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When Wisdom Eludes

I remember one afternoon, years ago, sitting in my living room with a woman I deeply respected. I talked to her about my then-struggles, about my longing to be a better wife, a better mom, a better person. I told her how I read nearly every book I could get my hands on, trying to make sense of the situations in which I found myself, trying to improve my perspective, trying to change my behavior, trying to change, period. I confessed that I quickly purchased almost any self-help regimen that promised me the results I so desired if only I’d follow their simple 1, 3, 5, or 7-step plan. And more than just read, I’d actually do what they said! I applied every principle and precept. I followed every rule. All to no avail. I listed off the conferences I’d attended for all of the same reasons. And I named the speakers, subject-matter-experts, and guru’s of one kind or another who I was convinced possessed the necessary “fix” for my life. In all of these, I was completely certain that if I did exactly what I was told, surely the change I longed for would be mine. She listened, patiently, and then said words I have never forgotten:

Hand Mirror*
“Why do you look to outside experts for answers that already exist within you?”
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I’m pretty sure the room started spinning. She might as well have told me that my two beautiful daughters playing at my feet were alien creatures from outer space. It was information I couldn’t take in, couldn’t comprehend, and resisted almost viscerally. This thought had never crossed my mind and I was almost 40 years old.

That conversation was nearly 14 years ago. I remember it like it was yesterday…and…I recall and apply it every day – hardly having mastered her advice.

The lure is so incredibly strong to seek for answers externally, to trust in someone else’s experience and wisdom above our own, to assume that someone older, wiser, and at least more successful knows the “secret” that will change everything broken or ailing in our lives.

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And yet, were we to actually listen to our very self, our deepest soul, our strongest intuition, the before-the-dawn-of-time wisdom within (that I passionately and resolutely believe in) and then, most importantly, trust what we hear, all that we need would already be ours.

An important disclaimer: When I say “all that we need would already be ours,” I do not mean that finding sought-for wisdom within magically equals never lacking for anything, expecting success at every turn, and being profoundly honored and loved at all times. I do mean that there is no lack of wisdom within us. 

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The seeming trick is figuring out how to call this wisdom forth, how to access it, how to see/hear/feel/sense it in the first place. 

As our conversation came to its obvious end, she left my house. I remember putting my infant girls down for naps (so that they wouldn’t act like creatures from outer space) and then sitting down at the dining room table with a stack of college-ruled notebook paper and a pen in front of me. I presented my question/concern at the top of the paper and then did what I’d done hundreds, thousands of times before: I wrote. I wrote exactly what I thought, what I felt, what I wanted, what I knew. Everything. No editing. No censoring. No holding back. This was nothing new. I’d been journaling for years. What was new was that I half expected to see answers, assumed its accuracy, and trusted its authority. My answers. My accuracy. My authority. All of these appeared – and then some.

But instead of being thrilled with this revelation, I was terrified. If my wisdom was right, if I actually knew, then I’d also have to act. The real trick is trusting the wisdom itself, once found, enough to actually follow through! 

This is the collective reality that most women live with. Steeped in a world that has caused us to second-guess our own knowing in deference to those with power, we struggle to hear our own brilliance, let alone express it. Groomed to value objective reason, to trust our head over our heart, and to rely on facts over emotions, it’s not that surprising that we can barely even hear the voice, the wisdom, the wealth within, let alone follow its advice. Though our wisdom is deeply intuitive, it feels counterintuitive to trust it.

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So what are the countermeasures? What are we to do?

We MUST find and rely on the expertise of other women. 

It’s possible that this sounds antithetical to what I said above; in direct conflict with the sage advice I received so long ago. I assure you, it is not. It will be through our relationships with other women that we will not only come to find, hear, and trust our own wisdom, but also have the ability to walk headlong into it.

  • We must look to other women for they are the ones who will point us back to the wisdom we already hold within ourselves. 

  • We must discover and listen to the stories of other women so that we can see our own wisdom, our own choices, our own stories mirrored within. 

  • We must hear the wisdom of other women and recognize it as our own: a shared knowing, a DNA-like thread that roots us to one another in soul-and-spirit ways, a gravitational and sacred force that binds us to one another – past, present, and future.

