All posts by vc@risestrategic.com

Old “About”

I wrote the below three years ago before picking back up the blog.  The new about page is darker and less certain, and can offer a cautionary tale against picking at the loose thread of existence, consciousness, meaning, cosmos.  It’s not just a beautiful dream of oneness, but a chaotic, unfriendly, and downright hostile place many times.  Nonsense reigns and our stories are getting increasingly worn and useless the more we learn about our place in the universe.

Once Upon About

Curiosity ends the moment you decide you’ve figured out what “it” is.

But “it” is too big to figure out, to solve, and to decide upon.  And as natural and human our tendency to define and solidify is, it also keeps us from asking more, and seeing more.

If you decide the forest is an oak forest, you may come across a maple and never see it, or worse, tell it that it is—it must be—an oak.

Certainty keeps us from seeing more.  As Paul Simon said, “A man will hear what he wants to hear and disregard the rest.” So here’s to hearing it all, the beauty, the ugliness, the right and the wrong, the light and the dark, to breathing the whole of it in, and finding there is no corner dark enough to keep out the Beloved.  We live this life fully when we no longer push or pull at it, but witness it and ourselves within it, when we remember, “let everything happen to you.”

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

—Rainer Marie Rilke, Book of Hours, I59

 

I’m Valerie, a follower of Christ.  I was raised Mormon and am inspired by its view of eternity, matter and cosmos.  I am friends with the Buddha and am healed by the power of the present moment and acceptance of things as they are.  I am a huge fan of Sufi and Islamic poetry and share the embrace of Rumi’s beloved.  I am deeply moved by Catholic art, architecture and music—I see the connections between all of us as part of the great I AM, and feel that our sectarianism and separation from one another as an illusion.  That we are leaves on the same tree, and that we feed the tree and the tree feeds us, as we live in its branches, and as we die at its root.

Our division is at odds with all the major world religious traditions which are founded on love and compassion.

I believe firmly that our sense of separation from one another is merely ignorance—that we and our world are one, that one impacts all, and it is simply our ignorance of this that causes us to act out of separation, which furthers our illusion of separation.  We can act with acceptance of this underlying authentic unity or act in ignorance of it—dividing us all up between the right and wrong, the wicked and the righteous, the us and the them.

But nonetheless, we are all already one.  It is there to be accepted and felt, and remembering it changes everything. It is only our fear, doubt and struggle against this reality that creates all this pain—the pain we ironically point to when defending the reality of separation.

Curious wonder is just that—a curious attempt to discover and uncover and wonder at what is—the I AM.

Afternote:

Isn’t that nice?  I still both slightly agree with (and am slightly nauseated by) some of the items above, but not many, thus the need for a rewrite. Most of all am pretty embarrassed by that level of naive, self-righteous certainty coming from someone so soon after a faith transition (that it almost looks like someone was uncomfortable with the freefall and was grasping at comfort in cosmic unity).

 

It’s also interesting to me that as late as 2015 I am coming to bat for Religion still, whereas now for me, Religion has completed the unholy trinity of “Brokers”—Religion, Commerce, and the State—human organizations who consolidate power and control by selling humans things that could be had for free if only people would cut out the Brokers, ironically.

Whatever your State, Religion, or role in the Capitalist machine, it is developmentally appropriate for humans to assume their birth ideology definitely is the correct one out of the global pool of ideologies. But at some point, that same development forces the realization that that our societal structures and systems are not “correct” simply because they have lasted, or because they have attracted more believers over the centuries, or because we ourselves are born into it.  Our human organizations (State, Commerce and Religion) are mostly outdated, flawed, biased, and holding on to power that information and technology has made or is currently making obsolete.

Fun!

I’ve decided to start praying to my cat

Because prayer is a self-soothing mechanism I have really worked into to my behavior patterns through four decades in a semi-mainstream cult (totally is guys, sorry but you can never see a cult when you’re in one but it is totally obvious once you’re out), it’s one of the few things I do automatically.  Now that my belief system has imploded and my faith has gone AWOL several years ago, I still find I don’t really know how to just get through a day without sending one up.  Most days many times.

