Odd spiritual things have been happening with me lately, folks – odd enough that I’m facing some genuine fear about writing a post for the first time in a very long time. There have been several times in my life when I feel like God/the Universe is whacking me over the head, arranging events so that I will learn the lesson in front of me, whether I want to or not. This feels to me like being in a blender, with no ability to stop or even pause the endless churning. The events surrounding the death of my father five years ago marked one such time, and the events of the last four months have been another.
It started with me falling in love with the best man I’ve ever known. This was a relationship that would never work, and all types of agonizing drama accompanied the process of coming to this realization. The drama in itself was a gift, and I’ll get to that in a bit, but the main gift for me was that for the first time in my life, I was willing to risk my whole heart and completely trust in this man.
You – or perhaps only my own judgmental mind – might be thinking, ”seriously? She’s 36 years old, and this is the first time she ever wholeheartedly trusted a man?” Yes, seriously. My father was mentally ill (undiagnosed and untreated), with what I now believe was paranoid schizophrenia. He was sadistic and, in a word, terrifying. Growing up in this environment convinced me that no man could ever be safe, and being vulnerable, surrendered and open with one would be not just stupid, but life-threatening.
As you might guess, this was a bit of an obstacle in creating my dream of a romantic partnership. Years and years of therapy, workshops, and books later, I realized on an intellectual level that my dad was not terrifying because he was male, but because he was mentally ill. Fabulous, but my battle-scarred heart was not buying it. Though longing for relationship, I blocked anything real, because I would not willingly give a man the power to hurt me.
This parallels my relationship with God/the Divine/All-That-Is (which, to avoid that annoying label, I will call Spirit from now on.) For as long as I can remember, I have felt the presence of Spirit all around, and felt both a calling and a yearning to turn my life over to this being. My soul yearns for this almost desperately, but my heart and mind have said no way in hell. Never again I will I be surrendered. Never again will I be completely under anyone’s power but my own. It’s too reminiscent of being under the seeming omnipotence of my father when I was a child, and I will not go there willingly.
Until I fell in love with this man, and trusted to the depth of my being that he would never intentionally hurt me. That changed everything. I believe Spirit showed up for me and brought him into my life so I could have this experience. Spirit also kindly provided a situation where I could create a whole host of hideous drama, to the point where I was finally willing to face a long term, unidentified problem for me, codependency. I joined the twelve step program Codependents Anonymous, with a fair amount of bitterness and resignation. If I haven’t mentioned this before, when Spirit steps into my life, it is rarely pretty or pleasant. Healing, in the end, but the ride is often ugly and frightening.
After a month or so of meetings, internal eye-rolling and annoyance at the incomprehensible Steps, I acquired some Step literature. What was previously frustrating was revealed as what I had been searching for my entire life. Step Three – “made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.” My soul sang with joy and anticipation. This is what I had been longing for, this complete spiritual surrender. I had been led to a community where people from equally as hideous backgrounds as mine did this routinely and courageously in their daily lives. The drama surrounding falling in love brought me there, but having fallen in love in the first place gave me exactly what I needed in order to trust the process.
Spirit continued to step in, in a series of events that culminated in me sitting on my father’s grave several weeks ago, offering the forgiveness I had promised to find for him on his deathbed. Since I have yet to even mention Advent, the subject of my post, I will hold the rest of the story for another time. The reason I’m sharing any of this now is because I would like to invite you to go on a spiritual journey with me. As I have been preparing for the idea of spiritual surrender, working the first three of the twelve steps, I’ve felt called to do so during Advent. As the holidays – no matter what religion you may practice – are a celebration of Spirit, I would love for you to come along with me during this holiday season.
I was raised Catholic, and while I am no longer a part of the Catholic church, many of the rituals still resonate deeply with me. As a child, I loved Advent – the four weeks leading up to Christmas- and the Advent wreath and calendars that went with it. There was always a sense of anticipation, of preparing for Christmas. Though as a child this meant presents more than the presence of Spirit, the Spirit still seeped through.
I’m inviting you to join in my spiritual journey in whatever way you would like to participate. This post is the beginning of a five week series, with one in each of the traditional themes of the Advent weeks. I will be creating my own Advent wreath, because I love ritual and I love lighting candles to create ceremony. (An Advent wreath consists of an evergreen wreath, with five candles – four on the wreath and one in the center. Each week corresponds to both a particular candle and a theme. I’m including a picture of a traditional Catholic Advent wreath below this post.)
It is my hope that this series might give you at least five minutes of the respite of contemplating Spirit during the often-overwhelming holiday season. If you’d like to participate further with me, the theme for this week is hope and expectation. Here are some of the questions I’m playing with related to this theme this week. I’ll be back with my own musings on these questions next week, and would love to hear your ideas on hope and expectation. Do you have other ideas or questions to add? Or would you like to answer these in the comments section? However you would like to participate, I would love to hear from you!
Week #1 – Hope & Expectation (Traditionally a purple or blue candle)
Questions to Ponder
– What are my hopes and expectations of Spirit?
-Am I being called to be a source of hope for anyone in my life? Am I answering this call to the best of my ability?
-Who fills me with hope? Have I told them recently how they inspire me?
-If I am willing to create partnership with Spirit, what do I believe Spirit’s expectations are for me? What are my expectations from the partnership?
-What is my greatest hope for my own life?
-In what ways do I hope to contribute to the world before I die? What tiny step can I take this week to move that hope towards a reality?
-How can I spread hope this week?
Quotes to Ponder
“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.”
― Emily Dickinson
“The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.”
― Barbara Kingsolver
“Hope is a waking dream.”
“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.”
― Barack Obama
“Hope is not about proving anything. It’s about choosing to believe this one thing, that love is bigger than any grim, bleak shit anyone can throw at us.”
― Anne Lamott
“Totally without hope one cannot live. To live without hope is to cease to live. Hell is hopelessness. It is no accident that above the entrance to Dante’s hell is the inscription: “Leave behind all hope, you who enter here.”
― Jürgen Moltmann