If your stories could talk…

A number of years ago I learned about intertextuality.

It is how one text speaks to or shapes another; how seemingly distinct texts can be in relationship with one another.

Here’s an example: three books stacked together in my home:

  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is the powerful story of a womans moral and spiritual development in 1st-person prose.
  • Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton captures the spirit of a city (and our humanity) through photography.
  • Women is a collection of 170 photographs by Annie Leibovitz with an accompanying essay by Susan Sontag.

If they could talk to each other, imagine the dinner party conversation they’d have.

Jane Eyre and Bronte would talk with Liebowitz and Sontag about all that has changed (and hasn’t) in women’s perceptions of themselves. Stanton would jump in and speak of particular images he took where those very perceptions were what he saw through his lens – and sometimes just the opposite. Sontag, a brilliant critic, would draw everyone’s attention to the larger themes and constructs present in all three of their texts: what we see, what we don’t see, what that says about us.

There would be no end to the things they could discuss! All the ways in which their perspectives and protagonists and photographs and prose would overlap and intertwine. This is intertextuality. You have this kind of dinner party taking place in your life all the time: texts and stories that operate in exactly the same way – overlapping and intertwined and endlessly speaking.

But let’s be honest: we work pretty hard to keep everything compartmentalized and separate. More than opposite ends of the dinner table, we often put our texts and stories in completely different rooms in the house. As example:

  • Your teenage years.
  • Your current Netflix binge.
  • The predominat way in which you “show up” at work.

These are not all at the table together, right? Chances are high that you are pretty determined to keep your teenage self as far away from your work self as you can. Still, let’s acknowledge, shall we, that the two are completely interconnected?

It’s possible that you are pretty sure your viewing habits on Netflix have nothing to do with your past or present. But when you apply the rules of intertextuality (even imagining such) you see they have much in common, much to discuss, and infinite overlap in the most curious and complicated of ways.

It’s possible – and probable – that things can get even more complicated (and noisy) when you add in “guests” like cultural background, family of origin, organized religion, socio-economic status, politics, any number of things that have a tendency to bump into one another at parties, at dinner tables, and certainly within.

I’m not necessarily suggesting that you try to figure out how these particular “texts” speak to one another. (OK. I am actually suggesting that…) More than the details of being a teenager, watching Netflix, and going to work, this is my point: 

 

It is necessary and profoundly healing to see the way in which the texts and stories of your life talk to each other all the time.

 

Want another three to consider?

  • The stories you were told growing up.
  • The stories you tell yourself (you know: that endless chatter in your head…)
  • The cultural stories and messaging you injest via social media, all media, the water in which we swim every damn day.

Again, picture the dinner party: Hansel and Gretle, Cinderella, even Eve are making polite and sometimes pointed conversation with your endlessly-chattering inner critic who you know so well. That inner voice, a bit on the defensive, is being assuaged by the latest IG Influencer or targeted FB ad – sitting there in all their slick beauty and endless promise. And later, IG and FB chat away with your childhood stories; their not-so hidden agenda of either reinforcing or rejecting what you’ve believed and held on to all these years.

It’s true: intertextuality is *simply* a conceptual framework; but the stories and texts that are yours (conscious and not, known and unknown) are far more. They are real. They are active. And they shape every bit of who you have been, who you are, and who you will yet become.

Intertextuality, looked at another way, is considering – with depth, compassion, and curiosity – all that makes you who you are: the stories you are proud of and those you try to hide or wish you could evade. It offers you a way of looking at the complexity of your own life – the influences, the influencers, the pain, the joy, the harm, the hope – all of it speaking and speaking and speaking. Because at the end of the day…

You ARE your stories. And they are interacting with each other all the time, whether you take a seat at that imagined dinner table, or not.

So…why not pull up a chair?

 

  • Listen closely to your own texts, your own stories. They usher you into the wisdom and courage that is (already) yours; all that you long to experience and express.
  • Pay close attention to the stories you’ve been told. They help you better understand the stories you continue to tell yourself.
  • Determine, with great intention, the stories you will give credence to, will listen to, will allow and endorse. They create the world  you live in, the one we live in together, the one that is ours to nurture and heal.

