Four Eyes are Better than Two

I've got my four eyes for every occasion.

I’ve got  four eyes ready  for every occasion.

Since it’s been six weeks since I last posted a blog, this confession might come as no surprise to you.

Sometimes, I forget I’m a writer.

Summer is not an ideal time for writing. It’s a time for being and doing. Whether I like it or not, it’s time to be with my children. Without school, they are simply around more. It’s also a time for doing, since they need more rides, more meals, more entertainment, more money, more looking after. So between all my doing and being, there has not been a lot of time for writing.

But summer’s end is quickly approaching and my thoughts have turned to writing again.

A few months ago, I wrote a piece called, “Standing on the Threshold,” about how a far off dream of going to seminary was going to become a reality this fall.

I blinked; summer passed. It’s fall.

I leave for school on Sunday and I can hardly believe it’s here. Though I will only be gone for a week, it’s the start of something new. It felt like an important time to write again, to mark where I am, where I plan to go and what I hope to do along the way.

I heard a sermon yesterday at Keara’s back-to-school mass at the Academy of Our Lady of Peace. The gospel was the story of how Jesus cured the blind man. The priest himself looked like he could relate. He wore thick glasses and without them, I’m not sure he could see at all. He shared that growing up, he was called “Four Eyes” by many of his classmates. They meant it as an insult, but today he takes it as a compliment.

The priest told the story of watching a young, blind boy go to communion. He used a cane to check what was in front of him, but his mother walked behind him with her hands on his shoulders to guide and protect him. The priest admitted that if someone asked him to describe his mother, he would say that she is 5’7,” with blue eyes and brown hair. If someone asked that little boy, he would talk about his mother’s demeanor, her voice, the feel of her hands, her care. The boy, out of necessity, moved beyond his first vision.

Too often, the priest mused, we see only with the two eyes in our head. We take in what we see; we judge it, process it and put everything in its proper place. But how much are we really seeing if we only use our two eyes? We stay on the surface of things, like physical appearance and condition, but miss the essence. We stop short, not plumbing the depths and complexities of people and situations. We see quickly and partially, but unfortunately, we assume we are seeing all.

If left to our own devices, we think the first set of eyes are all we have, when in fact “Four Eyes” applies to us all.

I am a pro at using my first set of eyes. I’ve always been adept at learning anything and everything (except complex math) and spitting it back at the appropriate time – when needed, or when needed to impress someone. And though going to seminary has always been a dream of mine, one of the reasons I’ve held back for so long is because the ones I’ve encountered seemed to focus on the first set of eyes.

What do you know? What can you learn? What can you prove? What can you write, explain, or deduce from what you’ve seen?

I jumped through all those hoops in graduate school. I cared passionately about the subject matter, but it was all words, and head knowledge. It was learning for it’s own sake, instead of the greater good. I couldn’t imagine learning about God, Love, forgiveness, compassion and mercy in that way, with my first set of eyes. They simply don’t see enough.

I want to develop my second set of eyes, the eyes of the heart, and that is what The Living School offers.

At one point in his sermon, the priest held up a mirror to one of the girls in the assembly and asked her what she saw. “Myself,” she said simply. He turned the mirror to his own face and said, “That’s funny. When I look in the mirror, I see beauty.” The girls giggled, but he was serious. He countered that when they look in the mirror with their first set of eyes, they judge the surface that is reflected back at them, and usually they will find a flaw (or many), but if they can look at themselves with their second set of eyes, they will see beauty and goodness and infinite possibility.

The eyes of the heart are the eyes of God.

The eyes of the heart see past the surface, beyond the masks, the posturing, the pain and scars of this world. They know that everything belongs. They may not understand how, or why, or when all things will be reconciled, but they know it is true.

There are many ways to nurture our second set of eyes, but first we must acknowledge they exist. Many of us deny it, clinging to Rousseau’s folly that “I think, therefore I am,” or else living a kind of practical (and pragmatic) atheism, even if we claim a religious tradition. We follow the letter of the law we see, rather than the spirit of the law, which takes longer to discern and requires a comfort with ambiguity.

But when we acknowledge our second set of eyes, we also need to start using them, all the time. We can’t leave them at home on the shelf, or tucked away in our coat pocket for when we are feeling particularly brave. We can’t just pull them out for an hour on Sundays. We have to wear them whenever the need arises, whenever our ego hastens to judge, categorize, or dismiss something, or someone that makes us uncomfortable.

