3 Year Lent (cross-posting)

This post was originally posted on my blog, Unpacking Faith, where I write about where my spiritual journey takes me.  Enjoy.

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In 2006 I gave up Church and my Christian beliefs for Lent.  I had become completely disillusioned with and cynical towards the belief system in which I was raised.  A system I had fully embraced — to the point of serving as an assistant pastor in a congregation.   For Lent that year, I embarked on the most significant journey of my lifetime to date.  I lay aside my religious beliefs in order to pursue an objective, unbiased assessment of my faith’s assertions, how they resonated with me personally, what really mattered to me, and what others believed about God, Life, Spirit, Love and Light.

Almost immediately, I became fascinated — like a kid in the candy store — exploring the vast variance within Christianity.  Who knew?!  I certainly had no idea that there were so many Christian perspectives (although opposing groups might nullify the Christian identity claims of each other) on things like, nature and origin of man, sin, heaven and hell, afterlife, salvation, authority of Scripture, deity of Christ and the list goes on.  Who knew!?  I absolutely did not.  Though I was very well versed in opposing sides of certain arguments, the concept of essential Christian doctrine was well ingrained.  I thought, for sure, that nearly all Christians agreed about 85% on those – with a few nuances.  Much to my surprise — there are those who identify as Christians (and in my book are Christians – because who the hell am I to say otherwise) who differ vastly on these so-called essentials.

That realization got the wheels to turning.  The book A Generous Orthodoxy was key to helping me see the variance and begin to feel safe asking broader questions – like, what validity, resonance, or, dare I say it — truth would I find, should I pan out further — beyond what the variance in Christian thought.  What conclusions have other cultures drawn about Life and God and the Universe and why we’re all here in the first place?

It wasn’t long before I began to see the world’s religions as 5 blind people with their hands on different parts of a elephant, searching for words to describe what they noticed through the senses available to them.  It was then that I respected and stood in awe of the many, many ways humans have tried for millennia to describe the Great Mystery that is instantly diminished with the first word.

As I began to study the sacred texts of eastern philosophies and try out some of the spiritual practices of the East — yoga, meditation, mindfulness — I reconnected with a familiar voice.  My own.  That still quite voice within that has always guided me, always sounded like me (only wiser and more loving than I imagined myself to be) has had many names. I called it the voice of God, my Inner Voice, my higher self.  No matter then name, it’s the same voice I’ve always known.  It’s the same voice that I write in in my journals when answers to my questions come flooding into my soul.

But I had become disconnected from this voice.  You see, there were countless times, when I called “the voice within” God, that the voice said things I had trouble believing that the God-I-Knew (through church) would say or — better than “said” things — guided me down paths inconsistent with what I had conceived to be God’s ways.  “God wouldn’t say that’s OK, the Bible says it’s not!”  These moments happened more and more frequently and I, as a result, shut down that voice.  I disbelieved, mistrusted, and dismissed it as “just me”.

As I practiced stillness and quiet, the voice began to speak to me again.  I embraced it.  I listened and was encouraged in my journey.  I was encouraged to open my eyes wide and to expect surprises, to expect to have my questions answered, to expect find what I was looking for.

I have been surprised and delighted along this journey.  One surprising delight was a soul I encountered through this blog.  He encouraged me in my journey, availed himself to me to ask questions and to provide guidance.  More than anything, he encouraged me to seek my truth, to hold on to what is true for me and to remember what I already know.  He also introduced me to another book, Conversations with God.

I bought the book weeks, I think, before I ever read it.  When I opened it to start reading, I read about how the book came to be.  It was a conversation one man had with one he calls God over several years.  He asked questions, answers came to him, he wrote them down.  I was familiar with this process.  I knew it well.  I suspect many writers know it well.  I valued the process, without having a clue about the content.  After getting through the Forward and the Introduction, I got to the dialog.  I read.  Maybe 2 pages.  I slammed the book shut and tears streamed down my face.  Tears turned to sobs.  I knew this voice.  I knew it well.  This was the voice I’d shut down.  The one that told me things I couldn’t imagine coming from God.  The God-voice in CwG was what I’ve always known, who I’ve always known God to be.

