The False Safety of Insecurity

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By: Jenni Taylor, Co-founder

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.

e.e. cummings

This little blog project was started out of a need to create a spiritual community. It was like sending morse code messages out to the universe, hoping someone out there would receive our words, interpret them, and send back their own messages of love and wisdom.

Only sometimes those morse code signals are few and far between during a long and lonely night, and sending out love and wisdom becomes increasingly difficult when you begin to fear you have neither.

It is always safer to curl up under the covers in a very turtle-like way when you feel empty and lonely. One may think, “if I keep my head down long enough, I will magically feel renewed and full of light and wonderful things to share. If I hide myself away, I will become an old and wise hermit who will eventually come out again full of wisdom.”

But as turtles and ostriches and any other expert in denial must learn, there is a spiritual truth that you can’t give unless you receive, and you can’t receive unless you give. A wise woman left a comment on our blog not long ago, gently reminding us of the joy of surrender. There is wisdom in opening one’s tightly closed fists, instead of hanging on to the security of self doubt. When we open ourselves, when we surrender, when we allow ourselves to receive from others- that’s when our own fountain of giving can open up its rusty pipes and begin to flow again.

The irony of having insecurities is that they make us feel secure. They paint us a picture of who we are: a safe picture, a picture we know and recognize and claim as our own, so we can avoid seeing the truth- the beautiful possibilities of greatness that fill us. Insecurities give us excuses to stay hidden away, waiting for something else to change us. As e.e. cummings said, “it takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”

What if we let ourselves see the truth? What if we see the noble, beautiful, BIGNESS of ourselves and step away from the safety of our self doubt?

What if?

So I pray,

Grant me courage to be everything that is already inside of me. Help me give my giant, beautiful, joyful soul free reign to be awesome. Thank you, universe, for being so full of love and wisdom I only have to open my hands and receive it. Help me pass that wisdom on to others.

Amen.

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Forgive Me My Wrong Impressions

By: Jenni Taylor, Author in Chief

You fear heaven, the source of spiritual peace; you fear nature, the haven of rest and tranquility; you fear the God of goodness and accuse him of anger, while he is full of love and mercy.–Khalil Gibran

“You fear heaven”, says Gibran, and I am taken back to the childhood bewilderment of heaven as a place of limited space for well behaved little boys and girls. If God is so big, why isn’t heaven bigger? If God loves us, why is there a time limit on his forgiveness? If God created the trees and mountains and forests, why would he choose a city of gold to live in for eternity?

“You fear nature,” says Gibran, and I look around my apartment where the windows are never open because the air is polluted and murky. I remember days of wandering free and hugging trees and now I can’t remember the last time I threw my arms around a tree trunk feeling it’s bark and life and comfort.

“You fear the God of goodness,” Gibran says, and I feel the walls come up around my heart when I try to pray. Maybe he is angry with me. Maybe he is disappointed. Maybe it will be better to slip through my life quietly and not bother him with requests when I haven’t held up my end of the bargain.

“He is full of love and mercy,” Gibran says.

He is full of love and mercy.

He is full of love and mercy.

He is full of love and mercy.

I let this mantra enter my heart.

And I know God, the fabric of the universe, this connecting force of creation, rebirth, and new beginnings, this intangible palm holding all pasts, presents, and futures of every living thing, is not to be feared, nor to be bargained with. All my questions, my insecurities, my doubts, come from human fallibility and not from an all-encompassing fountain of love and mercy.

Forgive me my wrong impressions, and help me to see the bigger picture. Help me to embrace heaven on earth, the beauty and healing power of nature, and the fact that your love and mercy is bigger than my fears. Amen.

Exploring The Places You Already Are

IMG_2266By: Jenni Taylor, Author in Chief

I spent the morning on the top of a high rise apartment building in the middle of Shanghai. We had to sneak up there, and a lock might have been picked, but there we were at sunrise. It was after a night of Japanese food, sake, and roughly two hours of sleep. One of my companions was in the same clothes as the night before, the other wearing batman pajamas.