When I was a little girl and got my first pair of glasses, I remember the doctor telling my mom that I should only wear them for about an hour. I could wear them a little longer each day, but if I tried to wear them for too long, too soon, I might get a headache, feel nauseous, and even disoriented.

I have to admit that seeing through the eyes of the heart can make me feel that way too. It’s like the things I knew to be true – about what was good and bad, helpful and hurtful, successful, or a failure – aren’t just that anymore. Most events bring both good and bad; they hurt me and help me; they break my heart, but when it heals, it leaves all sorts of little cracks that let the light in. When I keep the eyes of my heart open, I am more able to see the beauty in everything.

Over the next two years, I am going to try to see all that I can with my double vision.

Thanks for reading and joining me on my journey.

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift. The rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant, and has almost totally forgotten the gift.” –Albert Einstein, who I’m pretty sure had four eyes

Storytellers: Family Retreat 2014

On Sunday, my family returned from our week at La Casa de Maria Family Retreat. I’ve written about Family Retreat before, what it means to us and what it could mean to all of you. You can catch up here.

The theme for Family Camp 2014 was Storytellers. We covered a lot of ground in five days. We began with the premise that our stories are all a part of God’s story and worked from there. None of us are excluded, no journey or character is too small, or insignificant. We talked about the stories we love, the ones we tell ourselves to get by and the stories we hide behind. We talked about Love stories we embrace and the ones we’d rather forget. We gathered each day with the premise that listening itself is an act of love. (Thanks Storycorp!)

Though I spoke throughout the week on a variety of topics, my favorite talk, the one closest to my heart, came on Thursday, when we open up the floor to any storyteller who wants to share. In those moments, before I handed off the mic, I was able to explore a theme that has been the focus of much of my journey over the last several months and years: the relationship between Fear and Freedom.

The theme of the day was inspired by Momastery.com. This is their image.

sacred-scared1

The words that follow are the ones I spoke last Thursday at Family Retreat.

“Until Glennon Melton put those two words together, I had no idea they were related, but after I saw it, I wondered how I could have missed it.

Sometimes, the stories that are the most sacred to us, the most holy, the most personal, are the ones we are the most scared to tell. What if someone doesn’t understand, or respect our story? What if they judge us, or treat us differently after we share it? What if our story includes something we did wrong, or that we don’t have a resolution for yet? It can be really scary to tell our story, because we don’t have the answer to those questions.

Trust me when I tell you that it was really scary for many members of our team this week to get up and share their stories. We’ve done some things right, but we’ve also done plenty of things wrong and there were no guarantees on how you would experience it, or react to us after we shared it.

But we chose to be story tellers, because of those two words up there. The parts of our stories that we are the most scared of can only become sacred, or holy, if we share them. If we keep our stories hidden inside us, God can’t use them to bless others. Only by overcoming our fear and sharing our life stories do they become sacred – tools that God uses to bless others and the world. When we share our stories, it also gives others an opportunity to bless us with their love and compassion.

That’s what today is about – sharing our Sacred/Scared stories.

The great Maya Angelou who died last year said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” And I believe it. And I believe the main reason we hold those untold stories inside of us is because we are afraid.

I’ve been told that the most frequent command from God in the Bible is “Fear Not!” I’ve heard it appears well over 100 times. The association I have with the line “Fear not” is from one story in particular. Anybody want to guess which one? THE ANNUNCIATION, of course. So I never thought of “Fear Not!” actually being a command that God wants us to keep. I always thought “Fear Not!” was a command that really only applied because an angel had appeared and scared the heck out of you.

But over the last few years, I’m beginning to learn differently. It isn’t “Fear Not! This super extraterrestrial being who just appeared out of nowhere won’t hurt you!” It’s “Fear Not. I am with you.” And that is a very different thing.

I used to think fear was normal. I used to think fear was a tool God used to keep us in line, to keep us safe, or to keep us from making bad choices. But I don’t think that’s it any more. God has way better tools at God’s disposal than Fear.

Fear keeps us imprisoned; fear paralyzes us. It could be fear of anything – of injury, of judgment, of failure, of sadness, of conflict, of solitude, of rejection. And God tells us over and over again to “Fear Not.”

At one time, I would have been hard-pressed to say what the opposite of fear was. In my mind, the opposite of fear was just being “Not Afraid,” being in your comfort zone.