To say that the God-voice in CwG goes against the grain is an understatement — but it resonated with me like nothing I’ve ever read in my life.  Many concepts I found difficult to understand or even buy — but more of it encouraged me that I was on the right path.  That I was finding my truth. That my journey, this process would be worthwhile — and, in fact, is what it’s all been about all along.

My studies and explorations have led me to encounter many kindred spirits.  One of the sweetest is that of my yoga teacher who teaches class in the sanctuary of a Christian church.  The irony, the sweet serendipity in those two spaces colliding began to melt my cynicism about Christianity.  In that sacred, holy space — I connected with that which was most sacred and holy — myself.  I began to experience me as part of All that Is.  I began to understand what Christ meant when he said that he and his Father were one — just like you and I are one.  Just like we are All one.

And the lines blurred.  There were fewer and fewer contradictions and points of conflicts among belief systems for me.  More and more I could see how many different ways man has been trying to say the same thing and be understood albeit in different languages.  I became an interpreter unto myself – translating the language of the Tao te Ching into the language of the New Testament into the language of Yoga Sutras of the Patanjali. And I encountered other interpreters as well, like Thich Nhat Hanh and his Living Buddha, Living Christ.

In January, I set the intention to find community among like minds.  Within a week I found my local Unitarian Universalist congregation.  I have been attending services when I can since the beginning of the year.  In this space, no one asks you what you believe, but rather members are encouraged to courageously pursue truth and understanding.  There are earth-honoring services and activities, Buddhist meditations, drumming circles, and yes, even Easter and Passover observances.  The sacred text is the body of world literature.  It is the creed-less faith, but the principles resonate with that which matters most to me in this world — with all that matters anyway — Love.

This past Sunday, the congregation reflected on its commitment to social justice.  After recounting the denomination’s historical commitment to human rights, service, community education and organizing, advocacy and the like, the lay speaker outlined this local body’ commitment to social action. And then the question was posed to the congregation — What are you passionate about?  What matters to you?

You never could have convinced me before I left home that I’d be doing what I found myself doing in the following moments.  I raised my hand and took the mic.  I introduced myself and talked about how, as an assistant pastor of a small non-denominational church, I was confronted with woeful reality of the prevalence of violence against women and the faith community’s silence, supporting doctrines, and perpetration of it.  I told them that I became committed to anti-violence against women’s work and have made it my profession and the volunteer work to which I lend my hand.  I also told them of the ways the church’s anti-homosexual teachings and practices have harmed me personally as I watched them harm people I love, and why I am the staunch ally to the GLBT community that I am.

Others spoke after me about the causes that mattered most to them.  And then Matt stood up.  Matt is a gay man and father of a son whom he raises with his partner.  He spoke of the challenges his family faces and said that nothing touches him more deeply than for a straight person to take a stand and say, this is wrong.  Matt hugged and thanked me after service — and I thanked him.  I thanked him for the opportunity to love and be loved.  It’s what this is all about.

In 2006, I gave up church for Lent.  This year, I will be ending my 3 year Lenten fast by attending service on Easter Sunday.  I will be observing Easter and Passover with a group of people who don’t necessarily identify with the faiths either of these observances represent — but who recognize the value of the message of them.  I am finally able to look at Christianity with new eyes — eyes that don’t see and criticize what I find problematic.  I am finally able to afford Christians the same liberty I afford all other religions — the freedom to answer life’s questions in their own way.

I wouldn’t say that I’ve come full circle.  I will say that I have evolved.  I can embrace the Christ and that in me.  I can embrace the Buddha and that in me.  I can embrace the Spring and that in me.  I can embrace the Light and that in me.  And All of That — All That Is — in You.