You really can’t make this up.

Shanghai is comprised of people. 28 million, in fact. A Shanghai sunrise is mostly haze and enough swirls of pink and purple to remind you what a sunrise is supposed to look like. We had a 360 view of- well, apartments. Tall apartments, short apartments, windows galore. We could see laundry drying and teddy bears left on the window sill. There were curtains and no curtains, plants and no plants, bikes and toys and kitchen sinks and washing machines. There were at least a million people a stone’s throw away in any direction, with more apartments stretching as far as the eye could see.

And there was quiet.

Up above it all, with blurry eyes and an over sized t shirt, I saw my city. This crazy, attitude-filled city I have chosen to live in, going on three years. I saw the bits and pieces of lives being lived as strangers right next to each other, piled on top of each other, in this place that I have always perceived as a little bit lonely. I could see the haze lifting ever so slightly and the buildings turning gold under the filtered sunlight. It was magic.

Batman pajama lady and I started to sing, like the sleep deprived giddy people we are.

“Blue skies smilin’ at me
Nothin’ but blue skies do I see
Bluebirds singin’ a song
Nothin’ but bluebirds all the day long”

And as we were singing like fools on the top of the world, I felt all my fears of being back in Shanghai melting away. Yes, it can be a lonely city. But that makes it just that much easier for a little joy to go a long way. Returning to a place does not have to make you feel tired and worn when there are still so many adventures to be had.

So I hugged Shanghai with my heart and waved goodbye to the skyline before creeping my way back down the stairs. I fell asleep smiling, knowing there is still so much left to explore.

Inspiration in Unlikely Places

By: Jenni Taylor, Author in Chief

Paper, Interfaith, Inspiration, WordsCopy rooms tend to be soul-sucking places. You can often find a teacher or office worker there, eyes glazed over, listening to the monotonous whirls and gasps of the machine and probably stapling in the same rhythm. The fluorescent lights flicker, the walls are bare, and you are sure this is the beginning of the zombie apocalypse.

But while the machine sucks the soul and the school year gets long and never ending, there are still a few coworkers trying their best to inspire their students. I found a pile of hopeful homework left next to the copy machine. There they were, 150 neatly piled copies of a commencement address given by David Foster Wallace at Kenyon in 2005.

This is obviously a famous enough speech, especially since it made it to the reading list of 10th graders in Shanghai, China, but I had never read it before. I had come to the copy room to make my own monstrous load of dead tree handouts and decided to read it while I waited for the machine to stop its weird mechanical noises of death.

I was not disappointed.

For those who are not familiar, the speech is a rather abrupt and depressing affair beginning with a fish and water analogy and spiraling down into the dark and monotonous truth of adult life. He describes the long hours at work, the struggle to get through a grocery line, only to get home, sleep, and get up the next day to do it all over again.

At first, it made me sad. Really, really sad.

I’m 26, and most of the time feel like I’m play-acting at the whole adult thing. That weird, giggly joy of stepping into your own apartment for the first time, or getting a paycheck that the 15 year old me would never have dreamed of, or laughing at myself in the mirror because my business suit looks exactly like a costume I had to wear for a children’s play a long, long time ago. It’s all a big game.

But then you get used to it all, the joy disappears, and it becomes the exact repetitive monster David Foster Wallace describes. The rat race is real, my friends. I became doubly sad realizing that as a 10th grader I would have waved aside this prophecy as a rant from a man who clearly had nothing better to do in his life. Now, it felt as if he had been watching me in the grocery store.

There is, however, a light at the end of the tunnel. He leaves his listeners with a challenge to think of others as possibly being more important than yourself, and adjusting your lens with which you see the world. Small yet powerful words.

