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by Eileen Knoff

I haven’t added to my blog in a while. Life’s been happening, and though I love to write sometimes I can’t find enough hours in the day to get through the day and write down what I’m thinking as well.

God knows, I am thinking all the time. Too much, some would say. My family says I talk to myself–out loud.   I’ve been doing that a lot lately to try to stay on top of things I must attend to. I’m finishing a doctorate program by compiling a book of past writings and photographs from an online sequence I offer called Brigid’s Circle. And I’m planning a daughter’s wedding for the summer. And I’m to be ordained by a group of evolving Catholics and Protestants next September.  So, much to tend to, and those three things don’t include the meals and the exercise that comes with trying to simply stay healthy. Nor the laundry–there is always the laundry.

In the midst of the busyness, I find I must write, I must search for the words that express what’s really going on inside. I must seek to understand in the written word what I feel and what I believe.

What better time for that  than the three days called the Triduum, when we recall (and some of us actually relive through ritual) the story of Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection. It’s three-days tailor made for human reflection on our life’s journey.

I know a lot of people these days who can’t take the Easter story literally anymore.  Some parts of it seem too fantastical to them–like someone rising from the dead. Or they have been so wounded by believers of the story, they avoid the story itself. I can understand their reluctance, even as I am drawn to the deeper meanings of the story myself. It’s a powerful story, so powerful it’s lasted all these years–more than two thousand. That’s a long time. In the world of literature that’s called a classic. My mother taught me to value the classics and to take time to read and understand them. And so I do.

I was a lit major (B.A. and M.A.) decades ago, taught English for a long time, edited a journal, wrote freelance for the Catholic press in the 1990s.  I still love poetry and a good novel or essay, and appreciate the value of looking at a story from a more metaphorical perspective. Some wonder if all our theology isn’t metaphor anyway–our human attempts to describe something we’ve experienced of the Ultimate that is really beyond our human ability to describe. But humans use words–and other forms of symbol–to try to name that which is unnameable.  And some of us can’t help ourselves–we just must do this to be who we are.

Lovers of literature and theology tend to fall in this category it seems to me. We will try to find the words even when the meanings we seek elude us. (We can be dangerous that way–beware. It’s always important to take us with a grain of salt–and trust your own reflections in the end.)

I have decided to treat these three days of Triduum as a kind of retreat time, even though I’m still tending actively to all the details of life. I will have gatherings with friends, I should clean up the house, I need to finish laying out the Brigid’s Circle sequence. I have emails to respond to. Still, I believe now is the time to treat myself, treat life,  as a gift these next three days and pay attention to what I’m passionate about, to how Love seeks to be most alive in me.

For that is, I believe, the theme of the final days of Jesus–letting a deep and true and passionate Love have its way with us.

I experience Jesus of the Scriptures as a man so on fire with the Love of the one who created him that he couldn’t help but seek and listen to that love and live it, even to the point of his own demise. He was willing to go that far for the good of his friends–and his enemies. When some of those friends and enemies conspired together to destroy him,  he looked at them with love and stayed true to his dream of a world where gifts would be shared generously with others, where all could live in mutual dignity–from the least to the greatest.  He lived this dream by using his  power to heal and feed and teach  without counting the cost or putting anyone down in the process. Oh, he criticized sometimes–usually those who thought they knew it all and those who said one thing and did another. Imposters.

Even when the powers that were in the world in Jesus’ day–in the temple and in the town–saw him as a threat to their power, he continued to love. And it got him killed. It’s been getting people killed around the world as long as there has been a world–I see it lately in the news from the Middle East where people are putting their lives on the line for freedom. The same Spirit that lived in Jesus seems to me to be living in them whether they call themselves Christians or not. It’s the same Spirit of Love seeking true human freedom. Some theologians would say that’s the whole point of Jesus’ life–to show us the way to true human freedom–the freedom to love.

