The Healing Focus for Heart of Business this week is about Visibility. It is about allowing ourselves to be seen as who we are and as having the gifts we bring. The challenge after the Remembrance (a kind of Sufi meditation Heart of Business folks often share) was to write about our gifts and strengths in a larger audience than only telling them to ourselves or to one other person.
Just as we share Beloved Selfies in The Way of the River Facebook group, sharing our gifts “out loud,” as it were, helps us see ourselves as the Divine sees us: Beloved, beloved, beloved, cherished with grace, mercy, compassion, and so much impossible love. Certainly, we are flawed, often struggling, and (I hope) trying to do better by the kind with whom we share this tiny, vulnerable planet.
Flawed, yes, and also able to be great shining lights in the sky of the murk of the world’s need… also able to be express our own deep joy.
And so that, expressing deep joy, is where I begin.
One of my strengths is that I have disabilities–among them mental illness, especially bipolar illness and attention deficit disorder (which I think needs a new name, but that’s another story). How do these afflictions constitute strength, when they so clearly are also weaknesses?
For one thing, they make me who I am, and I am beloved upon Earth.
But that’s true of all our strengths, weaknesses, and problems. So what makes these different.
For one thing, as Carrie Fisher said (may her memory be a blessing, as my Jewish friends say), every moment, every day that we live with this disease (bipolar illness) is a triumph. It takes courage to claim life and face the world, and somehow I’ve done it 100% of the time so far. How that is possible, I don’t know. I really don’t know. Divine grace and native stubbornness, I suppose?
Another gift that has emerged from having these conditions, and further, from being a sexual assault survivor, and from being fat, is that I have a great deal of empathy for people who’ve had a hard hand dealt to them in life.
I can listen to people very different from me, people with different life experiences, and help them know that their feelings about the world are valid, that they are not only beloved but needed, and ultimately that they are incredibly gifted.
Not only that, but something that people have told me over the years, something I didn’t really know about myself, is that I have a great capacity for that deep joy I mentioned above. Sometimes what looks like joy can tumble over into “taking up all the air in the room,” and so I have to be mindful of that, especially in pastoral situations. Even joyful enthusiasm can be tedious if not minded carefully.
But joy also both stems from and creates gratitude. And gratitude is a great grounding force. There are so many reasons people in Twelve Step programs are encouraged to make gratitude lists or to attend gratitude-focused meetings. And one of them is that hearing about other people’s gratitude reminds us of our own and brings us our own joy.
Which brings me to the last of the gifts I have to share and which I would be remiss in not mentioning. I am a fat femme. Not just a femme, not just a queer woman who likes makeup (though I am that, for certain!). But a fat femme, and a really fat one at that. Why does this identity, this so-called strength, matter?
For a few reasons. One, my very being as a fat cis-woman, and as a chunky girl before that, called into question the possibility of femininity in my life. I was sort of neutered, in high school. “One of the boys.” And I was in some ways most accepted by queer men in college. So any feminine identity besides “Earth mama” (which, to be fair, has its own strength) felt beyond my reach.
But at heart, I am femme. I am femme with my fat, lumpy, unshaven legs. And I am femme with my passion for lipstick. I am femme with my nails cut short for the piano I’m getting. And I am femme with those nails painted. I am femme with my unbelievably epic ass. And I am femme with my turquoise, blue, and violet hair.
I push the boundaries of what people expect femme to be. I’m not thin, I don’t wear high heels, and I love my hair to be a crazy mess. I’m lumpy and bumpy, and at the moment I have a mad case of hives. I walk with a cane and I can’t get enough of flowers.
And femme is about joy for me, the “joy of self-expression,” as Belleruth Naperstek says. The joy of making my insides match my outsides. And yes, thanks to the trans, non-binary/gender-nonconforming people, and drag queens I have known for teaching me how to do it! How to claim that inside-outside match. Because in some ways, I think that is the beginning of wisdom: know thyself and then find brave places within yourself and out in the world where that self can be witnessed with love.
So that, dear comrades, is my answer to the Heart of Business challenge for the week.
Can you take it up, this challenge? Can you pick up a piece of yourself, a gift, warm and smooth and just fitted to the shape of you, perhaps something you’ve held close for years, an ember you blow on to keep alive? Can you open a space and let us see? Can you encourage us by encouraging yourself?
I welcome to The Way of the River Facebook group, or to the comments below. What is a gift of yours that blesses the world? How, as Rev. Rebecca Parker admonishes us, do you bless the world?