None of this is easy. And as you know, few things that are of value rarely are. You are of value, though – worthy of any and every effort on your own behalf. So this is the question to ask again and again and again:

If my stories could talk (which they can and are), what do they have to say? 

 

(If nothing else, look at the books on your shelves. Pick a few that are sitting side-by-side, and imagine what they talk about when you’re asleep, what they have to say about you while you sleep and what they hope for you when you’re wide awake. All. So. Delicious.)

 

*****

 

This work of looking closely at your stories and the ways they speak is a big component of SOVEREIGNTY – my 9-week program.

Step-by-step, with generosity and compassion, I’ll take you through processes that help you identify those stories, hear their deeper messages (for good and for ill), and then choose to show up in your world with wisdom, courage, agency, joy, and yes, sovereignty.  The next cohort begins on May 10.

And if you didn’t hear, I dropped the price by more than 75%. This may sound completely crazy, but in listening closely to my stories and the texts/themes within – even imagining them at the dinner table talking – I realized that access matters to me, opportunity for transformation matters to me, sovereignty for women matters to me. And you being able to join me in all of this and then some matters to me, too.

Learn more, book a call with me to talk, and/or register today. CLICK HERE

 

Hearing Voices

I am neck-deep in manuscript-writing these days. This book, my book, this thing I’ve been nurturing and holding and holding back for years (and years and years) is now making its way into the world. Much like labor, I can’t stop it now – nor do I want to.  

The section I’m working on currently tells the story of a young woman whose life was violently, brutally ended.

I don’t like the story at all.

I wish it didn’t exist.

There’s no justification of it, no making sense of it.

And though I might wish to just ignore it – to dismiss it as one more piece of evidence against the text within which it’s found – that only perpetuates her harm. Which isn’t acceptable to me.

It is in telling women’s stories – even and maybe especially the most painful ones – that we invite the healing we desire and deserve.

When I calm myself down, at least for a bit, about the injustice and senselessness and violence, I can hear a different voice; I can hear hers. The one that was snuffed out. The one that was permanently silenced. The one we’ve rarely-if-ever bothered to listen to. The one that I imagine she’d speak on our behalf if only we could and would hear.

This is what I believe she’d say:

  • Fear is not your birthright.
  • Do not hold back – no matter the danger or risk.
  • Pursue what brings you life.

I am clear that these three statements are, indeed, the wisdom she longs for all of us to embody – in honor of her sacrifice, in honor of her story, in honor of her, and most of all, in honor of the life and story that is ours.

I am clear that were we to follow these three statements as gospel, it would be our own healing and that of our world that we would enable, invite, witness, and proclaim.

And I am clear that if I were I to imagine her saying even a bit more, it would sound a little something like this:

I’m right about this! Fear is not your birthright. But courage is. Write. Speak. Say. Do. Be. Say “yes.” Say “no.” Quit. Continue. Decide. Whisper. Roar. Love. 

Risk is a given. To try and mitigate it, lessen it, create a balance sheet to show you exactly what might happen if you move this way or that is not the the least bit practical nor remotely close to your destiny. Do not hold back. Let risk and danger be the signs that you are moving in the right direction. And then read the paragraph above over again so that you can remember that fear is not your birthright.

Learn from me. Let my life (and death) offer you invaluable perspective. Cherish every moment. Pursue all that is yours, all that awaits you, all that exists within and around you, all that you desire and deserve. And then read the two paragraphs above over again so that you can remember that fear is not your birthright and you must NOT hold back, no matter the danger or risk!

Of course we wish that stories like hers did not exist, then or now. We must rage (rightly and justifiably) against violence. And in the midst of both, we must honor the voices that can no longer speak, the stories that are rarely if ever told.

We must use our own voices and live our own stories in ways that are courageous and risky and full of life.

