The Same Story Twice

Sometimes I tell the same story, because it is a story that is so powerful it must be shared again and again. And I am reminded of a poem I read at my college graduation, because I was selected to give the speech, about telling stories over and over, about how that’s kind of what life is about.

The poem was Anne Sexton’s “Cinderella,” and I had been student-teaching high school girls for several months, learning what it was like to present a work of literature and sit in a circle and ask them questions, and see their thoughts, and have them even write their thoughts on paper for me to read quietly, later. And wow, did I love getting to work with high school girls. Did I love the opportunity to sit with poetry, or plays, or short stories, or novels, and read them, and take notes, and think about the messages and the characters, and the conflicts, and then present those stories for discussion.

I still do that now, in all kinds of ways. It’s remarkable how much a person can change and grow, and how something still stays in the root of her, something she keeps coming back to in life, not out of choice, but out of a kind of ordination or destiny. Me—I keep ending up, over and over again, in situations filled with Catholics, focusing on lifting up girls.

So Anne Sexton’s poem (and Anne Sexton has quite a story herself) is a remake of the traditional Cinderella, showing us that this fairytale has some holes and gaps. This idea of “happily ever after” is just bogus, see, and really needs to be picked apart. Sexton’s take is that Cinderella is the story of a wounded, victimized woman hitting the lottery. Sexton glibly goes through the events of the Grimm’s tale, the blah blah blah of it all, the woman who is treated like shit by her family but who goes to a dance one night and meets this wonderful (maybe?) man, and how he shows up with the glass slipper to find the magical woman he danced with, and how the stepsisters slice their heels off to fit into the shoe but “the blood told as blood will” and the frustrated prince finally finds Cinderella hiding in a corner somewhere and puts the shoe on her preciously clean foot and it fits and, well, you know the end.

And oh, did I love me some Anne Sexton. The wildly talented dark woman smoking cigarettes, writing her way out of suburban housewifery, believing just enough in her words to get her above water before she submitted to depression and ended her life. The tragic tale, the lost heroine.

The end of the poem goes:

Cinderella and the prince 

lived, they say, happily ever after,

like two dolls in a museum case

never bothered by diapers or dust,

never arguing over the timing of an egg,

never telling the same story twice,

never getting a middle-aged spread,

their darling smiles pasted on for eternity. 

And when I shared this poem with the crowd I impressed the importance of reality instead of some imagined dream about what life would be, and my desire to instill in young women the importance of finding their own true callings, and not waiting for a prince to come around and save them. And I also said something about the problem of our fantasies and our fairytales, which suggest that a wedding ceremony is the end of a life, and all is honky-dorey from there. And I stressed the beauty of hearing the same story twice, because I often thought of how my mother told me the same stories over and over again, and how a part of me was annoyed and always saying, I know, I know, and another part ate it up, loved living in that story, loved hearing her history through her words, helping me to know her in a way I hadn’t always.

We are a culture lacking in stories and in imagination, a culture who needs to be sitting around fires and hearing stories over and over and over again, because unless we hear them often, they don’t become fibers of our being, they don’ t live and breathe in us. It is important to birth the stories in air and then carry them within us so that we thrive, because damn, we are surrounded by a lot of noise.

And so, here is a story I must tell twice, because it surfaces in my own consciousness again and again, and the man I met was perhaps my greatest human teacher, and I don’t even know his name.

I was walking through Florence, and I had spent the afternoon in a museum with the statue of David, and wow, David is big. If you stand in that hallway and look at that sculpture, whew, David is a very big man. But it was crowded and there were lots of other nice paintings, and then I left and it was an intensely hot week in Italy, and I was sweating immensely every day, but I was also taking refuge in churches and I was praying. And the prayer I was working with constantly was a prayer around money, around forming a relationship with money, about knowing how to manage money in my own life, since I was in a state of transition and I seemed to keep coming back to this issue, year after year, of wrestling with a desire for security through money and yet not wanting to be a slave to it, and grappling with how to develop a healthy relationship where I saw it come and go and did not hoard, and yet had enough for my needs, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. This is a predicament that does not easily go away. Because love doesn’t cost anything, see, and yet money makes the world go ’round.

