Reconnect with our heart

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This is a story about what can happen when we are not at home in our own skin. This is a story about reconnecting with our heart. And the choices we can make that spill to those around us.

Carlton Pearson is a former Pentecostal bishop and TV evangelist. He pastored a mega-church in Tulsa, Oklahoma with over 5,000 members.
After a life-altering experience in Rwanda, Pearson had growing feelings that the doctrines he had been taught (and preached) no longer felt true for him. Even so, he believed that he could not allow himself to examine these feelings, mostly out of concern that he would “let down” his congregation.
After all, didn’t they expect him to supply ready and comforting answers?
Would his questioning eventually lead him to abandon his faith?
If he were no longer the “preacher with answers,” where would he find his identity?
Pearson decided, finally, that he could no longer live with the pressure of feeling like a hypocrite, and abruptly left the church. Alan Lurie writes, “Looking back, Pearson discovered that his reluctance to question the prepackaged doctrines that he had been given, and fear of examining his assumptions about how a man of faith should act, actually diminished his faith and his sense of purpose.”
Today, Pearson preaches at a new church, where he speaks from his heart and soul without fear of duplicity.
This story is not just about changing a belief system. This story is about what can happen when we live from the core of our authentic self.

I can relate to Carlton.
I know the feeling… like an impostor somewhere deep down. 

Every single one of us wants to be at home in our own skin–to live authentic lives. And yet, it is very easy to live from a “false self.”
For some of us, it happens when we cross an invisible line in the sand of our soul.
When our spirit has been finally depleted.
When we are fueled only by some need for survival.
When we have lost heart because we feel both confused and powerless.
When we give in to some default mechanism, always looking over our shoulder to see if we pass muster.
You know the litany. Call it what you like, social acceptance or social routine or public opinion or labeling… It all boils down to this, “Whom are you going to dance for?”  There are so many ways we get derailed. And we create elaborate scaffolding, needed to prop up our glittering image. Or our ego. Or our fear of imperfection. Or our unadorned need to be liked.

It all starts when I buy the myth that this (stuff, achievements, creeds, accoutrements, circumstance) is all there is to my identity. And when I succumb to any contrived or fabricated image, I fall short of my best self.
When I fall short of my best self…
I do not speak from my heart.
I do not act with compassion.
I do not see or honor the common ground we share.

True, we live in a world bombarded by messages that who we are now, is NOT enough. At a church where I was lecturing, a woman asked me, “What are you going to talk about?”
“Chocolate and God and the dance of life,” I told her.
“But you’re not Catholic,” she pointed out.
“I quite often feel obligatory guilt,” I said, “does that count?”
She scrunched her eyebrows. And continued, “I mean how can you talk about these things if you are not part of the Church?”
I almost told her that I would convert if she bought enough copies of my latest book (from Loyola, a Jesuit publisher), but the irony may have been lost. So instead I said, “Okay, I’ll make you a deal. Listen to me first. You can try to convert me later, while we’re talking and eating chocolate together.”

It’s easy to allow this hunger for acceptance to seep into our psyche. And if such expectations or labels are not enough, we carry some shame that we should try harder (or at least enroll in a self-help course). We feel undeserving, or under a microscope, or inadequate. Just like the pressure-cooker Pearson experienced.

So.
Stop.
Literally.
Just stop.

There are many mindfulness (meditation/prayer) techniques that teach us to slow down at discomfort and dis-ease. Not to run from it, but to live into it. We make space to ask, to own, to expand, to choose, to invest. One thing is certain; without renewal, there is no path to reconnect with our heart again.

This week I needed to revisit this invitation, to be at home in my own skin. Because I do know this… When I am not at home, I live at the mercy of. I react. I live defensive. I project. I live afraid. I push people away. I need to label you because you are different and a threat. A contrived script owns me.
I know that Pearson’s change did not come from just “trying harder.” True change only happens when we switch the focus from what is on the outside, to affirmation of what is on the inside.
Richard Rohr reminds us, “Don’t push the river.” Which is another way of saying, don’t get ahead of your soul.
The goal isn’t to get somewhere.
The goal isn’t about forcing something to happen.
The goal is to be in harmony with the gifts that are already given.
The goal is to fall into your life. To fall into this life.
Yes.