To me Jesus death, passion and ressurection is about loving–even when it hurts. It’s about believing that in that loving new life will emerge if we trust the Source of the Love itself, and refuse to become ourselves what we don’t like in others. We will need to forgive to find that freeom, I have discovered. And that’s hard.

We all want to find that connection to deep Love. I see it in moms and dads who every day love until it hurts–giving, giving, giving for a next generation to grow and prosper. And friends and lovers who make room for the other whose view differs from their own because of love. I see it in employers who try to keep on an employee even when it hurts their own bottom line, and employees who give a little extra to the good of the whole just because they know it’s the right thing to do.  I see it in all of us who go the extra mile for someone else.

Our world need love so much. We need so much to listen to those who are different from us. I know I need help from a power greater than my personal power to do that well. I need these three days of Triduum to pay better attention to the Love I sense to be in each part of creation so that I can tap into the Love for my own good and then release it for others, rather than walk away or turn inward and brood.

Oh, God, Whoever and Whatever you are, help me these holy days to love as you loved, even when it hurts. Help me believe in the deep story lived by Jesus, that Life will out even in the midst of death.

I am grateful for a man who tried to do that fully, and all those in the story who helped him become who he became,  and the people who have kept telling us the story since then.  I’m just one more of those. And I forgive those who fail to live the story fully, for I am one of those too.

Blessings on all that you are about~

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It’s been awhile since I’ve written. More than a month.  So much for the bi-weekly blogs I said I’d write.  Monthly might be more like it.

Life has kept me hopping. Two trips to the Midwest have taken my time–one to reconnect with college roommates and another for a national conference of a religious body with which my ministry is linked. Soon I head south to a recital in which my daughter will play her oboe. She will complete a graduate degree in music performance next summer and then be married.  All good things–all take my attention away from my writing, and this blog about my “plunge into Mystery.”

I wonder whether writing about “Mystery,” i.e. the Ultimate/Divine/God, is all that helpful. I mean, despite the tomes in libraries all over the globe, can any of us know finally what to say about this Ultimate–this Mystery–we call God. Why do I try to write about God? I don’t know, except that it/he/she seems the matter most worth writing about when all is said and done. Everything else on earth simply reflects some shadowy aspect of this Mystery.  At least that’s my view at this precise moment.
What drives me to care? Am I the only one to really care? (I doubt it, but sometimes I do feel so alone in my wonderings.) What makes me want to wonder a loud, here, in a blog, of all places, about something so nebulous–so beyond my knowing. My private journal, I understand wondering there. But publicly?

Maybe what I really want to know is what do you think about the paradox of the Mystery of God–or the Mystery of Life–or those questions that just can’t be sorted out, no matter how hard you try?

I have been pondering lately that I might be better off to let go of trying to probe too deeply this Mystery and just describe what I experience. I’m told that Native Americans in early days avoiding talking much about The Great Spirit with others. Each person’s sense of this nebulous Spirit was left to their private ruminations. There is some Wisdom in that, it seems to me.

So perhaps I would do better to turn to descriptions of the mixed colors of the blueberry bushes lining our back fence or the golden glow of the dogwood and birches gleaming bright gold along our back fence. These matter too, flashing their message of beauty–just as does the hug of a spouse, the thoughtful note from a friend, a phone call from our daughter brighten my day with a sense of being loved.

I can’t really understand The Mystery, but I can name the elements of my day that reassure me life is worthwhile, that encourage me to believe that goodness and beauty will ultimately win the day, despite the darkness that can seem to prevail, especially if I believe what I read in the news–all the violence, the cruelty, the heartlessness. Writing this blog about Plunging into Mystery may simply in the end be about plunging me into my own life, inciting me to appreciate it more fully–every single minute–even if the gift is not immediately evident. Even in the midst of pain.

While I was with my college roommates, celebrating the life of a friend who died this year, far before her time, the phrase kept popping up among us as we talked about what we might do next. “It’s an option, ” I heard us say more than once.