And I prayed to God, and I wrote about leadings of the spirit, about how God comes to you through people. And so often when I’m facing a new situation or endeavor in life, I just turn my head up and ask the Divine to teach me about it, and I know SheHe will.

So I walked down a street on the way toward the train, and a man approached me and asked for money, and on impulse I told him I didn’t have any cash, which was a lie, because I had gotten some earlier, being a woman alone who may sometimes need to use cash instead of card. And then he said, “How about bread?” And it was that word, bread, that caught me, and I said, Sure, of course, because I could get someone food, but I was not going to be rifling about in my purse for cash in the middle of the street, you see.

And so he led me to a store for bread, and this was a unique situation for me, and I began to get antsy about where, exactly, he was leading me, because this bread store did not seem close enough. And he asked me where I was from, and told me he was from Nigeria, and he had a small girls’ backpack, and sandals, and a bit of a belly. And finally we arrived at the McDonald’s which was his destination, and as we stood in line he told me about his trials in being homeless. He said, “It’s really hard.” He had been in Rome, and he had come to Florence, but now he wanted to get back to Rome because he couldn’t find work in Florence, and even the shelters cost money. And I asked him if he prayed, and he became animated, and he said he prayed all the time. And it was clear his faith went deep, and his faith was the thing that was getting him through, and he said, God knows my heart. And he said, He has taught me so many things, built my character. And he said, I know God has a plan. 

And I was so astounded and moved to tears by his faith, by his trust even as he had nothing but his backpack, and this stranger buying him lunch, and my heart started to pound the way my heart pounds when the holy spirit is calling me to action, and so I gave him all the cash I had for his bus ticket, and then he took my hand and we hugged, and I needed to get out of there, I needed to find a place to cry, because it is so easy to take your life for granted, see. It is so easy to think you are the center of the world. It is so easy to deny the riches you have within you and around you at any given time. And so one of my greatest gifts ever in this life was the opportunity to look in the eyes of a stranger who needed something, and whose faith was vast and sturdy, and to know that I was delivered to him as reward for his faith, and he was delivered to me as reward for my seeking.

 

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Humble and Humiliation Have the Same Root

I woke up this morning thinking of all the times in recent years that I went to someone asking for help.

I remember once, when I realized my marriage was about to be over and I had no back-up plan or income, I knocked on the door of a mother in my son’s class because I needed someone to talk to, and she let me in, and then we formed a friendship that helped me through many troubled months.

I remember calling my mom one day from work—and I can’t believe I’m telling you this—when I knew I couldn’t do the job anymore and I was going to have to take a leave of absence and what I really needed was a grilled cheese. I really just wanted to meet her at my apartment and go somewhere to eat a grilled cheese. And it was February, and the weather was strangely warm, and it was the first time in a long time I wanted to be in a church so I could smell the frankincense and maybe turn to God in a new way, because things had been so tough for so many years. And later, after going to a restaurant and not even ordering a grilled cheese (I had changed my mind by that point and wanted a salad with falafel instead), she drove me back to her house and the air was coming in the open window and the sun was setting and the sky was pink.

Earlier this year I was talking to a yoga teacher about what I thought was my potential, and she didn’t really like what I was saying, and she told me that I needed to be more humble. And there was another time I was talking to a yoga teacher friend about humility, too, and it was the only time there was discord between us, because he, too, thought that maybe I was not so humble. And on both counts, I disagreed. So this term, “humble,” really deserves some attention.

