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The Womb of God

I’ve used the image of the womb of God for a while now in my prayer and in my writing. When I first considered the idea, it seemed awkward to me because in my childhood the only image of God we were taught was God the Father. Even the Bible affirmed it. But the very idea of God’s womb—safe, comforting, calming, restful—well, it seemed irresistible and welcoming after a long journey out of a fear based masculine image of God that paralleled the image of my own father. And now that I’ve experienced a womb-like presence of God in my prayer life I find it to be all that I imagined.

I’ve wondered about feminine images of God for a long time. I’ve gone to a few conferences exploring the subject and just happened to be at the Re-Awakening Conference that caused such a furor in the nineties. I guess, for most of my adult life, I’ve just tried to keep open the possibility that God could be a masculine and feminine spirit. I don’t suggest this with feminist insistence and I’m not interested in waging theological battles along these lines. I would rather come to a gentle experiential resolution myself, for my own deeper walk of faith. I also need to acknowledge that some people find a feminine image of God to be troublesome, due to their own negative experience with their mothers, similar to my experience with a masculine God. But that is beyond the scope of this essay.

Three sources of inspiration about God as feminine have assisted me along the way to my current experience. The first came from my teaching minister and co-author Bob Guelich, who approached me one day with a new Bible in his hands. “Read this!” he said, “and tell me what’s different.” I read the passage he pointed out and wondered what he meant. When I looked puzzled he said, “It’s all inclusive language. The New Revised Standard Version.” He was excited about this and knew that it would inspire me too. It was a major step forward in embracing women as a more integral part of the Bible, although it did not use inclusive language for God.

The next inspiration was from an unexpected source. A rabbi was speaking at our protestant church about the Torah (first five books of the Hebrew scriptures) and the Hebrew understanding of God. In his talk he alluded to several Hebrew names for God, like Elohim, Adanoi, Yahweh. He also mentioned Shekhinah, which he said is a feminine Hebrew name for God, the One God of the Israelites. Something inside of me shifted that night and I felt as if I could participate more fully in a wholistic presence of God. Not that I would toss out the masculine images but now I could expand my image to be whole, both/and. Genesis does say that we humans were all created in God’s image, male and female, but that verse was overshadowed by all the masculine language in the scripture.

The third inspiration was from Bobbie Spradley, a friend of mine who did a study of images of God in the Bible. There are literally hundreds of images, like rock, shepherd, protector etc. Mixed in with these though are some decidedly feminine images of God. Examples: “[God cared for them] like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions.” Deuteronomy 32:11 “You are unmindful of the Rock that bore you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth.” Deut. 32:18 “Thus says the Lord…You shall suck, you shall be carried upon her hip and dangled upon her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” Isaiah 66: 12-13 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” Matthew 23:37   These verses are all in the Bible and are not from a contemporary book of theology.

Once I could envision a motherly side of God I felt invited, during a difficult time in my life, to imagine entering into God’s womb and resting there from all of my stress. Quiet, soothing, iridescent, warm, calming. I curled up into the fetal position and let God absorb my fear and stress. At the time I was going through the Wall, which I write about in my book, The Critical Journey. It is a place where we lay aside (reluctantly) our former life, let go of who we thought we needed to be or wanted to be, release our ego and trust God for the healing process. We slowly, ever so slowly, enter into a new life. It’s kind of like going through a birth process.

It struck me that the Wall is a place of rebirth and that going into God’s womb during difficult times can be like a rebirth too; transformed in God’s womb into a new life. So maybe if we think of the Wall experience, even with all of its difficulties, as a time of going into the womb of God to be reborn, it may help to reframe the Wall into a mid-wife experience, a birthing into a new life instead of focusing on what we are leaving.

When we climb into God’s womb it may feel like God is absorbing us for the period of time it takes us to heal and to transform. Then God sends us back into the world refreshed, rested and transformed. We also return to the world carrying a little spark of God’s love and light.

In the womb of God we find a calmer deeper love for ourselves too, as we absorb God’s love. And that translates as more compassion for others. Besides that, we find rest for our souls. That is awesome. It gives a whole new meaning to the verse from Psalm 23. “She restores my soul.”

Ó Janet O. Hagberg, 2011. All rights reserved.

