This past year (2020) has been a year of tremendous upheaval and unwelcome change for most of us due in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s the second time in my life (first time I was in my 40s) where I’ve responded to stress with anorexic behavior—not consuming enough calories to sustain a healthy weight.
Productive Confusion by Sara Frykenberg
My experience of productive confusion, alternatively, shuffles categories. It breaks apart. It is life giving chaos; but god/dess does it FEEL loud (even though it often requires quiet). If I’m not surfing the internet, while watching a show, while having a glass of wine, I might have to hear my own thoughts. I might notice that my internal loudness is also a symptom of the institutionalized trauma, violence and oppression that works to keep me externally quiet.
My head is a little bit too full lately. My classes begin in two weeks and I am determined to create an “Intro to Christian Ethics” class that offers my students at least an idea about hope that resonates with them, if not with me. Trauma is both a daily reality for far too many of us, and the headline or undercurrent of nearly every news report. Images from popular media play against my desires, my training in feminist analysis and ideas about power and empowerment in endless abundance. And I am mothering a joyful three-and-a-half-year-old whose need for liveliness both challenges and taxes me, pushing me and putting me face to face with my own hopes and doubts.
I feel pulled in so many directions, so I get confused about where to start, what to write, or what to do. I am awash in input, goals, and distractions.
Yet, I have also been challenged lately to see my confusion as a retreat from responsibility. Continue reading “Productive Confusion by Sara Frykenberg”
Finding Peace in the Wait by Katey Zeh
Have you ever tried to download a number of large files to your computer at the same time? If you’ve purchased a TV series through iTunes or received high-resolution pictures from an important event that you couldn’t wait to view, you can probably identify with this scenario.
You sit impatiently as the progress bar barely creeps toward completion—one painful percentage point by painful percentage point. Maybe you get up from your chair, spend a few minutes doing something to take your mind off of the files, and return a bit later only to find that not a single file is complete yet. Argh! If you can manage somehow to sit long enough to watch this mind-numbing process, one file eventually finishes. Hurrah! Then another. And another. Soon enough the progress accelerates as fewer files remain in the queue and eventually the download is complete. The waiting is over.
Lately my life has been feeling like a collection of slow simultaneous computer downloads. My “files” include a book, a podcast, a new professional website, a training, and a number of consulting ventures. Although I’m disciplined enough to work on each of them at least semi-regularly, each effort gets a much smaller portion of my attention than if I were to focus on a single project. Even if I were able to shift my energies to completing only one of these at a time, all of them are collaborative endeavors involving other people. In the end a lot of the progress is beyond my control.
Over the last several months I’ve wasted a lot of energy feeling annoyed with this overall lack of progress in my life. Some of these projects have been going on for years at this point, those pesky “to do” items that I can never cross off my list. I can’t count how many times I’ve expressed to others, “I just want one of these to be done!” Like painfully watching the slowly downloading files, I’ve been sitting anxiously with an inner sense of dread: this process will never, ever be over.
Sometimes I find it somewhat amusing if not entirely useful to entertain briefly the worst-case scenario brought to the surface by my anxiety du jour. What will happen if every single one of these efforts fails? If my book is never published, how will I feel? If my new website is never launched, what will that mean for my life?
I keep coming back to this hard reality: I’ve got big stakes in a future that I have no control over. As long as I believe my self-worth lies in what is beyond my ability to shape, I am destined for a lifetime of suffering.
My go-to coping strategy in these situations is to make myself busy and do a bunch of stuff to make me feel like I’m holding everything together. This time I’m trying something different.
With the guidance and encouragement of wise women in my life, I have been attempting to shift my perspective on this period of anticipation and waiting. Rather than spin my wheels trying to find another strategy to try or project to start, I am beginning to experiment with doing less. Releasing expectations. Holding with curiosity and gentle attention the anxiety and fear of not measuring up to my perfectionistic standards. Instead of doing something to distract myself from them, I’m holding them in my heart with love—or at least tolerance.
Inhale. Breathe in compassion. Exhale. Breathe out love.
My perfectionism runs deep, but the Spirit of love runs deeper.
Katey Zeh, M.Div is a strategist, writer, and educator who inspires communities to create a more just, compassionate world. She has written for outlets including Huffington Post, Sojourners, Religion Dispatches, Response magazine, the Good Mother Project, the Journal for Feminist Studies in Religion, and the United Methodist News Service. Her book Women Rise Up will be published by the FAR Press in March of 2018. Find her on Twitter at @kateyzeh or on her website kateyzeh.com.
Happiness is a Warm Space: Enchantment as Feminist Virtue by Amy Levin
Art can provide a balm for the modern soul – Claude Monet
Living in New York has its vices, and anxiety-triggering space is one of many. Though the city offers ailments just the same, whether they are in the form of meditation or medication, I’m beginning to believe the statistics delineating just how much more anxious us city-dwellers have become. But once in a while you catch a break.
This past Friday, for me, it was the free admission to the Museum of Modern Art. My favorite exhibition room of the MoMA is neither original nor surprising – Monet’s water lilies. The cool hues of greens, blues, and purples that spread across the triptych canvases so effortlessly interrupt the chaotic bodies roaming about the room, evoking a calm, liberating energy. My lungs expand, my shoulders relax. It is my opinion that more people sit down in this room more than any other in the museum. These ameliorating spaces, which, using Monet’s words, provide a “balm for the modern soul,” not only lift us emotionally and physically, but they offer us something a bit more. . .metaphysical. The water lilies are just one example of the way that art can offer us a sort of spiritual uplift in, what most of us would consider, a secular space. Continue reading “Happiness is a Warm Space: Enchantment as Feminist Virtue by Amy Levin”