”Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live.
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in.
How big your brave is!”
Good day, dearest!
As you might surmise from the above, I have been listening to a lot of Sara Bareilles lately, and the above is the song I listen to first thing every morning when I put my headset on and get ready to talk to you.
I think of a time I desperately wanted to be brave, but I couldn’t figure out how. I was living in the convent, trying desperately to figure out what to do next. I couldn’t stay, I didn’t know where to go, and I didn’t know what I would do if I did so. These lines haunted me, spoken by Grima Wormtongue to Eowyn, niece of King Theoden: “When the walls of your bower around you begin to shrink, / a cage to trammel some wild thing in.”
I would hear those words, any of the ten or so times I watched that movie in the theater, and I would cry every time.
I knew that fear was the cage trammeling the wild thing in my chest.
For a while after I left the convent, during the run of The Two Towers and then The Return of the King, I was just still. Sometimes I would paint. The first painting I ever painted in my adult life was of a great, white-hot star unfurling its light to shine on the surface of the ocean. Running along the line of starlight was a naked woman with butterfly wings. The light traveled all the way to the end of the canvas, leading into an unknown destination.
The second painting I made had mountain cliffs on the left and right of the canvas, with one large mountain in the middle of the picture. Great owl’s wings were spread from left to right, each the height of half the central mountain, and stretching from the center all the way to the cliffs. Beneath each wing was a woman curled up in peaceful sleep. But above the peace of “I fear no dangers of the night, sleeping under God’s wings” was a being of fire, that same white-yellow, and blue that the star had been in the first painting.
I knew I was made of fire, fueled by fire, I knew I was touched gently by the softness of the Divine, and pushed forward by the fire in my belly.
But I was also wounded. I had spent four years with a community that, while beautiful, powerful, and helpful in so many ways, could not be a long-term home for me. I needed time to rest. To try to integrate what had happened to me, what I had chosen. What I needed to shed.
And it would take years for all that to happen, the integration, healing, shedding, and understanding. It would take years of waiting, taking jobs that weren’t where I wanted to be, slowly reinventing myself, slowly waking back up from the strange dream I had been in. Eventually, though, I realizes that my path continued to be one of spiritual leadership. I was sure that meant I would become a minister of a congregation. I was just positive of it. With my skills in management, preaching, writing, fundraising and meeting facilitation, I had a lot to bring to the table that many ofher new ministers lack.
Once I had done all the work, jumped through all the hoops, and written the hundreds of essays to become an ordained minister I could enter search for a congregation. As it turned out, I had what is called, “a failed search.” It was clear, talking to some of the search committees that represented congregations, that we were not a good fit for one another. Others revealed themselves to me in such a way that I knew I really didn’t want to be their minister. And a couple of them decided that we weren’t a good fit, though I really liked them. And some of them just plain didn’t want a fat minister.
Back to the drawing board, it seemed. The sting of my “failure” followed me. Years of injuries and illnesses. More rest. More healing. And then after a bit, I started blogging again. And I remembered the cage that had trammeled that wild thing in. I remembered—and felt all over again—the terror that I would say something wrong, something alienating, that people wouldn’t like me.
But the encouragement came pouring in. You might even say, the “en-courage-ment.”
“Thank you for telling the stories of hearing voices commanding suicide for twenty-five years, even as you managed to hold down jobs.”
“Thank you for telling the stories of ceremonies, rituals that you built with teams of people for thousands of other people.”
“Thank you telling the stories of being a sexradical in college and being told, as a result, that you were not a feminist.”
“Thank you for telling the stories of dating butches who turned out not to be butches at all, but to be men coming into their own understanding of themselves as trans men or as non-binary.”
“Thank you for telling stories of strange love, sex, Spirit, and for showing me that it’s okay to be who I am.”
And thus The Way of the River was born. Because you helped me be brave. You helped me recognize that my studies in spiritual direction, my years of building transformative ceremony, my seminary work, my work in congregations, my experiences as a fat woman, and my healing from physical and mental illnesses were all worth sharing.
You asked me to do more. To help you study for the Ministerial Fellowship Committee I had myself seen just a couple of years before. To help you learn how to be a minister with managed mental illness. To accompany you on your intimate journey with the Source of Love and Spirit of Life.
“Tell your story. You never know who needs to hear it, or who will find themselves somewhere in it.” I don’t remember who said that, but I have learned that it is true. I have learned it from you. At the moment, I am especially appreciating those who responded to last week’s Reflections and let me know how we came together and asked that I pull a card for you—that offer is still open.
I cannot be brave while a lone ranger. Community helps make me brave.
Does this community help you be brave? How can I help you be brave? If you haven’t already, I invite you to join our Facebook Group, The Way of the River Community. Come on in, visit, and see what having the loving support of a community can do for you and your brave heart.
With faith in you –