Sunday, March 28, 2010

"The narrow place"

I've been having a rough time for about the last six months. There's been lots of personal, familial, spiritual, and physical stuff going on, with lots of grief and loss.

About a week and a half ago, I was finally able to move into a space of being present with some of my grief and mourning. Not all of it, and not all at once -- too overwhelming! -- but a space where I could begin to be present with bits and pieces of it at a time.

Today, worship was good. But I had a hard time settling in. I was slightly chilly but reasonably comfortable physically, and I had a very comfortable seat. But quieting my mind, the spiritual settling in, centering... those were not coming easily. Paying attention to my breathing sometimes helps; it helped some today, but didn't bring me to that centered sense. It's been quite a while since I did a formal grounding-and-centering meditation in Meeting; I thought that might help, so I tried; but I got nowhere. As often happens, I had music running through my mind; and music often helps center my worship... nope. And there was nothing bringing me much mental or spritual comfort, either, nothing helping to put me back in that mind-set where there's rough stuff going on but it's okay and Meeting gives me space separate from my worry so I can come back to it refreshed... not today.

Finally, I reached a place where I decided I would just be there in my distraction. There's an exercise in meditation, and sometimes worship, where if you get distracted, you notice your distraction, then put it aside. Nope. Since I couldn't do that, I just decided my distraction would be front and center.

And this actually brought me some peace.

One of the things I've been fretting about is my ministry. What came to me in Meeting today was, "My ministry right now is to be in the hard place -- the narrow place: be faithful to that."


Why did the words "the narrow place" come to me?

When I first sat down in worship today, the song in my head was "Lo Yisa Goy":

Lo yisa goy el goy cherev
Lo ilmadu od milchama

Both versions I know were running through my head in the medley we sang one year in SpiralSong: the version I learned from Libana, and the perhaps better-known version by Jaffa and Minkhoff (which appears in the Friends' hymnal, Worship in Song, #300).

And everyone 'neath their vine and fig tree
Shall live in peace and unafraid
And into plowshares beat their swords
Nations shall learn war no more

The words in the Hebrew and English versions are from the the books of Micah and Isaiah in the Hebrew scriptures. I have often sung this song at Passover. This year, Passover starts tomorrow (Monday) at sunset, and I am in the midst of preparing for a Seder tomorrow night in blessed community.

At Passover, we are instructed to tell the story of the Exodus as if it had happened to us. Some of the language that describes our experience of slavery in Mitrayim is "the narrow place." In Passover Seders based on the haggadah by Elliott batTzedek which I usually use, we talk about our experiences of Mitrayim: our experience, as women and as lesbians, of the "narrow places" and of the different kinds of slavery forced on us by sexism, heterosexism, ableism, classism, racism, and other related oppressions (because they are all related).

Exodus is a story of deliverance into freedom from slavery and from oppression, and about how hard it can be to throw off the mind-set of oppression -- our mental chains -- as well.

The Hebrews' G-d led them to the narrow place and back out of it. While they (we) were there, perhaps that was their (our) witness to the world.

It has been hard for me to embrace "the narrow places" in my life. I know I have leftover messages from childhood lurking in my head that still insist silence is much safer when I'm going through a hard time. Even more so when it's a hard time that involves conflict with other people, or the loss of relationships other people don't fully understand. Shhhhh, those old messages say.

There have been other times in worship when I've had messages similar to the one that came to me in Meeting today. If it was true today, then it's important -- for me, for my ministry, for my sense of community, and for my relationship with the Goddess, and for reasons I don't know and may never know -- for me to be open and honest about being not just in a hard place, but being in a narrow place, now.

Maybe this time I can embrace being in a narrow place -- be fully present with it, and not try to hide from other people that this is where I am.

I don't expect it will be very comfortable.


Dara said...

I hear you.

hedra said...

My mom calls that 'being a bear stuck in a great tightness'. She has a whole sermon on the topic - and you're right, you have to be in the narrow place. In her framing of it, it is that you have to be with yourself while your shape changes to allow you through. In Pooh's world, to do that, you keep company with good friends, read a sustaining book, and be patient with the stuckness. Embracing it is exactly right, IMHO. Once you've gotten used to spotting it for what it is, and opening up to it, it gets ... well, not easier, but more practiced, smoother. I now get an 'ahh' feeling when I realize I'm in yet another narrow place, because I know that my job is to stay here and be in it until it eases past/through. I seek good company and sustaining reading, and welcome it, knowing that there will be another open space to come. Actually quite similar to childbirth - transition is very much the same mental/emotional/spiritual process, even though for that I am myself the 'narrow place' (interesting spin, though - picture the universe being equally distressed by being the narrow place in which you are stuck, and the universe also having to wait and welcome and sustain itself through until you move through...).

sta┼Ťa said...

Dara, thanks.

hedra, thanks. Yes, W mentioned that, too.

For a while I was pretty good, I thought, at recognizing it when I was going to be spending time here... but this time I've just been bowled over -- perhaps b/c I expected the complete opposite! A lot of my being bowled over has been the lack of community, at least local, in-person community, since I moved. I have been sustained by far-away community, for which I'm deeply grateful. I don't know what I would have done without it.

Very similar to both birth and dying, now that you mention it... and maybe the space between death and birth...

I know that I'm in a time of transformation and transition; I haven't figured out yet entirely which things are being transformed, and I sure don't have a clue yet what things are going to look like on the other side. (Unless you count Edinburgh Castle, since I do know how that looks. ;-) )

I am reminded both of Sallie McFague's essay "God as Mother," and also of some of Carol Christ's writing in She Who Changes -- the universe being equally distressed and suffering with us. Her notions of God/dess don't quite match my experience, but the notion of Divine co-suffering is an important one.

Perhaps now that I understand that this is where I am, and that I'm going to be here for a while, I can figure out how to hang out... and how to bitch about it, b/c that part is also important. We don't have to like it, after all. ;-)

I'm also reminded of a chant from when I taught preschool: "Can't go over it, can't go under it, can't go around it, gotta go through it." Which I've certainly referred to a lot in other times/parts of my process...