I can have dreams, and know my worth, and speak my truth, and still be humble. Humility is not cowering down and curving your spine and thinking you’re shit, see. Because I am humble, and I am willing to do whatever it takes to birth my vision into the world—and it’s a big vision—and I know I am not shit. I know I am fucking awesome. I know that, and no one is going to convince me otherwise, no matter what happens. No matter what. Being awesome just doesn’t mean I end up making millions of dollars or having millions of friends, or being called some kind of “influencer” on some sort of social media platform, or having everything arrive at my door in a neat little package. Those things are kind of up in the air. There are a lot of people who rise to a level of social status and they ain’t worth their mustard. (Oh my God, I love mustard.) And I found my mustard right inside, without any of that, in pit after pit after pit of despair and awakening.

I know my worth. And my worth goes beyond money. Although money is nice. I love money the way I love grilled cheese. Actually, I love it more.

But not as much as God, see.

Some people kind of get jealous when a person is confident. Especially if that person is a woman. Please prove me wrong, because this is a terrible shame. Because I am, like, the nicest person in the world, and I just don’t know why someone would turn away from the nicest person in the world, unless they’ve crafted some weird story in their minds about what is the real motivation of nice people.

(Oh, and remember being nice doesn’t mean people get to step all over you.)

So let me get back to my English lesson on the word “humble.” To humiliate, or to be humiliated, is to humble, and humble comes from the Latin root “humus,” which means “earth.” And humiliation means “mortification,” which is about dying in some way.

So the act of humbling or humiliation is getting grounded, and it is about the death of the ego.

Instead of existing in your head, on some kind of ego trip, or in some story of who you are or your prominence in this world (whether that prominence is your status as victim or God), an event that humbles you takes you down into your body, kills off your pretty pictures and assumptions about socials status, and makes you remember who you are, makes you remember what matters, makes you remember what life is all about, see. It is not about elevating yourself over other people, or even undervaluing yourself, which is a form of pride, too. It is not about living in your mind at all, see. Humility, or an act of humiliation, reminds us we are all interconnected, and we are meant to take care of each other in this world, and offer what we have to one another. That is the fucking Christian message, and that is what it is supposed to be, and yet you have people who call themselves Christians worshiping assholes who care only about money and status and prestige and do this under the guise of some “pro-life” bullshit, acting like they’re all about the babies when they’re locking up parents instead of taking care of babies.

You want a piece of me? I got you. And here’s the other cheek, too. And once you get both cheeks, honey, I’ll plant a kiss on you that leaves a lipstick mark because I always like to leave a lipstick mark because I like people to know where I’ve been.

It is not easy to rise up from the rubble of this life, and move through your demons, and lift off of you the weight and heft of the Christian church, which has been built on telling people they are awful inside and must repent, which often makes beautiful, kind-hearted and underserved people feel like they are shit, and think that faith and love and Godliness only comes through a fucking whip, which is not what the Teacher taught, not in any fucking way.

And I’m not putting up with it anymore. I’m finding a new way to work with all of this.

There are really shitty people, and they step all over others, and they don’t care about other people’s needs, and they ignore a poor person who looks them in the eye and asks them for money—you can at least smile at the bugger!—and they think they are pleasing to God because they have a dick, or something, or they assume they know the higher hand, and those are the ones, oftentimes, who will tell you, especially if you’re a woman, Be humble. Those are the ones who will tell you, Step down, step back, bitch.

But my guy, the Guy who Always Has Me? (SexyJesus.) What does he say?

He says, “Talitha Koum,” he says Rise up, my sweet, He says, Don’t let those dickheads judge you, He says, Come sit with me and leave the dishes. He says, Blessed are those who have been outcast, beat-down, trampled on, talked to like shit, because those are the people who will know and see God. 

So when everything works out for you, my dear? When it all just magically fits into place and the hours of your day are accounted for and you rarely take any risks and you can’t see the opportunities for growth and life and abundance in spirit that are lying right at your fingertips, and you read the news and prefer to judge others and think your place in the world is neat and clean?

You are likely very far from God.

