It's been an interesting couple of months since I've been relatively blogpost-less...I cut down on reading blogs as well as writing on my own, and it was a good thing. It is always important to take a break from things, even if you love them--and especially if you dislike or get stressed out by them. I've learned the hard way that if things are too difficult for too long, I am doing something wrong, repeating an unhealthy pattern over and over, not learning from my mistakes.
There are so many huge events that have recently transpired in the world, in this particular moment in time in which we are living; things that have inspired passionate arguments between me and my partner, my co-workers, my friends. The Terri Schiavo tragedy (aka the media circus that was created around her and her family's suffering), Pope John Paul II dying, the Papal Conclave taking only a day-and-a-half to choose the new Pope, an arch-conservative who wants to make the Church 'smaller but purer.' So many frightening things, yet I--and we--must figure out where the bright spots are, the rays of hope in the ominous shadows.
Interestingly, H. and I happened to watch the film 'Luther' the weekend before Pope Benedict XVI was chosen. The film is about Martin Luther, founder of the 'Great Reformation' which shook the Roman Catholic Church and spread throughout Europe like wildfire in the 15th (?) century. I spent a good part of the film explaining some of the historical background of Roman Catholic 'indulgences' and other corrupt practices to H., who grew up fairly non-religious and often recoils in shock at the strange Church customs that I grew up with as normal everyday occurrences. It's good to have to explain the culture and customs of the Church to an outsider, because it sheds light on how absurd, illogical and sometimes downright disgusting some of these customs are--and how, in many ways, they are counter to the development of a truly authentic spirituality based on compassion, tolerance, faith and love.
I don't really know what to say about the new Pope, or about the state of the Catholic Church today. Others have quite articulately stated opinions that I wholeheartedly agree with: John Nichols, Leny (thanks for the welcome back and congrats on your new book!) and Rhett (see March 31 and April 6 posts, specifically), for starters. It's healing to hear and read the voices of other progressive Christians / Catholics (recovering or currently active) expressing skepticism, fear or even optimism about the Church's direction. And even though I haven't gone to Mass in months, I still know that the Church is a hugely influential institution in the world, on the one hand, and I still have a deep love for many of the teachings and the lessons I learned growing up in the Church the first eighteen years of my life.
In contrast to my recent thoughts and mixed feelings regarding the future of the Catholic Church, I have been meditating a lot more lately, and recently attended a day-long meditation retreat for people of color activists at Spirit Rock. The retreat inspired and energized me, and strengthened both my interest and faith in Buddhist meditation and the Dharma (the teachings of the Buddha as handed down for the past two-thousand-five-hundred years or so). I felt such peace in sitting, walking and eating meditation (yes, eating--have you ever slowed down and just paid attention to what you were eating instead of reading the paper, talking to your partner or scarfing down your food in five seconds flat? Notice how flavors become more intense?) with my comrades and colleagues, and realized how simple yet profound Buddhist practice is. Breathe, slow down, notice, be present. I just paid attention to what I was doing for the first time in weeks.
I've carried this mindful approach into the rest of my daily life, and I think it's really helping. I feel less judgmental, more compassionate of others, less prone to cling to my angry, unhelpful attitudes and thoughts. I even feel compassion and near-forgiveness for some of the people that I have hated in the past--which doesn't mean I'm rushing out to embrace them and welcome them back into my life, but it feels much better to be more at peace with them in my own mind than to allow myself to be constantly bitter and triggered, and to waste precious energy on spitefulness and negativity that I could put to more positive uses in the worl.
I feel I am awakening to a whole new reality. Sometimes it's a little frightening, but more and more it just makes me feel happy and hopeful that a new, better world is unfolding around me.