Reflecting on this essay

Is God masculine or feminine for you, or both?

How does a feminine image of God fit for you?

How would you feel entering into God’s womb?

How have you encountered the Wall?

How does God restore your soul?

SO!

This little word, so, can have a great deal more significance than it appears to have by its size. For instance, have you ever created something (a story, a handmade piece of furniture, a dress, a photo, a knit hat) that made you feel so good you got tingly inside? Everything came together, the color was great, the task filled with joy. Or do you love someone so much (a baby, a lover, a parent, a friend) that you get choked up just thinking about them? Have you ever experienced the healing of an illness, an old family wound or a troubled relationship and felt so much gratitude you get shivers remembering it?

When we feel these deep experiences, these “so” good or “so” much experiences we usually want to share them or express our feelings in some way. We may thank people, we may give our creative project away as a gift, or we may pay our joy forward in some other way.

In many families there are traditions or rituals we do for others to show them the extent, the “so” much, of our love. It could be a special food or meal, a special place, prayers we pray for them, or the gift of our time. My family created a family ritual for landmark celebrations; big birthdays, graduations, retirements and anniversaries. It was a personalized rendition of the TV game show, Jeopardy. We created five categories from the person’s life with five questions per category, going from easy ($100) to difficult ($500). The clue was in the form of a clever answer and the contestants had to guess the question. We had a lot of fun coming up with the answers and it because a signature of our family.

The only danger for me in doing these nice things for family members is if I am doing them for other reasons than loving the person so much. At times I would over do, and go too far in making things special because I wanted so badly for my step sons or the other family members to love or recognize me. This happened mostly when I was feeling unfulfilled in other parts of my life, so more depended on being extra special at home. I find if I do things out of manipulation or guilt or neediness it results in not loving them sooo much but tooo much. I am either enmeshed or codependent or both, neither of which is good for my soul. When I give while staying satisfied with who I am and do not over function, then I remain whole and I can enjoy the work while holding the relationships lightly.

God is a great model for generous and healthy love. If we remember the most incredible love we’ve ever felt from another person or a pet, this is just a hint of how much God loves us. The apostle, John, says God so loved the world, he sent Jesus here to live with us. That is hard to comprehend because it goes so far beyond human love, but we get a glimpse of God’s love just by focusing on that little word, “so.” God so loved…love that is better than anything that gives us shivers or tears or feelings of deep gratitude. We get glimmers of this love when we hold a baby or create beauty or forgive a hurt.  Matt Linn, a wise priest, healer and writer says that God loves us at least as much as the person who loves us the most. Even that is hard to comprehend, but it is so satisfying.

How do we experience God’s love? Images in scripture of God loving us include an eagle carrying us on its wings, a mother cradling an infant, a potter forming clay into beautiful creations, a shepherd leading us into green pastures, a mother hen with its chicks, a caretaker for the flowers of the field—such strong and loving images. No enmeshment, no manipulation or neediness; just pure love. For God so loved the world…

That’s not to say that God’s love has never been distorted. In my childhood religious experience, this extravagant love of God, expressed in John’s gospel (John 3:16) could be divisive. The ending of that verse says, “…that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” We were taught that only those who took Jesus as their Lord and Savior would be saved. All the others would perish, all the babies, all the mothers, all the grandpas–which was more than 90% of the world. It seemed so cruel sounding and could be used manipulatively or as a threat, if we did not believe correctly. I don’t know the definitive answer to that question of who has eternal life but I do know this: the loving God I know does not condemn 90% of the world. So this has always been a troublesome verse for me, not because I do not believe in Jesus, but because I was focusing on the wrong part of the verse all along.

The reason I had a new insight about this verse is that a friend of mine told me her cousin was praying every day with the word “so” from John 3:16. For God SO loved the world. You could stop right there and start listing all the things God has done just out of love for us, and the world. Created us, formed us, rescued us, healed us, challenged us, redeemed us. It helps me to keep my eyes focused on God and God’s love rather than on all those other questions I can’t answer.