But now I know that the opposite of Fear is FREEDOM. Freedom to take off the mask. Freedom to be ourselves. Freedom to speak our truth. Freedom to share our story. Freedom to step into our story, the one God has had on offer for us all along.

This week I heard other storytellers say that same thing.

The song and music video, “Try,” was about being free from the fear of how we look without our makeup on and what our culture thinks about female beauty. (Readers, if you have not seen it, take the time to watch it!)

Rachel shared in her story on Tuesday that in her vision of God reaching out to her, the word over the white column was “Freedom.”

While Todd and Amanda were a little afraid they were falling in love and afraid to tell everyone, their story could never blossom into the love affair that changed both of their lives and set them free to write a new chapter.

The theme of Chase’s song “Leave” last night in the talent show was that he needed to be free and Ali needed to let him be free. As a mother, as someone who loved him, she encouraged him over and over to “Kick down the walls of resistance” that were imprisoning him.

I don’t think those are just coincidences. Freedom is the key to any story inspired by God.

Just the other day, I heard Erwin McManus, the founder of the Mosaic church, say that when he’s asked about who will have life after death, he says it’s the people who have life BEFORE death. We do not have life if we are afraid.

Freedom is God’s desire for us. Not freedom to commit sin, to act without consequences, to tell lies, to live our lives however we want, but rather Freedom from the lies we tell ourselves. Freedom from sin which always rears its ugly head when we are living a false story, the one that tells us we are separate from God.

Fear makes us Scared. Freedom allows us to make our lives Sacred.

Twenty-three years ago, when I got pregnant with my daughter Sarah and gave her up for adoption, I was terrified of people finding out. I did everything I could to keep her existence a secret from virtually everyone I knew and for almost a decade, virtually everyone I met. As long as I was scared to tell that story, it was not truly sacred. While I was afraid, I was never free.

And the person I was most afraid of telling that story to was my future husband. The story I was telling myself was that I was damaged goods. I was afraid I was unworthy. When I was 19 years old and pregnant, I was already afraid of my future story. And ironically, or rather, perfectly in God’s way, God set me free from that story when I was seven months pregnant and met Tim. I never had to tell the story again.

The Truth set me free and when I was brave enough to share my story with others, it set others free as well.

When I finally started to share my Sacred/Scared, many girls have come to me pregnant, unsure of what to do, but who look at my story as one of possibility and redemption. But it didn’t start that way. It started with me, sitting in my scared and them, sitting in their scared, with no possibility of a sacred Love to be born.

Today we are asking all of you, the Storytellers who have been among us all week, but who haven’t gotten a chance to share a story with us yet, to come on up and share a story. It might be scary; but I promise you, it can be sacred. It will be a little of both, but we are here, knowing that “Listening is an act of Love,” one that we all want to participate in.

So please, if you have a Sacred/Scared to share, if you feel that little flutter in your chest, please consider sharing your story with us. Today is your day. It doesn’t need to be long; it doesn’t need to life changing. But if you would like to share, we’d like to hear it and be blessed by it.

Thank you.”

Many people got up and shared their Sacred/Scared on that day. It was powerful to watch the transformation in their bodies as they moved from Fear to Freedom. It was powerful to watch everyday people doing God’s work here on earth, embracing the storytellers with unconditional Love and support. I can’t share Thursday’s stories here, because they are not my stories to tell. We can only, ever, tell our own truth and allow others to tell their own, but I will say this:

It does not matter if we are rich or poor, strong or weak, male or female, old or young, gay or straight, black or white. If we look at our stories honestly, we will all find ourselves in the characters Jesus healed and set free with his forgiveness: the lepers, the lame, the woman at the well, the Lazarus in the tomb, and perhaps, most especially, the disciples who abandoned him.

And if we understand that our stories follow the pattern of the Christ, we will also reach out and set others free. It may be by feeding the hungry, comforting the afflicted, lifting up the oppressed, or simply standing in loving acceptance of each other, until such time as our assistance and opinion is desired.

The Scared can only become Sacred if unconditional Love is the primary directive and that is what I love about Family Retreat at La Casa de Maria. For over 40 years, the experience has brought families to greater Love and greater freedom. It has helped them tell better stories. Those stories have changed their lives, homes, communities and the wider world. Family retreat is the light on a hill, the mustard seed that grows, the yeast that changes everything and I, for one, am going back next year.