What If I’m Really a Witch?

photo of Wicked Witch of the West, courtesy answerbag.comMy apologies to the genuine witches out there.  I know you’ve had a rough time recently, what with all of the Christine O’Donnell nonsense.  I’m not talking about you.  I mean “witchy”, as in an unpleasant woman, as in…well, I’m trying to keep the language clean on my blog, but I’m sure you get the point.  I’ve been muddling along in some relationships lately and I’m trying to figure out why things are so difficult.  I’m a little fixated right now on the word “insight”.  This is a word I’ve heard counselors bat around a lot:  “So-and-so lacks insight,” meaning that the individual under discussion doesn’t have a clear view of her own motives and behaviors, doesn’t understand the source of her difficulties.  She is not self-aware.

We all know people like this, don’t we?  Think about the person who perceives of himself as the life of every party, while those around him wish he would pipe down and quit showing off.  Or consider the poor soul who feels she is providing valued critical analysis in the work place, while everyone around her – including her boss – sees her as an annoying nitpicker.  C.S. Lewis delivered a classic line on a particular kind of person who lacks insight:  “She was the sort of person who lived for others.  You could tell the others by their hunted expressions.”  That joke is an old favorite of mine, and yet I can’t read it without feeling sorry for the woman Lewis described.  To see yourself in such noble terms and to be so very wrong – well, it’s a painful and humiliating thing to contemplate.

But I am contemplating it.  What if I lack insight?  Perhaps I’m not as honest as I suppose.  Perhaps I’m more passive-aggressive than I will acknowledge, even to myself.  Maybe there is more manipulation in my dealings with others than I can really grasp.  Maybe I have strategies for getting my own way.  Maybe I’m self-aggrandizing.  Maybe I make others feel small.

Maybe I’m a witch.

So I’m thinking, thinking, thinking, but I’m also praying.  There is a prayer in Psalm 139 that seems fitting:

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.

It may be that the Psalmist was trying to argue his case with God – “Look, I have nothing to hide!  You can examine me and you won’t find anything offensive.”  But for me, the prayer works as a plea for insight.  “God, I know that you know me better than I know myself.  Look hard at my character, show me where I’m screwing up and damaging my relationships, and lead me on the path to reconciliation.”

I may not know the whole truth about myself, but I know this:  I don’t want to be a witch.

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You Are Not Alone

I’m sure I need this more than you do today, but I’m sharing it anyway.

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The Amazing Larry at the Cathedral Basilica

photo of St. Louis Cathedral Basilica, courtesy archstl.orgDear Larry, our guide:

We walked into the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica today knowing nothing about the church except that it is beautiful.  You made our visit infinitely richer by answering dozens of questions, explaining the dense symbolism that I never would otherwise have understood, and sharing with us your story.  All day I have been remembering your description of the Easter Vigil, and the beautiful lines you quoted from the Exsultet.  You, Larry, were fantastic and I hope we see you again.

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Week One, 2011: God is Ready

I’m up early today, getting ready to go on a “long term planning retreat” with the pastoral staff.  Sounds very grown up and professional and I’m a little nervous about whether I”ll have anything to contribute.   Because of the retreat and a couple of other commitments, my posts this weekend will be brief.

I have no more resolutions – at least no more that I’m willing to share publicly.  The five that I have posted provide more than enough challenge as I start this year.  This morning I’d like to share with you an excerpt from The Jesuit’s Guide to (Almost) Everything by James Martin, SJ.  It seem especially appropriate this week, as millions of us try to keep our resolutions and change our lives.

In the Gospels, Jesus often meets people in the midst of their busy lives:  Peter mending his nets by the seashore, Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth.  Just as often he encounters people when they’re at their absolute worst:  an adulterous woman about to be stoned, a woman who has been sick for many years, a possessed man not even in his right mind.  In each of these situations God said to these people, busy, stressed out, worried, frightened, “I’m ready to meet you, if you’re ready to meet me.”

If God meets you where you are, then where you are is a place to meet God.  You don’t have to wait until your life settles down, or the kids move out of the house, or you’ve found that perfect apartment, or you recover from that long illness.  You don’t have to wait until you’ve overcome your sinful patterns, or you’re more “religious” or you can pray “better.”

You don’t have to wait for any of that.

Because God is ready now.