I kept wondering, What is this option? What are we choosing between? I wonder if perhaps my/our basic option is the choice of whether to pay attention to the details of my life–whether to savor the beauty that surrounds me in the simplest of moments– or to press on so busily that I miss the gift of life I’ve been given.

I don’t want to miss my life. I want to live it to the full.  And I’d like to share with those of you who want to read about some of those moments that seem most intensely alive to me. I’d like to hear about the moments when you feel most alive too. Welcome your comments on that–when have you felt most alive lately?

I’ll be back with some of the moments that emblazon themselves in my memory in the weeks ahead.Will it be bi-weekly? monthly?

I’m not sure….one of these days….in the meantime–I’m interested in how you experience Mystery in the everyday of your lives.

Eileen

Putting the first thing first that I said I would in the last blog—making choices of a healing nature—has led to my needing to decide that this blog will come out bi-weekly, or twice a month, depending on the number of weeks in the month. As one who enjoys reading and writing poetry, I must say that the sound of “bi-weekly blog” appeals more to me than a weekly one. And so it shall be. Less can be more.  And enough is enough.

Enough being enough. Another word for that might be contentment. That’s not something we hear much about these days. But it is something I want to encourage in myself—a contented spirit. I don’t equate that word with dispassion or apathy. I can care and be contended. Contentment sits close beside peace and gratitude on a park bench. Restful.

Things I want these days as summer fades into autumn. Sitting in peace and gratitude. Rest.

In contentment I can remain here and now without demanding the next moment please me more than this one does.  Am I expecting the impossible by calling myself into contentment, or just doing what would come naturally in an environment that didn’t always want me to buy and sell?

 I think of Wordsworth words at the turn of the 19th century into the 20th.  “Buying and selling we lay waste our powers. So little we see in nature that is ours/a sordid boon.”

Can progress go on if all of us in this country/world seek to be content? Or would the whole thing collapse? Or maybe contentment and peace are the progress we seek, and all we have to do is choose them. Here. Now.

Is that too simple?

Or is it the simplicity on the other side of complexity?

Just a few wonderings this week. I will be spending the next two weeks in reconnecting with old friends and siblings in some lovely natural settings, in conversation, sharing life in the physical—not online. I must admit despite my blogging (which is because I love to write and want to reach out to interested readers) that I have more of hankering these days for the in-person kind of connections.

What about you? Is online enough? How do we learn to reconnect above ground, out in the air, under the trees? How can online connecting help foster the in-person kind. How can they be mutually supportive rather than exclusive?

There was a story I remember teaching years ago in my high-school English educator life by E.M. Forster called The Machine Stops. It did, and everyone—who had grown overweight and weakened from sitting in front of a machinein the dark –had to come up out from underground and re-acclimate to the air and to the sun–to real life.  It was written in the 1930s. And here we are now.

 Is it time to say enough is enough, and take a break  from these computers. Go outside—and play, until the streetlights go off…

I certainly more  questions than answers this week, I see. Maybe some of you have answers—at least tentative ones?

See you in a couple of weeks,  when I come back inside.~ Eileen

Healthy Choices

I will keep this week’s blog briefer than the last to encourage you to reread Blog Number One if you can.

 I’d like to incorporate some  readers’ questions and comments into future blogs, so I hope you’ll feel free to write a comment to the questions at the end of Blog One. Or raise your own question and speculate on it. I ask only that your comments be phrased so as to keep a healthy conversation going—not to disparage others. Please click the comments link on this page if you want to read what others have said.

Readers who belong to religious traditions other than Roman Catholic noted last week that falling into a dark and difficult time within a religious system is not confined to Roman Catholicism. I have actually  heard that sentiment often from many compassionate people of various traditions along the way of my journey down this well of disillusionment:

“It happens here, too,” they admit, often grimacing as they say the words.