Namaste.

I’m a Believer!

Im Free to be Perfectly Balanced

I'm Free to be Perfectly Balanced

Today I am absolutely convinced of the power of intention.  I am finding my comfy spot in what has been, up to this point, a love-hate relationship with it.  I love that I spent December 31st setting intentions for 2009 and that when I reviewed that list on January 31st a significant portion, 9 of 39 actually, of those intentions have already manifested.  I hate that this means that I have wasted a lot of time believing that the outcome of my life was up to someone else.  And I hate that it means that a lot of the mess in my life has been self-induced because I didn’t know any better.  Meh. Water under the bridge — now I know, and it’s on!

In class Sunday (at Institute for Integrative Nutrition, where I’m studying to be a holistic health counselor) we were asked to write down some intentions for the next week.  I set the intention to let go of a relationship that’s standing in the way of another intention — to have the relationship I want.  I specifically set Friday as my target date to have this completed.  Wouldn’t you know that on the bus from NY last night I couldn’t shake the urgency to go ahead and end it.  The email composed itself in my head as the tears streamed down my face.  The knot in my stomach grew tighter and tighter and served as my reminder of how much energy I was sending into this wasteland.  The tears were cleansing — a loss is a loss — but were also mixed with a bit of fear.  I worried that I’d have to lose the entire friendship and not just the part that’s standing in the way of my future. Well, it’s Monday and by 9:00 this morning it was all done.  Finished. Over.  And the friendship remains in tact. Upon re-reading the specific intention I wrote down – it says, “Release “Guy” – while hopefully maintaining the friendship.”  So which would you say was more real, more powerful?  My fear of losing the friendship or the intention to keep it?  This grows curiouser and curiouser and I’m having fun with it all.

And that’s just one example–there are so many more here as I flip through my journal.  Get clear on what you want in life and the Universe delivers.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this work in my life in the past few months alone — and, if I’m honest, I can see how it worked when I was clear about how miserable my life was as well.  What you give your energy to grows — I’m such a believer!

So my energy is going toward creating the life I want.  It’s happening so fast it’s a little mind boggling.  The number of like-minded people who have come into my world is astounding.  They don’t come close to outnumbering the one’s who think I’m weird — but they definitely out-shine them.  There will always be those who think Lex is off her rocker.  They’ve always been around.  The only difference is that now they don’t affect me — not one single bit.  In fact, they amuse me.  Through it all I dare them, just dare them to try it.  Put more energy into your happiness than you do into your misery and see what happens!

Ah.  Loving life at the moment, Folks.  Loving it immensely.

Im free to do what I want any old time
Im free to do what I want any old time
So love me hold me love me hold me
Im free any old time to get what I want

I Complicate It Daily

I haven’t just let it rip here in a long time. I’m feeling like I need something cathartic right now, so I’m going to try to just let this flow without too much self-editing (or trying to make it pretty). If I bore you – come back later. It gets better. I promise.

Part of my life is going so incredibly well. I have left a stressful job in a toxic, insane, unethical workplace and returned to the field I am passionate about – women’s rights – in an employee friendly workplace where I am valued for what I bring to the table and not for how much someone can get out of me. I feel clear about my lane and completely empowered to manage my own project and totally supported should I need any guidance or assistance along the way.

I took a significant pay cut, but my peace of mind is worth every penny. I look at the difference in pay as my financial contribution to the social justice cause I am most passionate about – ending violence against women. I’m proud of the fact that, although I took a pay cut, I was able to speak up for myself and my worth and negotiate a reduced work week so that 1) my pay rate reflects my skill and capabilities and 2) I have time in my life to study, take care of myself or find supplemental work without having to work more than 40 hours per week. My work schedule is completely flexible and if I find a contract that requires fixed hours, my boss is happy to adjust my schedule to accommodate whatever I need to do to make the money I want to make. I honestly can’t ask for anything more. I am completely blessed in this situation. The contentment I feel is the kind of peace which assures you that you’ve made the right decision. Not one single regret with this one. Not one.

