Posts tagged ‘Authenticity’

Spirituality in Daily Life: Reject the Box – Not the Mystery! || Mary Edwards

By Mary Coday Edwards
People House Featured Blogger

In last week’s blog, I mentioned three items relevant to this week’s:

1. Staying present to your current experience: basically, HOW is your NOW?
2. Not only does this NOW hold valuable information, it’s also where we experience Oneness with the Universe, Divine, Higher Consciousness, Gaia, Brahman, Ultimate Reality, Goddess/God, non-God, Light, Love (space limits the ways this concept is expressed), and
3. Spirituality seems to imply we are seeking a connection with something greater than ourselves.

So, combining those three items, did you experience anything when you read that last phrase of No. 2, words I used to describe the ineffable, the unexplainable, the Mystery? Did any of those limiting words cause a reaction within you? In your body? Is one of your emotions screaming at the edge of your consciousness? Did you stop reading at that point? Or is one rising gently, peacefully? Did a past memory surface, pleasant or unpleasant? What did I leave out that feels important to your experience? Do you believe that some of those words/images are just flat out wrong?

I encourage you to bring your awareness to WHAT you may be rejecting and WHY.

No one can tell us exactly what – or who – this Ultimate Reality really IS. Mystics and poets down through the eons have described their own experiences and thus have given us intimations of what this Reality may look like, but at the end of the day, all these terms are metaphoric variations.

A metaphor is used when we don’t know what something is in order to give it some sort of meaning that we can connect the concept to.

Feminist Christian theologian Sallie McFague says that to think metaphorically “… means spotting a thread of similarity between two dissimilar objects, events, or whatever, one of which is better known that the other, and using the better-known one as a way of speaking about the lesser known (Note 1, pg 15).

Scholar Ian Barbour first studied science and then religion, eventually drawing comparisons and differences between the two, in particular how both used metaphors, models, and paradigms to explain the unseen (Note 2). Barbour says that “Religious language often uses imaginative metaphors, symbols, and parables, all of which express analogies” (Note 3, pg 119).

Models & paradigms: Helpful, but not the same as Reality!

Some of these analogies evolve into models. For example, Western Christians are familiar with the metaphors of God as father, king/conqueror, to the point where the Divine is restricted to this patriarchal-defined reality, leaving analogical language behind. In parts of Latin America, the model of God as Liberator informs reality.

But the New Testament scriptures are replete with other metaphors, such as God as the woman seeking her coin. Although that is mentioned in the same Bible verse as the parable of the good shepherd, how many stained glass windows do you see depicting God as Woman seeking her lost coin? Or Jesus as a Mother Hen, gathering up her chicks under her wings (Note 4)? Neither of those metaphors even made it to model stage.

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And this is not just true of Western Christianity; I’ve seen and experienced this pattern repeat itself all over the world. Every religion, every sect, for the most part, has definite ideas about Ultimate Reality, leaving little wiggle room – in other words, little room left for Mystery. It’s the mystics who shatter the walls of their respective boxes.

Barbour goes on to explain how a model can then crystalize into a paradigm. A paradigm, whether in science or religion, includes metaphysical assumptions and captures the imagination of its adherents. In the process, a paradigm defines reality, determines what sort of questions can be asked, and what sort of tools are used to analyze this reality (Note 5).

“Doubt frees us from illusions of having captured God in a creed.”

We have inklings of this Otherness, but our words anthropomorphize this Otherness. When we say, “God is Love,” our human ideas, images, and definitions of love immediately surface. Whatever negative or positive attributes we associate with love are now imputed to the God we defined as love.

When we reject “God”, what we might really be rejecting is the metaphor, the model, or the paradigm presented to us as the only or primary version of Ultimate Reality.  Perhaps it was imposed upon us in our childhoods and it no longer fits our experience. Our world picture changes as we grow and change.

Additionally, if you’re reading this blog, you’re either my good friend or relative, and/or you’re interested in growing spiritually. As noted in last week’s blog, spirituality conveys the idea of living peaceably with ourselves, with each other, and with our natural environment. The global battle for religious supremacy still rages among us. Thinking metaphorically vs. in absolutes (OUR absolutes) about the Divine opens up a space of humility within us where we can cultivate kindness, gentleness, and compassion for our fellow travelers.