A sample of my top-said prayers, then and now:

  • Help.
  • Help me.
  • Why?
  • WTF?
  • What did I do wrong? I’m sorry.
  • I’m just so sorry.
  • What is really going on? None of this makes any sense.
  • Why does this hurt so much? (hint: when you can pretend it makes sense, it hurts less, actual prayer is probably “Can you please help me believe this makes sense so it will hurt less?”)
  • How can life be a good thing when it hurts this much just to do basic living activities?
  • What if life is a good thing but it hurts me because I am a bad thing? Or bad at living life? (Dammit, now life hurts AND I might be a bad thing or bad at doing it.)

But the point is, my Cat brings me a lot of comfort, like real, physical downregulation type comfort, what with the loud purring and seemingly affectionate (but possibly indifferent) head butts and slightly painful kneading of my leg under the fleece blanket.

Sometimes praying to God brought me comfort, insight into a new way of seeing things, and even sometimes be followed by direct relief of the problem.  Of course none of that was coincidence, it was all a supreme being showing me how important I am to it while neverminding the children around the world being sold and raped at this very moment.

That totally makes sense.

Finding God After Mormonism

Kunsthistoriches

Last year, my husband David and I walked into the magnificent Kunsthistoriches Museum of Art History in Vienna on a summer afternoon. We had only stood in the entry a few moments when David was overcome by emotion.  As we ascended the main staircase, he wept, overwhelmed by the beauty of the building, and the treasures within.  He needed several minutes to compose himself.

Now we’re not artists or highbrow art followers, not even frequent museum attendees.  And David is not one to be overly sentimental—he has no tolerance for hippy nonsense.  Rather, he can come across as tough and intimidating, an intellectual, crusty fellow with a thinly veiled undercurrent of anger, present since we first met.

Yet, if you get him near the ocean, on a Kauai mountaintop, at a poignant film, or talking about his love for his kids, his no-nonsense brown eyes start glistening and he goes silent. I’ll hear him breathe in deeply, and for a moment that internal tempest is stilled.

But David would likely tell you God has never spoken to him.

Those raised in the Mormon faith are taught that God speaks a very specific way to his human subjects.  Connecting with God requires worthiness, faith, study, prayer, fasting, and the right question.  This process will result in burning in the bosom, and often a sensed or heard voice.  If this doesn’t happen for you, a wide range of explanations are offered, many of which focus on your own errors in executing the formula—lack of worthiness and faith, insufficient study, prayer or fasting, the wrong question, or the wrong timing.

When this narrow definition of divine communication doesn’t play out in our experience, we often start with self-condemnation—we did something wrong.  But as our pain increases, and it seems we’ve done “all that we can do,” many of us end with the more frightening thought: God either won’t or can’t answer.  As we suffer with confusion and doubt, we question this God who must witness our torment, yet is either indifferent, non-responsive, or absent all together.  The skies become cold and empty to us.

This is especially true when it comes to a crisis of faith. We plead, fast, and pray for answers to our difficult questions about the truthfulness of the Mormon church.  However, we are still left asking the Mormon God if Mormonism is true, and we expect he will answer the Mormon way.  When that God doesn’t respond as Moroni promised, not only do we doubt what we’ve been taught, but we naturally begin to doubt the existence of God itself.  Since we’ve been taught that feelings confirm facts, when we don’t feel those feelings, it follows for many that there are simply no facts to hold on to.

Doctrinally, the Mormon God is a fully conditional, contractual God—all his blessings are contingent upon obedience to specific laws.  We as humans dictate what he can and can’t do for us.  Much like a young child feels groundless when his parents aren’t in control, this causes us much pain and anxiety, as it appears our human imperfection trumps God’s power to help us and communicate with us.  As Mormons, we may never have been introduced to the unconditional God, so when we fail to meet the conditions of the conditional God—God then fails us.

This is my theory on why post/ex-Mormons are said to be more likely to turn to atheism than those who leave other faiths.  Mormonism limits and defines divine communication to a small checklist that many people simply do not experience.  Only a few notes on our full spiritual piano are considered legitimate.  As a result, the many other ways in which humans connect to the divine all over the planet—the vast spectrum of human experience, everyday senses, nature, art, music, movies, literature, relationships—simply “don’t count” for many Mormons when looking for divine interactions.

While all of heaven and nature sing, we hear silence.

