine the same results would apply to walking on a treadmill versus getting out under the trees on a dirt path.

I live 1/2 block away from a busy street in Los Angeles, California. Some days I have time to get away to a more scenic and natural place to walk. But on a busy work day, like today, that isn’t going to happen.

So, I’ll put on my walking shoes and make the best of the tree lined asphalt and concrete streets nearby. I might stroll through the urban oasis of nearby Occidental College where a small but sacred few acres of dirt paths wait to be trod upon.

Walking is good for your health. Walking in nature is even better!

Whatever you do today, urban or nature, make time for a walk. Your body and brain will thank you!

 

 

Today I’m saying YES to continuing my Lenten practice of staying in my own lane–especially with social media.

Emerging research indicates that the sense of connection afforded by social media may not be worth the price: fear of missing out, depression and social media compulsions that cause reasonable, moral people to act in ways that go against their deepest values.

My recent 10 day fast from social media confirms the finding that happier people check social media less often. I also spent more time reading and engaged with my work and relationships. No wonder I was happier. I had more mental energy to give to the people, projects and passions that are important to me.

Every time I engage social media I invite hundreds of other people’s worlds into my consciousness. Every Facebook post I scroll past registers in my mind, whether I acknowledge it or not. My brain must process and decide to by-pass ads and ignore posts that I might stop and view if I had all the time in the world…but I don’t.

Mental energy is limited. The brain uses more energy than any other organ–up to 20% of total expenditure in a given day. The seemingly small task of scrolling through posts for a few minutes, deciding which to engage and which to pass, depletes mental resources needed for more important and meaningful engagements.

Yes is a mindset, an attitude, a way of being in my life that feels the fear of missing out if I don’t check out Facebook or Instagram, then chooses to keep focused on the here-and-now of my own life.

Yes to being faithful to the present moment.

Yes to being here now.

Yes to staying in my own lane.

The sacred space of my mind needs clear boundaries around engagement with social media. I’ve known this forever. I want to stay connected with loved ones, see their kids grow and watch their pets do stupid tricks. I want to use social media for good. I don’t want to be used by or used up by social media.

What about you? What do you notice about the impact of engagement with social media on your life?

Are you using it?

Or is it using up precious energy and time that you’d prefer to invest elsewhere?

 

 

 

 

Lent commemorates the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert fasting, praying and being tempted by Satan with what my former pastor Darrell Johnson calls “the world’s trinity” – power, possessions and control. As one New Testament author wrote: Because he suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those being tempted. That’s the good news we enter Lent with: we aren’t alone in our struggles. God gets it. Lent is a time to reflect on our lives, acknowledge temptations to be conformed to the culture around us and take stock of our investments.

In our media-saturated, often too busy lifestyles, many people, things and opportunities invite attention. The internet is a vast network of lanes going an infinite number of places. Thanks to technology we don’t even need to leave home to engage with hundreds of people and travel the world.

Every day I delete dozens of emails from retailers and service providers I subscribe to and organizations I value. I’d love to investigate the new brain book that Amazon recommends or the workshop offered by the Center for Non-Violent Communication. But to do so takes me on detours that eat up time, energy and, potentially, money. I delete 90% of what enters my in-box, but don’t unsubscribe because I think “Someday, I might want to go down that path…”

I like to keep my options open.

Cissy, Marva, Kathy and Diane

Cissy, Marva, Kathy and Diane

But, as my prayer partner Marva’s dad so wisely counseled her on many occasions, I need to stay in my own lane!

When Marva came home, complaining about some person or circumstance over which she had no control, he’d say “Marva, you’ve just got to learn to stay in your own lane.”

For Lent, I’m choosing to practice staying in my own lane!

- When I find myself tempted to open a superfluous email or click on a link to who-knows-where, I’m going to take a deep breath and stay in my own lane.

- When I am on the road and become frustrated with how others choose to drive, I’m going to take a deep breath and stay in my own lane.

- When I feel irritated because my husband left crumbs on the counter, I’m going to take a deep breath and stay in my own lane.

A deep inhale, followed by a long, slow, pursed lip exhale, activates the calming system of my body and brings me back to center. It’s a quick way to down shift my nervous system when it starts to amp up in response to the excitements and aggravations of life. It’s a powerful tool to bring my attention back to myself, let go of what I can’t control and change what I can–my own response.