When I focus my eyes on God I hear that God is asking me to live out this “so” much love in the world, even beyond my comfort zone. For instance, I am called to love quilting so much that I will experience it as a healing art and share it with women who have suffered from torture, to help them be part of a healing community. Or I am called to be present as much to young people who are not my children as I would be present with my own. Or to love writing so much that I will write about what’s on my heart and not worry about what people think or whether it gets published or not. Or love intimacy with God so much that I am willing to let go of cultural expectations in order to grow closer to God. Thinking of these things gives me energy and passion, and fuels more love.  I would love to see my eventual eulogy starting out with the phrase, “For Janet so loved… “

That would be truly satisfying.

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2010. All rights reserved

Reflections on this essay

What have you created that makes you feel tingly inside?

Who have you loved so much that thinking about them makes you choke up?

What is a way you show others in your family or friendship group that you love them?

What is your reason for overdoing or over functioning sometimes? What needs of yours are not being met?

What image of God’s love speaks most to you personally?

How are you called to live out this “so” much love in the world now?

FAN FORUM:  THE ART OF KEEPING SCORE

FROM GAMEDAY: A SCORECORD/MAGAZINE

 

It is a simple pleasure, requiring only a pencil and paper.  But it opens up the game of baseball for a fan like no other vice.  We speak, of course, of scoring a baseball game.

We knew the scorecard would appeal to some Twins fans.  We hoped Gameday would introduce the pleasure of scorekeeping to others.  But the genuine satisfaction fans have expressed has surprised even us.  Dozens of fans have thanked Gameday for providing an affordable scorecard.  Hundreds of fans who otherwise would not have scored the game are using Gameday to do just that.  And countless fathers and mothers have bought the scorecard to introduce their sons and daughters to scoring a game.

One of the fans who took the time to tell Gameday how much she valued the scorecard was Janet Hagberg.  In one of our streetcorner conversations, we asked Ms. Hagberg if she would write about what scoring has meant to her.  Graciously, she agreed.

We hope what she wrote will help convince those who do not score to try their hand at this lost art.  We believe what she wrote will affirm the scoring experience for those who already indulge in it.  And we know that what she wrote will remind you of ways in which baseball has been woven into the fabric of your lives, as it has in hers.

 

******************

 

Baseball Brings You Home Again

Why Keep Score!

 

For when the one great scorer comes

To write against your name,

He’ll write not that you won or lost,

But how you played the game.

Grantland Rice, 1908

 

I’ve been a Twins fan since my childhood when Bob Allison, Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat and Harmon Killebrew were household names. It was such an adventure going to games at the old Met Stadium with my Dad or watching the team play on TV on summer evenings. I played softball on a park board team through most of elementary school and middle school so I learned how to play the game at the “dirt” level. Our team made it into the regional competition several times and I remember batting against a pitcher who threw so fast we could hardly see the ball go by. That made me appreciate at a deeper level just how good those major leaguers were. I followed professional baseball, sometimes closely sometimes haphazardly during my twenties and then my two stepsons brought baseball to the front burner by their involvement in the game.

But the day that changed my life was the fateful day about ten years ago when my stepson, who had become a sports writer after college, taught me how to keep score.  That did it. I was hooked. Permanently. Never before had I gotten so totally involved in the game. It increased not only my enjoyment and understanding of the game but also my commitment to it.

Some of you reading this are doubters. You’re saying, “I enjoy the game enough without keeping score.” Well, that might be true, but think of these other reasons for keeping score before you decide for sure.

IT KEEPS YOU IN THE GAME: When you keep score you always know the line up, who’s at bat, who’s up next, and how each player has done so far in the game. You know who’s hot and who’s not. You can see the trends in the game, such as the likelihood of more hits in the first inning of the pitcher has not gotten into his groove, or in the sixth and seventh innings when the starting pitcher begins to tire.  You can see at a glance how the pitcher is doing, whether he’s getting batters to ground out, fly out or strike out. You can see how beautiful a shut-out looks on paper. And keeping score keeps your mind from wandering to stressful or unwelcome subjects like work or cleaning the garage!

IT’S FUN TO LEARN—AND THEN TO DESIGN–YOUR OWN SCORING SYSTEM:  There are certain simple symbols that are part of baseball tradition: like K for strikeout, BB for walk, and CS for caught stealing.  Whenever a player gets a single, you might draw a line that starts the diamond shape, from home to first, in the box next to his name.  There are numbers assigned to each fielder as a short hand way to identify them quickly.  Soon marking a groundout to the third baseman as “5-3” becomes second nature.