Maybe the best thing in the fucking world, my sweet, is when God the Master, the Divine Mother and Sensual Healer, smacks you over the head with a great big hammer, and opens your fucking eyes until you see stars, and yeah, maybe it’s time to get on your fucking knees and be thankful for what you have, and figure out what you can do to help other people, and stop sitting in your own world thinking only about what you consider your “tribe.” Maybe you need a bit of humiliation to tell you what’s what, to make you real again, to make you alive, to make you new, to die to that old business that has been haunting you and keeping you in a cage, and finally walk into a gorgeous life, which is the wealth and riches you have within you, and not only what you can get from other people but instead what you can do, how you can contribute, how you can deliver forth for someone else the resources you’ve been given.

That’s what.

 

 

Photo by Agnieszka M on Unsplash

The Bread, the Wine, the Honey and the Gooey Cheese

Have you ever been so overwhelmed by the beauty and love around you that you started to cry?

We hear about humility in TiredChristianity, and we don’t always know what it means. We think humility is being underneath someone’s thumb, we think it’s bowing down before a power structure, we think it’s sacrifice or inferiority.

Humility is being overwhelmed with the vastness and richness and beauty that exists in every moment. Humility is recognizing that in every turn of your life, there is an unbelievable—but believable!—gorgeousness of humanity and brilliance and the God-essence in all things.

We get to humility by getting close to the ground. So in those moments when you’re shattered and broken open and confused, get on the ground, sister. Let your knees and your forehead and the palms of your hands touch the floor. It’s the only thing you can do to understand what’s what in this life.

But oh my God, the egos we have! The resistance we have to seeing what’s true! We put ourselves at the center of the world, we think the world operates according to the frameworks of our own minds, the stories we tell ourselves, the pain we think we have that elevates us above other people! So stop coming up with stories about yourself and about others. Get beyond your narratives. That’s the only way to be and let be.

SexyJesus was a humble person. Let’s keep this in mind. He wasn’t humble because he was a carpenter, or because he was homeless, which surely helped. He was humble because he was, every day, impressed and moved and touched by the faith of the people around him. He saw the suffering in the world, and he wanted to do something to help. He offered himself, wholly and fully, into that suffering, and into his own strength to help heal others. And he became. He acted. He was.

We have this serious problem that makes us assume money and status and education make someone better than anyone else. We have a real problem when we think that the people with stock investments and big bank accounts and nice houses matter more than the people cutting the Christmas tree off the stand and tying it to your car and wishing you a good day. Oh my, give me a man who works with his hands over a stockbroker any day.

It is easier to be humble when you’ve been beaten down, when you’ve been shattered and bruised by life. This doesn’t mean you actually are humble. Plenty of people who have been hurt have a certain degree of pride that holds them back, a pride of refusing to admit that they’re vulnerable or weak, a pride that makes them shut other people out, a pride they hold onto that makes them angry and vengeful. I’m not talking about those people. I’m talking about the people who have been put upon and put upon and put upon, but their faith and their belief in love and kindness, those simple kindergarten rules, gets them up in the morning. They take care of their aging parents and they help you find a parking spot, and they ask you how your day is and they wish you well. And they have very little financial wealth or opportunity, but they know how to pray. Those people are your priests. Listen to them.

The more “prestige” and “success” you acquire, the harder it is to get into that simple place. I’m not saying you can’t get there. Plenty of people with wealth and success are beautiful, kind-hearted people, and I know and love them. I’m just saying they had to do a bit more work to get humble, to get on the ground. They had to have their share of suffering to know what’s what in life. But something made them get out of their heads and get into their hearts and the souls of their feet, and they cracked open, and they learned what it took to make a person new, and they gave back.

So I want to end this by telling you about a man who was my teacher. I never learned his name. I didn’t speak his language. He taught me by using his hands.