I know I will fall short. I’ll probably veer into  Dave’s lane at least once by the time we go to bed tonight.

Thanks be to God that in Christ, I am already forgiven. And that’s exactly what makes Lent possible–I can reflect on how far short I fall because I walk into my darkness with Christ at my side. Before me, behind me, to my left, to my right, over and under, all around me. Nothing can separate me from God’s love. He’s in my lane with me, ready to help me bring my attention back where it belongs.

That’s Great News for this driver!

 

 

“To pray is not to hear oneself talk; it is rather to make oneself so still that God’s word can come through.” (Peter G. Van Breeman, SJ)

Stillness does not come naturally to me. Newton’s observation that an object in motion tends to stay in motion unless an external force is applied to it fits me to a tee. It’s equally applicable to my body and my mind. Once I start the day, my mental energy begins a steady climb, sometimes getting so amped up that by the end of my work day, I find it hard to stop. My body and executive self say “Enough.” But my too busy mind isn’t ready to downshift and let go.

I get so “full” of myself and what I think needs to be done that I can’t hear the still small voice of God, of goodness, love and kindness that tells me my value and worth aren’t measured by how much I produce.

Eight years ago I began a daily centering prayer practice that changed my life by changing my brain. There’s plenty of emerging research verifying the neurological changes evoked by meditative practices. I noticed changes within a few months.

Reflecting on my experience in my journal I wrote: “I wonder if immersion in meditation and spiritual practice in a community of support altered my brain chemistry? I wonder what neural pathways in my brain were shifted to affect this new level of consciousness and presence within myself, this sense of well being, of mental quiet, of emotional stability and unity?”

My experience verifies the research: when I practice daily, I’m less reactive, more focused and less distracted, and cope more effectively when things aren’t going according to my agenda!

Miss Liberty Belle - 8 weeks old

Miss Liberty Belle – 8 weeks old: a lovely disruption!

Our August trip to Ireland last year, followed by Miss Liberty Belle’s arrival in September, disrupted my rhythm. I have yet to get back to a daily 20 minute practice. And that’s exactly why I’m writing this blog – to remember and recommit to daily practice now that I’m not traveling and Liberty doesn’t need constant supervision.

In support of myself and participants in my mentor Joan’s PlantPlus Nutrition Webinar, I’m leading a free 15 minute mindful awareness conference call every Wednesday morning at 7 a.m. (PST). You are welcome to join us!  Contact me and I’ll send you the details for accessing our budding community of support.

I’m grateful to Joan, Jon Kabat-Zinn and other pioneers in the mind-body medicine field who valued the experiential data of their patients and persevered with their work in the 1980’s when the vast majority of the medical community discounted the power of ancient practices for bringing good health of body, mind and spirit!

If you’re suffering with stress-related physical or psychological symptoms (links to assessment tools on Joan’s website) meditation can help. And I’d love to support you in getting started.

I hope you’ll join us on Wednesday morning at 7 a.m.  I look forward to hearing from you.

(Photo of Miss Liberty Belle by Tracey Kuhlin Pet Photography)

Two commentaries on the challenges of being female in the church and in the broader culture came to my attention this week.

Andrea Heinrichs’ blog “What I Would Tell my 12-Year Old Self About Gender Roles” reminded me that in spite of great strides toward egalitarian relationships between women and men through groups like Christians for Biblical Equality, most of the church is still stuck in a binary model that assigns roles, capabilities and value according to gender. Similarly, in the culture-at-large women continue to be underrepresented in leadership roles in government, media and business. On top of all of that, media stereotypes about masculinity (“real men” are tough, stoic and violent) and femininity (“real women” are sex-objects) limit our options for moving beyond the binary model.

I first came across Laci Green when searching for videos for my human sexuality and sex therapy class. She began her public work on gender and sexuality as a sex educator while studying at U.C. Berkley. In her signature irreverently humorous style, her video “Why is Zero a Size Tho?” confronts multiple issues related to women’s embodiment As she points out, “zero means nothing…It suggests that a woman should take up so little space that she actually disappears.” A culture filled with both covert and overt messages that make staying small and taking up as little space as possible severely limit the possibilities for female empowerment.