Barbour says that, “Doubt frees us from illusions of having captured God in a creed” (Note 6).

So does thinking metaphorically.


Note 1: McFague, Sallie. Metaphorical Theology: Models of God in Religious Language. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982, 1987.

Note 2: The atoms subatomic construct cannot be directly observed, but based on theories we’ve developed amazing technology, such as this computer I’m typing on, my cell phone, and information available at my fingertips due to the internet.

Note 3: Barbour, Ian. Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues. New York: HarperCollins, 1997.

Note 4: Luke 15:8-10; Matthew 23:37

Note 5: For more information on metaphors, models, and paradigms, see Barbour, Religion and Science; Barbour, Myths, Models, and Paradigms: A Comparative Study in Science & Religion; Harper & Row, 1974; and Kuhn, T.S., The Structure of Scientific Revolutions; University of Chicago Press, 1996 ed.

Note 6: Barbour, Myths, Models, and Paradigms: A Comparative


About the Author: Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation.

Got Sensitivity? Radical. – Monica Myers

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart”Helen Keller

As a child, one of the messages I received fairly consistently was, “don’t be so sensitive!” and “you’re too sensitive.” Things deeply touched me. I teared up easily—whether it was in response to my older brother hurling insults at me, the suffering of a small furry creature, or the lonely and dejected 12-year-old protagonist in a book. My rich and complex inner life was sometimes mistaken for shyness. Over time, without realizing it, I adopted an underlying assumption that “something is fundamentally wrong with me” and I spent my young adulthood struggling to overcome this weakness.

We can go to great lengths to bury the fear that something is wrong with us and we rationalize it away. We may not even be aware we hold these damaging self-judgments. On the journey to wholeness, though, they will make themselves known, without a doubt.

Before I became a therapist, I taught for many years in the English Department at Front Range Community College. Early in my career, perhaps in my second year of teaching, I experienced a potent moment in class that I can still see with vivid distinctness in my mind’s eye. My Basic Composition students were work shopping polished drafts of their personal narrative essays in small groups. This was a class of struggling “developmental” writers who generally had never been praised for their writing. I wanted my students to realize they had a voice and that their voice mattered, that their stories were meaningful and offered us opportunities for connection.

Untitled-1Toward the end of class, I asked if anyone wanted to read their narrative aloud. After a pregnant pause, much to my surprise, a student who I knew was taking the course for the second time, volunteered to read his paper. Jamie stood up and began with a faltering voice that became more confident as his reading progressed. I looked around to see an engrossed class. He told the story of a drug deal gone very wrong on the hill in Boulder. He was with his best friend and they were young and stupid, he said. Even though I knew the tragic ending to this true story, I still was unprepared for the well of emotion that began arising in me like a wave. His best friend, just a teen, lost his life that night. Jamie stood there humbled and unsure of himself as he finished reading and the class was silent.

I can’t remember what exactly I said that day in response to the courage it took that young man to reveal himself and his pain, but I do know that I was unsuccessful in suppressing my tears. The lump in my throat gave way, and suddenly I found myself crying. In front of the whole class. I was horrified.

In a competitive and achievement oriented society, we are taught that there are certain expectations and best practices around professionalism in the workplace, including rationality. Emotionality certainly isn’t one of them. Of course, I knew this. And I had failed miserably.

Or so I thought.

In fact, my tears did surprise the class, but in a very positive way. The class began to understand how sharing their truth and witnessing others’ personal stories can weave us together. Jamie was stunned to learn that his words had the power to move other people. After I got over my initial embarrassment, the following period the class dropped to a whole new level. We were able to deepen our discussion. Things became more real.

This experience marked the beginning of my resolve to release my self-judgments and work toward accepting my sensitive nature. Because our habitual tendencies can be so ingrained, it takes inner resolve and active training of the heart and mind to change the trance of our negative self-judgments. They are like familiar old friends lurking in the background. We are used to having them around.