So there I was, in the copy room, completely engrossed in reading this speech and having a small existential crisis of examining what my adulthood has become. I decided that today is a good day to change and start seeing things in a different way. I snuck a copy from the pile and it is now in my desk, next to notes from students I read when I am feeling uninspired. I gave those a read as well, and suddenly life is feeling new again. Inspiration brings joy, energy, and much needed passion.

My prayer:

Thanks God, for inspiration found in unlikely places, and the pure joy of literature and the power of words. Thank you that the cliche “it’s never too late to change” is true. Thank you for a reminder to look above and around and even upside down, to shake up the world like a snow globe and stand to the side, rather than the center. Help me bring meaning to even the dullest of moments and joy in fluorescent-lighted rooms. Help me to pass on inspiration to others who need it, just as it was given to me today.

Amen.

Modesty, Meaning, and Me

By: Jenni Taylor, Author in Chief

I would not say modesty is my strong point. In fact, I spent the better part of an afternoon creating non-modest memes of myself.

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Then I sent said memes to friends so they could share in my wit and glory… modesty… about that…

I spent quite a bit of energy and time fighting against the idea of modesty while growing up. In a religious sense, modesty, specifically clothing modesty, was seen as a virtuous trait for women- and women only. My beautiful, confident, feminist warrior princess side of me had a difficult time with this message, and proceeded to throw the baby out with the bath water.

But then our writing intern, Nermine, wrote a beautiful piece including her definition of modesty, and it is the exact definition I’ve been looking for all these years. So here I am, aware of my faults, but slowly beginning to come around again.

So, modesty, it’s time you and I had a talk. I recognize that what some may see as confidence in me is sometimes insecurity (not all the time! But yes, okay, sometimes). I recognize my need for bluster and bravado, and that you, dear modesty, may be a better option. I’ve seen you before, you know. That quiet confidence, complete security in oneself. You and I have had some good moments but have never become fast friends.

Modesty, you are directly linked to security, and security is linked to self-love and acceptance. I know when my spirit is in its happy place, fully loved and accepted by the universe, you will come quietly and build your nest in my heart. I want to be a wise old woman someday, and I need you there with me.

So, here I am. Deflate my pufferfish-like ego, and help me to get back to the truth. And the truth is, I still look pretty good even when I am deflated.

The Wisdom of Acceptance

By: Jenni Taylor, Author in Chief

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Wisdom always appears as a woman to me. In this case, she is Victorian, with upswept hair, high collar, and looking somewhat like a character from Anne of Green Gables. She is middle-aged, experienced, and vivacious. We sit down for tea- complete with wicker chairs, large windows, crossed ankles and perfectly formed sugar cubes.

I begin to tell her about my life. Current struggles are first placed in the boundaries of polite language, and then spill out in waves of excuses, reasons, doubts, fears, wonderment, bewilderment, disappointment and an occasional wry laugh. Lady wisdom nods her head, graciously. Acceptance. Everything I am, everything I say, she takes in and with one gentle gesture, sets me at ease. I am accepted. My past is accepted. My doubts about the future are accepted. My current condition, in this moment, in this second of imaginary life sipping tea and sobbing uncontrollably, is accepted.

But, when my heart has been spilled and the weight has lifted from my shoulders, Lady Wisdom leans in and prepares to tell me that while I am accepted, completely accepted, there are things that are unacceptable. My focus on myself instead of others, for one. My self-pity or self-dislike, for another. She speaks gently but in no uncertain terms. In all her wisdom, she helps me draw boundaries. Going back is unacceptable. Wallowing in mediocrity is unacceptable. Not daring to dream is unacceptable.

Is it wisdom talking, or my own guilt? Does guilt have a place in this? When do we get off the comfy couch and say enough is enough?

Lady Wisdom reminds me to start small. A moment of prayer, a moment of thanks, a ten-second interval before airing my grievances to the world. She reminds me to accept my journey, and to not accept the baggage that is begging to come with me.

Solomon says there is a place and time for everything. Acceptance and unacceptance alike. I can see Lady Wisdom nodding her head and placing a bookmark at that passage to use in our next conversation. Until then, I accept her friendship, her love, and her advice for my life.