But the fun part is learning and making your own scoring “code,” like asterisks for great defensive plays.  And whenever I come across a play I haven’t scored before and it baffles me, I just email my stepson and he fills me in. It makes for great conversation.

YOU CAN KEEP TRACK OF HISTORICAL MOMENTS:  What you add to your scorecard or scorebook is up to you, but I love to record great defensive and offensive plays, historical moments, controversial plays, as well as the standings of various teams at the time they played the Twins.

Here are a few examples of things – big and small — I’ve kept track of in my score book in just the last few years.

*September 1999:  Eric Milton pitches a no hitter against Anaheim. 13 strike outs, 2 walks. Only 5th pitcher in Twin’s history to accomplish this. Twins win 7-0.

*April 2000:  Cal Ripken gets his 3000th hit at a Twins game.

*June 2000:  Fan interference takes a home run away from Mitch Meluskey (Houston Astros) in a game against the Twins.

*July 2000:  Sammy Sosa hits home run #25 against the Twins in his bid for the HR title.

*July 2000:  Milton vs. Clemens (Yankees). Both pitchers have no hitters going until the 6th and 5th innings respectively.

*June 2001:  Guzman gets four bases (and 2 RBIs) on a BUNT (and a defensive error) against Cleveland.

*June 2001:  10th Anniversary of the World Series Win in 1991. Twins are currently leading the AL Central.

*August 2001:  Celebration of Kirby Puckett’s induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

YOU GAIN RESPECT FOR THE GAME AND FOR THE PLAYERS:  Keeping score has increased my appreciation for the finer points of the game, the underlying rhythms, ups and downs of players, and the incredible preparation and practice it takes to be a major leaguer day in and day out. Now I watch the signs from the third base coach to the batters and the base runners. I watch the pitch count. I am more aware of the reasons for the order of line-ups and pitching changes. I am in awe of the diving catches of Doug Mientkiewicz and the twisting-in-mid-air throws by Guzman and Rivas. I believe, with Alistair Cooke, that the double play is the most beautiful play in baseball.

Because I keep score I read more books on baseball and watched Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary.  I understand better now the long and sometimes glorious, sometimes sordid history of baseball as a chronicle of America.  And I watch the game become more international each year.

IT TAKES YOU BACK TO THE BEST MEMORIES OF CHILDHOOD:  Baseball is part of the fabric of summer. Keeping score takes me deeper into the richness of that fabric. It brings me back to some of my best memories of childhood, playing softball every day, sharing the experience of winning and losing with good friends (with  whom I am still close), and being with my Dad at games. Baseball brings you home again in your mind after you’ve been away for a long time. I think Robert Benson describes this aspect of baseball well in his philosophical book, The Game, (2001):

“I hope my kids will remember that baseball is a game about going home. And in that way at least, it is a game that mirrors everything, because everything in life is about going home again. It is about leaving home, and going out to a place where home is far away, and then doing the things that you must to get home again, some of them simple and routine, some of them occasionally heroic and glorious.”

PLAY BALL.

AND KEEP SCORE.

Janet O. Hagberg

Written in 2006

 

The next several weeks posts will be devoted to God’s love and how we know and feel God’s love in amazing ways. These posts will include photos, poetry, essays and a video. God’s love is so deep and rich that we could never embrace it all but we’ll give it a try.

But first, I will take this one week to offer you an essay I wrote about baseball. I got a chance to write this for a small magazine that was sold at the old Twins stadium before games. Since it is baseball season and I consider baseball a spiritual venture (I can see some of you nodding, others rolling your eyes) I offer it to you on the off chance that you will enjoy knowing why I love keeping score at baseball games. So enjoy this earthy essay and then we’ll get on to the more ethereal subjects.

Thanks for hanging in with me on this adventure in the inner life.

Janet

Doors Open, Doors Close

For more than a year now, I’ve been planning to move to another part of the city. I prepared my condo for sale, designed flyers, and held open houses. I found a great apartment complex, which was new, “green” and had mixed economic levels, close to the church I attend. There was even an apartment available that I liked. And I was looking forward to being part of the renaissance of this neighborhood. It was hard to give up my condo because it was so comfortable but I felt God might be calling me to a different way of living and I wanted to be open to it.