I love Tara Brach’s term for this resolve and practice:  Radical Acceptance. She states,

Radical Acceptance is the willingness to experience ourselves and our life as it is….When we practice Radical Acceptance, we begin with the fears and wounds of our own life and discover that our heart of compassion widens endlessly. In holding ourselves with compassion, we become free to love this living world. This is the blessing of Radical Acceptance: As we free ourselves from the suffering of  “something is wrong with me,” we trust and express the fullness of who we are.

I have deepened my appreciation for my own watery nature and now view it as a gift.

I have learned that emotions have great wisdom.

Personally, allowing their full expression gives me a greater sense of freedom. Most of the time, I am no longer swimming upstream anymore. And if the authentic expression of my inner experience gives others permission to do the same, I am filled with gratitude. My sensitivity has evolved from a weakness into strong intuition and emotional intelligence.

I think it’s okay to reclaim human dignity with heartfelt compassion and tenderness. In fact, I would argue, given the stresses of our modern society, we need to offer this to others and ourselves more than ever. In what way could you begin practicing radical acceptance?

Monica Myers, MPH, LPCC is a therapist and educator practicing in both Denver and Boulder. She loves to hear from you—please email your comments, questions, and curiosities to monimyers69@gmail.com

GROWING PAINS: Now What? – Lydia Taft

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My boss told me she is getting ready to retire.  It is right around the corner.  I initially took this in with some feigned excitement.  Feigned because, well I felt anything but excited.  Stunned, or perhaps shocked might be more precise of a feeling, and disappointment might even lurk somewhere in the shadows of my mind.  But in the instant that it took me to run through the list of emotions, excited was identified as the most appropriate emotion to express in the moment.  Yes, excited is perfect in this situation.  This after all is good news given by someone I care about!

I certainly could have stayed with feigned excitement for the entire conversation.  That would have been completely fine.  But no not me… I tend to drop into authenticity fairly quickly these days.  And since I respect my boss, I allowed myself the opportunity to tap into the truer part of myself, and tears sprang from my eyes as I felt something very deeply.  Loss.  Loss of what is familiar and what is simply beautiful and admired.  She is a beautiful person and I will miss her in my every day work life.

I quickly realized that I couldn’t just keep crying in front of her!  Shedding tears at work actually felt kind of horrifying.  Not that I haven’t done that before in front of her, but I didn’t want her to feel bad, and I didn’t want to feel sad, and I don’t like to brim with emotion as often as I do.  So I gave myself something to focus on; I made myself present to watch and to hear her.  I allowed myself to stand as a witness to the emotion traveling through me.

As the conversation continued, I eventually did find the excitement.  I am thrilled at her courage to move along in life and take that next step.  She shared that she has always known who she is throughout the stages of her life.  She has been student, mother, wife, manager, and on and on. She has very clearly known and embraced all of her identities and now she is stepping into a future of “retiree.”  This future is not very clear and certain.  She can imagine leisure, but how much time is she interested in pursuing that?! She finds herself a bit unsure, because she doesn’t have anything planned.  There is no “to do” list.  There is no need for a calendar at all!

I realize she is asking: “Now who am I?  Now who will I be?”  I found myself thinking, yes, we always go back to identity.

Who am I truly?

And so we talked just a bit about this “Now what?” experience.  She has so much opportunity ahead of her.  Now is her time to take a taste of the many things she had put on hold.  Now is the time to try different ways of being.  Now is the time to experience life in a completely new way.  She can learn a bit about stillness, presence, and trust.  She can also learn to re-experience her home, family, and friends from her new perspective.

As always, I see myself being reflected back to me.  I am on my own quest to experience freedom, stillness, presence, and trust in myself and in my life.  I am also on a quest to identify who I truly am.  I realize that her journey touches my own heart’s longing.  As I contemplate my experience of our conversation, and our intertwined lives, I am left with this very simple idea: At any point in time, I am anyone I choose to be.  It’s not necessary to wait for retirement, or any special day or occasion.

Now is the perfect time to be any being I desire. 

People House: a Center for Personal and Spiritual Growth