Finally, I love the way Richard Rohr’s daily mediation this morning reminds me what my faith in Christ says about who I am and what it means to be a real woman or man:

The object and goal of all spirituality is finally the same for all genders: union, divine love, inner aliveness, soul abundance, forgiveness of offenses, and generous service to the neighbor and the world. Here “there is no distinction…between male and female” (Galatians 3:28). Mature Christian spirituality leads us toward such universals and essentials. Yet people invariably divide and argue about non-essentials!”

Amen!

The quiet stillness of centering prayer opens my ears to hear the birds sing outside my window and the tiny ticks of the clock on my desk. Calm peace fills my body as I remember that my value is not in what I produce. No need to hurry up and finish prayer so I can get to work. My prayer is my work and my work is a prayer.

At least that is how I want it to be.

I am choosing to fast from media overload as my lenten practice this year. Not because media is bad, but because too much of it keeps me from aligning my mind with my soul and my daily actions with the wisdom of the Spirit.

Every email I view demands a decision: open and attend, delete, or delay decision. Every decision to click open an email or link leads to a series of decisions about how to take in that information. In that process I must determine how beneficial it is to me and decide how much time and energy I will devote to it.

Listen from Within

Someone else always has an alternative view of reality or a supposedly better plan for my life. Each external engagement demands I consider yet another perspective on something. Too much of that pulls me away from my own inner guidance, from the quiet, hidden place within where God’s wisdom guides me (Psalm 51.6).

Lenten fasting invites us to turn toward God, to deepen our connection to the voice of the Spirit within as we abide in the love of God in Christ. It’s not just about sacrifice, giving up something or turning away from worldly pleasures.

We fast from bodily pleasures or temporal things not because they are bad, but because they can never fully satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts. We let go of sensory overload because it dulls our capacity to listen from within. We let go of pleasures so we can access a felt sense of Spirit’s embodied guidance whose sweetness and satisfaction is much more subtle than that which comes from wine, chocolate and rich foods.

My Great Uncle Solanus Casey said that human greatness lies in faithfulness to the present moment–to be fully present with myself, God and whomever or whatever is before me. I’m not very adept at that. Lent gives me a chance to acknowledge what keeps me from being fully present and experiment with a new way of being. I’m choosing to regulate what information I take in from the internet and focus on staying connected to God in each moment, listen from within, and let go of an old pattern of being easily distracted.

What keeps you from hearing the birds sing and the clock tick? What so fully fills your mind  that you forget to attend to your soul? What so completely satiates your bodily desires that you neglect listening for the wisdom of your innermost being?

More than turning away from something, fasting aligns us more fully with what makes us fully human. Then our prayer is our work and our work is our prayer.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer the Tuesday before Thanksgiving 21 years ago. Far from thankful, in spite of my doctor’s assurance that I had less than 5% chance of re-occurrence, fears of all sorts filled my mind that Thursday as we celebrated at my brother’s home.

ThanksLiving with Pam & Deni

A year later I was grateful just to be alive. More connected than ever to the gift of each day, being alive with eyes to see the beauty around me and soak in the love of family and friends was enough.  We gathered a few loved ones for a simple meal to celebrate life on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend. A friend designated it a ThanksLiving party. It became a tradition and we’ve been celebrating ever since. A week after our 21st ThanksLiving Sunday event, I’m still soaking in the gratitude that filled our home a week ago.

ThankLiving is a lifestyle of giving thanks for whatever good will come as we seek to be a loving presence in the world. Whatever the circumstances, gratefulness is good medicine for the mind. I didn’t know the power of gratitude in 1992. Since that time, when I get to feeling fearful, anxious, worried or resentful, I come back to gratitude–making a mental or physical list of all I’m grateful for in the moment. It reminds me that just being alive is a gift!

My great uncle Solanus Casey lived a life of gratitude — a ThanksLiving lifestyle. He became known for his practice of thanking God ahead of time for whatever good would come as he trusted God’s providential care for all beings. His love for the poor and suffering endeared him to people of diverse cultural and religious backgrounds. When in died in 1957 over 20,000 people attended his funeral mass in Detroit. He didn’t do anything remarkable. He just showed up each day to comfort and pray for the troubled and to serve food to the hungry. People said that just being in his humble Christlike presence ministered peace and consolation to their troubled minds and hearts.

