Tuesday, September 27, 2016

I See You

A few weeks ago, our family shared the movie "Avatar" with a friend who had never seen it.  It was wonderful to see the spectacular visual effects of the film again, and the story line was compelling.

Although some would look askance at me for even watching a film that glorifies a 'mother-earth' type religion, I find the connection that The Na'vi have with their deity Eywa extremely real; it touches every aspect of their lives.  The Na'vi come to accept Jake (the hero) as one of them - but not without some misunderstanding.  Jake is a paraplegic, but when he sleeps, his consciousness is in his Avatar body - in which he can interact with the Na'vi. They know from the outset that he is a 'dream-walker' - a human in Na'vi form, and yet because Eywa has chosen him (a powerful scene that literally saves his life), he is brought to the village and assigned a Na'vi guide or teacher so that he may learn their language and their ways (in other words, their culture).

One of the most striking things about the culture of the Na'vi is their greeting for each other: "I see you."  As one of Jake's cultural mentors tells him when he is awake, this is not merely physical vision but a seeing of the person, the spirit inside, the individual's heart or character, all that makes them who they are.  It implies an intimacy that in our culture is usually only reserved for family and close friends, but there is something inherently real and right about this kind of connection with each other that resonates with me.  There are no barriers, no pretenses, no fake smiles. They feel what they feel when they feel it and they are open with each other. I think it is all a part of how they interact with Eywa and with the world around them. As Jake learns to interact with Eywa as well as with his Na'vi teacher, he begins to "see" the Na'vi, and consider himself one of them, one of "the people." 

Photo "Eye" courtesy of graur codrin at
The greeting "I see you" is one I have adopted in my relationship with my Creator. Prayer has now become for me more of a heart attitude or focus, a knowing that I am loved and heard, more like petals opening in the sunlight than a spewing volcano of pleading words, eyes tightly closed and fearing destruction or refusal. 

In the middle of the night, when I awake and all is dark, all I need to do now is to acknowledge the fact of His presence and of His love for me.  I know in my deepest heart that He "sees" me - knows me intimately, loves me passionately and completely - and my desire is to know Him progressively, to "see" Him in the same way. All that really stands in the way of that "seeing" is my own difficulty in becoming consistently aware of that vital connection. 

I've also started to use this expression with my family (that is, my husband and my daughter) from time to time.  It always brings a smile because they know what it means!  It means that I understand them, accept them completely, love to spend time with them, and so much more.  

Over the past year or so, my life has become so much more about experiencing and reflecting love, and so much less about rules and obligations.  That's not to say I don't relapse into the Abyss Of The Should, but when I spend time meditating on His love, I find that there is no need for The Should.  I naturally want to live every moment of my life in the light of that all-seeing, all-accepting, no-holds-barred love.  

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The pressure and politics - and pleasures - of isolation

One day recently, I was having a discussion about something with an acquaintance, when the topic turned to something on which the person and I did not share the same opinion.  

She asked me about it, so in spite of my better judgement, I gave my opinion, which I backed up with anecdotal (based on personal experience) evidence.  It stopped the conversation cold, and both of us commented on how awkward it felt, how inappropriate it was for us to even be discussing it. 

After that, I sensed a coldness, a withdrawal of respect, if you will, between us.  And it got me to thinking about the subtle pressure that comes to bear when two people don't agree on something - the social pressure to conform, for one side to convince the other and failing that, the removal of that thing from the list of things where one feels "safe".  

There is a lack of acceptance that is inherent in such differences of opinion; one side is unswayed by the other, and a (silent or voiced) agreement takes place where both parties resolve never to bring up that topic again.  Whether that is from a fear of confrontation, or from an unwillingness to entertain the other's point of view (belief, doctrine, attitude) again based on fear of being proven wrong or anger that someone holds to a different viewpoint, the result is the same: the walls go up and a whole other area is cordoned off with a big "Do Not Enter" sign posted, a "demilitarized zone" - a no-man's-land or an emotional mine-field.

I've been giving this idea some thought since deciding to leave the institutional church last summer.  And I've noticed that in some ways, and with some people more than others, the same process has been happening with people who had said to me that we were part of the family of God.  Yet when we decided to leave the physical house where they felt (to one degree or the other) comfortable, and where we did not, there was that same awkwardness, that withdrawal, that "let's not go there" mentality that just ... appeared.  Out of nowhere, it seemed, people who would laugh and joke with us simply avoided eye contact, or promised to keep in touch but didn't, or if they did keep in touch, there were awkward silences, things they felt they couldn't share, things we felt that we couldn't share - because we were in different worlds.  

And slowly, that resulted in isolation from a community we THOUGHT was based on more than just the name engraved on a plaque or painted on a sign near the church entrance.  It made us question whether the relationships that we had spent years developing were nothing more than a sham - whether they were based on whether we kept up our end of the contract, or whether we were "of use" to the community.  It all seemed so ... superficial, petty, and ... conditional. 

We made it clear that we were not leaving our relationship with God, but that we no longer subscribed to living life by traditions, rules, and the fear and shame that is behind those things.  We thought that those who knew us best would understand that this was not a rejection of them, but a personal decision.  And perhaps some of them did.  

Yet ... here we are.  God sets up times when we are in community with one or two other people and seeking His face - and He shows up; these times are wonderful and remind me of what the early church must have been like.  Yet for the most part, it's like we have died as far as relationships with some people are concerned.  

Don't get me wrong; our relationship with God has deepened and we are experiencing peace and joy more now than ever before.  Yet even that makes some folks uncomfortable; after all, aren't we supposed to shrivel up and waste away to nothing if we don't slap our fannies on a church pew somewhere? 

Photo "Bald Eagle Close Up" courtesy of
Tina Phillips at
More and more, I don't think so. I think that that mentality limits God in ways I am not comfortable with.  And truth be told, while there are some aspects of church attendance and traditional ministry that I do miss at times, in those moments, I usually just play the tape all the way to the end and realize that for me, it's not worth going back for just those few things.  

I kind of feel like Neo in "The Matrix" - I've swallowed the red pill (those who've seen the movie know what I mean) and now, things just don't look the same anymore.  And it IS isolating.  The very nature of that realization means that there ARE going to be topics I won't be able to discuss with certain  people, and there are going to be some people who won't feel comfortable being around me either. It isn't that they are wrong and I am right; it's just that we are in different places with different needs. Yet, for someone who all her life wanted everyone to like her and approve of her, it's a big deal that some people now ... don't - or they don't act like they do.

Accepting that is probably one of the hardest things about this past year.  As liberating as this lifestyle is, as wonderful as it is to look at life through the lens of God's unconditional love, it is still sometimes a lonely place - but one dear friend of mine turned that thinking around when she called it "the aerie" - the eagles' nest.

I like that.  True, there is isolation, but there are also many more updrafts, and the advantage of a bird's eye view, so to speak.  Things that seemed so huge: political wrangling, position, petitions, placards, pleading, proselytizing, pontificating, and pseudo-pious posturing ... seem so puny and piddling compared to the simple truth that God is God and I am not.  And I'm okay with that.

In fact, I'm better than okay with it.  I like it just fine!