 

And when we do? Well, Jepthah’s Daughter smiles and says “Thank you.” Oh, and this:

Read the three paragraphs above over again? And then maybe a few more times? 

With her wisdom as rubric, encouragement, and hope, I labor on – knowing and trusting that the imagined words of even one ancient, sacred young woman might strengthen you in the labor that is yours, in the story that is yours, in all that is yours to birth and live and heal.

May it be so.

 

*****

 

Just last week, inspired by stories like the one above, it struck me that what I want most of all is for more women to have access to all this and then some (courage vs. fear, the ability to take risks, pursuing life, etc.) So I decided to dramatically reduce the pricing of SOVEREIGNTY from $1995 to $450. I know! It’s a lot! No worries: it’s not a fire sale or a drastic, last-ditch sales effort. All is well. It’s just me, listening to my own sovereignty, and wanting to do everything I can on behalf of yours.

The 9-week program begins with a new cohort of women on May 10. Learn more. And if you want to talk, ask questions, discern whether it’s right for you, etc., don’t hesitate to book a free call with me. I’d love that! No pressure. Just sacred conversation together.

 

A DSM-V Code

Did you know that there is a DSM-V code for religious or spiritual problems? 

Yep: V-Code 62.89. 

Apparently it is often helpful to put a code in a patient’s clinical documentation when there is no evidence of a mental disorder, but they are presenting with significant clinical distress.*

So basically this means that there have been enough people who have exhibited, talked about, named, and acknowledged religious/spiritual struggle, even harm, that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders sees it as worth mentioning.

It is worth mentioning. And then some. 

I have heard more stories than I can count about the ways in which a person’s religious upbringing has profoundly impacted who they’ve become (and not for the better). Better stated, the ways in which it has, too many times, kept them from becoming all of who they desire; instead, small, silent, and shamed.

It’s heartbreaking. Shouldn’t religion and spirituality be the very things that invite us to healing and wholeness, to freedom and empowerment, to hope and joy? Uh, yes.

What may have once been an ideology or system of beliefs that did, indeed, long to offer us the best of all things, they too-often fall prey to our strong predilection (and history) of f***ing things up. We have this nasty habit of turning something sacred and beautiful into a system, complete with rules and rigidity, exclusivity and shame. Well, maybe not “we.” The patriarchy. 

Right. No wonder the DSM code.

I’m currently watching Medici on Netflix. There are three seasons, spanning the 14th through 16th centuries, chronicling this family of tremendous power. What intrigues me to no end is the intertwining of religion into everything – warm, wealth, corruption. It is so clear, so obvious, and seen/justified over and over again as “God’s will.”

The concept is not new to me. When I was in Seminary I studied the history of Christianity. Even now I am somewhat chagrined to acknowledge just how much I didn’t know and how shocking that history is! Politics, most of it, sadly.

The impact and influence of religion and spirituality – in painful and damaging ways – goes back to the beginning. It’s never not been there.** Which makes it understandable why still today, in our own stories, we bear the brunt of that pain; why we see its now-coding in our clinical files and its encoding in our very psyche. 

I have my own stories, to be sure. None that have been categorized (at least that I know of) with V-Code 62.89. Still, I know how hard it was for me to separate from and deconstruct the religion I grew up with; to have the courage to ask the kinds of questions that dismantled my beliefs; to examine and jettison deeply held doctrines. It has only been within the past few years that I’ve been able to circle back, look again, wonder anew, and maybe, just maybe reclaim the best aspects of what got thrown out with the bathwater.

These days I feel healed and whole, free and empowered, full of both hope and joy. My understanding of the divine, my own devotional practices, my own language, beliefs, and experiences of the sacred are exactly that: my own.

It’s been a long journey. One that continues, to be sure. 

In the midst of my own, I wonder (and care) about you: your religious or spiritual struggles, the places and ways in which you’ve known harm, the impact that still has on how you see yourself, how you experience your world, how (or if) you engage with the sacred that is part-and-parcel in our everyday lives. If the DSM code applies to any of this, I am so deeply sorry. These are stories you’ll carry with you for a lifetime, to be sure; every one of them deserves infinite compassion and care. You do.