Perhaps maturity is simply realizing that life experiences and relationships will disillusion us, which means  losing our illusions. At that point, we cease living in a fantasy world and start facing reality. In entering the reality that follows my own disillusionment, I am discovering that I create my own reality by the way I think, what I focus on, how I choose to respond.  In each moment of thought, focus, and choice, I become what I want to be, whether I am aware of that or not.  In that moment of choice I face my own freedom. What will I do with it?

Being a person with a very active and creative mind, I tend to get caught up in my ideas. I’m at that point again now, overloaded by the many possibilities I have followed out into projects.  A bit desperate, I pulled an old resource off my bookshelf yesterday—Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I flipped it open and spotted there the chapters:  Put First Things First and Begin with the End in Mind.  Placing those admonitions side by side,  I hear—set your priorities, Eileen.

I must choose.  In that choice lies my freedom.  At this stage of my life—55 and counting—I have come to choose health — in a very broad sense — as a top value. I want to be a person of healing—a life-giving resource for myself and others. I want to be so well in body, mind, and spirit that I wellness give off to those around me.  I want my attitudes and the words and gestures that flow from them to bring a way of being in me and around me that invites full life.  At least I want to do this more often than I don’t.

That’s easier said than done. If I attend to first things first, I must admit that I need to tend to my own  aging body. I need to put the right substances into it and avoid the ones that do more harm than good.  I need to balance work and play so that I don’t become a stressed out ball of anxiety. I need to find time to go within,  to center, and trust that when I move inward to collect myself, I will find a well to refresh me, and when I come out of my inner room, I will have refreshment to bring others.

 I don’t need to try to run it all, figure it all out. I can slow down, and take one step at a time, following what brings me true joy as I do. When I follow the joy a healing spirit seems to rise up in me.

 I believe that joy can guide me to become the life-giving person I want to be. I believe joy can open my eyes momentarily to see through the veil of the physical into a deeper realm, where meaning and wisdom lie.

 In future blogs I’ll tell you more about such moments I have experienced. Usually the joy has followed a hard struggle. I could almost say that joy is the flip side of that hard struggle. Some of these moments been parts of everyday life; some have come in dreams. Some have been in the midst of sacred ritual. Some come when I write. Some come simply in the midst of a heartfelt conversation with a friend.

One of them happened in 2003, as I was standing beside my father’s deathbed as. In the utter silence of that unique second when he breathed his last, a strong Light pierced my back and flew off with his spirit.

From where to where? I don’t know. I just know that in an instant the Light came—and departed. I could not cling to it; nor could I run away from it. It had me, more than I had it. At least for a second.

I am learning that I can’t run away from Life, nor do I want to.  I want to choose to open myself to a full life with all it includes—the darkness and the Light.

What about you?

The above column is by part of the Weekly Blog called Plunging into Mystery @2010 by Eileen Knoff. All rights reserved. Comments welcome!

Entering the Mystery

Hello Friends~

Greetings and thank you for checking out this, my first blog, under the title Plunging into Mystery.

I’ve started writing here because it’s long overdue. People have been telling me I should publish a book for for many years. That’s been hard to wrap my mind– and my schedule–around, even though I’ve been writing since I was a young girl, keeping journals along the way, teaching writing, and serving as part of the freelance Catholic press for much of the 1990s. In 1996 I began to study  theology with the Jesuits at Seattle University’s noted ecumenical theology program and eventually went into service as a lay spiritual director.

When I was first invited to study at Seattle U, I remember thinking–“Well, I hadn’t thought about studying theology, but maybe it will help my writing.”  It’s done that and much more besides. It’s deepened my understanding of myself in this world of ours. And it’s made me keep wondering about my evolving images of God, and meaning behind those images.

There is much to write about on this elusive topic. I hesitate.  The libraries and bookstores are packed with books, including books about Life and God. What can I add that’s of value to the glut of words already out there? I often wonder about that. It’s one thing  to write in a journal or scribble a few poems here and there. It’s something else altogether to get serious –to put out there for public view in a disciplined way where my reflections on life have taken me. Often I’m not so sure myself where my thoughts have led me.  How can I lead you anywhere with them?