I was a bit intimidated by the neighborhood so I admitted that to some friends who would know how to counsel me. I looked at my fears directly by going on a street retreat, asking one of the young men in the church to be my mentor and by getting more involved in the neighborhood. So I was ready to move.

Everything was working well. Doors were opening. I like the metaphor of doors opening. It is a method of discernment for me, watching as I go down a hallway in life, to see which doors God opens. Sometimes doors that I was not aware of open as a surprise. Other times I find I need to close a door behind me before another one opens. In some cases the opening doors bring new challenges but they are challenges that are part of stepping over that new threshold. In this case, I was moving forward with God, facing my fear, holding onto my hopes and looking forward.

The next thing I knew, the bottom began falling out of the US economy. In just six months I had four firm buyers for my condo fall through. The value of my condo plummeted. And two apartments I had really liked were both rented. I was disappointed in these developments and disappointed in myself for not being able to complete this move. In prayer I realized that doors were now closing for this move, for some reason I was not fully aware of yet. Events happened that were out of my control, yet they seemed to have God’s fingerprints on them. I know that coincidences are God’s way of remaining anonymous so I began listening more closely to my life and eventually I understood what was happening for me.

I was experiencing a call like Abraham did when he went to sacrifice his son Isaac on the altar. He was being asked to surrender what he held most dear—his son, his future, his legacy. It seemed like I was being asked to release my nest, my cozy condo, my lifestyle to the unknown. I learned to trust God in this move and listen to what God wanted me to do. At one point, in a deep act of faith, I offered my condo to a couple in my building at a vastly reduced price because I wanted them to have it. Even that offer fell through. But it felt like an act of obedience, to be willing to release what I held dear. As with Abraham, I needed to be prepared to give up what I had and to be ready for a new direction, to let go and trust God for the future.

As the doors closed on my move I became aware of some deeper rumblings in my psyche that needed attention. For one thing I need a strong stable community to sustain me. Although I had friends in my new neighborhood I was moving to a housing complex where I knew no one. As a single person I have become aware of how important community is to me and how dangerous isolation can be. Another factor arose too. In living close to the church I would likely be called on as a front line person in times of crisis. Now, I admit I am usually a stable person in the face of chaos but I also realized that I am no longer called to be on the front lines like I was earlier in my life. I work best behind the scenes. The third factor and hardest to embrace was that I was experiencing post traumatic stress whenever I heard about unrest in or around the neighborhood. This stress is a reality I live with and I need to do whatever I can to alleviate it. It came from living with a low grade but continuous fear in an earlier relationship and it reemerges when I feel vulnerable.

The reason this is hard to mention is that I feel strongly about a principle I’ve come to cherish. I do not want fear or dread or anxiety to rule my life. I do not want to hunker down and play it safe. I believe reaching beyond my comfort zone can bring healthy growth into my life. So I will continue to be a part of this neighborhood, engage with others who believe in the possibilities and continue to worship there. I will stick with my centering prayer group and my quilting and mentoring contacts. I will stay connected to the people. I do not want to live in fear.

And in a paradoxical way, I also do not want to live my life with low grade fear from stress, as my companion. This is a different dimension of fear, at a more personal level. I have worked and prayed my way to a calm and stable place with God’s grace and I am aware that I need to live in a space that truly is a nest, a calm place for me to renew in order to do the work I’m called to do, to be an Anchoress, a non-anxious presence in the world.

Does this mean I have closed off the move permanently? I don’t think so. I, like Abraham, needed to be willing to sacrifice what I cherished and now, like Abraham, I need to leave all options open for God’s direction. I trust God and I trust the process of deepening. But if I do eventually move I think it will look different than it did this time. And I will be more aware of what I need in order to thrive, more aware of the crucial role of nesting and community in my life.

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2010. All rights reserved

This essay was written a few years ago and I am still happily involved with the neighborhood I described. But I have not moved! I’m still in my nest.

Reflections on this essay
When have you felt doors opening in a major decision in your life?

When have you felt doors closing in a major decision in your life?

How have you been asked to sacrifice or put on the altar things that you cherish?

What are some basic requirements you need in order to live out your calling?

How are you trusting God in the process of your life—holding all things lightly?

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