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Just Stop

Stop
he said gently

Just stop

Tell me all about it
and I will stay
right here
beside you

until it’s over

©Janet O. Hagberg, 2006

Reflections on this poem

How does it feel to have God gently invite you to stop?

What is it you need to tell God about?

What frightens you about stopping?

What helps you to stop and let yourself be held in love?

How have you experienced God staying with you until it’s over?

Boredom and His Sister, Loneliness

Boredom has been described as the common cold of the psyche. I think we all have a fear of boredom even though we may not be aware of it. A lot of people would say they are so busy they don’t have time to be bored. While that may be true for parents of teens, for instance, I also think that we keep ourselves busy and distracted so we won’t have to face boredom. If you think the fear of boredom is not an issue for you, think of how you would react if you were faced with five days alone in a cabin without TV, radio, computers, phones, books or games.

Then there is boredom’s sister, Loneliness. If boredom is a psychic cold, loneliness is pneumonia. Loneliness is our internal fear of being unloved or uncared for, and deeper than that, it is a fear of death. I’ve worked hard to avoid loneliness and boredom and yet, ironically, the very things I do to cover these feelings can make them worse. The loneliest places for me are relationships where love is scarce, and busy jobs in which there was little connection or meaning. It requires a double denial of my soul to stay in those situations and not confront my fears.

Being able to be comfortably alone and not busy means we are satisfied with ourselves as companions and that we do not have to be busy in order to have meaning in our lives; both of which are counter cultural, no matter what life stage we are in. It requires inner depth to be able to say that we are happy with our own company and yet not have to be fiercely independent either. So if we expect someone else to make us happy, or if we deliberately shut others out in order to be happy we are on a dangerous path.

In my experience, the reason why I stay so busy and fill my life with activity is that when I stop doing things I have to come face to face with myself. Arrrgh. I start to think about my work stress or my unfinished relationship issues. My fears see an opportunity to sneak in. I remember some pain from the past. My fantasies about another kind of life emerge or my anger gets kindled. I get hungry in order to fill the void. These are all parts of my shadow seeking my attention. One of my friends says that when she gets quiet her evil twin comes to visit. These occurrences can be frightening and, if we have no way to deal with them in a healing way, they can drive us back to the mind-numbing activities that cause stress, illness and soul disease.

I try to use boredom and loneliness as barometers. I get most bored when I am doing things that fill time and do not enhance my life. A few things on my list are TV sitcoms, shopping, meetings, parties with people I don’t know, any “shoulds,” chit chatting and leadership responsibilities.

I entertain loneliness when I am in a vulnerable time in my life, in major transitions or under emotional stress. Holidays are a prime occasion for Sister Lonely to visit me. When I sink into loneliness, it is usually because I feel as if people will not be there for me or do not love me. What a trap that is! Left to my own devices I react to loneliness and boredom with my usual self-numbing activities.

Through my spiritual work, I now see boredom and loneliness as calls for me to go deeper with God. About the only thing that reminds me that there are more viable options is if I sit down in a favorite chair and bring all of my issues to God. I tell God the truth in my journal. I pour it all out in a litany of sadness and self-pity and vulnerability. I cry. I scream. But once I tell the truth, the truth informs me. When I start to really face my issues in God’s presence, I begin to trust that God will lead me to the next decision or insight or action. One of my friends seeks calm by reciting her favorite attributes of God; a rock, her Beloved, a mother hen, a safe haven. Focusing on God and inviting God into my pain are antidotes to loneliness. I can lean on God while still honoring loneliness and boredom as my gifted teachers.

Once I could understand loneliness as an invitation to embrace my fears in life, and see it as a gift, loneliness introduced me to her cousin, Solitude. Solitude is the ability to be alone, even in a crowd, and feel nourished from within, from oneself and from God. When I am in solitude I can be alone for extended periods and have creative, restful things to do that nourish my life. I can find the things that I genuinely enjoy and that do not just fill up time. Two of these, for me, are baseball and quilting. They are very different but that is part of the joy for me, entering different worlds that are equally life-giving.

In solitude I can reach out to friends because I genuinely care about them, not because I need to be needed or because I need to have them rescue me (although sometimes I do ask for rescue if I need it!). In solitude I can look at my memories or unhealed areas and see them as new challenges that God will help me to deal with because I will never be alone or abandoned by God. In solitude I can see and breathe in the beauty around me. I can hear the music of nature in my neighborhood and appreciate it more fully, even the sirens☺ I can listen. I can rest. I can be restored.

In solitude I can meet God in a deeper and more intimate way. I do not look to others to make me happy or to feel loved. I look to God. Ironically, when I do this, look to God for my inner fulfillment, it turns out that others also love me more. That came as a big surprise. And another surprise: when my demons rise, as they do when I slow down, I find that angels are there too, accompanying my demons. The angels are there to help me do the work that is calling to me in my solitude. I do not have to do this work alone. And then little miracles happen; a friend calls, I get a personal card in the mail, I get another idea for an essay, I find a poem I love, I finish a quilt and feel deep joy, the sun shines in my window. Best of all, I calm down deep within so I am more available for God.

And that makes my whole life a sacred adventure…

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2010. All rights reserved.

Reflections on this essay
When do you get bored and why?

What are your mind-numbing ways to cover boredom?

How does loneliness affect you—what happens?

What demons rise for you when you are not busy or you are vulnerable?

How have you taken these issues to God?

How do you experience solitude differently from boredom or loneliness?