Here’s the deal: When we feed the inner life (that part of ourselves that yearns to be connected with something larger than our own ego), there is new freedom to inquire, doubt, question, challenge, connect, forgive, mend, risk, receive, revel, celebrate, restore and live completely unafraid. And eat chocolate with people who are wonderfully different.

Pause for contemplation can lead us to reflection and fidelity.
I don’t want to pretend that this is easy. (For all our whining about wearing the ill-fitted suit of public opinion, the perks aren’t too bad or we wouldn’t play along.)
This has been on my mind this week. In last week’s Sabbath Moment, I mentioned my love for and unease about the environment, and I referenced the Paris Accord. I lost readers, and received concerned emails. Some people were offended.
And some internal motherly voice kicks in, “Be careful, it’s never good to offend people.”

Of course the fun part of the week was having great conversations with people who differ from me, and are doing what they can do to live from their true self.
The bottom line? When I am at home in my own skin, I choose my calling and all that comes with it. I love writing Sabbath Moment. And I love the community that is made up by its readers. And I am unbelievably grateful. We create a space where we can be glad to be alive. The invitation to savor the sacrament of the present moment.
When we reconnect with our hearts again, we care for the values that matter most. And we care for one another. And we don’t apologize for being ourselves.

Have you read Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory? I recommend it. Greene portrays a whiskey priest, who has come to see the light because his own life had become so dark (just like Pearson). To give up our “respectable” image may feel like (or actually be) a fall from grace. But in the end, we embrace the day from an authentic self. The very self that has been there all along.
Rohr again, “Like Jesus, (Saint) Francis taught his disciples while walking from place to place and finding ways to serve, to observe, and to love in the world that was right in front of them.” But I can only do that if I’m grounded.

I’m at home this week. And when the garden explodes with bloom and color and gratuitous splendor, there are no words sufficient to paint the tapestry. Not that it makes a difference. Silence is often the best response. To let your self be carried away. Literally. To rise and swell, and savor and explode, and ride the joy.
I don’t have the words now, only a good glass of Bordeaux and a good book. The choir (a plethora of birds at the feeder) has begun evensong. Prayer will follow, and I can’t wait for the homily, something about the sacrament of the blessed present.

Quotes for your week… 
We spend our lives impersonating who we think others want us to be, and we end up as living impostors. Carlton Pearson

What small faith I have has given me what artistic courage I have. My theory was that God already knows everything and cannot be shocked. And only truth is useful. Only truth can be built upon. John Updike 


POEMS AND PRAYERS

Witness
Sometimes the mountain
is hidden from me in veils
of cloud, sometimes
I am hidden from the mountain
in veils of inattention, apathy, fatigue,
when I forget or refuse to go
down to the shore or a few yards
up the road, on a clear day,
to reconfirm
that witnessing presence.
Denise Levertov
(A poem written with reference to Mt. Rainer)

Just Showed Up for My Life
Spending my time sleep walking
Moving my mouth but not saying a thing
Hoping the changes would take by working their way from the outside in
I was in love with an idea
Preoccupied with how a life should appear
Spending my time at the surface repairing the holes in the shiny veneer
There are so many ways to hide
There are so many ways not to feel
There are so many ways to deny what is real
And I just showed up for my own life
And I’m standing here taking it in and it sure looks bright
I’m going to live my life inspired
Look for the holy in the common place
Open the windows and feel all that’s honest and real until I’m truly amazed
I’m going to feel all my emotions
I’m going to look you in the eyes
I’m going to listen and hear until it’s finally clear and it changes our lives
There are so many ways to hide
There are so many ways not to feel
There are so many ways to deny what is real
And I just showed up for my own life
And I’m standing here taking it in and it sure looks bright
Oh the glory of God is man fully alive
Oh the glory of God is man fully alive
There are so many ways to hide
There are so many ways not to feel
There are so many ways to deny what is real
And I just showed up for my own life
And I’m standing here taking it in and it sure looks bright
Sara Groves and Joel Hanson


 

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