  • We must be in relationship with other women so that we have the courage to make hard choices, walk thin lines, and traverse endless deserts.

14 years ago I didn’t understand any of this. 14 years ago I didn’t realize that this woman was offering me her wisdom so that I could find it within myself. 14 years ago I had no idea the choices I would yet be called to make, the lines I would yet be required to walk (and cross), the endless deserts I would yet traverse. And 14 years ago I could have never imagined being surrounded by the women I now know – face-to-face, virtually, and the ancient, sacred ones who companion and guide me in ways that continue to humble, astound, and transform me.

The wisdom you seek is already within you. Find the women who know this to be true, who can point you back to your own north star, who see and affirm beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt their profound belief in what you already know. And be that woman to others. The more that we can and will do this, the sooner we can leave behind a world of experts who peddle their wares and step into one of shared truth, compassion, creativity, strength, and hope.

May it be so.

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I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you of three ways in which women’s wisdom abounds in my world. First, through Blessings. Once a week, totally free, and filled with truth you deserve to hear and know – in the voice and from the heart of one of the ancient, sacred women I love (and whose wisdom is infinite). Sign up today! Second, through SacredReadings. These women’s stories bring such amazing perspective, hope, and yes, relevant wisdom directly to your circumstances, your questions, your story. They are my favorite thing to do for you. Get yours today. Third, through SacredConversations. What a privilege it is for me to be in relationship with clients, one-on-one, and offer my wisdom (which really just points you back to that which is already yours.) You and me. Together. It’s time. Learn more.

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    Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen.
    Do not be afraid.

    ~ Frederich Buechner

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      She felt as though her life was some kind of hellish test; as though the universe was conspiring against her; like the powers of heaven and hell were battling it out as she was carelessly tossed to and fro in the middle.

      Hardly a martyr or victim, she was not someone determined to “make sense” of her circumstances by blaming anyone else. She simply looked around at the endless and inexplicable realities of her life and realized that every single one of them was out of her control; that no platitudes or promises of a God who had bigger or better plans would begin to suffice.

      Her husband, however, had a different viewpoint. He held fast to his belief that anything that happened to him (and by association to her) was just, fair, not to be questioned, and to be borne with immovable dedication and commitment. He dug in his heels, stood by his beliefs, and declared his faith in the goodness of God.

      Some would say he was a saint. She wasn’t one of them. She didn’t buy one bit of it. And finally, one day, she had enough. She said,

      “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

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      These are the words of the wife of Job.

      Two sentences that have lived in infamy. And not surprisingly, she’s been shamed for them for centuries. Her husband did the same. He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

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      This story is not a favorite of most who are familiar with scripture. 42 chapters that tell of a duel between God and Satan with Job as unwitting pawn. It conjures up every existential and theological question in existence (which might actually be why the story exists in the first place). We struggle to understand how/why God would ever agree to such a thing, not to mention encourage it and allow the incredible torment, disaster, and grief that Job (and his wife) then endlessly endure.

      It is not my intent or my desire to argue such questions. First, because they are impossible to answer, but second and more importantly, because when we even attempt such, our focus shifts and we lose sight of her (not to mention the generations of women who both preceded and followed). It is my intent (and deep, ongoing desire), however, to name and honor her: her thoughts, her stance, her voice, and yes, even her beliefs (or lack thereof). She spoke her mind. She articulated her heart. She expressed what she actually felt. She told the truth as she saw and experienced it. Boldly and unswervingly she revealed her humanity in the face of inhumanity. She called forth justice in bold and impossible-to-ignore ways. And she had no intention of sitting back, playing small, or staying silent.

      (Think about it, about her: we heartily affirm and encourage every bit of this in one another; on our own behalf, as well.)

      We would do well to follow her lead.

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      Free for use via Google ImagesJob’s wife proclaims out loud what all of us, at least in part, want to say when we find ourselves in circumstances that cannot possibly be understood. Yes, we want to believe in a benevolent, generous, gracious, and kind God; but there are times, to be sure, when every possibility of such feels tested, if not foolish. And, simultaneously, just like her, we still have the capacity to stay and survive in places of extreme ambivalence when answers elude. We somehow make room for mystery. We know that there have been, are, and will be times in which we cannot make sense of our own reality, let alone that of the larger world that spins uncontrollably around us.