How will you cultivate Loneliness’ cousin Solitude?

“Resting in God: In solitude and stillness”

I Kings 19:11-12 (NRSV)
He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake;, and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire;
and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.

When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him…

Psalm 46:10-11 (NRSV)
“Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.” The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge.

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2007

Reflecting on the icon. Icons are sacred symbols that draw us in and point us to the Holy.

Where is your favorite quiet place to be alone with God?

How to you hear God: through an inner voice, other people, scripture, symbols, stories, journal keeping, other?

What earthquakes, wind or fires are you mistaking for God?

What draws you most to this icon?

How does this icon speak of God to you?

 

God’s Longing

I think I have been longing for God, for that Mysterious One, the tuner of my soul, since my childhood. Along the way, though, religion got in the way of my natural ways of conversing with God. I found God while walking in the woods, when playing music, in the campfires at camp, and in relationships. I got mixed up trying to match what I was experiencing of God with what I was learning about God. In the church of my childhood I received a good foundation of scripture, great leadership opportunities and close friends, but the confusion about who God was for me prevailed. My image of God from my church was like Santa with a stick. He was portrayed as a loving and generous guy like Santa, but in addition, there were so many rules, so much that would damn us, so many dire consequences if we broke the rules. So I lived in fear—when I thought about it—but I kept busy so I wouldn’t think about it much.

Yet into my adulthood my longing persisted for the Mysterious One, the one who met me in nature and always brought me a surprise. I experienced God in the discovery of a rare Indian Pipe flower or in the deep quiet of the woods. Then I began noticing that there were words or phrases from songs that made me cry for no apparent reason other than that they touched me in some deep way. One line that moves me is this: “Love so amazing so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all.” It connects me with the God who is love, who is beyond all doctrine, and I feel like I am home.

So I know in my heart that I do long for God even though I needed to do some remedial healing work to reconcile this longing. The image of God from my childhood was deeply embedded in my psyche. As I did the work of healing my image of God I also began to see more clearly the deeper ways in which I longed for God. The more I opened my heart to the love of God, the more the longing grew. I began to see my longing for God filling me with some new desires, like not wanting resentment or revenge to live in my heart. With God there, it seemed like there was less room for that lack of forgiveness that held my soul hostage. The longing for God began to nurture other behaviors as well, like desiring to be quiet and prayerful in starting my day, listening for God as my guide for each day rather than advancing my agenda. Over time, I even began noticing that what I used to crave and what I clung to (busyness, recognition, material things, control) weren’t as satisfying. A spiritual and emotional crisis helped me see God’s love as a wise replacement for some of that stuff.

One of my dear friends, Gary, would call this process of longing for God, receiving God’s love and, as a result, longing to live differently, Grace (God’s unconditional love) and Torah (God’s guidelines for our lives); grace coming first and then the life change emerging from that. We don’t need to behave in order to receive God’s love, we need to receive God’s love in order to desire healing and new behavior.

A few weeks ago I had another revelation through prayer that has left me rather astounded. I heard a soft whisper in my heart that God longs for me too. It had never occurred to me that God might also long for me the way I long for God. But it opened a small door in my soul that could entertain that possibility. I began to see ways in which, perhaps, God was longing for me to be his Beloved. I wonder how my life would be different if I really believed that I was God’s Beloved?

One way I’ve come to experience God’s longing is through a set of special scripture verses I’ve collected over the years. I’ve typed them on small cards and put them into a purple velvet bag as a spiritual resource for people. Whenever I prayerfully draw cards for direction or inspiration I get messages that strike directly to the heart of my issues. And I draw some of the same cards over and over until I can see the meaning or until I absorb it. It feels like God is longing for me to see what is lovingly in store for me and to live it out in my daily life.

Another way I feel God’s longing for me is when I feel anxious or afraid or angry and I stop what I am doing to sit in my prayer chair and write in my journal about the issue. I feel God desiring intimacy with me, granting me insights, giving me truths that can heal me. Sometimes these truths are so profound I cry.

I’ve come to see that God has longed for me since childhood. All those times I’ve longed for God in nature, those walks in the woods, the delicate Indian Pipe flowers, the lyrics to songs that make me cry; they were all ways that God was also longing for me. Now, if religion or theology enhances my longing for God I embrace it. If not, I can let it be and still embrace God. My longing for God and God’s longing for me are what transform my life and heal me. Longing at its core is about love—love that draws us closer, not out of fear or shame, but out of a desire for healing and restoration.

A poem I wrote about doubt expresses this truth about love in an image that is more powerful than words.

 

You Learned Along the Way Not to Believe in Love

 

I asked God a question/that’s been plaguing me/for a long time

As I travel on my journey/and uncover miracles/in the midst of pain

Why do I still doubt

God became very quiet/sighed then smiled at me

Because you are afraid and/you learned along the way/not to believe in love

But why did I learn/not to believe in love

Because you never/felt the depths of mine

Then God took me/gently in his arms

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2010, All rights reserved

The person who explained Grace and Torah is Rev. Dr. Gary Klingsporn, now a pastor at the First Congragational Church on Nantucket.

The scripture cards in a velvet bag that I wrote about are available on my web site http://www.janethagberg.com

Reflections on this essay

How did you experience longing for God as a child, even if you were unaware of it at the time?

How did religion help or hinder that for you?

How do you feel God longing for you now?

How has this longing influenced your life; beliefs, image of God, behaviors?

How do you experience being God’s Beloved?

What poem is waiting in your soul?

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