John O’Donohue said:

“Die Wunden des Geistes heilen, ohne dass Narben bleiben”…”The wounds of the spirit heal and leave no scars.”

Oh, how I hope he is right about this. For you. For me. For so many – past, present, and future. 

He also said this:

As your tears fall over that wounded place,
May they wash away your hurt and free your heart.
May your forgiveness still the hunger of the wound

So that for the first time you can walk away from that place,
Reunited with your banished heart, now healed and freed,
And feel the clear, free air bless your new face.”

May it be so. 

 

*https://www.psychdb.com/teaching/dsm-v-icd-z-codes

** This is not to say that the only impact and influence of religion and spirituality has been pain, damage, and corruption. I understand, know, and have experienced far more. I am aware of and grateful that beauty and truth survive in spite of it all. But to only name the good is to cause more harm. 

[Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

 

A late-night text

I’ve been thinking about the wisdom that has shaped much of my life. I’m grateful for some of it, to be sure. There’s been a lot more that I’ve had to intentionally dismantle and deconstruct.

I was raised in the church. Both consciously and subconsciously it inferred, offered, and proclaimed Wisdom – as an institution, within its sacred text, because of its God. And not just a  wisdom, the wisdom. It was the only wisdom that I was to rely on, turn to, and build my life upon. I was dutiful. I was obedient. I was disciplined. And to be fair, it was this wisdom to which I turned, on which I relied, in which I took solace. The darker side was also true: when I didn’t turn to it, rely on it, or took solace anywhere else, I felt vast shame and guilt.

But it wasn’t just the church, religion, or God as wisdom source – it was men. (White) men were seen as the experts, the holders of authority, the ones I could and should trust. In completely transparency, for a very long time, I rarely-if-ever thought to consider anything else! They had the answers. And because that was so obvious, it was just as obvious that I did not have answers – or wisdom; that my thoughts could not be trusted, that I could not, should not trust myself.

Then there was academia. It would have never crossed my mind to question why all of the things I was learning were from (more) white men. Yes, I had a few women teachers along the way, but they were instructing me from textbooks written by white men. Even in college, as a Business and Communications major, everything I learned was from a man’s perspective, man-as-wisdom. I didn’t question a bit of it. I appreciated what I was learning. I took it in as gospel.

By the time I got to my Masters Degree (with a nearly-20-year break in the middle) very little had changed. The professors and authors were still almost exclusively white men – in my studies of both theology and therapy (especially theology). But it was also during this time that things began to shift. I took a class called Feminist Critique (taught by a visiting professor who was a woman and only assigned texts written by women) that opened me up to a wisdom that made me really, really angry.  She systematically revealed the white/male lens everywhere, influencing everything. And that lens was not mine.

At about the same time, probably not at all coincidentally, I began to experiment with the interpretation of women’s ancient, sacred stories through a non-male lens, through a woman’s lens, through a feminist lens, through my lens in order to pull forth something different, anything different. And it was this effort that became a practice that became my everything that enabled me to find, hear, and actually trust my own wisdom. For the first time.

A few weeks back, I woke up in the middle of the night and typed a text to myself – just so I wouldn’t forget the thought that was keeping me from sleep:

We need sources of wisdom that are distinctly feminine. Only they can mirror our experience in ways that allow the wisdom to actually land, to be relevant, to support and strengthen us.

I was pretty happy to see that text waiting for me the next morning.

I’m not opposed to the wisdom of men (well, maybe a little). What I want, though, is the wisdom of women – not in opposition, but as obvious choice.

Without such, it’s no wonder we walk through our lives doubting ourselves, not trusting our intuition, flailing in relationships, putting others ahead of ourselves, tamping down our desires, and wallowing in (often) self-inflicted shame. Everything we learn is not who WE are. Everything we compare ourselves to is not who WE are. This is the patriarchy, of course; the water we swim in, the air we breath, its insipid presence in everything we do, think, and feel.