As a former student of literature, an English teacher, a freelance writer and an editor,  I know that claiming  I have nothing of much more value to say than the next person  is far more an excuse than a reason. A blog could theoretically resolve some of the challenges I face with pulling my ponderings between two paper covers;  yet a blog can also become a huge black hole, sucking up time. (Setting up this first entry must have taken me five hours yesterday and I’m back editing it again today!)

So why write here?  What would be helpful to both of us? Perhaps it’s helpful for me to let writing take me to deeper places in my life–to dig for the buried treasures I may have plodded past in the midst of the demands of everyday life.  Writing allows me to pause and see–really see–what’s around me, and, perhaps more importantly, what’s in me. I’ve come to realize over the years that what’s truest about me probably bears a resemblance to what’s most true about you–no matter what our nationalities, genders, affiliations. We share a common human story. Sometimes deeply tragic–often wryly humorous. And mostly worth examining closely, with reverent attention. Writing and reading do help me do that.

I accept that you are the ultimate judge of what is of value to you in what I write. And I hope you’ll tell me what is of value to you and what is not. I can keep the things not of value to you, the public reader, tucked away in the pages of my journals, private letters, and first drafts. Here I want us both to connect, to learn together, to become human beings on this planet that can make a difference to tomorrow while we enjoy today. 

I am inspired to take up the keyboard in a more public way NOW because of an awareness growing in me of the pervasive and puzzling paradox that life is.  I stand before that paradox able to name what I consider Ultimate as simply Mystery, a mystery penetrating my life these days due to a serious struggle I’ve undergone over the last decade as some cherished relationships which I  had believed  to be a blessing in my life became  a curse instead and began dragging me to places of personal growth and development I probably would have chosen to avoid if left to my own devices. 

 The process has resembed Alice’s  tumble down a dark well into Wonderland, a fall that required she both shrink and grow,  search for keys to open doors that then led her through confusing conversations with odd characters and into dangerous situations in which she nearly lost her head. I’ve also attended some great tea parties in the midst of it all.

I did find myself reading Alice in Wonderland again a few years back because of its opening image of falling down a well. I remember how Alice tried to grab onto things to break her fall.  To no avail.  I get that.

The impetus for my  plunge into the Mystery began for me in 2002 as I came face to face with the fundamentally abusive nature of the institutional structures of the Roman Catholic Church.  I landed myself in a role of listening deeply and frequently to survivors of clerical abuse in this church, taking on the role of Voice of the Faithful coordinator for the Catholic Church of Western Washington. I was  not alone in my awakening, as Catholics then and now, all across the globe , have been finding ourselves challenged to look squarely in the face of how much harm has been done to children and women and those who dare to question by this imperial model  of governance that we have been supporting with our time, talent, and treasure for many years.

I have suffered as a mother and a woman with a thinking mind, and perhaps a priestly call,  in this system. I have also known much grace in my life as a Catholic.  I was raised in a Vatican II church, starting in Detroit, and learned to believe that the church–the Catholic Church–was/is the People of God, not just a strata of its leadership. I shared in the work of the church in teaching, and liturgical ministry, marriage enrichment, and finally facilitation of small faith communities. Early in this new millennium I became a spiritual director for individuals and a few small groups.  Along the way, I have come to believe in the core sacramental vision of Catholicism that the Divine Life is inherent in all life and deserves to be gratefully celebrated; that belief just keeps growing within me.

Where we have found ourselves in the last decade feels indeed like a black hole. Strangely, the other day I read that scientists are beginning to speculate that black holes don’t just absorb cosmic material to destroy it; they may in fact be an essential  source of new life–at the same time!  Might this black hole of abuse in our church be the very means for our being re-formed as church? I tend to think so now. Perhaps it must  grow very dark in this church before we can see clearly enough to move into the true Light–the Light in the whole people, where we can discover the treasure of our collected giftedness and be lights to the world we have been meant to be–not the global embarrassment we seem to be right now.