I was at a cafe. I ordered too much food, and it was sitting in front of me, untouched, because I didn’t know what to do with it. I was writing, and I had a lot of ideas, which I’m prone to. And he wandered by, holding out his hands and pointing to his lips, gesturing to the two women in front of me for food. They shook their heads no. (Those women were quite attractive.) Then he moved on to a group of men who were laughing and holding out their arms wide, smoking cigarettes (this was Paris), baskets of baguette in front of them. He gestured to them, too, but they shook their heads and looked the other way.

I called him over. I am not telling you this to suggest I am the good one, the holy one. I am telling you this because when I prayed to God about my worries over money, about how I was going to make a good living and provide a stable home for my kids, She started showing me homeless people who simply needed a meal. And I’m a good listener, so I got the message.

I showed the man my plate and raised my eyebrows. This was gooey cheese with honey on the top, and a stack of three toasted pieces of bread. I lifted my dish and held it up to him. He shook his head. It was too much, he seemed to be saying. So I looked around. I wanted to get him something, but I didn’t know what. I looked back to my plate, back to him. He made a gesture with his fingers. A little bit. So I took a chunk of the toasted baguette, and I dipped my spoon into the gooey cheesiness from the ramekin, and I spread it that cheese, dripping with honey, onto the toast. And I handed it over, and he ate, and he put his hands together in prayer and walked away.

You should do that too, if you don’t already. Both parts.

 

 

Photo by Mae Mu on Unsplash

You Have It To Give

 

Money is the root of so much awesomeness. –Jen Sincero, author of You Are a Badass at Making Money

When I was in Europe this past summer, finding churches to pray in, places to write blog posts, I recognized heaven exists not in some far-off land, but right here, on earth. It is inside us, if we have the bravery and persistence to tap in. In every direction is beauty and depth—it often doesn’t matter which way you turn. (Which is great for me, because I constantly get lost.) What I mean by this is, when I needed a place to eat, I found one. When I needed a place to rest, I found one. When I needed a restroom, one would appear. (And cafe owners would let me use it without buying anything, if I was nice enough.)

But the big thing I think we all struggle with is the concept of heaven—this haven of riches—and actual money, which we feel often limits us in our experience of happiness, of the divine on earth. Money is not the same as wealth, or richness. Wealth, in a spiritual sense, is about having resources, and resources are not limited to paper or coins. Resources exist in our experiences, the people we know, in our talents, in love and attitude and devotion. And sometimes they exist in paper money. Money seems to be what makes many of us stumble the most. No matter how many talents we have, or ideas, or love, or grand plans, we still have to pay our bills, get out of debt, build or grow what it is around us that we want to build and grow.

Money is a concept that for many months, I’ve been trying to get my head around. I suspect I will never understand fully. Why do some people have so much, and others have so little? Why do some people own multimillion dollar houses they barely live in, and others struggle to eat or find shelter?

I do not know the answer. I’ve been turning it to God. If I had a lot of money, I would do wondrous things with it, I tell Her. I’d live simply, and most of it would be spent on sharing, celebrating art, donating to charities, feeding people who need to be fed. My greatest expense would be travel, because I think seeing and meeting people in other places gets you out of your own head, helps you to recognize that we’re all part of a human family, not separate at all. (Jesus wandered a lot from town to town, always meeting new people. I wonder how many times he had to change those beaten-up sandals.)

I am rich, but I do not have a lot of money. I am often just trying to find some steadiness, some consistency, with my in-flow so I can plan for THE DAY I DO GREAT THINGS. And yet no single day is guaranteed. So what the HimHer God teaches me is that if I want do do good, if I want to serve, if I want to help, start with what’s right in front of me. Start with a person who asks. Because I can’t save the whole world. But I can engage in an opportunity that’s offered.

While I was in Florence months ago, I was praying about these questions. I do not come from a family who travels, and so the fact that I was in a country I always wanted to visit made me feel wealthy beyond measure. Yet on many streets, there were homeless people asking for money. I didn’t now what to do about that. The solution I came to, when I realized I had food in my purse that I could easily give away, was that instead of reaching for euros every time I came across a person, I’d respond to their request by giving food.