I keep that passage posted over my desk at church to remind me, week in and week out, that my current condition and circumstances need not keep me from God.  Better still, they don’t keep God from me.   And wherever you are – resolving and starting over, failing, giving up, skeptical that change is even possible, or perhaps blessedly content with your life as it is – God is ready to meet you where you are.  Whatever else happens to you this year, I pray that 2011  is rich with encounters with the One who is the true source of all new beginnings.

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Week One, 2011: I Will Age Gratefully

Resolution #5:  I Will Stop Obsessing About Looking Old

I passed a woman on my way into Walmart yesterday.  She was older than I am, maybe 60.  Her face was orange with a heavy layer of makeup and her fluffy bob of hair was a brassy, sort of Gwen-Stefani-blonde.  The combined effect made her entire head glow radioactively.  Despite that, you could see that she was nice looking – slender, nicely dressed, fine featured.  As I passed her I thought, “Dear, attractive older woman; you are trying too hard.  You don’t have to look 40.  You could be a lovely 60 if you just eased up a little.”

photo of aging Barbie courtesy guidespot.com

Aging gracefully, Barbie style

Aging gracefully sounds wonderful, and I can preach it (at least in my head), but living it isn’t as easy.  I hate the visible signs that I’m getting older.  When I hear actresses say they are proud of their lines and gray hairs because they represent accomplishments and life well lived, something ugly rises up in me and I want to slap their lying mouths.  I don’t want people to look at me and think, “Wow!  Look at those wrinkles!  She has lived some life!”  I’d rather people say, “She has a 19-year-old?  No way.  Is this one of those Dorian Gray kind of deals?”  But that doesn’t happen.  I am 45 and I look every bit of it, and maybe more.  I am occasionally mistaken for my youngest child’s grandmother, which is a real ego booster.  It doesn’t help that I was born looking worn out.  Even in photos of me as a little girl I have an expression on my face that says, “Oh, Lordy, it’s been a long day.  I need to get my feet up.”  But I don’t feel old, not on the inside.  Anne Lamott wrote, “I am every age I have ever been,” and she’s on to something.  I still feel like a child sometimes, and often feel like a young woman.  That just makes it all the more jarring – every, single time –  to pass a store window and catch the reflection of that woman glancing at me.

I could rant about our youth and body obsessed culture blah, blah, blah, but we’ve all heard that enough times.  I do think a few things are true for women, though.  The world is a little less hospitable if you are not pretty.  The world is a little less hospitable if you are not thin.  And the world is a little less hospitable if you are not young.  Alas, even if you’re born with good looks and manage to stay thin, you are going to get old.

I will turn 46 in less than two months.  That is the late 40s, friends, and it is time that I sucked it up and accepted who am and where I’m headed.  The fact that I’m not botoxing my face or dressing like the cast of Gossip Girl (you’re welcome, for that mental image) doesn’t absolve me of responsibility.  I am just as guilty as the woman I saw at Walmart of not being at peace with my age.

photo of Jamie Lee Curtis courtesy rickmccharles.com

Is this really aging badly?

But this phrase – “aging gracefully”  – carries some baggage with it that I don’t want.  Just google it if you don’t believe me.  To age gracefully is to both look your age and to look fantastically good for your age.  And our culture’s standards are pretty brutal.  I saw Jamie Lee Curtis on a list of “worst aging celebrities”.  I know she’s become an object of fun because of the yogurt ads, but seriously, does she look bad for 52?  I can’t take the pressure!

My mental picture of a beautiful old woman is my grandmother.  Here are some things I remember about the way she looked:  she had, short, snow white hair; she had a receding chin; because she had a narrow face her teeth were crowded and crooked in her mouth.  I’m not sure that even in her youth my grandmother would have been called a beauty, and she went gray very early.  I’ve seen a photo of her, completely gray, when her youngest child was still a little boy.  Perhaps she, too, was sometimes mistaken for the grandmother rather than the mother.  But my grandmother was poised, gentle, wise and interested in the world.  Well into “old age” she was still traveling the world, playing the organ at her church and singing in the Choral Union.  I have her copy of “War and Peace”.  She read it three times, the last time when she was in her 60s (take that, Michael Steele!).  Her notes on the book are written in the margins, in her tiny script.