Solanus followed the biblical teaching that giving thanks in all circumstances is God’s will for us. I spent a great deal of energy in my younger years trying to “find” God’s will for me. I thought God’s will was about circumstances: who I married, what job I had, where I lived. But time has taught me that God’s will is about being a loving, Christlike presence in the world. In whatever circumstances I find myself, who I am and how I respond is the key to living the will of God. And gratefulness is the perspective that gives me eyes to see the goodness of life, even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Pam, Todd and I celebrating 50 years of combined life post cancer diagnoses!

Last Sunday we hosted our annual ThanksLiving open house. Loved ones came and went all afternoon and evening. As I enjoyed reviewing photos from the day, I noticed how many of our friends are also cancer “survivors.” And all of us are survivors of something. Gratitude helps us move through the difficulties of life. When we can’t see any good to be grateful for in the moment, we can thank God ahead of time for whatever good will come. It reminds me of the following prayer reflection used by Solanus during his life.

Life is to live and life is to give and talents are to use for good if you choose.  Do not pray for easy lives, pray to be strong. Do not pray for tasks equal your powers, pray for powers equal to your tasks, then the doing of your work shall be no miracle but you shall be a miracle. Every day you shall wonder at the richness of life that has come to you by the grace of God. But everyone needs someone–knowing that somewhere someone is thinking of you. (A reflection used by Solanus Casey, OFM)

Kari & I - grateful for Life!

Pam, Deni, Kari, Todd and I have also survived many other trials. We keep showing up each day, thanking God when we remember and doing our best to be loving Christlike people in the world. Whatever troubles you face this season, may you have eyes to behold the richness of life that has come to you by the grace of God and to thank God ahead of time for whatever good will come when the darkness is so thick you can’t see anything good yet. The miracle isn’t in the circumstances, but in the transformation that will come in your own heart and mind as you open to the grace of God that transforms us degree by degree into more loving Christlike people.

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)

Studies in attachment reveal that it’s the repair of breaks in attachment, not their absence, that builds security and solidifies a child’s sense of being loved and lovable. Rupture and repair is an expected and necessary feature of all enduring relationships. In fact, even people like myself, who grew up with an insecure attachment pattern, can go on to form lasting love bonds by making sense of our painful developmental years.

Similarly, it isn’t the absence of sin that deepens our capacity for love, but sin itself is the way God’s love enters our hearts. In our brokenness we cry out for help, we open our hearts to God’s love so that as we are forgiven, we can also forgive ourselves and extend forgiveness to others. Sin is a rupture in relationship–with God, with ourselves, with each other.  Forgiveness is the way love repairs the rupture.

Sin teaches us about love.

There’s a story about a female “sinner” massaging Jesus’ feet with oil, crying tears of love over him and breaking all the rules of polite dinner parties. Jesus welcomes her affection and even turns it into a lesson on love and forgiveness. Speaking to the well respected host who isn’t  identified as a sinner in the story, Jesus says:

“Her sins, which are many, are forgiven for she loved much, but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

In my teenage and young adult years I strongly identified with this woman. While the more respectable church goers didn’t reveal blatant struggles with sin, I regularly showed up requesting prayer for my struggles with substance use, misuse and abuse. Like the apostle Paul,who didn’t understand himself because he didn’t do the good he wanted but did the very thing he hated, I too felt like the chief sinner amongst my peers.

During the years when sin obscured my capacity to behave in a  respectable, church going, lady like manner, I still knew that God loved me. I knew that there was nothing I could do to make God love me more and nothing I could do to make God love me less. Each fall into sin became an opportunity to open to love.

Learning to receive forgiveness for the behavioral sins of my early years prepared me to work with myself and others on the more complex and entrenched character defects, deficits and defenses that “respectable” people struggle with: greed, self-righteousness, insecurity, fear, envy, jealousy, carelessness with words and humor, procrastination…to name a few.

I’m pretty sure that my musings on sin, love and forgiveness don’t line up very well with what the Catholic Church taught me or what I learned in seminary. But it’s the way I’ve made sense of what I read in the Bible in light of my personal experience, research &  training and work with others.

I’m hopeful that my story will help you access compassion for your “failures” and the “failures” of others. I’m hopeful that it will help you make sense of your struggles with sin.  I’m hopeful that it will help you open your heart more widely to God’s forgiveness so that you will become a great lover of God, yourself and your neighbors.

She who is forgiven much, loves much.

May it be so.