But…

If we had feminine sources of wisdom – and saw them as reliable, trustworthy, honorable, valuable – we would have a template through which to understand ourselves that syncs with who we most closely are, who we most closely resemble, how we most often act, think, and feel.

Imagine it for a moment.

If I had grown up in a goddess-worshipping coven, it would have been normal for me to trust my body, to eschew anything that smacked of self-contempt, to always look within for answers, comfort, and strength. Even if I don’t take it to that lovely extreme, let’s say I grew up in a Christian home, attending church, going to Bible studies, but everything was focused on women. At church I would have heard stories that were not about a woman’s sin or shame; rather, their magnificence and strength and power. I would have never heard a single message – spoken, assumed, written, or preached – that told me I should be more submissive or more humble or more obedient; rather, I would have been extolled and encouraged to trust my voice, my heart, and yes, my wisdom. I would have grown up reading books written by women, novels about women (written by women), and even if my teachers and professors had remained mostly white men, that input would have been consistently “countered” by the reminder that at the end of the day, what I thought mattered. When I watched TV or read Seventeen magazine, I would not have been inundated by women’s objectification; instead, I would have known and understood that women’s bodies are our own, that they matter, that they are beautiful and perfect  – in every way, shape, and form. And I would have been very clear that attracting me was the end-all, be-all – not attracting a boy, a man, or a prince. Can you even imagine?

We need sources of wisdom that are distinctly feminine. Only they can mirror our experience in ways that allow the wisdom to actually land, to be relevant, to support and strengthen us.

This wisdom allows us to see ourselves in the mirror, to listen to the voice within that not only makes sense, but is 100% true and right. This wisdom teaches us to trust ourselves – which leads to agency and power – which leads to doing the unexpected thing, to rising up, to speaking out, to resisting anyone who tells us anything different – which leads to a disallowing of violence because of race or sexuality or difference of any kind, sickening entitlement because of gender or power, and ignorance based not in wisdom, but foolishness! 

 

So find that wisdom. Be that wisdom. Be that wise. It’s all within you. It always has been – for generations and generations, from the beginning of time. And it’s all yours to offer us. Imagine the world you’ll change, create, and birth along the way.

*****

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Refrigerator-Magnet Wisdom

Last month I was in a bookstore in Lexington, KY with both of my daughters. We wandered in three different directions, as we often do – drawn to different things, different genres, our own stories speaking through what we collected as we walked through the aisles.

One of the girls called out to me, motioning me over to the rounder filled with magnets. And this, now impossible to ignore on my fridge, offers me exactly the reminder and the wisdom I need, multiple times each day.

Whatever you are meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.

 

Indeed.

But oh, how we wish for different conditions…

  • before we have that hard conversation.
  • before we make that needed decision.
  • before we hit “publish” on that blog post or sales page or amazingly updated bio.
  • before we say “yes.”
  • before we say “no.”
  • before we speak our mind.
  • before we tell our truth.
  • before we step forward.
  • before we let ourselves be truly seen.
  • before we trust our wisdom.
  • before we act on our wisdom.
  • before we launch.
  • before we let go.
  • before we write that text, that email, that post, that book.
  • before we take care of ourselves.
  • before we do pretty much any number of the things we know are ours to do…

All of this is understandable.

We believe that if the conditions were different, then all of these things would be far easier and way less risky.

But here’s what I wonder – for myself and for you:

If the conditions were different (far easier, less risky) would the benefit, the impact, the “result” of doing any/all of these things be as profound and powerful?

It seems to me, at least with hindsight, that what seemed most impossible at the time was, in fact, what made the biggest difference, invited the most change, transformed me. Had I waited until the conditions were more favorable, it might have passed me over entirely – the experience, the moment, the leap into the unknown, the bold and beautiful (and difficult and risky) choice.