Could it be that this crisis in the Catholic Church is the black hole that will be able to lead us from dark patterns of the past into a new day, where we claim as catholics our true nature, along with Jesus, and become reflections of Divine Light and Love.

For the record, I don’t believe that claim belongs to Catholics alone–it’s a call for all humanity–to know ourselves, as Jesus knew himself and us, as Light in the Darkness–as Divinely Loved so we too can love everyone, even those who have done a great deal of damage on this planet. Some of them have also seeded a great deal of love. Where the light is brightest the shadows are also the deepest, I’ve heard said. I learned that too in my own life.

I am determined to scramble up and out of the walls of the dark well of outdated structure that no longer serves me–and seems to be doing a disservice to many, many others. I am determined to be re-formed as part of a catholic community for a new millennium. I will find the life in this black hole.

 I sense seeds of great change in the wind  for this Catholic Church as  we come to believe that the Divine One is a Mystery within us–within all creation. In my experience this Mystery is about love, not  judgment or condemnation. This Mystery does not go about excommunicating anyone, but invites us closer into Love of self, of one another, and the One who made us all.

The good thing about this dark time in this church is that it’s brought me smack into the center of the paradox of darkness and light, into what Christianity calls “the Paschal Mystery,” where life and death struggle and finally resolve into resurrection, a wholly new kind of life. What they’ve been preaching is true–and now I can feel it in my own body! How strange and Mysterious it all is!

When I heard survivors of abuse ask eight years ago in deep grief–“Where was God in all of this?” I could not speak an answer. I didn’t know. It didn’t make sense.  Especially not if I thought of God in old terms of a person–usually male–sitting outside it all somewhere biding his time until he would intervene with the solution! What does make sense is if I see this God–this Mystery–as within the struggle itself–a SpiritualLife-Force that pulls life out of death, even out of  the ugliest of events, and makes it all food for a new way of being for all of us.  

I personally have deep regret that I didn’t question more boldy before now the structures of the Roman Catholic Church. I should have known better. After all, I believe in the democratic processes as ways to decide into the future of our country. Not perfect, but better than many alternatives–especially the alternative of a monarchy. Which the Roman Catholic governance system is right now. I should have known better. I could have acted sooner. I didn’t. I’m sorry.

In the midst of this struggle of life, I am finding I can still seek beauty, seek joy, live into a Mystery that includes both the darkness and the light. I can explore it.  I can wonder. I can be curious. I can even play again. I can search out this Mystery in a Roman Catholic body of people that has suffered in an abusive culture long enough. We can do it differently.

As I elementary school girl I was quite taken with the curiosity of Nancy Drew, in her little roadster, solving mysteries all over the place. I seem to recall she had a supportive man behind her–I think his name was Ned. Not sure. ( Maybe some of you other old Nancy Drew fans could tell me more about what you remember of Nancy, her cohort, and her adventures.) I remember as I read the series how fascinating it was to imagine myself able to dash about in a roadster (was it red? ) and believe myself able to figure things out that others couldn’t and to help people in the proces. What fun for a pre-teen girl in the Catholic Church in the 1960s as Vatican II came on the scene.

Today, it can be a dangerous adventure in the Catholic Church, I find, to dig deep, ask hard questions, keep exploring, wondering, being a woman in the lead, not willing to take no for an answer, to press on. It is life-changing. I like the changes, actually, hard won as they are.

I’ve been on this journey to understand the Mystery for a long time, a Mystery that now involves my wondering how a very dark, hurtful abusive model of church might still be in a source of grace for the future.  I haven’t solved this Mystery. I am trying to live into it these days with an open mind and heart about what the future may hold for all of us!

More to come in the weeks ahead.

 In the meantime, what do you think about The Mystery of Life and your own efforts to solve it, if you have tried?

Or where has light become darkness and darkness become light for you?

What  current paradox puzzles you?

Content of both text and graphics are copyrighted 2010 by Eileen Knoff. All rights reserved.