Being Present, Being Accepted

By: Jenni Taylor, Author in Chief

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I had the pleasure of being in Malaysia recently, and visited the Batu caves near Kuala Lumur. The Batu caves are celebrated as a holy pilgrimage site for Hindu believers.

Next to the religious site was an educational one- a section of caves protected by the environmentalists and used to teach tourists about the ecosystems hidden in the dark. You are given a headlamp, and then you follow a guide into the darkness to be surrounded by hundreds of thousands of squeaking bats, scattering cockroaches, and some intelligent prehistoric spiders.

Caves are not my comfort zone.

I read a book recently, a collection of general wisdom, that often spoke about accepting the dark parts of yourself. A ying and yang sort of thing. In all honesty, the idea is a far cry from the “strive to be holy” Christianity I am familiar with. Our human world has generally accepted light as good and darkness as evil for millennia.

Which brings me back to the cave.

The cave filled with creepy crawlies was not a spiritual place- it was, quite simply, just old. It is a place without sunlight, where the animals adapted and eventually formed an entire ecosystem centered around bat poop (really). It’s a circle of life. A place where bugs and bats adapted to the darkness with bigger eyes, longer feelers, better ears, more advanced webs to catch prey. It is a basic life, a prehistoric dinosaur life. Not evil. Not good, either. Just life.

Which brings me to wonder. I was not mad at the bats and bugs for being what they were. They just were. Would sunlight enlighten them somehow? It would change them, certainly, but I don’t think that’s an allegory for spiritual enlightenment. They just are. And when they adapt and change, they still just are. There’s some spiritual wisdom buried in here somewhere that I’m trying to pull out. Theology aside, striving or no striving, there is some truth to this idea of acceptance.

I am me, now, in this moment. I will be me later. I was me yesterday. I am constantly changing by millimeters like the stalagmites and stalactites I saw in this beautiful cave. I don’t have millions of years, but I do have a lifetime to be formed into a piece of art. I am art now, and I will be art later. I am uniquely formed,with my drops of water, my scars, even my location and chemical makeup. I am unique, In the same way the other mites and tites around me are unique.

I am beautiful now. I was beautiful before. I will be beautiful tomorrow. However short or long life turns out to be, I am complete and growing, the paradox of art.

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well –Psalm 139:13-14 New International Version (NIV)

Finding Yourself in Silence

By: Jenni Taylor, Author in Chief

Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing. And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb. And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.–Khalil Gibran

I spent three days on the back of a motorcycle steadily winding its way through the mountainous north of Vietnam, through the villages on the outskirts of Hanoi. The guide was driving, and because of the roar of the motor I was excused from making conversation.photo 4

It was three days of near total silence, and the silence was welcomed with open arms. Stress, responsibilities, and agonizing meetings had dominated my life recently, and a break was long overdue. So it began- one the back of this dirt bike Honda.

It was in the silence of the roads, the strength of the mountains, and the patience of the empty rice paddies where I emptied my heart like emptying lint out of old, unused pockets, and filled it up again. If eyes are the windows to the soul, my eyes were due for a window washing. I spent those hours watching the landscape and filling my eyes with beauty, with fog creeping over lakes and fisherman casting their nets.

I let my mind go free. I let thoughts float by, without judgment, just acknowledgment that they needed to exist in order to move on. I thought about places I’ve been, people I know, things I have done. Positive blended with negative in one big pool of remembrance, acknowledgment of pieces of my life I had not given thought to in a long time.

photo 1It was in the silence I began to find healing. There was no music, no conversation to drown out the honesty flashing through my mind, and I stood face to face with myself, a full look at my naked soul in a mirror. I saw someone who was tired, but strong. I saw the experiences that left marks on my heart and began to see those marks as beauty marks. I saw my soul reaching for beauty, truth, and strength.