      In truth, Job’s wife mirrors back our capacity and courage in the most sacred of ways, not shameful ones.
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      Her story graciously offers us a glimpse of the Divine; a celestial honoring of a woman’s truth-telling and strength.

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      Did you catch it? As Job’s story continues, he loses everything - his their children, his their land, his their livestock, his their livelihood. But he does not lose his wife. She is the one and only entity spared throughout the entire travesty, and this, after she speaks her truth. This is not the God we normally see in this story – or our own. This is a God who despite everything, and above all else, saves her. This dare not be underestimated. Nor dare she…

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      And as for her, so too, for you.

      Your voice, your truth, your courage is stamped with the approval of the Divine. More, you are deemed worthy by Job’s wife herself. She looks at you unflinchingly and says, “Yes, you are my daughter, my lineage, my kin.”*

      Think of it: who and how might you be if befriended, companioned, and mentored by Job’s wife? What truth-telling might you voice?  What injustice might you name? What courage might you display? What strength might you reveal?

      Job’s wife is your matriline. Her blood flows through your veins. Her voice rings when you speak your mind. And in honoring her, you are the one transformed.

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      May it be so.

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      It’s understandable why we struggle with scripture when faced with stories like this one, which is exactly why I am so determined to tell of the women within in ways that free them from the chains by which they’ve been bound. They are so amazing, so incredible, so persevering, so determined. They deserve to be known.  

      You, me, all of us are in such good company. A cloud of witnesses that surrounds. A storyline and bloodline from which we descend. A transcendent and transfiguring chorus that endlessly uplifts. What can’t we do or say, really, with this much support, this much beauty, this much wisdom in our midst? 

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      Click here for the audio version of this post.

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      All you have to do is ask...I’d be negligent if I didn’t make a story like this one available to you; uniquely and profoundly for youSacredReadings are at least one of the ways in which I do so. One woman who chooses you, who comes alongside to encourage and guide with particular wisdom,  perspective, kindness and hope. Learn more or just go ahead and book yours today. It is my favorite thing to do for you.

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        This week we moved from our house of the past 13 years to a condo. Well, to say “this past week” wouldn’t really be true. Months of preparing. Months of work. Days of hard labor that have felt more like years. Hardly a simple process. It pushed all three of us to our limits and still required more. Various states of disarray. Boxes. Everywhere. At first,  flat and hidden, then tripping hazards, then assembled. Next – painfully and endlessly – filled, taped shut, and stacked to the ceiling. And into them, so many memories, so much of the past, and every bit of the future – yet unspoken, but imagined, anticipated, and hoped-for.

        Questions swirl. What memories will yet be created in this new space? With whom will I have conversation? Over what will I laugh and cry, celebrate and grieve? What relationships will form? Which ones will end? What will I know and experience? What will I write?

        Writing. Oh, that.

        Every day – for days on end – has been so packed, so full, so exhausting that writing has felt like a distant memory; something I used to know and do, but can’t quite place. It’s been overcome by details, by movers, by conversations with my daughters about leaving the only home they really remember, by more trips to Target than I care to count, by “yes, let’s just order pizza…again,” by a wonky internet connection, by cables and cords, by muscles so sore that all I can do is fall into bed and barely get back out of it the next morning. There’s been no writing.

        It strikes me that it hardly takes a move for this to be my reality. I’ve struggled with it lately – not feeling at home. And because, frankly, it’s way easier, to not write, I haven’t. The similarities to moving abound: hardly a simple process, pushing me to my limits, still requiring more…

        Writing calls forth my willingness to allow various states of disarray. Writing requires that I box up what no longer works and take it to the dump. Writing challenges me to make space, to start fresh, to invite beauty. Writing compels me to sort through stories, ideas, and words that ask to be unpacked, honored, and given their proper place. Writing is, in and of itself, hospitality: providing food, shelter, and rest for all that longs to be let in, welcomed, and hosted. Writing is home. And creating home takes work.