My goal is not to make the case for God, but to suggest that those who let go of Mormonism consider letting go of Mormonism’s definition of what a divine connection looks and feels like. Rather, we can reclaim and expand the definition of spiritual experiences back to the full spectrum of beauty, truth and the full reality and complexity of our whole human experience.

In many ways, a Mormon upbringing can strip us of the God-given resources we have to understand the world around us—we learn to distrust the messages from our body, our perceptions, our intellects, our hearts, and our environments.  These innate gifts that allow us to navigate and understand our lives are often feared, considered risky, carnal and worldly. Instead, we are asked to replace our direct experience and honest longing with an prescribed set of “correct” feelings, beliefs, perceptions, goals and activities.  We are to set aside the truth of our own reality and this moment and focus on another (much better) self, place and time.

When we leave the church, we are often forced to awaken these rusty gifts.  We can either search for a new external script to live by, or start the difficult work of learning how to trust and listen to what we are actually perceiving and experiencing in our world, rather than simply applying another’s view of what we should be experiencing.  During this process, if we yet hold on to the idea that God only sings one kind of song, and we can’t hear it, the heavens seem painfully quiet to us in our hour of greatest need.

Regardless of whether you see God as a human personage, a savior, a trinity, a being, a force or energy, life itself, a matrix, nature, science and rationality, or everything that exists—to me the fundamental quality of the word “God” is truth—whatever is real.  As I see it, God is nothing smaller than the truth of all that is—and the music of this reality never stops. Regardless of our faith, beliefs, or adherence to any particular ideology, life, and the truth it holds, is always singing.  Tuning in with my graciously built-in antennae, I can explore the nature of this reality in its infinite mystery, variation, complexity, pain, and beauty, all from the inside, because I’m part of it all.  From this vantage point, I find I can’t be separated from God any more than a sun ray can be separated from the sun.

And just as the sun doesn’t need us to earn or deserve its unconditional warmth, the God I experience doesn’t need me to believe, strive, beg, plead, or even be worthy of the song. Reality is there to be witnessed, with or without faith.  The sun shines on me, the rain falls on me, the earth feeds me, my eyes, ears, tongue, nose and skin inform me, my miraculous body and mind teach me.

It appears that the whole of me was created as a living, breathing receiver.

And everything around me is the message: the goodness of the sky, my body, the mountains, my relationships, my food, transcendent music, beautiful architecture, the beach, definitely the Kunsthistoriches—and amazingly, even the suffering, the darkness, the confusion, complexity and pain.

By simply expanding the parameters of how God/Truth connect with me, I have began to feel a much bigger, more unconditional and omnipresent embrace than I ever believed possible.  Every key on the spiritual piano can be played.  I’ve been opened up to a God that is not confined to a certain time, place, mode of communication, or set of conditions—a God that is not confined by me—a God expansive enough to speak through everything, all the time.  And I’ve been overwhelmed by how immense, complex, sad, and beautiful the song is.

But most of all, I’m amazed that for so long I only heard silence.

The Holy City of God

Wagon Train: Artalbert Bierstadt
Wagon Train: Artalbert Bierstadt

I saw myself there,
Welcoming the wagon train
That left me behind.

I had lost the strength
To pioneer to Zion,
And sat down in dust.

When I heard the Voice,
Felt warm, kind hands lift me up,
“I AM where you are.”

The kingdom of God, within?
Not out there…later…attained…
In death or rapture?

Almighty—not bound
By space, time, human striving—
Moves through all.  Here.  Now.

Is this why I greet
At the gates, with arms open
Toward those I couldn’t follow?

We’ll meet in Zion
As we carry it with us
Back toward each other.

 

Vampire Star V4641 Sagittarius, The Nearest Black Hole

 

Supermassive_black_hole

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I love you, ” you lied, siphoning her soul.
And you did love—as the owl loves the mouse.
As the actor loves the camera, the prop, the stage, and scene.
She was all of these—used, displayed, and preyed upon.

Reenacting your emptiness again and again,
Masking vast cowardice with delusions and justifications,
Pulling her light into your muttering darkness,
You stole bright threads of soul fabric to weave your lies.

Spent, wasted, empty, she learned young what love is.
It is them taking, and her allowing them to take.
So she loved others obediently, seeking out the hungry,
Offering sustenance, and taking her own place at the feast—

On the table.