So I took my soul by the hand and showed it the spectacular beauty, truth, and strength in the mountains surrounding me, and began to see it echoed and copied into my soul’s DNA. I soaked up nature like a sponge in a bathtub, and made it a part of me.

I so desperately needed that silence, the quiet, the roar of the motor and the flashing pavement beneath the wheels. Within another two weeks I found myself crying on a beach looking at a rainbow, and sang a song of thankfulness to the skies. Silence leads to song, and mountaintops lead to more journeys. It is in the silence when you can truly find yourself.

Desire for Understanding

By: Jenni TaylorIMG_0518

My travels have just taken me to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Unlike, the United States, which prides itself on being a melting pot, Malaysia has not melted- it is a beautiful hodgepodge of cultures, religions, languages, clothing, and food from all over the world. Short shorts and tank tops are next to hijabs and chadors, with all the wearers using selfie sticks or shopping at Sephora. Harmony seems impossible, but there it is- a million differences passing each other on the street or eating at each other’s restaurants.

I am surrounded by swirling colors and culture, only to log on and see updates on Ferguson protests and now Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where three Muslims were shot and killed.

So, my desire is this: understanding. I want to understand where hatred comes from and how to stop it. I want others to understand that our similarities are far greater than our differences.

This has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with wisdom. I am not asking for agreement, or even tolerance, which seeks to ignore rather than understand. I’m asking for patience, and a willingness to listen.

Here in Kuala Lumpur there is a Hindu holy place called the Batu caves. They just finished celebrating Thaipusam. It involves flowers and prayer, and also hooks and self-mutilation. The hooks are placed through tongues or through the skin on backs. It is described as a religious euphoria reached through intense pain.

I do not understand it.

I do not agree with it.

But I do understand that holy pilgrimage comes from a need, and I recognize that need. It’s a need I find in my own life, when I go into the quiet places and search for something bigger than myself.

I may not understand, but wisdom tells me to try. It tells me that if I sit down and have a cup of teh terik with someone different from me, we will find a shared point of truth. And as a wise man once said, the truth will set you free.

So I pray,

Teach us patience. Give us wisdom and understanding. Help us to stop feeling threatened and find our safety, peace, and comfort in You, and not in the reactions of our fears. Help us to be salt, to be light, and to be your love.

Amen.

Desire and Identity

By: Jenni Taylor

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. –Psalm 37:4 (NIV)

My heart is full of desires. Chiefly, in this moment, my desire is to be a strong and beautiful woman.

My grandmom, who died long before I was born, was the matriarch of the family. She was strong, and she was beautiful. Life was not kind, but she held her family together. I see her strength in my aunts and uncles, her prayers reflected in their lives, and I know her legacy lives on.

I am a teacher. A traveler. An actress. A daughter, a friend, a writer, an adventurer. I am full of titles, striving to live a life of meaning, a life that won’t be forgotten or lost in the void. But maybe the void is where I need to be.

I was lost in the woods of north Wisconsin once, with mosquitoes and ticks and aching arms. I looked around at the forest surrounding me and thought, I want to be nameless. I just want to be. I want to be my imperfect body with my soul swirling around the tree tops; I want to be naked and free, connected, and bigger somehow. I want to lose myself so I can become something more.

I say that, but the honest truth is my identity is everything to me. Letting go and becoming that person I was in the woods takes effort now. It takes intention, it takes prayer, it takes believing in something bigger and better than myself and my dreams.

I’m sitting in a cafe in Vietnam right now, watching the chaos of motorbikes and noodles and movable markets. I am blessed, and I am humbled. Yes, I want to be strong and beautiful, but by God do I also want to be connected to the lives surrounding me, the millions and billions of lives searching for peace and meaning and strength, just as I am. So I pray:

Thank you for being bigger and better than I am. Thank you for the desires of my heart. Thank you for life, opportunities, and choices. Help me to love. Help me to give. Help me to become less of my titles and more of my heart.

Thank you for this beautiful country, it’s strength, it’s women, it’s optimism.

Amen.