I have become much more settled and balanced in my Primary Foods – those things that really nourish us in this life: healthy relationships, regular physical exercise, a fulfilling career and a spiritual practice. I just talked about the career part. Physically these days I am enjoying long walks through the trails through the woods in the park near my house and yoga outside in the park. Even started jogging a bit again. Nothing on earth is more peaceful and serene than being outside breathing deeply in the fall. I could live outside this entire season. I love fall. I am in my element in the fall. As a result, I’ve dropped 9 pounds since I left my old job. Yoga is becoming more and more of a necessity in my life and I’ve discovered that the possibilities of where my meditation practice takes me are endless. I am nowhere near as consistent in either practice as I’d like to be – but they provide a grounded, sacred space for me to work out my spirituality. Healthy relationships?? Hmmm. Let’s come back to that.

I have been confronted with the need to answer a question that has haunted me since the playground taunts in elementary school: Who do you think you are? Any time I have heard that question in my life has been an instance of someone attempting to minimize an attribute. Lexi’s smart. “Who does she think she is?” Lexi’s cute. “Who does she think she is?” Lexi has a great shape. “Who does she think she is?” Lexi has skills in the office that other co-workers don’t. “Who does she think she is?” I’ve noticed how I have attempted to shrink and hide in many a creative way to avoid having that question come up. I honestly believe that , on some level, packing on this weight over the years has been an effort to hide from, as Marianne Williamson puts it, my light. So, I am ready, I think, to finally answer that question. Who DO I think I am? Who do you think YOU are? I am planning to answer that question in a post really soon.

By and large, things are great in my life. I feel like I am on my path. I am happy. But…

Healthy relationships? Let’s see. I have healthy relationships with wonderful friends. I have friends, great friends. But, even in their greatness, they are so normal and human. That means that I deal with jealousy and insecurity, difference of opinion, questions of trust, hurt feelings, forgiveness and all the other things that go along with human interaction with and among my wonderful friends. I have great family. My immediate family has been through many changes, twists, turns and growing pains. I take responsibility for being the catalyst (or cause – depending on your perspective) of much of that. The result is that we love the hell out of each other, pretty much have a no holds barred approach to confronting issues when they arise and we generally have a great time together. I am loving living with my parents again and I love my brother and SIL and nephew so much I could eat them. My extended family has its quirks and challenges but, in the end, we’re family and there’s no major drama going on at the moment (at least that anyone’s telling me about – which is perfectly fine by me.) Friends and family. Lovely. I am blessed. I am thankful.

But I want a partner. Period. I am finally there. I’ve been through many phases post-divorce, the most recent being dating non-exclusively (or wildin’ out a bit – depending on your perspective) and I am done with it. I’ve actually been over it for a while, but I’ve been too afraid to completely let go of anyone and completely leave myself – dare I say it – alone. I think while I was in the phase of not wanting to see anyone exclusively I consistently picked men who, for one reason or another, were unavailable – practically or emotionally, or both. I have recently found myself drawn to yet another situation of this nature and I am really, really over it. But I struggle. My timing was off. I shouldn’t have let me heart want something more before I completely ended the relationships I started in which something more was not part of the deal. Now I find myself trying to fit square pegs into round holes rather than create a void and just learn to either experience and be with the emptiness, or wait for the Universe to fill the vacuum it abhors. I feel like I’m leaning in when it comes to my relationships with the guys in my life right now and that is not the posture I want. I feel like I’m giving my power away rather than standing in my power and allowing the universe to respond to my intention.

Those last 3 sentences probably sound like metaphysical mumbo-jumbo to most, but they are principles that have become a significant part of how I view the world and life in general.

So here I am, afraid to let go, afraid to hold on. I know the only answer if for me sit with and explore that fear, but I avoid it. I complicate it. Daily.