It wasn’t long after I came to that solution that someone was put in my path. On my last day, shortly before I was meant to leave the city, a man came up to me on the sidewalk and asked me for euros. I told him I didn’t have any, even though I did. I had 100 euros in my purse, in fact, because I had just gotten some out of the machine in case I needed cash. Next he asked for bread instead, and I agreed. He pointed behind me, to a store that had bread. So I followed him, all the while wondering what I was getting myself into. What was I doing? Was this safe?

As we walked, he asked me where I was from. And he told me he was from Nigeria, that he had been in Florence for a while, but was hoping to get back to Rome. Rome had better jobs, easier ways to make money. He led me to a line in McDonald’s, and we stood and talked as we waited for his food. “It’s really hard,” he said, shaking his head, referring to living on the streets.

“Is there a shelter you can stay in?” I asked.

He shook his head. “They cost money.”

“Do you have any family around?” I asked.

“No, they’re all back home. It’s just me here.” Then he began talking again about how he wanted to go to Rome, but he needed a bus ticket, and so until he was able to get one, he was stuck.

Was I supposed to give this guy money for a bus ticket? I started asking the Mother. I had made a decision to only give food. What now?

“Do you pray?” I asked. I didn’t know what else to say.

“Oh yes, I pray,” he said. And then he started talking about his faith. “The Lord knows my heart.” There was no rambling, no empty words. “God has a plan for all of us,” he said, and pointed to the Above. “And He has taught me strength, he’s building my character….” I could tell that his faith went deep.

And it was then I knew I was supposed to give him money for the bus fare. Because he needed it, and I had it to give. My heart started to pound. It was no time to be stingy. I had an apartment back home I lived in myself. I had a return plane ticket. I had a master’s degree. I had furniture and too many clothes and I was not worried at all about eating. I had people who could support me if things got really awful, people who would bail me out. All this guy needed, all he was asking for, was 55 dollars.

I reached into my purse and handed him all the cash I had, because there were tears in my eyes, and it didn’t make sense to count it up. His face opened, his mouth fell. And then he hugged me. “Thank you,” he said. “You will be blessed.” And then he hugged me again.

I turned to leave, wanting to find some quiet place to cry.

A better person would have thought nothing of handing this money over. A better person would have said, No sweat. Have a good day.

But I had been worried about money for months, for years. I agonized about getting a better job, or moving out of my apartment eventually into a house with a yard for my kids, even a dog. I worried each time I bought myself something that didn’t seem absolutely necessary, that the Grand Hand of God was going to point his finger and say, “You! Bad!” For a long time, I didn’t know if I could manage to live on my own anymore, or what kind of job I’d have to take despite degrees and years of work experience.

What my Beloved on High had given me, in response, was an offering. You are worried about money, He said. You want to know how to handle it. You want to be taught. Here you go. Will you listen?

I am not saying you have to stand on a street corner handing out cash to passersby. (That would be cute, though.) I’m just saying every day, there are people in your path who may be in need. They may be in need in a variety of ways, needing some sort of resource. Maybe it’s a hug. (I often need one of those.) Maybe it’s advice. Maybe it’s a kind word. Maybe it’s cash.

You have to take care of yourself. Of course you do. There is no expectation that you must give all you have away. But if you have done some good internal work, if you have come to a place of gratitude and acceptance of your life situation (which we should all be working toward anyway), then the next step is obvious. Your Hero begins to offer you opportunities not to compare, to judge, to pick apart, but instead to give and to serve.

The Giant HeShe says, in the gentlest of ways, Let’s look at what you have, my darling. Who is in need around you? How can you help?

You know what bothers me most about that interaction with the faithful man?

I never asked him his name.

 

“Straight From The Oven”by Anders Adermark is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0