Doris Lessing is right, of course: now is the time for us to do what we are meant to do. Not once things are better, easier, calmer, figured-out, mitigated, or resolved. Now.

Heavy sigh. Deep breaths. (Both are reasonable here.)

As I look at this magnet, again and again, I see my resistance and, most of all, my fear. I can call it “conditions,” but at the end of the day, fear is what I’m faced with – and what I’m invited to name, acknowledge, and heal by choosing sovereignty instead.

It’s me (and you) showing up in exactly these conditions, whether impossible or not, and…

  • having that hard conversation.
  • making that needed decision.
  • hitting “publish” on that blog post or sales page or amazingly updated bio.
  • saying “yes.”
  • saying “no.”
  • speaking your mind.
  • telling your truth.
  • stepping forward.
  • letting yourself be truly seen.
  • trusting your wisdom.
  • acting on your wisdom.
  • launching.
  • letting go.
  • writing that text, that email, that post, that book.
  • taking care of yourself.
  • (insert any and everything else that you know belongs on this list)
  • doing all the things you know are yours to do…not someday, but now.

This is why I have created SOVEREIGNTY. Because I know the “someday” and the waiting on perfect conditions is exhausting and endless…

SOVEREIGNTY is a 10-week program that acknowledges the conditions (and your conditioning). It invites you to walk straight into the truth of your life with courage and grace. And it provides the advocacy and generosity and support you desire and deserve – so that you can do what you are meant to do. Not someday. Not when the conditions are right. Right now.

And since you can’t walk past my fridge multiple times a day, let me repeat this one more time on your behalf:

Whatever you are meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.

The conditions aren’t the issue. Not really. You, being you – glorious and wise and brave and yes, sovereign – in the midst of them is what matters and makes all the difference.

Let’s do that – together!

Registration closes on 2/21. We begin on 3/1. Learn more.

Choose life – and life – and life

There is an ancient story told of a woman who did not waver when the situation demanded swift (and brilliant) action. She trusted her perspective, her wisdom and made choices in alignment with both. She stepped WAY outside the bounds of what would have ever been expected of her, even allowed. And in so doing, saved the lives of many.

It’s highly possible that your day-to-day actions do not hold quite the same level of consequence. And, I wonder…

During one of the most difficult seasons of my life, the question that my Spiritual Director kept asking me was,

“Does this bring you life – or death, Ronna?”

I could not deny the know-that-I-know-that-I-know voice within. And it moved me ever-closer to truth (and truth-telling). When I listened, the data became impossible-to-ignore:

  • Hearing that voice, my wisdom, and trusting it (no matter what that meant or looked like), led me to life.
    When I heard it and did not trust it, it led to death.
  • No, not literally. But close.

“Life” meant risk, to be sure; but I was awake, alive, and strong…sovereign. “Death” meant avoiding risk; I felt shut down, small, silenced…not sovereign. It was not at all difficult to see the cumulative effect of this (past and future). Not life-giving.

 

I’m not naive. Making these kind of choices and decisions, taking these kind of bold actions, does have consequence! (The woman in the ancient story experienced them, too!) Which is why I extend you, me, all of us massive amounts of grace as we learn to LIVE this way; as we step into the sovereignty that is ours – without question, compromise, or limit.

So, here’s some grace to soak in – inspired by the ancient story I referenced above and supplemented (just a bit) by my own story:

  • Your wisdom is worth hearing…and trusting.
  • It won’t go anywhere as you test the waters, feel it out, take the smallest of steps. It’s your wisdom, after all!
  • You deserve life and life and more life – in every single way possible.
  • You are not alone as you figure it out, as you falter, as you rise up, as you notice pink elephants everywhere.

*****

I’ve been teaching a free workshop this week in my private Facebook Group: How to Hear & Trust Your Own Wisdom. All this and then some is on the docket, to be sure (along with LOTS of grace).

It’s not too late to join in, get recordings of anything you’ve missed, and download the Wisdom Worksheets I’m making available every day. Click here.

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