If my grandmother ever worried about looking old, I never noticed.  She always dressed well, but she never tried to look young.  I think she would have considered that a distraction from what mattered to her; a waste of time – and we only have so much of that, all of us.

image of old woman's hands courtesy flickr.comSo my hope – my prayer, really, since this will be an internal work that will require God’s help – is to quit worrying about looking older.  I am growing older, and that particular trend in my life is not going to change.  I want to follow my grandmother’s example and not be distracted from living by what I cannot change about life.  If I can’t age gracefully, I will age gratefully.  I will enjoy and give thanks for the good things that come with the passage of time.  I won’t pretend that I’m going to love my wrinkles, but perhaps I can ignore them in favor of focusing on other things.  And if, in the future (hopefully not the near future), I turn into a wrinkled old crone, I want to be a jolly old crone who is still reading and singing and making fun of myself and hugging my grandchildren.

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Week One, 2011: I Will Be a Hugger

Let me begin with an apology to everyone whose eyes are still burning from yesterday’s post title.  I have no defense except that I recently watched “True Grit” and I may have been unduly influenced by some of the lesser characters.  No harm was intended, and I will not succumb to such a temptation again.   Now, my penchant for age-inappropriate and outdated slang?  I’m keeping that, yo.

Resolution #4:  Hugs all around!

Grandma hugging boy painting courtesy soentpiet.com

The Grammy I will be, in my best wig and housecoat, hugging my slightly overweight grandchild

Those who know me at all know that I’m not a very demonstrative person.   I admire my warmhearted friends who have a ready embrace for the whole world.  I’m trying to learn from them, too.  It’s easy for me to be affectionate with my daughters, because they initiate hugs and kisses so often.  But there came a time when the boys stopped initiating, and I don’t necessarily think about it…and suddenly I realize I’ve gone for days without touching my sons.

This year I’m resolved that everyone in this family gets hugged by me every, single day.  This is such a small goal – and such a given in many families – that I’m almost embarrassed to share it.  The thing is, even though I may not think to offer an affectionate touch, I know how good it feels to receive one.  Why would I not want to give that gift to my children every day?  I might try to give a few more hugs to my friends, too, although I can anticipate a few of them reading this with alarm.  Don’t worry.  I know who you are.  I understand.  And I won’t hug you.

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Week One, 2011: I’m Gonna Git Me Some Book Larnin’

photo of bookshelves courtesy flickr.comResolution #3:  Pursue Further Education

As some of you may know, I was given an exciting new opportunity this past fall when I was asked to join the staff at our church.  I’m the Director of Christian Education.  I prefer the term “spiritual formation” to “Christian education”, actually, but who quibbles about titles when they’re being given the chance of a lifetime?  So I’ve been at the church part-time since late October, riding a steep learning curve.  This work really has been a dream of mine, and I think it may be a vocation.  But I am, at this point, completely self-taught.  No special training, no seminary or Bible college in my background, no certificate of specialNESS that gives me credibility (any True Stories fans out there?).  I’m not even sure how I got the job, if truth be told, but I’m not going to dig into that too deeply.  All I can say for myself, really, is that I am a constant reader and I know how to spot a good Christian book.  So my thoughts have been shaped by Foster and Wink, Cavanaugh and Nouwen, Lodahl and Grenz, Wright and Hauerwas, to name a few.  And the Bible!  I have to include that because I wrote a post last winter on my decade in spiritual reading, and was mocked at a fundamentalist website for not including the Bible.  Lesson learned, fundies.  I do read the Bible.

image of Julian of Norwich courtesy livingwittily.typepad.com

Julian of Norwich, my favorite female theologian. Sadly, reading five books will not make me like her.

This year, I want to deliberately pursue…what should I call it?  Professional development?  I’m starting simply, by pursuing  a certificate in Theology and Doctrinal Studies through our denomination’s Christian Lay Training program.  I’m guessing, really, that Theology and Doctrinal Studies shouldn’t be in the same sentence as the word “simply”.  But only five books are required for this certificate.  Five!  And I already own three of them!  I don’t think I’m going to feel professionally developed after that, not when the bar is set so low.  Once I’ve completed the Theology and Doctrinal Studies certificate, however, I can apply to Lay Minister Studies.  You can tell that program is supposed to be big stuff, because I can’t even be accepted into it without the approval of my pastor and church board.  Completing that program might qualify as a certificate of specialNESS, might make me feel a bit more qualified to carry my title.

Maybe you detect a hint of sarcasm.  It’s there, but it’s just acting as a defense mechanism against the possibility of failure.  In a perfect world where time and money were no object, I’d be applying to seminary.  I really do want to make a long term commitment to the work of the church, and I want to be equipped for the job.  Perhaps the small steps I’ve outlined above will solidfy my feelings and lead me, eventually, to seminary.  Before I reach retirement age would be a plus, but aside from that, I’m not in a hurry.

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