        It’s no wonder that I’ve felt displaced. I’ve not wanted to do that work. To unpack the boxes that are piled ceiling-high in the attics and basements of my own mind and heart. To do the work of unwrapping everything protected. To not know if once unpacked, unwrapped, and exposed anything of value will be worth staying in and with.

        In order to write, to create, to be “at home” I have to be willing to move.

        The view from my back patio...This is what I’m musing about even this morning as I finally sit down at a new desk and look through a new window. Moving. Freeing all that’s been boxed to decorate and dance and inspire at will. Pulling up deeply entrenched roots and putting down others. Letting old stories be reimagined in new spaces and new ways; making room for those that are yet to be told (and lived). Welcoming my truest self, my very soul with hospitality. Coming home.

        May it be so.

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          Creative Commons via stock.xchng photo: http://www.freeimages.com/browse.phtml?f=download&id=1438370One of the most powerful ways in which we infuse and strengthen our own spirituality is to expand it beyond ourselves.

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          It’s soooo easy to become isolated, fixated, even stuck. We study. We focus. We practice. And though all of this is critical and meaningful, the temptation is rife to veer mostly toward ourselves: My study. My focus. My practice.

          What we believe and how we embody/experience our spirituality must be inclusive of the world in which we live and the people with whom we relate – even, and maybe especially, those with whom we do not.

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          How do we do this? There are so many ways, of course, but here are 3 ideas you can start implementing right away:

          1. Venture into realms that are outside your boundaries, your comfort zone, your predictable-ness. If you grew up in the church like me, maybe those realms have to do with Tarot, Goddesses, Pagan ritual, or even metaphysics. Take a class. Book a reading. Join a FB group. Build an altar. If your experience is just the opposite, it might mean that you listen to someone talk of their relationship with the god you don’t believe in (or have left), why they believe, why it matters to them, what they love, worship, and revere. Attend a worship service. Listen to liturgy. Download the haunting beauty of Taize on iTunes. Get a Blessing. Step outside your lines.
          2. Let go of your dogmatism. No matter your perspective or stance, when push-comes-to-shove you still believe you are right. And this, by its very nature, assumes that others are wrong. Though I’m sure you are incredibly open minded, this is dangerous territory – the impact of which you’ve felt before, witnessed many times, and still have the scars by which to prove it. But that door swings both ways. What would it look like for you, me, all of us, to acknowledge that we’re pretty damn opinionated and that maybe, just maybe there are some other pretty incredible positions/perspectives that are worth creating space for? This isn’t about changing your mind (though that’s always a possibility); it’s about becoming more clear, more grounded in your own beliefs through the challenge of appreciating and respecting others’. It’s about allowing for what’s complicated. It’s about stretching your wings and maybe even doing some heavy lifting.
          3. Apply new templates to the old (or, if you prefer another metaphor, put the old wine in new wineskins). This is my love, of course: (re)telling the ancient, sacred stories of women in Scripture in ways that honor and value them as much as we do myths, fairytales, and epic film. ‘My example. What’s yours? Maybe you listen to hymns that are acoustic re-mixes. Maybe you think about the way in which the Archetype Card you drew this morning might talk to Mary Magdalene or Jesus or Eve. Maybe you repeat a Rosary while Tibetan chants play in the background. Maybe you take that yoga class held in the basement of your neighborhood church. Maybe you fill out tonight’s page in your Gratitude Journal as though you were talking directly to God. Mix it up. Shake it up. Try something new!

          I hardly say any of this by way of prescription. I speak every single word on my own behalf; always preaching to the choir. I feel incredibly grateful to be surrounded (and confronted) by things, concepts, and people way outside my purview every day. Each and every one, when I allow such, cause me mysteriously, graciously, powerfully to take deeper breaths, to go further down, to open up my arms, mind, and heart. Each and every one, when I allow such, invite me to a whole world of beauty and wisdom I would have otherwise missed. And each and every one remind me, again and again, that there is so much I don’t know. Thank goodness!

          There is no limit to the ways in which our spirituality can expand, grow, broaden, deepen, and ultimately impact. Which of course, is exactly what we endlessly and passionately long for, yes? Let’s do that, then. 

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          May it be so.

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